Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Law of God (Part 1) by Linden Malki

Every human community that has ever existed has some sort of rules.  It may be as minimal as a high tolerance of anarchy, or the most rigid totalitarianism.  Even at the minimum, there has to be some sort of consequence to intolerable behavior.  The question is one of defining "intolerable" and "consequence".  Where do the rules--and the consequences--come from?

 In the very beginning of our history, we see God giving Adam and Eve one assignment and one warning.  As long as he took care of his wife and of the Garden, all was well.  But then God gave them the choice of obedience--and we know what happened, and the consequences.  We see then, and now; in the history of every human community and in our own experience, that we are capable of obedience and of defiance.  We see the two sides of mankind in Moses' final message to the Israelites as they are finally approaching the Promised Land:  " I set before you today a blessing and a curse; a blessing if you obey the commandments of Yahweh our God that I enjoin on you today; a curse, if you disobey the commandments of Yahweh your God and leave the way I have marked out for you today.." (Deuteronomy 11:26-28, Jerusalem Bible)  Very simple--but not easy in practice! 

The Jewish community has struggled with this for 3500 years now; first with judges and prophets, priests and kings. The kings were not religious leaders; they were supposed to be God-fearing examples, but the primary responsibility for the worship of God was the tribe of Levi.  The first king, Saul, was from the tribe of Benjamin; David and his successors were from Judah.  The kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel were a motley lot of who knows who; very few dynasties lasted more than a generation or two, and none of the political authority survived the Assyrian conquest  just 300 years after the northern tribes rejected Solomon's son Rehoboam.  There were only three times  Israel was something like an actual theocracy--rule by religious authorities. One was the period of the Judges, whose job was to interpret the Law and settle disputes.  Another was after the return from Babylon; Nehemiah was an appointed provincial governor who worked closely with the religious establishment.   The last was the period of the Maccabees (165-63BC) when the rulers were a priestly family.   The new nation of Israel is the first self-governing Jewish community since 63BC,  and they struggle with the relationship between a modern democracy and a long tradition of religious law.                                                                                                                  

By the time of Jesus, the Jews had learned to take God's laws seriously; in fact, almost too seriously. Jesus pointed out that they too often were compulsive about small matters and compromising in the big stuff. If you look at Jesus' reactions to the "sinners" that the religious establishment brought to Jesus for judgment, we see that He was more interested in transformation than condemnation.  He did, however, show no patience with overt,  determined evil. In only one case did he actually take action--when the Temple itself was being used for unholy greed.  As the early Church, following Jesus, the Apostles and St Paul, moved away from the obsession with Law and stressed the grace and mercy of God as demonstrated in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. In contrast, the Jewish rabbis and scholars went the other direction and went even farther into Law--spending several hundred years studying, discussing, and looking for ways to insure the Law could be meticulously observed, to the point of expanding the law to remove the possibility of even getting close enough to prohibited behavior to transgress.  Orthodox Jews recognize 613 commandments, and some communities have gone beyond that.  They are seen as obligations of their own people; they do believe that  the rest of us are obligated to follow the seven laws given to Noah after the flood,  but that this is our own responsibility before God.
 (Part 1 of 3)

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Muslim President?

