President’s Video – Compelled by Love

In this month’s Update, GCI President Greg Williams talks about redefining how we are living life with our neighbors in the light of Christ’s love and looking forward to 2022 with him by our side.

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Program Transcript


Love Avenue
GCI President Update | January 2022

In GCI, our mission statement is “Living and Sharing the Gospel.”

For many years we have used the expression “Disciples who make disciples” – and have aspired that GCI would become a disciple-making movement.

In 2022, we need to restore a clear vision for discipleship.

Let’s start with a definition. Discipleship is the lifelong pursuit of learning to live under the care of our Father, the guidance of the Spirit, and forever growing in relationship with the Son.

Whether we talk about teaching, coaching, mentoring, leadership development, etc. we are talking about “Making Disciples and Discipleship.”

Discipleship is a life-long process.

For the sake of the Love Avenue, we are talking about neighborhood engagement and evangelism.

How would you define engagement?

Serving the needs of another, a neighborhood, or a community.

Participating in shared activities with the purpose of building relationships (more than cleaning litter from the street or painting a house but getting to know others on a deep personal level, and mutually experiencing the presence and love of Jesus).

How would you define evangelism?

“Winning” others to Jesus. Notice the Apostle Paul’s words.

18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.
1 Corinthians 9:18-20 (NRSV)

Evangelism is the illuminating, transforming work of the Holy Spirit. As believers, we participate with the Spirit in the life of another through presence and proclamation.

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, the Apostle describes the Spirit’s work of illumination. The Spirit opens our minds and hearts at conversion, and He continues throughout our Christian lives to make the gospel make sense to us and to lead us into Christ-likeness.

Presence

Presence is best described in the construct of “Place-sharing.” The term, place-sharing came from the theological mind of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and is elaborated on by Dr. Andrew Root. We are producing a webinar series that will get into the nuts and bolts of the “Why? What? And How?” of place-sharing. Be watching for this series and our Love Avenue Teams will want to dig in deep.

Proclamation

Proclaim Jesus! His Deity; His goodness; His love; and His desire to be in relationship with His children.

We don’t start with our church and its programs and activities (not that these are bad, but we must first be disciples of Jesus, if we are then to become “disciple-makers”).

How do we talk about God? How do we describe the Gospel to a new person?

Peter gives insight to our posture of proclamation. We are familiar with, “Be prepared to give an answer of the hope that lies within you for those who ask.” But let’s read it in its context:

13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. 
1 Peter 3:13-16 (NRSV)

We in GCI are eager to do what is good. And what greater good can there be than making disciples?

The boldest and most brash of all the original disciples learned some meaningful lessons in his lifetime and through the inspiration of the Spirit shared these pearls of wisdom with the Church in his epistle.

  1. Set aside Christ as Lord in your life first.
  2. Always be ready to give an answer of the hope that is within you. And the hope that all believers have in common is the personal relationship with Jesus.
  1. Providing your answer to those “who ask.” We must be watchful and observant in our relationships to detect how Jesus is present, and how the Spirit may be nudging and turning the conversation toward spiritual matters.
  1. And when the door opens to speak about Jesus and his goodness do this gently and with respect. It isn’t the time to share all your knowledge about Jesus and the Bible, give them enough information to digest. Be willing to follow-up, even study and learn together, acknowledging that you too are a disciple still growing in grace and knowledge.

In GCI, our evangelism is relational. Like Peter, our evangelism begins with our relationship in Christ, it is an overflow of his love for us. He is the source of the love we are sharing with our neighbors.

In making disciples, please keep in mind that your neighbors are people very much like you. People who have needs and desires; people who have struggles and disappointments; and people who have dreams and hopes. And just like you and me, they need love and friendship, and whether they realize it or not, they too need Jesus. In him, we all receive healing, restoration, and wholeness.

So church, in 2022 let’s, you and me, be even more compelled by love to live and share the Gospel of Jesus. And may the aspiration to become a disciple-making movement move beyond a dream toward reality!

Compelled by Love

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The most succinct statement about God in the Bible is found in 1 John 4:8 – God is love. He is the source and Jesus is the perfect human expression.

My daughter-in-law, Crystal, is a teacher. She has been an educator for 13 years in various positions, ranging from a kindergarten teacher, creator of a literacy program, to an Early Childhood Consultant. After consulting for the past five years, she is back in the classroom teaching kindergarten.

