The child sits down, stage illumined by lights and sentried by countless parents, cameras ready. At the piano this young child begins the all-to-familiar melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” In the midst of the comfortable musical scale and recognizable tune, something happens. A wrong note is hit. There it stands, awkward and alone. Against the grain of the predicted simple melody, the single note stands out.
A teenager is walking. People pass by like cars on the interstate. It’s noticeable that everyone else is walking in the other direction. It’s easy to tell that this teenager is a different height, weight, and skin-tone from everyone else. As far as the eyes can see, no one is similar to this teenager out of an entire sea of faces. Days of being stared down are consistent reminders of standing out.
Okay, I know what you might be thinking. How does a white kid from swanky New England know anything about cultural diversity? With so little cultural experience, why would a 19-year-old New Hampshirian be able to speak to different cultures and races colliding?
These are good questions, and it’s true I don’t usually stand out at home, or in Louisville Kentucky where I’m going to school. My past tells a little different story. The truth is, I’m the teenager who didn’t fit in. I lived for over two years in one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world: Japan. Pages of journals are filled with my wide-eyed reactions to being the weird-one-out. I’ve felt those stares and my constant physical miss-fitness – there was nowhere to hide from experiencing life as one who stands out.
But not all of life abroad was bad. Japan held in store some of the greatest experiences of my Christian life: worshiping at All Nations Fellowship. My family quickly found a church, and All Nations Fellowship was bilingual, multi-ethnic, and Gospel-preaching. Every week, over twenty nations were represented, gathered for one purpose – to worship the true and living God. We didn’t focus on our differences – our backgrounds, social status, skin-tones, or even language. We all shared what mattered most in common (Acts 2:44), and I grew to cherish doing ministry, life, prayer, and discipleship with so many people from all over the world. All Nations Fellowship wasn’t normal to the world (countless Japanese people questioned what in the world we were doing). By worshiping our lord and savior Jesus Christ, together we noticeably stood out.
So, maybe, being different isn’t that bad. Let’s look at Jesus, from Matthew’s Gospel. The Son of God came to the earth calling sinners to repent (Matt. 9:13). He spent his days teaching, proclaiming, and healing (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, 11:1) all to show that he was fulfilling the Jewish law (Matt. 5:17). God incarnate came to earth. God came. What was the reception like for this true divine visitor? People were sad that he was there (Matt. 11:17), and misunderstood his purpose (Matt. 21). Even his closest friends left him in his greatest time of need (Matt. 26:40). Why? What was it about Jesus that people didn’t just love him for who he is?
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?” (Matt. 21:42).
Jesus was the hope of the entire world, sent to suffer to redeem mankind. He was the one sent by his Father, and he was rejected, scorned, mistreated, misunderstood, and murdered. Think of this irony: the creator of the whole world enters into his own creation, and is met only with hostility by the people he came to save. He was the ultimate foreigner to the very world he fashioned. And yet, man’s rejection of Jesus couldn’t stop his mission. That was the plan all along. Jesus had to suffer to purchase eternal life. After being raised from the dead, God’s living redemptive story continues. He now calls those who believe in him to go to all nations (Matt. 28:19) – the places where we’ll be different – and make disciples and baptize them, all by penetrating new environments with the good news that Jesus has bought. All by, standing out.
This isn’t the end of the story. God’s story ends not just getting back to the way it started, but getting back to better than how it started. The perfect world of Eden will be restored and made new when Jesus comes back for his people. Our restoration hope includes that we’ll be transferred from this evil, hate-filled, segregated, unloving, racist world (Romans 8:22-24) to a God-loving, omniethnic world where every tribe and tongue and people and nation will forever enjoy a life of no sin, death, or pain (Revelation 5:9). The church – the Bride of Christ – gets the glorious privilege of practicing this future life by gathering each week, sharing life together, and being just as diverse as God’s deep, wide, unconditional and unending love for his people.
In the midst of our comfortable lives and recognizable routines, something happens. A wrong note is hit. The world needs to see a church divided by every social construction imaginable, but united by our bigger, realer, most meaningful identity: we are followers of Jesus – striving to love our Father, and everyone around us (John 13:35).
We are not of this world, nor do we fit in.
That’s why we stand out, and why we stand together.