Letter from Dr. Joseph Tkach - June 2016

Date: 

June 1, 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, The 4th of July will be here soon, and so will the celebration of Independence Day across the United States. Many nations have a day to celebrate independence, a holiday to commemorate their identity. On Wikipedia, you can scroll through a list of them from around the world. There are multiple Independence Days every month of the year - some founded as recently as 2011.

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June 2016   

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The 4th of July will be here soon, and so will the celebration of Independence Day across the United States. Many nations have a day to celebrate independence, a holiday to commemorate their identity. On Wikipedia, you can scroll through a list of them from around the world. There are multiple Independence Days every month of the year – some founded as recently as 2011.


Declaration of Independence,
painting by John Trumbull

In the United States, we’re approaching the 240th anniversary of our own Declaration of Independence. In the preamble to that remarkable document, Thomas Jefferson listed three inalienable rights given to human beings by their Creator: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Since these words were written, people have grappled with understanding that last God-given right – “the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s one of the rights early American colonists valued so much they fought and died for it. But we still struggle with understanding what it means today.

We live in a world of commercial advertising that would prefer us to believe that possessions, products, and purchases are guaranteed to make us happy. And, what is freedom for if not freedom to pursue worldly success? But we know in our hearts that simply consuming things or achieving goals won’t bring lasting happiness and liberty.

Another American institution, George Lucas, famous for his successful Star Wars movies, said something interesting recently on this topic. He talked about how happiness can be broken down into two types: pleasure and joy. Pleasure is fleeting, and we always need more and more of it to feel happy. It doesn’t result in lasting contentment. Instead, it leaves us quickly dissatisfied and looking for the next source of good feeling. But joy is different. Lucas stated, “Joy is compassion. Joy is giving yourself to someone else or something else… it’s much more powerful than pleasure… And if you pursue joy, you will find everlasting happiness.”  

Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, I think George Lucas is on to something. As Christians, we know that selfishly pursuing our own immediate gratification is an empty chase. It also wastes our freedom. Instead, as Lucas says, giving yourself away is the key to joy.

We can turn to Scripture for a deeper understanding of this truth: Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount to “seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33, NIV). To be called to “seek first the kingdom” is to be called away from seeking fulfillment in mindless consumption, the temptation to find our identity or happiness in a better car or bigger paycheck. Christ calls us to more.

A life in pursuit of Christ’s call is a life of faith, hope, and love. And a life under the direction of his Word and Spirit leads to joy, peace and purpose in him. In earthly terms, we tend to think of independence as a political identity, an identity often won through bloody struggle. But the good news of the gospel is that our independence has already been won by Christ’s victory over sin and death on our behalf. As Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Paul isn’t talking about literal slavery here, but feeling swayed by earthly values, rules, and beliefs. It is all too easy to think “the pursuit of happiness” is the chase for worldly recognition or comfort. And often today it means the right to not be bothered by anyone or disturbed by anything, especially by any moral or spiritual affirmations. But in Christ, we as individuals can be set free from dependence on the things of this world. He liberates us to love and serve God and one another “with gladness and singleness of heart.”

That’s our focus here at GCI. Our mission is a joyful one, because we’re committed to making an investment in eternity. Instead of focusing on earthly measures of success, we want to live according to the particular ways of God’s kingdom. When you support GCI, you invest in what is lasting, instead of what quickly passes away. Our mission is to seek God’s kingdom first across the globe and into the future, and we’re grateful – and truly joyful – when you join with us.

This Independence Day, both here and abroad, I pray that our pursuit of happiness would be the pursuit of true contentment in Jesus. It is only through life in Christ that we will find “joy everlasting.” Though many of us during this season will celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, good barbeque, and time with friends and family, let’s also take time to remember Christ Jesus, who set us free from the bondage of sin and death – and who has made us free to enter with joy into his everlasting kingdom.

Pursuing true and lasting joy in him,


Joseph Tkach
President – Grace Communion International

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