Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Really Good Thing about Christmas

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased!”

- Luke 2:14 (NET Bible) 
Good News? The headlines are filled with almost everything but! Peace??? Where? 2010 has been a flurry of a year! How can anyone argue with that? 2000 years after Christ’s birth, we see wars, famines, etc. Where is God in the midst of suffering, violence, sickness, and death?

I’ve heard good questions like these, and to be honest, I don’t know if my answer would satisfy the person that has these questions, but I have an answer that satisfies me. It all has to do with the words of the angels in the Christmas story. There IS good news: God has extended peace to men. Despite our violent and deceitful ways, He wants a relationship. Where we’ve rejected Him and His ways, He’s ready to lay aside His right to judge us, even taking the punishment we deserve upon Himself. And more than that, He has promised to fix us up. Where we’ve made mistakes, He brings restoration. And when we’ve been fated to death, He promises eternal life.

So may this Christmas find you resting in His peace, restoration and life… extending throughout and beyond this upcoming New Year!
And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

- Romans 8:28-29 (NET Bible)

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com//)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Joyful Christmas Program

I was reading a book on marriage discussing the concept of making your own happiness. The author wrote that the human mind is like a computer that regularly receives programming: positive talk reinforces a positive outlook while negative talk promotes a negative outlook. The author continued to identify “self-talk” as the thoughts we allow ourselves to think repeatedly that have the same impact on our perspective.

Now, I believe that happiness flows from our response to circumstances, which in turn comes from our ability to find joy, and according to Scripture, joy is a fruit of the spirit. So spending time with God allows the fruit of joy to fill us… but we need to agree with the truth He reveals to us for the fruit to grow. Our thoughts need to be conformed first to His way of thinking (1 Cor 10:5, Phil 4:8). I’m not always good at putting this into practice, but I’ve resolved to program my way of thinking so I can respond with joy and happiness to the circumstances of the day.

In turn, I’d like to encourage everyone to enter this Christmas season with a sense of expectancy because God is moving. He knows about the circumstances of this present time; He cares about it because He cares for each of us; and He has the power to bring about a great and glorious good that surpasses anything we’d come up with. In a sense, it’s a new Christmas program: not a preset expectation of what our individual traditions “should be”, but a positive outlook that God is involved in this season… for us and through us… to advance His kingdom in our lives and through our lives by the renewing of our minds.

From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled;
with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied.

The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Proverbs 18:20-21 (New International Version, ©2010)

So may the peace and joy of Christ the King rule in our hearts and minds, to glory of His Name and the advancement of His kingdom in this world! “God bless us, everyone!”

Merry Christmas!

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

“Here, you must need this dollar more than me.” The man said with a note of aggravation in his voice. It took my lunch companion and me by surprise. We didn’t know what he was talking about, but taking a tip from Proverbs 15:1 (“A mild answer calms wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”), we asked some questions to try and figure out what had happened. Intending to be courteous, my wife had moved her purse out of the way as the man sat down in the crowded café. This was a habit I’ve seen her do consistently through the years out of consideration. But the man, an African-American, took offense at her actions as an insult to his integrity. We talked about it, but in the end, I don’t know if he felt the respect and consideration we were trying to convey. The years and even generations of mistreatment doled out by someone with my skin color blocked the good will my wife and I wanted to show this man.

I see this tragedy work its way into the lives of my kids as well: an intended display of love is often interpreted as an insult, or in some cases as a full-out assault. I’m constantly trying to play mediator and interpreter, helping them to understand each other. But as their father, I also want them to know that I am hurt by their strife. And I’m reminded that God the Father has the same heart for each of us; He longs for His children to get along, not out of tolerance, but from love. Unfortunately, there have been so many skirmishes between races, genders, generations and cultures that we automatically interpret the simplest act as an insult. So, feeling insulted, we often respond with an insult… sometimes as a preemptive attack.

But what if we trusted God enough to withhold judgment, restrain our tendency to lash back, and allow Him to work things out on our behalf? What if we trusted in His ways, and praying as we dialogue, fight for reconciliation? What if we asked Him to open our eyes to the heart of others so we could reflect Jesus’ attitude, and by our actions proclaim “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they do!”?

Sometime back, I learned that any behavior that has not been learned has to be exaggerated before it can be understood. This is visibly true in dysfunctional families where healthy confrontation hasn’t been modeled, and it’s certainly true for the human race in general. I think that may be why the Father sent Jesus, having Him die on the cross to reflect His love. Honestly, can you exaggerate love more than that? How much greater can love be than to give up your life for your friend? How about sacrificing Your only Child so Your enemies can find life? Can love be modeled more clearly?

Unfortunately, generations of sin and rebellion cloud our understanding of this great love… and so many continue to live in a loveless darkness. How especially sad when those called by His Name fall short.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
~John 13:34-35 NIV
copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I See the Moon

When I was little, my parents would sing a slightly modified nursery rhyme:
I see the moon; the moon sees me;
     the moon sees somebody I’d like to see.
God bless the moon; God bless me;
     God bless the somebody I’d like to see.

It seems to me that God above
     created you for me to love.
He picked you out from all the rest
     because He knew I’d love you best.
As I started having children of my own, I’d sing this song to them, and my guess is that they will pass this on to their children.

Romantics have often gazed into the night sky and looked upon the beauty of the moon, inspired with thoughts of love. But the first time I was truly struck the moon’s radiance, was at Disney World. As the day at Disney came to a close, the customary end-of-the-day fireworks started exploding over the castle. Now the folks at Disney put on a good show, and the fireworks are part of the package, done with complete excellence. But as the lights and noise drew the attention of the crowd, the Lord spoke to me and prompted me to turn around and look in the opposite direction.

There, in the clear night sky, the full moon, without pomp or circumstance, glowed in the blackness, the same as it has done for ages. I realized in that moment that I was ruined by the contrast. The beauty in the sky, crafted by the hand of God, eclipsed the best that man had to offer. From that moment onward, fireworks lost any appeal to me so much so that the noise and smoke can become an annoying, smelly cacophony, remembering that a greater, ageless beauty exists.

The beauty of God can have that same effect on us. We are changed by the knowledge of His beauty, and as we gaze on His beauty all substitutes lose their appeal. But God is much more like the sun than the moon. The more we gaze upon Him, the more His light reveals the inferiority of all other things. His light brings out the beauty and the truth in all His creation, and our eyes are sometimes drawn to the created beauty over the Source of Beauty. How often do we choose to gaze upon the reflections of His goodness, the gifts that He freely provides, and consequently let these substitutes overshadow His love, and light, and beauty? We can even start to believe that the goodness in us is part of our make-up rather a gift from God. But if you think about it, we are a little more like the moon.

The moon has no light of its own to share with the world. It simply reflects the light of the sun, which brings life to the world. So when we spend time in the presence of God, like the moon gazing upon the sun, we start to reflect His beauty to the world. Scripture tells us: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) His love fills us and is reflected back to the world as reminder that the light exists and will return, no matter how dark the present moment seems to be. Like the moon, if we allow the world to come between us and the Source of Light, we become darker, reflecting His love ever less. Yet even on the darkest night, when no light is reflected on the moon, the sun is still there, and even in our darkest moments, God is present, powerful and acting in our lives, pulling us back toward Him.

