You are . . . An Ambassador

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”   2 Corinthians 5:20

Ambassador: The highest-ranking person who represents his or her own government while living in another country  (http://www.merriam-webster.com/)

I doubt that when you woke up this morning you thought, “I’m an ambassador.”  But the truth is that you are!  It’s a fascinating metaphor that Paul uses.  In just one word, he expresses a great deal about what it means to live for Christ in this world, truths that are seen in Webster’s definition of the word.  There are two essential qualities of an ambassador that we can relate to as followers of Jesus:

  1. An ambassador lives in a foreign country.

Of course this doesn’t mean that you have to be a missionary in another country to be an ambassador for Christ.  Because the Bible declares that you already live in a place that is not your real home.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 3:20)

As He is about to go to the cross, Jesus tells His disciples that they are no longer of the world because He chose them out of the world.  (John 15:19) His choosing them gave them a different identity, a different “home country”.  And then, after He chooses them out of the world, He sends them into the world.  (John 17:18 – see “Sent One” blog).  Just as a government sends an ambassador to another country.

How much do we think of the United States being a foreign country to us?  It is so comfortable.  For years, people of faith have described it as a “Christian nation”.  Granted, much of it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and, so far, it has been a place where all faiths, including us, can worship freely.  But we have to remember that it is not really “home”.

Peter in 1 Peter 2 appeals to his readers with several descriptions of who they are because of Christ.  In verse 9, he says they are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”  The King James translates that last phrase “a peculiar people” which lines up well with how Peter appeals to them next – “I urge you as aliens and strangers”.  (1 Peter 2:9)

Do you see yourself that way?  As an alien and stranger?  A “peculiar person”?  It’s as if Peter is saying that while we are on earth – even in a place that we consider “home” – we still need to see ourselves as being in a foreign country.  It’s like I should feel in the U.S. just like I would if I just got off the plane in Africa.

I don’t usually think about this a lot – this country is so comfortable.  But recent rapid cultural changes have brought this truth home to me.  I do feel like an alien here now – my values and convictions that I hold because of Christ and His word are becoming out of the mainstream.  Maybe there is a blessing in the uneasiness, the confusion over what is going on around me right now.  Because it reminds me that while I am a U.S. citizen (and thankful for it!), ultimately my citizenship is in heaven.

  1. An ambassador represents his or her home country in a foreign land.

Ambassadors represent their country in two ways – in their words and in their actions.

The president and his cabinet cannot speak to every foreign leader when necessary.  Instead, they appoint ambassadors to take that message for them, in their place.  This is the main job of an ambassador that Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 5:20.  He takes the message of the gospel to those in the world, begging them to be reconciled to God.  As God’s ambassadors – His designated agents on earth – Paul says it is as if God were making an appeal through us.  Sometimes I marvel that God would choose to carry His message this way – through such imperfect vessels.  But He has and has made us all His ambassadors.

While representing their home country through their words is important, what an ambassador does is just as important.  Even though an ambassador lives in a foreign country, they have to remember at all times that they are representing the home country – in everything that they do.  People are watching them and many will base their opinion on their country based on their behavior.

Along with this, the ambassador has to be careful to respect the laws and culture of the country where they serve without assimilating them so that he or she loses the values of the home country in the process.  Can you imagine our ambassador to China or Russia taking on the values of those countries and beginning to espouse them?  We would be shocked.  And they would then be unable to represent the U.S. interests any longer.

The disciples knew of this temptation and warned their followers about it.  Paul urged the Romans to not be conformed to the world.  (Romans 12:2)  John warned his readers to not love the world or the things in it.  (1 John 2:15)  James issued one of the strongest warnings on this topic when he wrote, You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  (James 4:4)

I think because I spent a lot of time in China, whenever I think of an ambassador, the first person who comes to mind is former President George H.W. Bush.  I once saw this picture of him and Barbara when they were living in China in 1974 and 1975 and never forgot the image.  (He was technically the envoy and not the ambassador since the U.S. didn’t have full diplomatic relations with China.)

