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Little Advents

In this Update, Dr. Greg Williams describes ”Little Advents” and explores the significance of the Advent season, emphasizing the anticipation of Jesus’ arrival and his presence in our lives today.

Program Transcript

GCI President Update | December 2023
Little Advents

Advent is a season in the Church calendar dedicated to the hopeful anticipation for the arrival of Jesus. It comes on the heels of Christ the King Sunday where we expectantly await the return of Jesus to establish his eternal kingdom.

The four-week period of Advent leading up to Christmas is a preparation for the celebration of Christmas. The virtues of hope, peace, love, and joy are celebrated week by week, and these virtues can only be realized in the person of Jesus. Advent is meant to be a progressive building up to the crescendo of the Christmas celebration. I’ve heard it said that we only get out of Christmas what we have put into Advent.

The word advent means the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. I have a friend who is awaiting the advent of the Tesla Cybertruck. He’s on the waiting list and it will be a big day for him when it finally appears. In the case of our celebration of Jesus, we recall the incarnation – the physical appearance of the Son of God. When Jesus set aside his glory to take on flesh and blood and become Emmanuel, God with us.

The coming of Jesus was the greatest game changer for all of humanity, for all times. We even mark time as BC – before Christ, and AD – Anno Domini meaning the year of the Lord. This commemorates Jesus a notable person worthy of our attention. But even more than our attention, he is worthy of our praise and worship.

I expect that we will join our worship teams during the Advent season singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” We will rehearse the gospel accounts of the details leading up to the birth of Jesus in the animal stall of Bethlehem, this is great, and it never gets old. My question for us today is, “Do we see and acknowledge the little advents of how Jesus comes into our lives day by day?”

I was recently at a “Faith, Hope and Love in Action” workshop in Canada. It was great being with Pastors and the Ministry Avenue Champions, and I had the privilege of being at the Grace Communion Ottawa table with Pastors Fraser and Nova. Unfortunately, Jocelyn, Nova’s wife, the Love Avenue Champion had missed her flight and was not able to attend. As a gesture of inclusion, 17-year-old Jesse, the son of Nova and Jocelyn was asked to sit in for his mother.

I don’t think the Ottawa leaders had expectations of Jesse other than his being a placeholder. Boy, were we surprised. Jesse didn’t just quietly listen he posed questions and gave valuable input. He helped steer the conversation toward the opportunities the congregation has for serving and shaping the youth. Jesse serves the congregation by overseeing audio/visual. I asked him how they would get along with him being absent, he didn’t miss a beat, “Oh I have been teaching others in my age group, they will be okay without me.”

Jesse is a young leader who gets it. Pastor Fraser was impressed and took a minute to point out that this was one of those “little advents”, markers of Christ’s presence in our lives. It was unfortunate that Jocelyn was unable to attend, however, she had been at a similar workshop that was hosted earlier in the year, so this would have been a review for her. It was a divine appointment for Jesse to be included in the circle of the Ottawa leaders.

How has Jesus been coming to you? Where are those little advents that only he can orchestrate? The season of Advent takes us back to Bethlehem and compels us to worship, but amid singing beautiful Christmas carols, lighting of candles, and all of the events of the season – How is Jesus alive and active in your life? In your family? And in your Church?

Let us pray…

O Come, O Come Emmanuel! And he will be faithful to come even in small Advents.

I am Greg Williams speaking about the life of the church!

Dear Family and Friends,

Hear from the president in this video update.

Christ the King

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear Family and Friends,

With the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas that began on October 7, many people are concerned. Some Christians may wonder what the prophetic significance of this war is. Is this something we need to be overly concerned about as we await Jesus’ return? Are end-time events unfolding in front of our eyes? There is much to consider.

Let’s put this conflict in perspective. Understanding that there are 32 ongoing conflicts in the world right now—ranging from drug wars, terrorist insurgencies, ethnic conflicts, and civil wars—gives a global perspective. This confirms the teaching of Christ in Matthew 24, where he says, “there will be wars and rumors of wars.” The ongoing division and resulting warring disposition of humanity is strong evidence of the fall and the brokenness in our nature.

As Christ followers, should we be aligned with Israel and seek their eventual victory? Certainly, we want the killing to stop and peace to come. But because we are Christ followers, we should be aligned with his universal atonement and be for all people, desiring goodness for all—Israel and Hamas, Ukraine and Russia, Nigeria and Boko Haram, both sides of the civil war in Myanmar, and on and on. Jesus died for all, and Jesus wants all to be saved. I believe that as Christ followers, we join Jesus in weeping over the hatred and needless bloodshed in all places around the world.

