ambassador

Proclaiming the Message (Colossians 4:2-4:6)

“The Blue Angels are the friendly face of the U.S. Navy and Marines and put on aerial stunt shows before live audiences across the country most every week. The scandal has sullied their reputation and that of the military branches they represent, Navy investigators said.” (“Blue Angels dived into porn, homophobia and harassment, study says,” cnn.com)

 We cringe at this story not just because of the impact of their actions on the people in the story, but because the Blue Angels were supposed to be the face of an organization that represented their country. Their role - and their failure in it - reminds us of something important: we are the friendly face of the Kingdom of God. We are constantly representing Christ. Nobody has to officially send us or appoint us – followers of Christ are in that role 24/7. I was thinking of how this news story could read if it involved me and my walk with Christ.

“Anthony is one of the friendly faces of the Kingdom of God, and he “puts on” a display of what discipleship looks like every week.”

 So far, so good. But there are at least two different ways that paragraph could end.

  • “His recent scandals have sullied the reputation of the church and the Christ he represents.”
  • “His recent success has bolstered the reputation of the church and the Christ he represents.”

 So are there ways we can prepare so that we can more effectively represent Christ?  As Paul closes his letter to the Colossian church, he gives us some insight:

Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray. And while you are at it, add us to your prayers. Pray that God would open doors so we can go on telling the mystery of Christ, for this is exactly why I am currently imprisoned. (4:2-3)

Here’s the first thing to note: We are to ask God to orchestrate the opportunities. We don’t have to leave where we are to be a missionary (to be on mission). If we want to have an impact in the world for the Kingdom of God, pray that God will open doors where we are. Big trips gets headlines; ordinary friendships usually don’t. But it’s ordinary friendships that change the world for Christ. I have talked to plenty of people who feel they are wasting their lives because they are just stuck in an ordinary job around ordinary people from one ordinary day to another.

I would challenge us to see the holiness and the potential in every moment in life. We don’t have to leave to do something meaningful (though “go” is certainly part of the great commission). The reality is that as long as we are near other people, we are in a position to impact eternity. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis about the importance of each person and each moment in our life: 

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. 

It is a serious thing…to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. 

It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe… proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. 

Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors…” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

 Every day, in every conversation and interaction, we are representing Christ to someone who will live forever.  It’s the “weight of glory” not because we give it, but because we carry the truth of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us wherever we go, and we dim it or reveal it all the time.

We don’t have to wait for something special. We can simply pray that God orchestrates circumstances in even the most ordinary moments of our life so we can more fully proclaim the message of Christ. Then, we actively look for these things to open up with our family, our friends, at work, with our neighbors, and even at church. That co-worker who annoys us is not merely a mortal. Our neighbor is not just a person next door. God will bring opportunities to reveal the presence of the love of Christ. We need to be alert and ready. 

After stressing God’s role, Paul reveals ours: 

“Pray that I will proclaim this message clearly and fearlessly as I should. Be wise when you engage with those outside the faith community; make the most of every moment and every encounter. When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly.” (4:4-6)

If God orchestrates the opportunities, we bring the message. We need to own our faith so we can state it clearly and fearlessly. In order to do that, we need at least two things.

 We need knowledge. We need to know what Christianity has to say about the essentials of our faith as well as cultural hot topics. We learn this through the Bible, sermons, classes, books, podcasts, videos, conversations… This doesn’t mean we have to have degrees or have to be an expert that answers every question. But we should in some sense constantly be learning. If you have a question that bugs you – search for answer. If you don’t know what to think about the Trinity, or the reliability of the Bible, or same-sex marriage, or why God’s moral claim on our life is for our flourishing, seek to understand. Even currents events deserve your attention – not all of them and not all the time, but be prepared to learn so you can offer a perspective as a Christian on the environment, or immigration, or health care.

 We need experience. We need to live a committed life so all the information is not just head knowledge. What does it mean to serve God? Why is sanctification a blessing even though it feels like a trial? What does it mean that those who lose their life will find it?  How does God meet us in the midst of our pain? Husbands, what does loving your wife like Christ loved the church look like? 

We need to engage wisely (v.5). We need to understand the context in which the gospel message is shared. How do we do this?

