To confirm your likely observation, our blog series topic this fall is The Banner That Unites Us. That banner is the Kingdom of Heaven. This week I want to comment on being Kingdom Ambassadors. We may not realize it, but our spiritual influence is probably more subtle and also more impactful than we think.
I grew up in very conservative church background. I like to say, “Think Mennonite, then turn right. We’re about a mile down. On the right.” That’s not quite accurate, but you get the point. While there were many admirable aspects to our church, over time it was hard not to get the impression that men, and therefore boys-yet-to-become men, had a significant mantle of spiritual leadership placed on them.
Truthfully, at times that mantle felt like a heavy obligation of performance: memorize lots of Bible verses, pray or read Scripture in the worship service, or give your testimony in public. While all of those are good disciplines as a growing young Christian, the subtle, but evident expectations also felt heavy. I wasn’t always sure I measured up.
Many of us might have the same opinion of ourselves, in the past, or even now. We condemn ourselves as bad Christians, or poor witnesses because we don’t pray effectively, we don’t read the Bible enough, or especially, we hardly ever share our faith.
Friends, all of these are good practices, but they are not the sole way we have influence in the world. Scripture reminds us that others will know we are Christians by our love. Not only through our words, but especially by how we treat others and approach life, that can have a powerful witness. Perhaps at no time more importantly than now, we are Kingdom Ambassadors.
It’s with that in mind that I want to share five inward attitudes, we can have that have an outward impact on others. In practicing them we become winsome witnesses of the King.
1. Be Grateful
Joseph Stalin once said, “Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.” Not a very positive perspective.
On the other hand, Christian author G. K. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” I’m lining up with Chesterton on this one.
Unfortunately, our current circumstances militate against Gratitude:
- We have been shuttered at home, limited in public for months
- We are up to our necks in aggressive ads that demonize our senate or presidential candidates
- We watch in discomfort as demonstrations turn into violence in our streets
We are assaulted with messages that subtly or blatantly stir up feelings of ungratefulness and discontentment with our lives.
On one hand, it’s true that we can accurately describe this as a perfect storm of awful events. On the other hand, the truth is, we members of the Kingdom, and we Americans, of all people on this planet, can focus instead on what we do have.
Dennis Prager, a radio commentator on our culture has observed, “Given the amount of unjust suffering and unhappiness in the world, I am deeply grateful for, sometimes even perplexed by, how much misery I have been spared.”
Men, all the world is experiencing pandemic and economic instability, but on top of that:
- Most of the world also lives in grinding poverty
- Most have known what it feels like to wonder where a next meal will come from
- Most do not have a daily source of revenue. Millions live on just $1/day
Men, you and I are uniquely blessed, even in this age of global pandemic. Let’s demonstrate gratitude for that. Like David writing in Psalm 16:6, we can say: “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
2. Choose Joy
Have you ever worked with a person whose attitude is so consistently sour it affects those around them too? They have the influence to bring others into as negative a viewpoint as their own.
Reading the online version of our local news source this week, I made the observation to Beryl, “We have been immersed in non-stop bad news for 8 months!” To be sure, this has an impact! But you and I can choose to do the complete opposite of being sour about it. We can resolve to be people who choose Joy.
Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is an emotional reaction, almost involuntary, to pleasant circumstances. Your favorite football team wins the Super Bowl, you’re happy! Ecstatic! Then they fall into years of oblivion and routine mediocrity for years after, you’re sad. You might even say… disgusted.
Happiness is the involuntary result of external circumstances. Joy is a voluntary choice to remain positive, open-minded, and thankful regardless of life circumstances. Even in the face of disappointment, we can say, “Nevertheless I will rejoice, I will give thanks, I will keep believing in God’s goodness.”
This remains an area where I regularly notice how short I fall. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve prayed for more consistent joy in my life for over 30 years. It remains an area in which I long to grow. Either that means I’m making extremely incremental progress, or else I’ve made some strides, but still long to grow more joyful. I’m choosing interpretation B.
Regardless of our current circumstances, we can choose to live with Joy because we ultimately believe in the One who is sovereign and in charge. We can still claim the words of Job 8:21 “…He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”
As Christ-followers an attitude of Joy draws people rather than repels them, and it can influence them to want to learn more about our faith.
3. Overflow with Hope
If you already read the blog post from a couple of weeks ago, From Highway D to Hope, you already know why I mention this third attitude. If you haven’t read the post yet, please do. But I’ll give you a head start, or for you who already read it, a quick reminder.
