Christ commissioned His Church to preach the gospel to every creature. He is beginning to build a world for tomorrow through the efforts of the Church today. How can you play a part in His great plan?
The sermon I have for you this afternoon is based upon the report that I gave at the General Conference of Elders two weeks ago, expanded into a sermon, and I think it will have some helpful information for you that will be of benefit for the Church, the congregation, as well as the update that we were able to give to the ministry just a couple of weeks ago, as well.
Welcome to cyberspace! Population: one billion. According to Worldwide Online Access: 2004 - 2010, the world reached a milestone late in 2005, as internet access became available to one billion worldwide with approximately 845 million using it regularly.
The broadband access also continues to grow into account for an even larger percentage of total internet access. At the end of 2005, there were 195 million broadband households worldwide, up from 142 million just a year before, an increase of 37 percent in just one year according to the author of the report, Ben Macklin.
Now, WiMAX, have you heard of WiMAX yet? It's the cousin to Wi-Fi. WiMAX will be providing more bandwidths and a greater range and should emerge in 2006 and 2007 as a genuine alternative broadband solution to existing wireline technologies. They're already using it in South Korea, Australia, parts of Latin America and parts of Europe . It's a wireless broadband solution that is entering the market. You may not have even heard of WiMAX yet.
Now we, as a church, the United Church of God in particular, are intent on preaching the Gospel of God's Kingdom to the world. So we must be prepared for emerging technologies and for the internet of the future.
To continue the sermon today, I would like to quote from the mission statement of the United Church of God. That's our mission, it's your mission, and I presume that you all know it quite well. It's Article 1.0. "The mission of the Church of God is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God in all the world, make disciples in all nations and care for those disciples."
Let's look at some ways the gospel is preached today, in particular, by the United Church of God, and see our part and our responsibility in it. We've been given our marching orders and we must be about our Father's business. God works and so must we. The message is the same but some of the tools are different to what we see of two thousand years ago. A lot has happened in two thousand years since Christ first told His disciples to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Today, each of us can be involved in this vital aspect of the work of the Church of God. I have titled this message, "Preach the Gospel to Every Creature."
In the 45 minutes available today, I would like to focus predominantly on just one main area of growth and that is our work on the worldwide web , particularly our new streaming efforts. We've been able to do much in the last few years with both the human and financial resources that God has given to us, for which we are very thankful.
If you notice Mark 16, verses 14 and 15, after Christ had been crucified and then had risen from the dead, He appeared to the remaining eleven disciples who were about to become apostles.
In Mark 16:14 - 15
Vs. 14 - We read, "Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had rise." They did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. They didn't believe that it had really taken place; they hadn't seen Him yet, and He rebuked them.
Vs. 15 - "And He said to them ," verse 15, if I could paraphrase, get up from the table, push the chair back, get up off your- " Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature," which means to everyone, or to all creation, as you will read in some of the other translations. So, He rebuked their unbelief, their hardness of heart, and said get up from the table and get to work ! I've told you this was going to happen, let's get busy.
He said in Matthew 24:14, you're familiar with it - "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."
Now all nations, to all of creation, to every creature, that's a very high calling. In fact, it's an audacious goal if God is not behind it. Compared to the major corporations of the world, we have a pretty small budget compared to someone like Microsoft, Bill Gates, H.P., maybe you would like to mention-we have a very small budget; however, we have God on our side and it is His commission to us that we are accomplishing and we have been asked to fulfill.
You'll find that the work of the Church is making a difference in people's lives. Here's a letter that we received just this week from Texas. "This month's Good News Magazine is wonderful. The articles about fatherhood are so needed in today's world. I would like to have you send me five extra copies of this month's Good News, if possible. I know quite a few families with children who would benefit from reading these articles. Also, is it possible to get the booklet on The Ten Commandments? I enjoyed the articles very much and appreciate your ministry."
Now, this is just a sampling of the letters we receive every day, whether electronically or in snail mail. It's encouraging to get those. Every once in awhile during the sermon, I'm going to pass some of those along to you because you'll see the work of the Church starting to make a difference in people's lives.
Preaching the gospel today is two-fold.
