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Full of Grace and Truth

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still growing in grace and truth,

Greg Williams

P.S.

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

Why Faith, Hope, And Love?

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

By now you have heard of how GCI seeks to better join Jesus in his ongoing ministry through the avenues of faith, hope and love. It is important for me to answer the question of “Why?” Why are we following this path? Why is faith, hope and love so profound for our church going forward?

In the middle of their varied disorders and factions, Paul reminds the church leaders and members at Corinth of the high value and absolute necessity of faith, hope and love. They are the greatest virtues that speak to who Jesus is and what he is about in his active ministry to humanity.

For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13)

Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is the capstone to important teaching concerning spiritual gifts and godly living (chapters 12-14). Paul articulated the diversity of gifts available to believers as the Spirit orchestrates and then the necessity of maintaining unity among themselves under the virtues of faith, hope and love. The successful use of spiritual gifts by and among believers must be undergirded by faith, hope and love.

So, is faith, hope and love an isolated topic trapped in 1 Corinthians 13? Faith, hope, and love are indeed prominent in the Scriptures. Let’s look at a few examples.

We heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you. (Colossians 1: 4-6)

In this passage, we see that hope has a vital connection with faith and love. All three work together to provide “a confident hope” for the believer which not only assures of a heavenly, eternal future, but empowers the believer to live a godly life here and now.

Here, Paul picks up with the “Big Three” as he tells the church:

We must stay sober by putting on the breastplate of faith and love and as a helmet our hope for salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10)

For God did not create us for wrath and condemnation, but for receiving salvation and love through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us, whether we are alert or asleep, we will come to life together with him.

Faith and hope appear together at the opening of the “Hall of Fame” faith chapter in Hebrews 11. This chapter speaks to a wide range of people in a wide range of circumstances, and it shows how through Jesus the believer can live a settled life in an unsettled situation. And how living in a threatening, chaotic world there can be an active, and confident faith in God and the believer can live a life of assured hope. For all “Pilgrims” to come to this end is what Jesus and his church is working toward.

The concepts of faith, hope and love cannot be separated from who Jesus is. It is his faith that fills my unbelief; it is his hope that covers my doubts; and his love that cancels my fear. And he is this Savior of perfect faith, perfect hope, and perfect love for all people.

Faith, hope and love are the three great permanent Christian graces, as opposed to the lesser temporary gifts of prophecy, miracles and tongues spoken of in 1 Corinthians. These three “remain” and will be our continued framework for ministry in GCI.

In Jesus’ perfect faith, hope, and love,

Greg Williams

Simplifying Complexity

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and Friends,

Have you ever considered the complex world that Jesus came into? It was plagued with politics and domination from the Roman empire. The state of the Jewish religion was all over the map with as many as 72 different factions and sects of Judaism. A common hope that many Jews shared was for the coming of a Messiah spoken of by the Old Testament prophets. The expectation was the Messiah would be a socio-political leader who would overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to dominance. But then here comes Jesus, a non-celebrated rabbi from the back-water town of Nazareth. You can only imagine the external forces he faced.

Throughout this season of Epiphany, we have been focusing on Jesus being the light of the world. Throughout his teachings we see him continually boiling down and refining difficult topics, often using stories with commonplace examples to make his point. The climax of his teaching and effort to simplify is when he expounds on the two Great Commandments—loving God with heart, mind, and soul and then loving neighbor as self. He declares that all the Law and all the Prophets are summarized in these commands. Can it be any clearer than this?

Fast forward to our 21st century. We too face external forces. Political strife, religious confusion, economic struggles, etc. We also have internal forces to deal with. Think of Jesus and his organized band of 12 disciples. He brought them alongside himself to watch him minister to the people of Israel, to join with him in the ministry, and ultimately to be prepared to be founders of the church. Internally they were plagued with dullness in learning, competition among themselves, and a frequent lack of faith, yet Jesus never gave up on them. The church was successfully founded and continues to our day.

In GCI we face our own challenges with external and internal forces. Have you ever considered that we operate in 66 countries across the world? Do you know that translates to 40+ languages and dialects our superintendents work with? There are 2,000 languages and dialects in Africa alone. The seemingly simple task of communication is incredibly complex. For example, when working with the superintendents we were talking about the skill and process of welcoming new people into our churches, referring to this as “assimilation.” Daphne Sidney raised her hand and shared with our group that in Australia there was a government move to assimilate the indigenous people (the Aboriginal people), and this ultimately meant the ending of their culture. We made a quick pivot and dropped the word assimilation and replaced it with “integration.” This challenge to use words that are properly conveying the intended meaning is an ongoing struggle, and relies on the Spirit’s lead.

