Godly Friendship

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The presidents all around the world have had their leadership tested through the recent global pandemic. I am a student of history and I enjoy reading about the different Presidents and some of the challenges they faced. I am a huge fan of US President Abraham Lincoln for many reasons. Historians characterize him as the best president in all of US history, and certainly he brought the country through a dark and troubled time.

Last summer on family vacation I read a fascinating book by Doris Kearns Goodwin entitled Team of Rivals. This book documents how Lincoln was secure enough and wise enough to work with other politicians who did not always agree with him. In fact, the very men who ran against him in the election of 1860 he placed in highly responsible positions on his cabinet.

In his early life Lincoln suffered great loss. When he was nine years old his mother died from what was called “milk sickness.” His mother was who he attributed his intelligence and inspiration. Her loss was significant. When Abe was 18, his older sister Sarah—who had a large role in raising young Abraham—died in childbirth. Then four years after the death of his sister, his first real love, Ann Rutledge, died from typhoid fever.

Twenty months after Ann’s death, Abe moved to Springfield, IL, to begin his law practice. Because he had never received mentoring and sponsorship from an established lawyer—which was the more typical path into law—Abe was a fairly desperate man hoping that his fledgling law practice would be successful. He was certainly a man who could use a friend and much-needed encouragement. Enter Joshua Speed.

Joshua was a well-educated man—a bit younger than Lincoln—and the proprietor of the Springfield General Store. Instead of selling Lincoln a bed on credit, he offered him the opportunity to become his roommate. Here is what Goodwin said about their relationship.

“Lincoln and Speed shared the same room for nearly four years. Over time, the two young men developed a close relationship, talking nightly of their hopes and their prospects, their mutual love of poetry and politics, their anxieties about women. They attended political meetings and forums together, went to dances and parties, etc.”

It is clear that this hearty friendship with Speed came at a critical juncture for Lincoln. The Bible speaks a lot to the value of friendship. The Proverbs says that a true friend sticks closer even than a biological brother. Joshua was that kind of friend to Abe.

The example of Lincoln and Speed makes me think of the biblical relationship of Jonathan and David.

Jonathan and David’s relationship was characterized by a loving friendship, with their souls knit together in shared values, mutual admiration, and bonded in covenant to one another.

1 Samuel 18:1-4 documents how Jonathan received David into the ranks of the Israelite army, into the palace, into the family as his brother-in-law, and with the deepest sense of true brotherhood. As the story unfolds, we see how Jonathan worked to keep David safe from the murderous attempts from his father King Saul. How remarkable it is for Jonathan to stand in the gap for David in this fashion.

Ultimately, Jonathan’s sister Michal forsook David, but Jonathan held true to his covenantal relationship, which is amazing since David was anointed to become the next king instead of prince Jonathan. Upon hearing the news of Saul and Jonathan’s demise in battle, David expressed this deeply emotional lament:

How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!

Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
(2 Samuel 1:25-26 NRSV)

The selfless, spiritual friendship we see on display with Jonathan and David is evidence of God’s presence in the lives of these two men. I would suggest that Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed were also a living extension of the love of God present in their bond of friendship. These examples of brotherly affection, deep commitment to one another and genuine honoring of one another hold out great hope for how relationships can be.

I have been richly blessed with true friends at all stages of my life. For many people in leadership, be they presidents of countries or pastors of churches, they often experience a great deal of loneliness. For any of our GCI leaders who may feel alone and discouraged, I recommend that you show yourself friendly and give attention to forming some meaningful relationships. You will be glad that you did.

In Brotherly Love,
Greg Williams

Discerning God’s Best

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

As President of Grace Communion International, one of my responsibilities is to cast a denominational vision for 542 churches and 230 fellowship groups in 69 countries, worldwide. For almost two years you have been hearing and reading my proclamations for GCI to become a healthier church; more vibrantly representing Jesus to the people we interact with in the neighborhoods where we are present.

