GCI Update

Celebrating Jesus’ Ascension

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe and Tammy TkachNext week, many Christians will celebrate the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some will celebrate exactly 40 days after Easter (May 9); others will celebrate the following Sunday (May 12).

The Ascension does not have quite the same prominence in the Christian calendar as the “big three”—Christmas, Good Friday and Easter. Perhaps this is because we underestimate the importance of this event. We may even think of it as rather anticlimactic, after the trauma of the Crucifixion and the triumph of the Resurrection.

This is a mistake. The resurrected Jesus did not just stick around for 40 days and then retreat to the safety of heaven, his work on earth now done. The ascended Jesus remains forever fully human, as well as fully divine and fully involved. This revelation helps us to understand the nature of his High Priesthood. Jesus is eternally our Intercessor. The nature of the atonement itself is not merely about what Jesus has done, but who he is and forever will be.

The Bible records the Ascension as the next step or event in Jesus’ work. In Acts 1:9-12, we are told:

After he [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.

These verses make two basic points: that Jesus ascended into heaven and that he will return.

But there is more to ponder. In Ephesians 2:6, which is one of my favorite verses, Paul adds a perspective not to be missed:

Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

Here Paul explains the implication of the new life we have in union with Jesus Christ. He often used the phrase “in Christ” in his letters to help us understand our new identity. To be “in Christ” is to share not only in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, but also in his ascension by which we, in some sense, even now live with him in “the heavenly realms.” Being “in Christ” means that when God looks at us he does not see us alone in our sins. He sees us with and in Christ, for that is now who we are.

In the book The Message of Ephesians, the late John Stott comments on Ephesians 2:6:

What excites our amazement…is that now Paul is not writing about Christ but about us. He is affirming not that God quickened, raised and seated Christ, but that he quickened, raised and seated us with Christ…. Fundamental to New Testament Christianity is this concept of the union of God’s people with Christ (emphasis added).

Paul further emphasized this truth in Colossians 3:1-4:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

After Jesus was resurrected, he was recognizable by those who knew him, but he was not quite the same. He was able to move at will in and out of the dimensions that we experience as human beings.

Being “in Christ” means that as Christians we live in two realms—the physical world of everyday reality and the “unseen world” of spiritual reality. We do not yet experience the full glory of our resurrection and ascension with Christ, but Paul tells us that it is no less real. The day is coming, he says, when Christ will appear, and in that day we will experience fully the reality of who we have become.

God did not merely forgive our sins and then leave us on our own to try to be righteous. God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. He then raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms. That is what being “in Christ” means. We are no longer who we are alone, but who we are in union with Christ, sharing in all he has accomplished for us, in our place and on our behalf. We belong to Jesus Christ!

This is the foundation of our faith and hope. God has made us one with Christ so that in him we can share in the relationship of love that he has with the Father and the Spirit. In Christ, the eternal Son of God, we are the Father’s beloved children in whom he is well pleased.

Ascension Sunday is a good time to remind ourselves of this life-changing good news.

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach

PS: Go to http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2013/04/jesus-ascension.html for a Surprising God post that highlights an article from Gerrit Scott Dawson on the meaning and importance of Jesus’ Ascension (and continuing Incarnation). Gerrit will be a featured speaker at our denominational conference in early August in Orlando, Florida. For conference information and registration go to http://2013.gci.org/.

George Hart

George and Vicky Hart
George and Vicki Hart

“My father died when I was four years old,” shares George Hart who is a district pastor and the senior pastor of GCI’s Cincinnati East congregation. “Growing up without a father had a tremendous impact on me. It caused me to become very self-sufficient.”

“I started working when I was eight years old, trucking tobacco with mules. At sixteen I bought a new car and was able to pay my way through school. If I needed or wanted something I bought it myself. My self-sufficiency served me well for years until it all came crashing in on me about ten years ago.

“My self-sufficiency had become my messiah and a roadblock in my relationship with the Father. I never knew I had a Father until one night he showed up and revealed himself to me through Psalm 146. He had been with me all those years and I never knew it. It was an experience that changed my life. I still struggle with my self-sufficiency, but my Father has been patient with me.”

