Reading the Bible

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

joeandtammyThe Guinness Book of Records calls it the world’s best-selling book, with over two billion copies sold to date. It is one of the most quoted (and frequently misquoted) books there is. I’m referring, of course, to the Bible.

Though we don’t know how many people have actually read it, it’s safe to say that billions have been affected by the Bible’s message. Prior to the 20th century, very few people had access to a Bible. Early in Christian history, churches typically owned only a single copy of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) and copies of various letters written by early church leaders. These were often stored in a cabinet called an “armarion.” Seminary professor Timothy Paul Jones comments on its contents:

It’s possible that not all of these texts would have been identical to the twenty-seven books that you find in the New Testament today. To be sure, the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s letters, and probably John’s first letter would have had a place in the armarion. But the cabinet could lack a few writings that your New Testament includes—the letter to the Hebrews and maybe the second epistle that’s ascribed to Peter, for example, or a couple of John’s letters. A quirky allegory entitled The Shepherd might have made an appearance in some areas. You might even find a letter or two from a Roman pastor named Clement. The New Testament canon—that’s the twenty-seven texts that you find in your New Testament today—wasn’t yet clear to Christians everywhere.

ManReadingBible1Thankfully, this lack of clarity as to the content of the New Testament was resolved in the fourth century by councils representing the whole church. But sadly, recent surveys indicate that Bible reading in our day has declined significantly. There are numerous reasons for that decline, including the habit of reading the Bible in fragmentary ways, reading it only for personal devotion and failing to recognize the Bible for the amazing literature that it is. Another reason for the decline is the instant communication that has altered the way people engage with all books.

Sadly, another reason for the decline in Bible reading is the habit many preachers have of misusing the Bible by lifting out passages in a proof-texting manner to illustrate their own sermon ideas. In that regard, note this from author Peter Mead:

Not only does proof-texting fall short, but it also steals the experience of seeing the bigger picture, the sweeping thoughts, the epic narratives and the heart-stirring poems of Scripture. I often ponder the fact that the biblical men and women whom I most aspire to be like are not those with a ready quiver full of pithy proof-texts, but those who know the God of the Bible because they are washed in the Bible as a whole, book by book.

The Bible is a literary whole, and we gain the most when we read it as such. This means drinking deeply of the text to receive God’s message for us. Because the Bible’s communication patterns tend to be subtle, complex and nuanced, it takes time, skill and effort to do this. And the more experience you gain in doing so, the more you see the Bible for what it truly is: an unfolding narrative with plot and resolution. It is not a book of isolated bits and pieces for us to draw from in a proof-texting way.

Beethoven
Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler (ca 1820)

My good friend John Halford likens the Bible to a symphony by Beethoven. John came to understand Beethoven well only when he listened to all nine of his symphonies—not just favorite parts of a few. John says that he has had the same experience with the Bible. Just as Beethoven’s symphonies fit together as a unified whole, so it is with Holy Scripture. In that regard, note what Paul wrote to Timothy:

There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us (2 Timothy 3:15-17 The Message).

The Bible is not merely a “to do” list from God. Rather, it is the dynamic and unified story of his love for humanity. In the Bible the Triune God of the universe shares with us his very heart and mind, nature, character and purposes. We find there the unfolding of his faithfulness and plan for us, inviting us to participate in what he is doing. The Bible holds out to us his promise of eternal relationship with him—it’s our story of hope, redemption and sonship.

I encourage you to read the Bible personally and, as preachers and teachers, to encourage others to do so in order to find answers to life’s biggest and most important questions: Who is God? and, Who am I in relation to God?

Reading with you,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. We have many helpful articles about the Bible on our GCI website. You’ll find a list at www.gci.org/bible.

Death of Harry Sneider

Harry and SarahWe were saddened to learn recently that long-time Ambassador College employee Dr. Harry Sneider has died. Harry is pictured at right with his wife Sarah who survives him.

