GCI Update

Readiness

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

I came across an intriguing quote that says, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear” (unknown origin)

Good organizational structures and systems accompanied with good ministry tools and practices cannot accomplish what we hope for unless we start with a spirit of humility and teachability. As the wise saying suggests, there needs to be “readiness” within the spirit of our would-be leaders. We define readiness as a stage when a person displays the willingness and capacity to receive instruction and then to engage and act in fresh, Christ-like ways.

We find both of these spirits evident in the great story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

On the heels of the martyrdom of Stephen in the early church, followers of Christ scattered from Jerusalem to avoid persecution. Philip “the evangelist” was one of those followers (he was one of the original seven deacons described in Acts 6).

Philip was directed by an angel of God (Acts 8:26) to go to Gaza, where he would encounter a eunuch from the court of the queen of Ethiopia in Africa. (This eunuch was apparently either following or at least exploring Judaism). The eunuch was returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, traveling south to his home country, Ethiopia.

The eunuch was reading from the writings of the prophet Isaiah—specifically a passage about the suffering of the promised Messiah. The eunuch did not know how to interpret what he was reading. He was a ready and willing student in need of a teacher. Philip, the able teacher and preacher, explained to him how the prophecy had been fulfilled by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who was the Messiah talked about in the ancient writings.

As they rode together in the eunuch’s chariot, they came upon a body of water, and in response to the gospel, the eunuch professed his faith in Christ, and requested Philip to baptize him. Philip obliged, and then was immediately carried away by the Holy Spirit to another location. The eunuch continued homeward rejoicing in the salvation and new life that he had received in Jesus.

This account in the book of Acts leaves us hanging regarding the rest of the eunuch’s story. It is reasonable to infer that the eunuch would have been the first to bring and share the gospel message to Ethiopia and the continent of Africa—thus, fulfilling Christ’s proclamation in Acts 1:8 for the spreading of the gospel from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the world.

Why the eunuch? Why this marvelous encounter with Philip? Undoubtedly a divine appointment was at play— the angel instructing Philip to pursue the eunuch, the interaction with the scriptures and its fulfilled meaning in Jesus, the regeneration symbolized in the act of baptism, and even the Spirit redirecting Philip to his next excursion. For the eunuch, he was finally seeing something clearly for the first time, even though it had always been there; the Old Testament puzzle pieces had finally been joined to display the magnificent picture that is Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. The light came on and changed his life forever!

This Bible story is about this state of readiness. When I say “readiness,” the posture of the eunuch is a great illustration. He was open and teachable with a desire to learn. When the light came on about Jesus being the fulfillment of the prophecies, he embraced the truth and displayed his surrender and allegiance through the act of baptism.

In Paul’s correspondence to the church at Ephesus, he explains why we have teachers in the church like Philip the evangelist.

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 NRSVA)

Paul wants all believers to come to the same understanding about Jesus that the eunuch displayed. It is crucial for the community of the church to have a thorough and unified knowledge of Jesus and to live out a unified faith. But get this, the journey of faith is a process of maturity—growth and movement away from childish behavior and toward Christ-likeness. In other words, toward a life overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Readiness is embracing this growth process with the assurance that the Holy Spirit is continuing a good work in us, moving us closer to and more like Jesus. This is not a clever behavioral modification program, but rather a dynamic work of the Spirit. Please understand that the Spirit is constantly at work, not just showing up in times of crisis and only working part-time hours.

My good friend and one of our Regional Directors, Anthony Mullins, gave me permission to share this story with you to emphasize the meaning I am trying to convey. Anthony, who serves as RD, local church pastor, moderator of a GCI podcast (Gospel Reverb), and coordinator of our GCI coaches, came to me and confessed that he was in a dry season and felt void of joy. Instead of enumerating the multiple circumstances and situations in his busy life that may be obstacles blocking the joy, he simply wanted me to join him in prayer to entreat the Holy Spirit to freely restore the spiritual fruit of joy to his life.

Please understand that Anthony was open to discussing his life circumstances and challenges, and quite honest about areas that needed attention and fresh responses from him. However, the inner joy that abides in a believer regardless of ups and downs was not going to come by fixing a schedule, or much worse, trying to fix other people or himself. Rather a humility that led to submission and reliance on the Spirit was the game-changer.

I see a kinship with Anthony and Philip—servants who are fully sold out for Jesus, going about their days freely sharing the good news about the Savior, and are open and receptive to the lead of the Spirit with an ever-forward trajectory of growth toward the stature and fullness of Jesus.

Growing with Jesus and aspiring to be more like him day by day!

Greg Williams

A Little Good News

Keeping our churches together and spiritually nourished during the ongoing pandemic is a challenge for all of us, as pastors and team members in GCI.

Because we have a large and exclusive-use church facility 24/7 for our Woodbine, Georgia, congregation, we are able to keep it sanitized, and to space out our seating sufficiently, wear face coverings, take temperatures, and run an air purifier.  This has enabled us to have in-person services for the past seven months, for those who wish to come.  Thanks be to God, not one of our members has gotten the virus.

This is the inside of our church building’s sanctuary.  You can see how well spaced out everything is, for our smaller crowd.  The area behind the stage, under the cross, is a fully-functioning baptistry, which we recently had occasion to use!

Even with the advantages we have in this church area, it is hard to minister to everyone as well as we would like, and as a result we know that, for some, there may be a decline in spiritual interest and motivation.  We have a big job ahead of us when this is all over, to retrieve those sheep who may have wandered, and to build back up the Body of Christ, as we work alongside Jesus.

Good things still happen, though, as we have seen in Grace Communion Woodbine in January 2021.  We were blessed to have two baptisms and one ordination of a church elder!

We give thanks and praise to God for the baptisms of new members, Jesse & Tabitha Hester. Tabitha grew up in a GCI church family, and early last year decided to begin attending regularly with her husband, and their four children.

Tabitha in front of the baptistry behind the stage at our church building, where she and her husband were baptized.

Our GCI church has been a blessing to them in their spiritual growth, and they have been a blessing to us as well.  Tabitha has a professional quality singing voice, and she has become one of our regular worship leaders for the congregation.  And it is especially nice to have their elementary-aged children involved in our youth Sunday School class.

Since our Woodbine church’s renewal and re-launch back in December 2019, our congregation has grown from a fellowship group with an average attendance of about a dozen people for most of 2019, to an actual GCI church with an average attendance of 30, up until the pandemic.

Understandably, our attendance is down about 50% due to the absence of those members who cannot risk returning to in-person worship services for age and health considerations.

Nonetheless, we anticipate continued growth in the near future, and feel that we have been led by the Holy Spirit to appoint an additional church elder to meet the current and expected needs of the congregation.

Calvin Mitchell and his wife Jennie (center), just after the ordination, along with pastor Marty Davey (left), and associate pastor Dan Krupp (right).

Thus, we were able to receive approval from the GCI Home Office and our RD to ordain long-time member, Calvin Mitchell as a minister of Jesus, and assistant pastor in the congregation.

The ordination itself, taking place outdoors for safety reasons, so that those who wished to join the ministers in the laying on of hands could do so.

Things are getting better.  And things will get better for all of us soon, I’m sure.  May we as pastors, pastoral team leaders and other servants in the congregation, keep looking up and take courage in these words from one of our recent RCL scripture readings:

“Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:5-6, HCSB)

 

Marty Davey, Pastor
Grace Communion Woodbine

 

 

 

GCI Gospel Reading Challenge

Beginning March 1, we will enjoy being with and getting to know Jesus through our Gospel Reading Challenge. Over the course of four weeks, read at your own pace and volume while growing closer to Jesus through the Gospels during this Easter Prep season. Click the image below for more information on the official GCI Gospel Reading Challenge Facebook group, where we will have a group discussion and share insights from our reading and meditation.

Devotional: Signs of the Messiah

A photo of a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk with a sign saying "Homeless! A Little Helps a lot. Thank you, God bless. Prayers please!" A pedestrian is kneeling beside him petting his kitten and having a conversation with the homeless man.

During this season of Epiphany, we’ve seen in our readings in Mark’s Gospel the unfolding of a  primary Epiphany theme—the revealing of Jesus’ identity. In 1:1-11, Mark declares Jesus to be the Messiah, God’s Son, by offering testimonies from John the Baptist, the Holy Spirit and God the Father. In 1:12-45, Mark then offers tangible proof of Jesus’ identity in several mighty acts (signs) performed by Jesus—ones that befit God’s Messiah. The first sign involves conquering Satan in the wilderness (v. 12). This is followed by multiple signs in which Jesus conquers Satan in everyday life: driving out an evil spirit (vv. 21-18); healing Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 29-34); and healing a leper (vv. 40-45).

In 2:1-12, Mark adds the sign of Jesus healing a paralytic. Not only does Jesus heal the man of his disability, but seeing the man’s faith declares that his sins are forgiven. To the Jewish religious authorities, this is blasphemy. Nevertheless, Jesus declares that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” (v.10), thus declaring himself equal with God.   

To this list of messianic signs, Mark adds in 2:13-17 the calling of Levi (Matthew). Not only does Jesus cast out demons and heal sick bodies, but he also heals sick souls—even the soul of a tax collector, a person despised by Jews as traitorous, greedy, dishonest and immoral. Not only does Jesus call Levi to follow him—he has the audacity to go to dinner at Levi’s home where the guests include multiple tax collectors and assorted other sinners. To the religious authorities, Jesus has gone way too far! They ask his disciples why Jesus is behaving this way. Jesus overhears and answers by saying that just as it is expected that a doctor will associate with sick people, so it is appropriate (even necessary) for him to associate with sinners. After all, the whole purpose of his coming, in accordance with his true identity, is to call sinners to a new life with him (v. 17).

In this short, power-packed section of Mark we find multiple signs of the kingdom of God evident in Jesus’ person, words and actions. We might ask, are these signs seen in our churches? Do cheats, prostitutes and the lame flock to our churches and there find Jesus’ healing touch? Or do we react like the teachers of the law and shun such folks? Something to think about.

Prayer:

Our Father, today we proclaim again that Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Son of God our Savior. We are reminded of our calling to follow him—to be with him, sharing in what he is doing in his ongoing ministry of healing, restoring, blessing. We know that he is Messiah, not us, nevertheless, we are mindful that we are his disciples. Help us look to Jesus, follow where he leads, share in what he is doing in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

 

Ted Johnston

 

by Ted Johnston

February Prayer Guide

Through corporate prayer, we draw closer to one another, reconciling differences, focusing on the same events and opportunities. Click the image below to download and print the February Prayer Guide, and join us in prayer.