United Church of God

Personal From the President: February 24, 2022

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Personal From the President

February 24, 2022

Today Russia invaded Ukraine, starting with aerial bombing and shelling on civilians. Targets have included major cities including Kharkiv, where members of my family still live. I thank everyone, including our friends in Germany and Australia, who sent me thoughtful prayerful emails expressing concern about what they are seeing in the news.

As I wrote in my column two weeks ago, my pathos is in the human toll and suffering that is just beginning. Seeing a picture of an old woman with a face covered in blood from the cowardly indiscriminate shelling pained me deeply. Facebook groups in Ukraine are springing up giving reports and showing photos of what’s going on. I just joined the “War in Ukraine” group. As nuclear world powers are faced off to one another, and with Russia involved, the outcome is not likely to be good.

While the world looks on aghast at these actions with fear and anxiety, we in the Church of God hold the powerful truth that God is all-powerful, that He is intimately aware of all things. We have the unbreakable biblical truth that “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise” (Daniel 2:21 Daniel 2:21And he changes the times and the seasons: he removes kings, and sets up kings: he gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding:
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation).

Now is the time to yield and surrender our wills to God, seeking and trusting Him and remaining under His care. While we are to pray for all people, I would ask special prayers for our many friends, particularly our Sabbath-keeping brothers and sisters in Ukraine with whom we have worked over the decades. We will give you reports as we get them.

When Jesus Christ was troubled beyond measure knowing what His immediate fate would be, He declared to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 John 14:27Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you: not as the world gives, give I to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
American King James Version×

While we may not like to think or talk about the Doomsday Clock (created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and currently reflecting 100 seconds to “midnight”—potential human extinction),we do know that God will send Jesus Christ to intervene at the last minute when humans are posed to annihilate themselves. We also hold and proclaim the good news of the coming Kingdom of God, which will finally end human misery and usher in an incredible new era of real peace.

Let us lay aside any fear and unify together under the marvelous promises of our God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, praying always “Thy Kingdom come!”

Embrace the Power of Forgiveness

What does a disciple of Jesus Christ do when they have been harmed or hurt by others?

We live in a world where conflict is often common between husbands and wives, friends and families, workers and colleagues. In fact, one study showed that 85% of American workers have to deal with conflict at their jobs on a regular basis, costing companies an estimated $359 billion annually in lost productivity and HR expenses.

So, how does a person following Jesus Christ respond when they have been wronged or hurt? The apostle Peter received an unusual answer when he asked Jesus Christ about this issue: “Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’” (Matthew 18:21 Matthew 18:21Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
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The answer is important, especially during a time when we begin to prepare ourselves spiritually for the annual taking of the Passover. What was the response of Jesus? “Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (verse 22, emphasis added throughout).

That can be a tough assignment, especially when one is harmed by a friend, loved one or trusted colleague. It can be tempting to indulge in self-pity or harbor resentments, but the alluring edge of that negative spiritual pit can crumble quickly into worse problems.

What do we do? The answer from Jesus is clear: we must step back and forgive.

I have recently been relaying some firsthand experiences in Russia and Ukraine that illustrate spiritual points. Allow me here to recount another one with a Ukrainian origin, which relates deeply to the vital topic of forgiveness.

As I have mentioned in other accounts, when Bev and I lived in Indianapolis, I was once introduced to a remarkable man: Hart Hasten. Because of our backgrounds we ended up having a long luncheon conversation. The discussion ultimately included some deep spiritual lessons for me. Allow me to relate.

At the time I met him, he was an accomplished and well-respected community leader, particularly in the Indianapolis business and Jewish community. But he was also well known and his wise counsel was sought by leaders in high places in Washington, D.C., and even internationally, including senior government officials in Israel. His positive influence ranged from helping found a prominent Indianapolis K-8 Hebrew Academy—where a number of teenagers of Church of God families have taken their SAT and ACT exams for a non-Sabbath Sunday administration—to founding, leading and growing various investment, financial and business institutions.

But Mr. Hasten didn’t always live life this way. In fact, as we learned from each other, we possess remarkably similar childhood experiences.

Mr. Hasten was born in a predominantly Jewish community in what was once Poland but became Ukrainian territory after World War II. My father also grew up in the same region. When the Nazis invaded the region in 1941, my father Igor was taken west to Germany as a slave worker. At the same time, rightly fearing deadly persecution, Mr. Hasten’s family fled east to Kazakhstan to relative safety. Life in Kazakhstan was extraordinarily harsh, but the family somehow survived.

