Planes, Ferries, Trains, and Busses

The adventure began early this morning with a 2AM alarm! With all the TSA news and some specific news coming out of JAN regarding lines, large groups, and missed flights, we were at the airport 2 hours before flight time (and as Steve will affirm, did have to wait for the Delta counter to open). There was a line at the west TSA checkpoint and at the east checkpoint, we we were ahead of the bus load of teenagers on their way somewhere who appeared at 4:30AM (thank you Bob Gladney for that warning) headed out for some sort of adventure by way of Atlanta.  At any rate, we were off on time, made our first connection without problems, and are right now in the air over Billings, Montana, about two hours out from Seattle. We make our final change there and are scheduled to land in Vancouver at approximately 6PM Mississippi time.

So while I have a few minutes, this is what we are up to for the next 10 days. We are joining a Tauck tour of Western Canada and the Canadian Rockies tomorrow. Here is the gist of the itenerary.  We have two nights in Vancouver staying near Canada Place (the cruise ship terminal) looking out on the bay. This puts us in an absolutely gorgeous spot and close to Gastown, the historical section of “old Vancouver.” From here we tour the city, spend time at Granville Island and Stanley Park, visit a museum, and take a trip up the Sea-to-Sky Highway to Squamish. If you have been to Whistler or remember from the Vancouver Olympics, this is the main route that connected many of the venues and that gets you to ski country in this part of Canada.  

From Vancouver, we sail to Vancouver Island and the city of Victoria. Victoria is one of the most (if not the most) British cities in Canada. While there two nights, we will get some chocolate from Roger’s (my absolute favorite), have tea at the Empress Hotel, see Butchart Gardens, and spend time taking in the sights along the waterfront. 

We return to the mainland by float plane (Kathy is not happy about that!) and board The Canadian, a historic passenger train recently restored by VIA, the Canadian national railway. While overnighting on the train, we travel through the heart of the Canadian Rockies to Jaspar National Park. While there we go rafting and spend a couple of days drinking in one one of the prettiest places Steve and I have ever been. For example, when here before, we were sitting by the lake in late evening and looked up to see that we were surrounded by elk taking their evening stroll through the grounds of the lodge. Elk get the complete right-of-way.  I hope to experience that again and this time have my camera or phone on my person! 

We will travel down the Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefields  and take a trip up the glacier before heading to Lake Louise in Banff National Park. The lodge at Lake Louise sits at the edge of a stunning glacial lake surrounded by mountains. We will likely do a good bit of walking there around the lake itself while keeping a close watch out for bears.  Who knows – there may still be snow as they have had snow in both Jaspar Park and Banff within the past week!

Our final stop will be Banff. The lodge there is like a baronial castle and sits right at the edge of the little town. The views are spectacular.  Not sure what we will do there this time. Last go we walked in town and just hung out at the lodge and took it all in. We will see when we get there.

From there we will taking the red-eye back from Calgary (via Seattle and Atlanta). It will be a busy time and one we have looked forward to for a while. We love western Canada and it has been several years since we were last here so it will be interesting to see the changes.

Psalm 24:1 (NIV) reminds us of this: The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all who live in it.  We will experience some of the most spectacular of God’s creation here. We will be strongly reminded that “It is HE who has made us, and we are HIS”  as we know from Psalm 100 (NIV). I need that reminder. I also need the reminder that the people we will encounter both in our tour group and in whatever we are doing are HIS, as well. I have prayed that we will be salt and light on this trip as we spend this time with new friends and old in this place. 

Pictures tomorrow, Lord willing!

Still Choosing Joy!


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!


This Blood

Wednesday night, the Worship Choir and Orchestra were preparing for Resurrection Sunday at First Jackson. You might ask: “What was different this week?” The answer – Worship Happened. It wasn’t rote. It was for real. 10923224_10206608260072286_3815488143188405519_n

At first glance an onlooker could have thought we were just caught up in the moment. First Jackson is blessed with some pretty talented musicians – vocal and instrumental. But it was more. So. Much. More.

I have experienced this before – this really special kind of worship experience when you know in your heart that the people in the room – musician and listener – get it.  I mean really get it. As in – eternally get it.

In 2005 when the (then) Sanctuary Choir served in St. Petersburg, Russia, for a week of musical missions, there was a Sunday evening at Central Baptist Church like this. We had been cautioned (warned) by the local IMB missionary that we should not be surprised if there was no response emotionally or otherwise from the congregation.  That Sunday morning we sang in that same church and it was like “why are we here?” That night, though, oh my. The song then – Days of Elijah. Like Elijah, we are required to stand up for God. And as we were singing, a lady in the balcony to my left – on the back row – slowly stood. You could tell from watching her, she got it. Slowly, the church came to its feet – like a light cast across a dark room – they – we – worshipped. Understand we were singing in SOUTHERN ENGLISH. Most of them spoke no English and we certainly spoke no Russian. A God Thing. It was celebratory. It was fun. It was exciting. It was humbling. It was God honoring. It was worship. When the service was over, we stood around for a long time sharing fellowship with our new friends in Christ. We knew “they got it”. Frankly, for the first time as a group, we knew “we got it” as well.

Wednesday night was sort of like. It happened, however, in the Sanctuary at First Jackson. Another God thing occurred. You could sense something when we rehearsed a new arrangement to Arise My Love.  We moved on to rehearsing Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)Forever,  Christ the Lord is Risen Today.   And then – We Believe –  “We believe that He conquered death; We believe in the resurrection; And He’s coming’ back again, we believe.” Strong stuff. Solid message. Truth shared. Reassurance. H.O.P.E.

The awesome part – it was obvious we believed what we were singing. I saw emotion and response from people in the choir who seldom (never) change their facial expression. It was amazing. It was humbling. It was worship.

I did not think it could get any better unless Jesus came right then. I.was.wrong. This Blood – I know this song – have heard it before several times but it never registered. This time it did. And it registered with the 200+ people in the choir loft. You saw it and heard it and experienced it: “There is a grave that tried to hide this precious blood that gave me life. In three days, He breathed again and rose to stand in my defense.” And because of that I am coming to tell you “He’s alive” and “to shout and to proclaim He’s coming back for you.”  Listen to it. Meditate on it.

So as we approach Sunday, April 5, 2015 – Easter Sunday – and celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior, prepare your heart. Are you willing to share with those around you that “There is a grave that tried to hide this precious blood that gave me (you) life. In three days, He breathed again and rose to stand in my (your) defense.”  Are you ready “to shout and to proclaim He’s coming back for you?”

You see, when Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to the disciples, Jesus first greeted them and then charged them: John 20:21  “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” That charge still applies to His children. 

Pray that on Sunday morning in that room, that those there “get it”. My prayer is that revival just breaks out. God knows we need it. He sent us to tell others. It is the only thing that matters.

He’s alive. I believe.

Still Choosing Joy!


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