Saturday, October 14, 2017

Our Twisted Planet--by Linden Malki

Hurricanes, fires, shootings,  bitter accusations; much of the news has been bad. The physical world
hits us from one side, and we hit each other from the other.  We try to grow wheat, and find the fields infested with weeds. Those of us who are followers of Jesus can't help wondering why, and those who are not are screaming that God is dead, missing, or a delusion.

Christians are not immune to suffering and even martydom.  In my own family, my uncle was held prisoner in China for almost 5 years, my great-grandfather and his family were forced to leave Sweden, and my father-in-law's father and brother were massacred by Kurds in Turkey--all because they were known to be Christian leaders.  The results of these people's lives were the reaching of many  people with the Gospel; in all three cases some of their descendants also became preachers and missionaries, who led even more people to Jesus. Of the twelve disciples of Jesus, one fell away and suicided, one was sent to a prison colony on an isolated island, and the other ten were martyred. And yet they set the stage for the Gospel to reach much of the world and survive for two thousand years.

In the current spate of pain and evil, we see brave people risk their lives rescuing the those in the paths of the hurricanes; fighting the brush fires and looking for those endangered, helping the victims survive their losses. I have not seen reports of arson behind any of the current wave of fires, but we here know arson's results personally, both in our city and in the destruction of our own worship center--and our experience may be the catalyst for an expansion of ministry in our community that we never would have believed. I recall thinking that our hanging in here and surviving would be a witness, but never guessed how it would play out.

The most depressing evils are those that people do to each other. Millions of words have been written speculating what mental, social and emotional twists cause people to become horribly destructive. I have been reading a number of commentaries on these twisted people, but noticed that in all these words, there are three that only appeared once each: "God", "church", "prayer."  These are not only missing from the explanations of what's wrong with the people in our country and the world, but missing from too many of our communities as well. But these are the way out of evil in our society. People can't get along on their own--it takes the love of God to give us the strength to love one another.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

92 AND FORWARD! by Linden Malki

Happy Birthday, Calvary/NorthPoint! Next Monday, October 9, is the anniversary of the founding of The Calvary Baptist Church of San Bernardino in 1925: 92 years ago.  San Bernardino was a very different place back in those days. The earliest inhabitants were the Serrano indians. In 1810, a Spanish  priest from the Mission San Gabriel  arrived on the feast day of  St Bernardine of Sienna, an Italian priest and Franciscan missionary who was a popular preacher in the early 1400's. The mission station known as the San Bernardino Asistencia was built in 1829.  In 1842, the Mexican governor granted a large part of the San Bernardino valley to the family of Antonio Maria Lugo, a former mayor of Los Angeles, who also had several other major rancho grants in the area.  The grants were honored in the  Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo,  which ended the Mexican-American war with the cession of California to the United States.  In 1851, the Lugo family sold the Rancho to a large group of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), who  laid out a 1-square mile city  system with 8-acre blocks, which became the basis for the existing city street grid. The city was incorporated in 1854 with 1200 citizens, most of them Mormons. The Mormons were recalled to Utah in 1857, and the city was disincorporated. The valley continued to grow commercially.  There had been a trading route through Cajon Pass, the Old Spanish Trail, was  established 1829-30. The first orange trees were planted in 1857, and gold was discovered in the Big Bear area in 1860.  The California Southern Railroad, part of the Atchicson, Topeka and Santa Fe system, was built through San Bernardino in 1873. The orange groves became a major industry by the 1880's, and the city was reincorporated in 1886. The first Orange Show was held in 1911, and Valley College was built in
1926. The 1930 census showed a population of 37,481.
The 1920s were an interesting time in the churches; there was a lot of theological and sociologial ferment in the news reports of the period.  In San Bernardino, one of the oldest churches in town was the First Baptist Church founded in 1866. There were reports of discusssions going on within this congregation in 1925, and when the dust settled, FBC was not affiliated with any of the Baptist conventions, and a group of about 70+ good folks had established Calvary Baptist Church and affiliated with the Northern (later American) Baptist Convention.  Calvary/NorthPoint has had changes, good and bad, over the years; as has the ABC. 
Again, there is a lot we can learn about God from observing His Creation. One of them is the constant nature of change, within the stability of the larger system. The weather changes; all living creatures change as individuals but they stay pretty much the same within their basic design. Societies change, but consistent patterns come and go and come around again with different actors on the stage. Looking back at the last 20 years at Calvary/NorthPoint, we have had a lot of changes and challenges, and it's not over yet. We are seeing God doing amazing and unexpected things in our lives and in the life of our church but He is always the same God, loving and challenging His people, showing us new things and new looks at old things. The city has changed and we pray for changes for the better; the churches have changed and we pray for the wisdom and strength to meet the challenges. The one thing we know is that God doesn't change; how we see Him may change, but in the long run--the very long run--we will see what was really going on and how He was really working in our lives, our church, our city.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Kingdom Grows as Churches-by Linden Malki

 The Kingdom of God is many things, but most importantly, He is Lord and King. Another important thing is that it is comprised of components we call "churches" that gather in His name to worship, pray, teach and learn, and share a memorial re-enactment of His Last Supper. His churches are made up of people, all of whom are, like everything He has made, individual. We share a faith in God, a willingness to renounce and repent of sin, a committment to follow Him, and a calling to love and share with the people that He puts in our lives. When we let Him lead us, miracles happen. When we try to do it all ourselves---no. The problem is that the calling on the church is beyond ordinary human strength.

I grew up at Grace Baptist Church, a good American Baptist church in Spokane, Washington. Like Calvary Baptist Church, it was a large, strong church back then. This is a historically important building, built in about 1905, which seats 500 including balconies. When I visited about 2003, there
were about 65 people there and the pastor was getting ready to retire. There was a group renting part of the space that had started as a Bible study of people from a local Episcopalian cathedral, who studied themselves into a Baptist viewpoint. The last time I was there, this young group had merged with the older congregation, has a new name on the building and appears to be thriving. *

I came to San Bernardino fresh out of college, just married to a man who already attended Calvary Baptist. I also found that Calvary's then associate pastor, Dr Owen Day, was an old friend of my dad's, and been the senior pastor of Grace Church in Spokane before I was born--he had introduced
my parents. So it was very easy for me to become a part of the Calvary family. The current sanctuary was new, and eventually leveled out at about 300 in attendance. By the mid 90's we had built it into the complex we see now, and were using most of the space. We were just working on some major repairs and renovations when the sanctuary was the victim of an arsonist in 1999. It looked at first like we could recover; we had insurance and started to rebuild. and just as they were getting into it, the events of 9/11 left our insurance company holding an empty bag. We didn't qualify for the California insurance guarantee program because we had already gotten a few payments on the build. We did a fundraiser of our own, which helped but not enough, and a building loan from our Credit Union, on which we are still making payments. We did finish the build in 40 months--rededicated the building in February of 2003. But it wasn't good enough. The nursery school became a financial liability that closed in 2009--just as the economy tanked and people lost jobs, houses, and many of our good faithful families had to leave the area for jobs. As a stopgap, we rented the property to The Way World Outreach for five years, while we met at the Elks Lodge, and then a few years ago we moved back.

This church complex was built with dreams of ministry that we haven't fulfilled. There are things we can't afford; things we don't know how to do on the scale that this facility deserves. We have been offered a partnership with a church family that can make a tremendous difference. God kept us alive through all sorts of tough times; He may have been waiting for the appropriate time to move, and shake San Bernardino in amazing ways.