We are imperfect reflections of His light, sometimes shining in full brilliance, and other times aching for the sunlight that once warmed us. But as we look for Him, we start to see a small glimpse of His radiance, and a sliver of His light reflects from our countenance to the world that is longing to see light. The more we seek Him, the brighter we become; the more dedicated our gaze, the brighter we become. The world, in its ignorance, may think we are a light source, but we acknowledge in full humility that we are just poor reflections of His beauty, His love reflecting from us.

But the analogy breaks down when we consider the moon’s orbit and how it is compelled to repeat the ebb and flow of its phases. Unlike the moon, which cycles through the monthly phases, we are capable of embracing His presence all the time, both resting and walking in His Presence.

I don’t think I’m alone in the fact that I can let the lesser lights capture my gaze, but even in the darkest moment, when I feel oh so dark, cold and alone as a result of my infatuation with the world, I also believe that my God can be found again. That there is no place I can ever go that is beyond His hand, to pull me out of darkness and into His loving presence, and even to be warmed to the point of glowing. So I seek the Lord while He may be found, in the present moment, and with His help I am capable of loving, truly loving others, simply because I know His love for me.

The church was never meant to compel the world by force or persuasion into the Kingdom. Rather, the Kingdom comes naturally as we allow His rule to reign in our lives: our hearts, our minds and souls. No other ingredient is required.

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Map, the Guide and the Destination

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

You may think you know this tale, but it just may lead you to a different Destination than what you expect.

Once upon a time, and this is a true story, mankind lived in a literal paradise. They had everything they needed, including creative hobbies and companionship. Food could be found in abundance, disease was non-existent, and no healthy desire was out of reach. The people even had direct access to God. That’s right, they could have a face to face encounter throughout the day. Even negative thoughts were non-existent… well, at least until this one idea crept into the head of one of the people. The concept was this: if a person knew all about what is right and wrong, then they would be as powerful as God. Essentially, if you knew everything about everything, including the way to be perfect, you could be your own god. The thought seemed like a good idea: understand right and wrong, know how to perfect yourself, be a god. The only problem was that instead of leading into a powerful life, this thought process led to death.

Now, God knew that mankind would go down this path, so He crafted a plan to lead them out of it. See, the law (e.g. – rules of right and wrong) was more than a person could follow. In fact, the further mankind got away from God’s presence, the more the idea of following the law irritated man. After all, doesn’t a god get to create his or her own rules? What makes God’s rules the ONLY right and wrong out there? At least that’s the major premise. Unfortunately, the “make your own rules” notion breaks down when the rules you make don’t reflect reality. Yep, there’s truth and then there’s fantasy.

So man got his wish and understood in his heart the difference between right and wrong. But the animosity of man towards God grew so much that man no longer knew how to even have a conversation with God. In fact, some men even claimed that God did not exist. This lie helped men feel better about themselves, and allowed them to pursue that “I’m my own man” fantasy that is so comfortable.

However, despite all this, God still loved His creation and longed to show His love in a way that man could once again understand. So with man’s insistence on knowing what’s right and wrong, God gave man a set of rules that if followed completely, would lead to salvation. With the rules all written out, there could be no confusion about what needed to be done. But man kept breaking this written set of rules (a.k.a. – “the Law”) and this just left man even further without excuse. In fact, with this written set of rules, men started turning on each other, pointing out the short-comings of each other, but over-looking the portion of the Law that declared their own guilt.

So the Map to paradise was the Law. All anyone had to do to get to heaven was follow the Map. But it proved too difficult, so God sent a Guide. He told mankind to follow the Guide and to trust the Guide. But men had a hard time trusting in the Guide. You see, mankind had become so comfortable with the Map, that even though they couldn’t always understand the Map, they preferred trying to figure it out on their own. So when the Guide would lead men down a path that didn’t match their understanding of the Map, the people would balk. In fact, they would proclaim that the Guide was an imposter.

So man wants a Map; God gives him a Map. Man says “I can do it on my own”; God says “give it a try”; Man can’t do it on his own and needs a Guide; God provides a Guide. Man doesn’t trust the Guide and keeps going back to the Map, until out of frustration they once again accept the Guide, not sure if they can even trust the Guide. Wow… what a patient Guide!

Now here’s the irony: man wanted the treasures of heaven, and God delivers it to man to spend on earth. But man is so focused on reaching his destination that he completely misses out on the fact that the Guide is the Destination! Yep. The Treasure of Heaven is a relationship with Jesus, and as we spend time with Him, we see more and more of the gifts He has given us. But we’re so focused on the “get to heaven” thing that we miss out on the reality that the Kingdom of Heaven is both here and eternal. It’s like a movie, where a woman is so into having someone coach her into getting the perfect husband, that she fails to notice the coach is actually the perfect husband.

God’s presence changes everything. It changes our outlook and it even changes the laws of nature. Miracles happen in His presence, and lives are transformed. You see, it was never about the rules of right and wrong to begin with. The rules were good and perfect, but we were never made to be perfect. We were made to be loved and to love in return. The rules brought separation from God, and greater comprehension of the rules led to an understanding of our depravity. Some men understand their depravity and try to hide it, both from themselves and others. But the redeemed recognize both their unworthy and needy state, and they put their trust in the name of the Son of God: Jesus! (meaning “Yahweh Saves!”)

So the Guide is the Destination. We can live in relationship with Him here on earth. We can see and participate in His transforming power. And we can see Him work miracles as the laws of nature even bend to His immeasurable grace.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Wisdom of Scripture

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

I had just come off a mini-deployment to the North Atlantic, six of the most miserable weeks of my life. During that time I had seen the sun a total of six days: the day we left Charleston, SC; the four days we stayed in Oslo, Norway; and the day we returned to Charleston. On the return trip, I had nearly been swept overboard by a large swell that caught me on the fantail of the ship after skirting around a hurricane. A fire hose dangling as a result of the storm found its way to my hand, steadying me and preventing me from being washed into the churning seas. The six weeks had been miserable.

Shoring myself up emotionally, I consciously decided to only bring “positive” reading materials and music on the approaching six month deployment. Along with the Bhagavad Gītā and Upanishads, I brought a dust-ridden copy of the Bible. My degree was in Philosophy, and I had adopted Ghandi’s definition of a Hindu (i.e. – “Seeker of Truth”) as my definition of a philosopher. As the ship made its way to the Mediterranean, I read the Gītā. An interesting story, it didn’t affect me as I was longing to be impacted. So I started reading the Hindu proverbs, the Upanishads. These impacted me even less the than the epic Gītā. So I started reading through the book of Proverbs in the Bible I’d never opened, and there I found it. I found Truth. I knew it was truth, because it was telling me all the foolish things I was doing, even calling me a fool. In my heart I knew it was truth, and I could either run from the truth or I could embrace it, letting go of my foolish pursuits, habits, and ways of thinking.

