In the U.S., October is “Pastor Appreciation Month.” It was established in 1992 to uplift and encourage pastors, missionaries and religious workers. For more information, and a tribute to pastors, click here.
In GCI, our pastoral leaders hold various titles (representing different types of pastoral assignments): lead pastors, associate pastors, assistant pastors, pastoral team members, and fellowship group facilitators. We highly value and appreciate all these men and women who give of their time, talent and treasure in remarkable, self-sacrificing ways. To them we say, we appreciate and thank you!
We encourage our congregations to thank their pastoral leader(s). For ideas, click here. In the U.S., if you would like to give a monetary gift please send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org .
This update is from GCI Pastor Doug Johannsen who attended the retreat reported on below.
As we grow together in understanding and appreciating the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we find the Trinity moving us to see the importance of growing together as a group. This realization motivated some of us to attend the “Spiritual Discernment Retreat” conducted recently in Farmington, MN, by the Odyssey in Christ ministry. The retreat focused on helping groups practice life rhythms that lead to improved spiritual discernment as a community. The approach taken was in line with Paul’s prayer for the church in Philippi:
This is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. (Phil. 1:9-11)
Practical applications shared at the retreat included sessions on presence, silence and solitude, ways of life discernment, decision-making, discerning God and self, environmental discernment, group discernment practices and creative expressions.
The retreat was followed by a worship service and meal shared by all four GCI congregations in the Twin Cities, MN, area. Dr. Larry Hinkle, Odyssey in Christ Director, gave the sermon titled, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”.
When asked to define their identity, people reply in various ways. Many focus on what they do—I’m a plumber… an engineer… a homemaker. Others refer to traumas of the past—I’m a recovering alcoholic… I’m a former prisoner. Some take on identities assigned to them by others—She’s wealthy… he’s homeless… she’s a snob. Though some of these are superficial, they all, for better or worse, can powerfully shape the way a person self-identifies.
Speaking of personal identity, I recently ran across this insightful statement from Scottish pastor, theologian and author George MacDonald:
I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about—born in God’s thought—and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest, and most precious thing in all thinking.
George MacDonald is credited with being the father of fantasy literature. A mentor to author Lewis Carroll, he also strongly influenced C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. His literary works, including his sermons, are excellent (several are on my “to read” list).
It begins with knowing we are loved unconditionally
Though MacDonald understood that God created us to be glorious creatures who are made in his image, many Christians don’t grasp that truth. Though they know Christ died for them while they were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), they don’t yet understand that God loves them because of who they are in relationship with him, rather than because of what they have done (or not done). That is a good thing because when it comes to what we have done or left undone, we all have fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). Thankfully, God loves us unconditionally with the same love by which he loves Jesus. Note these words in Jesus’ high priestly prayer for us:
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)
We then reject false identities
In reflecting on the profound nature of God’s love for us, I found myself humming the song, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places—the tragic behavior that is the lot of far too many people in our world (Christians included). It’s a fundamental, vital truth that we cannot find true fulfillment in ourselves because we were created to reflect God’s glory. Seeking to gain glory for ourselves from ourselves will never lead to lasting fulfillment. Glory can only be received as a gift from another who has it to give. Where we look to find our identity says a lot about what we think will give us that glory.
I have enjoyed many jobs in my life, starting as a paperboy delivering the daily newspaper via my trusty old bicycle. I then worked as a box boy at the first Trader Joe’s Market, a custodial floor crew cleaner, a child-care worker, an administrative assistant, a customer service training supervisor, a church pastor and a church administration director. As much as I have enjoyed these jobs (and a few others I did not list) my true identity is not derived from any of them. My true identity is in Christ—no more, no less. I praise God that my identity is not in the things I’ve done, nor is it in the things that have been done to me. God gives me my identity in him and that is a gift of free grace. I am his, body and soul.
Tragically, some people find their identity in victimhood. Most of us have been victims, some much more tragically than others. I would never want to minimize or trivialize anyone’s pain and suffering resulting from being victimized, but equally tragic is becoming so defined by a past event that it is as if a stake was driven deep into the ground connected to a chain, that then is fastened around their neck so they can never move beyond the perimeter of that past event.
We embrace our true identity
Though we will experience suffering in this life—sometimes at another person’s hand—the gracious Lordship of Jesus means we can live with confident hope knowing that no past event can determine the future God has for us, no matter how horrific that event was. The power of God’s redemption through the crucifixion of Christ demonstrates in no uncertain terms that God can overcome all evil and bring out of all suffering things of eternal value. Our true identity thus comes from the future that God, in Christ, holds out to us. Nothing can rob us of that goodness and glory!
An understanding of and confidence in our true identity in Christ changes how we live here and now, looking forward with hope to our eternal future. This perspective even helps us gain a new perspective on our past suffering. That doesn’t mean we minimize it, nor does it mean we look on it with joy. However we are no longer victimized by it—it no longer defines our identity. We know that God redeems all things in Christ, and that includes the evil from which we have suffered and even the evil we have committed that led to the suffering of others. Indeed, we have hope in the redeeming power of God to put all things right.
