GCI Update

Full of Grace and Truth

Riders seated on a subway
Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Back in December we celebrated the Incarnation – God becoming man in the person of Jesus. An incredible verse that captures my imagination is John 1:14.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NRSV)

What a mysterious, fascinating concept that causes us to stop, ponder and worship.

When we dig into scripture and see the first recorded interaction of Jesus the human, we see him at age 12 interacting with the Jewish priests at the temple in Jerusalem. He’s exchanging ideas, sharing in questions and answers, connecting and relating. I’m certain that he blessed them with some truths that were new to their ears, and very likely blew their minds.

Truth most often comes in statement form – “I tell you the truth, you must be born again.” Then thinking more about John’s account of Jesus, we hear the declaration statements about who he is – “I am the resurrection and life,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Bread of Life” and the rest of the seven of these “I am” statements that reveal the deity of Jesus.

Truth statements challenge the thinking and stir the spirit. Oftentimes they hang out there for us to think about in wonder and amazement. Jesus also taught that truth has the power to divide and be a point of contention. It can be wielded as a weapon when it is used untampered by grace.

Thinking about our personal lives and our Christian witness, are we more comfortable with stating truth than engaging in dialogue?

Not long ago, Susan and I were riding on public transportation through a sprawling urban center. A middle-aged man with his five- to six-year-old daughter got on the train. The little girl’s behavior and speech seemed to indicate symptoms of autism. The dad was quite calm and patient with her. There happened to be a lady sitting close by on the same bench seat. As we pulled into the next stop, the lady moved to get off and immediately spoke out to the father with bold, emphatic words. She said “Don’t be fearful, perfect love casts out fear. You are a child of God. You are loved and blessed. Be blessed.”

I certainly agreed with her words of truth, but her delivery seemed awkward and came across as bombastic parting words at a train stop. Why not engage the little girl and her dad during the ride?

Then there are the obnoxious words or phrases that Christians use in declaring their understanding of truth. “The Bible says it and that settles it.” Did this ever win a non-believer over to a meaningful conversation? Or point them closer to Jesus?

I recognize that I am comfortable with being direct and stating the truth. And while there is a time to be concise and direct, the more I grow in self-awareness, I see how being “full of grace” is more engaging and better at connecting with others.

What does it mean to be full of grace? Grace is about tangible, transforming love that brings about acceptance and belonging. In my experience, grace most often appears in the form of heartfelt open-ended questions and interactive conversations. Grace flows from the grace-giver, Jesus, and it starts with connecting us to himself, but it doesn’t bottleneck there. This received grace becomes extended grace, and it is about connecting, sharing, building trust, bonding, and authentic relationships. Grace is about give and take in an atmosphere of love and respect.

Jesus was the master at asking discerning, alluring questions. Who do you say that I am? What do you want me to do for you? Will you give me a drink? Do you want to get well? Etcetera.

What if we followed his example more closely and became more effective at engaging others? What if we seasoned our truth with healthy doses of grace?

In 2022 we are following the theme of “Compelled by Love.” (Compelled by Grace fits quite comfortably into this mix). We see the Holy Spirit moving us to engage and love our neighbors with greater awareness and intentionality, and this can only happen as we join Jesus by being full of grace and truth.

May our witness of the Gospel be a testimony to truth and may the grace we share build eternal relationships with new disciples. Amen!

Still growing in grace and truth,

Greg Williams

P.S.

We mourn along with our worldwide family the atrocities of war. Join us in holding the people of Ukraine and all those affected by the conflict in prayer. We ask our God of justice to bring peace and comfort. For prayer points and actions we can take to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, please visit the NAE website at: Pray for Ukraine | National Association of Evangelicals (nae.org)

Pastor Orientation

Group of 20 people seated in training roomOn February 12 and 13, our US Pastor Orientation was held at the Home Office, welcoming 9 pastors entering new roles and new seasons of ministry. More than 20 participated in the 2-day event, including  spouses, Regional Directors, the US Superintendent Mike Rasmussen, US Development Coordinator Cara Garrity, Operations Coordinator Pam Morgan, and GCI President Greg Williams.

Greg Williams interviewing Walter Kim

Walter Kim, the first Asian American President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), made a presentation to the group. Hearing from a guest outside of our denomination was an encouraging reminder of our connection to the wider Body of Christ.

Jon Arnold and his wife, Carey, of GCI St. Michael, MN had the following feedback:

Carey Arnold & Linda Sitterley

(Carey) Interacting personally with so many of GCI’s leaders was inspiring. I could see their genuine love for Christ and desire to love and care for people in the way we all interacted. Even the sessions aimed at the more exacting details of pastoral ministry such as Ministry Action Plans, church polity, and job descriptions made it clear that the leaders intend to support and equip the called (rather than the other way around).

