GCI Update

Good news: God is pleased with you!

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

joeandtammyI saw a Peanuts cartoon recently in which Charlie Brown, talking with Lucy, wonders if God is pleased with him. When he asks Lucy if she ever wonders the same thing, she replies, “He just HAS to be!” Humorous? Yes, but touching on a profound issue we all relate to, for we all seek affirmation. At one level, that’s OK—God created us as relational beings and it’s natural to seek affirmation from others. But that desire becomes a problem when affirmation is sought not knowing that God, who knows who we truly are and are becoming, is pleased with us already.

Galatians 2.20

For those not secure in this gospel truth, I recommend they read The Mediation of Christ, by Thomas F. Torrance. It powerfully proclaims a vital pastoral principle: Because the gospel is always Yet not I, but Christ, we must avoid casting people back on themselves. We work contrary to that principle when our preaching and teaching point people to their sinful nature, or impose long lists of things they must do to please God. Doing so tends to focus people on self rather than Christ. But the gospel truth is that we are who we are, and who we are becoming, not apart from Christ, but in Christ. In fact, we have no being apart from Christ. Everything that was ours he has made his own so that everything that is his, is now ours in him. Paul put it this way:

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The Mediation of Christ helps us understand the good news that God really is pleased with us. That’s important to know in a world filled with so much bad news: the Chinese stock market imploding, Wall Street and United Airlines computer systems crashing, Greece on the brink of bankruptcy, ISIS executing thousands. Seeing all this bad news, some wrongly conclude that God is causing (or at least allowing) these things because of his hatred of sin. While it’s true that God hates sin, it’s not for the reason many assume. The truth is that God is not surprised by sin, and evil cannot thwart the plan he is working out in the universe. God hates sin because it damages and hurts his creation—it causes it pain and suffering, and that is not God’s will.

When God created the universe, he declared it good, even very good (Genesis 1:25, 27, 31). But how could God say that foreknowing that the creation would become so broken and diseased? Scripture (rightly understood) tells us that sin and evil entered the world as the absence of and defection away from what ought to be. Sin and evil are a corruption of God’s good creation and God is not the source—the creatures he created are, and we all are culpable. Yet God has good news for us—sin and evil do not change his love for his creatures, including humans who are created in his very image.

God was not caught off guard when in our pride and arrogance we rebelled against him. Along with his very good creation, God had a very good plan to assure his purpose for creation would survive even the greatest evil humans could devise. That is why John wrote about “the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). God’s plan was no fourth-down punt (to use an American football analogy), nor an emergency contingency plan. God created humanity to be in relationship with him and our failures were not unanticipated, they are not a showstopper. The opposite is true: God’s plan is the showstopper!

Regardless of what we do, or how much evil is in the world, Jesus is sufficient. He is the Son of God who assumed all original sin in the incarnation, all without sinning. In his purity, especially on the cross, he condemned sin in the flesh for the salvation of all humanity. That, dear brothers and sisters, is the good news of the gospel, which, as Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, tells us of the supremacy of Jesus, who is the very center of God’s plan:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Colossians 1:15-23)

In explaining who God is, Torrance reminds us that God never repents of being love. His love is always and everywhere unconditional:

It is his loving of the sinner which resists his sin that is His judgment of the sinner.… The total self-giving of the self-affirming God in love is and cannot but be the judgment of His love upon the sinner. He does not hold back His love from the sinner, for He cannot cease to be the God who loves and loves unreservedly and unconditionally. (The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons, p. 246)

Yes, God is implacably opposed to sin for he takes no delight in seeing his creation besmirched. Yet sin and evil do not decrease God’s love for us. Note what God says through Ezekiel: “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone… so turn, and live” (Ezekiel 18:32 ESV).

In saying God is pleased with us already, we are not being antinomian nor “light on sin.” In The Doctrine of Jesus Christ, Torrance teaches that sin is a contradiction in the heart and at the basis of human existence—a corruption of our existence and a disintegration of our very being in relation to God. God, who has guaranteed that evil has no future, in mercy cuts and burns away the sin in us, condemning it to hell, and rescuing us for eternal life with him. God made this possible in Jesus where we die with him under God’s judgment—his No against sin, including the sin within us. With Christ we are ransomed and raised to newness of life. God’s love for us, therefore, is not based upon our works (good or bad). No, God is infinitely pleased with us, not because of what we do but because of who we are as his children and what he can do in and through us in fellowship and communion with him.

Let me share one more quote from Tom Torrance in The Mediation of Christ:

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. (p. 94)

Even our individual repentance is flawed, and our Savior acts in our behalf on that too. Through his grace, we are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). That means when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sin—he sees the perfection of his Son—a perfection he is building in us by the Holy Spirit and that will be completed on the other side of our death, in Christ Jesus. It pleases God to reveal his Son in us (Galatians 1:15-16). Moreover, God sees the beginning from the end and he loves a good ending more than we realize.

Yes, God is pleased with you already, for you belong to him in Jesus Christ.

