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!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Let there be Light! by Linden Malki

"Let there be Light!' Not just for illumination but for the structure of space itself. "Light" as we know it is just a small part of what this family of energy truly is. We now know that this kind of energy comes in a whole spectra of frequencies, from the long-wave radio bands through the ultra-high frequencies of x-rays and gamma radiation. Like all of God's creation, each has its own place and function. The more we learn, the more awesome (in its literal meaning) it all is.

We are just beginning to understand that matter, or mass, the stuff that we can see and touch, is related to energy--the power that makes it all physically works. We have long used fire to provide light and heat in more and more complex ways, some of them more dangerous than others, but are just learning that in an even more fundamental way, matter can be converted to energy in nuclear reactions. What we have done with this, however, is another example of how we too often use the power that we have in dangerous and evil ways, just as playing with fire can cause the tremendous damage that we have seen and are even now seeing in the mountains and have seen in our own neighborhoods.

Spiritual power, that we see in God's world can be similar. We are right in the midst of moving out of the building that my family and I have been in for many years, and the stress has in some ways brought out the worst in some people. Again, we are capable of doing things and reacting in ways that causes more trouble than we can easily handle. I've seen attitudes and actions that have hindered what we need to do in ways that will have long-range consequences, by people that I know have some acquantaince with God and His principles, but apparently don't have the spiritual discipline to act responsibly. Jesus came to bring Light in a more profound way than we understand--in fact, He IS Light, but we still live in a dark and dangerous world.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Not by Bread Alone--by Linden Malki

This universe was created with what physicists call the "Law of Conservation of Energy." (Actually, what we call "physical laws" are descriptions of the way the universe works, not something that could be broken by man.) We know this principle well; we expend energy simply to survive moment by moment; if we want to expend more energy, we need to increase the "fuel" that we take in. If we don't take in the minimum to sustain life, our physical life stops.

Our world was also created with the means for us to supply our physical energy needs. The sun shines, plants grow and set off a chain of events that result in our having something to eat. Some foods require more effort than others, even the most obviously provided food--manna in the the wilderness--required gathering by the day. God knows that we need food--He created the whole cycle. We spend a good deal of our time dealing with the need for food--sometimes directly searching and gathering it; sometimes doing something for which we will be paid enough to buy food that someone else has prepared.

The first thing Jesus did before He went out to preach and teach was to experience the common issues that we as people face. When He spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness, he dealt with hunger, just as we do. And this was an opening for a temptation--the tempter knew that Jesus had the power to short-circuit the whole thing and provide bread for Himself. And the temptation didn't even need the presence of the tempter--we all know the power of hunger. But Jesus answered with the words of Moses in the wilderness. Moses wanted to make it clear that as important as the manna was to sustain the lives of the people, they needed to recognize that even something as important as food was not the most important thing in life. The manna was provided by God, as a lesson about the power of God and their need for Him. What Moses--and Jesus-said that as important food is, it is not the most important consideration in life: "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." This can be taken too far: James points out the uselessness of words in the face of real need; but also the downside. Jesus Himself did provide food for several thousand people on at least two occasions; and the reaction of most of the crowds was to come back the next day, hoping for another free lunch.

We also need to find the right balance between taking appropriate care of ourselves, and having our priorities straight with God. Our own physical needs--and wants--can take over our minds and become an obsession that locks out the true Bread. What we need to learn is that we are taken care of; and we are responsible to each other. Not to use the needs of others to manipulate them, or draw attention to ourselves. He told us to not look for credit on this earth; we may get it but it is all we get.

Jesus said that He is the Bread of Life; that we tap His energy by following Him..

Sunday, August 7, 2016

WHO IS GOD? by Linden Malki

One of the first questions Moses asked when God called him from the burning bush in the Sinai, was what he should tell the Israelites when they ask the name of the "God of your fathers" ? The anwer: "I AM".  In Hebrew, this is written in the equivalent to "YHWH".  We do not know the original pronunciation;  the Jews, possibly as early as the 2nd or 3rd centuries BC came to worry that actually saying the Word risks "taking the Name of the Lord, your God,  in vain."   Most scholars conclude that the most likely pronunciation is "Yahweh. "

The writer of Hebrews points out that "it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to Him must believe that He Is, and rewards those who seek Him. "  The point is that if you cannot believe that He is real, you're on the outside of the Kingdom.  Notice that at this point the writer does not say "believe that He Is anything specific; just that He Is. The first thing it says about what He is actually like is that He rewards the searcher; that it is worth the effort to seek Him.  Beyond this, we now have a Way to learn more about Him.

After 1500 years of having the answer to Moses' question limited to the questions of faith and obedience, Jesus opens up this question;  He nearly got stoned when He said ...“Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I Am.”   (John 8:57-58)  Jesus not only says "I AM",   He shows us what God Is.

(Note: When reading Scripture, Jews traditionally don't pronounce the YHWH where it appears in the text but substitute one of the words for "Lord", usually Adonai, and many  manuscripts have notes of  the vowel symbols for this in the margin or near the Name as a reminder.  Early translators read the notes as being part of  the actual Name, and so it was transliterated into English (and some other European languages) as "Jehovah".  Most modern Jews use the substitute "HaShem" or "The Name".)