(Jon) I lead the GCI congregation that I was born into and have attended my whole life.  When I was a child, we were a congregation of over 300 members with ample resources but a very legalistic doctrine. Now we feel like a megachurch if we have 30 members attend in person and we have very limited resources but we know we live and breathe, our very being exists (always has and always will) within the loving relationship of the Trinity revealed to us by Jesus. Often it can feel like we’re a lonely outpost out in the middle of a desolate prairie, alone and cut off from other GCI congregations. What meant the most to me was being able to meet in person names that I had only seen attached to an email, people I had only seen in videos or had not seen in 20 years. To know that there are really living, breathing people who hold true and believe what we believe and to know that even though we might be a lone outpost we’re not alone.

Associate pastor, Marlene Reed, whose husband is the lead pastor of the GCI Woodbury, PA church, told us her takeaway.

Reading John 16:8-11 and being reminded about the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives as a Comforter, my mind instantly flashed to our pastor orientation.  My takeaway from that orientation is that the Home Office and those in GCI’s leadership roles are there for my support. Imagine the relief as I had anticipated more of a finger-wagging, more “you’re not doing this right.”  No! The Home Office and those in leadership are a comfort to me! They give me direction, encouragement, education, and support when I need it. They, just like Holy Spirit, are for me and for our congregation’s success.

L-R: Jeff Broadnax, Marlene Reed, Dishon Mills, Brad Reed, David Borum

It was so good to see that there is not just support, there are layers of support. And these individuals are intensely knowledgeable, have worked with a great vision to provide materials and templates for our use. And they did it while connecting us all together and making us new pastors feel like we’re a valuable part of the team rather than just a bottom rung servant.  My husband, Brad, and I were able to come back from the orientation and convey to our congregants that they are part of a larger whole. We’re not an isolated standalone, small town church. No. We have an entire network out there. We are connected to something bigger than ourselves.

US Superintendent, Mike Rasmussen shared his thoughts, “The Pastor Orientation provided an intentional time to come together for training and support. I feel so honored and blessed to work with such a great team of people who have servant hearts and are ministry minded! This includes all those who work in our Home Office in Charlotte and the Regional Directors who serve in the trenches across the nation. We are all very excited that these pastors and spouses are a part of GCI’s ministry family!”

GCI President, Greg Williams, reflected on the occasion, “I am greatly encouraged by the men and women who have been called into pastoral leadership with GCI. It was extremely helpful to have candid conversations about the challenges and opportunities they will face, and how their focused leadership will make a difference for their congregation, their neighborhood, and the Kingdom of God. Join me in praying for their new roles and the Lord’s guidance and blessing in the coming weeks, months, and years ahead.”

 

Black History & Multi-Cultural Celebrations – Miramar, FL

GCI Miramar Hope Avenue Team, 2022

For the past ten or more years, our congregation GCI Miramar Florida has celebrated our diversity during the month of February. It was a unanimous belief and understanding that we are one in Christ yet diverse culturally. Therefore, instead of focusing on the Black experience alone during Black History Month, we celebrate all heritages, all cultures represented within our congregation. Respectfully, we acknowledged Black presence within our history in the Civil Rights movements, business, ministry, inventions, and our community at large.

Associate Pastor Luis Aponte and church Administrator Mayte Aponte representing Puerto Rico, 2020

At one point, we had 11 countries represented. With that knowledge, we agreed to organize a multi-cultural celebration Sunday. On this day, after regular services, each country had a table or section of the hall where they would showcase their food, flag, and attire. Our pastors opened the celebrative time with an inspiring word, thanking Creator God for unity in diversity, energetically introducing each country’s table, some brief instructions for the flow of the afternoon and then the celebration would commence.

Colleen Mitchel from Jamaica, 2020

With an electric energy in the room, the music would waft in the background reflecting the different cultures of the world. At any given moment there were tasteful musical selections of Reggae, Salsa, Junkanoo, Soca, Kompa, Merengue, Blues, Jazz, Contemporary Gospel, Country, Rhythm & Blues and Rap. At our first celebration, the countries represented were USA, Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, Barbados, Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, St. Croix, Trinidad & Tobago, and Canada. It was such a delight to see all our members working together to a common goal.

Mattie Parbhoo from Trinidad & Tobago, 2020
JoyAnn Reece from Barbados, 2020

As the years passed by, one could feel the anticipation of our multi-cultural celebration as soon as the close of each year. Our youth vigorously participated as they helped their parents and loved ones set up the room. Everyone had a role, whether it was cooking, decorating, serving, or just enjoying the experience.

