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“Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” John 19:40 NKJV
This poignant account from John’s Gospel of Jesus is beautiful in its simplicity.
Johnny Cash famously sang an old spiritual: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” One of the lines is, “Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?” Imagine. Let’s go back to that moment. What if you or I had to take care of the dead body of a loved one? What if it were battered and bloodied? Where would you start?
How did Joseph and Nicodemus feel as they took Jesus’ body down? Did the centurion, who had witnessed the crucifixion, help them? Was the cross lowered first, and then, gently, with tears in their eyes, did they extract the nails from the flesh and pry the crown of thorns from his head? What next? Did they take some clean cloth, to wash away the blood and dirt from his body, and, with tenderness, pat it dry in preparation for the first embalming? Was this followed by wrapping the strips of linen, infused with sweet-smelling, preserving spices, around his lifeless body before laying Jesus respectfully in the tomb?
How did the women react as they watched on? What emotions gripped them as they followed the men carrying him to the tomb, and watched as the stone closed its entrance? The song continues, “Ohh, sometimes it causes me to tremble…tremble.”
In a sense, we were there.
The Jesus story goes from sadness to elation, from sorrow to joy, from weeping to singing, because, you remember what happens…three days later the stone is rolled away! Well, were you there when the stone was rolled away? Johnny Cash goes on to sing. We all – each of us, everyone who has ever lived and who will live in the future – participate in all that Jesus is and in the key events of his ministry.
Jesus’ story becomes our story. Jesus is no longer nailed to that cross or dead in the grave. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4 NIV).
Thank you, Father, for your son, Jesus, who died for us and was raised from the dead for us that we might live a new life in him. In Jesus’ name.
Study by James Henderson
Superintendent of Europe
Note from the Editor:
Although we are a few days past our Resurrection Sunday celebration, I chose to include this devotional in this issue of GCI Update because I believe now, maybe more so than we have ever felt collectively, we can relate to this story. In the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic the world watches in stunned horror. We are all affected. Families are kept from their dying loved ones. We feel the collective pain, and we watch, and we mourn together, waiting for the joy after the sorrow.
This season, not only are we beginning our transition from Easter toward Ordinary Time, but we have also transitioned from our usual daily routines into a time of social-distancing and connecting with each other from afar. In this dually transitional time, how are we the church living a new life in this season and hoping for the time when our joy is fulfilled, and we can be reunited with our loved ones?
Wishing you every blessing,
Dear GCI Family and Friends,
Holy Week and Easter Sunday have come and gone. I trust your online services from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to Easter morning were uplifting and shared with friends and family beyond our normal GCI membership. It is quite an ironic blessing to be under the “Stay at Home” orders and still be able to bolster our engagement with people outside the walls of our normal church meetings. Our amazing Triune God works in mysterious ways and he is so good to include us.
He is risen! We have celebrated. Now what?
Allow me to pick up with the New Testament passage from the postcard I sent to encourage our pastors last week:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures… (I Corinthians 15:3-4 NRSVA)
So here is the “Now what?”
…and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (1 Corinthians 15:5-11 NRSVA)
For the 40 days from Easter Sunday until his ascension, the resurrected Jesus came and went with some regularity, interacting with individuals, small groups of people, and even a crowd as large as 500 people. He did marvelous works, including restoring Peter and helping “Doubting Thomas” to see and touch his scars, which was underscored by Thomas worshipping and proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” The crescendo of Christ’s appearances was the giving of the Great Commission, in which he told the original disciples—and hence all followers for all ages—to go into the world with his guiding presence, to share the good news, teaching all things about him, and then to baptize through the name of Father, Son and Spirit.
Paul documents the risen Lord and several key aspects of his involvement over this 40-day period until Jesus ascended to return to the Father. Paul also extends beyond the 40 days to show how Jesus came to him. (Do you recall the “Road to Damascus” experience?) And by the grace of God, Jesus is still coming to humanity—and the “acts” of the church continue.
The “Now what?” for GCI is asking the question, how do we maintain relationship with those he is drawing to himself in March and April 2020 in the middle of a historic pandemic? It is great for us to be encouraged by seeing swelled numbers of viewers in our online services, but what about follow-up? What ways and means are we deepening relationships with these viewers? What practical ways are we extending the love of Jesus? Are we providing means for them to connect with the local congregation? Are we thinking of follow-up after the pandemic has passed? Are we planning ahead for ways to connect with those in our neighborhoods? Do we provide a link to a Facebook page, an invitation to write a message, a means for them to reach out and connect or to be prayed for? We want to use wisdom and discernment in the ways we connect, instead of posting our private phone numbers —perhaps we can reach out through private groups and messaging applications. There are many safe, useful platforms.
