God’s grace

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

joeandtammyAsk 20 ministers from multiple denominations to define grace and you’ll likely get many different definitions, along with some lively discussion! Ask several GCI ministers and you’ll likely get some variety, but there will be a common core of understanding. One thing is for sure, in GCI we’ve stopped trying to force-fit grace into a framework of legalism. Thank God!

Grace defies simplistic, one-size-fits-all definitions. It’s too profound for that, which is why the Bible reminds us that God’s grace is an inexhaustible topic—one worthy of a lifetime of study. That’s why Peter admonished Christians to “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The more I read, study, think and write about grace, the more I find my understanding expanding.

GRACEGoogle grace on your computer and you’ll uncover multiple definitions. Probably the best-known is this one: “Grace is God’s unmerited favor or pardon.” A. W. Tozer defined it this way: “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines him to bestow benefits on the undeserving.” Dutch-Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof defined grace as, “The unmerited operation of God in the heart of man, effected through the agency of the Holy Spirit.” I find the following definition from Karl Barth to be particularly profound (though as often is the case with Barth, it must be carefully read to get the full impact):

Who really knows what grace is until he has seen it at work here: as the grace which is for man when, because man is wholly and utterly a sinner before God, it can only be against him, and when in fact, even while it is for him, it is also a plaintiff and judge against him, showing him to be incapable of satisfying either God or himself? ….What takes place in this work of inconceivable mercy is, therefore, the free over-ruling of God. It is not an arbitrary overlooking and ignoring, not an artificial bridging, covering-over or hiding. It is a real closing of the breach, gulf, and abyss between God and us, for which we are responsible. At the very point where we refuse and fail, offending and provoking God, making ourselves impossible before him and in that way missing our destiny, treading under foot our dignity, forfeiting our right, losing our salvation and hopelessly compromising our creaturely being—at that very point God himself intervenes as man (Church Dogmatics, Vol. 4.1: The Doctrine of Reconciliation).

I like Barth’s expression, “inconceivable mercy.” It refers to what God, in Christ, through the Spirit, has done and is doing to write within us a new law that emancipates us from sin as well as death. Paul put it this way: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2).

The Greek word charis, usually translated “grace” in the New Testament, has multiple shades of meaning, referring to something that affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, goodwill, loving-kindness, favor or gratitude. Scripture tells us that grace is ours by God’s initiative alone. In Christ, through the Spirit, the Father’s will for us is perfectly fulfilled. God’s grace takes us by surprise because nothing that we can do and nothing that we are earns grace. We are predestined and elected in Christ, the Lord and Savior of the whole world. The story of our lives begins and ends with God’s unfathomable, amazing grace.

When I hear or read world news, I wonder why God bothers with us at all. Our brutality, cruelty, bigotry, hypocrisy and greed boggles the mind. But God knows there is another way to live, and his purpose is to share that life with us. He loves us far too much to allow the final result of life—any life—to be determined by our own behavior. In the sovereignty of God’s grace, evil has no future. Christ is making all things new. The new heavens and earth will be established!

God’s plan is to remake us into the image of his Son as we receive his grace by our repentance and faith in him. God even enables that response—one that, by the Spirit, grows deeper throughout our lives, as Paul noted:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Romans 8:29-30).

After observing what God is doing in our lives by grace, Paul proclaimed confidently that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). God is not finished with any of us—he alone is the author and finisher of our salvation and he knows how to complete the story that he has begun writing in our lives. In Ephesians 2:10, Paul proclaimed that, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Greek word here for “handiwork” is pōiema, from which we get the word “poem.” By his grace, God is writing the story of our lives—we’re a divinely written ballad, sonnet (or in some cases, a haiku!), full of ups and downs and twisting plot turns. Because of God’s grace, we look forward with hope and confidence to how the story will end.

With love in Jesus’ name,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. I recently participated in a GCI conference in Montegrotto, Italy, attended by about 110 of our Italian brothers and sisters. During the conference we ordained Francesco Bernard, pastor of the GCI congregation in the Puglia/Bari region named Acquaviva Dele Fonti (Living Water of the Well). Here is a picture, with James Henderson, GCI missions director for Europe, leading the ordination prayer.

Italian elder ordination

During the conference we also re-commissioned several ministry leaders who serve GCI’s churches in Turin, Milan, Ferrara, Rome, Sardinia, Catania and Palermo, Italy (see the picture below). Our thanks and congratulations to all these servants of our God of grace.

