Prior to a concert of worship music given by either the Tennessee Ladies Chorus or Tennessee Mens Chorale the group gathers to be led in devotional thought by one of its members, and then to pray together before lining up for the concert. I find it to always be a deeply meaningful time for the group and for me as director. The following is the devotional given by Tommy Moore, Church Pianist for First Baptist Church Dresden, and member of Tennessee Mens Chorale. It was given before the group’s concert at Tommy’s church in Dresden on November 8, 2015, and jused here by permission.
Two things first came to my mind when Scott asked me to do the devotional this evening.
1) A couple of weeks ago, Ray Westveer put “John Wesley’s Notes on Singing” on Facebook.
2) AND I am a member of the Martin Philharmonic Music Guild. In that Guild, in the membership booklet is a poem, entitled – “Collect”. We often recite the Collect at the beginning of our meetings.
I have discovered that a collect, as many of you may be aware, is a short general prayer of a particular structure, often poetry, used in Christian liturgy.
In the Martin Music Guild’s Collect, is the phrase, “We praise and thank Thee Father, for the gift of music…”
We have all been given grace. Grace is the greatest part of the Christian life. The greatest example of grace each of us has received is — saving grace. But I believe there are other graces that we receive throughout life. I describe grace as an unmerited, unearned gift for which we are unworthy or which is unexpected and we had no part in obtaining. The grace oft described in the phrase, “…there but for the grace of God go I.”
One of those other gifts of grace I have received is music. It is a gracious gift from God, the One from whom we receive all good and perfect gifts. I am not describing the general blessing of music available to all humans. I refer to the desire to hear music, the love of music, the appreciation for music, the feel and touch of music, the capacity of being transported and enraptured by music – THAT GIFT. Few people have been given THAT gift. Most, perhaps all of us, here, in this room, have been granted THAT “special” gift of music. If so, we have been offered something few others have. And I am not just talking about a talent for singing, a beautiful voice or an incredible singing range or the ability to play an instrument or having an ear for melody or harmony. It is more the “gift of the LOVE of music.”
I don’t know when I first realized I had been given this blessing.
I think each of us, given this gift, those who possess this gift, must take a musical journey. We must take it, like a Pilgrim’s Progress, in order to be found worthy of it — it is so precious. But once found worthy, God bestows it upon us.
My journey began with the piano. I did not enjoy learning to play the piano. The practice was drudgery. The practice was one hour per night. The piano located in the bedroom of my mother and father. My father was a disabled veteran, having lost both legs to a land mine. He often went to bed early to take off his legs, to rest. He timed our practice from his bed.
I was ready to quit at 12. Two things prevented it, the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story” and my Dad — who, looking back, did not possess the gift. In my family, I am convinced, God gave the gift of the love of music, only to me. My Mother did not have it. My Father did not have it. My sister does not have it.
Having been found worthy, God then gave me — George Gershwin. Later he introduced me to Elmo Mercer, through his piano arrangements, “Piano Quiet Time — Devotional Improvisations for Moments of Meditation.” Then God allowed me to sing in a Quartet. Then football produced a reason to love music. I started sitting at the piano without a clock or supervision, playing, to sooth my soul, the evenings before football games in which I played. Music became a balm of peace, a blanket of comfort — a friend — a part of my life. Then I became a Music Director, at 17 years of age, at FBC Gleason.
God said to me — “You are given this gift of music. If you will use it to glorify me, to spread the Gospel, then I will enhance it , magnify it, heighten your appreciation of it, your understanding and your love for all music.
The Collect continues, “Through us, as channels of Thy grace, may this blessed legacy be shared with all mankind.”
Our musical pilgrimage may be different, but we have all arrived here tonight with it.
Tonight I pray that we sing as those who realize we possess two things unique — the gift of saving grace and the special gift or grace of the love of music. May we be channels of both of those graces.
Remember, then, as we share those graces in song, the words of John Wesley – the second thing that God placed on my heart, originally.
“Sing all. Sing lustily and with a good courage. Yet sing modestly, to make one clear melodious sound. Sing in time.