Crystal has recently taken a job teaching kindergarten in a private church-operated school. During orientation Crystal became uneasy with the philosophy for managing the students. There was a strong emphasis on behavioral control with the use of the “stoplight behavior system.” The stoplight approach uses the red, yellow and green light as a visual to assist a child in knowing how well their behavioral performance is going throughout the day. Every child starts a new day fresh on “green,” which is positive. However, throughout the day, if expectations are not met, a child could move from “green” to “yellow,” and then “red” if behaviors persist. Most teachers have this behavior-control system openly displayed for the class to see, so everyone knows the behavioral status of each student in the class. It is a shameful experience to send a child to change their stoplight color in front of their classmates.

Setting behavior boundaries and responsibilities for children is useful and needed, but modeling grace is pro-actively teaching children to focus their behavior on being Christ-like versus performance-based. Teaching children love, joy, kindness, and patience, as adults express grace while still setting boundaries, creates deeper love and trust. Performance-focused behavioral systems teach children that love and trust are conditional. It teaches they will be rewarded with the materials and accolades of this world instead of discovering the strength and power of the love God has for us, and that we should have for ourselves and others. The stance by the school to use the stoplight behavioral system seemed to be at odds with the core fabric of who God is and created quite a conundrum for Crystal. The school was projecting that love is tied to conditions, but Crystal’s desire for the children is for them to know and experience the unconditional love of Jesus.

In essence, the Christian school would be telling these five-year old precious boys and girls that their behavior was most important. If somehow they behaved well enough, then they could experience belonging in the community atmosphere of the class. This is the classic message that comes from many Christian groups: Behave as a Christian, believe as a Christian, and only then can you belong as a Christian in a Christian community. Performance gets you in.

I believe it was the Holy Spirit who alerted Crystal’s senses to the issue of making behavior the primary concern. Shortly after the school year started, Crystal and Glenn attended a church service and were greatly encouraged by a sermon message. The pastor spoke profoundly about conditional love versus grace and eternal love. He spoke about the need to teach grace and love to our children through our discipline. Grace isn’t the absence of discipline—rather, it is the act of understanding and applying love. Yes, we want our children to behave appropriately, but more importantly, even when they don’t, we want them to be shown love through the extension of Christ-like grace. In turn, they will learn to extend grace and love to others. The application of grace and love requires more time and effort than asking a child to walk to the front of the classroom and change the color of their stoplight. Applied grace and love means acknowledging the child, listening to the child, discovering what is motivating the child, having a meaningful conversation with the child, and mutually agreeing to better forms of action (enveloped in love and belonging). These steps take time and patience, and they imply a relationship where the child is seen and heard. (Isn’t that what love looks like?) Crystal left that church service feeling relief from the philosophical turmoil about where the church stands on the matters of grace and love.

The apostle John continues developing his thoughts about God and love in 1 John 4:19“Because he [Jesus] first loved us,” we already belong. Did you hear that? We belong because of Jesus! Jesus died for all, and because we are all under his atoning, spilled blood, we belong before we ever believe or behave correctly. It is the safety and assurance of belonging that frees us to explore more about this loving God who became flesh and died in our place. It is the believing that smooths the path for receiving the marvelous, free gift of grace that is offered only through Jesus. Then as believers in daily active relationship with Jesus responding and participating through the power of the Spirit, we are continuing to be transformed into his likeness, becoming more like him. So, the flow of “Belong, Believe, Become,” is more in alignment with who we see Jesus to be in Scripture and how he relates to his children (kindergarteners and all other age groups).

Just as Crystal is teaching and guiding her beloved students, we as Christ-followers in GCI are also compelled by the love of God to view and treat our neighbors with the unconditional love we have received. We are compelled, driven and motivated to treat the folks around us with value, respect and godly love. We too can acknowledge, listen more intently, and discover more about our neighbors. (For those want to explore more about this, I recommend the book Surprise the World, by Michael Frost).

The apostle John outlines it so well in his writings.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 ESV)

My beloved (my dear friends, my darlings), focus on how much you are loved. It is this “love received” that in turn can be freely given to others. It is because God has loved us so well and perfectly through Jesus that we now can love others.

“Compelled by Love” is GCI’s theme for 2022. There is much more to come, so please embrace this season of Christ’s birth along with our beloved brothers and sisters around the world and let’s observe how Jesus transforms us and our neighbors in the coming New Year.

Abundant and Flowing Love,

Greg

P.S. I am proud to have Crystal as my daughter-in-law and thrilled that my grandchildren (Emory and Everett) get to grow up in a home where the unconditional love of Jesus is so palpable.

