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. 

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Who was Timothy?--by Linden Malki

Timothy is a great example of the cultural variety  of the first-century church. He was born  in Lystra, a village in the province of Galatia in what is now southwestern Turkey, on the main road from Ephesus on the Aegean coast to Antioch in Syria, a road that Paul knew well. Timothy's father was Greek, and his mother and her family was Jewish. He would have grown up with a Greek/Roman education; the local Jewish community was too small to have a synagogue,  but we do know that his mother and grandmother taught him the traditional Scriptures. Paul and Barnabas came here in about 48 AD, and healed a lame man. This so impressed the locals that they tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, thinking they must be the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus come to earth.  Paul used the opportunity to tell about the true God, but the local pagans, encouraged by Jews from the area, stoned Paul and left him for dead. He recovered with the help of local people who did believe, and they went on their way the next day.  When Paul and Silas came back through in 51 AD, they found a growing community of believers, including young Timothy, his mother  and grandmother.  Timothy became a disciple and mentoree of Paul.  He was on most of the later missionary journeys, and also served as a messenger to various of the churches they had founded;  we find Timothy mentioned as Paul's fellow servant and brother in the Lord in six of Paul's letters. During Paul's last imprisonment, in Rome probably about 65 AD, Timothy had been sent to work with the church at Ephesus, but Paul is asking him to come for a last time with him.  Timothy himself was imprisoned at some point probably in the 60's as the last mention of him in the New Testament is a verse at the end of Hebrews, probably written about this time, that says "I want you know that our brother Timothy has been released." (Hebrews 13:23).  Timothy did settle in Ephesus, and is listed in church history as the first bishop of Ephesus.  This was a tough place; it was a major seaport, with a dockside culture to match, as well as being the longtime home of a major temple to the goddess Diana. Paul had had enough success in reaching this city that those who made a living out of the cult of Diana set off a riot (Acts 19).  The priests of the Diana cult taught that the worship of the goddess as necessary to insure harvests were successful, so this was a hard thing to compete with, not to mention the fun and games that were involved.  Church tradition says that Timothy died in 97 BC (at age 80), stoned as he tried to break up a civic festival honoring the goddess Diana by preaching the Gospel to the crowds.  

What we see is a young man who threw his life into serving God, willing to do whatever he can do to assist Paul in his calling; we don't see any indications that he was less than totally cooperative. He was a good choice for leadership in the Ephesian church;  this was not far from his home town, and it is possible that he had Greek relatives on his father's side in the area, so he understood both sides of the community.   It is interesting, with Timothy's background in mind, to look at the message given through John's Revelation to the church in Ephesus--Timothy's area of responsibility. In Revelation 2:1-7, we see that this church is commended for standing firm for the teachings Timothy was given; for their perseverance in trouble. The one shortcoming noted is that they have "lost their first love"; that their love and enthusiasm for their calling is wearing thin, not surprising considering the problems they had to deal with.  They apparently did get their act together; they were one of the major churches in the first few centuries and hosted a major church Council in 431, and had a continuous resident patriarch until the Ottoman Turkish invasion in the 1500's; the patriarchate was
revived in 1797 and still exists.

The history of the Church is basically the lives of people and places;  it is amazing how much we do know about those who followed Jesus and to whom we owe much of what we know about how God has worked in His world.  We are still called to follow and teach and demonstrate what God intends for His people.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Life by Grace by Linden Malki

It is very easy, in today's world, or any day's world for that matter, to talk about "love" and "grace" without judgment and responsibility. Paul, in 2 Timothy, lists situations where it is necessary to do things right in order to get the results you need.  It is easy to have good motives, but if your efforts don't accomplish anything useful, you have wasted your time.  The point is not to merely feel bad about your sins, repent and accept grace, and then go back to the same way you were living.  You're still stuck with your old self.

