Our amazing God

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach

God challenged Abraham: “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them” (Gen. 15:5). Abraham couldn’t, and neither can we—only God knows the number, though astronomers estimate there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe, with about 100 billion stars added annually. God’s challenge to Abraham points out the limitations we have as humans in contrast with God’s omniscience. In this letter we’ll look at three additional characteristics of our amazing God: his uniqueness, his self-existence and his incorporeality.

God’s uniqueness

Maimonides (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The truth that God is unique is the bedrock of both Christianity and Judaism. Renowned Jewish rabbi Maimonides wrote that God is “perfect in every possible way… the ultimate cause of all existence.” Though a piece of candy can be said to be unique, there are many candies to delight our palates. I have a unique painting in my office, yet there are many unique paintings. Each fingerprint and snowflake is, in a sense, unique, yet they are in the same class with many others. Moreover, they are created. In contrast, God, who is uncreated, is in a class all his own—there are no other eternal, uncreated things. All that exists other than God is created or is the product of creation. God, alone, is truly unique, one-of-a-kind. Understanding that truth exposes as heresy the idea that our destiny as humans is to become God.

God’s self-existence

God is self-existent. He cannot create another God because the second would be dependent for its existence on the first, creator God. Understanding God’s self-existence exposes another heresy—the idea that there are two separate “God beings.” That belief is called ditheism (two Gods). But the Bible declares in no uncertain terms that there is one and only one God—a self-existent being. Therefore, God says in the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3).

God’s incorporeality

God is incorporeal in that he is not a creature—he is not limited to bodily existence. Therefore, God is not comparable to anything that has physical or empirical existence. Yes, it is true that the Bible has hundreds of descriptions of God as having corporeal characteristics. However, all of them are metaphorical descriptions, and are not to be taken literally. God is not literally a rock, a mother hen, or a door. God is spirit, and in talking about God, the Bible often uses anthropomorphisms—descriptors borrowed from human experience such as walking, standing, sitting and speaking. Such descriptors, when used concerning God, are intended to help us understand something of God’s character and nature—they are metaphors that convey who God is and what his will is in ways we can grasp. As the Jewish Midrash explains, “The Torah speaks the language of man” (Sifre 112). Calvin addressed this by noting that God “accommodates” himself to us—he speaks to us as a mother might coo towards her newborn infant.

Beware faulty reasoning

Athanasius (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In attempting to define God, some people (even some Christians) mistakenly begin with themselves and then compare God to what they know about themselves. Through this wrong-headed attempt to fit God into their own frame of reference, they distort the biblical view of God, turning God into an idol that is congenial to their own liking. Fourth-century theologian Athanasius saw this problem in the teachings of Arius, recognizing that Arius was thinking out of a center in himself—seeing God in terms that apply to creatures, not God. According to Athanasius, Arius was teaching mythology, not proper theology. In doing so, he was rationalizing away God’s true glory.

In our day, some teachers are doing the same thing in teaching various heresies about God including the claim that God is a family. That false teaching is a form of polytheism—a pagan doctrine found in the pantheon of gods worshiped by the Akkadians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and found in the ancestor worship of the Far East.

Other misperceptions concerning the true nature of God are prevalent in our day. Two that are growing in popularity are open theism and process theology. Both limit God’s foreknowledge and omniscience, and process theology denies God’s omnipotence and the biblical teaching of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Process theology also affirms classical panentheism—the idea that God and the world are mutually interdependent. These and other theological errors arise out of thinking about God as if he is a creature. As forms of mythology, these teachings are idolatrous.

Conclusion

God not only created all the stars, as the psalmist says, he “gives names to all of them…. His understanding is infinite” (Ps. 147:4-5 NASB). Because our human understanding is limited, we are subject to error. As Albert Einstein said, we humans have “been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is.” Yet, despite our human limitations, God, in his love and mercy, will not let us remain blinded by heretical teachings concerning who he is. In his time, he reveals himself to us in accordance with his self-revelation in Jesus Christ, who alone knows and has seen the Father (Matt. 11:27).