But last, above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.”
As a pray, as you bow, I will read, of all things another collect I discovered, The Collect for John and Charles Wesley
Lord God, who inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with a burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, God Almighty — giver of all good and perfect things, creator and giver of music [and the gift of the love of music]. Amen
OK, the title of this article is a bit tongue-in-cheek seeing as I am fairly sure that most Tennessee Baptists likely spent more time and a lot more effort offering church activities as a counter to Halloween this weekend than gave much, if any consideration to an observance of All Saints Day, which follows “All Hallows Eve” from which Halloween was born (with regards to Hallmark and costume vendors everywhere). I won’t get into the pagan roots of Halloween nor try to trace the assimilation with Roman Catholic and Protestant practices that can still stir up a caldron-full of heated arguments among Baptists when discussing whether we should or should not involve ourselves in this observance. (see what I did there?)
I did note a few Facebook posts indicating Baptist congregations who spent service time Sunday remembering the departed from among their congregation, just as I noted some who dedicated the previous Sunday to recall the great Reformation of 1517 (Get ready, the 500th anniversary is only 24 months down the road). I know that most Southern Baptists pay little attention to either of these days, as such, even though the significance of the events or aspects they signify are foundational to the practice of our faith, and especially in worship. Were it not for the Reformation we might not have the scripture in our own language. Just think of the significance of that one outcome! The Reformation began a sentiment whereby Protestants relegated authority to the Bible’s teaching, and not to the papacy. As that way of thinking took root, historic shifts in philosophy, politics, and society were implemented. You can look these things up in books, or on Google or Wikipedia (I know which most of you would use), just like I can. My point is that surely such a profound significance deserves having Pastor-Teachers, and/or Worship Leaders call attention to God’s hand at work through a time that was marked by oppression and struggle, yet in His faithfulness He delivered.
As for the recognition of saints gone before, the emphasis provides an important opportunity to remind our worshiping congregations of the universal Church that includes all who have come before us, and to remember those who are now departed. There is good comfort in recalling that though the beloved no longer worship in the same physical space with us that they once occupied, they now join the everlasting song in which we participate as we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. So many of our congregational hymns have included the heaven verse (usually the final verse) that brings our attention to the important reality of the ultimate triumph of Christ in our lives and in the world. How we need this message of certain hope in our day. Singing the truth of old hymns in simple ways that allow for contemplation, even of the individuals who use to sit in the pews we now occupy, can stir in we worshipers that spirit of joy to know Who holds the future, and Who is the object of our praise, as we contemplate when one day we will join “at the River that flows by the throne of God.”
In my first days serving at the TBC a member of our staff had just completed extensive research into postmodernism. In a presentation he made to a group of church leaders he gave statistics indicating trends toward more contemplative worship environments. A couple of pastors present took exception to the notion, and did not mind voicing their disbelief. One in particular engaged in open disagreement arguing with the statistical evidence. It became embarrassing. The pastor was presuming a previous trajectory toward a mega-church model which he obviously felt would continue. His contention was probably fueled by his personal investment in leading his own church away from its traditional norms in hopes of becoming one of those mega churches. Talk of smaller settings, traditional, even ancient liturgical forms, use of crafted sacred art, simpler music expression and natural acoustics was all anomaly for this pastor who had spent leadership capital trying to convince his congregation to give up those very practices. It reminded me of another colleague who once declared of postmodernism, “We’ve got to stop it!” Of course his declaration was tongue-in-cheek and we often quipped about our attempts to halt the direction of any cultural tsunami. Times change. Culture around us changes, and with it our sensibilities may well change. The challenge for the believer is to discern what to embrace and what to reject.
