Experiencing the Trinity retreat

A 72-hour Experiencing the Trinity retreat was held recently at Garaywa Camp and Conference Center in Clinton, Mississippi. Participants (pictured below) came from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. The retreat was led by Odyssey in Christ spiritual directors, Dr. Larry Hinkle and Gracie Johnson, along with pastoral couple John and Cathy Novick.


The retreat was a new and refreshing experience for many of the participants, allowing for combined intellectual and experiential understanding of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each day focused on a person of the Trinity, with activities designed to foster a more personal walk with God. Here are comments from some of the participants:

This retreat was an open door for my personal relationship with God to become more intimate and real. You learn to slow down, relax and open your heart to God. Every believer should make plans to attend and realize you will see and experience God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) like never before. The staff…makes you feel included and gives all the attention necessary to experience God’s unconditional love. It is a wonderful blessing!  –Mike Horchak

It was deeply meaningful, inspiring and spiritually replenishing. Underneath the main theme of “Experiencing the Trinity,” following God’s admonition to “be still and know that I am God” was absolutely thrilling! You don’t often associate coming to a complete stop with “thrilling,” but that’s what it was! I hope more and more people can attend this retreat in years to come and experience God in personal, new ways”  –Dave Huffman

The Odyssey in Christ retreat was a real treat, walking in the woods with the Father, Jesus and then the Holy Spirit. I appreciate the lesson in silence and solitude; shutting out all the noise helps one to focus on prayer and meditation resulting in getting closer to God. –Walt Baudoin

This retreat was a new experience, but it was the best experience I have had. Learning about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit the way they were talked about this weekend was amazing. I and my friends have not stopped talking about it. Everyone we have told wants to attend. Having experienced this retreat makes me want to live my life out in Christ more than ever. –Eula Crowell

The advantages of pastoral longevity

In a recent post on the “Developing Church Leaders” blog, Dan Reiland made this statement:

Dan Reiland

The vast majority of churches grow by layers, not by leaps. Step by step, family by family, person by person rather than jumping by hundreds at a time. Because this is true, momentum is strengthened by the longevity of the pastor.

To read more about this and other advantages of pastoral longevity, and ways to enhance it, click here.

Concerning the U.S. election

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Perhaps, like me, you find the current U.S. presidential election cycle to be as dismaying as any in our lifetime. Nearly everyone I converse with about it opines that we should have better choices. I agree.

I’m often asked: “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” My reply is always the same: “Neither one.” When asked who I’m voting for, I say that it’s a private matter. Occasionally I add that I don’t agree with all the positions of all the candidates (the same goes for the party platforms). Sometimes I note that I’m for all people in all parties because they are all God’s children, or I say that I’m on God’s side—since he always is with us and for us (that last comment often gets some strange looks!).

P.J. O’Rourke

On occasion, I share a quote from P.J. O’Rourke, a political satirist who strikes me as a modern-day version of Mark Twain. He said this:

The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.

O’Rourke also made this remark: “If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free!” Another (anonymous) source concurs: “Talk is cheap… except when government does it!”

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was well-known for his quips about the U.S. federal government. He joked, “The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.” In today’s entertainment-crazed media environment with its lack of integrity and truth when it comes to reporting the “news,” I’ve come to see one of Mark Twain’s quotations as prophetic: “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.” I believe most of us would agree that, in our day, we’d need to add television and internet news to his quote.

Political humor, especially when it involves comments from famous historical personalities, can help keep us from getting overly depressed about politics. For example, Winston Churchill, in a quip about the economy, said this: “I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity, is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.” A related quip came from French economist Frederic Bastiat, who said this: “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else.” And who can forget President John F. Kennedy’s great quote in his inaugural address: “My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

President Ronald Reagan
President Ronald Reagan

Here’s one more quote—this time from President Ronald Reagan: “The government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.” As the election draws near, I am reminded of Reagan’s campaign slogan: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” While I’m registered as a no-party person, I can honestly say that President Reagan struck me as one of the most honest politicians in my lifetime. Perhaps his question can help bring clarity when you go about choosing a candidate to support with your vote.

