What’s in a name? Well, for one, I could have been named Brian instead of Brandon, as that’s almost the name that was given to me by my lovely parents some 28 years ago. But I’m not Brian, I’m Brandon. Hi, nice to meet you. I never will be Brian. A couple of Sundays ago when my birthday weekend rolled around my church family at Reliance sang me the happy birthday song after a service and along came the name that has come to define me. So, hopefully, 28 years down the line, “Reliance” will be the name that comes to define our church family. Not Brian.

Over the course of my life I’ve come to know this dude named “Brandon,” this guy that God stitched together in my mother’s womb, body and soul. I’m still learning about this man, a man who is permanently secure through salvation in Jesus. So what is “Reliance’s” identity? We are God’s, first and foremost, and in this most recent sermon series Jacob explored and explained why the name was chosen and the vision we have for our ministry.

First of all, “Reliance” upon whom? “Each other” would be a good answer, but “the Lord” is more all-encompassing and more reliable. Ten years down the line, we want people who were part of this church to be able to say, more than anything, that they were taught to rely upon God. Ten years down the line, I want to be able to say that Reliance equipped me in that way. But I grew up as a missionary kid. Hi, nice to meet you again. Many of us at Reliance have known God our whole life, but we feel blessed and kind of burdened with this passion to reach those who are hurting in the black and the dark, those to whom “church” may be a dirty, sick joke, those that have been hurt by Christians in the past, even those who have literally never heard of what God has done for them. How do we do that?

An illustration in one of the sermons involved a young kid taking the bus on his first day of school. The young kid in question was none other than our pastor Jacob, who wound up hiding in a ditch, crying and too terrified to get on the school bus, until an experienced fourth grader walked up to him and assured him that it would all be okay. Suddenly, the bus wasn’t so intimidating. In case you didn’t catch it, the bus is church, the people God has called us to reach are the kids in the ditch, and many times we forget how this kid feels. We get into these patterns of churchy behavior which alienate those who have never gotten on the bus. As a church for the unchurched, it is our job to set the stage for the new people who come in, curious, hesitant, afraid. A stage of welcoming, a place where the words and promises of Scripture can come across as authoritative and influential, a place where the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of those who need it most. Let’s face it, guys – to someone who doesn’t believe in God, what we do on Sundays is weird. Singing songs of praise to an invisible dude and building our lives around somebody who died 2000 years ago? Not exactly “normal.”

So the question becomes why do we do what we do? What compels us to gather together and worship somebody whom nobody can see but most of us can feel on a level of reality higher and deeper than anything we know? We can’t shove Scripture and hell-or-heaven damnation in the faces of unbelievers. We can’t point a waggling finger of accusation and say “Repent, sinner!” Has that ever worked? Jesus himself never condemned anybody but the religiously devout – the ones who went to church, followed the rules, believed body heart and soul in God. It is not our job to condemn. In the last sermon of the series, Jacob pointed to the example of Paul to show what we can and should do, to show what Reliance will be all about.

The stories. The work of God on a practical, personal, and visible level is what changes lives. My story, which was shown, in the most recent service, in the first of what will hopefully be many videos, involves being caught up in a whirlind of soul-sucking, money-draining, motivation-annihilating drug habits – and the only reason I can write this to you today, right now, is because my God saved me from that, in a practical way. The skeptical and the non-believing people of this world will never believe in a God they can’t see, a God they only know as a bearded dude in the sky judging us to hell. But they will respond to the stories He has given us to tell, to the applicable ways He has worked in our lives. We were all sick, and He healed us, not holding us accountable for any of our wrongs, but acting purely out of grace and love. The wounds of this world are waiting to be healed, and God, through churches like Reliance Fellowship, is working to heal them. This is what we are about.

We will rely upon the Lord, we will embrace Scripture as we welcome newcomers, we will remain in this position of faith, and we will express what he has done for us, because it is the stories that change people’s lives. As for me, Brandon, I’ve been a writer for about fifteen years. Brian may not have been a writer, but Brandon is. And when I first started writing at eleven years old, I could not imagine the journey God would take me on to bring me here. We are here to tell the stories, because they were given to us by somebody REAL. We cannot hold these stories inside, it is our joy to shout them out to the world and watch the wonders that God will work.

God bless and God speed. 🙂

-Brandon S.

P.S. – Take a moment to watch my story.

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