In the first part of his letter to believers in Philippi, the apostle Paul offers this short prayer:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

Bible commentator Ralph Martin says, “The fulfillment of the apostle’s prayer will be that his friends have the ability to discern, and then to practice in their Christian living, the really important issues in their corporate life as a believing community.” Read that statement again and let it sink in.

Brothers and sisters, this is where we find ourselves, in a long season of discernment coupled with learning new ministry practices and trying new approaches.

Discernment is defined as sound judgment which makes possible the distinguishing of good from evil, and the recognition of God’s right ways for his people. It is putting on and exercising the mind of Christ so that we join him in his ongoing ministry to humanity. Discernment allows us to understand spiritual realities on practical levels and helps us guard against pitfalls.

I’m encouraged as we continue in the Spirit’s stream of grace and renewal, and I credit the Spirit with helping us discern and define the ministry of Jesus through the lenses of faith, hope and love. The construct of our pastors serving as under-shepherds to the Great Shepherd, and then—through the guidance of the Spirit—having ministry leaders and teams actively expressing the faith, hope and love of Jesus is not only appropriate but is practical and applicable. This healthy church construct provides a solid foundation to allow our congregations to continually discern God’s best for them and to participate in the building of God’s eternal kingdom.

In my travels around the world, I see and experience the love of Jesus in all GCI churches I visit. Our churches are made up of dear, sweet, godly people. I rejoice over this, and yet I also feel the sentiment of Paul when he expresses his desire for the growth of depth of relationship to Jesus and the adjoining thought of discernment to determine what is God’s best for them as they endeavor to bring glory and praise to the Triune God. Determining “God’s best” is an ongoing dynamic process through lots of prayers, conversation, and willingness to explore new ideas and new practices. If we are to be a vibrant church we cannot do “business as usual” we must build out the faith, hope, and love avenues and open lanes for the members to participate as the priesthood of all believers. Operating as an online church through the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to be creative and innovative, and when we can come together in public meetings again, we should continue to operate out of a fresh, creative spirit.

I believe Paul’s prayer established clarity of vision for the church in Philippi and is a good place for us to consider where we are in Grace Communion International today. Growing deeper in grace and knowledge of Jesus and then allowing this to overflow as we participate with Jesus as he moves in the lives of the people around us is what leads to impacting the mission field God has given to each congregation. Our vibrant relationship with Jesus stimulates our discernment to determine what God’s best is for us as we minister to the world around us. Operating in this manner sounds like Healthy Church to me.

Praying for God’s Best for You!
Greg Williams

 

HOPE

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The “Hope Avenue” of ministry has been our guiding theme this year, and the crescendo was going to be the Denominational Celebration. (In the April 1st issue we shared the news that we will postpone this until the summer of 2021.)

Another initiative that we have been promoting in 2020 is the GCI Worship Calendar. Through the combined efforts of the Superintendents, Regional Directors and Media Team, we were anticipating special gatherings around Holy Week and Easter, and to our shock and dismay much of the world has been on an extended self-quarantine lockdown.

So, what has the Lord been up to? Has he somehow forgotten our plans in GCI? Should I join the laments of the Old Testament Psalmist?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’ (Psalm 42:3)

There are a few of our members and their church families who have experienced the loss of loved ones at the hands of COVID-19, so I want to be careful not to move past the reality of grief too quickly. Where there has been loss of life, grief is multiplied when friends and family are not able to gather for a funeral service and celebration of their loved one’s life. Our hearts go out to you, and we lift prayers of comfort.

So where is our God? In the pattern of many Psalms, the grief, mourning and despair are turned to joy, hope and faith when the psalmist recalls what the Lord has done in the past, and how he is with them in the present circumstance. The same is true today. Let me express to you some of the tangible ways I have found hope.

I had the privilege of speaking with our six Superintendents around the globe and I was encouraged to hear their stories of how the pastors and churches in their areas are managing. I’m happy to share that each superintendent and their families are safe and healthy. I also found it interesting to discover how many of us have children who serve in the healthcare field. We seek your prayers for them and the other front-line workers. (Eugene Guzon estimates that in the Filipino members scattered around the world, there are some 170 doctors and nurses.) I am proud that our small denomination has such strong representation in the healthcare world.