*Christ the Redeemer Church,  Spokane, WA

Saturday, September 23, 2017

We are all Branches--by Linden Malki

"Fruit" is another example of how we see God at work, both in His provision for His creation, and in our growth as His children.  The variety of plants His world, and the many of them that provide fruit as food for His creatures, show us God's creative and artistic abundance.  Not only are there thousands of different kinds plants that bear fruit, but within each kind there are different varieties, and even on plants of the same variety the fruits vary in size, sweetness, ripening time, and flavor. For example, experts on wine can identify not only the variety of grapes that it was made of, but the vineyard where they grew, and even the year of the harvest. Another interesting thing about fruit (and other plants as well) is that branches of one plant can be grafted into another plant of a similar type.  When I was a kid, my dad was a tree person (we had 18 trees on a standard city lot), and the folks canned fruit every summer. We had an apple tree with six varieties of apples, and a plum tree with four kinds of plums, as well as the pear and peach and cherry and mulberry trees, as well as non-fruit trees. Trees are amazing!

There are records of grafting grapevines and other plants in Jewish and Greek sources going back to about 400 BC. St Paul, in Romans 11, uses grafting as a metaphor of the complex relationships between Jews and Gentiles, speaking to a community that included both. He builds on the teaching of Jesus that we see in John 15, which speaks of His people as branches on a grapevine, which only bears fruit if it remains solidly attached to the vine; and if it breaks off or doesn't produce, it will be discarded.  And even healthy branches are watched and pruned, so that the maximum amount of water and nutrients go to the growing fruit. Paul carries the metaphor into the question of the relationship between the Jewish community and the growing church with its increasing Gentile component. He reassures the Jews that they have not been rejected by God; that there has always been a faithful remnant that has preserved the chosen people.  However, he does warn them that if they reject reconciliation, they can be broken off, and others be grafted into their place. And then Paul reminds everyone that that we are all  nourished by the original vine and need to be faithful--which still holds true today.

The image of fruit, in all its variations, is a good reminder that while we may be products of different vines, we are all nourished by the same roots. We may be different varieties, different colors, different flavors, but we all need to strengthen the connection, sprout in our own way and produce the best fruit of the variety we have been created to be.  

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Love as Meeting Needs-by Linden Malki

Jesus' ministry was spent with people. He said over and over that the most important thing He had to say was that we are called to love God, and love people. Wherever He went, He drew crowds. The first public appearance of Jesus after His baptism, as described in John's Gospel, was at a wedding in Cana, in Galilee, His home territory. It is probable that the family putting on the celebration--a major event usually covering several days--were relatives or friends of Jesus' family. Jesus' mother found out that the host, apparently faced with a larger than expected crowd, was running low on wine. We know the story--she told Jesus, who quietly dealt with the situation. It is worth noting that no fuss or public hullabaloo was made over the miracle; it was simply a case of Jesus knowing of a need that He was capable of filling, did just that. When we do things to help or serve people, we're really not supposed to make a big show of it. In fact, Matthew tells of Jesus being scathingly critical of those who do "good deeds" for their own credit. We see Jesus seeing something that needed to be done, something that He was in a position to do, and He did it.

We see at the very end of Jesus' days with His disciples an unforgettable dramatization of serving: John also tells us that  as they were getting ready to eat their Passover meal, Jesus took a towel and a basin and washed the disciples' feet. And He did this at the very beginning of the evening--when all the disciples were there, including Judas Iscariot! The lesson here was that they were servants, as He had served. Luke goes on to say that the disciples were still fussing about their own positions in the group; Jesus tells them that they should not seek position and authority like the Gentiles who call themselves Benefactors--who used their so-called charitable deeds to gain social and political favors. Jesus is preparing Himself and His disciples for the most major act of sacrifice possible--the ultimate purpose of His time on Earth--telling them that they need to love each other, serve each other, and not seek influence or status for themselves.

One of the major temptations the Church has always faced is that of building empires with power and influence in this world, based on the attraction of the good that can be done, but with an undercoat of authority and fear. The church has grown through  political power, which is usually not Godly; but ideally through God's power. The church can do good things, but the spiritual value is measured by the motives. If we do "good works" for political and social capital and influence, as Jesus pointed out in the Greek and Roman politicians of His day, as well as the religious establishments of the Judaism of the time; the credit received is of this world, and that's all it is. God does not reward this.

The Kingdom of Heaven is intended to show love for others, service to others, for the benefit of the others. We are called to keep our eyes open to what needs to be done and how we can serve, but let the reward go to God. We should be witnesses in our lives, not necessarily our words--which are only as much value as they match our love.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Expanding Kingdom--by Linden Malki

How do we know Jesus? He often said "Go and tell what you have seen Me do."  We are to know Him by His works, from the smallest attention to a child to the masterwork of His Resurrection. Everything He did was in the context of building the Kingdom of God, not by compulsion but by example.

How do we know God? By His works--from the magnificence of His Universe to the tiniest detail of His creations. I am constantly amazed at the beauty, complexity and variety of what He makes! He didn't tell us everything about it (that would be impossible); He put it out there for us to see and study and learn.  We are still constantly learning, and will probably never know everything about it in out own lifetimes. The more we learn about it, the bigger we realize that it is, and are reminded that it will never be bigger than its Creator.  It's easier for our little human minds to shrink the image down to what we can understand. We need to remember that we cannot understand; we can appreciate and share our wonder and awe.

Everything He makes is is individual, unique in its own way.  We, His people, are amazing. We are made more complex that we understand ourselves; we can only truly be what we were created to be in relationship to Him. We can learn about God from looking at the creatures He made--remembering that there is more there than we know; that He has built us for relationships; with each other and with Him. We are created in families; related and with things in common, but constantly changing. We are related to, but different  from, our parents. Just the developing relationships between the first three persons in the beginning family is a constantly shifting and challenging and growing  thing. Add this to the rest of the world, and learning how to love each other is a project worth a lifetime.

Families expand into tribes, which become communities, nations, kingdoms. What does knowing about God the Creator tell us about the Kingdom of God? First, it has a King;  who is the authority and shaper. It is intended to be a growing organism; God makes things to grow.  Who are the subjects? Intentionally, all of the people He has made. The problem here is that He wants those who wants Him; people who are not willing to accept His offer and recognize His authority have no place.   Where do we fit? First, we become part of the family.   Then as we grow up becoming His people this will show what He has done for us--not things that make us look good as ourselves, but the things that show His love and care for us.  As we grow spiritually, we attract others to the Kingdom, not because we nag, but because we live a true story that expands the knowledge and shape of the Christian life. Yes, that sounds scary; no, we're not doomed if we aren't perfect. In fact, dealing with failure, repentance, forgiveness and restoration is an important part of the story.