Growing up in eastern North Carolina, George fell in love with the beach. “When I was in high school my buddies and I went to the beach almost every weekend in the summer, sometimes sleeping in the car or on the beach. I’ve always loved the coast and today it is where I feel closest to God. I can walk the shore or just sit and watch the surf for hours. There is something haunting and mystical about the ocean that calls to me. My favorite place is Ocracoke, on the outer banks of North Carolina. It’s about a two and a half hour ferry ride to get to anywhere.”

George came into contact with WCG in December 1973. “I used to listen to Cousin Brucie on radio station WABC out of New York City. One night I could not pick up his broadcast so started searching the dial for something to listen to. I came across a broadcast of an older gentleman–HWA (Herbert Armstrong) and the first words I heard out of his mouth were, “Why were you born?” Those words resonated with me at a deep level because that was something that I had been thinking about for about two years. I continued to listen to HWA for several months. At the end of each broadcast they would mention Ambassador College. In spring 1974 I wrote for an application and was accepted for August 1974. I had not attended a church service or really knew anything about the church before showing up in Big Sandy, Texas. In the first several months I almost left a dozen times but felt in my spirit this was where I belonged and where I would discover ‘why I was born.’”

The first sermon George heard was about makeup. “I don’t recall whether makeup was coming in or going out, and I thought it was a strange topic. However, what struck me was a willingness to change when you thought you were wrong. That willingness is inherent in our denomination and led to an examination of the Bible under Joseph Tkach, Sr. The rest of that story is our common history.”

George met Vicki Wetzel in college and they married soon after graduation. “Vicki and I are in our 36th year of marriage.  We have two children. Erin is married and lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Craig. She works in the social services industry. Erin is expecting our first grandchild in early August. Our son Bryan lives in Columbus, Ohio and works as a financial business specialist for Nationwide Insurance.”

After graduating from college, George and Vicki decided to settle in Greensboro, North Carolina, “because we heard the church there was looking for AC grads and we wanted to serve in whatever way we could. I was working for Fairchild Industries as the contracts and negotiations manager when Dan Rogers ordained me as an elder. About two years later Dan asked me one day after services how much money I made. I told him and he asked, ‘Would you work for less money?’ I said, ‘There is only one thing I’d do for less money.’ Dan said, ‘I’ve recommended you to do it.’ The funny thing is, neither of us said what that thing was, but Joe Tkach, Sr. called me the next week and hired me to full-time ministry. We have served in Greensboro and Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Augusta and Dublin, Georgia; Birmingham and Jasper, Alabama; Buffalo and Olean, New York; and Cincinnati, Ohio.”

Today, in addition to serving as a GCI district pastor and church pastor, George serves on the board of The Office of Reconciliation and Mediation (ORM) and as Chairman of the Board for Equipping Ministries International (EMI), a para-church ministry in Cincinnati.

While George has many memorable moments as a pastor, he said an unusual one was having a federal lawsuit filed against him for violating someone’s civil rights when pastoring in Birmingham. “Long story with a good ending,” he says. Though preaching is George’s favorite part of being a pastor, his spiritual passion is life transformation. “If the gospel is not holistic healing the mind, body and soul, to me it is not the gospel.”

George has other passions as well. “I love working with power tools. My garage is pretty much a cabinet shop. I remodeled our kitchen a couple of years ago and made the cabinets. I’ve made a number of cabinets and bookcases for our home and I am presently finishing up a welcome center for our new worship center.”

An adventurous spirit is another part of George. “A few years ago I fulfilled a desire I’ve had since a teen. I went skydiving, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 12,000 feet. I highly recommend it!”

When asked about a mentor, George said, “For the last two years I’ve been a part of a triad with non-GCI ministry leaders in Cincinnati. It is a peer group that we refer to as a “dream group.” We share our dreams, hearts, struggles and successes. It has had the greatest spiritual impact on me, more than anything I’ve ever done.”

When does George feel closest to God? “Other than being at the seashore, I feel closest to God when watching Nova or something on the Discovery channel about creation or the origin of the universe. The mystery and expanse of the universe fills me with awe for a God who is both the Creator and a loving Father. It reminds me that I have no comprehension of the future God has in store for his children.