Italian ministry leaders

Intern orientation, Jeff McSwain

The GCI Intern Program recently held an orientation conference in Durham, North Carolina, for our new GCI-employed interns and pastoral residents (pastoral residents have previous ministry education and experience) along with their pastors and support staff (pictured below). Led by Intern Program director Jeff McSwain, sessions focused on the biblical and theological underpinnings of practical ministry, especially youth ministry. Emphasis was placed on having lives and ministries rooted in Christ so that Jesus is the ground of all that we are and do, within the life of the Son, to the Father, by the Spirit. Detailed discussions were structured around the Intern Program’s three core principles: 1) incarnational connection, 2) unconditional gathering, and 3) intentional discipleship.

Intern group
Pictured, L to R (front): Jillian Caranto, Joe Brannen, Scott Reid, Andrew Rooney, Jacqueem Winston and Greg Williams; (back): Anne Stapleton, David Botha, Mike Rasmussen, Mat Morgan, Anthony Mullins, Jeff McSwain and Dave Gilbert.

Intern Program director Jeff McSwain recently began part-time employment with GCI Church Administration and Development. Previously, he served as director of Reality Ministries in Durham, North Carolina (his wife now serves as director). The intern orientation was held at the Reality Ministries facility in Durham. In the short video below, Jeff describes the Intern Program:

Watch on YouTube at http://youtu.be/S0WHfifhQw0.

Manfred Kraus

Please pray for Manfred Kraus, who at age 75, leads a GCI house church in southern Germany. Manfred was hospitalized recently due to serious intestinal bleeding. The specific cause for the bleeding has not been determined. He is home now and sees his time in the hospital as a blessing as he was able to use his stay to share the gospel with four people.

Cards may be sent to:

Manfred Kraus
Donauwörther Str. 8
86154 Augsburg
Germany

David Botha

Botha_David_Lynne
David and Lynne Botha

David Botha’s first love was the game of cricket. Now pastoring GCI churches in Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, David doesn’t have nearly as much opportunity to play.

David’s love for cricket developed while growing up in South Africa. “Though in my early years we moved around a lot, I grew up mostly around Johannesburg. My parents met at Ambassador College in Bricket Wood, England, so I grew up in the WCG. I spent most of my time focused on cricket and field hockey. I also loved watching game in the wild and often went on vacations to game parks. A highlight of my youth was attending SEP South Africa three times.”

After high school, David applied to attend Ambassador and initially was turned down. “So I attended Rand Afrikaans University, where I studied Mechanical Engineering for a year and a half, before being accepted to Ambassador in Big Sandy. I graduated there in 1996. While there, I met Lynne Emery; we married in 1996.” David and Lynne have two daughters, Margaret, 14, and Madeline, 12.

After college, David and Lynne moved to Oregon and got involved in the local church. Soon they felt a call to get more involved locally. “We left WCG in 2002 to attend an evangelical church that was closer to where we lived. We attended there until early in 2006, when we moved to Mississippi to serve as field missionaries with Forward Edge International. We facilitated short-term mission trips doing relief work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

Based out of Moss Point, Mississippi, David coordinated and facilitated the work of teams in rebuilding homes and churches. During that time, David felt God moving him back toward GCI. “While in the mission field, we were supported by, among others, two GCI congregations then pastored by Glen Weber. Frequently he would ask me what our plans were for when we would leave the mission field in Mississippi. He wanted me to serve as a pastor in his district. This calling to pastoral ministry was confirmed in another confersation with Jeff Broadnax.”

David responded to this call and was hired into full-time ministry with GCI in 2008. “In November we moved to Akron, Ohio, where I now serve as senior pastor of the Akron and Cleveland congregations. We are now working diligently on a new church plant.”

Lynne is an integral part of David’s ministry “helping,” as she puts it, “in whatever way is needed—whenever and however that looks. It could be as simple as paperwork or babysitting, or as involved as moving to another state.” Lynne visits the sick and shut-ins, and she and David double-date on counseling sessions. She fills in to preach or to handle calls when David is out of town. Lynne said she “also runs interference when David’s overwhelmed, counsels those to whom he refers me, assists in the coordination/realization of events for missions or church, and facilitates mission teams. My first duties are to care for David personally, to spend inordinate amounts of time praying for him, to raise our children and to keep our home.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor David said, “Seeing people become the mature disciple that God has called them to be.” His most memorable moment was “getting to baptize my daughter.”

