Anthony Gachanja (GCI’s National Ministry Leader for Kenya and Regional Pastor for five East African countries) reports on a mission tour that he and his wife Jane conducted in the Eastern U.S. following the Denominational Conference in Orlando.
Over a period of two months, Jane and I had the blessing of visiting eight GCI congregations, delivering the message, “Partnering with Jesus.” We greatly enjoyed the American hospitality and the trip showed us how our diversity is a rich ingredient in the work God has called us to do. For example, the special music my wife Jane presented wherever we visited was warmly received. God has a special way of ministering to people in and through our diversity.
Wherever we find church members in the world, God has, in his foreknowledge, made provisions for his work—material resources or manpower in some places, financial resources in others. Our presentations, which were well received, explored ways to use these resources to advance the gospel. During a service in New Jersey that included multiple congregations (see picture below), Jane and I were humbled to hear of a lady who had traveled for two hours to be with us.
Other parts of the world outside the West need to be evangelized. The gospel mission field is open all across Africa, and when we shared stories about the mission field in Kenya, it seemed to have a big impact on our listeners. Churches of various denominations in the West are scrambling for a share of preaching the gospel in Africa and GCI has the opportunity to take part in that work.
With many congregations in the West growing smaller and smaller, people can feel like the owner of the church, Jesus Christ, has abandoned them. But, as we know, that is not the case—instead, circumstances challenge us to move out of our comfort zone to proclaim the gospel in the fields that are ripe for harvest, including places like Africa.
Note: for a report on some of the work God is doing in and through GCI in Africa, click here and here.
In a recent Update (click here), we requested prayer for GCI-USA Pastor Rannie Childress, who was hospitalized with pneumonia. He now reports that he is not only back home, but back to work, with his health much improved. He thanks you for your prayers and God for his healing touch.
We were saddened to learn of the recent death of GCI-USA elder John Campbell. Here is an obituary provided by his pastor Bermie Dizon.
Born in 1932 in Edwards, MS, John was the first of three children born to James P. and Edith Campbell. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1943, where John attended Polytechnic High School, lettering in track and field. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served two tours of duty including in the Korean War. He was awarded the Korean Service Medal (two stars), Presidential Unit Citation Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Navy Good Conduct Medal. He worked as an operating engineer for most of his life, retiring in 1997.
In 1955, John married Kathryn Moore. They had two daughters, Sharon Mason and Renee Hall. In 1976, John married Jean Willis. John joined WCG (now GCI) in 1968. He served faithfully in the Los Angeles congregation as a deacon and then an elder. He died on December 13, 2017. He will be greatly missed.
Cards may be sent to:
Jean Campbell 143 Racquet Club Drive Compton, CA 90220-3183
Over the last few years, GCI-USA Church Administration and Development (CAD) has been providing “Outside the Walls” consulting services to renewal churches. A primary tool has been helping those congregations conduct community outreach events. Those events are then followed up with ministry training workshops. A Teen and Family Ministry Workshop was held recently at Christian Family Fellowship, GCI’s congregation in Jacksonville, Florida.
Facilitated by CAD team member Anthony Mullins, the workshop was attended by about 25 youth ministers and pastors from GCI congregations in Jacksonville and Tallahassee, FL (see some of them pictured above). The workshop addressed these topics:
What does it look like to communicate a Christ-informed belonging to young people through word and deed?
How do we minister to teens in a culture that can be confusing to them?
Youth ministry hacks (shortcuts) that can be implemented today.
Going to where youth congregate in the community.
Spanning the generational gap and how Boomers think differently than Millennials.
The role that camp ministry has in supplementing local church ministry.
The interactive sessions during the workshop celebrated the good work already being done in these congregations, and challenged them to build on that base. Once it concluded, teens from a nearby neighborhood came to the Jacksonville church building to play a game of touch football and to have a fireside chat with Jacksonville Lead Pastor, Marty Davey. It was a good day of inspiration and hope for the future.
Given recent attacks on churches both in the U.S. and elsewhere, it’s important to remember that each congregation needs a security plan. What that plan entails will vary from place to place, but a recent post on Thom Rainer’s blog has helpful suggestions. Here is an excerpt:
Don’t be in denial. Church shootings are increasing every year in America. And while the percentage of churches with shootings is relatively small, this issue is one where we must be prepared. The downside is just too great.
Have a church security plan. This plan should include all issues of security, from active shooters to child abuse. Local law enforcement is almost always very willing to work with churches and make recommendations.
