Snowblast in Minnesota

Snowblast 1Snowblast 2015 was held recently in Minnesota. This intergenerational winter camping event has been a GCI tradition for nearly 20 years.

About 60 people participated this year. The primary organizers were from the Fargo/Moorhead church. Activities included ice fishing, pottery, knitting, model rubber-band airplane making, hiking, ice skating, games and some indoor sports. The cold dark evenings were brightened by popcorn, snacks and movies in the warmth of Lakeview Lodge.

By using an auger to drill a hole in the three-foot-thick ice, and erecting a canvas ice fishing shack for shelter (see picture below), the group was able to enjoy excellent fishing—62 fish were caught: 2 bass, 40 sunfish, 15 crappies and 5 northern pike.

Snowblast 3 (fishing tent)

The event included times of worship with messages about God’s love from Tom Kennebeck, Betty Johannsen and Troy Meisner. Doug Johannsen and Becky Deuel gave interactive devotionals.

Plans are already underway for Snowblast 2016.

Snowblast 4 (fish)

Law and grace

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachA few weeks ago, while listening to Billy Joel’s song, “New York State of Mind,” I was scanning the news online. Coincidentally, my eyes fell on an article explaining that the state of New York had recently passed a law making it illegal to pierce or tattoo pet animals. It amused me to learn that a law like this is needed. Apparently the practice has become a trend. I doubt many New Yorkers took note of the passage of this law since it was only one among many recently enacted in the state.

By their very nature, governments (local, state and federal) have legalistic tendencies. They certainly enact a lot of laws! For the most part, they do so seeking to make the world a better place. But some laws are needed simply because people lack common sense. Whatever the reason, CNN reported that within the U.S. in 2014, 40,000 new laws were enacted at the state level.

GraceWhy so many laws? Largely because we humans, with our bent toward sin, find loopholes in existing laws. As a result, more and more laws are needed. Few would be necessary if laws were capable of making people perfect. But they aren’t. The purpose of law is to restrain imperfect people in order to promote social order and harmony.

In his letter to the churches in Rome, Paul wrote about the limitations of the law that God gave to Israel through Moses: “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh…” (Romans 8:3). Not understanding these limitations, Israel’s religious leaders added bylaws and amendments to the law of Moses. It got to the point where it was nearly impossible to keep track of these laws, let alone obey them. And no matter how many laws were enacted, perfection was never achieved (and never will be) through law keeping. And that was exactly Paul’s point. God did not give the law to make his people perfect (righteous and holy). Only God, by grace, does that.

When I contrast law and grace, some accuse me of hating God’s law and encouraging antinomianism (the belief that one is released by grace from the obligation of observing the moral law). But nothing is further from the truth. Like anyone, I wish people were better law-keepers. Who wants lawlessness to abound? But as Paul reminds us, it’s vital to understand what the law can and cannot do.

In his mercy, God gave Israel the law, which includes the Ten Commandments, to guide them along a better path. That’s why Paul said that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). But by its very nature, the law is limited. It cannot bring about redemption nor free anyone from guilt and condemnation. The law cannot justify or reconcile us, much less sanctify and glorify us. Only the grace of God through the atoning work of Jesus working in us by the Holy Spirit does that. As Paul wrote to the Galatians: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). Karl Barth made a similar point in a sermon he preached to inmates at a prison in Switzerland:

Let us hear therefore what the Bible says and what we as Christians are called to hear together: By grace you have been saved! No man can say this to himself. Neither can he say it to someone else. This can only be said by God to each one of us. It takes Jesus Christ to make this saying true. It takes the apostles to communicate it. And our gathering here as Christians to spread it among us. This is why it truly [is] news, and very special news, the most exciting news of all, the most helpful thing also, indeed the only helpful thing.

Some people upon hearing the good news (gospel) worry that God’s grace won’t work. Legalists in particular worry that people will turn grace into license. They can’t grasp the truth revealed in Jesus that our lives are about relationship with God—co-ministering with him rather than usurping his role as Creator and Savior.

