Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tell the Story!--by Linden Malki

Christmas is an amazing time of the year! The story is has captured the imaginations of people around the world, even in cultures that may not know the God behind the story. Dramatizations of the story go back to St Francis of Assisi in the 1200’s, as live drama and artistic representations. Many of us have taken part, as children and adults, in dramatically telling this Story. (There was even an article I saw online recently by a Muslim writer saying that he thinks it’s OK to tell Muslims “Merry Christmas,” because Jesus’ birth is part of their tradition as well, even though they don’t believe he was the Son of God. ) Christmas music and Christmas decorations are found in all sorts of places, even if controversial --but even the controversy indicates the power of the story.  If it had no meaning, who would care?

Even the Christmas tree has its roots in the Church—there is a legend that St Boniface, one of the earliest missionaries to Northern Europe in the 8th Century, chopped down an oak tree that was worshipped by pagans, and a fir tree grew in its place. St Boniface pointed out that this tree points to heaven, the triangular shape symbolizes the Trinity, and it keeps its color all year as a reminder of eternity.  It was also used in the travelling mystery plays in medieval Europe, referred to as the Tree of Paradise with apples hung in the branches. The modern version of the Christmas tree took shape in 16th Century Germany, where reformer Martin Luther was said to have taken an evergreen tree indoors and lighted it with small candles. (My husband’s family brought over a set of spring-clip candleholders from Lebanon; I never tried using them.) The combination of lights and the tree is a beautiful and powerful reminder of the Light of the World, and has become a valued part of the celebration.

Moses told the Israelites as they came out of Egypt that they were to tell their children what God had done for them every year as they celebrated the prescribed feasts.  This is what Christmas does for us—every year we take time and energy to remember and celebrate that God sent His Son to be our Redeemer;  to remember and share His lessons of light, love, peace, and giving.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Gift of the Kingdom--by Linden Malki

"The first Christmas came amidst distress over — just imagine! — government and governmental questions. The rule of the Romans and their Jewish allies would have been blown away by a good election. But of course there weren't any elections back then, just notifications of who was the new emperor or king or prefect. The perpetrators (from the imperial standpoint) of the first Christmas worked around the realities of power and force. These they did not seek to do away with. In their stead they erected something higher: the love of God."*
The contrast between two attitudes is very clear in the last two people we've looked at in this Advent season. Herod the Great was a classic politician--he climbed his way up a ladder based on his father's political contacts and his efforts to make the right friends in Rome and the right marriages in Palestine.  He finagled his contacts in Rome into first a governorship and then the position of "King of the Jews" over most of Palestine. Judea had been a more or less independent kingdom from 163 BC until taken over by Rome in 63 BC. The history of this period was marked by war and intrigue by Greeks, Jews and Rome.  

The other lifestyle we saw is a young woman we know as Mary. Her faith and obedience to God made her a person God could use in a unique way: as the mother of the true Messiah.  Her attitude, when approached by Gabriel with this message, was clear and simple: "I am the Lord's servant; let it be as you say."  There was a very good chance at one point that her son could become victims of the murderous Herod, but Joseph's immediate and unquestioned obedience to the angel of the Lord saved their lives. Her grace and obedience carried her through even the worst possible thing that could happen to a mom, and to a miracle on the other side.

Right now in our country we are seeing a tremendous amount of faith in politics--of all sorts--to a point that God is ignored, rejected, or invoked to support human goals. God is not the servant of our political and social wants--the Kingdom that was the ultimate Christmas gift is out of this world!

* William Murchison, 12/20/16

 Judea had been a more or less independent kingdom from 163 BC when a family of Jewish priests, who were called Maccabee (probably derived from the word for "hammer") and who had started a guerilla uprising against a Hellenist kingdom based in Syria who were demanding pagan sacrifices. The recovery and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem is commemorated in the festival of Hannukah; and the Maccabee kingdom, always caught between the kingdoms based in Egypt and Syria and ridden with internal power struggles, looked to Rome for backing and wound up being invaded by Pompey in 63 BC and brought under Roman control. There were those who saw Judas Maccabee as a Messiah figure, but his position and power were based on war and intrigue.  He was killed in battle, and the military and political struggles continued.  Herod's third and favorite wife, Mariamne, was one of the last of the Maccabean line; she and her two sons were killed by Herod in the internal politics of the palace. Herod did keep kosher and observed most of the Jewish law--it was said that it was safer to be Herod's pig than his son.  The only survivor was a granddaughter--Herodius, who married an uncle: Herod Phillip, one of Herod the Great's sons, whom she divorced to marry his brother Herod Antipas, which triggered the murder of John the Baptist. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Birthday of the Kingdom--by Linden Malki

Many years ago, "in Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God: God, you can now release your servant;  release me in peace as you promised. With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;  it’s now out in the open for everyone to see: A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,    and of glory for your people Israel.  Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother, This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel, A figure misunderstood and contradicted— the pain of a sword-thrust through you—But the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are."  (Luke 2:25-35, The Message)

It's one thing to have been told that your child is the Messiah.  That one word doesn't tell you enough. it doesn't tell you that various unexpected people are going to pop up without much notice--from a baby cousin whose parents are the most unlikely people to have produced him, to shepherds and angels and caravans of camels and foreigners with unlikely gifts; with a bar-mitzvah developing into such  amazing scholarly discussions in the Temple in Jerusalem to have lost track of time for three days. Somehow she knew that he could save the day at a wedding celebration when the wine ran low, but when he began to draw crowds with incisive speeches and miraculous healing, she and some of the family thought he'd run mad, and when they came to see what was going on and take him home if necessary, his response was to blow them off with this: "But who is my mother and father, whosoever shall do the will of my father who is in heaven, those are my brothers and sisters and mother."  We can see her going home with family members who totally don't know what is going on here.  She must have been puzzled, too--after all that happened to get where she was at that time. It doesn't look like her life is very blessed.

We don't see her again until the most horrible day of her life--when she saw him die the most horrible death. That next day must have been literally like Hell--not only was her son dead, but God Himself might has well have been dead, too.  She must have thought back to Simeon and his words of swords that were too much in evidence, and glory that wasn't. I wonder if the sorrow and total ending of what Mary had expected for over thirty years, and what a hundred people who had given up three years of their lives, not to mention everything they could have been doing for those years, and the words of hope and love they had lived with, was a day whose memory would taint the Sabbath forever.

