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.