Thankful that God in his freedom has chosen to reveal himself to us,
Joseph Tkach

PS: Because GCI Equipper will be published on March 7, the next issue of GCI Update will be published on March 14.

Meet pastoral resident David Borum

We are pleased to introduce you to David Borum (pictured below), one of our newest GCI-USA pastoral residents. David is serving the Eugene, Oregon, congregation under the supervision of Lead Pastor Tim Sitterley. Here is a short bio from David:

I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, where I currently reside. I have been a member of Grace Communion Eugene for six years. I was raised attending a Disciples of Christ church, where my grandfather was an influential minister in that denomination. My early years were spent in youth sports, playing the guitar and saxophone, and camping with my family.

Right out of high school, I attended a discipleship training course through Youth With A Mission (YWAM). I would later spend nearly three years on staff with them in Baguio City, Philippines. My ministry involvement included jail ministry, preaching, leading worship, youth ministry and playing in a band doing evangelistic concerts and crusades. After that, I went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Missiology from Northwest University of the Assemblies of God in Kirkland, Washington.

Over the past 25 years, I have been involved in lay ministries through various churches. Some of those ministry activities included preaching, worship, youth ministry, evangelism and leading home groups. In my downtime, I enjoy watching sports, reading, watching movies, hiking, visiting the Oregon coast and traveling to various wineries.

I am excited to have this opportunity to join GCI as a pastoral resident. I am confident that this will give me the knowledge and experience needed to become a well-equipped and effective full-time pastor through Grace Communion International.

Pedro Rufián

We have requested prayer for Pedro Rufián, GCI pastor in Spain who is battling prostate cancer. Here is an update from Pedro:

Thank you for your love, concern, prayers, messages, get-well cards and phone calls. Thanks also to God that my first chemotherapy session is nearly over and the side-effects (vomiting, pain, etc.) have not been an issue. Every day I have been able to work in my home basement office, perhaps with a little less strength, but it has been bearable.

The second chemo session is set for March 8. After the third session, my oncology team will evaluate the results and determine the rest of my treatment. On March 11, James Henderson will visit and anoint me. His visit will be most welcome and appreciated!

We are indeed a worldwide family, united by the Holy Spirit. It is reassuring and encouraging to know that many brothers and sisters around the world are praying for me and my family. We continue to trust our loving Father as our Healer, and in his perfect will for our lives. We have peace and confidence, knowing he is always with us. I will continue to appreciate your prayers for my family and for me, and also for the success of my cancer treatments.

Cards may be sent to Pedro and his wife Brigida at:

Mr and Mrs. Pedro Rufián
Real 26
E-28610 VILLAMANTA
SPAIN

Reaching back

New Life Christian Fellowship, GCI’s congregation in Surrey (Vancouver) Canada, recently held a special worship service and fellowship event to which they invited anyone who had ever been associated with the congregation. Over 100 attended, with about half being guests.

The special guest speaker for the service was Ryan Walter (pictured below), a committed Christian and professional hockey player who played four years with the Washington Capitals, nine with the Montreal Canadiens, and two with his hometown Vancouver Canucks. Ryan was part of the 1986 Canadiens team when they won the Stanley Cup. Ryan presented an interesting and scripturally sound message about the importance of building an effective congregational team, drawing lessons he learned as a Christian hockey player. He trusted the audience enough to pass around his diamond encrusted Stanley Cup ring.

Reaching out

Here are reports on the community outreach ministries in two GCI-USA congregations.

Federal Way, Washington

New Hope Christian Fellowship, GCI’s congregation in Federal Way, WA, has been involved for several years in outreach to the community through serving the homeless. This ministry has given the congregation significant visibility in Federal Way, as evidenced by a recent article in The Federal Way Mirror (click here to read). As noted by GCI member Rick Miller,

though we have not sought this exposure, the city views us as the “gold-standard” in sheltering and serving the homeless. This is the work we have found God providing for—it is the heart of our small congregation. We have an abundance of resources for this work.