But the coming of the next dawn brought more than just the expected sunlight, but a totally unexpected Son-light, as all the answers came to Life. We are still wrestling with the meaning of Messiah--that it's not a hero on a white horse in the streets and roads of Judea, but a Relationship that parallels what we thought reality is, and changes our lives--if we let it.  The last glimpse of Mary in Scripture is in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, the day that the Holy Spirit shows up in power.  We celebrate Christmas as the birth of a baby--and Easter as the first step in the birth of a Kingdom.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

LOOKING FOR A KING--by Linden Malki

Reading the Bible is sometimes like missing episodes of a series--at the end of the latest book of the  Old Testament, Malachi, the Judeans are back in Jerusalem, under a reasonably benevolent Persian Empire, with a Jewish governor and the Temple back in full working order.  Then fast-forward 400 years, and we see what had been David and Solomon's Kingdom divided into three Roman provinces, and the provincial rulers and the people are puppets of Rome—or its enemies.

What happened in between? We see through the Old Testament the tension between the calling of God, the temptations of the neighboring tribes and nations, the politics of a series of aggressive empires, and the stubborn, selfish human choices that people make. We see God offering a relationship to people that He chose to demonstrate His plan for His creatures, based on their response to His offered way of living. They get off track, find themselves in trouble, God sends them a judge, king, or prophet to get them back on track, which works for awhile. The political challenges get bigger and more dangerous.  The rivals that Abraham faced were pretty much the same strength as his own tribe. The Philistines were tougher; the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians were successively stronger and more dangerous, militarily and culturally. We see the later prophets warning of God’s displeasure, and longing for His intervention.

We see an early change in Israel's way of dealing with these challenges, when instead of dealing with God and the leadership of individuals called by God, and their own knowledge of His requirements, they ask for a king. They wanted a political answer, and they got mostly bad kings.

The Persian empire was conquered by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, about a hundred years after Nehemiah and Malachi. At Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his empire was divided among his generals. Judea was originally ruled from Egypt under a Greek dynasty friendly to the Jews, but in 198 BC it was taken over by another Greek ruler based in Antioch in Syria. His son, Antiochus IV, was determined to make Jerusalem into a Greek city, and replaced the worship of God by offerings to Zeus. This led to a revolt led by a family of priests, the Maccabees, who took back control of Jerusalem and the Temple. The rededication of the Temple in 163 BC is still celebrated by the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah in December. The Maccabeans became more and more concerned with their own political issues and less with God, and made a treaty with Rome, which took over the area in 63 BC. Their intention was to recreate the Kingdom of David, but they did it by military conquests and power politics. The dream of the restored Kingdom by a God-called military hero was very much in the air when Jesus was born.

The dream of the righting of all wrongs and creating the ideal society through politics is very much still with us. Jesus often said that His kingdom is not “of this world.”  What does this mean for our

Saturday, December 3, 2016

THANK GOD FOR MUSIC! by Linden Malki

Music is one of the greatest gifts of our Creator.  There is no "logical" reason that music has a profound effect on our minds and spirits, but the experience of music affects our mood, enhances our memory, helps us learn, and brings people together.  One confirmation of the effect of music is its connection with Christmas--we are at the time of year when almost anyplace we go, especially shopping, we are surrounded by music--and we often find ourselves singing along mentally if not audibly. We are drawn together in celebration with music--many of the events of the season are based on music.

I took piano lessons as a child, and have played off and on most of my life; not much recently, however. Last evening, there happened to be no one else at home when I got there, and it seemed like a good time to play. There was a book of Christmas music there on the piano; playing my way through it I found that I was playing many of them from memory.  They brought back memories--of Christmas programs over the years; songs that had been part of kids' choirs I have worked with, groups I've sung with, the praise band I played vibraphone with when I was in high school.  My folks both sang in choirs (in fact, that's how they met); all three of my brothers sang, two of them professionally. My dad's family would gather around the piano at my grandmother's or aunt's house for an evening sing-along, and some of my cousins still do. The night before a family funeral I found myself practicing a duet in Swedish with one of my cousins, to be part of the service.

Swedish Baptists sing! I went on a Swedish Baptist Heritage tour in 1998 with  folks interested in Swedish Baptist history on the 150th anniversary of the first adult believer's baptism in Sweden, I was somewhat surprised that the tour organizers sent out a small book of Swedish hymns with instructions to practice, as we would probably be singing in churches around Sweden. At  one point a group of us were in a church that didn't happen to have an accompanist that Sunday, so I found myself at a piano. We sang on the buses as well, just for the joy of it.  Singing is a good introduction to a language; some years ago at Calvary our Kids' Christmas Choir did carols in about a half-dozen different languages; a good way to get a taste of the ways people around the world celebrate the coming of the Messiah.

The NorthPoint Choir singers have a program scheduled for next Friday at a disabled children's facility over near Community Hospital. These are children who are chair- or bed-bound, many with speaking difficulties as well. The first year we went there, we didn't know quite what to expect, but we found that the children do respond as well as they can, and the staff says they enjoy it. They've invited us back almost every year.  Most of our programs are in facilities with older people with a variety of abilities and needs; music touches people even after many other abilities are gone. God made us capable of making music--and capable of responding to music, both as individuals and in groups. It is no accident that the longest book in the Bible is Psalms!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Attitute of Gratitude--by Linden Malki

The story of humanity has been one of movement. The motives have been mixed, as have the results. Conquest and greed have been a part of this, but so has been the desire to escape intolerable conditions, human sinfulness, the desire for adventure, a new start in a new place. And part of this has often been a spirit of thanksgiving. The giving of thanks to God was from the very earliest settlers the common reaction to arrival in the New World. The Pilgrims are the ones that we remember, but they were not the first.

