Sunday, July 26, 2015

The "ambassador" model of evangelism

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. (2 Cor 5:20)
We usually think about evangelism in terms of "witnessing", and with good reason: Christ appointed his apostles as his witnesses, and we carry on their work. Witnesses are people who can personally guarantee the truth of what they report: they discuss what they see or hear, what they know. When we hear of witnessing, we often think in terms of testimony and court arguments. This has often been the case for Christians, as our beliefs are at times persecuted by law.

Paul gives us a second way to look at the same job of being Christ's messengers: we are ambassadors. An ambassador is a foreigner. We are called to picture ourselves as foreigners even in our own culture. That's true enough, as we have different views on everything from sexual integrity to self-control to how to treat our enemies. Ambassadors -- and foreigners in general -- stand out for their differences. They don't fit in. They eat differently, speak differently, dress differently, have different custom and different habits. And yet they are not embarrassed by any of that: they are true to the country in which they are citizens.

The ambassador's job is to represent the ruler who sent them. They speak on his behalf, representing his interests and not their own. Usually ambassadors are sent to make peace or keep peace. It can lead to different conversations than the "witnessing" model of evangelism. Both are the good news of Christ.

Paul focuses us on the message with which we have been sent:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 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. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why Holiness is an important idea

If we discard the idea of the holy, there is nothing left but the secular. Without a sense of the holy, a church has nothing left but the worldly. It may be earnest, or academic, or bureaucratic, or intense, or moralistic -- but it has lost touch with God. (Even theology can lose touch with God. If you don't believe me, read some theology books.) A consumer-model church, a coffeeshop church, a browbeater church, an academic church -- all are missing holiness. They may also be missing leadership with authority, or discipleship, or fellowship, or the kind of belonging that builds an attachment. 

Holiness is a spark of glory, where we recognize divine life: that it is beautiful and pure, powerful and good. Holiness is what makes us understand that God is worthy to receive honor. Without holiness, the idea of God has no attraction -- what does God have that the world does not, if God is not holy? It is holiness, after all, which is is the the soul's desire: the genuine article of holiness, where our souls are like the still water, or a kindled flame, or a field containing a hidden treasure.  

Some things are related to holiness: reverence, and respect, and honor. These are produced by recognizing the holy or the worthy; without that, there can only be counterfeits of reverence and honor and respect. Holiness inspires reverence; when the real thing is found then its counterfeits evaporate like a child's footprints on a sidewalk in August. 

And holiness goes beyond duty: it shows that an act of kindness is a window of divine grace. Holiness is needed for morality to transcend mere obligation. "Holiness" is, after all, the part that transcends. Worldly goodness never really soars, as it denies there is anything beyond, to which we might reach. So often the idea of "holy", in art, is shown with wings. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Footsteps of God

It was an ancient teaching in Israel, that we are to walk after God -- that is, follow him; the law and the covenants were portrayed as walking after God. Jesus used the same image when he invited his disciples to follow him. Acts of compassion and kindness were seen as walking after God because of the Torah's record of God doing many such acts. Following in God's footsteps is the natural outcome of believing that he is good, and that his way is good.

"Walking with God" had references earlier in the Bible than the law and the covenants. If we look earlier still, we go back to hearing God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening -- and this time we are following instead of running the other way. Fellowship with God is restored. In walking with God, and following his footsteps, we go back to what we were meant to be doing.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

On earth as in heaven

We Christians pray it daily, for God's will to be done on earth as in heaven. The connection between earth and heaven is seen many times in the Scriptures, in different images. In the letter to the Hebrews, we read about priests at the earthly tabernacle:
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven. That is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: 'See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.' (Hebrews 8:5, which in turn cites Exodus 25:40)
There are a number of places in Exodus where it is written that the earthly sanctuary and contents were on a pattern laid out by God, to be like heaven (Exodus 25:9, 25:40, 26:30, 27:8).

That section of Exodus is best known for God's meeting with Moses on Sinai. And God's meeting with Moses on Sinai is best remembered for the Ten Commandments. The pattern shown on the mountain also seems to be part of the meeting on Sinai. If the Tabernacle is the embodiment of the beauty and glory of God, the place of the Divine Presence on earth, then the Ten Commandments are the parallel to that in creating a people who embody the beauty and glory of God, and God's will on earth: a people that does not lie, or steal, or murder, or break marriage vows, or scheme after their neighbor's things, a people that crowns their work with a day of blessing and rest that recaptures paradise on earth. The beauty and holiness of the tabernacle is meant to be woven also into our lives. The Commandments were not presented as dry duties; they were presented alongside news of expert workmen building items of stunning beauty. "On earth as in heaven" is a challenge to each generation. May we gain an understanding of the beauty of what we are called to build.