Monday, June 12, 2017

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 4)

  • A Labor Foreign Secretary (1966-68) named George Brown got this response from another guest at a diplomatic reception: “I shall not dance with you for three reasons. First, because you are drunk, second, because this is not a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem and third, because I am not a beautiful lady in red; I am the Cardinal Bishop of Lima.”
  • When Barbara Bush, the wife of then Vice President George Bush, Sr., was on a diplomatic visit in Japan, she attended a lunch with Emperor Hirohito at Tokyo's Imperial Palace. In spite of her best efforts to start a conversation, the Emperor would only smile and give very short answers. She finally complimented Hirohito on his official residence."Thank you," he said. "Is it new?" pressed Mrs. Bush. "Yes." "Was the palace just so old that it was falling down?" “No, I'm afraid that you bombed it."
It’s embarrassing when a leader or an ambassador poorly represents something of which you are a part. They are supposed to be a compelling face for something or someone, and it’s hard. At times they fail, sometimes hilariously and other times more seriously. We tend to think of this in politics or schools or sports teams, but Paul wrote to the first followers of Christ:
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
As followers of Christ, we are His ambassadors to a world that is not our home. We represent another King and another Kingdom. "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). As ambassadors for Christ, we have the same kind of responsibility as the previous spokespeople I mentioned. But now we are going to the Kingdom of the Earth on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven, and things of eternal import are at stake.  We’ve been talking about spiritual health for the past six weeks. It’s worth noting that we don’t become healthy through Jesus just for our sake. We are made healthy as part of preparation for evangelism and discipleship.
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell [people] of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” (Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison).
We represent Jesus whether we like it or not. We don’t stop representing Christ … ever. We will be an ambassador for better or worse.

When I was in high school, I worked at a restaurant, and I talked with my non-Christian friends about Jesus. One day a girl said to me, “I notice you say X about your faith, but then you do Y. How does that work?” (I don’t remember what the issue was.) That was a really uncomfortable conversation.

People can’t see God, but they can see us. They can be drawn to or pushed away from the One we represent based on how we, as ambassadors, represent God. I gave one verse from Paul earlier. Here is the broader context:
“ Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17- 21).
It is in this light that we need to understand 2 Corinthians 6:1:
“As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain…”
Paul is not saying that God’s grace is unable to save us. He’s not saying that the people reading the letter aren’t Christians. He refers to them as co-workers!  He’s just pointing out that we can be healed and be made new…and watch an opportunity for bringing others to the Great Physician slip through our fingers.

So, how can we make sure that doesn’t happen?[i]

KNOWLEDGE

First, an ambassador must have some basic knowledge. After I had my second blood clot, I went to my doctor to find out what to do. He said some stuff I knew, then said we were done. I said, “Should I be taking shots until the Coumadin kicks in?” He agreed that would be a good idea. “Should I rest and elevate my leg?” Sure. Why not? I basically walked him through my treatment. I didn’t go back. He did not have saving knowledge – or if he did, he didn’t know how to communicate it well. Knowledge isn’t the only thing, but it’s a crucial thing. And as some of you have experienced, a doctor who lacks knowledge can have a very real impact on how you view the medical profession in general.

An ambassador for Christ needs two kinds of knowledge: factual knowledge and experiential knowledge.

By factual I simply mean never stop learning more about what you believe and why. Knowledge can’t save you, but it can ground and stabilizes you.
  • I was glad I had already wrested mentally with the problem of pain and evil before I wrestled with it experientially when by Dad died and when I had my heart attack. [1]
  • I have found that the more I study God’s plan for marriage and human sexuality the more I am strengthened in the face of temptation. [2]
  • When I hear challenges to the existence of God from atheists, the nature of God from other religions, or the character of God from well-meaning Christians who have non-biblical views of who God is and how he works in the world, I am glad for the solid theology of my Mennonite upbringing, and the Christian voices that have filled me with truth.[3]
By experiential I mean commit to walking in the footsteps of Jesus and committing to life in His Kingdom.  We are called to explain the hope that lies within us. We are going to need to talk about the transformational nature of discipleship. I can talk about being in the military, but I don’t know what it’s like to be in the military. I can talk about football, but I don’t know what it’s like to play football. Ask me about basketball, crossfit, pastoring, teaching or marriage – I’ve experienced it. In all of those, I immersed myself in it for a while. They weren’t just passing fancies. I didn’t dabble. I entered in as fully as I could.

As Christians, we can’t dabble. We can’t pick and choose parts or pick and choose times and expect to be able to tell people what it’s like to really be a sold-out follower of Jesus.  G.K Chesterton is famous for saying:
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
I’m not talking about perfect knowledge or perfect discipleship. That’s impossible on this side of heaven. If someone expects that level of expertise, everyone on earth is going to fail them. I’m talking about the process of being committed to that process of learning and growing within the framework of the gifts, talents and opportunities God has given you.

TACT

This knowledge must be deployed in a skillful way with wisdom and persuasiveness.  Paul notes all the ways in which he “becomes all things to all people” in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 “so that I may save some . . .” It isn’t possible to never give offense as an ambassador for Christ, because the message of the cross can be offensive (Luke. 6:26; 1 Corinthians 1:23). But we must do our best to take away needless offense.
“We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way…” (2 Corinthians 6:3)
The message of the Gospel is difficult enough without us giving people additional reason to turn away. We must pray for the wisdom to know how to connect and genuinely enter into the lives of those around us without compromising our morality or faith. It’s part of being “in the world but not of it.” (John 17:15-16). [ii]  I'll explain this more fully in my final point, which is...