Number one, we have the caring for the flock aspect, which is spreading the gospel within the Church. We have Sabbath services, we have youth programs, pre-teen programs, sermon tapes and DVDs, educational videos and other member education. There's United New, there's a ministerial newsletter and journal, World News & Prophecy , educational videos, ABC classes, the Youth Camp program, Vertical Thought Magazine and, of course, the list goes on and on in ways that we preach the gospel within the Church, every week at Sabbath services and throughout the week.
But, then, there's number two, which is mass communication, spreading the gospel of the Kingdom, not just in the Church but to the world at large, and that's a lot of what we'll be focusing on here this afternoon.
Firstly, we send out material to our readers and subscribers at no charge. It's free! We received this message on the internet: "I think it's wonderful and shows your sincerity for providing The Good News Magazine free," as you read here on the screen. "There are so many televised Christian shows who make their profits from God's Word. This does not sit well with my spirit because Jesus never profited monetarily from preaching the Gospel and the Scripture says, 'freely you have received, freely give .' Thank you so much."
Let's look at some of the printed materials that we produce. There's The Good News Magazine, currently with 425,000 copies going out. Of course, not everyone is so grateful to receive the magazine. We get a lot of positive requests. We get a lot of positive letters, and a few canceling their subscription. Here's one for you. "Please take me off your mailing list. My name is - and my address is-. I am a pagan and I'm offended by your magazine bashing my religion; if you're going to bash the goddess that Easter was named after, then I don't want it."
Of course, we have our booklets in print, 32 titles in all, the Bible Study Course, with 12 superb lessons. We have our brochure and display advertising, card deck advertising, space advertising, like was taken out in Reader's Digest over the years, our Waiting Room Program, and World News & Prophecy is part of preaching the gospel to the world.
When someone donates for the first time, we send a letter and offer them The Bible Study Course, when someone becomes a co-worker, that is, they are now donating more regularly, we send them a thank-you letter and offer them World News & Prophecy. We also have quarterly co-worker letters. That's part of what's happening in print, as we move along here.
Then there are the various electronic efforts. We send a monthly internet e-letter to 19,000 Good News subscribers every month. On radio, we are currently on 18 stations. In the past, we have had television commercials offering The Good News and "Making Life Work". And then, there's the Beyond Today cable access television program, currently on 160-plus stations.
Here's a letter received just a week ago. This person from Lewiston, Idaho , says: "Wow! I just watched the blessing of marriage program. The information these gentlemen gave me made me want to get married to my husband of 48 years all over again. I've been in God's Church for 36 years. Even if I wasn't in the Church, the information and the way the gentlemen presented it would make me want to know more about God and His plan for mankind. These gentlemen showed excitement and courtesy to each other. You could tell they enjoyed bringing this message to the viewers. Please tell Darris McNeely, Gary Antion, and David Treybig they did a wonderful job on this segment and to keep up the good work!" And so, that's from a member, but nice to see a positive response.
Then, there is the Bible Reading Program which is available online, which is being very well received, getting close now to getting into the New Testament very soon and, as we've been talking about today, the internet. This is the newest option available to the church, having really only been robust in the last decade or so. Soon, it will reach everybody.
Now, internet presence generates thousands of new subscribers and literature requests every month, often from some of our younger readers.
And then, of course, there's our own personal example. Sometimes, that's what makes a difference as to whether or not someone decides to come to church or to stay at church. It's based on each of us, and the example that we set them; so, that makes us think what is my example and what is your example? Once we go through the effort and the work, through the subscription process, through our literature and our materials to get someone to the point of wanting to come to church, then, of course, then it's up to us here in the congregation to make them feel welcome and to help them as they move forward in their study of the truth.
When we study the day of Pentecost in the Bible, and Pentecost is just a week away, we find the beginnings of a great miracle: the giving of the Holy Spirit. The day of Pentecost, the feast of Pentecost revolves around the message of the firstfruits, the Church and the beginnings of the Church.
In Acts 1:8 we read Christ's instructions to His disciples. This is shortly before He was to ascend to heaven and not be seen again.
Vs. 8 - He said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." So, once again, He gives His disciples that commission, that work, that job to do.
