Have you ever considered that wherever you go you bring the Kingdom of God with you? That as a Christian you're in effect a walking, talking embassy? And your home? Kingdom territory! An embassy in a foreign land. So, do you act as an ambassador for Christ? Do you take your role as a representative of Christ seriously? When was the last time you shared your faith with someone who needed to hear about Jesus? Rev. Mark Vander Tuig shares his experiences and explains one of the most important roles of a Christian – being an ambassador for Christ.
Table of Contents
- Introducing Our Guest, Rev. Mark Vander Tuig
- Rev. Mark’s Illustration of Embassies
- We All Have Our Own Little Mission Field
- It Takes Guts to Share God’s Words
- We Are Not in the Church by Accident
Introducing Our Guest, Rev. Mark Vander Tuig
Bob: If you're like me, you occasionally come across people who need a relationship with God. We know what God has done for us, and so we hate to see others not experience that peace, that joy, and the sense of adventure that comes with God in their lives. Perhaps it's a family member, a friend, or even just an acquaintance, but you pray for God to touch their heart, and deep down inside you wonder, should I be the one to talk with them about God? And if so, how do I do that? When do I do that?
Being an ambassador for Christ is not science. It's not a formula. It is perhaps more of an art form, a dance with one's faith, and the Holy Spirit. Our guest today walks us through what all that means and how it happens in real life, day to day practical settings.
He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor's degree in both religion and psychology from Luther Seminary with a master of divinity degree, and from St. Mary's College with a master's degree in counseling and psychological services.
He served congregations in both Minnesota and Iowa, and yet while at the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Altoona, Iowa for 20 years, between 1990 and 2010, his congregation grew from a weekend attendance of 74 to 1,100. Since 2010, he served as a service coordinator for the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ called LCMC.
Go and Make Disciples
Bob: In this episode, we're discussing his sermon preached at the 2018 annual gathering of that organization, which can be accessed in its entirety at inspirationalsermons.com. Our guest today is one of the best preachers in America, the Reverend Mark Vander Tuig. Welcome, Mark.
Mark: Good to be here, Bob, and have this format.
Bob: Mark, I think that what's so interesting about your sermon is that it focuses on the Great Commission, but you pick up on something and describe it with a little bit of an asterisk. You say, "Look, when Jesus says, 'Go make disciples of all nations.'" You say that there's something about that word, "Go," that we need to remember. Tell our listeners about that.
Mark: Well, Lutherans, and that's what I am, I've been a Lutheran my whole life. We have this idea that being a Christian is all about coming in, sitting down, and get comfortable. I think that what we need to remember in the US, in particular, is that once we leave the building, we enter the mission field, that's really the case.
We are surrounded by people in our neighborhoods, in places where we work, our recreation, vocation, all of those areas, we're surrounded by people that don't know Jesus, they're not connected to a local church.
1 Peter 3:15
Mark: So, when Jesus said, "Go," he didn't say, "Come in, sit down and get comfortable. Get my spot in the pew and my favorite hymn," he said, "I need you out in the community. I need you to be a witness and an ambassador for Christ in your daily life. If you'll do that, I think that great things happen."
Bob: So many of us feel like, you know, pastor Mark, "I'm not really prepared. I don't know that I'm the right person. I don't have the right words and so on and so on." But you say, there are a few things that we as Christians, regardless of our denomination or even your role in the church, we ought to remember.
Mark: If people feel unprepared, that's on us, the people that stand upfront, who teach and preach. I mean, we need to empower our people train and equip, right, Ephesians 4? If I have folks in my church that have no idea of their witness or testimony then I think we largely miss the great opportunity just telling people what I know.
1 Peter 3:15 I love that verse. It says, "Each one of you set apart Christ in your heart as Lord, and be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have and do it with gentleness and respect when they ask." I mean, that's a big deal. I mean, if we're ready, people are going to ask us why would you do that? Why did you help me? Why are you interested in feeding the poor? On and on. People, they wonder what's going on.
We’re Called to Minister
Mark: Then if you're ready, you can tell them. If you're in my age group and your grandchild asks you, "So why do you go to church, grandpa?" I can tell him, "I know this Jesus, and I want to worship him." So, it doesn't have to be complicated, doesn't have to be fancy, doesn't have to be sophisticated, just has to be yours. We need to help people find their words.
Bob: So we're all called to ministry in some location, in some way, in some manner. The average church member listening to this might say, "But you what can I really do? Okay. I can invite someone to church. I can invite my neighbor to church. Okay, that's one way that I can be involved and be part of Jesus's hands and his rescue mission to this world. But what else can I do beyond that? I mean, in my job?" I think you even have a couple of anecdotes you bring up in your sermon about that.
