GCI Update

East from West

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe and Tammy TkachAt this time of year, we celebrate the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ, by which our sins are forgiven and our eternal future is assured. It was the greatest act of love we can imagine—although we can’t fully grasp the depth of that love.

As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).

What the Lord God did in Jesus goes far beyond any human standards of love and sacrifice. That is why we find it so hard to accept, without any reservations, the richness of God’s grace. We read that our sins are forgiven, but we feel the need to add an “if.” We understand that God’s love for us is unconditional, and yet we still think there is a “but.” Unconditional love and forgiveness seem too good to be true.

People in Old Testament times didn’t have this problem. The Temple animal sacrifices left no doubt that the removal of sin was a bloody and messy business. But even then, some were able to glimpse that there was more to the forgiveness of sin than slaughtering an animal. David, when confronted with his multi-faceted sin with Bathsheba, pleaded,

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
(Psalm 51:9-11)

David realized that his outrageous behavior had damaged his relationship with God. He wanted desperately to make it right. However, a visit to the Temple with a sin offering was not enough.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:16-17, NIV margin)

David was ahead of his time in glimpsing God’s grace, realizing there was nothing he could do except admit his guilt and ask for forgiveness. As we know, he was forgiven and later, in happier times, he could sing confidently:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:11-12)

The world of David’s day was much less technologically advanced than ours. Most people thought of the heavens as a vast inverted bowl in which the sun, moon and stars moved. In Psalm 103, David used that view of the cosmos as an analogy for the vastness of God’s forgiveness and mercy, which separates our sins from us by an unimaginable distance. That sense of vastness is sometimes blunted in our modern age. I often fly long distances “through the heavens” from east to west and back again. Thus, David’s analogy might seem less impressive. But it shouldn’t. Just last week we were reminded of how vast the cosmos truly is. In 1977, an unmanned spacecraft named Voyager 1 was launched from Cape Kennedy. Its mission was to travel along a trajectory that would take it through our solar system, sending back photographs as it traveled.

Voyager 1 has fulfilled its mission brilliantly. After traveling for 18 months, it sent back stunning pictures of Jupiter. Three years into its mission it gave us the first close-up pictures of the ringed planet Saturn. Now, over 35 years later, Voyager 1 has traveled farther “from east to west” than any other man-made object. It is now over 11 billion miles from earth. Its signals, traveling at the speed of light, take about 18 hours to reach us. It is heading out of our solar system at about 38,000 miles an hour. Last week, scientists were speculating that either it has, or soon will, move beyond the influence of the sun. Its power plant may be able to send us signals for a few more years. But then Voyager will be on its own, hurtling through interstellar space until it comes under the influence of another star in about—wait for it—40,000 years!

The journey of Voyager 1 puts David’s analogy of “east from west’” and “above the heavens” into perspective, doesn’t it? Although the spacecraft has traveled through only a tiny fraction of our cosmos, the distance, even with our modern scientific understanding, is beyond our ability to grasp. Perhaps if David was writing Psalm 103 today, he might put it this way:

For as far as interstellar space reaches away from earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
 as far as Voyager has traveled from east to west,
so far has he removed from us our transgressions.

God’s commitment to remove from his memory the guilt and stain of our sins is still greater than anything we humans can imagine. That’s how great God’s love for us is. And always will be. Let’s be thankful for that.

Your brother in Christ’s service,

Joseph Tkach

PS: With this issue, we have posted Scripture, God’s Giftthe first article in a six-part series entitled Guidelines for Interpreting Scripture by Gary Deddo (the article also is linked under the Church Development heading at upper left). We will be publishing the other articles in the series, one every-other week, over the next three months. I think you will find these articles extremely helpful.

Embracing Incarnational Trinitarian Theology means reviewing and, if necessary, changing many of our ideas, including our approach to Holy Scripture. Gary has spent his career studying and teaching the Bible—bringing to the task a deep love and respect for Scripture as well as his world-class scholarship. As I read the articles, I found myself thinking, “In a few sentences Gary has said what it’s taken me years to learn.” Though we can’t all be professional theologians, this series will help us become “a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I hope you enjoy the series. Please let me know what you think of it.