The Lord is providing opportunities during the stay-in-place and social-distancing orders we might not have considered. We have included several examples of what GCI congregations are doing. In addition, our Media Team recently started a special Facebook group called the “GCI Creative Community.” This is a great place to share your best ideas and then single-out ideas from others that can also benefit your circumstance.
The Hope Avenue of our GCI ministry has been reworked in a major way with our demand for online services. And now the Love Avenue is being challenged and molded into its emerging form as well.
May the risen Lord have his way with the church!
Grace Communion Cleveland (GCCLE) is pleased to announce the commissioning of our new ministry youth leader, Sarah Bowland. We would like to thank Renee Overton for her years of service as she will be moving into a new ministry position.
We are rejoicing together as the Lord creates new pathways in ministry for our leaders in GCCLE. Congratulations!
Grace Communion Cleveland
After three years since the last reunion, GCI Singles from all over the Philippines converged again for the Singles Conference 2020, this time in the beautiful Anda de Boracay, Anda, Bohol. The resort views a long stretch of shoreline with fine white sand comparable to the powdered sands of Boracay Island. Far from the crowded tourists, Anda is located two hours away from Tagbilaran City and an hour away from the famous Chocolate Hills. Forty-three men and women came from the different parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to enjoy the three-day conference that was hosted by a team of organizers led by Sarah Bahinting.
This year’s was theme “Set Apart,” the event focused on the singles’ identities as the Father’s beloved in Jesus Christ and individuals called into communion with him and for his purpose based on Deuteronomy 14:2. The guest speakers were Steve and Jan Hobson -missionaries and professors of IGSL (International Graduate School of Leadership) and our very own GCI Pastor Rex Dela Peña.
The conference kicked-off with praise and worship followed by some fun icebreaker games which were facilitated by Pastor Andrew Rota of GCI Mactan. The singles then were asked to creatively portray how singleness is perceived and treated in their family, church and community in the evening of the first day. This activity was a prelude for serious topics discussed the following days, which were given by the competent guest speakers.
The Hobsons discussed different views concerning marriage and family. They contrasted the different narratives from modern culture, the old covenant and the contemporary church with the new covenant narrative, which reflects the overarching view of the storyline of the Bible towards singleness. They also discussed the myths of singleness in society today. As a fitting conclusion, the speakers pointed out that as Christians who love God, he must be the main goal or focus of everything. He is the ultimate reward and nothing else. The wonderful couple also offered to give a special one-on-one time for counseling for those singles in need.
In the third session of the conference, Pastor Rex de la Peña spoke about biblical stewardship as part of a broader call to loving God and fulfilling his purpose. Furthermore, he imparted a holistic view of stewardship which includes everything – one’s own life, time, relationships, the workplace and finances, and stewardship of the gospel. He also encouraged the participants to know their spiritual giftings to help in building the church up and fulfilling God’s mission.
Participants had the chance to relax and have a fun time as they all dressed up for a Havana-themed mingle event on the last night. They took delight in the live music floating in the air as they danced with their friends and participated in amusing games. Some of them also got to show their talents as they performed with the band.
To cap the conference, a Question and Answer forum was held followed by a Communion, which pictures the beautiful union between Christ and His Bride — the Church.
Overall, the conference was an eye-opening opportunity for many. The environment gave the participants hope, confidence, and a deeper meaning and view of singleness.
You may have heard about the tornado that passed through Nashville in the middle of the night. I spoke with Pastor Linda Rex and she was awakened by her son and the sound of a tornado siren in the 3 am hour this morning. Her family is OK and she has contacted almost all the affected members and everyone seems to be fine – thank you, Lord! The tornado came within one block of a GCI member and near the church building itself, but there’s no damage. There are two reported casualties in the city of Nashville, over 100 wounded and many buildings destroyed.
Be in prayer for those who have experienced death and loss in the city and that our GCI congregation can be a place of hope for those who are suffering.
The following article was originally published on the GCI Philippines website. Click here to view the original article.
