This past week we held two great conferences in Big Sandy, Texas, at our church building! The first was a Leadership Workshop billed: “for members with a spirit of service that could include serious-minded older teens, young adults and seniors of either gender.” Indeed, that diversity was there as 121 attendees ranging in age from 14 to 99 came for presentations all day Sunday, Aug. 5, including “A Church Led by the God’s Holy Spirit,” “Becoming a Disciple, the Heart of Christianity,” and “Reaching Out and Lighting the Way.” There were plenty of interactions and discussion from the participants as well as question and answer sessions.
This conference focused on our being disciples who make other disciples. We looked at examples from the early New Testament church, such as what happened in Antioch, where the presence and actions of scattered, persecuted Christians contributed to the growth of many who believed. We also discussed practical things we can do in our congregations to further the gospel.
We thank pastor Donald Ward and his wife, Wanda, along with many members of the East Texas congregation who cordially hosted these events. The congregation provided meals and housing for many of those who came. Bev and I were grateful to the Wards for inviting us to stay at their home for the duration of the conferences.
I thank our tireless Ministerial Education Team of Chris Rowland, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers along with regional pastor Mark Welch for providing the program for the ministerial conference in our South Central region. In addition, Minnesota pastor Brian Shaw gave a presentation “Pastoring Young Adults and Building Relationships.” By video, Scott Hoefker spoke on “Resilience, Change and Focus in a Stressful World.”
In the session “Challenges and Solutions,” the ministry brought forward a number of challenges that they face. As a group, we sought to give advice and collectively brought forward potential solutions for the challenges at hand. Some of the challenges noted were a lack of commitment by some members of our congregations, and beliefs in conspiracy theories, myths and practices that are not part of United Church of God teaching. Should we baptize someone who strongly espouses such theories?
The meetings provided a much-appreciated opportunity to connect and reconnect with one another socially and to discuss ministerial matters.
I’m grateful for our ministry who all give of themselves and sacrifice for their calling and mission. Our ministers want to serve their congregations and God to the best of their ability. I pointed out that the Apostle Paul was generous in his appreciation and prayers for the brethren whom God had called and who had found a new purpose in their lives. I quoted Paul’s greeting to the Colossians:
“To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints” (Colossians 1:2-5 Colossians 1:2-5 2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4 Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which you have to all the saints,
5 For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;
American King James Version×).
On an anniversary of horror, hope prevails
Seventy-three years ago, on Aug. 9 (as this is published), the second nuclear weapon deployed in combat exploded at 1,800 feet above the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Barely half a second later, 35,000 unsuspecting people died instantly. Two minutes after 11 a.m. local time, nuclear fire engulfed the city of 263,000. Together with the first nuclear bomb dropped in combat over Hiroshima (three days earlier), at least 100,000 people perished instantly in atomic-fueled concussion blasts and fireballs topping out at 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit (6,000 degrees Celsius). Hundreds of thousands suffered severe radiation exposure and burns, dying over time or dealing with excruciating pain and disability for the remainder of their lives.
From the deployment of these nuclear weapons, one thing was clear: these weapons were supremely powerful and any nation that had them would be thought to be supremely powerful. As a result, in the decade or so after Nagasaki, several nations raced to build their own nuclear weapons. Today, an astonishing total of more than 15,000 active nuclear weapons exist, controlled by Russia, the United States, France, China, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan and Israel. Several other nations, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, are knocking on the nuclear door.
The two nuclear weapons ended the Pacific War with the surrender of Japan and rang down the final curtain on the six long years of World War II. Widespread testing of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 60s by Russia (the Soviet Union), America, France and the United Kingdom further demonstrated the planetary life-ending potential of nuclear weapons, and a policy of mutually assured destruction has kept their use at bay for more than seven decades.
Mankind knows that the widespread use of nuclear weapons would end civilization as we know it. So, while leaders of many nations hold the capacity to wage nuclear war (and have come perilously close to doing so on more than one occasion), so far no one has yet pulled the terrible trigger that would unleash unspeakable atomic apocalypse.
The level of horror spawned by nuclear weaponry can be difficult for us in the Church, enjoying a time of relative peace and prosperity 73 years later in the 21st century, to fully comprehend. I personally have come face-to-face with the consequences of nuclear energy run amok, particularly in our LifeNets work supporting children and families impacted by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. Also, through LifeNets we have provided support for the victims of the 2011 earthquake in Japan that led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, second only in scope to the terrible Chernobyl incident.
Dr. Yumi Yamamoto, a Japanese ophthalmologist and a representative of LifeNets, provided medical and optical services for victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami (and has also helped us in our relief efforts in the Philippines). Through her work, she developed relationships with Japanese citizens who lived during the time of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear blasts and who experienced the aftermath.
