The Devil and the Details

As in many projects, with Carols by Candlelight, the details are what make the difference. And in this effort, especially this year, there are thousands of details.  Our theme is “Changed” with our focus on lives changed for Eternity. To clearly present this message, a lot of things had to change for FirstJackson and, in reality, for each of us.

We were challenged to be a part of Forty Days of Prayer for Carols. Many were. It is obvious. So many people praying specifically for 500+ lives to change sent Satan into overdrive trying to stop us.  We all know that Satan loves sound equipment. He’s been messing with that stuff for years.  He has hopped into lighting in a big way at times, as well.  This year – traffic – tape -safety lighting -traffic (did I mention that already?) are taking a beating. He has worked over the altos – a virus and the flu and family illness. He started in on the sopranos today with the same. And poor Chip Wilbanks (Sanctuary Choir President) has a huge trial that is going into its third week starting Monday and he is vocally wasted.

He has stirred the pot on some other issues as well. Plus with every change we have attempted to make to more openly share the Gospel with our community we have experienced pushback from some quarter. If you know me, you will not be surprised that my response to this is “get over it – it is not about you. It is ALL about HIM!”

So as we complete the i-dotting and t-crossing this afternoon, continue to pray for every effort. We are tweaking. It is like a bunch of busy little beavers all over the church pulling wagons, pushing carts, installing last-minute lighting, watching the painter get ready for tonight (great story he has), moving costumes, cleaning up stuff, checking our lists, checking them again.

Pray for the new traffic flows into the building to work. Pray for a welcoming environment in the FHE Carols’ Coffee House. Pray for the ministry groups that are coming in tonight and that they will clearly hear the message. Pray for each other as we share the gifts we have been given to tell the story of Jesus.

Pray as well for flexibility, for the ability to listen quickly, and for your senses to be heightened to the needs of those around you. You never know who is watching you. You never know who God will pair you with when someone has a specific need (happened to me already this week).

I love and respect each of you. More importantly, God loves each one of you far more than I ever could. Count it all joy to serve Him this weekend and every day.

My favorite Christmas scripture is from the prophecy of Micah: “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago,from the days of eternity.”  Therefore He will give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has borne a child.Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel.And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord,in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain,because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. This One will be our peace. (Micah 5:2-5a NASB)

“This One will be our peace.” What a promise. What a Savior! I am changed. Are you?

Still Choosing Joy!


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No – I did not make this word up. Yes – it is a word that my sister just younger than I would have asked my Mom to make me stop saying when I was a kid (she would call it a “fifty-cent word”).

Cacophony per Merriam-Webster means “a harsh or discordant sound.” And frankly during Carols especially when sight-reading and even more so when brass players sight-read something really difficult such as the arrangement of Procession of the Kings we are singing this year. I am not being critical of our brass playing friends – I played low brass (trombone) from 6th grade through my years at Ole Miss. I read music. The stuff they are reading looks like some weird foreign language to me!

By the time rehearsal ended last night, the brass players had it worked out (again – seems like a foreign language to me)! It is a majestic processional of the wise men as they present themselves to the Savior.

Still the first playing stayed with me. Compared to the worship of Holy, Holy, Holy, the wonder of Silent Night, and the singing of a lullaby of hope by the earthly parents to this Boy who is King in Someday, it just caught me off guard.

I have thought today that the worship, wonder, and hope of heaven is in such sharp contrast to the chaos of hell. Cacophony is the music of Satan. Chaos in our lives – regardless of its source – is of the devil. Through chaos, however, God can refines us if we allow it. How we react when the cymbals are clanging and fires are raging and people are hurting and discord tries to overwhelm us, is what people remember about us.

Tonight we will share with a number of people who may work for First Jackson, as well as others, who may know about Jesus but do not know Him in a personal way. More likely, they see the way we treat each other and how we use (abuse) the resources that are at our disposal. If not careful, we present a very mixed message, a chaotic one, a cacophony.

Some thirty-three years after His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus faced chaos unlike any we will ever face. He knew He was going to die for each one of us. His hope was in His knowing that God was with Him. His faith spoke volumes. He was the calm in the middle of a storm unlike any we have known.

Matthew 27:24 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Surely He is the Son of God. He changed me. He lives in me. May I live in such a way that every minute of every day others will see Jesus in me.

Still Choosing Joy



I am a pretty good multi-tasker most days.  During Carols, that gift is challenged because there are a thousand moving parts and I am trying to watch them all. Needless to say, things get missed, usually because I miss one thing while trying to tend to something else. Sometimes, I simply forget (human!).

Sometimes, I am totally distracted by something else. Happened last night. Doing the processional during rehearsal. I had worked on (studied) cues for me to give the choir all afternoon. These included making sure I updated the notes on processional entrances. We start rehearsal. I am watching. Loges – really good. Nosebleed – excellent. People direct into loft – much better. Main aisles – ????. I turned around to look at them and caught a glimpse of the manger in the box. Totally blown away! Happens every time I see this scene. This is the third year we have used this during the processional and every time I am blown away.  We come to the manager to worship the King of Kings. I stood there, as always, in wonderment (I might have made a good shepherdess) drinking it in.

Reality quickly set in as LLG asked me: “Isn’t the choir supposed to be in the room?” Yes. We were close to the end of the overture. I am still manger gazing, pondering. Oops. Get it moving – those main aisle people. Thanks to Emily Agent who herded up a wandering group who took a wrong turn (I missed that. too, trying to get the rest going again.)