Meeting of Federal Way’s homeless mothers and children initiative (Rick Miller is at right)

Pikeville, Kentucky

As reported by a local TV station (click here for the report) Grace Fellowship Church, GCI’s congregation in Pikeville, Kentucky, recently held their annual community dinner. As the TV report mentioned, “Hundreds came through the doors to eat a warm meal and be surrounded by friendly company.” The report then quoted Debby Bailey, the congregation’s pastor:

What is heartwarming to me is that we are able to build a rapport with people—it’s not just coming in and providing food, but actually getting to know each other and know their names and catch up and say hello, and it’s more relational as well. By ourselves, we would be limited with what we can do, but when we have support from the city of Pikeville and others it takes what little we have and expands it and we are able to do so much more.

The city of Pikeville recently gave the congregation a $3,600 grant to help them continue their ministry to the community.

Ordinations

We are pleased to announce the recent ordination of three new GCI elders:

  • Arnold Crisologo, Jr.: Jasaan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines
  • Ranulfo Suan: Lapu Lapu, Philippines
  • Fitzroy Martin: London and Sarnia Canada (see report below)

Fitzroy Martin’s ordination

GCI-Canada leader Bill Hall joined with Lead Pastor Colin Lauchlan in ordaining Fitzroy Martin. Fitzroy (pictured with his wife, below) had been serving as a deacon for some time. As Pastor Colin moves into retirement, Fitzroy will pastor the congregations in London and Windsor, and the small group in Sarnia.

Joseph Tkach visits the Philippines

GCI President Joseph Tkach, accompanied by US Regional Pastors Rick Shallenberger and Tim Sitterley, recently visited the Philippines. The visit began with a training conference on February 16-17 in Tagaytay for 300 seasoned and emerging Filipino pastoral leaders (pictured below, click to enlarge). Along with inspiring worship, three ordinations, and a couple of special presentations, two workshops addressing the topics of healthy church and healthy leadership were conducted by Rick and Tim.

Following the Tagaytay conference, the group travelled to Manila for a worship service held at the Philippine International Convention Center on February 18. The service was attended by more than 1100 GCI members. One of the highlights was a worship song sung in eight Philippine dialects. President Joseph Tkach (pictured at right) gave the sermon titled “Here Comes the Judge,” addressing the profound love that God has for mankind. He also led the group in communion. Following the worship service, some of the Philippine members put on a show with presentations from several regions around the Philippines. According to Rick Shallenberger, “It was abundantly clear throughout the weekend that the Filipino members have a deep appreciation for President Tkach.”

Holy Week videos

Throughout Holy Week, we remember the events that led to Jesus’ horrific death on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the dead. Through the course of the week, we consider again his arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the weight of his crucifixion on Good Friday, and the joy of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. The GCI Media Department has produced three short videos to help us on that journey of remembrance. The videos are embedded below. To go to the Vimeo site where they can be downloaded, click on the small icon above each video. Below each video is a reading that should be shared with the congregation after each video is watched.

Read this following the Arrival video:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The crowds jubilantly welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday, as their hoped-for Redeemer. They anticipated the building of his kingdom prophesied in Ezekiel 17:23-24, “On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” As the crowd joyfully welcomed Jesus—laying palm branches and their hearts at the feet of Jesus—so we welcome him into our lives today. Jesus, we praise your name and welcome you as the Lord of our lives.

Read this following the Atonement video:

Christ sacrificed his life’s blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. God has great wisdom and understanding (Ephesians 1: 7-8). When Jesus died on the cross. He laid down his perfect life as an atonement for our imperfect lives. On the cross, God demonstrated his perfect justice and unending mercy. Taunted as he took humanity’s punishment on himself. Jesus asked his Father to forgive us. Because Jesus cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” we can cry out to God, “You have accepted me!” Because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, we have new life!