The Superintendents expressed how many of their pastors and churches have shared online gatherings—inclusive of Sunday services, small group studies, game nights, youth meetings and the like. Not only do members have access to meetings online with their home congregation, many are accessing neighboring churches in their region, country and across the world. Staying home has spawned a new level of creativity and connectivity that we have not experienced before.

Having personally participated in online meetings for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I was more than pleased to see that the initiative to promote our GCI Worship Calendar is happening. It wasn’t how I envisioned, nor could I have anticipated to what degree GCI would access Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, WhatsApp and other social media platforms, but here we are.

We are finding hope during the pandemic, and why should we be surprised? Hope has a name: Jesus. His name is being proclaimed online and it is incredibly hopeful to see how we are communicating with many people beyond our regular members. May we continue building and forming these relationships.

Our Denominational Celebration is delayed, and yet it will go on. The prayerful planning and hard work that has been done to this point will serve us well as we rejoin the final preparations next year. Hope is still the theme, and I praise our Triune God for always supplying hope even through difficult times.

Always looking to our Hope,
Greg Williams

Now What?

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Holy Week and Easter Sunday have come and gone. I trust your online services from Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to Easter morning were uplifting and shared with friends and family beyond our normal GCI membership. It is quite an ironic blessing to be under the “Stay at Home” orders and still be able to bolster our engagement with people outside the walls of our normal church meetings. Our amazing Triune God works in mysterious ways and he is so good to include us.

He is risen! We have celebrated. Now what?

Allow me to pick up with the New Testament passage from the postcard I sent to encourage our pastors last week:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures… (I Corinthians 15:3-4 NRSVA)

So here is the “Now what?”

and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe. (1 Corinthians 15:5-11 NRSVA)

For the 40 days from Easter Sunday until his ascension, the resurrected Jesus came and went with some regularity, interacting with individuals, small groups of people, and even a crowd as large as 500 people. He did marvelous works, including restoring Peter and helping “Doubting Thomas” to see and touch his scars, which was underscored by Thomas worshipping and proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” The crescendo of Christ’s appearances was the giving of the Great Commission, in which he told the original disciples—and hence all followers for all ages—to go into the world with his guiding presence, to share the good news, teaching all things about him, and then to baptize through the name of Father, Son and Spirit.

Paul documents the risen Lord and several key aspects of his involvement over this 40-day period until Jesus ascended to return to the Father. Paul also extends beyond the 40 days to show how Jesus came to him. (Do you recall the “Road to Damascus” experience?) And by the grace of God, Jesus is still coming to humanity—and the “acts” of the church continue.

The “Now what?” for GCI is asking the question, how do we maintain relationship with those he is drawing to himself in March and April 2020 in the middle of a historic pandemic? It is great for us to be encouraged by seeing swelled numbers of viewers in our online services, but what about follow-up? What ways and means are we deepening relationships with these viewers? What practical ways are we extending the love of Jesus? Are we providing means for them to connect with the local congregation? Are we thinking of follow-up after the pandemic has passed? Are we planning ahead for ways to connect with those in our neighborhoods? Do we provide a link to a Facebook page, an invitation to write a message, a means for them to reach out and connect or to be prayed for? We want to use wisdom and discernment in the ways we connect, instead of posting our private phone numbers —perhaps we can reach out through private groups and messaging applications. There are many safe, useful platforms.

The Lord is providing opportunities during the stay-in-place and social-distancing orders we might not have considered. We have included several examples of what GCI congregations are doing. In addition, our Media Team recently started a special Facebook group called the “GCI Creative Community.” This is a great place to share your best ideas and then single-out ideas from others that can also benefit your circumstance.

The Hope Avenue of our GCI ministry has been reworked in a major way with our demand for online services. And now the Love Avenue is being challenged and molded into its emerging form as well.

