Ambassadors

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I wonder what it would be like to be an ambassador to some foreign place. I suppose at times I’d feel quite important, having been commissioned as an official representative by the leaders of my country. Other times, I expect I’d feel a bit lonely and lost, living in a place that wasn’t my home. Above all, I think I’d carry with me a sense of great responsibility, wondering who was listening, watching and assuming that my daily choices were typical of my countrymen.

The Apostle Paul considered himself to be Christ’s ambassador even when he was in jail. And in 2 Corinthians 5:20, he commissioned us, saying, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

This is an important calling! It’s issued not by leaders of our country, but by the Creator of our universe via his servant and messenger, Paul. Our ambassadorship isn’t an option. We represent Christ, every day, wherever we go and in whatever we’re doing—or not doing, “as though God were making his appeal through us.” God speaking through us is a heady thought.  How do we react to disappointment or mistreatment? What do we do with our spare time? What do our facial expressions convey when we don’t think anyone is watching?

Do you ever feel a bit lonely or lost in this world? A bit out of place? That’s to be expected, and Paul tells us how to handle it—be reconciled to God. It’s only through a closer walk with the Lord who loves us that we can fulfill our calling. When we’re trusting him in all things, we can get through the muck and mire that the world tends to dish out. Our response to trouble ought to be an immediate cry to our Lord for perspective, protection and direction—as long as we’re reconciled to him. If we’ve allowed our relationship to grow cold, to be walled off—perhaps by sin or selfishness—it’s easy to forget that he’s right there ready to help.

Most of us will never be asked to go live in some foreign place and represent our country. We’ve been commissioned, though, to an even greater calling. When you head out today, imagine yourself wearing the badge of a diplomat. (Okay, maybe they don’t wear badges, but you get my drift.)

Let your light so shine!

 

(Photo from Pixabay)

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Weed or Flower?

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No, it’s a flower.

Or maybe it’s a wildflower, but I’m not really sure.

I spent some time today researching the difference between weeds and wildflowers and found this delightful quote.

“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed? Nothing more than society’s judgment.”

Maybe plants and habits have a lot in common. We often let society determine which habits are “weeds” and which are “flowers.” And society often changes its mind.

  • Chick-fil-a is closed on Sunday. That’s a bit out of place these days, but was a common practice for many businesses when I was a child.
  • Sex and violence were far less common elements of network television programming years ago. On the other hand, many a TV cowboy or detective lit up a string of cigarettes while solving the problem of the week.
  • Once upon a time we all ate less sugar and processed food, but we hadn’t really given much thought to organics yet.

Society is an unreliable compass. We know that truth in our heads, but do we embrace that it as fact in our hearts and show it in our actions? We are often called to a life that is out of sync with what is cool. Our wildflowers may look like weeds to others. (I mean, really, why would anyone want to fast periodically, or get up early on a Sunday morning to head out the door, or give away a significant portion of every annual income?)

Sometimes what we identify as a weed is labeled as a wildflower these days as well. (While we know better, it can be easy to allow certain sins into our lives, because they simply aren’t as clearly labeled as sin these days.)

So, as always, it’s back to The Book. We have to take our cues from The Manufacturer’s Handbook, regardless of what is “in” or “out” in popular culture. And we can do just that, with great result, because the Bible and its Author do not change. They do not lie. The Lord who loves us set down many do’s and do not’s for us long ago for our good and for his glory. Living his way works well.

I hope you’ll adopt some new, true-flower habit this week, and maybe yank a weed or two out of your life as well. Want to tell me about it? Your comments mean much to me, so write away!

 

The Right Kind of Altar

altar-187941_640By Beth Smith

In the Old Testament, the Israelites built altars where they made sacrifices. Often these altars were memorials to encounters with the Lord.

  • In Genesis 12, when God rewarded Abram’s obedience and gave him land, Abram built an altar.
  • In Genesis 26, when God spoke to Isaac saying, “Fear not, for I am with you,” Isaac built an altar.
  • In Exodus 17, after a great victory, Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord is my banner.” It was a reminder that God had given them victory.

You and I can follow the example of Abram, Isaac and Moses by building altars in our hearts and minds to remind us of the times God has demonstrated his love for us.

Sometimes, though, before those Israelites could build an altar, they had to tear down altars that had been built to false gods. Hmmm! During my lifetime I’ve built a few altars to false gods. What about you? Have we worshipped money, recognition, family, self? If so, we have our work cut out for us, because God says, “You shall have no other God before or beside me.”

And then there’s the issue of forgiveness. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Oh my! This is so important and so hard! We need to seek forgiveness from those we have hurt or offended and forgive those who have hurt or offended us. I think doing those two things helps clean out our pipeline of worship – making a clear way for our prayers to God. If our prayers seem to “stop at the ceiling”, we probably have some forgiving to do and some apologies to make.

And what about sacrifice? In the Old Testament, animals were killed and offered as sacrifices on the altar for forgiveness of sin. Jesus is the final sacrifice for sin. That work is finished. However, there are still sacrifices we can make. Hebrews 13: 15-16 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise…And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

And so, when it comes to altars, we have a “to do” list:

  • Tear down those altars where we worship anyone or anything other than God.
  • Build altars in our hearts and minds to remind us of the great things God has done.
  • Forgive others and ask for forgiveness.
  • Make our sacrifices of prayer, praise, good deeds and sharing.

If we do these things — you know what? We’re going to be pleasing to God!

Why Fast?

33Why fast?