Talking about GCI, David said he loves “being part of a group that actually cares about others.” Ministry helps fill David’s passion of “seeing people grow in Christ.” Asked when he feels closest to God, David replied, “When I lean on him and he uses me, beyond my capabilities, to encourage others.”

Regional conferences completed

gcnext regional conference logoThe 2014 round of GCI regional conferences in the U.S. was completed recently in Orlando, Florida. Attendance was up overall from previous years. In addition to the Orlando site, conferences were held in Ontario, California; Vancouver, Washington; Chicago, Illinois; Somerset, New Jersey; Lexington, Kentucky; and Dallas, Texas.

The 2014 conference theme, GCnext: Sharing Jesus’ faith, love and hope, refers to our progress toward GCI’s future (GCnext), which means a Spirit-led journey forward sharing in Jesus’ own faith, love and hope. The theme scripture for the conference makes reference to this vital “faith triad”:

We continue to remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

Plenary conference presentations were given by Dan Rogers on faith, Joseph Tkach on love, Greg Williams on hope, and Gary Deddo on how all three interrelate in the person and work of Jesus. A fourth plenary session featured GCI members sharing stories about what they see the Holy Spirit doing in and through their churches and ministries. It was a highlight of the conference to hear the variety of ways the Spirit is helping us participate in what Jesus is doing to fulfill the Father’s mission to the world. These stories showed the great resourcefulness and creativity being displayed by GCI members as, together, we journey, on mission, with Jesus.

We’ll let you know when videos of the plenary sessions are posted online. In the meantime, here are some pictures from the Dallas and Orlando conferences:

Wichita Attendees
Members who attended from the Wichita, Kansas church.
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Thanks to all, like Nancy Akers, who worked behind the scenes to make these conferences possible.
Dan Rogers
Dan Rogers leads a breakout discussion group.
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There were many opportunities for small group discussion.
Greg Williams
Greg Williams gives the closing sermon.
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Lots of table fellowship!
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Informal one-on-one discussion.
sharing story
Michelle Fleming tells about a new GCI church in Orlando.
Orlando conference worship
Part of the band that led worship in Orlando.

Mike Morrison reviews book

Theology in TranspositionGrace Communion Seminary dean of faculty, Michael Morrison, recently reviewed a helpful book that examines the life and theology of Thomas F. Torrance.

The book, Theology in Transposition, was written by Trinitarian theologian Myk Habets. On page one of the book, Myk mentions GCI, noting that we, as a denomination, have embraced and now teach Trinitarian theology.

Click here to read Mike’s review on Amazon.com where the book is sold.

Lorraine Wilson

This update on a previous prayer request for Lorraine Wilson is from her husband, GCI pastor Warren Wilson.

Lorraine has healed well from her thyroidectomy, though without a thyroid her TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels are low, causing her to feel very tired all the time. The next step is for her to have thyroid ablation using radioiodine. She is still working, but that’s getting increasingly difficult given her lack of energy.

Please pray that Lorraine can hang on until she can start taking synthroid (synthetic thyroid hormone).

Cards may be sent to:

Lorraine Wilson
220 Waverly Way
Clarksburg, WV 26301

Tom Ecker

Tom and Alberta Ecker
Alberta and Tom Ecker

Tom Ecker, pastor of GCI’s congregations in Beaumont and High Desert, California, has been affiliated with GCI since birth. “The year I was born my mother started listening to the WCG radio program, and for several years after I listened from my high chair. My mother and dad did not agree on religion, so I went to church with my dad until shortly after my parents divorced when I was 16. After that, I did not attend any church for about three years.”

Tom’s family moved from Kansas, to Beaumont, California, when Tom was five. As Tom tells it, he almost didn’t come with them. “I ran away from home, but stopped two blocks away when I ran into a huge dog. I stood there and cried until my mom came and chased me all the way home. It was good that I stayed around for the move to California as my parents chose to live in an area where we had two beautiful orchards with fruit trees, where I spent many happy hours playing with my friends.”

“I attended all twelve years in the Beaumont Unified School System, and enjoyed football, basketball and track. God blessed me with speed, so I lettered in varsity track all four years. I received good coaching from a man who taught me never to quit when things get tough. I was the starting halfback on the only football team in Beaumont history to win the equivalent of a state championship. I was also captain of the track team and set school records that held for a couple of decades. In my senior year, I was elected student body president. All these experiences taught me the value of hard work, the joy of being part of a team, and the importance of friendship.

