Thursday, March 29, 2018

Who Do YOU Say that I Am?

There is something soul-satisfying about a good book and often I read late into the night.  My reading choices vary, with Bible reading being my highest priority, followed by Christian books that teach, stretch and challenge me.  And during those wee hours of the night, Christian fiction both entertains and inspires.

A couple of years ago, my friend, Amy, recommended a book to me. It was a book about real people: Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope.  

Not long after that conversation, I was at a retreat at U.P. Bible Camp and while eating in the camp dining room, I spotted a book rack and, amazingly, Mistaken Identity was on that book rack! The husband/wife teams (Don/Susie Van Ryn and Newell/Colleen Cerak) co-authored this beautiful book and the Van Ryns were on staff at the camp! I was able to meet them, buy a book and even have it signed. 

The story revolves around two families, both of whom had daughters involved in a serious auto accident that claimed multiple lives. After the first responders managed the whole horrific scene and all was sorted out, one daughter survived and was transported to the hospital.  In subsequent weeks, there was a bizarre turn of events. The wrong daughter was identified as the survivor and after five weeks, when the daughter emerged from a coma, the error was discovered.

It’s a compelling read that weaves a complex tale of loss, hope, faith and love in the face of a tragedy.  Who was this young woman coming out of a coma?  What more could be done to identify her? When she could finally communicate, WHO DID SHE SAY SHE WAS?

We are in the midst of the most important week on the Christian Calendar, Holy Week.  On what we call “Palm Sunday”, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with the crowds hailing him as “king”. It was bedlam as the crowds shouted “Hosanna” (or, save us now!).  Less than a week later those same people turned on Him. Jesus was convicted, hung on a cross, suffered a terrible physical death and his body was placed in a borrowed tomb.

Earlier, during Jesus’ time of ministry, Matthew 16  tells us about a conversation Jesus had with His disciples.  He first asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They give Him a variety of responses. But the next question Jesus asked was (and still is) of eternal importance: “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”  Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   

We Jesus followers embrace the best news of all, don’t we? That tomb could NOT hold Jesus!  Three days after his body was placed there, He vacated that dark, lonely space! 

In the days that followed, while Jesus still walked the earth (before ascending to heaven), He enjoyed times of fellowship with his disciples. Jesus’ closest circle of ministry partners (except Judas, of course) came to finally understand the answer to that question, “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”  They lived out their lives sharing the good news and most were ultimately martyred as a result.

WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?  How do you answer that question? Was Jesus an exemplary religious leader?  There were many of those. Or perhaps His teaching skills appeal to you.  There was no limit of good teachers in His time. His status as prophet?  The Bible features many prophets.  Jesus Himself gave the answer to that question; In John 10:30 Jesus says, “I and the Father are One.” John 3:16 tells us Jesus is our Savior, if we accept Him.
In conclusion, Jesus was either a massive liar, a raving lunatic…or…He was Who He said He was.  What do you think?  If you believe His claims, does your life reflect that belief?  

Are you studying God’s Word and applying those truths to everything you do?  Or are you living out a shallow faith that has you scattering when the going gets tough? Maybe you have not yet invited Jesus to be Lord of your life.

What are you going to do this week?  Crucify Him through unbelief and sin?  Or by receiving Him into your heart and living for Him?  As for me: Christ has risen from the dead and I am going to follow Him…all the way to heaven!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Welcome to Class!

Winter here in the Upper Peninsula means finding creative ways to exercise.  Walking outside on the icy pavement while being assaulted by the north wind off Lake Michigan, isn’t terribly enticing.  Snowshoeing, snowboarding and skiing are for those who embrace winter while other hardy souls tackle the snow with their fat tire bikes. My winter exercise sometimes involves swimming laps at our local YMCA or doing some sort of exercise DVD in the comfort of my living room, thus minimizing the risk of broken bones.
I love summer and fall when kayaking opportunities are only a few blocks away (we live close to a bay that comes in from Lake Michigan); or I can take off on my bike and be on a country road in 10 minutes. Also, I can walk out my door and do the lakeside/park/beach island path with no more preparation than putting on the right shoes.

