NOEL – Fearless for Him

Carols Weekend 2018 is here.  I am looking forward to the weekend and sharing with the thousands who have tickets and who will watch via the web and television (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).

This year has had more than its share of challenges.  This is my 38th Carols (out of 49 total) and the challenges, at times, have been staggering. But, I was reminded last night in a conversation with a long time choir member, that this is not about us.  Not at all.  And if we lose our excitement in the pettiness of circumstances that surround us, then we have completely missed the point of why we lead worship (for we are all “worship leaders”) be it for Carols or on Sundays.

I do believe Carols is a time of worship – always have – and though there are performance elements to Carols (and for Sundays, for that matter), my personal conviction is that this is not a show or performance or maybe even a concert. It is a worship service and I try my best to treat it as such in how I spiritually and emotionally prepare. And no, I am not always successful because I am human and I allow myself to get distracted and derailed by circumstances that surround me.

nativity.jpgStill, I want to “be fearless in what sets my soul on fire” and that is to use the gifts I have been given to tell others about Jesus in the best way I know how (which frankly, my gifts may be interpreted by some as just being BOSSY!!).  This year I have had a chance to mentor some amazing young adults and often we have talked about this very thing, using the gifts God has given them fearlessly in pursuing their life goals – what truly has set their souls on fire.IMG_0325

I am praying for those participating, those coming, those leading, those supporting in countless roles, those extending the invitation to follow Jesus – that we will not be distracted by circumstances but will, instead, be fearless in sharing His Story from the fire that is within us.  Truthfully, we are going to be digging deep at times because Carols is physically draining but the JOY in sharing this gift with the community and the world WILL sustain us as we share what is on our hearts.  And because it is all for HIM then we should be without any kind of fear for He lives in us and sets our souls on fire if we allow Him to do so. I also pray that we will express this in how we approach each other and by what is seen on our faces and heard in our music.

Here we go. Lord, please show us the way and give us the courage to be fearless for You.

Still choosing joy!






It is Carols by Candlelight season again.  Countdown to dress rehearsal (December 5th) is 8 days. As always, there is much to be done – details done now so that worship can occur without disruption.

Perhaps, at times, we lose perspective when in the details.  True, we are dealing with some things this year that in 49 years have not been influencers or considerations. Yet, why we do Carols should not be impacted by that. The Story has not changed. The Message is constant. We must not allow WHY we do this to be buried in emotions and minutia. We must be prepared, thus focused – spiritually, prayerfully, physically, mentally.

While working with Annerin Long to prepare this year’s prayer emphasis for Carols Week, I looked back through the devotional book we published last year for Love Came for Me. It was good to revisit the scripture, to be reminded that our God is Sovereign, in control, not surprised by anything, wants the best for us as individuals and corporately, accessible.  Our problem, often, though, is that we look to Him last rather than first, put our desires ahead of His desires, turn away from Him rather than seek His face. Why? Because we are human and He allows us to make choices. He also reminds us, that there are consequences of those choices. I am charging myself to stay focused on Him. How can I share His Story with others who don’t know Him if I am not looking at Him?

The devotional thought I wrote last year was based on JOHN 1:16-17 – I thought I would share it here as a reminder to all of us (and especially me) that this is not at all about me. It is about Him!

For God loved the world in this way:He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Love Came for Me– how could that ever happen? Growing up in a small Mississippi town in the local First Baptist Church, we were taught early on that Jesus loved us and that we were to love Him. During Vacation Bible School in 1965, I gave my heart to Him. It hit me that day that His love was so strong that He chose to not only come to earth but to die for my sins as well. Love, Jesus, came for me.

Jesus is “That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5). Later John restates this when he says: “Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” (I John 1:5). Jesus did not just have love in His heart – He is love. Nothing Satan could throw at Him stopped His love for us, stopped His purpose in coming to earth as that tiny baby in that cold stable, stopped His facing harassment and condemnation we still cannot imagine, or stopped His facing the most horrible death imaginable.  Love Came for Me.  

Occasionally, I wonder what my condition would be had Jesus chosen not to come for me. Talk about lost and wandering! Really, it is beyond what I can now comprehend. Yet in my world today, and likely in the circle of influence of Carols by Candlelight, there are going to be those in the room or who happen to watch on television or other media that will wonder what in the world we are talking about? Surely, they are just putting on a show or retelling a fable. May that never be.

