GCI’s congregation in Surrey (Vancouver), Canada, recently held an outreach picnic in a park nearby their place of meeting. Members wore t-shirts that said “Ask Me About Jesus!” (see picture below). People in the park were invited to lunch (elder Bruce Edmonds is cooking hot dogs in the picture at right).
For about an hour Debbie Minke and her son Bryce (pictured in the shelter, below) played contemporary worship music, which created a warm and inviting mood. It was an opportunity to reach out in a friendly, non-threatening way, as members walked through the park inviting people to lunch.
According to pastor Craig Minke (at right in the picture below with member Harry Baergen), a GCI gospel pamphlet was made available to passersby and those who stopped for lunch. Entitled Here’s Good News for Everyone!, the pamphlet is available for download in both booklet and tri-fold pamphlet formats at http://www.gci.org/gospel-tract.
With assistance from our Australian churches, GCI’s congregations in Kenya, Africa, are helping educate orphans in the Manyera, Migori District of that nation. With GCI help, a school with nine classrooms is under construction (see pictures below). GCI pastors Joseph Nyakwaka and Rose Ocholla are coordinating the outreach, which is making a real difference in that community. Children are being cared for and pupils are anxiously awaiting their move into the new school.
Our increasingly secular, individualistic culture has lost sight of the truth that God gives us the precious gift of human identity. This loss leaves people to define their own identity. In doing so, instead of relying on widely agreed-upon values concerning life’s meaning, purpose and destiny, they rely on a secular “law” that values complete individual autonomy from God and people. Instead of producing freedom, this law produces slavery.
Because we are called to minister with Jesus within particular cultures, we must be aware of how culture shapes identity, and how the gospel testifies that the true identity of all people is found in Jesus. As Christians, we believe that the Son of God created us, became human, shared our life, died on our behalf, and now lives to help us, holding our future secure in his hands. This gospel truth is our primary frame of reference—our source of identity.
Sadly, the identity of many people is shaped not by the gospel but by such identity-forming cultural forces as media (including social media), advertising, education, entertainment, politics, technology and peer pressure. “Swimming” within this “cultural soup,” people come to believe they don’t need God—that they can be self-sufficient and make their own way. They learn to place their identity in their nationality, race, vocation, peer group, or hobby. And now many feel the need to place their identity in their sexual preferences (for more on that topic, click here or on the “LGBT issues” link above, left).
Into this “cultural soup” comes Jesus with a radical message of a new, transformed identity. That identity is not principally about human distinctions (Galatians 3:28), but who humans are, by grace, as God’s dearly loved children. Sadly, many people don’t know of this Christ-centered identity, largely because they hold false views about who God is. They’ve heard he’s like an angry, abusive parent out to punish his disobedient children. They’ve heard he’s so offended that he can’t stand to be in the presence of sinners and has plans to inflict pain on them forever and ever.
But all these views of God are wrong—they all suffer from a case of mistaken identity. God’s true identity is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus we see that God is willing to suffer for us, even die for us, so that we can live forever with him. In Jesus we see that though we all sin and fall short of perfection, God, in love, has done something about it.
People react to this truth about God in different ways. Some won’t accept it—they don’t think their sins are anywhere near bad enough to necessitate such sacrifice. Others know they’ve sinned, but believe the good they’ve done outweighs the bad. Others, painfully aware of their guilt, desperately try to earn their way back into God’s favor.
The good news is that God’s favor, as a loving Father, is already there for all people. Even when we were sinners (his enemies!) he loved us and sent his Son to die on our behalf and reconcile us to himself. That truth—the gospel—forms the basis for our true identity. Yes, we all are sinners, and no, we can’t change that, but God can and has. As his freely given gift, he sent his Son to live and die in our place so that we would be forgiven and raised with him to new life. And now in Jesus—in who he is, and what he has done—we are the dearly loved children of our heavenly Father. That is who we truly are. That is our true identity.
Over the centuries, followers of Jesus, embracing their true identity, have committed their lives to helping others come to know who they truly are in Christ. Paul described that gospel work this way: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19). Paul’s work in Galatia, as elsewhere, was to help people know Christ and to have Christ formed within them—to understand their true identity and then have their lives transformed as they live into that identity (see Galatians 2:20 KJV).