The Kingdom has expanded, unevenly, sloppily at times, and with apparent setbacks here and there. We do not know the whole story; it is like leaven, which cannot be seen as it spreads. We do not know when it has been growing underground; who has been touched without our noticing. But we know that it went from 12 to 120 without a lot of public notice, but then to 3000 in a day. One way and another, we are looking at numbers today in the billions. We do not know who is affected by who we are and how we live; but in the long run the only Person we need to worry about is God.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Water of Life--by Linden Malki

 The concept of a new life through water is a very old one in Scripture; during the Exodus when Moses was setting up the Tabernacle as a place of worship, the priests were required to wash with water before they approached the altar, and when the Levites were assigned their duties they washed, and an atonement for sin was made for them.(1)  At the beginning of the message of the prophet Isaiah to God's people includes the instruction to "Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil from your deeds, from before My eyes. Cease to do evil...though your sins are as scarlet, they wht be as white as snow."(2) King David's response when he confronted with his sin, is a prayer to God: "Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from by sin. ..wash me, and I will be whiter than snow."(3)

The relationship between forgiveness and a new life through water comes out in Jesus' words: When Jesus told Nicodemus that "you must be born again", He also told him, "No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit."(4)  John the Baptist's explanation of what he was doing: "The reason I came baptizing with water is that He [Jesus] might be revealed to Israel."(5) Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria that "The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (6)

I see the image of a spring of water bringing new life not only as the rebirth of baptism, but also being a continuous image of  life in the Kingdom. A spring of water is a continuous thing; it not only continues to bubble up water but the water flows out to an everwidening area. Baptism--a literal experience of death and rebirth through water--should make us noticeably different people. People came to Jesus because they saw a different sort of person than they were used to seeing--especially in contrast to the religious authorities who worried more about their position and politics than about God, and who thought any Messiah should have checked in with them first. It is interesting that what Jesus told people to tell about, and what people did tell about on their own, were more likely to be stories of what He did, rather than what He said. Yes, what He said is important--but what He said grew out of what the prophets and followers of God--and God Himself!--had said for two thousand years. What He did was unprecedented and irrepeatable--and changed history.
1. Numbers 8:21  2.Isaiah 1:16,18  3. Psalm 51: 2, 7  4. John 3:5  5. John 1:31 6. John 4:14  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The True Kingdom--by Linden Malki

God's concept of "King" is different than ours.  The Word of the Lord had come to a series of people called to learn and follow Him over a series of years--Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and then Moses, Joshua, and a series of Judges culminating in Samuel.  During the years in the wilderness, God had given Moses the instructions on formalizing the sacrifices  under Aaron and his descendants from the tribe of Levi.  Samuel was a Levite who had grown up in the sanctuary at Shilo, and served as a judge, one of the sages who were sent by God as advisors and tribal leaders  There was no central political authority during this period--the continuing theme of the book of Judges is "In those days, Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

Finally, we read that the people of the land came to Samuel and asked him to appoint a king, like all the other nations.   This displeased Samuel, so he went to prayer. "The Lord said to Samuel, Obey the voice of the people in relation to all that they say to you. For it is not you they have rejected, but Me they have rejected from reigning over them.  Just as all the deeds which they have done to Me, from the day I brought them up from Egypt even to this day, in that they have forsaken Me and have served other gods, so they are doing also to you now.  Now then, obey their voice. Only you will testify against them and proclaim to them the judgment concerning the king who will reign over them.” (I Samuel 8:7-9) Samuel then warned them of what a king would be like: taxation, conscripted labor, bureaucracy..(sound familiar?)

It looks like God's concept of King is Himself--with messengers to teach, but with the intention that people voluntarily recognize His authority to rule.  In just a few hundred years, it was apparent that this wasn't happening.  The subsequent history of the  kings after the split at Solomon's death  includes only a few kings in the southern kingdom of Judah who followed God, and none at all in the north.  Within a few hunded years, both kingdoms were overrun by foreign empires, and there were no kings of Judah or Israel until 163 BC, with a revolt against a Greek successor to Alexander the Great.  There was a century of war and intrigue, and then the Roman general Pompey attached this area to Rome.  The people of Judea recalled the glory days of King David, and the ideal grew of a king anointed by God who would rise up, kick out all the pagan rulers, and re-establish a Godly kingdom.

This is the atmosphere into which Jesus came, talking about the Kingdom of the God of Heaven.  Looking all the way back, we can see God's original ideal of a people who would come to Him, follow the leadership of His called people, and under the words of God spoken by His people bring all the world into knowledge of Him.  Many of the people whom Jesus taught saw him as heralding the return of the ideal King David, and even his handpicked disciples asked, as their last question as he was returning to His father, if he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel, obviously thinking of a human kingdom.  We see now that this didn't happen the way they expected; we need to look past David, to the words of God to Samuel: a kingdom of this world is a rejection of His spiritual Kingdom; that power and glory comes by total allegience to Him.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Gateway to the Promised Land--by Linden Malki

Jericho is a very ancient city located in the lower Jordan Valley just above the Dead Sea, at a place that the Jordan River can be crossed.  When Joshua and the Israelites were ready to enter the Land that God was leading them to, the first major obstacle was the fortified city of Jericho. The people living in the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan river were commonly referred to as "Canaanites", possibly referring to descent from Noah's grandson.  They spoke a related language, but there was one huge difference between the Israelites and the other tribes in the land. Abraham had lived in that area 500 years earlier, and at that time there was a priest in Jerusalem, then a city of the Jebusites, who knew the true God.  By the time of the Exodus, that knowledge had been lost, and the people who then lived there worshipped the pagan gods of the surrounding tribes.  (The worst of these were Molech, to whom children were sacrificed, and Ashera, the goddess of fertility.  Jericho was later rebuit by a Canaanite King who sacrificed two sons in the rebuild: 1Kings 16:34.  Archeologists have found tiny skeletons in the walls and gates of Canaanite buildings.  This is part of why God judged these tribes, and was so strict with the Israelites about becoming involved.)

We read that Joshua's spies, sent to Jericho as they prepared to begin their conquest of the land, met a local woman, an innkeeper and prostitute (Canaanite morality was different). She had heard from travellers about the invaders who had overcome other tribes as they moved north toward the Jordan crossing point, and something about their God, so she made the decision to throw her lot with the invaders, because "I know God is with you."

We see that God planned for all mankind to know Him. God made a covenant with Noah that is for all of Noah's descendants: "I am now establishing my covenant with you and all your descendants after you.." (Genesis 9). God's covenant with Abraham is that he will be the father of a host of nations.  Moses was told "When an alien resides with you in your land...treat him no differently than the natives born among you, have the same love for him as for yourself." (Leviticus 19:33-34). Solomon, when the Temple was being dedicated to God, prayed that God would listen to foreigners who came to learn of God (I Kings 8:41-43).  David, in Psalm 22, prophesied that " All the ends of the world will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You.  For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules among the nations."  God told Isaiah to tell His people that  " I will also make you a light to the nations so that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) God's calling was not only for Israel, even before the coming of Jesus; they were called to witness to God to all nations.  It is not suprising that there was an admixture of "outsiders" coming into the family of Israel: Joseph's sons were part Egyptian; Moses' wife was Midianite, and here we have Rahab and her family becoming part of Israel, and then we see Ruth becoming part of the family.

God's calling was not only for Israel, even before the coming of Jesus;  Israel was called to witness to God to all nations.   The real breakthrough was not teaching Jewish Law to Gentiles, but to break the power of sin and enable everyone who believed to live a more powerful life through His death and resurrection.  He became the true Gateway!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ruth, the Good Example--by Linden Malki

Across the Jordan  Valley and the Dead Sea to the East there were several tribal kingdoms that were related to the Israelites. One was the Edomites, who descended from Jacob's brother Esau; the others were Moab and Ammon, descended from Abraham's nephew Lot, whose family barely escaped the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They apparently married into pagan Canaanite peoples and ignored anything they'd known of Abraham's God.  When Moses and the Israelites were migrating back to the Promised Land, the route they took was east of the the Wadi el-Araba, the rift valley below the Dead Sea. It was high ground and included good pasture land for sheep. Moses contacted the various kings and asked for safe passage through these territories, promising that they would not attack or damage the countryside.  The Amorite king refused,  attacked the Israelites, and was defeated.  The king of Moab saw this, and  hired Balaam, a prophet, to come and curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam received only blessings from God for Israel--which annoyed the King of Moab,  but then  Balaam suggested that Moabite women go to the Israelite camps and invite the menfolk to their religious festivals--which included fertility rites and child sacrifices. Not anything that was healthy for anyone. The Israelites did not travel through Moab, but their political relationship was mixed, and there were  hostilities between them.   Later, when David became King, he annexed Moab, who later rebelled, were defeated, and eventually absorbed by the invading Assyrians.