"When on September 8, 1565 Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and his 800 Spanish settlers founded the settlement of St. Augustine in La Florida, the landing party celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, and, afterward, Menéndez laid out a meal to which he invited as guests the native Seloy tribe who occupied the site. Numerous thanksgivings for a safe voyage and landing had been made before in Florida, by such explorers as Juan Ponce de León, in 1513 and 1521, Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528, Hernando de Soto in 1529, Father Luis Cáncer de Barbastro in 1549, and Tristán de Luna in 1559. Indeed French Calvinists (Huguenots) who came to the St. Johns River with Jean Ribault in 1562 and René de Laudonnière in 1564 similarly offered prayers of thanksgiving for their safe arrivals. But all of those ventures failed to put down permanent roots. St. Augustine's ceremonies were important historically in that they took place in what would develop into a permanently occupied European city."*

The impulse to thank God goes back to the beginning of history. The first thing Noah did when they came out of the Ark was to build an altar and make sacrifices to God. Abram was called by God to move to a new place, with the promise of being the start of a new nation. When he arrived in the center of the land where he was led, "the Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' So he (Abram) built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him."  (Genesis 12:7).  He built altars to God in all places to which the Lord led him. When Joshua led the Israelites through the Jordan River on their return, they brought stones from the riverbed and built a monument, "so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand to the Lord is powerful, and so that you might always fear the Lord your God." (Joshua 4:24)

The feasts that developed in Israel in obedience to God were reminders and opportunities for the people to express their thankfulness and gratitude to God. But beyond the specific occasions, the attitude of thankfulness fills a good part of the Bible--first for the care and calling of God, and in the New Testament, the saving work of Jesus. It reminds us that we are not the creators of our world, but the beneficiaries of a loving Creator. And even better, he is not just Lord, but our Lord; He is our Father, and we are His children, that in faith we receive His gifts knowing that all we have is His.

* Florida historian Dr Michael Gannon, from an essay written in 2002, quoted in The Keepers' Blog,  St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, St Augustine, FL)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Living in Faith--by Linden Malki

Habbakkuk was living in interesting times. Judah was  heavily influenced by the idolatrous culture of Assyria on one hand, but rebelling against it with the other; and playing playing politics with Egypt as well. Assyria was in its death throes as an empire, with the Chaldeans and Babylonians on the horizon. We first see him complaining to God about the evil world he lives in. God's answer: Judah's punishment is coming--and the punishers will get theirs in due time as well. God's answer: 'What you are seeing is people puffed up with pride, greed, and evil desires; but those who are righteous and faithful will live.'   God's promise sounds simple, but this is one of the most powerful prophetic words in Scripture. The idea of "faithfulness"  goes back to the beginnings of the Old Testament.  A classic example is Abraham, who recognized God's faithfulness to him and whose "faith was counted to him as righteousness." We see it in Moses, and the obedience of the  whole list of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. We see it in Psalm l:  'Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.'

With the coming of Jesus, we see the word coming into the Greek as "faith", which is an attitude of the mind and soul as well as obedience in action.  What Habakkuk saw in his day was the tendency of mankind to fall into sin, but the challenge from God is to be faithful.  What Jesus brought is a whole new thing: instead of trying to be faithful to a system of law, realize that this is a dead end (literally) and recognize a new life through a commitment in faith to the Lordship of Christ.  The apostle Paul picked up the word to Habakkuk: 'I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed by faith: as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live."' (Romans 1:1-17) Paul expands on this in Galatians:  'Now it is evident that no man is justified before God by the law..but the law does not rest on faith..Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law..that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. '(Galatians 3:11-14) It is not our righteousness that saves us, but we gain righteousness as a gift of God through faith.

"Faith" in the Biblical sense is not something that we talk ourselves into as a way of manipulating God. The writer of Hebrews relates it to confidence:' Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you  have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. "For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him."' (Habakkuk 2:3-4 quoted in Hebrews 10:37-38) 'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. ... And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek, him.' (Hebrews 11:1,6) God is faithful; and we know that faith brings us life.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Surprising Survivors--by Linden Malki

Ninevah, the imperial capital of Assyria, went from the powerhouse of the Middle East to a pile of ruins in a century, as prophesied.  The city was destroyed and the location lost until 19th century archaeologists found the ruins. However, the Assyrian people survived—I married one.  The Assyrians became part of one of the earliest churches, tracing their religious heritage to the Antioch church of the New Testament and claim that their liturgy is that of St James of the original Jerusalem church. At least five of the original apostles moved north and east, and Thomas is believed to have gotten as far as India, where there are still St Thomas churches which are part of the Syriac/Assyrian family.

There are records of Assyrian soldiers in the Persian and Roman armies; they survived waves of invaders from the Babylonians, Persians, Alexander, Parthia and Rome. They were actively involved in the church councils and theological disputes of the first six centuries of the church, and became parts of four major church factions which still survive; there are hierarchies in communion with Rome and with the Greek Orthodox family; and two more that have been completely independent since the 400’s and the 600’s. They also survived the Muslim invasions without converting; which meant being dhimmis with few civil rights and subject to periodic violence. (Most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa had about 20% Christian minority populations until the last century.)

My father-in-law was born in SE Turkey, near where the borders of Turkey, Syria and Iraq converge. His family was historic Syrian Orthodox (this church is in a town very near his birthplace), but his family moved to the coast and were converted by American Presbyterian missionaries, so the family has been Protestant for three generations. They were caught up in a massacre of Christians after World War I; Grandpa and one brother got out, their father and a third brother were killed. The surviving brothers wound up in Lebanon, and John’s family emigrated to the US. There are also relatives who escaped from Turkey and Syria here in America as well as Europe. There are an estimated 100-400,000 Assyrians in the US, and 100,000 each in Germany and Sweden.   Grandpa’s home countryside is in the general area of ISIS, and there are some family members that have not been heard from.

The ancient Assyrians were closely associated with Judah for over a hundred years; and even though they were pagans at the time, they knew about Judah’s God. They may have even added Him to their own list of idols. I find it interesting that they were open to the Gospel in those first generations of the church, and were faithful through two millenia of invaders and persecutions.  We might even say that there is fruit of the ancient prophets!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

SHIPWRECK! by Linden Malki

The "Sea" has always been an important part of God's created world. God used water to cleanse the earth of the unrepentant evil He saw among mankind, but He also provided for a righteous family and a big boat that saved enough for a new beginning.

