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.