The Greek word for "power" here is dunamis from which we get the terms dynamo and dynamite. This is powerful material. This promise from Christ was dramatically fulfilled within a few days of His statement on the day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts 2.
We have the same responsibility today as was given back then. Being led by God's Holy Spirit, we preach to the ends of the earth the Gospel of His Kingdom.
One reason for our major focus over the past 12 months towards online video streaming technology is the rapid rise in internet use and broadband use in the United States and around the world.
As we began this sermon today, we noted that this world now has one billion people accessing the internet. Jim Emerson of DIRECTnewsline wrote that, "-the Internet is becoming the dominant form of mass media." According to a survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, U.S. internet penetration hit an all-time high in April of 73 percent or about 147 million adults, up from 66 percent in January. So, it's growing in leaps and bounds.
Also, the share of Americans who say they have broadband access at home has risen dramatically, reaching 42 percent of the population or about 84 million in April, compared to 29 percent in January. So, that's an increase of almost 10 percent in just-soaring from 29 percent to 42 percent in just a few months.
Now, in years past, the Church of God capitalized on the emerging media of the time. Remember when things had to be mimeographed? The Church took advantage of that, whether it was the printed word or radio or television, and today it should be no different. Whatever emerging technologies are around, we should be using and taking advantage of them. So, one area that we are now tapping into more effectively is the internet; in particular, streaming video on the internet.
The first five months of activity at the Beyond Today website showed some healthy increase. In December of 2005 we had 4,800 visitors and 13,000 for January, 13,600 in February, 21,000 visits for March, which was a 55 percent jump, and then 32,000 in April, which was another 54 percent increase, which is very encouraging to see.
Here is a graph that gives a good quick overview of website visits by month so far at Beyond Today's site. What I would like to do for you here is play you a 30-second video clip which is the introduction to the Beyond Today program titled, "Displaying the Ten Commandments." This is by Mr. Petty. This is not full-screen, full motion video, it's dumbed down a little bit to play here on the screen, but let me play this first one for you.
"A set of ten ancient laws on two tablets of stone. Do they merely form a historical Judeo-Christian foundation of the legal system of the Western world, or are they religious in nature and should be eradicated from public places in order to uphold freedom of religion? Before you answer, do you even know what the Ten Commandments are? Whatever your position on the public display of the Ten Commandments, be prepared to be challenged on Beyond Today!"
I'll play another one for you. This is titled "Changing Your Life is Possible," one of the more recent recordings that we have made, as well, once again, by Mr. Petty.
"Have you given up the idea that your life can get better or that anything can really change? Are you racked with guilt and regret so that every day is filled with a dull ache over the past? You can move beyond your mistakes! You can have hope in the future, but you can't move forward without facing how you got into this mess in the first place. You want to resolve today's problems? Changing your life is possible! Find out how on Beyond Today!"
Just after the program on marriage and family aired, just a week ago, we received this encouraging letter from New York.
"You have presented some very powerful and inspiring t.v. programs and publications on marriage and family, which I would like to introduce to my family. My daughter will be getting married in a couple of months and one of the best gifts I could give is the Church's literature on marriage and the family. My desire is for the couple to get a full and deep understanding of the significance and commitment to marriage as ordained by God, tools that were not available to me, that would give them a better chance to achieve a happy and lasting marriage. Would you be so kind as to send me all the literature that is available, if there are too many please send the most pertinent and instructive ones," and then they give their mailing information. "Thank you and may God continue to bless and prosper the work."
Beyond Today is scheduled to air on more than 160 cable access channels. At present, we are in the east side of Cincinnati here, on Time-Warner Cable. During our program start-up, during the last week of December 2005, we received 63 responses to Beyond Today . For January 2006, we received 262. It was 306 for February, 461 for March, which was a nice 51 percent increase and, then, 567 for April, another 23 percent increase on top of that. If we can keep the graph going like that, that would be great! We'll see how we do now for the month of May, once all the stats come in and we'll continue to work in improving and airing the program in every way that we can.
It's now available, also airing, nationwide in Canada on the Vision and Christian Cable channels, just last weekend for the first time.
