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.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

ALL THAT GLITTERS--by Linden Malki

Money is  not the point.  You can have a little and are OK--or not; you can have a lot, and worry more.  Jesus comments that riches can make it harder to have the right heart.

The point is the place that money or "stuff" has on your priorities.  What do you really want, and what are you willing to do? I've known people who will go hungry rather than compromise a principle; I've know people that will do whatever it takes to bring in the bucks. Sometimes these people are married to each other. in both cases, it can become a giant source of criticism and conflict.

We can become "hoarders", wanting more stuff--sometimes needing to "have" money but live poor while it piles up; sometimes spending it on things that don't do anything but get in the way. We can spend it on trying to impress people, or obsess over what other people have.  How much of our conversation concerns how much we have, how much we need, how much do the neighbors have?

Even giving away money can be good or bad--are we doing it to gain "points" with the world, or with God? Are we giving with "strings" attached; insisting on it being used in ways that we think others ought to want, and promoting our own agenda whether or not it actually has healthy results?  Are we buying influence behind the scenes, or using it to throw our own weight around?  Are we "doing
good" to make ourselves feel good?

Money, or what it buys, shows what it really important to us--our own self-interest, or God.  It's not easy to give up our own fascination with ourselves.  We live in a world that is increasingly self-absorbed, and it's not good for us spiritually. Look at the 10 commandments: most of them warn about putting ourselves, our wants, ahead of what God says is His design for us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Power of the Gift--by Linden Malki

Once upon a time there was a man who lived by a bay, and had a boat. With his boat, he could gto fishing; he could put out crab pots, he could just let the boat drift in the waves and watch the seagulls swooping and circling overhead. If he wanted to visit friends on the other side of the bay, he could row over. It took a time and effort, but the bay was pretty much his back yard; he could get almost anywhere he wanted to go there on the bay by himself. He didn't need anybody; he could do it himself.

One day a friend brought him a mast with a sail ready to rig. So they rigged up the sail, and took the boat out. The friend knew something about sailing, and the boat owner knew how the boat handled, and so the two of them could sail farther and faster than either or both of them could row. Of course,it took both of them to handle it under sail, and they had to have the right wind and weather, but they knew a sudden gust of wind or a storm could be trouble.

Then they had the opportunity to get a deal on a motor for the boat; it was a gift. They made sure it ran, mounted it on the boat, and set off across the bay. This was a whole new thing--they could do things and get places with the motor than weren't feasible with just oars and sail.  And--they could take it out of the bay and into the open water; they weren't limited by muscle and wind power. Of course, the motor used fuel, but they found a source for fuel and oil for the motor.

One day, the owner of the boatyard came to them and asked them to come into his office. He had charts laid on on the table, and he showed them what the bay and the adjoining sea was really like; where the water was deep, where the rocks were, where the sandbars were, and how the currents ran. He told them that one of the boats in the drydock needed some special parts, and they were available at a harbor a little ways up the coast. "Now that you have some experience with your motorboat, can you go pick up these parts? I'll supply the fuel, and there's a bonus in it for you."

Think about our lives--there are things we can do with the abilities that we developed on our own, but when we are given a source of power and direction, we can do things not just for ourselves, but for others as well. The combination of who God made us to be and what He can do with us if we let Him add on the power and fuel, takes makes us unique.

“There are no real personalities apart from God. Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most 'natural' men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerers have been; how gloriously different are the saints.

But there must be a real giving up of the self. ... It will come when you are looking for Him...Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” ― C.S. Lewis

Saturday, March 4, 2017

BEYOND TIME--by Linden Malki

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." This is one of the most profound statements in Scripture--or anywhere else.  Noted physicist (and atheist) Steven Hawking once said "You can’t get to a time before the big bang, because there was no time before the big bang. We have finally found something that does not have a cause because there was no time for a cause to exist in. For me this means there is no possibility of a creator because there is no time for a creator to have existed."  He has missed the whole point!  God existed before Time, and He created Time.  Moses, who had truly talked with the Creator, said it like this: "Before the mountains were begotten, and the earth and the world were brought forth, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn man back into dust, saying, 'Return, O children of men.'  For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday now that it is passed, or as a watch of the night." [Psalm 90:2-4]  Moses realized that God was eternally outside of Time.

We are  obsessed with Time; our whole lives are organized around time. We celebrate milestones of the passage of time; we make sense of the world by referencing time. One of the most powerful tools for understanding not only history but its effect on our world is the "timeline."  I had a seventh-grade teacher who put up a ribbon with places to insert markers around the classroom, and we added markers as we studied history and other subjects that had a relationship to history. By the end of the year, we were expected to be able to walk around the room and identify each marker and its importance. My best friend and I asked if we could made a dialog out of it,and the teacher gave us additional references to add as appropriate. We did a 2-girl hour-long comedy sketch of the history of the world for most of the school; this was my first written drama.

We can get something of a "feel" for God's view of history by looking back; we can pick up a reference book, open it anywhere, and see what was happening at a specific time and place. We can turn pages back or forward and dip into other events and other places. I suspect that this is God's view of the universe, but He can see it all, beginning to end--not being limited to a specific time and place as we are.  I cannot imagine what Eternity will be like, but that it will be totally different that anything we can imagine. I suspect that we also will not be stuck with time that passes at a specific rate and moves in one direction.

I also suspect that we get a little preview of God's version of time even in this world of clocks and days and seasons; we've all had the experience of subjective time that is not in synch with the clock. There are times when we become so engrossed in something that is happening that time flies by and we were not aware of the tick-tick-tick of  "real" time. We also have experiences of time that drags, either because we have "nothing to do", or we are looking forward to something that seems to be taking forever. (Moms know about subjective time, from the experience of having children to watching them grow, to watching them wait impatiently for some things and seeing time fly in others.)
We also have the markers of day and night, winter and summer, and experience the changes in these during the course of the year. Several years ago, my son David and I were in Finland the last weeks of June, not quite far enough to get a total midnight sun, but almost--at one point, he heard a weather report that announced "sunset 1am, sunrise 3am, twilight none." We went walking through a city on the west coast of Finland with afternoon sun at midnight, and went driving one evening out on an island chain in the gulf between Sweden and Finland most of the night, with the sun skimming the horizon.  God gives us these glimpses of the elasticity of time.

Time makes us plan and take responsibility for how we use the time He gives us; we also know that His schedule is not always what we want, but His timing is better than ours. It's not a matter of rigidly scheduling ourl lives (that doesn't work well) but of being aware of His leading as we seek His purpose for us.