Abner Washington

Josh McDonald is a new pastoral resident, serving alongside Dave Perry in GCI’s congregation in Indianapolis, Indiana. One of the elders serving in that congregation is retired GCI pastor Abner Washington. Josh recently interviewed Abner and posted the interview along with some of his reflections on Abner’s life on his The Indy Project Blog at http://theindyproject.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-way-it-was-talking-race-and-faith.html. We think you’ll enjoy reading the amazing story.

Josh and Abner
Josh (left) interviewing Abner

Women’s conference

Here from Vicki Hart and Tammy Johnson is a report on a women’s conference recently held at Christ Community Church—one of GCI’s congregations in the Cincinnati, Ohio, metro area.

The Unlocking the Treasure Within women’s conference was God-breathed from start to finish. On Friday evening Keysha Taylor led us through praise and worship as we “rolled out the red carpet” for our God. Jan Taylor then had us look in the mirror, and challenged us to see there the image of Jesus. Erin Campbell then charged us to take out our spiritual shovels to get prepared to start “diggin’ up” our treasure. Her story of going from atheist and addict to devoted Christ-follower was captivating.

women conference collage

Saturday was interspersed with powerful preaching by Erin Campbell, a testimony and presentation by Tammy Johnson on using flags in worship, along with a message on using the keys that unlock our treasure, as well as dance and song. Matt Campbell gave a moving message called “I’m Sorry” in which he made an apology on behalf of men for some of the wrongs done to women. His presentation evoked a powerful response. The day ended with evening performances from the women in attendance. There were songs, poems, a testimony, and dance, as well as delicious homemade desserts. The highlight for Saturday night was a drawing for a quilt by Augustine Shannon from Florida made especially for the conference. The conference ended Sunday morning as we joined the host congregation in worship. Erin Campbell preached another powerful message and Jan Taylor gave the Communion message. Vicki Hart, the conference coordinator, gave closing remarks.

Connecting in Tipp City, Ohio

GCI’s Tipp City, Ohio, congregation (Crossroads Christian Fellowship) has been actively connecting with the surrounding community for many years, utilizing multiple outreach strategies and programs in doing so. Below is an account written by Jen Cruea, one of the congregation’s newer members, who now leads Free Market—one of the congregation’s outreach ministries.

Crossroads
Crossroads Christian Fellowship’s church building

If someone had come to me a couple of a years ago, and said “you will be a beloved child of God and help your community any way you can,” I probably would have laughed and thought they were crazy. But that’s exactly what happened and here is my story.

In the early spring of 2012, I noticed I was always tired and cold. I had constant headaches and was very irritable. I thought that it was taking my body longer to bounce back after having my third child. I went to the doctor and they found vitamin deficiencies and told me to rest and take care of myself. They referred me to a specialist that told me my antibody level was extremely high and they were concerned. In 2013 I found out I had a lump on my thyroid. They said they wanted to do a biopsy. I was very scared because I was only 26. I have always believed in God but had never developed a relationship with him because I didn’t know how. I was not raised in church and had only been to a handful of them as a child. I started to pray hard and often. I told God that if it was cancer, I wasn’t ready to die. I had so much more to live for and so many things to do, including raising my three children with their father, my husband. I also told God that if it was my time to go it was just that, my time. The day I got the biopsy results back, I felt an unusual calm. And when I received the good news I was cancer-free, I wanted to continue my relationship with God but I still didn’t know how. Little did I know I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

Ad collage
Advertisements for some of Crossroads’ outreach ministries

In the fall of 2013 the turning point came in my life. My husband was starting a new job, which I wasn’t very comfortable with him taking. I honestly didn’t know why—I don’t like change, so I thought that was it. On the last day at his previous job, I came down with what I thought was a stomach bug. I was very sick and weak. It passed in a few days, and we resumed our normal life, but the sickness kept coming back. I was always nauseated and shaky. I couldn’t eat and the peak finally came in December just before Christmas (I had lost 60 pounds since October). I woke up one morning in a full blown panic-attack. I went to the ER where I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I left there with five medications and went to a doctor the next day for a follow up. I left his office with two more medications. I was absolutely terrified that I would have to live this way the rest of my life. I started seeing a Christian therapist who encouraged me to start my relationship with God. Then my husband was laid off from his new job and one of his coworkers told him to go to a church named Crossroads Christian Fellowship to get some food for our family. I went to what Crossroads calls their Free Market to get the food, but I got much more. Not only did they have clothing, toys, housewares and food, but they also provided direction for me into the Christian lifestyle.