Some people love the sea and live by it, and others fear it, both with good reasons. The Israelites in general, though their land was near the coast, were not seafaring people.  They did, however, use the Phoenicians'  sea trade experiece to ferry cedar logs from Lebanon down the coast for the building of Solomon's Temple.  Solomon did trade by sea, including trading down the east African coast from Eilat on the gulf of Aqaba.

It's interesting that when Jonah was trying to escape God's call to Ninevah,
 he knew a name for somewhere specific that was a long way the other direction by sea from Joppa.  When the storm came up, he knew it was God, but the fish must have been a surprise!

In the New Testament, the inland Sea of Galilee was a fairly well settled area, with the sea used for trading and fishing. Jesus and his disciples spent much time here, and a good deal of their local traveling was by boat on the lake.  Boats were the scene of two major miracles--Jesus calming a storm*, and walking on water**.  His reaction to storms on the sea were unique--He told them to stop, and they did.

The Apostle Paul had grown up on the coast of Asia Minor, and often traveled by ship. His last voyage was to Rome, when he had been arrested in Jerusalem, tried before King Agrippa, and had appealed to Caesar.  When the ship he was on ran into rough seas, he warned the commanding centurion that it was not safe and they needed to find anchorage asap, but the pilot and owner wanted to go farther.  The ship was wrecked, but all were saved, thanks to advice from Paul. ***

We see here three times God intervened to save His people from shipwreck; in two cases, both caused by someone's stubbornness, all the material possessions of the passengers were lost, but no lives. Jonah's shipmates were saved by Jonah's going overboard, and he himself was saved by a miraculous fish; Jesus' disciples were saved by His intervention;  Paul's shipmates were saved by Paul's God-given wise words, and Paul himself saved for further  ministry.

We can find ourselves in trouble due to someone else's wanting things their own way.   We do not always get happy endings, but are taken care of in some--often unexpected-- ways.  God is in the saving business;  we may never know the whole story on this earth, but He is full of surprises!
*Matthew 8:23-27      **Matthew 14:22-33        ***Acts 27

Saturday, October 29, 2016

WHAT IS CHURCH? by Linden Malki

What is a church? What is The Church?

One of the problems in answering these is that there are human answers and trans-human answers. We may be referring to a building, anything from the largest and most ornate cathedral to the smallest and plainest place where two or three are meeting in the name of God.

Perhaps that is a starting place. What makes a building, or a group of people, a "church" is the intention:  to make time and space for God.  We do not always remember that all time and all space is His; in the time and space that He created and gives us the use of it is easy to get so overwhelmed with all of the demands of the world that we need to set aside times and spaces to be conscious of and open to God.

As human individuals, what do we know about God, believe about God, and expect from God? We live in a world where we tend to think first about ourselves. Too often, that translates into thinking of God as an overindulgent daddy who wants us to have all the goodies of the world and nothing uncomfortable happen to us. But Jesus very clearly said that “My Kingdom is not of this world.”* And He said it as He was about to die at the hands of this world.

What does that have to do with the church? It should give us a perspective that is different from the world; that the Kingdom of Heaven is ruled by God, through Jesus. Truly, we don’t own our lives, we don’t own the church. And the church on this side of Heaven has its authority from God, not from any earthly power. None of us know everything there is to know about God in this life; we should be learning and growing every day. No single organization knows everything, either; we each know some things, and we can learn from each other—both as individuals and as small-c churches.  

What are we called to be? Jesus’ most often mentioned goal was to bring the Kingdom of Heaven, not only in Heaven itself, but with His citizens here as salt and light. We are here as people whose first allegiance is to God. We need the support and fellowship of others on the same road; for help, for accountability, for wisdom, to share in praising God, sharing what we have experienced and learned in our journey, to share in praise and worship, and more as we are led by God and Godly leaders.

We know that God is the power behind everything that is; but He has allowed us an amazing amount of freedom to accept and reject. The Authority is there, and it is easy to think that He is so big and powerful that He doesn’t have time for the likes of us. But He is big enough to reach out to each and every one of us and make us an offer that He wants us to accept—on His terms, not ours. What He offers is truly best for us. But our responsibility is to recognize the line between what we see and want, and what He wants for us;

*John 18:36

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Turning a New Corner--by Linden Malki

We've been looking at the Scripture writings that came out of an incredibly turbulent period in the story of Israel and its relationships with God.  Last Sunday, instead of talking about the story of Obadiah, as he had on Thursday, Pastor Paul reminisced about some of the turbulence of the past 21 years here at Calvary/Northpoint.   Not all the challenges are over yet, just as the restored Jews still faced challenges.

Listening to Pastor Paul's story brought back memories--I was here during this same period.  We've mentioned that I was on the Pulpit Committee that called Paul (he says he recalls being in his kitchen in Woodstown, NJ, when I called on behalf of the committee to get acquainted) .We had gotten the referral from our church secretary, a good friend of mine, who had gotten a recommendation from her daughter, who I'd had in Sunday school with my daughter. Marcia was a church secretary at Sunland Baptist Church when Paul was there, had kept in touch, and knew they were ready to move back to California. I love it when things happen like that! We'd spent months going over profiles we'd gotten from the regional office of pastors who were possible candidates, and none of them were available or suitable. I have found many times in my life that the best things happen when I'm not looking by myself.  (The same thing had happened when we were looking for a youth pastor the previous year--I was also on that committee--when I happened to be over at Judson Baptist Church on an errand, when I saw a door open at the office of their youth pastor, my cousin Jon Lambert.  Stopped to visit, and mentioned that we were looking for a youth pastor, as our previous one had moved out of the area.  He recommended Jimmy Woolard, who did a great job with our kids--one of whom was my son David.)

I've worked with a variety of pastors over the years, between senior pastors, associates, youth pastors, interim pastors, and others whose paths I've crossed one way or another.  I've always talked back to pastors, not complaining but sharing questions and inspirations. Paul and I have had some differences occasionally, but always have worked through them amicably. I would say that I've learned  from every pastor we've had. One of my favorites was Dr Owen Day, who was an associate pastor here when I came to San Bernardino.  I didn't even look for a church myself; my husband John had been going to Calvary before I met him.  Dr Day was truly a gift to me at that time; he had been the senior pastor at the church I grew up in in Spokane, Washington;  was one of my dad's best friends, and we had  many points of connection.  The timing was perfect; my dad had recently passed away, and a substitute dad was literally a Godsend.

