Saturday, October 31, 2015

He is Risen Indeed! by Linden Malki

Peter was running on pure Spirit-power, that day in Jerusalem. And he had the most important message: "Fellow Israelites, listen carefully to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man thoroughly accredited by God to you—the miracles and wonders and signs that God did through him are common knowledge—this Jesus, following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God, was betrayed by men who took the law into their own hands, and was handed over to you. And you pinned him to a cross and killed him. But God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him." (Acts 2:22-24 The Message)

After watching and learning, Peter began to "get it." We see Jesus putting him on the spot: "And how about you? Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter said, "You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God." ( Matthew 16:15-16 The Message) But even after seeing what he'd seen, and hearing what he'd heard, it wasn't enough. When the chips were really down, we see this: "Aren’t you one of his disciples?"He denied it, "Not me." One of the Chief Priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, "Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?" Again, Peter denied it. Just then a rooster crowed. "(John 18:20-27 The Message)

This is where it begin to really change for Peter and the others: " Peter and the other disciple left immediately for the tomb. They ran, neck and neck. The other disciple got to the tomb first, outrunning Peter. Stooping to look in, he saw the pieces of linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Simon Peter arrived after him, entered the tomb, observed the linen cloths lying there, and the kerchief used to cover his head not lying with the linen cloths but separate, neatly folded by itself. Then the other disciple, the one who had gotten there first, went into the tomb, took one look at the evidence, and believed." (John 20:6-10 The Message)

After the Ascension and the Pentecost experience, Peter knew what was really important. This is what he wrote after years of serving Jesus: " What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole." (1 Peter 1:3-5 The Message)

Jesus has a well-deserved reputation as a great teacher; but this is not be enough to explain 2000 years of changed lives. It's worth listening to what He said because of what He did and who He is--the risen and living Lord. There is a story from the early days of the USSR, when a Communist activist had given an impassioned speech against religious belief. A priest in the audience (probably required to be there) asked to speak a few words. They were "Christ is Risen!" To which most of the audience replied, as their automatic response, "He is Risen Indeed!" Fast forward--

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Happy 20th Anniversary at Calvary/NorthPoint, Pastor Paul! -- by Linden Malki

I am constantly amazed at the lengths God goes through to connect people. Some years ago at Calvary there was a family who had two daughters the age of my girls, and they were in Sunday school and church groups with us. One of the girls later worked in the office at Sunland First Baptist Church. She heard from her mom, who was our church secretary at the time. that our church was in the pastoral search process. Marcia had kept in touch with a previous staff person at Sunland, who had gone on to seminary back East, and had graduated and wanted to move back to California. Marcia gave her mom the info, and the rest is the history that we are celebrating this evening. There are only two members of the search committee that researched and recommended Paul Reinhard to our congregation who are still here in the church--Gary Yetter and I--so if you want to blame someone, you can start with us.

I've been on the Ministry Board with Paul for a good part of the last 20 years, and it's been an interesting experience. Like almost every other pastor I've known since high school, he's been the patient recipient of comments and questions on sermons or classes. He's lucky that he doesn't have to deal with my handwriting any more, now that we have email. Paul's pretty good with computers, sometimes he's too good--every now and then my phone gets clogged with group messages that come in faster than I can answer them and my poor little dinosaur phone spits my unfinished replies into a stacked-up draft file.

We've been through some tough stuff in the past 20 years. I was church treasurer during the worst of the financial disaster of the fire and insurance collapse. We both spent way too much time dealing with the poor soul at the credit union who got stuck with us. The loan person I originally dealt with told me that our application had the biggest faith factor of any load he'd ever recommended.. Over the last 13 years, we've skated on some thin ice, but praise God, never gone completely under. One of the good days was when TM sent us a significant chunk of money as a grant. and an even better day was when Paul and I went as guests to a TM board meeting to pay it back with a bonus when we got our first partial payment from the trustees of the insurance company's liquidation.

Probably none of us know how many zillions of hours that rebuild project cost Paul. I got a glimpse of it when they finally sent the adjuster back to review our paperwork. Paul and I spent a couple of days with paperwork all over the conference room table, because the adjuster wanted an explanation of each of the 79 change orders that came up during the construction. Paul could describe each of these, having been there almost every day for the more than three years of planning and rebuilding.

The city was another thorn in our flesh as well; we're not surprised at the delays The Way is experiencing. One of the most annoying whas when an inspector decided that our second-floor baptistry, which had been approved in the original design stage at least a year earlier, was not "handicapped accessible" within his definition. After about a month when the whole thing got put on hold, Paul called the inspector's supervisor one evening and told them that if this wasn't settled immediately he was going to call the reporter from the Press Enterprise who had been reporting on our project. By the end of the conversation, it was agreed that the baptistry was not a public space within the meaning of the rules.

