January 5, 2023
I have just returned from the Winter Family Weekend (WFW) in Louisville, Kentucky, and was it ever cold! Doug Horchak and I traveled together from Dallas, and the outside temperature was 1 degree Fahrenheit (-18 degrees Celsius) when we arrived at the Louisville airport on Friday afternoon, Dec. 23. This was one of the coldest Winter Family Weekends in recent memory, and it was also one of the best. Nathan and Amanda Willoughby, the local pastor and his wife, along with the brethren in the Louisville congregation, did an outstanding job of organizing the activities and taking care of everyone’s needs. Even though several canceled at the last minute because of the inclement weather and terrible driving conditions, we still had almost 900 brethren in attendance on the Sabbath, and 3,000 connected on the Internet.
I am truly happy to see us get beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and experience a degree of normalcy. While the virus isn’t completely gone, in most areas of the country its impact is much less today than it was even a year ago. Here in Texas, more people were hospitalized with the flu than with COVID in November. A few in the office have experienced the effect of this year’s flu, which they have described as being brutal, but nothing like the early days of the COVID pandemic.
I was happy to hear that there were no known cases of either COVID or the flu that came out of this year’s WFW. That isn’t to say there weren’t any, but none have been reported to me as of this date. I am sure many years have gone by when we took this type of news for granted, but those days are gone. We have all learned to be careful and take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of a virus. We now know that while mild and somewhat benign in most cases, the COVID-19 virus did lead to some deadly consequences around the world. And we in the Church were not immune. It has been sad over the past couple of years to hear of brethren who suffered with the virus and some who even died. While deaths have been few, they are tragic nonetheless. We continue to pray for the families who experienced the death of a loved one, whether from the virus or something else. Life is precious, and when a member loses a loved one to death, we all suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Many of us are probably familiar with the song “Circle of Life,” from the Disney movie The Lion King. The song is about the inevitable road we all travel from birth to death and compares it to a circle. The words of the song are sobering, emphasizing the shortness of life, and how it is much like a circle with the end and the beginning at the same point. While we accept the shortness of our physical life, we also know the truth of our ultimate future—to live for eternity in the family of God.
The story of life as outlined in Scripture is certainly filled with many emotions—from despair to hope—and we see the need for faith and love along the way. My sermon on the Sabbath in Louisville was about faith—walking by faith and not by sight. I chose to focus on stories, my own personal stories and those of others I have known over my almost 50 years in the ministry. To me, the best way to understand faith is from the personal level and through personal stories.
The past couple of years have been extremely stressful around the world. We had to put our plans for the International Leadership Program on hold for those two years. International travel came to a standstill. In 2022 we restarted the program with conferences in Chile, Mexico, Barbados and the Philippines. We found that the stories were the same in all these regions. The effects of the pandemic were felt in each region, some more than others, but certainly everywhere we traveled. And, of course, the virus is not the only trial brethren have struggled with over the last two years.
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). The margin in the New King James Version has an alternative translation—“times of stress.” After making this statement, Paul proceeds to give the reasons for these stressful times, and the first one listed is “men will be lovers of themselves” (verse 2). This is certainly the root cause of so many problems that are plaguing the world today. As we draw closer to the end of the age, the increase in selfishness, love for self, is easy to see.
Real happiness and fulfillment in life come from serving others, praying for others, and doing good for others, especially those who are experiencing tragedy in their lives. I believe we all understand this and have seen how it works over the years. When we feel discouraged with our current situation, but we choose to reach out and help someone else, we notice quite a difference. While our problems don’t disappear, we see them from a different perspective.
As we begin a new calendar year, I want to encourage all of us to step up and help our brothers and sisters who are enduring grievous trials, the loss of a loved one or some other tragedy. It is easy to overlook people. Some of the most shocking statistics I have read lately were about depression and suicide. The past two years have fueled more than one pandemic; a secondary one, part of the unexpected collateral damage, was caused by fear and isolation. Of recent date suicides have risen and today stand at an annual rate of over 800,000 worldwide. Statistically, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world. While there are many reasons a person might take his or her life, it generally comes from loneliness and depression, fueled by isolation.
With the world in chaos, seeing brethren helping brethren is wonderful and heartwarming. It was good to see everyone at the WFW and to see the care for the brethren. The fellowship during activities like the WFW, our youth camps, the Feast of Tabernacles and other large gatherings of brethren is refreshing to see and gives needed encouragement during stressful times.
I want to encourage each of us to continue reaching out, making sure that no one in our local congregation is overlooked, but that everyone receives the love and attention he or she needs when times are difficult (Galatians 5:13). Life is like a circle and ends all too quickly. Serving and encouraging others are the most fulfilling things we can do with the gift of life God has given us.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,