The world needs to know that there is an alternative to what exists today. They need to know that there is such a thing as the Kingdom of God. They need to know that it doesn't just exist in the hearts and minds of people; that it didn't just exist in Jesus Christ as He stood among them. It is a literal, real, event that is going to take place. People need to know the reality of the Kingdom of God and so we need to preach it to the ends of the earth, as we have been instructed to.
The popular online search tool, Google, continues to offer Beyond Today on its video website. As of the last week of May, we have 18 Beyond Today t.v. programs posted there, at no charge to the Church and, in just a few months, these programs have been viewed over 9,700 times.
The most popular program "Is There Life After Death?" has generated over 3,000 views by itself. The most popular program actually downloaded to users' computers is "The Coming War of the Worlds," actually downloaded and people putting it on their hard drives. It's also the second most viewed. The third most popular program at Google video is "Christians Who Don't Keep Easter" and, so, people have been checking that out.
In addition, Apple's iTunes browser offers Beyond Today in its music store as a free program download. You simply launch your iTunes program, go to the music store and click on podcasts, and do a search for Beyond Today in the search window. You can then subscribe so that, everytime a new Beyond Today program is posted, it's automatically downloaded into your iTunes browser or into your iPod. And so, as much as possible, we're capitalizing on new and emerging electronic tools for preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.
This is in addition, of course, to our printed publications, our flagship publication, The Good News Magazine, and other important printed materials, which lay the foundation for which many of these things, then, build upon.
So, continue to pray and ask God to bless these efforts, that the seed will fall on fertile ground, on fertile ears, as we sow and water God's Word.
Here's a video clip for you from one of Steve Myers' programs, "Does God Exist?"
"One hundred billion galaxies! Scientists think that there's at least that many. How long would it take if you tried to count them, one per second? More than 300 years! Now, that's hard to comprehend, but have you ever looked into that starry sky and wondered, 'Why am I here?' That may be hard to comprehend as well, but we should know the answer. We have to start from the beginning, though, to answer the ultimate question, 'Does God exist?' Is He real? Does He really live? Stay tuned to Beyond Today, as we look at the real evidence, 'Does God Exist?'"
And, then, another one for you from Mr. Myers, which had Mr. Seiglie on it and Mr. Howard Davis: "Who Invented Life?"
"Your body and brain are brilliantly designed and nothing man has invented can compare. Now, some can't agree. Was life created or did it evolve? Some believe that science doesn't support intelligent design but true science actually supports the concept of a Creator. Is it important what you believe about evolution? Does it really matter whether life evolved or was created by God? There is amazing evidence, even from scientists themselves, about the most complicated invention, that's man himself. Stay tuned to Beyond Today, as we discuss 'Who Invented Life?'"
So, as well as using the internet, we continue to take advantage of free community access television wherever we can across the country, as well.
Our job is to let all the world , all nations , there are no exceptions, know of the possibility of the Kingdom of God coming. Not when it's going to come, but that it will come, and to instruct and give people some hope, because in this world today there is precious little hope for mankind.
We must give people hope, something to look forward to, and so we must not back away from the urgency and the drive to do the work of God. That's why we are part of the firstfruits in His Church now, as pictured by the feast of Pentecost. This role that we have must be taken seriously.
Television did not kill radio. Neither did the Walkman, nor will the internet. During the past 10 years, technology has dramatically broadened radio and other audio programming. It began in the mid-1990s with streaming audio over the internet. Do you ever remember hearing some of those scratchy audio recordings on your computer? By the end of the decade, XM Satellite Radio and SIRIUS Satellite Radio were launched and, since then, digital radio has continued to expand with the addition of podcasting, offering time-shifted radio programming and, now, HD Digital Radio, offering superior sound quality and additional AM and FM frequencies. Have you heard of HD Radio yet?
Our Beyond Today program is keeping right up with all of this technology. Not only are we on radio, but we are also on satellite radio, we're on internet radio, and we are podcasting all the time.
Indeed, there's a new report titled, "The Infinite Dial," jointly issued by Arbitron and Edison media research, which states: "The radio dial, which was once limited to what was sanctioned by the FCC and available only on the AM and FM dial, is now entirely unbound."