A few weeks later we attended a Sunday service at Crossroads for the first time. I was nervous but also excited! So were my husband and children. We started to attend Bible study and worship services regularly. I never knew a church could love someone they just met! But that’s how God works. This past January, our pastor, Jim Valekis, asked me to serve as the coordinator of the Free Market. Then this summer he asked my husband to serve as the director of ONE Market. We are loving what we do to help the community, and most importantly to bring people to Christ, just as we were.

Crossroads has given me the open door I needed to start my journey as a Christian in a safe, non-judgmental, loving environment. I’ve grown so much as a person and child of God since coming here only a short while ago. The church has given me many experiences I never thought possible or even imagined. Just as the word “ONE” in One Market stands for Our Neighbors Empowered, that’s exactly what the congregation has done in empowering me to be a better person in every aspect of my life. I have never felt so confident before or so loved. Crossroads has so much to offer everyone! It is a wonderful place to be!

Looking to Advent and Christmas

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

joeandtammyMany people are fascinated by signs and symbols that convey hidden meanings and secret messages. As a Sherlock Holmes fan, I enjoy deciphering such messages (including the meanings of those often-baffling acronyms and abbreviations you see on personalized license plates!).

Worshiping in the catacombs
Worshiping in the catacombs

Throughout history, people have used signs and symbols to convey messages understood by some and hidden to others. An example is the use by first century Christians of the ichthys (fish) symbol to secretly convey their allegiance to Christ. Because many of them were being persecuted, even martyred, they would hold their meetings in catacombs and other secret locations. To guide them to these places of meeting, ichthys symbols were painted on walls to mark the route. Doing so would not arouse suspicion because Christians were not the first to use the ichthys symbol—pagans used it to represent their gods and goddesses.

Despite its association with paganism (more about the “pagan roots” issue below), the fish symbol was widely used by early Christians. This likely was because Jesus often referred to fish in his teaching. On one occasion, he noted he would make his disciples “fishers of men.” On other occasions he performed miracles involving fish—from having Peter pull a coin out of a fish’s mouth, to filling the disciples’ nets with a huge catch of fish, to taking two fish and multiplying them to feed thousands of people. In these and other ways, Jesus used the symbol of fish to tell his story (the gospel), despite the fact (certainly known to him) that pagans were using the fish symbol to tell their own (pagan) stories.

Fish symbolAs the incarnate Son of God, who created all that is, Jesus was not limited by the pagan world’s misuse of his good creation. Because he felt perfectly comfortable using their signs and symbols to tell his story, so did the early Christians. For example, (see the picture at left), they turned the word ichthys (ΙΧΘΥΣ in Greek) into an anagram where each letter in the word stood for the first letter of each word in the phrase Iesous Christos, Theou Huios, Soter (Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior).

Sadly, some sincere, though misinformed Christians, work hard to avoid those things they perceive as having “pagan roots.” I know some who avoid clothing with a paisley print, believing it originated in the Zoroastrian pantheistic religion of Persia. Others refuse to wear wedding rings believing they are of pagan origin. Others go so far as to reject Christmas and Easter, believing those celebrations originated in paganism (and that, “once pagan; always pagan”). Holding this misguided viewpoint, they miss out on the deep meaning these central, historic Christian celebrations convey about the goodness and faithfulness of God, revealed to us in the birth and resurrection of Jesus.

