GCI-Australia recently held a conference for pastors followed by a national conference. Here is a report from GCI-Australia national director John McLean.
We were blessed by two wonderful, positive, joy and love-filled conferences on the Gold Coast. Over 50 pastors and their spouses gathered for the first one on Friday, June 12. Then on Saturday and Sunday, June 13-14, the group grew to over 200 as we held our national conference. Both were great learning opportunities, occasions for connection and re-connection, and a vital spiritual boost to all who attended.
The theme of the national conference, A Flourishing Life, focused attention on the nature of God and our union with Christ, and what that means for a truly flourishing human life. I began the conference with these words:
Since the divine reality is that God is love, human flourishing is about participating in that lavish love and grace, and sharing this with others. We live well and flourish best when we find joy loving God who loves us and loving our neighbors in him. In this way the Christian faith has much to contribute to the common good, and to the flourishing of individuals, groups, communities and nations.
The fellowship of the Spirit was powerfully evident in the love, peace, unity and grace experienced by those attending. Joseph Tkach presented an “International Family Update,” which included exciting reports of a large number of churches seeking GCI affiliation. Dr. Tkach also gave a session entitled “God is Love.” He also introduced communion at the end of the conference. Gary Deddo spoke on “Union with Christ,” “Life in the Spirit” and “Faith, Hope and Love.” Guest speaker Keith Farmer spoke on “Flourishing as a Christian,” and Cathy Deddo gave a session on “Living and Growing in Christ,” along with several elective sessions.
Many commented on how much they learned and some told how life-changing the conference had been. Everyone was inspired and encouraged by Dr. Tkach’s talk about the wonderful and surprising things happening in our denomination around the world. Following the conference Dr. Tkach made this comment:
I very much enjoyed taking part. Gary and Cathy Deddo, and Charles Albrecht accompanied me. In addition to those attending from all around Australia, a wonderful dimension to the conference was the participation of brothers and sisters from Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Nauru, India, Malaysia and the Philippines. We truly are an international communion of grace.
Charles Albrecht, from our denominational home office in Glendora said, “I was genuinely inspired to see how God is working through our pastors and members in Australia.” Rex Morgan, from New Zealand, said, “In addition to the inspiration gained through the excellent messages, the conference was a great opportunity for fellowshipping with old friends from around the region, and developing new friendships.”
Dr. Deddo enthusiastically endorsed the conference, commenting how valuable it was and how important it was to keep doing conferences like this. Dr. Farmer said that the theme, A Flourishing Life, was one of the most important themes the Australian Christian Church could focus on, in terms of mission.
Many of you know that when I travel I like to extend greetings in the native language. I enjoy going beyond a simple “hello,” but when I do I sometimes mess up a nuance or subtlety in the language. Though I’ve picked up some words in several languages over the years and have learned some Greek and Hebrew in my studies, English remains my heart language, and so it’s the language in which I pray.
Thinking about prayer reminds me of a story. There was a man who desired to pray the best prayer he could. Being a Jew, he was aware that traditional Judaism stresses praying in Hebrew. Being uneducated, he did not know Hebrew, so he did the only thing he knew to do—in his prayers he recited the Hebrew alphabet over and over. A Rabbi overheard him praying that way and asked what he was doing. The man replied: “The Holy One, Blessed is he, knows what is in my heart. I give him the letters, and he puts the words together.”
I believe God heard that man’s prayers—his primary concern is the heart of the one who prays. Words are important too, for they convey meaning. God, who is El Shama (the God who hears, Psalm 17:6), hears prayer in all languages and understands the subtleties and nuances inherent to any of them.
When we read the Bible in English, it’s easy to miss some of the subtleties and nuances of meaning conveyed in the Bible’s original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek). For example, the Hebrew word mitzvah is typically translated into the English word commandment. But from that perspective, God tends to be viewed as a stern taskmaster who administers burdensome decrees. But mitzvah speaks to God giving his people honor and privilege, not burdens. When God gave the Jews his mitzvot he set before them blessings that come through obedience in contrast with curses that come through disobedience. God was saying to his people: “This is the way I want you to live so you will have life and be a blessing to others.”
The Jewish people were honored and privileged to be in covenant with God and were eager to serve him. God graciously instructed them as to how to live in that relationship with him. It is with this relational perspective that we should approach the topic of prayer.
Judaism interpreted the Hebrew Bible as requiring formal prayers three times daily plus additional times on the Sabbath and festival days. There were also special prayers before meals, putting on new clothes, washing hands and lighting candles. There were special prayers when seeing something unusual (a majestic rainbow or other extraordinarily beautiful scene), when crossing paths with a king or other royalty, or when encountering the site of a great tragedy (battle, earthquake, etc.). There were special prayers when something extraordinarily good or bad happened, and before going to bed at night and upon arising in the morning. Though this approach to prayer might become ritualistic or burdensome, its intent was to facilitate constant communication with the One who watches over and blesses his people. The apostle Paul captured that intent when exhorting Christ-followers to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 KJV). Doing so means living life before God with the conscientious intent of being in Christ and joining him in ministry.
