2 Corinthians 5:16-20 – Ambassador

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 – Ambassador

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 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 5:16-20ESV

For most of my life, I’ve been intrigued by this idea that we are ambassadors for God to our world. It started in high school, when I was studying up to lead a Bible study for the middle school students at my church, and found the connection between the concept of being a disciple and being an ambassador. It was a connection point for me that really clarified my purpose here as a follower of Christ. I suppose, in a way, it’s sort of been a vision around which I’ve desired to live my life. Whether I’ve done so successfully or not is a book for another day, but suffice it to say…I think there is huge significance in this idea we are ambassadors of Christ.

You see…ambassador implies a role in the kingdom…a critical purpose. Though we are citizens, we are not merely citizens. Under a good monarchy, a citizen’s job is merely to work the land, give money for the good of the kingdom, follow the laws, and perhaps help stand against invasion in extreme circumstances. If this were merely our role in the Kingdom of God, our job here on earth would be merely to persist as believers until we die, attending church and Bible studies regularly, tithing to the church’s work, being “good Christians”, and perhaps taking a quiet stand against cultural values which violate our faith.

Yet, we are not merely citizens. We are ambassadors. Ambassadors do not just live off the fat of the land. They know the desires and mind of the king intimately and thoroughly. They have the best interests of the kingdom at heart…and they are sent into the stronghold of the enemy. As soon as they cross the border into the enemy kingdom, their every action no longer represents them personally, it represents the kingdom, and in particular, the king who has sent them. When they speak, it is their king’s words. When they act, it is their king’s will. They go into the enemy kingdom, not for their own interests, but the interests of the king and kingdom from which they come. If they are rejected by the enemy kingdom, that is a rejection of their king. If the ambassador is abused and killed, it is viewed as an attack on the king, himself. In a good kingdom, the ambassador goes to the enemy to pursue peace between the nations, utilizing resources that don’t belong to the ambassador but are a gift from the king.

This is our life in Christ, here on this earth.

We, knowing the heart and mind of God for the salvation of all people, step into enemy territory for all the days given us. And people know Christ through knowing us. If we are merciful, if we are loving, if we are honest…people believe Christ is these things. If we are judgmental and cruel and self-righteous…people believe Christ is these things. We come extending God’s reconciliation with mankind, and at times we are rejected, abused…even killed for the words and actions the King has commissioned us to share. We do all this with the gifts and blessings God has given us, in the way He has equipped us to do so. And when we die to this world…it is not a death to existence, but a triumphant return to the King and Kingdom to which we have always belonged but have long been away from.

And someday…the True King will finally and totally bring peace. The King will bring His kingdom here. And we will be with Him, to see His work fulfilled at last.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, your life was not bought with the blood of God to be merely a citizen, though that is what you are by God’s power. You are called to be more! You are gifted to be more! You are crafted to speak the words of the King to a world at war. To bring the Peace of God to our shattered world. Now, more than ever, be courageous in small and huge ways. Breathe life into a dying world through the love and grace of Jesus. Dare to bring a picture of what His kingdom is like, today, to the sphere in which you live.

You are an ambassador. And your King is good.

  • How do you feel seeing yourself as an ambassador, not just a citizen, of God’s kingdom?
  • What is one thing in your life that is holding you back from living into your role as ambassador?
  • Where is one area in your life you are feeling the tug to be an ambassador in a more intentional way?
  • Challenge for the week: Find one moment to be an ambassador in a small way. Do it and share with a Christian mentor how it went, “good” or “bad”. Make sure you learn something and then try it again.
Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

Ephesians 2:10-21 – Uniting the Divided

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called ‘uncircumcised heathens’ by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”
– Ephesians 2:10-21NLT

When I started working at a church, I found that in some ways…it really isolated me from the everyday people of my community who may never step foot inside a church. I felt convicted I needed to know these people and their world if I was going to dare to claim I loved them and cared about them. What this led to was a practice of spending at least half a workday every week doing my work in a coffee shop near my church. Over the years, this has led to some amazing conversations and relationships with people I would never have met otherwise.

In this practice, I’ve also heard a lot of varied political perspectives. Coffee shops during the workday are an amazing hotbed of political discussion. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to hear the heated opinions of an active Communist. In the past I’ve listened to disenfranchised Democrats and Republicans hash out what is wrong with the American political system.

In our American society, politics are one of the deepest divides we face right now. It seems like we can’t even have healthy, useful conversations about our political views because people become so emotional and hostile over their political values. Inevitably, it seems like political debates devolve into criticisms of the other side’s intelligence and morality.

In Ephesians 2:10-21, the Apostle Paul writes something incredibly controversial in his political environment. He wrote in verse 14NLT, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people…”

Stop. Right. There.

