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United Church of God - the Next 25 Years: Challenges & Opportunities

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United Church of God - The Next 25 Years: Challenges & Opportunities

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United Church of God - the Next 25 Years: Challenges & Opportunities

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As the United Church of God approaches its 25th anniversary, what challenges and opportunities will be faced in the next 25 years?

Transcript

[Darris McNeely] In May of 1995, I had just come back from a gathering of ministers in Indianapolis, and I was able to walk into my house, look at my youngest son, Ryan, and say to him, "We have a church. We have a church.” A group of us were gathered in Indianapolis at that time to create to form a new congregation, a new fellowship, a new church of God, that we'd already chosen the name at that point called the United Church Of God. And it was a very dramatic time nearly 25 years ago when we came together at that point over in Indianapolis to deal with massive doctrinal breakdown that had taken place and to create a place where we could continue on with what we felt was important to us in our calling and our responsibilities before God. About 150 elders at that time gathered there. We left that three-day conference in Indianapolis in May of 1995. With three mandates that we wanted to do, number one was to provide a spiritual home for the scattering members of the Church of God at that time. And so that was one of our main reasons. The second was to prepare to keep the Holy Days, the festivals, especially the Feast of Tabernacles, and just a few months from that point. And the third mandate that we had out of that was to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God and of Jesus Christ.

And we organized to do that nearly 25 years ago. Now, it's hard to believe from my perspective, that it's been that long or I guess that short depending on, again, what your perspective might be, it's gone by just like that in terms of time as far as I'm concerned. But here we are. We're in actually our 25th year of the United Church of God. Next May will be the 25th anniversary but you can say we're in our 25th year and actually beginning this week, as part of the agenda of the council of elders, we're going to begin to discuss how we want to remember that date and celebrate 25 years next May with the elders that… I hope we will get more elders to come in from around the world to kind of think and look ahead, especially towards the next 25 years. Our purpose is not to look back so much as it is to look forward to the next 25 years and see what we can do to prepare for that. But that's where we are 25 years, they have not been without their challenges. But you know, we are still here.

Three years ago, we were meeting in the conference room here with a group of people we had brought in to consult with on some matters in the Church. And I remember, as we were explaining to them who we were, what was the United Church of God, is this a building, this fellowship, this group here in Milford, Ohio, in Cincinnati, on the east side? Who are we? What are we are about? Where do we come from? And so we sought to begin to explain it to him. And in the process, Peter Eddington made a comment to them about what we were about in terms of our mission and what we wanted to accomplish and some of the challenges that we'd had. And he said, "Those of us that are around the table here, he said, we are still here, doing what we said we would do from the beginning." Twenty-five years ago now. And I've always remembered that statement, "We're still here," he said, "doing what we said we would do."

And part of that, large part of, with the three things that I said that we came out of the Indianapolis conference with our mindset to accomplish. And so, as the council will begin this discussion, as we will, we've already begun to talk about it. We've done a couple of podcasts. Mr. Kubik and I and others have done some podcast to talk about that last May with the ABC class here, the most recent graduating class, I took a period right at the end of the year, to talk with the graduating class this year about what they would like to see the United Church of God doing in the next 25 years and some of their comments were very helpful. They certainly brought up the fact that they wanted a church for their children. They wanted a place where the faith could continue to be taught, the true faith of God to be enshrined. They expressed concerns about unity within the church. They were also eager to give advice and helpful tips about how to use media to reach a younger audience and to advance the gospel. A number also commented to me that day about the importance of building relationships and the value of that. One young man, a student said that this that I remember, I thought it was probably the capstone comment of the whole session. He said, "You know, I look around at the church, United Church of God today," and he said, "I think it's in the best place that it's ever been. I think it's in the best place that it's ever been." And that was, again, unsolicited, but I think that there's a lot of truth there to think about.