Just a few days after Harry’s death, GCI pastor Neil Earle gave tribute to Harry in a baccalaureate address at Glendora High School. Entitled “Time and Chance,” Neil’s message centered on Ecclesiastes 9:11, with examples from the world of sports to illustrate that the race truly is not always to the swift. Time and chance does happen to all. Neil then noted that Harry rose above time and chance to become an accomplished weight-lifter, Olympic coach and sought-after personal trainer. Here is part of what Neil said:

Harry with fellow weight-lifter Arnold Schwarzenegger
Harry with fellow weight-lifter Arnold Schwarzenegger

Harry had been told his leg must be amputated back in Germany about 1948 when his family was trying to escape Latvia and head for the U.S. But his mother prayed and he was able to function even though he had a battle with osteomylitis all his life. Because he could jump only three inches, Harry decided to become a weight lifter. When his family finally made it to the U.S., Harry became a champion weight lifter, pumping 451 pounds at age 61 in the Pasadena Senior Olympics.

In recent years, Harry and Sarah have hosted these Senior Olympics.

Our condolences to Sarah, to the rest of Harry’s family and to his many friends.

Cards may be sent to:

Sarah Sneider
115 Loralyn Dr
Arcadia, CA 91006-1631

 

SEP Luzon

In early May, 111 youth campers and over 50 staff members (pictured below, click to enlarge) gathered on the island of Luzon in the Philippines for six days of laughing, learning and growing together. Almost half of the campers were first-timers.

sepluzon2014

The camp theme, Beyond our Boundaries, was designed to help campers more deeply understand Christ’s inclusive  and self-sacrificing love, their identity in Christ and their calling to participate in the Lord’s work in the world. Camp activities addressed spiritual formation, team-building and personal development. Each morning began with a worship service, followed by sports and Christian-living sessions. Activities included basketball, volleyball, swimming, dance and bonsai plant-making.

In keeping with the camp theme, campers participated in community service sessions. The helped out with chores in the camp and in the surrounding community. Other camp highlights included a bonfire, chats with dorm parents, a variety show featuring the campers, a sports fest and a dance on the last night.

In response to God’s goodness and grace, we had the privilege of baptizing 11 young people. We praise God for the amazing things he is doing in and through SEP Luzon. We are grateful for the support of pastors and churches who go beyond the boundaries of nationality, status and age to make this life-changing program a continuing reality.

—SEP Luzon 2014 Planning Team

Rex Morgan

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Rex and Marilyn Morgan

Rex Morgan, a GCI pastor in New Zealand, grew up in Rotorua, Cambridge and Hamilton—towns south of Auckland, New Zealand.

Rex has been writing for many years. “At age 12 I began writing a weekly family newspaper. It was handwritten and distributed just to the five members of our family, but contained all the news of family happenings, along with pictures, competitions etc. Some issues were over 20 pages long. The newspaper continued for almost 300 issues, only stopping when I left for college in England.”

Rex was a teenager when his father responded to a Readers Digest advertisement offering WCG literature. “There was no church in New Zealand at that time, so we received material from the office in Sydney and listened to The World Tomorrow radio program. Although I was a young lad at the time, the church’s teachings immediately ‘clicked’ with me and I devoured the material.”

In 1969, Rex started attending Auckland University. “I began studying economics and accounting, but interrupted this to go to Ambassador College Bricket Wood, England in 1970. After graduating in 1974, I began working in the Auckland WCG office, and here I still am 40 years later!”

Rex has been married to Marilyn (Squire) for 12 years, the second marriage for both. “Our blended family comprises three sons and two daughters. All but one of our children are married. Another daughter, Cherie, died of cancer at age 30. We have five grandchildren.”