Finishing Proverbs, I read Psalms. Although I had been raised Catholic, I had begun to doubt God’s existence, but reading through the Scriptures, my confidence in God grew. Still, I wondered, who was Jesus? Yes, I knew and believed that God was real, but was Jesus all that my Catholic heritage had made him out to be? So I prayed: “God, show me who Jesus is.” On Good Friday, as I continued to read through the Psalms, delighting in the growing knowledge of God’s presence and activity in my life, I came across Psalm 22. My Catholic School upbringing had taught me about Jesus’ death on the cross, celebrated on Good Friday as well as the fact the book of Psalms had been written long before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Yet at this moment, I read a prophetic description of Jesus on the cross in a document authored by King David:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
 so far from the words of my groaning?



All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

"He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him."
Psalm 22:1, 7-8 (NIV)

This opened my eyes to the Truth, and shortly afterwards, pulling out of Golchuk, Turkey near midnight, I walked back to the signal bridge. Looking into a starry night, making way towards our next port of Haifa, Israel, I realized that there truly is one God and that the power of man was so very inferior. Enjoying the wonder of His Creation, and with a great fear that I may be inviting some awful spiritual force to overwhelm my life, I asked Him to be my God, my Lord. I asked Him to rule over me, in me, through me and for me. It’s been a wild ride… and an awesome ride!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)
What if a million dollars had been set aside for your use, but you weren't allowed to draw on it until you reached a point where you could responsibly handle it? And what if the "responsibly handle it" part meant that you had learned to use it in a way that didn't seek your own pleasure? What good could you do with a million dollars? If the money was spent foolishly, what damage could happen to you and your family?

Is is possible that God has unlimited resources that He is just waiting to hand over to you, but He's waiting for you to reach a point where your own pleasure is no longer your pursuit? What if God cares so much for you that He withholds those good things that you are not ready to manage responsibly?

What if we all sought the good of others over our selfish wants? What if we truly believed God was able to meet all our needs and even exceed our expectations? How would today's actions be shaped differently by a faith that God is working out all things for our good, including the temporary hardships that we encounter?
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)
What if today, we test and see if God's goodness can be realized in others' lives through us, trusting in God's resources for the time or money that isn't visible? What would that kind of faith do to change both us and the world around us?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where is the Hope?

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Well, now that we have become an Obama nation (not quite the same as “abomination”) and as elections start to loom in the distance, I hear people saying: “how’s that hope thing working out for you?”. The last presidential election was, after all, centered on “hope” and “change”. But I’m not writing about campaign strategies or critiquing the performance of our statesmen. I’m focused on our need for hope as individuals.

Where is the hope? I see and sometimes feel a great absence of hope as marriages struggle, finances crumble, and life-long vocations teeter. One co-worker of mine despairingly acknowledged current events and trends with a corollary statement of “might as well have a drink and not think about it”. In other words, find your drug of choice and pretend there’s no problem to fix. While I acknowledge that avoidance can be a valid short-term tactic, it’s a dangerous long-term strategy. Healthy organizations openly discuss issues that need to be addressed, otherwise these difficulties build upon each other. As families and individuals, we need to discuss and take action.

So while the times are perilous and uncertain, this is not a unique circustance to our lifetime; it has always been part of the human condition. The author J.R.R. Tolkien experienced immense personal loss. Orphaned as a child and a participant in World War I, he lived through a devastation that many of us could never comprehend. Still, he concluded that hope is a decision. It is a decision to never despair – to not give up hoping! There is always hope, because you can always choose hope over despair. Hope because you can and because it is preferable to hope’s antithesis: despair.

Shakespeare’s fictional character, Hamlet, found himself void of hope and despairing of the circumstances as he considered the famous question: “To be or not to be?” He accepted that while it is surely more noble to fight the good fight, it is so much easier to lay down all efforts to a life and a world that is so difficult… unless this world is not all there is!
To die, to sleep— To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause — there's the respect That makes calamity of so long life.
~ Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1)

My take, is that fear of the after-life drives Hamlet to his only other option: persevere. And while I personally disagree with the motivation, fear can still lead to the right outcome. Religion promotes this motivation with doctrines on suicide because some people have incorrectly concluded that we should just propel ourselves into a “better world”. The doctrine goes something like this: “if you kill yourself, you go to hell. Period. End of story.”

I confess that this traditional teaching really messed with me when my cousin committed suicide. I loved my cousin, and when his despair overtook his life, I cried. In fact, as I write this even now my eyes fill with tears. But a friend of mine rightly pointed out that suicide is never mentioned in the Bible as an unpardonable sin. So does that mean it’s okay to take one’s life? Of course not! Why would any of us want to live in eternity with knowledge of all the relinquished victories we could have claimed for the kingdom? How much does this world depend upon YOU right now, in this place and time? God our Father has chosen YOU as His instrument of peace and weapon for victory, both for yourself and others’ sake. As Paul wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 NIV)

Fear is a poor motivator, and I believe in a better way. We have purpose. We have been chosen with purpose. And in light of our purpose, we can expect resistance along the way. In fact, sometimes the fact that we experience resistance is evidence that we are on the right path. (Think about that for a moment.) Is it hard to spend time with God? Is it hard to love others? Is it hard to hope, thinking about failed expectations? In all honesty, I’d have to answer all these questions with a “yes”.

But then again, I wonder if maybe these are the wrong questions to ask. Rather than questioning “is it hard…” shouldn’t we be asking “is it worth it?”. Even more emphatically, I answer: “Yes!”. It is worth it to fight for a GOOD marriage even if it’s hard. It’s worth every effort that strives for a better life… both for oneself and one’s family. It’s worth the exertion as we seek to make this world a better place and to resist evil in all its myriad forms. It’s what good men do. With Tolkien I assert “there is always hope”!
And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Whom he has given us.
 ~ Romans 5:5 (NIV)

Our hope is not in this world. Hope transcends circumstances, and it does not lead to disappointment when we allow God’s ever-flowing love to enter our hearts. The great men of faith hoped for what their eyes would never even see in this life. And the hope they had, that hope which is ours to embrace today, comes from faith, which is itself a gift from God. (Eph 2:8)

So where is your hope? Is it in the failing strength of the hands of man, or is it in a truly Sovereign God, Who loves you and continues to demonstrate that love regardless of your behavior. He continues to offer you peace and reconciliation, even when you declare war against Him and His ways. He alone has the power and the knowledge to redeem every situation, and His love continues to pour out for you, in you and through you.

So there is hope in the midst of despair… there is always hope!

 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

By Whose Authority Do YOU Teach?

