Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Saddest Day of the Year--by Linden Malki

When the Israelites were at the border of the Promised Land on their way home of Egypt, they sent spies to check out the land.  We know the story--twelve were sent out, and ten came back with reports of fortified cities and strong armies, and no hope. Only Joshua and Caleb had the faith that God would fulfill His promise.  According to Jewish histories, this incident took place on the Ninth day of the Month of Av (or Ab) on the Jewish calendar. (This is a modified lunar calendar, and it gets out of synch with our calendar, but usually falls in July or August.)  Because of their unbelief, God said that this date would bring catastrophe and mourning to later generations of Israel. 

 This date, in Hebrew "Tisha b/Av", was the date in 586 BC that Nebuchadnezzer's army destroyed Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, that the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70AD, and the Bar Kochba revolt in 135AD was crushed by the Romans and the temple area plowed and totally destroyed. There have been a number of other catastrophic events in the history of the Jewish communities down through the centuries on this date, such as the expulsion of the Jewish communities from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492, and one of the opening incidences of the First World War, which led to several decades of increasingly severe persecutions of the Jews of Europe--and eventual genocide.

Jewish communities around the world observe three weeks of mourning and a fast on the final day.  This year is will be observed on August13-14.  It is a reminder that although there are times to mourn, there is also hope. The Jewish people have withstood numerous attempts to destroy them, but they are still here. 

Bad things can happen in our lives as well, but we are still taken care of .  We can sympathize to a limited extent to the events of Tisha b/Av, as we saw our church sanctuary,  our house of worship,  destroyed by arson--not in August, but in the same month (October) as  the 74th anniversary of our founding as a community.  The fire, and the financial aftermath of our insurance company's collapse, have been a serious challenge.  We did rebuild, and although we had to worship elsewhere for five years, we are back and cling to the faith that God has plans and a hope for us. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Water-and God! --by Linden Malki

Water has often been significant in God's dealings with His people.

He has used it  for salvation and judgment: Righteous Noah and his family were saved from the judgment on a wicked world; Moses and his people were saved by water from a vengeful Pharoah and his army.

When John the Baptist came out of the wilderness, preaching and offering baptism, this was not a new thing. The idea of ritual washing for purification is as old as the laws of Moses.   The tabernacle in the desert had a basin so that  the priests could wash before entering. Solomon's temple had a large "sea" of water to be used in worship.  Many of the rules and observances in the Law require  ritual washing.  The "mikvah", or pool, has been part of  Jewish communities since before New Testament times; the ruins of Masada and Qumran, which date back to this area,  have pools with provision for running water.   Still today, Orthodox Jewish tradition calls for the construction of the mikvah even before a synagogue or temple.

In most cases, the ritual washings are repeated as the occasions recur. One exception is the baptism of a convert to Judaism, on their becoming a member of the family of Israel.   This is similar to the Christian tradition--we baptize once, on the willing entry into God's family.  The difference is similar to the tradition of atonement.  The Old Testament describes the yearly celebration of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement,  a yearly day of repentance.  The New Testament doctrine of atonement is that the once for all death of Jesus Christ is adequate to atone for all sin, and our free choice of  repentance and acceptance is a once for all event, followed by baptism,  also a once for all acknowledgement of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We born a new creature, through the water of baptism and the blood of Jesus.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Missing the mark--by Linden Malki

Sooner or later, we all miss the mark. Just wanting something really badly does not automatically make it OK. Thinking that you know everything does not mean you are right. Not bothering to find out what is really going on doesn't mean you're on the right track. Actually, that's not a bad example--making great time on the wrong train or the wrong freeway doesn't get you where you need to be.

We live in an imperfect world--and we supply quite a lot of the imperfection. God, for His own reasons, allows us an amazing amount of choice. We want to be like God and know right from wrong, but it's more challenging than we realize. The existence of "law" and rules, and the possibility of "freedom" get us all tangled up. In the political world, there are two basic attitudes about law: one is that the law tells us what is permitted, and the other, that the law tells us what is forbidden. What we are seeing in the modern world is societies that include people who grew up with different attitudes about law and expectations; different ideas as to what is acceptable and what is not. There is also an attitude that law, of whatever type, doesn't apply to you. It may be that you don't respect law in general; or that your own wants and needs supercede law, or that the expectations of a culture other than the one where you now live apply to your situation.

The problem of disrespecting or ignoring law and/or legal expectations is that one way or another there are consequences. There may be enforcement by the justice situation in which you live. There may be social alienation. There may be natural or logical consequences to yourself and/or others. For example, ignoring traffic laws can lead to death or serious injury to yourself or others apart from the legal penalties. There may be retaliation. sometimes setting off a long chain of feuds and vengeance.
What we call "natural laws" are really descriptions of observed realities, and are self-enforcing. For example, gravity is self-enforcing, as are the "laws" of thermodynamics or electronics. These bite back without malice but can hurt--falling objects or hot stoves or damaged or misused wiring don't know or don't care who you think you are.