So what I'd like to do this afternoon, is to look at a few possible themes that we could focus on, we as a church, prepare ourselves and look forward to the challenges and the opportunities of the next 25 years, there could be more than just three. And there could be others than what I will talk about here today. But in some of our discussions with some of us in this building, and others that are on a planning committee for the upcoming general conference, these are some of the ideas that we've tossed out. And I've thought about and so I thought I would share them with you this afternoon. Because I think that it at least gives us a platform to begin a discussion and some very important things to think about that are rooted not just in what we might think where we are right now. But also, I think, given those three mandates that I said we came out of the Indianapolis conference with 25 years ago, I think they match up pretty closely to what we said we wanted to do then, and what we need to begin with a more focused approach to do going forward from this point and for the next 25 years.

Here's the first thing, and is this, that we're going to be preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Kingdom of God to an increasingly secular world. Now, that's a general statement, it's a true statement. And it probably could be put just a little bit better. But let's work with that for a moment. We're going to have to address relevant issues that are impacting the world today, your world, my world, everything that we observe, and we're going to have to address them from the foundation of the Word of God, from the foundation of the Word of God. Not from what we might pick up as we watch any particular news source, or individual, or ideology, or philosophy, or even other spiritual ideas. It's all going to have to come from the Word of God as we address relevant issues. Issues like immigration, issues like gender issues, the LBGDQ issues that are just foaming and raging around our world today. The addictions, the depression, and the suicides, that come as a result of those in the midst of the stresses, the problems that our modern interconnected world has created for itself.

You know, the addictions or things that we've talked about in our Beyond Today and on some of our programming and we deal with and we tragically see around us and at times, even breaches the walls of the church and impacts us, and yet the society just hasn't, you know, in some ways, taken all the steps to deal with this. But a year and a half ago, I had a root canal, the first one in my life, and as I was walking out of the dentist's office, they handed me a prescription for an opioid. And I thought, "What is this?" I thought and went home, I told my wife, "I better go and get this filled because I'm probably going to need it." She looked at it. She said, "No, you're not. It's an opioid. It's what creates addictions." And then she had some dental work done just a few days ago, and they gave her the same prescription, free and easy to go fill. One of our employees had some dental work done here this week as well, was talking about that very same thing.

And we don't get it in some cases, and things are accessible and they lead to other problems. Marijuana is being made legal, you know, that debate can rage back and forth, and we can talk about that. But all of these things are taking place around us in our world and how we address those things are going to have to be done from the foundation of the Word of God. We're dealing with a globalized world that transnational effort to break down barriers. And, frankly, what it boils down to is a march toward the Babylon, that is prophesied to come, in the book of Daniel and the book of Revelation. And that's the world we are seeing developing and right in front of us. We're also dealing in a world that is increasingly caught up in spiritual deceptions that are more subtle than any that I have ever studied, examined, or seen in my years. Spiritual deceptions of different sorts and types, I think is the best way to put it. It's not just religious deception. It's not an issue of true and false, and error, and paganism, and all of this. It is a spiritual deception that is creeping over the world that is very subtle, very subtle, and it is impacting the world and it is impacting the elect of God, the Church of God as well in ways that would shock some of us, maybe not shock others. But not too many things shock me anymore. But every once in awhile, I've even seen things in our own fellowship that I can't believe it.

But spiritual deception, and we have to address those things. And the United Church of God's will have to sharpen its focus on proclaiming God's vision to a world that is increasingly hostile to biblical truth, a standard of truth, an absolute standard of truth that is rock-solid foundation from which there is no equivocation, no argument, the Bible. And we will have to defend that. We will have to know why we believe it, and why we teach it, and why we live it, and we'll be able to defend it and hold the line that will become increasingly more of a challenge. And what we have to really do is present to a world the truth that man is created in the image of God. What we need to present to the world is what we read back in Genesis 1:27 Genesis 1:27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
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, as we find with so many the issues that are facing us today in the world and the world is catapulting toward, the answers are still found right in the book of Genesis, and the first pages of the book of Genesis. And we have to keep going back there to never forget them and to remember them. But in Genesis 1:27 Genesis 1:27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
American King James Version×
, it says that… let's see, yeah, verse 27, "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." I had one of our pastors called me this week to get some advice about how to deal with an individual that was beginning to sit in the congregation that he's in. And the individual, you know, I just said, "You're going to have to go back and explain to this person as they will talk with you about certain these issues, male and female, are they created.”

