GCI Update

What is hell?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

JosephTkachScanning the radio dial while driving to work, I tuned into J. Vernon McGee’s radio program just as he said this: “Don’t say that a loving God is going to send you to hell—he’s not. The thing that’s going to send you to hell is that you are a sinner and you don’t want to admit it.”

C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis

I enjoy such one-line quips. Here’s another, from C.S. Lewis: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. [To] those who knock it is opened.”

G.K. Chesteron
G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton once remarked, “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human personality.” Hell, a compliment? Yes, because God is saying to us, “You’re significant; I take you seriously. Choose to reject me—choose hell if you will—I will let you go because I love you and won’t force my will upon you.”

Many view hell as the place where God, in order to appease his wrath, sends the incorrigible, the unbelievers and those who don’t know him. The reality, however, is that hell is the result of people rejecting God and his love—pridefully insisting on autonomy and stubbornly holding to the false belief that they can give themselves life apart from God. Because God created us and upholds us by his love for relationship with himself, there are consequences for rejecting that relationship. Rather than the result of God’s wrath, hell is the result of peoples’ choice to reject God and his love.

It is Finished” by Liz Lemon Swindle, reproduced with permission.
“It is Finished” by Liz Lemon Swindle, reproduced with permission.

God’s wrath is real, but rather than being opposed to his love (as though God were bipolar), God’s wrath is an expression of his love (1 John 4:19). We see this most fully at the cross where God, in love, poured out his wrath on the sin that destroys his beloved creatures.  The cross is thus God’s judgment against sin and evil, and the revelation of his love for sinners that delivers them from evil to life.

God’s purpose from the beginning was to bring to fulfillment his love toward all humanity. But humans, in their rebellion, pride and alienation from God, set up obstacles to that love—obstacles that must be removed if communion with God is to be restored and made right. God’s judgment and wrath is his powerful removal of those barriers so that the purposes of his love might be fulfilled.

Jesus’ work at the cross made atonement for the world’s sin and gained victory over all evil (Ephesians 1:3-8). His wrath having achieved its objective, God reconciled us to himself in the saving work of his Son, restoring peace. God’s wrath against sin and sinfulness is presupposed in the sending of his Son. If God did not war against sinfulness—if he had no wrath against it—he would have not needed to do that. Wrath is part of God’s means to restore relationship, not a means to perpetuate estrangement. Isaiah 54:8 wonderfully shows how God’s wrath is expressive of his love. Note these three translations:

  • “In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer. (NIV)
  • “In a little burst of wrath I hid My face from you for a moment, but with age-enduring love and kindness I will have compassion and mercy on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. (AMP)
  • “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee,” saith the Lord thy Redeemer. (KJV)

Here God, while telling his people to take note of his anger at their sin, wraps them in his loving embrace. Notice the encouragement in verses 9 and 10:

“To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

God already has taken the actions necessary to end the enmity between himself and humanity, caused by our sinfulness. These actions flow from his heart of love, which is the essence of his being (1 John 4:8). God expresses his love by continuing to uphold us, giving us freedom to enter into a trusting and worshipful relationship with himself—even though we may abuse that freedom by rejecting his love and grace. God remains true to his nature, revealed in Jesus Christ, even for those who might choose hell—choosing to repudiate and despise the blessings of the life, light and love God has for them.

We praise God that he has expressed his love supremely in sending his Son, Jesus Christ—true God of true God—to achieve complete victory over evil and to reconcile himself in love toward all humanity (1 John 4:9-10).

Living free,

Joseph Tkach signature




Journey with the Master in Seattle

This update is from Tori Emerson, a member in GCI’s Kenmore, Washington congregation.

JWM group
JWM group

This past Memorial Day weekend, seven young adults from Christian Family Fellowship in Kenmore, Washington (Seattle area), met for the third session of Generations Ministries’ mentoring program, Journey with the Master. The legendarily rainy Pacific Northwest weather favored us with sunbreaks as we got into the weekend.

JWM Mullins
Anthony Mullins

It was a great blessing to be able to get together with all of the young adults, our new pastor and his wife, Wayne and Patty Mitchell, as well as to have Anthony Mullins, GenMin national coordinator, fly across the country to lead us.

Before the weekend began, Anthony and Pastor Wayne had decided to shift the focus of the session from its regular topics to addressing our identity in Jesus. The change, as well as the entire weekend, was definitely Spirit-led! We greatly benefited by taking time to delve into who we all are because of the love our Savior freely gives us.

Lawn mower riding!
Lawn mower riding!

Besides our discussions, we were able to worship, eat together, play football out in the yard and take turns learning to cruise around on the lawn mower! The weekend ended with some personal sharing that helped us grow closer as a group of believers committed to encouraging each other. After sharing communion, we joined the rest of our church family at a BBQ.