Mark: Well, there was a guy that worked for the government and the government came out with a mandate that said, "You can no longer have any religious symbols in your cubicle." He was very frustrated about it. I said, "Nobody needs that cross in your cubicle to know that you're a man of prayer. They still come to you for prayer, don't they?" He said, "Oh yeah." I said, "How did that start?" He said, "Well, I was talking with a friend at work and he was going through a hard time. I just said to him, 'Would it be all right if I prayed for you?'" The guy said, "Oh, I'd love that."
Praying For Others is Also Ministry
Mark: So, he actually stood there and prayed for him right there in a hallway. Word began to spread that this guy knows how to pray. You just can't believe how many people will love it that you pray for them.
I'm in a restaurant, and that's been my practice for a long time now. Well, not lately, because you can't go to a restaurant, craziness. But anyway, so often the wait staff will come back at some point and say, "Okay, here's your food. Is there anything else I can get you?" My response is, "Well, no, I don't think so, but we're going to pray for our meal. Is there anything about your life we could pray for you today?"
It has been a stunner. There was one case where the gal told us about her a little boy that was sick. And so, we prayed for him right there, she stood there. Then after it slowed down, she came back and she said, "I've never had anybody to pray for me, why would you do that?"
It was such a gift. So my wife and I started telling her about Jesus. I said, "You know what? If you'd like to know more, here's my email address." She actually reached out to me. She never knew I was a pastor. She never knew any of that. But this idea of being willing to pray for somebody, a tremendous gift.
You don't have to use King James English, you don't have to know Greek. You just have to be willing to pray. Some of them have been kind of fun.
Rev. Mark’s Illustration of Embassies
Mark: We had a young waitress come by and I made the offer and she goes, "Well, I don't know, I'm going on a cruise with my boyfriend." I said, "Well, then we'll pray for good decisions." She started laughing. She got a little embarrassed. She walked away. But she said, "Thanks." I thought that was great. Funny.
Bob: So first, we have to remember that this is really about Jesus, that we belong to Jesus.
Second, you say that we have to remember that we are an ambassador for Christ. Pastor Mark, you have this great illustration about embassies that I think is very powerful. Can you explain that for our listeners?
Mark: You bet. Well, here in the US we lost an ambassador and he was killed in a place called Benghazi. But what people don't realize that he was actually killed on American soil. When you establish an embassy, when a nation does that, that becomes their soil, their territory. That place is supposed to operate with the same values, principles, and ideals as the nation that established it. Christopher Stevens was killed on American soil.
Think about the place where you live, your address, the house number is 2403. I started thinking about my house as an embassy for the King of Kings. How cool is that? You know, I want to be a good neighbor. I want to know my neighbors' names, wave to them when I drive by, and let them know that I'm here to bless them.
An Ambassador for Christ Plants Seeds Everywhere
Mark: So we get a new neighbor next door, a young couple. They're not married yet. Nice people though. I went over to meet them, introduced myself. I said, "You know, we're here for each other. My shed is unlocked. If you need some gardening tools or yard tools, help yourself." I said, "So what do you guys do?" He said, "Well, I'm a mechanic". I said, "Well, what's this car doing in your garage?" He said, "Well, I'm also a drift race driver." I said, "That is so cool. I would love to see you race."
He said, "Well, we have to go out of state." So we're talking about the car and how fast it is. I said, "Do you guys ever go to church anywhere in town?" They go, "No." I said, "Well, I used to be the pastor of this big church down the block here. It's got this huge parking lot, two driveways, two bridges. You think you'd let me drive your car there and just smoke the tires off it?"
He started laughing. He said, "No." I said, "Well, I would love to ride along with you some time then." He said, "Well, we could maybe do that." But anyway, I said, "Look, we're here for you. If there's anything we can do, you let me know." So I wanted them to know that I'm here for them and that if there's anything I can do, and eventually in time, we'll have a conversation about some things that are important, big things.
So, they're getting married in a couple of weeks. And so, I'm going to follow up with them and just stay connected.
Bob: And you're planting seeds.
We All Have Our Own Little Mission Field
Bob: I guess the thing is, pastor Mark, we tend to think this is something we have to do. If they follow up, then we were successful. If they don't follow up then we weren't successful. Where this isn't about us at all, you know?
