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Pastors' Blog

Pastor Adam Keough

It was 6.15am. No one should be sitting on a plane parked up on a plane stand at that hour, but I was! Usually when I fly I like to just keep myself busy knowing what’s going on! I like to peer down the aisle into the cockpit when the door is open trying to see what the pilot and first officer are up to before the door is finally closed for taxi and take-off. I like to watch the air stewards & stewardesses running (not literally) up and down the aisle making preparations. I like to look backwards and forwards over the seats at people as they yo-yo up and down trying to make sure they’ve got everything they want for the flight out of the over-head lockers. And, maybe I shouldn’t say this, but sometimes I even nose into people’s conversations to see what’s on order in people’s lives that day or try and read someone else’s newspaper without them noticing!

But instead of going through my normal routine I fiddled in the pocket in front of me and pulled out the most interesting item – the easyJet magazine! Yes, the easyJet magazine! I guess for some people it’s great entertainment (or maybe just the best there is); but not particularly for me.

As I began to flick through the pages I noticed that there were different sections: greetings from the Chief Executive, some random pictures and general information about upcoming European festivals, a few stories that made me smirk, travel stories from around the world (or should I say – stories from places easyJet flies to!), a section on food, a few features on European cities that I supposedly shouldn’t miss visiting but probably never will, and even a colourful article on football amongst other things.

Then there were the ads. Women’s perfume, men’s perfume (which I never knew existed – only joking), luxury apartments to buy, cheap hostels to stay in etc. You name it, it was there. Well, not quite, but nearly.

As I finished flicking through the whole magazine it occurred to me what easyJet had done to their magazine – they had tried to market it to everyone. There was something for the businessman /business woman, there was something for the student, the family with kids, the family without kids, the single female the single male, the rich, the poor, the hungry & thirsty, people who like the arts, people who like sports, entertainment junkies – the whole spectrum. Whoever picked up the magazine was meant to find something of interest to them, something that would catch their attention when the nonchalantly picked it up and quickly flicked through the pages.

As I reflected on this experience I began to consider our church and how we view the church. Is the church a place for ‘saints’, or a place for sinners? Is it a place that should be for everyone or for a select few? What about our outreach programmes; do we attract a particular group of people, for example, the middle class, or are we good at reaching out to everyone? Should we even try to reach out to everyone with the limited resources that we often have, or should we concentrate on a ‘niche market’ (oh, I hate that phrase!)? How do our children and teens fit in? Or don’t they. Is there something for them that really is for them? Like the easyJet magazine should we have a menu for everyone who in interested in Adventism or should we continue to appeal to the more intellectual mind? My guess is that we would answer some of those questions differently.

As we landed in London Stansted and I made my way through the terminal it seemed as though my flight had gone more quickly than usual. Maybe I’ll pick up the magazine again next time.

 

(Written by Pastor Adam Keough)

 

The Advent Hope

Ben and Joy Pontanar The Pontanar Family in the Snow

The snow came early this year. To the kids, it’s an early Christmas treat of fun and excitement. The picture of falling flakes of white outside the window brings opportunities to make snowmen and throw loads of snow balls. But to many, it is nature’s unpleasant twist to the economic doom and gloom story that has occupied the front pages of the papers recently. Businessmen are already expecting more significant losses because of the cold snap. It seems that bad news never ends, or that this is just the beginning of worse things to come. As we anxiously face the festive season of Christmas and welcome the coming year 2011, is there something for us to hope for? Can we look forward to the future with confidence and optimism? Or will it still be despair, disbelief and pessimism?

We imagine the shepherds at Jesus’ birth were not in dissimilar states as we are at the moment. Luke 2:8 begins their story when they were out in the fields with their sheep during the night shift. They must have been discussing about the effect of the census Caesar Augustus was conducting at the moment all over the country which meant more taxes, or that there would be no bail-out for lowly shepherds from the little town of Bethlehem, or just the normal stuff shepherds chatted about to pass the night time by. And then an angel appeared to them with the glory of the Lord that filled everything about them. Their response to this unexpected and dramatic change of events was natural: they were greatly afraid (Luke 2:9). Who wouldn’t be? When the glory of the Lord appears before men, men are usually at the state where they realize their lowly singleness in the presence of The All-Powerful.

But then the angel says, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people,” (Luke 2:10).

If the message was just for those shepherds and for the whole Israelite community in the immediate context, the angel must have been joking. What can a baby do to change their world? And looking down through the thirty-three years of Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, where was the “good tidings” that a “multitude of the heavenly host” had to break forth with singing about: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13, 14)?

Here is the punch-line of the angelic message: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord,” (Luke 2:11).

The world can sing all it wants about merry-making, about good news, about joy, about not being afraid. But we have to know the reason why. And looking back more than 2,000 years ago to the sign given to the shepherds, “a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12), we find that reason in God Almighty becoming Emmanuel.

The shepherds’ response after this was that of anticipation, eagerness, awe, worship, evangelism, and praise to God “for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told them,” (Luke 2:15-20). These were individuals who had seen, heard, and were in the presence of Good News.

