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Update from the President: May 14, 2020

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Update from the President

May 14, 2020

Lead a Life of Daily Courage

The theme of the recently completed General Conference of Elders meeting focused on “Conviction, Commitment and Courage.” In my sermon, I spoke about courage. I highlighted the story of Peter and John’s preaching during the infancy of the New Testament Church of God as related in Acts 2-5.

These men bravely faced immediate persecution. They boldly preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. They spoke openly about repentance, the times of refreshing and the times of restoration of all things which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:20-21 Acts 3:20-21 [20] And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached to you: [21] Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
American King James Version×
).

How did that go over? Their first few days of evangelizing landed them in jail twice. Undeterred, they insisted on obeying God rather than man, even when forbidden to teach about Jesus Christ by the religious establishment of the day (Acts 5:29 Acts 5:29Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
American King James Version×
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Boldly delivering the gospel of Jesus in an adversarial setting powerfully demonstrates the quality of courage.

But now I’d like to relate a completely different example of courage. Courageous acts also appear in other settings that can inspire us. This story moved me deeply and I want to share it with you. This narrative can be found in the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s book On Faith. As the story goes, the Justice visited his high school alma mater, Xavier High School in New York City, to formally address the students. His remarks centered on the topic of courage.

He related a story about another graduate of Xavier High School, U.S. Marine Colonel Donald Cook. Colonel Cook received the Medal of Honor, which is the highest U.S. military decoration. The Medal of Honor is awarded by Congress to a member of the armed forces for gallantry and bravery in combat at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.

What did Donald Cook do to deserve this high recognition?

In the Vietnam War, then-Captain Cook was taken prisoner by the Viet Cong on December 31, 1964, and remained their prisoner until his death in 1967. He died in prison of malaria at the age of 33. For his exemplary conduct as a prisoner of war, Cook was posthumously promoted to Colonel and awarded the Medal of Honor. His citation for gallantry reads in part:

“Despite the fact that by doing so he would bring about harsher treatment for himself, [Cook] established himself as the senior prisoner, even though in actuality he was not. Repeatedly assuming more than his share of [responsibility for] their health, Colonel Cook willingly and unselfishly put the interests of his comrades before that of his own well-being and, eventually, his life. Giving more needy men his medicine and drug allowance while constantly nursing them, he risked infection from contagious diseases while in a rapidly deteriorating state of health. This unselfish and exemplary conduct, coupled with his refusal to stray even the slightest from the Code of Conduct, earned him the deepest respect from not only his fellow prisoners, but his captors as well.

“Rather than negotiate for his own release or better treatment, he steadfastly frustrated attempts by the Viet Cong to break his indomitable spirit and passed this same resolve on to the men with whose well-being he so closely associated himself. Knowing his refusals would prevent his release prior to the end of the war, and also knowing his chances for prolonged survival would be small in the event of continued refusal, he chose nevertheless to adhere to a Code of Conduct far above that which could be expected. His personal valor and exceptional spirit of loyalty in the face of almost certain death reflected the highest credit upon Colonel Cook, the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

It is often in crisis and conflict that moral courage is awakened in us. In a dangerous world, moral issues really come to the point. How will you act at a time of crisis? Courage is not simply one of many virtues; it is the part of every virtue at the testing point, at the point of highest reality.

Demonstrating courage in risking one’s life—perhaps by pulling someone out of a burning house or a raging river—is laudable, but that’s not a common occurrence. We will rarely be called upon for courage to physically save someone’s life.

But, for all of us, we demonstrate high courage in other ways. We’re in a long battle of living life day-by-day, courageously going against the ways of this world and daily choosing—with the help of God and our Elder Brother Jesus—to do the right things, the hard things, in the world that we face. It’s a battle that begins with fearlessly facing ourselves. The battle continues in everything that intersects our life.

You don’t learn courage by study; it is forged by practice, by right choices. Courage complements and supports every other virtue—integrity, honesty, faith, mercy, love, and more.

Note Justice Scalia’s concluding remarks about the moral courage that Captain Cook demonstrated:

“Demanding obedience to duty, manly honor and discipline, frank and forthright acknowledgment of error, respect for ranks above and solicitude for ranks below, assumption of responsibility including the responsibility of command, willingness to sacrifice for the good of the corps—by demanding those difficult things [one] develops moral courage, which in the Last Accounting we must give, is that kind that matters.”

We have a major advantage. We have a role model of ideal courage. Day to day courage was lived out and exemplified by One who has indeed pulled us out of a burning spiritual house. His example of unselfishness is what we should strive to follow each day. He put each one of us ahead of Himself, even to the point of death. I write here of course of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul summarizes Jesus’s courage and our response:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:5-8 Philippians 2:5-8 [5] Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: [6] Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: [7] But made himself of no reputation, and took on him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: [8] And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross.
American King James Version×
, English Standard Version, emphasis added).

Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother and soon-coming King, led a life that exemplified courage. From battling Satan in the wilderness, to facing down critic after critic, to flipping over tables of money in the temple, to enduring gruesome torture even to painful death, the life of Jesus was one remarkable act of courage after another.

What was Jesus’ medal of honor, His recognition for meritorious courage?

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11 Philippians 2:9-11 [9] Why God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: [10] That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; [11] And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
American King James Version×
, ESV).

How do we respond to this, particularly in a world filled with pandemic fear? As we publicly confess our deep relationship with Jesus Christ by our actions, here are our instructions: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 1 Corinthians 16:13Watch you, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.
American King James Version×
, New International Version).