Saturday, December 9, 2017

We Will See Jesus as King!--by Linden Malki

One of the first descriptions of Jesus that we find in the Gospels is in Matthew, where we see visitors from the East, wise men from Persia, astrologers who study the changing patterns in the stars.  They say that they have seen a new star that according to their tradition signifies  the Kingdom of Judah (Judea) and the birth of a King. In the political climate of the times, it was not easy to be a king. Judea had a king, not of the royal line of David as prophesied, but a distantly related tribe who was given the job by the real rulers of the "world" of that time, Rome. Herod's job was to maintain the precarious balance of power between Rome and the Judean political powers, both those who were part of the religious establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem and had made an uneasy peace with Herod, and those who wanted to see the restoration of the kingdom of Israel and the Gentiles gone. Herod's answer was to tell the visitors that the ancient prophecies indicate Bethlehem was the source of Jewish royalty, and then to have all the baby boys in Bethlehem killed. He thought he was safe.  Meanwhile, the visitors had found the baby that they believed to be the one indicated, worshipped Him, left gifts suitable for the prophecies, and left without informing Herod. Nothing more was heard of a potential king in Bethlehem.
About thirty years later, a man resembling the traditional prophets appeared in the Jordan River valley preaching repentance and quoting Isaiah's prophecy of the Kingdom of God, and pointing out the man Jesus,  who he said was the one prophesied to bring the Kingdom.  The first reaction of  Nathanael, who became a disciple, said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” After Jesus had miraculously fed a large crowd, some of the men who saw what Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized  that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He left them and went to a mountain alone. Both his friends and enemies kept expecting Him to establish the Kingdom of God then and there, but Jesus tried to teach them that the Kingdom was about a spiritual relationship with God, rather than a political organization on earth.  Even then, there was growing restlessness among the radical political revolutionaries and the religious/political establishment. Ironically, it was His enemies who claimed the loudest that He was claiming to be King of the Jews.  In fact, that was the accusation that led to His arrest and hearing. At that time, the province of Judea was ruled by a Roman governor, who found himself facing an hysterical crowd of accusers and one accused man.  Pontius Pilate " called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”... 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”"What is Truth?" Pilate asked, and eventually sent Him to be crucified, with a placard that said "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", in three languages. (John 18-19). Pilate had no problem calling Him King, as long as He was a dead King.
We know the rest of the story: Jesus didn't stay dead; He commissioned His followers to build the Kingdom with the power of the Holy Spirit, and returned to His Father, and to be King of all those who are subject to Him on earth, and will experience the full glory of His Eternal Kingdom.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Happy St Nicholas Day!--by Linden Malki

Today (December 6) is a church festival that has gotten blended into Christmas: St Nicholas' Day.  Yes, there is good evidence that there really was a Saint Nicholas.  He lived in the 300's AD, in  Myra, on the southwest coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey), at that time a Greek area.  It was a major trading city; is mentioned in Acts 27:4-6 as a stop on Paul's journey to Rome from Caesarea for trial after his arrest in Jerusalem.  There were churches in this area before 100 AD; the first bishop of the area was martyred by the Romans in 95 AD.  Nicolas was born here to a wealthy Christian family, but his parents died when he was  young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the
money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

The most famous story we have of Nicholas is his generosity to a poor family whose three daughters faced a situation where the parents were too poor to provide financially for them to marry, which left them with an uncertain future after their parents would be gone.  As each of the girls grew to marriageable age, a bag of gold pieces appeared through a window (or possible down a chimney) and traditionally landed in a shoe or stockings.  He became a well-known and respected leader in the Christian community of his day.  There are many stories of his care for children, and his anonymous generosity.  Within a century of his death on December 6, 343 AD,  he was considered a saint, and a church was built and dedicated to him in Myra in 520 which is more or less still standing. That area was overrun by Moslems in 809 and then again in 1087, but there is still a bishop assigned to the area.  The church was acquired by the Russian Tsar in 1868, who began a restoration, which is still underway.  The first worship service in several centuries was held on Dec 6, 2011.

