Friday, April 21, 2006

LBY - Week Four - Joy

This past week Beth talked about five catalysts to true joy, and the fifth one - the idea that we as believers are catalysts of joy for each other, specifically in the context of the church - is HUGE to me, because it's a part of my Christian life that was missing for a long time.

For a significant chunk of my 20's I tried to rationalize why I didn't "need" church. I never turned away from my faith completely, but I definitely went through a period where the last item on my list was being one more face in the church crowd. I was pretty hung up on my perception that the church was hypocritical, that I didn't fit in with the holier-than-thou types, and that if the church I grew up in was indicative of what the Christian community had to offer, then thankyouverymuch - not interested.

I'm not exactly sure what my "baggage" was in regard to my home church. I think it was probably a combination of the fact that I knew too much of the behind-the-scenes info, I saw firsthand how hurtful people can be (the "critical spirit" that Beth mentioned last week), and more than anything, I had a ton of questions and no one I felt like I could go to for answers. On top of all that, I didn't have enough spiritual maturity to see that in the grand scheme of things, I shouldn't let all that junk get in between me and my relationship with God. So I just withdrew - gradually pulled away - and for about four years, I rarely, if ever, went to church. Was I still a Christian? Yes. Was I growing? No. And was "the joy of the Lord" my strength? Absolutely not.

Without going into the tale of the long and winding road that took me back to church, I will tell you that the latter part of my 20's was a time of great spiritual growth for me, mainly because of a Christian school where I worked in Baton Rouge and the church that David and I joined shortly after we married. In those two places I started to rediscover the 'core' of my joy - the part of me that had disappeared during those previous years when I had little, if any, fellowship with a church family.

But then we moved. And we realllly struggled finding a church here in Birmingham. In fact, if you had given us a list of all the churches in our area, I think our church - The Church at Brook Hills - would have been close to dead last in terms of being a place we thought we would join. Keep in mind that we're from hearty Methodist / Episcopalian stock, and prior to Brook Hills, David had never even attended a contemporary worship service. (Quick aside: I'll never forget that after the first time we visited BH with our friend Benji, I looked at D. and said, "So, what did you think?" His reply: "Well, they didn't bring out the snakes, so I guess THAT was good.") :-)

It gradually grew on us, though - because we really started to grow.

Now, four years later, I can't even describe the joy that I feel when I walk into our church...when I see Miss Margie sitting at the welcome desk...when I see Staci waiting for Alex at the children's check-in as he makes a total bee-line for her and throws his arms around her neck...when I see Kathy singing down on the front row, swaying to the point that her ponytail practically spins in circles on the back of her head...when I see Kevin, at age 29, speak with more intelligence and God-centered wisdom than many men twice his age...when I sit in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, and look around, and realize that we are in a church of 5,000 people, and we are totally, and completely, and utterly at home. That's some serious joy, my friends, and I know many of you experience that same joy in your own churches. Isn't it a blessing? Isn't it HUGE? For the longest time I was missing it - and I had no idea.

Over the last few weeks I've watched one of my closest friends rediscover church. My friend never abandoned the faith, but much like I did in my 20's, got burned out on religion and worn down by division in the body. However, God has really been at work in this person's heart, and to see the reconciliation and restoration that's taking place in my friend's life right now has been, well, joyful. Joy-filled, in fact. This past Monday, my friend emailed me to share some details about the Easter service they attended. As I read the description of how deeply the music touched my friend's heart, I was so encouraged and so grateful for God's faithfulness. Going back to church - back to the habit and heart of worship, back to an environment of fellowship - has absolutely multiplied my friend's joy, and let me tell you - it's contagious.

Hebrews 10:24-25 pretty much sums it up: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as others are in the habit of doing. But let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the day approaching."

Bottom line: I don't think we can overestimate or overstate the importance of community in terms of living the joyful Christian life...the importance of finding a church where we experience genuine fellowship and encouragement with other believers. You can have all the head knowledge in the world, but until you truly open your heart to God's people, you'll never fully experience one of the greatest blessings the Christian walk can offer: deep, abiding, and sustaining joy.

I don't know about y'all, but I want that. And I want for others to have it, too.

JannaFlipflop Robin
This is a list of the women participating in the study and the links to their blogs. New postings on the study will be published for the next ten weeks, between Friday 8pm - Saturday 8am. Please feel free to visit each of us and comment. Everyone is welcome to participate in this discussion as we seek to live beyond ourselves. May God bless you richly from the hearing of His word.


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