Saturday, July 25, 2015

Facing Our Giants--by Linden Malki

Flopsy, the sneaky and self-willed dog who lived with us when I was growing up (I can't say "our dog" because she was really her own dog) liked to chase cows. No, we didn't have cows running loose in Spokane, but every summer we spent a couple of weeks out in the mountains of western Montana, fishing and unwinding.  One of our favorite camping spots was a meadow along a creek, with a ridge of woods on the other side of the meadow. There was a narrow trail through the woods to a farm on the other side of the hill, and cows from the farm would come over the hill to "our" meadow to graze.  Flopsy would try to herd the cows back to the trail, chasing and nipping and barking at their heels. All would be well until one of the cows looked back at her, and she knew that the cow knew she was a just a little dog harassing a big giant animal. It was amazing how quickly she would be back under our camping trailer with her tail between her legs!  

We may have big scary giant stuff wandering around in our own meadows.  What do we do about it?  We can put on the big show of being tough, but facing reality just might send us back to our own safe doghouse. And sometimes that is appropriate, and sometimes we are missing a great opportunity because we didn't learn how to deal with this giant. And sometimes we just want to "do it ourselves" rather than ask for the help we need. And then when we can’t do it, we ask God to save us and fix it.
The history of the Israelites is a continuing story of fighting giants. Too often, people have not realized how big a deal things really are. At the beginning, one little fruit and one smooth-talking snake didn’t appear to be a giant—but it was actually one that we are all still fighting. Noah faced a giant flood. Moses faced a Pharoah, a sea, a thundering mountain, a large group of stubborn people, and then when the end was in sight, they literally wimped out at the sight of “giants”—which cost them 40 years more in the wilderness. As you read, watch for giants that people faced, what they did and how it turned out. Sometimes it looks like a little thing but turns out to be a giant thing. King Saul thought he was doing God a favor by going ahead with an offering (I Samuel 13) when he had been commanded to wait for Samuel. He thought the important thing was the offering; the giant mistake was his disobedience. And he didn’t learn. In chapter 15, Saul was told to exercise God’s judgment on the Amelekites without looting or profiting in any way, and instead he thought he could placate God with looted offerings, and that was the giant ego trip that cost him his kingdom and ultimately, his life. 

The classic giant story, of course, is David and Goliath. There are two things that David did right that made him a giant-killer. One was that he was prepared; he knew his own capability and how to use it. He probably hadn’t been real thrilled about the lions and wolves and bears he had had to learn to deal with out with the sheep, but it paid off. The other, and most important thing, is that he knew where to ask for help. God can do amazing things with people who are willing to let God teach them and empower them—and give God the credit!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

We've Got Plans!--by Linden Malki

A young, brand-new military wife to her husband, about to leave on an emergency mission: Can't you just tell them that We've Got Plans?   How often do we make plans, only to find out that we're really not on the planning level? Whether we understand it or not, none of us are at the top planning level!  There is always something that can undermine even the simplest, or the most well-thought-out plan. Not that we shouldn't plan, but we should always be aware that even  the concrete we think our plans are set into can crack and crumble.

One way or another, I think we are all control freaks.  Making plans is one way of taking control of our future.  Not that it is necessarily a bad thing,but it can lead us too far down a wrong road. Sometimes we recognize that something is not going right, but the time and effort we have already expended makes it hard to change.  Sometimes it takes something pretty drastic to turn us around.

St Paul is a good example of dealing with plans changing--he was sure he knew what he was doing, but after God knocked him over and confronted him with Jesus Himself,  we find him open to to change. He faced visions and shipwrecks and beatings and prisons,  but he was able to turn on a dime and trash his own plans to follow God's directions.  There is a legend that Peter at one point was running away from persecution in Rome under Nero, and on the road Jesus met him, going the other way. All Jesus said was "Quo Vadis?" Where are you going?  Peter then turned and returned to Rome and martyrdom.

The classic example of God messing with a man's plans is Jonah. He had the calling to prophecy, but his plans didn't include God's plan. His own plan was to go as far the other direction as he could go! It took a storm, a shipwreck and a fish to turn him around.  Even when God blessed his efforts, he wasn't happy. 

It's very easy for us to know what we want, and ask God to bless our plans. Sometimes the right doors open, and sometimes they slam shut. Sometimes the doors that open are not the ones we expect.  I may know what i want, and I can be pretty stubborn--but it may not be what God wants for me.   On the other hand, the plan might be more complicated and difficult than I realize.  We might just be a supporting player in God's drama, and we don't know what He is doing with the rest of the cast. We could be sailing into a shipwreck--but even a shipwreck is often a life-changing experience.

