GCI Update

Concerning suffering, peace & hope

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachBecause some of my dear friends are going through severe health trials, I’ve been thinking about suffering and the peace and hope that God gives us in times of suffering. I feel very deeply for these friends—concerned about the pain they are experiencing and the anxiety they must feel concerning what might be coming. When our loved ones suffer, we struggle to find words of reassurance and comfort. I’m sure you can identify with what I’m trying to say here.

All people desire a life that is free of suffering. That includes those who deny God’s existence. Sadly, their worldview leaves them without assurance of God’s help in times of suffering. But as Christians, we have a different worldview—we are blessed to know that God is alive and active and we cling to his sure promise to always be with us—including  in times of suffering and pain. We look to him for his gifts of supernatural peace and hope in the midst of suffering.

God’s gift of peace

Some Christians wrongfully believe that if their faith is strong enough, they will never suffer. But that idea distorts the gospel. Jesus did not promise to airlift us out of all of life’s troubles. Instead, he promised that, whatever our circumstances, God—Father, Son and Spirit—would never abandon us; never lose control of our situation. Jesus promised that when his followers suffer, they will experience God’s gift of peace.

Even when we feel alone, God is right there with us—extending his friendship and support. Even situations that, humanly speaking, seem to be desperate are not beyond his reach. Our God is omnipresent and sovereign over all things, including eternity. This awareness—this assurance—allows us to have a sense of peace that makes no sense to unbelievers (John 14:27). The apostle Paul, no stranger to pain and suffering, called it “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7 NKJV).

One of the ways God gives us peace is by reassuring us that he understands. Jesus has experienced fear, pain, suffering and death. Knowing that he was about to be tortured and then crucified, Jesus prayed with great emotion in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Then the next day, hanging on the cross, in one of his last, tortured breaths, Jesus shared our angst and even our despair when he quoted from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

This anguished cry from the cross tells us that Jesus identifies fully with our pain, our suffering and our eventual death. Jesus is right by our side throughout all our trials. His assurance that he feels our pain and never leaves or forsakes us is not just a routine, “get well soon” tweet from the comfort and safety of heaven. He shows us, in his parable in Matthew 25, that he feels the pangs of those who are hungry, the loneliness of the prisoner, and the cry of the poor.

Jesus’ involvement with our pain and suffering did not end at the cross. He is personally and actively at work here and now—suffering along with us through our every grief and heartache. His presence, though invisible, is real. He cries with us; aches with us. He is so close to us, that Paul could say that our suffering somehow is a sharing in Jesus’ own suffering (Philippians 3:10, Colossians 1:24).

As our “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17), Jesus is at our side. He never leaves us—not even in the midst of our darkest nightmares (Hebrews 13:5). “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). We can take great comfort in this, knowing that he is willing and fully able to “empathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).

We get a better sense of Jesus’ presence with us when we serve one another. I am always strengthened when I experience or simply hear of our brothers and sisters in Christ displaying true friendship by being at the side of those who suffer, or by simply assuring them that, “You are in my prayers.” It is so important that we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 NKJV). In doing so we somehow share in Christ’s own giving of comfort to another person (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

When we are confronted with death—our own or of a loved one—these promises become more than just pious words to be read at a funeral. Jesus actually did—actually does—share our humanity—all of it, from beginning to end. As a perfect substitute for us, he tasted death for all of us. But having tasted it, he, so to speak, spat it out. He showed that physical death was not the end of life. He elevated human existence to a place of spiritual union with the Father by the Spirit. The wonderful benefit of what Jesus did so long ago extends from the past, to the present, and right on into the future. “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10).

God’s gift of hope

I am not saying that we should have a parade of happiness when Jesus leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. Death is a great enemy, but it is the last enemy that we will ever face. It has been completely defeated by our Savior. Though knowing this does not remove all of our anxiety or pain, it does put it in perspective. That is why Paul wrote, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Yes, we grieve—but not “like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Indeed, we have great hope—a hope that Gary Deddo explores in this issue as we continue his helpful series about the kingdom of God.