With each Journey with the Master we have, we grow and learn more about ourselves and each other. We recommend JWM for any congregation or larger area. Anthony has been great in working with us to help adapt JWM for a smaller group. To learn more about Journey with the Master, click here.

Community VBS in Big Sandy

GCI’s congregation in Big Sandy, Texas recently participated with five other area churches in the 11th annual Big Sandy Community Vacation Bible School (VBS). A project of the Big Sandy Ministerial Alliance, the VBS was held in GCI’s church building. Pastor Liz Elkins of Gospel Lighthouse Church directed the VBS, GCI member Sarah Strub served as co-director, leading staff members representing the participating churches. About 65 children were served by 36 staff members. On family night, there were over 100 in attendance.

The theme for the VBS this year was “Remember…Joseph!” with the teaching portion led by a different pastor in the community, including GCI pastor Sonny Parsons. A worship band composed of members from GCI and another church provided music.

GCI member Jerome Ellard reflected on the results of this VBS: “Pastor Parsons has done a wonderful job of taking our congregation from the ‘mysterious church’ three miles down the road behind the white fence at Ambassador University, to an active, contributing part of the Big Sandy community, located right across the street from the Big Sandy post office.”

Here are pictures from the event (click to enlarge):

VBS first night activity VBS worship VBS games VBS crafts VBS coats of many colors VBS Bible Classes


Planting churches for the deaf

Hands for Christ logoAs reported by pastor Mary Bacheller, Hands for Christ Community Church, GCI’s new church for the deaf in Staten Island, New York, continues to make progress. Part of that progress involves multiplying additional churches for deaf people. Toward that end, Mary is working with GCI members in Texas and West Virginia (see pictures below) to start new churches for the deaf in their areas. As a first step, groups are meeting in both locations to participate through live streaming video in the Hands for Christ worship services each week.

Pastor Mary (center) with Josephine and Radford Arner from Texas
Pastor Mary (center) with April and Scott Hottle from West Virginia

Mary recently conducted a special session of GCI’s Church Next Training (CNT) for the Arners and Hottles to equip them for taking next steps in planting their new churches. Here, as reported by the participants, are some of the CNT take-aways:

  • When you talk about Jesus, you talk about your heart
  • Planting a church is a natural process
  • We are not alone—we always have support, through God, Church Multiplication Ministries and, our sponsor, Mary Bacheller
  • Hands for Christ live streaming is not a TV show, but church
  • Our focus, vision and mission is Deaf people using American Sign Language coming to the understanding of JESUS and HIM crucified, buried and resurrected
  • We are working to help deaf people understand the Trinity in their language through their culture
  • God is love—the dynamic relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  • God shares his love with humans
  • We are to be part of deaf community as we are a part of Jesus

The two groups will be writing down where they see themselves in three years and their plans to get there. They will discuss these plans via video conference as they continue working together toward starting new churches for the deaf within GCI. We invite you to join them in prayer as they journey forward.

Willi and Ingrid Mandel

Retired GCI pastor Wilhelm (Willi) Mandel has been in and out of the hospital since May 18.  His system seems to have rejected the high blood pressure medication and has caused some serious health issues.

Though Willi’s heart continues to work effectively, his calcium count is high and he is waiting for surgery to remove one of his parathyroid glands (the parathyroid glands control the amount of calcium in the blood and bones). That surgery was scheduled for June 17. During recent exams, doctors discovered that Willi also has a lump under his breast bone. They will do a biopsy and possible further (potentially major) surgery once Willi has recovered from the first surgery.

Continued prayers for Willi and for his wife Ingrid are requested. Ingrid continues to suffer from severe back problems, made more serious by Willi’s recent health crisis.

Cards may be sent to:

Wilhelm and Ingrid Mandel
747 Tanner Drive
Kingston, ON K7M 9G7

Church audit completed

The following message is from GCI president, Joseph Tkach

I am happy to report that Capin Crouse LLP, our external auditors, recently finished auditing GCI’s financial records for 2012 and 2013. They presented their findings to our Board of Directors on June 12. The report states the following:

In our opinion, the combined financial statements referred to above present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of Grace Communion International and Affiliate in the United States of America as of December 31, 2013 and 2012, and the changes in their net assets and their cash flows for the years then ended in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America.

This statement means that the auditors have given us a “clean” or “unqualified” report, which is what we always strive for. During the presentation of the report, the auditors also share a “Letter to Management” outlining any suggestions that they may have for changes or improvements. The report did not make any suggestions for improvements. The presenting partner stated, “It is unusual to have a letter to management without any suggestions, because we always try to find something!” He complimented management on the Church’s financial systems.

