Our mission and vision

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We have just concluded the first of our 2012 US regional conferences. GCI members and friends gathered in Ontario, CA for three days of worship, dialog and presentations. I always look forward to these conferences—they are wonderful opportunities to renew old friendships and make new ones. Several more conferences are scheduled around the nation this year. I urge you to attend if you can.

Sharing our mission and vision

At our conferences, I’m often asked to cast a vision for our denomination’s future in the way a CEO might cast a vision for a business. Though, for practical reasons, churches must embrace certain business practices, the Biblical model for leading the church is that of a shepherd or farmer rather than a business executive. This does not mean, of course, that we are called to sit back and do nothing. However, it explains why my approach is not to cast a vision but to gather a vision. Let me explain.

In the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul wrote: “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:3-5, The Message Bible).

This passage describes the sense of hope and expectancy that I feel as I receive reports concerning what our congregations around the world are experiencing in Christ’s service. We have moved from being a denomination where our congregations existed to support a work that emanated from a central headquarters, to a network of congregations that are working under the overall umbrella of the denomination. Now, each congregation seizes opportunities that God presents to them locally to advance the overall work of the church globally.

Ontario, CA regional conference audience (click to enlarge)

I have the privilege of telling the stories of many of these congregations in my presentation at the regional conferences. Like Paul who couldn’t “round up enough containers” to hold everything, I do not have enough time to tell all the stories about the marvelous things the Holy Spirit is doing through our congregations. From these reports, I gather a picture of what God is doing with and through us. And that collage, rather than grandiose ideas I might come up with, is what frames my vision for our future as a denomination.

With that in mind, let me now share with you some thoughts concerning our mission and vision that I shared at the first of our 2012 regional conferences.

What is our mission?

Grace Communion International is a people called together by God to share in the ministry that Jesus is doing through the Holy Spirit in our world. We are a communion of churches and denominational ministries with a shared mission, which is taking us toward the realization of a shared vision.

We are called to the same mission as all other followers of Jesus—it’s often referred to as The Great Commission. There are a number of ways to summarize this mission. We do so in our denominational motto: Living and Sharing the Gospel.

This motto, which appears in our denominational logo (see above), is not just a catchy slogan. It encapsulates our sense of calling to lock arms, sharing together in what Jesus is doing in our world, through the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the Father’s mission. We can expand this into a more complete mission statement: Grace Communion International is committed to living and sharing the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ.

We pursue this mission by:

  • Building healthy, Christ centered congregations that are sanctuaries of worship, friendship and nurturing pastoral care.
  • Providing sound biblical teaching through our congregations, media and personal outreach in ways that are relevant and meaningful to people of diverse backgrounds and ages.
  • Equipping people for Christian service so that the gospel can be known, understood and experienced.
  • Sharing in the work of the gospel with the broader Christian community, acknowledging that we can learn from one another and that Christ’s love goes beyond denominational boundaries.
  • Expressing the love of God to all through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The result of this mission focused work is lives transformed by the gospel, one person at a time. This is actually Jesus’ mission—and we are called to share in it with him. Through eyes of faith, we are able to see the transforming presence and activity of God that others are not yet seeing. It is not about us “taking God to people,” but rather helping people see the God who already is sharing his life and love with them. It’s not about helping people “find” Jesus, but of showing them the creative, life giving Savior who, through the Holy Spirit, is already present and at work in their lives.

What is our vision?

Our vision is a faith and hope-filled glimpse of what GCI will continue to become as we pursue our mission to live and share the gospel. We summarize our collective vision this way:

All kinds of churches for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.

Expanding it, we can say: Grace Communion International exists to help each congregation of Grace Communion International attain its God-given potential. Why this emphasis on local congregations? Because it is my belief that God’s primary instrument for realizing our collective vision is healthy local churches—here in the US and around the world. As I look ahead, I see us becoming more and more a growing, loving community of congregations that are dynamically living out God’s mission in a broken world, and that excites me!

Our core identity (who we are) is founded on our communion with the Father and Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit. And who we are drives what we do—our passionate participation in what God is doing in the world. In this way, our mission gives shape to our vision.

I look forward to sharing more about these things at future US regional conferences and on trips to other parts of the world. I hope to see you there!

