GCI Update

Celebrating Epiphany

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachHappy New Year! I hope you and your family were able to be together during the recent holiday season, which in the U.S. traditionally begins with Thanksgiving and extends through Christmas and New Year’s Day. In accordance with the historic, orthodox Christian worship calendar, the season begins for most Christians in late November with the four Sundays of Advent, followed by Christmas Day, the Twelve Days of Christmas, and Epiphany. Advent celebrates Jesus’ comings, including his first coming (Incarnation and birth) and his second coming (bodily return in glory). Christmas reminds us that Jesus’ Incarnation and birth started everything anew. Epiphany, which occurs on January 6 (and typically is celebrated the prior Sunday), celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the world. This pattern of worship begins the liturgical year with a wonderful reminder that Jesus is at the center of everything God has done and is doing for the salvation of the world. In this letter, I will focus on celebrating Epiphany.

The word epiphany means to “show,” “make known,” or “reveal.” T.F. Torrance beautifully summarizes its biblical significance:

The New Testament constantly thinks of the Parousia [meaning “arrival” or “revealing”] in terms of epiphany, for the relation between the today and the eschaton [referring to the climax of history] is much more a tension between the hidden and the manifest, the veiled and the unveiled, than between dates in calendar time. What is still in the future is the full unveiling of a reality, but the reality itself is fully present here and now. Epiphany reminds us that with the birth of Jesus, God became God with us (Immanuel). With this advent, the Kingdom is now present to us in the person of its King—unveiled (revealed) to us personally, as we await, in hope, the full unveiling (revealing) yet to come when Jesus returns bodily in the fullness of his glory, ushering in the fullness of his Kingdom in a new heaven and new earth. (Incarnation, the Person and Life of Christ, p. 316)

On Epiphany we rejoice in the unveiling of God with us in the person of Jesus. That revealing occurred in the past (Jesus’ first coming), continues in the present (Jesus coming to us through the indwelling Spirit), and will culminate in the yet-future return of Jesus in glory. Jesus, God unveiled to us, come!

Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
(Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

On Epiphany, Christians typically commemorate two important events in Jesus’ first coming: the visit of the Magi to pay homage to the infant Jesus (typically celebrated by Christians in the West) and Jesus’ baptism (typically celebrated by Christians in the East). Through his baptism, Jesus was revealed to be God’s unique “beloved Son” (Matthew 3:16-17 ESV).

Through the Magi’s visit (Matthew 2:1-2), Jesus was revealed to be Lord and King of all humanity (Jews and Gentiles alike). The Magi were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as King, and thus through them, the incarnate Christ was revealed to the wider world. Their act of worship (Matthew 2:10-11) corresponded to Simeon’s prophetic statement that Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32). This was one of the earliest indications that Jesus’ vicarious life embraces all people, nations and races.

Commemorating these events on Epiphany reminds us of the mission of the church. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to participate in what our Lord is doing, by the Spirit, in all the world. We are called to share in his work to reveal himself and his salvation—a salvation that he has made available to all humanity.

Epiphany reminds us that in our union with Christ, we can enjoy communion with him as we participate with him in his continuing mediation and ministry for us and the whole world. This includes what he is doing to reveal himself to be who he truly is: the Light of the world. As we think about our calling, Epiphany reveals to us that we are not thrown back upon our own resources and efforts in this participation, but that all things are in and under Jesus, the Lord and Savior of all. In that we trust and rely, and because of that we celebrate!

Looking forward to another year of life in and with Christ,
Joseph Tkach

PS. For additional information about Epiphany, see the recent Surprising God blog post at http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2015/12/advent-and-epiphany.html.

Pikeville outreach

GCI’s congregation in Pikeville, Kentucky recently was featured in a report by a local TV station telling of the congregation’s outreach to the community, which involves providing a free meal twice each month. To watch a video recording of the TV report, click on the image below, or click here.

Free Lunch

Grace Fellowship Church today offered food to those in need, and also thanks to those who help support their mission. EKB News Reporter Shawn Allen attended today’s event. He filed this report.

Posted by EKB News on Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Crossing Borders trip

This update is from Crossing Borders director, Lee Berger.

In December, for the 10th year in a row, Crossing Borders mission trip attendees delivered shoeboxes full of gifts to needy children in Mexico. Thanks to our generous partners (churches, school groups and others) who provided the shoeboxes full of gifts, we blessed over 1000 children with tangible expressions of God’s love. In addition to the shoeboxes, our partners provided over 125 handmade blankets and quilts, 50 cloth totes filled with infant supplies, dozens of pairs of shoes and other items.

As seen in the pictures below, there were smiles of joy all around as the children received giftboxes filled with school supplies, hygiene articles, toys, candy and other needed and fun items. But of even more importance were the smiles, hugs, prayers and words of encouragement given by the missionaries to the children and their parents.