Calling a pastor is a challenge.  Recently I ran across some of my files from 21 years ago, and was reading over my checklists of To-Do's-things to check into and questions to ask, questions to answer, people to talk to, people to listen to, things to pray about. Lots of those. I think that the result was a blessing!  I see us at a turning point; we are becoming  a new church (which we've been seeing for several years now) and God's got something good for us!

Surprising Justice--by Linden Malki

We've been reading about several of the turning points in the story of Israel and Judah (the two tribes who became a separate kingdom).  Some of us heard the story of Obadiah at Thursday church, some of you have read the Bible readings that go with that.  I think it might be interesting to take a look at the situation that produced Obadiah and how it fits in with things we have seen God do.

The first chapter in the story is the ten northern tribes of Israel, rejecting King Solomon's son as King and establishing a rival kingdom. They not only rejected the legacy of King David and his successors; they also rejected the God of Abraham and David, and got into the pagan idolatry of the neighboring kingdoms and tribes. God didn't let them go easily. He sent at least four major prophets to the northern kingdom to warn them and tell them that God would welcome them if they would return to Him--Elijah, Elisha, whose stories are told in 2 Kings; and Amos and Hosea. Not long after Hosea, the expanding Assyrian Empire rolled over the north and ended their history;  the southern kingdom was also attacked and several cities taken,but Jerusalem was spared.  The Kingdom of Judah had some good kings and strong prophetic messengers, but not enough.  About 150 years later, the rising empire of Babylon conquered the Assyrians, and took over and expanded their empire. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took many of its people into exile in Babylon.  This is where the story of Obadiah comes in.

Going back to the time of Abraham and Isaac, we see Isaac's twin sons, Esau and Jacob, as rivals and enemies that affected two thousand years of history. Esau and his family moved away from their family's home turf to the mountainous desert below the Dead Sea. Esau's nickname was Edom ("red")  after he traded his away his birthright for nothing but a pot of red stew.  Even though they were cousins of the Israelites, there was no love lost between them.  The Edomites joined the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem, and refused sanctuary to refugees fleeing the disaster.  Obadiah warned them that this would bring disaster on their own heads--and it did: the Babylonians turned on them and almost wiped them out.  A small band of refugees settled in the desert at the south end of Judah.

Fast-forward through a tangled maze of imperial politics to 163BC, when the Jews, led by a priestly family known as the Maccabees, rebelled against a Greek overlord who tried to stamp out their worship of God.  They won--the story is commemorated in the festival of Hanukkah--and established an independent kingdom that lasted a century.  One of the first things they did was to annex what was then called Idumea (Greek for Edom) and force the people to convert to Judaism. As governor of this province, they appointed an Idumean named Antipas. His son Antipater became an influential official of the Maccabees--and also developed a good relationship with the Romans, who were moving into the territory. His son Herod, known as Herod the Great, was made King of Judea by the Romans in
40BC. He went on a building binge, upgrading the walls of Jerusalem, expanding and remodeling the Temple, and building fortified palaces in various parts of the kingdom.  So part of Obadiah's prophecy of Judah's restoration was carried out by a descendant of Edomites!  And later, when the Jewish Zealots rebelled and set off the war with Rome that destroyed Jerusalem in 65-70AD, there were Idumeans fighting with the Zealots defending the city. This is the point that they disappear from history-unsuccessfully defending the city that their ancestors helped demolish. But even though the Romans wiped out the Zealots and their allies, enough Jews survived to keep their faith alive--as was prophecied--and their spiritual descendants turned the pagan Roman Empire into something that is still alive and vital. We are the heirs of what God has done over centuries, that has spread far beyond Judea and Rome, in unexpected ways, despite wars and dissention and rebellion, but always to His Glory.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Justice and Love--by Linden Malki

 Hosea shows that while God is in control of the universe, He has given us choices in our destiny.  He used Hosea as an illustration. We can make choices which give us results beyond our worst nightmares, but He is also merciful if we listen and respond.  There would have been no point to the whole Hosea experience if there had been no wrong choices, and if there was no hope of recovery.

The situation in which Hosea found himself was about 200 years in the making.  Ironically, it began with a very wise man, Solomon, unwisely getting involved with foreign idols, as well as going on a building binge, using tax money and conscripted labor.    After Solomon's death, the leaders of the northern tribes asked Solomon's  son Rehoboam to lighten the load of taxes and forced labor.  Rehoboam's refusal was an all-time historical blunder that destroyed any relationship between the northern and southern tribes.  Jeroboam, a member of the dominant northern tribe of Ephriam,  became the king of the northern Kingdom, but he disobeyed as well. In order to prevent the northerners from going to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship God,  Jeroboam built shrines with pagan idols in the north and south of his Kingdom.* This idolatry is the "adultery"  that Hosea was denouncing in God's name.

What we see in the story of Hosea is that God judges, fairly and justly--and He also loves, and shows mercy when we repent of our sins. My favorite definition of "repentance" is "recognizing God's right to demand respect and obedience."  God judges because He cares that we do what is right; what is in our long-term best interest. It would not be loving for Him to not care when we mess up and cause trouble for ourselves and others.  To allow the people of the northern Kingdom of Israel to miss out on what God wanted for them, and to behave badly in their idolatry, would not be loving on God's part.  God gave them 200 years and the preaching of not just one, but four major prophets that we have records of: Elijah, Elisha, Amos and Hosea. The other side of the  message is that the love and mercy of God are within reach, if we reach out in obedience.

