February 2023: Living in Two Worlds
Dear Alpha family and friends,
The apostle Paul used many ways to describe himself and other believers in his various letters to the churches he planted across the Empire: disciples, servants, brothers /sisters, temple stones, body parts, athletes, new creations, and many more. In 2 Corinthians we see another when he wrote, “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.” While he used the term “ambassadors” to describe his cadre of missionary evangelists in this letter, it should also refer to all professing Christians.
What exactly is an ambassador? What do they do? Who do they represent? For one thing, they reside in a land which is not their home. No matter how acclimated they become to the culture and traditions of the place they serve, they are ever mindful that they are to embody the values of the government and people they were sent to represent. The British ambassador to the United States can watch the Super Bowl, don a Yankees ballcap, and eat hot dogs smothered in onions and mustard all he wants, but he will never be an American. He is on a mission to promote the interests of the Crown and the United Kingdom. This is his first and highest call as a representative of his homeland. Were he to forget this, another would replace him to be the voice of the British realm.
This is true for all who follow Jesus as well. We are ambassadors of a kingdom which has radically different mores than anywhere we live in the here and now. Admittedly, this is a strange position for us because we have yet to set a single physical foot in the land we are called to represent. Additionally, we were not born into the Kingdom of God. Each of us are naturalized citizens who immigrated there when we accepted the call of King Jesus to join his realm.
We live a paradoxical existence which at times leaves us conflicted. We were born in a physical country and raised to embrace its way of thinking and doing things. Yet, as natural as our native culture may feel to us, according to scripture, we are instructed to not allow its values to influence us (1 Peter 2:11). We are to see ourselves as immigrants residing here temporarily until either the second advent of Jesus occurs, or our physical lives come to an end.
The tug-of-war for our fidelity is real. For example, living an American lifestyle comes so naturally for me. I understand the intricacies of everyday life here. I know which words to say and in what tone to deliver them. I usually conduct myself according to established American norms. But, as a professing Christian, my life is to ultimately reflect the values and teachings of Jesus. What comes natural for me as an American is not always acceptable in the Kingdom of God. In situations where they conflict I have to resist doing what my native culture finds acceptable and do what God says in his Word.
Living the way Jesus lived and taught reconciles us to God. But it also causes us to regularly bump up against the prevailing norms of where we reside. It is not easy to defy culture. It is why Jesus counsels us to consider the cost of following him. He likened it as squeezing through a narrow gate and plodding upon a barren, rarely traveled road. Following Jesus does not mean we are to forsake our native homeland and its customs wholesale. If that were the case, we would have to live like the Amish. It does mean, however, when we have to choose between Kingdom values and national traditions, we will always land on the side of God.
As for our role as kingdom ambassadors, the way we live has a huge impact in how others understand God. Our words, actions, and reactions will either reflect Christ or the native culture. If we allow the values of Kingdom life to thrive in our lives, people will see that there is something different in us. As his representatives, we really do need to continually ask ourselves, What would Jesus do if he were here now? How would he respond to the issues of the day? Determining this and imitating what he would have done is the most powerful way we can tell the story of the gospel.
Blessings to you,