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