Apparently at the time of Ruth,  relations were good enough that Elimelech and his family did not have problems living in Moab during a famine in Judah, and David sent his parents to Moab for safety during the years he was hiding out from Saul.  We see Ruth accepted in Judah when she came back with Naomi, but she had accepted Naomi and Judah's God as her own.  She is also depicted as a loyal and responsible daughter to Naomi, willing to work at a job kept for the poor.

There were continuing problems with Israelite men marrying outsiders, and allowing them to continue their worship of pagan gods.  This was the downfall of Solomon, who even built sanctuaries for his political wives' gods.  We see King Ahab marrying a aggressively pagan Phoenician princess, who not only kept her own gods, but tried to eliminate the prophets of God and the worship of Israel's God from the kingdom. Jezebel's daughter Athaliah, who had married King Jehoram of Judah, was her mother's daughter, and brought the worship of Baal to Jerusalem.  After the "premature" deaths of her husband and son, she  killed off all the other heirs to the throne of Judah, including all but one of her own grandchildren. The infant Joash was rescued and hidden by an aunt, who was married to the high priest. Six years later, the high priest brought out Joash for his coronation, and Athaliah was killed by the temple guards as she tried to escape.

When the Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah, the governor, and Ezra, the leading priest, were concerned about the number of foreign wives among the returnees.  Looking back at the "bad examples", it was  decreed that they all had to be divorced and deported; there is no record of any consideration given to the religion of the wives.  The Book of Ruth was written and promoted during this period as an antidote to the wholesale discrimination against foreigners.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

BIGGER THAN LIFE--by Linden Malki

King David was a man who knew and loved God; a strong man who had, as we all do, amazingly good sides, and less-than- good sides.
  We see him first coming in from the fields, where he has been shepherding his father's flocks. Samuel the prophet was led to anoint him as being called of God.  He was recommended to Saul as a musician, when Saul was having attacks of depression.  He became Saul's armor-bearer, and after his defeat of Goliath, a leader in Saul's army, the best friend of Saul's son Jonathan, and eventually Saul's son-in-law.  Everything appeared to be going his way.
Success has its dark side--David was so successful that Saul became worried that David was going to take over the kingdom, and tried to kill him. David, on the advice of Jonathan, fled for his life. He spent the next several years in exile, moving around in remote hiding places, accompanied by men who had also left their homes or were unhappy with Saul's leadership. There were several times that David could have killed Saul, but each time he refrained, saying that Saul was still God's appointed King.
One thing we know about David is that he was a gifted musician and poet, and about half of our book of Psalms are credited to David. There is a group of them from this period of being on the run from Saul, and we see David's faith and confidence in God overcoming the discouragement and fear of his situation, as we see in others his thanksgiving and prayers that grew out of other events in his life, the good and the bad.
Saul eventually finds himself in a full-scale war with the Philistines, a group of sea people who had migrated to the coast adjoining Judah over the previous several hundred years. (They are the source of the name that came to be used for the whole area: Palestine.) He and his son Jonathan were killed, we have David's lament for them in II Samuel 1.:19-27.
On God's instructions, David went to Hebron, the central city of tribal area of Judah, and was anointed King of Judah by the local leaders.  After seven years of political and military strife and the death of Saul's surviving son Ishbaal, David became the king of the northern tribal federation of Israel, after which he conquered the fortress city of Jerusalem (which was not part of the Judah/Israelite territory at this time, but was in a strategic central location), and had the Ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem.  He expanded and fortified the city, subdued the Philistines, Moabites, and most of the other surrounding tribes, as far as the  Euphrates River, but not the Ammonites on the east side of the Jordan.
           And then things didn't go so well. His family was a mess. He blew it with the Bathsheba affair, had his oldest son Amnon killed by his brother Absalom for the rape of Absalom's sister , and then Absalom led a revolt against David and David had to flee the city. David's army was able to put it down, but Absalom was killed and David grieved over that until his general Joab chewed him out for showing more concern for a criminally rebellious son than the supporters that had saved his kingdom.           David has left us a great legacy of both heroism and mistakes, but he never lost his faith in God, and was willing to repent when confronted with his sins. The Psalms we have from his life have been called "The Gospel of the Old Testament", for the number of times he makes prophetic statements that are part of the lead-in to the Messiah, who is also said to be the Son of David.  David shows us that we don't have to be perfect; we do need to be humble and honest about what we do. And always he shows an amazing faith and dependence and obedience to God--which has inspired people for 3000 years, and is still as fresh as the young man who started out as a shepherd,became the Shepherd of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and the ancestor of Jesus.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Elijah's World--by Linden Malki

Elijah was an interesting character, and he lived in interesting times.
He appears on the scene when the split between the northern and southern tribes into the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel was only about 60 years in the past.  He is called "the Tishbite", indicating that he was from a place known as Tishbah of Gilead, which was in the far northeastern corner of the original Promised Land, east of the Jordan and overlooking the Sea of Galilee; it is now in Jordan near the Syrian border. This area still has a large historic Christian minority population, and we have not heard of any religious unrest in the area. There are ruins of a Byzantine church in the area, called Mar Elias (St Elijah).*

  Our first mention of him was when God gave him a message for King Ahab of Israel.
In the years since the northern tribes under Jeroboam rebelled against  King Solomon's son Rehoboam (931 BC), there had been four successor kings when a general, Omri, took charge in 885 BC. He built a capital at Samaria, and a healthy economy and foreign policy. However, Jeroboam had built pagan shrines at the northern and southern end of his territory, and encouraged the Israelites to go there rather that Jerusalem to worship. Omri's son Ahab did that one better--married a Phoenician princess, Jezebel, whose father was a major priest of Baal, and who brought a whole regiment of priests with her and tried to wipe out the worshippers of God.

The message from God through Elijah to Ahab was this: there will be no rain nor dew except at God's word.  And there was a drought for three years. God told Elijah to go to the Brook Cherioth, which was in his home terrirory of Gilead, where there still some runoff, and God sent him food. When the brook went dry, God told him to go to Sidon, on the coast of southern Phoenicia, where there was a widow was designated to take care of him. And her containers of flour and oil did not go empty until it rained.  When the widow's son died, Elijah raised him from the dead.

 Elijah was then sent back to Ahab, and challenged Jezebel's prophets of Baal. The test was set up  on Mt Carmel, which is a ridge line that overlooks the coast on one side and the valley of Jezreel on the other. We know the story;  Elijah's sacrifice was accepted by God; the other "gods" offering was ignored. The prophets of Baal and Asherah were killed.Rain fell, Jezebel's threat sent Elijah running away in depression, and an encounter with God at Mt Horeb put him back on his feet. We then read of his calling of Elisha as mentoree and successor; confronting Ahab about a vineyard that he had coveted and Jezebel acquired through a false accusation and murder; and then confronting Ahab's son and successor Ahaziah, who had sent for a word from the pagan god Baalzebub about healing from injuries from a fall. Elijah then told Ahaziah that he had ensured his own death.  The last look we have of Elijah is when Elisha saw Elijah being caught up by a chariot of fire and disappearing. (Fifty prophets from Jericho spent three days looking for him, which pretty well confirms Elisha's experience.)