As a church, our primary goal is to participate, as did Paul, in what Jesus is doing to help people come to know him and then to be transformed as Christ is formed within them (Romans 12:2). That journey of transformation is about having our identity formed in Christ rather than in the “cultural soup” that surrounds us. It means yielding to the Spirit of Christ as he shapes us into what he wants us to be, using the gifts he gives us to join in the work he is doing, being instruments of his righteousness and peace for the benefit of people who desperately need to know him and know who they truly are in him.
This journey of transformation happens neither by accident nor by force. At times the journey seems slow, but it’s real and leading to our glorification—the time when we’ll be conformed perfectly to Christ and thus live fully into our true identity in him (see Romans 8:29 and 1 John 3:2). On this journey, the Spirit leads us to turn away from all other sources of identity and give our lives to Christ daily, as he continues to shape us to be more and more like he is. Note how Paul describes the process:
“You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).
“Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Out with the old identity—in with the new! Off with the way of sin—in with the way of Christ! As we surrender to Jesus, he gives us this new identity and way of being. It’s no pretense; no religious show—it’s reality, the gift of our true identity that gives us our meaning, our purpose, our security and our destiny. It’s a journey with daily challenges and joys. It’s about a life centered on Jesus, who not only shows us the Father, but shows us what we can become as we journey with him.
Our mission is to tell others this wonderful news—the simple (yet profound) truth that God who made us wants really good things for us. Even though we humans run from God, or act as if he’s not there, or refuse his help, God still loves us, still pursues us. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become human with us, to speak our language, feel our pain, and take the sting of death upon himself removing all the barriers between us and God, giving us all our true identity as God’s dearly loved children.
Joined with you in living out our true identity in Christ,
GCI in the nation of Cameroon (central Africa) is led by Pastor Jean Ndoudoumou (pictured below, at right) who serves alongside a committed group of united leaders. Though financial challenges abound, GCI’s members in Cameroon are being inspired to put their hope and trust in God who is able to supply all their needs.
GCI’s congregations in Cameroon recently held a special celebration that featured presentation of ordination certificates to elders ordained last year, and the ordination of ten new deacons from a recently planted GCI congregation in the town of Makak (central Cameroon). Cameroon churches also recently participated in a youth camp organized by GCI Pastor Victor Balinga. This interdenominational camp served close to 300 young people.
A new GCI church plant in Bimbia (southwest Cameroon) is thriving. Bimbia is a religious community where Christianity came alive when a Jamaican missionary, Joseph Merrick, landed there in 1843 (see the plaque, above). However, many who received the gospel became disappointed and discouraged in their walk as Christians. Through outreach activities, GCI’s members in Bimbia have been flaming the hope of salvation. As a result, men, women and children are returning home to Jesus where they are finding his love and grace.
We’re happy to report that Brent is feeling much better—now free of headaches and feeling back to his normal self. He’s still dealing with some swelling, bruising, etc., but he’s almost completely off painkillers. He continues taking antibiotics, hoping infection will not flare up. Time will tell if Brent will lose a tooth, and if he’ll have permanent nerve damage in his lower lip.
Words fail to adequately express our gratitude for God’s loving protection, mercy and healing, and our gratitude for you, our dear family, who have stood with us through this trial!
Cards may be sent to:
Craig and Debbie Minke 22899 – 14th Avenue Langley, BC V2Z 2W8 CANADA
Hector Barrero, GCI’s mission developer for Latin America, reports that a new GCI church is being started in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Accompanied by GCI leaders from Angola, Africa, Hector recently met with the leaders of the new congregation (see picture below; Hector is at center).
During Hector’s visit, the congregation held special services for three days. Services on Friday and Saturday were held in a rented hall in the center of Sao Paulo where many African immigrants live. About 25 people attended each day. Then on Sunday, services were held at a member’s home where about 30 people, plus children, attended (see picture below). All the services where enlivened by Christian music with an African touch.
Hector reports great enthusiasm among the GCI leaders and members in Sao Paulo. With their gifts of preaching and music, their future as a congregation, despite financial limitations, looks bright.
Here are reports from two recently completed GCI youth camps.
This new GenMin camp was conducted for the second year in the beautiful setting of Lake Tahoe near the Nevada/California border. The 60 campers (a 43% increase from last year) were served by 41 staff members led by camp director Susan McKie. The staff included eight pastoral leaders from five different GCI congregations. Activities included camp chapel, archery, capture the flag, line dancing, skits, human foosball (a big success), an obstacle course on the beach, water skiing, boating and tubing.
