GCI Update

Gold nugget verses

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

joeandtammyDavid Letterman, who hosts the CBS Late Show, is known for his humorous Top Ten lists. I’m often asked for my top ten lists—of movies, books, songs, foods and beers. You probably have lists of your own. Over the last few years, some of my articles have sprung from my top ten list of Bible verses. Here are six of them:

  • “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8, NASB).
  • “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
  • “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
  • “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
  • “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Used with permission: Michael Waters, Joyful Toons.

It’s motivational to me to read verses like these—I refer to them as “gold nugget verses.” Over the last several years, as I’ve continued learning about God’s amazing, never-ending love, my list of favorite verses has changed. Searching them out has been like mining for gold, a precious substance that occurs in nature in many forms and shapes—plates, scales, microscopic pieces, large spongy pieces and what is referred to as “hackly masses.” Like gold in all its amazing, unexpected variety, God’s unconditional love, which is all around us, is found in unlikely places and forms.

Theologian T.F. Torrance describes that love in this beautiful summary of the gospel:

God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualized his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior (The Mediation of Christ, p. 94).

Our appreciation for God’s love grows as we read the Bible, for Jesus, who is God’s love, is the focus of all Scripture. Thus it saddens me to learn that recent surveys show a rapid decline in Bible reading among Christians. That’s ironic in light of the fact that 87% of those responding to a survey conducted by Bill Hybels’ group concerning spiritual growth listed “getting help from their church to understand the Bible in depth” as their number one spiritual need. It’s also ironic that respondents identified, as one of the top weaknesses of their church, a failure to help members understand the Bible.

The way we discover the gold nuggets in Scripture is by digging them out through repeated, thoughtful Bible study (see the cartoon above). Recently, I was studying the book of Micah (one of the Minor Prophets) where I came across this gold nugget:

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy (Micah 7:18).

Micah declared this truth concerning God at the same time Isaiah was prophesying a coming exile. It was a time, seemingly, of doom and gloom. Yet, Micah was filled with hope because he knew that God delights to show mercy. The Hebrew word here translated “mercy” has its roots in the language of covenants made between persons. Such covenants involve promises of faithful loyalty that are binding, yet freely given. And so God’s mercy is to be understood here as promised, sure mercy. Micah mentions that God had promised this mercy to Israel’s forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, despite the fact that they were undeserving. It’s encouraging and motivating to realize that God, in his mercy, does the same for us.

The Hebrew word for mercy used in Micah and elsewhere can also be translated as “free and faithful love” or as “steadfast love.” We can rest assured that God’s mercy will never cease because it is his nature to be faithful and he has given his promise. God will never move from his position of love. He will never fail to be merciful to us. For that reason, we too can confidently cry out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Now there’s a gold nugget verse!

Mining Scripture with you,
Joseph Tkach

P.S. Here are a couple of videos that Pastor Charles Young in Atlanta recommended. I think you’ll enjoy them. They bear a humorous, yet important message about extending God’s love by inviting people to church.

Rex Dela Pena

Shiela and Rex
Sheila and Rex

Rex Dela Pena, regional leader and pastor for GCI in the Philippines, started attending WCG when he was five years old. “My mom started attending and was baptized in 1972.”

Rex, who grew up in Manila, is the youngest of four siblings. “I was the singer in the family. The oldest child was our pianist, so we had music in the house most of the time.”

As Rex grew up, he got involved in church activities and started attending SEP. “In 1984, I developed a crush on a girl named Sheila. Who would have guessed she would become my best friend and we would get married 14 years later!” Before that marriage, Rex attended Ambassador College, graduating in 1994. “I was asked to be a ministerial trainee right after graduation. I was ordained in 1999.”

Rex and Sheila have been married now for 15 years. “This December 6 will be our 16th anniversary. We do not have children. We have two fur-kids named Peanut and Miny (a mini-pinscher and a Jack Russell terrier).”

Sheila works full-time in sales, but prior to this job, she often traveled with Rex. “I was able to take her on different church trips and training sessions. During the time when I was serving as a camp director, she was the artist and the consultant I relied on in making sure that the operations went smoothly.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Rex said, “Getting involved in some of the most awesome life celebrations like baptism at youth camps, weddings, anniversaries and the like… and being there when life is at its most difficult for people, particularly times of bereavement.” When asked about his most memorable moment, Rex said it was in 2012 when he conducted the funeral services for his mom.