  • Learn what people love. What is it that moves them? What are the stories that shape how they view the world?  (Think of how Jesus used parables). What do they think are the most important issues of the day? Conversations with your NASCAR neighbor and your film festival neighbor will probably be very, very different. You will have to take the time to listen and understand what it is that captures the imagination of those around you – then pray that God opens doors of opportunity and gives you wisdom and boldness. 
  • See their life.  How has their history impacted how they will think of Christ, the church, or even Christians for that matter? Why? What do they think of when they hear “God,” “love,” “father,” “forgive,” and “family”? Take the time to learn about the things that have formed them. Take the time to get to know people and enter into their story. Not only does it honor them, it gives you insight into how to most effectively communicate the love of Christ.
  •  Speak their language.  As you learn what they love and see their life, you will increasingly learn how to speak their language. We instinctively know this when we talk with kids or when we go to other countries. We also learn this in marriage (the love languages, for example). It’s just as important when trying to communicate spiritual truths. In an article about copywriting in advertising, the writer made this point: “Words matter, and people crave connection. We have to start thinking, “How can I speak of Jesus in ways that will resonate with those around me?” When Paul wrote that their conversation was to be  “seasoned with salt,” he was writing to people in a city located near a famous lake from which salt was harvested. He knew the context.

Pray that God will open doors and give you wisdom. Be fearless and clear when the opportunities arise. (Check out this link for a look at “Christianese,” or language that we might know what it means but non-Christians don’t).

Finally, we need to respond gracefully (v.6)

“When you speak the word, speak it gracefully (as if seasoned with salt), so you will know how to respond to everyone rightly.”

 The story is told of a time when a British diplomat named George Brown asking someone to dance at a diplomatic reception. He received this response: “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.”

We need to learn how to say graceful things in a graceful manner. There is much to be said for personal character and integrity. I don’t mean our lives have to display perfection. I simply mean that we must “put on” (to use Paul’s term)  humility, self-control, patience, kindness, and love.

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So how do we proclaim the message effectively? Pray for God opens doors, then step through as the “face of the Kingdom of God,” praying for the wisdom and strength to enable us to show the love and truth of Christ to the world.

GC:engage - Becoming An Effective Ambassador for Christ

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The Great Commission 

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

When Jesus gave his disciples the Great Commission, he told them to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The Apostle Paul would later make the analogy of ambassadorship: we areall representatives of Christ. In order to represent him well, we need knowledge (an accurately informed mind), wisdom (an artful method) and character (an attractive manner).*

Wisdom (an artful method) 

“The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) 

“Therefore, we are Christ's representatives, and through us God is calling you.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

If Christ is calling people to himself through us, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness, it’s probably important to think about how to make a compelling presentation about Christ and the Christian worldview. Here is where both character and knowledge play an important role.

Character (Attractive Manner)

 “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV) 

 “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25, NIV)

When you talk with others about your faith, remember that your manner of interaction – no matter the topic – speaks volumes about the God you serve. You want to make a winsome, compelling case for Christ and His Kingdom, so be careful not to be defensive and frustrated or to feel like you have to answer every question that a skeptic has. Listen to understand before you respond.  You’ll get your chance; meanwhile, a lot can be learned from listening first (James 1:19; Proverbs 29:20; Proverbs 18:2)

Think in terms of the next meeting. Keep the door open for another discussion. You probably won’t convince anyone to radically change his or her worldview in one sitting. Anything important takes time. In the long run, it’s probably better to value the relationship than win the argument. You can win an argument and never see a person again. But if you build a relationship even in the midst of disagreements, you can revisit the questions again and again. If either one of you gets upset over anything other than the cross of Christ, you both lose.

Knowledge (an accurately informed mind)

“Be careful not to let anyone rob you [of this faith] through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world's way of doing things rather than following Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, God’s Word) 

“The weapons we use in our fight are not made by humans. Rather, they are powerful weapons from God. With them we destroy people’s defenses, that is, their arguments and all their intellectual arrogance that oppose the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:4-5, God’s Word)

The first bit of information you need is why someone struggles with the idea of God. 

  • Some have experienced emotional pain, and find it hard to believe in God. Perhaps they have been abused, their health has failed them, or they have lost someone they love.  In the midst of these situations, they have felt serious disillusionment because they expected God to intervene. If this is the case, they don’t need a syllogism; they need empathy. Sometimes the best way to be an ambassador is to weep with those who weep.
  • Some have had experiential disappointment. Christians have failed or hurt them; churches have ignored their questions or been judgmental and legalistic. In this case, they may find it undesirable to believe. Why would they want to be a part of a group of people like that? If this is the case, acknowledge the hurt and frustration. Yes, Christians can be hypocrites. Yes, churches can wound people. The best thing you can do is to model true Christianity. They need to see faith in action more than they need a Bible verse. 
  • Some have intellectual frustration.  For them, there’s no perceived reason to believe. Because science and reason provide sufficient explanation of life as far as they can tell, they have no need for a God hypothesis. In this case, you may need to provide evidence (science, philosophy, history, archaeology, etc.).

