Have you ever thought about the phrase “identity crisis?” I don’t know if I have ever experienced one—I don’t think so—I hope I would know—but I have heard people talk about others having one. How does that happen, anyway? Forgetting who you are? Forgetting your purpose? The concept of amnesia works well to create a good plot for a book or TV show, but does it happen all that often? I don’t think so. And yet, Spiritual Amnesia seems to be a problem with God’s people. Or maybe it is intentional—I don’t know. What I DO know is that this situation causes grievous harm to God’s people and tremendous grief to our loving God.
Our identity, as God reminds us in Deuteronomy, is that we were slaves in Egypt. God continually reminds us to treat our neighbors with compassion:
- Take care of their animals who are lost until their owners claim them
- Don’t charge interest on loans
- Don’t take anything that someone needs for their livelihood as collateral on a loan
- When you build a dwelling, make sure it is safe—build a parapet around the roof
>We are wandering in the wilderness. But we are being guided by a loving God who knows all the bad places to avoid and all the good places to rest. BUT while we are wandering, we are responsible for learning to be the people of God and learning how to ACT like that.
Our Old Testament scripture this morning is a wonderful one—full of promise and hope—when God clearly and powerfully reminds us of our identity and that God is doing something NEW in us and for us.
So . . . who are WE? I mean both as Christian believers and as Chandler First Nazarenes? What is OUR identity?
Originally preached Sunday, March 18, 2018
The 3 Core Values of our tribe are: Christian, Missional, Holiness. That both defines us and prescribes our vision and marching orders.
Missional churches are those that understand “the church as fundamentally and comprehensively defined by its calling and sending, its purpose to serve God’s healing purposes for all the world as God’s witnessing people to all the world.”
Last year at District Assembly, our District Pastor, Doug Pierce, challenged us by preaching from a book—Canoeing the Mountains, and this is why: Lewis and Clark were tasked with finding the headwaters of the Missouri River in order to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. Their expedition was funded by Congress and given a great deal of planning—but unfortunately, their exploration with their Corps of Discovery was built on a completely false expectation. They believed that the unexplored west was exactly the same geography as the familiar east.
That is where Chandler First Church of the Nazarene finds ourselves today. We have no identity crisis—we know who we are and whose we are, but the country in which we find ourselves looks very different from the country we grew up in. In order to survive, we must REORIENT ourselves. If we can adapt and adventure, we can thrive. But we must let go, learn as we go and keep going no matter what.
We have to let go of the beloved ways that we used to experience worship, the ways we taught Vacation Bible School—do you know we have not had that for several years now because of this changing community? The ways in which evangelism occurred during our services—people do not come to church anymore to learn about God—we need to go OUT where the hurting and lonely people live to give them the Good News. There is a sense of loss in letting go of the old and familiar—I feel it, the rest of the staff feels it, and I know that you feel it, too. But as a Christian, Missional and Holiness people, our vision, our passion is to love and serve God. That will never change.
We have to learn as we go—to be willing to try new things, to take risks, to listen to stories from unexpected sources to find new ways of doing things. Sometimes “the next thing” will just be one step at a time, and that is really uncomfortable for most of us—I like to have my journey plotted in advance, but Lewis and Clark found at Lemhi Pass that they had to throw away all their plans and maps and follow the new, unexpected landscape in order to accomplish their mission.
And we will keep going no matter what. Our mission will not change—we will love God and love the people God sends to our community. And we will enlarge our community as much as possible, to share God’s Good News with as many as we can before God calls us home.
Our new board is challenged with the leadership in this changing environment; it will require:
Energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.
The vital questions that we as a people of God must ask ourselves are:
- Why do we exist as a congregation?
- What would be lost in our community if we ceased to exist?
- What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity?
- What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue?
Over the past few years, our staff has grieved over what feels like a loss to us of the ways we used to enjoy “doing church.” However, there are some “Reframing” statements to help us remember who we are—our identity as a people of God:
- Focus on our transformation together, not on how we look different today
- Focus on the mountains ahead, not the rivers behind
- Focus on continually learning, not what we have already mastered
This is who we are. This is our identity, and how we will continue to allow God to transform us into the people God wants and who God can use for kingdom building.
Right now, I feel as if it would be appropriate to strap on our river running life vests.