 

Footnote:

Dear Church, in my previous video update speaking about Saint Nicholas and the Christmas season I made a reference to the “Immaculate Conception.” Please understand that I was only referencing the understanding that Mary was “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirt and became impregnated with the Lord Jesus and gave birth to our Savior (and remained human).

It was not my intention to make this reference in the context of Catholic doctrine. It is not our belief in GCI that Mary was free of original sin nor is she the intercessor between humanity and Christ.

Please accept my apology for using this term and creating any confusion.

President’s Video – The Backstory of Saint Nick

Dr. Greg Williams asks listeners to take a new look at the story of Saint Nick and how he set as an example to us all by sharing Christ’s love; reminding us that is exactly what Christmas is all about.

Program Transcript


The Backstory of Saint Nick
GCI President Update | December 2021

Sitting in my mother’s living room on a quiet Christmas morning, I began paging through a book of Christmas devotionals. To my surprise, these stories were written by Hank Hanegraaff, a Christian author known as “The Bible Answer Man,” and a close friend and ally to GCI.

Let me read the opening to the story from The Heart of Christmas… (Book in hand) Can Santa Claus Be Saved?

Believe it or not, even Santa can be saved! Far from being a dangerous fairy tale, Santa Claus in reality is an Anglicized form of the Dutch name Sinter Klaas, which in turn is a reference to Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop from the fourth century. According to tradition, Saint Nick not only lavished gifts on needy children, but also  valiantly supported the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. While the word Trinity­­–like incarnation–is not found in Scripture, it aptly codifies what God has condescended to reveal to us about His nature and being.

Santa Claus – St Nicholas – was a good Christian man who served others and believed in the Father, Son and Spirit. Makes you think differently about some of the songs we sing and how we parallel them to what we know – or should I say, who we know? Who Christmas is really about.

For example:

In the Lyrics – Santa Claus is coming to town they almost get it right…

He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice,                                             

It’s not two lists, naughty and nice. It’s one list. Unlike Santa who’s checking behavior – naughty or nice – Jesus opens up THE BOOK OF LIFE or THE LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE, which is the record of humanity saved by Jesus. God didn’t send Jesus to check on our behavior; God so loves the world he sent his only Son to save and include humanity (this is what Hank Hanegraaff referred to as “The Incarnation”).

Back to the lyrics…

He sees you when you’re sleeping and he knows when you’re awake                                   

This isn’t to check-up on us, this is to let us know he is always with us. He is always loving us.

The Psalmist asks the important question, WHERE CAN I GO FROM YOUR SPIRIT?

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

The Apostle Paul amplifies this same concept in his letter to the Romans when he says that nothing can separate us from the Love of Jesus. We are absolutely secure in the presence of the Spirit and enveloped in the love of Jesus.

Back to the song…

He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake

Certainly, he wants us to be nice over naughty, and good over bad. Why? So we can fully experience his peace and joy and hope and love. Something we can’t experience on our own, or by focusing on our behavior.

WE CAN ONLY DO THIS WITH CHRIST IN US. It’s his goodness and righteousness that transforms us.

Maybe a new look at Saint Nick isn’t a bad idea. Especially if we think about Bishop Saint Nicholas who provided for the needy and stood firm for the amazing Triune God at the Christianity-shaping council of Nicea. May we follow his good example. At the same time, may we stay focused on what Christmas is about.

Christmas is about the Father sending his beloved son Jesus. The Spirit overshadowing Mary for what is known as the immaculate conception. And Jesus taking on flesh and blood; the divine becoming human for the purpose of saving fallen humanity.

All in all, Christmas is the story of the incredible Triune God showing love to his created sons and daughters, to sweep us up into his life and love. Christmas is a time of hope, of joy, of peace, and of love.

Church, please realize that you are already on God’s “good list,” and not only does he see you when you’re sleeping and awake, he saturates you with his unending love 24/7! That’s who he is.

Rejoice and celebrate in the divine love of Christmas. A very happy and merry Christmas from me and Susan, and all of your friends at the Home Office.

Dr. Greg Williams asks listeners to take a new look at the story of Saint Nick and how he set as an example to us all by sharing Christ’s love; reminding us that is exactly what Christmas is all about.

Advent

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Why is Advent so important? Because the coming of Jesus is important.

More than 2,000 years ago, when the Holy Spirit overshadowed a young lady named Mary, Father God’s timing was perfect to send his only begotten Son into the world. The 40+ Old Testament prophecies pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah and the setting of the stage. The messaging had been so well laid out that the jealous King Herod was aware, and even wise men (Magi) from the east came to honor this newborn king.

