With the funeral of Billy Graham, a new phase of my own life starting and a general re-dedication to being a good Christ follower, I have been thinking about my own faith journey and how I have arrived at this point in my life. And although I firmly believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, I didn’t always take things as seriously as I do now.
When I was a young boy, we attended Sunday School each week. In fact, I met Janet at church way back in 1959 when we were both very young. Our parents attended adult Sunday School together and occasionally, my parents would take us to the church service in the sanctuary. Eventually, I was in the youth choir and remember Max Wilson, the Choir Director, very well.
In eighth grade, I went through the class to join the church and then became a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in June, 1966 at the age of 13. It was the same month that I graduated from Sutherland Elementary School. As I look back on those days, I suspect that I went through the motions of joining the church because it was the expected thing to do. Yes, I believed in God, His Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, but I really didn’t have any idea of the gravity of what I was committing to. And it never occurred to me that God would use me for anything – after all, I was a highly average guy.
Mom was a believer, but to this day, I think my father was an atheist. He attended church and never let us know about his own faith journey, but later on in life I found out that he had lost his faith at a rather young age and I don’t think he ever regained it. I guess, as a young person, it never occurred to me that somebody who didn’t believe in God would ever attend Sunday School or church services.
Janet has been a very faithful person for as long as I have known her. In fact, we had a discussion earlier today where she once again professed her deep faith in Jesus, the only one who will never disappoint us or fail to love us. I didn’t have that kind of faith early on. In fact, although I believed, I didn’t realize that there was so much more to having a relationship with Jesus than just believing.
Being around Janet all these years increased my own faith and, eventually, the tug of attending seminary was too much to ignore. Mind you, I always felt that I knew some of the “book” stuff about Jesus, but I never worked on having a real relationship with Him. We attended church for most of our marriage, but really committed to a Christ centered life when we were in our early forties.
Seminary was what really changed me. In fact, the reason I attended school was to enter into a deeper relationship with the One who created me. Along with the head knowledge, it was the heart knowledge that really changed me. In fact, the more I learned about Jesus, the more I wanted. Those years in seminary were the most fulfilling years of my entire life.
It wasn’t that I really wanted to attend school, but it was clear to me that I was missing something and that could only be solved by having a relationship with God. I guess you could say that I was drawn to school because I didn’t see a different way. As I look back on those days, I was excited, but scared. I was used to thinking that I was in control and now, for pretty much the first time in my life, I was the new kid and clearly didn’t have nearly as much knowledge about God as I needed to lead a fulfilling life. It was a humbling experience.
To cut to the chase, I learned more about God that I ever thought I would – and entered into a deeper relationship with Him than I ever thought possible. In short, I realized that I was experiencing everything I never knew that I wanted… I was exposed to an entirely new kind of love that I thought I had known from an early age – but I was wrong. There is more to all this than just being saved.
That’s the first step – but practicing how to be a Christian is the difficult part – and investing in a relationship with God is the most important and rewarding thing you can do. Our verse for this evening tells us about the peace of God. The apostle John tells us, in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
My encouragement tonight is that Jesus wants a relationship with each of us – the closest relationship each of us can have. My prayer is that as our relationship with Jesus get stronger throughout our lives, we can each experience things that we never knew we even wanted. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…