God has used signs and symbols throughout history. For example, he gave ancient Israel the Sabbath as a sign to point them to himself as their source of true rest (salvation). God knew they would not fully grasp this meaning (as cogently explained in Hebrews chapters 3 and 4). Many years after giving the Law through Moses (including the Sabbath), God gave a new sign intended for all people—the birth of his incarnate Son, Jesus. Note Luke’s account:

And this will be a sign for you: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:12-14 ESV).

On one occasion I was quoting this verse to explain the importance of celebrating Jesus’ birth to a person burdened down by the superstitious belief that birthday celebrations are pagan. He said this: “This verse in Luke only justifies one celebration of Jesus’ first coming, not celebrations thereafter.” I replied that Jesus’ birth is an event that changed all time, and, therefore, is for all time and all people.

The birth of Jesus is a powerful, enduring sign that encapsulates the entirety of the Christ event: his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension for the salvation of all humankind. Like all signs, our Lord’s birth points backward (reminding us of what our triune God promised and accomplished in the past), and forward (pointing to what God, in Jesus, by the Spirit, will yet accomplish). Luke’s account continues with a part of the gospel story often told during Epiphany, which follows Christmas:

A Light To the Gentiles by Greg Olsen (used with permission)
A Light To the Gentiles by Greg Olsen
(used with permission)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:25-35 ESV).

As Christians, most of us reading this do not have to rely on secret signs and symbols to conceal our places of assembly. That’s a blessing, and our prayers are with those who still face this hardship. But no matter the circumstances, all Christians know that Jesus was raised from the dead, and our heavenly Father is drawing all people to himself in Jesus and through the Spirit. Therefore we all have much to celebrate—and so we shall, during the upcoming Advent and Christmas seasons. I wish you and yours joyous celebrations as we begin a new annual worship cycle in accordance with the historic (western) Christian calendar (for more about that cycle, go to https://update.gci.org/2015/11/annual-worship-cycle-using-the-lectionary/).

Looking forward to our celebrations of Advent and Christmas,
Joseph Tkach

PS: To all who gather this week in the United States (and abroad) to celebrate Thanksgiving, I send my best wishes for a joyous holiday. We truly do have much for which to thank our generous God, including our nation’s spiritual heritage.

To read the other letters in my five-part series on Christmas, click on a number: 2, 3, 4, 5.

Pioneering female pastors

Last week, Greg Williams, director of GCI-USA Church Administration and Development, sent a letter to all US pastors concerning a meeting he held recently with a group of our female pastors. For the benefit of all Weekly Update readers, we’ve reproduced that letter below. Feel free to respond in the “add a comment” box below. 

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Recently I had the privilege of gathering with six of our female pastors for a time of rich conversation and a delicious meal (ending with a decadent seven-layer chocolate dessert!). It was such a wonderful occasion that I felt prompted to write this summary letter to each of you.

The purpose of our gathering was to give these pioneering female pastors opportunity to share ministry joys and challenges, recount their journeys in GCI pastoral ministry, and share their hearts with me as superintendent of GCI-USA ministers. Though at different stages and seasons in life and ministry, they have much in common and displayed deep appreciation for each other, providing a wonderful atmosphere of openness and trust in our meeting.

female pastors group
The six participants in the meeting with Greg (left to right/top to bottom): Tracy Lee, Mary Bacheller, Carrie Smith, Linda Rex,
Debby Bailey and Becky Deuel

Prior to meeting, I had sent the participants a list of questions to guide our discussion. The answers they shared showed a great deal of wisdom about life and ministry. Below are some of their key insights. I think all our pastors and ministry leaders (both women and men) will find these points instructive and encouraging. I also hope they inspire other women to follow them into GCI pastoral ministry.