May the risen Lord have his way with the church!

Greg Williams

 

Living Our Mission

GCI President, Dr. Greg Williams, gives an update on Grace Communion International. He talks about our mission as a denomination and shares the three basic ideas of how we can be more intentional in living out our shared mission.

Video Transcript

Our 2020 theme for GCI is “Hope.” The vision remains the same, Healthy Church. “Hope” is the special focus area for the New Year. We will be writing many articles about the hope we share in Jesus and how this is the hope that the world needs. We categorize the ministries of Jesus under the headings of Faith, Hope and Love, He is the personification of all three virtues. When we speak of the ministry space of Hope, we are focused on the reason the church gathers, to point the assembled church to Jesus; the one who is hope. When the church gathers, we expect that it will be made up of seasoned believers as well as newcomers. And you know what? All peoples who form the assembly need the assurance and certainty that comes in knowing Jesus and encountering him in corporate worship. In July the church will have representatives from around the world assemble to attend the Denominational Celebration in Charlotte, NC. From Wednesday July 29th, Sunday August 2nd we will come before our Lord and rejoice.  As I prepare myself to address the participants, I find myself studying Paul’s letter to the church at Rome.  The first part of Romans chapter 12 talks about our reasonable act of worship is to surrender our lives to the living God and then fully utilize the gifts he has placed in each one of us. He builds from this platform and speaks to the matter of “one-to-anothering.” A phrase that he often writes about. 10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another; 11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; 12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; 13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. 14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. 15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. 16 Be of the same mind one toward another Because of hope, or we can just as easily say “because of Jesus”, we can “one-to-another” well. We can love as caring siblings; we can honor others by esteeming them over ourselves; and we can be of the same mind because the mind of Christ abides in each of us. This will be a time to rejoice as we rally around Jesus and the sure hope we have because of him.    C.S. Lewis viewed “Hope” as a theological virtue. He goes on to say: “This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” Church let’s become fully grounded in the hope of Jesus and I hope to see many of you in July. I am Greg Williams keeping you updated on the life of the church.

Teach Us to Pray

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear Church Family,

When reading through the stories of Jesus with his original followers, it stands out that they didn’t ask him “teach us to preach” or “teach us to heal,” but rather they requested “Lord, teach us to pray.”

He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.(Luke 11:1 NRSV)

The robust prayer life of Jesus was not lost on the disciples. Jesus answered their request with what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Jesus instructed them to direct their prayers to God the Father, and to make their requests in his name (as he is the Mediator for humanity for all ages). In the apostle Paul’s writings, he explains how the Holy Spirit bears witness with our human spirit making prayers out of our wordless sighs and deep yearnings (Romans 8:26-27). Prayer at its very fabric is about communicating and relating to Father, Son and Spirit.

In 2020 we are digging deep into the Hope avenue of ministry. You will recall that this avenue envelops how we as a community of believers interact in our formal gatherings and how we point people to the real, tangible hope found only in Jesus. Prayer is an integral part.

In my various travels I hear a wide array of prayers from our GCI family. We are without doubt a praying church, yet some of the shorthand expressions I hear are a bit confusing. I am not implying that there are perfect or imperfect prayers, and ultimately the Holy Spirit can clean up any utterance that we humans make. Nonetheless, allow me to discuss a few expressions that could be improved upon.

Lord please be present in our meeting.”

The sense here is that we come across as inducing God to do something he may not be inclined to do. Within the omnipresent nature of the Triune God we know that there is no place where we are not in his presence. Therefore, it is illogical to think that we are doing anything outside of his presence. It is more appropriate to pray for our heightened awareness of the Lord’s presence, and to express gratitude in knowing he will never leave or forsake us.

A better phrase for a prayer of invocation would be “Father and Son, we welcome your Spirit to be at work in us and among us.” It demonstrates connection with the persons of the Father and Son following the clear instructions of Jesus. This idea of “welcome” helps to avoid the impression that we are trying to get God to be or do something he would rather not.

“Lord bless our plans.”