Rex’s passion has always been for the youth. “I have been involved with SEP since 1987 —serving as camp director for 14 years while assisting other camps in the country.” A new passion for Rex is photography. “Recently, I have started learning photography. I am an aspiring photographer and someday I hope to be featured in National Geographic! (It’s free to dream!).” Photography helps Rex worship. “I feel closest to God when I am photographing awesome scenery, including landscapes. I feel God’s love when I am surrounded by nature.”

Church buildings

ChurchMetalBuildingChurches of all sizes face the challenge of providing adequate space for worship services and other meetings. A large expense can be involved, and a congregation’s ability to connect with a particular focus community can be enhanced or hindered. And so the topic of church buildings is an important one to prayerfully consider.

LifeWay president Thom Rainer recently addressed this topic in a blog post where he noted these important points:

  • It’s a misconception to think that the success of a church is defined by its building.
  • A related myth is that, “If we build it they will come.” Buildings do not reach people, people reach people. Buildings are just tools, a means to a greater end, not the end game.
  • The assumptions and rules concerning the use of sacred space have shifted. Smaller facilities are becoming the norm.
  • Church facilities today are becoming high-tech and high-touch with the emergence of Wi-Fi cafes, living-room like conversation pits and worship facilities in conference rooms. More and more churches are utilizing commercial facilities and re-purposing existing church buildings.

We’re in a time when we need, literally, to “think outside the box.” If your congregation is considering the purchase or long-term lease of a building, we urge you to read GCI’s Church Building Manual at https://online.gci.org/live/StaticContent/Manuals/Church%20Building%20Manual.PDF.

Jodie Haist

Prayer is requested for Jodie Haist, wife of Brad Haist who pastors GCI churches in Saginaw and Flint, Michigan. Here is a note from Jodie:

Brad and Jodie Haist

I recently had two stress tests that came back bad. My cardiologist is convinced that with my family history of heart disease and my blood pressure and cholesterol issues, I need aggressive treatment.

One night recently I was in intense pain for about five hours before waking my husband to take me to the hospital. They found a large kidney stone. Once it has passed (or I have surgery to remove it), I will be having heart surgery.

In the blink of an eye my life has changed. My heart is broken, my body is in pain; but I have an amazing husband, a wonderful family and friends that are amazing. Please keep me in your prayers and keep those positive vibes coming my way. I’m confident that things will return to normal, but until then, it’s one day at a time!

Cards may be sent to:

Jodie Haist
618  9th Street
Sebewaing, MI 48759-1211 

Mike Rasmussen

Here from Mike Rasmussen is a praise report, following up on his previous prayer request.

I recently had my first post-operation blood test. My PSA level was so low that the test couldn’t detect it. That means that, at this point, there is no indication of any prostate cancer! Also, I am feeling stronger and stronger each day. I still get tired easier than I used to, but I am seeing daily improvement.

Juli and I are humbled by the outpouring of love and support we have received from so many during this challenging season of our lives. We are deeply thankful for all of you, for God’s sovereignty and for his gift of peace.

Pray for Iraq

The following is a prayer request from Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). GCI is an NAE member.

Dear fellow Christian,

In the last few weeks, thousands of Christians have been forced by militant rule to flee their homes in northern Iraq. The United States has authorized air strikes and humanitarian aid airdrops in Iraq. The United Nations has condemned militant actions and is urging a coordinated response. Stories of the persecution of Christians and other minorities in Iraq, Egypt, Syria and other areas in the Middle East continue to fill the media. Please join me and other Christians around the world in praying for peaceful resolution and relief for those caught in the violence and persecution.

Prayer Events

  • The World Evangelical Alliance is organizing a prayer gathering for the Middle East at the International Salvation Army Headquarters in New York City at 5:30 pm on August 14.
  • Encourage your church to set aside time in this Sunday’s service to pray as a congregation for Iraq.

Prayer Points

  • Pray for President Obama and his advisors as they consider where and how to provide humanitarian assistance and military intervention in Iraq.
  • Pray for safety for Christians and other minorities in Iraq who are fleeing violence and persecution. Pray that they would find safe harbor.
  • Pray for comfort for those across the Middle East who have lost loved ones and have suffered traumatic violence.
  • Pray for missionaries and humanitarian aid workers who serve in difficult and violent corners of the world, that they will be kept safe, and that their efforts will contribute to a fuller realization of the peace and prosperity that God intends for all.