I have a friend who teaches an exercise class at our local community center.  I decided to give it a try. After consulting with my friend regarding the schedule and necessary supplies, I dug around in the basement to dig out an old exercise mat and headed out the door.

I walked into the gym, looked around and was surprised. It was a room of strangers, unusual for life in a small community.  A few faces looked vaguely familiar but there wasn’t anyone I recognized enough to attach a name.  I felt a bit awkward, kind of like the first day of class when you don’t yet know the “rules” or the customs.

Nevertheless, I am a pretty bold person and at my age I have overcome a lot of those insecurities that come with not knowing the “landscape”.  I found a spot on the gym floor where I could see the instructor’s movements.

At this point, other than the instructor, no one had spoken to me.  However, as I staked out my spot and placed my mat I became aware of someone trying to get my attention.  I turned to look at the woman behind me, ready to make conversation.  Instead, she asked me to move a bit since she couldn’t see the instructor. Hmm.  That was not an unreasonable request and she was very polite about it. But somehow that brief interaction left me feeling even more on the “outside”.
Admittedly, I felt a bit unsettled. It truly was a small thing but that class suddenly did not feel very welcoming.  I proceeded to struggle with movements foreign to me, trying to catch on to a new routine.  I was not at all sure I wanted to come back. Mind you, no one was openly rude to me so it all seemed so trivial.

I’m a pretty determined person so I decided I did not want to be discouraged that easily.  Off I went to class the next week for another try. This time was SO different; I ran into a couple of women I knew.  Alice and I got into a wonderful conversation before class started and another Alice greeted me very warmly at the end of the class.  Yet another woman (not an “Alice”!) encouraged me to “hang in there” and come back.

That experience was a powerful lesson to me, a strong reminder to be encouraging and welcoming, to be hospitable reaching out to others. I realized I could make a huge difference in the life of another person by just offering a smile, a kind word and an open heart.

Shouldn’t we apply that same principle to our church culture?  Think back on the first Sunday you walked into a new church. What if it was your very first time in a church and you had no idea what you were supposed to do, how you were supposed to act.  As a result of my experience at that exercise class, I have a new resolve. Wherever I am, but especially on Sunday mornings, I intend to watch for that unfamiliar face, to be sensitive to the one standing alone looking confused.

I love the book of Proverbs with its tidbits of wisdom. Proverbs 16:24 says: “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” 

It takes such little effort to offer kindness to others as we travel this journey we call life.  In this world where there is so much darkness and confusion, we have opportunity to bring sweetness and healing to anyone who crosses our paths.  May you and I be agents of change as we seek to uplift those around us.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Loving Well

Gus (age three): “Daddy, where Nana?”  Daddy: “She left on the plane last night after you went to bed.”  Gus: “Me miss Nana!”  As you can imagine, my “love-o-meter” was on overflow when I heard about that conversation.

My daughter-in-love texted me a picture that Henry (age seven) submitted to his school journal. It showed two stick people, one clearly labeled “Nana” and the other, “me”.  We had our arms wound around each other and underneath the picture he wrote: “My Nana came to town and it was AWESOME!”  (Be still my heart.)

Love. A simple word with so many meanings.  At this time of year we envision flowers, cards with hearts, romance and chocolate.  Charlie and I recently attended a wonderful dinner sponsored by our church, at a local resort restaurant – an early celebration of Valentine’s Day.

I love watching “chick flicks”, at least the ones that honor a moral code.  Nothing like a good romance, with all the complications of the story (assuming the guy and gal end up together!). Of course, Hollywood has tarnished the whole idea of romantic love but, thankfully, through Christian sources there are still some lovely movies available.

Is love limited to those “feel good” moments?  Are we loving each other only when we are smiling and laughing?

I would suggest that love often makes strong demands on us.  Deep love happens in the dark and tough events of life.  The “Jesus on the cross”… kinds of events. The sacrificial loss of life during war…. kinds of events.  First Responders putting their own lives in danger…kinds of events.