The second bit of information you need is a clarification of terms. Ask what Greg Koukl* calls Columbo Questions: What do you mean by that? How did you come to that conclusion? Have you ever considered another idea? You will not only build a friendship, you will better understand the nature of someone’s skepticism. It’s frustrating to provide answers to questions nobody has. Take the time to find out what questions need to be answered.

The third bit of information you need is the truth that will address their circumstance. This is where you will need to give a reasoned argument, not simply make an assertion. An assertion is essentially a statement of opinion. It may be right or it may be wrong, but it’s nothing more than a statement of belief. “There is no God” is an assertion; so is, “There is a God.”  You will need to challenge bald assertions while building a positive case for your position.  You don’t need to be an expert, but it would be good to know something about the particular issue at hand.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Tactics, Greg Koukl (I am indebted to Mr. Koukl for the knowledge/wisdom/character template. You can learn more about Mr. Koukl and his ministry, Stand To Reason, at str.org).

Stand to Reason’s Ambassador’s Creed

Love Your God With All Your Mind, JP Moreland

 

Countering Critics

Christians have not always defended the cause of Christ in a productive manner. Yes, we are all ambassadors; no, it’s not a skill that developss automatically. As a result, we often respond poorly when our faith attacked.

 Some Christians retreat into kind of a Christian subculture where they just stop engaging with anybody or anything outside of our comfort zone. But that’s hardly the best way to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

 Some Christians attack, fighting fire with fire. They get angry, defensive and hostile whenever our faith is questioned or challenged. When the disciples asked Jesus to demolish a town because the people didn’t welcome him (Luke 9:51-56), Jesus rebuked them. I think He would rebuke us.

 Neither one of these approaches bears good fruit.  Fortunately, the Apostle Paul's letters have left a legacy that can inform how we respond to the critics of Christianity today. Though he was an apostle, Paul was often put in a place where he needed to defend himself from his detractors.

  • “I wonder if he really knows what he is talking about?” (1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Corinthians 1:13) 
  • “Is this guy really an apostle?” (1 Corinthians 9:1, 1 Corinthians 9:2, 2 Corinthians 1:22; and 2 Corinthians 12:13) 
  • “He’s kind of a nerd, actually.” (2 Corinthians 1:13; 10:10) 
  • “He speaks out of both sides of his mouth.” (2 Corinthians 1) 

It must have been tempting to demolish his critics with his all-star credentials, to bring the thunder of apostolic authority and miraculous power, then walk away and shake the dust off his feet. But Paul didn’t want to shame or discourage the gullible crowd in Corinth; he wanted to add to their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). He wanted to regain the relationship that was lost. He wanted his presence in their life to make their lives better. So how did Paul respond in order to accomplish his goal?

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1. Paul Lived Consistently 

 Paul noted that the people of Corinth had read his letters and seen his life (2 Corinthians 1:13). When he wrote to the Colossian Christians, he noted:

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  (Colossians 3:17)

The integrity of our lives must match the truth of our doctrine. We may claim to be citizens of heaven, but if we treat others like hell, it won’t matter what we say.

2. Paul Lived Transparently

 Paul had no skeletons in his closet. He had a rough history, but that was hardly a secret. He understood this principle: You have nothing to fear as long as you have nothing to hide. Paul makes clear that was the goal of his life:

“We have renounced secret and shameful ways…” (Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:1)
“I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” (Paul, as quoted in Acts 24:16)

Integrity brings freedom. We don't have to fear the insults of others if we know, before God and others, that transparency is our friend.

 3. Paul Understood Grace

 He writes, “I would rather that…. I can add to your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). The original word carries with it the image of “extending favor; leaning toward.” One concordance was even more specific: it’s “grace recognized.”  Paul, of all people, knew what it was like to be in need of grace.  Why wouldn't he want to pay it forward?

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What difference do you think it would make if we, the ambassadors of Christ, consciously moved from person to person with these thoughts:

  • Is what I claim to believe and what I actually do consistent? 
  • Is there any part of my life that I don’t want others to see? 
  • Is grace easily recognized by others in my attitude and actions? 

Truth must be told, of course. There is no gospel message without it.  But the best response to Christianity’s critics is one in which the lives of his ambassadors display integrity, openness, and grace empowered by the presence of Christ.

Ambassadors for Christ

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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: KNOWLEDGE, TACT, and CHARACTER.
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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” in the way. 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.