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)
 
Now, I don’t know about you but I can be guilty of extreme reactions when it comes to “authority”. So the extremes are this: 1) resist authority or 2) yield to authority. But what about questioning authority… where does that fit in?
Authority… the word evokes various reactions. For some people, the mere thought of “authority” is like a sound to arms… a call to resist… to rise up and fight… like John Cougar’s “I fight authority” lyrics. For others, it’s a proclamation to comply… to obey… to submit without considering the validity of the order. The academic discipline of Logic recognizes a logical fallacy: Appeal to Authority. The fallacy (or error in reasoning) manifests when a person concludes something similar to this: “[Authority Person] says this is true, therefore it is automatically true”.
Religious systems can often appeal to an authority in providing answers: “the pastor said this, so it MUST be true!” It’s easy for religious authorities to allow this behavior; it strokes the ego. But when the standard religious answers don’t line up with the truth, people become disillusioned and they start to doubt everything.
That’s partly why Jesus upset the religious authorities during His first coming. He spoke with real authority. He over-turned the temple profiteers, and concerned that they were being stripped of power, the “authorities” came to talk with Him:

"By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you authority to do this?"
 Jesus replied, "I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John's baptism—was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!"
 They discussed it among themselves and said, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask,. 'Then why didn't you believe him?' But if we say, 'From men'...." (They feared the people, for everyone held that John really was a prophet.)
 So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."
      Jesus said, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
~ Mark 11:28:33

The politically adept “authorities” were perplexed by Jesus’ answer, and rightly so! They had been out-maneuvered by Jesus’ answer, and it cemented their commitment to take Jesus out of the picture (i.e. – kill Him). After all, He was successfully challenging all the pat answers and methods with this radical “Kingdom of God” concept, and it didn’t match completely with what they thought it should be.
But here’s a thought: What if Jesus welcomes our questions? What if Jesus’ answer was more than just a shrewd question? What if it was also an invitation to find an answer to their question: “By what authority”? Jesus was, is, and always will be inviting us to know Him better, and I believe the answer to His accusers was an invitation into relationship.
I think it’s interesting that Jesus answered with a question about John the Baptist. My bet is that the religious authorities at the time knew very little about John. Did they know that he was Jesus’ cousin? Did they realize that John was descended from the line of priests that ministered to God in the temple? Had they been aware, would they admit that by their own religious standards, John had authority? Did they know that John recognized Jesus as an even greater Authority? Jesus answered with a question, and had they followed His lead, it would have given them the answer. But they ran away defeated.
So in the midst of this confrontation, there were three possible responses: 1) answer honestly, 2) answer dishonestly or 3) avoid the question. Jesus’ accusers chose to avoid the question, and in the process, walked away in defeat.
How many times do we run away from the answer? God invites us to know Him and His ways, but because we feel trapped, we run away accepting defeat. God places us in a challenging circumstance, and rather than trusting Him to bring us through to a better understanding of His love and power, we seek a way out.
“How can God work out good through [fill in the blank]?!?!?”
As I write this, I am uncertain about many things in life. I desire more certainty, but I recognize His Presence more when my circumstances are less sure. In my weakness, my confidence in His strength becomes more certain.

“That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
~ 2 Corinthians 12:10

Well, maybe, today is the day to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8), that He will work out all things for good (Rom 8:28), and that He has appointed you for this moment and place in history (Acts 17:26).
When God answers us with questions, He invites us to know Him better. What is He asking you today?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lord, Teach Us About Prayer

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/) - Sermon Notes for 07/25/2010 at Soldier's Memorial Chapel in Fort Benjamin Harrison
“All we can do is pray.” I find myself saying that way too often. Why do we say “all” as if this is somehow an inferior act? Although I KNOW that prayer is important and powerful, somehow, it’s easy to lose sight of that. I wonder why? How is it that when we finally get to the end of our own power, our own strength, that we remember our most valuable Resource: we have the ear of the All-Powerful and All-Knowing God! Now for clarification, God is not some genie in a bottle that we command to do our bidding; He is God and we are His subjects. Still, why wouldn’t we go to the King of the Universe when we need anything? He is our Provider and Protector!
1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."

2He said to them, "When you pray, say: " 'Father, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.' "

5Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'

7"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

9"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Luke 11:1-13 (New International Version)

Jesus’ friends showed humility and honesty when they approached Him: "Lord, teach us to pray..."(v1) I wonder if they ever looked at Him praying and whispered among themselves, “How can He spend so much time JUST praying!” One of the eye-opening concepts of prayer that changed my perspective was when I finally understood that prayer is a two-way dialogue. We listen as we read the Bible. We listen as we see how God adjusts the circumstances around us. And we listen as He speaks to us, whether audibly or as a “still quiet voice”. (1 Kings 19:12) We don’t have to pray; we get to pray! (ponder that for a few minutes) And the crazy, wonderful thing about this dialogue with God is that He is always waiting for us to start talking with Him! God is so great, that He is able to keep His eye and ear fully attentive on you, while He is doing the exact same thing for every single one of His loved ones… including me, and I’m pretty high-maintenance. And He cherishes it when our eye finally turns to Him. He delights in our prayers and desires to exercise His sovereignty when we pray in His will.

Now, I realize that I’m making some pretty bold statements about God, but I’m pulling it from the Gospel reading today. Look at the first Word the Jesus encourages us to use in opening a dialogue with God: “Father”. He did not say: “When you pray, say: Father of Jesus…” He also did not start off with “Almighty God” (El Shaddai) or “Lord” (Adonai). Jesus told us to refer to God as Father. Our Father.

So Our Father, Whose Name is completely set apart. Name, by the way is synonymous with Authority, and Holy means “to be set apart”, which is to say “Our Father is THE Sovereign King above all kings, presidents, prime ministers, rulers, CEOs, supervisors and all authorities”! It’s a statement to Father God that honors Him while reminding us that we are His children. It’s also a proclamation to all the spiritual beings around us that cries out loud: “My Dad’s bigger than your dad!!” (And what’s really cool is that: He REALLY is!!)

Now it’s true, as we recite in the Apostle’s Creed, that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, but we truly are the children of God.

“He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” ~Ephesians 1:5

Now I am the father the five children. I love each of them greatly; I love each of them equally; and I love each of them differently. My oldest is my daughter through adoption, and the biggest difference in the love I have for her is that I was able to choose her. I did not have to adopt her, but it was “in accordance with” my “pleasure and will” to bring her in as my own. She is a wonderful young lady now, and she is as equally loved as any of my children. Adoptive parents have a unique perspective on the love of God the Father.

But even after giving His disciples (and us) this radical perspective on God’s love for us, Jesus knew we’d have trouble grasping the whole idea and that our desire for immediate gratification would get in the way of our hearing from the Father. Our short-sightedness leads us to think: “God didn’t answer me today, so maybe He just doesn’t care”… or maybe “He’s not powerful enough to do anything about my situation”… or maybe “He’s not aware of my situation.”

But God knows all, can do all, and loves more intensely than we can fathom. His timing is not our timing, and He’s not the genie that comes out and obeys our every command. Bottom line is that He’s God and we’re not. He is in the process of refining each of us and is coordinating all things on our behalf. (Romans 8:28) He’s got the plan and it’s all happening even when we don’t see it.