Real love means choosing to birth and love the baby in the womb who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.  That one stares me in the face every time I spend time with my six year old grandson, Jacob. Love is being in for the long haul.

Real love means working hard on marriage, sitting with a counselor and walking through the human sin areas to get to the other side. 

Real love may take the form of “tough love” with an errant teenager or a loved one who needs help with an addiction. 

Real love may be choosing to make funds available for a ministry instead of purchasing more ____ (fill in the blank). “Sacrificial giving”?  It doesn’t even compare with the sacrifice Jesus made as he looked down from the cross, praying,” Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

There is an old song containing the words, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”  I would certainly agree with those words but I wonder if the writer had a clue how much the world needs real love.

There are many verses in the Bible on love; after all, the Bible is the greatest love story ever told. 1 Corinthians 3:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”   There are also scriptures highlighting God’s love for us using words like “discipline”, “reproves”, “speaking truth”. (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 2:6, Revelation 3:19, to name a few.)

As we approach Valentine’s Day, let’s turn our hearts toward the God Who spoke love to us through the words of His book.  As we pray for guidance and direction, I challenge us to allow God to reprove and discipline us.  What is He asking me or you to do?  How much do we actually love God?  Is He our ALL or do we place Him out of sight at times?

I love my “Chick Flicks” and romance novels but what I want most of all is to deeply love The One Who created me, the One Who rescued, redeemed and restored me.  You know that picture Henry drew?  I envision God and I wrapping our arms around each other when I step into eternity and I can’t wait to hear the words, “Judy, I love you” as I look at Jesus’ nail pierced hands.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Zoning Out

One of the great blessings of this season of my life is the freedom I have to travel.
Often my travels take me to Portland, OR where 2 of the most wonderful grandchildren live!  (I know, I’m a wee bit biased.)  But my most recent adventure took me to North Carolina.  In the middle of a frigid, wintry Upper Peninsula day, I got an overwhelming urge to visit my BFF.

Thankfully, I was able to get a last minute ticket at a reasonable cost. After running my plans through my hubby, and with no commitments pending that were not changeable, I got online and booked my ticket.

It was a wonderful week, filled with relaxing moments, the sharing of our lives, good food, movies and quiet time. It was a time of refreshment and regeneration that flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to head home. 

VERY early (try 3:15am!) on the morning of my departure my friend drove me to the airport, a tough hour for a non morning person like me.  After checking my bag, I headed to my gate.  Thankfully everything went like clockwork and soon I was on my way.

I made my connecting flight in Detroit (I never just assume that is going to happen per previous experiences!) and by the time I boarded I was tired and ready to be home.  As I was settling in for my short flight the flight attendant got on the PA system; he ran through the usual instructions about seat belts and “in case of a water landing”, how to manage the air mask, etc.  I zoned out having heard that message so many times.

And then a very real thought came to me. “What if…?” What if suddenly there was a real emergency?  I asked myself if I would truly remember all of those instructions when it really mattered.  Would I remember where to find my life jacket?  Would I remember where my closest exit was?  How easy it was to just zone out when I was getting instructions I had heard so many times!

Hmm. That gave me pause…and I connected this experience with my walk with Jesus. I began to ponder over the many times I have heard Bible stories, or read familiar verses.  What about John 3:16?  That verse has been recited and heard so many times that I wonder if it has become almost too familiar?  The story of Jesus’ birth or the description of the Easter events…all familiar for someone like me who has been in church most of her life.

Here is my “profound thought” when the storms of life hit me and I am floundering: Where do I turn when I can’t easily discern direction, and chaotic thoughts abound? As a follower of Jesus, I become desperate for comfort, direction, guidance and peace.  Those wonderful Bible stories and lessons become very valuable, life-saving even.  At that point in time, even if I have zoned out on them in the past, I urgently want to remember what God says in His Word.

