Resources for the members of the United Church of God

Update from the President: Jan. 3, 2019

You are here

Update from the President

Jan. 3, 2019

Two major year-end family events dominated United Church of God news in the past few weeks. One was the Winter Family Weekend in the Cincinnati area while the other was the Northwest Weekend in Portland, Oregon.

The 2018 Winter Family Weekend is the largest annual UCG event, and thanks to the work of many dedicated volunteers, one of the smoothest-running ever. The event began with a Friday evening Bible study that encouraged youth to take God's calling seriously right now. There were 1,217 brethren who attended Sabbath services, with 61 watching via webcast at the home office, along with more than 500 other web connections. My sermon and a variety of seminars directed at different age groups addressed the theme "Iron that Sharpens Iron."

The conference center hosted the usual mix of seminars, dances, performances and other activities, which were all very well attended. The sports program featured 47 volleyball teams (three more than last year) and 14 basketball teams (one more than last year).

The continued growth of this event has us considering larger venues for future years, but in 2019 the Winter Family Weekend will take place at the same location. It's not too soon to plan to join us!

Then in the Northwest, with the spectacular Columbia River as the backdrop, approximately 320 of God's people gathered to celebrate the 54th annual Northwest Family Weekend Dec. 21-24 in Portland, Oregon. It started Friday evening with a Bible study by Paul Moody titled "Steadfast to the End," which was the theme for the event. Many stayed after to catch up with old friends and sing hymns. Sabbath morning opened with a teen/young adult Bible study presented by Rex Sexton and a speakers workshop led by Howard Davis. Services were held after lunch with a sermonette by ABC graduate Derrick Slocum followed by a sermon from Ben Light. There was a nice ensemble to back up the hymns, and the combined area choir sang a beautiful rendition of "God of Angel Armies." The rest of the evening consisted of Ballroom Dance Lessons, a Family Dance (themed "Imperial Gardens") and a Teen Dance (themed "Moonlit Forest"), with both dances decorated in stunning fashion.

Seminars were the order of the day on Sunday. Presentations included: Bob Dick—"Steadfast to the End", Tanya Winger—"Resumes, Interviews and Careers, Oh My!", Fred Reeves—"Approval Addiction", Roc Corbett—"Caregiving; helping others remain steadfast", Paul Moody—"The African Work", Rex Sexton—"The Dispersion of the Apostles", Ben Light—"Youth Corps Projects and Opportunities." Sunday evening brought a young adult buffet dinner and a "Minute to Win It" social mixer. Monday included a sports skills clinic followed by volleyball and basketball games for the young and young at heart. The day ended with a game night and pizza hosted by Rex and Patty Sexton. Tuesday wrapped up the event with a group ski outing on beautiful and snowy Mt. Hood.

Many positive comments were shared by those who attended. We had attendees from six non-UCG congregations in the area. It truly is an event that binds people together and is a real spiritual booster during the long winter months.

On Dec. 25, Bob Dick and Rex Sexton hosted a ministerial training day. All of the full-time pastors came (Roc Corbett, Paul Moody, Ben Light, Jeff Richards) plus Rob Slocum and Fred Reeves. The ladies met at the Slocums' place. Bob Dick and Rex Sexton split the time discussing everything from the ministerial code of ethics to visiting. They also talked about the calendar of events for the next year. It was a very valuable day of practical training. All want to make it a permanent part of the Northwest Weekend schedule.

That's how last year ended. We're now in 2019. I'd like to share some thoughts about our mindset for the coming year.

Do you believe?

The gospel of Mark holds a powerful story of Jesus that can be a challenge for us.

In Mark 9, we find Jesus having just gone through the transfiguration, an indescribable miracle. On top of a mountain, the disciples Peter, James and John openly witnessed Jesus speaking directly with Elijah and Moses, legendary and powerful leaders in the history of God's people.

Afterward, as the biblical account continues, Jesus "came to the disciples" (Mark 9:14 Mark 9:14And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
American King James Version×
). What did He find? There was a "great multitude" assembled around the disciples, and a number of scholars were hotly debating with them.

Jesus asked one about what was going on. A voice from the assembled crowd rang out in answer.

