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God as the Perfect Father - Susie Gamez

"Perhaps God is grieved by the good things we miss out on more than the ways that we fail Him." I have thought about this statement often since I heard it quoted out of a sermon a few months back. Coming from a culture that tends to deeply value obedience and achievement as signs of love and faithfulness, the lavish grace expressed in this sentiment struck me profoundly.  Many of us tend to beat ourselves up about sin or failure. When we do something wrong, or if we have not stayed in step with the Spirit, it is easy to feel as though God is upset with us and that we are not worthy recipients of His love. It seems that the enemy often capitalizes on our shallow understanding of God's grace and has us stay in a place of despair or discouragement much longer than God intends. Yes, God commands us to "be Holy for He is Holy," and the Lord tells us to follow Him. But thankfully, He also reminds us that He is a patient and loving Father, and He does not treat us as our sins deserve. His grace is sufficient, and His mercies are new every morning.

As parents to young children who often need to be told multiple times to do (or not do) certain things, it can be quite exhausting to have to exercise patience and extend grace over and over again. Sometimes frustration can get the better of us and we will make it known that we are upset. Even at a young age, Amayah and Malachi can sense when mommy has hit her limit. Even though my levels of patience and grace are limited, I would be heartbroken if my kids thought that their failure to listen caused them to feel unworthy of my love. Sometimes a five minute time out is required for Amayah to understand that it is not ok sit on her brother's face, or a treat is revoked when behavior is bad. These things are a part of the loving discipline that we are to administer as parents. But if guilt or shame or discouragement is what lasts as a result, then we have failed somewhere along the way, and our kids have misunderstood our heart for them.

We are not perfect parents. We get tired, we get annoyed, we lack wisdom and sometimes the way we act toward our children is not a proper reflection of God's love. If you contextualize the above quote in a parent/child relationship, any good parent would agree that he or she would be grieved if his or her child thought that their shortcomings mattered more than the many amazing things about them. A simple "I love you" or initiated kiss from my son or daughter can make my heart soar and make the disastrous mess they made at the dinner table seem like a minor inconvenience. Like our Heavenly Father, we desire for our children to experience life and love abundantly – knowing the glorious riches that are found in Christ. We want them to focus on tasting and seeing that He is good rather than feeling discouraged or unworthy because of a failure. Sadly, many people (including ourselves) can sometimes struggle to receive God's love and grace. Perhaps this is why He urges us to come to Him like little children. Our Father is strong and He is the Creator and Judge of the Universe – but He is also loving, patient, and kind and invites us to experience the many good things that come with the territory of knowing Him and being called His children.

This Christmas we pray you will celebrate the gift of Jesus simply by knowing that He loves you and wants to give you life abundant – and by sharing that gift with others.

Susie Gamez is a World Impact missionary and her husband Marcos is the Executive Director of Ministry for the West Coast. They live in Los Angeles, CA, with their two children and have another on the way.

 

World Impact East Year Review

As the year wraps up, we want to highlight what God has done in each region of World Impact, particularly in the realm of our new Focus Areas. Here's a summary of 2014 from World Impact East.

Plant Healthy Urban Churches
As eternal optimists, we are excited to say that we are well on our way to accomplish our goal of 100 church plant engagements in the poorest cities in the East Region by 2021. By January 1, 2015, we will have four charter church plants in process. Only 96 to go in six years – we are certain it can be done with our God and the tireless energy of the Eastern Front staff. Our four church planting efforts are: Pastor Elwood and Betty Jones, Landmark Church in Alexandria, VA; Rashad Gibson, Mizpah Gospel Mission in Wilmington, DE; Rev. Ricky Orellano in Patterson – Newark – Passaic, NJ (8 cells); and Lorenzo Lazo in Ironbound, NJ.

Develop Missional Partnerships
There are so many partnerships we are thankful for, but we want to share about the growing partnership with Transformation Churches. This is a group of 26 urban churches under the leadership of Rev. Bernard Wilks. After prayer and discussion, he has felt led to be in missional partnership with us to expand and advance God's Kingdom through church planting leading to transformation of our communities. This partnership will become the Urban Transformation Association that we believe will be the movement of church planting in our region. We are looking forward to the new year as we begin this partnership.

Resource Urban Leaders
We believe that if we are going to accomplish our goal of 100 churches in the poorest cities in the East Region, then the Hub has to be a center of evangelistic life. The Evangelistic Committee of Newark has been re-instituted. To-date we have trained five urban churches in our 10-week evangelistic training with many more wanting to be equipped. Luke Raughley has accepted the call to give leadership direction to TUMI-Newark. TUMI-Newark has a class in a DOC location called The Harbor and a class at the Christian Transformation Center. Our World Impact TUMI-Chester site continues to shine under the leadership of Rick Horne. They have over 50 students in the Capstone Program.