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. For locations and other information of future US regional conferences, see our web site (www.gci.org/event/12/conferences). Also, be sure to note in this issue the article (linked above, left) telling about our new US military chaplain support ministry.

Prediction addiction

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I can relate to the cartoon above (used with permission). I am a moderate gadget person. I enjoy my smart phone and am slightly envious of my wife’s sleek flat screen television in her craft room. But I still hold on to the old-fashioned tube kind in my den.

Technology is changing the lives of even the most technologically challenged of us. If only we could make the same kind of progress with war, or poverty, or hunger and disease. Even developed nations seem to be in danger of economic collapse these days. Experts in international politics and finances disagree about the seriousness of the situation. Some see peace on the horizon and an economic recovery. Others warn us that things could get worse before they get better.

It is, then, not surprising that there are many people who think we are on the edge of disaster, and that the world is coming to an end.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in international finances or politics. I have no inside knowledge about what is going to happen. What I do know is that I have heard dire warnings of catastrophe “just around the corner” all my life. These warnings were not from experts, based on experience or a careful analysis of the situation. They were based on a wrong understanding of Bible prophecy. Doomsaying like this did serve to create a certain climate of urgency about “preaching the gospel as a witness before the end came.” At least, it did for a time. But in the long run, I see that it also created what I call a “prediction addiction.”

Here is what happens. You conclude from your study of prophecy and its chronological calculations that we are in the “end times,” and that a catastrophe of “biblical proportions” is going to befall us in “just a few short years” (they are always “short” years, it seems). You then “watch and pray,” anxiously (or perhaps eagerly), fitting the events and news of the day into your predetermined framework. You watch with growing anticipation as the evidence piles up.

The problem is that the pile of evidence starts to get very shaky, and the “short years” stretch into decades. Although the pattern of major world events may not fit neatly into your prophetic scenarios, you can still find enough catastrophes to stay in the game, while you hastily recalibrate your prophetic timetable.

Thankfully, as we in GCI have moved into the full embrace of grace, we have come to understand prophecy in a different light – the light of Jesus. It is his light and life that deliver us out of prediction addiction.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we look at the state of the world through rose-colored glasses.When we look at world history, we see a cycle of corruption, greed and egomania that has resulted in financial crises, starvation and war. History does have a way of repeating itself. One thing is consistent – we human beings do not know the way to peace. In spite of our progress in technology, far too many of the world’s citizens live in poverty, sickness and fear. Indeed, we need help of biblical proportions.

Most of the self-appointed prophets who so enthusiastically plot the end time do at least have one thing right. The solution is for Jesus to return and establish the kingdom of God, as he promised he would. But he did not say when, and he made it clear that it was a waste of time trying to figure it out.

Jesus’ prophetic word announced the mustard seed presence of the kingdom of God and the promise of it one day arriving in fullness when he himself would return. He opened up the way for us to accept his rulership in our lives now and, in effect, change sides. While remaining in what the Bible so accurately calls “this present, evil world,” we can by God’s grace, live our lives now in a way that represents the very kingdom of God. Although not now fully manifested and often hidden, our trust in the coming of our Lord’s kingdom means we are to be people of hope, not doom.

Our role is to show how anyone can have that life now, through a personal relationship with Jesus and his Father by the Holy Spirit—a life that God offers to everyone. Our part is to be living parables—those who embody signs of that coming kingdom. We are to speak and act in faith, and love and hope—at home, in our churches, at our jobs, in our nations.

So we don’t need to waste our time frantically trying to find meaning in the next cycle of world disruptions. Jesus said these would continue until he returns, whether that is one, or ten or a thousand years from now. It does not change what we can enjoy now in our relationship with Jesus. He has already secured our future. He holds out to us the hope of a new heaven and earth. He is the First One, the Protos, and the Last One, the Eschatos (Rev. 22:13). Jesus Christ, our Reconciler and Redeemer, is the Living Word of God and he will have the last word.

So I consider myself a recovering prediction addiction addict. I have stopped looking to world events to serve as my spiritual barometer and only look to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith.

In him,

Joseph Tkach

Real love

A Leadership cartoon by Lee D. Johnson.|Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today International. |Used by permission.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Unlike the man in the cartoon above, we don’t view love as an esoteric theological concept. For us, love is real and living, for as the Bible tells us, God is love (1 John 4:16).

How sad then that some preachers and teachers declare that God does not love everyone. They say that God created some people for the purpose of damning them for eternity. I find it astonishing that anyone could actually believe, let alone teach such a distorted and ugly picture of God. Such a view cannot be true for multiple reasons:

  • It portrays God as working within a mechanistic system that in effect robs God of any freedom to love.
  • It renders Scripture incoherent since all humanity is called to repent, yet some cannot since God (supposedly) has already assigned some to damnation.
  • It presents God as capricious, arbitrarily choosing some and rejecting others of his own creation who bear his own image.
  • It divides God’s will between two opposite ends, since God purposes and wills to bring about both life and death for his good creation.
  • It makes God’s character incoherent and untrustworthy since God is equally predisposed to bless and damn his good creation.
  • But worst of all it creates a split in God’s very being so that the Son is the merciful Savior and Reconciler of the world while the Father is only concerned for a righteousness that is entirely satisfied with rewarding the good and punishing the evil. The Son does not, then, show us the Father, but is actually at odds with his mind, character, purpose and will.

Whichever way you look at it, to believe God predestined some people for condemnation is inconsistent with a God who says love is the very essence of his being.

Since God is a relational being living in perfect oneness as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he did not have to create us – or anything. He was not lonely or lacking anything. He created all that exists because he wanted to share his love, his light and life. Note what the apostle John says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-5).

So it is tragic when God is presented as a harsh, cosmic sheriff; or when Jesus is portrayed as the good cop, playing us against his bad cop Father. This dualistic viewpoint has Jesus running interference for us behind the back of His Father. It ignores the fact that God the Father sent Jesus to reveal God to us. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us that Jesus is the true Son of the Father and that God’s triune nature is one of pure, perfect, and to our limited minds, incomprehensible love.

Love is the nature of God’s being – that is, love is not something God has; it is what he is.

It is one of my passions for people to know of this life that we have in Christ. It is a joy to point out that the gospel is a message of good news from beginning to end.

Scripture describes the gospel in numerous ways. Here is how the word is most often used:

  • good news of Jesus Christ — 15 times
  • good news of God – 9 times
  • good news of the kingdom – 7 times
  • my gospel, our gospel – 6 times
  • the gospel of peace – 2 times
  • good news of God’s grace – 1 time
  • good news of the glory of Christ – 1 time
  • gospel of your salvation – 1 time

From infinity, God has reached down, touched the earth, and redeemed it with the blood of his only Son. Whether one believes in him or not, the life that we all have exists only in him. The more we acknowledge and live in that knowledge, the quality of our life is enhanced. It makes no difference whether we are wealthy or poor, healthy or ill. Any joy we experience is the echo of his life, love and light in our lives.

Our ultimate delight, through the Holy Spirit, is to come to know the divine love of Christ. The love that God has given his sons and daughters in Christ is not a philosophical contemplation, a scientific theory, or a theological treatise, but a living and binding love to be shared with one another and with our Lord.

Blessings from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. Last week we reported on GCI pastor Rick Shallenberger’s recent visit to Africa (see https://update.gci.org/2012/02/gci-zambia-report/). This week we continue that report with an update about his visit to Malawi (see https://update.gci.org/?p=8487). I’m grateful to Rick and others who assist me in keeping in contact with our churches in Africa. In some cases (as with Rick), these trips are financed by their home congregations. Thanks to all for their generosity in helping us spread the love of God around the globe.

Black History Month

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

February is Black History month in the USA, in which we acknowledge the contribution that African-Americans have made to this country (a similar celebration is held this month in Canada). For example, the recently released movie Red Tails tells a little known story of African-American aviators who were a part of “the Greatest Generation” and helped defeat the enemies of democratic freedom in the Second World War.

Some people in other parts of the world may wonder why America devotes a month to recognizing the achievements of just one segment of our population. However, the contribution of African-Americans to this nation has not always been acknowledged. In fact, for a long time it was quite the opposite.

Carter G. Woodson

We owe the celebration of Black History Month, and the study of black history, to Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Carter Woodson was born to parents who were former slaves. He spent his childhood working in the Kentucky coal mines and enrolled in high school at age 20. He later went on to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard. Dr. Woodson was disturbed to find that history books largely ignored the black American population. If they were acknowledged it was generally in ways that reflected their inferior social position. Woodson set out to set the record straight. His work influenced the young Martin Luther King.

Curtis May

The awful stain on our nation’s history that was slavery is now in our past, but the effects linger on. It is only in my lifetime that some of the most glaring injustices have been addressed. One of my close friends and colleagues, Curtis May, who is just a little older than I am, spent his early years in Alabama. He experienced the prejudice, humiliation and indignity of segregation. Curtis now heads up The Office of Reconciliation and Spiritual Mediation. This ministry (online at http://atimetoreconcile.org/) is steadily gaining respect and recognition as it seeks to promote forgiveness and understanding wherever there is need of reconciliation and healing.

When I consider this aspect of our past, it leaves me asking how we, a people who sing proudly about “The land of the free and the home of the brave,” and who pledge allegiance to a republic that promises “Liberty and Justice for all” could have allowed ourselves in the past to be so blind, so prejudiced and so stupid. Advocates of slavery and segregation even used the Bible to support their arguments. Could anything be more contrary to the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18)?

However, the problem of racism (and the related problem of ethnic prejudice) is not limited to one nation and is not just a black/white problem. Black History Month reminds us that people everywhere are capable of inhuman behavior. Remember Auschwitz, Kosovo, Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda, to name just a few atrocities in our time. These are signs of the fallenness of all humanity.

Christianity and racism are incompatible. We must work to not just overcome racism, personally, but eventually to obliterate it through our message and example of love and reconciliation. Our own denomination has had to grow in this. We owe a great debt to our pioneer African-American elders, like the late Harold Jackson and Stanley Bass, and also Abner Washington, Maceo Hampton, Leslie Schmedes and Franklin Guice who, though well up in years, continue to make substantial contributions to the life of our denomination. The patience, humility and courage of these men and their families, and many like them, have helped GCI grow in understanding of the evils of racism and ethnic prejudice. I am deeply grateful for the unique contribution my African-American brothers and sisters have made, and are making, to our denomination.

As Acts 17:26 reminds us, “from one blood [God] made the whole world of humanity” (Aramaic Bible translation). We are one people with a common need for forgiveness and salvation. Thank God that we have one Savior and, therefore, a common destiny. God values us all and Jesus paid the same price for each of us. That leaves no room for prejudice, segregation or discrimination of any kind.

So, as we are reminded this month of the significant contributions and the unique sufferings of our African-American neighbors, let me encourage you to take some time getting to know more of that history. Let us pray for the eradication of the lingering injustices still found in our nations. Let us thank God for the ministry of reconciliation our Lord Jesus has given us. And let us look for opportunities to extend that ministry in the power of the Spirit to those within our fellowship and beyond.

Love from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

The spirit of prophecy

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Richard Frankel, one of our pastors in the Chicago area, sent me this cartoon (reproduced here with permission). I just had to share it with you.

The cartoon highlights how some preachers distort the Gospel. The Gospel means Good News and good news is supposed to make you feel better, more hopeful, not make you want to curl up into the fetal position with fear!

Fear is, of course, a motivator. It is easy to manipulate scripture into an intimidating doomsday message, which will get attention and gain a following. However, when the prophecy fails, we rarely if ever, hear those preachers apologize for their false predictions. Most often we just hear justifications and excuses, as they try to maintain their authority by reigniting fear.

Remember Y2K? As the new millennium approached there were dire predictions that many older computers could not process the date change from 1999 to 2000. This, it was suggested, would lead to catastrophic failures, and a world crisis. Many leading preachers jumped on the bandwagon, warning that the computers crashing would signal the beginning of the tribulation. Some were even selling dehydrated food and water purifiers to be prepared, or encouraging folks to stockpile propane and withdraw cash from their banks.

A well-known televangelist told his viewers the Holy Spirit warned him about Y2K. Another described Y2K as “the biggest problem the modern world has ever faced.” He forecast a financial crisis that would bring the world economy into a state of meltdown the likes of which no living human has ever experienced. Yet another distributed a packet on “The Y2K Time Bomb,” including a video, “A Christian’s Guide to Y2K.”

When the fateful moment arrived very little happened. The worst report I recall was that 150 slot machines at racetracks in Delaware stopped working. In Australia, two bus ticket-validation machines stopped working. The worst damage occurred in Germany where 20 million bankcards became unusable. Some customers temporarily lost use of their email and their home pages disappeared. One US spy satellite had problems for a few hours. But the world as we know it kept going. The doomsayers were shown, once again, to be false prophets.

It isn’t just Christians who do this. Predictions about catastrophe happen in almost every religious tradition. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians all do it. The early Central American civilizations such as the Toltecs and Mayans, and Native American Indian cultures like the Hopi, Navajo, and Lakota Sioux all had tragic prophetic speculations.

The latest end-of-the-world obsession concerns the Mayan Calendar that ends a 144,000-day cycle this year on Dec. 21, the day of the winter solstice. The number 144,000 sounds biblical, so the doomsayers are once again out there warning us to expect something drastic to happen. Unfortunately there will be some who will be taken in by it. Fear, it seems, is never far away.

All this totally misses the point and the purpose of prophecy. As an angel explained to John in Revelation 19:10: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” And the testimony of Jesus is good news – of his salvation and forgiveness and eternal life. This means that the Gospel is itself the true prophetic word.

Does the Gospel, then, deny or overlook the “bad news” of our sin, the power of evil and its tragic consequences? No, it assumes it while never giving it center stage, never lending it the upper hand. Why not? Because Jesus himself is the first and the last Word. Through his life of obedience, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, once and for all, evil ultimately has been conquered, sin is forgiven, death itself has been overcome. New life is at hand.

Yes, hearing and receiving the Gospel calls for repentance—of our unbelief in the truth and reality of who Jesus is and what he has done. This repentance leads to faith, hope and love. So the prophetic testimony of Jesus should not leave us curled up in the fetal position. He says to us now in the midst of our need, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) and “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

May our focus always be Jesus and his gospel!

In his service,

Joseph Tkach

A cloak of invisibility?

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I read in the news recently how scientists have made some advancement in the technology that makes objects invisible. A “cloak of invisibility” has long been the stuff of science fiction. But now, it seems, researchers have demonstrated that they are able to engineer materials that redirect light waves around a three-dimensional object, making it invisible. They have also made similar breakthroughs with sound waves. More and more, it seems that yesterday’s fantasy is becoming today’s reality.

Sadly, although these inventions might have peaceful applications, technological breakthroughs are often made in the context of war and aggression. We humans have an insatiable appetite for weapons that are ever more sophisticated and for the assured means to protect ourselves against them. As Isaiah 59:8 tells us, the nations of this world do not know the way to peace. Weapons are a major item in world trade and the principal export of some economies. Some governments force their people to live in poverty, or even starvation, while they spend their resources on building improved armies.

By contrast, Jesus is the Prince of Peace and his kingdom’s “principal export” is to show the world the way to peace. As Jesus reassured Pontius Pilate, the kingdom of God did not pose a military threat. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said. “If it were, my servants would fight.”

Nevertheless, Jesus did not intend the establishment of his kingdom to be a covert operation. He said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The kingdom of God has no need for a “cloak of invisibility” that bends light so that it cannot be seen. On the contrary, we are called to a life of visibility – a life of reflecting the light of Jesus so that the world may see him in us.

However, sometimes I think that some of us could make good use of that other technology that suppresses sound waves. Sometimes the noise we make gets in the way of the light we are called to reflect. So much of Christian communication seems to be inspired primarily by John the Baptist, Elijah or the Old Testament prophets. A large part of their responsibility was to “cry aloud and show my people their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). Some Christians seem to regard their primary service as condemning the sins of others, being accusers and holding others in contempt.

But such a posture fails to even fully reflect the calling of these prophets much less those who know and live on this side of the finished work of Christ – who has inaugurated his kingdom of righteousness and peace with God and our neighbors. While the Gospel will always call for repentance, a turning away, our first word of witness should sound forth the grace, forgiveness and transforming power of our good and faithful God made available to us through the reconciling work of Christ. The mark of the Christian, then, is faith hope and love, because our God is for us in Jesus Christ in whom we put our trust.

In him,

Joseph Tkach

The challenges of communication

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As those called to be God’s fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9) and Christ’s ambassadors (1 Cor. 5:20), we are challenged to communicate to the world the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. Our communication occurs in many forms, including words and acts through which we present the truth of God’s love for all humanity. It is always a challenge to communicate clearly, and so we rely on the work of the Holy Spirit, even as we offer to him our best efforts.

As we know, the gospel can be obscured and misrepresented. Our goal is to communicate it clearly and simply, yet in ways that do not strip it of its great depth and richness. This is a challenge. Indeed, verbal and written communication is always challenging, particularly in a world where culture, and the languages that shape it, are rapidly morphing.

“Churchy” words and phrases that are familiar to us as evangelical Christians may be unintelligible to non-Christians and even to Christians in other traditions. This is humorously addressed in a Ministry Communicorps article titled “Churchy Clichés…and what they really mean.” Below are excerpts that I think you’ll find both humorous and enlightening.

Churchy Word or Phrase: Its Real Meaning

  • Relevant: Something you might enjoy that looks and sounds a lot like a popular TV series, ad campaign or pop culture icon
  • Authentic: In some aspects, as messed up as you are
  • Community: A group of people with little in common who all attend the same megachurch
  • Community Event: Food served in a cul-de-sac, with face painting for children
  • Revolution: Event or movement that most people will not like, but a few will really like a lot
  • Driven: Moving forward based on a book-inspired philosophy that has at least four or five key steps
  • Missional: Same as Driven except steps related in some way, shape or form to something Jesus did in the gospels
  • Focus: Something one or more church leaders believe is important enough to cancel other stuff in order to devote everyone’s full energy and resources to it
  • Emergent: We’re making this up as we go along
  • Connect: Meet
  • Network: Meet
  • Engage: Meet
  • Experience: See or Hear
  • Belong: Join
  • WWJD? (stands for What Would Jesus Do?): This issue is not addressed in John 3:16, which is the only Bible verse I know

(The full article is posted at www.communicorps.org/learning/articles/page_churchywords.htm.)

Of course, this list is tongue-in-cheek, and my goal in sharing it is not to make us overconcerned about certain terms. Rather my goal is to encourage us to think about how our words are being understood by the audience(s) we are communicating with.

We’ve been thinking a lot about words in recent years as we’ve come to understand more fully the stunning truth of the gospel in its Trinitarian, Christ centered theological context. This has caused us to develop new thought forms, that require new words to convey those thoughts. If you struggle with the words, I encourage you to be patient. And please realize that it is the thought forms (and what they represent) that is most important.

Trinitarian theology is more than adding Trinitarian sounding words to our vocabulary – it means rewiring our thinking (and out of that, an appropriate vocabulary flows). As we develop the vocabulary, let’s continue to make our communication of the gospel clear and simple and, above all, faithful to whom God is and what he has done (and is doing) for us all in Christ.

Sharing the communication of the gospel with you,

Joseph Tkach

The presence and power of Jesus

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Every part of life is enriched by the presence and power of Jesus who is active in our world. As several authors have noted, no one has ever impacted civilization the way Jesus has:

Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50 years and Aristotle for 40 years. Though Jesus taught for only three and a half years, his influence infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined years of the teaching from these greatest of philosophers. Jesus painted no pictures that we know of, yet some of the finest artists of human history such as Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from him. We don’t have any poems written by Jesus, yet the works of Dante, Milton and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by him. Jesus composed no music; yet Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the music they composed in his praise. No one else has ever spoken with the authority with which Jesus spoke. He was unique. [Author unknown]

There has never been, nor ever will be anyone like Jesus. He alone is the Son of God become human for our salvation. And how wonderful that he shares his ministry with us!

Here in GCI Weekly Update, we often highlight ways our congregations and members are participating in ministry with Jesus. In this issue, you’ll find accounts of GCI churches in the United States and in Spain joining with Jesus in connecting with unchurched people in the area surrounding where they meet. I hope you’ll be inspired, and that their examples encourage similar outreach elsewhere.

As we move forward in the new year, let us remember our calling to prayer. As I often note, prayer is the battleground where we fight the good fight of faith. In prayer (both private and together) we join with Jesus as he, through the Holy Spirit, communes with his Father and ours, interceding on behalf of all humanity. Let us continue to be praying people in 2012.

My prayers are with you all,

Joseph Tkach

 

On turning 60: Looking forward

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As the New Year begins, I was amused to see that two small countries in the South Pacific could not wait for it. Samoa and Tokelau were the last places to begin 2011. But they became the first places to welcome in 2012. You see, these countries are located close to the International Date Line. So, as the clock struck midnight at the end of 29 December, they simply “jumped across it,” and fast-forwarded to December 31, missing out on the 30th entirely. In doing so, they became the first people to ring in the New Year, rather than the last. They did this for economic reasons. Now, instead of being 23 hours behind New Zealand, their main trading partner, they opened for business one hour ahead.

Perhaps many of us would like to move the clock in the other direction. In December I had my 60th birthday. Our home office staff gave me a surprise birthday party. I was deeply touched by the many cards and expressions of goodwill that came in from all over the world. I am blessed to enter my seventh decade of life surrounded by friends and colleagues like you.

As one of four million American “Baby Boomers” who turned 60 in 2011, I have officially joined the ranks of the “oldies.” Not so long ago this would have meant the approach of the end of life – certainly the end of working life. But today, it is quite possible that people who are now 60 have one third of their life ahead. Still, there is no denying that when you pass 60, you cannot pretend that you are still young. The jokes about old age suddenly seem not quite so funny!

Many of you reading this also are in your seventh decade. We do not feel ‘old’ in our minds, and may even resent suggestions that we are past our prime. Thankfully, many of us are in good health, and although we may be slowing down a bit, we are a long way from grinding to a halt. A 1995 study of Americans between 55 and 74 revealed that most felt 12 years younger than their actual age. Though this may be good in some ways, it is not good that our society fears and resents growing old. As those engaged in God’s work, we must not buy into the myth that we can keep going forever (we will, of course, but not as frail, temporary human beings). Instead, we should be thinking of and preparing for the future – not just our own, but the future of those who look to us for leadership and direction.

As the president of Grace Communion International, I think often about what lies ahead, and how our denomination can best prepare to continue to serve God and his people after my time is done and my contribution has been made. I know that many of you, particularly if you are an older member in an aging congregation, are thinking about this too.

I believe that GCI has a future! I don’t know all the details, but I see encouraging signs. We truly are a worldwide church. Some of our congregations are growing rapidly – bursting with youth and energy. In others, growth is harder to come by, but members are growing in love and service. In many congregations, youth are actively and creatively serving. Many are reaching out in mission at home and around the world. Through these activities, grounded in our growing understanding of Trinitarian theology, I believe God is showing us how we are to take the gospel to the world of the 21st century in compelling and powerful ways.

Looking back, especially over the last 15 years during which I have been privileged to serve as GCI’s president and pastor general, I realize that I cannot claim credit for what has happened. I feel sometimes that I have been swept along by events that I did not plan, and could not have anticipated. Changing technology has meant we do our work in a totally different way than even ten years ago. Many of the people who report to me hardly ever visit our home office in Glendora, CA, yet we seem to be in closer contact than ever before. Our church has grown in parts of the world where we had done nothing to lay the groundwork. Just last year we welcomed dozens of new congregations in the African nation of Mozambique. We had not made a specific effort to reach them–they just “showed up on our doorstep.” Our developing understanding of Trinitarian theology has brought us into contact with many leaders and theologians outside of our denomination. Many have become close friends. The world of Christianity is going through some important changes. I pray that GCI will play a useful role in this exciting journey of discovery.

At the start of this New Year, there are many reasons to be encouraged. Looking back, I can see so clearly that the Holy Spirit has been leading us. All I can say is that I am thankful to have been a part of it and look forward to where God will lead us in the years ahead. We should make plans for this journey, though experience tells us that we must be ready for the unexpected. How do we stay ready? Like members of a fire department, we must have in place the best possible equipment, and we must be trained – ready to do what needs to be done. As Paul wrote to Timothy, we must be ready “in season and out of season.”

I know that God has much for us to do in his service. I am thankful to have a part along with all of you. Let’s continue to work together in 2012, submitting in faith to God as we actively join with Jesus in what he will be doing through the Holy Spirit to take the good news of salvation to a world that needs it so desperately.

