Saturday, May 27, 2017

Godly Healing--by Linden Malki

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

God's Children--by Linden Malki

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

PAUL'S TEAM--by Linden Malki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Who was Timothy?--by Linden Malki

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

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

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