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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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,
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!
I am reminded of a funny story about three boys, an old man and a cemetery. Its message is relevant to the Advent season.
On the outskirts of a small town was a large cemetery, surrounded by a tall wrought iron fence. Just inside stood a large pecan tree. One evening, two boys entered the cemetery with buckets in hand. They sat down beneath the tree and began dividing up the pecans that had fallen to the ground. “One for you and one for me” they could be heard proclaiming loudly as they took turns dropping pecans into their buckets.
On the way in they had seen many pecans scattered around the cemetery, all the way to the fence line. So after collecting pecans near the tree they started moving out to collect those that had fallen in the direction of the fence. Soon another boy came riding by on his bicycle. As he passed, he heard voices and stopped to listen. He heard being repeated over and over: “One for you and one for me.” He thought he knew the meaning and jumped back on his bike and rode off.
Soon he encountered an old man hobbling along with his cane and stopped to tell him what he had overheard in the cemetery. “Come quick,” he said, “you won’t believe what I just heard! Satan and the Lord are down at the cemetery dividing up souls!!” The man replied, “Beat it kid. Can’t you see that it’s hard for me to walk?”
But the boy insisted and the old man hobbled over to the cemetery with the boy. Together they heard the same thing: “One for you and one for me – one for you and one for me.” The old man whispered to the boy, “You’ve been telling me the truth. Let’s see if we can see the Lord!” Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence but were not able to see where the voices were coming from. As they gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence trying to pull themselves up for a better look, they heard the voices again: “One for you and one for me; and that’s all. Now let’s go get those nuts by the fence and we’ll be done.”
As the story goes, the old man with the cane made it back into town five minutes ahead of the boy on the bike!
That’s a funny story, but it’s based on a faulty premise. Contrary to popular opinion, Satan and Jesus are not equals battling away to see which souls on earth they can claim as their own. Satan is a vanquished foe, even if God allows him some continuing activity in a world over which Jesus is supreme Lord. Satan’s present activity suits God’s purpose in the time between Jesus’ bodily ascension to heaven and his future return to earth in glory. In between, Jesus is present in our world through the Holy Spirit, declaring his Lordship and calling people to yield in faith and joy to his present kingdom rule on earth and in heaven.
During Advent, we celebrate our Lord’s “comings” – the glorious truth that he has come, he will come, and he is coming. May we, the body of Christ, together discern what he is now doing in our midst and through the Holy Spirit join in!
When I read Scripture these days I do so through a “trinitarian lens” and then I think about how what I find applies to our contemporary context.
Recently, I was reading Isaiah chapter 40 in that way. It struck me that what I saw (a message of hope) is so different from what we used to see there (a message of doom). In Isaiah’s day it was a message of hope for the Jews in captivity. In our day it is a message of hope for all humanity, declaring that God has included all people in his eternal plan to be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).
In the first eleven verses of Isaiah 40 are four dramatic prophecies concerning the hope of God coming to rescue his exiled people, the Jews. In verses 1-2, God tells the prophet to “comfort, comfort my people” who are exiled in Babylon. Then in verses 3-5, a voice cries, “prepare the way for the Lord,” as a highway of rescue is formed through the desert leading from Babylon back to Judea. In verses 6-8, the prophet announces that though life is ephemeral (“all men are like grass”), God’s word of rescue and hope is eternal (“the word of our God stands forever”). Then in verses 9-11, those keeping watch over the ruins back in Jerusalem are called by God to declare from the highest height that God’s victory is sure – he will bring his exiled people home and sustain them in a work of rebuilding.
This is not a message of doom, but of hope – humanity’s hope in the God who is the Deliverer and Rebuilder. I pray that this message will resonate in your heart, bringing you hope in difficult times. And I pray that it will move us to action as a people called to share this message with the world. Concerning our part as a fellowship in that work, I encourage you to read the accounts in this issue of Weekly Update (click on the links above the line at left; links below the line are for general reference). It’s my joy and privilege to share these stories with you.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 ComingEvangelicalFuture 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,
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
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.