Our Beyond Today television team is in Germany at the moment recording television programs. They have already finished at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin where the original Ishtar Gate from Ancient Babylon is housed. This goes back to King Nebuchadnezzar. They have also produced content for a program “Why Does God Allow Suffering?” at a German railway station where thousands of people were loaded on train cars destined to concentration camps and their death. Peter Eddington just wrote me a moment ago saying: “All went flawlessly in the museum this morning. Got all our footage recorded for portions of Darris’, Steve’s and Paul’s scripts!”
All seems to be going smoothly after some critical equipment arrived late, but in time for the recording. A complete itinerary is found in Peter Eddington’s blog post at https://www.ucg.org/members/news/beyond-today-tv-production-in-germany-and-belgium-historic-and-prophetic-sites-to-be .
Two summer pre-teen camps concluded this week in Colorado and Minnesota. Also, two teen camps will be starting this weekend at Woodmen in Alabama and Northwest Camp in Oregon. At the home office it is a bit empty with so many involved in all these activities.
On the Sabbath, Bev and I drove to Nashville, Tennessee, for the memorial of Lucretia Kellers. It was well attended with a packed church hall and overflow seating in the basement. Several elders came from various parts of the country to show support to Fred Kellers and his family.
Aaron Dean and Larry Darden are both in Malawi and will go on to Zambia to visit our congregations and take care of legal matters concerning national councils, church registrations, property deeds and humanitarian needs involving LifeNets. At this moment they are with the VanAusdles and Hilgens in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Give the Gift Only You Can Give
When my wife Bev and I travel to various church areas, people often ask: “How can I do more in our congregation?” Often these are questions coming from young adults. They read of advancements in the work of the Church and they want to be more engaged.
There certainly is one way that we can all be more engaged and useful to both God and our fellow church members. It’s a very special way, but it requires focus and effort. Here it is: give the gift that only you can give and do it regularly.
What gift is that? As a pastor who has had the privilege of serving congregations of the Church of God for almost half a century, I know that in each congregation there are people who just stand out. They really make a difference. They are the ones who always seem to have the needed words of encouragement, who know everybody’s name, who never seem to criticize, who are happy to be there at services. They spread joy and cheer. People are glad to see them and they are glad to see their fellow members.
These people fulfill what Jesus commanded each of us: “that you love one another, as I have loved you” (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×). That doesn’t mean these people are perfect. But they are giving of themselves in a special way.
Anybody can be like these people. Perhaps you already are one, as I know that the United Church of God is full of loving and caring people. But if you want to do better, if you want to give the gift that only you can give, the only thing stopping you is yourself!
Here’s what you need to do. To give the gift that only you can give requires one important thing: you have to be present . As we read in 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×: “let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another , especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout). This cannot be done online. Attending services gives us needed knowledge and inspiration, but it is also a place where you give of yourself as Paul admonished in what we just read from Hebrews.
The book of Acts records that in the very early days of the church, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship” (Acts 2:42 Acts 2:42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
American King James Version×, NLT). The Greek word koinonia translated “fellowship” has deep meaning. It doesn’t just mean to simply “get together.” It represents a powerful dynamic of Christian living! That Greek word koinonia means to share, to give, to participate, to contribute, to have in common, to build a physical and spiritual community. Paul uses the word to describe a special gift from God, “the communion [fellowship] of the Holy Spirit” in 2 Corinthians 13:14 2 Corinthians 13:14The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
American King James Version×and Philippians 2:1 Philippians 2:1If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
American King James Version×.
So, when we speak of our “fellowship” (which can be either a noun or a verb), we speak of a very important spiritual state within the United Church of God!
In the context of fellowship, Paul directs us to “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 Galatians 6:2Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
American King James Version×). During our lives, all of us will experience a time when we’re in need. Sometimes we may just need someone to listen or to simply be with us—particularly when we’ve suffered a major loss. Sometimes we need physical help when we can’t do things for ourselves solely by ourselves. As a pastor, I have seen brethren time and time again selflessly giving of themselves, often fulfilling a need even before someone can ask for it. It’s inspiring. And the amazing thing is that it often inspires others to follow the example!
Here’s something to consider as we continue to think about fellowship: some of our younger people may not fully realize how important services are to the older members of our congregations, especially those who are retired and may be living apart from their families. For these older members, attending services often represents the highlight of their week. It may be challenging and difficult for them to get out during the week, so they look forward to the time of fellowshipping with like-minded people on the Sabbath. These older members may be living in chronic pain. They may be a bit on the lonely side. Making a point to greet and talk and spend some time with these older members may require focus and effort, but it represents giving a gift that only you can give. It’s an important part of our opportunity to fellowship, to give and to share.
James tells us “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (James 1:27 James 1:27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
American King James Version×), which often requires some sacrifice on our part. There are a lot of single mothers and fathers who would greatly appreciate an invitation to dinner with their children, or a volunteer evening of babysitting so they could run some errands or have some free time. When members drop by to visit or send a card of encouragement to those widows and elderly who can’t get out on their own, that often represents a major gift! I’ve seen and continue to see many people in the church do exactly these things. Is there an opportunity for you? Great reward awaits you.
While there are many positive aspects of fellowship, there is a singular issue that I’d like to mention. One thing that can quickly disrupt and even tear a congregation apart is unwarranted criticism and gossip. It is an expression of human nature to talk behind people’s backs. And it is hurtful—even to the person doing the talking! Paul warns us all: “if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:15 Galatians 5:15But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another.
American King James Version×). It can be easy to fall into that snare, so beware. If you have an issue with your brother, pray for courage and wisdom, and follow the biblical example of going to him or her in a humble manner (Matthew 18:15-17 Matthew 18:15-17 15 Moreover if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be to you as an heathen man and a publican.
American King James Version×). We each have a personal responsibility to promote peace (Psalms 34:14 Psalms 34:14Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
American King James Version×; Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
American King James Version×).
So, this Sabbath, why not make a deliberate decision to show up and be a person of encouragement, cheerfully and gratefully seeking positive fellowship ( koinonia )? Need some help? Be sure to pray that God Himself would pour His love out into your heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5 Romans 5:5And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.
American King James Version×).
Give the gift that only you can give!