As Jesus worked with his band of 12, at times we see him working with a smaller group of three. No doubt Jesus was the perfect mentor/teacher, and he was intentional with how he developed those around him. In walking in his steps, we too seek to be intentional in how we work with our groups of leaders. By now you have heard about “Team-Based, Pastor-Led.” This model stresses that ministry is not a “solo” endeavor, but a shared work that ultimately includes all believers. The leadership role of the pastor is extremely important, and yet it is clearly lined out in Paul’s letter to Ephesus when he says that the pastor is to engage, equip, empower and encourage the saints so that they are actively participating in the ministry of Jesus in their time and space, and through the vehicle he designed – the church.

As President, I, along with other GCI leaders, are working long and hard to move us toward the team-based approach. It is our desire that we have a simple, understandable structure and system whereby we more actively join Jesus in his mission to the world (described plainly in the Avenues of Love, Hope and Faith). It is my prayer that the mosaic of our churches and pastors in 66 countries can be organized so that all believers utilize their personal giftings, passions and calling that the Lord has for them individually and can express those gifts corporately through the life of the church.

This all circles back to the two Great Commandments and the clear instruction of Jesus. Before we jump into our response of whole-heartedly loving God, think about this – the Father sent his one and only unique Son Jesus into the world to save us from sin and death and to prepare us for eternal glory. The Son in turn sent the Holy Spirit to be our Guide, Intercessor and Helper, actively transforming us into the image of Jesus. To grasp the understanding of Father, Son, and Spirit, and what they are actively doing in us and through us which compels us to fully accept, receive and engage in loving him with our entire being. With the fullness of his love in us, how can that not spill over to our neighbors?

The amazing Triune God who holds ALL things together, who makes the complex simple and understandable for us, certainly has GCI in the palm of his hand – loving us, caring for us, shaping us regardless of any external or internal forces. The ministry of Jesus we celebrate as we review the scriptures is continuing to minister through us the church in 2022.

Praising him for the simple and the complex,

Greg Williams

We’ve Come a Long Way!

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

Dear GCI Family and friends,

If you have been around GCI for a while, you will recall our vast study on the topic of women in ministry. Study papers were submitted to the denomination over a long stretch of time, and much was published about the role of women as seen through the lens of scripture. After prayerful consideration by our denominational committee, it was decided that women could be ordained and serve in ministry capacities that were once reserved for men. Hallelujah! Praise God for opening our eyes to the truth.

It is an amazing journey that we have been on to see many wonderful women of faith rise up and serve Jesus through the ministries of GCI. We currently have 113 female Elders in our fellowship. Four of these Elders serve the church out of the Home Office – Pam Morgan, Michelle Fleming, Cara Garrity and Susan Williams. We have an additional two female Elders serving as Directors on the GCI Board – Celestine Olive and Jen Gregory and one Superintendent serving Australasia – Daphne Sidney.

The addition of the female perspective and voice “at the table” has made us a stronger and more balanced church. As President, I have noticed how the presence of women in leadership has made us more collaborative and much more innovative. A big thank you to the women for stepping up and stepping in!

It gives me great pleasure to announce three major advancements of three special ladies who work out of the denominational Home Office.

      • Michelle Fleming

        Michelle Fleming who has been our Media Director for three years will take on a greater role as our Communications Director (CD). The CD is a senior level manager who reports to the president and works with the team of GCI managers for the overall good and health of the organization. The CD acts as an advisor to the President, monitors the messaging of the church, maintains the clarity of the vision, and serves as press contact for the church. Michelle will continue the oversight of Media and will add another staff person to share the workload.

      • portrait of elizabeth mullins
        Elizabeth Mullins

        Elizabeth Mullins will join the media team as our Publications Assistant to support the timely production, delivery and execution of projects related to GCI Publications. Working in unison with the Communications Director, Media Team, and Denominational Leaders, the Publications Assistant maintains alignment with the church’s vision and mission with the GCI audience in mind.

      • Cara Garrity, who currently serves as the GCI
        Cara Garrity

        Development Coordinator, will have expanded responsibilities to include Host of GCI Podcast, and Coordinator of the Ministry Coaching service that is available to pastors and ministry leaders in the US. Her new responsibilities fit nicely into the ongoing development needs that we have in GCI.

I am privileged to work with these amazing women. Their collective skills, knowledge and experience make GCI a better organization. I am proud of each of them, and I solicit your prayers of support as they move into these roles.

The inclusion of women in the ministry of GCI has been a tremendous blessing, and most of all, it reflects who Jesus is and how he so adeptly oversees his church.

Praising God for making us healthier,

Greg Williams

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.

Looking for a Trinitarian and interactive curriculum for your connect group?
Check out our On Being series by visiting

resources.gci.org/on-being

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