The principles received as God's Law also work like this--ignoring them can bite. Dishonoring God will throw our relationships with each other and with Him out of balance, and even if we don't face this world's justice, we will not have the best that God offers, and we will face consequences in this world or the next, or both.

The way out is the possibility of mercy and grace, sometimes by the social or legal authorities of this world. The best way out of the pickles that we make of our lives, though, is repentance--the recognition of the reality of the situation and the right of this world's system to judge, and most importantly, the right of God to have requirements and hold us to them. We can only hit the marks built into His Universe with His help and His mercy.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

FREE AT LAST!--by Linden Malki

I remember as a kid playing with other kids, sooner or later you'd hear somebody yelling "This is a free country!" It was usually in the context of somebody telling somebody what to do or not to do. That seems to be life--somebody is always telling us what to do, or what we can't do. I'm getting a lot of it at the moment; neck deep in a major move. Part of the American Dream is to own your own place. This gives some kinds of freedom, but more and more, it can mean being a slave to the demands of the location, the regulations that determine a lot of how you have to operate, the expense of complying with all those regulations, the taxes and permits and expenses of keeping it up, and I find myself being stuck with a pile of concrete blocks. What we can't control is the exit strategy. We can't control the market forces involved--which have been all over the lot in the past years; we can't control a buyer if and when one appears; the whole process--and expense--of dealing with stuff. Of course this is the time to weed out and throw out stuff, but even that's not easy--the list of regulations on what you can't do or must do is mindboggling.

I'm fortunate to have four kids and two available tall, strong grandsons to help, but they all come complete with advice and suggestions and plans and ideas, mostly different. Just the demands of dealing with years of paperwork is a slavery in itself. Some of it should have been tossed years ago but it was always easier to just push it off somewhere; some of it I can't toss--was told at one point by a bureaucrat to never toss anything with a government's name on it. Today I finally found a box with some important paperwork that disappeared from my desk when my office got painted three years ago. There have been times that I've thought it might be better to just live in a yurt in the woods, but even that has its own limitations and demands.

When I hear people talk about hating their job but can't afford to quit, or hating not being able to find a job, I think about Adam being banished from Eden and sent out to work for a living, Even those who may have a good deal of economic freedom still may have personal or health or family or who knows what other limitations on their lives. We think of political answers to the questions of freedom, but as long as the world is full of human beings, that isn't the final answer.

We hear people talk about being a "free spirit." I was reminded this week of what that truly is. It was refreshing in the midst of the busy life of this world to go to the memorial service for Jim Wheatley--to hear the story of a man who knew God and lived it out, always doing what was needed with a smile. He has found true freedom--free from this world, and free to be the man he was created to be.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


We live in enemy territory.  As the old Gospel song put it, "This world is not our home, I'm just a-passing through."  As we focus on getting Hope into our everyday lives, we are reminded that the stuff that the things that mess with hope are not of God; in fact, are things that Jesus came to take away from us.

The world is full of advice. We are told to "forget about it", to "think positively" at best, and at worst to "let it all hang out," or  "eat this, drink this, smoke this", or expect a new person, relationship, job, home, vacation, etc, to make it all better.  The underlying problem is that all this advice is something we are expected to do at the human level, with human strength.  And the problem with that is that the focus is on our weak and fallible selves.

I am becoming more and more convinced that we, as creatures of the Creator, are not created for this world.  The best things in this world point not as much to themselves as to the glory of God. We are capable of much better than human-level lives,  but not in our own strength.  God can do amazing things if we let Him--but we cannot be the judge of what is really best for us.  We are not "saved" from pain and struggle, as much as having the spiritual strength available to get us through it. My mom went through six years of recurring cancer, and it was very tough on all of us.  I was 17 when it ended. and one of the things I remember is her attitude; her willingness to make the best of each day as it came, whatever it was, and the number of people from our church telling me that they were helped by watching how she handled it all. Dad and I were blessed by the underlying presence of God, shown not just in family and friends, more importantly, my constant dependence on Romans 8, especially v.28, that all things work together for good for those who know God--but it never says that any of the things are themselves "good".

We are also capable of great evil, again beyond our ability to control.  Unfortunately, it is possible to misuse even the name of God, with the goal to advance your own interests and agenda without submitting to His commandments to show His love.  We live in a world of rampant selfishness and self-will; greed for power in so many ramifications.  Some of our human ideas of love are not healthy nor Godly. We can get pulled into this if we get in our own way, and let the hope-killers mess us up, not to mention the other people that are affected. 

The  best defense against being pulled off the path of hope is described by St Paul in Ephesians 6:10 "Draw your strength from the Lord and His mighty power." He gives this image of our being in a battle, and
needing the proper armor to hold the high ground.  Ephesians 6:13-17 gives a catalog of the tools available.  In most cases, I've found that God supplies what we need when we need it, but this is something for us to have ready before we need it--because as long as we are in this world, we will need it.