Unfortunately, most of Israel missed the coming of the Messiah and the significance. They were pre-occupied by their religious traditions, steeped in their works and personal righteousness, and under the heavy-handed rule and occupation of the Romans. Their only perceived need of deliverance was from the tyranny of Rome. They were looking for a warring hero king to raise a sword against Rome, not a rabbi who would challenge them over their religion and willingly subject himself to death on a Roman cross.

We are highly blessed and favored to live on the other side of the cross. We get to see how radical and life-changing the plan of God really is. We get to see how the Messiah wasn’t about conquering armies and nations— he was about conquering sin and death. Instead of raising a sword against the perceived enemy, he went to the cross and died in their place so that they too can have a place in his eternal kingdom. King Jesus is about forgiveness, redemption, and love for all his created children.

Why do we need four weeks of celebration and symbolism leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth? If you are like me, I can get easily distracted and skim through life. The things that really matter, and the things that have substance deserve our full attention and our lingering. As an example, I just returned from my youngest son’s wedding. Instead of this being an afternoon ceremony, making a toast, eating cake, and going home, it was a four-day event with scattered activities from going to the courthouse to get a license, the two merging families having time together, hanging out with the bridal party, an extended rehearsal brunch, an entire day of the groomsmen and bridesmaids being with the bride and groom leading up to the ceremony, to a dinner and dance for the ages. It was more like a wedding feast that we read about in the New Testament. Events worth celebrating warrant the dedication of time, attention and our full undivided presence. Advent, with its emphasis on hope, peace, joy and love all culminating in the person of Jesus is a season to immerse our time, thoughts and energy.

The coming of Jesus is important – in fact, there is nothing more important than Jesus coming into your life and into the life of our church. Let’s not make the mistakes of the Jewish nation some 2,000 years ago and allow the noise, difficulties, and tyranny of the present age to become so loud and real that we miss seeing Jesus. Let’s not miss seeing that he is our hope, peace, and joy and that it is his love that changes everything – redeeming oppressed and oppressor alike.

I invite our Hope Avenue champions and teams to access the preparation materials that are provided through Equipper to make this Advent season an event of events and a celebration where all worshippers who gather with us will know, and know that they know, that Jesus has come!

Celebrating Jesus,
Greg Williams

 

Defining Sin

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Not long ago a pastor told me he gets questioned by congregants who ask, “Why don’t you focus more on sin in the RCL sermons? We seem to be soft on sin.” His response was to put himself into the mix by saying he was just like the apostle Paul in that he was a chief sinner and was completely dependent on the mercy and grace of Jesus. He explained to me that he’d rather be known as strong on grace and if that meant being soft on sin, he was okay with that.

I receive similar questions from time to time in emails and letters sent to the Home Office as it relates to certain human behaviors and lifestyles in society around us.

There is a lot I can say in response to this:

  • Most people are already aware of their shortcomings and failures; they don’t come to church to be reminded of their sin, but to be reminded of the hope they have in Jesus.
  • Jesus said he did not come to condemn, and I don’t believe it is our job to make people feel condemned.
  • Jesus’ message was pointing us to our relationship with God, not our relationship with sin.
  • Our calling (commission) is to point to Jesus and his message of salvation, to teach people to obey Jesus’ commandment to love as he loved. It is his love that overcomes a multitude of sins.
  • Didn’t Jesus say he came to steer us away from sin and its condemnation, and point us to God’s grace and mercy?
  • Isn’t it ultimately the transforming work of the Holy Spirit to convict humanity about sin and righteousness? As Christ’s representatives we participate with the work of the Spirit.

Granted, some will raise some arguments over these statements, but let me suggest that before we argue, we look at a few key passages of Scripture. In particular, let’s look at 1 John 3:4, and then at John 16:9.

An oft-quoted passage is found in John’s letter.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4 NRSV)

But what is the context here? The context is God’s love. Let’s read a few more verses:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. (1 John 3:1-6 NRSV)

Notice a few important things. First, John points out that we are the children of God. And the world does not know us because it does not know him. The focus here is on Jesus and our true identity as his beloved. John’s primary theme isn’t sin—he is writing about our identity in Christ. Then John reminds us that those who know him are purified in him. All this comes before the oft-quoted verse about sin. Then John reminds us further that Jesus “was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.” Should we focus on Jesus, or focus on sin? It’s an important distinction. It is within the abiding relationship with Jesus that we grow in purity and Christlikeness. If we fall into the trap of isolating our weaknesses and sinful behaviors, then try to deal with them out of our personal strength and willpower, we will be on a merry-go-round of frustration. Also, we are throwing ourselves back on ourselves attempting to somehow become worthy and acceptable before a holy God, when it is only Jesus who makes us worthy and acceptable. Unfortunately, the lop-sided focus on sin that we see in much of Christianity is a distraction from who Jesus is.

Let’s go further and ask an important question: If we focus on verse 4, what is the sin John is referring to? Again, in the context of our identity, wouldn’t sin be not acknowledging our identity? And then living out of that identity?

Wait a minute, Greg, another translation says, “sin is the transgression of the law,” implying we should focus on the law. What law?

Jesus made it clear in his discussion with a “teacher of the law” (Mark 12:28-34) that the law is to love God and love each other. The law Jesus refers to also points to who God is and who we are in relation to God and to each other. Sin, then, is believing the lies about who God is and who we are in Christ. Again, it comes down to identity—the point John was making in his letter.

To go further, let’s go to other words that John shared in his Gospel as he describes the Holy Spirit to his disciples:

And when he comes he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer, and about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. (John 16:8-11 NRSV)

Notice a few things here. John is sharing Jesus’ message with his disciples about the Holy Spirit and the relationship between the Holy Spirit and us. Jesus said the Holy Spirit comes to prove that we have been wrong about sin, righteousness and judgment about sin. Why? Because of a lack of belief in Jesus—who he is. We could easily include a lack of belief in what Jesus did and what he is doing.

I love how Francois du Toit translates the original language in this verse and his commentary afterwards.

In this capacity of close companionship with you, Holy Spirit comes to convince the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment: Holy Spirit in you will persuade them concerning their sin, which boils down to a bankrupt, distorted identity due to their indifference to me. (John 16:8-9 Mirror Study Bible)

Notice the emphasis on identity. In GCI, we believe one of the most important questions to ask is “Who is Jesus,” followed by the question, “Who am I in Jesus?” I won’t go into all the different Greek and Hebrew words here, but I believe Francois got it correct when he says this in the commentary on this verse:

“Sin is to live out of context with the blueprint of one’s design; to behave out of tune with God’s original harmony.”

To sin is to live outside of the truth of who God created us to be. When we don’t know who Jesus is, and we don’t know who we are in Jesus, we live outside of the truth of who we are. It is expressed in our lack of love for God and for each other. What is the solution? To come to know Christ, to believe in him and to believe who we are in him. It is to know our true identity, then to embrace it.

Our sermons focus on our Savior, not on enumerating and dissecting sins. Our greatest desire is to know Christ and to help others know him. We focus on his identity and our identity in him. This is what changes lives. When we know God, his love compels us to love others. When we focus on love, we cannot focus on sin.

Besides, as Jesus tells us in the above passage, the father of lies and sin has already been condemned. I’d much rather preach on Jesus and his love than on the lies the enemy wants us to believe, which leads to lawlessness and condemnation. We preach a message of hope. That message comes from knowing and loving Jesus and knowing and loving those he loves.

Preaching the good news,

Greg Williams

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

Life in the Kingdom: Joy and Peace at the Next Level

My dear friend Charles Fleming sent me a personal email after the denominational celebration. He was deeply moved by the kingdom of God theme. Charles is an analytical thinker and he has much to add to the theme of the kingdom. I’ve invited him to share, and before we get to his thoughts, let me go on record and thank him for serving as a regional team member for the Southeast US alongside Anthony Mullins. Thank you, Charles, for your good words. May we continue to seek first the kingdom of God in our pursuit of healthy church and healthy lives.

– Greg Williams, President

 


For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval – Romans 14:17-18

The recent Denominational Celebration fed my soul at many levels. Seeing and hearing of God’s kindness and generosity to his people around the world was a high point. But what has stayed with me longest was the reminder that we are already citizens of the kingdom of God. We are already enjoying some of the greatest blessings that await the entire human family when that kingdom is established in all its glory. In our Covid-weary, disaster-riddled world, I needed that.

It’s been too long since we have had any teaching on the present reality of the Kingdom of God. So, I thank God for inspiring our President, Greg Williams, to devote his keynote address to the subject. As he introduced his message, he called on us to think and talk about the present reality of the kingdom. Here is a sampling of some of what he said.

(As I was preparing for this sermon) “it just kept coming back to me that we need to talk about the kingdom of God and the reality of the kingdom of God… seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness is the priority… the kingdom and what that means.”

He did not just call on us to reflect on our new reality. He set the tone by highlighting three kingdom realities that the apostle Paul says are already available to us – righteousness, peace and joy.

I decided to take Greg’s encouragement to think deeply on the kingdom as a personal challenge. And now I want to take the second step he recommended. I want to talk about it with the hope of encouraging you to similarly think and talk about the kingdom. I gave more thought to what Paul wrote in Romans 14. Here are two things that I found particularly inspiring.

First, I was struck by the fact that the joy and peace Paul is talking about are not just the natural peace and joy we humans experience. Verse 18 shows there are two dimensions to this peace and joy. On the horizontal level we have right relationships with fellow humans. He says that when anyone “serves Christ in this way” the result is he or she “receives human approval.” And what does he mean by “in this way”? In the context Paul is writing in, it is following Christ’s example of accepting and not judging others (vv. 1-4) as well as joining Jesus in giving up personal rights to meet the needs of others (vv. 13-15, 19-23). There is a natural experience of joy and peace when we do the right thing.

But – and this is the truly inspiring part – there is more!

There is also a vertical dimension. What makes this version of peace and joy hallmarks of the kingdom is that the King himself is filled with joy. In verse 18, Paul also said that when anyone “serves Christ in this way (that) is pleasing to God.” What makes Paul declare the presence of the kingdom is that the King himself is filled with joy when he sees his people living true to their calling. And his joy is contagious. We get to experience it.

Living lives of inclusive, sacrificial love leads to the fulfillment – in this life – of promises of joy that Jesus made to his disciples. In one of his parables of the kingdom, Jesus promises the “good and faithful servant” that she or he will enter into or experience the very joy of his or her master (Matthew 25:21). Our ultimate reward is that for all eternity we will participate fully in the joy that Jesus experiences. But we do not have to wait for the resurrection to begin experiencing some of King Jesus’ joy. In John 17, he prayed for us to receive and experience, not just our (horizonal level) human joy, but his very joy even now!

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you…. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:11, 13).

The same can be said of peace. Jesus promised us not just our human-level peace, but an experience of his very own peace.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27).

My first great encouragement from thinking of this scripture is that when we are under the reign of King Jesus, we even get to participate in his emotions. He gives us a capacity for joy and peace that is beyond our natural, human ability to generate. Oh, how we need that just to keep going in our broken world!

My second reason for being encouraged is that we also get to share that joy and peace with others by participating with the Spirit in helping others know and accept the loving rule of King Jesus. Dallas Willard has a definition for the kingdom of God that captures what Paul says in Romans 14, “The Kingdom of God is God reigning. It is present wherever what God wants done is done.”

The kingdom of God is present wherever what God wants done is done

The kingdom is present whenever we allow the love of God shed abroad in our hearts to move us to serve others. In doing so we are bringing to others an experience of life under the rule of the King of love. It’s as if a new reality flashes into the conscious life of another person. And – wonder of wonders – we get to be loving, walking, talking representatives of that kingdom because Jesus lives in us by his Spirit!

Why should we actively think and talk about the kingdom of God? There are lots of reasons, but here are two. In a world that can lead us to despair and high anxiety, we are “hooked up” with a source of joy and peace that not only sustains and emboldens us but makes us beacons of hope for others.

Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you to take our President’s encouragement as a personal challenge to think and talk about the kingdom of God. Having an imagination shaped by Jesus’ kingdom gives us eyes to better understand the new creation life that Paul says is now ours (2 Corinthians 5:16-21.)

 

By Charles Fleming
GCI-USA Southeast Regional Support Team Member

 

 

 

 

 

Budget Planning for Healthy Church

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

At the Home Office we are in the season of preparing our budget for 2022. This is a large task, and yet a rewarding opportunity to collaboratively reflect on what the Spirit is doing among us, as well as prayerfully discerning where and what the Spirit is pointing us toward for the coming year.

We begin this process by reviewing how the budget served our vision of Healthy Church over the past year. We consider what projects may be winding down and how monies can be reallocated to promising new opportunities; what events were supported and what ones are coming in the next year; what equipment we have procured to enable our staff, and what new equipment we may need in 2022; what staffing needs might we face (we continue to work through retirements and the onboarding of new staff).

We are mindful that a similar process happens with our local congregations. This is a great time to take a few moments and reflect on the concept of budgeting to support the vision and mission of your church. Allow me to share some guiding principles that can help you in this important process.

  1. The work of the church is to make disciples and grow the community of the church.

Our budgeting priorities are going to support the ministries that are outlined by the Faith, Hope and Love Avenues and the annual rhythms of how these avenues interact to accomplish the work of the church.

As an example: GCI is not the humane society rescuing animals, even though a local church may get involved with pet rescue because of their affinity for specific people who love pets. But when our churches sink money into such an organization, that is a misuse of funds dedicated to the work of the church.