That's where you begin. You cannot hide from that. You cannot deny that. Man is created in image of God, male and female, that is part of God's creation. These are the issues that come through our doors at times, that our ministry deals with, we deal with, you deal with, in your workplace, in school continually, man created in the image of God, male and female, created He them. In chapter 2 verse 24, it speaks regarding marriage. Here at the very beginning, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." Christ quoted this in Matthew 19 when He cut through all the problems of His day and said, "In the beginning, it was not so, what did God say in the beginning? Male and female, they were created, joined together to become one flesh," whether it's gender issues, whether it's marriage, and what marriage really is from a biblical standard, these are the scriptures that begin the discussion. And that we go back to it and we build from. And that is what we have to make relevant, because we're created in the image of God, to share in that glory. That is God's purpose, to share His glory. And the compelling message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God is what we offer. It's what we give. And we will have to continue to sharpen our focus on that, hold to that in a world that doesn't want to hear those words, and accept them and believe them. Rather, they would rather object and reject them.

In Titus 2, Paul spoke to this in the second chapter of Titus and I think it presents our challenge as we go forward. As we look at where we are Titus 2:11 Titus 2:11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
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. And this comes down to our level, your level, mine, as we sit in congregations, as we live our faith out in our lives, in your workplace, in your school. As you interact with people as they see you and know you and become to know that there's something different about you. It has to flow from what Paul describes here in Titus 2:11 Titus 2:11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
American King James Version×
, which say, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness…” When you read Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 and you believe what it says, you deny ungodliness in the world today. We do. When we write that, teach that, preach that, believe that, live that, we deny ungodliness, ungodly ideas and we have to label them for what they are and not apologize for what we do believe. He says, "Teaching us by the grace of God, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in the present age." He wrote this in the first century to the Church, the Word of God, it applies to us today in 2020.

We are to live godly, in this present age, righteous, godly lives today, we have no choice. That is our calling. As we “look for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” This is our challenge as we go forward into the next 25 years, to live in this way, and as we preach a message, as we teach that message, as we live that message, because we will, you know, we can write an article, we can do a program, we can preach it from the pulpits and the ministry can do that. But each of us has to then live it.

We have to support the church, the message of the gospel that goes out by living as this verse and others say, and preach that gospel, if you will, by our example, and be a praying church. Rather what we have to become as a praying church that's on its knees, like the Church of the book of Acts, that we read about. Many of you have been in the class and you know what the book of Acts says, as we go through that. And as we study that we find that it is a church that was on its knees, so very often, so many times praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” Praying for deliverance, praying for protection, praying for the guidance of the Spirit of God. To get through a challenge, to the leadership, to the individuals for the day-to-day existence, a church like the book of Acts, where we're lights.

We have to find the common points with people that we interact with in our life, find commonality with the people that we come into contact, with our neighbors, our coworkers. We have to, I think, begin to look at people who are not a part of us, as our neighbors and to love them as we love each other. And as we love God, we may not love what they do. But we have to come to the point where we, I think, quit using the terms that cause us to look at so much of the world out there. And people that are unconverted or so-called this or so-called that that label people and put up walls and barriers. We have to be able to find the commonality with people in their humanity, while at the same time we are lights. My wife was recently explaining to a group of ladies that she gets together with a couple of times a week that are not part of the United Church of God. And they know that we occasionally go to Africa, and we do work over there. And they use the term "Oh, you're over there doing mission work." Okay, well. Whatever that word, you know, that you understand it from that point of view. And yeah, we do have a mission and we are over there doing some work.

But she explains why we go there and what we're doing. And one lady had, you know, just kind of broke down in tears and realizing that's a good thing. It's a good thing. And you have to be able to explain the things that we do. Make your faith resonate with people that you meet every day. Because you're living it. We're part of a praying church that is preaching the gospel and being an increasingly bright light in a world that does not like the truth of God. That's one challenge that I think that we have and we're going to have to think deeply about.

