GCI Update

Identity in Christ

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Identity comes from the combination of qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person (or group) who they are. There are many driving forces that influence humans toward these markers. Os Guinness in his book The Call says this:

Thus Marxists interpret us by categories of class, Freudians by childhood neuroses, feminists by gender, and pop-commentators of all sorts by generational profiles – such as “the silent generation,” the “baby boomers,” the “Generation Xers” (add Millennials and Gen Z). And so it goes.

The Call is one of those classic books that I come back to from time to time. As I have been re-reading, I have felt moved to share some of Os’s and my personal comments about identity and calling.

There are many fluid forces at work that shape us into who we are. Throughout the many different stages of life, we continue to be shaped and changed. Following are some of these forces:

Responsibility

When I was a pre-school child, I played all day and ate popsicles on hot summer days. When I went into first grade I was expected to learn how to read, do endless pasting projects, and play nice with other students on the playground. More demands came at each grade level. By my senior year in high school, I was faced with choosing a college. As the college years were winding down, I was expected to find a career path and start paying my way. After college was marriage, then babies, then the babies grow up, and now grandbabies. We call this “the circle of life.” Each experience over the accumulating years and decades makes impressions and affects how you view your identity.

We have an identity as we respond to life’s ever-streaming flow of responsibilities. It’s not the responsibility itself that defines us, rather, it’s how we meet the challenges and what we take away from the experiences. A bit like the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Freedom

There is the notion that we can invent ourselves, and the more original the better. We are living in a time where it isn’t enough to have an attitude of acceptance, rather, if we aren’t joining in to celebrate the extreme, then we are against it. There is a push to be free to be who you want to be, and paradoxically a demand on others that they support you in whatever it is.

In the West we have the freedom to choose to be almost anything we want to be. We also can develop personal style and unique expression through hairstyles, body art, clothing, etc. No matter how much time and effort goes into the construction of self-image, true identity is socially bestowed more than self-made. Perhaps what is said at our funeral eulogy is the clearest, most accurate representation of who you and I are. The push to be free to be who you want to be sounds, well, freeing. However, it can easily lead us to live outside our identity.

Genetics

You have likely been taught that the genetic code made up from the combination of your mother’s and father’s genes determines things such as your eye color, hair color, height, and even the size of your nose. This explains the meaning of “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”

As much as we may war against our DNA, there is precious little we can do to alter its scripting of our identity. In addition to DNA, you add family of origin and the influence of parenting, along with your cultural setting and the particular window of human history you entered into, and it barely seems like we have much at all to do with our formation. The combination of nature and nurture are strong.

Jesus Christ

Guinness says, “Only when we respond to Christ and follow his call do we become our real selves and come to have personalities of our own.” Wow! The true self is found in relationship to the Creator/Savior/King. The irony is profound in that many people want others to believe they are absolutely sure about themselves, even while they remain unsure and ambivalent about God. What if the certainty of our identity was placed in the God revealed in Jesus? What if this was the starting point?

The apostle Paul sums it up best in his letter to the Philippian church.

For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh—even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:3-11 NRSV)

Paul’s identity is not in his lineage, his education, his status as rabbi, his law-keeping and good works, nor in what he has accumulated in this life. Knowing and being found in Jesus is the attainment, the ultimate, the apex, and the catalyst that gives meaning to any and everything else. A common mistake that I have observed with well-meaning people is that they get impassioned with a cause and then attempt to attach Jesus to the cause, rather than start with Jesus and become aligned with his purposes. Better to join Jesus than to hijack him for our perceived priorities.

Galatians 2:20 says it best:

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Our true identity is a child of God—God in us, through Christ, by the Spirit. It is when we realize our identity is in him that we start living in the full reality of who we are. It is always…

Me in Christ and Christ in Me!

Greg Williams

GCI Philippines Youth Converge

Philippines Youth Converge is a monthly virtual huddle for young people ages 13-21. It is designed as a venue for the youth to fellowship with one another within their local church, and other GCI churches. At the same time, it is also a venue for the youth leaders to engage, reconnect and minister with the youth during breakout sessions.

Due to COVID protocols in the Philippines, activities to reach out to the youth have been limited. The leaders planned for two-hour monthly virtual meetings. Starting this past July, the meeting includes a devotional, fun games with prizes, ice breakers, and breakout rooms. Each month has a different theme. Local youth leaders some from neighboring countries like Malaysia are invited to speak.

For months now, youth and young leaders attending the converge came from fourteen local and international churches. The presence of the pastors/pastoral team members are greatly felt as they support their youth by participating during the activities. As the rise of isolation increases during this time of pandemic, we continue to extend our invitation to everyone as we want to encourage young people to fellowship, know more of Jesus and for leaders to participate in the ministry for the youth.

