One Body

Lately I have had the opportunity to talk to others about gifts. It seems to have followed me this summer along with what “investment” means these days.  I mentioned this in an earlier post about some things recently learned a week or so back. Sort of came up in some random conversations that evolved into discussions about gifts.  I have always been alarmed when I hear or see people try to bypass what is so apparently a God-given gift to try to do something else just because they believe it may take them further. I am even more alarmed (and sometimes frustrated) when I hear things like “I’m not smart enough to do that!” or “Why can’t I do what you do?”

The scripture that most often comes to mind is I Corinthians 12. This is another passage  (and probably the most familiar one) about spiritual gifts. And the entire passage is far too rich and long to even remotely explore in this post. There are several verses, though, that stand out. The ones included here are from the New International Version.

Verse 11:  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Verse 14: Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Verses 18: But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (Emphasis mine.)

Verse 27:  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Do you see a pattern here?  Trust me – there is one.

I was older before I accepted or really even acknowledged my gifts.  I knew I was a thinker, analytical (to a fault sometimes still – with apologies to my friends!) and could get things done.  I could take something chaotic and sort it into something that made sense BUT I never saw that as a gift.  I was responsible, a finisher, had little sense of humor and almost zero tolerance for those who did not step up and do what I honestly believed everyone should be able to do. I got there on time (early), listened to instructions (who does that?) and would sigh deeply (ask ANY choir member) and repeat information I had to others who never thought about listening or paying attention! Seriously – I mean, if I could do it, why couldn’t they?

Yes – I had other interests – still do – music was and is the thing that brings me the most joy and pleasure and peace. I enjoyed teaching kids to swim and how to survive in the woods (Girl Scouts) and to be leaders. I love to GO.  I was visionary enough to take a new idea and to successfully implement it but seldom lived over the edge, risk wise – just seemed to know where the edge was. I was was an excellent “firefighter” (crisis manager) but I honestly don’t know why anyone would choose to do that.  Yet, I wanted to be something other than what/who I was because I saw myself as boring! In all honesty, some days I still see myself that way.

I certainly was in my mid 30’s before I realized that God had not made a mistake – He had “gifted” me to be able to serve Him as HE needed!! My prayers asking Him to do something different with me were answered by “Grow where I planted you” and “You are where I want you to be and who I want you to be – trust Me.” It was difficult, but I finally, after struggling, understood. I was just one part of His Body – and my role was specific to the gifts He gave me. To ignore that and turn from Him would be nothing but misery.  I.had.to.trust.Him.

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As I got older, I saw more clearly how I could use my gifts to help others who are far different from me in their gifts find stability in areas where they are not comfortable because I AM comfortable there. I have also learned when I do this,  I am the one most blessed.

Looking at it from the other side – those gifts I wanted but didn’t get, I realize that those parts of the body that are otherwise gifted are the ones who minister to me – be it doctors, or musicians, or teachers or craftsmen or whatever.  And just like my gifts required me to invest time and energy in developing them for His glory, so do the gifts of others.   When skimming Facebook this week, I saw this post that really brought this home.   It compares med students (lifesavers) and musicians (another form of lifesaver, in this context) but it could be comparing any different gifts.  You see, we should all approach what we are charged to do this way.  See what you think.

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The bottom line: Be thankful for what God GIVES. Commit yourself to excellence in what God CALLS you to do.  Do not abuse the GIFT or the CALL.  Do not ignore it. Do not downplay it. Someone out there needs what God has placed within you to offer.

Still Choosing Joy

Cille

Does It Really Matter?

Everyone has “one of those weeks.”  It is only Tuesday and ours has actually been on a roll for over a week – virus, allergies on overdrive, front yard looks like a paddock because of all-the-rain while we put in a sprinkler system and due to more weather coming it will be a while before the sod can go down, my part-time work schedule (which to date had interfered with nothing, really) forced Steve to stay at home for two days while our front door was repaired. Oh and the ice maker is all stuffed up tonight – to the point Steve says it could be several days before it makes ice again (if ever).

And you know what? Not one bit of it matters.

Tonight a Mom, Dad, Wife said a final good-bye to their son and husband. And the Wife now has to tell their children their Daddy is gone. About 30 years old. Life really just beginning. Jeremy is healed now of cancer but his family grieves.