This relational perspective does not mean doing away with set times and structured approaches to prayer. One fellow told me: “I pray when I feel inspired to.” Another said, “I pray when it is meaningful to do so.” I think both comments overlook the fact that a meaningful relationship with God includes prayer as an integral part of daily life. I’m reminded of the Birkat Ha-Mazon, one of the most important prayers in Judaism, which is recited following ordinary meals. It comes from Deuteronomy 8:10 (NIV), “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” When I’ve enjoyed a delicious meal, I cannot help but be thankful to God who gave it. That is one of the great purposes of prayer—to increase our awareness of God and of his role in our daily lives.
If we only pray when we feel inspired to do so (that is, when we’re already aware of God’s presence), then we’ll not be increasing our awareness of God. Humility and awe before God does not come easily to us—and that’s another reason to make prayer a daily part of communing with God. Note also that in this life, if we want to do something well, we have to practice it continually, even when we don’t feel like doing so. This is as true of prayer as it is of playing a sport or mastering a musical instrument. It’s also true of becoming a good writer (and many of you know that writing is not one of my favorite activities!).
An Orthodox priest once told me that he practices the ancient tradition of crossing oneself in prayer. The first thing he does when waking up is to recite a prayer of thanksgiving for living another day in Christ, which he ends by crossing himself while saying, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Some say this practice arose during Jesus’ ministry as a replacement for the the Jewish practice of wearing phylacteries. Others say it arose following Jesus’ resurrection, with the sign of the cross being shorthand for Jesus’ atoning work. We know for sure that it was common practice by A.D. 200, when Tertullian wrote: “In all undertakings—when we enter a place or leave it; before we dress; before we bathe; when we take our meals; when we light the lamps in the evening; before we retire at night; when we sit down to read; before each task—we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads.”
Though I’m not saying we need to adopt any particular prayer rituals (including crossing oneself), I am urging us to a regular, consistent practice of prayer. There are many helpful ways for us to acknowledge who God is and who we are in relation to him, and to do so without ceasing. Can you imagine how our relationship with God would deepen if we thought of him from the moment we awake in the morning, throughout the day, then as our last thought before drifting into sleep? Doing so would certainly help us consciously live out the day in partnership with Jesus!
Learning to pray without ceasing,
PS: Please join me and many others in the body of Christ in praying for the loved ones of the victims who died in the shooting that occurred during a prayer meeting on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. Nine of our Christian brothers and sisters were murdered. This disgraceful, hate-filled incident is a shocking reminder that we live in a fallen world. It causes us to pray all the more for the fullness of God’s kingdom. May we all intercede through prayer for the families who have suffered this tragic loss. Let us also pray for the AME congregation—I marvel at the grace-based way they have responded, generously extending love and forgiveness in the midst of overwhelming grief. What a powerful gospel testimony!
As noted in a previous prayer request, Big Sandy, Texas, assistant pastor Paul Smith was in an automobile accident on May 28. Following the accident he became quite ill and was taken to the emergency room. He has been in hospital isolation for the past two weeks recovering from an aggressive infection. He has gradually improved with treatment, but it is not known when he will be released to return home. Continued prayers for Paul are much appreciated.
Cards can be mailed to:
Paul & Freia Smith P.O. Box 295 Big Sandy, TX 75755
Here are reports on recently held GCI youth camps.
Great Lakes Camp (Michigan)
Great Lakes Camps is the newest of the Generations Ministries U.S. camps. Their inaugural session was held this month with 21 campers (four who are unchurched) and nine staff members. Activities included a hayride, fireside chat, high ropes course, ziplines across a lake, climbing tower, swimming, boating, a blob on the lake and Christian living classes. The praise band was made up of teens with some staff members in support. Teaching in camp chapels utilized an abridged form of the GenMin Epic Story curriculum. Here is a video with camp highlights (on YouTube at https://youtu.be/gcJg5XQY7mM):
Youth Camp (Bogotá)
GCI in Colombia, South America recently held a youth camp near Bogotá. The theme, Arraigados en Su Amor (Rooted in His Love), was nspired by the GenMin camp curriculum from 2012. There were 41 in attendance from Bogotá and one from Venezuela. The camp featured worship and prayer along with many activities and workshops. For a video of the camp in session, click here.
Grace Communion Seminary (GCS) is pleased to announce the installation of Dr. Gary Deddo as its new president. Dr. Deddo was installed by outgoing president Dr. Russel Duke. Below are videos of the installation ceremony held at the GCI home office in Glendora, California (the first has highlights, the second shows the full ceremony).
A recent ChurchLeaders.com article titled “Two Big Reasons Evangelism Isn’t Working” notes this:
While a person’s response to Christ is ultimately a matter that rests in God’s sovereign hands—something we have no control over—a person’s hearing of the gospel is a matter we do have control over and responsibility for.