Our role in living and sharing the gospel is to proclaim God’s love and to be an example of gratitude for God’s self-revelation and intervention in our lives. Karl Barth wrote in Church Dogmatics that this obedience to God begins in the form of gratitude: “Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.” Barth commented further:

When God loves, revealing His inmost being in the fact that He loves and therefore seeks and creates fellowship, this being and doing is divine and distinct from all other loving to the extent that the love of God is grace. Grace is the distinctive mode of God’s being in so far as it seeks and creates fellowship by its own free inclination and favor, unconditioned by any merit or claim in the beloved, but also unhindered by any unworthiness or opposition in the latter—able, on the contrary, to overcome all unworthiness and opposition. It is in this distinctive characteristic that we recognize the divinity of God’s love.

I imagine your experience is not that different from mine when it comes to the topic of law and grace. Like you, I’d much rather have a relationship with someone that flows from love than one compelled by law. Because of God’s love and grace toward us, we desire to love and please him. Sure, I can seek to obey him out of a sense of duty, but I’d rather co-minister with him as the outflow of a genuine relationship of love.

Thinking about living by grace reminds me of another Billy Joel song, “Keeping the Faith.” Though not theologically precise, its chorus makes an important proclamation:

When the memory stays, yeah
I’m keeping the faith
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Keeping the faith
I’m keeping the faith,
Yes I am

Living by grace and keeping the faith with you,

Joseph Tkach

PS: Anthony Mullins and Mike Rasmussen shared with me a video of a performance by Kyle Brownell of a piece of “slam poetry.” He performed this at our CrossWalk Camp in Oklahoma. It’s called “Saved By Grace” and the lyrics declare the good news in a profound and personal way. Watch and enjoy on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pxgCEKE51c&feature=youtu.be.

New Pastors’ Orientation

The GCI home office recently hosted several new pastors and their spouses for New Pastors’ Orientation. The conference, which was facilitated by Church Administration and Development (CAD), had a two-fold purpose: to share ministry tools and information and to provide an environment that would nurture mutual love, support and respect. An immediate bond of love developed among participants (pictured below) as the group experienced God’s presence in prayer, worship and meals.

group

Topics addressed during the conference included church history, participation in the mission of God, reading and interpreting Scripture with trinitarian eyes, a pastor’s ministry, preaching and pastoral counseling. Home office staff from IT, Media and the Treasurer’s Office presented helpful practices and shared ministry vision and goals. GCI President, Joseph Tkach, ended the gathering by commissioning the new pastors and leading communion. He reminded the group of the privilege we have to labor together in the shadows of the triune, loving God.

small group

Orientation 2Orientation 1

commissioningTwo conference participants received special recognition. Dan Rogers, one of the instructors, was honored on the occasion of his retirement as CAD director. Mike Rasmussen, who accompanied several new pastors to the event, was commissioned as a regional pastor (see picture at left). Mike will continue to pastor the GCI church in Oklahoma City while serving the pastors and churches of the U.S. south-central region.

Many event participants commented that they felt a renewed sense of hope and courage, now viewing challenges in their ministries as opportunities to share the abundant love of Jesus. In a survey to receive feedback, one of the questions asked was, “What are your greatest take-aways?” Here are a few of the most frequent responses:

  • God loves me. God is love. His love is constant.
  • Sense of community. I’m not alone. We all work together for a common goal. Network.
  • There is a huge support system and encouragement base.
  • Being free to go and do what God has called me to do.
  • It is with humble hearts that we thank our congregations for their generous support as we partner in ministry.
  • We look to the future with excitement and anticipation.

Floods in East Africa

This prayer request is from Tim Maguire, one of GCI’s Missions Directors serving in Africa.