Chief of the US Liaison Office in the People's Republic of China George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, in early to mid 1970's in China.     Handout George H.W. Bush Presidential Library

Chief of the US Liaison Office in the People’s Republic of China George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, in early to mid 1970’s in China. Handout George H.W. Bush Presidential Library

As I was researching for this blog, I found this quote from him about his time in China:

“Some told me not to bother.  ‘The Chinese don’t want to talk to Americans,’ I heard time and time again.  I didn’t believe them.  Barbara and I determined that we would make the most of our time in Beijing by making as many friends and contacts as possible.

We bicycled around the town.  We went shopping and called upon our neighbors.  We kept walking Fred [their dog] all around our neighborhood.  We invited friends and family to come visit from America.  We even learned some Chinese, studying four or five times a week.  All with the intent of putting an open face on the United States for the average Chinese citizen.”  (George H. W. Bush in the preface of The China diary of George H.W. Bush: The Making of a Global President by Jeffrey A. Engel)

I was struck as I read this by the parallels there are between what he and Barbara did and what our role is as ambassadors for Christ here in the U.S.  First of all, they decided not to listen to the pessimism of others and reached out to the Chinese anyway.  Do you hear others or just the voice inside your head tell you that people don’t want to hear about Christ?  Like the Bushes, we need to not believe those voices.  Jesus said that the fields are white for harvest (John 4:35).  We need to trust Him and be expectant as we initiate with others.

Then there is the parallel of what they actually did to befriend the Chinese.  What if we did some of the things that they did – call on our neighbors, be involved in the community, invite people over to our house, involve our Christian friends as we reach out, learn more about the interests of our non-Christian friends?  Silly and simple as it may seem, even walking your dog can start relationships and conversations that can lead to the gospel.  And doing all of it “with the intent of putting an open face” on Jesus.  I love that concept!

I know that some ambassadors get some plum assignments (who wouldn’t like to be the ambassador to the Bahamas!).  But many assignments are in difficult places.  We’ve seen in the recent past that, even though it’s rare, being an ambassador might cost you your life.

I don’t know where God has called you to be an ambassador –maybe it feels like the Bahamas or maybe it feels like the Middle East.  But all of us are called to do it faithfully – representing our home country and taking its message even while feeling like a stranger and alien at times.  Thankfully God always provides the grace to do so.

A Lesson from my Hydrangea

My hydrangeaThis is a picture of my hydrangea.  It is just to the right of our front porch, greeting me every time I come in and out of the house.  Don’t feel bad if you aren’t impressed – I don’t expect you to be because, honestly, I’m not either.

Every time I go past this bush, I can’t help but evaluate it.  I am glad that it is large and green and still alive.  At least it takes up the space nicely in the flower bed.  And I love the one flower that is there and am glad it finally bloomed.  But I also can’t help but be disappointed.  Because a hydrangea is supposed to be more than this.  It should be covered with blooms.  My bush is full of unmet potential.

These thoughts remind me of some of the letters to the churches at the beginning of Revelation.  To Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira, the Lord begins by praising them – “I know your deeds . . . you have perseverance . . . I know you hold fast My name . . . I know your love and faith and service.”  But then He says, “But I have this against you . . .”

A couple of weeks ago I was passing my disappointing hydrangea and the thought struck me, “I hope I don’t look like this bush spiritually.”  As believers, just as my bush is nice and green and full, we are alive in Christ and no longer dead spiritually.  And we can have a little fruit just like my one bloom.  But we were made for so much more than that.  Just as I look at my hydrangea and know it’s not supposed to look like that, as believers we are supposed to bear much fruit – not just a little.  But are we content to settle for less?

Jesus told His disciples in John 15:16 that He chose us so that we would bear fruit and that our fruit would remain.  When Jesus says, “so that”, He is indicating part of our purpose.  Just a few sentences before that, He tells the disciples that His Father is glorified when we bear much fruit (John 15:8).  That is how we prove to be His disciples.  It’s not just by being green and having one bloom and feeling good about being a “good Christian”.

Paul gives us some specific details on what this fruit looks like.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Paul also tells the Romans in Romans 1:13 that he wants to come and obtain some fruit among them which implies that we also bear fruit by sharing the gospel (see also John 4:35-36).