CB collage2

Due to a record number of applications, we had to turn away many who wanted to join us on this trip (those not accepted were deferred to a future trip). Given the large number of those accepted (38), we formed two teams and thus were able to visit twice as many churches, children’s homes and other ministries as before. Thankfully, we had a record number of shoeboxes and other gifts with us!

It’s been a joy for many of our team members to return to the same places in Mexico each year, where we’ve watched children grow from toddlers to teenagers. Along the way, we’ve built friendly relationships with onsite ministers: pastors, orphanage directors and other ministry leaders. It’s a joy to partner with them in sharing with people messages, drama, prayer, games and gifts—all for the one purpose of sharing with the children and their families the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

The next Crossing Borders trip is this summer (June 18-26). It will be a week of life-changing mission ministry. The most benefit is gained by attending the full week, but we also offer half-week options. For details, check out our website at www.cbmisison.org or call me (Lee Berger) at 903-746-4463.

Increased giving

A primary challenge faced by churches is encouraging growth in per-member giving. Thom Rainer of LifeWay Research looks at this challenge in a recent blog post, noting that churches that experience increases in this giving tend to exhibit seven dominant characteristics. You can read his post at http://thomrainer.com/2016/01/seven-traits-of-churches-with-increasing-per-member-giving/.

member giving

Political activity

Given that presidential election activity in the U.S. (and elswhere) is heating up, we are republishing here a briefing from our Legal Department concerning what congregations may and may not legally do with respect to political activity. Note in paragraph two a specific GCI policy statement on this topic.

Although the 2016 presidential elections are almost a year away, the media is currently all abuzz with talk about the various potential candidates and the primaries for the major parties. Every election “season,” this one included, the IRS issues guidelines and cautions for churches about what is permissible and impermissible (mostly impermissible!) in regard to political involvement. Often, other groups, including in previous years the National Association of Evangelicals, issue long, detailed reports explaining where the legal “line” is separating the permissible from the impermissible. It is important for churches to avoid any impermissible political involvement, since violating the law in this area can bring serious penalties upon a church, including the complete loss of its tax-exempt status.

Although the law regarding involvement of churches in political matters forbids most such activities, some very few political expressions or actions are allowed, under narrow circumstances. However, notwithstanding any narrow or slight activities that might be allowed under the law, it is the denominational policy of GCI that its congregations (local churches) are not to engage in any political activities or statements whatsoever. This policy is based on two overarching principles:

  1. The law is complicated and even lawyers can and do argue about how it might apply in any given case, which means staying completely out of the political field is the only safe course.
  2. The denomination does not believe that local pastors or church leaders should be trying to influence local members or the community at large about whom they should support or what political view or position they should take.

In light of this strict “no political activity” policy, pastors and church leaders should refrain from all such activities, including refraining from statements in sermons suggesting one political party is better, more Christian, more in line with the Bible, etc. than the other. Neither should any leader praise or condemn either party, any candidate, or any current office holder, including the current President, for things done, said, or not done or unsaid. While it is plain that some issues that face our society are issues about which Christians care, no one in the congregation should feel that he or she is being pushed or pulled to support or vote for or against any party or candidate. Indeed, the congregation should not be able to discern the pastor or other church leader’s political positions from his or her public statements. A pastor’s public statements should not include political content at all.

Another issue regarding such political activities is the issue of local church pastors or other leaders using the names and addresses of the local church members and attendees in order to send them letters or memos with political content, including, but not limited to, actually encouraging them to vote for or against a certain candidate or party. The practice of using member addresses for this purpose is against church policy and should never be done. Mailings to church members and attendees should be about, and only about, religious or other church matters having no political content.

In short, our sermons, teachings, member mailings, and community involvement projects should be strictly about the gospel and not about politics. To be clear, our policy is not to be “politically neutral.” Our policy is to be “apolitical,” meaning “without political content” at all. It can be helpful for our pastors and leaders to state this policy of being “without politics” and “without political content” to the congregation from time to time so that our members understand our policy. If members wish to be politically active in some way, they are free to pursue such activities on their own or through affiliations with political groups, but not through the denomination or its local churches. We do not forbid political activism, per se. We only forbid political involvement by and through the church.

Roger Abels

Retired pastor Roger Abels recently fell down his basement stairs in the middle of the night. He was tired and thought he was walking into his bedroom. The fall was rather severe, but a blessing in disguise.

Donna and Roger Abels

During the examination, doctors discovered that Roger has spinal stenosis. They were able to remove the stenosis by removing three of his vertebrae and replacing them with “cages.”

Doctors are working to get him fully stable so he can proceed to rehabilitation. He has movement in his legs and arms, but no feeling yet in his fingers and just recently had a major setback. Not being able to breathe on his own, he has been sent back to the hospital. Prayer is very much needed.

