April 30, 2010
Dear Fellow Brethren,
Preparations for the annual General Conference of Elders this weekend are peaking, and we’re all excited to see our ministers and their wives begin to gather here for three important days. As we prepare for this series of meetings and the upcoming year in the work of the Church, I’d like to invite you to consider a few things.
A video segment that I’ve recorded twice now is called “About our Father’s Business,” a reference to Christ’s statement who, even as a 12-year-old, appeared in the Jerusalem Temple and displayed knowledge and wisdom well beyond His years. Now, I’d like to ask you, how are we in the United Church of God being about our Father’s business?
Did you know that there are presently more than 16 million people in the United States and around the globe who keep the seventh day Sabbath? Did you know that these people consider themselves Christian and keep the Sabbath as they understand how Jesus and the apostles kept the Sabbath? The vast number of these Sabbath keepers don’t observe the Holy Days because they don’t understand the significance of them. They don’t have the precious understanding of God’s plan of salvation that we are blessed to have. They come close to a more complete knowledge of the truth in many instances, but then they fall short. God has not yet opened their eyes.
Considering all of that, here’s an important point. Many of these Sabbath-keepers know much about us and the entire Church of God movement. What do you think they see? Do they see God’s spirit in action in a highly inviting way? As a result of seeing that way in action, are they drawn to consider a deeper understanding of God’s word and truth?
As we approach the weekly Sabbath and, in a few weeks the Day of Pentecost, I’d like to offer some thoughts from perhaps an unusual source.
When Jesus was asked for a confirming sign of who He was and what He was doing, He replied in a highly remarkable way: “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” We read that in Matthew chapter 12, verse 39, and we in the Church of God are well familiar with how Jesus said that He would be in the grave for three full days and three full nights, just as “Jonah was in three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish” (verse 40).
We usually read this around the Passover time, so why am I bringing this up here?
The book of Jonah is very short compared to other books of the Bible. It is also one of the most controversial. Many scholars dismiss it as allegorical or metaphorical. Many don’t believe any of it happened.
Given that scholarly view, did Christ say something like “based on the children’s fairy tale about Jonah, I will be in the grave just as Jonah imagined he was in the legendary fish”?
No brethren, of course He did not.
What he did do was to completely validate the book of Jonah and its content. He confirmed that it all happened.
So here’s my point today and my question to you. What did happen in the book of Jonah and how might that be relevant for us today in the United Church of God? It’s a much bigger lesson than one about a fish.
As I mentioned, it’s a short book. You can quickly read it in one setting. But here’s its main theme, which our soon coming King and Elder Brother completely validated.
The book is about a message that God directly gave to one of His servants and how that servant tried to dodge his responsibility for delivering it. God didn’t destroy him for not following what God said to do, but God did go to great lengths to get Jonah’s attention. Jonah was to deliver a message of warning to the city of Nineveh, which the Bible calls “an exceedingly great city” (Jonah 3:3).
After God got Jonah’s attention, this time he obeyed. And a very surprising thing happened. After Jonah delivered the message, the people of Nineveh, whom God said numbered more than one hundred and twenty thousand, saw the profound error of their ways and repented. The King of Nineveh declared a fast.
How did God respond? “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). It was a totally unexpected outcome from Jonah’s human point of view.
Brethren, let me ask you this question: do we ever doubt the power of the message that we have today all been called to deliver? When Jonah got focused and aligned himself with God’s will, powerful things happened.
We are, as the Bible says, “a small flock.” But make no mistake. God in these last days has given us a voice.
As we test and refine that voice on commercial television, as we continue to tap into the unparalleled opportunities on the Internet that know no national boundaries, as we publish God’s truth in multiple languages, we are exercising that voice. Just as Jonah didn’t know, we don’t know in many cases how our message will be received. But we, like Jonah, have the direct command to proclaim that message.
As I have written to you recently, we proclaim a message that involves an invisible God. While God is presently invisible to mortal man, our Church and you members are not. When the Church proclaims a way of love, of give versus get, of the power that results when one embraces the truth of the Bible, do people in the world fully see that in action? Do our thoughts, our words and our actions reflect what we say? Can people in the world—including the more than 16 million Sabbath keepers who know of us and watch us—truly see Christ living in us? Do they want what we have?
These are important questions. They concern all of us. They reflect our responsibility.
I spoke recently about the strengths of the United Church of God. Those strengths are appealing. They are inviting. And they are true. God is working in His Church today, and He is the source of those strengths. If you have not seen it yet, it is available for viewing on the Church’s Web site (www.ucg.org/sermons).