An ex-military building contractor that I know in my hometown is a sincere believer, and he continues to quiz me on what is happening to Israel. He peppers me with questions like, “Is the king of the north moving on Israel? Who is Gog and Magog, and how do they come into play?” I’m not that guy who sits with my Bible opened to the book of Revelation with all the newsfeeds open at the same time trying to match current events to Bible passages. Good luck with that. However, I assure my friend that if these truly are the final events to human history, which would indicate Jesus is returning, I am all in. In fact, there is nothing I am doing in my human life of such importance that I should desire a delay of his coming for one more minute. I tell him I trust that Jesus has everything in control and nothing this world does or doesn’t do will advance or delay his coming. What we do know is that he will come at the right time—in his time.

We are fast approaching the end—of the liturgical year, that is. This Sunday, November 26, is Christ the King Sunday, which marks the end of Ordinary Time and ushers in the Advent season. We celebrate Christ’s messianic kingship and sovereign rule over all creation. The meaning of the celebration can be summed up in this collective prayer.

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Considering world events, I pray that Christ the King Sunday will be especially meaningful as we celebrate in our GCI congregations around the world.

Come Lord Jesus,

Culture of the Kingdom

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

If our GCI culture is sourced and shaped by our central personality, Jesus, then for all practical purposes we are ambassadors of Jesus.

What do you think of when you hear the word ambassador? Does your mind think about a politician, or a diplomat who represents our nation in a far-off land? Does it feel overwhelming? Perhaps you think that’s just not me. But maybe it is you.

When we read Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5, we realize he is stating our ambassadorship as a matter of fact.

So, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20 NRSVA)

Because we are new creations in Christ (verse 17), and he resides in us, the natural flow is that we are his earthly representatives. We are in the mix of the reconciliation ministry of Christ.

A strong parallel thought to being Christ’s ambassadors is that Jesus came in the flesh, and in his public ministry he continuously and persistently announced his eternal kingdom (Mark 1:15). In Luke 17:21, Jesus indicated that he had inaugurated the kingdom of God by his presence — the king is among them. Since the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom is advancing and breaking in (Matthew 11:11-13). The kingdom has a here-and-now dimension that we need to tap into. I call this the kingdom culture.

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Culture of High Support, High Challenge

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Culture is made up of language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, symbols, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values. As I travel the world serving GCI, I observe distinct ways of being from country to country, and even region to region. However, a common phrase that I hear across our churches is, “We are GCI!” This warms my heart and speaks to the unity that can only come by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

As an organization, GCI has its unique culture. GCI culture directs our understanding to what is true, our will to what is good, and our discernment to what is beautiful. A journey through our GCI website will give you an overview of the GCI culture. Sure, you will see evidence of our branding in color schemes, symbols, and language, but most importantly you will see the triune God revealed in the person of Jesus. You will constantly see humanity held up as children of God made in his image and created for salvation, not destruction. You will see the promotion and practical support of the church. The church is highly valued, and it is through the life of the church that we best participate with Jesus by the power of the Spirit. Thank you to the media team that keeps us grounded.

In my previous Update letter, I spoke about the culture of liberation that we are growing towards. It was described through the tool of the “Support-Challenge Matrix.” It is from this matrix that we get our GCI philosophy of “High Support, High Challenge, Grace Always.” This wisdom to live by finds its genesis in Jesus Christ.

There is no higher support than the second person of the Godhead becoming flesh and blood, then going to Calvary’s cross to lay down his life for all of humanity. It was an astounding sacrificial act that changed the course of a fallen world. No greater love have we ever known or ever will.

There is no higher challenge than what Paul said in Ephesians, “…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 4:13 NRSVA) Jesus desires for us to not only be saved by his love, but to be transformed into his image and to be fully alive in him.

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Culture of Liberation

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

In 2019, A Giant Step Forward – Toward an Emerging Culture of Liberation was published. I co-wrote this book with Rick Shallenberger and Dr. Tom Nebel.

The book was a bridge connecting the past leadership of the church under Dr. Joseph Tkach to the new era under my term as GCI President. It explained where we had come from and where we are going. By the grace of Jesus Christ, we have been on track and moving toward a culture of liberation.

The “Support – Challenge Matrix” was foundational in giving us our bearings for moving forward.

This updated matrix expands the concepts in each of the four quadrants. The quadrants of domination, abdication, and protectionism speak for themselves. They are places and spaces we have experienced, and we do not want to go back.

Let’s dig into the quadrant of liberation and capture a broader picture of where we see the Holy Spirit taking us.

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Identity in Christ

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The New Testament uses a variety of terms to express our transformed life in Jesus. Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being “born again” or “born from above.” Paul tells the Colossian church that it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV). Paul describes this life in Jesus in several ways. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) he declares, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Being “joined to the Lord” is another phrase that the apostle Paul uses.

Being in Christ gives us a new life and a new identity; we leave behind former ways of behaving and self-identifying. We are now becoming the people we were initially created to be—people in Christ, bearing the image of God, no longer bearing a false or broken image.

The apostle Paul provides a sample list of these types of former behaviors. Not so much as a “checklist,” but as a reminder of the ungodly, unrighteous activity we leave behind. After all, grace teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness (Titus 2:12).

