Tuesday, December 22, 2015

It Starts with a Baby--by Linden Malki

It is interesting that Christmas has become a major cultural celebration even among those who do not share the spiritual significance of the event, and may not even have historical roots in the tradition.
I think it is at least partly because babies are little and cute and non-threatening. In this time and place, we tend to be fascinated with babies as such; sometimes to the point of regretting their growing out of babyhood. This particular baby was seen more in terms of his destiny.

The first description we find is Gabriel's announcement to Mary, that "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David..." (Luke 1:32-33.)

After Jesus was born, The angels told the shepherds "Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

In the Temple, when Jesus was taken for his presentation at eight days old, an old man named Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah. He told Mary that this child " is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel; destined to be a sign that is rejected--and a sword will pierce your own soul too-so the thoughts of many may be laid bare." (Luke 2:34-35). And a prophetess named Anna: when she saw him, she praised God and "spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Israel." (Luke 2:38).

Joseph also had word that this child was no ordinary baby: "you must name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21).

The most surprising prophecy was when "wise men" from the East showed up in Jerusalem, having seen a star that they believed was a prediction of the birth of a King of the Jews. When they found the house where the family was, they gave homage to the child and gave them prophetic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

All these prophecies were beyond the family's comprehension at this time; but they were powerful enough to attract a different kind of attention. The puppet king of Judea, King Herod, hearing of the expectations associated with this child, responded by trying to kill the Him. Joseph was warned in a dream, and they fled to Egypt for safety, and stayed until after Herod's death.

People saw Jesus in many different ways during his earthly life; but the one thing they didn't see is what they expected of a Messiah--the hero on the white horse with legions of angels at his command. When God fulfilled His part of His Plan, it was totally in character: a baby, who was destined to grow up into the fulfillment of the prophecies. He came to grow up and live with people--ordinary people, who did extraordinary things after being touched and taught by the very Son of God.

We too are born as babies who depend on parents and others to help us grow into the people God designed us to be. When we are born again--spiritually--we also are not intended to remain spiritual babies, but to grow as Jesus was described: growing "in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and Man." As we enjoy this season when we remember God's great Gift of His Son, let us remember also Who He was sent here to become.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Created to Grow--by Linden Malki

Pine nuts (or pinion nuts) are widely used in Lebanese foods. Some years ago, my brother-in-law brought us some seeds for the pine trees that provide the nuts. I tried over and over to grow Lebanese pine trees. I could get them to sprout and grow into little Christmas trees about 10-15 inches tall, but  that's all. We gave seeds to friends with green thumbs, and I don't think any of them got anything bigger than that, either.  Somehow I finally got a few seeds to sprout in a flowerpot, and grow big enough to transplant it into a flowerbed.  Could never make it work again, but one of those sprouts grew into a big tree.  From what I can find out, these are similar to the Italian stone pine; they grow into an umbrella or lollipop shape with a conventional trunk and a round top. The flowerbed in question is a raised bed between a driveway and a fence, and the tree roots got big enough to crack the rock and cement retaining border, and the county fire inspectors required us to keep the lower limbs trimmed to about 10 feet above the ground.

Jesus used the illustration of a grain of mustard seed as a starting point for faith. This small seed can become a large tree; this is how God works. It's OK to start out small when we first learn about faith. Sometimes it never grows much more than houseplant size,  but is designed with the capacity to grow into a large and productive tree.  If you look at the way the world is made, all living things start small, as single cells. Everything in the universe is made of less than a hundred different kinds of atoms, and these are made of three basic smaller particles which interact in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

What does it take for a sapling to become a full-sized tree? Basically, air, water, soil  and light, all provided by the Creator.  The seed provides the startup nutrients; as it grows, the tree is able to suck up water and nutrients from the soil, and the miracle of preloaded internal programming that makes not only everything else the tree needs from water, air and sunlight--just make your own list of what all the environment gets back from the tree.

Last night I attended the graduation of a grandson from Biola University. This group of 200+ young people transitioning from dependents and students to adults, prepared to give their energy, effort, and expertise back to their communities and the wider world, was a great reminder that God creates us to grow.  We are all intended to grow from seedlings drinking in,  to disciples continually growing and giving back to God, each other, and  our world.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Door is Open--by Linden Malki

Once upon a time there was a father who worried about his son. Nothing newsworthy about that; as parents, worrying about your kids is part of the job. But sometimes it's worse than others.

This father didn't know where his son was or what he was doing. We don't know how old he was; could have been a bored teenager or a burned-out sufferer of midlife crisis. All we know is that the father was at least reasonably well-off, and that the son had , as they say in British novels, expectations. It has been said that nothing can mess with a family more than an inheritance, or the feeling of entitlement that comes with looking at your parents' bottom line and thinking......

One day the son stopped daydreaming and did something about it. He asked his dad if he could get his share of the family estate NOW. We don't know if he begged, or pleaded, or tried to sell Dad on the amazing opportunity that was just waiting for him to invest in a sure thing. if this were a traditional folk tale, the son (he was the younger one) would have gone off to seek his fortune, and been very brave and very clever and wound up on the top of the heap. This being more like the real world, and like people I have known, when he was out of his father's sight, he collected lots of friends that were only to happy to share his good fortune. The world has always been full of people who gravitate to easy money. It's also always been true that easy come, easy go, and even a big barrel has a bottom. And all those friends that were so willing to eat on your dime evaporate when the bucks stop flowing.