Jews looked down on Gentiles because they were “outsiders”, not observing the laws and rites of the Jewish faith. At best, Gentiles observed a “corrupt” version of Judaism not centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. At worst, the term “Gentiles” composed any other person in the world who did not worship Yahweh, including Roman and Greek peoples with their multiple gods and sometimes questionable worship practices, such as temple prostitution. In return, Gentiles despised the Jews for their self-righteousness and absolute refusal to bend to popular culture, which included observing the worship of Caesar as a god. The divides could not be deeper. Jews would often refuse to even enter a Gentile’s house or share food with them.

What you can draw from this is Jesus uniting these two groups as “one people” was scandalous for everybody. Yet that didn’t even slow Him up. On the one hand, one of His own disciples was “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15). Zealots were essentially “Jewish terrorists”, seeking to forcibly remove Roman rule from Israel. They frequently worked to assassinate Roman leaders and inspired revolts against Roman rule. Yet on the other hand, in Luke 7:1-10, Jesus encounters a Roman centurion asking for healing for one of his servants. After meeting this man, Jesus says to the Jewish audience around Him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9b).

Christians…we are loved by an incredible God. “Once [we] were far away from God, but now [we] have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13NLT). Note the language here: we did not somehow bring ourselves close to God. Jesus, through His death, laid bloody hands on us and drew us into relationship with the God of the universe. He gave us a Family based on shared blood with the Creator.

That family is not just for those who are already in it.

Look at that sexuality or gender questioning neighbor: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that Islamic coworker bowing toward Mecca: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that radical feminist broadcaster: Christ is drawing them.

Look at that sky-high driver you’re trapped behind: Christ is drawing them.

What if He is drawing them through you? What if He intends them to be adopted as your brother or sister by working through you?

As Reverend Matt Popovits of Our Savior New York stated, “People should reject you because of Christ, not reject Christ because of you. There is a difference.”

  1. Who are the people you have the most difficulty making peace with?
  2. Why are these people such a challenge for you?
  3. How do you feel when you read Jesus may want to draw them into His family through you?
  4. Challenge for the Week: Whenever you find yourself thinking negatively about someone, think of them in terms of someone Christ died for that He wants to bring into His family…your family. When you have the opportunity to bring peace in His name in our divided society…do it.

Isaiah 9:6 – Christ Goes With You

“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6ESV

The day started out like any other; the alarm went off at 6AM, followed by my morning devotions, and all the self-preparation a morning requires before beginning the inevitable struggle through Denver commuter traffic. I was a little more alert than usual for a night owl caught in an early bird’s lifestyle, so I was pulling together the ingredients for a slightly more ambitious breakfast than my usual coffee and meal bar when the text message came in. It was a text message that ended up defining 2017 for me.

My husband had collapsed at work and was headed to the ER. What followed was a tense hour-and-a-half drive to the ER, a transfer to a hospital, IV fluids and blood transfusions, and test after test. We had this delusion the week would end with a discharge and prescriptions. Instead, it ended with a diagnosis and transfer to yet another hospital because my healthy, vital, young husband had leukemia.

It didn’t take us long to realize he should have died at work and nearly did in the ER; to understand he’d been dying all summer and we didn’t know. Like the cancer cells tainting his blood, the knowledge poisoned every good memory of that summer with the revelation of what had been going on, hidden and unseen beneath the surface the whole time. Like a thief, this diagnosis in those closing months of 2017, often stole our energy, our happiness, our plans, and our time.

Yet 750 years before Jesus would be born, Isaiah prophesied in this passage that Jesus, the God we follow, would be known as the “Prince of Peace.” What peace? There has been nothing but war and strife all the way up to Jesus’ birth and long after His ascension back to Heaven. My husband and I have given our lives to Him, yet my husband has cancer in the prime of his life. It’s easy to say that very little around us, and even IN us, looks like the Prince of Peace reigns.

Yet Jesus is still the Prince of Peace. In these last six month, I have watched my husband’s strength melt away. The man who could leg press 1000lbs. can now barely climb a flight of stairs. A former record-holding sprinter, now he gets tired going for a walk. I’ve watched his full beard and hair grow patchy and fall out in hours. I’ve sat through the darkness of night with him through agonizing bone pain and throwing up from chemo. We are tired and sorrowful…and yet in some way, despite our circumstances…joyful.