So Jesus gives us these stories in right after teaching His disciples what we now call The Lord’s Prayer (Hmm… maybe we should call it The Disciples’ Prayer?) that basically says: “Persevere! The Father has it covered!” And in the process, we get to spend some time with the Father, Who by the Way, longs to spend time with us. So persevere, spend time with God and wait on the Lord to move. (Psalm 37:7)

Here’s something that confounds me: Why is it so hard to reach out to God when inevitably, after the fact, we always feel so comforted? Isn’t that true about healthy activities in general? It’s so hard to get started and yet we always feel so much better after having done them? Sometimes I think this alone is evidence of an Enemy (a.k.a. – satan). Yet sometimes, that resistance comes from our own baggage.

For example: Forgiveness. It can be so hard to even want to forgive, but it feels so good afterwards… and it’s so important! After all, if we can’t forgive others, how can we believe that God the Father forgives us? (v. 4) Forgiveness is a little like that chicken and egg dilemma.

By the way, I heard on the news recently that scientists in England have found an answer to the age-old question of “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?”. Apparently, there is some protein required for the egg that can only come from the chicken, and therefore chickens win!

Forgiveness is similar. Knowing God forgives us, prompts us to forgive others. It’s like that necessary protein that comes from the chicken. We choose to forgive (whether we feel like it or not) because we understand the great sins for which we’ve been forgiven, including the sins of all our ancestors. However, our obedience in forgiving others reinforces our heart knowledge that we have truly been forgiven. It helps us feel forgiven.

It’s my belief that forgiveness is only understood when we are aware of the reality from the perspective of both the forgiven and the forgiver. Anyone unaware of their need for forgiveness lives a life apart from God; we cannot gaze upon His purity and not feel unclean. In other words: His holiness shows us just how filthy our righteousness is by comparison. (Isaiah 64:6) And as we forgive the person who does not deserve forgiveness, we understand in greater measure just how great Our Father loves us. It’s this knowledge that transforms us more and more into the image of His Son, our Big Brother, Jesus.

“As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’" ~ Hebrews 3:15

I encourage each of us this week to set aside some extra time to just be with our Father in heaven. Have a date with Him. Wait on Him, and see what happens next. He’s a good Dad. The very Best.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Purpose, Passion and Pleasure-Seeking

I’ve noticed something about myself: when purpose drives my life, I’m passionate about life, but in the absence of purpose, I tend to focus on what pleases me, which leads to a lack-luster longing for more. I don’t think I’m unique in this, especially among guys. We thrive on purpose. Our identity rests on it, and in the absence of purpose, we find one: career, status, finances, skills, video games, drinking games or whatever else brings us pleasure. It can drive us to build great things, create new artwork, or just compete for competition’s sake. In the end, it can be filled with great worth or feed our vanity, and it whiles away the hours.

Now, there are a lot of worthy activities, and there are some less worthy ones. When we occupy ourselves with the less worthy pursuits, there’s a cost. When my purpose centers around my pleasure, the world suffers; I suffer. Whether it’s a short-term, immediate self-gratification or a long-term pursuit self-service, selfish ambition keeps me from developing more into the man I’m called to be and distracts me from building up others.

I believe one of our greatest regrets in eternity will come in the realization of the cost of our selfishness: the person who starved to death or the ripple-effect from our failure to come alongside our wounded neighbor or co-worker. What if we recognized in each moment our need to reach a hurting world, including the rest and self-preparation required to love on others?

But what a contrast when we live with a sense of greater purpose that flows from our identity! We are God’s ambassadors; He has reconciled with us, forgiven us, so that we can bring this Good News to others. What if we lived modestly so we could be better prepared to help others? What if we spent less on church building and more on Kingdom building. While the two are not always mutually exclusive, they far too often are: Empty halls except for one morning a week.

What if we looked at all our time, talents and treasures as a resource for building the Kingdom? What if we stopped focusing our attention on the lesser lights and truly lived in His Presence, joined Him in His work, and lived as if our identity came from more than what can ever be found in the temporary pleasures of this world?

Then, I think, we would look like the Body of Christ, and an unbelieving world would have cause to wonder why we live like this. They would ponder on the passion that came from unconditional and unwarranted love, and they would have no cause to label us as hypocrites, who profess one thing but live out something completely different.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Second King - Chapter 3: Two Brothers

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

(Continued from Chapter 2: The Tempest )

“Before I chase him down, what should I know about King Ahaziah?” Ginath asked his sibling as he prepared to depart the larger army. Obed looked at his younger brother. Although Ginath was only slightly younger, he almost could have passed for Obed's son. Lean and tall with jet black hair and a beard, Ginath looked to be in his late twenties rather than upper thirties.

“Are you only taking two warriors with you and the king?” Obed asked.

“Ah ha! I see what King Jehu means: do you always avoid answering?” laughed Ginath with a huge smile piercing through the thick, black beard.

“I was not avoiding your question, I only wondered...”

Ginath interrupted him: “Relax, Obed! You are always so serious! I am taking the only two riders who can keep up with King Jehu and me. Should Ahaziah reach his own army before we catch him, I will regret not having this entire army with me. But speed is truly critical, so I must ask you to talk quickly.”

“Ahaziah is a scared boy who will run quickly to his mother's chambers. However, if pressed to fight, he is skilled with the sword and even better with his bow. Although I think if you get close enough to cross swords, he will die of fear before your blade can touch him. But a note of caution, my brother: beware his arrows. I am told they are dipped in poison. And I have seen him fire with great accuracy from a moving chariot on more than one occasion. Go with God... and return quickly!”

“And may our God protect you as well, Obed!” Ginath's chariot started quickly in pursuit, but stopped abruptly as the younger brother turned back to say: “Being a general suits you, my brother! It is long overdue, and I have meant to tell you for some time just how much I...” Ginath paused searching for words that would fit, but he could think of nothing that would convey all that he wanted to convey. So after a pause of more than a second, Ginath abandoned eloquence and finished his thought: “Well... Obed, I have always admired you.”

“Hmmph. I am only a general over these troops until you return,” Obed smiled warmly and completed his thought “and I would have my brother return quickly and safely! The Lord protect you!”

And with that, Ginath started swiftly with the three other riders, pursuing the dust cloud of Ahaziah's chariot in the distance. The southern king would not escape!

The clatter of the wheels and the clippety clop of hooves were strangely quiet to Ginath, a comfort after the thunderous ride with the larger army. He often rode to relax, enjoying the thrill of movement and the feel of wind on his face. Aside from the relaxing effect it had on him, he did it to hone his riding skills and condition his horses. This had given him a tremendous advantage over others when fighting from the chariot, and his skill in this discipline was rivaled by few. Jehu and the two others on this mission had followed Ginath's example in this area, increasing their own battlefield advantage. Ginath had learned it from Obed.

It was Obed who had kindled Ginath's equestrian passion at an early age, teaching him how to choose and train his steeds. It was Obed who had introduced him to many things, all of them good. He had often wondered why he, Ginath, found favor that lifted him to a position of great authority while his mentoring brother reached an early plateau. The fact bothered Ginath, but he was sure it disturbed Obed more. How could it not?

