GCI Update

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

Share Fair: joining Jesus’ compassion

This update is from Pastor Gabriel Ojih, who tells about a recent outreach event in his GCI congregation. 

2016-share-fairOn September 10, Pathway of Grace Church in Mesquite, Texas, invited the community to its annual Share Fair, where food, fellowship and prayer, along with free clothing, furniture and household items were shared with the community. Items were donated by members, Sharing Life Outreach (a local charity), community families, and local dry cleaners. A very large amount of clothing was made available for babies, kids and adults, and most found new homes with the 350+ people who attended. Leftover clothing was donated to a homeless ministry.

2016-food-distributionIn conjunction with Share Fair, a food bank distribution hub was launched at our church building to provide food to needy families in the community once a week. This effort is a partnership with Sharing Life Outreach, which provides dignified, benevolent services to families in need in Mesquite and Southeastern Dallas County. Twenty-three families signed up, and about a thousand pounds of food, including canned goods and produce, were distributed.

2016-share-fair-on-missionMany meaningful conversations took place at Share Fair, in the prayer booth and elsewhere on the grounds. Members shared material goods and enjoyed the privilege of sharing hope, faith, and love with people in need of a window into the loving heart of God. One elderly African-American woman said, “This is fun and so helpful at the same time. I’m sure the good Lord is well-pleased. What you guys are doing is such a blessing and you didn’t have to do it!” And yet we did, for the love of God compels us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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:


Death of James Stokes

We were saddened to learn of the recent death of retired GCI pastor James (“Jim”) Stokes. He served in the Pasadena, CA, area for many years and more recently lived in Florida. His friends and congregants remember him as a dear, faithful man of God, comedian, friend and pastor (see the tribute below).


Jim’s daughter recently posted this information on Facebook:

Dad had been losing weight and had no appetite for months. He finally found out his gall bladder was bad and needed to come out. There were complications, internal bleeding. They operated again the next day to stop the bleeding. That helped, but things went downhill. Blood pressure kept going down, heart had episodes of A fib. Systems shut down. The last time he spoke to his nurse he said that he had no pain. He went into a deep sleep and passed quietly with his pastor at his side. He missed his wife Grace (my mother), immensely. We will miss him.

Jim and Grace together again
Jim and Grace together again

Here is a tribute to Jim Stokes from GCI Pastor Jeffrey Broadnax and his wife Karen:

Mr. Jim Stokes was a “servant leader” before servant leadership was cool! For my first seven years in the crucible of leadership training, he taught me the most about what it means to be a humble, dedicated, cheerful and Spirit-led servant of God.

My class at Ambassador College in Pasadena was blessed to have “Pops and Granny” (as they were affectionately known) as our surrogate grandparents, though they weren’t just sitting around in rocking chairs—they were out on the Rose Parade lines, helping with class projects and teaching us the power of submitting your desires for the benefit of others.

After graduation, I had the pleasure of working every day for three years with him in the Pasadena congregation. My internship, ordination and development was shaped in late-night visits, long days in organization, and hours of gaining the wisdom from a “hoary head” during a very difficult training period.

Mr. Stokes had been an elder in my wife, Karen’s, congregation before she came to college, so we were already family. I cherish every memory of “smiling Jim” and Granny. To this day, I serve some of the widows he introduced me to in Pasadena 30 years ago, despite being hundreds of miles away. Just this morning I received an email from one of them.

Mr. Stokes was a devoted servant of Jesus Christ and his light lives on in thousands of other lives. I praise God for you, Jim Stokes. I also praise God for Granny and look forward to our reunion. Until then, we’ll all “keep smiling,” serving our Lord like you showed us.

Death of Robert Browne II

Pastor Browne

We had previously requested prayer for GCI-Liberia National Director Robert Browne II, who was hospitalized with acute anemia. He received blood transfusions to treat the anemia, and feeling better was released to return home. But his condition soon worsened, and he was rushed back to the hospital, where he died.

Please pray for Deddeh Browne, who is distraught about the death of her husband, for their children, relatives, and the members in Liberia.

Kalengule Kaoma, Robert’s ministry supervisor, wrote this: “We will miss Robert’s enthusiasm, friendly service and commitment to God’s work. We are grateful to God for the work done through Pastor Browne.”

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

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

Gordons’ grandson born

GCI-New Zealand Pastor Dennis Gordon and his wife Brenda are pleased to announce the birth of their first grandchild, Julian Beau Gordon, born in Sydney, Australia, to parents Caleb and Gemma. Congratulations to the whole (growing) family!

The Gordons with their grandson
Brenda and Dennis with their newborn grandson

Blooms’ son wed

Regional Pastor Randy Bloom and his wife Debbie are delighted to announce the recent wedding of their son Ryan to Ashley Taylor. The wedding, held in Austin, Texas, was officiated by Randy. Congratulations to Ryan and Ashley and to both families! Here are some pictures:

Ashley and Ryan


Ryan and Randy