Oh how quickly we lose sight of the fluid nature of our sensibilities that lean one way for awhile and then another way for awhile and eventually may well swing right back in a direction similar to where we first started. Any music minister who has set out to adjust styles of music in worship in response to requests or complaints knows the fickle nature of human feelings. Moving from one style to another will likely please some and aggravate others in the church. What’s more, those who are pleased for the moment may well be upset in a short time and demand change again. The point is that sensibilities shift and adjust in individual worshipers and in congregations. There are obvious reasons for such shifts. Some may be simply explained by the fickle nature of human beings, but other reasons may have deeper significance and purpose appropriate to our mission in gathered worship. One of the challenges for worship leaders is to discern the spirits including the impulses behind changes we might consider in the worship design of the church. Some changes may be driven by market competition as we look at what other churches are doing. Changes can be motivated by the fantasies of egotistical leaders, or through plain greed to have something better, more current, more showy than church “B” down the street. On the other hand, some reasons for adjusting our environments, including music, may well be rooted in issues and motivations that are firmly biblical, theological, and ecclesiological. Adjustments driven by biblical understanding obviously should hold priority in our considerations as we prayerfully apply modifications intended to aid worship renewal. Here are some motivations that may well be rooted in purposes consistent with biblical teaching:
- More fully engaging the whole congregation in participative worship expression
- Fostering expressions of prayer and praise in heart language such that encourages genuine spiritual community
- Nurturing theologically rich worship in thinking and passion
- Enhancing a spirit of hospitality and fellowship
- Integration of races and ethnicities more reflective of the community
- Encourage intergenerational interaction, respect, and serving
- Remember the contributions of the past and celebrate God’s faithfulness in past experiences
- Testify to the present work of the Holy Spirit in life and in faith practice
- Proclaim the triumphant claims of Christ for the future into eternity
Let us faithfully pray that any change we consider for our gathered worship environments will be effective in deepening our obedience in following the Lord. Let us be diligent to consider the church, not only for the present moment, but for where it is headed and what will be its needs for years to come. Let us pray for revival that might begin in our own hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray it would spread in our congregations and on to other sister churches, and to the community around us. May we be open to the changes the Lord desires and be faithful to implement as He leads.
The longer I serve in ministry the more convinced I am of the need for strong fellowship among ministers. I preach that need when I have opportunity to try and foster strong fellowship within a multiple-minister staff. As all Tennessee Worship Music Ministers know I preach the need for fellowship among fellow worship ministry leaders in towns, associations, in regions, and of course as part of the state fellowship. I encourage participation in larger national organizations, conferences, and opportunities as well. I suppose to the uninformed they might look on ministry groups as just a kind of professional club, or a musicians lunch bunch. Talking “shop” to some might seem a waist of time or something they would rather save for an internet chatroom or online seminar. True ministry fellowship goes much deeper. Regardless of what it might look like from the outside, lifelong friendships are developed and fostered in the relationships begun in these groups. These relationships have always played an important role in my own life and ministry, personal and vocational, which is a reason I believe in their value so strongly. In fact, I really believe the importance they have played in my life has been one of the means by which the Lord has prepared me for my present ministry role. It is not just about what I get out of the relationships, but there is rich fulfillment in contributing to and with others.
Events of this week have reminded me in potent ways how critical these relationships can be. First, there was the celebration of life service last Monday, and the close-up reminder of a close relationship between our brothers Scott Andrews and Allen Bowling, now at Jesus’ side. I was reminded by the powerful ministry of 30 brothers along with Mary McDonald as we shared music for Allen’s service and sought to express our love to Trish and that dear family. I was also reminded by the numerous calls and emails from others who simply could not arrange the trip on such short notice, but expressed prayerful support. All the way to Johnson City and back home I was reminded as well in the sharing of the journey with our carload, Wayne Causey, Richard Dickerson, and Phil Lundy. Somehow the emotional and physical burden is lightened when there is opportunity to laugh and cry together and keep one another alert for the long miles of a late night trip, punctuated by quick stops for burgers and potty breaks.
