Fifty years ago, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson announced his War on Poverty: “Our aim is not only to relieve the symptoms of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.” His goal was not to give a hand-out but a hand-up to help people move out of poverty. Now 50 years, multiple government programs and trillions of dollars later, 47 million people are dependent on government for food stamps—13 million more than just six and one-half years ago. A government report gave this assessment:
Rather than provide a road map out of poverty, Washington has created a complex web of programs that often are difficult to navigate. Some programs provide critical aid to families in need. Others discourage families from getting ahead. And for many of these programs, we just don’t know. There’s little evidence either way.
Such ironies abound in our world. Here are two more:
Though the U.S. Federal government has reached record spending levels on education, Standard Achievement Test scores are in serious decline.
Though the U.S. news media was all a-twitter about a big-game hunter who paid for a license and permit to hunt and kill a lion in Africa, the same media essentially ignored the tragic and callous talk from doctors filmed talking about selling infant body parts harvested from aborted fetuses.
Ironies like these reflect the reality that we live in a fallen world. In Genesis we are told that Adam and Eve decided to direct their own steps rather than listen to God. All humanity followed suit, choosing for themselves what is good and what is evil, making their own paths accordingly. The results we now experience were prophesied by Isaiah:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20).
Apart from God, humanity loses its ability to accurately distinguish between good and evil. Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot are notorious examples. As noted by French philosopher Simone Weil in her book Gravity and Grace, “Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.” People engaged in evil often convince themselves they are doing what is good. We see this in our day in the high percentage of pregnancies terminated by abortion—it’s a shocking irony that people will mobilize against killing animals but not against the killing of unborn humans.
When we lack awareness of the real God, our focus easily collapses on the self, yielding self-preservation, self-promotion and self-absorption. Apart from God we do what feels good to us—what seems “right” in our own eyes (Judges 17:6 ESV). This is a great irony, because we were never meant to live without God. We were created to be in relationship with him, though, sadly, that relationship was broken by sin. But God created us with a plan in place to deal with sin and restore that relationship. That plan, of course, is Jesus, and Jesus teaches us to live in this broken world with lives surrendered to the sovereign God of holy love. He taught us that no matter how many perplexing ironies we encounter, we can be comforted knowing the ultimate outcome—Christ will return and restore things as they were created to be.
We look forward to that time when all will be set right (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20) in a renewed heaven and earth where every tear is wiped away (Revelation 21:4). God has not allowed anything that he can’t and won’t in the end redeem (Romans 8:17-25). Indeed, evil has no future (Ephesians 1:21-22; Colossians 2:15). But we don’t have to wait until the final consummation to benefit here and now from God’s promises. Despite the often depressing ironies of the present time, and the certainty that one day we will die, we know that God has invested in us and will never abandon the work he has begun in us. Eternal life is knowing this ever-faithful God who is always with us, and this knowing, this salvation, is an eternal relationship. The apostle Paul instructed us to encourage each other with the hope that comes with this knowledge:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Filled with hope by the good and faithful Word of God,
Here is an update from GCI mission developer Rod Matthews concerning GCI’s congregations in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
My wife and I recently flew with Rex Morgan to Vanuatu to visit our congregation in Naveli during their annual family conference. We were met at the airport by Vanuatu’s local pastors, William Davies and Billy Taren (pictured at right with Rex). Together we traveled to Naveli, stopping along the way at village stores to buy supplies. Because the country is in the depths of a drought few fruit and vegetables are available. We bought some canned fish. When we pulled into our church grounds in Naveli I saw that they were beautifully kept, an uplifting reflection of the God we worship.
Their meeting hall accommodated the more than 60 people who attended the services held each day, which were introduced by the children singing and hymns in French and English. The rest of the service was in Bislama, the local version of Pidgin English, with translations by William Davies for the English language messages from Rex and me. I introduced them to their Melanesian brothers and sisters in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. I wished there had been electricity and the equipment to show pictures. God places us in the Body as it pleases him, and his pleasure is seen in the people of this congregation—remote but a vital part of a globe-girdling entity. We talked about how Jesus is the focus of our life and work, of how he came to reveal the Father, of how his presence in us through the Holy Spirit means we will reflect his characteristics such as humility and service regardless of where we live, of how he embraces our humanity through the events of his life, and the special significance of his resurrection to us and all humanity.
On the day before we left, we drove a few miles along a narrow rough track to a pool in a barely running stream coming down from the mountains to baptize two young people—Dao and Maria. The day was hot and the water was cool. In this most idyllic location, they made a public acknowledgement of their salvation in Christ, and we all rejoiced with them.
