Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Am Second--by Linden Malki

Seen painted on a truck I saw at a stop sign on my way to work this morning:"I Am Second".  I recognized the
reference from having read a book of this name recently; it is stories of people, some famous, some not, whose messed-up lives were changed when they realized that they were called to put God first in their lives--all parts of their lives--and themselves second.  (When I saw a Harvest Crusade sticker on the rear bumper, I knew that they'd read the book.) You can even say that there are two kinds of people in this world: ones whose priorities and purpose are second to God's; and those who put themselves first. 

On first looking at God's direction for your life, it looks scary. I remember being skeptical about Matthew 11:30, where Jesus tells his followers that "my yoke is easy and my burden light." It doesn't look that easy, when you look at it from the outside; like those in John 6:66 that left Jesus because the way looked hard. But as always, context is important: 'Come all you who are weary and burdened, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest...: (Matthew11:28+)  The key is that we are not expected to carry the whole yoke; He will carry the weight; it is his strength that makes it possible. I found out a long time ago that I cannot do everything  myself.  And it's not always the same answer! I don't forget three "booming voice in my head" unmistakable answers to prayers: One was "Shut up, lady, I'll handle this!"; another was "I gave you a brain, use it!"; and the other:" I gave you a different gift."  What I had to was 1:drop the subject and go on--the situation did resolve itself in time and in stages, and turned out now to be way better than I could have dreamed; 2: I went with my best judgment, and again the long run was an amazing blessing; and 3: the gift He brought to my attention has gone in directions I wouldn't have ever expected.

We are surrounded by people who want what they want for their own self-interest, self-esteem, self-amusement--we can look around and make a long list. The common thread is that the result is usually disappointing; doing more of the same looking for more satisfaction usually gives less. Even doing "good works" can be done for the wrong reasons--read a very interesting article recently pointing out that we as a nation are spending more every year trying to make people "happy", and the poverty rate is the same as it was 60 years ago; a lot of people made money and jobs out of the programs (mostly the administrators), but the problems are still there and sometimes worse. Charities that collect money to cure something or fix something very often spend most of their income on "administrating" and nagging advice, and very little gets actually fixed. I don't get very many charitable spam calls any more; I used to ask "how much of what you take in actually is used for the intended purpose" and the solicitor either doesn't know (and if asks, is shocked at the answer) or gets very defensive about how expensive fundraising is, and the cause is fortunate to get something more than nothing. (I think I got taken off the lists.) But the solicitors and administrators and donors and advocates go home thinking what good people they are--but what they are getting is warm fuzzies for their own self-image. 

When my kids were little, I told them that not every idea that came into their head was worth acting on.  Sometimes I got an "oh, mom, you're just negative!" But there did come a day when I heard one of my daughters tell a high-school friend who had been complaining about her parents: "You ought to listen-they really aren't as dumb as they look." That works on another level as well: we may think we know what we're doing, but not everything we think we want is worth doing. One of the ideas out there about God is that He's "negative"--watches to make sure you're not having fun. God's not as dumb as we sometimes think, either--there are things that He tells us not to do that in the long run are NOT good for us, and do not get us where He wants us to be: fit for Heaven, to live with Him there. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

God Designed Inlaws--by Linden Malki

"Inlaws" are a common subject for comedians, sitcoms, and gossip; but it has been said that inlaws are the glue that holds the human community together.  They are the folks that become part of your extended family; people who will in the long run share grandchildren and connect you with a whole additional chunk of humanity.  The power of marriages to connect more than just two individuals has been recognized since the beginning of history; the classic example is Solomon, who married 300+ wives to connect with all the tribal and political leadership in his part of the world. He did have political peace, but it cost not just him but a good part of his own family their spiritual heritage. On the other end, we see small communities who are all cross-connected and ingrown.

At its best, extended families are a positive thing. Coming from a large extended family, and marrying into a large extended family, I have had the privilege of connecting with a wide variety of interesting people, from a wide variety of backgrounds. My dad's inlaws were pretty much Scandinavian; his grandchildren's inlaws look like the UN. Several years ago, my daughter and I visited one of her cousins in England, and one night at dinner, between a total of 10 people, all connected by blood and/or marriage, we had ancestral backgrounds of Sweden, Finland, Lebanon, Turkey, Italy, South Africa, and the Philippines, all within two or three generations. Not having sisters, I am grateful for sisters-in-law, one of whom was my earliest mentor and all of whom are valued friends.

It is especially good when the families have church connections as well.  My dad and his next younger brother's families keep running across each other in all sorts of places; one of my cousins knew my husband John's family in Lebanon before I met him; I have met people in all sorts of places who know various missionary relatives; and one of my cousins and I both wound up in San Bernardino after growing up in totally different parts of the country--and her son Mark Lambert and I were on the NCF Ministry Board together for several years; and there are more.