'This story is one of those that remind us that people have not changed significantly in all these years.  Hosea is one of the most quoted of the Old Testament prophets;  what he had to say were good words for Jesus to quote, as well as Paul and the writer of Hebrews.  We are not that much different, either. When we accept God's love and spread it in our world, we are more than the fallible creatures that we are on our own.  What we see here is an indication that love does come from a source beyond humanity--it can be overwhelmingly good, can be very painful, may be both at the same time.  Hearts can be broken--but He can fix them.
* I Kings 11-12

Saturday, October 8, 2016

GOD SPACE--by Linden Malki

Why does God need a house? He has a whole universe—are we restricting Him when we designate a specific place for Him? But we are limited in time and space, and from the very beginning of our relationship with Him, He had a place that He came to be with them. When Jacob had left his home, He dreamed of a stairway to Heaven, and received a promise from God. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he though, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place. this is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of Heaven. (Genesis 28:16). He set up the stone he had used as a pillow, and he promised that this would be a house of God. It became Bethel, a place of worship for many generations.

In the wilderness during the Exodus, Moses was commanded to build a tabernacle for the Ark of the Covenant, the special place for the tablets of the Law. When Moses was giving the people the final instructions as they prepared to enter the Promised Land, he told them that God would choose a "dwelling place for His Name", for them to bring their sacrifices, gifts and worship. Eventually, a Temple was built in Jerusalem, which became the central place for the Israelites to come and worship as a community. However, the kingdom split; the Northern Kingdom of Israel was demolished by the Assyrians 722BC. The southern Kingdom of Judah lasted a few more generations, and we see Jeremiah telling the people that the Temple of Solomon, without a proper relationship with God, was not necessarily a magic talisman. Between 606 BC and 586BC, the Babylonians besieged, conquered, and demolished Jerusalem and the Temple, and took most of the prominent members of the community to exile in Babylon.

However, they did not forget God, and He did not abandon them. 70 years later, King Cyrus of Persia proclaimed that God had appointed him to sponsor a rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem—at his expense. Several waves of people returned, and with the encouragement of the prophets Zecheriah and Haggai, the Temple was rebuilt. This is the temple, remodeled and enlarged, that was standing during Jesus' ministry.

The story of Haggai is one that we can resonate with. We of the Calvary/NorthPoint family know about burned churches and the struggles of rebuilding. Our Sierra Way sanctuary was burned by an arsonist in 1999, the rebuilding was almost slowed to a stop—like the rebuild at the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai—but in our case it was a bankrupted insurance company and a giant financial struggle that we’re still working on. But the build itself went on to completion, and we are privileged to have this place to gather and worship. Yes, we did survive in rented quarters for five years, and we can come together in God’s name anywhere, but there is something special to having sacrificed and doing our very best to honor God and witness to the community that there is restoration possible. Haggai’s message to the people of his day was that they were not returned from exile just to build for themselves and their own comfort, but to show where their priorities were. Haggai told them that God would honor their efforts with blessings; not that He was encouraging them to work just for their own benefit, but a relationship with God is one in which blessings flow in both directions.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Jesus Provides .. Himself!--by Linden Malki

We've been looking at the "I AM" statements that Jesus made to teach us  how God works. Most of them are provisions that are part of everyday life, that He endows with a sacramental meaning.  For example,  bread is not only something that we eat as daily sustenance,  just as  He gave the Israelites the miracle of manna in the wilderness; but  He also gave it to us as a reminder that it stands for His body given for us in the commemoration of the Last Supper.  Not only is He the Bread, but also the fruit of the Vine as a symbol of His shed blood.  He gives us this basic picture of His death.

Another basic symbol of how God runs His Kingdom is the lamb (something of significant value to the shepherd) as a substitute  payment for sin; and Jesus the Shepherd gave not just a lamb, but Himself as the Lamb of God, the only truly worthy sacrifice. This might be reaching a bit, but part of the Passover event is the placing of the sacrificial lamb's blood on the doorpost to identify His people as exempt from the last and most horrible plague, and Jesus as the guardian of the Door identifies His people whose sins are covered by His blood.

There is another part of daily life that Jesus claims--we don't have an I AM quotation as such, but He told the woman at Jacob's well that He "gives living water." (John 4). God used water to purify the earth at the time of Noah, and parted bodies of water for Moses and Joshua to get His people where they needed to be. Jacob met his favorite wife by helping her water her family's sheep, and Moses met his mentor and eventual father-in-law that way as well. Water was used to wash away sin and guilt in the original Law, and this ritual use of washing grew into the practice of baptism, which became a symbol of His followers' death to sin and rising to eternal life.

The other things that Jesus identifies with are not physical objects, but are even more important. We see that He is the giver of Life, more powerful than Death.  The other two are two sides of a coin: the Way and the Truth.  We cannot find the Way if we don't recognize Truth.  The Way is defined by Truth, and is only found by Truth. There may appear to be other ways, but without Truth, they are literally dead ends.  We often hear people quote John 8:32 as "The truth shall set you free."  This is only half the story; look at the rest: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." And what is the Truth? It is Jesus Himself: "I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by Me."
Just off the northwest coast of Normandy in France stands Mont St Michel, a island mountain crowned by an ancient abbey (monastery and church) that is only connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway.  Like Heaven itself, there is only one Way to reach this House of God.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pastor Paul's Resignation Letter to NorthPoint

Numbers are fascinating things that tell amazing stories.
The Bible is filled with numerical patterns
which reveal God’s work with men, countries, and kingdoms. 

Nine is a number of completion.
Seventeen is victory and overcoming the enemy.
Forty is the Biblical number for trials, testing, or the fulfillment of a generation.

Pastor Chris and I have worked together at NorthPoint for nine years.
He began as my Associate, and for the past few years has been my ministry partner.
If you spoke with one of us, you were speaking with both of us.

Karen and I began at NorthPoint in October of 1995.
We have ministered together for twenty-one years.
We have worked through more challenges
than we can possibly remember.
And we have also been blessed to experience amazing
joy, pride, and satisfaction in ministry.

I was baptized in October of 1977.
So 2017 marks my 40th year in the Christian faith.
A significant number of completion for a sixty-one-year-old pastor
who began at NorthPoint when he was forty years old,
and is approaching his twenty-one-year anniversary.

I share this crazy collection of numbers with you as a way to prepare to say
that on January 1, 2017 I will be stepping down as a Pastor at NorthPoint.
It’s time to pass the baton of leadership to the next generation.

Together, we have worked through trials, completed seasons of ministry,
seen some amazing things come to completion,
and now you are entering a new and powerful season of victory.