A father had brought his afflicted son to the disciples for healing. The son suffered agonizing convulsions and was thought to be possessed. The father told the disciples about this terrible condition, expecting the disciples to set things right, but disappointingly, "they could not" (Mark 9:18 Mark 9:18And wherever he takes him, he tears him: and he foams, and gnashes with his teeth, and pines away: and I spoke to your disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
American King James Version×

Saddened at the apparent lack of faith, Jesus instructed the father to bring the child forward. As it turns out, the child was indeed possessed, as the evil spirit suddenly recognized Jesus. It knew better than all present who Jesus was. It cast the boy into terrible convulsions.

This was most unsettling and disturbing to the assembled crowd. They apparently didn't know who Jesus was. Things seemed to be getting worse in a hurry. What could be done?

In contrast, Jesus was the model of tranquility. "How long has this been happening?" Jesus calmly asked the boy's agitated father (Mark 19:21 Mark 19:21
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation). "Since he was a little boy," the father sadly answered. In other words, probably years.

Now the story takes a remarkable turn. The father briefly described the grueling trial that his son (and he) had been going through for apparently quite a long time. The father was exhausted. He was out of options. Even these amazing disciples of Jesus were apparently powerless to do anything.

So, perhaps inadvertently, the father directly put a challenge to Jesus. Not expecting much, he tiredly said to the Son of God: "Have mercy on us and help us, if you can" (Mark 19:22 Mark 19:22
American King James Version×
, NLT, emphasis added throughout).

Jesus wasn't having any of that! He instantly declared: "What do you mean, 'If I can'?" (Mark 19:23 Mark 19:23
American King James Version×

Jesus response to the challenge? "Anything is possible if a person believes."

The father of the boy suddenly sensed that the person standing before him wasn't any ordinary human being. Dare he believe, after all this time, there might actually be hope? Starting to comprehend the powerful nature of who he was dealing with, "Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!'" (Mark 19:24 Mark 19:24
American King James Version×

As the crowd rushed together to see what was happening, Jesus openly healed the young boy, who collapsed unconscious. Many thought that the boy had perished from the experience. As many witnesses looked on in astonishment, "Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose" (Mark 19:27 Mark 19:27
American King James Version×

How many times have you and I been here? How many times have we read a promise God makes in the Bible, but we don't think that it applies to us? How many times have you and I thought, "Yes, I read that. Yes, that's a promise. But that probably doesn't apply or work for me. That applies to someone else who is truly deserving."

In effect, when we do this, we can take the place of the child's father. We can inadvertently be asking God in our prayers, "Have mercy on us and help us, if you can."

And, like the child's father in this true story, we can cognitively believe, we can superficially believe with our minds, but our hearts aren't convinced. We don't have hope. We may not think of ourselves as worthy.

Does that mean that we're lost, never to find help or relief? The good news is: of course not!

Let's read this promise and believe it with our whole being! "This High Priest of ours [Jesus] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin" (Hebrews 4:15 Hebrews 4:15For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
American King James Version×
, NLT).

What do we do when anxious or afraid? "Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most" (Hebrews 4:16 Hebrews 4:16Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
American King James Version×
, NLT).

We can boldly ask for faith, for the courage to apply that faith by actively trusting God to fight our battles, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We can even ask for help to believe when we don't believe!

And God will answer those prayers!

Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother and King, declares to us today, "Anything is possible if a person believes" (Mark 9:23 Mark 9:23Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.
American King James Version×
, NLT). So, let us ask for, receive and act on the very faith of Jesus Christ, that—despite the trials of living in this world—we may receive this promise: "Blessed are those who believe" (John 20:29 John 20:29Jesus said to him, Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
American King James Version×


My next two Inside United podcasts will feature Scott Ashley, managing editor of Beyond Today magazine and pastor of Denver, Colorado Springs and Frisco, Colorado. He just attended the annual meeting of the Biblical Archaeological Society and the Evangelical Theological Society in Denver. These meetings attracted scholars from all over the world, though most were from the United States with a few from Europe, Israel and Asia. They covered a range of topics with literally hundreds of sessions, but the lectures Scott attended focused mostly on recent archaeological discoveries relating to the Bible.

Most of the speakers were either archaeologists working in the Holy Land, biblical researchers or published authors on biblical subjects. Most had PhDs in biblically related fields. Several have published multiple books. So these were the cream of the crop when it comes to biblical research and biblical archaeology.

Be sure to listen to the coming two podcasts in which Scott discusses some of his impressions of the meetings and how some of the archaeological findings confirm the veracity of the Bible.

Off to a good start for 2019!


  • Dollie

    All of this is so encouraging! So glad! Thank you!