About two weeks ago, another Wife said that same kind of good-bye. Tom. Obedient to the Great Commission until the very end, shared his story – truly telling others “The Story of Jesus” and he, too, is now healed and reunited with two of his brothers. But, his family grieves.

Two friends today had radiation treatments – one is just starting; the other close to the end of treatment. They are running a race they, too, never planned. I pray that God will use their journey. Another couple of friends are getting mentally ready to take the next round of chemo. Their journey is touching the lives of others. They do not complain. They persevere. Just like my sisters have. Just as other friends have. Just like I did. Just like Jeremy and Tom.

Make sure – absolutely sure – in the midst of everyday chaos – that you know, fully know, and have accepted the only One who really matters. The rest of it is just not important.

Psalm 103: 1-5 (NASB)

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with loving kindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.

 

Tom’s Story – The Reason for My Hope

I am sharing this with the permission of Tom Webb. It is his testimony and is so powerful. He share this with the Sanctuary Choir at #FirstJackson on January 8, 2014. As I point I post this, I understand that he is at UMMC. I have texted Paula but no updates yet. Be in prayer for them and their family.

Here is Tom’s Story…..

My name is Tom Webb. I have been a member at First Baptist Jackson since 1983. This church is very dear to me because it is here that I was ordained as a deacon, married my wife, Paula, and raised my two step children. While serving as a teacher in the Children’s ministry for 29 years I gained many Christian friends and many blessings.

I grew up in Forest Mississippi, one of six children. My mother being a strong Christian made sure we were in church whenever the doors were open.  My Dad was as good a man as you would ever want to meet, but he never went to church.

When I was eight years old a traveling evangelist came to Forest to hold a week long citywide tent revival. On the last night of the revival I walked down that sawdust aisle and gave my life to Jesus.

I soon joined the church and was baptized but nothing really seemed to change.  I still went to church every time the doors were opened but probably slept through most of the sermons. All that began to change when I was twenty years old.  That was the year when my youngest brother, Donald, was hit and killed by a drunk driver as he was riding his bike along the side of HWY 35.  When the police caught the man it became clear that he was from Chicago but he was in Mississippi for his mother’s funeral.  When I heard the news I will have to confess that my initial thoughts were not very Christ like.  My thoughts were, “Just let me in that cell with him for five minutes, and I’ll kill him.”  My Dad who would never go to church was much more forgiving than I was.  I sat there with my dad when the city prosecutor came by the house to update my parents on the investigation. The attorney promised the man would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  But my Dad surprised everyone by asking that they first do a background check on him. If he proved to be a good, honest man who made a first mistake, he didn’t want the man prosecuted.  He said putting him in jail would not bring his son back.  I was humbled by his attitude.  Here I was supposedly a Christian, wanting to kill the man, but my Dad was willing to forgive the man for killing his son.  I had to ask myself what was wrong with this picture.

During Donald’s funeral services the preacher said that even though Donald was only twelve years old he was leaving some mighty big shoes that needed to be filled.  After the funeral my Dad said he was going to try to fill those empty shoes.  From that day until my Dad died five years later he never missed a Sunday morning or Sunday night service.  Seeing my Dad in church was an answer to many years of prayers.  It came at a huge price, but it was almost worth it to see my Dad in church.  I grew spiritually from that experience as well and with God’s help began to learn to control my temper and become more forgiving.

In 1982 I found myself in a job without much chance of advancement, so I decided in order to improve my chances at a better job I needed to go back to graduate school.  I enrolled in graduate school at Ole Miss that fall and majored in public administration.  I went back determined to do whatever it took to succeed.  I studied from could to can’t seven days a week.   I was determined to do it on my own so I shut God out completely.  I didn’t go to church on Sundays; I didn’t make time for reading my Bible or having a quiet time alone with God.  At the end of the semester I had managed to make A’s in all my classes, but I knew I had given up too much trying to do it on my own.

The next semester I started going back to church, got involved in a singles Sunday School class and make it a priority to make time to read my Bible, have a quiet time, and spend time alone with God.  I soon realized it was much easier to succeed with God’s help than it ever was on my own.  I finished my master’s degree with a 4.0 grade point average and moved to Jackson to work on an internship with the State Budget Commission.

After completing my education at The University of Mississippi I took a job with the State and moved to Jackson.