Pastor Chris, the Board, and I have been praying
and seeking God’s will for many months.
This past week my way forward became very clear.
After much prayer and soul searching I knew what needed to be done!

I want to say how much I love and appreciate my wife
for standing and serving with me for the past 38 years.

I love my precious son and his family.
I love watching his passion and vision grow day by day.

I love and respect the members of our Ministry Board for wrestling deeply
with the financial realities of our ministry.

Last but not least I want to thank you,
and say I love you to the precious people of NorthPoint.
Many of you are new to this church.
Some of you were hear twenty-one years ago when I began.

You are in a great church
with great leaders and a great future.
You are in a special place where God is on the move.
And the best is yet to come!

In the weeks ahead your Ministry Board
will begin the process of raising up your next Lead Pastor.
They have some awesome thoughts which I fully support.

For now, I look forward to my next three months of ministry with you,
and covet your prayers for the next forty years of Karen’s and my life and ministry.
I love you, and thank you for the privilege of serving with you!

Pastor Paul

Saturday, September 24, 2016

CIRCLE OF LOVE--by Linden Malki

We've been learning about God through the images Jesus showed; but what do we know about God?  The Psalmist (Psalm 100) tells us that the LORD is God; the ruler of the Universe. He made us, and we are His; His people and the sheep of His pasture. He tells us something else that we should never forget: The Lord is Good, His love endures forever. And not just as mushy emotion: His faithfulness continues through all generations. This included generations and centuries of the people forgetting an rejecting and repenting and coming back and falling away; it wasn't that they didn't know (most of the time) but they didn't pay attention well. We see the judgment of God and the patience of God interacting.
Finally the time came for God to do more than talk and rescue and nag and promise. It was time to put life to the promises: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) This one sentence says several things about God, Love, and His Son, all wrapped up in one package. Again, the first thing it says is that God only loves the world He created, but loves it to the point of involving His Son, His connection with this world. He gave Jesus first to teach us that God is the Lord of the Universe and King of everything; and then to gather everything He had said about repentance and sacrifice and restoration into one life and death and life experience, so that those who accept and understand can follow Him not only throughout this life but forever.
Jesus, as the climax was coming, told not only His followers but those who and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:35-36) Jesus' prayed, with the disciples in the Upper Room on that last evening: I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. He had told them more: the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God, and a last command: This is my command: Love each other. (John 17:23; 16:27; 15:17).

We see God loving His people; the Father loving the Son; the Father loving His followers as they love and believe Jesus, we loving each other. and at the beginning, the oldest of the commandments: And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)  I see it as one giant circle of love and commitment that will become a never-ending community of mutual love! 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Life--and LIFE--by Linden Malki

Small boy dragging a furry object by the tail across the kitchen floor: "Look, Ma! Somebody threw away a perfectly good cat!"  It's not hard to figure out why the cat wasn't "perfectly good", even though a totally relaxed cat can look scarily like he won't wake up. At some point growing up, we learn the difference between the small boy's cat and the one stretched out on the floor next to my desk right now.  This is one of those concepts that seems simple until you think about it, and try to explain it to a small child.

Where do we first see "life"?  In Genesis 1 we read of the creation of plants that bear seeds and fruit; and then "living creatures" in the sea and on land. And then in Genesis 2:7, we see the specific creation of a man, and the specific giving of the breath of life to the man.  The other side of the coin comes later: the man is told that disobedience to one instruction will result in "dying."  We do not know how much understanding Adam had of the consequence of disobedience; obviously not enough; but then how could they know enough?  We learn more from experience than from words.

For the last hundred years or so, there have been efforts made to come up with a logical, 'evolutionary" explanation of Life, and how it differs from something that is not alive; and to make it even more complicated, how generations of "live" plants and animals appear in what seems to be a consistent pattern. One thing that has made it harder to explain is the discovery of the chemical nature of DNA and other components of living cells, and how complex they are even in the smallest and apparently simplest creatures.  They still haven't come up with any better explanation than the one we start with: life is something that is basic to  the creatures themselves and given by God Himself. In Hebrew, the word for "breath" and "Spirit" are the same (think about how the the English word "inspiration" can mean the physical taking in of air and the awareness of something our minds recognize as above and beyond the physical brain).

We live on two levels: we know that our physical lives are finite; that the end is not "if" but "when and how". But what we see in Jesus is another kind of life. Peter put it like this: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. ... You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God, for 'All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower fall, but the word of the Lord abides forever."" (I Peter 1-2; 23-25)

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Partnership! by Linden Malki

Caring for a vineyard is work! Looking at the care required to produce a good crop of grapes, I got to wondering how the whole routine developed. If you were to ask a vintner, I'm sure that he would tell of his mentors, his boss, his fathers and grandfathers, those who taught him. It is amazing that this process has been going on not just for years, but for millenia. In Scripture, we have stories of vineyards going back for over at least three thousand years--and in other places, other histories, it's "always" been done this way. I can't help thinking that there is just more than mere accident going on here; at some points, possibly more than one time and place, people were inspired to do the things that grew into the settled routine that we now know. We were not created knowing everything anyone might ever need to know; we were created with the ability to learn. We have the capacity to learn things that our ancestors never needed; even isolated members of a non-literate culture can learn to read and write given the opportunity.

God created grapevines; by working in partnership with His creation and His inspiration, we have better grapes and more ways of using them than just picking wild grapes at random. I am constantly amazed at the variety--there are not only an incredible number of kinds of grapes, but how they are used makes different foods and a huge variety of wines. (Look around--there is incredible variety in everything!)

And it's not just grapes! Another basic food that comes from the same part of the world is olives. It's interesting to see someone who sees their first olive tree will pick an olive and discover that right off the tree it's inedible. What is amazing is here again, not only who first figured out how to efficiently extract the oil, and the useful things that it's good for; but also how to process the fruit into something that is not only edible but delicious? My in-laws are from a part of the world where olives grow, and I have learned some of the ways olives are processed for eating. Again, there has been inspiration at work; I would never have dreamed up how to do on my own.

