For the first time in thirty-eight years, I have not written nor am I directing a nearly two hour Christmas Celebration. Do I miss the work, the stress, the several hundred singers, instrumentalists, the actors, dancers, large media team, the sets, the crowds, the JOY? Well….yes, yes I do. HOWEVER, this year I have the opportunity lead a totally marvelous and gracious family of singers and instrumentalist, The Poplar Springs Choir, as we lead a very powerful and beautiful celebration, THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS, at Poplar Springs Baptist Church, Lavonia, Georgia. The Sunday morning, December 9th, “music and the Word” worship service will be led by Pastor Bruce McGee. We will sing the Gospel and Bruce will speak the Gospel.
After well over fifty years of ministry, the “next” opportunity is always the best and Poplar Springs is my next opportunity as I am honored to serve as interim music man. These dear folks join the several thousands singers, keyboard players, horn-blowers, drum beaters, camera operators, sound engineers, etc. that have partnered with me over the years in sharing the Gospel story of the birth of Christ.
Regardless of the size of the church or the choir, the central theme is the love a grace God has poured on us in the person of Jesus Christ. Believers are weary of this “new world” that is working hard to skirt and even apologize for the fact that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Of course, the world has always rejected God, but it seems with all the world wide multiple media outlets, including social media, everyone who rejects Christ are on full-press attack. The saddest thing this that too many believers, in the name of love, don’t want to upset and have become introvert Christians, fearful to be the witness Christ has called us to be. It is not my job to attempt to force Christ on anyone. I simply hate to see people miss out on the amazing grace found in Jesus Christ.
Now I don’t believe any believer should be obnoxious, rude, or in-your-face, but it is time for us to unapologetically declare our faith in the shed blood of Christ that pour out on all who trust Him His love, grace, forgiveness, abundant and eternal life. Christmastime is an easy time to invite believes and unbelievers alike to special Christmas Celebrations, concerts, worship service, Christmas Eve candlelight services, and even cantatas.
If your church is presenting a special Christmas program, be there, invite, and even bring family and friends. One single event like this can revolutionize your Christmas and when you look into the eyes of the Baby Jesus, you will see the Risen Savior.
If you don’t have a church home and are even close to Northeast Georgia, join us a Poplar Springs, Sunday morning, December 9, 11:00. The entire month of December is focused on the Miracle of Christmas as Pastor Bruce shares each Lord’s Day from God Word.
Earlier today I posted my first blog in almost two years. Why it has been so long? I’m not really sure, but I guess I was focused elsewhere. However, after a three and half year “interim” at a truly wonderful church, Level Grove in Cornelia, Georgia, I retired again. For me, retirement is really good… in small increments. I believe the Lord will lead me to another church to serve as interim or something in the not too distant future.
My wife, Dorothy, has had a rough few years physically with hip and knee replacement on top of the removal of a benign brain cyst, and most recently, revision hip surgery. She is doing well and we believe she will be well recovered by late spring. She has kept a great spirit through it all and her faith has strengthened all the more. This time off for me has allowed me to be of help to her. At least at this point, we will remain members of Level Grove. Dorothy told me I could go wherever, but she loves her pastor, Dr. Brian James and her Sunday School class; unless I really feel she needed to follow me around, she will stay put.
In 2016 we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary (they don’t let nine-year-olds marry any more….) and are fast approaching fifty-two. Where I am the June-bug on a string buzzing round as far as I can reach, Dot is the steady sensible one. As the song says, “I Am One Blessed Man,” which, by the way, will be the title song of my next recording if I ever get it done.
I remain active with the Sons of Jubal, making myself available for concerts, workshops,interim, or just fill-in for friends. I guess because I’m old, older, I’m called upon by some of my younger colleagues for help or encouragement; I am humbled, yet honored. I’m reading new music and trying to learn a few new licks on my guitar. I’m reading a great deal and doing a lot of things around the house. Also during this sabbatical I’m visiting churches of “like faith” but not necessarily of “like order.” I’m eager to experience how others are communicating the Gospel. The Gospel never changes, but the way we communicate it does. I believe it is vital, even for an ‘old guy’ to be instant in season and out of season.
It has been a very long time since I wrote on my blog and during this “sabbatical” much has happened and I’ve learned many things. I plan to write several blogs in the next few days, maybe even later today, to express where our life and ministry is as we launch out into 2018.
After well over fifty years of leading music for worship, singing solos, singing with college groups, countless churches, Missouri Music Men, the Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma, the Florida Singing Men, etc, and for the past twenty years or so singing with Georgia’s Sons of Jubal, I have sung literally thousands of songs. There have been some “clunkers,” but most have been great. As has been said by others, “These songs are the soundtrack of my life.” Throughout every day I either deliberately sing and or rehearse a song that plants joy and truth into my heart and life; sometimes these songs just pop in my head. Today the word would be an underscore pad playing constantly; in the past, I would have called it a pedal tone. Whatever, it is there all the time reminding me who God is and what Christ has done for me and for whoever will call on Him. Actually, it is the Holy Spirit manifesting His presence through these wonderful songs.
I wake up most mornings with a song in my head and generally in my heart as well. Often that song is one I’m working on, yet sometimes it is an old hymn like “Jesus Paid it All” or “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” maybe “The Well” or “I Sing Because” from my 2013 CD. I don’t know why some of the songs are there except that the Lord wants to remind me of a truth. Last week Jon Duncan introduced a new song to the Jubals for our spring concerts, “He Will Hold Me Fast,” written by Mathew Merker, arranged by Phillip Keveren and voiced for the Jubals by David Ray.