As a fellowship, we can thank God for the faithfulness of the local people, ably led by local pastor Billy Taren, with the coordination and dedicated, long-time support of elder William Davies who lives on the northern island of Santo and who travels to the church once every 2-3 months. Special thanks also goes to Rex Morgan who, in his love for the people there, has traveled to Vanuatu at least once a year for 37 years to provide pastoral guidance and encouragement and to keep strong their link with our church in New Zealand. In the words of Paul in Romans 15:33, we say to our brothers and sisters in Christ in Vanuatu in their native language, “God yu we i stamba blong pis blong yumi, hem bambae i stap wetem yufala evriwan” (which in English is “The God of peace be with you all”).
This update is from Emmanuel Okai, GCI pastor in Ghana, Africa.
Since 2001, GCI-Ghana has been running educational institutions as a way to serve the communities in which we operate. Our philosophy has been to provide the best spiritual, intellectual and social environment for children in our church areas.
Currently we are operating two schools. The first, founded in 2001 in our church hall is known as Kutunse Ambassador International School (see pictures below). It now has classrooms and a computer lab with 14 personal computers.
There are 14 teachers who assist in running the school which serves pre-school, elementary and junior high aged children. Six groups have graduated from the school and some of the pioneer students are about to complete college degrees. The second school, located near Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, is known as GCI Basic School. It currently has an enrollment of 60 pupils ranging from pre-school to fourth grade.
This update is from Anthony Mullins, national coordinator for GCI-USA Generations Ministries (GenMin).
The GenMin Advisory Council (pictured below with several guests) met recently in Southern California to review progress from the last year and prepare and plan for the future. In our strategic planning, we had clarity around our focus for 2016. In GenMin, we are calling 2016 The Year of the Child as a mantra for our intentional efforts to share the gospel and disciple the youngest children among us. It’s our intention to bring awareness and provide resources to help GCI-USA churches in their children’s ministries and to encourage our camps to provide mini and/or junior camp programs to tweens and children.
GenMin is in the process of forming a team of competent and available children’s ministers to help churches and camps as needed. Susi Albrecht and Nancy Akers have agreed to serve on this team and others will be added. We plan to promote a curriculum to children, for use in churches, each quarter in 2016 and tell stories of best practices churches and camps are using to minister to the youngest. We have other exciting developments in GenMin and I’ll be sharing those soon.
Paul Young, best-selling author of The Shack and Eve, stopped by our meeting and spent a few hours with us and gave an update on the movie being made based on his best-selling book The Shack. Several young adults and teens also joined us to have honest dialogue about church life and the best way forward for our camps and short-term mission trips.
Note: in 2016, GenMin will be hosting two Converge conferences: Converge East will be held at Deer Creek Resort and Conference Center in Mt. Sterling, Ohio on March 4-6, 2016 and Converge West will be at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Encino, California on April 15-17, 2016. For additional information, click here.
Union & ministry with Christ, part 8
Here is part 8, which concludes an 8-part essay by Dr. Gary Deddo titled “The Christian life and our participation in Christ’s continuing ministry.” To read other parts, click on a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. For all 8 parts combined in one article, click here.
Recap of part 7
In part 7 of this series we saw how the indicatives of God’s grace always provide the foundations and motivation for our obedience to the imperatives (commands) of God’s grace. We saw how this means we need to make sure our understanding of God’s grace fits this pervasive biblical framework. In this concluding issue in this series we will continue to unfold what the grace of our union with Christ looks like in relationship to him. That grace is not a “sloppy agape” where anything and everything goes. God has far more in store for us than that. We conclude by noting that in our gracious union with Christ we live by faith, hope and love.
The grace of God’s “no” to our “no”
God is eternally and implacably opposed to sin, whether in the world or in us. In his divine providence, sin and evil have no future. God would not be gracious if he were not committed and able to bring to an end all sin and in the end make things right. God has said “yes” to us in Jesus Christ. When we say “no” to God and his grace to unite us and transform us, then God says “no” to our unbelief. He says “no” to the disobedience that comes from our distrust of God and his character as revealed in Jesus Christ and according to Scripture. God is opposed to all that is against us and against his gracious will for us. If God did not say “no” to what is evil, God would not be gracious. If God did not say “no” to our “no,” he would not be gracious. But note this: when God says “no” to our “no” to him, he is not changing his mind or his heart or his purposes towards us. By negating our negation of his grace, he is reaffirming his “yes” to us in Christ. He says, “No, I said yes!”
How strongly does God object to our rejection of him and his love and grace? Just as strongly as his love for us is. For it is because of his love for us that he rejects our rejection. If he did not love, there would be no reason for him to bother in objecting to us. His “no” to our “no” is just as strong as his “yes” to us because it is an expression of his “yes” when it meets up with our “no” to him. God’s love and resistance to us (his wrath) are not opposed to each other. His wrath serves his loving purposes. His wrath is to get us to see the error of our ways and to turn around and receive his grace. His anger serves the same purposes as his love: to bring us into right relationship with him through Christ and by the Spirit.
