The Council of Elders met for its quarterly meeting all this week in Big Sandy, Texas. Meetings ran from Monday through today, Thursday.
We have thoroughly appreciated the hospitality of the East Texas congregation that provided us a meeting place, as well as meals. Beverly and I appreciated the cordiality of Dr. Donald Ward and his wife, Wanda, who invited us to stay with them. This afforded us time and opportunity to become better acquainted and talk over many things of common interest. All Council members and staff who came stayed in various brethren’s homes.
On the Sabbath, Ministerial and Member Services Administrator Chris Rowland and I spoke to the East Texas congregation.
On Monday morning, I gave an update on what the Church has been doing over the past three months. Following me, Peter Eddington from Media and Communications, Chris Rowland from Ministerial and Member Services, and Rick Shabi from Finance gave their informative reports. You can view them all right now at http://coe.ucg.org/videos .
The focus of the February Council meetings is to set out the Church’s work for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. Every three years, the Strategic Plan goes through major revision and this was the year. The Administration spent countless hours preparing the Strategic Plan which also went through a major design change. Bob Dick, the new chairman of the Strategic Planning and Finance Committee, led Council review and discussion of our work with the Council for the remainder of Monday. Rick Shabi, treasurer, concluded with going over the proposed budget. This will then be ratified by the General Conference of Elders at their annual May meeting in Cincinnati.
On Tuesday, Dr. Ward led a discussion about the Council of Elders becoming more visible by having its various members visit and speak to more congregations. By the way, pastors who would like to request a Council member to come and visit their congregations, please let Chris Rowland know.
During these meetings, we also created sundry policies such as festival transfers and an updated form for the ordination of elders. We discussed editorial review policies and criteria for the posting of sermons on the Church’s websites. An informative session about current doctrinal projects was presented.
We also took some time for a nostalgic drive through the old Big Sandy Ambassador College campus.
Back home at our home office in Cincinnati, progress on the video recording studio is proceeding well. The building should be complete by July with media production to begin about two months afterward.
Today, after the Council meetings, Peter Eddington and I are flying to southern California where we will hold four America: the Time is Now! personal appearance campaign events. The first one is this coming Sunday evening, March 4, in Los Angeles, then Tuesday evening in San Diego, Wednesday evening in San Bernardino, and finally Sunday, March 11, in Garden Grove. I’ll be speaking this coming Sabbath in Los Angeles and the following week in Redlands.
Please pray for a successful turnout of our Beyond Today subscribers and others who hear about the campaign. Pray that they come with open hearts and minds to understand what a great salvation God is offering us! Pray that they come and benefit from a message of understanding of our times, the purpose of life, and repentance. Many Beyond Today readers have responded to our letters of invitation saying that they will come.
How to Win an Eternal Prize—Lessons from the Olympics
Many of us watched the recent Winter Olympics from South Korea. The 2018 games have now sailed into the record books with Norway unexpectedly crushing the typical Olympic superpowers. The Scandinavian wunderkind walked away with 38 medals, almost twice as many as the United States (and at the same time breaking the record for most medals won by a single nation, set by America in 2010 at Vancouver). Unusual stories cropped up, including Russian athletes not officially competing as Russian representatives, owing to a doping scandal earlier. Olympic diplomacy set new standards as host nation South Korea extended a combined team olive branch to its nuclear neighbor to the north. It was a most interesting run.
Can we see value in what these athletes personally achieved, and perhaps even learn a lesson or two?
The apostle Paul cast athletics into this interesting spiritual light: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24 1 Corinthians 9:24Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
Paul continues, “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 25 And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air:
27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
American King James Version×, NLT). Here are a few thoughts about being a successful spiritual athlete, regardless of your age or position:
- Olympic athletes train themselves mentally, as well as physically. They discipline their thoughts, rejecting thoughts of doubt or defeat. As we train spiritually, that’s an excellent principle. Paul directs us to be careful in “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 2 Corinthians 10:5Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
American King James Version×). Further, let us run this spiritual race with rock-solid assurance, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it” (Philippians 1:6 Philippians 1:6Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×).
- Successful Olympians discipline themselves toward a single priority. They want to be the best in what they do. In the spiritual realm, we have a different definition. Jesus Christ Himself told us to have a single priority: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×). Added to this dimension is the command that Jesus declared to be the greatest commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27 Luke 10:27And he answering said, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×). That’s real singleness of purpose!
- Athletes who reach the top and win a medal think big! They aim high. Such as it should be with the disciples of Jesus Christ! Paul told the Thessalonians that the gospel includes the fact that we are destined to partake in the mighty incomprehensible eternal glory of the resurrected Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:14 2 Thessalonians 2:14Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×). The apostle John plainly taught: “ we shall be like Him [Jesus], for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2 John 3:2The same came to Jesus by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that you do, except God be with him.
American King James Version×).
- Medal winners never give up, even when they’ve hit the wall and don’t want to go on. They persevere! The apostle Paul suffered many trials and difficulties. But he held on. He ran his race! Despite his daily challenges, he wrote, “we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16 2 Corinthians 4:16For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
American King James Version×). Writing to the Galatians in what is modern-day Turkey, Paul declared, “ let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9 Galatians 6:9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.
American King James Version×). Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother emphasizes to us today: “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×).
- Successful Olympians are literal learning machines. They study and practice, study and practice. They watch videos of their competitors and of great athletes for insight and inspiration. It reminds me of the ancient Bereans, whom Paul and Silas taught shortly before Paul went to Athens. As we read in the books of Acts, “the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts 17:11 Acts 17:11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
American King James Version×, NLT). One interesting bit to consider is the fact that basically the only place where the Scriptures were available in the first century was at the local Jewish synagogue. Similar to athletes having to make time to go to a nearby gym to exercise and practice, the Bereans would have had to make a special trip each day to the local synagogue to check out what they were being taught. Do you and I make time each day to check out and study more deeply what we have been taught?
- Athletes who bring home medals know full well the value of being a team. Even superstars have to find their place in working together seamlessly and smoothly, setting aside individual gain for the betterment of the team. True strength in unity can really only be achieved when a degree of real humility is reached. Again, Paul provides critical insight: “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others” (Philippians 2:3-4 Philippians 2:3-4 3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
American King James Version×NLT).
Jesus encourages us to keep ourselves in constant spiritual training, running our individual races and learning to work and live together as part of an amazing team we know as the Church of God. The Greek word for “overcoming” or “overcomes” in the New King James version is rendered in many newer translations as “victorious” or “be victorious.” Encouraging all of us to persevere and hold fast, our soon-coming King declares to us: “ All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God” (Revelation 3:12 Revelation 3:12Him that overcomes will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God: and I will write on him my new name.
American King James Version×, NLT).
Let us all strive to be thus victorious, that we too may one day be able to share in the words of Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 2 Timothy 4:7-8 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
8 From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing.
American King James Version×, NLT).