Please pray for our members and other people in Mozambique and Malawi who have been devastated by recent floods as the result of torrential rains. The flooding has destroyed homes and crops. I have been in contact with our leaders in Mozambique, but they do not have much information other than to say that “it is very bad” there. Many areas are without means of communication. More details are available by following these links:


Here is a note from the GCI Treasurer’s Office:

Probably the best way to assist members suffering in disasters like these in Africa is to donate to the GCI Disaster Relief Fund, which provides members in disaster areas with emergency needs for food, water, medicine, clothing, temporary housing, home and/or church hall repairs, temporary local pastoral salary expenses, etc. Monies donated to the Fund that are not immediately needed remain in the Fund to be allocated in future disasters. Congregations can donate to the Fund by having their treasurer set up a one time or monthly donation using the GCI online system (http://online.gci.org—log in and select “Church Giving” under the “Treasurer” tab at left). A congregation or individual may donate to the Fund by check made payable to Grace Communion International, indicating on the memo line that it is for the GCI Disaster Relief Fund. Send checks to:

GCI Disaster Relief Fund
Grace Communion International
P.O Box 5005
Glendora, CA 91740-0730

The Nicene Creed’s Trinitarian roots

nicene-creedIs GCI’s incarnational, Trinitarian theology a recent innovation? Some make that claim. But a careful study of the history of theology says otherwise. In fact, the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D., which codified for the church a doctrinal statement that has stood the test of time, was formed in accordance with the incarnational, Trinitarian theology of its framers. In his book The Trinitarian Faith, Thomas F. Torrance makes this point, carefully tracing out the creed’s historical development and examining its theological framework.

A post on GCI’s The Surprising God blog summarizes the key points of Torrance’s book and provides a helpful study of the Nicene Creed. You’ll find the post at http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/p/nicene-creed.html.

Media in Europe

We’re pleased to announce two GCI media developments in Europe. Our program “Speaking of Life” (with a UK ending appended) is now airing in the United Kingdom on SKY TV and on an internet video channel. In the Netherlands, we have launched a new website at www.gracecommunion.nl and a new YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/gcinetherlands. Here is one of the videos there:

Watch on YouTube at http://youtu.be/dmiApTe-2fc.

Converge 2015

Converge 2014The Converge 2015 conference is coming up in March. Generations Ministries national coordinator Anthony Mullins recently announced that onsite lodging for the conference is full. However, there is plenty of room for people to attend who will then be lodged off-site. If you’re looking for nearby, offsite lodging, here are some good options:

In nearby Circleville:

In Grove City (about a 35 minute drive from the conference site):

  • Microtel  1800 Stringtown Road, Grove City, OH 43123   Phone 614-277-0705 Mention “Converge GCI” $ 55.95 +9.79 tax = $65.74  for 2 Double Beds $50.95 + 9.79 tax = $60.74 for small King Room
  • Red Roof Inn  4055 Jackpot Road Grove City, OH 43123  Phone 614-871-9617  Mention “Converge GCI” $68.39 + Tax  Double Queen room $74.69 + Tax  King Room $63.89 + Tax Single Queen Room
  • LaQuinta Inn 3962 Jackpot Road  Grove City, OH 43123 Phone 614-539-6200 Mention “Converge GCI” $99 +Tax Includes Continental Breakfast, indoor pool Currently King and 2 Queen Rooms available (10 rooms blocked currently)
  • Holiday Inn Express 3951 Jackpot Road  Grove City, OH 43123  Phone 614-801-9000 Mention “Converge GCI” $99 + tax  (no additional charges for addtl occupants) 7 King Rooms and 8 Doubles available

Note: If you decide to attend Converge, but stay offsite, you’ll still need to register and pay the registration fee ($25) and purchase the meal package ($80) unless you plan to eat all meals offsite. To register, go to https://online.gci.org/live/ScriptContent/Index.cfm?go=EVENTS-CONVERGE15. If you have any questions, email Anthony at anthony.mullins@gci.org or text/call him at 678.427.9967.

Roger Guilbert

We received the following prayer request for Roger Guilbert, a long-time GCI elder in France. 

We are asking for your prayers for Roger who was hospitalized recently with a blood clot blocking the main artery to his lungs. Though the clot has been removed, particles remain in his lungs. Roger is experiencing much pain and his wife Christiane is deeply affected by all this. Your prayers for them are appreciated along with prayer for their four children and their spouses, and their grandchildren.