The stories of St Nicholas and the tradition of giving gifts to children in his name spread throughout Europe, and came to America with the English and Dutch settlers. The Dutch  "Sinte Niklaas" got transformed into "Santa Claus", and folk stories grew and spread over the years, with his bishop's dark red robe and pointed hat turned into a red furry suit and tassled cap. With a festival day in December and the tradition of gift-giving, in modern America Santa became part of the Christmas celebration, which also celebrates a special Gift to mankind.

When I was a kid asking about Santa, my mom told me that we see many Santa's helpers around town at Christmas time, but the real Santa Claus was the Spirit of Giving.  I told my kids, and Sunday School classes, that "Santa" gifts are gifts given without wanting thanks or returns, but given in the spirit of a man of God who is remembered for his love for children and those in need.  As our children grow up, we can teach them to honor this memory by  giving out of love, as part of a community of people who love in the name of God's Son, the most important Christmas gift of all.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Have an Attitude of Gratitude--by Linden Malki

"Thanksgiving" is a multi-faceted holiday.  The first thing that is usually mentioned is the historical instances of people getting together to give thanks to God for a successful harvest. This goes all the way back to the ancient Israelites; there were several celebrations of harvest at different times of the year. The main one is Sukkot, the "Feast of Ingathering" at the end of the agricultural year (Exodus 34:22). It also commemorates the Exodus and the care and keeping of God during a long and arduous journey. (Leviticus 23:42-43). There is also a spring festival of the wheat harvest, called Shavuot, counted as seven weeks and a day after Passover. It is also celebrated as the day on which the Torah was given to the Israelites. This translates as "Pentecost", 50 days, which is the festival being celebrated in Jerusalem on which the Spirit fell on the followers of Jesus and was the birth of the church. These are all things we should be thankful for!   Almost every culture in the world, ancient and modern, has some special recognition of thankfulness for the harvests and major turning points in their history.

The Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate in November is traditionally based on the stories of the early settlers of this country, as they survived their first years in a New World.  There is some  dissent on the historical  bases of this tradition, and there are those who object to celebrating events that led to conflicts and suffering for indigenous peoples.  Another side is that probably a majority of today's US citizens are descendants of immigrants later than the original settlers, and who have good reasons to be thankful for the freedom that they found here, compared with what was going on in their original home countries, as were my grandparents and inlaws.

I have been seeing more discussion of the importance of gratitude in our everyday lives, not just one day in the year.  Parents are being advised to teach their children to be thankful, not just in special occasions, but in their daily lives. This means that a lot of "stuff" and getting away with every whim is does not actually generate happiness.  Reasonable limitations and being appreciative and respecting others are things that we need to learn not as much by nagging as examples.  In general, God supplies what mankind needs, but not in easy ways. It takes effort to grow food, to raise animals, to build shelters, to do enough to take care of ourselves and each other. If we don't expect everything handed to us because we're so entitled, we will be able to be genuinely recognize that we aren't more important than God, and genuinely appreciate God and each other.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Heart of God's Spirit in the World--by Linden Malki

In Genesis 1:2, we read that at Creation, there is a description of a "Mighty Wind," which is a the word also used for  the "Spirit of God", resting on the surface of the oceans, before anything else is formed. So we can see this as a way that God communicated with his creation, and continues to communicate with His people through His Spirit.  Like the wind or breath we cannot see what is producing the effects that we can see. God is also shown as bringing life into Adam with something unique: His Breath/Spirit.

  The words of God that came to the people for whom that God had something specific and special, are said to have come through the Spirit.   One of the differences between this relationship and what ancient pagan peoples had with their "gods" is that the Hebrews' God and His Spirit could not be seen physically, and the people are told to not even try to represent Him in any physical way.  We see that Noah had enough faith in the Words of God to spend a century building a boat, and Abram/Abraham to move his family and clan hundreds of miles in response. One of the few times that the Spirit is visible is when the Ark of the Covenant is brought into the just-built Temple of Solomon: When the priests came forth from the holy place... in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the Lord saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud,  so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God. (1)