Elijah was the first of the dramatic prophets which challenged the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to stay on the path God had set out for them; we find Malachi prophesying that Elijah will return to bring hearts back to God before the "Day of the Lord".  John the Baptist was referred to by Jesus as a representation of Elijah (Matthew 18:9-13). Elijah was seen at  Jesus' Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13) And Jesus pointed out that  it was a woman from a different country and culture who took care of  Elijah.

The return of Elijah is still part of Jewish tradition: at Passover Seders and circumcision ceremonies there is a chair for Elijah and an an invitation given for his return. Jewish scholars, faced with difficult questions, often end the discussion by saying "That answer has to wait for the return of Elijah."

The story of Elijah reminds us that God empowers His followers for great things, even when we are tired and scared, and He takes care of those He calls.

* I have been to this part of Jordan; one of my cousins was a missionary doctor who ran a hospital in the region. Despite the horrible fighting there has been in northern Syria, Jordan has been fairly quiet. It was here that my Assyrian father-in-law told me "Country beautiful. US Government better."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

NEW EVERY MORNING--by Linden Malki

If there is one thing we know about God's Creation, is that the Eternal God created a universe full of change. The very first thing we are told about God is that it started "without form and void" and then change happened.  We see God making people, who are constantly changing.  We are born, we grow, we have children whose DNA comes from their parents but are not clones; it reshuffles each generation.  In the latest batch of pictures I got of our new grandbaby, there is one that has a smile that looks like my daughter-in-law, his mom;  and another one that looks like my baby pictures.  It boggles the mind to think of a whole world full of people that are all individuals, with different shapes, and faces, and talents, and likes and environments, but that is the world we live in.  Not are we all different, but we are different each day. That is really noticeable with children, because they change and grow so fast!  We are all going to have good days and not-so-good days, and probably some really bad days.  

And then we run out of days.  it happens in many different ways.
In the last couple of days I saw two different endpoints.
This morning, I went to a memorial service for the daughter of a friend of my kids. She was 19 years old, just starting a grown-up life, when she was killed in an auto accident. I hadn't seen her in some years, but I remember when she was born; I remember her dad when he and my son David worked around our shop and weeded up at the church to make enough to go to camp at Hume Lake.  We have dreams and plans for our kids, but can't see their future.
Yesterday, another memorial service, for a long-time customer of ours, and a successful local businessman. He had had 90 years of a good life, grown kids and grandkids (including our friend Michael White).  Michael, in his message at the service, said that as many good memories as there were of his grandfather, his real legacy was his sons and grandchildren, growing up and building on what he had done.
Both of these two people left behind loving families and good memories; but their families and friends will face days when things are different.  But this is Life, as it was built by its Creator.

The prophet Jeremiah, back in the last days of the independent Kingdom of Judah, had a life that was mostly bad days. He saw the people coming to the Temple but going home and living badly, worshipping false gods, and not seeing the clouds on the horizon. He saw the king not only ignore the words Jeremiah brought, but burned them. He saw the city captured and burned by the Babylonians (586BC), and the king and leaders of the city carried to Babylon in captivity.
And the people still ignored the words of the prophet.  Jeremiah was getting noplace. Listen to his words in Lamentations: "My soul is deprived of peace; I tell myself my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the Lord.  The thought of my homeless poverty is wormwood and gall; remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me. "   But he doesn't stay stuck there.  "But I will call this to mind, as my reason to have hope: the favors of the lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness."  (Lamentations 3:17-26)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Walking on Water--by Linden Malki

At the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, this incident with Peter is a fitting beginning to their relationship.  Jesus had been preaching alone to this point. He was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowd that had come to hear him was pushing him out toward the water.  He noticed a couple of fishing boats, one of which was Peter's, pulled up on the beach. He got in the boat, asked Peter to pull out a little ways, and continued to teach from there. When the lesson was over, he told Peter to pull out into the deep water and let down the nets. Peter replied that he had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but if You say so...and there were so many fish in the net that they also filled the other boat. Peter's response "Leave me, Lord. I am a sinful man." Jesus' answer: "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishing for men." (Luke 5:1-8)

Then there was the time that calmed a storm (Mark 5:35-41), and Matthew and John tell of times that the disciples ran into wind and waves--and Jesus walking on the sea toward them.  Matthew tells of Peter tried walking to Him, and lost his nerve; and the winds died down. Peter's reaction here was "Beyond doubt you are the Son of God!" (Matt 14:24-33)

At the very end of Jesus' earthly ministry, we find Him again at the Sea of Galilee and the Peter and the others are back in the boats, fishing. And again, they had been fishing all night for nothing.  Then a voice from the shore told them to drop the nets on the other side.  Again, the nets are totally filled; Peter jumps in and swims to shore, and they are just in time for Jesus to give them bread and fish for breakfast. And Peter gets his last words from Jesus: "Feed my sheep" and "Follow me."  Peter's apprenticeship begins and ends with a boat full of fish and the knowledge that even the fish and the sea obey Him.

Jesus' mastery of the sea should not have been a surprise to His followers. They had all had a good yeshiva education (the Maccabees who ruled in the previous century had established schools throughout their territory) and they knew their Scriptures.  God had sent a Flood--and boatmaking instructions to Noah. Moses had parted a sea for the Israelites leaving Egypt. Jonah had been on a ship caught in a storm, and realized that he was the target--"He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”... Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm." (Jonah 1:9-15)

Seas are a good metaphor for the power of God; stronger than we are , incredibly useful in some ways and incredibly dangerous in others. We have some understanding of it, but not nearly as much as we'd like.  We can enjoy the beauty and opportunites that it gives, but we also need to respect its power.  God gives us the seas to enjoy and use--on His terms, the rules built in from Creation.  God Himself is like that--He gives us many good things and opportunites, but there are things He cannot allow.  Peter's nets were full of fish--when he followed Jesus' instructions, even in the face of his own discouragement.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who do we ask? --by Linden Malki

" Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." (JFK's Inaugural Address, Jan 1961). Looking around today's America, there seems to be a lot of talk about what our country should be doing for everybody, as if "the government" (whatever that actually is) can solve all our "problems".  But we have to be careful with the second half of Kennedy's advice as well. Who decides who to ask? My first  idea of what I should do is political, or social, or economic, and it is not the same as anybody else's idea. We've already got all sorts of people trying to do all sorts of things for our country, and some have already been tried and failed at everything except making their perpetrators feel good.  This is a question for somebody a lot smarter than I am. There are lot of people out there who think they're smarter than anybody, and they scare me. If you look at the last century's list of who thought they knew more about running a country than anybody, what they actually accomplished is a whole lot of people dead and a whole lot more refugees fleeing for freedom.

Ok, then who's really smart enough?  Let's look at the Creator, who made the whole thing. We can think that there are things we'd have done different had we been in charge, like maybe a fence around that tree and keeping better track of that snake, but apparently the Boss wanted us to have meaningful choices with meaningful consequences. We haven't done a very good job with the choices, on the whole. We've seen what happens when we try to do it all on our own. We don't do a very good job trying to use what He gave us to make a good world.

But is a "good world" what we should be looking for? There's a lot of talk out there--even in what is supposed to be the church--about asking God to do what we want, telling Him what we think and demanding it on our terms. Unfortunately we really don't know what is best for us or anybody.  Asking our country, or even God, to do what we want isn't the smart option. Who do we ask? Solomon had the right idea, but even the smartest man in the world got in his own way.

We already have a lot of the answers available; they've been around for at least 3500 years.  The problem is that we're not smart enough to apply them rightly by ourselves. Jose told us last week that the best answers to who we are and what we're supposed to do about it come from the One who designed us and knows what He intends for us. But He didn't make us puppets; we have to be willing to become His children, the sheep of His pasture.

