Epiphany Evenings – 2019

Often during the Christmas Season, we sing The Twelve Days of Christmas. That song represents the period of December 25th, the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, up to the period of the Epiphany which begins, historically, January 6th. “Epiphany” is a manifestation or an appearance. In the Biblical sense, it was a recorded revelation where God made Himself known.  In scripture, “The Epiphany” pointed to these specific events:  the coming of the Magi to worship the child Jesus; the baptism of Jesus, and Jesus’ appearance at the wedding in Cana when He turned water into wine. In each of these events, scripture makes clear that Jesus was not just another man as God made his presence known.

Most western churches focus on the appearance of the Magi or “wise men” in celebrating the Epiphany.  In Matthew 2:1-2 NLT, we are told: Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise menfrom eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” How did they know to ask about this? They KNEW from their studies of the scripture that a star was to appear and that it would lead them to a king!

In the Orthodox Christian Church, Epiphany focuses on the baptism of Jesus. Matthew 3:16 NLT says: After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him.And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”   In that moment, God revealed Himself as the Trinity – God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In January 2019, a team of extraordinary musicians (with a couple of extras) celebrated the Epiphany through our participation in the XIV International Festival of Evangelical Culture know as “Epiphany Nights” or “Epiphany Evenings” depending on who’s translating. Our team included members of the First Baptist Jackson Sanctuary Orchestra as well as myself and Leslie Hancock. Most are students at Belhaven University. This 10 day adventure required sacrifice. In addition to being full or part-time undergraduate and graduate students, the young adults in our group (6 of them) depend heavily on “gig work” for meeting expenses, paying tuition, dealing with life. They play as contract orchestra and ensemble players, are members of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, do wedding and other event work, are studio musicians, teach privately or through First Jackson’s Academy of Arts, and work other non-music jobs so they can follow their dreams and embrace their passion!

This year 2019 marked the 14th year of the festival which revived the old traditions and resumed historical concerts of sacred music, which took place in the capital of the Russian Empire from the time of Peter I until the 1920s. This is one of few opportunities now open to evangelical culture involving non-Russians. During the festival, our team performed in ensemble, chamber and solo concerts and the large festival choral and orchestra gala event. During each and every presentation, the Gospel was presented to a standing room audience (in venues ranging in size from a couple of hundred people to over 1200). Most of those listening were not believers. Russian evangelical Christians, for this festival, take what they have – the love of classical music by the Russian people – and use that to get them in and then using Christian music played in the classical style, present the Gospel to them through music and the spoken word.

It was so evident that God was at work. How the local churches worked together was amazing. How they included teams like us and others from other parts of Russia and Europe and other individuals from the US (Southern California) was as well. We met and served with people who lived Romans 1:16: I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Greek.

In addition to the Festival, our team was privileged to lead worship for the St. Petersburg Evangelical Church on Sunday and were asked on an ad hoc basis to play for a dinner of retired members of the Russian “police force.” Both were exciting opportunities to share our faith and to participate in the local culture.

We worked with Rotila Ilie Croitoru, a native of Moldova and a graduate of the N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov Saint Petersburg State Conservatory. Ilie is a world renown conductor and one of the festival’s founders. He is extensively involved in presenting festivals throughout Europe that focus on using music and the local culture to share the Story of Jesus. Ille is also extensively involved in Crescendo, an international organization of Christian musicians who use their gifts to share the Gospel in their communities and around the world.

Our missional experience concluded with the presentation of a Thank You concert at First Baptist Jackson on January 13th. Then we were able to thank our many donors and prayer supporters who made this trip possible by performing music we shared at the festival and sharing our stories and testimonies.  Already we are praying about returning to participate again in 2020 – we have been invited. Please pray with us as we determine God’s will in this. For those who graciously supported us financially and in prayer and other support tasks, please accept my personal thanks. For more information, please contact me at cille.litchfield@outlook.com.

Where I Belong

It has been a while since I was this excited about the fall kickoff at First Baptist Jackson.  We have lots of cool stuff going on in many areas of ministry.  As anyone who follows me knows, I serve most of my time in the Music Ministry. I sing in the choir. I direct logistics for the choir.  I am wrapping up a project (with the help of many many others) of reorganizing the Music Library and our major storage areas. I am a student of the Academy of Arts (I am a #celloplayer!). And this fall, I am am serving as the Administrator of the Academy of Arts.  I even have goals (playing in the orchestra in 2019)!