In the spring of 2008, Paul and I went to a leader training seminar for L3. One workshop involved developing ministry programs, and Paul's dream project at the time was training small group leaders and coaches. We didn't follow up on it at the time, but a few years later Paul's D.Min final project was a mentoring program. His next step is an upcoming John Maxwell training program designed to stretch him in whole new directions growing out of where he's been .

It's been a rough road; the best writer in the world couldn't have dreamed up where God has taken us.
Look out world, here we come!
From the 20th Anniversary Celebration 10/23/15

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Love Story--by Linden Malki

God is Love--and He made us to love Him and each other; that men and women were made to love and become "one flesh".  When St Paul in his letters commands husbands to love their wives, he is not saying anything new; he is drawing on this very old pattern.  We see Abram/Abraham's love for his wife--that even when she had no children, he still did not send her away, which would have been common in his situation, and only took Hagar on Sarah's instigation.   We are told that Isaac loved Rebekah at first sight; and years later, he found himself in a situation where he was afraid to say she was his wife, thinking that Abimelech, a Philistine king, might kill him to get her.  What blew that story was that when Abimelech saw them together it was obvious what their relationship really was. 

One of the amazing love stories in the Bible is Jacob, who worked for fourteen years to earn the right to marry Rachel, and was inconsolable when she died, even though he had a houseful of available women.  In the story of Ruth, Boaz shows  his love for Ruth.  At the beginning of the story of Samuel, Elkanah tells Hannah of his love for her. 

We read that God not only commands the Israelites to love Him, but also expresses His love for them. He explains in the incident where Balaam is hired to curse the Israelites on their exodus trek through the wilderness, that "Yahweh your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because Yahwah your God loved  you." (Deut 23:5 Jerusalem Bible). We see the relationship between God and Israel expressed when King Solomon was told, "Blessed be Yahweh your God who has granted you His favor, setting you on the throne of Israel. Because of Yahweh's everlasting love for Israel, He has made you king to deal out law and justice."  By the time of Hosea, God is describing Israel as an unfaithful wife,  who turns her back on the covenant given them by God and messes around with the idols of their neighbors.  Unfaithful--but still loved.

And then Jesus came into a Judah that had finally gotten the rules down, but had somehow forgotten the reason: God's love. Jesus makes it clear from the beginning that He has come to restore the relationship, staring with John 3:16-17.

We see Jesus' referring to Himself as the bridegroom, and implying that His followers are the bride. In the final act of the drama,  in Revelation 21, we have the image of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, where the Family of God is complete.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Law of God (Part 3) by Linden Malki

Islam is all about Law. In fact, the main characteristic of the Islamic community is total submission to the Law as revealed to Muhammad. As an Indonesian former Muslim put it, "In the Quran, Allah is depicted as the Creator who is not only far above the world he has made but also far from every human being. He is the one who keeps an accurate record of our deeds so that he can recompense us with final rewards or ultimate punishment on the last day. This filled my heart with terror and dread, for I knew I had often fallen short of the requirements of true virtue and righteousness. ... Each one of us has to face judgment alone, on the basis of his own achievements and failures. ... I learned long passages from the Quran and I learned all of the prescribed ritual prayers [which can only be said in Arabic, even by those who do not speak the language]. ...Nothing was more important to me as the final preparation for the final judgment. My constant preoccupation was the fulfillment of the will of Allah in my daily affairs." (p28-29, The True Path, Mark Hanna)

There is very little mention of forgiveness in what I have read of Islamic tradition. The second day of the Hajj (the Pilgrimage to Mecca that takes place yearly and is one of the five "Pillars of Islam"--every Muslim is expected to make at least one Hajj in his lifetime--is devoted to repentance and prayers for forgiveness, but the final question of forgiveness is made by Allah himself at the final judgment, and the only hope for mercy is in his hands alone.

The idea of forgiving each other is not often seen. Offense is taken easily and grudges last forever. The law itself is enforced by the community and the family. A traditional Islamic state's main function is to support the law, and the honor of the family depends on its everyone's right behavior. Even a suspicion can lead to beating, or even execution in order to restore the reputation of the family and community. There is much judgment and little mercy shown, although it is not uncommon for a male to be judged less harshly than a female.

It has been claimed that Islam is a "religion of peace." The difficulty is that in the Islamic tradition, there can only be peace when the whole world is in submission to Islam. In practice, there is little peace even in the Dar al-Salaam, the world of submission to Allah; there have always been rivalries and tensions between factions within this world.. Even in today's world, there is not only persecution and attempted genocide of unbelievers, but between factions of Islam itself.

