At the church I attended while growing up our pastor’s wife always had a phrase I hated to hear… Whenever she wanted to ask anyone (including me) to do something, she’d say “Don’t you want to be a helper for Jesus?” (of course, since she was from the South and had that thick accent “Jesus” was emphasized and drawn out!). It wasn’t that I hated the phrase – it was that I knew I couldn’t ever say no because, well, after all, how could I say know to Jesus!?!?
Last year while we visited churches I found myself evaluating some churches based on people I knew who attended there. Melissa and I had several conversations that, “I’m not sure I want to go to that church because I know some of those people outside of church and I know how they live; if that’s what kind of people attend that church, well….” I think you get the idea. What I was struggling with was really not people’s lifestyles but rather the issue of being “religious” on Sunday but then living the rest of the week anyway you want. Well, that and being overly judgmental….
Then I started thinking (or maybe God started asking), “But what about me? What do people see in me? Do they see Jesus in me, or would they not want to come to church if I invited them because, well, I don’t do a very good job of showing people him?” Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we are, literally, “Christ’s ambassadors” (5:20), even going so far to suggest that we are “a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (3:3) So it’s not about being a “helper for Jesus” but a “letter from Jesus”. Which gives me pause… What type of ambassador am I? Would people describe me and my life as a “love letter” from God written to them?
Or would they see me as hypocritical and judgmental? Do I operate like the world wants me to operate or as God wants me to operate? If they visited my church and saw me standing there would they immediately go, “Wow! So if this is where Tom goes then I want to go here too!” or would their response be, “Wow! If this is where Tom goes maybe I need to go someplace else.” I’m not suggesting Christians are perfect and we need to be perfect for other people, and I am absolutely in agreement that Church is for sinners – sinners saved by grace, redeemed sinners (imperfect saints). I’m simply remembering inviting a friend to church years ago in another state and her response was, “I would never go to that church – I know for a fact several of the ‘elders’ are cheating on their wives because they’re cheating with friends of mine!” Not exactly the response I was hoping for…
Which brings me to what happened tonight… I was watching a little TV with Melissa and she turned on the most recent episode of one of her new favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy. One main theme in the episode was a 19 year old who needed a blood transfusion but couldn’t get one because of his religious beliefs. At one point a friend of his comments to one of the doctor’s that even though they hang out “every day” his friend (the patient) never “once mentioned to me that he was a Jehovah’s witness. He never talked about it. I kinda don’t think he is.” (his being a JW is why he can’t get a blood transfusion). The doctor responds that maybe he’s just a private person, to which the friend says, “If you believed in something so hard you would die for it, would you keep it a secret? Wouldn’t you at least tell your friends?”
And you could have just smacked me upside the face. Which raised the question to me, “Would my friends even know I’m a follower of Jesus based on how I live my life?” Would they know what I’m living for? Would they know what I’m willing to die for? When God writes them a love letter, don’t you think he wants them to know what he lived and died for? And yet I’m the letter; I’m the ambassador. What message are others receiving? Am I keeping him a secret?
Here’s the thing with ambassadors – everyone knows who they represent. If I at a party and someone introduces themselves to me and says, “I’m the ambassador for Argentina,” or “I’m the Saudia Arabian ambassador” I know without a shadow of a doubt who they represent (oh, by the way, I don’t foresee ever attending a party with an ambassador from another country). Which means that for those of us who are followers of Jesus, people should know who we represent. Sometimes that’s communicated by our actions, but it also needs to be communicated by our words. And this is where I struggle the most – sharing my faith through my words. The last thing I want someone to do is say I kept a secret from them. Because, in fact, I have the greatest secret ever told – but it’s a secret that’s not supposed to be a secret; it’s a secret I’m supposed to tell.
And what’s that secret? That I’m an ambassador for Jesus. What’s that mean? Jesus died to repair a broken relationship between us and God, and then he rose again from the dead so that we could experience a new relationship with God. That’s the secret: God loves us and sent his son to die for us. And in him we can have eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. And part of that love letter from God to others is me – my life; they need to both hear the secret but also see it lived out in front of them. We are the love letter.
If our friends and family don’t hear the secret from us, from who will they hear it?