We fly into 2020 and it was deemed the best celebration ever because more people served, our attendance grew and there was even more excitement in the room. We witnessed people almost dancing from one table to the next to feast on the delicacies. Then the rise of the pandemic automatically shut the doors of the facility where we were holding our weekly worship services as it was a city owned building.

In 2022, we are, by God’s timely grace, meeting in the hall of another church in the Body of Christ. Although we were unable to celebrate with food this year, we still celebrated with our attire and music. “Simple is best” has become a safe procedure as we tread through this time. So, this year’s celebration began with an African welcome, drumming, and a most worshipful service. Members and participants in the Hope Avenue displayed African attire for the last 2 weeks of February. We all reflected on the goodness of God and thanked Him once more for our diversity, yet we are ONE in Christ.

Keysha pictured far right with children & husband, Pastor Charles Taylor, 2022

By Keysha Taylor
Hope Avenue Champion

 

Death of John Anderson

 

John Anderson, 70, of Maquoketa, Iowa passed away Wednesday, February 16, 2022, after a brief illness.  He is survived by his wife, Amy Wilms Anderson, of nearly 24 years. Born Aug. 9, 1951, in Iowa City, IA to Gardner and Lucille (Morrison) Anderson, John graduated from Grinnell High School in 1969 and earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Iowa State University. John faithfully served as a bi-vocational pastor of the GCI congregation in Davenport, IA until it’s closing in 2014.

For many years, John lived his love for flying.  He worked at several small airports in Iowa where he piloted corporate planes and gave flying lessons.  Later he worked at a hotel in Cedar Rapids where he met his wife, Amy.  They married April 25, 1998, in Maquoketa.

John retired in 2017 after receiving a diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer. In retirement, he pursued a love for baseball.  He and Amy never missed a St. Louis Cardinal game.  John loved his pets and would take his pals Brystol and Molly on long walks in the grasslands at the Maquoketa Caves. He loved being outdoors and taking in the wonder of nature.

John was preceded in death by his parents; sister, Mary; brothers Robert and Raymond; and sister-in-law, Paula (Weaver) Anderson. He is survived by his brothers, Charles Anderson of Cedar Rapids, IA, and Richard (Sherri) Anderson of Springfield, MO; sisters, Betty (Robin) Broders of Grinnell, IA, and Carol Brandt of Lynnville, IA; in-laws, Roger and Audrey Wilms of Maquoketa; brother-in-law, Jeff (Amy) Wilms of Maquoketa; sister-in-law, Cheryl Wilms (Ron Versteegh) of Cedar Rapids, IA; 14 nieces and nephews; and 4 great-nieces and -nephews.

A celebration of John’s life was held Wednesday, February 23, at the Methodist Church in Maquoketa. Cards may be sent to:

Amy Wilms Anderson
511 N. Walnut Street
Maquoketa, IA  52060-2518

 

Lost and Found

Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.” (Luke 15:8-10 The Message)

Aged hands holding coins

In Luke 15, Jesus was aware of the Pharisees and scribes’ hatred because of the company he kept.  He was known to hang out with tax collectors and sinners.  In the eyes of these religious leaders, this group of people represented the “others,” the outsiders. With this as the backdrop, Jesus shares three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son.

The sheep parable displays a shepherd actively seeking what is lost while the prodigal son comes to his senses and returns home. But in the parable of the lost coin, we get the unique view of our dependence on someone else to be saved.  Both the sheep and the son can cry out or wander home. A coin can do nothing but wait to be found.  Jesus came for us.

God loves us so much He sent his Son down to earth to live in the flesh (incarnate), experience baptism, die on the cross, be resurrected in three days, and then ascend to heaven to become our primary intercessor. In all that Jesus experienced, His love guided his actions.

How do we respond to such a love as this? Our response is to worship and join the celebration already going on in heaven.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord. You pursue us when we have no idea we are lost. Thank you for every gift you so freely give in your Son Jesus. Help us learn to walk in the truth of who we are in You and respond in true worship. Lord, we depend entirely on you and the salvation you freely offer. Lord, please complete the work in us that you have started. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Tamar Gray
Tamar Gray

By Tamar Grey
Pastor, GC Cleveland

 

GCI Prayer Guide – March 2022

“Prayer turns theology into experience.” ― Timothy Keller

Join us in corporate prayer this month as we thank God for the good work God includes us in. Click the image below to download and print the March Prayer Guide, celebrating how God is working in and among our fellowships around the world.