Demonstrate Compassion and Justice
We are excited to announce the first official Eastern Front SIAFU Chapter, which resides out of World Impact Community Church in Newark. Raj Lewis has taken on the Director position of our SIAFU Leadership Home in Chester. We have one student right now who was incarcerated for murder, came to faith in Christ, and the Spirit of the Lord has called him to leadership in the urban church. Our Awareness and Modeling Ministries – Thrift Store and NCS – are thriving.  Both these ministries are integrated into our mission and vision.  

 

Beyond Commentary to Commitment - Efrem Smith

"Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
(Matthew 25:37-40, ESV)

There has been a lot of political commentary in recent weeks. There has been a lot of social media and blog commentary. There has also been theological and Christian-based commentary. All surrounding the protests to the Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson and New York. It's interesting that what has been passed off as Christian commentary can seem more like extreme political commentary, influenced by the ideologies of the Right and the Left more than the Bible. We have also seen Christian commentary held captive by Christendom or, more specifically, a Eurocentric theology.

Be careful of the commentary that you allow to shape your views about the Poor, the Marginalized, the Outcast, and the Other. I have decided to buy into the commentary that Christ gave about the Poor, the Marginalized, and the Outcast. More than just talk about them, Christ showed a commitment to them. Christ built relationships and offered transformation to the Paralyzed, the Samaritan, the Adulterer, the Diseased, the Poor, and the Thief.

One of the political commentaries I've heard and has been directed to me is, "Why aren't African-Americans as concerned about abortion or Black-on-Black crime as they are about some Police Officers racially profiling and killing African-Americans?" This statement alone shows a lack of understanding the multiple ways in which African-Americans and others have been and are presently addressing those issues. If you've heard of Mad Dads, Hospitality House Youth Directions, the Youth Intervention Network, World Impact, Homeboy Industries, the African-American Church, Soul Café, City Team, The Stair Step Initiative, Young Life, The Urban Youth Workers Institute, The National Black Evangelical Association, The Spencer Perkins Center, The National Center for Fathering, CCDA, and the Union Gospel Mission to name a few; you'd know that there are many Christian-based organizations who have been in predominately African-American and under-resourced communities for years addressing family stability, leadership development, community development, the tragedy of abortion, and youth gang violence. I have marched on multiple occasions with African-American and multi-ethnic Christian groups into gang-infested territories. I have been a part of rallies where gang members have accepted Christ. But cable news stations won‘t cover that—at least not the way they are covering protests right now. I've been a part of urban congregations that have worked to provide alternatives to abortion for young girls. I know of African-American and urban ministries that are rescuing girls out of sex trafficking. I know of ministries that are working with young men to equip them to be strong husbands and fathers. Those giving commentary otherwise are either not aware of this commitment, not making the commitment themselves, or both.

There are three reasons why there are major challenges in these communities, even with all of this effort. First, we need more collaborative efforts between these organizations and others. Second, these organizations need more financial and volunteer support. Third, the spiritual warfare that we are fighting is not against flesh and blood ultimately, but against invisible and wicked forces (Ephesians 6). The problem with that statement is that too many in the Body of Christ seem to not want to talk about the connections between invisible forces of wickedness and visible systems of oppression.

This is not so much a rebuke to the commentators out there, but a reality check. There are a lot of ministries that are committed to reducing abortion, black-on-black crime, and racial profiling. Find them and support them. There are ministries committed to rescuing children out of sex trafficking, stabilizing the family, and addressing domestic poverty. Find them and support them. I realize that there are leaders and even some ministries that are in under-resourced communities and not doing much in the area of community engagement and development. Well, find the ones that are making a difference and support them. But don't just support them with your financial commitment alone. Also support them with a commitment to serve on some level. Extreme political commentary is not going to address both individual and systemic sin. Extreme theological commentaries held captive by Christendom are not going to address the need for Kingdom compassion, mercy, justice, and transformation.

The ultimate point is the commentary of Christ came out of His commitment. Christ could give commentary on Sinners because of his commitment to them. Christ could provide commentary on the Poor, the Marginalized, the Outcast, the Incarcerated, and the Stranger because He was committed to them. He was committed to the point of His death on a Cross. Christians must ask themselves, "Is my commitment to those different than me greater than my commentary about them?" My commitment to the under-resourced, the Poor, and the Other must be much larger than my commentary. As this is the case more and more, I grow in my intimacy with Christ.