Sunday, February 8, 2015

Understanding Who We Are

 When the Church of God of Michigan invited Gerald Nevitt to succeed B. Gale Hetrick as Michigan’s new State Minister, Jerry found himself struggling with the pressures of being or becoming an Ecclesiastical Engineer. As part of his assignment, as well as the enrichment of his own ministry, Jerry completed his Doctor of Ministries work and wrote his thesis. Jerry’s work was published by the Church of God in Michigan as a VISION FOR The Local Congregation – God’s People On Mission THROUGH MINISTRY (Nevitt/Lansing, MI/1995).

As implied by the title, Jerry’s book was intended to become a vision for the Church of God in Michigan. Picking up on the biblical theme of the People of God, Jerry remembered Newell’s earlier challenge and staked out this claim: “A new vision of what the church is to be and do in our world, must begin with an understanding of who we are” (Nevitt/29/emphasis added).
As early as 1878, Daniel S. Warner wrote:
            On the 31st of last January the Lord showed me that holiness
            could never prosper upon sectarian soil encumbered by human
            creeds and party names, and he gave me a new commission to
            join holiness and all truth together and build up the apostolic
            church of the living God. Praise His name! I will obey him!”
            (Byers/Birth of a Reformation/159/emphasis added).

Warner quickly learned the church “is utterly disqualified … unless she be girded with the invincible power of perfect holiness and the full and distinct baptism of the Holy Ghost” ((Byers/180). Before the end of that year, however, Warner could write:
            The God of all grace has most emphatically taught us in his
            Word that his church is one, as the Father and Son are one and
            that a manifestation of this unity is to be the world-saving salt of
            the church” (Byers/193-194/emphasis added).
A century later, James Earl Massey reminded us “Every Christian has a legacy in every other Christian. We experience that legacy only as we receive each other and relate, moving eagerly beyond group boundaries” (Concerning Christian Unity/82).

Speaking to the 1995 World Forum of the Church of God, Gil Stafford of the School of Theology left this declaration: “Unity is a biblical mandate, not simply the idealism of our early leaders or of contemporary ecumenicists.”

This overview reflects a church resulting from God’s actions in shaping a people of his very own. The theme of a people chosen by God runs throughout the bible. Very early, the Israelites had learned “The Lord your God has chosen you” and Moses helped them understand “The Lord will establish you” (Deut. 7:6; 28:9).
The New Testament continues this theme of the people of God as it threads its way from the Old Testament into the New Testament. Paul picked up the thread in his Roman letter as he greeted a host of friends he described as people chosen by God himself, people actively committed to completing God’s redeeming activity in the world and people actively participating in it (Ro. 16:1-5).
Elsewhere, Peter picked up the loose strand and announced to believers that “you are a chosen people” (I Peter 2:9). Peter readily understood that God’s people are of clear origin and unique character. They were a special people, a royal priesthood, with a focused purpose of declaring God’s praise. They had no higher commitment than to be the Israel of God (2 Cor. 2:14-16; Gal. 6:18).

As contemporary believers, we are not without community or heritage. We are a result of God’s action in calling people out of the world. We are among those he is shaping as a people of his very own, with this stipulation: that we tell his story!

1. As his people, we are called to lift up Jesus as model and mentor.
            We are called to follow his example of ministry by serving rather
            than being served (Mark 10:43). We are to do what we can for “the
            least of these,” knowing it is of utmost importance to him (Mt. 25:40).  
            We are to serve lovingly, knowing that anything less is merely a
            clanging cymbal (I Cor. 13:1).
2. As his people, we are called to prioritize discipling others.
            His last call to us was “go … make disciples … baptizing … and
            teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”
            (Mt. 28:19-20, NIV).

3. As his people, we are called to perpetuate Jesus’ announcement to “seek first” his kingdom (Mt. 6:33).
            We are called to continually reform the church as we act on Jesus’  authority to carry out the will of our heavenly Father. 
            We are called to prioritize discipleship and remain action-oriented, thus responsibly   avoiding what someone facetiously called St. John’s Syndrome, i.e., lukewarmness, old age, and being at ease in Zion (Rev. 2:2-4).

4. As his people, we are called to experience the Holy Spirit’s gifting.
            He invites us to be empowered and to build up “the Body of Christ”
            (Eph. 4:11-13). We are to use our gift(s) for the common good health
            of the church, that it might enjoy a healthy body (I Cor. 12:7). We are
            to exercise and model the ability of dispensing grace (I Peter 4:10).

5. As his people, we are called to enlist kingdom representatives through whom he can appeal to others.
            We are called to accept this commission and regard “no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Cor. 5:19-20, 16). We are to emulate the example of Jesus by becoming his hands and feet wherever we go.
            We are to become living symbols of his presence in the world by living as tangible evidence of his reality.

When General Colin Powell declined to run for the office of President in November 1995, he admitted he lacked the “political passion” to make a presidential run. It takes passion, and as people called by God, we are expected to do what we do because of who we are. We are called to be passionate about it. Our Great Shepherd calls us to model leadership, to be mentored and com- missioned by Jesus, and to focus upon Him --above all else.

He calls us to find each other, as we focus on his presence. He challenges us to allow him to re-form us so that together we can make a difference in leading his church in redeeming his world. His call is as contemporary as today’s New York Times:
            abandon the piously self-serving trivia,
            and separate from the business of domesticating the divine.

From Warner’s World, 
we are above all to be passionately involved in reconciling our fragmented and splintered world to his loving grace (2 Cor. 5:19). I am 

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