Resources for the members of the United Church of God

Update from the President: December 10, 2020

You are here

Update from the President

December 10, 2020

Diane Bailey 1954–2020

On Tuesday morning at 6:07 a.m., Dec. 8, Diane Bailey fell asleep until the Resurrection. Her brothers David and Danny were by her side when she took her last breath.

Diane had been my assistant and secretary for 10 years at the home office. She worked for UCG for 25 years—since our beginning. She was also secretary for our legal counsel, Larry Darden. She was an unassuming, unpretentious person who professionally handled so much of the President’s office communications. Diane was a faithful servant, a deeply converted and caring person who befriended so many who needed encouragement. We shared many challenging and even humorous moments together that I will miss.

Even in the throes of her last days in hospice care, the last thing she told me in person was, “I’m looking forward to coming back to the office to see everyone again.”

Because of her illness, we could not have our scheduled employee review, but I want to let you all know that she was a “5” in my book, which means that she exceeded performance standards in the personal qualities of kindness, care, empathy and understanding. She loved everyone and we all loved her.

I had known Diane Bailey previously from her work at the Worldwide Church of God and Ambassador Foundation in Pasadena. When the Kirov Ballet from the Soviet Union performed a series of presentations at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, I was assigned to be a translator for the backstage Russian and American crews. Diane was a liaison between the Russian and US staff. The performances lasted a week and that’s where I became acquainted with her and also Peter Eddington, who was Ambassador Auditorium manager and also worked with Diane.

Diane was more than a staff worker. She was a confidante and advisor who could see simplicity in complexity. She could see God’s hand in muddled situations, and predicted and experienced the best outcomes.

Diane had outlived different administrations but never judged anyone with harsh, judgmental words. She was a beautiful example of a person who seemed natural in ways so many of us have to work at. Thank you, Diane, for your outstanding contribution to all of us.

Always Be Ready

It’s that time of year again, with streets and homes bedecked with red-dominated decorations and lights. During this time, members of our fellowship stand out. Instead of falling in with pagan-tinged traditions, however “merry,” we abstain.

Naturally, sometimes others outside our faith wonder why.

Of course, we know from history and biblical truth that the religiosity associated with the December holiday season actually runs counter to God’s purpose.

Even though we know the origins of these annual celebrations, there is an important consideration. As America has increasingly become more secularized, the former “religious” aspect of certain holidays has also diminished.

In fact, a major U.S. study, summarized in the book The Presence of the Past (Columbia University Press), showed that the “religious” aspect of Christmas (or Easter) generally today is not important to many Americans. What’s really important during these annual “religious” celebrations? “What mattered was the gathering of families, not the official content of each [Xmas or Easter] holiday” (emphasis added throughout).

Of course, just because people are more interested in families getting together doesn’t make any of this annual Xmas season right. Far from it—all should know the flawed origins of these substitute holidays.

But what it does mean is that we should all take care in how we answer when someone asks us why we don’t keep Christmas. As the apostle Peter tells us: “if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:15 1 Peter 3:15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation). As Peter continues, we are to “do this in a gentle and respectful way” (verse 16, NLT).

We all have many experiences, some good and some where we might have been able to use the opportunity to further the gospel. If we’re not careful, people can wrongly draw the conclusion that the Church is not pro-family, just because members may not take part in what outsiders deem one of the family highlights of the year.

Using care and asking God for guidance in what to say is important for us to be lights to this world (Matthew 5:16 Matthew 5:16Let 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×
). Paul tells us to “Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days” (Ephesians 5:16 Ephesians 5:16Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
American King James Version×
, NLT).

Several years ago, I had an experience that I thought initially was going to go completely wrong. Instead, it turned out unexpectedly well. Allow me to relate what happened.

Following my experiences serving as a translator for an official visit to Russia by Indiana First Lady Judy O’Bannon several years ago, I was invited to join one of the local Rotary International service clubs in central Indiana. Members of this club subsequently helped LifeNets and related Church projects with grant applications, and even direct donations to help in Africa, Ukraine and elsewhere. Everyone knew that I was a minister of the gospel and they were often intrigued about how we were able to serve people through LifeNets in a very specific way.

So, one cold and snowy January day I arrived for our weekly Rotary meeting. To our disappointment, the scheduled guest speaker did not show up. To fill the speaker time, the club president exclaimed: “Let’s go around the room and have everyone tell us how you spent your Christmas.”

My initial reaction was an inner groan.

As the meeting progressed, comments focused on being with loved ones and friends. Then they came to my table. For whatever reason, the president stated: “We really want to know about Vic’s Christmas!” A double groan. Club members already knew that I was not a big Christmas supporter. But beyond that may have been somewhat of a mystery to them.

Not after this meeting, though!

I silently and humbly asked God for the right words.

First, I stated outright that I did not keep Christmas and that they may have already suspected that. Following Peter’s advice, I tactfully told them that I was impressed by their getting together as families and being with their families.

I then told them history shows that Christ was not born on Dec. 25 or anywhere near that date, and that this date was arrived at because it was already a gala festival in the Roman world that celebrated a pagan ritual. All eyes were on me, so I thought I had better relay why in full.

Instead of a two- or three-minute summary, I spoke for about ten minutes. I respectfully told them how God did ordain certain festivals to be observed but that Christmas was not one of them.

I then told the Rotarians that Christmas has become a commercial holiday in America and that our national economy was geared to Christmas sales. For this holiday there was tremendous marketing pressure to “buy, buy, buy.” Knowing smiles and nods of heads came as the Rotarians followed with interest.

I spoke briefly of the history of Christmas, including its ties to the winter solstice. It essentially turned out to be an impromptu sermonette with no notes, no preparation.

So, did I get tossed out? No, club members took it remarkably well and some actually thanked me for the information I shared. Interestingly, one member told me that he also had “thoughts along those lines.”

Since I was privileged the year before to be named the club’s Rotarian of the Year for my work in supporting children victims of the Chernobyl disaster, I was fortunate to have a strong reputation. This gave my words a certain credibility. Our club was comprised of a broad variety of professionals from different backgrounds, including those of the Jewish, Muslim and Hindu faiths. So instead of being thought of as oddly different, I was able to deepen their respect for my beliefs and the teachings of the Church.

This season, we may from time to time find ourselves with a marvelous opportunity to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20 2 Corinthians 5:20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be you reconciled to God.
American King James Version×
), even if it makes us uncomfortable. Accordingly, “if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it,” but always work to courageously do it “in a gentle and respectful way.”