Hope is the remedy to any Disappointment, Discouragement, Depletion, Depression, and Despair we may feel in our lives right now. Hope is a firm confidence in who God is, and his character, rather than in my ability to make good things happen.
G.K. Chesterton, again, says: “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all…As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
As I mentioned before, one of my favorite verses in all Scripture is Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” And I’ll give you a quick reminder of the truths that stand out here:
- God has authority over Hope. He created it, controls it, and grants it.
- God is defined by Hope. His eternal power is a central part of God’s nature.
- God fills us with Hope. He pours it into us, right up to the brim.
- We receive all joy and peace. With hope, get huge quantities of joy and peace.
- Hope overflows from us. He pours in so much Hope it spills over the brim.
- None of this is from us. Or our efforts alone are hopeless.
Hope comes from the power of the Holy Spirit at work through us, not through our own hopeless efforts. When it does, it affects those around us.
4. Embrace God’s Presence
Every now and then, when we Christians want to emphasize the spiritual significance of an experience or event we say, “God showed up.” What we, or our friends mean is, the experience went beyond our ability to make it happen; God did it. And that’s right.
I get it…but I find that perspective just a little bit off. The truth of the matter is, God didn’t just show up a few minutes after we did. He was already there long before we were! It was we who showed up and finally became aware of his eternal presence.
Ps. 139: 7-10 clarifies this for us:
“Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.”
What if this attitude became a consistent approach that we brought into every encounter we have each day?
- As we await the results of a COVID test. God is there.
- As we find a way to honor decisions made by governing authorities as well as our personal convictions. I’ll just ask, Is God there?
- As we drop our ballot in the collection box or vote in person.
- As we engage in a conversation with someone of a different race, culture, or faith from ours. You’re an ambassador. Is God there with you?
- As we listen to the pain in a friend who lost everything in a wildfire, flood, or hurricane.
- As we cry out for relief from the storm of health, political and social convulsions our nation is going through. God is there.
With an inner attitude of resting in the presence and power of God, we can show up, full of confidence that He is sovereign that He is paying attention.
5. Bring the Spirit of Christ
In other words, live out Phil. 1:27 “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
My longing and my Hope is that increasingly, in every interpersonal encounter I have throughout the day, every day, I will bring the Spirit of Christ with me. I say this with uncomfortable recognition of how often that isn’t the case.
I’d like us to think through concrete examples of settings we are in, or encounters we have, where it might make a difference to another person if we bring the Spirit of Christ with us. I immediately think of the encounters we all now have:
- when required to wear a mask before entering a shop
- when submitting to a temp check before walking into the Y
- not being able to meet at church or your small group
- getting snapped at because you forgot exactly how long 6 feet is when social distancing at Home Depot
Do I bring the Spirit of Christ or do I stake out my territory, or insist on my rights?
To make it even more personal, what kind of evening or morning did your wife have while trying to oversee the kid’s online school work, while holding down a job? We might be the closest thing she sees of Jesus that day.
How often have we paused and thought through what weight our boss might have on his or her shoulders, as they make decisions that affect people lives and the bottom line? Is there a chance you might bring the Spirit of Christ into their day?
Perhaps I should ask: How would Jesus respond? I know, it can be an irritating question. Unless we actually long to look increasingly like Jesus. And then it’s a very good question.
Men, I would be thrilled if God increasingly worked in me to the point where, when I am with others, it feels for them, that Jesus is present. Is that even possible for us at the workplace or working from home? Dealing with unemployment and a job search? Responding to restrictions and limitations in every aspect of our lives?
What if there were something different in the way you speak to, and treat, others in your life, so that they are strangely reminded…of Jesus. What an amazing kind of attitude and influence that would be as a Believer!
To me this 5th inward attitude has the most powerful potential for impact. And of course, attaining it is the longest journey. But that’s the whole point of transformation, I’m sure it’s absolutely worth it.
So men, today I want to urge us to practice these inner attitudes that affect not only ourselves, but everyone we encounter:
1. Be Grateful
2. Choose Joy
3. Overflow With Hope
4. Embrace God’s Presence
5. Bring the Spirit of Christ
Like me in my former church background, not all of us feel entirely comfortable with our communication skills in being a public witness of our faith. My opinion these days is, that’s not something we should feel shame over.
But when we adopt these 5 inward attitudes each of us can have a life-changing outward influence in the lives of every person we encounter. In doing so, we become Kingdom Ambassadors.
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, their daughter Gemma and son Calvin. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.