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!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“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


I Have Gone and Done It (a.k.a. “Change Happened”)

I get these urges at times to learn something new. I think it is to prove to myself that my technical skills still work. Today, I was determined to figure out HOW to get the World Down Syndrome Day button in my sidebar – that is part of’s promotion this year and important to me. I messed with Blogger and html and could only get it to go to the bottom of the page. I had been toying with the idea of switching to WordPress for a while so today I took the plunge and JUST DID IT.

I need five followers (in addition to myself) on Networked Blogs since this is considered a new blog. This is to confirm that I am indeed the author. If you would be so kind, I would be honored.

Thanks for Still Choosing Joy with me after now almost 10 years!


Jewel Merritt told me the first year (1981) I sang in Carols By Candlelight that it helped if I could sing but the most important thing was that I be flexible!  And I have learned to be fairly flexible over time (you cannot do what I do for a living and for Carols and not be though I confess that I like to be the one in control) but I can and very often do adjust. As I have become more mature (could have just said older!), though, I find myself flexing less.

My first encounter with major change was the BC adventure in 2004 – talk about putting a cramp in your “control” mode! It did make me take a step back and realize that change was often not by choice.

Lately (like most of this year), I feel like every day there is something else changing – looking around me, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it.

I see the change in the lives of friends who are now walking a journey similar to mine with cancer.  I see the and feel the level of concern/anticipation/fear of what is coming at work with a new administration. I get slightly dizzy when I consider the magnitude of change on how financial, human capital, and procurement folks in Mississippi government will do their jobs once we complete the implementation of SAP. I even get a little freaked out when I consider that when Steve’s contract ends in January with the FDIC, he will for real be retired (or so he says – good news there is that he likes to go to the grocery store!!!). And then there is church – seems it is something different every week.

I know God did not create us to stand still. He did not ordain that I sit in the same seat in the choir loft every Sunday morning (I don’t), the same seat in the choir room each week (I do), or carve my name into a pew or a Sunday School room chair. He created us to step forward for Him and change where and when needed. That is a lot easier to say than it is to act on.

I did some looking around in my online NIV version tonight (not sure how we functioned before Google) on the word “change” and where, in context, it is found in scripture. Here are a few of the verses I found.

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19 – I think we know the answer to this question about promises and fulfillment is NO, He does not make promises He does not keep!

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. Daniel 2:21 There is a lot to this verse. Changes to times and seasons – and I do not think the writer was wrapped up in fall colors or the move to daylight savings time!

I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Malachi 3:6 – OK – here is one of those promises He will fulfill (the words to “He Never Failed Me Yet” come to mind).

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17 CONSISTENT = GOD and the good and perfect gifts are what we need rather than what we think we want.

Finally I looked again at Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. That process of “creating” means I have to allow Him to change my heart.  I pray tonight that my heart, and the hearts of those around me, will not be hardened and that we will be a part of change in such a way that what matters is how we become His Church and not be so tied to what may occur inside the building or in the process. Join me and let’s direct our worship to the correct Audience and allow Him to change us all.

One In Spirit and Truth

Two Sundays back, Mark Byrd shared this during his message.

You will never knowingly suffer at my hands.

  • I will never say anything or do anything knowingly to hurt you.
  • I will always, in every circumstance, seek to help and support you.
  • If you’re down and I can lift you up – I’ll do that.
  • If you need something and I have it, I’ll share it with you. If I need to, I will give it to you.

No matter what I find out about you, no matter what happens in the future – either good or bad – my commitment to you will never change.

And there is nothing you can do about it.

I stuck it in my Bible as I thought it worth “reconsidering”.   Pulled it out today and related it to where my life is God-wise, family-wise, church-wise, work-wise (or should I just say “everything-wise”).  It is easy to see things through rose colored glasses when you are out of the day-to-day line of fire of “living”. On vacation, I have been in that mode for the better part of the last two weeks (yes – the State of Mississippi did find me a couple of times for stuff and we were met coming off the plane Wednesday with news that Steve’s mom was in the ER) – still, it was E A S Y compared to the high pressure grind of dealing with the “normal stuff of life” in our everyday world.

I will confess I was not particularly happy about those work things on “my time” though I have been in the same position having to ask things of folks who are out of the office or about Steve’s mom (I know she did not do it on purpose).  Realized (again) how my lows/highs swing and how quickly my focus comes off what God wants to what Cille wants. And in my reactions – others are WATCHING!

In react mode, do I “knowingly” hurt someone? Does “every circumstance” include vacation time when other need help and support and lifting folks up?  How willing am I to share or even give things up (including time) for someone who needs it?  Hmm. Becomes personal. Very personal.

In 2003-2004 (my last round as Sanctuary Choir President), I chose these verses from Philippians 2:1-2 for that year: “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

I think Paul is saying here some of the same things Mark Byrd did – if I am in complete fellowship with the Spirit, then His joy is completed if I share His mind, His love, am united in His spirit, and intent on His purpose.

Tomorrow is back to work. AND Carols is coming! And there are things within our family and circle of friends to tend to! And … And… And…. As Steve and reminded each other last week, we “get” to do all of this as well as play. I hope I have these verses planted deep enough in my heart that I just live them because I know He, too, is watching.

I put this on my phone as wallpaper – as reminder to be at peace!