Rex’s first responsibilities in the Auckland office were in mailing. “Eventually I was asked to give sermonettes and gradually became more involved in visiting and speaking. I became pastor of the Whangarei church (two hours north of Auckland) in 1979, and the Auckland church in 2000. I also pastor the church in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Rex said, “Seeing people grow and develop spiritually as they yield to Jesus and participate in the work of the Spirit in their lives.” What he loves most about being part of GCI is, “The depth of fellowship enjoyed with fellow members who have walked together on our incredible journey. To me, the willingness of GCI leaders to follow God’s guidance through our unprecedented doctrinal changes regardless of the consequences has been an excellent example of godly faith and courage.”

Rex said his passion is “explaining the ways of God in speaking and writing.” He still does a lot of writing. “I edit and produce Inside Life, a magazine sponsored by GCI in New Zealand. We have distributed 20 issues since the magazine started in 2006. Church members deliver 7000 copies of each issue to mail boxes in areas surrounding our meeting places nationwide. The aim of the magazine is to show non-believers the relevance and importance of a relationship with God in today’s world. All of the back copies are available at www.insidelife.org.nz.”

When asked about his most memorable moments, Rex said there are several when ministering in a place like Vanuatu. “One time on a small plane, the landing was aborted because the pilot found a large coconut crab at his feet in the cockpit. He circled Port Vila (the Vanuatu capital) until the crab could be put in a container and then landed. The pilot brought the crab over to show us as we collected our luggage. Another special occasion involved participating in a ‘reconciliation ceremony’ in Vanuatu. The previous year, some people had prevented us from entering our own church building, claiming it was on their land. The next year, a delegation of people came, bringing mats and gifts, giving speeches of apology and seeking reconciliation. It was a poignant occasion as two groups of people from different fellowships came together in peace and harmony.”

Rex has enjoyed his 40 years in ministry, full of adventure and surprises. He still finds his peace in quiet places. Asked when he feels closest to God, he replied, “Anywhere, at any time, God is right with us, living in us. But to me there is something very special about a breath-taking outdoor location such as a mountain forest or a sandy beach on a starlit night—all the distractions of the modern world fade away and I’m alone with God in a palpable way.”

Yesterday, today and forever

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachOne of the verses in the Bible that has always intrigued me is Hebrews 13:8. There we read that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” My first thought about this verse was always that Jesus is perfect—always has been and always will be. But as many of you reading this will remember, our fellowship used to use this verse in support of the erroneous teaching that God commands Christians to observe the seventh-day Sabbath. We wrongly assumed that if Jesus is never-changing, then so must be the Sabbath command. We also wrongly believed that law-keeping, including Sabbath observance, would somehow make us “perfect” like Jesus (Hebrews 2:10; 10:1).

But the reality is that God gave the Sabbath to Israel under the old covenant, not to perfect his people, but to provide a sign pointing them toward the ultimate, eternal rest found in Jesus, who alone is perfect (Hebrews 4:1-11). In misusing Hebrews 13:8, we ascribed to the Sabbath more than God intended, treating it as if the sign was the reality. For more about this, I encourage you to read Gary Deddo’s helpful article, “A Sign Forever.” It’s included in this issue.

Israel’s rabbis and other teachers understood that the Law of Moses, particularly its commands related to Sabbath and Holy Day observance, apply only to national Israel under the old covenant. When Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), it was to show the Pharisees (representatives of old covenant Israel) that they misunderstood why God had given Israel as a nation this holy time. In stating that he was “Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28), Jesus was confronting the Pharisees’ attempt to subvert his authority in this matter, thus wrongly claiming it for themselves.

There is no question: Jesus is perfect and Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that his perfection never ceases—not even when the Son of God became the Son of man—100% divine and 100% human. The union of human and divine in Jesus did not diminish God’s perfection in any way, though Jesus yielded himself fully to the limitations of our humanity—going so far as to suffer and die in the flesh in order to redeem us.