Keeping in mind the background of St Paul's prison letters, we should realize that the world we live in today is more like the world he lived in than perhaps any period before or since.  But in one way it is even more dramatic: the numbers of Christian martyrs was greater in the 20th Century (estimated at about 70 million) than in all the centuries since the first--and that doesn't include war casualties and other deaths not involving religious identity.  This has happened all over the world; the Middle East, China, Russia, and more. We know of the 6 million Jews who disappeared during the Nazi years, but most people don't realize that another 6 million Christians disappeared as well. One of the best-known martyrs in Germany at that time was a young Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   He had come from a prominent family, and was developing a reputation as a preacher, theologian and writer by the age of 24, not only in Germany but in New York and England.  He realized even before Hitler came to power that this was a movement that intended to become a counterfeit god in Europe, and establish an idolatry based on the power of man. He became part of a group of churches that resisted collaboration with the Nazis, and at one point was taken to the US by friends who thought he would be safer outside of Germany, but he realized that his place was back with the German people in what he knew would be a time of trial. He was a pacifist, but decided that it was not enough to avoid the war, but that the spiritual fate of Germany depended upon the defeat of the Nazis, and became part of a movement to destroy the Nazi government. He, his sister and her husband were arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. In prison, he was able to inspire, comfort, and minister to other prisoners, and even some of the guards, who smuggled his writings out of prison. He was hanged by the express command of Himmler, just a few days before the prison he was in was liberated by the Allies.

One of Bonhoeffer's major books is "The Cost of Discipleship", in which he talks about grace as not cheap. "It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life." * He also wrote about obedience: "He who believes is obedient; and only who is obedient believes." * He pointed out that our record of Jesus' call to his disciples was very simple: "Follow me." No begging, no bribes, no threats. "Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and demand obedience to his Word. Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as Christ, the Son of God." *

One of his most unforgettable statements is "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Like St Paul, he believed with his whole being that his call was to follow Jesus, even at the cost of his earthly life.
*The Cost of Discipleship p47. p69, p62

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Frying Pan to Fire--by Linden Malki

Some of St Paul's most life-filled letters were written from prison.  The one we are reading these few weeks, 2 Timothy, is probably his last letter.  What is amazing is that is no indication of frustration or depression; it includes one of the most inspiring verses in all his many letters:  "But I am not ashamed, for I know him in whom I have believed. and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that Day."  There is one disappointment that we do see: how many people who claimed to follow Christ ignored what happened to him.

The prison he is in is Rome, but was Jews who put him there.  It started with his visit to Jerusalem about 57 AD when a mob of Jews  started a riot against him. It took a cohort of Roman soldiers to rescue Paul. (Acts 21+) The final upshot of the situation was that for several years the Romans didn't know what to do with him, and Paul, not wanting to be turned over to the mobs, appealed to Caesar, his right as a Roman citizen, and was sent to Rome. This was about 61-62 AD, and  Jerusalem was approaching disaster. The Jerusalem church saw their leader James thrown off the highest point in the Temple and clubbed to death at the bottom--they recognized Jesus' warning prophecies  and they moved to Pella, on the other side of the Jordan. Paul arrived in Rome probably around 62 AD; the Roman authorities put him under a mild house arrest.  He may have been released  able to make another missionary journey, possibly to Spain?  We do know that he wound up back in a Roman prison, probably about 64 AD.  The problem with appealing to Caesar was that the reigning Caesar was Nero.

Nero had become Emperor in 57 AD, but was not a nice person. He believed himself to be a talented singer and harp player.  In April of 64, there was a major fire in the city of Rome; raged for days and demolished
or damaged a good part of the city. Nero was out of town when it started, but returned quickly.  There were rumors that he had been seen on a place overlooking the fire, singing a ballad about the destruction of Troy in ancient Greece. ("Fiddles" were still in the future.) He did provide aid to fire victims, but cleared most of the area to build an enormous palace The rumor began to spread through the city that Nero had been behind the fire for his own plans. He countered by scapegoating a small cult with no political clout, the "Christians"; this was the first official persecution of Christians outside of Judea. Church tradition is that both Peter and Paul were executed during this time; Peter by crucifixion and Paul by beheading.  I think this is a very probable dating; the obsession with creative ways to kill Christians faded as Nero had other problems.  Judea blew up in 65, and Rome sent troops.  The legions in Germany and Britain revolted; Nero spent much of 65-67 in Greece, was called home and suicided under threat of execution in 68.

There were those in Jerusalem who thought that killing Jesus and Paul would wipe out the threat to their established power; Nero saw this little band of Christians as expendable. Paul and the church were caught between the frying pan of Judea and the fire of Rome; and yet God's people survived, as Paul told Timothy they would.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

SHOW and SUBSTANCE-by Linden Malki

      One of the puzzling incidents in Jesus' ministry was the "cursing of the fig tree" on the day after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which had included his driving out the merchants and moneylenders in the Temple courtyards. (Mark 11, Matthew 21). His disciples were surprised that he had expected figs at this time of year, and took what they saw as his disappointment out on the tree.  In his message last Sunday, Dougie pointed out that what Jesus was condemning was not as much this particular tree, but the fruitlessness of people.  Fig trees produce an early crop of smaller fruits, followed by the growth of leaves and then a later main crop, so there is a period in late spring and summer where the trees have leaves but no fruit, so as a species they can be used as a parable of show without substance.