We find the same metaphor--the Spirit bringing the Glory of God--when the prophet Ezekiel saw what he described as "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. So when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard a voice of One speaking. And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.”  Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me.  And He said to me: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day(Ezekiel 1:28-2:3) Then the glory of the Lord departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. (Ezek 10:18) And when Ezekiel had a vision of the Temple rebuilt, he had another vision: The glory of the Lord entered the Temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the Temple. (Ezek 43:4-5) 

We find the Spirit of the Lord in a prophecy given through Isaiah that tells of the Spirit in terms that we recognize, especially at this time of year: There shall come forth a rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (2)  We see the fulfillment of this promise in the coming of Jesus, as told by an angel: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”(3)
The confirmation comes with the ministry of John the Baptist:  Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him.  And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”  But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.  When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (4)
We see the Holy Spirit working closely with Jesus, throughout His ministry on Earth.  As He was preparing to return to His Father, He tells His disciples:  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”(5)From this point, the Holy Spirit works to grow the Church, inspire the apostles and missionaries, and be the source of power for all of us who accept Him in our lives, accept His Gifts, and show His Fruits.
1.(2 Chronicles 5:11-14 ).2.  (Isaiah 11:1-2) 3.  (Matthew 1:20-22) 4. (Matthew 3:13-17)  5.(Acts 1:8)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Heart of Father and Son--by Linden Malki

God is all about relationships.  God IS a relationship: as John put it, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."  (John 1:1-5 ) As the story continues, we find that the Word of God, a part of God Himself, relates to God the Father as His Son. 
 He created the world to have people to love, and we are told that mankind was "created in the image of God." So we have souls and spirits like that of God, and when God arranged for His Son to live on Earth with us, the Son was one whose physical body was the one of which we are the image.  However, He was perfect and sinless, and came to enable us to resemble Him more perfectly.

When His impending birth was announced in dream to a Jewish man named Joseph, whose betrothed wife was found to be pregnant, an angel said "Joseph, son of David, have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. She will have a son and your are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."(Matthew 1:20-21) The name "Jesus"  used in the English New Testament comes from the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous), a rendition of the Hebrew Yeshua (ישוע), related to the name Joshua. The other name that became associated with this Son is "Christ", from the Greek word  Χριστός, Christós, meaning "the anointed one", in Hebrew Messiah  מָשִׁיחַ‎‎,(māšîaḥ‎, sometimes spelled Moshiach), is the one chosen to lead the world and save it,  which we find in Old Testament prophecies such as Isaiah 9:6 "For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 

I occasionally hear or read someone say that Jesus himself never claimed to be the Son of God in a Messianic sense. Actually, in the Gospels, there are 7 verses in John's Gospel where he refers to himself as the Son of God, and  in Luke, at his trial: "Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”(Luke 22:70) There are also  22 verses in the four Gospels where other people, including demons, enemies and friends, call him the Son of God. There are also 51 verses in the Gospels (mostly Matthew and John) where Jesus clearly refers to God as "My Father", such as John 10:30: "I and My Father are one.”

The church has struggled for centuries to explain logically what this means;  churches have split and wars fought over attempts to reduce this relationship to human words. We are not called on to understand beyond what we see in Scripture; it is enough to know for now on this earth, in our heart of hearts, what Jesus told Nicodemus: "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (John 3:15-18) There is enough here to give us a lifetime of study, prayer, growth, service, and learning what God the Father and Son had in mind for us when we were created. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Heart of the Father in His Children--by Linden Malki

We must never forget that we are made in the image of God--which means that we can learn what God is like by what He wants us to be like.  The prophet Samuel described God as looking for a "a man after his own heart", and He chose David to rule His people. Let's look at the heart of David. This is not a timid man who never did anything wrong, but when he did get off track, he admitted it and asked God to transform his heart.  Look at what it took for David to become that man:
Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind. (Psalm 26)
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. (Psalm 27)
I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.(Psalm 40)
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51) 
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78)
Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. (Psalm 86) 
I will be careful to lead a blameless life— when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart. (Psalm 101)
My heart, O God, is steadfast; I will sing and make music with all my soul. (Psalm 108)
I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; before the  angels I will sing your praise. (Psalm 138)
  Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139)

This is a real challenge! And David knew there was only one way to have the heart that God intended: by humbleness and by the power and grace of God Himself. 