Because my older brother, Richard, was a member of this church, I started attending church here at First Baptist Jackson and quickly became involved in the Single Adult ministry here and my spiritual life began to grow.  I finally began to understand what it meant to have Jesus not only as my Savior but also as my Lord.  It wasn’t long before I followed Richard’s footsteps and started teaching Sunday school in the children’s ministry and continued to teach in the Children’s ministry for the next 29 years.

When Richard was thirty-nine years old and engaged to be married he almost died of a ruptured kidney.  He was driving to work one morning going through the waterworks curves on I 55 when his kidney ruptured.  It was all he could do to control his car and drive himself to the ER at the Baptist Medical Center.  He had emergency surgery and he was diagnosed with renal cell cancer.  The doctors offered him no hope, but with an unfailing faith in God, a good attitude and much prayer support Richard proved them wrong.  He recovered from surgery, left the hospital, was married and began taking chemo treatments and eventually went into remission.  His trust and faith in God was amazing.  I never once saw his faith waiver or heard him complain about his life being unfair.  He just kept his eyes on Jesus and persevered.

His cancer stayed in remission for several years. During those years he and his wife were blessed with a son and life was good again.  But in the summer of 1995 a checkup revealed that his cancer had returned.  He resumed treatments and eventually enrolled in an experimental program. In spite of this he slowly began to lose his battle with cancer.  Through all of this ordeal Richard’s attitude and faith in God never wavered.  He never complained and never questioned why.  He just kept his eyes on Jesus and battled it to the very end with much grace and much courage.  Richard was only 44 years old when God called him home.

I say all this to help set the stage for the rest of my story.  My own cancer story began in the spring of 2011 when I began having some medical issues that I could not ignore.  After several doctor visits and medical tests my doctor called to ask if I could come in that afternoon to discuss the results of my sonograms.  I told him I could and hung up the phone.

Then I started getting nervous and scared because I know something was wrong.  I called my wife to let her know and she said she would meet me at the doctor’s office and for me to try not to worry.  I couldn’t help but think about Richard and I started to cry. I prayed to God for help.  I asked him for three things that afternoon.  1) Please don’t let me die.  2) That whatever happens that I would be able to handle it in such a way that He would receive the honor and glory that he deserves.  And 3) that if it was cancer that I would not die from it before my Mom passed away.  She had already had to bury two sons, and I didn’t want her to have to bury another one.

That afternoon my doctor told us that the sonogram showed a small complex lesion in my right kidney He suspected it was cancer. The good news was that he thought we had found it early enough to do something about it.

He said the next step would be to do some CT scans.  He also wanted to refer me to a surgeon to see if any surgery was needed.

At this point my emotions were in a turmoil.  At one point I would be ok and trying to have a good attitude about everything and the next I was scared and remembering how well Richard had handled his battle with cancer.  I was afraid that I wouldn’t be as strong as he had been.

Paula and I prayed that night and she read some of her favorite Psalms she turned to when she was worried and afraid.  It helped, and we just turned it all over to God because we knew that he was in control.

The news about my problems began to spread around the church and at my office.  People began to pray for us, and I finally knew what it felt like to have so much prayer support.  I began to feel a sense of peace come over me that can only come from God.

When we received the results of the CT scan we found out that the cancer was much worse than expected.  My right kidney needed to come out as soon as possible before it ruptured.

I told the surgeon about my brother Richard had who died of renal cell cancer almost seventeen years before.  He said even if it was renal cell cancer they had come a long way since then in being able to treat that type cancer. Surgery was scheduled and we left the office feeling encouraged.

We went to church the Sunday before the surgery and came away even more encouraged.  It seemed like every song and even the sermon spoke directly to my needs as if God had planned the service especially for me.  We received so many words of encouragement and people telling us they were praying for us that we went home in high spirits.  We continued to receive calls, cards and words of encouragement right up until the time for surgery.

The surgery went well. The kidney was removed and all the lymph nodes around it appeared to be healthy.  The surgeon was encouraged and thought that everything would be alright, but we still had to get the pathology reports back.

We left the hospital very encouraged that it had been found early and that they had gotten it all.  I spent the rest of the summer just concentrating on my recovery from surgery and wasn’t worried about the cancer.