Here’s a question to consider: Should Christians celebrate Jesus’ first coming? Some who profess to be Christian say we should not. While I don’t judge their motives (I understand what deception can do), it breaks my heart that they are unable to embrace the joy of celebrating this monumental event, which fulfilled numerous prophecies and changed everything in a powerful, positive way. To celebrate Jesus’ first coming is to celebrate God’s plan of redemption. Before the foundation of the world, God planned that the Son of God would temporarily leave behind his heavenly glory, be born as a human being, then live a perfect life that would reflect God’s glory (1 Pet. 1:20; John 1:14; Phil. 2:5-11).
Jesus’ coming into the world as its Savior and King is the Bible’s central theme. Genesis 3 says that a redeemer would come to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God. In that account, God says to the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This ancient prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus’ first coming. John the Baptist testified that Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Think about that: Jesus came to put sin away—to bring an end to all evil. The reason Jesus (who is the truth) came into our world was “to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). As the apostle Paul testified, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Given this biblical witness, why wouldn’t a Christian want to celebrate what Jesus accomplished in his first coming?
Jesus came not merely to teach us how to live or to perform miracles. He came to save us—to rescue us from sin. He came to take our broken, weak, twisted human nature up into himself and there bend it back to God by living a perfect life in reliance upon God. In doing so, he gave his life in exchange for ours. He did so all the way to the cross—taking on our sins, and letting God abolish them in him, so that we might be forgiven and thus made right with God. Through his perfect sacrifice on our behalf, Jesus made it possible for us to be delivered from darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col. 1:13). That his first coming is great good news is made clear in these words: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).
Jesus’ coming into the world is cause for celebration on multiple levels. When people asked Jesus when the kingdom would come, he replied: “The kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:20-21). As its embodiment, Jesus ushered in the kingdom at his first coming. He continues to extend the influence of the kingdom as he, by the Spirit, lives within Christians (Gal. 2:20, KJV). One day, he will reveal the fullness of the kingdom at his second coming.
It is appropriate that we celebrate all three of these comings of Jesus, and that is what we do during Advent (“advent” means “coming”). We recall Jesus’ first coming, even as we remember the words of the angel to the disciples following Jesus’ ascension: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). The author of Hebrews also testified to the first and second comings of Jesus, saying that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28).
Jesus came the first time as author of our salvation, and he will come the second time as the finisher of our faith. When he came the first time, there was no room for him in Bethlehem’s inn, but when he comes the second time, the whole world will make room for him (Phil. 2:10-11) even if some continue to resist his rule and reign. In celebrating Jesus’ first coming, we acknowledge that he came and fulfilled God’s plan of redemption for us, that he remains with us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and that he will come again in glory to “transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). There is no second coming without the first—both are cause for celebration.
During Advent, we remember all three of Jesus’ comings, then at Christmas we celebrate the great truth that he came into our world by being born of the virgin Mary. This first coming of Jesus (including his Incarnation and birth) is reason for great celebration. Our Christmas celebrations are not really about decorating and gift-giving. While those activities can be joyful aspects of our celebrations, Christmas is more about experiencing joy with friends and family and even with the “strangers” we invite into our homes for a meal. It is more about sharing God’s love with others, which might include visiting people in hospitals and nursing homes, remembering the reasons Jesus first came.
I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas!
PS: To read a Christmas eve sermon by GCI member Sheila Graham, click here. For an announcement from GCI Publications Editor Ted Johnston concerning upcoming publication changes, click here. As Ted notes, the next issue of Update will be published on January 10, 2018.
The GCI-USA annual Intern Orientation took place on December 8-10 at GCI’s home office in Glendora, CA. We welcomed two new Interns: Gordon Herrmann and Mohammad Ali. Both will begin the 2.5-year-long internship in 2018. Gordon will be placed in Cincinnati, OH, with Pastor Dustin Lampe, and Mohammad will be placed in San Jose, CA, with Pastor Mel Dahlgren.
The Intern Orientation included these presentations:
Greg Williams: CAD Vision Going Forward
Pam Morgan: Operations and Logistics
Michelle Fleming: The Power of Vibrant Small Groups
Mark Mounts: Pastoral Counseling, Boundaries and Self-Care
Heber Ticas: Healthy Church
Cara Garrity: Relationship with the Pastor Supervisor
Dustin Lampe: Welcoming and Assimilating the Intern Into the Life of the Church
Anthony Mullins: Designing a Ministry Action Plan (MAP)
Regional Pastor Mike Rasmussen and Pastoral Resident Cara Garrity facilitated roundtable discussions specific to the needs of the Pastor Supervisors and the Interns.
