Signs of the Times

Well.

This has been a very heavy week for me in many ways. I wrote last about conflict in my family which has weighed heavily on my heart. Besides the emotional strain, I have also struggled with a hip problem which finally became noisy enough for me to visit my doctor. Hopefully, it is merely a strain or sprain, but x-rays have been ordered to rule out a possible problem with the joint itself.

Hurrah. As if it isn’t hard enough to stay in shape in your forties… <sigh>

So today I want to share some signs of the times we live in… signs that are worthy of a second look mainly because laughter is truly good for the soul!

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When visiting Tennessee state parks, it is wise to proceed with caution along the trails. Hungry packs of feral children may lurk nearby…

 

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Whew! I, for one, am greatly relieved to know that no one will be able to see out of my envelopes. It’s been such a serious problem in the past.

 

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Nothing says, “Welcome,” like a twisted, lichen-encrusted sign advocating speeds of up to 45 mph as you approach a blind curve at the top of a hill. If you could only see the rest of the road… hairpin turns and buckled and crumbling bits of pavement. I’m not so sure visitors are really wanted here…

 

And finally…

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I guess I am thankful for experts in any field, but I confess I have no wish to know what this car is hauling…

Happy Friday, everyone!!

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Intentions

Love…  is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Satan seems to be on a rampage, at least in my family.

My adolescent children go to battle daily against one another – these alien beings who once were the closest of friends. Just this morning, there were names and accusations flung without the slightest regard for sanity or the feelings of others.

Words flung like darts, drawing blood, stirring up wrath, and making me question the enormous cost of private school when I could at least be physically present to mediate arguments if they were still home schooled.

Either way, this afternoon I must attend to one of the more unpleasant parental duties. Lord, be my guide…

On a wider scale, there is ongoing conflict in my extended family. Once again, people who love one another now wound and are wounded with brutal words and fiery  perspectives.

And all around me, it seems I hear murmurs of anger seething in the undercurrent of society. Social media is engaged for antisocial purposes. Marriages crumble and children are ruined by the shrapnel. Wives mock their husbands. Husbands disparage their wives. Christians do not wait for the adversary’s fiery arrows but inflame one another with an unceasing barrage of “friendly fire” kindled in our hearts.

It is heartbreaking; truly, truly heartbreaking.

Yet through it all, my God speaks to me, reminding me that while I can grieve for the sins of my children or others, I can only repent of my own.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
(1 Corinthians 10:12)

In the midst of the wreckage, I must not fall  into the perilous rut of my own sinful tendencies, responding to anger with more anger.

Now more than ever, love is needed to quench the not only the fires of fury, but also the smoldering coals which lie beneath ready to burst into full flame at the slightest spark.

This morning as I spoke with my Lord about these things, He reminded me of Paul’s letter. I was struck by the very depths of our depravity.

We so rarely act in love.

I so rarely act in love.

I can be irritable. I have been resentful. In the midst of conflict, my tendency is to assume the worst possible motives of the other party.

And my friends, that assumption is nearly always a monstrous lie.

Why is it that we tend to paint our own actions and attitudes in glowing colors, justifying our every wrong by some fault of another, and yet we presume the most diabolical and vicious motives of those around us?

We take everything personally but do not mean anything personal when we are the speaker or doer. We expect mercy  for ourselves but are quick to lash out before questioning if our grievance is real or merely perceived.

We carefully store up every offense against us, keeping not only a record of wrong but preserving each complaint as diligently as we would a marvelous treasure, bringing it out from time to time as some twisted talisman of justification.

Church! Today is not the day to stand against our brothers and sisters! Today is the day to stand against evil; to rejoice with the truth; to refrain from bitterness or resentment; to bear all offenses; to believe the best in others; to hope for reconciliation in the Spirit of God; to endure all things – including the exquisite prick of conviction reminding us to purge our own hearts of the ghost of grievances past.

In love, let us assume the best of one another when we speak. Let us embrace forgiveness, remembering the Gracious Redeemer who has forgiven the massive accumulation of wrongs we have each committed against Him.

Where we are wronged, let us search for ways we have wronged others – and repent. Where there are past hurts, let us pray for the power to release them, asking God to heal the poisonous blight of bitterness in our hearts.

