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New Year, New Heart, New Start - Understanding 2 Corinthians 5

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What do Max, the Geico pig, and I have in common? A heart.

Specifically, Max and I depend on a pig’s mitral valve to keep us alive. Max gets to keep his valve for a lifetime, while I received a replacement valve from another member of the swine family.

The repair and recovery process began on September 17. Dr. Michael W. Lee led a team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and medical personnel into an operating room at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan and replaced a defective part of my heart with a pig's mitral valve.

The mitral valve is one of four heart valves. Its primary responsibility is to move the oxygen-rich blood in the lungs into the heart. If the valve is not working properly, it causes excessive strain on the heart and lungs as they fight to get the oxygenated blood equally balanced and distributed throughout the body.

It was after the surgery that the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 began to reshape my thoughts about life, living and purpose. I started with my favorite verse.

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things (have) passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:17, New American Standard Bible)

I distinctly remember this was the first verse that came to mind when I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit 40 years ago at University Christian Church in East Lansing, Michigan. All my Christian friends and I were excited, because I would be a new and different creature serving in the name of Christ.

Now 75 days after my life-saving surgery and with a new year just two hours away, I have a similar feeling. I consider it a new start with a new heart.

After spending the first eight and a half months of 2013 dealing with a defective heart valve that left me tired and short of breath, 2014 looks inviting and exciting to me. As the recuperation from major surgery continues, I feel a renewed sense of momentum stirring me onward.

I feel a need to study God's Word more intensely and, like any good student of The Bible, I wander deeper into 2 Corinthians 5 and look at the verses surrounding verse 17. It is like peeling back the layers of an onion.

"Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation," (2 Corinthians 5, verses 16-18)

The "Therefore" at the beginning of this passage tells me there is a huge "If', then" statement in the verses prior to verse 16. For example, verses 14 and 15 say this:

"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."

I prefer the New International Version of verse 14 that says the love of Christ compels us to believe that Jesus died for me so that we may live. And if we believe Jesus is the Savior and the Christ, then we must respond by no longer living for ourselves but for Him who rescued us. Verse 18 takes it a step further by reminding our to keep our egos and self-interests in check, because "all these things are from God."

For what purpose did God give you and me these things? The end of verse 18 says that God gave us these things so we can be His ministers of reconciliation.

We need to remember that the Apostle Paul wrote and sent this second letter to the Christians at Corinth. They have received prior instruction from Paul and others plus they have the first letter that he sent them. Wouldn't it be interesting to get a letter from one of God's messengers at the beginning of 2014?

So if we no longer recognize people in the flesh (verse 16), then we have overcome a judgmental obstacle that prevents us from being successful as ministers of reconciliation (verse 20). I pray that we discard any judgmental attitudes in 2014 and model the grace, mercy and forgiveness of Jesus.

There's another "Therefore" statement in verse 11.

"Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. We are not again commending ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you." (2 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Could verses 11-13 be a description of you? Do you have a healthy fear of the Lord that persuades you to have a sound mind and conscience as Christ's representative on earth?

We can give thanks "that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Corinthian 5:19)" I am including Christians in 2014 as being part of the "us" in this verse.

The reality as stated in the first 10 verses of 2 Corinthians 5 is we are all going to die, but death does not mean the end of existence for a Christian.

'"For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, Inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight— we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)

The 5th chapter ends with a reminder of the role we can play in the world.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21)

I hope and pray that you'll be a great ambassador for Christ in 2014.

Feel free to share your feedback, insights, suggestions or questions. My twitter ID is @denimartin. You can also comment on this article or send an email to deni-martin@att.net.

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