After high school, Tom attended California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly) in Pomona for two years. “During this time my mother became very ill, and a lady in the church took her into her home and nursed her back to health. This impressed me so deeply that I was led to check out the church in more detail. I began reading The Plain Truth during lunch breaks. I read the article, “The Man Who Could Not Afford to Tithe” and my mother was surprised when I gave her my tithe check. She wisely handed it back to me and said, “You should send it in yourself.” I did, and began attending church about three months later. I applied for Ambassador College, and was accepted for the fall of 1970.”

Tom had many sport and leadership opportunities at Ambassador, which he said, “put ingredients in my life that led me to appreciate our collective calling. As a senior in 1973, I was asked and enthusiastically agreed to become a ministerial trainee, not knowing the great joys and sorrows that lay ahead over the next 41+ years. I was married to my first wife in June 1973 and arrived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in July 1973. I served in a variety of locations in Canada for 21 years and now am in my 21st year of ministry in the USA, now in California.”

Tom and Alberta (Awana) have been married for over 18 years. “We met in a prayer group at the old HQ Auditorium—the first group on campus led by a woman, Alberta. She received permission to be leader from Joseph Tkach Sr. We prayed together in a group before we ever dated. Nine months later we were married by Joseph Tkach Jr.” Tom notes that Alberta continues to serve actively in ministry to this day.

Tom and Alberta have a large family. “Alberta has five children: Robert, Rose, Jerry, Jennifer, and Eugene. I had one son, Ryan, from my first marriage. Sadly, he is deceased. We have seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, scattered all over the United States.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Tom said that he and Alberta “enjoy the ongoing variety of serving God and ministering to his precious called-out-ones through five ministries that he summarizes with the acronym VASES: Visiting, Administrating, Socializing, Evangelizing and Speaking. “The acronym reminds us that in serving God in these ways, ‘the all-surpassing power is from God and not us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7).”

When asked what he values most about GCI, Tom said, “Alberta and I appreciate being in a church that is willing to change and grow—not afraid to learn something new, and one that appreciates the redeeming qualities of all cultures.”

Though Tom has had numerous memorable moments in ministry, he mentions one type in particular: “Attending or officiating at over 200 funerals. Each time I am reminded of how a funeral is a tribute to our great God, who has carried out his purposes and applied the fruit of Christ’s redemptive mission in the life of that person. This is both humbling and a cause for rejoicing, as I view funerals as a ‘graduation,’ knowing that this believer has died in the faith.”

When asked about his passion, Tom said it “is to bear witness to the amazing Trinitarian theological truth that the Father, Son and Spirit are involved together in the mission of Jesus Christ. This passion leads us to encourage people to recognize, realize, internalize and personalize the reality of the life of Christ Jesus as being their true life.”

Tom says he feels closest to God when practicing the various spiritual disciplines. “One of the blessings that Alberta and I share together is reading daily in the One Year Bible. Doing so provides us with a wonderfully balanced spiritual diet.”

Estonia summer school

This update is from Carl Fredrik Aas, GCI’s regional pastor for Scandinavia.

Kallaste

I returned recently from participating in the summer school that we as a church run in the town of Kallaste, Estonia (pictured at right). It was a success in every way. We had about 40 students (some of them are pictured below), which is not bad considering the regular school in Kallaste has 70 students.

Our teachers and other staff members came from Norway, the USA, Sweden, England and Estonia. They did a fine job as a team. The mayor of Kallaste visited one day to thank us for holding the summer school in his community.

Some older pupils group picure

Chess ClassSchool activities included helping 8 to 12 year olds practice English. The 13 to 15 year olds were taught about friendship, courage, success, integrity and identity. Some of the 13 to 18 year olds were taught to play piano. A former student taught the 13 to 15 year olds to play chess (see picture at right). Other students played American football and volleyball, studied English, learned to give speeches, learned to be interviewed for a job, and learned to prepare meals.

I taught a “Principles of Living” class for the 16 to 18 year olds. We discussed success, budgeting, marriage and sexual relations. I also taught an adult English class, which was a lot of fun.

On Friday evening we held an informal time of socializing together with good food, beverages and fun. The students enjoyed trying to teach me Russian! We all had a good laugh!

The last day of school we held a graduation ceremony in which the local English teacher and I gave short speeches. On the diplomas handed out was this quote: “A friend in need is a friend indeed. The friends you choose will help you win or lose.” I expounded on these points.

The highlight of the week was the baptism of Karyn Sanders. As she was being baptized in a local lake, a thunderstorm rumbled in the distance. It reminded us of God’s presence at Mt. Sinai.