In closing, let us consider the words of Paul, who wrote to the 1st century Christians in Philippi: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Our responsibility is before us and we have the very power of God to help us achieve it. Let us set the bar high as we approach Pentecost to rededicate ourselves to the standards of God.
And in doing so, let us all be about our Father’s business.
In Christian Love,
Interim President/Chairman, Council of Elders
April 30, 2010
Gary Antion spends two hours covering various aspects of counseling with international ministers at annual GCE meeting. Very helpful information for our pastors and elders to put into practice upon returning home to their congregations.
There will be an evening reception to follow, as more and more elders arrive in Cincinnati for the conference. It should be quite an enjoyable crowd gathering in the Atrium area of the Holiday Inn Eastgate tonight!
Some photographs below,
April 30, 2010
Bill Bradford is speaking about “Developing the Environment” at international meeting portion of annual General Conference of Elders. Godly leadership being discussed.
- As a minister, if people know more about you than Jesus Christ, then you’re not doing your job.
- The Church does not create leadership. Leaders are already there, and emerge.
- Godly leadership points to Christ, their leader.
- Godly character is of prime importance. If you’ve lost godly character, then you’ve lost the game before it started.
- As leaders begin to emerge, define the main trait we are looking for—not Bible knowledge, not personality, not how well he/she gets along with you—it’s character.
Main points then followed by section on developing godly leadership within your congregation, mentoring.
Here are some photos from the morning session, 9:30-11:30 a.m.
April 30, 2010
Tweets throughout the day from UCGmedia. Bill Bradford now presenting “Developing the Environment” to 55 international ministers and their wives from 9:30-11:30 am.
Updated Who Is God? booklet sent to printer
In the next few days we’ll be printing a redesigned, updated “Who Is God?” booklet. It also has a new cover as shown here.
This is one of our most important booklets, focusing on major misconceptions about God (such as the mistaken idea of the Trinity), the true identity of Jesus Christ and man’s incredible destiny to share in eternal life as part of the immortal spirit family of God.
This is another step in an ongoing project to redesign and update our 33 booklets to save money. Due to changes in postal service requirements several years ago, we had to reformat our 16 magazine-sized booklets to our smaller digest size. Once those were updated and finished, we continued our updating process with our existing digest-sized booklets.
As we’re updating them, we’re also adding photos and converting them to color throughout, which makes them more attractive to readers. We’re also printing them on lighter paper, which makes them less expensive to mail. All in all, we’re able to create more appealing products at lower cost, benefiting both the Church and those who are responding to our message.
Managing Your Finances booklet also updated
While we’re on the subject of booklet updates, last month we also updated our “Managing Your Finances” booklet. It also has a new cover, shown here.
As we were updating the text, the contrast really struck us between how bright the economic outlook was when this booklet was first written a decade ago compared to the major economic problems the world—and the United States in particular—faces today.
Reflecting these new economic realities, some helpful additions to this updated version are more ideas and proven methods for getting out of debt as well as a considerably more detailed worksheet to help readers prepare a household budget.
Due to a backlog of work for our media staff, these two latest booklet updates aren’t available for download yet, but should be in the coming weeks.
Demand remains high for our printed booklets. Over recent years we have consistently printed and mailed around half a million booklets a year, or around 30 to 50 thousand per month, in response to reader requests.
Booklets managing editor
April 29, 2010
As I write this many of our ministers and wives from the international areas served by the United Church of God are arriving in preparation for the General Conference of Elders meetings that begin tomorrow. Given my background in the former Soviet bloc countries and our work of preaching the Gospel there, our international efforts always have a special interest for me. It’s a great way to start up the theme of this year’s GCE, which is “Go Into All the World.”
This year and this GCE will be different for me personally. In my new interim role as operation manager for Ministerial Services, I have a different scope of work to address. Continuing the work started under my predecessors of Richard Pinelli, Jim Franks and others, we in Ministerial Services have a considerable number of established programs and issues that are in full swing. It is challenging but gratifying, particularly as my wife Bev and I have the opportunity to see firsthand in a personal way just how far we’ve come in the last 15 years.
We will be reviewing much of this over the coming four days, and hopefully we’ll draw inspiration and strength from our achievements as the growing Body of Christ. We do have a number of serious issues to address, and I am hopeful of reconciliation, re-focusing and renewal. I’ll speak more about that in my keynote address on Sunday morning. Your continued prayers for this will be much appreciated.
For those of you who are on Twitter, like before I’ll be punching out updates and news from the GCE on my Twitter account. You can use the hashmark #gce10 to follow these updates if you have Twitter access from your smartphone or computer.