The Intern Program will continue to place a strong emphasis showing how GCI’s incarnational Trinitarian theology informs the Intern’s identity and outflow of activity in local church ministry. To help mentor, guide and encourage the Interns, we’ve assembled a “wrap-around support team” that includes their Pastor Supervisor, a Ministry Coach, their Regional Pastor and the National Coordinator of the Intern Program. Included in this support are weekly meetings with their Supervisor, monthly meetings with their Ministry Coach, monthly video conferences with other Interns and Pastoral Residents and bi-annual progress reviews.
The next Intern Orientation is scheduled for July 27-29, 2018 at GCI’s home office in Charlotte, NC. Please join us in asking the Lord to provide young adults who love the Triune God, love Christ’s ministry and want to lean into serving others in GCI.
A post on ChurchLeaders.com asks, How do we attract, then keep, the volunteers who are so important to a congregation’s operation? The post answers with this observation: People gravitate to where they are valued most. To read the post, click here.
I became a fan of English author, philologist and poet, J.R.R. Tolkien after reading The Hobbit and its sequel, the epic three-volume novel, The Lord of the Rings. Among other literary achievements, Tolkien in his fantasy books constructed the grammar and vocabulary of at least 15 languages and dialects, the most-developed being the one spoken by his Elves. Though the extent of his literary achievements is amazing, what impresses me most is what lies behind those achievements—Tolkien’s appreciation and love for the goodness of God.
Though he avoided direct references to Christian doctrine in his books, Tolkien pointed people in that direction by connecting fantasy to the realities of the human condition in a fallen world. Who among us hasn’t had to deal with a Troll or two? Who hasn’t found a special place of peace and tranquility? Not only does Tolkien deal with these human realities (along with bravery, sacrifice, hospitality, honor, beauty and love)—he also indirectly points his readers to transcendent realities. For example, in The Two Towers (the second volume in The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Tolkien utilizes the imagery of light breaking into darkness—imagery that mirrors the Light of the World coming into a dark, sin-sick world via the Incarnation.
In one of his letters, Tolkien wrote that, “the incarnation of God is an infinitely greater thing than anything I would dare to write” (Letter 237). Thus, it is no surprise that Tolkien, the great story teller, was enamored with the Incarnation, for it is the greatest story ever told! For the substance and reality of that story, we rely not on Tolkien, but on the writers of the New Testament Gospels like the apostle John, who began his Gospel with these evocative words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5, NRSV)
Though Tolkien’s fantasy novels do not tell the complete Christian story, they are full of themes he hoped would prepare people to hear the Christian gospel. What I especially appreciate is the way The Lord of the Rings trilogy points out the reality of good and evil, the power and temptation of sin, and the fact that everyone needs redemption. If you read the trilogy or watch the movies based on it, you’ll encounter dark and heavy moments where good people suffer, and some give in to the darkness of evil. Yet you’ll also find that no matter how far a character might fall, Tolkien shows there is always hope—always opportunity for redemption.
Another thing I like about Tolkien’s stories is the way they refute the dualistic idea of the separation of body and spirit (soul). In pointing to the dynamic unity of body and spirit, Tolkien undermines philosophies (such as naturalism and Gnosticism) that separate body and spirit. In doing so, he indirectly opens a door for his readers to consider that the Incarnation (the union of the uncreated Son of God with created human nature) might be possible. The heroes of his stories represent real people who live as “embodied souls,” and “ensouled bodies” (as Karl Barth put it). Tolkien’s characters appreciate good ale, a simple meal and enduring fellowship, all the while taking seriously the universal obligations of the good, and the real dangers of the evil.
Some people worry that fantasy novels like Tolkien’s risk perverting good theology. But that would be true only if we were to look to such books as sources of theology. The fact of the matter is that they are not. Tolkien never intended his trilogy to be more than a prequel to the biblical gospel. His goal was to point out the questions, problems and challenges in life, not to provide answers that come only through biblical revelation.
Tolkien cleverly directs a secular world away from the naturalism and nihilism that is so prevalent in our world, towards the biblical world of moral meaning and personal relationship with the living God of intervening grace. His overarching message is that no matter what adversity we face in this world with its darkness, a real and transcendent goodness (light) is still present and prevailing. No matter how far astray we might have gone from that light, there is hope of restoration. The overall conclusion of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy is that this hope exists no matter what we face. The apostle Paul draws a similar conclusion in his letter to the churches in Rome:
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, NRSV)
Tolkien understood a powerful truth, which he pointed to in his writings: The Incarnation is the best story that can be told. We celebrate that story in a special way during the Advent-Christmas season.