I admit I have been guilty of short-changing the process of interaction with the Lord and simply wanting his power and blessing to perform my will. (Isn’t this quicker and easier?) Before any plans germinate, shouldn’t they begin by seeking his wisdom, guidance and perfect will? In the prayer life of Jesus, as he communed with the Father, he makes this amazing statement:

“Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.(John 5:19-20 NRSV)

If this is true of Jesus, how much more does it apply to us?

The core problem with any shorthand expression in prayer is a narrow view of prayer—mostly trying to get God to do something he is not inclined to do by exerting some kind of inducement. So, such prayers are trying to get God to turn around.

A classic example of this is a line from the Lord’s Prayer, “lead us not into temptation.” It is assumed—but also very troubling—to think that we pray this because God is inclined to lead us into temptation. That can’t be right. But then why pray it? Allow me to explain:

Prayers can express to God exactly what God wants, what he is inclined to do. In such a prayer statement, we are not presuming upon God by having it in the form of a request; rather we are indicating to God that what we want is aligned with (not in tension with) what we know he wants. We know God does not lead us into temptation, so we agree in a non-presumptive way, by praying “Lead us not into temptation Lord, for we know that’s what you want and what we want too!”

So rather than pray, “Lord, bless our plans,” we should pray, “Lord, make your plans clear to us so we can participate with you.” Or, “Lord, because you are revealing your plans to us, help us see how we can be most effective in that plan.”

Prayer is a non-presumptive expression of our agreement with and welcome of the Triune God’s good will for us. It’s simply being in communion, joining with Jesus in his prayers, praying according to his name (who we know him to be and what we can trust him for). As we experience a heightened awareness of his presence in our meetings and gatherings, let’s then allow our thoughts and ideas that become our plans and actions to flow from a robust prayer life.

Father, may we do only what we first see you doing. In the strong name of Jesus, amen!

Greg Williams

P.S. In light of the Corona Virus threat, we certainly want to be diligent in prayer for God’s intervention and his mercy on those suffering with the disease. The effects of the virus are having a huge economic impact on the global economy. Remember to thank our great God for his provision and continue to seek “our daily bread” from the one who cares for us. Without doubt it is a season for prayer!

Vision

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear Church Family,

Most of us are familiar with the wise saying in Proverbs 29:18 – Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (KJV)

In the more modern interpretation of Eugene Peterson it says this:

If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves;
But when they attend to what he reveals,
they are most blessed. (MSG)

Vision is incredibly important. None of us want to stumble all over ourselves or even worse, to perish.

Grace Communion International’s vision is “Healthy Church.” We began this journey when I became President in October 2018. We arrived at this part of our journey based on the miraculous works that the Lord had been performing in us for over two decades.

God has gifted GCI with:

  1. His amazing grace as he brought us out of the shadowlands of the old covenant into the glorious light of Jesus and the new covenant that he ratified by shedding his blood.
  2. Revealing to us the significance and depth of his triune nature. We have come to learn that the doctrine of the Trinity is the crown doctrine from which all other beliefs flow. The “one and three” Father, Son and Spirit are relational and have drawn us into loving, eternal communion.
  3. A stream of renewal to live out of this grace and communion as Healthy Church. It is our vision to become the healthiest expression of the church of Jesus Christ that we can be.

Some have observed that this vision is inwardly focused. This is mostly true. In our ongoing journey with Jesus we are seeing the need to become more focused and improved on how we worship, how we include newcomers, and how we grow deeper in our commitment to Christ and strengthen the fabric of our church family. Healthy church needs some inward focus so we are better prepared for outward focus.

I equate our season of focus and improvement to what it is like when we invite another couple over to our home for an evening dinner and entertainment. What goes into the preparation? We straighten the house and vacuum the carpets. There is intentionality in planning the menu. Do the guests prefer fish or beef? Do they have any special dietary needs? Would they like wine with dinner? Perhaps this will be an occasion to light candles and play background music. Would they enjoy playing a card game or watching a movie? Do you see how the planning details grow as you focus on the quality of the event and what the experience will be like for your guests?

