I admit, sometimes I get homesick. To be clear, I am a loving husband to a beautiful wife. I have three amazing kids and our home is located near the border of Apex and Holly Springs, North Carolina. I live, work, and love my house, a place that feels more like home every day. I love this area. I know why Heather is so proud of it! Even given my current place and calling, when I see Facebook pictures of Ontario- yes, even the ones filled with snow and ice- I do miss that form of familiarity. I miss my family sprinkled throughout Illinois, Michigan, and Ontario, as well as close friends sprinkled across the continent.
One important piece of familiarity is the Toronto Blue Jays. Those of you who know me know I am an avid Blue Jays fan. I follow the team closely and gobble up articles online to keep me posted with the latest updates. My wife calls it ‘man gossip’. Yes, I do realize that one can be too much of a fan, but this blog is not intended to be a confessional. My point for now is that being a Blue Jays fan in North Carolina is yet another reminder that I am in a different place. When I tell people I cheer for the Blue Jays, sometimes I wonder if people just think it’s cute. It’s not cute. I do coach one girl in gymnastics who loves the Blue Jays, so it’s great to hear her all excited about the team. But we are outnumbered by far. Yankees and Red Sox fans are here, especially in southwest Wake County! Being surrounded by them is not always easy because one quickly finds out that they are actually really nice and caring people. In addition, Boston fans can be incredible generous too!
One family who attends our church are huge baseball fans and cheer, with pride and vigour, for the Red Sox. Yes, we are able to get past those differences. Not only have we gotten past those differences, this family has invited me to fly up to Boston with them to watch a Red Sox vs. Blue Jays game! When they first offered it, I was like, “What, are you serious!? They were and are serious. I can’t wait.
Then last week I get this email from family living in Washington DC. They asked if I would like to see a Blue Jays vs. Washington Nationals game this coming baseball season. The tickets are booked for June. I will be watching more Jays games this year in North Carolina then I typically did living in Hamilton!
I am not one to say, “God is doing this because of a, b, and c,” but my gut tells me that these two generous gifts are reminders that the Lord provides. These two games will be boosts of adrenaline for my extraverted self. It will be good to know Jerry Howarth, the voice of the Blue Jays since 1981, will be up in the radio booth. God knows I need the little things sometimes, and these two gifts are reminders that God knows what He’s doing, He never leaves us or forsakes us, and that His presence is always near. Do you experience God’s nearness on a daily basis?
This Sunday morning I’ll be speaking about the phrase “Ministry of Reconciliation” as found in the II Corinthians 5:18: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Rather than write out all my notes for Sunday, I thought I would share a couple of powerful quotes that have re-emerged for me. As I wrestled through what it means to live out this call to the ministry of reconciliation, I was struck by the juxtaposition between how the church grew in the first century compared to today. In the church planting world, we are encouraged to ‘launch large’ with lights, camera, and action! I have written about this before- about the pressure to grow quickly through marketing blitzes and such.
But check out this first quote out: "The early Christians did not engage in public preaching; it was too dangerous. There are practically no evangelists or missionaries whose names we know… The early Christian had no mission boards. They did not write treatises about evangelism… After Nero’s persecution in the mid-first century, the churches in the Roman Empire closed their worship services to visitors. Deacons stood at the churches’ doors, serving as bouncers, checking to see that no unbaptized person, no ‘lying informer,’ could come in… And yet the church was growing. Officially it was a superstition. Prominent people scorned it. Neighbors discriminated against the Christians in countless petty ways… It was hard to be a Christian… And still the church grew. Why?” Alan Kreider’s They Alone Know the Right Way to Life: The Early Church and Evangelism, pg. 169-70
Much of the answer lies in this next quote: ". . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. . . . Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable." Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Princeton University Press, 1996, page 161
In reflecting about these quotes, it appears as though the church functioned more like an embassy. II Corinthians 5:20 states that Christians are ambassadors, which got me to thinking about the church gathering as an embassy. The illustration of the embassy reminded me of how Leslie Newbigin described the church as the sign and foretaste of the Kingdom. Embassies are ‘the Kingdom’ of another place. The soil which the embassy sits on is the soil of the country the embassy represents. Ambassadors do not always have a safe job. Simply consider what recently happened to the American ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert. It can be dangerous out there, but that must not stop the ambassador from doing his or her job. In fact, the whole reason the ambassador is there is to serve the country ‘out there’. Of course, there are also bad ambassadors, lazy ambassadors, and ambassadors who do not represent the ethics of the King.
The early church showed us how to serve as ambassadors well. They served faithfully the ministry of reconciliation in such a way that others are drawn to the love of Jesus. That is what I strive to do and something for which I pray. How are you doing with your representation? If you do not consider yourself as an ambassador, how have you witnessed to those who do consider themselves as Christ’s ambassadors?