I had a real sense of peace about everything which I attributed to God answering all the prayers people were praying for me.  I had a good attitude about life and my recovery.

When I went back for my post-operative appointment, the surgeon said the pathology reports showed that it was cancer, and that the cancer had escaped the kidney into the fatty tissue around the kidney but that all the margins were clear.  This meant that we were now looking at stage three cancer instead of stage one and that the next step would be to present my case to the oncology review board to see what they would recommend in the way of treatments. Now began an anxious waiting period while the UMC oncology board was studying my case.

One of the things that offered me a great deal of comfort and hope during all this was reading God’s word.  God spoke these words of encouragement to me:

Deuteronomy 31:6 – Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them (in my case cancer) for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.

Romans 8:28 – We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

In his book, God As He Longs For You To See Him Chip Ingram talks about the sovereignty of God.  He makes a point that goes along with Romans 8:28.  He said nothing will come into your life today that God did not either allow or decree for you ultimate good.

My wife and I claimed the Lamentation 3:21-24 as our verse during this trial: “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope; Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails.  They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself; “the Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

And Isaiah 26:3 – Thou will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee because he trusted in thee.

At last the Oncology Review Board determined that I did not meet the protocol for any of their ongoing studies. But one of the oncologists, Dr. Hamilton, thought he could help me and agreed to take me on as one of his patients.

He explained that I have a very rare and aggressive type of kidney cancer called collecting duct cancer. By very rare he meant that there were so few people diagnosed with it that there was no medical research on its treatment. The only treatment information available was from anecdotal data written by doctors who attempted to treat their patients.  He said I was only the third patient he had treated with this type cancer.  From talking with other oncologists I learned they had never seen a case of this type cancer in their careers.  Since collecting duct cancer is aggressive it can spread to other parts of the body very quickly.

Getting this type of report was not what we wanted to hear and it shook my confidence and tested my faith to an even higher degree.  It was going to take some time to process all this and rebuild my confidence.  But to make matters even worse I went home that night and Googled collecting duct cancer. I found out that fewer than 20% of patients with this type cancer live more than two years.  I let that piece of information get me depressed and I worried about it all night long.

It always amazes me how often the devotions during my quiet time speak directly to what I am going through.  The devotion in Standing Firm that day was “Worry-Free Living”.  The scripture reference was Philippians 4: 6 – 7, “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.”

There were three points in this devotion.  1) Worrying is pointless.  Worry shrinks our world, steals our energy, and quenches our hopes.  There really are no benefits to worrying.  2) The solution to worry is: prayer and petition with thanksgiving.  Every time we catch ourselves beginning to worry we know it is time to start praying.  It is time to let God know our concerns, ask him for help and thank him for being fully capable of supplying what we need.  3) When we pray God gives us His peace.  And this peace is more powerful than the onslaught of worrying thoughts constantly assailing us.  When we preserver in prayer, the miracle of peace comes.  Nothing has changed on the outside, but everything has changed on the inside.

I wish I could tell you all my worrying and depression went away overnight but it took an actual storm to help me calm my soul.  Paula and I took our grandchildren with us to Gulf Shores, Alabama over the Labor Day weekend.   But when we arrived a tropical storm was brewing in the Gulf with winds of 40 to 50 miles an hour.  The storm just seemed to match my depression but I just kept telling myself that God controlled the storm and that after the storm blew through there would be clear blue skies again.  I hoped and prayed that the same would be true in my life as well.  That once this storm called cancer passed, I would see better days ahead.

It wasn’t going to happen that night because that night after the grandkids were in bed I really started worrying and feeling sorry for myself and just started crying uncontrollably.  Paula hugged me and told me it was ok to cry and that everything was going to be alright.  I finally was able to get a grip on myself and tried to regain my composure.

The weather continued to deteriorate through the night, and we talked about returning home the next morning.  But when we got up the next morning the worst of the storm had passed to the west of us and even though the winds were still high and the waves were still crashing on the beach, we stayed and had a good day.  I could tell that my internal storm was getting better too.