Jesus told us a parable illustrating this heart: we read it in Luke 15.  One of the differences we see between the two sons is that the younger son, though he was very selfish and irresponsible, did come to his senses and ask his father for forgiveness.  The older son complained, but may not have ever asked his father for anything beyond his "rights". The father, another man after God's own heart, forgave the repentant son, and reminded the older one that he still had his rewards to come.  In both cases, they got more than they deserved! 

 Look back at David's relationship with God, and think about how blessed we are in our heavenly father, and be thankful that David left us a legacy of seeking the heart of God.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Process of Reformation--by Linden Malki

                        Martin Luther's challenge to the church in 1517 was the match that set off a movement that had been brewing for several centuries in Europe.  One of the first preachers we know of who challenged practices and the authority of the Roman Church was Peter Waldo, in Lyons,  France, who also translated the Bible into the common dialect of  the south of France. He was excommunicated by the Church in 1184, and his teachings condemned in 1215. His followers fled into the mountains of northern Italy.  At about the same time, in England, the Archbishop of the church in England was murdered in his own cathedral in a power struggle with King Henry II. In England, John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English in 1384, which was illegal, and his preaching influenced a Czech priest, Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake by a church council in 1415. His followers became the Moravian church, which still exists. There were others with the same concerns about the sale of indulgences and corruption within the Church organization, who were emboldened by Luther's preaching, in a number of places in Europe, and challenged the authority of Rome. By the end of the century, there were Lutheran churches in Germany, and the Scandinavian countries, who, like the Church of England*,  had similar worship and organization to the Catholic tradition, but with a relationship with their ruling powers but without a relationship to Rome and theology based on their own teachings; there were Reformed churches in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scotland, who had their own churches without priests and ruled by ministers and laypeople but recognized and shared power with  political authorities.
            The third wing of the Reformation was a number of "free churches" with no central authority, no set rituals, and no political relationships, with the primary distinction of stressing "believers' baptism"--baptism, usually by immersion, of only those who expressed a commitment to the Gospel. This was extremely controversial, because even the other Protestant churches baptised all babies and expected the entire community to be part of the church.  The idea of a church comprised only of baptised self-expressed believers was scary to a lot of politicans and other churches.  The result was voluntary groups of churches that shared a belief in believers' baptism, separation of church and state, and the "priesthood of all believers", which means that all Chrisian believers have the privilege of direct communication with the Father, Son, and Spirit, without any other human beings in the loop.  The major surviving churches of this type include the Mennonites, Amish, and the various Baptist churches. Most of the churches that have developed in the last 200 years--Pentacostals and independent churches--also share these basic principles in addition to the common Reformation principles that go back to the 1500's: Sola Scriptura: the belief that the Scripture alone is the final and only infallible source for matters of faith and practice; Sola Fide: the belief that salvation comes through faith alone; we cannot "earn" it; Sola Gratia:the grace of God alone is the source of salvation; Sola Christus: Christ is the only mediator between God and man; and Sola Deo Gloria: Christians are to be motivated and inspired by God's glory and not their own.

  "The Baptists" by Baron Gustaf Cederstrom was inspired by a baptismal service on Midsummer Night in  1886 in Sweden.

 *notes on the English Reformation
I have heard it said that the only reason for the Reformation was that Henry VIII of England wanted a divorce. It is true that he did, and that it was a factor in the Reformation in England (but nowhere else), but the issue of the divorce came up in 1527, ten years after Luther's original posting of his Theses, and the upheaval was in full bloom by this time. 
There had long been issues between the Church in England, the Vatican in Rome, and the English royal family. There were already an English translation of the New Testament, inspired by Luther's German translation, published by William Tyndale, in 1526.  There was already controversy in England on many of the same issues that were on the table on the Continent, but the political meddling of Rome in English politics and the taxes demanded from England were issues as well, and there were English church officials ready for independence from Rome.   The legal declaration of the independence, declaring that the Head of the Church in England was the King of England in 1534, was the first step in a continuing dispute  that involved two queens, two kings, a Puritan Commonwealth, and two more kings, which was not settled until 1688.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Making Godly Decisions for a Godly Life--by Linden Malki