Let's look at another theme. We're going to have to, in the next 25 years, continue to build on the foundation, building that household of faith that we have only begun to accomplish. We have to build a household of faith. Let's turn over to 1 Timothy 3, 1 Timothy 3. Paul talks about the Church of God. Beginning in verse 14, 1 Timothy 3. "These things” Paul writes to Timothy “I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; But I am delayed. I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God." This is one of those scriptures that really anchor us in terms of what is the church and what it should be. This is kind of a church scripture. If you're one that colors your Bibles or puts a little markings in there, you might want to put out in the margin church or whatever color you might have, purple, lavender, pink, rose, mauve, whatever they are, today, grey, to mark this. It's a church scripture. It's a church scripture. He says, "I want you to know how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."

This is a pretty good description of what the church is, what it should be always, it is a house. The Scriptures talk about that we are individual temples of the Holy Spirit and all, but the Church also has that designation. It is the house of God. It is where we come together. We are individual members of a spiritual body or the spiritual church, the house of God. It is the church of the living God. And it is the place where it is the pillar that sinks deep into the ground to support the weight of the building the ground of the truth. That's what the church is, and this is what we are building. He said it goes in verse 16, "Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up in glory." So this is what we are doing. We are we are building the Church of God, the house of God, pillar by pillar.

Revelation 3 talks about those that are pillars within the temple of God, is a designation of a part of the church and way of understanding that as well. You know, a few years ago, again, going back to the consulting that we did with a group to come in and talk to us about our media message and what we're doing and seeking to help us with that. We brought a group in and they looked at us, they looked at every bit of our literature, our website, the Church and our history and this and that, research this to help us come up with what was the essence of the United Church of God. What's the core essence of the United Church of God, they came back with two words, "meaningful relationship." We paid a lot of money to get those two words. Meaningful relationships.

And you know, we put that on little coffee mugs and we put that on a computer pads that you run your mouse over and I think I still have one, we might have some stuck upstairs someplace. Peter probably still has some of those. You know it's right and we brought in a consulting firm. They looked at us and said, "You folks are about meaningful relationships." And they're right. And it's right. It's all about relationships. I was one of the first camp directors of the United Youth Camp Program back in 1996 when I was appointed to direct Camp Heritage over here in Pennsylvania, which Debbie and I did for nine years. And we had a big camp. Lots of kids came from all over, it was kind of the Northwest camp of the day, all right, or, you know, where everybody wanted to go, it was Cotubic for this region at that time, and we had a pretty good run.

I learned early on we had a very nice facility. We had a boy scout reservation that we used a part of their facility, and we had a lot of activities. And we had all of this going on, and we were building a good program. But I learned very early on, it wasn't about my role as a camp director or any of our counselors or anybody else. It was the whole cumulative impact of that experience as campers and staff came together, was all about relationships. And I came to conclude after about the second year, you know, I think I said to somebody, "Now we got a nice facility here in the woods of eastern Pennsylvania in the mountains. But I think that I could go to Indianapolis where I was living at the time and rent a mall parking lot, black asphalt and set up tents, and a big awning and call it Camp Indianapolis or whatever.

And everybody would come and they'd have a good time because that's where their friends were. It's where their relationships were, that they were building and developing. Now we didn't do that fortunately, we kept it in the woods and heritage and we have all of our camps still going today. But it's about those relationships that we were building then and continue to build. I was talking the other day with Steve Nutzman, who coordinates our camp program. And he was putting together some numbers. We've just completed 25 summers of United Youth Camps. And he said we've had 17,000 campers, 17,000. Now a lot of those were duplicates, but year to year when you add up all the numbers from each of the 25 summers of campers, 17,000 campers, over 25 summers. Now I'm not trying to present… You know, I hope you understand how I'm presenting that figure. But that’s… Essentially, we had to divide that by 25 and that's what we would have each summer. And I recognize that somewhat multiple years, etc. And even today, multiple camps over summertime, but it's a lot. It's a lot of programming. It's a lot of activities. It's a lot of relationships that have been built. I've always said that camp is the most successful program, I think, in the United Church of God. It frankly was the first program that was put together by the interim council of elders. And early or late May of 1995, we left Indianapolis, we had appointed an interim council. And they met a week or two later over on a teleconference, the first decision they made officially was to fund and to put in place summer camps. And from that late May point, we rushed through and we had half a dozen camps that summer across the United States.