So what can we do? We can tell God that we are open to His leading, His assignments, being His people. This is what we can do for the country (not to mention the world)--we can be connected to a dimension outside of this world, and let Him open doors for us. We can be different from the people around us; --it's not just following the rules; that's been tried and doesn't get where we need to be. Even within the church there have always been those who think all they need to do is not murder anyone and keep out of trouble and go on their own way as they want. They miss the surprises that God as for us--I've had big ones and little ones scattered through my life. We can do what He calls us and empowers us to do, not what we think we can do in our own limited strength.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Called to the Extraordinary--by Linden Malki

Ordinary Christians are called to do extraordinary things--within a generation after Jesus' return to His Father, his followers had spread from Britain to India with the Good News .  There are still Christians in both of those places--our own Pastor Paul spent several weeks in India recently demonstrating his JumpStart discipleship series, invited by Indian pastors. The other day, I was visiting with a cousin who had been born in China to a missionary family, and she told me about a book written by a British missionary in Tibet in 1950 who had been taken prisoner by the invading Communist Chinese, at the same time that her father, then in West China, was also imprisoned in China. I said I think I had read it; a niece had sent me a similar book several years ago. I discovered that the two books were by different Britons who had been in Tibet at the same time and both spent several years in Chinese prisons, and at least one of them had been in the same prison as my uncle for a time. Right now I'm reading both books at the same time, in some sort of chronological order. The missionary, who had gone to Tibet in response to a felt calling there without any backing or support, found God giving him the strength to endure and be blessed in extremely difficult circumstances.  The other man had gone to Tibet as a radio operator hired by the Tibetan government.  He did stand up for his faith as a Christian, but did not actively preach.  He did, however, recognize in the attempted "education" sessions in the prison,  my uncle's stubborn faith and his acceptance of beatings for his faithful prayers. It is also amazing that after 40+ years of attempts to eradicate religion, when China opened up a few years ago, there emerged millions of Christians that had been growing underground.

We've been blessed in the past few weeks to have visits from two families, both of whom had been active at NCF when they were in the local area with Mission Aviation Fellowship and Campus Crusade. The MAF family had spent time in Africa responding to needs for transport and supplies by local Christians and missionaries, and the Crusade family has been in Asia, teaching and befriending people who had no knowledge of the Gospel. In both cases, God has done amazing things through them, and our support has been a part of that.  These are ordinary people who were called and empowered to do amazing things through faith.

At a cell church conference in Waco in 2009, there were pastors from Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as the US.  Most of the pastors from areas that had been significantly impacted by Christian missionaries from the US and Europe expressed their gratitude for these missionaries, and recognize the good that this witness is still having in their home countries. I occasionally read comments by people who criticize missionaries for messing with other cultures, but hearing firsthand  of the traditions of idolatry and fear that they are still facing, it has been worth the effort. There are also stories of elements in some farflung cultures that are steppingstones to the Good News.

Most of us have been called to San Bernardino, or places closer to home. I certainly did not plan to move here; God transplanted me here and has been growing me here.  God has a place for each of us;  our challenge is to recognize it and see what He is calling us to do where He has put us.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

GOD AS FATHER--by Linden Malki

   The role of Father is built into Creation.  All living creatures were created to be self-replicating; even the simplest single-cell creatures exchange genetic material and reproduce. The continued existence of every form of life on the planet is dependent on its ability to leave descendants. (Yes, not all of them do succeed, but that  is part of the dynamics of constant change that we see.)  The first human beings were created with the ability and responsibility to have children. It is interesting that people were not given the programming that most other creatures have; we were expected to teach our children.  The other half of the story is that we also have the ability to choose our behavior.  Hopefully, our parents instruction will enable us to make good choices. We find that Adam's record was't that good. Of the first two sons, one did it according to the instruction, and one didn't--and didn't seem to understand or pay attention, other than to take it out on his brother. 

          It is interesting that almost all references to God and fatherhood refer God as "the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."  The only referrals to God as our Father that I could find are in Psalm 89:26 "He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’"; Isaiah 9:6 "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace;" and Malachi 2:10 "Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?"  The coming of Jesus, prophesied in the Isaiah passage, refers to Jesus as the Son of God the Father. At the very end of Jesus' time on earth, we find  Jesus saying, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

          St Paul is very specific about this relationship; every single one of his letters, begins like this:" Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 1:3) You could make an interesting study just from these verses--all slightly different in emphasis. Also, Peter, John, James and Jude say something similar as well.  I especially noted this:"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better" (Ephesians 1:17)  Think about the role of father: one of the main jobs of a father is to teach; not only his children, but his community.  Paul says here that the source of wisdom, revelation and knowledge come from God through His Spirit.  

          An important way that He communicates with his children is through prayer. Think for a moment in how we usually pray; and also how we communicate with our parents. Most of our prayer time is spent telling God what we want and what we think He wants to hear. Is this how we usually talk to our parents, grandparents, and others? If we want to learn from our parents, the best way is to listen to them. I recall when I was a kid out camping with my family, Dad would make a bonfire on the riverfront near where we were camped, and we'd sit around and Dad would tell stories of his life, and other family and friends and their stories. Dad loved to listen to people, as well--he would say that he'd never met someone he couldn't learn something from. He'd even ask me questions that come up in things he read.  This makes me thing that prayer needs to be more like this--more listening than talking.  It's not an easy thing to learn, we tend to be afraid of "dead time".  I find one question, or observation, or even a tree to stare at, and then wait for a response. If something comes into your head, give to to the Spirit see what He does with it.  Praise isn't meant to be flattery or an attempt to get something in return, but thankfulness and acknowledgment of who God is and who we are.  This is God, the power behind everything that is, and He loves us and wants His best for us. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mentoring for Life--by Linden Malki

The practice of "mentoring" is basic to human society. The term goes back to Homer's Odyssey, roughly 900BC; where an old man named "Mentor"(assisted by the goddess Athena) guides a young man through a crisis.

We are created knowing very little, but gifted with the potential to learn. We all have a different mix of the ways we learn, but we start out in life with built-in mentors--our parents, grandparents, and other people who are part of our lives. We spend good part of our early life watching,listening, imitating and growing. We learn different things from different people in different stages of our lives, but very often there are one or more special people in our lives that take specific interest and time with us to help us learn. One of the most important thing in the lifelong journey of learning is the people we learn from. Good parents and friends will teach us good things we need to know, irresponsible parents or friends can teach us things that are not good for us. We need to recognize those people who have the good knowledge that we need. Most ancient cultures have a traditional story of a supernatural wise and poweful being that appeared to their ancestors with wisdom, instructions, and rules. We believe that a creator God is the ultimate source of wisdom and knowledge; in some cases it lost its connection and got off track.

Back in Eden, God told Adam what he was expected to do, and one thing he was not to do. This is was the first step in the having to deal with the results of doing what put us all on a path that has its wide and narrow, its goals and pitfalls. We see that our faith tradition goes back to a man who had the best mentor of all: God Himself. We see Abram/Abraham's calling in Genesis 12, which includes his obedience as well as his mistakes. We find that God gives Abraham both promises and instructions, a covenant that still recognized. We have a Scriptural record of what God told Abraham and his descendents to learn; the record of a 2000 year story of people who have mentored others, some of whom were listened to and some who weren't. We still have this record of what we need to know to be in a right relationship with our Creator. We also have had another 2000 years of people teaching others--some for better, some for worse. It is amazing that the story of God and His people has survived, but it is the plan we were given in the beginning. We also have the responsibility to learn what He has to teach us, and teach others in turn in gratitude for His love and patience.

