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!

Cille

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

Cille

 

Emmanuel

Baby in the Manger
Baby in the Manger

 

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:23 KJV)

During The Hope of Christmas, we are doing selections from The Symphony of Christmas. The opening scene reminds us that in Genesis 22:8 (NASB), Abraham told Issac as he prepared his only son for sacrifice in obedience to God that God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.

The following scenes capture the realization of the prophecy surrounding the birth of Jesus. The Angel appears to Mary and then to Joseph and then the couple begins their journey to Bethlehem. The Jews had waited for this for years – yet, they missed it.  You see they sought an earthly king and not a Heavenly One. They (we) failed to get that God’s plan for them was not their (our) plans for themselves (ourselves).

“O come, O come Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lowly exile here. Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel. Shall come to thee, O Israel.”  The basis of Israel’s plea is the promise found in Isaiah 7:14 (KJV): Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. The promise is clear – a baby, conceived by a virgin, the Son of God. I just have never understood how they missed that point. I am certain there are a lot of things I don’t understand!

So often we see in a situation what we want to see. God sees clearly. He knew the desires of the hearts of the Jews in the days of Jesus’ birth as He knows the desires of our hearts. Truly, we are not worthy to bow down at that manager and worship any more than those kings and shepherds were all those years ago. Yet because God provided the Lamb, we are redeemed!

The Old Testament is rich with the prophecy of Jesus’ coming as “Emmanuel, God with us”. The little book of Micah so specifically tells this in chapter 5:2-4: But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 

Micah is talking about us – the Gentiles – the “rest of the brothers!” My favorite Christmas verse is the first part of verse 5: And he will be our peace.  Jesus was and is our peace.

I am not one of those who is constantly looking for end-times’ signs. I (right, wrong, indifferent) don’t get hung up in the calendar. I am fully certain, though, Jesus will return as He promised. Our responsibility is to be personally ready and to be obedient to His Great Commission to tell others.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” God is with us. I believe.

Still Choosing Joy

Cille

 

 

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

Name Calling With a Purpose

In my last post, Silence of Saturday, we found Mary Magdalene distressed and grieving with unseeing eyes at the Empty Tomb, and Jesus called her name! Jesus did some other name calling that I had not really considered until yesterday when Dr. Frank Page preached from this text in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 16, verses 1-8 (NIV, emphasis mine):

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.     

Dr. Page’s focus was on “leaving too soon”. Peter certainly missed out and left Jesus too soon when he denied Him that terrible evening in the courtyard of the high priest after he had denied Christ three times, just as Jesus predicted Peter would (Mark 14). Embarrassed, terrified, grief-stricken, Peter is out of the scene. My guess: at that moment when that cock crowed, Peter, burly, loud, braggart Peter, understood finally what sin really is. I also guess Peter sulked off into the night, not to lick his wounds, but to consider what he had done and what he (thought he) had lost.

At the empty tomb that Resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene was given a specific task by the angel at the tomb, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter” – Jesus knew Peter would have disassociated himself in his disobedience and denial. Jesus wanted to make sure that Peter knew he was still important to Jesus, that there was work still for Peter to do, and that Jesus expected Peter in Galilee with the disciples who remained.  Jesus called Peter’s name.

When Christ called Peter’s name, He was saying to Peter to stay with Him. As Dr. Page shared, if we stay with Him, our destiny can be rerouted for Jesus has a job for us to do, too. Our destiny can change just like Peter’s did (remember that Peter was the “rock” upon which Jesus built His church!). Even if we, too, leave Him too soon, we can come back and be changed in Him!

Do you know Jesus? He is calling your name! Have you left Jesus? Come back. He is calling your name!

 
Note: Dr. Frank S. Page is president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and Transitional Pastor of First Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi.