Advent greetings

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

To those in the U.S., happy Thanksgiving! And to everyone, warm Advent greetings!

As you know, this Sunday (November 27) is the first of the four Sundays in the Advent season, which is followed by Christmas (also a Sunday this year). Advent celebrates the coming into our world of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. It is traditional to first look forward to Jesus’ coming in glory, then to his present coming through the Holy Spirit, and then back to his original coming in the flesh through his birth at Bethlehem.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

In all our Advent and Christmas celebrations we are reminded that God, in his grace, comes to us. He is the Light come into our darkness. And that Light is true life. We are blessed to be enabled by the Holy Spirit to see and to embrace this Light, to walk in its glow, and to proclaim its glory to others who remain in darkness.

Many Advent and Christmas hymns and carols beautifully remind us of these truths. An example is “O Holy Night.” The lyrics of this Christmas carol were written in 1847 by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure:

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night, O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O’er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Advent greetings from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

Thanksgiving and praise

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In the United States, next Thursday (November 24) is the annual Thanksgiving holiday. I know that many of our congregations will have special Thanksgiving-themed services the weekend before or after. Perhaps some will read from the following proclamation from U.S. President Abraham Lincoln establishing a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise.”

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

Click picture to enlarge or go to https://update.gci.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/First-Thanksgiving-Lincoln.png

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

In the spirit of that proclamation, let us join together this Thanksgiving and every day in giving our gracious God thanks and praise for his many blessings. One of those blessings, of course, is the fellowship we share with dear brothers and sisters in Christ. I thank God for each of you, my spiritual family, no matter what your age might be.

Speaking of age, in this issue of Weekly Update we introduce a new occasional feature titled “Member profiles.” It will highlight some of our members around the world. Our worldwide fellowship is indeed blessed with many interesting and inspiring personalities. This time we introduce one of our young adult members, Alisha Austin. We’re thankful for her and excited about her future!

If there is someone in your congregation that you would like to see featured in “Member profiles” email text and pictures to WeeklyUpdate@gci.org.

Blessings from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

European conferences

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Thank you so much for the many thoughtful expressions of love that Tammy and I received during pastor appreciation month! Believe me, it is our sincere joy and privilege to serve alongside you in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

I returned recently from our annual GCI festivals in France and the UK (see the pictures below), where dozens of people asked us to convey their love and thanks for all of you. Dan and Barbara Rogers joined Tammy and me for these, and Mike Feazell, who had spoken at our GCI festival in New Zealand and visited our combined Tasmanian congregations in Hobart, joined us in London.

It was the first time Dan and Barbara had been to France and the UK, and they were most warmly received by the churches. When Dan was giving his presentation in London, I think it was the most relaxed I have seen him in years. I think the visit was a blessing both for the European members and for Dan and Barbara.

Following the conference in England, Mike and I met with our European national directors for updates, mutual encouragement and prayer together. I do ask that you remember to pray for our European members and congregations. The economy in Europe, as in many parts of the world, is going through turbulent times. In such times it is all the more needful that we not neglect to support one another in prayer, both for strength and for hope as we are all one in Christ.

Congratulations to our church in Holland! They have completed the legal work necessary to officially change their name to Grace Communion International. Where it is feasible and appropriate, other international areas are taking similar steps.

Also, congratulations to Bill and Kathy Miller, whose grandson, Ethan Benjamin Mills (pictured at right), was born recently to their daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Jamin Mills.

As always, dearly beloved in Christ, let us remember that prayer is the battleground where we fight the good fight of faith.

Blessings from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

Festivities in France
Ministerial conference in UK
Left to right: Irène and Bill Wilson, Jonathan and Janet Heyes
GCI leaders and spouses gather for the European national directors’ meeting

On being evangelical

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

An interesting map appeared recently in USA Today. Based on research by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, it shows the distribution of faith groups in the United States. I find it of interest to note that Evangelical Protestants are the United States’ largest faith group. You may view the map at http://www.usatoday.com/news/graphics/pew-religion-08/flash.htm.

As you probably know, Grace Communion International is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in the United States. We are members of similar organizations in other nations and regions, including the Evangelical Alliance United Kingdom, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches. These organizations represent individual local churches and denominations (the NAE represents over 45,000 U.S. churches and 40 U.S.-based denominations). Though these congregations and denominations differ on certain points of doctrine and practice, they hold in common core biblical beliefs and missional practices.

I’m sometimes asked, what is an evangelical? I like the answer given by Leith Anderson (NAE president): “My short definition of an evangelical is someone who takes the Bible seriously and believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” (see Leith’s article, The Coming Evangelical Future at http://www.nae.net/from-the-president/556-the-coming-evangelical-future).

That short definition certainly describes GCI, and flowing out of our belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord (a belief informed and shaped by our Trinitarian, incarnational view of Holy Scripture), comes our commitment to share with Jesus in the ministry he continues to do in our world. I’m excited to see how our congregations are growing in their participation! For examples, see two articles in this issue: Big Sandy revisited (https://update.gci.org/?p=6518) and New church launched in L.A. (https://update.gci.org/?p=6532). I praise God for these missional developments!

I pray that God will bless and guide all our congregations as together we share the love and life of our Triune God as it is being expressed in our world. Doing so is to be truly evangelical.

Love from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. An important part of our practice as an evangelical church is celebrating the great events of God’s work, in Christ, for our salvation. In November-December, we’ll have opportunity to celebrate Advent – a month-long season in which we remember our Lord’s advent (advent means “coming”). The season focuses on Jesus’ coming in the future (his bodily return in glory), the present (his coming to us now through the Holy Spirit), and the past (his coming to us in the flesh 2,000 years ago). For additional information on celebrating Advent, see the November Equipper posted online at http://mindev.gci.org/Web%20Documents/Equipper6.11.pdf

Ministry with Jesus

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Followers of Jesus (the Bible calls them disciples) are called to participate in what our Lord Jesus is doing through the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Father’s mission to the world. Jesus summarized this calling in what often is referred to as The Great Commission (Mat 28:16-20). Rather than understanding this as a call to work for Jesus, we should understand it for what it truly is, a call to share with Jesus as he shares God’s love and life with all people. Our denomination’s work has many aspects, but its overall thrust is to help people become and then mature as disciples of Jesus who are able to share actively with him in his work in the world.

That work, and thus our sharing, has several aspects. We share in what Jesus is doing to help people discover and embrace God’s love and life. We then share in what he is doing to nurture those who believe and respond, and begin to follow him. And then we share with Jesus in what he is doing to equip these followers for active participation with him in ministry. In our denominational training, we summarize these aspects of our sharing as seeking the lost, nurturing the believers and equipping the workers. By the power of the Spirit, this journey with Jesus leads to the multiplication of disciple making leaders, ministries and congregations within the body of Christ.

I was pleased to see active participation with Jesus in his disciple making work occurring at our recent Gathering in the Harvest for Jesus conference held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I attended along with 250 of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was led by GCI Pastor Howard Blakeney, with GCI pastors Paul David Kurts Sr., Paul David Kurts Jr., Charles Young, Tommy Grant and myself as speakers. The conference provided activities for all ages, including a dance with an extremely entertaining band and DJ. A conference highlight came on Sunday morning when some of our members participated in an outreach event at a local homeless shelter (Street Reach Missions). During the outreach, 35 people made a commitment to follow Christ. They were then referred to local churches where they will find friends, fellowship and further instruction in their new life. At the conference worship service later that day, two more people made this first-time commitment. Howard tells me that the next Myrtle Beach Conference will be held on October 10-14, 2012.

In the United States and Canada, October is clergy appreciation month. Though I am always thankful for the men and women who pastor our churches, I want to take this opportunity to send out my thanks. I and the team that works with me in the GCI home office love and appreciate you all very much. We are constantly praying for you, and this month send our special ‘thank you’! I hope all our congregations will this month take the opportunity to show their appreciation as well. For some helpful ideas, go to http://www.pastor-appreciation.net/.

Let us uphold one another in prayer – praying for God’s guidance and the Spirit’s power to share with Jesus in the work that he is doing in our world.

With love from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

Participants in God’s work of evangelism

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

During the recent ministerial conference in Canada, Dr. Elmer (he asked us to call him “El”) Colyer, gave us a wonderful presentation on “participatory, trinitarian, Christian faith” (click here for El’s bio). El’s use of the term “participatory” refers both to the divine life and love shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to our participation in God’s life, love and mission. Here is part of El’s comments on the Holy Spirit’s essential role in enabling and empowering our participation in God’s work of evangelism:

It is only the presence and the activity of the Holy Spirit that makes us and anyone free to know and believe and obey God’s self-communication to us in Christ. No one ever comes to Christ on the ground of a human argument or human witness apart from the Holy Spirit. This is why you really can’t argue anyone into the Kingdom unless the Spirit is also active. This is why praying for those that do not know Christ is so important – praying that the Spirit of God will be at work within them and in their lives. This is why prayer is the first act of Christian ministry.

Indeed, only the Holy Spirit can soften a heart – but as followers of Jesus, we are called to be his agents, bearing his love and truth to non-believers. Though this is important work, we should not fear it or make it more complicated than it is. El’s presentation on this was very helpful, and I encourage you to explore this issue further by clicking the link to the article in this issue of Weekly Update titled, Evangelism: simple. There you will find a story sent in by James Newby, which illustrates El’s point that evangelism really does not have to be contrived or complicated. Sometimes the opportunities show up literally on our doorstep.

The Holy Spirit is at work equipping followers of Jesus to take active part in God’s work, including his work of evangelism. His tools for equipping include seminaries that prepare women and men for pastoral and other ministries. Our own Grace Communion Seminary (GCS) is currently going through the accreditation process. Thanks for your prayers about this – the accreditation team recently visited us and they are now considering their decision. We will keep you updated.

We also are building alliances with other seminaries. In that regard, GCI was invited to participate in the recent annual denominational fair held by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Deerfield, IL (Chicago area). Representing GCI were Greg Williams (who coordinates the GCI-USA pastoral internship program), and GCI pastors Harry Kall (who also serves as district pastor), Richard Frankel, Willard High, Tracy Porter (who is also a TEDS student), and Becky Deuel. Becky addressed about 30 women and men who are enrolled in TEDS’ Master of Divinity (MDiv) program. Becky’s story concerning her journey as a woman into pastoral ministry within GCI was particularly well received. Becky and Greg met with several TEDS MDiv students following Becky’s presentation. A few ladies who will be graduating soon showed interest in connecting with GCI.

Your prayers about these developments are needed and appreciated. Please also pray about the issues noted in the Prayer & Updates feature, including an update on Bernie Schnippert’s health. Remember that prayer is the battleground on which we fight the good fight of faith!

Blessings from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

P.S. The Advent season will soon be on us. For your preparation you might find helpful the resources (including an Advent sermon series) posted by World Relief at http://worldrelief.org/christmas.

Sharing God’s life and love

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As I look over the list of activities and events that we update you on this week, I notice that the reports come from so many different places. When you check the various links (and see the note below concerning links) you can read about a convention we just held in Ghana, a report of a camp in the Rocky Mountains, a festival in the Philippines and a Ministerial conference in New Zealand. The sun literally never set on these activities.

It is always exciting to see the different ways our International church seizes opportunities to reflect the life and love of God, both within our own fellowship and out to the wider world. I think this is a powerful reminder that God is the God of all human kind, whoever and wherever they are. It is our privilege to be among those who represent him and reflect his love – worldwide, 24/7.

Ted Johnston (center) conducts wedding of Joe and Carey (at right, with Ted’s daughter Traci Calvert at left).

One of the ways we experience and express God’s life and love is in the bonds of marriage. Ted Johnston, who serves on the U.S. Ministry Development Team and also coordinates production of GCI Weekly Update, recently officiated at the wedding of his son Joe Johnston to Carey (Graeff) Johnston. The couple, who live and work in San Francisco, were married recently on the Pacific coast near Gualala, CA. Congratulations to Ted and his wife Donna and to Joe and Carey!

I pray that you experience God’s rich blessings of love in your family relationships, and if some of those relationships are fractured, that you will experience God’s gift of reconciliation.

Love from my family to yours,

Joseph Tkach

Please note: The GCI Weekly Update email is sent to all U.S. pastors, and mission developers and national directors outside the U.S. Those whose email systems disallow active (hot) links, can access the full content of each issue (including my letter) at https://update.gci.org/.

Forward together, through prayer

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As you know, I often close my Weekly Update letter with the reminder that prayer is the battleground where we fight the good fight of faith. It is through prayer – both individually and corporately – that we go forward, together.

There are many ways to pray of course, but not many of them are in tune with what Christian prayer is all about. There is an old saying that goes, “Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes amiss.” Just the fact that we believe something or have always done something in a certain way, does not make that thing true or right. Many prayers are focused on people’s selfish wants and desires, not on the things God has shown us are important. How many people pray for the fruit of the Spirit, for example. How many people pray for the welfare and blessing of their enemies? How many prayers are focused primarily on giving thanks? On the other hand, how many prayers are focused on winning a game, winning a lottery prize, getting the car or house we have our eye on, or on getting someone else to do or see things our way? The Bible says, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).

The kinds of prayers that Christians pray have to do with Jesus command that we love one another (John 13:34-35). We pray for not merely for things, but for one another, because the primary thing Jesus has given us to do as his disciples is to care about, build up, encourage, strengthen, forgive, serve, and in any other way we can, to love one another.

That is why our prayers are focused on seeking God’s will, because God’s will is that we love one another. Through prayer, we listen to God as well as talk with God. In prayer our hearts and minds are intertwined with his, allowing us to discern more clearly his will and purpose. A good way to pray is to pray through a passage, listening to what God may have to say to us through the passage and talking to him about it.

Using the prayer requests and updates in this publication is one way we can pray for one another, which strengthens our relationships with each other in Jesus. It is another way we can participate in his command that we love one another.

I am so grateful for the concern and love that all of you have for your brothers and sisters around the world, and I know that translates into much prayer. In addition to the prayer requests in the Weekly Update, we can also read stories about the many things God is doing in our fellowship around the world, then take what we learn to God in thanksgiving for his continuing guidance and ongoing provision. It is a way to participate together in what God is doing throughout the world, and more than that, it is a concrete way that we can take part in the love for one another that Jesus wants us to have.

As we learn more about our brothers and sisters around the world we have opportunity to give thanks for the many gifts that he bestows on his children. One of those gifts is the gift of music that God has given to Juan Carlos, the son of Hector Barrero, our national director in Columbia. To listen to a song that was written and performed by this talented young man, go to http://www.youtube.com/user/IIIBARREROIII#p/a/u/0/G_QCrf0MdBs.

Until next time, may you and your family hear and dance to the music of God’s grace!

In Jesus’s love,

Joseph Tkach

The Gospel is Good News

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Have you ever watched a TV advertisement for a product that seems so amazing and the price so cheap that it seems just too good to be true? At first you’re probably skeptical, but as you listen to testimonial after testimonial from perfectly credible sounding people, you begin to believe that this might indeed be a miracle product – the very thing you’ve been waiting for, whether you knew it or not.

And it gets better – the price is just a fraction of what you would spend on similar products that don’t work as well. But wait – there’s more! If you call within the next five minutes you’ll get not one – not two – but three bonus gifts that are alone worth the purchase price. Operators are standing by, but supplies are limited, so you MUST ACT NOW!

So you succumb and place an order. But when the item arrives you are deeply disappointed. It looks and works very differently from what you saw displayed under the bright lights of a TV studio. With a sigh you realize you have been tricked by slick advertising that greatly oversold the item. It leaves you feeling foolish and betrayed, and you resolve never to fall for that kind of deception again.

It’s bad enough if that happens with a vacuum cleaner or a piece of jewelry. But it is tragic if untruthful advertising misrepresents something as important as the gospel. But sadly, it does happen.

The gospel is good news, the best possible news anyone can hear. It promises a new life beyond death, a life rich in joy, peace, friendship and real love. It’s the good news of a life in communion with God, who loves you and wants you with him no matter who you are, where you’ve been or what you’ve done.

The gospel is the best and only hope for humanity. It is the best and only hope for you and me and everyone we care about.

That is why we preach it, calling on all people everywhere, as far as the Spirit gives us opportunity, to turn to Jesus in faith so they can know Jesus and know the Father for who they really are, as well as so they can come to know themselves for the beloved children of the Father they really are in Jesus.

My deepest thanks goes out to all of you for all you do to help spread this best of all good news!

This week we’re pleased to honor Franklin and Cora Guice who recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Franklin is a GCI elder who has served on the Church’s board of directors for many years. He and Cora are active servants at our New Hope Christian Fellowship in Eagle Rock, California. Our thanks to them for their faithful example, and our deepest congratulations to them for their fifty years of marriage!

I’d also like to draw your attention to two reports from two widely separated areas of our worldwide work. Hector Barrero sends us news from our churches in Chile and Argentina. Kalengule Kaoma, our Mission Developer in Africa, brings us news from one of our most remote and inaccessible congregations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I hope you will take the time to download these two stories and share them with your congregations. It is easy for us to think of God’s work only in terms of our local area. These exciting reports from ‘the uttermost parts of the earth are a reminder that the Holy Spirit is at work in our denomination 24/7.

With love, in Christ,

Joseph Tkach

Christians and politics

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Here in the United States, political campaigns are gathering momentum in preparation for the November 2012 presidential election. Churches are tempted to choose sides and get involved in the politicking and infighting. And we all have opinions.

However, it is very important that we remember denominational and congregational leadership within GCI is non-political. This is not just our decision – there are strict laws legislating what non-profit organizations can and cannot do. I have asked our Legal Department to prepare a thorough briefing concerning this policy. Please click here to read an important legal briefing concerning this policy from the GCI Legal Department. Please make a point of reading this without delay.

As Christians, we are expected to be concerned about the way we are governed. But we should express our concerns and opinions in prayer, as several places in the New Testament remind us. There are important political changes happening all around the world at this time. We should ask God to direct these choices so that his agenda to spread the gospel in all nations is advanced. Remember, a quiet word of prayer can accomplish more than hours of angry argument. So let’s pray that God will direct the political process so that the agenda of his Kingdom can be advanced.

In this week’s Update, I have included a report from the Director of our Heartland Summer Camp, and also news of a community outreach in Denver. Daniel Boesch has sent us news about the Annual Festival in Ferrara, Italy. I was encouraged to see how our Italian church is growing slowly but steadily.

After 37 years of ministry, one of our pastors in Montreal, Dennis Lawrence is having to go on Disability leave for the foreseeable future. His congregation held a celebration of his life and work.

To round things out this week we have some tips for developing leaders by Bob Logan, and news of a new Master’s Program in the Philippines.

To see any of these stories, just click on the links. If you are having difficulty using this new way of presenting the Weekly Update would you let us know. I want it to be a truly useful vehicle for letting you all know what is going on in our truly International Fellowship.

Until next time, blessings and love from my family to yours.

Joseph Tkach