In fact, the report verifies that, far from killing the older medium by adding more listening options and giving listeners more control, the internet may actually be reviving traditional radio. Internet radio continues to grow rapidly. The U.S. monthly audience is now 52 million. Fifty-two million people a month in the U.S. listen to internet radio, up from 37 million in 2005.
Satellite radio is flying high too, not everyone is listening yet, but a majority of Americans have heard of both XM and SIRIUS satellite radios, 61 percent. We're on XM Satellite Radio with Beyond Today.
Now, while podcasting is still in the early phase of its development, 11 percent of Americans, 27 million altogether, have already tried this new way to listen to radio programming. Estimates are, that by the end of the year, the active U.S. podcasting audience will be three million, growing to 15 million in 2010.
HD Radio is a completely new concept to most listeners, but those that have heard of it are interested in hearing more. And, there's HDTV, which penetrates more American homes and HD Radio is certain to follow. Somewhat amazingly, the interest in all these alternative radio channels is not diminishing people listening to just regular radio. The vast majority, 75 percent of the digital radio audience, claim that they will continue listening to AM and FM radio for as many hours per week as they do now. So, it's just expanding the whole audio scenario.
Here's a program for you hosted by Mr. Darris McNeely and I'm just playing you the opening 30-second intro before the discussion gets going. This one is "Where Have Fathers Gone?"
"America today is going through a time of social upheaval not seen since the 1960s. The focus of this crisis is the traditional family structure and, in particular, one key part, the traditional role of the father. It's like a devastating epidemic that is moving through and leaving a trail of broken hearts and broken dreams in its wake. What is this tragic outbreak? It's the epidemic of disappearing fathers. On today's edition of Beyond Today, we're going to look at the question, 'Where have fathers gone?' Stay with us."
And, one more for you by Mr. McNeely on "Our Endangered Children."
"I have in my hand five Fruit Loops. Can you imagine a third-grade child making this her breakfast before going off to a day of school? It's hard to believe, but it is true. No, this isn't another faddish weight loss plan. It's a real-deal meal for a child caught in the disease of anorexia. Anorexia is just one of the many problems facing today's youth. Maybe you have, or know, a young person fighting anorexia, depression, or drug abuse. On today's edition of Beyond Today , we've got some information to help our endangered children. Stay with us."
And, as we go to the schedule of Beyond Today, you'll find that we've crossed the gamut from family Christian living, kids, through to prophecy, doctrine, the Commandments, God, the whole range.
Let's now take a look at part of Paul's direct ministry in Acts 13. After his conversion, he became one of the loudest proponents of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. But, first of all, we see Gentiles keeping the Sabbath day holy. It is not just a Jewish observance, is what they came to realize. It is for all of mankind and the early Church members knew that. Chapter 13 of Acts starts off Paul's first journey to various outposts of the empire.
Acts 13:42, 44, 48-49
Vs. 42 - We read, " So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath ."
Vs. 44 - "And the next Sabbath day almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God ."
Vs. 48 - "And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed," those who were being called.
Vs. 49 - " And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region." Now, back then, it was the region. Today, it's the world. We have got to work a worldwide work to all nations as we are able. The avenue is open for participation that has not been open before. We need people from around the world to participate in this process so that we mold and shape a message that people can relate to, no matter where they're from.
The world is so diverse today. The communications systems available are so incredible. One person on the other side of the globe can feel like his thoughts are worth listening to and so he types it onto the internet and we sit on the other side of the world to answer it in our Personal Correspondence Department.
This past year, we had more than 18,700 questions and notes left on our website. This would not have happened 20 years ago in the magnitude that it's happening now because of the communication from around the world. We've got some incredible possibilities. We must realize that we've got a work to do and do it !
It's a work of making disciples. God the Father is the One who determines who the disciples are. We have to sow the seed broadly and then God will determine where the fertile soil is. At the same time, not everybody is going to respond but everybody is being called at this time. So, part of what we are doing is a witness as well. It's a witness.
The Home Office runs hundreds and hundreds of keywords in search and content advertising on the web, on both Google and Yahoo on a daily basis. Results bring in thousands of new Good News subscribers and booklet requests every month, at a very favorable cost per response.