Feeling his pleasure as we proclaim the good news!
Joseph Tkach

PS: For a short booklet (tract) that presents this gospel truth, including an invitation to receive Christ, see the post under the Church Development heading above, left (or click here). I encourage our congregations to print copies of this booklet for members to give to friends and family, and to give to visitors at church.

Graduation celebration

24-7 Community Church, the GCI congregation in Newark, New Jersey, has emphasized youth ministry for many years. As a result, they have many children and teens who are active in the congregation as evidenced by a recent celebration for seven teens who recently graduated from high school. The update below is from Eleanor Elcock and Cherri Long.

Embedded in the heart of Newark, New Jersey, our congregation recently celebrated the success of seven African-American high school graduates (five are pictured below). Under the tutelage of 24/7 Pastor Franklin K. Howard, these young adults have attended 24/7 since they were children. Naya Martinez, Joletta Robertson, Nashaya Lyons-Watson, Portia Thompson, Juwan Elcock, Derrick Knight, and Jesse May are all college bound.

24-7 group

We honored the graduates and their families with a banquet attended by about 50 people. It began with a meal of some of the graduates’ favorite foods, then Pastor Frank addressed the graduates and the group played a game consisting of five pieces of candy, each representing a question about the graduates’ futures. Wow, we were blessed by the answers! One question had to do with what humanitarian effort they would like to champion. We were excited when they spoke about supplying countries with books, helping wounded soldiers, teaching in countries where education is needed, and a benefit concert to bring help to war-torn Dafur.

24-7 hug from pastorFollowing that, the first-year college students in our congregation gave helpful advice to assist our high school graduates in acclimating to college. As these young adults spoke, it was evident that they are Christ-centered and prepared to make a difference in this world.

The celebration ended with Pastor Frank presenting each graduate with a Bible and gift card (see picture at right). The seniors then thanked the congregation for caring for them.

Our high school graduates have developed into loving and compassionate Christian young men and women. Praise God, they did it!

UK Ladies’ Conference

This update is from Nancy Silcox

GCI in the United Kingdom held its annual Ladies’ Conference in May at the High Leigh Christian Conference Center, just north of London. The theme of the conference was Acceptance in Christ. Over 40 women attended.

UK big group

UK groupEach conference session began with worship with solos, a quartet and praise dance. We heard from a variety of speakers. The opening address by Jackie Mill reminded us that we are one family, sisters in Christ. Guest speaker Marie Angelique Picard, GCI national coordinator for France, brought us two powerful messages. The first was about how God has his own timeline and how we can change the way we look at things! The second was about God being “The Anchor of Your Soul”—we do not need to give excuses for our failings, just trust in the mercy and grace in Jesus Christ. 

Margaret Rose, in a talk entitled “To Hell And Back,” courageously shared her journey through depression, which occurred after she had a reaction to medical treatment. Jackie Mill then looked at the subject of “Being A Helpmeet,” with a video clip showing how changing your words can change your world. Other speakers included Jeni Ozumba, who contrasted human acceptance with God’s acceptance; Ashley Thompson, who gave a talk entitled “The Gender Agenda” that made us think carefully about society’s view of the female gender; Linda Halford slouched up to the front in a hoodie and an iPod and presented “Teenage Matters” about the dramatic development of the teenage brain. Irene Wilson then discussed some of the difficulties of growing old gracefully, explaining that “The Golden Age Is Before Us Not Behind Us.”

UK dance UK eating

On Saturday evening we gathered for Music and Entertainment led by Beth and Eva from Scandinavia. The songs were punctuated by a quiz, skits and jokes, enhanced by cheese, champagne and chocolates. The conference ended with worship led by Jackie Mill, and communion led by Jean Dougall. Jean reminded us that as we take the bread and wine, we accept Christ’s sacrifice and participate in his life.

New GCI gospel tract

We’ve often been asked for a small booklet (tract) that presents the gospel and includes an invitation to receive Christ. Toward that end, we’ve written the article below (based, in part, on the work of Dr. Martin Davis of AsiAfrica Ministries). To download this article formatted for printing as a booklet, click here (.docx version) or here (.doc version). To download it formatted for printing as a tri-fold brochure, click here (.docx version) or here (.doc version). These documents are designed to be customized by replacing text in brackets, logos, etc. with local church (or local ministry) information. You can also print the version below by going to www.gci.org/gospel-tract, scrolling to the bottom of the page, then clicking on the print icon. For assistance with printing, email ted.johnston@gci.org. 

Here’s Good News for Everyone!

[Jesus said] “God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!’”
(Luke 4:18-19, The Message)

God the Father sent his one and only Son Jesus to show us how much he loves us. Jesus not only proclaimed that good news (the gospel), he is the good news for all people, and you are included!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16)

Only Jesus can teach us about God’s love because, as God’s eternal Son, he alone knows the Father in person and for all time (Matthew 11:27). By his words and actions, recorded for us in the Bible, Jesus teaches that God is our loving Father and we are his beloved children.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!

