Saturday, July 29, 2017

Elijah's World--by Linden Malki

Elijah was an interesting character, and he lived in interesting times.
He appears on the scene when the split between the northern and southern tribes into the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel was only about 60 years in the past.  He is called "the Tishbite", indicating that he was from a place known as Tishbah of Gilead, which was in the far northeastern corner of the original Promised Land, east of the Jordan and overlooking the Sea of Galilee; it is now in Jordan near the Syrian border. This area still has a large historic Christian minority population, and we have not heard of any religious unrest in the area. There are ruins of a Byzantine church in the area, called Mar Elias (St Elijah).*

  Our first mention of him was when God gave him a message for King Ahab of Israel.
In the years since the northern tribes under Jeroboam rebelled against  King Solomon's son Rehoboam (931 BC), there had been four successor kings when a general, Omri, took charge in 885 BC. He built a capital at Samaria, and a healthy economy and foreign policy. However, Jeroboam had built pagan shrines at the northern and southern end of his territory, and encouraged the Israelites to go there rather that Jerusalem to worship. Omri's son Ahab did that one better--married a Phoenician princess, Jezebel, whose father was a major priest of Baal, and who brought a whole regiment of priests with her and tried to wipe out the worshippers of God.

The message from God through Elijah to Ahab was this: there will be no rain nor dew except at God's word.  And there was a drought for three years. God told Elijah to go to the Brook Cherioth, which was in his home terrirory of Gilead, where there still some runoff, and God sent him food. When the brook went dry, God told him to go to Sidon, on the coast of southern Phoenicia, where there was a widow was designated to take care of him. And her containers of flour and oil did not go empty until it rained.  When the widow's son died, Elijah raised him from the dead.

 Elijah was then sent back to Ahab, and challenged Jezebel's prophets of Baal. The test was set up  on Mt Carmel, which is a ridge line that overlooks the coast on one side and the valley of Jezreel on the other. We know the story;  Elijah's sacrifice was accepted by God; the other "gods" offering was ignored. The prophets of Baal and Asherah were killed.Rain fell, Jezebel's threat sent Elijah running away in depression, and an encounter with God at Mt Horeb put him back on his feet. We then read of his calling of Elisha as mentoree and successor; confronting Ahab about a vineyard that he had coveted and Jezebel acquired through a false accusation and murder; and then confronting Ahab's son and successor Ahaziah, who had sent for a word from the pagan god Baalzebub about healing from injuries from a fall. Elijah then told Ahaziah that he had ensured his own death.  The last look we have of Elijah is when Elisha saw Elijah being caught up by a chariot of fire and disappearing. (Fifty prophets from Jericho spent three days looking for him, which pretty well confirms Elisha's experience.)

Elijah was the first of the dramatic prophets which challenged the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to stay on the path God had set out for them; we find Malachi prophesying that Elijah will return to bring hearts back to God before the "Day of the Lord".  John the Baptist was referred to by Jesus as a representation of Elijah (Matthew 18:9-13). Elijah was seen at  Jesus' Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13) And Jesus pointed out that  it was a woman from a different country and culture who took care of  Elijah.

The return of Elijah is still part of Jewish tradition: at Passover Seders and circumcision ceremonies there is a chair for Elijah and an an invitation given for his return. Jewish scholars, faced with difficult questions, often end the discussion by saying "That answer has to wait for the return of Elijah."

The story of Elijah reminds us that God empowers His followers for great things, even when we are tired and scared, and He takes care of those He calls.

* I have been to this part of Jordan; one of my cousins was a missionary doctor who ran a hospital in the region. Despite the horrible fighting there has been in northern Syria, Jordan has been fairly quiet. It was here that my Assyrian father-in-law told me "Country beautiful. US Government better."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

NEW EVERY MORNING--by Linden Malki

If there is one thing we know about God's Creation, is that the Eternal God created a universe full of change. The very first thing we are told about God is that it started "without form and void" and then change happened.  We see God making people, who are constantly changing.  We are born, we grow, we have children whose DNA comes from their parents but are not clones; it reshuffles each generation.  In the latest batch of pictures I got of our new grandbaby, there is one that has a smile that looks like my daughter-in-law, his mom;  and another one that looks like my baby pictures.  It boggles the mind to think of a whole world full of people that are all individuals, with different shapes, and faces, and talents, and likes and environments, but that is the world we live in.  Not are we all different, but we are different each day. That is really noticeable with children, because they change and grow so fast!  We are all going to have good days and not-so-good days, and probably some really bad days.  