During the years following the grace awakening of GCI, there was quite a lot of struggle. Not all members made the journey from the old covenant to the new covenant. Not all pastors were able to negotiate the changes. The high volume of leadership changes and the downsizing of our congregations created a dynamic that is best described as survival. As we settled into the “newness” of who we now were, the attention to the details on how we present ourselves as a church had waned. While we rejoice in having the incredible gifts of the New Testament gospel and the supreme doctrine of the Trinity, our means for how we live and share this has become worn and tattered.

Our congregational meetings and meeting spaces need attention. Is our hall clean and inviting? Is there ample parking and clear signage to get into the building? In what shape are the restrooms? Do we start our services on time and do they follow a meaningful and worshipful flow? If your Sunday service feels more like an informal small group gathering in someone’s living room, then attention is needed (small groups have their place, but the Sunday worship service needs planning, preparation, and intentionality in focusing on Jesus).

What is a first-time visit like for a guest to your church? Is there an order of worship outline that they can easily follow so they know what is going on? Is it easy to find childcare services or youth meetings? Is there an up-to-date information center with clear communication pieces that help a new person navigate what services are offered by the church? Is the congregation friendly and inclusive so that the newcomer feels like there can be a place for them in this church family? Will there be a new believers class available to them in a timely fashion? If we desire for guests to become members, then we must be mindful of clear pathways for this to happen.

Beyond sharing a weekly worship service, what is the fabric of the fellowship of your congregation? Is there sharing in how relationships are being nurtured and deepened? Is the gift of hospitality alive in your membership? Do members break bread in one another’s homes, and include the neighbors? Does your church host annual picnics, campouts, and other events? When was the last time the church gathered to do a service project? This project could be beautification of the church property, serving the needs of the widows, or assisting a need in the surrounding target community of your church.

For me, the renewal stream that began in 1995 is continuing 25 years later, and the vision is clear. The Lord is beckoning us to more fully join him through the leadership of the Spirit. He is calling and empowering us to become the vibrant lighthouse in the neighborhoods where our churches are located. It is time for GCI to rise up and become the Healthy Church the Lord wants us to be.

Moving Forward Together!

Greg Williams

 

Focused on Hope

GCI President Greg Williams gives an update on Grace Communion International. He shares our focus on Hope for 2020. This will also be the theme of our Denominational Celebration this summer. May we remember throughout this year that Jesus is our hope.

High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always!

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The phrase “High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always” is the ministry philosophy of Grace Communion International. We have a sign in the presidential suite to remind us of this every day.

An artistic depiction of the GCI ministry philosophy, created by Pastor Bill Winn. Located in the presidential suite at GCI Home Office.

I would like to unpack this philosophy to help you better understand the depth of its meaning. Let’s begin with the inspiring words that the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus. His letter begins by focusing on the God revealed in Jesus and who we are as adopted sons and daughters. Then he continues with the theme of how we come alive in Christ and what the community of the church will look like. He says in chapter 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

It is Christ in us that forms the maturity and provides the ability to speak the truth in love. I think we all know that truth often brings challenge, and if the truth is given out of frustration or anger, it tends to engender frustration and anger in the person being challenged. Christ’s love in us gives us the ability to whole-heartedly love God and our neighbor. Love for our neighbor is having his or her good in mind. Therefore, we bring challenge to our neighbor with their good in mind, and ultimately any challenge we raise is seasoned with grace and humility. This most often means it is done privately, with sensitivity and respect.

The interaction of Jesus with Simon Peter over the span of less than a week is the apex of High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always. You will recall that Peter was the one disciple who identified Jesus as the true Messiah, the Son of the living God, and Jesus told him that his Father in heaven had revealed that truth to him (Matthew 16:13-17). Moving forward in the story you will recall on the evening of the Last Supper that Peter pledged his allegiance to Jesus even unto death.

Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (Matthew 26:31-35)

A statue we came across in Israel, depicting Peter’s denial of Jesus.