Exponential Conference

discipleshift2013Last week, over 75 GCI leaders joined with about 5,000 others at the Exponential Conference in Orlando, Florida. In addition, about 45,000 church leaders from 93 countries watched the conference on live video streamed over the internet. Those in Orlando from GCI included church planting teams, ministry developers, regional and district pastors and pastoral leaders from established churches. Several GCI leaders (pictured below) traveled to Orlando on behalf of GCI churches in the Caribbean, Latin and South America.

New GCI pastor Justin Meier and his wife Laura Beth

Exponential has grown to be the largest gathering of church planters in North America (and possibly on earth). Its theme this year was Discipleshift, emphasizing the importance of recapturing the church’s Great Commission focus on multiplying mature disciples of Jesus who then disciple others.

The conference included day-long pre-conference seminars addressing topics related to church planting and transformation. The main conference had five plenary sessions and five workshop tracks, with dozens of selections in each track, all focused on one of the conference’s primary themes related to shifting to a more intentional focus on disciplemaking.

Here are comments from several GCI participants:

Exponential 1
Hands for Christ church plant team and Randy Bloom

This has been a wonderful, difference-making experience. It has helped me visualize what and how we can help our pastor make disciples.

WOW…. such a new experience and wonderful spiritual feeling to take home and share.

Such a worthwhile conference… so many resources to glean from!

Praise God for such information and the dedication shown for reaching people to become disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In 2014, the Exponential Conference is titled, Seek and Save, Rethinking Evangelism. It will be held in Orlando on April 28-May 1For further information, go to www.exponential.org.

A “digital access pass” to most of the Exponential 13 plenary sessions and workshops is available for $69 at www.exponential.org/extend/. Also, various e-books from Exponential speakers are available for free download at https://www.exponential.org/ebooks/. For summaries of key Exponential 13 messages go to http://blog.exponential.org/2013/05/shared-learnings-from-exponential-2013/#more-5953. For podcasts of Exponential conferences from previous years go to: http://feeds.feedburner.com/exponentialpodcast.

Easter children’s outreach

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGCI’s Tucson congregation held its second annual Easter-themed children’s outreach on April 7. The event was led by Pastor Tom and Michelle Landess, and the congregation’s outreach coordinator, Nanette Krestel. 29 guests (adults, teens and children) attended along with members of the congregation.

The event began with a short message from Pastor Tom and music led by Michelle; both pointing to Jesus’ resurrection. Then there were five workshops where members mingled with the children, followed by an Easter egg hunt. The day ended with a meal where members sat at each table to fellowship with the guests.

At the event, a table with free resources was manned by Pastor Ted and Lila Millhuff who answered questions from adults and children. Many told their stories, giving them opportunity to share their struggles with others.

Scripture: God’s Gift, part 3

This article is part three of a six-part series by Gary Deddo on interpreting Scripture. For part one, click here. For part two, click here.

Guidelines for approaching Scripture reverently with prayer by faith

Since, as we have been discussing, Scripture is the gift of God, where God has graciously promised to speak to us through his living Word, what, then, are some guidelines for approaching it? I think the first thing needing to be said is that we must approach it reverently with a desire to be addressed, to hear a word from God. This attitude is probably best demonstrated when we start with prayer to God, the God of the Bible. In prayer we acknowledge that we look for and anticipate receiving a word from God himself, that is, hearing from the Living Word through the written word by the Spirit. It shows we are ready to listen, to hear. And we express in prayer that we want to hear what the Lord has to say to us. That is, we listen as his children, as his sheep, not as one of his advisers or as an engineer might seek impersonal information about some empirical object or law of physics perhaps to use for some other purpose.

In prayer, we also acknowledge that we depend upon the Lord and his grace to speak in a way that we can receive. That is, we listen by faith, as we trust that the Lord does speak and knows how to get through to us, the dumb sheep! Listening to Scripture as God’s holy word is an act of faith in the God whose word it is. We read or listen to Scripture by faith in the grace of God, just as we do in every other response of ours to God. We listen and study Scripture by faith.