I pray that we all will be comforted and encouraged by these words of wonderful truth.

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach signature




Ron Felling

Barbara and Ron Felling

“I’m a history nut,” says Ron Felling, pastor of Grace Fellowship, GCI’s church in Tontitown, Arkansas. “I’ve been a historical re-enactor for the French and Indian War (think “Last of the Mohicans”) for the past 20 years. Dagworthy’s company of the Maryland forces made me their unit chaplain. I’ve learned to sew my own outfits [see picture below]. Seeing what their life was like and how God helped them, helps me see how he can help me too. I love seeing his mighty hand at work in people’s lives.”

Ron grew up in Indiana and was active in scouting. “The Boy Scouts made a huge difference in my life. We had an awesome scoutmaster, Otto Jonas, who took us on camp-outs every month, rain or shine. He taught me that I am here to make a difference in the lives of others. Because of him, my Mom and Dad, and many others, I rose to the rank of Eagle Scout.”

It was in 1973 that Ron became part of WCG/GCI. “I was drawn to the WCG after I met a family who attended the Hammond, Indiana congregation. They made me feel like I was part of their family. They adopted me you might say. I attended that congregation until I left for Big Sandy in 1975. I knew I wanted to serve in the ministry, even when we were told that was not the way it worked.”

After graduation from Ambassador College, Ron worked in the Personal Correspondence Department at WCG headquarters, providing encouragement and insight to hundreds of people who wrote asking for direction and help. In 1990, Ron was sent to pastor the Indianapolis and Terra Haute, Indiana congregations.

Ron and his wife Barbara have been married for six years. “She had been my friend for many years, but I was not willing to take another chance on failure after going through a divorce. So for quite a long time I just told myself no. But then my father died of cancer and when I was at the airport waiting to fly to Indiana, Barbara called me and was so compassionate and encouraging and loving that I found the courage to tell her how I truly felt. Now she is more than a friend—she is my wife too. She rescued me.”

Ron and Barbara pastor the Tontitown, Arkansas congregation, which meets just outside of Springdale. “We are a little country congregation. We love the Lord and are growing slowly but surely. Barbara serves as our worship leader—a calling for which she is particularly gifted.”

Ron said he loves to see others step up into ministry and grow. His most memorable moment was the preaching his father’s funeral. “At first I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, but the Holy Spirit was right on time. Surrounded by people I had grown up with, I told them about our Savior Jesus; that he is someone we can trust and not to be afraid.”

Ron (at center) in re-enactment costume

Ron shares the following story about how his involvement with re-enactments gives him opportunity to share the gospel: “After going through a divorce, I was discouraged, and was wondering what to do next. I was at one of our French and Indian re-enactments with my son Aaron who was seven at the time. It was a Sunday morning and the French, English and Indians were all there on parade with flags flying and fife and drums playing. It made me think: Our Lord Jesus goes before us just like the banners fluttering past me. I found myself praying, “Lord, wherever you lead me I will follow. If you open a door for me to speak to your glory, I will walk through it. Please allow me to serve you.”

“It was at that very moment that I heard my name being called, so I looked to see who it could be. Across the parade ground the officers were waving for me to come to them. This was very out of the ordinary, but I ran over to them. When I got there they asked me, “Can you provide us with a worship service today? Our regular guy, the priest from Canada, just let us know he can’t make it.”

“After my prayer I could only say, ‘Yes I can, when would you like it?’ So they looked at the ground a bit and then said, ‘Well, how about in five minutes?’ ‘No problem sir, where do you want it?’ One of them said, ‘How about at the foot of the cross?’ The French had erected one all those years ago. That was almost too much for me.”

“When the officers asked, ‘Is there anything we can help you with?’ I said I could use a Bible since I knew I couldn’t get to mine and be back in time. So off I dashed towards the cross, and on my way I ran into three women wanting to know where I was headed. ‘We are going to have a worship service in about five minutes, and they are going to expect to take communion. Why don’t we all take it together?’

“The women dashed off to get the bread and wine and the plate and cup for our communion service. When I got to the cross, there was a fellow with a red blanket and table and I was feeling so overwhelmed in seeing that God had all the details taken care of.