And the camp program was the first and I think the most successful program that we have had in the United Church of God, to develop those relationships, to build a household of faith. We have Ambassador Bible College here. We just completed what was our 20th year with this past class, now the 21st class, I guess, we'll be starting here in just a few short days. Mr. Antion gave a commencement address back in May. And he put out the number that we we've had through May of this year, 698 attend ABC in its years, 20 years, 698 in 20 years. That's quite a few to go through that entire program of going through the Bible and what ABC offers. That's remarkable, that's solid. Out of that, we have a number of home office employees that have worked for us, either today or in the past. We've had a number of people who attended ABC that have become elders now in the Church, but most importantly, we have many members of the Church around the world who are faithful to the truths of God, for and stronger in their faith, more than those who may not be at this point in time for the ABC experience are solid pillars in their congregations. And their lives have been improved by what has been done. And when you look at the camp program as well, the seeds that have been sown, the work that has been done in the lives of all those youths in 25 years, they will bear fruit. They will bear fruit and have already done so. And they have benefited the church in helping us to build this household of faith that we will continue to build on.

Probably the biggest challenge we might look at to that is maintaining our unity. And as I said, the class that I'd polled this year at ABC, this is one of the things that they mentioned, concerns about that unity. And I think it is a challenge that we all must shoulder individually to be sure that we strengthen and maintain the relationships that we have, that we hold them close, that we hold them to be important to us, and that we invest in them, continue to invest our time, our effort, our love, the Spirit of God, to do that. At times, even to our own hurt, you know, I learned something years ago, Christ said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." You really have to wage peace.

You talk about waging war, you know, going to war waging war. Well, yeah, that happens and we know the impact of that, the destruction that creates, but to be a peacemaker in the meaning that Jesus was talking about, you have to wage it. You have to war at peace, not war and peace, but you have to war at peace. You have to really focus on peace and it takes an effort, more of an effort really than it does to create conditions that are not peaceful or war. We have to hold our tongue, we have to admit we're wrong, we have to go the extra mile. We have to choose to allow that the offense may be to stand at times and suffer for righteousness sake. A lot of things that Scripture tells us that we have to do because the bottom line is, Christ is not divided.

In 1 Corinthians 1:13 1 Corinthians 1:13Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
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, when Christ asked that, or when Paul said, "Is Christ divided?" Is one of those rhetorical questions. The answer is no. No, Christ isn't divided. But people divide. We sing the song, "How good and how pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity." Psalm 133. Yeah, it's better to dwell together in unity. Those are the things that we have to think about. How do we do it? Well, let me just put out one point on that. Just as I said earlier, I just came back from another trip to Africa. And in talking with a few ministers before, during and after that, this trip, just seeking to understand Africa and our churches there and our members.

Africa as an experience, it's a remarkable place. But in looking at what our members have to deal with, to hold on to the faith there, which in many cases is similar to what we have, obviously, human nature doesn't change from continent to continent, from ethnicity to ethnicity, or race to race. It's all the same. But there is something in Africa that is called tribalism, tribalism. There are tribes in Africa, they're all black, I'm talking about among the black Africans. They're all black. But they are from different tribes. And those tribes have just as much prejudice among themselves, as we will find in any other part of the world of white and black, or Asian and American, or Asian and black, and whatever it might be. And it is a debilitating problem that is endemic to Africa and is part of the problem that has kept the entire continent from developing, but it also impacts our members. I mean, you can be from one tribe, and you have two tribes and there is prejudice and feelings of superiority because you are one tribe, and yet they're in the same church.