CHARACTER

Because ambassadors bring themselves along in everything they do, their presence can either make or break the message. After talking a about tact, Paul talks more about his character, or what it is about his life that has  “commended” him to them. After he describes the suffering he endured for the sake of the gospel, he writes the following about how to live:
“…in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God…” (2 Corinthians 6:5-7)
“Purity” is used here probably to refer to sexual purity, but it has a broader meaning that encompasses all of life. We are called to be pure from the inside out – morally clean, able to live without fear of what others may find out about us. Think of this as free transparency. Can someone check your internet history right now or your business’s books? If there is a video of how you interact with people throughout the day, would you be embarrassed if someone saw it, or would you be willing to say, “Sure, have a look!”

“Understanding” refers to an in-depth understanding of the Christian worldview (2 Timothy. 2:15). It’s what I talked about earlier.  It doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers, but you are constantly seeking in some way to understand your faith more fully. Study…listen carefully…think and pray and talk with others about your life….learn to process your life with Christ so that when others ask you to talk about what it means to be a Christian, you can draw from past experiences.

 “Patience.”  This is staying power; being long tempered instead of short tempered. Not easily provoked.  We can listen to or see things hostile to our faith without getting immediately angry and defensive.   If someone says, “I think Christianity is stupid,” and starts to rant, can you listen patiently, trying to understand what they are saying?  Or do you get angry and tense and lash back as soon as you have an opening?  When someone posts a comment that challenges your faith or a position that you hold because of your Christian worldview, do you start a fight, or do you patiently engage for the sake of their salvation?

“Kindness” refers to cultivating a high view of other people and treating them with respect.  It’s meeting real needs – not just spiritual, but relational, financial, emotional…. It’s treating people in God’s image as if they bore God’s image.  In talking with those who are skeptical of Christianity, I have fielded questions like this:

  • The Bible is just an old book with a lot of errors. Why would any intelligent person pay attention to it?
  • Believing that Jesus was a God who died and came back to life is like believing in the Easter Bunny. 
  • You are so judgmental about sex.  Why don’t you want other people to be happy?”

So do I respond with anger and defensiveness?  Do I quote, “The fool has said in his heart there is not God” and stomp away, content to have struck a blow for the Kingdom of God? I need to relate to others with patience and kindness. It’s how God treats us, and it’s intended to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  My goal is not win the argument, though that would be nice. My goal is that they be reconciled to Christ, and God forbid my attitude get in the way.

\I’ve realized over the past number of years that people skeptical about my faith expect me as a Christian to attack or belittle them.  Somewhere in their lives, they have seen Christians either act like that or be portrayed like that. Whether fair or not, it’s the impression that's out there.  We need to change that impression one person at a time.

“Sincere love” – This is the ‘agape’ we talked about several weeks ago – “deliberately living in a way that shows esteem or value of something or someone as a precious, beloved prize.” If we don’t have this, we are just obnoxious noise makers even if we could speak the language of angels (1 Corinthians 13).

“Truthful Speech” - We can’t compromise on the reality, and we must be willing to defend it even if it is offensive.  Remember, God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and neither should we.

 “The Holy Spirit…the Power of God” - We depend on the power of God to take God’s word, our words, our lives, and point people toward Christ.  We don’t have to force the issue.  We “plant and water,” but God brings the harvest. Be content to be faithfully present, looking for opportunities to plant and nourish God’s truth.  At the right time, speak up. At the right time, challenge and encourage. Just always remember that the Holy Spirit is at work, which is good news indeed.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)
We, the community of the healed and healing, takes the Good News of the Great Physician to a world in desperate need of the redemption offered by Jesus alone. May we are do this with sincere lover, and with the power and protection of the righteousness of God.

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[1] So, there’s this book, Learning To Jump Again, that explains my journey through this :) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005H11AHO/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
[2] I recommend the following (out of many good options)
  • Real Sex, by Lauren Winner
  • The Thrill Of The Chaste, by Dawn Eden
  • Fill These Hearts, by Christopher West
  • The Mingling Of Souls, Matt and Lauren Chandler
  • The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller (youtube speech given for Google employees)
  • Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Matthew W Rueger
[3] I recommend the following as good starting points that give the Big Picture
  • The Story Of Reality, by Greg Koukl
  • The Reason For God, Tim Keller
  • Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
  • How Shall We Then Live? Francis Schaeffer
  • How Now Shall We Live? Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey
[i] I am indebted to Grek Koukl at Stand To Reason (str.org) for a lot of teaching on three characteristics of a good Christian ambassador.
[ii] How can we tell the difference between tact vs. fear or compromise?
  • Someone who is tactful does not compromise the truth; they simply remember that “well-spoken words are like apples of gold in pitchers of silver.”
  • Someone who is tactful does not avoid confrontation; they confront with respect, care and love, remembering that everyone is created in the image of God.
  • Someone who is tactfful seeks to build bridges, not burn them. Tact does not post mean mean or mocking memes. Tact does not name-call. Tact isn’t defensive. Tact listens, engages, seeks to understand even before being understood.
  • Someone who is tactful enters into accountability so that others observe and weigh in on how they are doing.

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