United Church of God

Home Office Weekly Update: March 21, 2024

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Home Office Weekly Update

March 21, 2024

From the President . . .

Greetings brethren around the world,

This evening my wife, Deborah, and I will be headed to Milan, Italy, where we are very much looking forward to spending time again with our brethren. Since the last time we were there, much has been accomplished in developing the presence and organization of the Church, developing a website, and preparing a Feast site in Tuscany for this year’s Feast (registration begins March 24 through the link published at feast.ucg.org), and so much more.

Most importantly, the Church there is united and at one with God, poised and ready to do the work God has called us all to do. God has been doing a work in Italy for years, dating all the way back to the time of the apostle Paul. Rome was the seat of the gentile world then, and Paul witnessed strongly of God’s ways. Today, Italy is the seat of the leader of one of the world’s leading religions. As time moves forward, God will lead His true Church in the work to be done in Italy, without fear of man, as we preach the truth and hope of the gospel and expose the evil of this world (Ephesians 5:11). Where He leads, we will follow. He will provide the direction and reveal His will as we move forward.

British Isles conference

Beginning next Thursday evening, March 28, and extending through April 1, Darris McNeely, Steve Myers and I (and our wives) will be in Britain for a national leadership conference with the ministry and other leading members there. From what I understand, there will be more than 60 in attendance. We are looking forward to getting to know and working with everyone. Like the United States and Italy, Britain and all nations are unique with unique cultures. It takes understanding and God’s direction to effectively care for the disciples and fulfill the commission He has given us.

That we will do, because God provides what we need—the education, the training, the skills—to get the job He wants done. There is a work yet to be done in “Ephraim” as God commissions us to warn and “Cry aloud, spare not” the message to His people (Isaiah 58:1).

A world of unrest

Today we see a world in transition. This may become more visible over the next few months. As we see the war between Israel and Hamas continue, we see potential breaches in alliances that have been in place since Israel’s inception as a nation in 1948. In addition, the possibility of the controversial sacrifice of a red heifer by certain Jews (Numbers 19) could happen as early as this Passover. (For this to occur, one of the four heifers must remain a perfect specimen and Israel would have to allow such a sacrifice.)

While the eyes of the world may be on the presidential election in the United States that occurs later this year, it is reported there are 63 other nations holding presidential elections in 2024, as well. The fabric of governance could change quickly in many areas.

Preparing for Passover

In light of the continually changing world in which we live, as we—the body of Christ, the Church of God—approach Passover, how very important it is that we are about our Father’s business and doing what Peter admonished in 2 Peter 1:10 to make “our call and election sure.”

Let us all prepare for Passover in a worthy manner. Humbly and wholeheartedly let’s examine ourselves and ask God to “search us,” to “know our hearts,” revealing any wicked thoughts, ways or attitudes, asking Him sincerely to lead us “in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

We must honestly look at ourselves through the “eyes” of the Bible and by the Holy Spirit God has given us, seeking the purity that God expects us to develop in this life. Now is the time to be living the life that our King has commissioned us to live, as we committed at baptism.

Is there sexual immorality among us, including anything to do with pornography? Are there schisms among us, selfish ambitions, evil thoughts or plans, dissensions, contentions or thoughts of division? Is there complacency, hardening of the heart, bitterness, resentments, resistance to God or His work? Are there lusts of the flesh or eyes, or pride among us that can cause self-deceit and blind us to what we may really be doing? (See Galatians 5:19 and so many other verses.) God’s Spirit and a commitment to Him that includes a yielded heart to “His will being done” are necessary if we are to overcome self and the world.

Sin separates us from God we are told in Isaiah 59:1-3. Sin and the works of the flesh separate us from each other, as well. Sin separated the Pharisees from the Messiah they claimed they were waiting for. They were blinded by their pride and envy and did not—and could not—see the Christ. They hardened their hearts and rejected the Messiah. Let’s not any of us be like them.

Unity of the Spirit

Jesus Christ stated very plainly in His last hours that He desired unity among His people, unity with each other, and unity with God the Father and Him. Are we committed to unity?

When we take the bread at Passover, do we remember and take seriously that it is the “communion” or koinonia or “fellowship” of the Body of Christ? That bread pictures one-ness and recognizing the need to do what can be the hard work of striving toward and achieving unity. After all, Paul says we must be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, emphasis added). That takes effort and sacrifice, along with attitudes of humility, yielding to God, forgiveness and love (agape).