Following Carols one of the early years in the present Sanctuary, we determined that a young man who sat in the seats behind where the “boxes” are today, gave his life to Jesus. He tragically died in a car accident before Christmas that year and before anyone could follow-up with him. Since then, I keep that young man in my heart knowing that Love came for him, too. No matter what I am asked to do, no matter how tired I am, no matter even how many times things have to change for one reason or another, none of that is as important as that young man being with Jesus today or that there are others listening who need to know Him, too.

Jesus, thank you for coming for me. Thank you for a chance daily to tell others about You – all about You – Your coming, Your living here on earth, Your dying, and that You are coming again. Thank you for loving me enough to come for me. Amen

This year our theme is NOEL. Merriam-Webster defines noel from the French as a Christmas carol and from Latin natalis or birthday – in other words it is a carol about a birthday. What more important birthday will ever be celebrated than that of our Savior. I hope as we count down the days, deal with the tasks, learn the music, prepare ourselves in all the ways necessary, that we will indeed focus on this birthday of the only King that matters. Noel, noel, noel, noel; Born is the King of Israel!




babyBack in the late 1960s, there was a poster advertised in the back of the Baptist Training Union quarterly (yep – we had those).  The poster always intrigued me.  It said, “Faith is walking to the edge of all the light, and taking one more step.”  I first saw that some 50+ years ago and think about that often.  Hebrews 11:1 reminds us: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Just because we do not see something with our earthly eyes does not mean it does not exist or did not happen.

There are many situations we face that require us to reach deep within ourselves. We ask people to “believe” or question whether or not they have had a change of heart. And perhaps, we have to reach beyond the obvious to answer Why in order to reach the only Light that matters.

In John 8, Jesus says: I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life. Unlike the shepherds or wise men, I never physically saw Jesus.  I was not there in the fields singing with the angels or in that barn where He was born. I was not there in person with John and Mary at the foot of the cross. Unlike Mary Magdalene, I did not speak to Him in the garden or Thomas, I did not touch His side after His resurrection. Yet my belief in His Light, because of my faith, is every bit as real.

There are so many reasons to ask Why? Why has there been such catastrophe this week in East Tennessee? Why have several friends had serious accidents or health issues. Why don’t things work out they way we think they should? Why am I sweating details that are outside of my control for Carols? In context, those things are important. But, perhaps the focus is wrong.

You see, if we answer the question Why concerning Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, then all other asking of that question resolve themselves.  I am not talking about prosperity or no hard times or total good health or that bad things will no longer happen to good people – I am saying, though, that the end – the forever living with Jesus end – is handled – and the rest stretches us to live by faith to show others that regardless of circumstances – of how much darkness there may appear to be – We.Are.His.

That Baby. That Cross. That Empty Tomb. Each piece requires faith. Each requires the other or it is just a story. All three make it His Story. Can you answer Why?



Herding Cats (Again)

Carols by Candlelight 2015 – photo: Judy Rushing

‘Tis the season! You can interpret that in several ways but for this topic, the “season” referenced is Carols by Candlelight.  For the 47th year, First Baptist Jackson will present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the community and to the world through a celebration of music and worship using everything from dance to painting to video and probably some things/circumstances we don’t yet know about.  In 2016, the cast, crew, Worship Choir and Orchestra, focus on answering Why? Why did Jesus have to come?  I have seldom been a “why?” asker but in this context, the question is so very valid. The question and how it is answered or how you respond to it has eternal implications. For ticket information, go to It will also be streamed from the First Jackson website and later televised.

My primary role with Carols is to get the choir ready logistically.  I do my best to place them with a friend, where they can be comfortable physically, where the musical balance and perspective is right (voice parts matter!), where a new participant can “follow the leader” with someone who has done this before – really take care of the sweating the small stuff so they can be prepared musically and not have to think to much about other details – I point, stand them up, sit them down, give instructions relative to right now, changes, being flexible, etc.  It is a journey, for sure, and it requires a couple of fairly tedious rehearsals before folks are going with the flow and we begin to lead in worship rather than be bogged down in the details.

