February 21, 2012

My Journey to Christ's Heart (And My Own)

My earliest memories of Church are from a small Church of Christ in rural NorthEast Texas. When I would spend time at my Grandparents house, my dear Grandmother would take me each Sunday morning to services and Sunday school. When I was very young, I mostly remember the loud, old-time Gospel preaching, and not having an understanding of what The Lord's Supper really was (my cousin and I thought it was mean that they were having a snack in the middle of church service, but wouldn't let us have any! We figured out what it was about after a couple of years, though.) I really had no exposure to any other denominations, and even though I saw their buildings, I had no understanding of doctrinal differences until I was in high school.

We never went to church in my own home as a child, but in my freshman year of high school, my Mother decided we needed to go on Easter Sunday. We went to our local Church of Christ, and I ran into several of my friends there. I wound up going back the next Sunday, and stayed at that church through the rest of high school. We had an active youth group and a good youth minister that wasn't afraid to answer the tough questions that we had about the Bible and its teachings. Once I graduated, though, I simply quit going anymore.

Throughout my twenties and early thirties, I never went to church at all, but started attending another Church of Christ in my mid-thirties, after an invitation from a friend. This was a much smaller congregation than the one I attended in my youth, only about 250 members. The evangelist was dynamic, edifying, and informative, and taught a great in-depth Bible class. I wound up becoming great friends with him (and still am), and his eldest son has been one of my closest friends ever since. I wound up leading singing and prayers, and loved that church, especially since it had the feel of the church that my Grandmother had always taken me to. That feeling wouldn't last, though.

An important detail that I left out previously was that I had gotten divorced a few years before I started attending that church. And, with this being on the fairly conservative side of the Church of Christ, I was relegated to being single the rest of my life there. Not that the doctrine said that, but the attitudes there were such that in the eyes of the eldership and most of the members, getting remarried after a divorce was a sin equal to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. I was told by one of the elders that if I even started dating someone that I would be subject to disciplinary action. All of that left me with such a distaste for church that I vowed to never set foot in a Church of Christ again, save for a wedding or a funeral.

About a decade passed before I wanted to attend church on a regular basis, and I wound up attending my present church through an act of Providence. My high school choir, and our old director had a reunion after twenty something years, and were given the opportunity to rehearse some of our old songs, and then perform them at the church service the next morning. It was the beginning of my journey to seek Christ's heart. An old friend from high school and I wound up falling in love after that reunion, and she was the first person to ever encourage me to try and feel God's love. This was a completely foreign idea to me, and I thought that I would never be able to have any kind of understanding of that. 

Anyway, I began attending the church that hosted our reunion (a Disciples of Christ congregation, with the same basic beliefs as the Church of Christ, as they were formed from the same movement in the early 1800's), and even sang in their choir for a few months. My work schedule was such for a while that it was difficult to stay awake on Sunday morning, so I stopped going for a while. With the help of my great boss, I was able to get my schedule adjusted to where I could attend again (and be able to stay awake!), and get involved in some of the activities. 

While the Disciples of Christ and the Church of Christ sprang from the same movement, this church had a completely different feel to it than to what I was accustomed, and some of these things took some getting used to. It was very foreign to me to be at a church service that had women in leadership and preaching roles, as the churches I had previously attended were completely male in any sort of leadership or evangelism. They also follow the Liturgical calendar concerning Christ's birth, death and resurrection, which was different for me, yet very comforting somehow. The thing about this congregation, and of the new co-pastors, that helped bring me to a turning point was the emphasis that was less on belief and obedience and more on loving Christ. 

"Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself." These words of our Lord were merely an intellectual concept in my head until recently. During the Advent season, there were great services building the anticipation of His birth, including Taizé services on Wednesday evenings. I was left with a huge and growing sense of His holiness and my need for His redemption. On Christmas Eve, there was a candlelight service that left me with a huge sense of awe and serenity, yet also with some emptiness. With Christmas falling on a Sunday last year, the regular service the next morning brought fulfillment and completion to the celebration of His birth the previous night.

From all those years ago in my childhood, when I thought that the grown-ups were having a snack, to that Christmas morning, the full meaning of the breaking of the loaf and partaking of the cup in remembrance of Him, made the long journey from my head to my heart. That morning, in the center of the tray that held the fruit of the vine, was one cup with oil that was scented with frankincense and myrrh. We were encouraged to dip our finger in that cup and make a cross on our foreheads. The scent of the gifts given to Him by the magi, the remembrance of the supreme gift He gave to us, they pierced my heart and let out the things that had been keeping me from the change, the metanoeo that took me from believing in Him to falling in love with Him.

After the first of the year, our co-pastor, Mindy, led a class on transformational discipleship. Even though I didn't do the work as well as I would have liked, the studies and exercises brought me to where I came to love Him, as well as feel and understand His love for me. In recent weeks, Jason Gray's beautiful song, "More Like Falling In Love", has come to life for and in me. (And you should definitely check out all of Jason's music, not only for the love of Jesus that is in his songs, but also because he is a great singer and songwriter.)

I'm caught up, called out, convicted and pardoned, given a new path and a new direction. All from learning to fall in love...

And now I have an ever deeper appreciation of the Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Wisdom is neither intellectual knowledge nor experiences of the heart; it's a working and living combination of the two. And I'm ready to grow in His wisdom. It's been shouting from the rooftops for me since long before I was born.

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