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

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!

Cille

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Cacophony

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

Cille

New Jerusalem

I have challenged myself to study a different scripture each day during Carols Week that explains the text of one of the songs in The Hope of Christmas. (Sanctuary Choir members – as you prepare for this week, I challenge you to do the same.) It is so important that we internalize what we are sharing through music and drama.

I started with what I already know will be my favorite song – New Jerusalem. Catherine Carter Sledge is the soloist (and Choir President) and sang this during worship on December 1.  During Carols, this is toward the end of the concert but oh how it ties everything we are sharing together.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:2, 27 NIV)

Honestly – these verses just scratch the surface.  Read the entire chapter. Verse 4 is one of my all time favorites and reminds us that in heaven the tears are gone – no need for them ever again. Think about it.

 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. (Revelation 21:4 NIV)

God goes to great lengths to describe the Holy City – this New Jerusalem.  Elaborate is a gross understatement. Most importantly, He addresses how pure it is.  And He seals it with the reminder that to live there, your name must be found in the “Lamb’s book of life.”

God provided that Lamb. Do you know Him? Have you found The Hope of Christmas?

 

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