However, for the month of April the keywords surrounding the world's Easter celebration were unusually high in response. They went off the chart, shall we say. Internet users found our ads for the booklet, Holidays or Holy Days - Does It Matter Which Days We Keep? And they came across that booklet in both keyword searches that they initiated and in content match results posted alongside news reports and articles related to Easter.
During April, a total of 6.6 million impressions of our Easter-related keywords were posted, resulting in 1,480 new subscribers to The Good News Magazine, and this was 22 percent of our total new subscribers for the month, just from these two companies.
We're praying that this material will fall on fertile ground, as readers receive their copies here in the coming weeks, as they begin to read and digest what we're saying, and begin to digest God's truth.
Over the years, the higher response has come from questions people have had about the world's popular holidays, followed very closely by topics on prophecy. So, you've got the Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Valentine scenario and then you've got the prophetic subjects. They're the ones that tend to get people interested the most initially.
Now, guess what is of interest now during the month of May? What's on people's minds? It's the DaVinci Code movie. We're now getting a lot of requests for our booklet Is the Bible True? and Jesus Christ - The Real Story.
It's interesting that what's happening in the world impacts what happens on our website. For example, when the tsunami hit in Southeast Asia a year or so ago, people were searching frantically on keywords like "endtime," "end of the world," "is this the end?" and then they got copies of our booklet on the subject. So, as subjects are going around the globe in the news, we find those keywords riding to the top on whatever is popular at the time.
So, hot off the press, here's our introduction to the upcoming "Jesus, Judas and DaVinci: What is the Truth?" program. And so, the first segment goes through the DaVinci Code, the second segment goes through the Judas papyrus transcripts that were found, and then the third segment, "What is the Truth?" and focusing on Jesus Christ.
"Was Jesus Christ really the Son of God or just a man? Does the Bible give us the real story of Christ's life? Has the real truth about Christ's life and mission been hidden from the ages? A new movie, The DaVinci Code, weaves a fictional story that Jesus was married and fathered a child. Today, many alternative stories offer different views of the traditional Biblical accounts we have long believed. What is the truth about the life of Christ? Did He live as the Son of God and die as your Savior? We'll explore these and other questions on today's edition of Beyond Today."
The Good News Magazine has grown in popularity on the internet, markedly over just the past 12 months. Monthly visitors have gone from 45,000 last April to 126,000 this April. A 278 percent increase in just one year. And, we aim to allocate an even greater percentage of our resources to the internet as much as we can, yet still have a very strong print advertising campaign, as well as use other methods of communicating a message, like radio and television.
We've looked at some of Paul's words in Acts. Let's look at Paul's words to the Colossians for a moment and look at his zeal, once again, for the gospel.
Vs. 24 - We read, Paul writing to them, he says, "I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His body, which is the church." So, Paul dedicated his life, after conversion, to the Church.
Vs. 25 - "Of which I became a minister, according to the stewardship from God, which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God." And then, verse 26.
Vs. 26 - " The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to his saints." See, this is a mystery that we understand, that the firstfruits understand, that the Church understands. To the rest of the world, it's a mystery until their minds are opened.
Vs. 27 - "To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles." So as you read a moment ago, that truth was expanded beyond the Israelite community to the Gentiles. "That mystery-which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." That's our ultimate hope, isn't it: glory, eternal life, and salvation. And then, verse 28.
Vs. 28 - "Him we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom." You kind of see a two-fold approach to the preaching of the Gospel. There's a teaching aspect, a caring aspect, but then there's also a warning aspect. "Warning every man, teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
And then, in verse 29, Paul says:
Vs. 29 - "To this end I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily." We, also, are aiming to instill this zeal in our readers as much as we can. Warn, teach, labor, strive! You see, it's a work, it's a job, and it takes diligence.
It's interesting to note that over the past eight years, nonmembers provided around 11 percent of the church's income. We currently have 7,750 donors and 3,200 co-workers on our U.S. file. It is very encouraging to see a continued increase from year to year in the number of people who want to contribute to the work of the Church. They're not members! They don't attend with us at church, but they see something they like and they want to contribute and support and help it move forward. So, this chart, here, gives us a bit of an idea of the growth we've seen in our co-workers and donors over the last several years, since 2001.
