United Church of God

Personal From the President: January 6, 2022

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Personal From the President

January 6, 2022

What Have You Learned?

As 2021 finally ended, I heard many commentators and people talking about the past nearly two years. Several looked forward to a new time, hoping 2022 would bring closure to the seemingly never-ending pandemic and represent an open door to new opportunities.

Let’s be honest. In the past year, many of us have faced draining trials of health, financial and other challenges. Some have lost family or friends. People we have trusted may have disappointed us or let us down. Many have told me that they’re exhausted, perhaps even feeling a little on the hopeless side, looking for encouraging signs that 2022 will be better.

As I listened to this spectrum of thought, I wondered: what have we learned from our experiences? Why do I ask this? Because what we have learned will be the basis for how well we manage what 2022 will bring us.

We in the Church of God community possess powerful encouragement that in the long run, we win! One day we each will receive the gift of eternal life from God Himself, being welcomed into the exciting Kingdom of God. Such priceless knowledge keeps us going!

But in the short term, we may find it a bit of a challenge to lift our hands and heads up. Whether we live in the United States or abroad, we may face the challenge of growing weary in just living day to day.

Spiritual and emotional resilience—developing a refreshing and strong ability to bounce back—helps us stay focused and filled with strength. Indeed, Paul gives us this unbreakable promise: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, emphasis added throughout).

But at the same time, while we’re going through various challenges, I would invite us to consider the words of James, the half-brother of Jesus: “you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete” (James 1:3-4, English Standard Version).

That quality of steadfastness refers to the direct creation and strengthening of personal character. Character represents the divine quality we all need to stay the course of our conversion.

The creation of character is hard won. It often occurs when we are being hotly refined by fiery trials. As Paul tells us: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:4, ESV). The Greek word for “endurance” that Paul uses is the same Greek word (transliterated hypomone) that James uses that is translated “patience,” “perseverance” or “steadfastness.”

This endurance of character recharges us and makes us resilient! It gives us hope! It is fashioned in concert with the working of the Holy Spirit that God has given us. Hope is the outcome of this process.

To truly become resilient, we must not fall back into familiar, comfortable ways or do the same things over and over while expecting different results. We must remember what we have learned! What we learn about life and ourselves should be the optimistic basis for what we expect the coming year to bring.

So, what hard-won lessons have you learned in the last year or two?

Writing from prison in Rome—certainly a condition that could produce hope-sapping trials—Paul told the Philippians, and us today, of an important quality he had learned. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12, New International Version).

The Greek word here for “learned” is transliterated myeo. Its meaning includes the process to accept instruction, to become intimately acquainted with a concept. Interestingly, this particular phrase translated “learned” was used by ancient Greek writers to reference a deep understanding that was not immediately apparent.

Paul used this word to underscore the importance of learning—and remembering.

However, to learn and to participate in learning, one has to be teachable. That is bound up in the life of a disciple, a person who is always learning by being teachable. We see that in the great commission delivered by Jesus Christ in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Disciples—regardless of age and experience—never stop learning. They are ever teachable.

And they strive to remember what they’ve learned.

Paul wrote that he had learned the secret of enduring, of having the remarkable quality of being content, of being resilient, in whatever state he found himself, including a state of physical incarceration. The New Living Translations renders this as “the secret of living in every situation.”

Did you know that both God and Jesus Christ are always in the process of learning, especially about us!

In the discourse about the fate of Sodom, we read, “the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know” (Genesis 18:20, ESV). In the testing of Abraham, God learned that Abraham truly feared God and would obey: “now I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12). Regarding Jesus, we read in Hebrews 5:8 that “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (ESV).

And what of the challenges we may continue to encounter in 2022? As Winston Churchill has been quoted when World War II was coming to an end, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Many times, in my ministry, I have seen inspiring examples of people who are going through tough times learn to trust God rather than themselves or other people. They learn from a crisis how to turn things completely over to God and trust Him! That is a precious quality. We read in the famous memory verse of Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

As we move into 2022, I invite you to take a Bible concordance or do a search on your Bible app where the word “learn” appears. Many times, you will find that we are to “learn to fear the Lord your God” and that we are to learn His ways and His commandments. We are to learn how to “love the Lord your God will all your heart.” We are to love our fellow man as ourselves. What have we learned about what we could do better in our relationships with others? What have we learned about kindness, gratitude, humility, consideration, honesty, truthfulness, patience and forgiveness? What have we learned and will pledge to change about what impedes good relationships such as selfishness, pride and being judgmental?

This year, let us strive to become true disciples of Jesus Christ—always learning, always teachable.

And let us remember—and practice—what we have learned!