  • See how God has been preparing you since youth with the various experiences you have gone through and the faithfulness the Lord has displayed in your life.
  • Balance training and experience.
  • Get all the training you can both inside and outside the church.
  • Serve out of your passion and experience (these factors seem to remain with you throughout life).
  • Know how to identify the voice of the Holy Spirit and sense God’s calling on your life. There will be a nagging sense of insecurity unless you have this settled.
  • Hearing the Spirit’s voice for your personal life, and for the life of your church, are not separate voices—most often they are married together.
  • Your role as a pastor is to be a “sign post” pointing people to Jesus.
  • Allow the Holy Spirit to be the agent of change – as a pastor, you don’t have the ability to transform other people.
  • Build relationships with other female pastors for encouragement and mentoring.
  • Be open to sharing your personal struggles with your congregation so you can journey forward with prayerful support.
  • Have safe relationships outside the congregation you pastor, where you can share and process your burdens.
  • Grow an extra layer of skin—you have to expect that some men and women will not accept you as a pastor because you are a woman.
  • Be secure in your identity. Knowing that you are, first and foremost, “in Christ” allows you to properly view your gender, personality, marital status, etc.
  • Establish healthy boundaries for your family. Your spouse may be a ministry partner, or passively supportive, or simply uninvolved.
  • Be comfortable organizing and operating with a ministry team. Help your team operate out of their giftings and passion.
  • Your relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit is your highest priority!

When I asked the group what advice they would give our pastors and churches, a common, resounding plea was that congregations make space for women in leadership at all levels. They also noted they want to see women and men serving side-by-side within our churches, facilitating the best expressions of God-designed femininity and masculinity.

I want to thank each of the six female pastors who met with me. As pioneers, they have blazed a trail for other women to follow. Because of them, and other women like them, GCI doesn’t merely accept women as pastors, we actively invite and welcome into this important role, those women who the Lord prepares and calls to serve his church in pastoral leadership.

I’m proud of these brave women, and am humbled and blessed to have spent a day listening to their important voices.

Annual worship cycle: using the lectionary

RCLAs a denomination, GCI embraces the historic, orthodox, (western) Christian worship calendar. As a guide for teaching/preaching in accordance with this annual cycle of worship, we recommend that our congregations follow the pattern set out in The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). The annual cycle followed there begins with Advent in November and proceeds as follows (dates shown are for the new worship year that begins in November 2015):

  • Advent: November 29-December 20, 2015
  • Christmas: December 25, 2015 (followed by the Christmas season that extends to Epiphany)
  • Epiphany: January 6, 2016 through February 7, which is Transfiguration Sunday
  • Lent: February 10 through March 13
  • Holy Week: March 20 through March 26 (including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday)
  • Easter Sunday: March 27 (followed by the season of Easter that extends through May 8)
  • Pentecost Sunday: May 15 (followed by the season of Pentecost that ends with Advent 2016, which begins the next annual worship cycle)

For help in planning worship and writing sermons in accordance with The Revised Common Lectionary, we recommend the following resources (note: our recommendation is not an endorsement of all content):

Christians in Bangladesh

We’ve been advised by John Biswas, GCI’s National Ministry Leader for Bangladesh, that ISIS has become very active in Bangladesh. As a result, Christians there are in physical danger. John reports that leaders of Christian churches in Bangladesh have been receiving threatening letters and phone calls, and two pastors were brutally attacked. One is a Roman Catholic priest. The other, Pastor Luke Sircar, has expressed interest in working with us and has now taken refuge in our Mission Center. Please pray for protection for these leaders and others in harms way.

Revisiting the new physics

This article by GCI pastor and GCS faculty member Neil Earle, tells about Neil’s cousin, Davis Earle, who contributed to a team that won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for Physics.

This fall marked the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s releasing his General Theory of Relativity to the world. That was in a speech at the Prussian State Library in Berlin in November, 1915. Einstein’s theory was that gravity bends both space and time, and that therefore the classical physics based on Sir Isaac Newton’s assumptions of predictable “straight line geometry” needed revision.