Bob: We're just planting seeds, God does the rest. You used some really interesting terminology. I love the way you phrase these things. You talk about our little embassies as sort of kingdom territory. You talk about the opportunities that we have in our own mission field. We all have our own little mission field, and you even relate to some stories that you have.
You tend to come across folks a lot because you travel a lot as service coordinator for LCMC, in airplanes. You have these great stories of people you meet in airplanes. This one about this young woman who you met this one time. I thought it was really fascinating. Can you tell us about that?
Mark: Yes. So I'm in Albuquerque flying up to Seattle, and walking down the concourse is a young woman in, I thought it was a really colorful outfit, but as she got closer, I realized she's wearing a tank top and she's covered in tattoos. You know, I'm curious about people. So I thought, "I bet she's got some stories to tell." And so, I get on a plane and they continue to board and she sits down right next to me.
An Encounter on a Plane
Mark: I thought, "Man, this is going to be great." So I said, "Hey, how are you? My name is Mark. Welcome on board." She said, "Thanks," and put in her ear button, which is a sign she did not want to talk to this crazy old man sat next to her.
So it's 9:00 in the morning, the flight attendant comes down the aisle once we get in the air and says, "Can I get you something to drink?" I said, "Yes, I'll have coffee." She said, "I want orange juice and vodka." So she takes that. She puts her earbuds back in and the flight attendant comes back again about 20 minutes. She has her second orange juice and vodka. Now she wants to talk.
Bob: So do I after two oranges and vodka.
Mark: I just figured if you got a tattoo, I can see you'd probably be willing to tell me about it. I said, "Boy, you got some amazing ink." She goes, "Oh yeah, I love tattoos." I said, "Do they all have a meaning?" She goes, "Yes, everyone." I said, "Well, what do these teardrops?" She told me she lost the baby at childbirth. I don't know how old she is, but she had to start pretty young in this whole thing.
So, she had a couple of guy's names. Her dad died, her mom had died. She had all of these life experiences tattooed on her. I just had the impression I'm talking to the woman at the well.
We're Part of a Great Effort
Mark: I thought to myself, "Jesus, you died for this young woman as much as you died for me or anybody else on the planet. You need to raise somebody up to tell her about you. We're halfway through the flight, so you need to hurry up."
Because couldn't be me, right? I mean our lives are diametrically opposed. I mean, I have no idea. So she keeps telling me the story of her life. I said, "So why are you going to Seattle?" "Well, I met a guy on the internet." I said, "Oh, really?" She goes, "Yeah, the guy I'm living with now, it's just not working out." I said, "But don't you have two boys?" "Those are with two other men."
So I'm, "Wow." And so, I said, "Lord, this woman needs you. She needs you and you got raised somebody up." Now we're beginning our initial descent and no one's stepping up. So we touch down and it dawns on me that maybe it would be me. And so, we get to the gate and the ding off.
So, we jump up and I put on my backpack and I'm just wearing a shirt like this and my blue jeans and high-top tennis shoes. I said, "You know what? It's been really great to chat with you today and I really appreciate you telling me your story. You've had quite a life." She goes, "Oh yeah, that was great."
I said, "Could I tell you one thing before I leave?" She goes, "Sure." I said, "Well, here's what I want you to know, that God loves you, that Jesus died for you and I know he has a purpose for your life." She looked up at me and she goes, "Okay."
Being An Ambassador Sometimes Takes Guts
Mark: Not at all, the big moment you were hoping for, but here's the way I think about it. What if the friend she had arranged to pick her up at the airport has been praying for an opportunity to tell her about Jesus for the last five years?
She gets off the plane, meets her friend and her friend says, "So how was your trip?" "Oh, you can't believe this old man, what he said to me." It would be a chance for that woman to have an opening. We're not in this alone.
Like you said earlier, we're just planting seeds and we're part of a great effort of the Holy Spirit to bring people into faith.
Bob: Yes, exactly. I love the fact that you took time to really think about how will God approach her and "Could it be me?" You took the opportunity to say something. Look, it takes guts. It takes guts to say, "I'm going to say something that I'm doing for what I think is the good of the kingdom of God that this is what God would want me to do. It may not be received well. But if I do it in love and I do it with genuine sincerity, that it could be that seed that eventually does sprout." Right?
To be part of that, I think it's such a bigger plan. It makes our life so much bigger to be part of that. So the third point that you bring about in this sermon is that the church belongs to Jesus as well. You say that it really doesn't belong to the people who've been hanging around the church the longest or the ones who contribute the most.