Hanging in there through 50 or 60 years of marriage isn't always easy, but I've been to several celebrations of family and friends that have made it.  One couple that I have particularly appreciated is Al and Edie Lambert; Edie's and my dad were the two older brothers and always close; so we knew our uncles well.  After my dad was gone, my uncle and aunt (who also made more than 60 years of marriage!) were substitute grandparents for my kids. To make it better, Al and John got to be good friends as well as inlaws.  This is the  picture I found for this week,  illustrating the results of one family who served the Lord and raised their kids to serve Him as well. This is God's intention for His church and His world!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ripples--by Linden Malki

Mom, why does Dad have a secret cell phone?"  My friend suspected something like this, but she was sad that their son had found out about it. Things had not been good for a long time, but this was the beginning of the end game. He had been throwing around accusations and hints that she was the one who was losing her touch on reality.  In fact, he pretty much had been living in his own reality all along. It wasn't like he didn't know; he'd grown up in a church, had a brother who was a preacher, and could talk it with the best of them. He just didn't really care about anyone but himself and his own self-image.  Their kids were old enough to see what was happening, and to be ready to take primary responsibility for their own lives; some things would be tough, but some would be better off without him.

It's not just Mom and Dad and their kids.  When Dad moved out, his whole family stopped speaking to Mom, even though they had all been good friends.  There was another woman hanging out with Dad, who also had a younger child. She caught onto him pretty fast, however.  Mom had known things were not right for a long time, but she wasn't about to see a situation where he would have access to their kids without her.  The biggest thing her friends noticed was that she was having a hard time trusting people; she wasn't used to "nice."

When there is sin in a marriage, it doesn't only affect the partners; even if it is hidden, there is a difference: it changes the relationships with other family, friends, and how we live in community. There are ripples in the smooth face of life. In the past generation or so, there were two prominent national personalities that grew up in similar circumstances--an alcoholic father or stepfather, struggling mom, kids that didn't know what to expect next. There was a difference, however, in how they coped. One mom was very honest about the problem; she explained to their children that no, we don't like some of the things that your dad does, but appreciate the good things and pray through the bad things.  The other mom tried to cover it up; hide, lie, don't admit that we have a problem, don't tell anyone what goes on. A son of the first mom grew up to be an honorable and respected leader; the other one became known for his ability to charm folks, to lie and to cheat. It made a difference to a lot of people who knew these men; who worked with them, and were affected by them. Little ripples can become tsunamis.

There are times when staying on God's track may not be easy; it may be uncomfortable, and not always "fun". The payoff is when you get to the end, and you don't have the baggage of broken relationships, hurting people that you responsible for, and a trail of tears behind you. My dad liked to cook; he always did Sunday and holiday dinners. One thing that Mom really appreciated is that as he worked, he washed all the dishes, pots, pans, and tools he had used, so when the meal was on the table, the kitchen was clean. That's what God wants for us--to come to Him without a mess trailing behind us.  Yes, God can clean up any mess we let him have, but there may still be stains and scars.  Even Jesus has scars--that's what our sins cost.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Right Context-by Linden Malki

Context is more important than we realize in living the life we are called to lead.  As we grow up, we build our working images of our world by what we live with. If we are surrounded by people who are selfish, mean, crabby, and/or abusive, this is what we think is "normal" and becomes the context of the relationships we build; if we are accustomed to kindness, consideration, ethics, and love, this is our "normal".  We can learn how to deal with behavior that doesn't "fit" our underlying context, but we have to recognize what’s going on, and pray hard for the wisdom and strength to be a force for the right things. .

I am finding myself being more and more thankful for the blessings of having known love and fun and niceness over the years. My dad used to say that “you don’t have to be crazy to be part of this family, but it helps!” My parents made a point of doing things together; Mom went camping because
Dad loved it; some years we went to the coast because Mom loved that; and I was lucky to have experiences of both.  Family, and friends, and church were a large part of things we did together as well.  And having good friends and good times is important; it gives us a shared history for connecting with people we don’t see every day, and those we do. One thing I find fascinating about family and friends I don’t see often is that we have different experiences of the same people and places, which makes for great conversations, and it’s amazing how we find things to share that we didn’t expect. My husband John had worked for the British Army in Palestine as a very young man, working with East Indians as well as the Brits; and one of my brothers had been in the US Army in India, working with the Brits as well as the East Indians, at pretty much the same time—it gave them a link beyond the family.

We are also blessed by living in a world created so that we can have adventures and good times, with God’s outside world, His people, and the special people that we call family. Couples who obviously like each other and enjoy being together are a good model for their own family, as well as an encouragement for those around them. After John’s death, I got an email from a young man who had worked for us some years earlier, and said that he had not only learned about fixing cars at our place, but also about God and family. Something like that is the most fun of all!