And above all else, let us love each other well, striving daily to fill our hearts with the love of the Most High God so our mouths will speak His goodness and praise.  Whether husband, wife, child, parent, sibling, or any other relationship, let those of us who are in Christ earnestly seek humble hearts, reserving our most critical judgement for ourselves and choosing to believe in the best intentions of others.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
(Philippians 2:3)

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
(Psalms 133:1)

120503_1423Lord, forgive us and guide us. How we need Your redeeming power in our relationships today! Help us to walk in the only perfect Love the world has ever known and reconcile us with our brothers. May Your grace shine in us and unify us in Christ, amen. 

 

 

 

 

**Before I go, I do want to jot a note that I will soon be offering my first ever book review and giveaway! Today, however, the need to cry out for Love to intervene in some ugly situations eclipsed my heart… Stay tuned!

The Dreaded “S” Word

For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
(Ephesians 5:23-24)

Like many aspects of the Christian journey, submission does not come naturally for most of us. In fact, according to our modern values, the idea of a wife submitting to a husband is not only unpopular, it is almost shameful.

Yet there it is, plainly spelled out in not one but two ancient letters now accepted as part of the canon of Scripture:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
(Colossians 3:18)

But of course we could object and say that Paul was a chauvinist pig and simply had a grudge against women… except for the fact that Peter used the same Greek word (here translated with a different nuance) in one of his letters as well:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives,
(1 Peter 3:1)

As a woman growing up in a cultural climate proclaiming, “What’s good for the gander is good for the goose,” and other girl-power statements, this was not a teaching that I easily adopted when I became a disciple of the Messiah. However, I did adopt it, and I would love to share my experience with the concept of submission.

You see, I became a Christian as a youngish adult whose life had just been turned upside down by some pretty poor choices. At the age of 25, I found myself pregnant and living with the man who would later become my husband. Clearly, neither of us knew or obeyed the Lord at this time.

But God had plans to use this mess, and the new life that was growing inside me fostered a desperation to find out if there was a God. For the sake of space, the nickel version is that I began to read the Bible while challenging God to prove Himself to me if He was real.

He did.

So it was that my eyes were first opened to my sin and rebellion as well as the astonishing love of God and the breathtaking humility of Yeshua (also called Jesus). I was floored. What’s more, as I talked with God through what was to be the first of many readings through His Word, I was guided by His Spirit to take what I read literally where it was rendered literally and symbolically when it was clearly stated as a symbol.

For me, that included submission to my new husband. This did not come easily, particularly before my husband also became a Christian. Yet Peter’s words from chapter 3 of his letter dogged me.

I admit that I implemented submission with a touch of resentment at first, sorry little rebel that I am, even after my husband devoted his own life to Christ.  And I had many, many heartfelt and teary discussions with the Lord about how difficult it was to be submissive.

Until one day, God finally opened my eyes to three truths. First and foremost, He knows. When I say that, I mean He has actual, experiential knowledge of how difficult it is to go from a place of authority to a place of deference. He has done it on a grander scale than I ever could.

Secondly, He showed me that not submitting to my husband had less to do with failure to trust my man than it did my failure to trust God Himself.  If I submit to my husband, even when I disagree, I am trusting in God to lead my man effectively – even if it means difficulty or learning from poor choices. After all, the most enduring lessons I have learned have been through my mistakes… and often the very place where I disagree was the place my husband turned out to be right, after all.

Besides, by not submitting to my husband, I was refusing to submit to my God. This one gave me pause.

As a Christian, I am commanded to act in humility; a necessary ingredient for submission. Now I am not saying I have never spoken a contrary word to my man. I have, and often. I am not afraid to express dissent, yet I present my disagreement respectfully, just as I would to any other authority. While my man always considers my feedback, my man does not always decide in favor of my way.

This takes especial humility on my part when I am convinced that my way is right, and through it I have certainly been humbled to discover that I am wrong much more frequently than I once believed!

Finally, God gave me a sense of the cost of responsibility the husband’s authority carries. After all, right or wrong, it is he who will answer to the Almighty for the decisions made for our family and for the direction of his leadership.

Let that sink in a minute.

Ladies, our husbands are accountable before God for their leadership – right or wrong.

When the Lord put it to me that way, I began to feel both genuine relief not to shoulder this grave responsibility and sincere respect (even awe) for my husband who bears it all.

When I think of it in those terms, submission is not such a bad position to be in, after all!

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And Behind Door Number One…

Confession: Sometimes I doubt my calling.

Am I alone here? Probably not, yet even so I easily slip into feeling alone; into doubt and discouragement instead of faithful perseverance. I am particularly prone to such mental agonies when I have been praying for a door to open yet find myself standing in a hallway filled with doors which are all securely barred.