This means that we do not put our trust in our techniques for studying the Bible no matter how simple or how sophisticated they are. And we aren’t just mining for data, for information, for formulas or principles or for truths that we can possess or use for our own ends or purposes. In prayer we place ourselves before the living Lord trusting that he will make himself known to us and enable us to hear and follow him wherever he takes us. Faithful prayer to the Living God of the Bible is essential for our preparation for listening to Scripture.

God’s agenda, not ours

Second, listening to Scripture as God speaking to us means letting it set the agenda for us, according to the nature and purposes God has for giving us the gift of his word. This means that we’ll come to Scripture not to give us, first, exactly what we’re looking for, such as answers to our current or even pressing questions, but to show us what the right questions are and what issues have priority in God’s view. We will not force Scripture to answer questions that it is not designed to answer nor give priority to some concern or issue we have that does not match with the priorities and central matters of Scripture itself. We’ll be open to having our mind reshaped to reflect the mind of Christ and what he views as of first-order importance.

The primacy of the WHO? question

And what is the central thrust of biblical revelation? It is to make known the identity, character, heart, purpose and nature of God. Scripture is primarily designed to answer the question, “Who is God?” So our primary question in reading and listening to Scripture ought to be, “Who are you, Lord?” That’s the first and most important question that ought to be on our hearts and minds as we study Scripture. No matter what passage we’re dealing with, our primary concern ought to be: “What is God telling me about himself in this passage?”

We’ll need to put in second place our questions of What? How? Why? When? and Where? In fact, these questions can only be rightly answered by putting the Who? question first. In many church settings the most difficult question needing to be put on the back burner is this: “What am I supposed to be doing for God?” We are so anxious to discover what God wants us to do for him that we often overlook the most foundational aspect of Scripture which involves revealing, clarifying and reminding us of God’s nature, character, heart, purpose and aim. It’s far more important to know who it is we’re obeying, than to attempt to do the right thing. In fact, we can’t even accurately discern what God wants us to do, and in what way to do it, unless we act out of knowing and trusting in this God according to who he is. Only then will our attitude and motives and the character of our actions match or bear witness to God’s own character. Only then will we find that his commandments are not burdensome and that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. So we need to read the Bible and listen to preaching in order to see more deeply into who God is.

I should also add that the greatest and most damaging deception we can fall into is being misled about the nature and character of God. Being misled or deceived about who God is undermines our faith, which is in turn the foundation of our whole response to God. With our faith or trust in God undermined or twisted, all the rest will collapse too: our worship, our prayer, our listening to Scripture, our obedience, our hope and our love for God and for neighbor. Our faith is a response to who we perceive God to really be. When that is properly aligned, then the Christian life is enlivened and energized even under difficult situations. When it is distorted, we then attempt to run the Christian life with ropes tangled around our feet. So being reminded daily of the truth of who God is must be our top priority—matching the priority of the structure and aim of both the written and the Living Word of God.

Jesus Christ, the Center of the center

Third, as we do so, we’ll have as the center and norm of our knowledge and trust in God all of what Scripture says about Jesus Christ. Oriented to this living Center of the center, we’ll want to see how the Old Testament points and prepares us to recognize him. Jesus Christ is God’s answer to the Who question—in person, in time and space, in flesh and blood—that ancient Israel sought to know. In Jesus Christ, “What you see is what you get.” In him the whole God is personally present, active and speaking. Jesus is the interpretive key to all of Scripture, for in him we see and hear the heartbeat of God. We watch and hear the motions of his heart and mind, even his Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The light we find shining forth from the face of Jesus sheds light on all of Scripture, for in him the God of the whole Bible has personally revealed himself.

So we ought to read and interpret Scripture in a way that through it all, in one way or another, we come to see how it points towards and finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Think of this as a process much like reading a murder mystery novel for the second time. The first time through, at the end, you finally come to discover “who done it.” The second time through is a much different experience. You can see in a new light how all the clues early on in the mystery pointed to “who done it.” You appreciate the clues (and recognize the false leads) even more the second time through. But the clues are not the solution. Their value is how they indicate or are signs pointing to the resolution of the mystery.