A new president means another transition for our country. The new president will usher in another new beginning. Voters might disagree as to which party and candidate is most likely to bring that new beginning, but there is wide agreement on what they’d like to see happen. We all want security, which includes physical safety and financial prosperity, as well as the freedom to pursue fulfillment and personal well-being.

Though I won’t tell you how to vote, I do want to remind you that our hope, and thus the confidence we have for the future, transcends this or any election. Our hope is in Jesus, who has promised us life everlasting in the joy of the household of God. Let us all remember the apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2:1-3—here’s how it’s rendered in the Message Bible:

Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.

In the U.S., citizens have the personal and civic right to choose local and national leaders without fearing for themselves or their families. I encourage Christians to prayerfully exercise this right in ways that (as much as possible) protect our freedom to worship and spread the gospel. Of course, not voting is a right in the U.S., but I believe we should not abandon our privilege to vote. Sadly, surveys show that about two out of five self-professed Christians do not vote. About one in five eligible Christians are not even registered to vote.

Regarding our decision as to who to vote for, I want to address a fallacy we’re hearing increasingly this election cycle, namely that failing to vote for one candidate is the equivalent of voting for their opponent. This year it is being said that not voting for Donald Trump is a vote for Hillary Clinton, or that failing to vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for Donald Trump. But this assertion is a mathematical absurdity. Simply put, if you do not vote, then no one gets your vote.

Whomever we decide to vote for in the coming election, our decision, as Christians, should be based on prayer and the study of God’s word, along with weighing the best information available about the realities of the choices offered. With this approach, we will make our decision knowing that our Father in heaven, with his Son and the Holy Spirit, already voted for us (and all people) long before we were born. And that’s an election that will stand forever in Jesus Christ, who is our representative and our substitute. We belong to the God who loves us, and there are no term limits on our place in his family.

Joyful that in Christ we are all elected,
Joseph Tkach

Death of Wilmer Lopus

We were saddened to learn that GCI elder Wilmer Lopus died on July 24. Born in 1927, in Erie, PA, Wilmer lived in Eastern Ohio since 1967. He served GCI’s Wheeling, WV congregation as a deacon, then an elder. Wilmer’s contributions to the community, including the church, were lauded recently by the Ohio State Senate. Here is the official proclamation (picture added):


Wilmer Lopus
Wilmer Lopus

On behalf of the members of the Senate of the 131st General Assembly of Ohio, we extend our sincere condolences to the farmily and friends of Wilmer Calvin Lopus on the sorrowful occasion of his death.

Wilmer Lopus left an indelible impression on the people whose lives he touched, and he will be remembered as a spirited man who contributed immeasurably to the world around him. Among his endeavors, he was a veteran of the U.S. Army, a federal and special needs coordinator with the Edison Local School District, and a deacon and elder in the Church of God [referring to GCI], and his concern for improving the quality of life in our society was clearly evident in his personal sacrifices of time and energy to his family, friends, and community. His absence will be keenly felt.

A loving husband to his wife, Martha, a devoted father to his three daughters, Sharon, Sandra, and the late Cynthia, and the proud grandfather of two grandchildren, Jaries and Lucca, Wilmer Lopus always used his talents to the benefit of those around him, and the laurels of his life stand as a tribute not only to him but also to those he left behind. Although the void his death has created can never be filled, the legacy of care and commitment he established will surely live on. It is certain that the world is a richer place for his having been in it, and he will be sorely missed.

Thus, with deepest sympathy, we mourn the loss and salute the memory of a truly unique individual, Wilmer Calvin Lopus.

Senator Keith Faber
President of the Ohio Senate

Senator Lou Gentile
Assistant Minority Whip


Cards may be sent to:

Martha Lopus
PO Box 323
Richmond, OH 43944-0323

Conferences, seminars and camps

Fall is a busy season in GCI with many worship retreats, seminars and camps being held in various places around the world. Here are reports on a few of the most recent ones.