Life is full of choices—sometimes we don't notice them and just follow the path of least
resistance, and sometimes we agonize over things that aren't worth much. We live in a time and place where we have more options that many people in many times and places have had.
Thinking about Biblical guidelines for decisions we face, small, middle-sized and large, I found some principles that will keep us out of trouble. We think of the big things that can go bad and mess up our lives, but some of what look like small things can turn out to bite more painfully than we expect. These are based on an important Scripture, can you recognize it?
Is there anything that would be put above God? We may not realize that one of the most dangerous things that we can think is that we ourselves don't need God because we are sitting on that throne. History is full of people who thought they were God, or at least a small-g god; and caused a great deal of suffering and then died. The problem here is that we are all mortal, and we're not that smart. Or it might be an ambition, or a job, or a something we love to the point of taking over too much of our life.
Is there any way God would be misrepresented? Do we throw around God's name to support our own opinions, or think we can manipulate Him? Do we realize that any image we try to make of Him falls short of the reality?
How does this affect the your use of your time? Do we do our own thing 24/7 and don't take the time to connect with Him?
Have you asked (and listened to) the advice of your family and other appropriate advisors? Do we recognize good advice from bad, ungodly from Godly?
Would anyone be hurt in any significant way? Do we disrespect others, take out our shortcomings and problems on other people, and leave a trail of broken people and relationships? Are we careless of other people's stuff, time, lives?
Is it real, honest, trustworthy, and of good quality? Can others depend on our word and our work? The “Golden Rule” probably fits in here, with the realization that not everyone wants what we do, and that we don't appreciate people ignoring that.
Have you searched your heart and mind for greed, envy, selfishness? Remember that everything we have in this world was created by God, and everything tangible depends on someone's effort for us to have it. Even the fruit on the tree has to be picked by somebody, and a lottery win is money other people lost. I told my kids when they were small: If it's not yours, and you don't have permission, don't touch it! Yes, there is a place for giving things to people, but even a gift costs something somewhere upstream. And the most valuable gift of all—our saving relationship with God, came with the ultimate Cost. This enabled the gifts that enable us to live spiritually healthy lives: the gifts of forgiveness, wisdom, strength, and the Holy Spirit. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017


When the Communist regime in Romania fell in 1989,  it was found that there were many orphanges with children whose parents had relinquished them because of poverty. These children had lived restricted and without the attention that children need, and they were found to be not only physically in poor condition, but mentally and emotionally as well.  Studies have been done of children's brains, and they have found that brains of children who do not get attention as infants do not develop properly, and are physically smaller.  This is another thing we can learn from, not only in the interest in children's health, but it gives us another look into the creative mind of God. God started the human race by saying that "it is not good for man to be alone." This is still true, has always been true.Each one of our lives was produced by a relationship between two people. That relationship can fail, but it is not God's intention.

Beyond good parents, a strong society depends upon healthy families, good communities, and people working together for the common good. Looking at history and Scripture, we find people living in families, clans, tribes, cities--in community. The original Law is written for people living in interdependent groups, who come together to worship. We look around and see people living alone, looking for relationships, often superficial.  Some of the trouble we see in our world comes from people who do not have good relationships and don't care about anytone else; some comes from people looking for community in the wrong places, and without knowing how to judge the messages constantly bombarding us.

We are commanded to love God, and love each other. This does not mean dominating others, doing things for others that satisfy our  desires but not necessarily that of the others, or being doormats in the hope of getting attention. We need to come together in the name and love of God, to pray together, study together, play together, be good company for each other, watch for ways we can bring glory to God through our relationships with others. We need above all to listen--to God, to each other, to Scripture, to good mentors and teachers, to strengthen the good in our world and discourage the evil.  Jesus brought people together in many contexts; his followers met together in His name and changed the world.  Can we work together in His Name and change San Bernardino, and the world?

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.