When I fear my faith will fail, He will hold me fast……When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast….I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path, for my love is often cold, He must hold me fast…..Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast….Precious in His holy sight, He will hold me fast….He’ll not let my soul be lost, His promises shall last; bought by Him at such a cost, He will hold me fast…
I woke singing this song all last weekend; it was just there. I can’t think of this “new” without singing “Blessed Assurance” at the same time; same message with fresh, powerful deep lyrics and when that message of love and security is sung in a 21st century setting, which happens to be the century we now live, the Truth becomes fresh and floods my gut, my brain, my soul with peace.
Old songs/hymns of the faith hold our theology, are familiar, and are vital to our worship, but New songs are important as well. A new song doesn’t bring “new truth,” if it is attempts to change God’s Word we need to leave it alone. However, a new song can express the ancient Word, the ancient truth, in a fresh way. Of course, a song is not good because it is new, it is not good because it is old, it is good because it is good. No matter how cool or beautiful the melody and harmony, pay close attention to make certain the lyric matches the plumb line of God’s Word.
Last week I read an article from Hill Song’s Darlene Zscheh that expresses the idea of “new.”
We see that the Levites were trained and skilled in making music before the Lord (1 Chr 25:7). Never compare or be skillful for the sake of it, yet always encourage people to be developing their gifts, to try new things, new ideas. Be vigilant to train and grow and strive for freshness in all that you have been given, for the glory of his name. As the Scripture says:
- Sing new songs (Isa 42:10).
- You will be called by a new name (Isa 62:2).
- I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them (Ezek 11:19).
New songs, new day, new start, new hope, new mercy, new possibilities, new ideas, new ways, new people. God says “new heaven and a new earth,” “new covenant,” “new self,” “new heart,” “new command,” “new creation”…new, new, new!
As I re-read the following paragraphs, I became depressed even though I wrote the text. However, the bottom line, God is in charge. I have victory in Jesus as to all believers. We have joy even in the middle of elections. This world is not our home, yet, while here, I belive our Lord expects us to be bold and take an unapologetic stand on God’s Word. We are not to be jerks, be rude and obnoxious, but we are not to cave on Truth.
Last night I watched the Texas Republican Debate. I had an afghan near me and time and again I put it over my head. The three front runners acted anything but presidential. They screamed, talked over one another, and were totally rude. I am a total conservative at virtually every level, but I was embarrassed, ashamed, and disgusted. Trump, Rubio, and Cruz were like third graders fighting on the playground. Kasich was like the nerd eager to hang out with the cool guys wishing he had what it took to get into the fight.
A rich man never has to act like he is rich, he just is. A strong man doesn’t have to knock things over to prove he is strong, he just is. A wise man doesn’t have to talk about how wise he is, he just exhibits wisdom. The weak and insecure are the one’s who scream.
Carson was, “Mr. Cool,” and though it is apparent in the media today few actually paid much attention to him. “Everyone has equal rights, but not extra rights.” Then when he referred to the “Fruit salad of our lives,” he stepped even further above the frey. It took a while, but CNN and FOX finally figured out his reference was Matthew 7:16, ‘by their fruits you will know them.’ The “top rung” of candidates may have some good vines, but the fruit produced last night was rotten. In no way could I vote for a liberal or socialist, those platforms are entirely in opposition to God’s Word, still, I am frustrated with the conservative choices.
Listening to “the people” in my community and those interviewed on television, most are as disgusted as I am. However, apparently, there are millions that are basking it it all. The media loves it and seems to be able to sort it all out. I totally ‘get’ differing ideas, but I can’t grasp that men who believe they can lead and represent the United States, host, and negotiate with other world leaders can act like adolesent scrapping children. I ‘get it’ that it is going to take a bold, unapologetic conservative leader to begin to turn this old ship around, but these men need to mature a great deal before they are ready to do so. Every screaming soundbite was inappropriate and will be used by the opposition in the final campaign.
More than thirty years ago there was a major conflict in the Southern Baptist Convention over the conservative/moderate camps in oppositoin to the more liberal Baptists. The outward issues were the inerrency of the Bible, women pastors, and to a lesser degree the gay movement. There were other issues, but these were the outward expressions of the opposing camps. I traveled with conservative leaders as the singer to a number of events. We drove, we flew, we walked, etc. I sang many songs and led a lot of choirs. I really didn’t know what all was going on, I simply loved to sing and share Christ with my music, but I observed and learned a great deal.
As I traveled I began to witness absured behavior in both camps. These men were hateful to each other. They had to have their way. Leaders would be on the platform debating the issues and church members and zealous new believers had to watch the spectacle. Young pastors who came with great antipcation, eager to meet the leaders of this “Great Commission” organization left dejected and I know of some who left the ministry. I was shaken, but had I not been mature enough in my faith to be secure in Christ and in my calling, I would have walked out and never returned. These godly leaders, acting ungodly, “hurt a lot of children.” I often said, “The liberals think the conservatives are idots and the conservatives think the liberals are lost.”
Again, I “got it” that there were differing ideas, but to act as they did turned me totally away from convention participation. The unbelieveing media, newspapers, TV, and radio, observed all of this foolishness and had a hayday. I was embarrassed and I haven’t attended a national SBC event since.
Back to the election, I’m not throwing in the towel, and I will vote. However, regardless of who the Republican candidate is in November, he will recieve my vote. I will pray without ceasing for our country, for my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and for you and yours.