When they struggled back to their home region after the war ended, they were met with a horrific fact: their entire extended family had perished in the Holocaust.

There was nothing left for them. So, they continued as refugees traveling west, where they were eventually admitted into a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Austria. As many of you know, my parents endured similar experiences in Germany before moving to Minnesota. Coincidentally, the Hasten family made a similar move to the same state.

We talked freely about several topics including our personal faith and our observances of the Sabbath and the annual Holy Days.

Our luncheon conversation then turned personal and animated. Unexpectedly, this extraordinarily successful business and civic professional confided that he had to lift the heavy burden of hatred off his mind. He knew the answer—he had to forgive. And he did! He spoke passionately about having to forgive the murderers who callously took the innocent lives of his family. He admitted that he could not continue to carry this emotionally acidic burden, one that could consume him.

Mr. Hasten wrote a memoir titled I Shall Not Die! The book title comes from Psalms 118:17-19 Psalms 118:17-19 [17] I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. [18] The LORD has chastened me sore: but he has not given me over to death. [19] Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD:
American King James Version×
: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD. The LORD has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death. Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the LORD.”

Why would he select such a title? He explained in his book:

“Looking back at the events of my life, I am able to discern the handiwork of a greater power. I am convinced that the Almighty is more powerful than the Nazis, the Soviets, the PLO and all of the enemies that have risen up against the Jewish people throughout history. And, like the Jewish people, I have been brought close to destruction many times, only to be saved by the outstretched hand of God . . . To paraphrase the Psalmist, the title expresses the fact that I did not die, but was allowed to live to relate what the Almighty has done.”

The point? Forgiveness holds astonishing healing power.

As we approach the Passover, let us deeply consider this.

Forgiveness and gratitude often complement each other as spiritual gifts. As I write, thousands face painful tumult and upheaval. This is certainly presently true of Ukraine, where Mr. Hasten and I both share human roots. Other areas in Africa and Asia face terrible conflict, even outright genocide.

Today, many of us in the Church of God community enjoy the blessings of relative peace. We can—and should—be grateful to God for this wonderful peace.

That has not always been the case. Through the ages, beginning in Jerusalem and stretching across the Roman Empire and then further, disciples have had to contend with conflict and injustice. Conflicts over the keeping of a seventh-day Sabbath and the annual Holy Days often make us uncomfortably stand out, even suffering innocent loss.

Mr. Hasten inspired me. He had made peace with his undeserved plight and forgave people who murdered his family. The magnitude of this forgiveness would be a good topic to meditate on and consider as we approach the Passover season.

And let us carefully think on the fact that Jesus Himself died for us while we were yet sinners! (Romans 5:8 Romans 5:8But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
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With that as a backdrop, think humbly about this: “consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:3-4 Hebrews 12:3-4 [3] For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. [4] You have not yet resisted to blood, striving against sin.
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Jesus Christ set the standard, even with our adversaries: “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 Matthew 5:44But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
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Why? “That you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

Jesus’ main point? “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” (Matthew 5:44-47 Matthew 5:44-47 [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; [45] That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same? [47] And if you salute your brothers only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so?
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Let’s be honest. This can be very hard to do. But it is the standard! We must earnestly ask God and Jesus Christ daily for the love of God to be poured out in our hearts that this may be achieved (Romans 5:5 Romans 5:5And hope makes not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us.
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In His model prayer to God the Father, Jesus further instructs us: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 Matthew 6:12And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
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). Even as we receive forgiveness, we must extend grace and practice the forgiveness of others who may hurt or harm us.

Why is this vitally important? Read the answer of Jesus: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 Matthew 6:14-15 [14] For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: [15] But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
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God does not want us to suffer, becoming bitterly addicted to thoughts of revenge and self-pity. God is love! (1 John 4:16 1 John 4:16And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.
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) Paul instructs us “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love” (Ephesians 5:1-2 Ephesians 5:1-2 [1] Be you therefore followers of God, as dear children; [2] And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling smell.
American King James Version×
, New International Version).

Let us embrace the power of forgiveness!


  • Kelly Irvin

    This is a keeper!!! God bless us all by His Holy Spirit with a heart of forgiveness.

  • Val

    The plight of the Ukrainian people has touched me deeply. More so I believe because of hearing of your contact with and for them in the last ten plus years. I was just a baby when the second world war happened and this trial in the Ukraine is reminding me of the atrocities that happened then. I often think of those in the Ukraine as I go to sleep at night and bring
    their cause before our father in heaven, remember them As my eyes open in the morning praying for their safety during their night.