Penticton, Canada Thanksgiving Conference 2016 & Engage 2016

GCI-Canada hosted a Thanksgiving conference and Engage 2016 in Penticton, British Columbia. The events began with a combined community outreach event where a team of young and older adults offered live worship music, free popcorn for children, and invited people to attend worship services at the week-long Thanksgiving conference.

Ten young adults and teens enthusiastically participated in Engage 2016, a 3-day conference that included the community outreach, Bible study sessions, a movie, biking the Kettle Valley Trail along Okanagan Lake and the combined Thanksgiving Banquet.

The theme for this year’s Thanksgiving Conference was Empowered by Grace. Guest speakers included Rick and Cheryl Shallenberger. Over 60 participants enjoyed a week of inspiring worship, messages, fellowship and activities that included a Thanksgiving Banquet with a GCI Update. Other events included a potluck dinner and activities on the historic S.S. Sicamous, a visit to the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, catered lunches, movie and games nights. Conference delegates opened their hearts and donated an astounding total of $5,600 for Doing Well, the non-profit fundraising initiative founded by Tim Maguire to build and drill wells in Mozambique, where GCI has more than 5,000 members in over 100 congregations. This amount will cover the cost of drilling 10 wells!


Quebec, Canada conference

GCI’s French-speaking congregation in Quebec held a Life in Christ Celebration at the Jouvence resort in the region of Orford. Fall colors were at their peak and the scenery was overwhelmingly beautiful in the mountains. Over 100 French-speaking members from around Québec gathered for the weekend event. Its theme was “finding peace in a troubled and agitated world.” During the celebration, the group had the joy of witnessing the baptism of Vincent Labelle in the very cold waters of Lake Stukely. Vincent is the oldest son of Roger and Sylvie Labelle, who serve in leadership in their GCI congregation.


Moncton, Canada conference

The Moncton, New Brunswick congregation hosted a conference recently that provided worship, spiritual nurturing and fellowship. About 50 members attended from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.


Events in the Philippines

Here are several recent events held by GCI in the Philippines:


Ingrid Mandel

As noted last week, Ingrid Mandel (wife of retired GCI Pastor Willi Mandel), recently had hip surgery and was at home recovering. But an infection developed, and she had to return to the hospital for two more surgeries. Unfortunately, the infection has not cleared up, and her legs are badly swollen. She is very frustrated by all this, and asks for prayer that her infections clear up quickly so she can be moved to another hospital for therapy.

Cards may be sent to:

Ingrid Mandel
747 Tanner Drive
Kingston, ON K7M 9G7

Seeing the Trinity in the Gospels

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all inspired by the Holy Spirit, began their Gospels in different ways. Mark, likely the first to write, started with John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ baptism. Matthew, perhaps referring to Mark’s Gospel, began with Jesus’ genealogy, going back to Abraham and God’s promises (Genesis 12). Luke, perhaps with Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts in hand, began with John the Baptist’s birth (chapter one), then Jesus’ birth (chapter two), then in chapter three with Jesus’ baptism along with a genealogy of Jesus reaching back to Adam (Genesis 1 and 2). John, who wrote last, began his account before creation.

In John’s Gospel we learn a great deal about the nature of Jesus and of God. In John 1:1, the apostle tells about the Word (the pre-incarnate Son of God) who both was with God (pointing to God’s personal distinctions) and was God (pointing to God’s unity). Then in John 14, he records what Jesus said that pointed to the Holy Spirit’s divinity. John thus shares what Paul refers to as “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10 ASV).

Angels at Mamre (Holy Trinity)
Angels at Mamre (Holy Trinity) by Rublev
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

By inspiring each Gospel writer to give a distinctive version of Jesus’ story, the Holy Spirit painted a masterful portrait of both who Jesus is, and who God is as Father, Son and Spirit. It took time for this understanding to come into focus in the minds and hearts of the disciples, just as Jesus had indicated: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

In addition to the unfolding of this portrait of the Trinity in John, note what we find in the other Gospels:

  • Matthew records Jesus’ instructions to baptize “into the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19 ASV). Notice that Jesus himself proclaims that God’s one “name” (name here is singular), which is “Father…Son…and Holy Spirit.” We should not miss the fact that Jesus has instructed us to baptize people into the three-personed-one-name of God (the Holy Trinity!).
  • Mark notes the Trinity in his account of Jesus’ baptism: “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased'” (Mark 1:9-11).
  • Luke gives a tri-personal account of Jesus’ baptism, and also of the angel’s announcement to Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God: “‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.'” (Luke 1:30-35 ESV). Notice the mention of God, the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit—one God, three divine persons.