Or worse, when my efforts are called to mind with the crystal-clarity of hindsight and I recall all the ways that I failed to demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, and the rest during my stint as a homeschool mom. My blunders stretch as far as the eye can see; great heaps of error which threaten to topple and bury me in inadequacy.

And yet… my King reminds me that not all obstacles are blockades.

In fact, my current situation kind of reminds me of Moses. In Exodus 3, we can read about God’s dynamic calling on Moses’s life – the burning bush and the undeniable command to speak to Pharaoh and ask him to free the enslaved descendants of Israel:

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
(Exodus 3:10)

Personally, if I had heard the very voice of God speaking from the depths of a flame that did not consume the vegetation it engulfed, I like to think I would move forward in my calling rather eagerly and certainly anticipating a high degree of success.

With all the ways the Lord equipped Moses – a staff that became a snake, an apparent miraculous manifestation and subsequent healing of leprosy – I imagine myself in his place approaching the great Pharoah with a slightly cocky swagger and a confident demand for the freedom of the Jews. Most likely while I stepped jauntily up to the throne, my mind would be filled with a pleasant fancy of the grateful masses hoisting me upon their shoulders and roaring, “Three cheers for Moses!”

But Moses did not exactly sprint from the burning bush to the throne room:Shh006

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  (Exodus 3:11)

Not only did Moses begin his conversation with the Almighty with this apparently self-deprecating question, he continued to hem and haw and generally drag his toe through the dust like an unwilling child through a rather lengthy dialog, eventually submitting his final request:

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”  (Exodus 4:13)

If I am brutally honest, that sounds more like the actual me. When I look at the strewn remains of my failed attempts, I hear my own voice echo very similar words: “Do I have to, Lord? I don’t seem to be very capable. Can’t You find someone else?”
Eventually, Moses did go, albeit reluctantly and only after God agreed to send his brother, Aaron, along as the key spokesman. Of course we do not know whether Moses entertained grand fantasies of being hailed as the rescuer of the people or not, but naturally one would expect a seamless success from such an unmistakably clear calling, especially when bolstered by the confidence of the people:

Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.  (Exodus 4:30-31)

Things were bound to go well from here, right?

Wrong.

The first interview with Pharaoh did not precisely result in an open door to freedom. Instead, the door slammed firmly in Moses’ face:

The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’   (Exodus 5:6-8)

And rather than receiving honors and accolades, the formerly worshipful group of slaves now criticized their mighty deliverer:

“The LORD look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”  (Exodus 5:21)

This was not going well at all.

Of course, most of us know that after many such interviews, several broken promises, and no small amount of signs and wonders which Pharaoh’s stubbornness escalated to dire proportions, the people were finally allowed to go free. The Egyptians even gave them much in possessions, very possibly in the hopes of being well rid of the calamity.

Persistence and faith won out in the end, and at some point Moses even gained enough confidence to take over the office of spokesman from his brother. Yet the fact remains that Israel’s circumstances became much worse before they improved.

Today, I am reminded that not everything that looks like failure is.

Just because my calling has not brought the success I imagined does not mean I have misunderstood it (although that possibility remains!). Sometimes, obstacles in the path make the journey more rewarding in the end.

But at other times, the obstacle is the point. Real-life success often appears in different clothing than fantasy success, and not all locked and barred doors are impassable.

Sometimes, learning to trust God in the face of repeated failure is what we were called to do all along…

 

Kids Say the Darnedest Things…

pict0460I’ve been sick for the last several days. While I’m feeling a bit better today, I still sound like a 70-year-old Marine who began smoking in 5th grade. Maybe for that reason, or maybe just because, today I feel like having a little fun at the expense of myself and my fellow children of God who comprise the Church in the southeastern US.

Please understand: the Lord commands my utmost reverence and respect. However, I am afraid I do not hold the same degree of esteem for church jargon. We are a funny people, and for my part at least, I am often amused at the absurd things I will say in a thoughtless moment.

Besides, if we can’t laugh at ourselves, someone else will (and probably already is).

If you’re likely to feel wounded by having your pet phrases picked on, I suggest you do not read any further. If, however, you find merriment in poking a bit of fun at jargon in general, I invite you to join me.

