This past Sunday at our East Brunswick campus we were challenged to consider who we are personally and who we are congregationally as we represent Christ to the community around us.
As Thomas mentioned in his message, when Pat and Barb Ryan and I were working with Disaster Relief in Florida this past fall we had to remember who we were representing when we put on our bright yellow hats and shirts. As with any agency, they guard their branding by reminding those that would wear their distinguishable gear that their behavior needed to be consistent with the values of the agency.
We were there to serve.
We were there to serve in the name of Disaster Relief.
We were there to serve in the name of Christ.
In light of that, we needed to be mindful of our behavior and our language.
Similarly, we started teaching this concept of representing our family name to our boys at a young age.
This is where my story-telling kicks in...
Our oldest was only six-years-old when I had a "conversation" [read: lecture] with him in the parking lot of our church. At this point, we had been attending a very large church for just about a year. Thomas was on the pastoral staff. I was still finding my bearings in Jersey, my place in this church, and only beginning to navigate my way through parenthood.
I’m pretty sure I stopped Zach mid-stride while he was chasing down his little cohort.
I stood there with this strong-willed, highly active six-year-old in the middle of the parking lot and reminded him that when he ran around acting like a crazy man [as six-year-old boys are want to do] that he wasn't only representing himself, but he was representing our family.
It probably went something like this:
Your dad works here.
You represent him.
Our family attends here.
You represent us.
Imagine if you will, when you put on your imaginary shirt that has your name on it.
But it doesn't just say "Zach Wong."
It also says "Pastor Thomas" since you’re his son.
It also says “Suzy” since I’m your mom.
It also says "Wong" since you’re part of our family.
When you are naughty or rambunctious in class or in the church building people will think badly not just about you but also about those other names on your shirt.
He understood it even if he didn't like it.
I hadn't thought about that scenario in a while, so when Thomas brought it up the other day I thought, "Woah.... that is a lot of burden for us to place on a six year old: the judgments of others, our fear of other people’s opinions, our fear for his future behavior." There was a lot going on there.
I think it was helpful for him to have that reminder - to remember not just what he did, but who's he was.
With that said, as I think about this story in relation to how we represent Christ as His ambassadors, I realize the magnitude of the challenge to represent Him well and rightly.
I'm also relieved when I remember that Jesus told us in Matthew 11:29-30::
29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
When He calls us to be His ambassador, to put on His "shirt," to represent Him, he doesn't leave it up to us to figure it out for ourselves. We can learn from Him, the One who teaches us and leads us with His gentle and humble heart - the One in whom we find our rest.
So, while it may seem like a serious business to represent Jesus well, He has promised to never leave us or forsake us in our job as His Ambassadors.
When we wear His "gear" - His name - it is not a burden.
It's not a lecture in a parking lot [although sometimes that's exactly what we need!!]
It's an honor and a joy.
Jesus allows me to wear His “shirt.”
What an immense privilege that Christ would place His name on a person like me.
Thank you for your amazing grace.
The fact that you would allow us to be your ambassadors, that you would put your shirt and your hat on us knowing the kind of people that we are is absolutely astounding.
We would never allow our reputation to be placed on someone who lives like us.
Yet, you are a forgiving God, and merciful, and infinitely good God.
You give us your righteousness.
You give us your very life.
May we be ambassadors that represent your reconciliation in the broken places you have called us, in our community, in our families, in our workplaces.
May we be ambassadors that represent you well.
We come to you to receive your grace that makes us into the kind of ambassadors that you have called us to be. We offer this year to you, that you would make us personally and make our church congregationally into the people that you have called us to be for your glory and for your namesake.
If you’d like to listen to the whole service you can listen here.