James Newby

James and Karen

James Newby, pastor of GCI churches in Joliet and NW Chicago, Illinois has been married to Karen for 19 years. They have six children: a son James (15) and five daughters: Jessica (13), Jemma (11), Josianna (9), Jade (7) and Jennifer (4). James affectionately refers to them as J1, J2, J3, J4, J5 and J6.

Newby children
Newby children

James grew up in Connecticut. “I was an adventurous, only child who rode his bicycle everywhere, including on a paper route. I saved my money, and by the time I entered college I had just enough to cover the $1900 down payment. It seems that  ‘squeaking by’ is how I move into the next thing.”

James began attending WCG with his dad in the middle 70s. His mother followed later. “It was my first brush with formal religion. My mom was a non-practicing Catholic and my dad a disgruntled Scottish Presbyterian. They got married agreeing to believe in God but to not get entangled with church.”

In 1981, when Ambassador College reopened the Big Sandy campus, James moved to Texas to be a student. He finished his education in Pasadena. “After an extended college experience I moved to the United Kingdom, taking advantage of dual-citizenship and there became a ministerial trainee. After one year I was sent to Kenya for nearly three years, then returned to the UK. In 1995, after the doctrinal changes began to take a financial toll on the church, I was ‘let go’ (with the intention of staying in the UK as an unsalaried elder). But the opportunity opened to relocate to the US—and the Chicago-land area is where we’ve been since.”

For James, pastoring is where God led him and where God wanted him. “It was the course God laid out for me; from the time I went to college my prayer has always been ‘your will be done’ and I had a passion for working with our youth and camp ministries during my college years.” He has continued that passion by focusing on his neighborhood and immediate community. “I may not have the greatest ‘skill set’ and I may sometimes lose focus, but I want for nothing more than to see the good news transform my neighborhood—our Jerusalem—then Judea, Samaria and the world.”

GCI’s transformation has renewed James’ passion. “I enjoy our renewed vision—the redeeming work of our Shepherd Jesus, who has taken us on a journey toward missional discipling. I am grateful for his grace and patience and his revelation of the wonderful mystery of his triune nature and the power of the gospel which tells us we are included in Jesus’ life and love. I am grateful for the opportunity to declare that Jesus didn’t die ‘only’ to deal with our ‘sin problem’—rather he dealt with it so that we might have wholeness through fellowship with the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, and with all of the redeemed. Sinde I began to believe it, the good news became even better!”

James’ passion is to see the church be the church. “I weep and ache and am learning how to work to see the redeemed—the reconciled, the included, the disciples—be on fire for the gospel, to live as community within the community, in the power of the good news. I long to see the reality of the church living loved and living sent, on mission with Jesus. I know this sounds like the new religious, in-speak, jargon of the decade, but I don’t see this as a passing fad or the church program of the moment. In our ‘landing on’ the Trinitarian truth of who God is and why he made us, I think we’ve landed on our calling—summed up in our mission motto: Living and Sharing the Gospel. I want to see the church be the church.”

When asked about a mentor, James said many have stood in the gap for him. “Many have been inspirational and have had mentoring roles along the way; some are no longer with us because of doctrinal differences, but even from within our old doctrinal paradigm, there were those who did an amazing job of mentoring me. In the last decade, it was Dave Fiedler who had the greatest impact on my ministry as an older-brother/father in the faith. He encouraged and championed and fought with determination to see the grace of God transform the pastors under his care. His impact will always be remembered as stalwart, passionate and compassionate.”

James says that his most memorable moment as a pastor was baptizing four of his six children. When asked when he feels closest to God, he replied, “Right now!”

Medical-dental mission

On February 23 GCI’s congregation in Talisay City, Philippines conducted its first medical-dental outreach. The church compound in Talisay served as the venue for providing free medical help to 167 patients and free teeth extractions to 50 patients.

gci cebu medical dental2These wonderful services rendered by medical professionals were made possible through a partnership with several generous doctors whose services were recruited and coordinated by the Philippine Friends Missionary Fellowship, a parachurch organization to which these doctors’ churches (including GCI Talisay) belong.