Dr. Ben Carson ignited a firestorm this week by suggesting a Muslim U.S. President would create conflict within our Constitutional form of government.  People from both sides of the political isle railed against his bigoted and Muslim-phobic world view.  Sadly, their hysterical shrieks revealed a frightening and potentially dangerous lack of study on their part.
African Muslim thinker and writer Nassim Kamdar writes in his book 
Shariah-The Best Kept Secret...
"Parliamentary Democracy is theoretically a brilliant form of Government, but only to those who believe that man has the power to make his own laws (those who worship themselves) and actively promote that world view. A pre-requisite for it's establishment is rebellion to God and His exclusive authority."  Kindle Location 96
Hamed is the resident theologian at the Islamic Studies Center in Dubai, UAE.  Last month I had the privilege of attending Friday prayers, and enjoying a four hour lunch with Hamed.  He invited me to ask any and all questions regarding Islam.  At one point in our lunch I took out my Kindle and shared Nassim Kamdar's quote.  I explained my understanding of the issue, and asked Hamed if he agreed.  This is what he told me.
The Quran, the life of Muhammad the Prophet, and Shariah Law form the basis for Islamic faith and practice.  They see Law as divinely inspired and revealed by Allah.  The role of clerics, leaders, and courts is to apply the Shariah justly in a contemporary context.  American Democracy is based upon laws passed by leaders elected by the populace.  While American Democracy is "of the people, by the people, and for the people" Shariah is just the opposite.  American Democracy is bottom up.  Islam is definitely top down.  The very thought that humans should create their own laws is offensive to the mind of a Muslim committed to the supreme revelation of Allah.  How can humans create what Allah has already given?
I would encourage those who are angry with Dr. Carson to do some more studying.  His comments were not offensive in there nature.  They were simply challenging to those unaware of Islamic teaching.  How could a devote Muslim, who believes one true Law was given by Allah, function in a Democratic system where men enforce man made laws?  There is a built in philosophical juxtaposition.
Just to muddy the waters, I must add that I am challenged by the words of Hamed and  Nassim as I watch America's elected officials passing laws that defy the historical teaching of the Old and New Testaments.  American law is built on British Common Law that built on the Bible.  What will American Christians do when their elected officials pass laws that conflict with their faith?  That is another blog for another day!
As I continue to study the Quran and Shariah Law, I am persuaded that most political leaders in America do not yet understand the questions they are busy trying to answer.  I write this as a committed follower of Jesus Christ who has a growing conviction that Christians and leaders in America need to understand Islam.  It will be a key economic, sociological, and military topic for decades to come.  We, the West, must be ready and willing to respectfully and knowledgeably engage it!  If we do not, we will pay a terrible price for our ignorance!
Pastor Paul

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dead to the World--by Linden Malki

NEW! NEW!  is considered the most powerful marketing tool out there. What is there about "new!"  One suggestion I recently ran across is that many of us are looking for something outside of themselves to fill a discontent inside. What actually happens is that New! wears off and the discontent is still there. Reaching for Newer!  doesn't help in the long run, either. In today's world, we see lots of advice to try this! try that! have experiences! push the limits! You can wind up with a lot of stuff, a lot of disappointments, hurts, betrayals and pain. We can wind up with stuff we don't need, never use, just clutters up our lives. We can have people in our lives that don't fill the empty spaces, and entice us into places and things that leave us with scars and a resume full of disasters. There are people who try to use us to fill their empty spaces. In the long run, people will leave us one way or another, and we will leave people as well.   It has been said that "none of us get out of this world alive", which is true of our physical, mortal bodies.

Most of us human beings want a lot out of life. What did Adam and Eve want?  They wanted to "be like God"--which is a noble ambition. The problem is that they were looking in the wrong place.  Think about it: they had God readily available in a sense that we will not know on this earth.  But who did they ask? A being who rejected God, in the form of a passing snake, who pointed the way of rebellion rather than imitation. They had been told that defiance would lead to death.  It did--you could say that in some way we are all dead.  Some of us are spiritually dead, and recognize nothing beyond this world; and some of us are dead to this world, and alive with Christ.                                                                                           

There is an old spiritual that starts "This World is Not My Home"  which is an amazing truth.  We were not originally created for this world, and it is not ultimately satisfying.  If we insist on living our own life our own way, we are dead to a life beyond ourselves.  If we are willing to die to this world, we will be raised with Christ to the life we were created to live.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

WHAT IS A CHURCH?--by Linden Malki

    What's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "church"?  In most cases, an image of a building comes to mind--a little country church with a steeple; a large cathedral, or a building you know personally.  It's a good thing to feel a connection with a place that you associate with worshiping and serving God, and to want to give it the best possible care--as long as the place itself does not become a distraction and idol between you and God. Cleaning the building can become a substitute for cleaning up your life and attitudes.

