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.

NOEL – Fearless for Him

Carols Weekend 2018 is here.  I am looking forward to the weekend and sharing with the thousands who have tickets and who will watch via the web and television (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day).

This year has had more than its share of challenges.  This is my 38th Carols (out of 49 total) and the challenges, at times, have been staggering. But, I was reminded last night in a conversation with a long time choir member, that this is not about us.  Not at all.  And if we lose our excitement in the pettiness of circumstances that surround us, then we have completely missed the point of why we lead worship (for we are all “worship leaders”) be it for Carols or on Sundays.

I do believe Carols is a time of worship – always have – and though there are performance elements to Carols (and for Sundays, for that matter), my personal conviction is that this is not a show or performance or maybe even a concert. It is a worship service and I try my best to treat it as such in how I spiritually and emotionally prepare. And no, I am not always successful because I am human and I allow myself to get distracted and derailed by circumstances that surround me.

nativity.jpgStill, I want to “be fearless in what sets my soul on fire” and that is to use the gifts I have been given to tell others about Jesus in the best way I know how (which frankly, my gifts may be interpreted by some as just being BOSSY!!).  This year I have had a chance to mentor some amazing young adults and often we have talked about this very thing, using the gifts God has given them fearlessly in pursuing their life goals – what truly has set their souls on fire.IMG_0325

I am praying for those participating, those coming, those leading, those supporting in countless roles, those extending the invitation to follow Jesus – that we will not be distracted by circumstances but will, instead, be fearless in sharing His Story from the fire that is within us.  Truthfully, we are going to be digging deep at times because Carols is physically draining but the JOY in sharing this gift with the community and the world WILL sustain us as we share what is on our hearts.  And because it is all for HIM then we should be without any kind of fear for He lives in us and sets our souls on fire if we allow Him to do so. I also pray that we will express this in how we approach each other and by what is seen on our faces and heard in our music.

Here we go. Lord, please show us the way and give us the courage to be fearless for You.

Still choosing joy!

Cille

 

 

 

Confessions of a Southern Baptist Churchman

Book CoverI love writing that is personal, not contrived, and brutally honest in self assessment.  I found that when I read Confessions of a Southern Baptist Churchman authored by my friend, fellow Sanctuary Choir member, and member of First Baptist Church Jackson, Kendall Smith.  Kendall is an interesting fellow and has done a lot of things. My favorite is that he referees high school football and he was great friends with Frank Stebbins, the first guy I worked for at the State of Mississippi.  I also could identify with many of the issues he was dealing with since I am a member at FBCJ and was there before he got there.  I also had the distinct “privilege” of dealing with Mr. Barefield (just read the book) as the landlord for my office space.

Kendall’s honest assessment of his walk with God is refreshing. He is very frank and open. He brings out three watershed times that his faith had to kick in at a different level.  It is a heart warming story about God working through life of a guy regardless of the circumstances. He very graciously dedicates it to his lovely wife Sheila (and I can assure you Kendall is way over married) and managed to get some well respected folks in the community to read his manuscript as well as write an introduction for him.

I recommend you check this out at www.doodlevillemedia.com or contact Kendall directly at kendall@doodlevillemedia.com. You will enjoy the experience.

Cille