We need to remember this angelic message once more and receive the Gift that came with it. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). If God can come as low as a helpless baby with a cattle’s trough for a crib in a stinky stable to poor peasant parents and eventually die as your and my Lamb substitute for all that’s wrong in this world and in our lives, He can break through our doom and gloom stories and make us people of the Good News, people of the Advent Hope.

Neither to the right nor to the left: Is spiritual balance possible?

When the Israelites were marching through the desert, it was extremely important for them to stay on the right way, which God had been pointed to them through Moses.

To deviate from the right path meant danger: wild animals, hunger and thirst, hostile attacks, etc.

Just shortly before the conquest of Canaan by Joshua, God takes on this picture and exhorted the people of Israel and its leaders, in a figurative sense, to do everything in their power to stay always on the right path. He said to Joshua:

 

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.” Joshua 1:7

 

It is quite clear what God means. He wants the people who belong to Him to follow what He said and not act as one thinks best, or sees fit.

 

What is right and what is left?

It is interesting to notice but both the right and the left seem to be regarded as being wrong. Only the path that runs between these two variations, seems to be the right way.

In everyday parlance we have already got used to the fact that the phrase “ right and left” does not apply just for traffic road but also for the way we think and act.

Political parties are classified in this way and even in Christian circles it has become customary to talk about the left view Christians(liberal) and right view Christians(conservative). Besides the fact that is very difficult if not almost impossible to classify people and their thinking, the usage of the phrase brings with itself the problem of my own positioning. Depending on where I stand myself, the other is either left or right of me.

Since it does not help much at all if I start crying, screaming or shouting with firm conviction : “ Here with me is the center!”, my question is : Who can definitely identify and decide where is the center? How can we find that spiritual balance?

 The typical oscillation

Frequently people are trying out of fear, to find ways to avoid an explicit answer to the question:” Where do you stand?” or “Who can decide where is the middle way?”

So either you advocate the pluralistic view, which allows you to validate from the entire bandwidth of concepts and designs of truth, nearly all, as being truth. And in doing so you are not forced to reveal your own position on the matter, cause at the end of the day you are just one among many others who represent this view, in the same time you avoid a nasty dispute that would otherwise be inevitable and would have the potential to ruin your entire week and your friendship.

Another possibility is the typical pendular movement in the opposite direction. For example: if I identified a certain concept of truth or a habit in my life as being a threat or a danger, than I will do everything I can to strengthen the opposition to it.

With very simple knitted patterns of thinking, my point of view becomes the norm, the standard for everybody else. Weather it is the vegan food, the cup of tea or a certain hairstyle, what I identified as being right, will be levied with less or higher moral pressure as law for others. And if “the others” will not accept that, than what I have to do is to start out a separate group of like-minded.

After a while maybe I will realize that actually the whole energy for my existence comes from wrong sources:

1. from the dull repetition of my points of view

2. from the criticism of the people who refuse to disclose their position.

And all of this mostly as a reaction to what it takes to “stay in the picture” or trying to find out what is going on in the other ditch.

Ultimately the devil couldn´t care less in which ditch we land, cause both sides weather left or right belong to him. Only the middle way is right, everything else is misleading.

Questions for introspection

What is to do now? What is the solution to this apparent dilemma? It would be presumptuous to claim there is a patent solution or an easy answer. But perhaps our answers to the following questions could provide some help in finding the path to the spiritual balance.

1.Is the Bible for me the only valid norm? Do I engage myself enough with it to gain the focus I need to approach difficult topics that are not explicitly covered in the Bible?

2. Do I have a clear position on the fundamental biblical truth, so I can classify the view of others from the biblical perspective and not according to my subjective opinions?

3. Am I in danger of excluding or rejecting people who slightly tend to deviate from my standpoint? Have I understood that true tolerance is neither indifference to the view of others nor a plea for pluralism but an internal struggle to understand the position of others?

4. Did I develop a differentiated thinking that keeps me away from the danger of believing that people with different views than mine are not on a lower spiritual level? Can I live with the fact that there are different levels of knowledge?

5. Am I able to discern between the psychological argument: “do not be so tight”, the political one:” we have to accept everything for the sake of peace” and the theological one: ”what is biblical and what is true?”

6. Am I willing to be corrected by God through His Word and in prayer even when I am convinced that I am absolutely right?

7. Have I decided to treat others always as God treats me, being kind, forgiving and reconciling? Am I able to distinguish between a person and that person’s belief, so that despite the contrary views I can still respond with love and respect?

8. Am I convinced that God is committed to the Advent movement and I am not entitled to point the finger at others in a judgemental way or to think that I could start out a “ better church”?

 9. Do I pray constantly so that God helps me neither to subtract anything from His word (the Sadducees left) nor to add something (the Pharisee right) but always to make an effort to find the balance?

 

 

If we will succeed to answer these questions positively then there would be more common focus for the Word of God and less verdicts on others. I trust that you also will try to aim neither for the left nor for the right, but for the way God is trying to bring us on…..the middle one, and I hope that once you got there you will encourage and invite others to join you on this great journey.

 

Claudiu Popescu

Londonderry/Enniskillen.