We were able to take the grandkids down to the beach to play in the sand.  At one point Trevor, who was about 15 months old, spied a seagull walking along the beach.  He jumped up and started chasing the sea gull.  I quickly followed close behind Trevor as he pursued the seagull.  For half a mile I walked between him and the crashing waves to protect him and be ready to scoop him into my arms if he veered toward the water.  And suddenly I understood that God was doing the same thing for me.  As I walked this cancer road I knew that God was walking along beside me and standing between my cancer and me. At the first sign of danger he too will scoop me up into his arms.  I just needed to have the simple faith of a child to know he’s there caring for me.

Isaiah 63:9 says, “In all their distresses he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.  In his love and mercy he redeemed them, he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”

I came home from that trip with a renewed sense of hope in my life. I was ready to face whatever might lay ahead.

When I went back to see Dr. Hamilton, he recommended we start with some preventative chemo treatments followed up by more scans.  I started chemo that day.

After 3 months there was no sign of cancer. I was so relieved. I made sure to give God all the credit for the good results.

Then in June PET scans revealed that the cancer had returned and had spread to other areas in my body.   Dr. Hamilton said our options were do chemo to try to buy us more time and possibly some radiation to help control the pain, but there was no cure.  The doctors may not have a cure, but I knew that God was in control and that with God nothing is impossible.   If he wanted to heal me he could.

We started a new round of chemo in August 2012 but the scan reports at the end of each round of chemo have not been good.  After the last round of chemo in June of 2013 the scans showed that all the lesions had grown and intensified and that the cancer had now spread into more organs and bones.  Dr. Hamilton said that any more chemo would do more harm than good.  I decided that the quality of the time I had left was more important than trying to buy a little more time with chemo.

I asked Dr. Hamilton how much time I might have left.  He said he didn’t know.  But that he did not think I would have still been alive six months ago.  He said I was still strong and active, so he thought another six months or longer wasn’t out of the question.

People keep telling me how sorry they are that I have to go through all this and I can honestly say that it’s ok.  I have not been cheated out of any life because I still have just as many days left in my life as God allows.  I know this because the Bible says in

Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Another verse that I still lay claim is the promise God made in Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

People ask me how I am able to live a life filled with joy and peace.  I give them several reasons for my hope.  One reason is because I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and I know that I have eternal life.   I have also learned to trust in him for all things. A third reason is because I receive encouragement from His Word. Being in God’s house to worship gives me joy. Many people are still praying for me, I feel the peace and comfort from those prayer on a daily basis. And finally, I receive so much peace and encouragement through music.  There are a number of songs we sing here in worship that help to draw me closer to God.  One is Because He Lives. Another chorus I love is Through It All.

And the most precious one to me is Ten Thousand Reasons.

The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning; It’s time to sing your song again; Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me; Let me be singing when the evening comes.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul.  Worship His Holy name; Sing like never before, O my soul.  I’ll worship your Holy Name.

I hope that when my days on this earth are over people will be able that say that about me.  I hope I will still be singing when the evening comes.

Herding Cats Revisited

Carols by Candlelight 2012 - photo by Judy Rushing
Carols by Candlelight 2012 – photo by Judy Rushing

When talking about my role with the First Jackson Sanctuary Choir and particularly with Carols by Candlelight, I almost always describe what I do in terms of “herding cats.” I visited that topic in my blog last year about this time.  In a spiritual sense, I wonder if that is how Jesus feels about us?  I am certain He certainly has more patience WITH me than I do with others and certainly with myself.  Somewhere along life’s journey, I developed (inherited?) this “it has to be perfect” gene.  Steve, using Mythbusters‘ logic believes that “failure is always an option.”  I just don’t see it that way. Never have. Not likely to start now. So I expect a lot of others and a whole lot of myself. It is that important to me.

James Arrington Goff, the organist at First Jackson, editor of Our South magazine, and my friend, has graciously extended opportunities to contribute to the magazine to me and at least three others (Barbara Hamilton, Sherye Green, and Eva Hart) from the Sanctuary Choir.  I thought the first time was a fluke, but he asked me to do this fourth article (not me asking if they might be interested in a topic).  He even gave me the title: Herding Cats. He wanted me to tell the story of the first processional rehearsal we have each year and some of the history behind how the process has evolved over the years. You can read it in the issue of Our South published last week.  The entire magazine is great. (Contact oursouth@att.net for more information.)