Your brother in Christ,

Joseph Tkach

Mike Feazell retiring

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

By now, many of you are probably aware that Dr. Mike Feazell, who has served the church faithfully for a total of nearly 40 years, has decided to take an early retirement at the end of this year due to personal health issues. Mike discussed this with me many months ago and we have been spending much time since then working out a smooth transition as he steps down from his many responsibilities with the church. This has not been a simple task, as Mike has played such an integral and vital role with WCG and GCI, especially during our tumultuous doctrinal transformation, which began not long after the death of Herbert Armstrong in 1986.

Dr. Mike Feazell

Dr. Feazell served my dad as his special assistant for seven years during my dad’s tenure as director of ministerial services and church administration from 1979 to 1986, and continued in the same role for another nine years after my dad succeeded Herbert Armstrong as president of the church. After my dad’s death in 1995, Mike served as director of church administration for two years before turning that responsibility over to Dan Rogers, then as media director and senior advisor to the president and now for the past ten years he has also been GCI vice president.

As media director, Mike brought ideas for many key projects to me for approval over the years, including Christian Odyssey magazine, Speaking of Life video program, which I deliver each week on our GCI website, and GCI Together, GCI Reflections, and One Quick Thought video programs, You’re Included interview series and more recently, Dimensions in Ministry interview series. Mike is our corporate doctrinal editor, chairs our doctrinal review team, serves on the church board of directors, and serves as vice-chair of the board of Grace Communion Seminary.

In Mike’s departure there is bad news and good news. The bad news, of course, is that we hate to see him go. His writing and preaching over the years have been special blessings to a great many people. But the good news is that he will be getting much-needed rest and the reduced stress load will allow him to begin to rebuild his health. We have tentative plans for Mike to continue doing the interviewing for You’re Included and Dimensions in Ministry.

Dr. Gary Deddo

There is also more good news. Mike and I, along with Russell Duke, Dan Rogers and others, have been in discussions for some time with Dr. Gary Deddo, who feels called to serve in GCI, about coming aboard to replace Mike in most of his key responsibilities. As you might recall, Dr. Deddo is a long time senior editor for InterVarsity Press (IVP) and has appeared numerous times on our You’re Included program. He, along with his wife, Cathy, has spoken at our regional conferences both in the U.S. and in Canada and both spoke at our international conference in Orlando, Florida, two years ago. Dr. Deddo will be able to devote some time to a period of transition starting in January 2012, and will go full-time in July 2012.

Mike has expressed to me that he feels God’s hand and blessing in Gary’s sense of call to GCI at this time, and I must say I agree. It is not easy to fill the void Mike will leave, or the void that any of our long-time faithful employees leave, but Mike and I both feel Gary will bring many new strengths and talents that will help GCI continue to move ahead in Jesus’ service in the years to come. Gary’s job title will be Special Assistant to the President, and he will oversee the doctrinal integrity of our publications and videos as well as assist me in many of the same ways Mike has.

Dr. Russell Duke

Replacing Mike in the office of GCI vice president will be Dr. Russell Duke. Dr. Duke has served the church for more than 40 years in many capacities, both pastoral and administrative, including as President of Ambassador University and Executive Director of the Ambassador Center at Azusa Pacific University. Russell is now President of Grace Communion Seminary, and that will continue to be his primary responsibility.

I’d like to ask that you join us in prayer for Mike as he enters retirement and a much-needed rest, for Russell as he takes on the role of GCI vice president, and for Gary as he changes careers to join with our worldwide GCI team in proclaiming the good news of the God revealed in Jesus Christ!

And I’d like to ask for a word of prayer for myself, too, if you don’t mind. Mike and I have been dear friends for the past 45 years, and we will continue to be, of course; but we have also worked together for such a long time with such harmony and singleness of purpose that I will greatly miss his excellent and exemplary work in the gospel and his ever-ready personal support on the job.

I pray for all of you every day.

May God’s peace and strength be with you always,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. This will be the last GCI Weekly Update published this month as we take a break for Christmas. Our Glendora office will be closed from Monday, December 26 through Monday, January 2 (back open on January 3). The next issue of Update will then be sent out on January 4. See you then, and in the meantime, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!