For six years I have attended Night of Joy at one of the Disney Theme Parks. For those of you who do not know what Night of Joy is, let me inform you. There are actually two nights that are spanned by this event and it usually takes place on the second Friday and Saturday in September.
The event itself is a series of concerts that are played simultaneously across the Park. The musicians and singers are all Christian music performers. On these concert nights the Park is closed earlier than usual to regular patrons and only Night of Joy ticket holders are allowed into the Park for the evening’s entertainment.
I participated in my first Night of Joy in 2004 and it was held in Magic Kingdom. Last year and this year the event was held in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Although the backdrop of Cinderella’s castle was always very magical, after two year’s experience at Hollywood Studios I think my preference lies with the latter. There just seems to be easier access to and more space for the performers and the patrons.
I will never forget my first Night of Joy. I had no idea what to expect. I was not yet “into” Christian music. I had heard some on the radio (check out 88.1 The Promise in the Jacksonville, FL area), and I liked most of it. Some of the “heavy/hard rock” groups didn’t attract me, but that’s an age thing:-).
As I listened to the first concert get into full swing I noticed an immediate surge of energy all around me. Don’t misunderstand me. I have been to other “pop” concerts over the years and there is always energy with the music. There is always energy with music, period. It’s an expression of energy by the musicians and the audience responds in like manner.
But there was something different; a totally different kind of “buzz”. I checked out all around me and realized that I was surrounded by young people, by old people, by couples, by families, by singles, by groups. There was a cross ethnic, cross generational theme everywhere I looked. But there was a focus, an excitement, an intenseness spritzing off of everyone, and it was very contagious.
Almost everyone, no matter what age group they belonged to, knew the words to the songs. Almost everyone was singing out joyously. There were people with one hand lifted to the sky. Yet others had both hands raised. I suddenly realized by about the third song that I was in the middle of one huge glorious worship service.
Who knows what different church denominations were represented there in that moment. I know I saw some groups wearing T-shirts that identified themselves as belonging to a particular church or Christian youth group. They were many and varied. Yet the one unifying desire was to be there to worship and glorify God, Creator, Spirit. A yearning, if you will, to recognize and acknowledge the One, the Supreme Being who gives us life. It was electrifying.
I am not a “holy roller” (whatever that may be). Although there are a few Bible verses that I can quote and reference and there are others that I can paraphrase, I am not someone who can spout from the Bible at any and every occasion. I do not wear “sack cloth and ashes” and I really hope I don’t portray a “holier than thou” attitude.
When I’m not dealing with that pesky de-pression stuff, I consider myself to be a fun-loving, joy-filled, and joyful person in my day-to-day dealings with life. But that evening I experienced joy on a level that I had never experienced before. It was the kind of joy that filled me up, raised me up, and had me overflowing with happiness and gratitude. The kind of joy that had me laughing, smiling, singing (when I knew the words!), and crying all at one time.
My husband did not come with me that first year. It had been a “girl’s night” treat with a couple of my girl friends. But when the following year rolled around, based on my experience the previous year, he wanted to participate and we went as a family with our daughter. He and I have not missed a year since, although because of last minute work travel in 2008 he had to surrender his ticket to one of my friends.
Each year has been different and yet each year has been the same. The bands and the individual singers may change and rotate, but the energy and enthusiasm of the people who come to listen, sing, and worship remains the same. And they come from all over. Most of the States are represented and I have even met people from Canada, UK, and South America. If you want to experience an uplifting, interdenominational worshipping of God, I highly recommend that you plan a Night of Joy at Disney.
Yes, that’s the Matthew in the Bible, so if you’re not “into” the Bible you might be feeling turned off right now. However, I encourage you, dare you even, to be open-minded and see what I have to say. I’ve already declared myself in previous blogs as “spiritual”, but I think I’ve also shown you that I’m not “holier than thou” and that I have a great sense of humor. So come along for the ride.
I was asked to do a reflection on this Bible verse for a candlelight service that was part of a retreat. No guidelines were given other than I had about seven minutes to speak. So I looked up the verse in the Bible to get the exact words. In my version it went like this:
“Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
So I sat back and I thought about Peter. He’s depicted in the Bible as rather an impetuous person, someone who led with his impulses and instincts rather than his brain. Hot-headed might be another way to put it. He’s quite a lot like many of us. I know he’s most definitely like me.
If I had a button to access that governed my actions it would probably be labeled “bulldozer”. I’ve already admitted several times that I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. I can still act without thinking things through clearly, throwing myself headlong and with great enthusiasm into whatever the latest project is. Can any of you identify?
Jesus was working with what he had available at the time and I find it interesting that he chose everyday, normal people to be his disciples. He didn’t pick out the learned or the scholarly. He picked fishermen and tax collectors, and during his day-to-day life he associated with the locals and even the “low lifers”.
I’m personally very grateful for that. It allows me, and many others I believe, to identify with these people and realize that if they were worthy then perhaps I too am worthy. If they could sit and talk and eat with Christ then maybe I can get close to him too.