My father-in-law, who grew up speaking Turkish, and had some familiarity with the Syriac version of Scripture, always insisted that the "land of milk and honey" was actually "yogurt and honey." It makes sense that Western translators, not familiar with yogurt in all its varieties, would translate mentions of what was probably yogurt as sour or curdled milk. Here again, who would think of using the intestinal contents of animals to extract cultures that produce yogurt and cheese? There is a legend of Abraham being taught this by God Himself; we know that in Genesis 18, Abraham served it to his mysterious visitors.

God doesn't just drop food into our waiting hands; yes, there are some things that we eat just as they grow, but so many of the things we eat and enjoy are a partnership between God's creation and inspiration, and our efforts and skills to make amazing and delicious foods! How many other things do we take as ordinary are really a partnership between God and His people, and people with each other?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Chosen Lamb--by Linden Malki

Once upon a time there was an adventurous lamb who didn't want to stay with his flock.  "My Daddy's the biggest, baddest ram in this whole flock, and I should be able to do what I want.  Hmmm--there's some interestng bushes over there that look good--wonder how they would taste?  Nobody even lets me try them!  My mum keeps telling ne to listen to the shepherd, pay attention to the dogs...I am so sick of those dogs! Look at those wild sheep up on the hillside--it looks like they're having fun--interesting places to climb!
I'm just gonna go look at those bushes---just gonna get a look, well, maybe a taste. Mm, that's interesting.  And look--there's a thin spot in the bushes that might be worth looking at....if I scootch way down, I bet I could wiggle through here and those nosy dogs won't even see me. This looks like an interesting path; wonder where it goes? It looks like water over there, but it doesn't look like any water I've ever seen before; it's all white and foamy. not smooth and clear. Oops, those are rocks and they're slippery; boy, was that close! What happened to the path? It looks like I can just reach that flat rock and get on my way! Uh-oh, my hoof just slithered right off that rock's stuck. I don't like this any more. Hey, are those the sheep dogs coming? No--those aren't dogs; they're bigger and scruffier and have big teeth. BAA! BAA! HELP!"

Meanwhile, back at the flock, the dogs were restless. Someone was missing! It's that one who always wants to do something different! The shepherd noticed that the dogs were looking for something. One of the mama sheep was looking anxious; not all of her lambs were following her. Then the shepherd heard a bleating noise outside the perimenter of the flock, and noticed a white spot on the hillside that was moving but not getting anywhere--and a couple of large ominous dark shapes where heading in its direction. The shepherd got a good grip on his staff, and found the thin spot in the bushes, pushed his way through, and ran for the white spot on the bank of the creek. The skulking not-dogs spotted the approaching shepherd, found the staff blocking the way to supper; time to look somewhere else. The shepherd bent down and carefully freed the stuck hoof, picked up the trembling lamb, and carried him back to the flock.                                                                                                    

The shepherd sighed. "You probably don't understand anything I'm saying, but I wish you could. You don't realize that your flock is special. Most sheep only live to grow wool, make milk, and eventually become the food that sustains people. But the best of the sheep, the perfect lambs (and I'm very pleased that your hoof didn't get hurt) become part of something important. All sheep--like every other creature--is destined to die. But the perfect lambs like you will give your lives as an offering to God. who created you as well as all of us. You will be part of an act of worship, where something of value--you--are given in thanksgiving, and in memory of a time when a lamb's blood saved the lives of the people who used to mark the houses of God's chosen people. And someday, a special Shepherd will give His lifeblood to sve all those who are part of His special Flock, those who follow Him. Your death--like that of the Good Shepherd--will come not from the wolves, but will be a symbol of the price paid for the sins of the world."

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Door is Open--by Linden Malki

Doors do good things or bad things. They can allow you in or out; they can protect what's on either side of the door. Doors in zoos, for example, protect the animals inside from the people outside and vice versa.

They also restrict access: we read that when God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden, He placed cherubim and a flaming sword to secure the way to the Tree of Life. And when Noah finished the Ark and all of the animals were safely in, the Lord closed the door to the Ark; no one else was allowed in.

We live our lives behind doors; in the world we live in, we do not feel safe without doors and fences and gates with locks. There are places where people don't lock their doors; San Bernardino is not one of them. It used to be said that church doors were never locked; again, we have first-hand experience of why that doesn't happen here. It is a sign of the sinfulness of our society that churches experience arsonists and vandals and thieves. And this is nothing new: in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks were at the doors of Constantinople, which was at that time the political and religious head of the Eastern Orthodox churches, the priests and the people crowded into the magnificent church of Santa Sophia for safety. The doors were locked--and it was a trap.

Doors can be opportunities: we often face multiple doors. They may also be traps. (This has become the basis for TV game shows, where contestants are faced with several doors: one with something really valuable, the others less desirable. We can watch, and make our own guesses, and see which would have been best, with no risk to ourselves--and also no gain.) In our real lives, there are times where we can only choose one door; each choice takes all the alternates away. We choose schools, jobs, friends, spouses, residences, and more--and each one changes the next set of doors. Some choices open up more opportunities, some close down things we mighta-coulda-woulda done differently.

In Scripture, we find mention of doors separating the sacred from the ordinary. In tabernacle description in Exodus, we find doors between the various levels of sacred spaces, The Presence of God was believed to reside in the innermost chamber, with restrictions on who was allowed to pass through which doors and under what conditions. In Solomon's Temple and the rebuilt Temple of Jesus’ day, there was a similar series of enclosures with increasingly limited access, ending with the Holy of Holies, that was supposed to be entered only once a year by a specially chosen priest. It is significant, in the context of Jesus calling himself The Door, that the entrance to this area (which was a set of overlapping veils functioning as a door) was ripped open, top to bottom, at the time Jesus was crucified. And to make it more final, the Temple itself was destroyed less than 40 years later. As Christians, we see God opening the access to His Presence, through the ultimate sacrifice of the one who called Himself The Door.

Notice that Jesus didn't say 'I AM A Door" --He said "I AM THE Door". We are faced with a choice: this opportunity will change our lives, either way. There are other doors out there; other choices, which we can recognize as not in our best interest. We can choose the Door that God offers us in Jesus--the Door to His Kingdom and Eternal Life with Him--the best prize of all!