"Churches" do not necessarily need a building--the early church transitioned from groups of believers meeting in the Temple to meeting in homes, outdoor or community space, and even in underground spaces.  It was later, as the communities grew and became more socially acceptable that special buildings began to be built. As the church spread into more areas, most of the young communities began life in homes, throughout the history of the church. My grandfather in Sweden became a member of an illegal house church, and was kicked out of his home by his father.  He later went on to build church buildings in Washington and Oregon in sawmill towns he built, which are still in use.  There are still places in today's world where Christians meet in secret places, but it is interesting that they do feel the need to meet and worship as congregations.

The other extreme is the idea that one doesn't need a church to be a Christian.   I recall a major political figure some years ago who said that he felt he could worship just as well on a horse in the mountains as in a church (but still promoted school prayer.) Yes, you can feel the presence of God in the beautiful places He has made, but there are things you miss out on. Church communities, like any human group, have stresses and strains because we are human, but a healthy Christian community has the Spirit which works to make us more than human. Looking at the earliest church, there are several things that are still being done that can only be done in community (not necessarily in a special building)--communion, which was commonly held in homes, and baptism, which requires at least two people--and usually has the added significance of welcoming the new believer into the community.

Calvary Baptist Church (now NorthPoint Christian Fellowship) wasn't born in a church building. The organizational beginning was a group of concerned Christians who met in the basement of the local YMCA to commit themselves to becoming a church community, 90 years ago next month.  Over the next few years, they met in several other local facilities before settling in a church building at 19th and E streets. When that building was felt to be an inadequate space for their ministry, they built the original sanctuary building on Sierra Way, dedicated in 1964. (The only building on the property before that was the quadraplex building on the north edge of the property, which was remodeled into offices and educational space. )  That was followed by the Children's Building, then Fellowship Hall, the modular building on the east side behind the Children's Building, and the Infant Center, built with the school that was on campus for some years.

The Sierra Way property is a beautiful church, dedicated to the service of God.  This doesn't mean that it has escaped the attention of forces opposed to this ideal. We have had the sanctuary fire, the hassle of rebuilding, the financial stresses of the fire insurance company's bankruptcy, and the financial issues at the school that resulted in its closure. Now, after five years of rebuilding our community at the Elks Lodge, we are back at Sierra Way, seeking to use this facility for His glory, not ours.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

GOD SPACE--by Linden Malki

According to Google, the largest church in the world is in Ivory Coast. The largest church building, that is; renown for not only its size but its beauty. . It is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, in Yamoussoukro.  It was built by the insistence of founding President of Ivory Coast, Feliz Houphouet-Boigny, in his home town, which he named as the national capital,  in 1985-1989. It was dedicated by Pope John-Paul II in 1990.  This was one of the only two times the church was full; it has 7000 inside seats, each with its own airconditioning, and standing room for 11,000 more.  The other time was at President  Houphouet-Boigny's funeral in 1994. It is said to have an average worship attendance of about 350 people.

On the other hand, the Works and Missions Baptist Church in Abijan couldn't get all of its members under one roof if they tried--they have an estimated 250,000 members spread over not just Ivory Coast but other parts of Africa and Asia.  Their core organization is the house church, and goes up through training classes. spiritual gifts classes, evangelism, worship, deliverance and more. (This is the church Pastor Paul recently visited  for their 40th anniversary celebration. See NorthPoint Christian Fellowship Facebook for lots of pictures!)

We, as a church that is coming up on 90 years old this October, have experienced small spaces and big buildings; small numbers and larger numbers. We know what it is like to have the demands of a building sap our energy. Can we keep the goal of having God-honoring space and and the goal of sharing God with people, aligned properly, with each one supporting the other?