As outlined in the Financial Management Manual, we ask that our congregations also do an annual internal financial review and an external review every three years. These reviews are vital, for they help insure that congregational finances are handled with proper care so that donors can feel comfort that their donations are used well in support of the gospel.

Any GCI member in the United States may obtain a copy of Capin Crouse’s audit report by sending their request to:

Grace Communion International
P.O. Box 5005 Glendora, CA 91740
Attention: Mat Morgan

Howard Blakeney receives honorary doctorate

Howard (center) pictured with family members.
Howard (center) pictured with family members.

GCI church and district pastor Howard Blakeney recently received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Cathedral Bible College and Seminary. The degree was awarded in recognition of Howard’s body of work in 17 years of pastoral ministry and his community work. Howard received an earned master’s degree in 2013 and is scheduled to receive an earned doctor in theology degree in 2015.

Howard currently pastors GCI congregations in Marion South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia.

Neil Earle

Susan and Neil Earle
Susan and Neil Earle

Neil Earle, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship, our GCI congregation in Glendora, California, was born and raised in Newfoundland, Canada. “I heard The World Tomorrow broadcast in June 1965 while still a teenager and was immediately and powerfully hooked. I’d been an altar boy/choir boy in our local historic Anglican Church and had a good grounding overall but here were people saying the Bible was up-to-date in the space age and saying it very well. I experienced a very powerful sense of calling.”

Neil was attending university at the time of his Radio Church of God encounter. “Six of us university types met Dean Wilson on a baptizing tour in 1967 and from then on it seemed fated that four of us should head to Ambassador College. I was surprised to be sent to Bricket Wood, England but looking back I had so many rare opportunities there.”

At the time, Neil was also working as a substitute teacher for the Moravian Mission schools system in Makkovik, Labrador. “I later learned how big a part they played in the evangelical revival of the 1700s. They asked me to be principal of their Eskimo/Settler School further north in Nain, but I was accepted for Ambassador by then.”

One of Neil’s “opportunities” from Bricket Wood was meeting his future wife. “I met Susan, who was attending in Big Sandy, on the Israel Big Dig in 1970—there’s a life highlight right there, if not THE highlight—Susan is my best friend, we’ve been married now for 42 years.”

After graduation from Ambassador in 1972, Neil and Susan were sent to work in Regina, Saskatchewan. “We went through the normal training under some fine men and women. I was ordained along with Bernie Schnippert in October 1973 in the big tent at Penticton, British Columbia—a festival site Canada still sponsors.”

Neil and Susan served in Canada for 21 years, part of “a gung-ho team of ministers.” From there they moved to Pasadena, California. “We were invited (compelled?) to work in Editorial Services as International Editor from 1993 to 1996. Financial pressures of the time led me back to the field on a ‘temporary basis—filling in for about two weeks (they said) at the wonderful Glendora, California church, which had had four pastors in three years. That two weeks led to a 17-year stint so far. As Mr. Tkach Sr. used to say, ‘Life is strange with its twists and turns.’”

Neil refers to Susan’s role in ministry as “essential.” “Susan is the registrar at Grace Communion Seminary, so anyone who’s passed through the system knows how kind and patient and capable she is. People remark how we complement each other over the decades and I’d be the first to agree.” We both play senior softball once a week and get to as many Angels games as we can. I’m also trying to finish a book on the history of hockey.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Neil said, “Seeing the Spirit at work in people. We’ve noticed a lot of that in Glendora lately and as I travel around. I appreciate women doing so well as worship leaders, budget assistants and sermon-givers; people bearing fruits that lead to ordination; the responses on people’s faces when they ‘get it’ during a sermon.”

Neil says there are many memorable moments from his many years pastoring churches. “Lately there was an incident on Facebook where a disgruntled ex-member was beating up on me verbally and by the grace of God several people I never really knew came to my defense. That made me feel Christ had been guiding me overall the last 42 years.”

About GCI, Neil said he appreciates “the openness to the rest of the Body of Christ and true Christian doctrine. Being a studious type I like the fact that GCI president Joseph Tkach and his leadership team are so open to us pastors being able to explore the ‘unserachable riches of Christ.’ I love how we are reconnecting to the mainstream in that way. I was even invited to give two seminars to my local Anglican Church about our transition. Very rewarding, like closing the circle.”

Neil’s passions include writing and history. “I enjoy writing—both inside and outside GCI—as a method of trying to connect the gospel/biblical message with what’s going on today. That’s always been one of our strengths as an organization and we have learned to do it better. I teach Church History for GCS and am always amazed at the intelligence and capability of our field ministers—how quickly they “get things.”

When asked when he feels closest to God, Neil responded, “When I go to my prayer room and pray with a Bible open in front of me for a great two-way chat, me mostly listening.”