Note: If your congregation does not have a Good Friday service, consider inviting some friends and neighbors over for dinner on Good Friday evening. Show the film and read the message of forgiveness. Discuss these questions as a group:

  • What does forgiveness mean to you personally?
  • How has forgiveness changed your life?

Invite your neighbors and friends to attend your church’s Easter Sunday celebration with you!

Read this following the Resurrection video:

With the resurrection of Jesus we celebrate victory over sin and death, and the proof that Jesus is our Messiah. We celebrate the peace of Christ, and the joy of joining him in building his eternal Kingdom. Darkness has become light, and death has become life—Christ is risen! Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! Because of his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).

Solomon Islands visit

GCI-Australia pastoral leaders Randall Bourchier, Mary Bourchier and Phil Van Dijk recently visited GCI members in the Solomon Islands. Due to ill health, Henry Kuper, GCI’s coordinator for the Solomon Islands, has been unable to travel within the islands as he has done in the past. Randall, Mary and Phil visited Henry in his village on the island of Santa Ana, then traveled to the north-west corner of the Solomons, where they visited the church in the village of Qiloe on the island of Ranonnga (see map below, click to enlarge).

Santa Ana

Henry together with the small church in Santa Ana made the group feel welcome (see picture below). Conversations with Henry were helpful in exploring the immediate future God has in store for the relationship between the GCI-Australia church and the churches in the Solomon Islands. The group met for services with the Santa Ana congregation twice—sharing the gospel, prayer, communion and meals. One of the most moving times came at the end of the first service when Henry and his wife Elisabeth were honored for their years of devoted service to the church in the Solomon Islands. The group gave them a certificate of appreciation from the Australian church along with some small gifts.

Communication and travel is very difficult within the Solomon Islands. For example, a journey that would take an hour by plane may take anything between a couple of days to a week by ship. Sometimes shipping connections may involve a wait of days or weeks. Phone connections are sometimes unreliable and access to the Internet and email is available to very few.

Qiloe

The group then travelled to the village of Qiloe, where they were again warmly welcomed and cared for. They met three times with the GCI congregation there, sharing worship, meals and informal discussion. They also met with the church board. Since a visit a year earlier, there has been much progress. Newly ordained deacon, Tipa Andrew (pictured with his family below), has been instrumental in advancing a development plan for the village, including a new church building. It was thrilling to hear how God has led the church in Qiloe to seek partnerships involving local government, the neighboring village and GCI Australia.

Teaching in the Solomon Islands

The GCI leaders from Australia, in visiting the Solomon Islands over the last few years, have learned a lot about how to teach there. Some approaches work and some don’t. Originally they taught in English, being assured that the villagers would understand. That turned out not to be true, and so the teachers adopted a multipronged approach with an emphasis on the use of visual props. Now messages are delivered in simple, clear English, using as few words as possible. Those words are then translated into the local dialect by the best local English speakers available. The teachers engage the audience by sitting at floor level (see picture below), sometimes moving around displaying a picture or even creating a visual illustration. In a village culture where the men and women sit on either side of the hall for services, moving between the men and the women with the visual props creates an effective illustration of our one new humanity in Christ.

Messages during the visit centered on God’s big story with Christ as the center, our fruitful attachment to Christ as the Vine through the Spirit, and our life together as the church gathered in worship, in learning and in fellowship; and the church dispersed as each member extends God’s love to all as they go about their daily tasks.

Reflecting on the trip, Randall wrote this:

For Mary and myself, this trip was a time of emotional farewell to our brothers and sisters in the Solomon Islands. We’re thankful and privileged that God has made possible our visits during the past decade. We continue to be encouraged by what God is accomplishing in all our lives as we live responsively in fellowship with him, in Christ and through the Spirit! We’re also overjoyed that Phil has been able to be with us during the final two visits. We’ve enjoyed watching his God-given gifts blossom as God prepares him for future trips to visit GCI Solomon Islands. May God bless him and those who accompany him as he visits in December 2018.