From the Pastor’s Desk

Recent articles contributed by the pastor of Saint Paul Union Church of Antalya - Pastor James Bultema

Serious Celebration

(September, 2011)

I was paging through my grandfather’s autobiography recently when a six-word phrase caught my eye. As a relatively young preacher, he and his congregation had been ousted from their Christian Reformed church building because my grandfather had developed some unorthodox (from that denomination’s perspective) beliefs. In just four days his congregation erected on an empty lot of land a tabernacle that could seat 1000 people. In that crude building that sizable congregation met for about a half year (sound familiar?) during the hot summer months (even more familiar?) and into the winter until their new building was completed.

My grandfather writes regarding those “tabernacle” months: “My people and I can truly testify that these have been our most happy and joyful days.” To that too I can relate. Certainly, the upstairs room above the Son Nokta Café has been, for the most part, a crude meeting place. For the first couple months it didn’t even have finished walls! But our months there will prove to be, I believe, unforgettable, and I for one shall remember them not with bitterness or even discontent, but rather with wonder and gratitude at God’s kindhearted nurture during our time of congregational hardship. Again, his grace has come shining through.

And that brings me to the six-word phrase, which was written on the cornerstone of their new post-tabernacle church building: “Built by the grace of God.” To that too we can relate, can’t we? Who of us could afford – even with all of our life savings together – to buy and operate the St. Paul Cultural Center? And yet this newly expanded and remodeled facility has been entrusted to us humble stewards; it is truly a gift from the mighty river of God’s grace, which carries blessings from heaven to one side of the earth to the other and back again, splashing bounty and benefits to all who draw near. Indeed, the earth is like a ball that bobs in its flow.

This fall will be a celebrative season! On September 11th we will congregate together again in the St. Paul Cultural Center for the first time in over a year. The following weeks various old and new SPCC activities will, one by one, get underway. We’ll be intently aiming for a financially profitable month even before the end of the year. And we’ll have a grand re-opening event, tentatively scheduled for November 26th – the last day of the ecclesiastical year. We will rejoice for sure!

In the midst of celebrating our material blessings and benefits, however, let us not lose a primary focus upon our greatest reasons to rejoice. Philip Yancey vividly reminds us of these: “Like a victorious locker room, church is a place to exult, to give thanks, to celebrate the great news that all is forgiven, that God is love, and that victory is certain.” And, finally, Amy Carmichael alludes to our heavenly celebration after the fulfillment of one of our vital earthly roles in God’s work: “We will have eternity to celebrate the victories, but only a few hours before sunset to win them.”

Here, then, dear Brothers and Sisters, is a fitting conclusion of the matter:

Built by the grace of God, let us go forth — rejoicing — and build by the grace of God.

 

Be of Good Cheer!

I gravitate toward that Bible, it seems, when I’m in times of great stress or deep distress; its King James English transports me back to a far more carefree time. It comforts me.

Every now and then I pull it from the shelf: the old, tattered Bible of my youth. It’s the Bible I accidently dropped in Lake Michigan. It’s the Bible I would read late at night and early in the morning. In it I would carefully underline favorite verses and memorize much-loved passages. It’s the first Study Bible I owned, and it still carries with it a whiff of my teenage years, the scent of my first home – a home to which I can no longer return.

I gravitate toward that Bible, it seems, when I’m in times of great stress or deep distress; its King James English transports me back to a far more carefree time. It comforts me. Even though I still have difficulty understanding KJV phrases like “superfluity of naughtiness (James 1:21),” I still find an extra measure of solace in those words.

Yesterday I took that Book from the shelf again, and eventually came to Matthew 14:27: “But straightaway Jesus spoke unto them, saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” Like the disciples who had been alarmed by the circumstances of smashing waves and a rocking boat, I had become anxious by the circumstances surrounding our expansion project. As they cried out from a sense of fright, I cried out from a sense of failure. As they couldn’t sleep from turmoil and terror, I couldn’t sleep from frustration and fear. And in that troublesome situation, I whispered his command again to myself, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”

And that is a command, mind you; a command made reasonable by the truth that when a child of God follows a call of God, then no matter how frustrating or fearsome the circumstances surrounding that following become, there is no need to fear. Instead, the water-walker says, “Be of good cheer!”

Why? Because although we may not be able to return to the home of our youth, there is a far better home toward which we are unfailingly headed: a home where God’s Word is the tender-loving voice we hear, where the light in the rooms is the glory of our Lord, and where the “Father who art in heaven” becomes, in the fullest sense, the Daddy who is right here.

So, Kin in Christ, whether our hardship be minor or intense, may our worship of God be joyful, our outlook hopeful, and our faith in him secure

Oh, and that building project? It should be done, Lord willing, by the end of this month. And I wholeheartedly thank each and every member and friend of SPCC for your donations, assistance, and kind encouragement.

But straightaway Jesus spoke unto them, saying,

“Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.” Matthew 14:27