We’re Supposed to be the “Others”

There’s an interesting and often overlooked detail in church history that jumps out at me every time I read it. It’s regarding the church at Antioch.

Stephen was murdered in Jerusalem while Paul, then Saul, looked on in agreement. This scattered the Christians throughout the region, with many of them settling in Antioch. Once there, they began living life and sharing the Gospel with many non-Jewish (Gentile) people who became believers themselves. This was a big deal because, up until this point, Christianity was viewed as an evolution, or at the very least an offshoot, of Judaism. Non-Jews were still seen as non-essential and unimportant as it related to the Gospel.

But something interesting happened. Because so many Gentiles were being converted in Antioch, there needed to be a new name attached to this group. Jews didn’t want to be associated with this motley crew of former temple prostitutes, Greek sinners, poor people and other folks who didn’t look the part of evolved Jews. It was the fact that they were marked by love for each other and the people around them that they needed a new monicker – something other than their language, skin color and place of origin – to define them. So people around the region began to come up with another title – “Followers of the Way” or Christians.

There may be one, but to my memory, I can’t think of any other time in history that a group has been identified because they are different. Most groups bear the titles of their shared political leanings, sexual orientation or racial identification. They celebrate others like them but wage war against others not like them. But the Christians in Antioch forced their culture to come up with a new identifier because there was nothing that they shared – other than their love for Christ lived out in their love for each other. Their leaders – identified in Acts 13:1 – included a black man, a Hellenist, a Levite and a former radical terrorist named Saul. It was because of their differences that they were able to best meet the needs, capture the hearts and minister to the various people of their community.

Before I can give an “I Have A Dream” kind of ending, let me be honest. I’m disappointed in the church because we have allowed the brand “Christian” to mean just about everything but what it meant in the first century. We have developed “denominations” that share our views. We’ve developed colleges to expose our thoughts. We have more -isms and -ologies than we can manage and we’ve been far more political than the founding fathers of our faith would’ve been comfortable with. My fear is that we will continue to retreat into other labels instead of doing the work to reclaim our name.

But I also have a hope. I hope, over the next few weeks, we can show people that there is a home for them.

A home where they can be invited in and served.

A home where the color of their skin, the difference in their gender or the vibrancy of their culture embellishes their story and ours as well.

A home where they see they are deeply loved by God and his people.

I love how the writer of Ephesians clearly states this same sentiment. God, may we be able to clearly say the same:

“You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.”

Ephesians 2:19 – 22 (MSG)

Reflect On This…

Are there particular groups or labels you prefer to identify with, or be identified as?

Are there particular groups or types of people, particularly types of Christians, you struggle to identify with?

Read again Ephesians 2:19-22. What stands out to you? How is God inviting you to help others feel and know they belong in the home God is building, beyond your preferences and comfort zone?

What’s In A Name?

 

When you’re stuck with a name like Dextral Delector Alexander II you think about names a lot.

 

Like, why my dad chose to name me after himself?

Was it ego?

Was it pride?

Was it a joke?

 

I didn’t fully understand his choice until a few years ago.

I had succeeded in my career but I had failed my character.

I was in a fog.

I had no-one to blame but myself.

I was 1500 miles away from my closest friend.

I was separated from my family.

I was unsure of my future.

 

I was alone.

 

My father and I were bound together, at times, only by name.

I was reminded of this every time I applied for credit.

On numerous occasions, the IRS reminded me as well.

Our names created constant coincidental collisions –

times we had to call each other with some explanation

to clear up the confusion.

There was constant confusion between us.

 

I called my father and prepared myself for another explanation.  

 

So much of my relationship with God centers around explanation.

Why did that happen?

What does this mean?

Am I doing this right?

Is this how it’s always going to be?

Can you take this away?

Sorry about that.

 

I ask or explain. He affirms and embraces.

 

My dad answered the phone the same way every time.

“Pastor D.D. Alexander…”

As I began to explain, the words choked themselves in my throat

unable to make sense of themselves.

I felt ashamed of myself and what I had done

to our name.

The pastor became the father.

 

Stop. Just come home.

 

He’d tell me, “Anywhere you go, I’m with you.

Anytime you wonder who you are,

remember, you’re my son.

That will never change.

No matter what.

You’ll always be Dextral Delector Alexander

and Dextral Delector Alexander’s son.”

 

My father’s promises to me are life giving.

 

When I think about my Dad,

I don’t think about the times we missed each other.

I think about the moments we connected.

Each of those moments were based on his promise.

That I was always his son. No matter what.

His position – as pastor –

never distracted from his promises – as father.

 

My father’s promises are tied to his name.

 

He’d say to me

(sorry this is a bit crass, but he was a pastor and it makes the point)

“All I have in life are my nuts and my name.”

If he didn’t keep his promises,

he felt his name,

his position and

he as a person was worthless.

 

I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;

for your promises are backed

by all the honor of your name. – Psalm 138

 

The name of God is backed by his promises.

His name reminds us that he’s never failed

to come through on a promise

– never once –

because by doing so, he would dishonor his own name.

Which is why his name

is above all names.

 

Nothing can stand against.

 

When he’s called El HaNe’eman (Deuteronomy 7:9)

he’s The Faithful God –

never failing, never slowing, never turning.

When he’s called Immanu El (Isaiah 7:14)

we’re reminded that God Is With Us,

by his choice, not ours.

We’re never alone, we’re never abandoned, never left to ourselves.

 

You didn’t want Heaven without us…

 

When He’s called “YHVH”

(pronounced by most as Jehovah, but no pronunciation is truly accurate)

we’re reminded that He is.

Always is.

Never was not.

Never will not be.

And as such, He is Lord (Adonai) of All, in a way only he can be.

 

You were the Word at the beginning, One with God the Lord Most High.

 

YHVH Elohim – LORD God: (Genesis 2:4)

YHVH M’kadesh – The LORD Who Makes Holy: (Ezekiel 37:28)

YHVH Yireh – The LORD Who Sees/Provides: (Genesis 22:14)

YHVH Nissi – The LORD My Banner: (Exodus 17:15)

YHVH Shalom – The LORD Of Peace: (Judges 6:24)

YHVH Tzidkaynu – The LORD Our Righteousness: (Jeremiah 33:16)

YHVH O’saynu – The LORD Our Maker: (Psalm 95:6)

 

Your hidden glory in creation, now revealed in you our Christ.

 

The most important thing my father ever did for me

was give me his name.

In doing so, he connected me not only to himself

by keeping his promises until the day he died,

but also to YHVH

whose promises are everlasting

and whose name is to be praised.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Looking at this season of your life, who do you need God to be for you right now? What names of God above resonated with you?
  2. In what way is God reaching out to you?
  3. Take some time to think of a name for God, one that is reflective of what you need now, that is consistent with his character, and supported by Scripture?
  4. Take some time to pray to the God who meets you where you are and draws you into friendship with himself. Call him by the name you’ve given to him and see how he responds to you.

 

What’s New

Happy New Year!

It seems like just yesterday that we were wrapping up holiday services in our new sanctuary and catching our breath from installing a new location in East Valley. Flash forward a year and we’re wrapping up holiday services and catching our breath as we prepare for 2017.

Along the way, we’ve developed new processes and procedures for everything from how people get scheduled, how people stay connected and how people get onboard. We’ve got new voices, players and production techs. We’ve got new gear, new computers and new and new and new and new… but for a moment, I’d like to pause and think about the past.

Continue reading What’s New