For a few more resources, visit http://www.nae.net/prayforiraq.

Mary Snyder

Mary and Cliff Snyder
Mary and Cliff Snyder

Mary Snyder, who with her husband Cliff (a retired GCI pastor) directs GenMin’s M25:40 Missions out of Colorado, has been battling severe health problems for over a year. Recently, severe pain kept her home-bound for six weeks straight.

Mary and Cliff have spent the past several years traveling to Ethiopia to volunteer their time and hearts to the many orphanages there. It’s been a special passion and burden of theirs. They still desire to travel, but it doesn’t look possible for the near future. As a result, M25:40 Missions will soon cease operations.

We thank Mary and Cliff for the love and compassion they have shown to young people who have been marginalized, kicked aside and have been largely unseen by society. Well done, faithful servants!

Mary requests our prayers. Due to her health, the couple has been unable to attend a GCI church services since November of last year. They miss our community and would love hearing from us. Mary’s email address is: Msnyder72003@yahoo.com. Cards may be sent to:

Mary and Cliff Snyder
5741 CR 68C
Red Feather Lakes, CO 80545

John Halford

This update on John Halford’s progress is from his daughter Becky (for the previous report, click here).

Dad is finally home after spending two weeks in the hospital recovering from surgery. Everything went well. He did have some issues with fluid around his lung so that kept him there a little longer than expected but overall he is doing great. He was happy when his doctor pulled out the last tube and said he could go home. Yesterday he was allowed to try to drink his first glass of water and he enjoyed it so much. Funny to think that a glass of water could be such a gift!

If this week he does well with liquids, next week he’ll start eating soft foods like apple sauce and pudding. Meanwhile he is hooked up to a feeding tube to ensure that he gets enough nutrition while he “learns” to eat again.

We were a little saddened to learn that the doctors want to give dad a couple more rounds of chemo in a few weeks, just to be sure that there are no cancer cells lingering anywhere. They are not taking any chances. We have learned to trust their judgment.

That’s it for now. Slowly, but surely, we are getting our dad back and it’s a wonderful feeling.

Pastor transition in Fort Wayne

Donna and Roger Abels
Donna and Roger Abels

Pastor Roger Abels recently retired after more than 40 years of GCI employment in pastoral ministry. Together with his wife Donna, Roger has pastored many GCI congregations, most recently in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Kalamazoo, Michigan. The Fort Wayne congregation hosted a celebration service honoring Roger and Donna on June 1. Pastor Jim Valekis from Ohio gave the sermon and Pastor Stephen Hill from Illinois led worship.

David and Ann Howe
David and Ann Howe

Roger has been replaced in the Fort Wayne church by Pastor David Howe who, with his wife Ann, also serves as senior pastor in the GCI congregation in Elkhart, Indiana.

Our thanks and congratulations to Roger and Donna and to David and Ann!

Camp curricula available

This announcement is from GenMin national coordinator Anthony Mullins.

SuperheroOccasionally pastors and others request copies of the messages given in our camp chapel services. Sometimes they want to revisit the messages after camp—using them for sermons or small group discussions. Doing so is a great way to create a tie-in between the camp and a local congregation.

We’re glad to make these curricula available on the GenMin website at www.generationsministries.org/camp-teaching-materials.html.

This year’s “Superhero” curriculum was a hit. Thanks to Michelle Fleming for writing it. It’s fun seeing kids honor Jesus as the ultimate Superhero that he is!

Please update your records

This announcement is for U.S. pastors and those who assist them with record keeping.

A number of GCI-USA local churches have outdated information online. Some have closed their websites, or have websites with old or incorrect information. Because we link to these websites on GCI.org (GCI’s denominational website), it’s important to us all that you keep the information on your website current, and if you close it, that you notify GCI’s home office (by emailing support@gci.org). We will remove links on GCI.org to closed local church websites.

Please take time now to check the information about your congregation that we have on the denomination’s website. Go to http://www.gci.org/participate/find, locate your church record, then verify the information listed there. Are the meeting location and time correct? Is information about the pastor correct? If anything you find there is incorrect, please do one of the following:

  • Log into https://online.gci.org/, go to your congregation’s record and correct the information yourself
  • Email support@gci.org listing the changes that need to be made to your congregation’s record and we’ll make the changes for you

Thanks for keeping your online church records up-to-date.