Saturday, May 28, 2016

Our Expectations--or His? --by Linden Malki

Gideon was a skeptic. He wanted to make really, really sure that God was serious about using him as the Mighty Warrior, especially as he didn't think of himself as such. He was willing to go for it; but on his own terms. When God told him to sacrificed one of his dad's bulls, on a fire made of a local pagan shrine, he did it--in the middle of the night.  Fortunately, when the local people came to kill him, his dad told them that if the pagan god couldn't save his own altar, why should they care about it?

The Spirit of God led him to send out messengers recruiting warriors to attack the occupying Midianites and others, but he still had to be sure. So he did something that we still refer to as "laying a fleece." He left a sheepskin on the ground overnight, and told God that he'd believe, if, in the morning the fleece was wet with dew while the surrounding ground was dry. Which it was. Then he did it again, only this time, he was asking if the fleece was dry when the ground was damp.  Which it was. Finally, he followed. (God was very patient with him!)

By now Gideon had a sizeable army. God next asked him to winnow down the numbers, because God didn't want them to think that the large forces had won a battle on their own strength. So he gave them two tests, and was down to a picked squad of 300, against a huge army encamped nearby.  With God's directions, they set the whole encampment fleeing in panic.  (Read it in Judges 7.)

What do we learn from this story? That God can give us the victory we need, but we are to give HIm the credit, not ourselves.  There are those who feel that God is their servant, that they can ask anything and expect the answer they want. (The Scriptures that tell us to "ask" also add "within HIs will.") Like Gideon, with God we can do unexpected and powerful things--but like Gideon, He shows His glory, not ours. 

We live in a culture that feels entitled to get what they want, no matter how unrealistic.  The goal is still, as was the common goal a generation ago, to "find yourself."  Too often, that's  looking in the wrong places.  "It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone." (Ephesians 1:11-12, The Message)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

God's Ripples--by Linden Malki

"I don't want any 'Downs'! just want Ups and Ups and Ups and Ups!" We all have days when we feel like Lucy van Pelt; we get tired by the ups and downs of life. The question of this last week was basically "what gets us down, and how do we get back up?" We have one thing going for us: we have access to the best helping hand there is when we need to be picked up, dusted off, and set back on the road forward.

I just had a great experience of one of the keys to recharging: good people. A couple of days ago a man walked into the side door of my store, and when I went to see what we could do for him, he said: "You may not recognize me; my name is John, but when I worked here there were two other Johns in the shop, so I became JC. " Yes, I did remember him; he had come to us as an apprentice over 25 years ago, and after a few years moved on, out of the area. I had gotten an email from him expressing sympathy at my John's homegoing, and going on to say that he appreciated what he had learned at our place: not just auto mechanics, but also about God and family. It was fun catching up; he is now a master mechanic at a Honda dealership in Indiana. He was in town visiting, and had stopped to see if I was still here, and to let me know that he still used things he had learned from John. Over the last several years, I've had several more of our move-aways stop by and still feel a conection to our place.

One thing I value about the places that God has put me is the people that I've had around here; that I've had the privilege to serve, and those who've taught me over the years. We gain strength and hope on both ends--what we invest in others, and what we receive in so many ways. Another one of those places has been our church; we've also had people come and grow and move on to other areas of life and ministry, many of whom still keep in touch. I can say with my friend JC that we learn about God and family from each other. We don't know all of the ripples that move out from the people God moves in and out of our lives!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Our Dreams--and God's Plans--by Linden Malki

"A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Proverbs 16:9) We human beings usually have some idea of what we want, but God has His own idea of how to get us where He wants us.

I recall having had several different possible ambitions growing up, which gave me a guide for classes, etc; fortunately, they all led in the same general direction, and all turned out to be appropriate for where I did end up. About halfway through college, I realized that I really didn't know what I wanted long-term, but was led to the realization that if I took as many opportunities as I had available to learn as much as I could about anything that interested me, I would probably be reasonably prepared for whatever doors that God opened for me. When I was home in Spokane that summer, I decided to check on summer school classes at Gonzaga University, not far from where we lived. As it turned out, there was a French literature class and a mathematical logic class, both which were suitable followups to classes I had just completed. They were a bit surprised to find a strange girl who wasn't a teaching nun from the local Catholic schools show up in the classes, but my guardian angels were on the job and I learned a lot that I still remember. I graduated with what I have called a "non-directional" degree, and in the next year and a half, all the things I thought I might do didn't work out, and God and my family took me places I could not have imagined--winding up in San Bernardino, and Calvary Baptist Church. And I found myself being thankful for all the things I had learned without knowing why, other than my own curiosity. One of my kids decided in Jr high school that he didn't want to do his history homework because he couldn't see the point; if he ever needed it he could learn it then. I explained to him that the time to learn something is before you need it; on the spot usually doesn't get you where you need to be. (Yes, he has learned it.)

I have learned that I can analyze; I can dream, I can design, I can run scenarios in my head. But what I really need to do is pray for His vision; and for the discernment to recognize the fulfillment of the vision when it appears. I am literally eternally grateful for the places God has put me, and the people He put in my life; and appreciate the opportunities He has given me to be His servant.

Again, the wisdom of the Proverbs says it well: "There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel-- that will stand." (Proverbs 19:21)

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Circle of Compassion--by Linden Malki

This afternoon about 5pm I was putting together some thoughts about compassion, when I got a call from a friend in an unexpected jam, asking me to take care of something critical before 6pm. Time to put feet where my brain was! And then, a few minutes ago, someone else offered to help with something that I needed to take care of. It made me realize again how blessed I am that we take care of each other.

We see compassion and its related ideas all through Scripture, very often in a relationship to justice. At the very beginning of humanity, we find that God's reaction to Adam and Eve's disobedience was tempered by compassion and His love for them. He could have followed through on His clear statement that this particular infraction carried a death sentence, wiped them out and started over. Instead, He gave them a reprieve for a long life.

The next time we see this two-sided coin is with the very next generation. Again, there is a question of justice; God's sadness at the murder of Abel brought both banishment and mercy to Cain, who had been totally without mercy in his anger. We see it with Noah, when God pronounced judgment on a fatally sinful generation but called Noah and his family to a work of compassion. We find here both God's compassion to Noah, and a calling to Noah to show compassion to the animals.

We find in the Ten Commandments, following the injunction to have "no other gods" this promise: ". but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Exodus 20:6) From his same formational time, we find: "Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18) . This is built into the relationship between God and His people: He will show mercy; we are to love Him, we are to keep His commandments; we are to show mercy, and to love our neighbors--because He is God.

Most religious and cultural traditions have some form of requirement to care about others. Few of them have a god who cares about them, and even fewer have gods who want to be loved. Feared, yes; but loved? And yet, throughout God's relationship with humanity, there is always the reminders that He cares about His people; and He commands us to love Him and love His people. Even within the cultures and nations that have some experience of and knowledge of God, we have too often seen lack of caring, hostility and even murder.

Sometimes the hardest people to love are the ones right under our noses, those we know best. But coupled with the commands to love are the demands for righteousness. Sometimes it means the oldfashioned suggestion to "love the sinner but hate the sin." This is not a bad idea; certainly healthier than being so nice that we get swept up into the sin.

We also need to remember that we are part of a worldwide family, and watch for opportunities to share God's love and fellowship with people from different places, and in different places. Several years ago, I was able to attend a C.S.Lewis seminar in London, with people from all over the world. One participant introduced himself as having been a sponsored child in Hong Kong, and is now, if I recall correctly, a preacher himself. Compassion has many faces--we should see it in all of God's children--and in our own mirror.