She related to me the story of Sajio Ibaraki, a now-retired banker she knew who was in high school during the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. Ironically, earlier incendiary aerial bombings from Allied forces had led Japanese to evacuate many students, children and elderly from larger Japanese cities, ultimately sparing thousands. On the day of the Hiroshima nuclear attack, the then-future bank clerk was enjoying a tranquil time of fishing with friends on the morning of a hot summer day. The sky was bright and clear.
Without warning, a bright flash consumed the sky. Startled, the group of friends wondered what it could be. Later they would learn that more than 70,000 lives were wiped out in that flash, as a nuclear blast flattened 4.7 square miles of Hiroshima, 62 miles away. The atomic bomb instantly annihilated upwards of 30% of the city’s population, and another 70,000 people were severely injured.
The routine of life for thousands had been quiet and predictable. But in the next moment, life overflowed with radioactive horror, fire and painful death. It is a sobering thought to consider.
After graduating from high school, Mr. Ibaraki moved to a devastated Hiroshima that was being rebuilt. The remains of nuclear devastation—in both physical and human terms—could be clearly seen. During his banking career, he became friends with a woman who was also a student at the time of the Hiroshima attack. Unfortunately, unlike him, she was not fishing on a lake when the American plane dropped the bomb. She was in living in Hiroshima as nuclear fission ripped the city asunder.
She survived what she described as a “terrible explosion,” but suffered intensely painful burns that left disfiguring scar tissue. Further, the banker told Dr. Yamamoto that he often wondered why the wife of his bank supervisor had always worn elegant and formal kimonos. He later learned that her legs were also badly burned in the nuclear attack and she also suffered disfiguring scars.
A silent reminder outside a bank building near ground zero in Hiroshima somberly reminds all of the horrors of nuclear war. There, a shadow is burned black into the stone, etched by the vaporized body of an unsuspecting bank patron who was simply waiting for the bank to open on that fateful day.
The lesson that Mr. Ibaraki would have the world to learn? He is frightened some seven decades later, as national leaders again talk about the possible use of nuclear weapons. He told Dr. Yamamoto: “there are fewer people who really know how dreadful, how meaningless and stupid war is.” He earnestly wants people to know that “There is no ‘winner’ in any [nuclear] war.”
These stories are good for me to ponder as a minister of Jesus Christ. National leaders lust after nuclear weapons and nuclear energy because of the power they bring. The abuse of this hideous power will likely bring to pass a terrible time as Jesus described in Matthew 24: “then there will be great tribulation, such has not been since the beginning of the world” (Matthew 24:21 Matthew 24:21For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
American King James Version×).
At the same time, we can be encouraged and filled with hope when we deeply consider where that power came from. As we can learn from reading the first chapter of Colossians, our Creator God locked up that incomprehensible power in molecular structures when the earth and heavens were fashioned. A nuclear weapon simply (and crudely) releases the atomic power sealed there by God.
The prophet Jeremiah knew well that God is all-powerful, as he wrote: “The Lord made the earth by his power, and he preserves it by his wisdom. With his own understanding he stretched out the heavens” (Jeremiah 10:12 Jeremiah 10:12He has made the earth by his power, he has established the world by his wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
American King James Version×, NLT). Living at a difficult time in Judah’s history, Jeremiah was astonished at the scope of what God could do: “O Sovereign Lord! You have made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” (Jeremiah 32:17 Jeremiah 32:17Ah Lord GOD! behold, you have made the heaven and the earth by your great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for you:
American King James Version×, NLT, emphasis added throughout).
It is this same incredible power that gives us hope in a rapidly darkening age. God has the same power of free will that you and I have. He chooses what He does. Thank the Almighty that God’s character is such that He always chooses to do good! We hold the unbreakable promise of hope that God will always act in our benefit.
Tragically, the same is not true of His creation. While much good exists on this planet, evil exists in abundance. Most national leaders don’t use nuclear weapons because they understand the severe widespread consequences of their use. When leaders rattle their nuclear sabers, this is not done out of any sense of “good.”
Remarkably, God promises to give us access to unlimited spiritual power (Acts 1:8 Acts 1:8But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
American King James Version×). We now have the opportunity to learn how to wield this power for good, exercising our free will to literally “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19 Deuteronomy 30:19I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
American King James Version×).
On an anniversary of horror, hope yet prevails! Let us learn to receive and wield spiritual power that will change and fashion us to become more like our heavenly Father, becoming truly enlightened to understand “his incomparably great power for us who believe”! (Ephesians 1:19 Ephesians 1:19And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
American King James Version×, NIV). “Through [God’s] mighty power at work within us,” Paul declared that we will “accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 Ephesians 3:20Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,
American King James Version×, NLT).