Einstein was already famous for his Special Theory back in 1905, which showed that time did not work the same way all across the universe, a further undermining of the classical view. Indeed by the late 1800s the anomalies of nature (e.g. why Mercury’s orbit was shifting) kept raising more and more questions about Newtonianism. By then, scientists thought they had nailed down the structure of the atom (Greek for “that into which nothing further can be divided”). Yet as the century wore on Einstein and his generation investigated so many new subatomic phenomena that the term “The New Physics” came into view. Where Einstein had led, Niels Bohr and others followed. Bohr discovered the “quantum leap” where movements of the electron circling the nucleus of the atom were shown to be virtually impossible to predict. By the 1980s physicists were familiar with a whole realm of invisible particles with names, said one journalist, like those from Lord of the Rings: hadrons, leptons, muons and quarks.

I had been teaching teens in Bible class since the 1970s that—relative to God—we all believe in things we can’t see. I cited Hebrews 11:3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” But not being a scientist I had not realized how much truer that statement had become in the strange world of particle physics. The invisible was fundamental to nature, and extremely powerful.

Davis Earle
Davis Earle

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, this fall when my hometown paper saluted my cousin, the retired nuclear physicist, Davis Earle for contributing to a team that won the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2015, particle physics in particular. As Dr. Davis Earle he had been technical associate director on a project studying neutrinos one mile underground in an abandoned mine near Sudbury, Ontario. “Neutrino” is Italian for “little neutral ones,” millions of which pass invisibly through our bodies each second, part of that invisible universe.

My cousin Dave had totally bemused an interviewer by driving home what atomic and particle physics emphasized. “Our bodies are empty space,” Dave enthused. “I cannot emphasize how much empty space we are. It’s just the electromagnetic force that holds everything together.” Strange, humorous—but true. The electromagnetic force was uncovered by the Scotsman James Clerk Maxwell in the 1860s and Einstein had a picture of both Maxwell and Newton in his Princeton University office. How fitting. The drawings we see of the electron circling the atom are not true to scale. The circling electron has as much space as a bumble bee inside a cathedral. Empty space. Cousin Dave was just repeating what the New Physics had underscored.

The New Physics—a worthy phrase. The concept fully hit home to me in 2012, when I signed up for Dr. John McKenna’s “Scientific Theology of Thomas Torrance” class (as it was then called), taught at Grace Communion Seminary. The New Physics underlined how the most powerful forces known to us were invisible. Forces such as gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force—these unseen realities were holding our bodies and the cosmos together. Paul’s words hit home—“what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

What came clear in Dr. McKenna’s class was how the Scottish theologian Thomas F. Torrance brought home to Christian theology parallels to the New Physics. Torrance saw that Einstein and his generation had opened up a whole new view of reality. In his book Space, Time and Resurrection and elsewhere, Torrance argued for a cosmos that was orderly enough to be investigated yet “strange and unpredictable” enough to allow for new and unexpected things to take place. “Far from being closed or predetermined,” he wrote, “the universe constitutes an open-textured system in which novel forms of order constantly emerge.”

This includes neutrinos and quarks. “Quarks”—a strange word, yet part of what Caltech’s Kip Thorne calls “Einstein’s outrageous legacy.” Here at the heart of the proton were those strange, whirring spinning creatures that were hard to measure and keep account of and given whimsical names such as Strange and Charm. The British journal New Scientist even admitted, “After quarks, believing in the Virgin Birth is a doddle (a snap).” I couldn’t help think of how my friend and amateur physicist John Halford would have enjoyed that. The most powerful forces were and are invisible and people such as Thomas Torrance saw the connections to Christian theology from such statements as Colossians 1:16. There Jesus is shown supreme over things visible and invisible. These were some of the new realities that flowed from General Relativity and Quantum Theory. All this allowed room for Torrance to argue for a universe geared to both the orderly and the unpredictable. In his theology—much more fulsomely argued in such works as Space, Time and Resurrection—this discovery about creation removed certain “scientific” arguments against Christian faith and seems to indicate how God allowed for the possibility of an Incarnation and a Resurrection to take place in his good creation.