Through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus redeemed not just humanity, but all the created order, including time. Jesus is Lord of all time: “Yesterday and today and forever.” The New Testament speaks of time in a rather fluid way—both as chronos (the chronological passage of time, one moment after another) and kairos (the “times” of God’s redemptive intervention within the universe of created space and time). In the article “Time” in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Carl Henry says this:

While the New Testament [in speaking of chronos] gives prominent scope to the future…its central kairos is the life and death and resurrection of the incarnate Christ, which is decisively significant for the kingdom of God. The terms, “day [of the Lord]” and “hour,” “now” and “today” gain dramatic significance in the New Testament context whenever the eternal order impinges upon the sweep of ordinary events (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, article “Time,” p. 1095).

Grasping the concept of time as both chronos and kairos helps us understand the biblical teaching that the “end time” began with Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. With this great and decisive “Christ event,” kairos intersected chronos, bringing healing “Today”—the continuing time when the salvation that is present in Jesus is being received by those who rest (trust) in Jesus (Hebrews 3:13-15).

How sad (and foolish) that some would try to limit God by setting dates for his future intervention within chronos. Many such dates have come and gone: 1844, 1917, 1975, 2000, 2008, 2010 and others. All of these predictions have failed, including ones of our own. By God’s grace, we learned how utterly futile date-setting is. We no longer try to pin down the sovereign God in this way. Instead, we rest in his present and continuing salvation.

Israel lived mainly in chronos time as evidenced by her observances of the Sabbath and Holy Days (Leviticus 23). Her lunar-solar calendar was rooted in the world of physical time and space and looked forward to events yet future. But the gospel proclaims that the promised future has arrived: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As Christians, we live in two “time zones”:  both chronos and kairos time. In both, we experience the perfection of Christ as he weaves his new (resurrection) life into the fabric of all creation, including all people in all places and all times. And that includes weaving his life into the fabric of our lives—all of our life, including the times when we suffer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that suffering recently. Several dear friends are battling cancer and other serious illnesses. Some are suffering a great deal, and some have died. Though I can’t heal the sick and certainly can’t raise the dead, I trust Jesus to show up in such times whether in life or death. In all such times, he comes bearing a complete victory that extends into and beyond all time. That’s how great our Lord and Savior is. In him, in his perfection, we have rest. By the Holy Spirit we are united to Jesus—bonded cosmically, as it were, to the Lord of all creation, including all time.

Resting in Jesus, we have the calling to bear witness to who Jesus truly is and to tell the story of what he has done, is doing and will yet do for our salvation—the eternal Sabbath rest that we have in him.

Resting with you in the perfection of Christ,
Joseph Tkach

Greg Williams receives DMin

Greg
Susan and Greg Williams

Greg Williams, who serves as the associate director of GCI-USA Church Administration and Development, was awarded a Doctorate of Ministry (DMin) degree by Drew University on Saturday May 17.

Greg walkingGreg completed a project and dissertation on the topic of mentoring as it relates to internships in Grace Communion International. Greg worked with an Advisory Team that included John Halford, Ted Johnston, Charles Fleming and Mychelle Fleming. It is Greg’s hope that this project will be a gift to the denomination and launch hundreds of young men and women into the ministry of Jesus Christ for years to come.

Greg and his wife Susan, who currently live in Hendersonville, North Carolina, are preparing to move to Southern California where they will serve GCI from that location. Please pray that all aspects of their move go well.

Congratulations to Greg—and to Susan too!

Hillary Irusta receives MDiv

HillaryOn May 19, GCI elder and former Internship Program participant, Hillary Irusta, graduated from Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with a Masters of Divinity (MDiv) degree.

Hillary currently serves as associate pastor of GCI’s Centered Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. In August, she will begin a CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) Chaplaincy Residency at Greensboro’s Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital. She is looking forward to opportunities to provide spiritual care to patients, loved ones and hospital staff.

Speaking of her sense of vocation, Hillary was quoted during the diploma ceremony saying, “I’m called into the heart of the Beloved, to live a life pursuing wholeness for myself, neighbors and creation while equipping the church for acts of radical hospitality, justice and compassion in the world.”

Congratulations to Hillary and her family!