February 9, 2023
Each month I write a member letter to update and hopefully encourage the Church worldwide. Some months it is an effortless task, taking less than a day. The thoughts and words come easily. But other months it can take me several days to condense my thoughts into an actual letter. It isn’t because I don’t have anything to write about, but generally it’s because I have too much to write about! This current letter is in that second category. It seems that my head could explode with everything happening in the world!
Each day the world news is very sad and can bring you to tears. There is so much suffering! As I’m writing, the death toll from the recent magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Turkey and Syria has surpassed 7,000, and one estimate claimed the real number is over 20,000. In a region prone to earthquakes this is the worst one in more than 100 years.
Corruption, violence and political dishonesty are everywhere, including our own country, the United States. It seems that more governments are in turmoil or on the verge of collapse politically and economically than any time I can recall.
On the economic front, inflation is raging around the world and could quickly lead to food shortages and actual starvation. According to TradingEconomics.com, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate stands at 230 percent, and Venezuela’s stands at 156 percent. In many countries where the economy was already fragile there has been double- and triple-digit inflation. As we look around and see seeds being sown for even more suffering, I have no doubt that we are living in the end time. But exactly how it all fits into God’s plan often escapes us. No wonder we are told repeatedly to “watch” (Mark 13:33). If we knew where all the pieces fit in this mosaic of end-time events, there would be no need to be so attentive and alert. We must all take Christ’s admonition seriously and be vigilant in watching the news, while studying Bible prophecy and praying for Christ’s soon return.
In the Church, we are moving forward in both preaching the gospel and caring for the congregations. Coming out of the pandemic has opened up travel and made it possible to restart the International Leadership Program (ILP). Since last year’s Feast of Tabernacles, the four Church administrators (Messrs. Taylor, Horchak, Kilough and I) have traveled to Mexico, the Philippines and New Zealand, and later this month we have a trip to South Africa. The International Leadership Program originated in 2017, when the untimely deaths of two international pastors led to a series of discussions about our future. While we have made great progress in the past three years, we are still developing the ILP as a tool for accomplishing our goal for leadership training in the international areas. We have the Focused Mentoring Program in the U.S., but we need the ILP for preparing leaders outside the United States. So far, the results have been very encouraging.
In 2 Timothy 2:2 and Titus 1:5 we find insight into Paul’s concern for leadership training. Paul told Timothy to choose “faithful” men who are also able to teach others. Notice the primary qualification is faithfulness. In Titus Paul wrote about the need to appoint elders in every city. Then he proceeded to list the qualifications we should look for prior to any ordination. Putting these two sections of Scripture together, you see how important this was to Paul as he wrote to his fellow ministers Timothy and Titus. Conversion and faithfulness must be the foundation for any leadership development. Rather than being impressed by a person’s natural abilities, we should be looking for the most important qualities of all—faithfulness and conversion.
Another subject very much on my mind is the soon coming of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. These days are only the beginning and will be followed by the five remaining festivals, all seven occurring during a period of six months (this year from April to October). This week’s In Accord will announce the list of the U.S. sites and many of the international sites for the 2023 Feast of Tabernacles. With 14 sites in the U.S. and Canada, we have a wide variety of locations from which you can choose. I know some who applied for Italy were disappointed to be put on a waiting list or encouraged to try again next year (we hope to sign a contract soon to go back to Cortona in 2024). However, with an auditorium that seats only 350, we simply could not accommodate the approximately 900 who applied last month.
Each year I am reminded of the power of God’s annual festivals. Prior to Passover, we are reminded of the need to examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28). But what are we looking for? Of course, we are looking for sin and its effect in our lives. We are also told to discern the Lord’s body (verse 29) each year and observe the Passover in a worthy manner. This all requires effort, time and attention on the part of each one of us.
Possibly the greatest miracle that has occurred in our lives is our conversion. This miracle begins with our calling (John 6:44); then our repentance, which is the very core of the gospel (Mark 1:15); our acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, and then our commitment to removing sin from our lives. We relive these steps each year through the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. The seven festivals outline the path that leads to salvation, one step at a time. In the case of Passover and Unleavened Bread, we are reminded each year where this journey begins.
Over the next eight weeks, I encourage each of you to devote time to considering these huge events that have taken place in all our lives. Over the past 50 years of my life, serving in the ministry, I have watched and rejoiced with hundreds, maybe a few thousand individuals who came to this point of repentance and baptism. During the ILP3, we sit down with each couple attending and hear their stories of conversion. It is one of the most inspiring parts of these conferences. In my early years in the ministry I met so many new people, sometimes a dozen or more a week, and heard so many stories I am sure that I didn’t fully appreciate them. I was inspired by them, but there were so many! Now I go to these conferences and hear the stories of how these couples were called by God and converted, and it brings to mind so many additional stories to add to my list from the past.
There is certainly a heaviness associated with the Passover as we consider what Christ endured, but there is also a lot of rejoicing as we relive our own journey each year. I pray for all of you that your Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread will be powerful and meaningful. I am sure I will be writing more about these days in the weeks ahead. For now, let’s all rejoice in God’s perfect plan of salvation, which will ultimately include all human beings!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,