Cards may be sent to:

Roger and Donna Abels
1827 Ransom Dr.
Ft Wayne, IN 46845

Jacki Affeldt

Jacki Affeldt, wife of George Affeldt (pastor of GCI’s congregation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) was hospitalized recently, suffering with severe pancreatitis and gall stones. Jacki underwent surgery, which was successful, though followed by heart palpitations.

George and Jacki Affeldt

Thankfully, Jacki is now stable and the heart doctor feels she can be released within a couple days. Once she has healed from the pancreatitis, they will deal with her gall stones.

Update (1/7): We’ve learned that Jacki is now back home from the hospital. Although it will take a bit of time to get her strength back, she is doing well. Thanks for the prayers!

Cards may be sent to:

Jacki and George Affeldt
508 N Marquette Ave
Sioux Falls, SD 57110-5736


Death of Ed Graham

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Ed Graham, former WCG/GCI employee and husband of Sheila Graham, also a former WCG/GCI employee. Here are excerpts from notes we’ve received.

Ed and Sheila Graham

Ed died peacefully at his home in Lake Kiowa, Texas, on December 28, 2015. Though his body was weakened from cancer, he stayed positive and hopeful to the end.

Ed was born in Arkansas in 1929, the oldest of 12 children. Along with his family, Ed worked long and hard on the family farm to survive the Great Depression. After graduating from high school he attended Arkansas State Teacher’s College (now University of Central Arkansas) on a basketball scholarship. In 1948 he left college to join the Air Force, ending his military career as a Tech. Sgt. serving as a cryptographic specialist with a high security clearance. In 1950 Eddie married Marion Suits. After her death, he married Lillian Brock. In 1977 he married Sheila (Van Orsdol) Dennis in Pasadena, California, where they lived for many years.

After his military service, Ed began a career in electronics. He was employed by WCG/GCI in media both part-time and full-time from 1967-1995. He also worked as the supervisor of broadcast engineers at Los Angeles City College. After retirement he learned to be a locksmith and worked part time for the Lake Kiowa Security Department.

Ed baseballEddie loved sports and played slow-pitch softball well into his 70s. He was known for his high, arching, but accurate, moon ball that few batters could hit. He played on the WCG Editorial Department softball team for several years (he is pictured at right). He said that with him pitching and Joseph Tkach catching, they made a pretty good team!

Ed was a man of faith. Baptized at age 17, he devotedly attended church throughout his life. At his death he was a member of GCI’s Hope Community Fellowship Church in The Colony, Texas (Dallas area). In his 70s he made trips with groups from his church to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. At age 85 he joined other church members on a mission trip to Mexico to distribute gifts to disadvantaged children. He was a Meals on Wheels and Home Hospice volunteer and a member of the Gainesville Optimist Club. He was also a ham operator and Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) volunteer.

Ed is survived by his wife Sheila, several children, many grandchildren and great grandchildren. Both parents and three brothers preceded him in death. Five brothers and four sisters survive him.

A memorial service and celebration of Ed’s life is scheduled for January 9 at his home church.

Cards may be sent to:

Sheila Graham
111 Pueblo Drive
Gainesville, TX 76240-9473

Death of Beth Holm’s father

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of Ron Haines, father of Beth (Haines) Holm, wife of retired GCI pastor Rand Holm. Following is information provided by his family.

"Grandpa always loved the land, and took good care of it" (Sharran Huynh, Rand and Beth's daugher).
“Grandpa always loved the land, and took good care of it.”
(Sharran Huynh
Rand and Beth’s daughter)

Ronald (“Ron”) Haines was born in 1931 and lived most of his life in Sumner County, Kansas. A wheat farmer, he loved the land, his family, and his God.

Ron passed away at home on his farm after a hard fought battle with cancer. He is survived by Doris, his wife of 63 years; by his children, Beth, Steven, Mark and Barbie; by seven grandchildren, three great grandchildren and three siblings.

Ron always loved music. He sang the Messiah at Bethany College while a student. He enjoyed singing at family reunions and various community functions, he led song services at church, performed special music and led the youth choir.

Ron was a seeker—always looking for what he felt God wanted him to do with his life and resources. He was a father to the fatherless and always willing to lend a hand to those in need, to share food with those less fortunate, and to be a comfort to the sick or elderly. He was a good neighbor. He worked and played hard. He loved flying, hunting, fishing, and backpacking in the mountains of Wyoming.

Mr _Rains_first_wedding
Ron officiating a wedding.

In the late 60s and into the 70s Ron took several years off of farming to get more Bible education at Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas, and to serve in pastoral ministry in Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi. When his dad, Eugene, wanted to retire from farming, he chose to move back to Kansas to take over running the family farm. He served as a volunteer co-pastor in the Wichita, Kansas, congregation for several years in the middle and late 90s.

Cards may be sent to:

Beth and Rand Holm
60 Windmill Drive
Sedona, AZ  86336