At least he looked for a job rather than panhandling, and was willing to take the worst job out there. And when he sobered up and got tired of sharing the pig slop, crawling home was better.

There have been those who see a righteous God as one who waits for you to trip so He can slam His door in your face. In this story, both the father and son truly understood the definition of "home": it's where you go that they have to let you in.

The father understood something the prophet Ezekiel had said: If the wicked man renounces sin and lives with integrity, he shall live; and one who renounces integrity to practice sin shall die. "Shake off all the sins you have committed against me, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why are you so anxious to die, House of Israel? I take no pleasure in the death of anyone--it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks. Repent and live!" (Ezekiel 18:31-32) It's not where you've been but where you end. When you turn your back on your stupidity and sin, and repent and come home, the Father's door is open.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

JACOB'S LADDER--by Linden Malki

In the old gospel song we sing  "We are climbing Jacob's Ladder, " but in the Genesis account,  Jacob did
not climb it.  In fact, we do not read of anyone climbing it from our end.   God sent angels down to draw Jacob's attention to Him.  In most of the world's religions, people are trying to climb that ladder with their own strength.  We do it ourselves, too.   But it is God who calls us; our responsibility is to respond.

In Eden, before their banishment, Adam and Eve walked with God as a friend, but still, He came to them.  God spoke to Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel and the prophets; David & Solomon.  He spoke to others through the prophets.  He reached down when he spoke to others through the prophets.  He Himself came to us in the person of Jesus.

Jesus spoke of the blessings for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.   Physical hunger and thirst are something we all experience. Think about how our physical bodies are nourished and strengthened.  The food and drink we need comes from outside ourselves; from God's creation.  We can't keep ourselves going by chowing down on our own flesh.  If we do not have access to food and water from outside ourselves, we cannot live very long. Every physical thing we have comes from God's created world. Not only what we eat, but what we wear, where we live comes from God's provision.   The air we breathe is given to us. All life on this earth depends on energy from outside, from the Sun.  If it were to somehow be cut off from us, everything would die.  There would be no heat, no rain, no wind, no days and nights. As St Paul told the Athenians, God is not dependent on anything that human hands can do for Him, since He can never be in need of anything ; on the contrary, He gives everything--including life and breath--to everyone. ... Yet in fact, He is not far from any of us, since it is in Him that we live, and move, and exist.  (Acts 17:24-29 JB)

And yet, we keep trying.  We bring offerings, which are but a portion of what He has given us.  We try to do things that we think with get us "points" with Him, when all He asks is for us to follow Him and allow Him  to make us into what He created us to be. (But of course this means doing it His way, not our own human way.)
We have seen far too much in our history and daily news of what can happen when we take it upon ourselves to be judge, jury and executioner, whether it is out of revenge or greed for power. Too often it has been in the name of God, thinking that He needs us to run His world.  We have even seen those who do not acknowledge God belittle our prayers, claiming that prayer is a waste of time when we should be "doing something."  The scary thing is that  "doing something"  is too often another case of playing God and making things worse.  The need for wisdom and clarity is very obvious in a very scary world;  we need to find His way and walk in it.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Reflection from tragedy

I was driving in my truck when Karen called to tell me there was an active shooter in San Bernardino.  My mind immediately went to my grandchildren, and their school.  Fear gripped my heart as prayers took form on my lips.  When Karen told me things were unfolding in the South section of our city my mind turned from my own grandkids to those caught in the midst of the moment.

Pastors and chaplains responded to the Rock Church where all of the occupants of the building were taken.  The shock and horror on the faces of the people getting off the buses told the story.  We spent our afternoon passing out water, and listening to the witnesses of the tragedy share their pain.

When I came home I was emotionally exhausted.  All I could think about was the families of the fallen, and wounded.  The looks on the faces of co-workers, friends, and loved ones had penetrated my own heart and deeply impacted me.

Life is so short, and so precious.  Just last week Karen and I were watching the news and talking.  I actually said, "Maybe it is good that we do not live in Washington, New York, or Los Angeles.  Who would want to attack San Bernardino?"

The error of my words remind us of the uncertainty of life.  Anything can happen, anywhere, at anytime.  We are not promised tomorrow.  I do not say that to frighten or depress.  My take away from this experience is very simple.  Be right with God through Jesus Christ so that when my earthly journey is over I can enter eternity with joyful expectancy.  Then, live this earthly life in love, service, and a spirit of humble forgiveness.  Love your spouse, kids, parents, and family.  Love your church family and community.  Pray for the nation, and the world.  Do what you can to make life better for those around you each and every day.

Take time to pray for those who lost so much this week.  Take time to pray for the first responders who did an amazing job.  Stop and tell a police officer, fireman, or medic how much you appreciate the daily sacrifice they make for you!  Pray for our leaders and military around the world that God would guide them and protect them as they serve to keep us safe!

One tangible step you can take is to attend your church this Sunday.
Gather with your community of faith.
Vote for God's plan with your presence.

If you worship at NorthPoint I will see you at 10:00 a.m. Sunday.

Peace and good will to you all,
Pastor Paul