(1 John 3:1)

Before he created the earth, our heavenly Father decided to create us to be his beloved children—to “adopt” us into his family, where we would live in perfect relationship with God and with each other.

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is!
He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ,
and takes us to the high places of blessing in him.
Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind…
to be made whole and holy by his love.
Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ…
He wanted us to enter into the celebration
of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
(Ephesians 1:3-6, The Message)

Although God’s plan all along has been to include and adopt us, we humans (beginning with the first created humans) rebelled against that plan, and all creation has suffered the effects of that sin ever since. Maintaining his intention to adopt us as his children, God the Father graciously sent his Son to live among us as one of us. Of one mind and heart with the Father, Jesus freely and gladly came to be joined with us forever.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)

And being found in appearance as a man,
[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death
—even death on a cross!

(Philippians 2:8)

As our representative, on our behalf, Jesus lived a life of perfect love, faith and obedience so that all of us may be reconciled to God and rescued from sin, death and the power of evil. Jesus came to undo evil and its devastating effects, and ultimately make everything right.

Though we were created for deep and lasting relationship with God, none of us naturally trusts God and his love. To one degree or another, we all have chosen to disregard God and his good design for our lives.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
(Romans 3:23)

Rather than trusting God and receiving life from him, we have sought life, love, meaning and security on our own terms. The result is the world we now experience. Though there still are signs of God’s good creation all around us, more often than not things seem hopeless, lost, beyond repair.

Despite the fact that we all have failed and sinned, God demonstrated his great love for us by sending his beloved Son Jesus to die on the cross at the hands of evil men. Jesus willingly and even joyfully gave his life in exchange for our broken and distorted lives.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:8)

Only Jesus’ life could overcome the death that has overtaken all humanity. Only Jesus, the eternal Son of God, could restore our broken relationship with God. But the price that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit paid to rescue us from ourselves, from sin and from death itself, was well worth it.

On our behalf, Jesus conquered death and overcame evil, rising from the dead to never die again. In him we have been restored to a right relationship with God. In him we will live forever.

But God did not give up on his original intention for his creation. He decided to intervene to rescue it—at his own expense and despite resistance from those he loves. God took personal responsibility for every wrong we have done and for the wrongs done against us, doing everything necessary to renew all of creation.

After his astonishing resurrection, Jesus returned to his Father, promising that he would return to earth one day, bringing with him a new heaven and earth where all will be made right. In the meantime, he is preparing a place for us so that, restored to the heart of God, we may live forever in the house of our loving and gracious heavenly Father.

[Jesus said] “In my Father’s house are many rooms.
If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again
and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
(John 14:2-3, ESV)

Jesus demonstrates that God is not an aloof and angry judge seeking to condemn us. Rather, God the Father freely and gladly gave his Son to be our Savior and Lord (John 3:16-17). After Jesus’ earthly work was done, he with the Father sent the Holy Spirit to put God’s love in our hearts, to transform us and guide us in the way that leads to abundant life.

Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s
love has been poured into our hearts through
the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(Romans 5:5, ESV)

What should you do?

There is nothing you need to do to earn or deserve God’s gift of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), but like any gift, it is given to be received. How do you receive God’s gift? Note what Jesus said:

“The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!”
(Mark 1:15)

To repent means to change your mind—to stop relying on false hope, security and identity, and to rely on God, putting your hope in Jesus and his kingdom (reign) of peace, joy and harmony. To repent means to stop living in the darkness of sin and begin living in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. To believe is to entrust to Jesus all you are and own to follow his way of love, growing in your relationship with him.

[Jesus said] “Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength
and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself.”
(Luke 10:27)

You may begin following Jesus and his way of love with a simple prayer like this:

Thank you, heavenly Father, for loving me. Thank you for making me your child. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus to be my Savior and to take away all my guilt and shame. Thank you for the love and forgiveness you have shown to me in Jesus.

Thank you dear God for sending the Holy Spirit to live in my heart. Come Holy Spirit—guide me into all truth. Teach me to love God and others and strengthen me to follow the way of Jesus.

In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

In relating this way with God in prayer, you are now on a life-long journey with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—a journey that will transform your life one step at a time.

By the Holy Spirit, Jesus will lead you to join with others in following and worshiping God in accordance with his written word, the Bible. You are not alone.

That’s the good news—for you and everyone!

Upcoming conferences in Canada

Here are announcements about two upcoming conferences being conducted by GCI in Canada.

Engage logo

Engage 2015 (engaging God, engaging people) is a new conference for older teens and young adults (university/college age), held in beautiful Penticton, B.C. October 10-12. Greg Williams (director of GCI-USA Church Administration and Development) will facilitate the sessions. For information and registration see www.gcicanada.ca/features/engage2015.php.

Thrive Conference logo

THRIVE is the theme of the annual GCI-Canada Thanksgiving Conference held in Penticton on October 10-17. For information and registration see www.gcicanada.ca/features/penticton2015.php. Note that early registration discounts expire on August 15.