Jesus and Moses and Paul and Barnabus and David and Esther all fasted, but I still don’t really understand why God would ask me to stop eating now and then. I like to eat! Nevertheless, in the sixth chapter of Matthew, Jesus taught about when (not if) we give, pray and fast, so I figure that practice stays on my to do list.

Fasting somehow makes our prayers more fervent and effective.

Fasting frees up funds to share with those in need.

Fasting reminds us that we won’t die if we miss a meal, and allows our bodies to take a rest from the monumental task of digestion for a short while. For many, it helps restore a natural appetite for wholesome foods as well.

The Bible doesn’t outline how often or for how long we ought to fast. We each have to determine those details for ourselves. If you’ve never fasted, though, and you’re looking for a starter plan, here’s one to consider. (First, consult a physician if you have any medical conditions.)

The day before your fast, eat simply and lightly. Get a good workout if you can, and don’t snack after dinner. Once your fast begins, rest a little extra and drink plenty of water.

Week 1: On fasting day, eat only “plain plants” like brown rice or oatmeal, beans, raw nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables prepared without sauces. (Potato chips do not count!) These foods are usually easy to digest, and are full of vitamins and fiber. You are fasting from processed food and “treat foods,” a substantial discipline, but you will not experience hunger yet.

Week 2: Fast from everything except water until noon, then consume “plain plants” for the rest of the day.

Week 3: Fast until midafternoon. Then have a piece of raw fruit, followed later by a simple dinner, preferably made up of “plain plants” again.

Week 4: Fast until dinnertime. Then have a simple meal of “plain plants.” Now you have fasted for 24 hours! Consider waiting until morning to eat, making your fast 36 hours long.

The day after your fast, be careful. Eat simple foods in small amounts. Don’t make up for lost time, or you’ll ruin some of the benefits of your fast. (You’ll also end up with a stomach ache.)

Do you fast? Tell me why, how, and the results you’ve seen.

Your comments are valued below! Welcome to Lent! 

And if you have the time, check out this great video on fasting from Living Water International. http://vimeo.com/3166394

Lenten Life Saving

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Could you give up something for Lent if you knew you’d save a life in the process? This year, I plan to forgo all beverages except water from Ash Wednesday, March 5, until Maundy Thursday, April 17. Won’t you join me?

  • Each time we feel the “pain” or inconvenience of passing up a juice or soda or coffee, perhaps we’ll be reminded of the sacrifice our Lord made for us.
  • Each day we save a few dollars by drinking only water, we can set aside money for the good of someone in need.
  • And as an added bonus, drinking plenty of water offers tremendous health benefits. (So that’s your “stay sharp” tip for this month.)

The money a beverage fast saves can go a long way in a place where clean water is scarce and disease is rampant. Plenty of great organizations are ready to help you put those funds to work. Many have resources ready to help you take The H2O Challenge with a group of friends, increasing your impact. Their projects are set up to last 14 days, but giving up luxury beverages for 40 days means you’ll be able to provide nearly three times as much help to the thirsty.

Living Water International http://water.cc/h2oproject has all sorts of resources ready for you. They’ve been issuing The H2O Challenge for years.

The Water Project has a whole kit available here: http://thewaterproject.org/thewaterchallenge-kit.php

You’ll find similar resources at Blood:Water Mission’s http://www.bloodwatermission.com/take-action/campaigns/2-weeks-of-sacrifice.php.

I Can Go Without http://icangowithout.com/ has a great app that Thirst Relief is promoting.

If want to donate your beverage savings to Catholic Relief Services http://crs.org/water-sanitation/, Water for South Sudan http://www.waterforsouthsudan.org/h20-project/, charity:water http://www.charitywater.org/ or any other organization not listed above, then The H2O Project www.theh2oproject.org should be your first stop. They explain the project, offer DVDs and scorecards, and provide a host of downloads.

You can even read someone else’s blog on taking the challenge last year: http://deeperstory.com/40-days-of-water/

Videos, handouts, wristbands, stickers…That stuff all makes this project more fun. But the main thing is this:

Your small sacrifice has a huge impact!

Still need convincing? Check out this passage from Matthew 25.  “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Brave the Cold (Roberto’s Story)

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Tomorrow would be a big day for Roberto. He would make the thirteen mile drive into town, take the Oath of Allegiance, and become a United States citizen. But tonight it was cold, very cold, and the power was out in a four state area.

For those of you who have never lived in frigid weather, allow me to explain the problem Roberto faced. After sitting overnight in super-cold temperatures, car engines often refuse to start. Modern automotive science has provided a simple solution, a gadget called a block heater. Install it under the hood, plug it in overnight, and bingo, you’re good to go in the morning.

Unless there’s no electricity… Then what?

Roberto’s neighbors came up with a solution. They set up a roster. They pulled together. From midnight ‘til morning, a different neighbor trudged through the cold to Roberto’s home each hour and started his car. When morning came, Roberto was able to become a U.S. citizen as planned.

How willing are we to “brave the cold for our neighbors?” You already know the verse I’m going to quote, but here it is anyway.

Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest and answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Neighbors aren’t always nice. And they aren’t always right next door. Sometimes your neighbor is actually a sick child (maybe not even your own child), a grumpy friend or a co-worker with whom you just never seem to see eye-to-eye. In all cases, Jesus—the one who died for us–asks us to love them.

Love doesn’t always mean feeling all mushy inside. Love can be inconvenient, difficult or even painful. A lot of the time love means braving the cold.