And our ministers that go over, our senior pastors, and work in these places with the African ministers and members have to contend with that unique feature. It's human nature. But it's interesting. And again, you know, we're inundated with racial talk today and the prejudices and the problems and we understand the national debate in America about that as well. But this is not just here. They have its impact there and they have to deal with it and it's called tribalism. And somebody was explaining it to me a few days ago, and I was talking with one of our elders when I was over on this particular trip, and he was explaining a few things to me and it inhibits their relationships, is what it does.

It creates conflict and, you know, sand in the gears that creates problems and breaks down the relationships. We have our tribalism in different ways. It's not just related to race or ethnicity. We can become tribal within this congregation within the church of God as a whole. Paul addresses it in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2, he says "Some are of Paul, some are of Peter, some are of Christ." Divisions, he said, should not be there. But we get into them. And these are the impediments to the unity that we want. And that can be over an understanding of doctrine. Some have over, you know, you get one tribe and you identify with a part of the "tribe of the church," because, well, they see the Bible this way. And this is what they do with their life because of this, and so I like that tribe." And we have another tribe over here, well, they can't sing certain hymns in this hymnal because they're too protestant. So we got another tribe, and then people identify with that tribe. You see what I'm saying? This is the tribalism we get into in the church, and it puts sand in the gears and creates judgment, division. And it's the little things then that become bigger things and they rise to higher levels within the church and they ultimately can rise to division if they're not stopped. And where does it stop? It has to stop with us, you, me, and recognize certain other biblical principles that are regularly brought to our attention through the messages but we have to stop the tribalism and work to build meaningful relationships if we're going to build the house of faith and the way we look at one another. I'll give a shout out to our pastor here. I think he does a pretty good job of seeking to build our relationships with activities. Sometimes a few too many. But I'm old. We got something for everybody. All right.

And, you know, for some, we've got 15 things and 5 for others, but that's great. But I think he does a pretty good job of really putting that before us. And I said here and I've been a pastor for umpteen years and in the ministry 46 and I appreciate the pastoral care that I get, my wife and I get in this congregation. And I hope you do too. Because he's working his best to build relationships, at all levels intergenerationally among ourselves. Know your Bible, brethren, not just your tribe. Not just someone who agrees with you, know your Bible, not your posse. Know your Bible, not just your generation, know each other. Know the whole congregation, draw together, come together. We've got many good opportunities ahead of us, to build a household of faith, we really do.

Now let's look at a third theme, and that is preparing the next generation. I'm not going to see the 50th anniversary of the United Church of God. Many of us in this room will not. All right. And we're on the cusp of a transition right now. That is quite, it's going to happen. I see it. I've talked to you about that in previous times. The Bible's full of transitions. You see the transition from Moses to Joshua. You see the transition from David to Solomon. You see the transition from Elijah to Elisha. I love the transition of Paul to his church elders in the city of Ephesus, where he wept, they all got down on their knees and fell on one another and wept there in Acts 20. And Paul said, "Look, I give you guys over, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, it's able to keep you." And he had gone to Jerusalem and he knew he wouldn't see them again. That was a big transition, but he committed them to God. And so there's lots of transitions in Scripture. I don't think we're going to have to wait 25 years to see a major transition. I think it's probably going to come within 12 years in the United Church of God.

There will be a transition to a new generation within 12 years, that's my guess. And many of you that think I'm just blowing old fogey smoke here will be blowing the same old fogey smoke in your positions. Trust me, it'll happen. It's happened to me because I used to hear it, old fogey smoke, whenever I was your age. You like that? Well, I just made that one up. It just came like that, old fogey smoke, but I was listening to some Ronald Reagan quotes the other day, I just happened to pop up on a YouTube feed and I said “I’ll listen to President Reagan.” And he was pretty good with a lot of things. And when he was running in 1984 against Walter Mondale for president, his second term, he was well up at his upper 70s I think at that time, and they were saying, "Well, you're too old to be President of the United States and you can't be…" And Walter Mondale was a young 55, probably at that time. And they were making an issue of his age and President Reagan made this comment. He said, "Look, I promise that I will not if you don't make an issue of my age, I'm not going to make an issue of my opponent's youth." And he stopped the whole question, the whole debate, with that particular quip.