Jesus tells us how to bear fruit in John 15:4-5.  It comes as we abide in (rely on, depend upon) Him.  As we do that, we will naturally bear fruit just as a hydrangea naturally bears flowers or a peach tree naturally bears peaches.

Of course, abiding isn’t the problem for my hydrangea.  I think its problem is the gardener!  Thankfully, that is not a problem with bearing spiritual fruit.  The Father is the gardener and He is perfect at it, knowing exactly how to prune to enable us to bear more fruit.  (John 15:1-2)

Jill's HydrangeaThis is a picture of my friend Jill’s hydrangea bush.  She posted it on Facebook earlier this summer.  The contrast is amazing isn’t it?  This is what one is supposed to look like, covered with beautiful blooms.  This is what I dreamed of when I planted my bush several years ago.

Just as I hope that I don’t look spiritually like my plant, I hope that instead I look like Jill’s, covered with blooms of love, joy, peace, patience, etc.  I hope that people don’t look at me and think that I’m a “good Christian” but are also aware that there is something lacking, that there should be so much more.  I pray that the Lord will never be able to say to me, “I know you have some fruit, but I have this against you . . .”

Are you blooming all over?

Celebrating Freedom

In 1988, I spent the 4th of July in an unusual place – The People’s Republic of China.  In the country that invented fireworks and that seemed to have watermelon everywhere, our American group celebrated our country’s birth by inviting our Chinese friends to a day of playing games to give them a little taste of how we celebrate.  But, sadly, I couldn’t give them a taste of why we celebrate – the freedom that we declared on that day in 1776 and still enjoy.  Nothing will make you appreciate The Bill of Rights and the freedom we have in the U.S. like being in a Communist country on Independence Day.  I will never forget it.

Playing games with our Chinese friends

Playing games with our Chinese friends

Teaching our Chinese friends American songs

Teaching our Chinese friends American songs

Thankful as I am for my freedom in America, there is another freedom I am given to enjoy as well.  That is the freedom that comes with knowing Christ.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

The whole focus of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was freedom.  These Gentiles had heard Paul’s message of forgiveness through faith in Christ and had believed.  But now some Judaizers had come in, telling these Gentiles that faith in Christ wasn’t enough.  No – they also had to obey the Mosaic Law.  In this letter, Paul lays out argument after argument for faith alone and not works for salvation.  Those works were the “yoke of slavery” Paul refers to here.

It’s wonderful that we annually celebrate our American freedom and how we got here.  I love how The History Channel and others have special shows on this week about the American Revolution.  It’s a significant thing to not forget.

Maybe I need a way to also ponder on and celebrate my freedom in Christ like I do on July 4th.  Because if I’m not careful, I can forget about it and not appreciate it.  I can let that “yoke of slavery” slip back over my neck.  I’m the oldest child, and I like rules.   I like to follow them and get them all right.  I like to meet the expectations of others.  I like to be liked.  Not all bad character traits, but they can make you a likely candidate for forgetting freedom in Christ!

Here are just a few areas where Christ has purchased my freedom:

  • Freedom from sin – Romans 6:6-7, 14
  • Freedom from the Law – Galatians 3:24-25, 5:18
  • Freedom from pleasing people – Galatians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:9
  • Freedom from fear – 1 John 4:18
  • Freedom from anxiety – Philippians 4:6-7; Matthew 6:25-34
  • Freedom from bitterness towards those who have wronged me – Colossians 3:12-15; Matthew 18:21-35

Just as I treasure my freedoms as an American and would fight to keep them, I need to treasure these freedoms in Christ and fight to enjoy them and not allow myself to revert to the legalism of my flesh.  Just as I remember and appreciate the story of what our Founding Fathers did to win and encode our freedoms in the United States, I need to remember the gospel.

Freedom is purchased with blood.  Every year we remember and appreciate that in the U.S. on the 4th of July and on Memorial Day and on Veteran’s Day.  But more than those sacrifices, great as each one was, is the sacrifice of Christ that we celebrate on Good Friday.  He shed His blood that I might be free.  So celebrate freedom this week!  And enjoy it, being careful to not put back on that “yoke of slavery”.