We are always learning, one way or another. We need to choose the best, and recognize what falls short of that. For about the last 15 years, the Calvary/NorthPoint community has been learning how to teach, how to mentor, how to learn who God is and why we have been called to follow Him. It has been exciting to watch the passion for teaching the Word grow, with some ups and downs. We have seen the program that is now JumpStart develop and become ready to spread a new telling of an old, old Story here on Sierra Way, to San Bernardino, across the US, and to some amazing parts of the world. If you are interested, there will be someone available in the back of the church with information and sign-up opportunities. Come join the adventure!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Moses, Aaron, and God--by Linden Malki

Moses, on the shore of the Red Seal,  the Israelites with him, frightened,  and the Egyptians coming up behind them: "Fear not! Stand your ground, and you will see the victory the Lord will win for you today...The Lord Himself will fight for you, you have only to keep still." And the next day, they crossed the sea on dry seabed.
When they got to Sinai, God told Moses to call the people together. They agreed that "Everything the Lord has said, we will do." Then God delivered ten commandments to the people, and dictated four chapters of instructions to Moses for the people.   God called Moses out of a cloud to come up the mountain for 40 more days.  Meanwhile, back at the camp, the people got restless, and asked Aaron to make a god for them.  God told Moses to go back down, as the Israelites were running wild, and He was ready to wipe them all out and make a nation from Moses. Moses faced up to God with the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Lord relented.
As they approached their promised destination, Moses sent a team of spies, one man from each tribe, to move up through the Negeb into the land beyond and check it out. The spies came back in 40 days and reported that the land was fruitful but the inhabitants were too strong. Amid the wailing and grumbling, Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before the people with no reported reply, and it was Joshua and Caleb who stood up to the whole community and said, "..You need not be afraid of the people..the Lord is with us." The Lord told Moses, "of all the men who have seen my glory and the signs I worked in Egypt and in the desert, and who nevertheless have put Me to the test already and have failed to heed my voice, not one shall see the land which I promised on oath to their fathers."--except Caleb and Joshua.
After another attempted rebellion, they moved back into the desert to Meribah, where there was no water--and the usual complaining from the people. God told Moses and Aaron to gather the people, and tell the rocks to give water. They assembled the community, and Moses said "Listen to me, you rebels! Are we to bring water for you out of this rock?", and  struck the rock. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you were not faithful to me in showing my sanctity before the Israelites, you shall not lead them into the land I will give them."
Reading this by itself, it looks like this is a punishment out of proportion to the offense.  However, look at it in the context of the whole relationship between God, the Israelites, Moses and Aaron. After starting out speaking in the name of God, Moses more and more talked about his frustration with the people, and less and less about God. At Meribah, Moses did not even mention God when he came in front of the people; his answer was to do something himself when he had been told to command the rock in the name of the Lord.  They had not only failed to invoke God at this time; they had not taught the people to respect the plans of God and have faith in His promises. At the time of the golden calf incident, the people --and Aaron--had just a few weeks earlier heard God tell them to stay away from idols. When the spies came back, Moses and Aaron said nothing, and Joshua and Caleb said what needed to be said--and when God said that no one there except Joshua and Caleb would see the Promised Land--Moses was there.
We don't hear a lot about Joshua in the books of the Torah, but he's there when he needs to be. And it was Joshua who did lead the Israelites into the Land--with strict injunctions that they were not to profit by the conquest; that it was to be for the glory of God. A thousand years later, when the descendants of these people had been in captivity again, this time in Babylon and were coming back into Judea to rebuild, the prophet Zechariah said “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel (the leader of the returning exiles) 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty."*  This was true for Joshua; it has always been true for the people of God.                              *Zechariah 4:6

Saturday, June 3, 2017

One by One--by Linden Malki

God is the most amazing Creator--the variety of everything He creates is beyond our capacity to appreciate.  Look at a garden--each twig on each plant is different. Animals--there is an amazing number of species, and even within a species, each individual is different. Look at people--the possible number of variations on one basic pattern is mind-boggling. Even in a family,  everyone is a little--or a lot--different.  Even twins are slightly different. Someone recently posted a picture of my brothers as very small children--and it was possible to recognize which twin was which.  I think that within any group of people you can describe, the differences between members of the group are greater than the average between that group and another one.  That is why it is important to deal with people as individuals--judging people by a broad brush does not tell what you may need to know about any individual.

Jesus is our example here--at one point, there were scholars in the Temple that were amazed by a 12-year-old who wasn't like one  they'd ever known;  but when he returned to Nazareth, most of the neighbors dismissed him as just another one of the neighborhood kids.   Look at his experiences with Samaritans! The woman at the well (John 4) was surprised that this Jewish man would speak to her--a woman, a Samaritan, and someone with a checkered past, but he knew that she needed what he offered.   There was an incident where a Samaritan town refused to sell the disciples food, and they wanted to destroy the town, but Jesus reprimanded them and went on to another town. (Luke 9:51+) Then in the parable he tells shortly after this, the supposed "good guys" avoid the man in need, and a Samaritan shows mercy.  The result is that  the Samaritans responded to the Gospel more openly than Jesus' own people. (Acts 8).

The early church had to work through this: we find animosities between Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, and others, but we also see God working with all sorts of people, such as an Ethiopean official and  a Roman Centurion.  The church ever since has had its ups and downs--excluding people, including people, persecuting people, rescuing people. We are called to be wise in our dealing with people--evaluating them with His eyes, praying for His heart.

The church as its best answers His call to "go to all the world"--next door and across the oceans.  This last Thursday, we were honored to have  Jim & Cathy Abell, longtime staff members  of Mission Aviation Fellowship, visiting and sharing what they and MAF are doing. MAF was headquarted for some years at Redlands Airport, and the Abell family was active at NCF; they are now in Nampa, Idaho. MAF is an amazing arm of God, supporting missionaries and coping with disasters in many parts of the world.  They serve people who are bringing the Word of God to people who are in remote and difficult places, who may be of different cultures and colors, but each of whom is one of God's children.

MAF is one of the missions that our church supports; 10% of your offerings goes outside our family to those who are serving God in a special way.  You can learn more about MAF at, and can give additional support through our church by designating additional offerings for MAF.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Godly Healing--by Linden Malki

A missionary friend was telling of a visitor from a foreign mission church who, on their way in from the
airport here in the US, kept asking  "Don't you have any sick people?" My friend found out that the visitor came from a place where the streets were crowded with disabled people who lived as beggars, and who were thought to be doing a favor for those who gained merit by giving. This was common in a many times and places. We see in the gospels  Jesus and his disciples encountering sick and disabled beggars on the streets, roads, and around the houses of the rich.  The command to take care of the less fortunate is found all through the Jewish tradition; in the Wisdom literature of 200-100 BC, almsgiving could compensate for sin and bring favor with God.  In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar,  it describes rich man who ignored the beggar at his gate being  punished in the afterlife.  In Matthew 6, Jesus says that generous deeds done for worldly attention will get just that--and only that.

We were created very wondrous and complex creatures; the more research is done, the more wonders are found. It is not surprising, considering the incredible imagination of our Creator, We may assume that the glitches in creation are part of the challenges that require us to depend on our Creator for our strength. It is amazing the number of ways we as humans we have tried to fix ourselves; some of which are pure genius and some pure folly. There have always been smart, innovative people who have studied honestly and learned much; there have always been people who have taken advantage to enrich themselves.  We have always thought that God (or His rivals and imitations) had the power to heal. Some of the attempts have been bribes to false gods; some have been attempts to manipulate the true God to be our servant; some have been exercises of faith and prayer in righteousness and humility.

