Winter Family Weekend, the biggest family social event of the year, will commence tomorrow evening here in the Cincinnati area. We are expecting 1,200 people to come, with a large percentage of them being teens and young adults.
The theme this year will be taken from Proverbs 27:17 Proverbs 27:17Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
American King James Version×: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” This was also the theme earlier in the year for the General Conference of Elders meeting in May. But there is so much practical information that can be conveyed with this theme that we decided to continue the subject for the Winter Family Weekend.
Our organizing team has planned a vast array of activities ranging from seminars for all ages, a Bible study, socials, sporting events, dances, exhibits and much, much more. It will truly be a time of family, friends, fun and fellowship. You can see the full schedule along with descriptions of the events at http://wfw.ucg.org .
I plan to speak on the Sabbath and will focus on fellowship as an important means of sharpening one another as Christians.
While there are different applications to sharpening another person, one congregational challenge that the Apostle Paul made was to the church in Jerusalem:
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 Hebrews 10:24-25 24 And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
American King James Version×).
Here, by our meeting with and “rubbing shoulders” so to speak, with others this week, we can have a direct part in sharpening our brothers. Stirring one another up and encouraging one another is one of the purposes of meeting. By being with one another we give this gift of fellowship. I will speak about how we can do this best.
Few things are as warmly gratifying as to see members caring for each other in unique and powerful ways. Sometimes it is just an encouraging word at precisely the right time. It revolves around how we treat one another.
Jesus made it very plain for His disciples, both in the first century and for today: “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (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×, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
Why is this so important? “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 John 13:35By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
American King James Version×, NLT). Loving one another can actually become an important part of preaching the gospel, of being a light to the world! (Matthew 5:14 Matthew 5:14You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
American King James Version×).
Of course, we don’t love each other simply for recognition. We love each other as a manifest expression of God’s Holy Spirit working in us. Regarding how we are able to provide love for each other, Paul gives us this marvelous insight: “this is the secret: Christ lives in you” (Colossians 1:27 Colossians 1:27 To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:
American King James Version×, NLT).
At the Feast of Tabernacles in Panama City Beach a few months back, a service employee at the convention center who has witnessed our feastgoers for more than ten years commented to me about how he had never before seen such a group of people who treated each other so courteously and lovingly.
We can love each other as Christ loved us, because if we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we also have Jesus Christ Himself living in us! As Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “we are His [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 Ephesians 2:10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
American King James Version×).
The real power of fellowship occurs when we are together. A face-to-face handshake, a mutual hug of greeting, a dazzling smile delivered a few inches away—those are powerful in person!
No wonder that we read in Hebrews: “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25 Hebrews 10:25Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
American King James Version×, NLT).
So, when we come face-to-face at services or an event (like a Feast or the Winter Family Weekend), how can we best give the gift of fellowship? Here are some thoughts to consider:
- Make the time. We live in a cluttered, busy society. Time is a scarce commodity. But it takes time to give the gift of fellowship. Deliberately choose to make the time available to talk with people! Talking with people before and after services and meetings is not wasted time! It is very important time. Adults really appreciate it when young people come up and talk to them. I always appreciate it when Ambassador Bible College students or teens consciously come up and talk to me. I want to make certain I do so likewise. Make the time to visit with a wide variety of people, not just a few that you want to “hang out” with, but really spend time with people who just want to visit some. Don’t ignore people who may be off by themselves because they are shy or cautious.
- Attentively listen to people! We all have relevant experiences, and when we get together, sometimes we can’t wait to tell others. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But sometimes we can give a major gift simply by listening intently to another person, speaking only to reflect back what we’re hearing, which tells the person that we indeed are intently listening. Sometimes it is easy to just wait for our turn to speak, instead of actively listening to what someone has to say (particularly when that person is in a rough patch of life and would benefit by telling someone about it).
- Pay honest compliments and express gratitude. When somebody does something worthy of praise, don’t withhold it (or think they won’t be encouraged by it). In the same vein, express your gratitude for what they have done or are doing. Be the welcome rain in someone’s desert.
So, as we approach our next opportunity for fellowship, let’s consider what the apostle Peter tells us: “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another… Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:10 1 Peter 4:10As every man has received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
American King James Version×, 11, NLT).
Let us all give the gift of fellowship with all the strength that God supplies!
Letter to our members
Earlier in the week I wrote to our entire membership about a concern I wanted to share with you and I will quote some of what I said:
“As we come to the end of this calendar year—and as I reflect on the Work of God through His Church and through our lives—I can only express deepest appreciation for all He has given us. We praise God for His loving mercy and grace toward us. In this darkened and frightened world, God has brought us into the light of His presence and has granted us security.”
But I did have a concern, and here it is:
“And so, now I come to you with a matter of concern. While we have had steady, but modest growth over the past several years, you may have read in the report from the December meeting of the Council of Elders that the Church’s income for the current fiscal year is about 8 percent under budget. There are a number of possible factors contributing to the lower amount of received donations—including uncertainty about U.S. tax law changes introduced for 2018 (including changes affecting deductions for charitable contributions), and the ongoing correction in the stock market (which Reuters has described as the ‘worst December performance in 16 years’ for U.S. stocks).”
My request to the Church is as follows:
“With this in mind, we would appreciate your prayers that we see our income trends clearly as we prepare an appropriate budget. I’d like to request that you please join me in prayer and fasting to our great God on a day of your choosing between now and the end of December. Please ask God to not only bless the United Church of God, an International Association, but for Him to show us how we may be the wisest of stewards with the income and blessings He has given us.”
You can see the entire letter that should be distributed in Sabbath services this week at https://www.ucg.org/members/news/letter-from-the-president-december-18-2018-church-wide-fast .
Note About Cincinnati Local Church Building
The Cincinnati East congregation has been looking a new place to meet for quite a while. We have outgrown the facility we use at the home office and had an opportunity to possibly purchase a church building nearby. A contract to purchase was accepted; however, we received notice yesterday that the school next door will exercise its right to purchase the property ahead of us. It was a fine property at a very good price, but not to be at this time.