What a way to tell others about Jesus! I know there are many ways to do this but music touches something in all of us, especially when we sing and play and support the singing and playing through technology and media. With that in mind, if you can, join me #whereibelong this fall. Want to sing? There is a place for you. Play an instrument? Our orchestra is amazing and contributes to so many areas of worship leadership. Have a tech bent or even skills like graphic design and media development?  We have a place for you, too. And service – we have many many opportunities to serve in our community and around the world.

Come. Be a part. Bring someone else. Tomorrow night we start at 6PM in the 3rd Floor Atrium.  We will have great food, great fellowship, meet the Music and Media Staff, spend some time worshipping, and even give you a taste of what it is like to prepare to lead on a Sunday at First Baptist Jackson.  Come on.  I will be looking for you. I want you to be a part of this and sense the excitement we all have to tell others about Jesus!

Where I BelongScripture9D8771C0-26D0-4603-A11B-64267A759519

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:1-2 NIV

Still Choosing Joy!

Cille

Treasure Island

Leave it to kids to teach you stuff.  Most who know me would say I am intense, that I know my strengths and weaknesses, and generally stay away from things and projects where my comfort zone is, well, uncomfortable.  Historically, set construction, for example, simply ain’t on my list (excuse my grammar.) I have little concept of design (lines and angles) or color and I.hate.to.paint.  In case you missed it, I.HATE.TO.PAINT.

Truthfully, there is some history there. Years ago, when taking ceramics in the old Family Life Center, my friends laughed at the “red blobs” on my Christmas ornaments (one friend’s Mom felt sorry for me and rescued me by repainting and re-firing those ornaments and they are annually found on my Christmas tree).  I draw lines and angles with rulers. I paint flat surfaces under duress or pay someone. I don’t buy furniture or rugs or most stuff for the wall without consulting one of my “expert” friends. To make matters worse, Steve knows this and he asks if I have discussed my decorating ideas with them.  So – there you go.

So I found myself in a difficult place when asked to help get a boat built as a set piece. This was no little boat. This sucker was about 40 feet from bow to stern, and had masts and sails, and had to bear the weight of about 80 kids. AND it had to be constructed and mostly painted in the garage at the Christian Life Center during the one week of winter that occurred in Central Mississippi. I said yes, begrudgingly, got irritated with the process (as long as I have done production stuff this happens until somehow miraculously the idea gels), and showed up to paint. And paint. And dry brush. And prime. And even repaint. Aaarrrgh!!!!

Well the ship came together. There was one battle casualty before she finally sailed (Barbara Hamilton broke her wrist in a classic “Cille type move” of walking backwards). And then we loaded it up with kids and wow – what a transformation.

Before KidsRock started reminding me about saving up “treasures in heaven”, I had a strong reminder about this scripture: II Corinthians 9:7 ASV – Let each man do according as he hath purposed in his heart: not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. Yes – this verse is LOADED. And it does not apply only to money. It applies to all your resources. Even the ability to paint in the bitter cold because this will help someone tell someone about Jesus.  Steve had the same lesson the same week only his was tied to driving the church van for something. Don’t do it grudgingly. Don’t do it just because it has to be done. Do it and do it cheerfully.

The kids sang about Matthew 6:19-21 HCB – Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  The musical, Treasure Island – Searching for Riches in the Kingdom of God (by Celeste Clydesdale and David T. Clydesdale, BRENTWOOD-BENSON PUBLISHING, 2016), is a great (and true) story about what is important – that the only treasure that really matters is Jesus! It was a wonderful evening of worship and made every.single.cold.paint.stroke worth it.

Aaarrrgh!!

Still Choosing Joy!

Cille

P.S. Hats off to a great group of kids, leaders and production team members. I do believe God was honored.

Photos below are mine during construction and are the work of Rushing Images (Lane and Judy Rushing) during dress rehearsal and the presentation.

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Herding Cats (Again)

carols2015-choir-and-heralds
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 carolsbycandlelight.org. 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