We know nothing can take it away
While a prolonged illness or a seemingly irreconcilable difference with loved ones may oppress us and deprive us of many good things, they cannot change who we are in Christ. Nothing can take away our inheritance as his beloved children. The actions or words of others may rob us of something we have worked for such as a higher grade or a job promotion, but again, no one can take away what God has in store for us for eternity. When our identity is in Christ, we know that we can and will identify with Jesus in every facet of his earthly life, and that includes his sufferings.
The important dynamic here is that just as Jesus’ sufferings were not wasted nor a hopeless event, neither are ours. God can use our joys and our sufferings as a part of our sanctification. Just as we suffer with him for a while, so we will be glorified with him. Our hope is just as the apostle Paul taught in the book of Romans:
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:16-17 ESV)
We cannot experience the good that comes from suffering if we stand apart from Christ, refusing to entrust to him all our sufferings. But when we entrust all we are and have to Christ, God uses our suffering to help us gain an eternal hope, with Jesus Christ, the Crucified, as the Redeemer of all things. C.S. Lewis put it this way: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
And so we live into our true identity
Realizing that our true identity is in Christ, we seek to have God’s glory shine through all aspects of our life. We no longer seek to conform to the culture of this world, which, among other things, fallaciously tells us that we can separate our sex from gender, or even choose whatever race or ethnicity we’d personally prefer, regardless of our genetics. The apostle John gave this instruction:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions is not from the Father but it is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)
The stark reality is that if we are not seeking to find our identity solely in Christ, then we are seeking it in something else. As the Holy Spirit helps us grow in understanding that our true identity is in Christ, we are freed to enjoy and glorify him in the unique ways he created us to be. In Christ we are righteous, made holy and totally loved. In him we are enabled to bring glory to God, not by our own doing, but through his gifts and blessings.
Though our identity tends to be shaped by many factors (see the diagram above), our conversion deepens as we abandon any images of ourselves that are not from God. Instead, we embrace what God says about us, knowing that he is pleased with how he defined and created us, body and soul. The heart of receiving our sanctification is to live in trusting fellowship with Christ, holding to what the apostle Paul explained in saying that God has “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22). I praise God that he makes clear to us that our identity is not determined by what we do, what we possess, or by the opinions others hold of us. Instead, our identity is defined by God, by who we are in gracious relationship to him.
Celebrating our true identity in Christ,
PS: Please join me in praying for all those devastated by Hurricane Maria and the earthquakes in Mexico. We are grateful that, according to initial reports from the Caribbean Region and Mexico, our members were spared loss of life and serious injury. Details about property damage are sketchy—we’ll let you know more as details come in. In the meantime, you can click here to watch a video showing damage to the island of Dominica. Our members Cris and Mary Vidal live there, right next to Castle Comfort shown in the video. Thankfully, though their roof was damaged, it did not blow away. If you’d like to help GCI members who will need financial assistance due to disasters like the recent ones, congregations can donate to the GCI Disaster Relief Fund (for information, click here).
Prayer is requested for David Weber, pastor of GCI’s congregation in Wheatland, Wyoming. The retinas in both of David’s eyes became detached. The one least severely detached was repaired earlier this week with a laser procedure. The more severely detached one will be repaired later this week in surgery. David will then have to lie face-down for a week as he recovers. Please pray for a successful and rapid recovery—in addition to pastoring a church, David works full-time leading his construction company, and takes care of the family farm.
Cards may be sent to: David Weber
679 Deer Creek Rd
Wheatland, WY 82201-8817
Rosh Hashanah begins this week at sundown, September 20. A festival with multiple meanings, the Jews celebrate it as New Year’s (Rosh Hashanah means “head [beginning] of the year”). It also commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve. According to Jewish tradition, when God “blew” the soul into Adam, the sound made was like the blowing of the trumpet-like shofar, which in ancient Israel announced this festival (Leviticus 23:23-24). Rosh Hashanah is also considered the anniversary of the creation of the universe, which means that it commemorates the beginning of time.
While reading about time, I was reminded that it too has multiple meanings. One is that time is an asset, shared equally by billionaires and beggars. We all have 86,400 seconds each day, and since we can’t bank them (time can neither be overdrawn nor retrieved) the question for us is this: How will we spend the time we have?
The value of time
Understanding the value of time, Paul, in Eph. 5:16 (KJV), exhorted Christians to be “redeeming the time.” Before I unpack his meaning, let me share a poem about time’s great value:
Realize (author unknown) To realize the value of one year, ask a student who has failed an exam. To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who missed the train, bus or plane. To realize the value of one second, ask a person who has survived an accident. To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics. Time waits for no one. Treasure every moment you have. You will treasure it even more when you can share it with someone special.
How is time redeemed?