Who knows? Maybe laughter will turn out to be the best medicine… or maybe it will trigger another coughing fit. Either way, I find it much more fun to laugh at myself than to brood over my bruised ego. (Actually, there are a whole host of things that are more fun than that… but there’s a story for another day).

So without further ado, here are a few phrases that have given me a grin or a giggle in my years as an adult experiencing Southern churchy lingo for the first time:

1. We covet your prayers.

I’m sorry, but this one gets me every time, probably because the tenth commandment explicitly tells us not to covet.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
(Exodus 20:17)

Dictionary.com defines covet thus: “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.”

**Note that for my purposes here, I am conveniently ignoring the other part of the definition which states covet can also mean “to wish for, especially eagerly.”**

OK, ok… I know that in Exodus 20:17 and its kin, the prohibition on coveting is specifically directed at a selfish desire for the belongings and personal relationships of others. Still in light of the Tenth Commandment, I tend to find something a trifle humorous about coveting prayers.

I guess in my (rather twisted) mind, the phrase translates roughly, “I have an extravagant, inappropriate, and consuming desire for your prayers regardless of whether you wish to offer them or not.”

2. Bless this food and the hands that prepared it.

The first time I heard this phrase offered up in sincere supplication before a meal, I could not stop my poor, immature mind from wondering, Why only the hands?

Maybe it’s just me, but this phrase conjures an image of hordes of cooks gallivanting around the Southeast with naught but their hands blessed…

Yeah, it’s probably just me.

Still, if I am among those who prepared the food, I would very much appreciate it if the requested blessing might perhaps be extended past my wrists. I may even covet it, but I’ll have to get back to you on that…

3. Jesus hung out with sinners.

Seriously, think about this one for a minute.

The reason this one cracks me up is because in all honesty, it is simply a paraphrase of John 1:14 –

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)

During the years He spent walking the earth both before and during His ministry, Jesus did not have an opportunity to hang out with anyone but sinners.  Saying, “Jesus hung out with sinners,” is the exact same thing as saying, “Jesus socialized with humans.”

And lest we forget, while He did associate with sinners, He also managed to keep himself sinless. It’s kind of why we need Him as our great High Priest.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:15-16)

Feel free to share some funnies of your own!

Finding Purpose in Pain

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:6-7)

It’s been a while since I’ve jotted out a migraine post. In fact, I realized my last one was in early September when I wrote about my latest dietary experiment.  In fact, today is  my 49th consecutive day on the ketogenic diet.

So how’s it going? Well… not bad. My first two weeks were like a dream. I had more energy and fewer headaches than normal, and what headaches I did have were extremely minor. In short, I felt well for several days all in a row – something that has not happened since… honestly, I don’t know. Ask my husband. He pays more attention than I do.  For me, it was enough to actually feel like doing things rather than merely muscling through the day until bedtime.

Unfortunately, subsequent weeks were not as remarkable. It is possible I had a touch of the virus that went around our house, but my usual crazy fatigue was an unwelcome visitor during the last weeks of September. October did not begin well, either, and last Saturday saw the blessed end of a 6-day-long, slowly building migraine that left me feeling perfectly wretched.

But that is all over, this week is looking promising, and I am feeling as wonderful as my first days on the diet. Hurrah! I have sworn to give it at least two more weeks before ‘cheating,’ and my cheat will be minor – a signature coffee beverage from a friend’s newly opened coffee shop.  (By the way, this is a shameless plug for the Fainting Goat aimed at my local readers…)

Now on the other side of the month-long energy drain and the resurgence of headache issues, I can honestly say that this whole experience – from the meningitis when my middle child was a few months old all the way through today – the ups and downs and all the in-betweens has been good.

I mean it. Despite the unpleasantness, it is really, truly good.

Not to sound like a nutcase, but I am thankful for the pain. Even today as I sit writing with a clear head and an inexplicably aching hip, I can rejoice in my suffering.  Admittedly, a large part of that rejoicing comes from the fact that some of it is past… but also because in the midst of it all, God reminds me to give thanks in ALL circumstances – including the less enjoyable ones (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

For one thing, as this morning’s reading in Isaiah 53 has reminded me, I do not deserve health, wealth, or prosperity. For countless past acts of rebellion against my Creator as well as for a continuing propensity to wander astray like some doltish sheep drifting mindlessly after what looks like a mouthful of greener grass far away from the Shepherd’s safe pasture, I deserve death.

But my gracious and incredible God gives me Life instead. And just so the spiritual ledger is not out of balance, He paid the penalty of my crimes with His own blood.