And so Christ chose Peter, an imperfect man, to become the first leader of his church. Peter’s original name was Simon, but Christ renamed him Peter, which means “rock”. With that in mind I began thinking about this reflection and what I wanted to say. As I tossed the word “rock” around in my head, trying to relate it to my own experience, I began to smile.
You see, I am in a recovery program and when I stumbled upon it some thirty years ago, I heard the phrase “rock bottom” used frequently. It means that each person, before they can turn their life around, has to plummet to the very depths. He or she has to arrive at a point of despair and then be willing to surrender totally. And out of that despair,he or she needs to find a certain level of humility laced with a goodly dose of courage in order to ask for help.
So “rock bottom” tends to have a rather negative meaning attached to it. It’s kind of like a necessary evil. It’s a really bad, difficult place one has to get to before any good can come about. But the more I thought about it I realized that reaching rock bottom could be viewed very differently. Rock bottom could be seen as a place of firmness, of stability, and of strength. But before getting down to that base line of solid rock I had to clear away all the mud and filth and muck of my previous lifestyle.
In Ephesians 4:17-19 (yes, I’m going to quote a bit more Bible!!), Paul encourages us to turn our backs on our old way of life. "….you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God ……… they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.”
Ouch!! I don’t know about any of you, but that struck a chord with me. That was how I was living before I turned my life around. So I had to do some house-cleaning. I had to change old behaviors and attitudes. I had to look into all the nooks and crannies, all the hidden recesses, and dig out all those dark secrets that I had been carrying around for years and throw them out. It reminded me of a song back in the sixties or seventies (may have been Kenny Rogers) that talked about the skeletons that we keep “chained to the walls of the dungeons in our minds”. Once this was done I had my firm rock on which I could build my new life.
Therefore just as Christ called upon Peter to be the rock upon which he intended to build his church (and “church” for those of you who do not worship in a specific religion can mean whatever decent way of life you are called to live), so I believe he calls upon each and every one of us to become that rock. Let’s keep that in mind. Let’s be encouraged to be decent human beings. Let’s keep our house clean and that rock cleared of debris so that Christ can use us to his purpose. Let’s be strong with each other so that “all the powers of hell will not conquer (us).”
I have mentioned Max Lucado several times in other postings. I continue to say that he is my favourite spiritual author and is a daily companion for me through his writings. This morning I was carrying my meditation books out to the screened room where I spend my morning quiet time. Max Lucado’s book Grace For The Moment fell to the floor and opened at the page for November 30 which carried this topic: “Ponder the Love of God”.
It seemed like a good thing to ponder in my quiet time. To help you set the scene in your head and your heart I’ll give you the rest of the page. The Bible verse was Ephesians 3:18 – “I pray that you …. will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love – how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is.” Lucado’s comments that followed were: “There is no way our little minds can comprehend the love of God. But that didn’t keep Him from coming…… From the cradle in Bethlehem to the cross in Jerusalem we’ve pondered the love of our Father. What can you say to that kind of emotion? Upon learning that God would rather die than live without you, how do you react? How can you begin to explain such passion?”
Ephesians reminded me of a CREDO Team Retreat that I attended several years ago in a 14th century monastery on the side of a hill just south of Rome, Italy. The monastery was named after Saint Sosio. Set in rich green woodland it was soaked in spirituality. During one of the sessions the Chaplain who was leading the retreat posed this question to us: “What word comes to mind when you think of God?” A litany of adjectives such as “awesome”, “wondrous”, “mighty”, “compassionate”, “majestic” were pronounced. But the only word that would come to my mind was “huge”. In my nightly gratitude journal I faithfully open each entry with “My HUGE God”.
I then remembered a Club Beyond youth retreat that I helped to chaperone in another location in Italy. It was not quite as “spiritually soaked” as San Sosio but it was very beautiful and certainly spiritual enough for the odd band of teens that we accompanied there! A guest speaker had been arranged for Saturday evening (I do not remember his name), but his words have remained indelibly printed on my heart. I believe he was referring to something that the author Brennan Manning wrote when he challenged all the teens to take into their hearts the fact that “God was madly, passionately in love with them”.
Isn’t that what Lucado is talking about too? I have several of the pages in Grace For The Moment with the corners turned down. Most of them refer to God’s love for us. In his comments on March 10 he writes: “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning…….. He can live anywhere in the universe, and He chose your heart…. Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.” This is just what that Saturday night speaker was talking about too.
And on February 18 under the theme “God Cares About You”, here is what Lucado writes. “Consider the earth! As you stand .. observing God’s workshop, let me pose a few questions. If He is able to place the stars In their sockets and suspend the sky like a curtain, do you think it is remotely possible that God is able to guide your life? If your God is mighty enough to ignite the sun, could it be that He is mighty enough to light your path? If He cares enough about the planet Saturn to give it rings or Venus to make it sparkle, is there an outside chance that He cares enough about you to meet your needs?”
When I look at my life and see the miracles that God has wrought there once I became willing to allow Him into my life, I am sometimes totally overcome. When I think of the dark hole that I used to exist in (I cannot say “live in”), and I know the light and the joy that fill my life today, I know that God loves me passionately. I know that He is crazy about me and that He truly cares about me.