As they were growing up, he often found ways to get under his older brother's skin, and he had suffered many a bump and bruise for his efforts. However, as he matured, he came to understand and appreciate just how much restraint Obed had used when administering justice upon his younger brother. Perhaps Obed knew at a deep level that Ginath's childhood pestering stemmed from his desire to be WITH and LIKE his older brother. In Ginath's eyes, there was no one who seemed to know as much or who was endowed with so much ability as his older brother... at least among the youth. How must Obed feel to have his younger brother out-rank him now?

Even in their youth, although both Obed and Ginath looked athletic, they were surprisingly still more powerful than they appeared. At the ages of 10 and 7, when their father entertained a friend from the army, the boys good-naturedly challenged the visitor to a grappling match. Before their father Jesse could warn his friend, Ginath had tripped the soldier, allowing Obed to surprise him with an arm bar hold of unexpected power. Ginath was never sure if their father's friend ended the contest in mock defeat or in legitimate surrender, but family friend never wrestled with the two boys again. He did, however, recruit the both of them into the army as they each respectively came of age.

By the time Ginath joined his brother in the army, Obed had already befriended another young officer with similar tenacity and integrity: Jehu. It was good for Obed to have a friend. As they were growing up, Obed's serious, analytical nature did not win him popularity. Without exception, anyone was happy to have Obed around when experiencing a problem, yet the capable soldier was often overlooked when his own difficulties arose. Perhaps, no one doubted Obed's ability. Or maybe Obed was too quiet about his own burdens. Yet he was just never really close enough to anyone for them to know when he also needed help.

By contrast, Ginath never had that problem. He was always surrounded by many friends, and he never took issue asking for help. He was a central figure at any event and never shied away from attention as his brother often did. Although Ginath – and others – considered Obed the more talented one, it was ultimately Ginath's out-going nature and positive outlook that won him a larger following.

When Obed had first introduced Ginath to Jehu, it seemed as if they had found the long-lost brother that combined their better traits. Jehu was as out-going as Ginath and as focused as Obed. Although he had the integrity of Obed, Jehu carried it like a banner that drew others toward him while Obed often seemed the lone standard bearer. In the end, that is exactly what Obed had become: a lone voice of goodness within the corrupt, Royal Guard. Indispensable and yet barely tolerable, Obed had no chance of leaving or being promoted within the palace.

Meanwhile, Jehu's favor in the eyes of men increased as he continuously led the army into victory after victory. And obviously, with the events of the past day, King Jehu had gained favor in the eyes of God as well! Long live King Jehu!

At the thought of his friend, Ginath looked in his direction. The new monarch even rode with a kingly stance, a man to be admired! He rode without helmet, his straight, black hair blowing in the wind, and his eyes were intent on the cloud of dust before him. Always focused, always ready, riding furiously forward. They were nearing Beth-Haggan and were closing the gap between King Ahaziah and themselves. The southern king had seen their approach and grabbed his bow.

“Do not let an arrow graze your skin, or you will join our fathers in paradise this day!” shouted Ginath, remembering Obed's earlier warning. “He treats his arrow tips with poison!”

King Jehu calmly grabbed his helmet and positioned it on his head. “Ride faster! Ride harder!” shouted the king to his three companions. “Shoot him down in his chariot! The king of the southern country will not see the end of this day alive!”

And with that, the four chariots picked up their pace. As they passed Beth-Haggan, Ahaziah shot an arrow in their direction. It clipped the breastplate of Ginath's companion to the right. They rode on, harder and faster still, approaching Ibleam to the south. However, the chariot to the right started to slow, prompting Ginath to look back at his slumping companion, a small trickle of blood on his left arm where Ahaziah's arrow had grazed the bicep.

“Clang!” went the sound of Ginath's own breastplate from another arrow as it fell harmlessly to the floor of the chariot. Drawing his own bow, he fired at Ahaziah, hitting him in the upper left thigh shortly after one of Jehu's arrows passed through Ahaziah's lower back. The southern king slowed as he struggled to stand, and turning to fire again at his pursuers, he stopped short when King Jehu's next arrow pierced his lower right abdomen.

Ahaziah's eyes looked helplessly as he sat down in the wagon, holding his stomach, mouthing empty words and sobbing in short, painful breaths. Ginath set aside his bow and followed King Jehu on foot as they approached the dying man.

A soldier never discussed these things. It is not a joy kill another man. It is sadness. It is regret. But it is sometimes necessary, a duty to be fulfilled. The judgment of God is exercised by the governments He empowers, and it is the duty of the government official to protect the people, even with the regrettable expense of life, taking corrupted life to preserve innocent ones. So it was with Joram. So it was with Ahaziah.

“Your family shall no longer rule this kingdom. No longer shall your perverse ways lead others astray. I will not allow you the chance to come back and enslave it.” announced Jehu. “Mercy.” gasped Ahaziah. But examining his prey's wounds, Jehu continued: “I have seen you relish the slow death of your own enemies. Shall I show you mercy? Your grandmother has tortured God's prophets until they pleaded for death. Shall I still give you a quick end?” And with that said, Jehu turned back to his chariot, motioning his followers to do the same.

Silence. Sobbing and gasps from Ahaziah. Ginath was disappointed. Regardless of the rationale, he wondered how this could be right, and Ginath found that he regretted the slow death Ahaziah would suffer. He hated to admit it, but he was disappointed with Jehu. Still, who was he to correct a king? Who was he to rebuke God's anointed?

Gathering their fallen comrade and leading the empty chariot, the trio turned north to re-join the larger army. As they trotted back, Ginath turned back to look upon the fallen king. Ahaziah had managed to turn his chariot around toward the northwest, taking the road to Megiddo. He would die a very slow, painful death, but he would most likely live long enough to tell others about the recent coup in the northern country. And what would happen then?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Negative Voices

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)
You know that saying: “You learn more from kids”? Well, it applies to teachers as well as parents. In the late ‘90s, I taught at a Christian school in Central Florida, and I learned more from one class than I ever passed on to them. Now as a father of 5, all my children are my favorites, and as a teacher I tried not to show any favoritism. But the reality of life is that we sometimes click better with some people than others, and I really enjoyed the kids in this one particular class. They were some of my “favorites”. Then a new student entered the class and the whole atmosphere changed.

This new kid really wasn’t bad, and outside of the classroom, I truly liked him. But in class he was very disruptive, even to the point where my once favorite class had become my least favorite. As this new kid criticized and complained, it seemed as if the entire room was filled with similar students. I don’t recall all the details, but I remember feeling completely alone against a class of angry students. Finally, despite some initial pressure from the administration to accommodate this student’s poor behavior, I decided to raise the expectations for acceptable behavior. It wasn’t easy, but things started to shift.

However, the big eye-opener for me was when one of the other students came up to me and thanked me. I listened in quiet dismay as I discovered most of the class had been annoyed with the disruptive behavior of the new kid. I had sensed their frustration, but I had always assumed it was directed towards me.