Does make me think, though. What if those shepherds had not paid attention to the angels and not made their march to the manger to see the King? What about the wise men? What about you? What about me? Sometimes the focus probably needs to be other than the immediate next thing on the list. The important thing is not the immediate or expedient – it is the Eternal thing.

Carols2014 Manger 12-08
Manger – December 8, 2014 Rehearsal

Luke 2: 8-18 (NIV) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child. 


Manger - Carols 2013
Processional – Carols 2013 (photo credit:  Judy Rushing)

The Gospel is requires the manger, the cross, the empty tomb for completion. Each by itself is only a part of the greatest event in history – God coming to earth to save us.

#AreYouChanged #Carols2014

I am. I believe.

Still Choosing Joy!


Counting Steps

Not sure you realize this but there are a lot of steps in the Sanctuary at First Jackson.  In the choir loft in the #Carols2014 configuration, there are 48 (not counting steps from floor to platform or the steps in the piano tunnel).  Going to the “nosebleed”, there are four aisles of steps reaching toward the stained glass over the President Street entrance.  I should know how many there are – I dragged rope lights up all four aisles today and then walked them back down to get them ready for tomorrow. In the loges, there are a lot more steps. Plus the choir room. Plus the countless times I go up-and-down the steps between the 2nd and 3rd levels of the church, the steps down from the crosswalk, the steps from the parking garage up to the crosswalk.  Lots and lots of steps.

You are probably wondering where I am going with this. In my mind, when I walk the steps, I always count them to myself. I see each step as a person who may walk there, coming to celebrate Christmas perhaps because they were made to come or perhaps because they were invited by many who may read this.  I thought today about the names we called during the Carols prayer time last night who have been invited to worship with us. I never enter the north loge behind where the box is now that I don’t remember a decision envelope found from that section some 20 odd years ago from a young man who made a decision for Jesus sitting in those not-good-seats (even then) and then days later joining His Savior for all eternity. I think about folks like Nona Reid, Billy Jim Thompson, Celeste Pickett and others who walked these same steps and who gave so very much for so many many years so that others could hear the Story of Jesus.

And I pray by name for people who are in the choir and cast and orchestra this year that we may share the only story that matters for Eternity and share it in a way that is clear. And I pray knowing that our responsibility to them does not end there. I pray that we will be responsible to disciple the new believers – that we will help them connect the dots (they don’t have an almost 60 year head start like me) and as they face all the curves that the devil is going to throw in their path to try to stop them from choosing Jesus.

So when I count this year as I walk through the church, I think about the 500 we continue to pray will hear the message we share and will believe.  500 has become way more than a number. The “goal” has morphed into faces and names and needs – real people – not a concept. And I pray that we share with them from our heart – from our knowledge of His mercy and grace, from our personal experiences with Him, from our love for others because “He first loved us.”

John 3:16 – This verse came alive for me as an almost 10-year-old in Vacation Bible School almost 50 years ago. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish.” Today I pray that verse speaks to Alexandria, and to Precious, and to guests from Lebanon, and to senior adults from Alabama and those from CityChurch and MissionFirst and recovery centers and ……. for God so loved them, too, just as He does me.

I am looking forward to #Carols2014. I know Him. I am loved by Him. I have been changed by Him. #AreYouChanged?


“Be Ye Kind”

Ephesians 4:29-32 (NASB): Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

I have not blogged in a while. It has been an unusual summer and fall – family illness, illness and loss of a much-loved four-legged child, just the stuff of life. Looking back as I get myself ready spiritually and mentally for Carols By Candlelight, I realize that were it not for hope and grace and faith, I literally would not know where I would be (I think there is a song in that somewhere…)

Right now though, I am troubled. To present the Gospel clearly and compassionately, we have to live what we believe. Sometimes I just simply wonder about us – all of us – who claim that we are Christians and yet when we are supposed to be engaged in telling others about Jesus we do some pretty petty things that I am certain are not God honoring.  I think it is best at times like these to think back on verses we learned in Sunbeams and GA’s (that’s “Mission Friends” and “Acteens” to some of your girls not quite my age) and Sunday School. This passage is full of those life lessons.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. – In other words, if you don’t have something positive, uplifting, encouraging to say – something that builds people up rather than tears them down, it is probably best left unsaid. Period. My Mama subscribed to that theory and was known to regularly explain that to us. It is a lesson I have not forgotten.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. – I suspect at times I grieve the Holy Spirit just because I react (rather than respond) or just because I cannot have it “my way”. And I get mad. Or I make it about me. Or I am jealous because someone else got something I did not. And when I do (we do) these things, we are not setting an example. Life is not about us. Carols is not about us. Whatever is not about us.  Sharing Jesus should be our focus. We cannot do that when we focus on ourselves and what is in it for us.  I Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. If some part of the body is not in sync with the body of Christ then we are not in focus. No talent is more important. No preference is more important. No personal desire is more important. What is important is that we lift each other up and we encourage each other and work in sync to share Jesus with those around us and to encourage those in the body of Christ who have needs and who particularly need encouragement.

Finally, my friend Terry Sims’ favorite verse – Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  Back in the day, Terry painted this verse on a LOT of ceramic plates and mugs and things she made for others. And lived this verse (and still does). And so should we. Just be kind. Don’t be ugly. Don’t be passive aggressive. Don’t gossip. Be forgiving. Clear the air. Love one another. Respond as Jesus would respond. Let others see Jesus in you.

#Carols2014 is about change – the only change that matters. The one in your heart that will allow you to spend eternity with Him. I cannot share the joy I have in knowing that I am changed if others cannot see Jesus in how I treat those around me. My prayer today is that others will see Jesus in me.

Still Choosing Joy