What’s more, He continually offers purpose in my pain. Though last week was discouraging and left me feeling physically spent and emotionally defeated, this week starts fresh, beginning with absolutely priceless time spent with a young lady, one of my part-time daughters, who also struggles with chronic migraine.

Because I can relate, she can speak freely and be understood – which I must say, is no small thing for those who struggle with an “invisible” disease. And because I love her, I am delighted to participate in the suffering so that I can encourage her as she fights through it and remind her that God is still good even when life looks bleak.

After all, if He did not spare His own sinless and perfect Son, the Radiance of His glory and the exact Imprint of His nature;  if the King of kings was not spared physical and emotional pain, why should I be? For I have sinned and fallen far short of tGod’s perfetcion, but by His grace I can share in my Lord’s sufferings – because even pain, when surrendered to Him, can be used for something glorious.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
(1 Peter 4:12-13)

 

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Diplomacy and Other Poetic Sentiments

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

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“With all my heart, I tolerate you.” 

Oddly enough, I have yet to see these words splashed in false gold-leaf across the front of a sappy floral greeting card.

When I consider the amount of airtime the word, “tolerance,” is given, I have to wonder why it has not yet received this high commendation of public approval in the sentiment department. For $3.99 or thereabouts, an average human can purchase a bit of folded paper in order to proclaim undying love and devotion, wish a friend a happy birthday, send all manner of random holiday greetings, or even express sympathy over the loss of a cat.

Yet the only “tolerance” cards I can find have been sardonic parodies meant for a laugh. I have yet to hear any young man blubbing out an ardent and passionate confession of tolerance for a woman or a furious teen shrieking, “I tolerate you!” at the top of her lungs to her life-ruining mother.

Tolerance, it would seem, is a bit inadequate as an emotion.

So what’s all the fuss? Oh, yes; I remember. Tolerance is supposed to pave the path to peace.

What a heartwarming image that evokes – a room full of people representing widely differing cultures, races, and viewpoints all tolerating one another with tender, brotherly toleration.

Or perhaps the scene might more accurately be described as a room filled with heads bent over a wide variety of electronic devices upon which people tap out their knee-jerk responses to a staggering volume of bullet-point, shock-and-awe headline sound bytes, because really there simply isn’t time in the day to process it all.

I guess that’s why the author of that ancient letter now titled “Hebrews” in English translations of the Bible felt the need to qualify his call to “strive for peace with everyone.”

Peace alone, it would seem, is also a bit inadequate.

For one thing, we are urged to “strive.” That alone tells us that achieving “peace with everyone” will not be easy. This is going to be a matter of good, old-fashioned blood, sweat, and tears… the most precious of which were shed some 2000-odd years ago upon one of the more heinous modes of public execution that my species has invented.

But I digress…

The point is that peace is not enough. We must also strive for holiness, because without that key ingredient, no one will see the Lord; they will only see the friendly neighbor or the pacifist.

I find it interesting to note that the admonition to strive for peace and for holiness comes immediately after a discussion of the importance of discipline in training and the author’s coaxing to “lift drooping hands and strengthen weak knees,” which in today’s vernacular may or may not be slightly akin to “man up” or “put on your big-girl panties.” I can’t be sure because I am not privy to the nuances of colloquial Koine Greek.

At any rate, the import is that peace and holiness are not easily achieved. In fact, I would postulate that it takes something very unearthly to attain either true peace or holiness ; nothing less than the very life and breath of God in us… or at least that’s how I understood the Messiah’s words, “apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

With all this in mind, I think I love the Complete Jewish Bible’s translation of Revelation 3:19 most of all because it so beautifully reflects the idea of expended effort (and ironically is written to the lukewarm Laodicean church):

As for me, I rebuke and discipline everyone I love; so exert yourselves, and turn from your sins!
Revelation 3:19, CJB

Exert yourselves, and turn from your sins…

Hmmm… it seems to me that some of this striving for peace and holiness stuff might require me to first expend some effort in a reversal of my own faults, flaws, and outright crimes. That puts some punch to the Lord’s statement about denying self and taking up crosses in order to follow Him. He certainly did not carry His cross to the Roman equivalent of Disneyland.

It could be that what the world needs most is not so much tolerance as it is a stout number of Christians willing to take a sober look in the mirror and Biblically evaluate how well the Kingdom ambassador peering back is doing in his or her representation of the Most High God.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20

Personally, I am humbled by that thought…