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Is the Idea of a “Christian Tourist” an Oxymoron?

Does Jesus consider you a Christian tourist or one of his ambassadors?

I threw this question out to a group of leadership men one morning in a monthly discussion group I lead called 1st Tuesdays. I could tell that initially most of the men put themselves in the Christian ambassador column. However as the conversation went on and we began to explore the differences between a Christian ambassador and Christian tourists, several of the men grew more quiet and thoughtful. It’s also been a word picture I’ve used with our children and grandchildren, to help them better understand the mission of true kingdom people.

The term ambassador as a descriptor for Christians comes from Paul. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” II Cor. 5:20a

Of course, everyone always presses me to define the difference between the two, so I explain it this way. An Ambassador The two primary tasks of an ambassador are these; to advance the interests of the country that sent him/her and conduct themselves personally in such a way as to be a credit to their country. Ambassadors know they are aliens in a foreign land. Their citizenship and therefore their loyalty, is to a different country.  They’re only on temporary assignment and in many cases their assigned country is dangerous.

So an ambassador from the U.S. to Switzerland for example, wakes up every morning knowing that his purpose that day and every day is to carry out the mission assignment to him, until his government recalls him. He or she serves “at the pleasure of the president.” And, of course, there are opportunities to relax, see the sights and enjoy the culture, but those are secondary to an ambassador’s mission.

A few blocks away a tourist from the U.S. is waking up and his only reason to be in Switzerland is enjoying himself. Like the ambassador, he’s patriotic, thankful for being an American and all the rights that citizenship brings him. However, he plans his day around good food, shopping, sightseeing and in general killing time pleasantly.

So, here we have two Americans temporarily living in the same country and city, but with two completely different purposes for being there. So here’s the application for Christians.

A Christian Ambassador The primary purpose for the life of a Christian ambassador and a true follower of Jesus is to love God, love others and advance the interests of the kingdom of God. Everything else is secondary.

Before secular ambassadors are sent out, I’m told they receive extensive training and are given policy books on everything from trade to defense and they are instructed to know every policy thoroughly. Their personal opinions really don’t matter. The only latitude they’re given is in the implementation of these policies.

Similarly, Christian ambassadors must have a good working knowledge of God’s policy book, the Bible. Their goal is to know it so well that when they speak, they are confident they’re faithfully representing the policies and the interests of the kingdom of God.

A day in the life of a Christian ambassador What might a typical day look like for a Christian ambassador? It means getting up each day intent on being good and doing good to everyone. And that involves going to the policy book often and talking to God, seeking wisdom and direction daily before you begin your mission that day.

Then perhaps your day begins with a 10 second rule prompting from God to say something kind to a step-father you’ve not yet grown to love – a refusal to make exaggerated claims about your company’s products or services – having a cup of coffee with a neighbor who’s made some sinful choices – speaking respectfully about and to, a very controlling parent – refusing to laugh at a filthy story or join in gossiping about another person and introducing a co-worker to the Jesus you love.

On a larger scale, and often working in concert with fellow ambassadors and even non-Christians. It means that where there are unjust laws, we work to have them repealed. Where there is conflict, we attempt to be peacemakers. Where there is poverty we work with others to end it wherever and whenever we can. When we see racial injustice we speak out and act against it. When pollution threatens a stream, we work to stop it and clean it up. An ambassador acts with virtue and integrity, constantly teaching their children and others to love God, love the Bible and love life – everyone’s.

A Christian ambassador is intentionally representing God himself in their world – bringing the goodness of God into ordinary life. It’s a proactive lifestyle of love so compelling and attractive that people who don’t know Jesus will be drawn to you and therefore to him.

Finally, it means living an examined life by asking questions like these; how consumed am I with my own comfort, leisure, hobbies and stuff? Are they really energy and resource leaks distracting me from my missions? Like weights in a backpack, our need for these things can hinder, even cripple our effectiveness as an ambassador. Do I have any other gods? “Your God” said Martin Luther, “is whatever your heart clings to.”

Christian Tourists There’s a deadly myth prevalent today that there are two classes of those who are truly “born again” – the serious followers of Jesus and the rest of those who call themselves Christians, but actually live more like Christian tourists. Unlike ambassadors, it’s the unspoken goal of Christian tourists to live this life for themselves and their family – preferring to be served, rather than serve.

Christian tourists may attend evangelical churches, be theologically correct, “believe in Jesus”, listen to Christian radio, serve in their church or on ministry boards, and even send their children to Christian schools. They may be forever learning about Jesus, but never fully committing themselves to a life of loving and serving him and others. Outside of their “religious culture” the unspoken goal of their lives appears to be killing time pleasantly in warm places. The question is this; “Is a Christian tourist really a Christian at all?” You may want to read my September 12, 2011 blog, Faith and Fire, for my thoughts on that question.

Here’s the really scary part. Most of you reading this probably agree that most other Christians are tourists, but you, yourself are not. Are you sure?

Ultimately, the litmus test of a true ambassador of Christ is this: Do the people who know you best have a deeper respect for the love, wisdom, and glory of God because of what they see in your life? Are they asking you to introduce them to Jesus? Are they coming to you for advice or mentoring? Does your life make God look good?

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1 Peter 2:11, 12

Question: Do you think Christians who live like tourists are truly born again?

How following Jesus works in real life.

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