Brethren, we are called to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We are a worldwide family whom God has mercifully and lovingly called. Jesus Christ so loved the world that He was willing to suffer and die that we might have our sins forgiven and have the hope of eternal life.

He loves us. Let us strive and seek God’s guidance and do all we can individually to become at one—in unity—with Him and each other. We know what to do. Now is the time, before Passover, so we may take it in a “worthy manner,” showing that we do “discern the Lord’s body” as He instructs (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).

Brethren, our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with all of you.

Have a wonderful rest of the week and Sabbath.

In Christian love,
Rick Shabi

Weekly Services Resume in Haiti

Haiti is a country in despair. The battle for control of the country is still up in the air. The civil war for rulership in this Caribbean country has changed weekly. Gangsters are in control of the capital city of Port au Prince. The military and police force are banding together to claim back parts of the city. Who will win out remains to be seen.

Yet, through it all, God is calling people to meet together each Sabbath to worship Him. Perhaps much more than many people in the world, these brethren have great incentive to fervently pray, “thy Kingdom come.” After having to abandon our church hall for over two years due to threats and upheaval, UCG Haiti is back to weekly services and back to assisting our brethren with the positive message of a better world ahead. Deacon Joseph Jean and his wife, Molene, and their children returned to Haiti last fall to pick up the pieces and see what was left of their house and attached church building.

What they found was that the building had been ransacked by the very people we had helped in the past. From the sound system to the benches, to the Church van—all were looted. The despair and disappointment was short-lived due to the help and support of brethren from the northeastern United States. Pastor Andy Duran, with help of Wilner Auguste (a member with Haitian roots) raised funds to help our fledgling congregation in Mirebalais. With those funds and a subsidy from the home office, the Haiti congregation was able to buy chairs and open the doors once again to those whom God is calling in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Church has also been able to buy some food for the brethren with some of those funds.

God has protected our brethren and, remarkably, they can now joyfully attend and fellowship in peace. We ask for brethren to pray that this part of Haiti will stay safe and that we can continue to build upon the work that started six years ago. Last Sabbath we had 37 in attendance as they look forward to the coming Holy Days. May God’s light continue to shine in Haiti, if only in a small area outside of Mirebalais.

A big thank you to all who have had a hand in establishing and continuing to support and pray for our Haitian brothers and sisters. There are too many to name—but thank you again for helping these brethren in their darkest days.

—Chuck Smith, Senior Pastor, Caribbean

Challenger Sierra

Are you ready for a physical, mental and emotional challenge? Are you ready to share time and thoughts with fellow Christian brothers and sisters as we take a look at the issues that we all face through a biblical lens and consider how to apply the lessons learned to your spiritual life?

The Emigrant Wilderness is a beautiful part of God’s creation just north of Yosemite National Park. It is a backpacker’s paradise complete with majestic views of exposed granite, mountain lakes, streams, forests and meadows, and the perfect setting for a Challenger program.

Every day brings a unique challenge and a unique reward. The elevation changes, dynamic trail conditions and great conversation keep the hike interesting, and the amazing views of pristine lakes, bubbling streams and granite faces provide the perfect backdrop for meaningful discussions.

This immersive experience will engage each participant with opportunities to serve, learn and grow.

Each morning and evening will feature biblically based discussions. The discussions will take us through a journey of the issues that God’s young adults face to develop perspective gained by viewing them through a biblical perspective. The day will consist of hiking and enjoying the landscape, the trail and our fellow hikers. Early mornings and evenings could include fishing in the pristine lakes and streams for some wild trout.

It will be important to prepare physically prior to the hike. The physical preparation protocol will help get the legs and core in shape for the physical demands of the hike. Preparation will require a minimum of 2-3 hours per week. All accepted applicants will receive a recommended training routine that will build fitness progressively. Each applicant will certify that they have completed the minimum amount of training to ensure that they enjoy the experience and are able to contribute to the enjoyment of their fellow hikers.

Apply if you are a high school graduate, age 18–32, and you are ready to build relationships with peers and mentors as you learn more about yourself and stretch your limitations! There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone!

The dates will be July 31–Aug. 6 and the cost per attendee will be $150. Each attendee will need to provide much of their own equipment. A list will be provided as part of the application process. The application deadline is May 9, and you can register online at ucg.regfox.com/challenger-sierra.

—Scott McKeon, director, Challenger Sierra