The first “nuts and bolts” rehearsal  is on what we call “Wednesday on Tuesday” – the Tuesday night of Thanksgiving Week. This is the night we assign folks their Carols positions and walk through the processional. It is also the night we join the Worship Choir regulars with our Student and College friends who are part of this ministry. It can be (and usually is) somewhat chaotic (and fun). And as I have shared several times over the years, it is like “herding cats” – according to Wikipedia, “an idiom denoting a futile attempt to control or organize a class of entities which are uncontrollable or chaotic” and best represented by EDS in their award-winning commercial: Herding Cats. (Disclaimer: I also identify with this because professionally I am a technology project manager!) This, for the record, is not my first “cat rodeo” as I have been a part of Carols and the Worship Choir since 1981 (my 36th) and have been the logistics guru since 1988 (thus my 29th).

I am by nature a perfectionist and this is never a perfect rehearsal (or process). I am going to miss something. Some change is going to have to be made to adjust for spacing, microphones, height, someone not being there, someone I left off the list (it happens) – and I have had to learn over the years to Get.Over.It. God is honored by what I do for Him – not by my frustrations!

I answered Why? when I was nine years old. During Vacation Bible School, the pastor asked us to personalize John 3:16 KJV: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. His instructions were to replace “the world” with your name. Boom! I recall the exact feeling today that I had 50 years ago. God sent Jesus to save me. As I grew, I realized that His coming was not all and not enough. Jesus also had to die for me and come out of that earthly tomb to live again so that I could live with Him forever. And I accept, without question or reservation, that He will come back again.

So pray for us as we get ready to share with 15,000+ about Jesus. Pray that we can help others to answer that question of Why? for themselves.  Not being disrespectful, but I suspect God knows a lot more about “herding cats” than I do.

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Hebrews 6:10-12 NIV







What Love Is This?

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

James 1:6 (NIV)

Once again, it is time for Carols By Candlelight. Beginning in 1970, First Baptist Jackson annually shares the Gospel of Jesus Christ through music and drama.  Over the part few years, the Music and Worship Ministry has prayerfully and with intention refocused our attention to presenting the entire Story in a clear and convincing way in order to reach the lost in our community.

Since joining the Sanctuary (now Worship) Choir in 1981 just prior to Carols (talk about a “stupid sheep” – some reading this will “get that”),  my commitment was and continues to be “all in”. Some years I am better prepared spiritually and mentally (and even physically) than others but my commitment does not waiver. I believe that is how God intends you to respond when He calls you to do something. I have wished, at times, He might call me to do something else. So far, through many ups and downs, He continues to reinforce that call to serve through this ministry.

About this time each year, I wonder about a lot of things. I go to bed and get up in the morning with Ring the Bells playing in my head. I have lists and then prompts for some of those lists. I love the other members of the Production Team, but we are brutally honest with each other. And we have worked together long enough to know how to get both in and out of each other’s way. I pray through issues that likely make sense to no one other than God, me, and others in that loop – stuff like light and sound boards, curtains, stage crew needs, protection from construction and rigging accidents, protection for the people, my friends, who will walk in the dark down steps with a lighted candle – things that most folks never know about or certainly don’t think about. And for those of us who “love logistics” or are similarly gifted, that is why we do what we do.

I generally have an “ah-ha” moment when it all comes together for me.  I thought (hoped, really because of some other things going on in my life) that I would have it way before now – like when we recorded the album Glory Devine – Carols By Candlelight earlier this fall. Great experience but the “ah-ha” moment did not happen. It did happen today, however, when I opened the finished CD and started listening to it as I drove downtown. I was singing along (this IS the music we are singing next weekend) working on words and such and then I really listened to what I was singing.

The song was What Love Is This? The song, originally written and recorded by Kari Jobe, gets immediately to the heart of whatever is going on in our lives or in the lives of those around us. This line blew me away:

I see the scars upon Your hands,
and hold the truth that when I can’t You always can.
I’m standing here beneath the shadow of the cross,
I’m overwhelmed that I keep finding open arms.

He never changes. He is who He says He is. The love He gives is absolutely all I need. He gave it all for me, and made a way for me to know Him. His arms are always open. He’s all I need.

Honestly this particular “ah-ha” moment took me back to that day in 1965 when I realized during Vacation Bible School that John 3:16 was talking about me. And while I know far more about the “world” today than I did then, I know He is still all I need, all any of us need.

My prayer as we begin Carols Week 2015, is that someone who needs that same assurance, whether they recognize it or not today, understands that Jesus is all they need, too.

Again, Choosing Joy!