But he went on to make another comment and he quoted from a Roman statesman, a Roman orator from ancient Rome named Cicero that was really the foundation for his comment. Cicero said as he was looking at his age back in the time of ancient Rome, and he said, this is a quote, "If it wasn't for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state." "If it wasn't for the elders correcting the mistakes of the young, there would be no state." This is an age long issue that just comes up throughout the ages of the transitions and making the hand-off effective to preserve the continuity of the community, of the state, of the Church. And we're going to have to transition through that. Over the last couple of years, being a part of the ministerial services team conducting the regional conferences, I gave a talk called "Be an Elder at the Gate." And I gave this to all the elders that came to our regional conferences, "Be an Elder at the Gate" was what I talked about. And what I did was went back into the Old Testament to show the role of the elder at the gate as you read about it in ancient Israel, the gate being the city hall, the county court, where all the judgments, and justice, and decisions, and laws were upheld and carried out for the community. You read about it from the book of Numbers and Leviticus, on through the Old Testament, this category called the elders.

Now, there's one story that we should spend a moment with of a group of elders and what it meant to the community that can help us as we look at this here today. And it's from the well-known story that we all know, the story of Ruth, the book of Ruth. We all know the story. Turn, if you will, over to Ruth 4, and I'll summarize the first three chapters as we're doing so. But you know this beautiful story where because of a famine, a man named Elimelech from the city of Bethlehem went to Moab, he crossed over the Jordan, went east with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion. They went down to Moab, and Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women, Orpah, and Ruth. And then Elimelech dies and Mahlon and Chillion die and so you have three widows: Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. Naomi says, "I'm going back home to Bethlehem to my home," which is, you know, what happens today with people in that type of situation too. "I'll go back to the homestead. I'll go back to my hometown." And Ruth goes with, Orpah doesn't, and you know the story. Ruth goes, she says "Where you go, I will go. Your God will be my God, your people will be my people." And so they go back to Bethlehem. And it's in the time of the barley harvest.

And they come to the story there. And we're in chapter 4 of the book of Ruth, where Naomi sends Ruth out to the field of Boaz to pick up some grain so that they can make bread and they can eat, gleanings, is what it's called. Now we have gleaners harvest and places today where people still glean in many different ways and it's a good practice. It's a biblical practice. Ruth falls in love with Boaz, and he with her. But before they can get married, they have to deal with a situation dealing with the family of Elimelech because of property and the name and the… it's all tied up with the law of the Jubilee back in the book of Leviticus, which helps to preserve the community, but if you know the story in chapter 4, they went to the gate, says in verse 1. Which basically they went to the county court to get this matter resolved of name, and property, and money.

So that the way could be go forward because there was another near kinsmen who had a first right of refusal over Ruth. And he had to say up or down whether or not he would take Ruth as his wife. And that's the story, but they go up to the gate in verse 1, and they sat down, and this close relative of whom Boaz, it spoken, it says, came, and Boaz said to him, “'Come aside, friend, sit down here.’ So he came aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city,” in verse 2, and he said, "Sit down here." So he sat down, and then they go through the proceeding. This is kind of a civil, judicial legal matter that they have to go through. But the elders are the judges. They are the clerks of the court. They are the ones who are responsible for seeing that the business of the law that govern the community in that day is adhered to by the people and the families. And as you know the story, the relative whose name is not even given to us, he says, I don't want her because it's going to complicate my family, my inheritance, and my money. And so the way is open for Boaz then to step in as the next in line, and he marries Ruth. And it's a beautiful story, just filled with so much teaching for us. But on this particular point, it shows us the importance of these elders of the city, the laws, the responsibilities that had to be maintained to build not only Bethlehem, but really a spiritual community, and also to pass on and keep intact the generations, the harmony, the social structure of the community here in Bethlehem.