On the trail of neutrinos and quarks, Torrance well knew, the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes 11:5 rang truer than ever “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

Hope, despite evil

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Jesus and FranceLast Friday, it took just eight or nine gunmen to terrorize Paris and alarm the entire Western world, fueling debate about global terrorism and the growing refugee crisis. Though evil is ever-present in our world, and seems to grow more dramatic by the day, we have hope knowing that the day is coming when Jesus will have put down all remnants of evil. I pray that day comes soon, and I’m sure you do too. I also thank God that, as reported to me by Jean Philippe and Marie Angelique, none of our members in France were harmed. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and all who mourn the death of their loved ones.

When terrible things like the Paris attacks occur, I remind myself that the fullness of God’s kingdom is yet to come. I also remind myself that we are blessed to experience God’s kingdom now in our relationship with Christ, by the Spirit, under the grace of God. But I’m also aware that we live as aliens in a tainted world where the kingdom’s fullness is not yet seen. As the apostle Paul tells us, we live in the present evil age while we hope for the age that is yet to come (Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:21).

It can be perplexing, even discouraging to know that before we fully experience that new age, we must continue through this time of evil with the pain it brings. But we are encouraged knowing that events like those in Paris are not outside God’s love for us. Though we face events we don’t understand, we have faith and hope knowing God is fully present and is suffering with us. We know this because he proved his willingness to suffer from evil and bear its pain on our behalf. Yes, we grieve (and we pray), but not as those who are without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

The problem of evil

Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the problem of evil for centuries, struggling to define its nature and character, as well as to explain why evil continues to exist. A variety of explanations have emerged. Buddhists say evil isn’t something that exists; it’s an illusion (maya). Some atheists say evil is the natural result of a universe without design or a designer. Here is what atheist Richard Dawkins wrote:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music. (Out of Eden, p. 133)

This atheistic explanation is not persuasive, especially since most of us have had enough bad things happen in our lives that we are convinced that evil is real and ought not be. Although evil is regular (and thus “ordinary”), it’s not necessary nor, in that sense, natural. The proclamation of naturalism that, “What is, is,” does not serve as an explanation of why we sense that what is, ought not be.

The Stoics taught that evil is the corruption of reason and should simply be endured. They advocated indifference to pain, pleasure, grief, and joy. This stiff “grin-and-bear-it” approach to life may sound virtuous, but it quickly becomes empty when an innocent child is kidnapped or you are falsely accused of doing evil. Ignoring evil is not a way of recognizing the evil of evil, and actually dealing with evil is no small task. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

Evil exists because God permits and gives humanity the possibility of choice. How we choose to use our wills is horrendous at times, as some misuse their wills in striving for evil. We see this every time there is a terrorist attack, including the one last week in Paris. God gives us the power to choose, to act. We can use our wills to do some good or to do some evil. But there is a strict limit on what we can do. What we cannot do is absolute good or absolute evil. Both our good acts and our evil acts are partial, provisional and temporary. We cannot and do not act as only God can act. We do not define reality, or good and evil for that matter. We act within limits, although those limits always seem to be too unrestrictive when great evils occur. But the fact that we cannot enact absolute good or absolute evil does not mean that there isn’t an absolute good that can and will conquer all evil, which is, in the end, not absolute, but relative to the goodness and power of God. Fortunately we know God in Jesus, who is absolute good, and who conquered evil absolutely so that evil has no future.

Despite this understanding, we still ask, Why doesn’t God stop (absolutely) all evil now? A good number of theologians and philosophers have answered this way: Try to imagine a world where God intervened to prevent carelessness and irresponsible behavior from occurring. There would be no criminal activity, no accidents, and no natural disasters. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yes, until we realize that such a world would eliminate human choice and will. Whenever God saw something bad start to occur, he would intervene and suspend or modify our wills. This would lead to a world without moral meaning, for every time an evil action began to raise its ugly head, human willing would be overcome by external force and the deliberation to discern and choose the good would become morally meaningless. In such a world there would be no practical difference between a good and an evil action. In other words, we would not be living as human persons who could mirror their creator God in choosing and willing the good. We would, in effect, become non-moral beings, like animals or robots.