Let’s quickly address a particularly ignorant argument that, sadly, holds some people spellbound against the doctrine of the Trinity. That argument holds that if the Spirit caused Mary to conceive Jesus, then Jesus would be the son of the Holy Spirit rather than the son of the Father. Their reasoning is erroneous in at least three ways: First, it ignores that God is one. Second, it assumes the Spirit is separate from God. Third, it assumes that the Spirit operates the same way a human person does. Early theologians viewed this faulty reasoning as idolatrous—thinking of God as if he is a creature and acts like a creature. To avoid that error, they came up with a way to appropriately distinguish the Spirit’s action from that of a human male. Mary, they said, conceived Jesus by the Spirit not through sexual relations, but through hearing the Spirit’s announcement. Through speaking to her at just the right time and place through the agency of an angel, Mary was enabled to hear and then receive the Word of God, who was thus implanted in her. What happened to Mary was echoed in what James wrote in his epistle concerning the implanting of the word of God in those who, like Mary, respond in faithful obedience to God’s call on their lives (James 1:18 ESV; James 1:21 ESV).

Rather than teaching that there are three separate Gods, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinctions of the one God. The notion that there are three separate Gods is tritheism, not the Trinity. We always begin with the truth of the oneness of God. Father, Son and Spirit are not three separate beings who negotiate plans to act together. God does everything in unity of purpose arising out of unity of being. The Gospel writers then tell us that Jesus was begotten of the Father (John 1:14 ASV; John 1:18 ASV; John 3:16 ASV) and conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:35). From the beginning, the purpose of the triune God was that the Word (the Son of God), incarnate in Jesus, would come to reveal God to us.

The apostle Paul continues this theme in his epistles, showing that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in Jesusm who is fully human and fully God. Further, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit is in us and does things for us: “…The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). Though we don’t know how to pray very well, and often are at a complete loss for words, the Spirit acts on our behalf—searching our thoughts and emotions when we pray, expressing them to the Father far better than we can. This is not something a mere power without personhood can do—it’s what God does on our behalf to build the relationship between us and God. Paul continues: “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). His point is that God is for us. Just as the Father interceded by sending the Son, and the Son interceded through his life, death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit continues that intercession through our daily prayers. The whole God makes intercessions for us out of their oneness as the three-personed God.

The Bible reveals God’s transcendence as well as the immanence of his triune nature. God doesn’t need an answering machine. Within his very being, double intercession is being made for us through Jesus and the Holy Spirit who intercede for us as we pray. Thus God knows and hears our every thought. As Thomas F. Torrance liked to say, God is not a mute God—he is an eloquent God who speaks, and does so personally. Our God is a communicative God who speaks to us, and to whom we may speak in prayer.

I love the way the apostle Peter sums it all up:

[God’s] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

In and through God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—we participate now in the divine life, looking forward to glory when we will share that life in all its fullness in a time when there is no more pain or sorrow.

Loving that God includes us in his love and life,
Joseph Tkach

Leonard Banks

leonard-banksLast week we requested prayer for GCI Pastor Leonard Banks. We’re thankful to God to report that his surgery, which lasted about three hours, went well and he was released from the hospital after only two days!

Leonard commented:

I probably would have stayed two more days, but my doctor told me the longer you stay the more likely you are to contract an infection. The procedure went great, with only one minor set-back—I had a blockage in my urethra and will have a catheter and urine bag for five days (please keep that in prayer), otherwise things are OK.

Cards may be sent to:

Leonard and Patama Banks
40 Fountain Street
Rochester, NY 14620-1902