Monday, January 21, 2013

Ambassadors For Christ

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.” 
Barbara Bush once 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."
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It’s embarrassing when a leader or an ambassador makes a fool of themselves, especially when they represent something of which we are a part. Politicians are not the only ones who do this. It could be someone who is trying to convince people all over the world to take up bicycling….or to root for Notre Dame football

The Apostle 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
We are His ambassadors to a world that is not our home. We represent another King and another Kingdom. 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 represent Jesus whether we like it or not. We don’t stop representing Christ … ever. We will be an ambassador – for better or worse. 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.  Here is the broader context for Paul's message about ambassadorship:
“ 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)
I am indebted to Grek Koukl at Stand To Reason for a lot of teaching on three characteristics of a good Christian ambassador (and I am slightly paraphrasing): KNOWLEDGE, TACT, and CHARACTER. ________________________________________________________________________

First, an ambassador must have some basic knowledge. 

When then Vice-President Cheney was in town to campaign a number of years ago, I went outside the civic center to meet the picketers. I talked to a guy holding a sign showing his opposition to multi-national corporations, and two girls holding a sign that said, “I hate Bush.” None of them could give me an articulate reason for their protest.

An ambassador for Christ must seek to know the character, mind, and purposes of Christ. This means being equipped with not just the knowledge, but the experience and wisdom that comes from understanding God, His Word, His world, and His people.

Second, this knowledge must be deployed in a skillful way with wisdom and persuasiveness.

It isn’t possible to never give offense as an ambassador for Christ, because the message can be offensive (Luke. 6:26; 1 Corinthians 1:23). But we must do our best to “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 is difficult enough without us giving people additional reason to turn away. 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’s not good when the biggest barrier for people to overcome is Christians. You may have heard this famous quote from Ghandi: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

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).  We “put no stumbling block.” We ”commend ourselves in every way.” We “become all things to all people.”

The third aspect of a good ambassador is character. 

Because ambassadors bring themselves along in everything they do, their presence can either make or break the message. Paul tells us how we can embrace the transformative grace with which God heals us in such a way that we come effective ambassadors:
“in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with the armor of righteousness…” (2 Corinthians 6:5-7)
“Purity” is used here probably to refer to sexual purity, but 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.

“Understanding” refers to an in-depth understanding of the Christian worldview (2 Timothy. 2:15). It’s first-hand experience; applied knowledge. It doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers, but we are constantly seeking in some way to understand our faith and our experience better.  We study… listen carefully… think and pray and talk with others about our life…. learn to process our walk with Christ so that when others ask us to talk about what it means to be a Christian, we can draw from past experiences.

“Patience” is staying power; being long tempered instead of short tempered. 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 we listen patiently, trying to understand what they are saying? Or do we get angry and tense and lash back as soon as we have an opening? When someone posts a comment that challenges our faith, do we start a fight, or do we 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 actually bore God’s image. When someone skeptical of Christianity asks us a tough questions, do we respond with anger and defensiveness? Do we 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?

No!!!  We 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).  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. Whether fair or not, it’s the impression that's out there. We need to change that impression one person at a time.

“Truthful Speech” does not compromise on reality, and we must be boldly proclaimed even if it is offensive. God does not want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9), and neither should we. But our bold proclamations should be kind. Treating people badly does not serve the purpose of spreading the good news. Our goal is to see them saved, not shamed.

Too often, I have seen Christians be unnecessarily offensive towards others, then when they are ridiculed they very humbly say, “Well, Jesus said the world will hate us. I must be doing something right if non-Christians are angry at me.”  That’s not necessarily true. They may be angry because you are a jerk. Speak truthfully – but kindly. Commend yourself in every way!

“The Holy Spirit” gives us 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” (1 Corinthians 3:7), 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.

Be patient. Be present. Be faithful. 

A lot can be accomplished with sincere love, and with the power and protection of the righteousness of God.

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