It's just two weeks before MIX 94.5 starts playing Christmas songs! One of my favorites is "Joy to the World." The second line in the song says, "The Lord has come." When I was twelve years old, He came to me. I'm not sure I came to Him.
In a little Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, I stood in the baptistry and said, "I believe, with all my heart, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God." In reality, I didn't know what that meant at the time. It was just what you did when you were twelve years old at that church. I don't recall feeling any differently when I came up out of the water. In fact, within a couple of years I had dropped out of church entirely. No one really seemed to care about me after I was baptized. Prior to my baptism, they were on me like a flea on a hound dog. I realized I was just another notch in someone's evangelism belt. I felt duped. I was bitter.
So God had to use another path to teach me about joy: the path of suffering. I was in a catastrophic car accident at age sixteen. I've written about it before. Everything in my life changed after the accident. There was a huge lawsuit. My parents divorced and filed for bankruptcy. My girlfriend ditched me. Soon, I was as lost as lost could be.
But a friend named Beverly reached out to me (still a friend today). I wasn't just an evangelism project to her; I was a person. She invited me to church, over and over. She knew I was miserable. She knew what I needed---joy. Eventually I stopped resisting and went to church with her. I didn't expect what I found...unconditional love. No one tried to change me; they just loved me. They accepted me. They affirmed me. They genuinely cared.
Before long I joined the youth choir. Friends at school thought I'd gone off the deep end. They said, "Why'd you go and get all 'religious' on us?" I smiled and said, "Because I found joy." "Well, what's THAT mean?" they asked. I said, "I found Jesus."
You see, Jesus...is joy. There's no joy without Him, but there's deep joy with Him. That realization changed my life.
Four years later, in college, I decided I wanted to be baptized again. I was talking to my roommate late one afternoon and said, "You know, Doug, I was baptized when I was twelve, but I didn't know then, what I know now." He asked, "What do you know now?" I said, "I know that I want to follow Jesus the rest of my life." Then I added, "I think I'd like to be baptized again, would you do it?" He was pretty nervous about the whole thing. He was the nervous type anyway. He said, "Where would we do it?" I said, "Let's drive over to Morehead and you can baptize me in the Cave Run Lake." I called my girlfriend (not the one who ditched me, but the one I met in youth choir, who is now my wife)! I asked if she would come. She said, "Absolutely." And so Doug, Linda and I jumped in the car and drove 30 miles to Cave Run Lake. The sun was starting to set on a clear, April evening. We waded out into the water, waist deep, just the three of us. I noticed the sun's reflection on the water. It made me happy.
Doug said, "Why don't you confess your faith in Jesus?" I said, "I believe, with all my heart, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God." This time, something was released inside me. I felt it. It was joy. Doug plunged me under the water. I remember that the water was dirty, but I felt clean. For the first time in my life, I was clean...on the inside...where it matters.
That was 42 years ago. It seems like yesterday. Joy's like that. It lasts. It lasts because its source never runs dry, and its source...is Jesus. I met Him in the water that evening and my life has never been the same.
Joy to the world! Why? The Lord has come! I'm so glad, aren't you?