Scriptural References:

Romans 5:1-11

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a]have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we[c] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! 10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,[b] but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

January 17th will be the one year anniversary of my near death experience (when my bowel ruptured and I needed emergency surgery). A lot has happened since then. Especially in my walk with Christ.

This year has been quite a voyage of discovery at what it means to me to be a Christian and I thought I’d share that with all of you today if you don’t mind.

Of course the first thing I learned is not necessarily about Christianity per se, but about life in general. The vast majority of things we deem important and worth worrying about are not. The car being a clunker, the spouse’s annoying habits, the kids’ grades, the nosy neighbors, the past due bills, and what Congress is voting on that day DO NOT MATTER when you’re facing death. Which means in retrospect, they don’t matter at all in the long run and often merely serve as distractions from what really is important. What matters ultimately is where we stand with God. And so I learned to put my relationship with God first ALL THE TIMES. Granted, it wasn’t always easy and I often had to remind myself (on some days on a minute by minute basis) of what was most important: where do I stand with God? Okay, sometimes I still need a minute-to-minute reminder!!! (Matthew 6:19-21 & 33)

This year I learned that to know where I stood with God I had to be cognizant of where He stood with me. Was He coming first? Am I putting His will first and am I actively doing things the way He wants me too with the ATTITUDE He wants me to? (Genesis 4:7)

In actively working to keep God first I finally saw that God takes care of things. I need not worry about them. If it’s a concern, pray about it. If it’s enough of concern action is warranted, seek guidance through prayer (talking to God), meditation (listening to God), study of His Word, and by turning to fellow believers who have experience in related matters for their prayer, encouragement, and if necessary, guidance. More often than not, I didn’t need to do anything other than those things. And when I did, instead of handling it MY way (as wise as my ways may seem), but handling them God’s way, the concerns were minimized if not completely removed. (Matthew 6:25-34, Romans 8:28-39)

This led me to realize what it truly means to be a living sacrifice for Christ and dying to the flesh. It was not just about behavior and living righteously. Even Hitler was a deeply patriotic non-smoker, non-drinker, and vegetarian who generously took care of close family and friends. However, he was full of hate for those he deemed inferior for various reasons. It’s not just about moral behavior, it is about attitude: the sum of my thoughts and opinions. I finally got that God’s ways are not MY ways, which is to say the ways of the world. Literally everything I know (or think I know) is not Godly. I see EVERYONE and EVERYTHING, including myself, through a glass dimly. I must surrender what I think, feel, and “know” to God so He can make that glass less and less dim as time goes on. Living as a sacrifice is not just about behavior, it’s about surrendering EVERYTHING I AM: my attitude (the sum of my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs). (Isaiah 55:8-9, Romans 12:1-21)

Additionally, by accepting that God ways are not my (or the world’s) ways, including how I might go about solving my and/or the world’s problems, and accepting the fact only God knows all, I only know things in part or in error, I was able to achieve a more humble and loving attitude. I judged others less and loved them more. I learned I need to pray for their spiritual condition and MY attitude toward them and not to condemn them (even or especially in the face of certain news headlines or when certain “pet sins” came up). Simple, yet so difficult!!! Of course, there are days when this is still a struggle for me, but God grants me many opportunities to continue growing in this regard! I’d say He grants me DAILY chances to grow in this area of my spiritual walk!!! (1 John 4:20, Matthew 7:1-5, 1 Timothy 2:1-4 & 8)

Of course, this led to a true understanding of obedience. It’s not enough to do what is expected. Even non-believers more often than not will try to live according to the way they believe is “right.” True obedience means doing things joyfully. Doing things because we want to please God. Not just because it’s what is expected. Not just because we want to feel good about ourselves. Or because we think it will somehow benefit us. True obedience is a joyful experience because it draws us closer to God and so we want to do the things He commands! (John 14:15, John 15:10, Luke 11:28, Psalm 119:59)

I learned about rejoicing in all things. No matter how difficult or bad, rejoice! Good things are a blessing from God. A visible sign of His love for us. Every breath is a gift. And difficulties, even crises, are ways for us to further demonstrate faith in God, trust that He will see us through. Difficulties and crises are ways to experience further death to our flesh and to develop spiritually. Do we trust God to see us through? Do we apply His teachings in how to handle these things? Are we thankful ahead of time that He will indeed save us and use these times for our own good? This is what it means to rejoice in all things! However, if we “stress,” worry, grumble, or merely complain, we are not rejoicing which means we are not being truly obedient, not entirely trusting in God, and we are ultimately not putting Him first. (Philippians 4:4, Psalm 5:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Romans 5:3, Proverbs 15:13)

Finally, I realize Salvation is not a one time experience where we say the Sinner’s Prayer and then go about our daily lives as if nothing happened. Salvation isn’t even repenting, then giving up bad or sinful habits as much as we are able, going to Church every week if we can, and reading the Bible when we “have time” hoping to change through some sort of spiritual osmosis with no real commitment on our end. Nor is it “taking charge” of our lives committing to perfection by being only focused on the do’s and don’ts of life, come hell or high water, so we can feel legitimately “saintly.” (Galatians 2:16, Romans 3:27-28)

Salvation is waking up every morning being thankful we woke up and have another chance to serve God. Rejoicing for that and for Him. Asking for each and every opportunity to grow, experience His love, and to share that love with others. Trusting that it will be so. And working as a partner with Christ and His Holy Spirit as the day progresses experiencing spiritual transformation: death to the flesh and a deepening faith. (Romans 8:13 & 12:1-2, Titus 2:11-12)

Salvation is the choice to recognize and accept God’s grace: that God loves us and loved us first even though we in no way deserved it. We have His unmerited favor. And having His unmerited favor we should always be full of joy, peace, and love, and sharing that with everyone around us. So simple, yet so difficult! (1 John Chapter 4)

I realize that joy should surround me like a cloak of light. People should look at me and see love, peace, and joy. They should experience grace, GOD’S grace through me. Even in, or especially during, the midst of times that bring stress, grief, and sorrow. If I put God first in my life there’s no room for sorrow, worry, and negativity. There is only room for grace. (1 Samuel 2:3-4, Psalm 89:15)

As I write this I can honestly confess I still have a long way to go. Just today I was reminded how quickly and easily a crisis can show up and knock us off our proverbial feet. And I am sure I will struggle with my flesh and a lack of faith on and off during my entire life. However, I know how to get through those times: trust God, pray, meditate, study, talk with other believers, oh, and did I mention, TRUST GOD!!! Which is what I’m doing right now as I write this with a hurting tummy that feels full of razor blades.

My prayer for you that are reading this is that you experience God’s ever abiding love and grace daily in your life and that you increasingly grow aware of it. That you find continual opportunities to grow spiritually by dying to the flesh and developing your faith. That each and every day you find ways to rejoice because God loves you and you have His grace that will keep you safe in His palm and transform you! Please keep me in your prayers as well for I always need them! Thank you!

God bless you and keep you.