1st January 2016

"Unless it is really, really huge, please don't call me," Irish journalist Fergal Keane recently pleaded with his editors. Over the Christmas period he found himself still for the first time in months. Often to be seen and heard in the world's trouble spots, he tells the story with a unique combination of both head and heart. Most notable was his reporting of the 1990's Rwandan genocide. For 2015 his editors sent him to Paris, the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, Hong Kong, and Ukraine where he 'sheltered in trenches and basements as high explosive shells came flying into residential areas.'

Writing his op-ed column for the December 27th Irish Sunday Independent, he describes himself as a 'weary traveller', reflecting how from the beginning of last year his phone flashed with 'alarming summonses'. As he contemplates the year ahead…

"I try hard not to succumb to pessimism or foreboding. I always take comfort from the limitless power of the human spirit to endure. After all, this year I also witnessed the victory of democratic forces in Burma… The peace process in Northern Ireland is troubled but did not collapse. World leaders reached a historic accord on climate change in Paris.

Yet I am more worried about the world now than I have ever been. I am haunted by the anticipation of catastrophe. I usually try to avoid drawing overarching conclusions based on disparate conflicts, but it is the mood of the times I find so deeply troubling… The defining feature of our age is fear and the rise of intolerance…"

Look no further than the banning of the Lord's Prayer film to support Keane's case. Deemed as unsuitable to be played in UK cinemas in the weeks up to Christmas, Guardian columnist and C of E vicar, Giles Fraser was having none of this nonsense:

"Apparently, the Jedi religion is fit for the big screen, but the Christian one is not… I'm sorry, but the whole thing stinks. If you are offended by the Lord's Prayer you are too easily offended. It's a 60-second ad, for goodness sake. Just munch on your popcorn and ignore it. For others, it might just offer a welcome reminder that, when it comes to places of worship, there are – even at this time of year – still alternatives to the great cathedrals of Westfield shopping centre. Or is the real problem that the religion of commerce will brook no theological opposition?" (Giles Fraser)

By definition, for the Adventist preacher it's a serious time, but he has a problem. His people are distracted with work and play. There are holiday plans to make, financial investments to sort, and the adding of an extension to the house. Immersed into work, rest and play is the daily routine of web surfing, here, there and everywhere. As he muses over Keane's diary he whispers a prayer. "Lord, what will it take for my members to wake up from their spiritual sleep? What can I do, what must I do to help your voice be heard above the rest?" As his prayer continues, an old, but familiar line of thought comes to mind;

"None but those who have fortified the mind with the truths of the Bible will stand through the last great conflict". (GC p. 593,594)

"No Lord, not that one again - please!" In his world 9 times out of 10, he perceived that line to be recited ad infinitum by a concerned brother or sister, opposed as they often were to his grace-oriented, 'and they'll know we are Christian's by our love' focused preaching. But somehow he always knew they spoke of a deep spiritual truth, neutered unfortunately by surrounding it with a legalistic, anti-Gospel framework. 

How quick he was to forgot his spiritual roots. Was he not taught the blessing of memorising scripture in Pathfinders and Sabbath School? What was the point of learning from memory Exodus 20, John 14:1-3, Matthew 5:3-16, 1 Corinthians 13, Revelation 14:6-12? Sure, to help him learn of Christ, but was not the 'memorisation' focus because 'intolerant times will come', when access to the bible and freedom could one day be restricted. Why did his grandfather insist on telling him over and over again the Daniel story? 

But of that little line, it was the word 'fortified' he couldn't get out of his mind – to his Thesaurus he went.

Covered, guarded, protected, reinforced, secured, strengthened, armed, safeguarded, supported…

"Like", he mused using Facebook parlance. I need to make sure that my mind is immersed in the great truths of scripture. I need this year to again 'consider Him' (Hebrews 12:3). I need to invite my members to join me in this. And he continued praying with the Lord that his members would see how serious times are, and not bury their heads in the sand.

By coincidence a little while later, he browsed through an old book by Charles Bradford, 'Preaching to the Times'. His heart was warmed – but significantly challenged.

"Our ability to preach to the times does not necessarily depend on knowing every detail of current history, for example, how many wars are going on at the present time, how many earthquakes occurred last year, the percentage increase in major crimes during the past decade, or any other such data. In order to preach effectively to the times we must know what time it is (my emphasis). And that, as they say, is what being a Seventh-day Adventist preacher is all about. He must not only have a grasp of the times but a sense of time.

To a great extent our style is determined by this tradition. The Seventh-day Adventist preacher must give his message in the setting of time, eschatologically with apocalyptic overtones. "The time has come." Our raison d'etre is the prophetic forecast recorded in passages such as Revelation, chapters 12, 14, 18; Daniel, chapters 7, 8, 9; and Isaiah, chapter 58. At the right time in history, the decisive moment, at a signal juncture, kairos, a people arose with the message to meet the needs of that hour. Now, if you do not believe this, it is better to go and preach for someone else."

Fergal Keene and many others we know are gloomy and even frightened - and from their perspective, have good reason to be so. Many are fearful not only about world matters, but closer to home, job security, relationships, health and family. How quick and easy it is for a family to go from joy to distress in a short period of time. How easy it is for the people we serve to get distracted where the things of this world are 'not strangely dim'. Among the fearful and distracted, are those who sit in front of us every Sabbath, hoping for to hear a word from the Lord - through our preaching.

 "It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be quaking. And then—then!—they'll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style—a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!" (Luke 21:25-26 – The Message)

"Lord, thank you for giving us the spiritual insight to know what time it is. Give us both your holy boldness, and your holy humility, to preach to these times. Be both the craftsman and deliverer of our sermon so that we give true hope in you, and not more fear. Help us to teach as you taught, with the skill to speak to both those with whom we are familiar, and also the likes of Fergal Keane."




The Lord's Prayer film go to: https://youtu.be/vlUXh4mx4gI



[David Neal]


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