So what do we do with evil? A common Christian explanation is to combat and conquer it ourselves with whatever means are at hand. But this “fight fire with fire” approach poses a major problem—it can be a stumbling block to belief in God. It both grants too much to evil (as evil as evil is) and not enough to what God has done, is doing and will do through his and our doing good. What Paul tells us (in Romans 12:21) is that as God’s children, rather than being “overcome by evil” we are to “overcome evil with good.”

It is not uncommon for those struck by tragedy to question their faith, or even abandon it when facing the pain that evil brings. In those situations it can seem that evil is as real or more real than God and his goodness. If we attempt to combat evil and conquer it simply by sheer force of our own strength, “fighting fire with fire,” we get lost in our own efforts and can quickly spiral down a path of unbelief—believing that evil has the same or greater status as good. We also can be tempted to believe that good cannot overcome evil, not even God’s good! Conversely, when we focus on God’s sovereignty as displayed in Jesus Christ during a time of evil—in the midst of pain and grief—we can experience his comfort in the truth that he is with us in the midst of our suffering, and that evil has no future.

The trust that yields hope

Of course, when we face suffering as the result of evil, it can seem to us that God is at a distance, standing back from the evil that confronts us, or otherwise is uninvolved in our situation. But the opposite is true—God is always with us. As Phillip Yancey wrote in Disappointment with God, “All feelings of disappointment with God trace back to a breakdown in that relationship.” That breakdown always occurs on the human side as we are challenged to have faith in God—to trust that he is good and can and has overcome evil. That trust in God gives us hope and in hope we can act here and now on the basis of the truth concerning the ever-present God who accompanies us in our suffering.

To show his willingness to join us in our suffering, the eternal Son of God came in the flesh as Jesus and made his dwelling with us. And though he was rejected by many, Jesus made atonement for all through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. What Jesus has done for us shows clearly that God does care for us and is with us now in our suffering, and one day, in triumph, will bring in the fullness of his kingdom where there will be no more evil and the suffering it causes. God’s desire is to be in a loving relationship with each one of us—living in us, experiencing our suffering and our joys with us, all the while changing us from the inside out. We can meet and know Jesus in suffering and in hope.

Along with his mission to change us from the inside out, Jesus works to turn the world inside out. Yes, there is evil in this present age, but we live here not in fear and despair but with hope and confidence knowing that “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Most assuredly, one article like this cannot answer everything about evil and suffering. But I hope it brings you some comfort as we are reminded that, on a day and in an hour that no human knows, Jesus will bring an end to the actual nonsense that ought not be.

As we await that blessed hope, let’s join together in praying for the time when there will be no more terrorism, no more cancer victims, no more drive-by shootings, no more tears and sorrow. Right now, life is not fair, but God is, as we clearly see in the whole life of Jesus. He does not allow anything he cannot redeem. Fair and loving, he has made just and fair provision for all through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. In Jesus we see that God takes no pleasure in our suffering and has acted decisively to bring it to an end. We may not yet see this end clearly now, but we most certainly will see it and experience it fully in eternity.

Be encouraged dear sisters and brothers, God is faithful. He will finish what he has started.

Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus,
Joseph Tkach

Conference in Spain

This update is from Pedro Rufian, a GCI pastor in Spain.

Spain1Fifty-five people recently attended a GCI conference in Majorca, Spain, with the theme, “A celebration of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ.” Members attended from Barbados, Germany, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Spain, the U.S. and the U.K.

Spain2
Santiago Lange

God blessed us with a variety of Christ-centered messages including “The dancing God,” “Christ, our Sabbath” (from Santiago Lange, pictured at left), “Debt and forgiveness, law and grace,” “How am I not going to love you?,” “God is love, what does that mean for you?,” and “Living as victorious in Christ.” The group enjoyed a talent show and family dance. Some hotel clients and staff attended some of the services and the talent show. God blessed us with his loving presence as we celebrated in harmony what he did, is doing, and will do for us all through Jesus Christ our Savior, Lord and Friend.