The patients were happy for the free services, medicines and vitamin supplements given by the doctors. Those serving as volunteers at the event served joyfully and were given a sumptuous meal by a professional caterer. GCI members and volunteers from other churches hope that many more opportunities to serve will come their way.

Memphis church visit

Dan Rogers recently visited the GCI congregation in Memphis, Tennessee where he gave an expository sermon entitled “Ministry and Mission in the Spirit.” Following the service, Dan enjoyed fellowship with the members and met with the congregation’s newly formed leadership team.

Memphis 2

Scripture: God’s Gift, part 1

This article is part one of a six-part series by Gary Deddo on interpreting Scripture. For the other parts, click on a number: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

The Christian church down through the ages has always regarded the Bible as indispensable for its worship, devotion and life. Its very existence is bound up with it. The church would not be what it is without it. Holy Scripture is part of the air it breathes and the food it eats.

I learned of the importance of the Bible as a young child and was encouraged and taught to read it and memorize it. I studied it both on my own and with others—I’m glad I did, now years later. The study of the Bible has always been an essential part of my ministry in serving others whether it was teaching it, preaching from it, studying it with small groups of other Christians, or referring to it when counseling others. When I attended seminary my primary focus was the study and interpretation of Scripture. It was so important to me that I was willing to try to learn Hebrew and Greek to see if I could understand Scripture better!

Along the way, I learned that there were various ways the nature and place of Scripture was understood and various ways to make use of it. Some of these seemed better than others, while some seemed to lead to the misuse of Scripture, or even to making it irrelevant. I read books and took courses to sort out these issues hoping I could find some wisdom in all this not only to help me, but to pass on to others.

Scripture is so essential to the Christian faith that most denominations have an official statement concerning the importance and place of Scripture. GCI is no exception. These summaries can be a good place to start reflection on the nature, purpose and right use of Scripture. GCI’s statement is brief, to the point and fairly comprehensive:

The Holy Scriptures are by God’s grace sanctified to serve as his inspired Word and faithful witness to Jesus Christ and the gospel. They are the fully reliable record of God’s revelation to humanity culminating in his self-revelation in the incarnate Son. As such, Holy Scripture is foundational to the church and infallible in all matters of faith and salvation.

Let’s explore what’s behind this theological summary of our understanding of Scripture. We do so not so we can enter into endless debate or prove ourselves superior to other Christians who might have a different view. And I don’t think we simply want a theory about it. We seek understanding of Scripture because we highly value it and want to honor and make proper use of it. We want to handle it well so we can get the most out of it. And these very things Holy Scripture itself encourages us to do. We also can recall that others in church history have benefited greatly through a deep understanding of Scripture and how to interpret it. But in the end, I think we want to grasp and use it well because we hope to get to know even better the God of the Bible in whom we put our faith.

By God’s Grace

Many of us have sung the childhood song that says: “Jesus loves me, this I know—for the Bible tells me so.” And that’s true enough. However there’s a different way to sing that verse that is also true: “Jesus loves me this I know—so the Bible tells me so!” This second way is reflected in the GCI statement that the Bible is God’s gift to us, a gift of grace and so of his love. Because God loves us in and through Christ, he has graciously provided us his written Word.

God didn’t have to do so, but his love for us, his creatures, has moved him to provide us with his Word in written form. God’s love for us comes first, then follows his provision of the Bible. We wouldn’t really be able to know and love God if God hadn’t first loved us and communicated to us through his written Word. God gives us his word in Scripture because he loves us and wants us to know that he does. We should always remember that the Bible is God’s gracious gift of love to us.