The rest of the week continued this theme for me in that I was at Union and got to spend a bit of time with students, with my dear friend, Chris Mathews and with a couple of pastors, a new bivocational music leader to be, and had lunch with a Worship Music Minister who has my same last name, Ricky Clark. At the end of a long day in the office trying to catch up on reports due and planning details I got a call from Ebbie who had been in a wreck. Before I even began to drive on my speedy journey to where the accident occurred I texted Wayne to let him know I would not be at choir rehearsal and to ask for prayer for Ebbie. Part of sharing the journey is praying for our families and family concerns. Thursday had me in Memphis to do a site visit at Kirby Woods where TLC and TMC will rehearse before convention and then Johnny Coggin and I went down so he could introduce me to the staff ministers at Memphis Union Mission where the groups will be singing Monday, November 9. Again, the joy of relationship in ministry was expressed in fellowship. After sharing fellowship at lunch and return to Kirby Woods Johnny introduced me around to his fellow staff ministers and assistants. So many signs of healthy relationships and shared kingdom focus.
In three short weeks we have opportunity to come together as Worship Music Ministers and as music ministry leaders for events surrounding the TBC SUMMIT. TMC has a concert Sunday evening in Dresden, TLC and TMC rehearse Monday at Kirby Woods and sing and serve at the Memphis Union Mission Monday evening, and sing for worship at the ANNUAL MEETING on Tuesday. For some it will seem too much to cram in to an already hectic schedule of ministry activity. I strongly encourage you to see it instead as part of your journey as a fellow minister and leader in the church and in the Kingdom. These shared times of ministering together build us as disciples in the fellowship of kingdom work, and foster relationships for the times when the call about a death, or a wreck, or a joy, or a need are made to or from your phone, or when you need to spend a day or a lunch with a brother or sister who is part of a healthy ministry staff.
‘til we see Him face to face tune our hearts to sing Your grace.’
Worship that has us praying and singing with mind and spirit as the Apostle Paul admonished opens us up to offer depths of expression that leave us vulnerable to transparent emotions. As a person who tends to be emotional anyway, episodes with health issues have left me even less capable of controlling my tendency for tears to flow. Even though I work to be at peace with this tendency there is a struggle to keep emotions in check , especially never wanting to be a distraction in worship. On top of that life circumstances sometimes just makes expression of worship a challenge. What a powerful picture was given as a community gathered for worship following the shootings in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina last Summer. In the midst of emotional hurt some people find worship too full of emotional triggers and therefore stay away. A dear family in our church in Georgia lost their college age daughter to a senseless abduction and murder. The mother was unable to attend worship for quite sometime. Eventually she prayed through her emotional block, but confessed that worship, and especially singing continued to be hard. In another congregation I served a church matriarch who had been a spirited worshiper suffered a stroke. As a result of residual effects Ms. Nellie could no longer sing or speak. She would sit in worship service and cry through the hymns. On a visit to her home with the pastor I asked her how she was doing in the worship services. She wept and wrote on a piece of paper, “It is hard.” In time Ms. Nellie brought a white handkerchief with her to worship and waved the hanky in the air as a sign of her expression of worship. Though it was hard she continued to worship.
Monday I will join other members of the Tennessee Mens Chorale at Boone Trail Baptist Church in Johnson City to minister in a worship service celebrating the life of our brother and Tennessee Mens Chorale member and former president, Allen Bowling. Allen’s death was a shock. It is hard to understand how he could survive surgical removal of a cancerous brain tumor and struggle with related issues of life function only to be killed while out for a walk when struck by a car as he attempted to cross the street. We will gather to worship the Sovereign God in Whom we place our trust and faith when we celebrate the life of Allen, and it will be hard. No doubt we will reflect on many great memories of laughter, fun, corny jokes, beautiful music, organizational determination, and shared Gospel ministry through song. Nevertheless, my anticipation is that there will be a sense in which the worship will be hard. Nevertheless, we surely recognize that the ironies of life are far beyond our understanding, which is all the more reason to trust our faithful Heavenly Father and worship Him.