In Luke, chapter 24 we read about the women who went to the tomb of Jesus, having no idea what they would actually encounter. They were unprepared for what they saw…the empty tomb.  Two men (angels?) spoke to them, reminding them of all Jesus had told them about what was going to happen to Him.  And the scriptures say, “and they remembered His words”.  I want to remember the stories taught to me over and over again from God’s Word.  Unlike the airplane experience, I don’t want to zone out on God’s timeless Truths…ever again.

John 12:16, “His disciples did not remember these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him.”  Those disciples who had traveled with Jesus throughout His brief time on earth…do you suppose they occasionally “zoned out” when Jesus was preaching?  Or at the very least were distracted by other thoughts?  Praise God for how He brought His Truths into the minds of Jesus’ followers when they most needed them.

What about you?  Have you heard stories and verses over and over again and “zoned out”?  I challenge you (and me) to allow fresh breezes to fan the timeless Truths of the Bible.  Will you join me in reveling in the Truth of God’s Word, no matter how many times you have heard it?  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

HOPE and New Beginnings

I don’t know about you but, truth be told, I’m not one for New Years Eve celebrations.  You know the kind: party hats, Auld Lang Syne, toasting the old and ringing in the new…that.  Oh, there was a time when those traditions were important but as I age, I am content to “celebrate” within the warmth of my own home.

Today is the very first day of 2018 and, true to my previous statement, Charlie and I enjoyed a quiet evening at home.  Actually, it was rather amazing that we both stayed awake long enough to watch the ball drop in Times Square!    

However, something of significance did happen right outside our living room window. We are immensely blessed to live in a community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where trees, lakes and wildlife are inherent in our geographic DNA.  We have snow and very cold temperatures right now, another good reason to stay indoors.

In the midst of the ordinariness of life, I heard the sounds of fireworks.  Yes! Our small city was enjoying its own version of the NYC fireworks and “ball drop”; only here it is a “pasty drop”.  (The pasty is a local food with a fascinating history…not to be confused with pastie!)  Our local park, just blocks away, hosted both events and we loved watching the fireworks from our living room window as they exploded their vibrant colors across the sky.

As we focused on the excitement outside, a word flashed through my mind.  As we basked in the light and warmth of our fireplace, grateful to NOT be outdoors in the frigid air, the word HOPE danced through my brain and around my heart.  A simple word filled with profound meaning.  How is it that in this world with so much sadness and suffering, we continue to look forward with HOPE

So many of my friends and loved ones are struggling in different ways.  Marriages are stressed, finances inadequate, health threatened.  How can we approach a new year with so much HOPE?  If it depends on wealth….well we know how quickly that can disappear.  A phone call after a lab test can change a HOPE that is anchored in good health.  A house/business fire can make worldly goods and jobs disappear within minutes.

1st Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living HOPE (my emphasis) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, …”

Romans 15:13, “May the God of HOPE (emphasis mine) fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in HOPE.” (emphasis mine)

Do you get that?!  We have every reason to celebrate, to set off fireworks, to proclaim and laugh and rejoice. When we truly comprehend that our HOPE is not in the things of this world…then we know the health report, bank statement or even the worst catastrophe we can imagine cannot keep us from the HOPE that lies in Jesus.

He is coming back! (1st Thessalonians, chapters 4 and 5).  Maybe 2018 will be the year of His return.  Why not?!  In Revelation 21:5 Jesus says He will make all things new. We don’t have to wait on His return to experience new life.  II  Corinthians 5:17 promises that when we put our trust in Jesus, WE BECOME NEW!

I can’t think of a better way to look forward to a year filled with HOPE than to sink deeply into the promises God gave us through His Son, Jesus.  What a wonderful way to approach the unknown. We may not know what is ahead but God is already there.  We can hold to the same promise Jesus made to His disciples when he said He had prepared the way. (John 14)
I don’t know about you, but my HOPE is in the One whose birthday we recently celebrated.  Jesus was born into humble beginnings, lived a perfect life, suffered on the cross, died, was buried and then resurrected from the dead. From the cross He declared, “It is finished.”  He paved the way.  His life, death and resurrection means, when we make Jesus Lord of our lives, we have HOPE for today as well as for eternity.   

Have a happy, HOPE filled New Year!