This poem makes a point about time similar to the one Paul makes in Ephesians 5. In the Greek New Testament, there are two words that we translate as redeem. One is agorazo, which refers to buying something in the agora—the normal marketplace. The other is exagorazo, which refers to buying something elsewhere. Paul uses exagorazo in Eph. 5:15-16 (NIV) to exhort us to, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” I enjoy the King James translation, which speaks of “redeeming the time.” It seems that Paul is urging us to redeem the time outside the normal market exchange.
While we don’t use the word redeem much today, it used to be a common business term, literally meaning “to buy up or buy back.” If a person could not pay a debt, they could make arrangements to become servant to the person they owed until the debt was paid. Their servitude could also be ended if someone would pay the debt on their behalf. Debtors who were bought out of servitude this way were said to have been “redeemed.” (We think here of how Jesus redeemed us, but that’s another topic.)
Property could also be redeemed—just like we see in pawnshops today. On one hand, you could say Paul is telling us to buy—redeem—the time. On the other hand, since the context of Paul’s instruction is to be followers of God, we can also say Paul is seeking to focus our attention on the One who has redeemed the time for us. His point is that we don’t have time to waste by focusing on anything other than Jesus and the work he has invited us to share in.
“Redeeming” is exagorazō (ἐξαγοραζω), “to buy up.” In the middle voice as it is used here, it means, “to buy up for one’s self or one’s advantage.” Metaphorically, it means, “to make a wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good,” so that zeal and well-doing are as it were the purchase-money by which we make the time our own” (Thayer). “Time” is not chronos (χρονος), “time as such,” but kairos (καιρος), “time as regarded in its strategic, epoch-making, seasonable, opportune seasons.” The idea is not to make best use of time as such, which is what we should do in the sense of not wasting it, but of taking advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
Because time is not normally viewed as a commodity that can literally be redeemed, we understand Paul to be speaking metaphorically, saying, in essence, that we are to make the best use of the situation we are in. When we do that, our time will have far greater meaning, significance and thus “payoff.”
It’s God’s gift
As a part of God’s creation, time is God’s gift to us. Some have more of it, and some less. Due to medical advances, good genetics and God’s blessing, many of us will live into our 90s and a few past 100. Recently we heard of the death of a 146-year-old man in Indonesia! But no matter how much time God gives us, as I mentioned in my August 30th letter, Jesus is Lord of time. Through the Incarnation, the eternal Son of God came from eternity into time. Thus Jesus experiences created time differently than we do. Our time, being created, is limited in duration, while God’s time, being uncreated, is unlimited. God’s time is not sequenced, as is ours, into past, present and future. God’s time is also of a different quality—a kind of time we cannot fully grasp. What we can (and should) do, is live in our time, secure in the hope of joining our Creator and Redeemer in his time, which is eternity.
Don’t misuse or waste it
When we speak metaphorically of time, saying things like, “don’t waste time,” we are implying that in some way we can lose the correct use of our precious time. This happens when we allow someone or something to make us use time in ways or for purposes we don’t value. It’s in this metaphorical sense that Paul speaks of “redeeming the time.” He is exhorting us to not misuse or waste time in ways that fail to contribute to what is valuable to God and thus valuable to us as Christians.
In that vein, when we refer to “redeeming the time,” we must remember that our time is redeemed or recovered first by God’s forgiveness through Christ. It then continues to be redeemed as we properly use our time to contribute to a growing relationship with God and each other. That redemption of time is God’s gift to us. When Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 5:15 (KJV) to “walk circumspectly not as unwise but as wise,” he is telling us to buy up the opportunities that time affords us in order to honor God.
On mission “between the times”
God has given us time to walk in his light, co-ministering in the Spirit, with Jesus, in advancing God’s mission. To do so, we have been given the “time between the times” of Christ’s first and second advents. Our mission in that time is to assist others in seeking and knowing God—helping them live by faith and love, secure in the hope that, in the end, God will have completely redeemed all creation, time included.
My prayer for us in GCI is that we will be redeeming the time that God has given us by faithfully living and sharing the gospel of God’s redemption in Christ.
Thankful for God’s gifts of time and eternity,
PS: At the time this is being posted, we await final word concerning our members in the Caribbean (impacted by Hurricane Maria) and Mexico (impacted by the recent earthquake). Initial reports from our pastors in Mexico City and Tlaxcala (areas impacted by the earthquake) is that our members, perhaps with a few exceptions, are OK. Please join me in praying for all who are in harm’s way as the hurricane continues, and as earthquake aftershocks occur. We will let you know of any financial needs that arise that we can assist with through the GCI Disaster Relief Fund.
We have learned that GCI pastor Richard Frankel recently suffered a minor stroke and spent one night in the hospital. Though his speech is slighlty slurred, the doctors feel it will return to normal within the next week or so. Thanks for praying for his complete and rapid recovery.
Cards may be sent to:
Richard and Joyce Frankel 6905 67th Street Unit 214 Kenosha WI 53142