The grace of God’s judgments
And what about God’s judgment? We know God’s ultimate purposes because we see them revealed in Jesus Christ and hear of them in Scripture. Jesus came into the world because of God’s love. He did not come to condemn the world but to save it (John 3:17). God’s will and heart is that all come to repentance and receive his unconditioned grace—his freely offered forgiveness. He does not wish that any eternally perish. Christ died for all. So whatever we think about God’s judgment it should not contradict or call into question Jesus Christ and his revelation and accomplishment of the will of God. How can we do that?
God’s judgment is his “no” to our “no,” his “no” to our unbelief and disobedience. God’s judgment reinforces his gracious and saving purposes. God recognizes evil and is absolutely opposed to it. It will all be done away with in the end. But God, in his grace, judges our sin in Christ—he exposes it for what it is, shows us the truth about it, sorts things out so that we are released from deceit, even self-deception, so that we repent of it, let go of it, and turn to God to receive his freely given grace and forgiveness. God will use whatever means (judgment) to get us, sooner or later, to recognize our sin and our need for his grace and forgiveness and for him to make right what we have made wrong, sometimes very wrong. God judges unbelief and the sin and evil that comes from it—but he judges it because he is loving and gracious. God would not be loving and gracious if he did not sort out what is evil, what needs forgiveness and restoration and do all that he can to turn around and offer up to judgment the sin and evil we have done, or that others have done to us or to others.
But note this: God’s judgment is not the same as condemnation. Judgment is to prevent us from being condemned! God judges because he loves—judgment is God’s resistance and “no” to our sin, even to the sin in us, so that we turn around (repent, confess) and receive his grace and the power to resist temptation and evil. God’s judgment is gracious. His aim is to rescue and deliver us from evil, so that we might be saved and the sin and evil be condemned. God’s purpose is not that anyone eternally perish, but that all sin, evil and unbelief be eradicated, condemned to oblivion. Only God can separate us from our sin without undoing us—but that’s what he’s provided for in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ dies in our place as God does away with our sin and evil. But Jesus Christ is raised and ascends to eternal life with the Father so that we too may die and be raised with him into new life delivered from all sin and evil. Anything less would mean that God is not gracious. Only those who somehow might manage to reject God’s judgment will face the prospect of being condemned with their sinfulness.
Scripture and its warnings, including the teaching of Jesus, leave open the possibility that some might face condemnation. It’s presented as a real possibility. But that is not because condemnation is God’s purpose and heart and mind towards any of his creatures—those created in his image, created in, through, and to (as an inheritance) Christ. No one has to face condemnation. But if anyone does, it will be because they somehow have come to a place where they reject God’s judgment and absolutely refuse grace, refuse his forgiveness, refuse to receive and live out their life of union and communion with Christ. That is, they somehow finally reject and deny the reality of who God is, who they are, and what he has done for them in Christ. They will not be condemned because of some kind of arbitrary limit to God’s grace, but because of their final and absolute repudiation and hatred of God and his grace, mercy, love and goodness. The reality is that God’s gracious judgment in Jesus Christ in our place and on our behalf is what God does to prevent anyone from experiencing final condemnation.
God’s gracious work of sharing in Christ’s sanctification for us
For those who are receiving God’s grace, the sanctifying work of Christ brought to completion in us by the Spirit’s glorification will leave no trace of sin in us. It will, one day, all be done away with, and that’s a very good thing! Think for a moment: what would it be like in heaven if it were full of people for whom God had made a few little exceptions here and there? Wouldn’t it be fairly much like the condition we find ourselves in today? The only difference is that we’d be in that condition of injustice eternally! Where would be the grace in that? Grace is God’s forbearance, God’s patience, God’s long-suffering. But in the end there will be no exceptions for sin. Evil has no future.
God accepts us where we are unconditionally, in order to take us where he’s going, just as unconditionally. No exceptions! Grace means that God is for us and will not give up on us, no matter how long it takes or how far we have to go, or how many times we fall. God would be less than gracious if he only met us where we are and then left us there! He’ll pick us up because our whole salvation is complete for us in Christ and we belong to him. United to Christ, all that is his is ours. So Paul tells us that Jesus Christ is our wisdom (about God) our righteousness, and he is our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV). By his indwelling Holy Spirit, we are meant to share even in his perfectly sanctified humanity.
What God in Christ has done for us, the Spirit works out in us. So Paul can say: “I live, yet not I, but Christ in me” (Galatians 2:20). We do not work up our own knowledge of God, our own righteousness, our own sanctification. But we share by the Spirit in what is his! This is all of what we receive when we receive him who gave himself for us (Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 5:2; Titus 2:14).