The joy flows from a deep well of peace. Peace knowing God has not abandoned us but is actively thwarting Satan’s intentions of evil through it to accomplish beauty in our lives. Peace knowing the hardship of this disease is peeling away the influence of our fallen world to set us free to become even more than we would be capable of otherwise. Peace knowing the absolute Truth of the promise of Jesus in Matthew 28:20, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

He is with us, and His Peace does not come because of our circumstances but in spite of them. This same Peace allowed the Apostle Paul to fiercely proclaim the gospel before Emperor Nero, the Caesar of Rome, who would bring about some of the most brutal, sadistic persecution of Christians history has ever seen. This Peace allowed the Apostle Peter to walk the road to Jerusalem, knowing he walked to his death, to proclaim the life of Jesus to the lost. This same Peace has allowed the millions of Christians throughout history to proclaim Jesus’ name in the face of certain death, social censure, and even “simple” fear of rejection.

We may not see perfect peace around us, but the Prince of Peace is with us. With YOU! He has drawn near. He has revealed His true self to you in the Bible, in the loving hearts and hands of His people, and in every “good and perfect gift”(James 1:17ESV) you experience in this life. In 2018, go into storms or fair skies, go into the great unknown of what will be, and go boldly! For Christ and His Peace go with you.

  1. Describe the most peaceful you’ve ever felt. Really try to dig into what that felt like.
  2. Have you ever felt peace in a situation that was anything but peaceful? Describe the situation and where your peace came from.
  3. Where do you wish you were experiencing more peace in your life?
  4. Challenge for the week: look up the word “peace” in the bible. Pick one passage that stands out to you and write it on a sticky note. Put it where you’ll see it every morning and spend some time focusing on it periodically throughout every day.

Mark 13:24-37 – Peace in Turmoil

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:24-37ESV

In our interconnected world, news from across the ocean is before our eyes within moments. A natural disaster in South Asia can be captured on a smart phone and accessible online the minute it happens. While this instant access certainly allows for a plethora of cute cat videos and videos of incredible feats of human ability, it also means we are inundated with immediate notifications of everything going wrong in our world, so much so it feels like our society is tearing apart at the seams.

In the last year, we have faced accounts of husbands murdering their families before completing suicide, people shot to death at concerts or as they worshipped on a Sunday morning, teenagers murdering one another in school or with their words online, dictators in North Korea threatening nuclear war, men in authority using their power to abuse women, children trafficked into sexual slavery, and at every turn… political stances polarizing our nation, dividing us along lines of hate so entrenched they offer no chance for thoughtful, loving hands to join across party lines.

Focused on this world, our fixated eyes tell us to despair. In fact, I learned at the Future of the Church Summit this year the human brain cannot distinguish between threats across the world or right in your community. It’s no wonder our daily lives are filled with anxiety, depression, anger, pain, confusion, grief, and fear. The world looks like it is crashing down around us.

Leading up to Mark 13:24-37, Jesus is sitting on the Mount of Olives, outside Jerusalem, explaining to His disciples what the signs of the end of time will be. He tells them there will be:

  • wars and rumors of war,
  • people claiming to be God,
  • earthquakes,
  • famines,
  • persecution of Christians,
  • families betraying one another to death,
  • false prophets who perform miracles,
  • and stranger natural phenomenon.

As you read this list, it’s tempting to believe Jesus’ return must be imminent. Yet Jesus clearly states in verse 32, “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” In fact, a cursory perusal of history will tell you all these signs have been tearing our world apart since Jesus ascended into Heaven before the disciples’ wondering eyes. Shortly after His ascension, Emperor Nero of Rome would be impaling Christians and burning them alive. Ethnic cleansing and widespread wars were a staple of the ancient world. Forty years after Jesus’ ascension, Mount Vesuvius would bury Pompeii, becoming one of the worst volcanic eruptions in European history. It would not be the last. World history is speckled with people who have claimed to speak for God or be Him, only to be proven liars. World hunger has been a known issue for centuries.

Why was Jesus so specific and yet so unclear?

Perhaps because He wanted our eyes fixed, not on the despair of this world, but on His face. The promises of verses 26 & 27 were what He really wanted us to remember: “and then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Our world is a mess. It has been since Adam and Eve, duped by Satan, bit deep into the fruit of sin and in so doing shrouded our world in death. It will be until this promise is fulfilled.

But this promise will be fulfilled.

In an act of eternal compassion, Jesus ensured we knew He would be back, promising in verse 31, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This broken world will never be the final story. We don’t need to worry about how He will resolve all the pain we see… because the hands which created the universe, the same hands which bore the nails at Mount Calvary, offer us a place to rest, no matter what comes.

  1. What issues in our world trouble you the most right now?
  2. What fears do you have for the future?
  3. Read Psalm 139:1-16. How does this passage offer you comfort in the midst of your fear?
  4. Challenge for the week: write a prayer to God about your fears on an index card or sticky note. Try to make it 100% genuine. Don’t try to pretty it up but be honest with the God who already knows you inside and out. Put the note someplace you will see it every day and talk to God about it daily.