My husband grew up in Lebanon and Palestine (before Israeli statehood).His parents were from historic Christian communities, but they lived within the Muslim environment. He commented once that many of the Middle Eastern immigrants that he knew in America "lost their manners" when they got here. It wasn't as much a basic change in their personalities, but a large part of their behavior back home was determined and enforced by the environment--even among Christians. When they left the environment, they lost the rules they had grown up with, and didn't have the internal rules that is the Christian ideal. (Yes, many American Christians' behavior is imposed from the outside, as well, unfortunately.)

Islamic law does not allow tolerance of "infidels" except in special circumstances. Christians and Jews have limited respect as ones who have holy books that are precursors of Muhammad, but are second-class citizens in Islamic countries and are subject to much restriction. It is not proper for non-Muslims to have political power over Muslims. Muslims living in the Dar al-Harb (house of war, the part of the world not yet submissive) are allowed some compromise as a temporary expedient, but are expected to work toward expanding toward power.

Studies and interviews with Muslims in the West have described people who resent the freedom of the Western cultures, and find that the temptations of freedom undermine their attempts to live by to Islamic law, and they develop a resentment of us "infidels". The 911 terrorists fit this pattern, and many of those who have left the West to join ISIS have expressed a wish for the security and purity of the enforced observance of their law.

Muslims are taught that our Bible has been tampered with and is not reliable; and that Jesus, who they recognize as a prophet, cannot be the Son of God. It is illegal in Muslim countries to preach our Gospel to Muslims, and a convert from Islam to Christianity or Judaism is subject to imprisonment (until they convert back) or death, which can be enforced by a convert's family or community. Even still, there is an increasing response from Muslims who hear about a God that can be known and a Savior who can forgive and change lives. Do our own lives show our appreciation of the God we know and the Jesus who saves?
(Part 3 of 3)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Law of God (Part 2) by Linden Malki

Jesus grew up with the Law-but He was harassed and crucified in the name of the Law.
The early Church struggled with the issue of Law, and there there is still no universal agreement on the place of Law in the life of a church and people.  The break with rabbinical Judaism came over the issue of Law.  The basic moral and ethical principles of all three Abrahamic traditions are very similar; the differences are in the details,  interpretations, and custom.  The huge differences between Jesus' teaching and the codes of Moses and Muhammad is in attitude. Observant Jews and Muslims try very very had to do it all by the Book and the associated traditions.
 Jesus knew and respected the Law, but He recognized and dealt with the knowledge that God's creation--free people-- are not able to fully and perfectly live up to it. 

When we are first told of a new rule, regulation or requirement, what is our reaction to it? First, it depends on where it comes from.  Do we respect the source? Do we agree with and want to cooperate with it? If so, all is good and we have few problems going with the program.  Think back to Abraham: God came to him and offered him a relationship and a covenant.  God chose Moses and Joshua, and they established the relationship between God, and the people they led, and then asked the people to ratify the covenant they were being offered.

There is always the choice to reject the rules. It might be ignorance, stupidity, laziness,  defiance,  rebellion, and any of the "seven deadly sins" :pride, envy, wrath (anger), sloth (laziness), avarice (greed), gluttony, lust.  It can be outside influences--there are personal, social and spiritual forces that are do not have our best interests at heart.  As individuals and a community what do we do with this rejection?  All three traditions believe that the ultimate Judge is God.  There are examples in Scripture of God's judgment being immediate and unmistakable.  There are times when the real world provides consequences. Political or social  authorities may be called upon to provide consequences.  In some cases, individuals feel called upon to provide consequences. Part of the job of parenting is to teach and enforce appropriate rules. Church communities have had varying responses to this question--some church communities have had the politcal power to supply judgment. The main the  principles of  God's Law are necessary for a safe and civilized society, and require enforcement as the community. One question is drawing this line--different communities draw it in different places, and this there are "hot button" questions we face in today's world as to community enforcement vs personal responsibility vs letting God deal with it, now or later.

St Paul, who was the equivalent of a PhD in Jewish Law, spent his early adulthood as an "enforcer" of what he believed to be his responsibility to God. I believe that the reason that God chose to change his life was that He recognized that Saul of Tarsus truly wanted to obey God. Getting to know Jesus as the Son of God taught him that Law was inadequate to bring us into harmony with God; that Jesus was the Way to overcome what a hymnist called "our bent to sinning" and to be released from the consequences of our inevitable failures.  Jesus pointed out that there were two Commandments underpinning all Law: totally loving God and loving our neighbors. Committing to the Godly way to live by both of these changes us for eternity.

(Part 2 of 3)