United Church of God

Update from the President: Aug. 3, 2017

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Update from the President

Aug. 3, 2017

Patience, Power and Peace—God's Gifts to You

My thoughts this week are motivated by preparing for my Feast of Tabernacles sermon. I plan to speak about making sense out of suffering in the context of rejoicing. Yesterday, I sent my title "Understanding Suffering in Order to Rejoice" to Charles Melear for publication in the brochures to be distributed at the Festival sites.

I pray daily for those who are suffering from sickness, the death of loved ones and the fiery trials that beset so many. We've had plenty lately. I ask: how do we cope with this and be encouraged and give encouragement?

When I read the Bible in Ukrainian or Russian, I sometimes find a slightly different slant, if you will, on meanings that we are familiar with in our primary language. It's not a totally different meaning, but it gives a different perspective on the subject.

One that was brought to my attention this week was a Greek word in a familiar passage that has a different perspective on a meaning that we are familiar with. It's a verse we quote often, but do we truly understand the power that is behind it? It is found in Matthew 24:13. This familiar verse reads: "he who endures to the end shall be saved." Sometimes we may look at the word "endures" and think "Okay, I'll grit my teeth, gird up my loins, put my shoulder to the wheel, and grind it out. It'll be tough, but I'll make it."

Such a commitment may be admirable, but the word "endures" actually holds an encouraging and inspiring meaning behind it that we need to consider. The Greek verb for endures is transliterated hypomenoHypomeno is a New Testament power word with considerable depth.

When we think of the English language word "endure," we can have an image of someone who is hunkered down in a storm, miserably trying to wait things out. Hypomeno is a Greek verb that means "to bear up courageously," not just simply "wait things out" through our own human power. The noun form of this power word—hupomone—holds even more significance. It is something we all want, and it represents a direct gift from God.

Hupomone is often translated as "patience" or "perseverance" in the New Testament. Neither English word does it justice. To have the character quality of hupomone means to have the incredible capacity to turn trials and troubles into greatness and glory!

That is why James tells us incongruously to "count it all joy" when we are engulfed in a trial (James 1:2). At first, James' advice doesn't make any sense. We don't naturally feel joyful when we're hit by painful troubles, whether emotional, physical, financial or all the above. We want the trial to go away, to be resolved, to vanish, preferably as soon as possible.

So, what is James trying to tell us?

We have the unbreakable promise from God that even though we may sometimes feel we're at the breaking point—where we feel we can take no more—that God is actually producing this precious quality of hupomone within us. As James continues, "knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience [hupomone]" (James 1:3). But then James goes on with this advice: "But let patience [hupomone] have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing" (James 1:4).

If we will but let it, if we can relax into the hand of God, the red-hot fury of a trial produces within us a divine quality that reflects the very character and glory of God! This capacity to endure [hypomeno] coupled with the super-strong quality of divinely-produced patience [hupomone] gives the marvelous power and capacity to overcome. Consider the fact that the New Living Translation renders those famous verses of "he who overcomes" (see Revelation 2:11; 3:12) as "all who are victorious."

Yes, God indeed does give us the power to be victorious, to endure [hypomeno] and bear up courageously under fire!

As one who has had the privilege of pastoring congregations and working with brethren for decades, I have seen this in action many times. On occasion, my wife Bev and I have received what appears to be unwelcome news. We then have gone to homes and hospitals, expecting to see weakened shells of humans lying at death's door. Instead, we often find humble and tranquil members who are remarkably at peace. These people, although they face death, know and believe deeply the promises of God. Like Daniel's three friends who were standing before the inferno, they firmly know that God can deliver them. But these people hold a marvelous understanding of the phrase "but if not" (Daniel 3:18, Authorized Version) and have incredible peace as a result.

What do I mean by the phrase "but if not"? When Daniel's three friends answered the furious King Nebuchadnezzar, who demanded that they break faith and worship a Babylonian idol, they calmly declared: "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace... But if not [if it is not God's will], be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods" (Daniel 3:17-18, AV, emphasis added throughout).

Many times, Bev and I have witnessed incredible turnarounds where a personal trial is ended, sometimes miraculously. We have also seen times where the end of a trial was not what one might hope for. What is inspiring is that these tough times can produce the noble quality of hupomone—unswerving, rock-solid, steadfast patience—that God gives and forms within us. Bev and I have come away from such visits actually encouraged ourselves when we were supposed to be the ones doing the encouraging!

Armed with that precious quality of hupomone, we can then go on with a new and mature perspective that is closer to God's perspective. I have seen people emerge from sore trials with deep faith. They now know how to trust God. They have the "peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

God is all-powerful. He embodies pure love. He knows what we do not. When we are faced with what appears to the be the unfaceable, God is ready. He has for us the gifts of patience, power and peace. As we strive to "endure to the end," let us courageously claim those gifts and allow God's perfect work to transform us, that we too can be victorious!