In Paul’s letter to Corinth, he said:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV)

And the key to Paul’s point is found in the next verse:

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV)

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Passing the Baton in Asia

Dear GCI Friends and Family,

For this issue of Update, I wanted to give the column to retiring superintendent, Eugene Guzon. It has been my privilege and joy to work with Eugene over the years. Lulu, his wife, has been a wonderful partner and support alongside Eugene. Their daughter, Joyce, and her husband, Aron, are vibrant leaders for the present and the future.

During our recent Celebration, Eugene passed the superintendent baton to Danny Zachariah. Eugene emulates the love and patience of Jesus. His commitment and tireless service have been appreciated by the Philippines and the entire Asian Region. I wish Eugene and Lulu much joy and fulfillment in this next stage of life.

In Him,
Greg Williams

P.S. Don’t miss the recordings of the Denominational Celebration in this issue.

I write to share highlights and reflections from God’s work in Asia—a region of diverse peoples, cultures, and spiritual beliefs. A large segment of the population is young. The countries are developing, and resources are scarce. In several areas, Christians are a minority. GCI has been active in the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand, with networks in other countries, like Nepal.

I became Asia Superintendent in January 2019. The territory was a new frontier for me with its unique context and geopolitical challenges. An element that characterized this assignment was change. The Healthy Church vision was being introduced. We formed a new Community of Practice (COP) with Danny Zachariah and Wong Mein Kong, who were also early into their roles as regional directors for the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia (respectively). The landscape of the church shifted through COVID-19. It was a time of active learning as we tried to discern and follow where the Spirit led.

Participating together

One of the ways God is moving in Asia is through the people. I am inspired by many committed servant leaders, most of whom are volunteers. God provided them as engines of ministry in our local churches to carry out His mission. We have also been blessed through generous partners from our bigger GCI family and other like-minded organizations.

We are experiencing the value of teams. From the GCI Superintendents and Asia COP to the Philippines National Ministry Team, district directors, pastoral teams, and now the Faith, Hope, and Love Avenues, the team-based culture has been empowering and fulfilling. The process of cultivating REAL teams is not quick or easy, but it is a worthwhile investment and is more reflective of the life of our triune God.

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Looking Ahead

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

I bring you greetings from our six GCI global superintendents. We met for planning meetings after the Denominational Celebration. The group was basking in the afterglow of “Remembering Our First Love in Jesus.” Jesus’ love was experienced in tangible ways – in the lingering of praise worship, the cacophony of fellowship with brothers and sisters, the celebration of GCS graduates, the inspiration of messages assuring us of Christ’s unfailing love, and the crescendo of communion uniting us to our Lord. The level of encouragement and assurance of participation with Jesus was off the charts. We have received many words of appreciation and stories of transformation.

One of the most unique experiences was enduring three fire alarms. Two alarms on Friday afternoon and one early Saturday morning (1:44 am). The early morning drill could’ve easily caused attitudes to flare and turned into a deeply negative experience for our attendees. However, during the fire drill, we saw members helping others, especially the elderly and those with mobility limitations. Then once outside, several service-minded members brought chairs outside and water to drink on the humid night. We were a sight in our various versions of sleeping attire, and yet the spirit was light and good-natured. The love of Jesus was experienced.

One man staying at the hotel for a family reunion was in tears on Saturday morning as he stood in the breakfast line and recounted his early morning experience. He was having chest pains and the paramedics were going to transport him to the hospital. Thankfully the chest pains stopped, and he was able to stay at the hotel. His experience watching our GCI brothers and sisters in action, helping so many, made an impact on him. He said that he saw heaven in action that early morning; the church was being the church. Sunday afternoon, we saw him again, this time he was wearing his pastor collar. Yes, unbeknownst to us he was a pastor and had just preached a sermon to his members in the hotel about what he had witnessed early Saturday morning. Thank you to so many for being GCI.

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Equipping the Saints

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Faith, Hope, and Love in Action has been the theme of GCI for 2023. Our superintendents and their teams of leaders have been teaching, coaching, and supervising to help our “Team Based—Pastor Led” congregations become intentionally focused and active in the ministry Avenues of Jesus.

What will it look like as these efforts take root? Allow me to paint word pictures of Healthy Church.

Love Avenue

Let’s assume that the Love Avenue champion has been identified and is in place, and that a capable team of missionally-minded people is empowered to organize and mobilize the congregation into relational activities outside the walls of the church and into the surrounding neighborhood. Are you with me?

We can also assume that under the pastor’s guidance, exegetical work has been done. First, the neighborhood’s demographics and rhythm of activities and events have been clearly researched and identified. In a parallel project, an exegesis of the people who make up the congregation is also being done. What are their backgrounds and life experiences? What strategic relationships and connections do they have? What spiritual gifting is present? What passions are expressed by the collective group?

The exegetical work of both neighborhood and congregation leads to some initial planning. What events will the church sponsor? And a very important second question, what will be the come-back event? Are there places and spaces where the congregation can join in with community events or community agencies?

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