And then we run out of days.  it happens in many different ways.
In the last couple of days I saw two different endpoints.
This morning, I went to a memorial service for the daughter of a friend of my kids. She was 19 years old, just starting a grown-up life, when she was killed in an auto accident. I hadn't seen her in some years, but I remember when she was born; I remember her dad when he and my son David worked around our shop and weeded up at the church to make enough to go to camp at Hume Lake.  We have dreams and plans for our kids, but can't see their future.
Yesterday, another memorial service, for a long-time customer of ours, and a successful local businessman. He had had 90 years of a good life, grown kids and grandkids (including our friend Michael White).  Michael, in his message at the service, said that as many good memories as there were of his grandfather, his real legacy was his sons and grandchildren, growing up and building on what he had done.
Both of these two people left behind loving families and good memories; but their families and friends will face days when things are different.  But this is Life, as it was built by its Creator.

The prophet Jeremiah, back in the last days of the independent Kingdom of Judah, had a life that was mostly bad days. He saw the people coming to the Temple but going home and living badly, worshipping false gods, and not seeing the clouds on the horizon. He saw the king not only ignore the words Jeremiah brought, but burned them. He saw the city captured and burned by the Babylonians (586BC), and the king and leaders of the city carried to Babylon in captivity.
And the people still ignored the words of the prophet.  Jeremiah was getting noplace. Listen to his words in Lamentations: "My soul is deprived of peace; I tell myself my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the Lord.  The thought of my homeless poverty is wormwood and gall; remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me. "   But he doesn't stay stuck there.  "But I will call this to mind, as my reason to have hope: the favors of the lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness."  (Lamentations 3:17-26)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Walking on Water--by Linden Malki

At the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, this incident with Peter is a fitting beginning to their relationship.  Jesus had been preaching alone to this point. He was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the crowd that had come to hear him was pushing him out toward the water.  He noticed a couple of fishing boats, one of which was Peter's, pulled up on the beach. He got in the boat, asked Peter to pull out a little ways, and continued to teach from there. When the lesson was over, he told Peter to pull out into the deep water and let down the nets. Peter replied that he had been fishing all night and caught nothing, but if You say so...and there were so many fish in the net that they also filled the other boat. Peter's response "Leave me, Lord. I am a sinful man." Jesus' answer: "Do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishing for men." (Luke 5:1-8)

Then there was the time that calmed a storm (Mark 5:35-41), and Matthew and John tell of times that the disciples ran into wind and waves--and Jesus walking on the sea toward them.  Matthew tells of Peter tried walking to Him, and lost his nerve; and the winds died down. Peter's reaction here was "Beyond doubt you are the Son of God!" (Matt 14:24-33)

At the very end of Jesus' earthly ministry, we find Him again at the Sea of Galilee and the Peter and the others are back in the boats, fishing. And again, they had been fishing all night for nothing.  Then a voice from the shore told them to drop the nets on the other side.  Again, the nets are totally filled; Peter jumps in and swims to shore, and they are just in time for Jesus to give them bread and fish for breakfast. And Peter gets his last words from Jesus: "Feed my sheep" and "Follow me."  Peter's apprenticeship begins and ends with a boat full of fish and the knowledge that even the fish and the sea obey Him.

Jesus' mastery of the sea should not have been a surprise to His followers. They had all had a good yeshiva education (the Maccabees who ruled in the previous century had established schools throughout their territory) and they knew their Scriptures.  God had sent a Flood--and boatmaking instructions to Noah. Moses had parted a sea for the Israelites leaving Egypt. Jonah had been on a ship caught in a storm, and realized that he was the target--"He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”... Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm." (Jonah 1:9-15)

Seas are a good metaphor for the power of God; stronger than we are , incredibly useful in some ways and incredibly dangerous in others. We have some understanding of it, but not nearly as much as we'd like.  We can enjoy the beauty and opportunites that it gives, but we also need to respect its power.  God gives us the seas to enjoy and use--on His terms, the rules built in from Creation.  God Himself is like that--He gives us many good things and opportunites, but there are things He cannot allow.  Peter's nets were full of fish--when he followed Jesus' instructions, even in the face of his own discouragement.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Who do we ask? --by Linden Malki

" Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." (JFK's Inaugural Address, Jan 1961). Looking around today's America, there seems to be a lot of talk about what our country should be doing for everybody, as if "the government" (whatever that actually is) can solve all our "problems".  But we have to be careful with the second half of Kennedy's advice as well. Who decides who to ask? My first  idea of what I should do is political, or social, or economic, and it is not the same as anybody else's idea. We've already got all sorts of people trying to do all sorts of things for our country, and some have already been tried and failed at everything except making their perpetrators feel good.  This is a question for somebody a lot smarter than I am. There are lot of people out there who think they're smarter than anybody, and they scare me. If you look at the last century's list of who thought they knew more about running a country than anybody, what they actually accomplished is a whole lot of people dead and a whole lot more refugees fleeing for freedom.