The weather was perfect last Saturday, February 29, for an outreach to the Taal Volcano refugees camped at an elementary school in Barangay Aya, Talisay, Batangas. Several teachers and staff from the Ambassador School for Children (ASC) led by Teacher Adora Barnachea joined our team from Grace Communion Calamba to bring joy and some necessities to around 285 refugees from the Taal Volcano Island who were displaced by the eruption.
Upon arrival at 11:00 a.m., the teachers were assigned a room to conduct a “children’s chapel.” At around 11:30 a.m., more than 20 kids came pouring into the room after they were dismissed from their regular classes. They were treated to fun and educational lessons including prayer, Bible stories and games. School supplies and snacks were also given and much appreciated by these kids whose education was disrupted by the eruption.
Meanwhile, the rest of us set up tables near the tents and ministered to the adults and very young children who were not of school age yet. Teacher Adora’s daughter and her friend, who are both medical students, took the vital signs of some of the adults, while some of our Grace Communion Calamba members conversed and prayed for the needs of a number of evacuees. Relief goods consisting of diapers, underwear, blankets and even more school supplies were also distributed, including a mattress for a senior citizen.
Before 2:00 p.m., it was time to say goodbye to the people that we have come to know and love, having visited them several times this February. We gathered to say a short prayer and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done on this day. I saw grateful hearts not only from the recipients but also from the donors and care-givers who were able to share a part of themselves that day.
Pastor Reuel Avila
District Director for North Calabarzon
On February 16, Love at the Cross (Washougal, WA) held the annual Black History Celebration. This year’s event focused on unity by emphasizing what unites us, from globally impacting contributions by black inventors to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Charles Coleman treated the audience to an unforgettable, dramatic and flawless rendition of the famous speech. Four young men from the Lewis and Clark Young Marines Color Guard and one from the Riverside Pathfinders presented flags, including the Freedom Flag, while Tamara Corpin sang the National Anthem.
Matron of Ceremonies, Lonnie White led the children’s/youth ministry in reading Black American historical tidbits. Pastor Annette Nettles and the Riverside Seventh-Day Adventist Church Pastor Merrill Caviness both prayed and offered spiritual reflections on our history of mistreating differences and our united goal to emphasize showing one another God’s love.
Many singers and musicians offered their talents for the event. Special thanks to Paul Willis, who among other songs, blew us all away with “A Change is Gonna Come,” sisters Tamara Corpin and Melissa Courser, Janie Whitlock, Velma Andrews, Janet Coleman, as well as Greg Scribner and Jessica Timmons. Several people also lent their talents behind the scenes on sound, camera, video mixing, and stage direction, including Denny Nutter, Myles Bourland, Lisa Nettles, Roy Timmons, and Alonzo White.
Also in attendance were the Mayor of Washougal, Molly Coston, and the local Chief of Police, Wendi Steinbronn. The 1890s Buffalo Soldiers of the West brought an array of artifacts and imagery from the late 20th century all the way to today. They dressed the part and generously gave their time to impart their deep knowledge to everyone who visited their table.
The big finale was the complementary soul food feast. The food was plentiful, including fried chicken, ribs, potato salads, fresh fruit, green salad, stews, and rolls. The desserts were almost as plentiful and varied as the main feast, with multiple cakes, pies, and cobblers.
The 2021 event is already scheduled for Feb. 21, and the Facebook Save the Date is posted. All are welcome!
Gina Staros and Pastor Annette Nettles
Gary and Cathy Deddo will facilitate a study of the Gospel of Mark before the Denominational Celebration. In this seminar, we’ll spend our time studying together seven passages from the Gospel of Mark. We’ll get to know Jesus more deeply and personally so that our faith, hope, and love for him will be nourished. We’ll learn how to more carefully hear the Lord speak to us in his Word and grow in our relationship with him. We’ll also take some time to pray together and have fellowship around a couple of meals.
- Cost – $85 per student
- Registration includes class materials, breakout snacks, and lunch (Monday and Tuesday)
- Classes will be held July 26 – 28, at the GCI Home Office – 3120 Whitehall Park Drive, Charlotte, NC
Register today, and we’ll learn how to have fellowship together in God’s Word so that Bible study feeds and guides our life together as members of his Body, the church. And for those who are interested, we’ll learn a little about leading small group Bible studies that build up the disciples of Jesus. As members of his Body, we’ll be better prepared to be disciples, living and sharing the gospel.