Here's one that came in on just Thursday of last week. "Thank you so much for the booklets you are sending for me. You do not know how much it has changed the way I see life now in understanding the Bible. Please feel free to send me any booklets you have. The problem is, now, how am I going to change my life, meaning from the traditional Christian way, to what is God's way? Could you please pray for my family and I thank you so much, and may God continue to bless you to open the minds and eyes of everyone who has received The Good News booklets."
They are encouraging letters to get. See, the material is making a difference and I would anticipate, that when God is ready, we'll see some of these people start to come through the front door, as the work of the Church continues to build upon the foundation that is being lain.
One very encouraging trend is an increase in contact from other organizations wishing to quote our material as authority on various subjects. It's nice to see us quoted rather than us always having to quote other sources to back up our position.
For example, here's a letter we received. "I am writing from JWM Productions in D.C. We produce the Digging for the Truth series for the History Channel. I'm currently doing research on a potential documentary program regarding the Exodus and the archaeological evidence of the Israelites in ancient Egypt. I recently came across an article by Mario Seiglie and am wondering if it might be possible to contact him regarding some of his thoughts on the topic, as well as get the contact information for a satellite analyst that Mr. Seiglie mentioned in his piece."
Here's another example for you, something completely different. "The Caribbean Examinations Council is an educational organization involved in the research and preparation of tests for use in its regional examinations. We request your permission to reprint the material listed on the attached sheet (which was our "Teen Sex - The Silent Epidemic" article from The Good News, 2003), as stimulus material for questions on one or more of our examination papers, which will be subsequently published. Use of the material will be solely for educational purposes and will in no way compete with your publication of the work."
So, throughout the Caribbean, their examinations papers are going to have one of our Good News articles on it, probably in English or something, people to then read and answer questions on, giving credit to The Good News Magazine and the Church.
There's been quite a variety of interest in quoting our literature. Much more than in previous years; in fact, it's picked up in just the last couple of months. That's an encouraging trend, when others see our material as authoritative.
Now, here are some from online at Daycares Don't Care. It says, "Cecil E. Maranville, in an article for World News & Prophecy published by United Church of God, wrote the following to help readers increase their awareness and understanding of the debate over the use of daycare from a Biblical perspective." It's a very popular site, so Cecil Maranville is being quoted and, alongside quotes by Dr. Laura Schlesinger and Ann Coulter, are numerous references and quotes from Cecil Maranville, World News & Prophecy author.
In addition, on the major website, ReligionFacts, under the topic of Papal Elections, World News & Prophecy is listed as a valuable resource and, particularly, an article by Mr. Maranville. Once you start searching on the web, you'll find more and more quoting the United Church of God on various topics, so "The Man Who Would Be Pope," from World News & Prophecy, is a link directly there on the ReligionFacts website, under Papal Elections.
While the print run for our Good News Magazine has been fairly even for the past couple of years, our number of individual subscribers has continued to climb and this is as a result of reducing the number of waiting room and newsstand copies in favor of actual subscribers. Our current number of U.S. subscribers stands at 323,000, which is a four percent increase over April of last year and our worldwide circulation stands at around 425,000, which is very good in its own right. Because of the stronger than anticipated income over the past few months, the Media Department was recently given approval to take out additional print advertising for The Good News Magazine, as well as additional internet advertising, particularly to help gather new electronic subscriptions in areas outside of the U.S. So, this should begin to increase the overall circulation of the magazine once again.
I would like to begin finishing today by showing you a couple of our Beyond Today booklet ads, to give you a feeling for the flavor and the diversity of what we're covering. One is on prophecy, one is on the family, and one is for The Good News Magazine. You just get a bit of an idea of the variety of subjects that the program covers.