That’s what happens with the negative voices: they always seem to get amplified.

The truth in the situation was that one voice disrupted the whole group. Life can seem that way for all of us: one negative voice seems to echo from the faces of people who are ready to be our encouragers and supporters. It’s amazing the destructive power behind one negative voice.

But there’s also power in being an encourager. The student who came up and thanked me taught me more in that brief conversation than anything else that year, and I am extremely grateful for the little that was shared. Those words were life-giving to me, and I try to reflect this encouragement into others’ lives.

Each of us has a daily opportunity to offer life-giving words to others… or at the very least to avoid being that negative voice. May we choose wisely.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Second King - Chapter 2: The Tempest

copyright ©2010 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

(Continued from Chapter 1: Duty)

Obed brought his chariot to a stop as Jehu ordered the army to a halt. The thunder of the chariots disappeared into an eerie silence, interrupted by the occasional cough of a dust-stricken soldier or the snort of a weary horse. With the exception of these intermittent sounds, the only noise Obed could hear was the whisper of wind in his ears. His brother was positioned slightly behind Jehu, and from his position to the right of Ginath, Obed had a clear view of the two approaching chariots. King Joram of the Northern country was accompanied by his nephew, King Ahaziah of the Southern kingdom. Obed knew them both well.

As the two royal chariots continued to approach the army, Obed allowed himself to drift into thought. He realized they had come to stop in the Royal Vineyard, purchased by Joram's father from Naboth the Jezreelite shortly after he “enlisted” in the Royal Guard. It was no longer the proud vineyard that Naboth had nurtured. Looking around the field, Obed saw how it had fallen into disrepair. It was just a shadow of the vineyard it had been when originally purchased.

“No!” he thought, “As surely as I was conscripted into the king's service, Naboth's field was confiscated.” Joram's father had wanted to purchase the field from Naboth, but the wine-maker had refused. Obed remembered rumors of the scandal. The king had made a generous offer to Naboth, one which most people would have accepted without much thought. But the field was so much more than dirt and grape vines to Naboth. It was part of his heritage, having been handed down from generation to generation since the One God had established his ancestores in the land. Naboth had poured his life into making that field the best vineyard in all the kingdom, and in the end, he refused to give up both his heritage and his life's work. The king was sullen, completely devastated that he could not have his way. Obed was standing guard outside the dining hall as the king told his wicked wife the cause of his disappointment.

“Why are you so resentful of everything?” She asked at the time, “Why don't you eat?”

“I talked to Naboth from Jezreel and offered to buy his vineyard. I even offered to give him another vineyard if he'd like, but he refused to give it to me.” replied the king.

Obed heard the queen stand up abruptly, obviously disgusted. “Aren't you the king!” Her admonishment prompted Obed to look inside the room. The queen was looking away from her husband, But then, she slowly turned around and smiled, that wicked-haughty smile that she so often wore. The smile that Obed imagined a spider made when it spun it's web, thinking of what prizes it might catch.

“Get up! Eat and cheer up! I'll get you that vineyard from Naboth of Jezreel!” And having said those words the queen walked out of the dining hall.

Obed dreaded her approach towards him from the doorway. Brushing past Obed, she lightly touched his bicep in a lingering fashion as she exited the dining hall. Obed could see out of the corner of his eye how she turned to look at him as she walked down the hallway. He could imagine her spider-smile as she swayed down the passage toward her chambers. He could smell her rich and fragrant perfume as his upper arm still tingled from the touch. Obed continued looking forward, wondering if he would be in the Royal Guard his entire career.

How long had he been in the King's personal guard? Joram had now ruled for 12 years, but Obed entered the army seven years earlier, before Joram had taken the throne. It was Joram's father who gave him that position as a reward for valor on the battlefield. The king thought he was rewarding Obed, but to the young officer, it seemed like a death sentence. He had observed countless Naboths being executed on made-up charges so that the royal family could live out their latest whims.

Over the years, Obed had often thought that Joram's father could have become a good king, but every time the king did something to inspire hope, the queen would do something to turn him back. He remembered the pain and sorrow the old king displayed when certain injustices happened. The queen, though, had a way of controlling her husband and perverting the truth into something that bent his will. She was truly a witch, and had practiced the dark arts of Phoenicia since childhood, passing them on to her children. And unfortunately she had a special interest in Obed. Even more disturbing, when the old king died, the witch-queen's interest became even less constrained.

In her late-thirties at the time of her husband's death, she was still a very attractive woman. She was ambitious, intelligent, and completely self-serving. Everyone knew that although the king wore the crown, it was really she who ruled the country. She had given her husband three children, all as wicked, ambitious and self-consumed as herself. Joram was the second of two boys, the eldest having died from complications after falling through a second-story window. Rumor had it that he was drunk at the time, but Obed decided not to listen to the gossip. It simply was. And as a result, Joram became the new king.

His older sister, Athalia, followed the career path of her mother. Like her mother, Athalia was crafty, beautiful and interested in certain members of the Royal Guard, expressing interest with a similar, spider-like smile. Fortunately for Obed, she had left the palace a few years earlier to marry the crown prince of the Southern country; it was part of her mother's long term plan to re-unify the two kingdoms. To Obed's regret, Athalia often returned to confer with her mother. Two spiders, spinning webs of intrigue, with spider smiles that sought to ensnare any man that would please their immediate interests.

***

“Is everything alright, Jehu?” asked King Joram, jolting Obed back to the present. The chariots of both kings had arrived. Joram scanned the eyes of the assembled army, seemingly coming to some conclusions in his mind. Concern slowly grew on his face as he finally made eye contact with Jehu.

Perceiving his cue, Jehu responded, his voice growing louder and more authoritative with each syllable. “How can everything be alright...” Joram's eyes widened with apprehension as Jehu's eyes flared in intensity “...as long as your mother continues her idolatry and witchcraft?”

Joram did not waste time with questions. He did not care for answers. Having realized his own army had become a threat, he quickly turned his chariot around as he yelled to his nephew: “It's a trap, Ahaziah!”

Ahaziah just stood in his chariot, watching in confusion, eyes darting left and right, his left hand twitching on the reins as if it trying to move. His mouth was hanging open, and he looked anything but kingly.

Jehu's composure was a stark contrast to the two kings. Where Joram was panicked, Jehu was composed. While Ahaziah was slow and confused, Jehu was quick and decisive. He swiftly strung an arrow in his bow and shot Joram between the shoulders with such force that it came through Joram's chest, coming to a halt in the grass a few feet in front of the chariot. The carriage came slowly to a stop as Joram slumped down, obviously dead.

Ahaziah continued to stare as his shaking became more pronounced.

Jehu turned to his attendant, Bidkar, and ordered: “Take him away and throw him into the field that once belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite.” Bidkar turned to jump off the chariot when Jehu grabbed his arm, speaking as a man does to a close friend.