“The commander showed up with a King James Bible out of the fort’s museum, and people start to show up—about 300 of them. A lady asked me, ‘I have only taken communion when a priest was here. What do you think about me taking it today?’ I told her, ‘We are going to hear about Jesus today, and why he gave the communion service to the church. When its time for communion if the Holy Spirit shows you its OK, then go ahead. After the service she came back to tell me he showed her that it was just the right thing to do. Everyone, including children, took communion. It was a glorious time in the Lord’s presence. We went on to hold a similar service each year after that. God is so encouraging isn’t he?”

Ron says he feels closest to God, “When I see the stars at night and I talk to God about how my hand is in his and how awesome it is to know that he did all this just so I would know I can put my trust in him.”

Zimbabwe councils commissioned

Joseph Mpofu, GCI’s national director in Zimbabwe, Africa reports that January 18 was “a great day” for GCI Africa. A total of 118 were in attendance at GCI’s church hall in Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe to witness a commissioning service officiated by GCI East and Central Africa missions director Kalengule Kaoma. In that service, two new bodies of church leadership were established for GCI in Zimbabwe: a National Advisory Council of Elders and a National Church Council.

Left to right: Psts E.Gova, D.Mpande, Secretary Miss T.Dube, Mission Director Kalengule Kaoma, L.Chimba, A.Matare (council chairperson), M.Dube
The new advisory council pictured with Kalengule Kaoma (left to right): Pastors E.Gova and D.Mpande, council ecretary Miss T.Dube, Mission Director Kalengule Kaoma, Pastors L.Chimba, A.Matare (chairperson) and M.Dube.

Two interns installed as pastors

A primary tool for recruiting and training new GCI pastors in the United States—a key part of our GCnext focus—is our Pastoral Internship Program. We are pleased to announce that two former interns, Carrie Smith and Bill Ritzman, were recently installed as pastors. Both Carrie and Bill continue their training for ministry through the degree program at Grace Communion Seminary.

Carrie Smith

It’s a new beginning for Grace Fellowship, the GCI church that meets in Clarksville, Tennessee. GCI elder Carrie Smith recently was installed as the congregation’s co-pastor, serving on a pastoral team with Ed Peters, Doug Tomes and Frances Sykes.

Carrie's installation

As shown in the picture above, Carrie (at the center of the picture) was blessed to have her father, pastor Tom Smith (far right), her mother Pam (third from right) and her sister Tonya (second from right) present for the installation service. District pastor Rick Shallenberger (center, back row) gave specific charges to Carrie and the congregation. He finished his presentation by saying, “God is doing a new thing, and for this we give him praise. God has work for you to do together as you participate in his mission of bringing many sons and daughters to glory.” The family and pastoral team laid hands on Carrie as Rick asked God to bless both Carrie and the congregation.

Bill Ritzman

RitzmansIn a recent ceremony, Bill (shown with his wife Katie at right) was ordained an elder and installed as pastor of Christian Life Fellowship, GCI’s church meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Bill was interned by district pastor Karl Reinagel for two years.

Several members of Bill’s family attended the ordination/installation service, including Mark Bannier (uncle) who pastors GCI’s Macolm, Illinois congregation. Also in attendance were Doug and Betty Johannsen who traveled down from St. Paul, Minnesota. Doug is Bill’s life mentor (part of the internship program). Mark, Doug and Karl joined with Beverly Worden—elder and leader of the pastoral care team prior to Bill’s installation as pastor—in the laying on of hands during the ceremony.

Special price on a helpful book

BookGCI Church Administration and Development frequently recommends that congregational leadership teams read the book, Transformational Church by Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer.

We’re happy to find this book currently being offered at Amazon.com in Kindle (digital) format for only 99 cents (it’s also available in print format). This price is a special, limited time offer. The Kindle format can be read on a Kindle device or on your computer (using the free software available from Amazon).

To purchase the book go to http://www.amazon.com/Transformational-Church-Thom-S-Rainer-ebook/dp/B003ODI1S8/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_t.