Do you want to be healed?"  This sounds like a surprising thing for Jesus to have asked, but not everyone does. Being healed will usually mean not living on charity, but being expected to support yourself and in turn help others. We've all known people who enjoy the attention of having something to feel sorry for yourself about and something dramatic to talk about. I've known people who've used their complaints to bully their whole family. We may have known people who were chronically sick as children who never learned to do common everyday things because they were unable to do them, or were allowed to become excessively dependent.  Staying healthy requires a certain amount of self-discipline, might even mean doing good things for yourself  and not doing stupid things that seem like fun at the time.

The one thing that is certain is that we are not designed to live here forever.  Even the most radical healing on this earth is temporary; if faith were a guarantee of health forever, Abraham would still be with us. We don't like the idea of mortality; we are all the children of mortal parents, and many of us will only see a generation or two below us. We miss those who are gone; but there is nothing that we can do to change it. I cherish the memories of my parents and grandparents, brothers and husband; and appreciate what God has given me in children and  grandchildren. Life is change; I look at my tall son and see a little boy we once had, and love seeing him with his own tiny son. Every day the mix of humanity is different, and we are different as well.   I suspect that one of the reasons that our bodies wear out is so that we will be willing to trade them in.  In God's grace, we will finally be totally healthy, wealthy and wise--and the person we were created to be.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

God's Children--by Linden Malki

"Our Father" was Jesus' most commonly used picture of God and His people.  After all, God created the family in the beginning; idea was relationships: God with mankind, people with each other in families.  Even when Eve, and with her, Adam, made a bad choice in advisers, they still remained partners in life--not perfect, but capable of raising families and nations.  Last week, Dr Dumas talked about the strength in Eve and her children; she got hit with one of the most terrible things that a mother can face: the death of son by murder, and the knowledge that the murderer was another of her sons. She lost both of them at once. But we are not told that she gave up--she had another son, Seth, who became the one that fathered the world of people. The Bible is unusual in ancient literature in its stories of women: very few ancient documents mention more than a very few women. There are there something like 400 women included in Scripture, and they are described as real people; we know people like this; more often than not, they are strong, capable women.

We find later in the prophets God described as loving his people the way the ideal husband loves a wife, even when she has been unfaithful. She has a very important place in history; her children create history, for better or for worse.  Women stand together to face whatever is necessary. We also heard the story of how women saved the Israelites’ children in Egypt when the Pharoah wanted them dead.  The midwives refused to destroy the infants, and Jochebed and Miriam were determined to save the life of baby Moses. Their co-conspirator here was also a woman--the daughter of Pharoah, whose heart reached out to this baby. We could tell many stories of women who trusted God and took care of their families and God's people.

Jesus brought this to another level. He was the Son of God, but also the child of a woman.  Scripture often talks about God the Father, and how He cares for His children: us!  Even in the context of human sin, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, who he describes as murdering the prophets and stoning those who were sent. "How often have I yearned to gather your children, as a mother bird gathers her young under her wings, but you refused me." (Matthew 23:37-38)

As God's children, we are called to call upon His strength, and to take care of each other. We live in a society where both men and women reject so much of what God has created us to be. John, in I John 3, talks about us being God's children, and responsible to love each other as well as God. He goes all the way back to the beginning of mankind, where Cain killed his brother because of the evil in his heart. He wraps it up with this: "His commandment is this: we are to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and we are to love one another as He commanded us. Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He remains in us: from the Spirit that He gave us." (I John 3:23-24)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

PAUL'S TEAM--by Linden Malki

The Bible is full of people.  There are over 3000 people mentioned in Scripture; over 400 are women. it's easy to get bogged down in lists of people, but I have found that the more you read, the more you are likely to find out more about all these people, as you run across multiple mentions of the same people. I also consider the overwhelming numbers of people to be an indication of authenticity--who would have made up all these folks?  And the Bible is honest about them--they are real people, some bad, some good, mostly both. It's encouraging to see how many of them were changed by their encounters with God and His people. And some were judged and found irretrievably guilty; I'm inclined to believe they really were that bad.

Even stuck in a Roman prison, Paul was concerned about the people he had known and served with for more than 20 years. Some of the people he mentions are familiar ones, some not. It's interesting how much we do know about some of them--from multiple sources in various contexts and places.  I thought it would be interesting to look at the extraordinary people that were on Paul's mind and heart as he is facing his own martyrdom:

Demas from Thessalonika in Greece was with Paul in Rome during his first imprisonment and is mentioned in the letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, but he abandoned Paul and returned home.

Crescens is traditionally believed to be from Myra, on the southeast corner of today's Turkey.  Paul apparently sent him back to Galatia, a province in this area.

Titus was a Greek from Antioch, who is believed to have been a secretary and courier for Paul on several occasions. He was with Paul in Jerusalem, sent as messenger to Corinth, was one of those collecting the offering for the Jerusalem church. He became the bishop of Crete; in 2 Timothy, Paul has sent him to Dalmatia, on the west coast of the Balkan peninsula.

Luke was from Antioch: either a Greek or Hellenic Jew (a Jew with a Greek education) who joined Paul in Troas and recorded several journeys with Paul.  He is traditionally believed to have been with Paul during his virtual imprisonment in Caesarea, and to have been acquainted with Mary and others familiar with Jesus' ministry in Galilee.  He was also in Rome with Paul during the last imprisonment. He is believed to have died at the age of 84 in central Greece.  He is credited with the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts of the Apostles, and he is considered a well-educated and talented historian.

Mark is said to have been born in Libya, but we first see him when his widowed mother's house in Jerusalem became a gathering place for the early church and may have been the Upper Room used by Jesus and his disciples. He became a protege of Peter, and became acquainted with Paul through Barnabas, his uncle. He was apparently in Ephesus with Timothy at the time 2 Timothy was written.  Church tradition is that he became the leader of the church at Alexandria, where he was martyred by pagan crowds. His Gospel is believed to be based on the teaching of Peter.

Carpus of Troas, a major port city north of Ephesus, had probably hosted Paul who left a cloak.

Tychicus of Chalcedon and his companion Trophimus the Ephesian accompanied Paul at the close of his third missionary journey and traveled with him from Greece, through Macedonia to Jerusalem.  Tychicus had been in Rome, and Paul sent him to Ephesus; Trophimus was left, ill, in Miletus.  Tychicus is listed as the first bishop of Chalcedon, on the Bosporus near the Black Sea. 

Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila were Jews expelled from Rome by the Roman Emperor Claudius who ended up in Corinth. Paul lived with Priscilla and Aquila, who were also tentmakers, for approximately 18 months. They travelled with Paul as far as Ephesus, settled there and were teachers in the church..
Onesiphorus, a Christian from Ephesus, had sought out Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome, and possibly saved his life.

Erastus was a Christian from Corinth, where he was a high civic official; he may have become a leader in the Jerusalem church.

Eubulus and Pudens were apparently active in the church in Rome, but nothing else is known about them.

Linus, an Italian from Tuscany, is listed as the second bishop of Rome, after Peter's death. He was martyred in 76 AD, and was buried next to Peter.  Claudia was probably his mother.

In Jewish law, the testimony of two people is true; we find Jesus sending out his disciples in pairs, and Paul normally travelled with at least one other person. Following Jesus is not a one-person responsibility! Paul’s story is just a small idea of people working together for God’s glory.