The rest of the story is that after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter followed at a distance to the courtyard of Caiaphas the High Priest, and it was there he was confronted three times and all three times he denied Jesus. Matthew’s gospel says he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). How much pain and sense of failure did Peter experience?

Even after Jesus was resurrected and had appeared to the disciples, Peter decided to return to his nets. Going back to the fishing trade seemed his only option, since denying Jesus in such grand fashion was the ultimate ministry washout. It is on the beach of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus graces Peter.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)

Thrice Peter denied Jesus and now thrice Jesus restores Peter. Peter is humbled by the truth that his love for Jesus is not superior to that of his fellow disciples. Do you sense the grace of Jesus in the fact that he never once talks about the three denials, and he simply reaffirms Peter’s calling to care for the church that will be formed on the coming Pentecost? Peter was smarting under these three confrontations of Jesus, and yet he was simultaneously being healed and restored. Peter could finally leave his nets for good and be the “Under-Shepherd” that Jesus had made him to be.

Love is the driving force behind high support and high challenge. It is through the love of Jesus that we can be honest and challenging with one another. It is by the power and presence of Jesus that GCI can and will live out our philosophy. Just as the sign in the office is a reminder to me, may you also think about our High Support, High Challenge, Grace Always philosophy daily as we march forward as a global church family.

Did I hear a chorus of all of us shouting together, “High Support, High Challenge – Grace Always?”

Greg Williams

Gospel Engagement

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

The National Association of Evangelicals in the US is a body of evangelical denominations, organizations, schools, churches, and individuals. There are 40 denominations that represent 45,000 churches across America. The NAE works to connect and represent evangelicals with a desire to be an influence for good.

In early December, Susan and I attended the two-day executive meeting where denominational leaders meet with the NAE President for an open forum. We sit in an informal circle and we discuss whatever topics the various leaders bring up.

The meetings informed and inspired me on several levels. Many of the denominational leaders identify themselves with the role of being the chief executive and spiritual leader for their organization, and this is a specific job that only a few people hold. So, it is a marvelous opportunity to be able to discuss how each of us approaches our day-to-day work, the challenges we face and the trends we are seeing. The comradery we share and the noticeable love for Christ and his church are palpable.

I am also inspired by the magnificent work of planting and growing churches that are being accomplished by several movements. City-wide campaigns to tangibly share the love of Christ and the message of the gospel are taking place in Omaha, NE, Austin, TX, and Fort Wayne, IN. The stories were inspiring and humbling. In representation of GCI I stated my amazement of these wonderful efforts and then shared that we are making a humble effort to engage the one-square-mile neighborhood where our church meeting halls are located. I was affirmed by several leaders that this may seem small, but you must start from where you are.

It is a good place to start – wherever it is that God has placed us to meet and worship and share his love with others. I pray that our 900 churches around the world are getting started in this endeavor to know your one-square-mile neighborhood and the neighbors who live there (if you are a rural church the area would expand beyond a mile). Our challenge is getting to know the rhythms and activities of our neighborhoods, and to discover the connecting points. There are many ways to connect to life in the neighborhood — a weekend farmer’s market or a community Facebook page — the question is how do we then connect the neighbors back to the life of the church? Maybe it’s a free hamburger at a fun day in our parking lot? Maybe it is a seat in one of the member’s homes at a small group meeting? Whatever the connection is, it must be about the relationship and valuing each person in that one square mile as a beloved child of God. This is the gospel engagement we are aiming for.

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us we are the light of the world and a city built on a hill cannot be hidden. As a church, we want to be reflecting the light of Jesus to the neighborhoods we inhabit. This is how we share God’s love and life with others. If the church is being the body of Christ, it will be known, and it will continually aspire to be an influence for good as the love of Jesus is freely shared. In essence, GCI needs a big debut to spread the life and love of Jesus that we all possess and want others to experience as well. Share the story of your debut and let’s celebrate together.

Praying over the one square mile,

Greg Williams