Ok, then who's really smart enough?  Let's look at the Creator, who made the whole thing. We can think that there are things we'd have done different had we been in charge, like maybe a fence around that tree and keeping better track of that snake, but apparently the Boss wanted us to have meaningful choices with meaningful consequences. We haven't done a very good job with the choices, on the whole. We've seen what happens when we try to do it all on our own. We don't do a very good job trying to use what He gave us to make a good world.

But is a "good world" what we should be looking for? There's a lot of talk out there--even in what is supposed to be the church--about asking God to do what we want, telling Him what we think and demanding it on our terms. Unfortunately we really don't know what is best for us or anybody.  Asking our country, or even God, to do what we want isn't the smart option. Who do we ask? Solomon had the right idea, but even the smartest man in the world got in his own way.

We already have a lot of the answers available; they've been around for at least 3500 years.  The problem is that we're not smart enough to apply them rightly by ourselves. Jose told us last week that the best answers to who we are and what we're supposed to do about it come from the One who designed us and knows what He intends for us. But He didn't make us puppets; we have to be willing to become His children, the sheep of His pasture.

So what can we do? We can tell God that we are open to His leading, His assignments, being His people. This is what we can do for the country (not to mention the world)--we can be connected to a dimension outside of this world, and let Him open doors for us. We can be different from the people around us; --it's not just following the rules; that's been tried and doesn't get where we need to be. Even within the church there have always been those who think all they need to do is not murder anyone and keep out of trouble and go on their own way as they want. They miss the surprises that God as for us--I've had big ones and little ones scattered through my life. We can do what He calls us and empowers us to do, not what we think we can do in our own limited strength.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Called to the Extraordinary--by Linden Malki

Ordinary Christians are called to do extraordinary things--within a generation after Jesus' return to His Father, his followers had spread from Britain to India with the Good News .  There are still Christians in both of those places--our own Pastor Paul spent several weeks in India recently demonstrating his JumpStart discipleship series, invited by Indian pastors. The other day, I was visiting with a cousin who had been born in China to a missionary family, and she told me about a book written by a British missionary in Tibet in 1950 who had been taken prisoner by the invading Communist Chinese, at the same time that her father, then in West China, was also imprisoned in China. I said I think I had read it; a niece had sent me a similar book several years ago. I discovered that the two books were by different Britons who had been in Tibet at the same time and both spent several years in Chinese prisons, and at least one of them had been in the same prison as my uncle for a time. Right now I'm reading both books at the same time, in some sort of chronological order. The missionary, who had gone to Tibet in response to a felt calling there without any backing or support, found God giving him the strength to endure and be blessed in extremely difficult circumstances.  The other man had gone to Tibet as a radio operator hired by the Tibetan government.  He did stand up for his faith as a Christian, but did not actively preach.  He did, however, recognize in the attempted "education" sessions in the prison,  my uncle's stubborn faith and his acceptance of beatings for his faithful prayers. It is also amazing that after 40+ years of attempts to eradicate religion, when China opened up a few years ago, there emerged millions of Christians that had been growing underground.

We've been blessed in the past few weeks to have visits from two families, both of whom had been active at NCF when they were in the local area with Mission Aviation Fellowship and Campus Crusade. The MAF family had spent time in Africa responding to needs for transport and supplies by local Christians and missionaries, and the Crusade family has been in Asia, teaching and befriending people who had no knowledge of the Gospel. In both cases, God has done amazing things through them, and our support has been a part of that.  These are ordinary people who were called and empowered to do amazing things through faith.

At a cell church conference in Waco in 2009, there were pastors from Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as the US.  Most of the pastors from areas that had been significantly impacted by Christian missionaries from the US and Europe expressed their gratitude for these missionaries, and recognize the good that this witness is still having in their home countries. I occasionally read comments by people who criticize missionaries for messing with other cultures, but hearing firsthand  of the traditions of idolatry and fear that they are still facing, it has been worth the effort. There are also stories of elements in some farflung cultures that are steppingstones to the Good News.

Most of us have been called to San Bernardino, or places closer to home. I certainly did not plan to move here; God transplanted me here and has been growing me here.  God has a place for each of us;  our challenge is to recognize it and see what He is calling us to do where He has put us.