When donations are received and receipted by your local church, they should be used for local church initiatives, not for other non-profits. If you have members with a passion for a non-profit, then they can make a personal donation to that organization and not expect the local church to donate to it. The work of the local church is to make disciples by reaching into their neighborhood and connecting people to Jesus and his body, the church.

  1. The church is to do good.

Various scriptures inform us about the charitable, generous posture of the church. For example, Galatians 6:7-10:

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Doing good for all people doesn’t necessarily mean making a monetary contribution. It can be spending time, providing acts of service, making phone calls, sharing a meal, etc. How do you place a price tag on a genuine, caring relationship?

As Christ followers, we have a heart for “the good of all,” but realistically, our first responsibility is to the household of faith (this is why we offer help in the wake of devastating natural disasters). We are not the American Red Cross or local government with long-term care. As a denomination, we can only offer short-term emergency help. Neither is it our place to get out in front of biological families and circumvent their role in caring for one another. In GCI we have a history of serving members around the world during times of disaster, and the operation of the emergency fund has been monitored and managed by a Board Committee to assure good oversight.

  1. The church serves the needy.

James 1:27 is another scripture that helps us order our priorities. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Helping the helpless is a Christian responsibility and yet none of us have deep enough pockets to care for the vast population of the world’s poor. We do good where we can, as we can, and we do so in the tradition of Peter and John who declared that they had neither gold or silver, and yet they did have access to Jesus and his healing power for the lives of the people in front of them. We have the same riches and the same access to share with others.

Conclusion

The denomination supports the movement toward church health, and the growing number of healthy churches are becoming more impactful in their neighborhoods with the good news of Jesus and the active love of Jesus. The unique ways of how you will invest your time, talent and treasure in 2022 begins now with the prayerful planning, and discernment of the Spirit’s lead.

Some questions to think about when budgeting in your local church for a particular ministry:

  • Is this ministry “making disciples?”
  • Is the ministry doing the work of the church?
  • Does this ministry build and multiply local leadership?
  • Is this ministry working toward local sustainability?

We join you in prayer as we collectively look toward 2022 and a rich season of ministry!

Greg Williams

 


One of our core values in GCI is stewardship—protecting and preserving what we have. Though stewardship is praiseworthy, when given too much importance, it can get in the way of progress. Some of our congregations are sitting on large sums of money in their financial reserves. The money in your reserves was donated for the purpose of preaching the gospel and making new disciples, should it not be put to work in advancing that gospel mission? Does your church budget for evangelical outreach (Love Avenue)?

If your church is not able to have a Love Avenue due to size or location, work with your Regional Director for suggestions on how you might partner with another church within the region to financially support an outreach project they are working towards or support a neighborhood camp within your region.

These are just a few ways that you can make a legacy for your church within GCI instead of allocating GCI funds toward outside organizations.

 

President’s Video: Faith Forward and Transitions

In this Update, GCI President Greg Williams talks about this year’s theme, “Faith Forward”. He shares about the different transitions happening in the life of the church and how we are aligned with our faith in Christ moving forward.

The Denominational Celebration 2021 videos are now available for all registered participants but will be released with open access on GCI.org on November 1st, 2021.

Program Transcript


Faith Forward and Transitions

Hello church!

Hopefully, you are aware that our 2021 theme for Grace Communion International is “Faith Forward.” Galatians 2:20 states it very clearly:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20 (KJV)

It is by the faith OF the Son of God. It is the faith of Jesus in me strengthening my belief and quelching my unbelief.

Back in July, we took a short detour from Faith Forward to “Focus on Hope” (the theme of our Virtual Celebration). Not everybody could fit into the rhythm of the schedule and participate in the live streaming. The good news is that we recorded most of the presentations and I suspect that many of you are watching and learning from the recorded videos. Enjoy!

I am currently preparing to gather with some of our US pastors and their Faith Avenue champions to take a deep dive into all aspects of the Faith Avenue ministries. Please lift this weekend of training up in prayer. This can be a catalyst to move our Faith Forward.

In speaking of moving forward, an ongoing process that I have been involved with has been to work through the reality of leaders who are aging toward retirement and entering retirement. It is a privilege to work with leaders who are proactively thinking about who their replacement will be, and how to end their current level of responsibility on a high note.

There are no big announcements to make in this video update, but I can mention that we have a GCI Board rotation coming up in October and more news will follow.

When I became President of GCI, I came alongside many of our senior, trusted, and faithful leaders and had the privilege of walking with them to their retirement (a responsibility that I never fully anticipated but is a privilege).