“Remember when you and I were driving our chariots behind his father? There was a prophecy spoken at that time: 'Just as I saw the blood of Naboth and his sons yesterday, I will pay you back in this field.'” Realization formed on Bidkar's face as his eyes locked knowingly into the face of his new king.

At the mention of this prophecy about his grandfather, Ahaziah finally regained his composure, and understanding that these fanatic rebels could seek to fulfill the prophecy with his own death as well, he turned his chariot to the right, in the direction of Beth Haggan, hoping to make his way back to his own kingdom.

Obed and his brother Ginath heard Jehu's words to Bidkar. As Ahaziah sped away, Ginath spoke up. “What about that one, my king? Should we not bring him down as well?”

“Attend to Joram's body, Bidkar.” Jehu said, stepping down into the field and toward the two brothers. “Walk with me, my friends, for I have need of your counsel.”

Obed stepped off his chariot with legs like wet leather, ready to collapse into the ground. He hid his face for a moment as he struggled to contain the tears that welled up. Joram was dead and his old friend, Jehu, was now king! But beyond all that, he found himself a counselor to the new king!

In a few paces, they had walked off the path into rows of grape vines. Although the vineyard had fallen short of it's former glory, Jehu picked his way carefully through the vines, making every attempt to preserve the life and health of each plant. It reminded Obed of how Joram's father walked through this same field shortly after Naboth's execution. Smiling, laughing and jumping, the former king crushed many a vine, broke even more branches, as he happily claimed the object of his desire. As Obed watched the spectacle, he stood stoically by the king's chariot, inwardly recoiling at the abuse of another man's life's effort. At that moment, with the display of utter disregard for Naboth's work, Obed knew the vineyard would fall into disrepair. The queen encouraged her husband: “Explore my gift to you, my husband! It is all yours and for your pleasure! I, however, will wait here and enjoy the scenery as you examine your new prize.”

Obed remembered the way the witch-queen moved toward him, with her spider-smile. Although he continued to look forward, through her and past her gaze, he knew that she was trying to make eye contact with him. He remembered the wisdom of an earlier king, who wrote: “Do not desire her beauty in your heart. Do not let her catch you with her eyes.”

“Hmmph!” said the queen with an exaggerated pout. “Why do you not look at me, Obed? I am told by others that I am still a very desirable woman.” She moved closer to him, as the king ran further away into the field. “So strong you are, and yet so unable to enjoy yourself...” she purred as she moved within a hand's width of his body. “I can help you with that...” Obed felt her hand on the back of his upper thigh.

Maintaining control of his body and senses, Obed calmly and firmly replied: “As you are from Phoenicia, my queen, you are probably not familiar with our customs. I am simply following the wisdom of one of our country's fathers, written when the two kingdoms were one: 'Let your eyes look straight ahead and your sight be focused in front of you.'”

“Dearrr Ooobed...“ she almost whispered in his ear, her hand softly moving as she spoke, “you are so knowledgeable about your people's customs. Perhaps you could teach me things that my husband has not. I promise to give you my full attention.”

With the same impartial tone, Obed answered her. “My queen, I would be glad to do so. May I start with a lesson handed down from our people's law-giver. He taught that a man should not desire another man's wife, nor should he lay down with her as with his own.”

“Arghh!” cried the queen as took two brisk steps away from Obed. “You are a misguided, unimaginative fool!” and then regaining her composure: “Have you not noticed how certain guards can advance further than others? I can help, or hinder, your career like no other. My husband knows of my appetite for variety just as I encourage his own explorations. Your study of wisdom would be best applied to more modern techniques, rather than out-dated ways!”

“I understand your 'wisdom', my queen. But if I may further explain the culture of my people, it is written: 'There is a way that seems right to a person, but eventually it ends in death.'” Obed continued to stand guard, immovable and vigilant.

“It seems we may have a found a point of agreement, my young, devoted soldier. This way that seems so 'right' in your eyes is certainly leading to the death of your career. You will not advance if you cannot learn to think in new ways. I can promise you that.” The smile had disappeared from the queens face. Her eyebrows were slightly raised as she stood awaiting a response.

“My devotion to the royal family is founded on a devotion to the old ways, my queen. Perhaps you can learn to appreciate that. Or maybe you would prefer to transfer this simple soldier back to the regular army?” Obed hoped she would!

“No.” said the queen. “You are challenge. And unlike my husband, I enjoy a good challenge. You will come over to my ways, Obed. And I will make you beg for the pleasures that only I can bring you.” And with that said, her spider-smile returned. Her head turned quickly in the direction of her frolicking king and she ran toward him, shouting: “So how do you enjoy my gift? Does it not please you, my husband?”

***

Jehu stopped walking, and the two brothers looked toward him. “What do you think on this matter. Obed, you know him better than either of us. Will he run and hide or will this result in a war with the Southern Kingdom? And more importantly, I ask the both of you, what do you believe the right thing to do is?”

Both pairs of eyes drilled into Obed. His counsel and wisdom had been spurned for over a decade, excepting those inside his own house. It was now awkward to find himself as an advisor to the king. Yes, for years, he had observed the royal family of both kingdoms. He had watched this young king from the south grow up. The dolt was not worthy of the nation's fathers or the loyalty of his people. He embraced the 'new ways' of his grandmother. He was haughty, impetuous, and selfish like his grandmother with the weak character of his grandfather. Yet, did he deserve to die?

“I believe the young king will run and hide for a while. But his mother will spur him on in some way. Athalia has always been crafty and unpredictable. While her mother has always been content to rule through another, she is not her mother. I have a sense that she will play into our future somehow.”

“You have not answered my questions, Obed.” replied Jehu. The new king had always been direct and expected the same from others.

“My king, I give you information for your decision.” Obed replied. “But to answer directly, Ahaziah will not decide to wage war, his mother will make that decision based on how it will advance her own power. Her son has always been simply an instrument for her purposes.”

“Ginath, since your brother avoids an answer, can you give me your counsel?” The words hurt Obed tremendously. The right thing to do was to provide background information to his new king! But it was true, his king wanted a direct answer, and he did not give it. Obed would learn from this.

“Pursue and destroy Ahaziah, my king. It is a step toward fulfilling the prophecy you had stated yourself, regarding Naboth.”

“It is as you've said, Ginath. This is your assignment: to accompany me in this pursuit. Take as many men as you need for this purpose but no more. Upon my return, I will take our army to Jezreel to cleanse it of the filth that has occupied it for generations.

As they walked back, Jehu placed his arm on Obed's shoulder and spoke gently: “You are wise and knowledgeable, my friend, and I apologize for speaking so harshly. Now that I have an answer, I can see that I will value your words on this matter even more in the upcoming months. Teach me to understand you wisdom, but understand my need for a direct conclusion.”

His feelings restored, Obed simply nodded to his friend and king.

Removing his hand and walking more briskly through the vineyard, Jehu assumed his new mantle and commanded: “Obed, you will take charge of this army as its general and prepare it for our excursion into Jezreel. We have ridden quickly from the war to this new battle. There must be no ambivalence in the hearts of the men, nor unnecessary weariness in the horses.”

(Continued...)