The recent reports about violent protests in Ukraine, which led to the deaths of scores of demonstrators and police, cut deeply through me. I am of Ukrainian descent and born of World War II refugees who fled Nazi oppression decades ago. Today I have many personal ties to Ukraine, given my involvement in supporting victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, as well in western Ukraine where I have helped supporting orphans and street children.
So I am saddened, even appalled, by the violence. It seems that generation after generation do wrong things, wrong things that result in the predictable wrong results of sorrow and death.
Thank God Almighty that true Christianity teaches a way of life that counters destructive behavior!
Jesus Christ, the living Son of God, personally taught this way of life and expects us to follow it. Why? When one embraces bedrock Christian beliefs, a lifelong process of vibrant change and literal transformation begins. That process leads directly to God mercifully granting to us "his incomparably great power for us who believe" (Ephesians 1:19, New International Version).
Where at one time we fell prey to human instincts that serve up pain and hurt, as Christians we now tread a higher and happier road. The apostle Paul directs us to "walk in the Spirit," that we not stumble to grasp what he called "the works of the flesh."
What are these "works of the flesh"? They are attitudes and outcomes which run contrary to the Christian way of life. They possess both immediate and eternal consequences. Paul lists them so we know for sure:
"adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like." Paul's solemn warning? "Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).
Embracing these things may seem pleasurable at first, but they guarantee misery. Collectively practiced on a national scale, and they produce violence, strife, even war.
But here's the good news! If we "walk in the Spirit" as Paul directs, then we reap the satisfying fruit of the Spirit. Paul lists these as well: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:16-23). Are these qualities manifested in your life?
Beginning His human ministry, Jesus Christ declared: "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15). As you may know, "gospel" comes from a Greek word that means "good news." The good news for me and you is that if we commit to lifelong spiritual change, to walking in the Spirit, we step on to the road to the ever-lasting Kingdom of God!
How do we tap the power that enables that lifelong change?
The apostle Peter tells us:
"Repent [a Greek word that means to completely change one's mind], and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).
Being given the priceless gift of God's Holy Spirit is a literal life-changer. The Holy Spirit represents the awe-inspiring power that created and sustains the universe. It brings to you the power that produces constructive, healthy and transformational change, change that leads to everything good!
With that power you and I are able to follow what Paul tells us:
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).
Transformed lives bring freedom from bondage of destructive deeds. Transformed lives are lives of joy and hope!
We teach and practice this biblical way of life in the United Church of God because we know it's the way to real freedom. Teaching that way is what you have been generously supporting through your prayers and contributions, which we thank you for.
I would like to offer you two study guides that you may find helpful in securing this spiritual power for transformation. One is titled Tools for Spiritual Growth and the other is Transforming Your Life. Both are available online for free at http://www.ucg.org/booklets/.
If you would like to know more about the work we do or have some questions you would like to personally discuss, please feel free to contact our pastors directly. All of our local congregations have websites that you are welcome to visit (some are still under construction). If you like, please go to our main Church website at www.ucg.org. After clicking on the Contact tab you can click on the Find a Congregation tab. Here you will see a website to a church that may be near you.
The prophesied Kingdom of God is coming to this earth and will replace the governments that have brought nothing but misery and heartache to billions of people. It is a privilege to do this work, and I personally thank you for your support and prayers, including "thy Kingdom come!"