Retirement is especially tricky as our old paradigm was to work in ministry until you die. Thankfully our good friend Joseph Tkach shifted the culture by his personal example.

The “working until you die mentality” is problematic.  The most glaring concern with this thinking is that the demands of ministry may send you to an early grave. Another issue is determining what is the best scenario for the extended family. The more difficult piece is when you’re holding on too long and too tightly and possibly standing in the way of an emerging leader that the Lord has called and prepared. Walking through this season is a prayerful journey with many conversations, and it is good that we can reach out to others who have gone in front of us.

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In alignment with our 2021 theme, Faith Forward is about growing deeper in relationship with Jesus and with one another who make up the family of the church. As your President, I have a clear responsibility to our leaders – the ones who are presently serving, and even the ones who will be coming after them. I solicit your prayers and support that together, we handle this responsibility well, strengthened by the faith of Jesus in us.

Thank you for responding to the faithfulness and love of Jesus, and your ongoing support to Grace Communion International!

In this Update, GCI President Greg Williams talks about this year’s theme, “Faith Forward.” He shares about the different transitions happening in the life of the church and how we are aligned with our faith in Christ moving forward.


The Denominational Celebration 2021 videos are now available for all registered participants, and will be released with open access on GCI.org on November 1, 2021.

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Website: https://www.gci.org

Copyright 2021 – Grace Communion International All Rights Reserved

GCI’s Mission in Bangladesh

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Friends and Family,

Grace Communion International is a wonderful mosaic of churches networked across 66 countries. The purpose of our church is to share the good news of Jesus through building loving meaningful relationships with our neighbors. As we participate with Jesus to make new disciples, we plant churches and identify elders who have pastoral gifts to lead these churches toward healthy expressions captured by the Faith, Hope and Love Avenues of ministry. As these churches grow and thrive, we expect them to become a mother church who gives birth to daughter churches. Some have even started parachurch ministries to serve local needs.

Since 1986, GCI has partnered with Bengali Evangelical Association (BEA) to establish missionary outreach to the Bengali people. Dr. John Biswas founded and led this missionary effort up until his death this past March. As part of his parachurch ministry, John set up the BEA Board of Directors, which has appointed Naomi Biswas to become the new President.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Naomi and listening to her desires to continue the operations of John’s ministry—BEA. I was also delighted to share with her the news of how GCI has a vetted young leader who is leading a GCI church plant in the city of Dhaka, under the guidance of Regional Director Danny Zachariah. Allow me to introduce Amiyo Bacher.

Amiyo Bacher attended the International Graduate School of Leadership in the Philippines and participated in our GCI CrossWay congregation under pastor Aron Tolentino while attending school. Amiyo returned to his native country of Bangladesh, where he is now planting a GCI house church under the direction of his Regional Director Danny Zachariah.

Naomi shared a similar story of a young leader that John had hired to take a leadership position in the BEA Ministry Center. Meet John Adhikary.

John Adhikary, who has a work history related with administrative skills and some ministry background, was hired to work in the BEA Ministry Center in Bangladesh. Because Naomi requested that John be introduced and oriented to GCI, Danny Zachariah will seek to establish a relationship with John and hopefully take on a mentoring role. It will be exciting to see how these young emerging leaders will grow and develop and how the Lord will work through them to reach the people of Bangladesh. It excites me to see a younger generation rising up.

Naomi and I agreed that we need indigenous leaders on the ground in Bangladesh to do the day-in and day-out work of ministry. The Lord is faithfully providing.

Roger and Anthea Lippross
Roger and Anthea Lippross

Another development that deserves mention is that Roger Lippross, who served beside John Biswas from the beginning of BEA, stepped down in July. Roger’s health is such that he simply must retire from service. We deeply love and appreciate Roger and Anthea, and the BEA family will miss their presence.

We wish Naomi and her Board of Directors well as they regroup and reorganize.

We also solicit your prayers and contributions to the GCI general fund so that we can amply support GCI’s work in Asia where it is most needed. Superintendent Eugene Guzon and his team with Regional Directors Mein Kong and Danny Zachariah are continuing to work with young leaders like Amiyo in Bangladesh, Roshan Nepali in Nepal, and some forming relationships with potential leaders in Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

The role of supporting these young leaders in their education and their church planting efforts, which includes continued supervision and guidance from GCI leaders, requires funding. The mission field in Asia is ripe and ready for harvest, and through God’s grace and provision we join him in the field!

I end this message with the closing that Roger Lippross always used.

For the Kingdom!

Greg