Cards may be sent to:

M et Mme Roger GUILBERT
9 rue Georges Jourdain
80540 Bovelles
France

Interesting church facts

ECFA

Here are some interesting facts about the church from the January 2015 issue of ChurchPulse, from the ECFA.

  • Church Racial Mix Changing. According to the most recent (2012) National Congregations Study, 80% of American congregants attend services at a place where a single racial or ethnic group comprises at least 80% of the congregation. 20% worship where no single racial or ethnic group predominates. This is up from 15% in ‛98 and 17% in ‛06–‛07. In addition, the share of white Americans who attend services with no one of another other race or ethnicity is dropping. In ‛98, 20% of U.S. congregants were part of entirely white congregations vs. 11% in ‛12. A similar dynamic is at work among Hispanic worshipers. (Pew Research Fact Tank 12/8/14)
  • The Average Church attracts fewer than 90 adults on a typical weekend. 60% of Protestant churches have 100 or fewer adults on a typical weekend. Just 2% of churches attract more than 1,000 adults on a typical weekend. (Barna Research)
  • Church Planting. Churches of 200 or less are 4 times more likely to plant a daughter church than churches of 1,000 or more. The smaller the size of the church, the more fertile they are in planting churches. (LifeWay Research)
  • Keeping the Faith. 56% of Millennials are keeping the faith of their childhood while 20% are switching to another denomination, 18% are leaving their faith and 4% are coming to faith. (Facts & Trends Summer 2014)
  • Fewer Married Millennials. While Millennials (21%) are half as likely to be currently married as their parents at the same age, Pew reports generally the “youngest generation has the strongest desire to marry” which is “a reflection of their stage in the life cycle.” However, Millennials are 5% less likely than those of older generations to say “successful marriage is one of their most important life goals.” (Focus on the Family Findings 6/2012)
  • Perceptions vs. Realities. In the U.S., the Center for Media Research says we get a lot of things very wrong. Aging Population: We overestimate the U.S. population to be much older than it actually is … The average estimate is 35.9% of the population is 65+ when it is in fact only 14%. Christians: Americans think 55.7% of the country identifies themselves as Christian vs. the actual figure of 78%. Muslims: We hugely overestimate the proportion of Muslims in the U.S. … thinking 15% are Muslims when the actual figure is 1%. (Center for Media Research Brief 11/22/14)
  • More Americans Foregoing Marriage. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the number of Americans who have always been single and will never marry is at a historic high. About 20% of Americans older than 25 had always been single in ‛13, up from 9% in ‛60. About half of all never-marrieds would like to marry eventually; the younger people were, the more likely they were to say this. “Marriage hasn’t fallen out of favor,” says Kim Parker, Director of Social Trends Research, “but financial constraints and imbalances in the marriage market may be holding people back from taking the plunge.” (Pew Research Center 9/24/14)
  • Faith Sharing Online. In an average week, 1 in 5 Americans share their religious faith online, about the same percentage that tune in to religious talk radio, watch religious TV programs or listen to Christian rock music. And 46% of U.S. adults see someone else share their religious faith online in a typical week. These are among the key findings from a Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. (Pew Research 11/6/14)
  • 19% Bible Lovers/19% Bible Skeptics. Bible skepticism is tied with Bible engagement for the first time in Barna Group and American Bible Society polling. The number of those who are skeptical or agnostic toward the Bible—who believe the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice” —has nearly doubled from 10% to 19% in just three years. This is now equal to the number of people who are Bible engaged—who read the Bible at least four times a week and believe it is the actual or inspired Word of God. Digging into the population segmentation of Bible skeptics, two-thirds are 48 or younger (28% Millennials, 36% Gen-Xers), and they are twice as likely to be male (68%) than female (32%). They are more likely to identify as Catholic than any other single denomination or affiliation (30%) and are the segment most likely not to have attended church (87%) or prayed (63%) during the previous week. They are also most likely not to have made a commitment to Jesus that is important in their life today (76%). (Year-in-Review: Barna’s Top 10 Findings from 2014, Barna.org.)