      The religious culture of Jerusalem at that historical time included four major subcultures, all with a commitment to what they saw as God's requirements, but mutually hateful and judgmental.  Jesus had said that they had all lost the point of their heritage, some worse than others, and they were not producing the fruit of God's love that they were called to.  The Temple establishment, including the high priests, were mostly descendants of Zadok, the high priest at the time of David and Solomon.  These Sadducees, as they were known, had as their main concern the Temple worship and sacrifices; they followed the written law from Moses, but didn't believe in the authenticity of the traditions passed down by word of mouth.  They also had a deal with Rome; they guaranteed civil peace in return for Roman support of their religious power; and they were admirers of the Greek & Roman culture.  They also used the sacrificial system to line their own pockets--the only sacrificial animals they would allow to be used in the Temple were the ones they raised and sold to worshippers, and only in Jewish shekels--and they controlled the money-changers.  Their reaction to the public reaction to the raising of Lazarus was that Jesus was a threat to their tightly balanced deal with Rome (John 11), and the incident in the Temple was the last straw.

      The other religious party were mostly ordinary people who were committed to studying and teaching not only the written law, but the Oral Law that they claimed had been transmitted in parallel.  They also had no tolerance for those who did not observe all the laws,  be they pagans or other Jews.  They were known as Pharisees, derived from a Hebrew word for "separate". They produced major scholars, and were the backbone of the synagogues,  communities of Jewish men who met regularly for prayer and study. These communities had grown up in Babylon during the captivity around scholars who worked to preserve the Jewish tradition among the exiles.  We have many stories of Jesus' discussions with the Pharisees; they were concerned with everyday life as an observer of the Laws,  but tended to see the law as an end in itself.  Many of them were totally judgmental of  Jesus and his teaching, but there were those who understood and became Jesus followers.

      The other two parties were the Essenes and related groups who withdrew from the mainstream to observe the law even more strictly, and the Zealots who were political revolutionaries whose aim was to destroy the Roman occupation and all man-made political authority, expecting this to lead to direct government by God.  They are the ones who triggered the insurrection that led to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 65-70 AD. The Sadducees and priests disappeared when the Temple was destroyed; the Pharisees became the core of the rabbinical Judaism that has survived to this day. As the church downplayed legalism, the rabbis developed it even further.

       Showy leaves without fruit are useless; how often do we in today's churches put on a big show of our own in worship and rules without the fruits of love that Jesus preached?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

REAL LIFE--by Linden Malki

We are blessed to having been born into a beautiful world. Not perfect (by our standards), but with the capacity to be breathtakingly gorgeous, and also the capacity for being scary and rotten and downright ugly.  Very often, however, the ugliness has a connection with the something we human beings have done or not done--often with the best of intentions, but unfortunately, intentions have little to do with actual reality. In fact, we do not do reality well. Left to ourselves, our self is the main priority in our life. Unfortunately (again) we tend to think that our "feelings" are a good guide to what is best; even when there are actual facts that we could find if we looked in the right places, that would take all the fun out of how we "feel."

What we don't want to recognize is something actually true that was said a long time ago, but is no less true for that: "He who would save his own life will lose it, and he who gives up his own life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?" (Luke 9:24-25) If we live our lives with what we feel like at the moment, or what we think will make us happy as our guide, it often doesn't work as well as we expect.  How often online to we see a online posting that says something like "Remember this celebrity when they were successful and beautiful, and look what they are now!"  We don't always admit we got off track somehow...and even at best the end of our life may not be what we want.

What does it look like to "give up your life for My sake"?  What makes a difference is who is speaking!  There are a lot of things and people out there who make a promise like this, and most of them are dead ends, because they are not any more than any other human being.  Putting our human selves first, even though we may know that there is a Creator who is more than human, and even try to follow His instructions, doesn't get us where we need to be. It is only when we put what we see as our own self-interest as what St Paul calls a "living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" as our true spiritual worship, that we live up to what we are created to be. Not that we do it perfectly; in fact, we don't really do a very good job of it--but what we do have is the mercy and grace of God, and spiritual strength available when we have the good sense to ask.