God Continues to Empower His Word

But that’s not the end of it. Human words in and of themselves don’t have the capacity to reveal to us the truth and reality of God. Human words are just that, human. They derive primarily from our human experiences. But God is not a creature and can’t be simply grasped in creaturely terms, concepts and ideas. Words, when referring to God, don’t mean exactly the same thing as when they refer to creation. So we can say we “love” and we can say God “loves.” But God’s love far exceeds our love. We use the same word, but we don’t mean the same thing when we use it of God compared to when we use it of ourselves. Yet our love can be a dim mirror image of God’s love. So God himself has to sanctify, make holy and adequate, our mere human words so we can use them to accurately and faithfully refer to the God of the Bible and not lead us into misunderstandings of God and his ways.

The God of the Bible is active and continually gracious to us by superintending our reading and interpretation of Scripture, helping us to see how they uniquely make God and his ways known to us. He has not become mute since the Bible came into existence. God continues to speak in and through his written Word, enabling it to refer to him and not just to creaturely ideas or realities. The God of the Bible continues to speak his word to us through this gift of written revelation.

If God ceased to be personally involved and stopped empowering the written word to accomplish the miraculous feat of enabling us to know him, then God would not be truly known. We would simply have human and creaturely ideas about God to consider and nothing more. The result would likely be not much better than the ancient Greek and Roman mythological gods.

Inspired by the Spirit

holy-spirit-BibleIf we ask, “How has God spoken and made himself known to us?” it turns out that this work involves the whole of God, that is, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The word “inspired” means “God breathed.” The Holy Spirit is identified as the wind or breath of God. By the Spirit of God, certain people down through the ages were called, appointed and specially enabled to speak authoritatively for God. They were “inbreathed” by the Spirit. How exactly the Spirit works we do not and cannot know. But we have been told that the Spirit can and has empowered first the prophets of the Old Testament and then the apostles of the New Testament.

The Spirit seems to take into account everything about a particular prophetic or apostolic author and graciously makes use of them. The Spirit incorporates their language, culture and social-political background as well as their own relationship with God into his communicative purposes. The Spirit uses the human elements of the selected prophets and apostles. But the Spirit uses these elements in a way that enables them to refer far beyond creaturely realities. The Spirit takes charge of them in a way that gives those words a capacity to communicate that they could never have on their own.

So by the Spirit, Scripture as a whole serves as a written form of communication that God can continually use to make himself and his ways known to his people down through the ages. If the Spirit was not at work with these individuals, we would not have any authoritative and trustworthy access to God’s word. So we can thank God for choosing certain individuals down through the ages and, by his Spirit, inspiring them to speak faithfully for him.

Providential Preservation

We have these written words because they have somehow been preserved for us down through the ages. This too must be regarded as the gracious work and gift of God. Because of his great love for us the God of the Bible not only kicked things off by selecting and inspiring certain individuals, but also by overseeing them being handed on and finally collected together. We call this form of God’s grace his providence.

Apparently an aspect of God’s providential oversight also included some inspired editing of preexisting material. God providentially maintained contact with his written word and with the process by which it was canonized (brought together in an authoritative collection). Of course if the God of the Bible wanted us to have a written witness to his Word, then we shouldn’t be surprised that God would also have to anticipate and secure its preservation down through the ages (you do, after all, have to be pretty smart to be God!).

The Self-Revelation

The gracious gift of revelation as it traces through history does reach a crucial high-point. All the prophetic words prepare for and look forward to the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God. And all the apostolic writings look back to the time and place where God himself, as himself, reveals and interprets himself in and through Jesus Christ.

In Jesus, we don’t have simply another inspired word about God, but the Living Word of God himself, in person—in time and space and in flesh and blood. So Jesus tells us that he is, himself, the Way, the Truth and the Life. He does not show us a way or tell us about the truth or give us things that lead to life. He himself is these things. Thus God’s gracious revelatory work reaches a qualitatively different level with the birth of the Word of God in human form. And, as it turns out, the written word of God’s Spirit-inspired prophets and apostles point to the fulfillment of their own word with the coming of the Living Word.

John the Baptist, as the last of the prophets and representative of them all, serves as an authoritative witness when he points to Jesus as being the Light, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Messiah and the Son of God (John 1:8; 29-34). John proclaimed that Jesus came before him and is the one who baptizes with the Spirit. Therefore John said he must decrease and Jesus increase, for Jesus is the center of the center of God’s revelatory work and thus stands at the very center of Holy Scripture.