 He just might meet us on our own road, and ask where we're going!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

One Man and One Kingdom

The story in Acts 8 of the Ethiopian eunuch actually begins a thousand years earlier, at the time of King Solomon.  We read that Solomon was visited by the Queen of Sheba, with a large entourage. At that time "Sheba" included both what is now Yemen and more territory on the other side of the Gulf, on the Horn of Africa, including part of Ethiopia.  It says in I Kings 10 that Solomon gave the Queen "all that she asked". It is believed in Ethiopia that this included a son, who became King Menelek of Ethiopia.  There has been a community of believers in the God of Israel for many centuries,  which may date back to this time. There is also a tradition that Menelek made a trip to Jerusalem to visit his father Solomon, and learn about his God.  In any case, there was trade and contact between the northeast part of Africa and the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.

The Ethiopian community of believers, one name for which is the Falasha, have Scriptures in Geez, their ancient language, and also perform many of the sacrifices and feasts as described in the Old Testament. (Many of them have emigrated to Israel in this century.)

There is also a church in Axum, the ancient capitol of Ethiopia, St. Mary of Zion, which claims to have possession of the Ark of the Covenant.  The traditional story is that when Menelek visited Jerusalem, he had a replica of the Ark made and brought home the original.  Another suggestion is that during the period that the Temple in Jerusalem was being used for pagan worship, the Ark was smuggled out to a Temple known to have been built at Aswan, on the upper Nile, on an island known as Elephantine.  Papyri in Aramaic dating from the 5th century BC have been found describing a  military outpost and Temple observances.  This community was disappeared, and there are legends of a holy object moved up the Nile to Lake Tana in Ethiopia. In any case, there have been Old Testament traditions and worship in Ethiopia for many centuries.

This makes the presence of an Ethiopian official visiting Jerusalem for Passover, who was familiar with the scriptures, and eager  to learn not surprising. Add to this the instructions given to Phliip to find this person and give him the "rest of the story", and we see another case of one person in the right place at the right time with the Word of God, being able to be a seed planted that became one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

PULLING WEEDS--by Linden Malki

"I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore..." Before telling his disciples what they were to do, He established the point that He was acting on the authority of God the Father. And of course, He was also establishing the concept that God Himself is the ultimate authority in the Universe.

And of course, we human beings, being self-centered and willful creatures, have had a problem with this ever since a talking snake pointed out to Eve (and Adam, who was right there with her) that she could act against the one specific prohibition that God had given them. Too many of us have figured this out too; that we can do things that are not "in the book" but we are physically able to do them. Doesn't mean that we should do them, that it's a good idea, just that we can do them. We are usually defying some sort of authority when we do them, and they usually do not work out well. My favorite definition of "repentance" is that it does not mean that we regret the unsatisfactory result, but that we recognize that God has the legitimate authority to judge.

This is the first step in following Jesus: acknowleging that God does have the authority to require obedience; that He really does have our best interests at heart. The next step is recognizing that Jesus not only has the authority of God to deal with us, but that He, and God, do this out of love for us. He created us to have a loving relationship with us, but it has to be with the understanding that as our Creator, this relationship has to be on His turf. Nothing that is not compatible with His authority can exist in His presence, now or in eternity.

It's easy to get this backwards. We want to do it ourselves; to have the pride of cleaning up our acts ourselves. The problem is that we can't do it right. If we try to control the disobedience ourselves, we're trying to do this with the same strength and doggedness that led us into the disobedience in the first place. Even if we apparently succeed, the reasons we got off track are still there, and can still trip us up. Not to mention that we are usually unpleasantly self-righteous and judgmental, often being hypocritical about the whole thing.

When I lived in Devore, every spring and summer was a fight against weeds. We could cut them down, but they just sprang back with the next rain. One year I decided to really get them out--got up an hour early every morning for most of the spring and pulled them out by the roots where I could. I couldn't do it all myself, but the area I did around the house didn't grow back as fast. But living in a world of weeds, they came back the next year.

We have to give up--to let Jesus pull the weeds out of our lives--and keep watch over the seeds as they try to come back. He is the ultimate Gardener--better than mowers, or hoes, or tractors, or Roundup. Before we have the permission or authority to say anything to anybody else, we need a story to share that does not brag about ourselves, but that gives credit where it is truly due and truly available.