I could write a book about Carols “behind the scenes”. This is my 33rd and the 44th overall. Trust me – there is a lot of material. I doubt I would ever take that route as it would take away from the mission and ministry goals – telling the Story of Jesus in a way that every man, woman or child can understand and believe.  If we share the Story as a muddled message, then we are not God honoring in what we are doing.

I believe because I know the hearts of the people in the trenches that their desire is the same as mine – to tell others the Story of Jesus. While many who come into the Sanctuary at First Jackson over those three days are “church members” from literally around the world, they are not all Christ Followers. The do not know Him personally. They are literally without hope. Some don’t even realize that until they find themselves in crisis – family, health, financial, whatever – and realize they have nothing – no faith – upon which to fall back.

So as we prepare to share The Hope of Christmas beginning December 13th, it is my prayer that seeds be planted, seeds planted elsewhere be nurtured, and that the preparation of the Sanctuary Choir, the children and youth, the orchestra, the production team, and countless other volunteers will be Christ focused.  This should never be, as Dr. Pollard used to say, “a nervously clocked hour of religious entertainment.” Carols should be a shared experience of worship where God, and God alone, is the Sole Object of our worship.

I have great faith that the “cats” will get it all together.  They actually did great in the first rehearsal last week. More importantly, I pray for those who need Jesus that somehow through something we say, sing or do, that they will “get it”.  I ask that you pray for them, too. Christ commanded us to “go”. Through Carols, we are doing that by taking tickets to folks to come, inviting folks to watch online or via television and being available to go  to answer questions and pray with them as their journey continues.

I know The Hope of Christmas born those many years ago so innocently in that stable is the same Hope Who  died for me and rose again after three days in that tomb.  Do you? Have you shared Him today?

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19-20)

Still Choosing Joy

Cille

The Hope of Christmas

I seem to always get back to blogging around Carols.  I think it is because the deeper I get into the details (sort of just have my head above water now), the more I pray, the more I read my Bible, the more I think about what Jesus expects of me.  I know. I know. My spiritual journey is a 365 X 24 experience and should always be at an elevated level. After all, Jesus did not die for me for this intense six-week period every year. He died for me. Period. End of discussion.

Anyway, today, I found this article from Grace Communion International  when I was surfing the web. The title of the article is Why Jesus Gives Us Hope.  This paragraph really struck home: “God started in the smallest possible way—as an embryo in a virgin. Behold, I will give you a sign, he had said through Isaiah. A virgin will conceive and bring forth a child, and you will name him Immanuel, which means “God with us.” But he was first called Jesus — the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means, God will save us.””

We are all in need of the Savior. God sent Jesus to save us – to fill our lives with hope. Think about it – that little Baby did change everything. Because God loved us, He gave us Hope. And as Romans 5:5 says, “and hope does not disappoint..” The Hope we are sharing this Carols is the Hope that is only found in Jesus Christ. Pray about this – this Hope that is within you. Pray, too, that others who are coming to Carols and those in your circle of influence will see the Hope of Jesus in you.

I struggle to keep “the main thing the main thing” as Dr. Pollard used to say.  I tend to get wrapped up in the details of “who did what?” or “whose responsibility is that?” or “no, you can’t do that?” I even lose my cool (imagine that!) when the frustration level rises. Guess what. God is NOT honored by any of that.

Many have heard my story of what I remember as one of the first Carols in the new (existing) Sanctuary.  Somehow they used to know where folks were seated in the Sanctuary  based on the decision cards – I guess the ushers marked the collection bags by section.  In this particular case, the card came from a guy in the balcony – the section that is now behind the big screens. Even in those days they were not the most desirable seats.  When folks from FBCJ followed up after Carols, we learned this young man died a few days after he checked that card stating that he had prayed to receive Christ – a car wreck – life here done but Life Eternal assured. And God WAS honored because that young man’s life was saved for all eternity.

I hope to meet that fellow in heaven one day. I want to tell him thank you for inspiring me some 20+ years later to stay the course and be the encourager and help keep our focus on why we are doing this. If we forget why or do it just to do it, then the devil wins. I can assure you, God does not intend that (says so all through scripture beginning in Genesis) and neither do I.

The article goes on to say: “Luke tells us that the angels sang when Jesus was born. It was a moment of triumph, even though humans couldn’t see it that way. The angels knew that victory was certain, because God had told them so.” We have that same certainty because Jesus told us so.

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:12-14