Grace is God’s faithfulness to see us through to his perfect end, even if we sometimes resist or are ungrateful, or only want his blessings because we prefer it to hell! The gracious love of God is implacably committed to perfecting us with Christ’s own glorified humanity. True love longs for the perfection of the beloved.
Can we preach too much of this kind of grace? No! We preach the inexorable love of God, who will not give up on us and has pledged himself to see us to the glorious end of being his children through Jesus Christ. Isn’t this the way to lead people to a faith, hope and love that trusts and believes that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6 ESV)? We have a hope that knows God desires our sanctification, and believes as Paul tells us that, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24 ESV). Can we believe this promise too much? Can we count on God too much to provide us with even our sanctification in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV)? The answer is no! God is abundantly gracious because he makes no exceptions. On that we can rely.
Conclusion: the obedience of faith, hope and love
The Christian life must be moved by faith, hope and love for God’s Word spoken and living—a Word that presents a God who out of his own graciousness promises to be faithful and to give us an inheritance as his children united to Christ, who invites unswerving confidence in Christ’s continuing work of ministry and the power and joy to enable us to participate in it. All our endeavors built on this foundation will reflect in word and deed the very character of God and exude a joyful trust in his continuing work.
Putting our trust in ourselves, our programs, commitments, convictions, techniques, skills, training or our sophistication and formulas, no matter how ideal, morally ambitious, or spiritually sincere, can only lead to lives that indicate a God who wants slaves not children, a God who depends upon us and who cannot be more faithful than we are, a God who begins with grace but who somehow ends with conditional blessings. The good news is that this is not the God of the Bible, nor the God we worship today. Rather, God has united himself with us, and us with himself, so that all that we think or do, we do as his children, participating with him in all that he is doing in our world now through the continuing ministry of Christ by the power of the Spirit.
The Christian life is nothing but the gracious gift of daily thanksgiving for our real union with Christ, sharing in his glorified humanity and participating by faith in his faithful and continuing ministry to us and all those around us. On this we may surely build our lives in Christ’s name and live to the praise of his glory!
Death of Frederick Wilson
We were saddened to learn of the recent death of long-time GCI elder Frederick Myiles Wilson, 93. He passed away peacefully at his home in Peru, Indiana on October 29. Survivors include James Wilson (Chicago), Carl Wilson (Pasadena), Frederick Wilson, Jr. (Peru, Indiana), Herbert Wilson (Bethany, Connecticut) and Marvin Wilson (West Haven, Connecticut). He was preceded in death by his wife Wilma Louise Wilson and son Raymond A. Wilson.
Cards can be sent to:
Carl L. Wilson 259 N. Chester Ave # 1 Pasadena, CA 91106-1873
Mr. & Mrs Marvin E. Wilson 20 Andrews Street West Haven, CT 06516-1902
A massive typhoon named Lando (Koppu is the international name) recently ravaged the Philippines. To read about its impact on our Filipino members, click here. Thanks for your prayers for them. At this point, financial assistance from outside the Philippines has not been requested, though donations to the GCI Disaster Relief Fund are always welcomed (click here to learn about that fund).
GCI offers high-quality online courses in theology and biblical studies through two educational institutions that are associated with the denomination: Grace Communion Seminary (GCS) and Ambassador College of Christian Ministry (ACCM).
GCS offers two masters degree programs that are accredited in the United States. To learn more, click here.
ACCM offers courses leading to a diploma in Christian Ministry. To learn more, click here.
In August, a new cohort entered the GCI Intern Program (for details, click here). We’re running a series here in “Up Close & Personal” to introduce you to some of these new interns. This week we want you to meet Lakeisha Blake who was recruited into the program by Andy Rooney, who is ahead of Lakeisha in the program. Here is Lakeisha’s testimony:
I didn’t envision being a student again. But here I am—part of the GCI Intern Program, which makes me a student at Grace Communion Seminary.
In the last two years, my life has changed drastically. Between May 2013 and August 2015 I went from a secure and fulfilling job teaching sexual integrity, to being unemployed and living at home. During that time, God began an intensive work of renewal within me—helping me learn to depend on him moment-to-moment.
I learned how to receive from God, and he birthed within my heart dreams and desires way beyond anything I could ever accomplish on my own.
During the time living at home, I often questioned what God was doing and where he was leading me. At the encouragement of a friend who is already attending GCS as an intern, I checked out the program and began asking God if this was the next step for me. Then God reminded me of a puzzling dream I had months earlier, and gave me the assurance that this new opportunity was a partial fulfillment of that dream. With that assurance, I jumped right in!
Lakeisha is now being interned in Durham, North Carolina. Since there is no GCI congregation there to sponsor her, she receives most of her support from the GCnext fund. Shortly after her internship began, we received a call from a GCI church member who felt led to give a gift to the GCnext fund to sponsor Lakeisha for the duration of her internship. We thank the donor, and we thank God for leading the donor to be so generous.