We take seriously God’s calling to the church to join with Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, to evangelize people who do not yet know who they are in Christ.
This report is from Sondra Peters, co-director of Camp Oasis.
On a beautiful (and hot) Saturday, June 6, Grace Fellowship hosted our second Camp Oasis afternoon of fun for children in Summit Heights, a public housing area only a few blocks from our church in Clarksville, Tennessee. Our 22 volunteer staff members spent the afternoon with 23 campers (plus a couple parents) playing games, gospel face painting, and staying cool with brain freeze (water balloon game) and popsicles. A local agency, Tender Paws, stopped by for a visit with two therapy dogs. We ended the afternoon with a short message from the book of John, a time of prayer, and then sent the campers home with some treats, a Grace Fellowship water bottle, and info about Good News Clubs during the school year.
We offer the camp to children age 4-12, though we allow younger children to come (with an adult present) and we don’t turn away older youth if they want to participate.
One older youth came just before we were starting and began talking with a few of our volunteers. He told them he is Wiccan and described some health and spiritual issues that he has dealt with lately. He was skeptical about staying if all we played was Christian music, but after talking with our volunteers he decided to stay. He participated in most of the activities and as he left he asked for our website address because he wanted to list it as a site he likes.
Some of our volunteers will follow up by visiting this young man. We see camp as the beginning of an opportunity to show our campers that we care about them and that God loves them.
Our relationship with The Clarksville Housing Authority and other community organizations has led to more opportunities to serve in our community. Grace Fellowship will continue to work in the Summit Heights area helping children practice their reading over the summer. Several members are involved with Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) through their Good News Clubs after school. We also partner with a local elementary school as tutors to students in need in various classrooms. It has been a joy to see the overlap with some of the organizations and our Camp Oasis outreach.
CrossWalk Camp (Oklahoma)
This report is from Michael Rasmussen, director of CrossWalk Camp.
We just concluded our 27th Crosswalk Camp and walked away deeply grateful for all God has allowed us to do at his side through the years. This was the first camp session totally planned and led by our young adults. Months of planning went into coming up with a theme (#Selfie), putting together skits, determining worship, assigning ministry breakouts, creating team building, etc. All of this work was designed to carry out the camp theme while bathing our kids in God’s unconditional love. They did a wonderful job!
We were blessed with 95 campers in our Junior Camp, Senior Camp and Mini-Camp; 29 were first time campers! We had 76 staff members with 8 joining us for the first time.
For the first time in 15 years, we had to send one of our campers home for behavior issues. I was so proud of our staff in the way they lovingly handled the situation. It was made abundantly clear to this individual that we loved them and all were glad God had brought them to camp and we definitely wanted them to come back next camp, but the rules and boundaries would be the same. We were reminded as we reach inner city, unchurched and hurting youth, it’s going to get messy. Many youth struggle when they encounter God’s unconditional love and acceptance for the first time.
One of our staff members, who is a middle school teacher, brought 14 youth from her school to camp. She not only invited them, but helped them raise the funds for camp and arranged transportation to camp. She is impacting these young people in a wonderful way. Another staff member had been intentionally reaching out within her neighborhood—opening her house to children within her neighborhood and sharing the love of God in a tangible ways. Because of this ministry, she was able to bring eight pre-teens with her to camp. Through this ministry, these women are investing in the lives of young people both at camp and back home throughout the year.
This report is from SEP Florida director Marty Davey.
2015 was our 20th year of having a youth camp in Florida. We had our largest turnout ever (most are pictured below): 71 campers (including 26 first-timers) and 30 staff members. The weather was excellent, and so was the lakefront setting at beautiful Camp Shalom in Orange Springs, Florida.
Camp activities included swimming, canoeing, a water park outing, basketball (with a workshop from a professional women’s basketball player), football, soccer, volleyball, games, arts & crafts, music and drama, a dance, Christian living discussions, and daily chapel. The theme and curriculum were built around God’s “Epic Story.” It was a time of drawing closer to Jesus, coming to understand better his part in our life stories, and our part in the Triune God’s epic story, which includes all humanity.
There’s been a lot of press coverage concerning the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner transgender issue. For some helpful perspective, you might wish to read a series of posts on the subject of gender dysphoria written by Christian psychologist Mark Yarhouse (pictured below). The series is on the Limning the Psyche blog, beginning at http://psychologyandchristianity.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/understanding-gender-dysphoria-pt-1/ (follow the links from there to the other parts in the series).
Congratulations to GCI-Canada pastor Fraser Henderson and his bride Julie Shaw. The couple was wed on May 30. Fraser’s father, James Henderson, officiated. The intimate ceremony (pictured below) was held in the back yard of the home where the couple will reside.
Fraser serves as pastor of the Corwall, Ontario congregation and associate pastor of congregations in Ottawa and Smiths Falls.