Faithful and Infallible

The written word, derives its authority and faithfulness from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. Because God is the living and speaking God, we have a written word that puts us in touch with the Living Word of God, all by the Spirit. The Bible’s authority is established and maintained by a living and real connection of God to the Bible. Scripture can serve as it does because it remains connected to the infallible God. The Bible’s authority and faithfulness is not in itself, apart from God, but in its actual, continuing connection with the Father, Son/Word and Spirit. So when we read or listen to the Bible, we can expect to hear the living, triune God speak to us once again.

Church planting networks

Through Church Multiplication Ministries, GCI is making significant progress in forming district-level church planting networks where existing GCI churches partner to recruit, equip and support men and women called by God to start new GCI churches in the US. Following is a report on one of those networks from district pastor Glen Weber. Following that is a video of a presentation on church planting networks given by Hal Haller at a recent GCI church planting conference.

The Southern California “Quad”

The four GCI district pastors in Southern California (affectionately called the “Quad”) have been gathering monthly for some time to pray with and coach each other. One of the topics that kept coming to our attention was church planting. We had talked and prayed about it quite often and finally Pastor Heber Ticas said, “We need to stop talking so much and begin to actually do something to participate with Jesus in church planting.” We began by supporting Pastor Heber in planting a satellite congregation within the Latino community in Los Angeles from his mother church in San Fernando Valley. That church launched in October 2011 and has been experiencing approximately 70 people in attendance.

Meanwhile we began to pray and search specifically for people with a heart and calling to plant a stand-alone GCI congregation elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.  A couple of people expressed interest and we assessed one couple; but it was the wrong time for these individuals. Meanwhile, a GCI pastoral couple (Angie and Saddie Tabin) in the Philippines visited Southern California with a desire to plant a church there among the large Filipino community in Los Angeles. After considerable prayer and discussion we decided this was the Holy Spirit providing the answer to our prayers, even though it was going to take more work and faith than we had planned on.  Normally, GCI does not provide salaries to church planters, but to make it possible for the Tabins to get a visa to work in the US, we  needed to provide them a salary to get started. That meant raising about $50,000 to cover their salary for about eighteen months (we are still raising those funds). Meanwhile, we had been developing an ability to provide church planter assessment, coaching and other support services.

The Tabins arrived in late June 2012 and hit the ground running, meeting hundreds of people in their focus community. They have developed a network of relationships by giving people day-old bagels, meeting them at the grocery store, visiting them in senior residences, etc. By February 2013 they had made sufficient contacts to invite 130 people to an initial social gathering where their new friends could meet. Over 80 attended and are looking forward to the next gathering in a month or so. After having a couple more gatherings, they will have a preview church service or two, leading up to the launch of their new congregation in October—God willing.

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the GCI Church Multiplication summit held in Memphis, Tennessee. Below is a video of a presentation made there by church planting consultant Hal Haller. By watching this, you’ll get a better idea of church planting networks vision, values and outcomes. I urge other districts to form a network. For assistance, contact Randy.Bloom@gci.org and see the CMM website at http://cmm.gci.org/networks.htm.


Lexie Ellis

Last week we asked for prayers for Lexie, who is battling cancer. Since that request, she had a long operation to remove a brain tumor. She spent the night under close supervision in intensive care. The surgeon has told her that, while they have successfully removed the tumor, it was not the primary cancer, which means that the melanoma is still in her system. At this time, they are not able to diagnose the primary source. So Lexie is left waiting for a more complete prognosis, and is not feeling well following the surgery. Please continue to pray for her.

Todd Martin receives doctorate

Todd Martin
Todd Martin

Congratulations to GCI Canada pastor Todd Martin who recently was awarded a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of British Columbia.

Todd has been working to earn this degree for the last several years. Anyone who has earned a graduate degree while working full time and providing for a family understands the great effort this represents.