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Update from the President: June 4, 2020

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Update from the President

June 4, 2020

Living A Better Way

For my wife Bev and me, the news of the tragic murder of an African American in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by police officers really hit home. As many know, we both lived and served in Minnesota for many years. Minnesota was home to us. Just before going to Ambassador College in California, I first started attending church services near Lake Street and 1st Avenue South—less than two miles from the Powderhorn Park area where George Floyd was murdered. I saw many personally familiar landmarks in the television coverage, except this time they were marred by rioting people burning and destroying businesses and property.

The rage ignited in Minneapolis has since spread all over the United States and has set the country on fire. This is in the wake of a country exhausted by thousands of deaths, record unemployment, and economic catastrophe all fueled by COVID-19.

What should we be doing? What is our response?

Scott Ashley, the managing editor of Beyond Today, saw the importance of speaking out as quickly as possible on this searing issue. He rearranged the July-August lineup of articles accordingly to create space at the last minute before sending the magazine to the printer. I was given the task of providing an article. My column here contains excerpts from some of those thoughts, which were written for a more general audience—one that needs to hear our voice in these increasingly tumultuous times (Isaiah 58:1 Isaiah 58:1Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
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).

Thank God that in these chaotic hours, we hold “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen!” (Hebrews 11:1 Hebrews 11:1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
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, English Standard Version). We hold the astonishing privilege of unbreakable promises from God, the knowledge of our incredible human potential as the very children of God (1 John 3:1 1 John 3:1Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not.
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), awaiting the return of our Lord Jesus Christ to establish the incomprehensibly wonderful Kingdom of God.

As we live in this world, awaiting the powerful return of our Savior in glory, we must recognize that the wrongful death of George Floyd represents a deadly serious, unresolved issue in America. As one familiar with oppression (many know of my background as an immigrant to the United States as a refugee fleeing advancing Russians in defeated Nazi Germany), I grieve when I hear the accounts of violence and discrimination against people of color.

To God—who is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11 Romans 2:11For there is no respect of persons with God.
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)—skin color and cultural background don’t matter. All have full access to Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is why—as the current president of the United Church of God, an International Association—I can declare with authority that we condemn racism. Make no mistake. As a Church and as a people called out by God, we condemn so-called “white superiority.” Neither has anything to do with God!

As members of the body of Christ, we know firsthand what Paul meant when he stated in the first century: “It doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile [Greek], circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (Colossians 3:11 Colossians 3:11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
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, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).

Ironically, in ancient times a “barbarian” or “being barbaric” was a cultural slur that referred to anyone who didn’t speak Greek, which essentially meant anyone outside the Mediterranean area—the rest of the world. Together with anti-Semitism, it represented an early form of racism.

What is our response? Simply put, we are called to a higher standard. We are called to live a better way.

In this current age, the Bible speaks of the injustice of people and human governments. It reminds one of what the prophet Amos declared: “You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed” (Amos 5:7 Amos 5:7You who turn judgment to wormwood, and leave off righteousness in the earth,
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, NLT).

While injustice is rampant in this world, it is also evident that violence achieves nothing in terms of solutions for society. Many countries struggle today to find solutions that bring economic and societal equality. Consider this fact: America itself, long a beacon of political freedom to much of the world, allowed almost a full century to lapse from the time the 13th, 14th and 15th U.S. Constitutional amendments were passed—guaranteeing what Lincoln called “the blessings of liberty”—to the later time when President John Kennedy called for strong laws guaranteeing equal treatment of every American, regardless of race. These amendments were finally passed into law in the summer after President Kennedy’s assassination. They are known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Despite good intentions, human governments fall short.

There is a better way.

Let us take a moment to consider the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. In 1966, Dr. King remarked: “I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice … and when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder … Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.”

The answer, according to Dr. King? “Love is ultimately the only answer to humankind’s problems … I have seen too much hate … If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love.”

God defines and manifests this incomparable quality, and Paul urges us to “be imitators of God and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1-2 Ephesians 5:1-2 [1] Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children; [2] And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
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, NIV). There is no room for racism.

God’s great purpose marvelously focuses on “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10 Hebrews 2:10For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
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, ESV). This includes men and women of all walks of life, being brought together in the coming future Kingdom of God.

Jesus gave us our focus: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 Matthew 5:9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
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, ESV). Note this: first, Jesus didn’t say “blessed are the peace-lovers,” or those who simply wish for peace. Jesus said that God favors—blesses—those who pursue peace and live peace. Secondly, the Greek word translated here “sons” is anthropoi, referring to both men and women—all of humanity!

If we want to be peacemakers, we must understand that peace begins by peace with God. When we have peace with God, we have peace with all men and women, regardless of background.

Note this marvelous statement from the apostle Paul: “Christ himself has brought peace to us … our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Ephesians 2:14 Ephesians 2:14For he is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
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, 16 NLT).

As we follow the living Leader of our Church, Jesus Christ, we must hold to high standards, being examples of the way He taught (Matthew 5:14 Matthew 5:14You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
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). Let us pause and consider what God told the ancient Israelites: “You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong … do not be swayed by the crowd to twist justice” (Exodus 23:2 Exodus 23:2You shall not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shall you speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment:
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, NLT).

This world desperately needs God’s truth. Tragically for many, “the way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths” (Isaiah 59:8 Isaiah 59:8The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whoever goes therein shall not know peace.
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, ESV). Tough times are ahead. Given that this is a presidential election year, we can anticipate these issues will be inflamed for some time. We can be sure of what Jesus emphasized: “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17 Luke 8:17For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.
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). We must be patient. And we must be faithful.

What are elements of this better way? “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 Micah 6:8He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
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).

Let us live a better way! Reject racism. Make peace with God through Jesus Christ and let us all live a life of God-centered love, striving to be an example in these challenging times!