The kingdom of God, part 3

This is part 3 of a 6-part series by Gary Deddo on the important yet often misunderstood, topic of the kingdom of God. For additional articles in this series, click on the corresponding number: 12, 456.

So far in this series, we’ve looked at how Jesus is central to the kingdom of God and how the kingdom is now present. Now we’ll see how this reality is a source of great hope for those who believe. Note Paul’s words of encouragement in the book of Romans:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us…. for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:18, 20-21, 24-25).

Later, John wrote this:

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

The message regarding the kingdom is essentially one of hope—hope for ourselves and for all of God’s creation. The pain, suffering and horrors that we experience in this present evil age are, thankfully, coming to an end. Evil has no future in the kingdom of God (Revelation 21:4).

Jesus Christ himself is not only the first word but also the last word. Or as we say in the vernacular: he has the last word. Therefore, we need not worry about where things will ultimately end up. We know. We can count on it. God will put everything right, and all those willing to humbly receive it will know it and experience it one day. It is, as we say, “a done deal.” The new heaven and new earth are coming with Jesus Christ as its resurrected Creator, Lord and Savior. God’s original purposes will be consummated. The glory of God will fill the whole earth with his light, life, love and utter goodness.

And we will be vindicated—proven right and not fools—for having counted on and lived by that hope. We can benefit now, in part, by living in the hope of Christ’s victory over every evil and in his power to renew all things. Acting out of hope in the sure coming of the fullness of the kingdom will affect our daily lives, our personal and our social ethics. It will affect how we go through trials, temptations, suffering, and even our being persecuted for our hope in the living God.

Having hope will propel us to want others to join in and gain from that hope, a hope that does not depend on us, but on God’s own working. And so the gospel of Jesus is not only a message about Jesus, but proclaims who he is and all he has accomplished—and that must include the hope in the consummation of his reign, his kingdom, his ultimate purposes coming to fruition. A full gospel must include notice of his sure return and the consummation of his kingdom.

Hope, but not predictability

However, such hope in the coming kingdom does not mean that we can predict the pathway to that sure and complete end. The ways that God now interacts with this age that is still passing away are largely unpredictable. That is because God is far wiser than we are. When and what God chooses to do out of his great compassion, takes into account—well, everything in all time and space. We cannot possibly comprehend that. God could not explain it to us even if he wanted to. But it’s also true that we don’t need any more explanation than what has been demonstrated in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. He remains the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

God continues to act today exactly according to the character revealed in Jesus. One day, in retrospect, we will see this clearly. All that God does will be incorporated into and consistent with what we hear and see in the earthly life of Jesus. We’ll look back and say, “Ah, yes, I now see how, when the Triune God did x, y, and z, that was just like him! It has the fingerprints of Jesus all over it. I should have known. I should have guessed. I should have suspected. That’s just like Jesus; it all leads from death to resurrection and ascension.”

Even in the earthly life of Jesus, what he would do and say was not predictable to those around him. The disciples had a difficult time keeping up with Jesus. Though we have the benefit of hindsight, the reign of Jesus is still being worked out, and so our hindsight doesn’t give us (and we don’t need to have) foresight that yields predictability. We can be sure, however, that God will be true to his nature, to his character as the triune God of holy love.

It also might be good to note that evil is unpredictable, unreliable, capricious, random and arbitrary. That, in part, is what makes evil, evil. So our experience in this age that is passing away will have some of that same character insofar as evil has some continuing effect. But God is counteracting and out-maneuvering the chaos and capricious conniving of evil—making it, in the end, serve his purposes—a sort of “forced labor.” For God allows only that which can be redeemed, for in the end it will come under Christ’s rule and reign with the establishment of a new heaven and earth by his death-defying resurrection power.

Our hope is in the nature and character of God, in his good purposes, not in being able to predict how and when God will act. It is Christ’s own redeeming victory that provides those who believe and hope in the coming kingdom with patience, longsuffering and endurance, all with peace. The end is not up for grabs and is not up to us. It is secured for us in Christ and so, in this present age that is passing away, we need not be anxious about anything. Yes, we will sometimes grieve, but not without hope. Yes, we will sometimes suffer, but with a trusting hope that our sovereign God oversees all, and allows nothing that he cannot fully redeem, and indeed, in principle, has already redeemed in Christ’s person and work. Every tear will be wiped away (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).