Testimonies:

The youth converge is one way to make our youth active again in church activities. I thank the people who are behind this because I can meet and know our fellow youth outside the local congregation. – Michael John Dadd

Before I was a part of the ministering team in Youth Converge, I was blessed to be a participant there, and it was a time to be refreshed, and more so to connect. In this time of the pandemic one of the greatest enemies is isolation and disconnection, but with youth converge, connection is possible. – Angelo Lizares

 

Sarah Bahinting
GCI Philippines Emerging Leader

New Beginnings in Elgin, Minnesota

Billboard in Elgin Minnesota

I semi-retired around Easter of 2019. Knowing that this was going to enter into full retirement within six months, I started considering my future plans.

The church I was pastoring had been going through a lot of changes over the past several years. While becoming smaller, older and with less actively involved members, COVID-19 hit.

I thought that maybe I should get out of pastoral ministry altogether. So, I took it to the Father, Son and Spirit. After a couple of months wrestling with Jesus, I understood that I would be in ministry of some form, but what that meant was very unclear. What was certain was that I was free and available for whatever he wanted to do.

In January 2021, we took a turn with Grace Communion Rochester. I let members know that they should get involved with a church local to them. I extended an invitation for those who would like to stay connected to join me in a small group. Only a couple of members contacted me to participate in that small group, so we started meeting on Saturday mornings and Friday evenings, having a connect group about twice a month.

While this was going on, I became more involved with members of the community where I live. A town of about 1,100 people. The community is served by a number of churches within ten miles but only one inside the town. I started volunteering at the food shelf, which has been a lot of fun and a tremendous opportunity to look at people of the community through the eyes and mission of Jesus.

In expressing these things with the connect group, advisory team, and with Rick Shallenberger, our regional director, we started to plan on launching a church in the town where I live. The next steps were to find a venue. I love the focus our denomination has with keeping ministry close to your home. Looking at options in Elgin, I found two venues within a few blocks of my home. I am happy to say that a venue has been selected and we had our first service on October 17!

During this process, we looked at using some of the funds available for evangelism. I like to call it ecumenical marketing, focusing on God and touching it with our “brand.” We put together a billboard and are planning some radio mentions. The billboard sits in a sister community of approximately 3,500 people. This town has our local grocery store, hardware store, auto parts store, etc. The billboard is situated along the highway and bike path between our two towns. The image used on the billboard was taken while my daughter, Breena, and I were riding along the local bike path. The thought for the message was to be positive, clear, and unassuming. A lot like how Jesus uses parables; for those who have eyes and ears to see and hear.

We are excited to participate with Jesus in this small community. We are only at the beginning of this adventure and have confidence, faith, and trust in him as we meet people he may call to participate with us in worshipping him in spirit and truth.

In Jesus,
Todd Fox, Pastor

Healthy Church Challenge

Hello GCI Youth! Are you up for the challenge? Learn more about the Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues by entering the Healthy Church Challenge.

One aspect of a healthy church is a healthy Love Avenue, and it is all about witness and reflecting God’s love. Think about making new friends!

Love Avenue Challenge

Ages 8-10: Draw something to show us what you think it means to make friends and be a good friend.

Ages 11-14: Create a skit (written, drawn, solo, or with a group) that shows us what it means to reflect on God’s love in your community.

Ages 15-17: Use any creative medium (painting, poem, song, dance, screenplay, picture, etc.) to tell us what a healthy Love Avenue looks like to you or a practice of the Love Avenue that inspires you.

Visit gci.org/challenge for more information and remember to get your entries in by Monday November 1, 2021!

 

 

Pastor Appreciation

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. Thank you to all our pastors who reflect the character of our Creator God in the ways they engage, equip, empower and encourage their members and neighbors. We honor you and thank you for your service.

I appreciate you, respect you and pray for you often. The struggle through the pandemic has tested and stretched you in ways that none of us could anticipate. Yet here you are still standing, still leaning on Jesus and participating with the Holy Spirit. You deserve a hearty pat on the back and a huge personal “Thank You!”  

The Apostle Paul reminds us that “He can do all things, but only through Jesus” (Philippians 4:13). Please know that when things don’t seem possible, God can do the impossible. When you think that leading the church cannot be done, Jesus is the Head overseeing the Body in ways that only he can.

During this month of pastor appreciation take a few moments each day to “Be still and know that God is God” and that he has you, your family and the church you shepherd in his hands.

In Sincere Appreciation!
Greg

Devotional – The Reason

Once, we too were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. – Titus 3:3-7, NLT

People often ask why we are the way we are. Why we allow people to do things to us and still forgive them? Are we weak? Are we people pleasers? Are we insecure? No! The contrary is true: we choose to turn resentment into forgiveness, hatred into love, fighting into peace because we have been there, done that and saw that it does not pay.  Moreover, when we came to our senses and changed our ways, God graciously forgave us.

We were in every way as sinful and evil as those people are to us, but we were forgiven because of God’s mercy. How dare we withhold that mercy from others? The same kindness and love God showed to us when we were the offenders is what we are to show to those who wrong us.

Dear Lord Jesus, please help us to be a conduit of your love and mercy. Help us to extend what we have received from you to others. Lord, let it be a witness to the world and a sweet-smelling sacrifice to you. Please receive our thanksgiving in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Margaret Musekwa

 

By Margaret Musekwa, Webmaster
Riviera, South Africa