Mexicali mission Nov 2016
OK, what does this reality look like?  Moses said it like this: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength." (Deut 6:4-5) and like this: "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus confirned it to a questioning scribe: "So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:32-34)  God has created each of us as an individual. What He will call each of us to do will be our responsibility; our Jerusalem, our Judea, our Samaria, and our world.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Prayer from the heart--by Linden Malki

Nobody has truly understood the traditional Jesus Prayer: "Jesus, Savior, have mercy on  me!" better than a man a thousand years before Jesus walked this earth.  David, who was called a man after God's own heart,  shows that heart as he prays:  Have mercy on me; wash me clean of my guilt. I am aware of my sin, which you have the right to judge. Teach me wisdom, wash me whiter than snow. Only you can create a clean heart in me! Give me a new spirit, that keeps me in Your presence. I bring you the sacrifice of a broken spirit. Renew my joy, be my savior.  I will teach others the Way, and speak your praise to all the earth. *

This was a man who knew that prayer is less about asking and more about listening to God and His prophets. He, like Patrick 1400 years later, spent years as a very young man alone with sheep out on the hills, listening and being molded by God, and as an older man, shaping the destiny of a nation under God. David understood that God has told us how to live the life He intended for us, but also that God as given us freedom, knowing that we will fall short on our own, but He will--if we ask with humility of spirit--give us a clean heart and a fresh start.

As I was writing this, I got a phone call from my son David that his firstborn son arrived this evening, several weeks earlier than expected.  I've watched Dave, over the past few months, beginning to look at life from a different perspective; over the years it's  been interesting watching my kids turn into parents.  By making us partners in the project of raising His children, God transforms us, and gives us a glimpse of how much He loves us and what He wants His family to be. As a church family, we are being blessed by new babies and grandbabies; and as we love them and watch over them 24/7. we need to keep the line open to our Heavenly father, and not just pray occasionally, but learn, in the words of St Paul, to "pray without ceasing."
* Condensed from Psalm 51, Jerusalem Bible

Saturday, March 25, 2017

God's Prequel to Patrick--by Linden Malki

The backstory to St Patrick's life and times is a story in itself. Merchants from various Mediteranean countries had been trading with Britain for quite a while, mostly tin from the southwest peninsula.  Julius Caesar landed and explored there from Gaul in 56-54 BC, but didn't establish a presence there.  The actual permanent conquest was in 43AD, but there was resistance and insurrection until the 60's.  The common imperial practice was for several regiments of legionnaires to be stationed in the provinces, as well as a governor and some high-level bureaucracy; the lower administration was recruited from the local areas.   By the time  Patrick (Patricius) was born in Roman Britain in 385-393AD, this was an established Roman province. His father was a civil servant of the Roman imperial administration; his grandfather was a priest, possibly of a good position .The sons of the local leaders were educated in Latin and we see from Patrick's writings that he was familiar enough with the faith to call on it in need.

There were Christians in Britain very early; there are legends that Joseph of Arimathea came to Britain in about 65 AD; there was trade and contact with Gaul as well as Rome through the first century, and Rome sent missionaries in 167AD. There are records of churches that are amazingly extensive, but there was still controversy--the first recorded martyr was St Alban in 209AD.

Britain served as a major provincial political stepping stone through this period; Constantine was the Legion commander in Britain in 305; when the word of his father, Emperor Constantius, was received, the troops in Britain pledged support.  He had to return and deal with other claimants to the throne; as he arrived near Rome in 325, he had a vision of a cross and the words "In this sign, conquer." He decreed the end of persecution and discrimination against the church, and by the end of the century, the empire was officially Christian, so Patrick was born and raised in a stable, Christian society. As he was growing up, however, the Legions had to be recalled to Rome to deal with invasions of Huns and other barbarians. By 410, the Romans were gone, and the Britons on their own. During the time Patrick was in Ireland, Britain was described as facing civil wars, plagues, heresy, which probably explains the resurgence of British slave raids on Ireland.  Not much later, there were incursions and invasions of pagan tribes from the continent.

Patrick founded communities that taught and discipled his followers; he trained men who moved out to Scotland, back to Britain, and to the continent,  who preached the Gospel and saved and copied libraries  that were in danger of destruction by the invasions sweeping across Europe. God had prepared the ground for the emergence of a remarkable man who not only changed Ireland, but preserved His Word in Britain and brought it to Scotland as well as a good part of Europe. We see an example here is God's providence--He doesn't insulate us from trouble, but He takes care of  His people.