This means that central to our study and understanding of the whole Bible should be the person and acts of Jesus. This calls for giving a certain priority to and focus on the Gospels. This does not mean narrowing our attention simply to the words or teaching of Jesus, as some “red letter” Bibles might tempt us to do. Rather, this means placing at center stage all of what the Gospels tell us about who Jesus is. This will include his own words, actions and self-interpretations (think, for example, of all the “I am” statements in John), but also make use of those texts that answer most directly who Jesus is, not only in the Gospels but also throughout the rest of the New Testament.

Who Jesus is in relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit

As we prayerfully begin to listen to Scripture concentrating on the Who question as answered by God himself in Jesus, you’ll find that the primary way Jesus is identified involves his relationship to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The answer to the Who? question is intrinsically bound up with grasping the nature, character, purpose and aim of Jesus in relationship with the Father and Spirit. For Jesus primarily and consistently identifies himself by means of those relationships. He is the one sent from the Father, the one who has been eternally with and eternally loved by the Father. He is the One who has the Spirit and who has come to give us his Holy Spirit.

The highest concentration on the importance of Jesus’ relationships with the Father and Spirit comes in the Gospel of John, reaching the apex in John 17. To know Jesus is to know the Father. To know the Father means recognizing who Jesus is. Interacting with Jesus means dealing directly and personally with the Father and the Spirit.

So in our Bible study and preaching we must pay attention to the quality and nature of Jesus’ relationship and interactions with the Father and Spirit. For he is, in his being, the Son of the Father, one with his Spirit. Pay special attention to anywhere in Scripture where we’re given insight into the relationships of the Father, Son and Spirit. For in those relationships we will see and hear most directly, personally and concretely who the God of the Bible is. And in returning to that living Center of the center, again and again we’ll find our faith nourished and growing with a life of joyful obedience flowing out of it.

With the Center of our prayer, faith, devotion and worship set, as a kind of North Star, everything else regarding listening to and studying the Lord’s Scripture gets properly oriented.

Death of LaVerne Wyatt-Paige

We were saddened to learn that LaVerne Wyatt-Paige, beloved wife of GCI Phoenix pastor Michael Wyatt-Paige, died on April 24.

Many of us have been praying for her during her lengthy battle with cancer. God released her from that struggle and now she is with him. We will greatly miss her, though we look forward to seeing her again.

Cards may be sent to:

Michael Wyatt-Paige
1928 E Highland Ave #104 PMB 200
Phoenix, AZ 85016-4626

Shirley Faulkner

Here is an update from GCI elder Dexter Faulkner on the earlier prayer request for his wife Shirley.

Shirley and Dexter

Shirley is improving each day and is now able to walk with a cane. She still has slight numbness in her hands and is continuing with therapy. Thanks for all the cards, emails and prayers from around the world. They meant more than you’ll ever know.

Cards may be sent to:

Shirley Faulkner
7859 Wentworth St
Sunland, CA 91040-2201

Jason Richards

Here from GCI pastor Martin Manuel is an update on his grandson Jason (click here for the previous update).

Jason pictured one year ago.
Jason pictured last year

Jason is much improved since the last update. He no longer is on a ventilator, though he needs a lot of oxygen to support his weakened respiratory system. I’ve seen Facebook photos of his smile and thumbs up, showing that he is feeling better and relieving our hearts and bodies from the relentless pain we have been feeling. His doctors have determined that Legionnaires’ Disease is the cause of his infection. Where he encountered this rare bacterium is unknown; I have heard that only one other treatment case is currently on record in that part of Washington State.

Jason still has a way to go to fully recover. Hopefully he will be discharged soon with progress toward an improved appetite and resultant weight gain. We are praying for a lot, but mighty is He who answers!

Thanks so much for your prayers.

Gridleys’ 50th anniversary

GridleysGCI elder Barry Gridley and his wife Wendy are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this week. They married on May 4, 1963 in England, where their families lived. They have since lived mostly in California.

Barry and Wendy send their warm thanks to all in GCI who have supported them with kindness and patience over these last 50 years.

Cards may be sent to:

Barry and Wendy Gridley
6332 Jack Hill Drive
Oroville, CA 95966-3812