The kingdom is God’s gift and God’s accomplishment

A reading of the New Testament along with the Old Testament, which leads up to it, makes clear that the kingdom of God is God’s possession, God’s gift, God’s achievement—not ours! Abraham sought a city “whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). It belongs in the first place to the eternal Son of God, incarnate. Jesus identifies it as “my kingdom” (John 18:36). He announces it as his work—his accomplishment. He brings it; he sustains it. When he returns, he will bring the full extent of his saving work to completion. How could it be otherwise, when he is the King and his work gives the kingdom its essence, its meaning, its reality?

The kingdom is God’s achievement and it is God’s gift to mankind. A gift, by its very nature, can only be received—not earned or established by the receiver. So, what is our “part”? Even to put it that way is a bit dangerous. We have no “part” in making it real, in actualizing the kingdom of God. But we do receive it, enter into it and begin to experience some of the benefits of Christ’s reign even now as we live in the hope of its consummation. However, the New Testament never speaks of us “building” or “creating” or “making” the kingdom. Unfortunately, such language has caught on in some Christian circles. Such misunderstanding is disturbingly misleading. The kingdom of God is not our project. We are not helping God, bit by bit, realize his ideal kingdom. We are not somehow actualizing God’s hope—making his dream come true!

While telling people that “God is depending on us” may get people to “do stuff for God,” such motivation tends to be short-lived, and often leads to burnout or disillusionment. But the most damaging and dangerous aspect of representing Christ and his kingdom this way is that it completely inverts God’s relationship with us. God then becomes dependent on us. The hidden assumption is that God cannot, then, be more faithful than we are. We somehow become the main actors in realizing God’s ideal. God simply makes his kingdom possible and then assists us in making it real, as best he can, limited by our efforts. There is no real sovereignty or grace of God in this distorted scheme. It can only devolve into a “works righteousness” orientation that fuels pride or collapses into disappointment or perhaps even abandonment of the Christian faith.

The kingdom of God must never be presented as a human project or achievement, no matter what kind of sincere motivation or ethical conviction might move someone to do so. Such a misguided approach seriously distorts the nature of our relationship with God and misrepresents the extent of Christ’s finished work. For if God cannot be more faithful than we are, then there really is no saving grace. We must not fall back into a form of self-salvation, for in that, there is no hope.

Vote for GCI in Google competition

Africa ConnectedThis announcement is from Tim Maguire, GCI’s mission director in southern Africa. It is a follow up to the earlier announcement about the Africa Connected competition being conducted by Google.

I just learned that GCI Africa has made it into the top ten in Google’s Africa Connected competition! The top five will each be awarded US $25,000 prize money. Receiving this prize would go a long way in helping us help our brothers and sisters in Mozambique. Winning would also give GCI in South Africa a lot of positive publicity. Our inclusion in the top ten has already been announced nationwide on Radio South Africa.

The final stage in the competition involves the public voting for their favorite video. If you have computer access and a GMail account and are willing, I ask that you vote for our video. You can do so online by going to  http://www.africaconnected.com/be-inspired/106760707267304528135-ngo-community-en/.

Millhuff’s 55th anniversary

??????????Congratulations to GCI pastor Ted Millhuff and his wife Lila from Tucson, Arizona. They celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary on December 19, 2013.

The couple met in Jacksonville, Florida in 1958 while attending military training. They both were sent for further air traffic control training to the US Naval Air Station in Olathe, Kansas. They married there and  then sent to separate duty stations—Ted to the Marine Corp Air Station in Jacksonville, North Carolina and Lila to the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia.

The Millhuffs have three sons, two grandsons and three great grandchildren; all live in the Seattle area. Ted and Lila have been WCG/GCI members since 1963. Ted currently pastors GCI’s congregation in Tucson.