If you skip down to verse 11. After that was finally decided, says, "All the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, 'We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman who was coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. And may your house be like that of Perez, Tamer born of Judah, because of the offspring which the Lord will give you from this young woman.'" Now you know the rest of the story. Boaz and Ruth are in the line that eventually leads to King David, and thus to Jesus Christ. And when you understand the importance of what they did this day in Bethlehem and upholding the law of God that bound together the community of Bethlehem and therefore the entire tribe and nation into harmony, and a social compact. Everybody knew one another. They knew each other's families and they adhered to it. And it worked. And it preserved that generation, the name of Elimelech, his family, and created then a new house, if you will, of Boaz and Ruth on which eventually, God was able to place into another family of Mary and Joseph, His Son. The Word incarnate.

Decisions that are made today impact the years ahead of us and the next generation. We're preparing for the next generation right now. And we have a way of life to perpetuate and our part in doing that is part of the inheritance of God. This is how a household of faith stands its ground in the midst of a time and ensures transition. I began today talking about the time that we're living in, the hostility to biblical truth. And that we are going to have to hold to that even more so in our personal lives and demonstrating that as well as at the same time preaching it so that when people come into our midst looking for a safe place, from the tragedies of their own life put upon them because of this culture and this society, they find that people of faith who are adhering to the teaching given to them by this generation, we're preparing that now. And it is in our minds and in our hearts.

Elders in this case that were figures of authority and experience, they respected God's law. They respected tradition. They respected family, reputation, and honor. Brethren now we're listening. Those of you that want to take my place, those of you who want to take Mr. Myers place, are you listening? There'll be a time when you will.

Years ago, I came to a point, I said to somebody who wanted my place in another congregation. I said, "I'd give it to you if I could, but I can't. But I don't think you know what you're asking for." But some of you will be in this place. I had to put in my time. Be sure that you will have to put your time in as well. And we will make this transition together. The future of the United Church of God is filled with promise. In Ephesians 4:16 Ephesians 4:16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
American King James Version×
, this is the promise, Ephesians 4:16 Ephesians 4:16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
American King James Version×
, this is the promise that we have. Ephesians 4:16 Ephesians 4:16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
American King James Version×
, "From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love." This forms the basis of the vision statement that we have taken for the United Church of God. A body joined and knit together, every joint supplying something to the working, that we all share and have a part in growing together and love, or into a meaningful relationship.

That is the promise that we have 25 years has just laid a foundation for it. Twenty-five years ago, we said we would prepare a home for the people of God at that point who were scattering because of doctrinal confusion. We said we would keep the faith, provide for the keeping of the faith in the Sabbath and the Holy Days. And we have done that. And we said we would preach the gospel. And of those mandates then are themes that we can build on today. So let's be a part of that. Our calling is to be an instrument in that Body of Christ, that is the Church that's being prepared as a Bride. And let's be a part of that. And let's be about our Father's business as we seek to build for the next 25 years.

Comments

  • Val
    Thoughts after hearing this sermon for the first time in our local Sabbath Service. Darlene your comments are so true. Glad the sermon was played in our congregation. My present thoughts, how to support the message going out? How do we as individuals shine our lights and be the salt in this increasingly secular world. Mr. McNeely telling us to know God’s Word speaks to “ being ready to give an answer to all who ask the reason for the hope that is in you”. Also how important it is to take our responsibilities to be praying for the ministry and the inspiration, and guidance of God on the different aspects of the work he is doing through UCG. The new step of interviewing experts and others in current issues of interests to society seems an exciting step to take in reaching out to the world with God’s answers of Hope.
  • MS. DARLENE M. ELFERING
    Watching and listening to Mr. McNeely concerning the next 25 years was refreshing and brought new hope for the United Church of God's future. Please consider if not already thought of showing this wonderful news to each congregation so we all can see what the plans are for our future.
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