Build on the Rock
In January of 2011, I was rushed to an intensive care unit in a Pretoria, South Africa, hospital. This was shortly after the United Church of God had suffered a major breakaway. Then-President Denny Luker and others felt it was important that I visit our South Central African congregations in Malawi and Zambia where Bev and I had previously worked, as well as South Africa. We were well-known there and trusted. Brethren, especially those in remote rural areas, wanted to be reassured that the United Church of God was doctrinally sound and would continue in its biblical mission.
It was a successful—but long—trip and I was looking forward to getting home. But, as I was leaving Zambia, I accidentally fell on slippery tiles and broke two ribs. Bev was not with me on this journey.
On the first flight from Zambia to South Africa, I complicated the injury by puncturing a lung while lifting my carry-on suitcase into the overhead bin. In severe pain upon arriving in South Africa, my driver, Monique Webster, took me to a local hospital. My condition worsened through the day as my lungs filled with fluid. I was then transferred to another hospital by ambulance. I was informed that I was now in a life-threatening state.
Those were long, lonely hours in a hospital intensive care unit far away from home. I thought about my life, my relationship with God, my ministry, my family and friends. Bev later, thank God, was able to make the exceptionally long flight from Indianapolis, where we then lived, to South Africa. I spent a week in the hospital, and then about two more weeks of enforced rest before I recovered sufficiently to make the long flight back to the United States.
Why is any of this relevant to today? At the time, like many other points in my life, I was completely satisfied with the challenging work I was doing. I have had the privilege of serving in or overseeing churches in South Dakota, Minnesota, Kentucky, Indiana, Eastern Europe, Africa and elsewhere. When I was injured, I was serving as Operation Manager for Ministerial and Member Services. Bev and I had previously started a humanitarian organization called LifeNets International, which provided helpful support for Church members and congregations around the world. We started by helping children who were victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the organization grew from there. I had no further aspirations or ambitions, apart from continuing to serve in the ministry where I was.
Then, unexpectedly, Denny Luker, a good friend, mentor and a proven spiritual servant whom I believed God called to effectively lead the Church through a turbulent time, was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Everyone was shocked. Denny and his wife, LeeAnn, were not only good friends, but they were also integral to our lives and to the leadership of the Church.
Mr. Luker died a brief time afterward. I was asked to deliver his eulogy in Seattle, and I spoke of the quiet but firm faith he often displayed and his unwavering commitment to love one another, to fulfill the direct commandment from Jesus (John 13:34 John 13:34A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
American King James Version×). He believed fervently that Jesus Christ was indeed the living Head of the Church and he sought to follow that lead. Mr. Luker, working side-by-side with LeeAnn, was a great spiritual example for all.
Suddenly, and pretty much unexpectedly, in two years after I had come face-to-face with a life-threatening situation multiple thousands of miles away from home, I was named President of the United Church of God, an International Association, by the Council of Elders. From my days as a student at the Ambassador College campus in Bricket Wood, England, I can safely say that I had never dreamed that I would one day be holding this position.
What point am I making? There are actually two. One, if we have truly accepted the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, believing in Him (John 6:29 John 6:29Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent.
American King James Version×) and have truly repented and humbly surrendered our lives to learning and doing His will (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×, Romans 12:1-2 Romans 12:1-2  I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
American King James Version×), seeking first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×) God can use any of us in unexpected ways for His service.
Two, as we commit to the cost of becoming a disciple (Luke 14:26-33 Luke 14:26-33  If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
 And whoever does not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
 Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand?
 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an ambassador, and desires conditions of peace.
 So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×), God emphatically wants us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 2 Peter 3:18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
American King James Version×). In this growing process, we will face trials and challenges to build sterling righteous character and faith (James 1:2-4 James 1:2-4  My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations;  Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
American King James Version×). Even in trials, we must not break faith, but remain faithful, ever being doers of the Word of God and not falling into deception (James 1:22 James 1:22But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.
American King James Version×).
As Jesus instructs us: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25 Matthew 7:24-25  Therefore whoever hears these sayings of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, which built his house on a rock:
 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell not: for it was founded on a rock.
American King James Version×, English Standard Version, emphasis added throughout).
Related to this, in my years as President and as a pastor, I have learned the rock-solid truth of what David wrote: “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchmen stay awake in vain” (Psalms 127:1 Psalms 127:1Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain.
American King James Version×). The verse rings true across the entire spectrum from our individual acts to the strategic plan for the Church!
Now, after an amazing and event-packed three terms and nine years, those days of presidential service are coming to an end. This is a bittersweet time for Bev and me. We will miss the fast pace and the opportunities for service, and we will greatly miss regularly meeting and visiting with members all over the world. We leave behind a great and dedicated team at the home office and will always cherish working together with people like Peter Eddington, Mark Welch, Aaron Dean, Chris Rowland, Jorge de Campos, Steve Myers, Richard Kennebeck (including their wives) and many more. We will keep all in our prayers and I hope you will also, praying always for the gospel to be preached.
God willing, Bev and I plan to remain active in the ministry, as well as our work in Ukraine and elsewhere through LifeNets. I plan to continue podcasting, writing and teaching. So this is not “goodbye.”
This world is growing darker (Matthew 24). But that darkness will only help us stand out more brilliantly as positive lights, reflecting our relationship with God and our good works that are inspired by Him and our Elder Brother (Matthew 5:14-16 Matthew 5:14-16  You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light to all that are in the house.
 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×).
Remember that God is love! (1 John 4:16 1 John 4:16And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.
American King James Version×) Paul instructs us “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1-2 Ephesians 5:1-2  Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children;  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
American King James Version×, New International Version).
As this chapter of Bev’s and my life closes and a new one begins, allow me to offer a blessing. Here is how Moses instructed God’s servants to bless the people of God, whom you are:
“The LORD bless you and keep you;Numbers 6:24-26 Numbers 6:24-26  The LORD bless you, and keep you:
 The LORD make his face shine on you, and be gracious to you:
 The LORD lift up his countenance on you, and give you peace.
American King James Version×, NIV).