Held in Alberta, this GCI-Canada camp is led by Clay and Gillian Houghton with a staff dedicated to pointing campers to a real relationship with our Triune God. GCI-USA intern Andy Rooney joined the staff this summer. Andy’s passion for Christ, as well as his ability to identify strongly with youth and youth culture (he has been a professional rapper) added to the spiritual tenor of the week.
As a young teen I was seated in a movie theater when the power went out. The murmuring of the audience grew louder as each second in the dark passed. I found myself squinting, trying to see a way out when someone opened a door to the outside. Light poured into the theater and the murmuring, and my squinting, quickly ended.
Until faced with darkness, most of us take light for granted. But without light there is no sight. We see because light upon an object moves through space, where reaching our eyes it stimulates our optic nerves, producing a signal that our brains interpret as an object in space having a particular appearance, location and movement. Understanding the nature of light has been a challenge—early theories posited light as a particle, then a wave. Today, most physicists view light as both—a wave-particle. Note what Einstein wrote:
It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.
An interesting aspect about the nature of light is how darkness has no power over it. While light dispels darkness, the reverse is not true. This phenomenon plays prominently in Scripture in pointing out the nature of God (light) and evil (darkness). Note what the apostle John wrote:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7).
As noted by Thomas F. Torrance in his book The Trinitarian Faith, early church leader Athanasius, following the teachings of John and the other original apostles, used the metaphor of light and its radiance to speak about the nature of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ:
As light is never without its radiance, so the Father is never without his Son or without his Word. Moreover, just as light and radiance are one and are not alien to one another, so the Father and the Son are one and are not alien to one another but are of one and the same being. And just as God is eternal light, so the Son of God as eternal radiance of God is himself eternally light without beginning and without end (p. 121).
Athanasius was making a vital point that he and others codified in the Nicene Creed: Jesus Christ shares with the Father the one being (Greek=ousia) of God. Were that not so, it would have made no sense when Jesus proclaimed: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). As Torrance notes, if Jesus were not homoousios (of one ousia) with the Father (and thus fully God), we would not have in Jesus the full revelation of God. But as Jesus proclaimed, he truly is that revelation—to see him is to see the Father; to hear him is to hear the Father. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father from his very being—that is, from his essential reality and nature. Torrance comments:
The Father/Son relation falls within the one being of God, the Father and the Son inhering and coexisting eternally, wholly and perfectly in one another. God is Father precisely as he is eternally the Father of the Son, and the Son is God of God precisely as he is eternally Son of the Father. There is perfect and eternal mutuality between the Father and the Son, without any “interval” in being, time or knowledge between them (The Trinitarian Faith, p. 119).
Because the Father and the Son are one in being, they also are one in doing (action). Notice what Torrance wrote about this in The Christian Doctrine of God:
There is an unbroken relation of Being and Action between the Son and the Father, and in Jesus Christ that relation has been embodied in our human existence once and for all. There is thus no God behind the back of Jesus Christ, but only this God whose face we see in the face of the Lord Jesus. There is no… dark inscrutable God, no arbitrary Deity of whom we can know nothing but before whom we can only tremble as our guilty conscience paints harsh streaks upon his face.
This understanding of the nature (being) of God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, played a critical role in the process of officially determining the New Testament canon. A book was not considered for inclusion in the New Testament if it did not uphold the essential oneness of the Father and the Son. Thus this truth and reality served as a key hermeneutical principle by which the content of the New Testament was determined for the church.
Understanding that the Father and the Son (with the Spirit) are one in being and doing helps us understand the nature of grace. Grace is not a substance created by God to stand between God and humanity but, as Torrance notes, “the self-giving of God to us in his incarnate Son in whom the Gift and the Giver are indivisibly one God himself.” The content of God’s saving grace is a person, Jesus Christ, for it is in, through and by him that salvation occurs.
The triune God, who is eternal light, is the source of all “illumination,” both physically and spiritually. The Father who called light into existence, sent his Son to be the light of the world, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit to bring illumination to all people. Though God “lives in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), he has revealed himself to us by his Spirit in the “face” of his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ (see 2 Corinthians 4:6). Even if we must, at first, squint to “see” this stunning light, those who embrace it soon find the darkness has been driven far away.
Basking in the light,
PS. If you’d like to learn more about the incarnational Trinitarian roots of the Nicene Creed, go to http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/p/nicene-creed.html where you’ll find an excellent article by Ted Johnston summarizing key points about the Creed from Torrance’s book The Trinitarian Faith.