On a personal note, while most likely already know of this, I did want to mention the death of Maxine Neff, wife to long-time Church of God minister Leroy Neff and mother of our pastor in Denver, Larry Neff. Mrs. Neff died peacefully in hospice care in Tyler. Texas on April 23, and the memorial service was on April 27 in Gladewater. Les McCullough officiated at the graveside service. Mrs. Neff left a legacy of outstanding service and now awaits the resurrection of the saints, which we can all be grateful for. While we have this sure hope, adjusting to the death of a loved one if not easy, so I would appreciate it if you would remember the Neff family in your prayers.
Operation Manager, Ministerial Services
April 29, 2010
A Spanish translation of Roy Holladay’s April 13 letter to the brethren is now posted on the member’s Web site at http://members.ucg.org .
The link is in the upper left corner and goes directly to the letter.
April 29, 2010
Robin Webber and Darris McNeely conducted separate World News and Prophecy seminars last weekend in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The meetings were well attended by United Church of God members and Good News magazine subscribers.
Topics covered this weekend were: “Europe: A Rising Superpower,” “Prophetic Decline and Fall of Nations,” and “Who Are the Two Witnesses?” A total of 19 new people attended both seminars. You can view videos of these and other topics on our Web site too.
Canada has hosted four such seminars since last September. Members have commented on the balanced approach and the timely topics presented. The support of the Canadian national office in making these seminars available is very much appreciated. We pray the seeds sown will bear fruit for the congregations.
Managing Editor, World News and Prophecy
The Church has now successfully aired two of the new 30-minute format Beyond Today television programs in five U.S. Designated Market Areas (DMA).
From a test perspective, it has thus far been a solid experience in an intensely cluttered media landscape. Since we are in the planning stages for a potentially much broader distribution in the top DMA U.S. television markets, these test programs provide us with critical information for the refining and honing of how to effectively reach viewers. These new commercials stations, located in DMA second- and third-tier cities in Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio, are fitting in with our existing strategy of cable distribution and Internet availability of the program.
For the week of April 18-24 we had 137 direct responses to our toll-free phone number, which includes all responses from free cable outlets and the new test commercial stations (all airing in a wide variety of time slots or dayparts). This is a 10% increase in direct response over the previous week, and virtually identical to two weeks ago. Twenty-four direct telephone responses came from the U.S. commercial test.
Those of you who had an opportunity to see the new programs know that we follow the effective contemporary strategy of encouraging viewers to log on to the Beyond Today Web site and immediately read (or request) additional information. That approach is consistent with proven winning strategy for this kind of programming, and rewards viewers instantly. That online option was obviously not available in prior generations of preaching the Gospel on air. The response numbers from this integrated approach will be available in early May, which will provide additional important information and feedback.
While the level of direct response for our commercial television test may appear initially modest, both the numbers and the experience are highly useful. To maximize the ultimate impact of this new television opportunity, we deliberately bought media time in second-tier DMA markets where we could effectively test content and programming without incurring the high costs that are common in premium time slots in first-tier DMA stations like New York. It is also a true axiom that you only get one chance to make a first impression, good or bad, so we want our content and presentation strategy to be on target as we move into larger television markets with God’s truth. This current strategy gives us critical space to make improvements as we prepare for an integrated broader outreach.
The process of building television audience loyalty and response includes the fact that viewers typically have to see a program or part of a program a number of times before they will respond to it. Our presenters are new visitors to our viewers’ homes, and repeat experiences will help develop a relationship. That will obviously take time.
We all want big numbers and big impact for this critical message. Given our progress in content, our presenters and production staff are excited. Millions of people prefer to receive information by commercial television, so we will continue to monitor and adjust our overall strategy, which includes our print, radio and online programs. Our goal is and will remain to maximize our reach, impact and success in announcing the truly good news of God’s coming Kingdom.
Please pray for the success of our integrated strategy, for the preparing and refining of our presentations, and that our message will fall on fertile ground.
Thank you for your continued support of all of our media efforts.
Operation Manager, Media and Communications Services
April 26, 2010
On Tuesday, April 20, the home office mailed a sermon DVD given by Roy Holladay titled “Strengths of United” to all UCG pastors. Ministerial Services operation manager Victor Kubik inserted a note and posted an e-mail to all pastors asking them to please play the sermon for their congregations as soon as practical.
Many congregations played the sermon on the Sabbath of April 24. If the DVD does not arrive by the time you need to play it (especially in the international areas), the high quality version of the sermon can NOW be viewed here: http://cincinnati-east.ucg.org/sermon/strengths-united .
Peter Eddington, Media and Communications Services