"The longest prophecy in the Bible predicts that global war will come from the Middle East . Understand how a future Arab confederation will challenge the world. Call 1-888-886-8632 today or go online to beyondtoday.tv for your free copy of 'The Middle East in Bible Prophecy.' Read where all of the major powers and trends in the Middle East today are in the Bible, including the current global war of terrorism against the United States and Israel. You need to know what could happen next. See how modern Islam, Judaism, and Christianity will bring the world to crisis. See how the coming of Islam fulfilled prophecies made nearly 4,000 years ago to Abraham, the ancestor of both modern Arabs and Jews. It's all in the Bible, as you will discover from your free copy of 'The Middle East in Bible Prophecy.' Call 1-888-886-8632 today or go online at beyondtoday.tv. You need to know!"
"Happy children and successful marriages don't just happen. They are not just dreams. They really exist for people who know how to build families through the practices you can discover in your free copy of 'Marriage and Family - The Missing Dimension.' Read what always works. Call 1-888-886-8632 or go to beyondtoday.tv. Build stability, warmth and love into all your relationships with this step-by-step guide to the lifestyle of family success. Know the secrets of what to do at each season of your child's development and the quality and quantity of time it takes to have a marriage blessed for life. That's 1-888-886-8632 or beyondtoday.tv for your free copy of 'Marriage and Family - The Missing Dimension.'"
"Explaining the meaning of human genetics is just another way The Good News Magazine informs with understanding you can't get anywhere else. Not only is human DNA toppling evolution, it shows the brilliant design of the mind behind the universe. Another issue features the latest Biblical research showing Jesus taught heaven is coming to the earth! Another analyzes when the dreams of peace will come to pass. Go online or call for your free subscription, 1-888-886-8632."
We would agree that the job today is as difficult as it ever has been, reaching an audience that is very disinterested in the truth of God in our secular world, but we are seeing growth, not in fantastic figures, but growth of around four to six percent in year income. The last few months have actually been a bit higher than that. Time will tell! We believe that the seeds we are sowing will germinate and bear fruit at the appropriate time and as God desires.
As we read in the book of Acts, we must continue to do our part to follow Christ's commands that He gave us in His final words on earth. We have been given a job to do and, so, may God continue to bless the various efforts of His people to take care of Christ's flock and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. The United Church of God takes this mandate very seriously.
It's up to all of us to pray, to implore God, to do our part to ensure that the resources are available to accomplish God's will on all levels. We've been given a job, or a work, to do. Each of us individually has a part to play in the plan of God. We have been called to understand God's truth now, as firstfruits in His plan of salvation, for a reason. We are here for a reason. God has given His Church a job to do, a work to do. The firstfruits have a commission. God has some business that He wants us to take care of first, before our resurrection to immortal life. We've been given our marching orders.
Let's read just one more scripture.
In Matthew 28:18-20.
Vs. 18 - " Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.'
Vs. 19 - 'Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit:'
Vs. 20 - 'Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.'"
The very power and authority of Jesus Christ is being given to His disciples, to you and me! He tells us to "Go you therefore," and do the job at hand.
As I conclude, let me read a letter to you that is rather revealing about the work of the Church in our age, but as it began 62 years ago. It's something Herbert Armstrong wrote back in 1944. The letter is dated March 20, 1944. It was a general member letter that he wrote at the time and here's what he wrote to the membership of the Church in 1944.
"Now we come to the real question. Why should the brethren assemble together every Sabbath as a local church congregation? What is our divine purpose and mission? Do we have one? Yes, we do! The individual is called to a calling. He is to become, in the Kingdom, a king or a priest, but there is a dual purpose in the Christian life. One is to prepare and train to assume the responsibilities to be given him then but, also, he is to have a part in present evangelism before the end of this age. The first duty, function, purpose and commission of the Church is to proclaim the message. Each of us has put his hand to the plow. You have your part in it. Let us not turn back! How thankful we are that we have this life that God has revealed to us. His divine purpose - that our churches are not social clubs - our purpose is not to get but to give. We do not have churches just to enjoy ourselves and to be ministered to. The ministry cannot carry the evangelism load alone, because all our hands are to the plow."
We are to seek first the Kingdom of God, Matthew 6:33. But, on a day-to-day basis, God expects us to carry out the work He commissioned to His disciples, and that's to you and me.
God's Church is the means by which He is now preparing this world for Christ's return. It has a job to do. It is through us that He is preparing the future teachers of His Kingdom. He is now beginning to build a world for tomorrow through His Church today.