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!


Behold the Lamb

Manger in the Shadow of the Cross
Manger in the Shadow of the Cross

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NASB)

I took this photo during a “box scene” rehearsal in 2012. The Nativity and the Cross never appear together during Carols, but I think this fully captures the story of The Hope of Christmas. The simplicity of that stable on that quiet night to the horror of that cross on a terrible Friday in the most public of venues.

In Genesis 3:15 (NIV): God condemns the serpent (Satan) and, while banishing Adam and Eve from paradise due to their bad decision-making, lays the groundwork for hope: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. “Her offspring” – Jesus, the Lamb of God.

In the Old Testament, the sacrifices required a “perfect” lamb as the Passover lamb. Exodus 12:5 sets that out for the sons of Israel: Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.  Yet it was obvious if you follow the patterns of sin / repentance / sin / repentance – that the sacrificing of a lamb, though representative, was not a final path to redemption.

Yet when, as noted in an earlier post, when Abraham told Issac (Genesis 22:8 NASB) that God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son, he knew that God already knew what was required for our redemption.

When they hung Jesus on that cross instead of you or me, He was still perfect in every way – no blemish, no disobedience, no avoidance – fully God though fully man – and the perfect Lamb. At the cross that terrible day, consider what happened (Matthew 27:50-54, NASB): And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”  And indeed He is.

Behold the Lamb. I believe.

Still Choosing Joy



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 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


A Personal Relationship

II Timothy 2:12b-13
II Timothy 2:12b-13

Something happened yesterday that got me really wound up. Those of you who know me are thinking “so what else is new?”  The question was, as I understood it, where in Scripture does it say our relationship with Christ is personal or that we really have a relationship. I keep hoping I heard that out of context. Praying I heard that out of context.

I believe that John 3:16 is personal. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” – the world includes me. When I made my profession of faith, my pastor told me to personalize this verse. It made perfect sense when I did. I know Jesus Christ lives in me, and I pray that others perceive that in me.

I believe in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Three in one. Can I always explain it? No. Can I accept it? Yes. Do I do that blindly? No. Scripture supports what I believe, what I am called to share.

I believe that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you have a personal relationship with Him. Does that mean you are perfect? Unfortunately not. Does that mean you have visions where you see Jesus or hear direct spoken words from Him – in my case, that is not true though that has occurred and is documented throughout the scriptures (see, for example, Moses at the burning bush, Elijah as he ran away because he was tired, David after he had sinned and lost so much in his disobedience, Abraham who by faith put Issac on that altar because God told him to do that and who by faith, according to Hebrew 11:8 “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”) There are plenty more examples.

So, since I have not laid my near-sighted (in many senses) human eyes on Jesus or heard His literal voice in my human ears, can I not know Him personally?  I do know Him personally!  He is with me in good times and not so good times. He has comforted me in everything from cancer to death of those I love. He has given me peace that can only come from Him and frankly stopped me dead in my tracks from saying or doing things that would get me into all sorts of trouble at work and within my circle of influence. He kept me from harm on the highway (I can tell you when and where). He has a plan for me and shows me it as we move together day by day. He is patient with my impatience yet He gets me to move. He calms me (Psalms 34:4) “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” He is, according to Proverbs 18:24 that “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” He is without question, that Friend, who gave up His life for me.  What He asks of me and how He explains it is this (John 15: 12-13): My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

I also believe you cannot pick apart the Gospel, taking some of it because it fits you and ignoring the rest.  As my friend Lavon Gray often shares: “The Cradle lies in the shadow of the Cross.” I will take that a step further. The Cross is the bridge between the Cradle (physical birth) and the Empty Tomb (eternal life). When I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I accepted that Jesus death on that awful Cross bridged that very gap for me.

We get so hung up on semantics.  Jesus obviously had traditional personal relationships with the twelve disciples and others – Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, to name a few. Even when Peter denied him, Jesus acknowledged Peter and called his name even after Peter had so openly denied Him that night in the garden of the High Priest. Would we be so forgiving or anxious to move our relationships with each other forward if a friend behaved that way with us? Doubtful. His relationships with the disciples were multifaceted. He did not do all the giving (though He could have). He expects our relationship with Him to be that way, too.

I believe. God is with us! How can that be if the relationship is not personal? That’s a question you need to answer.