In the Church, We Can Often Lose Sight of Our Mission
Bob: But how have we gone awry in the church from what God intended to church to be? You even have some anecdotes about things that happen in churches that tend to not be things that put us on the right path.
Mark: Right. Well, I think that most of us, we have our spot in the pew and if somebody's sitting there, we're offended. The hymn is going too slow. The hymn is going too fast. I don't like that music. Those children are too loud and the old man is snoring too much. I mean, we are so easily offended in church, it drives me crazy.
One time I left a coffee cup because I like coffee, a coffee cup on the altar table. A woman came up to me afterward and she was just offended that I would leave a coffee cup on the table of God. I said, "Well, first of all, it's a table and Jesus probably left crumbs on it." Well, she did not receive that well and she walked out, never saw her again.
Bob: One of the things that I love about your sermon, and I've heard you say this a number of times are that you really have to ask the question, did Jesus have to die for this? In other words, Jesus had to die so that I could wear the right robe, right?
We Are Not in Our Churches by Accident
Bob: Or that Jesus had to die so that I can have a clean table, right? And so, those are the kinds of things that perhaps we need to reorient ourselves in the church for when we're thinking about what really we're doing in the church.
I think you say something in your sermon, you mention it briefly, but I see it as really insightful when it comes to our confidence in the mission. You say that you don't really believe any of us are in the church we're in by accident, right? Can you unpack that a little bit more?
Mark: You know, the world of church is one thing, but being a follower of Jesus is kind of another. There's a different quality to it, a different character to the phrase. I love going to church, but the church is not the building, the church is its people.
I believe that we are not there by accident, that God brought us to this gathering of these people so that we can both receive and give.
That as a follower of Jesus, no matter what I do for a living, let's say I'm a plumber, as a follower of Jesus, when I come to worship, that is to inspire and encourage, to be in fellowship. It's to hear God's word, to be standing on truth. But it's also then training and equipping so that I can enter the mission field and be an effective believer as a plumber. The more that we can catch that vision, the less likely we're going to have fighting in church.
We Can Even Get Distracted Over Silly Things
Mark: Because we fight over such stupid things. One of them, we interview pastors for positions all the time and I'd always ask them, "What was your greatest challenge in ministry?" One guy said, "Well, roaster wars."
I said, "Who are the roasters?" He said, "No, it's not a who, it's a thing." I said, "It's what?" He said, it's a thing in which you cook meat." "How could an appliance cause a war? He said, in the church he was serving and they had one roaster and it was only available to two people in the church. Nobody else could borrow it. So, one person went to get it, it's missing. Called the other, they didn't have it.
They called the church council, "We have a problem. There's thieving going on in the church." So they brought a bunch of people. They had a petition and they wanted to raise some money. And so, they raised a whole bunch of money. What they did with it was this. They had enough money to put a lock on every kitchen cabinet door and only one person had the key. He said it nearly divided the church.
Let God Do the Work
Mark: I mean, I've seen churches divide over the color of a carpet. Churches get upset over the car the pastor drives. It's like, "Really? Jesus had to die so that we could fight over what car your pastor drives. You people are insane. But anyway.
Bob: Yes, the church kitchen was not actually the mission field Jesus had in mind, right? When we're thinking, the average person listening to this might be thinking, when you say, pastor Mark, "Mission," I'm thinking I got to go to Africa or I've got to go to Asia, but you say, "No, not really." That things are changing around us right here in the United States that makes this a mission field as well. Isn't it?
Mark: If I gave you 30 seconds to come up with the name of one person about whose salvation you're concerned, do you need 30 seconds?
Some of us just need to go home. We need to go to our neighbors. We need to go to our places of work. You know, we're not going to have a Billy Graham crusade, but God planted you there so that you might be the one that begins a conversation that will take many small steps over the course of a long time. But if we'll be patient and we'll let God do the work, amazing things can happen.
We Are Ambassadors for Christ
Mark: Because everybody goes through suffering sooner or later. If you just say, "You know what? You're going through a hard time. Would it be all right if I prayed for you?"
You don't have to do it right then. Go home and pray for them. But then let them know that you keeping them in prayer. It begins that process.
Bob: So it's time for us to remember whose we are, but also that we are ambassadors.
Well, pastor Mark, your sermon, this is a wonderful sermon is accessible in its entirety on inspirationalsermons.com. Pastor Mark Vander Tuig, thank you so much for your time today. May God continue to bless you in your ministry. Personally, I hope you never retire.
Mark: You bet. Absolutely. I think I'll be preaching until I'm dead.
Bob: Good for you. I'm with you brother.