This morning at Forest Hills Baptist Wayne led us in singing the great worship hymn by Horatio Spafford, It Is Well with My Soul. There on the front row sat our pastor whose wife is battling A.L.S. and I sensed that surely today for him, his family, Carolyn, and for many in this church family who are praying for them worship is hard. Comments in the hallways by choir members and others included confessions of tears combined with hope and assurance. In light of Pastor Sam’s family situation coupled with the weight on my mind of Allen’s passing and realization that in any gathering of worship there are many who are struggling with deep sorrows or heavy burdens, we recognize that worship happens in real time and space, yet also transcends it. In the same Sunday service a young family dedicated their infant daughter, their fourth little girl, as part of our worship. At once we face the aforementioned struggles, and as in any congregation there were bound to be many others with life struggles, burdens, or high joys as we join for worship. For some in any given service it is likely that worship is hard. Nevertheless we continue to intone the certain hope,
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight!
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and my Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.
The weather last weekend at Linden Valley was not exactly ideal for campfires, s’mores, and walks along the Buffalo River. However, the rain, drizzle, and grey skies did not seem to dampen the spirits of the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who had been loaded into church vans and cars to make their way to Linden Valley for the 2015 Kids Choral Connection. As always seems to be the case, the energetic young musicians that showed up at Linden seemed to me to be the cream of the crop, so to speak. They followed the schedule, cooperated fully, sang like little songbirds and participated in worship. Guest director, Pam Andrews added her own blast of energy and enthusiasm as well as providing for more solo lines, speaking parts, and prop use than any previous KCC clinician, and the kids hung right in there. I am so grateful for the music ministers, sponsors, choir leaders, and parents who participated and jumped right in to help. Paula Farrar was a trooper at the piano, and Tiffany Pyron flew her first solo TBC Worship & Music event, and did great including standing in to turn pages for Paula as needed. James Hargrave is unparalleled as celebration leader for this event, given his fun and gentle demeanor he moves from fun guy to story-teller worship guide so smoothly. It is a joy to serve with such devoted ministry-minded people. And big kudos to the children of KCC 2015!
Being at Linden Valley reminded me of how much has changed. The flood of 2010 took a hard toll on the facility, but in God’s timing it provided for the building of a wonderful new Worship Center that we used to great effect last weekend. Acoustics are really good for singing, and it is so versatile that we used it for recreation and celebration which all had to be indoors given the inclement weather. Being at the camp reminded me of some great days of week-long children’s music camps, the last of which for TBC was 2003. Life and culture have continued to change, but I still find reason for deep concern as to how we pass on the torch of developing young musicians who will serve the Lord’s church, and how we help children to connect the joys of beauty, talent, and artistry with the Creator in effective ways. I know that each church worships in ways as directed by their own leaders, but I have concern regarding our capacity for common songs that come through common sources that still bear some denominational distinctives, remain sensitive to Baptist concerns and emphases, and embed the same into the lives of youth and children such that they will be carried forward into years to come. I cannot look at a group of children such as those who gathered last weekend and not wonder if there is a Fanny Crosby, an Isaac Watts, or a Bev Shea sitting amongst them. Nor can I keep from lamenting deeply at how many children in many of our SBC churches would have no idea who any of those people were. We live in a time when many college students and youth have no idea who B.B. McKinney, Hines Sims, William Reynolds, or Wes Fobes were nor why they should care. As training for worship leaders is more localized and more customized to each particular church, it is likely to be more and more challenging to find our common voice. I am convinced that simply letting go of what has been learned and sung and said and done in the past is not really an option. It is part of why I am committed to keep the torch burning, go again in 2016 and set things up for years and years beyond. Anybody with me? KCC 2016 will be at Linden again October 6-7. Put it on the calendar now. Fall Break? Come anyway. Never been? Come and see and hear.
Thank you, our brother and my Worship Pastor, Wayne Causey, for Sunday worship at Forest Hills, where we sang the same Getty hymn we sang at MMLC in August, Facing a Task Unfinished. In Sunday worship I sang with conviction and renewed determination verse 3 and 4 of this great hymn:
We bear the torch that, flaming,
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours;
Fired by the same ambition,
To Thee we yield our pow’rs.
O Father who sustained them,
O Spirit who inspired,
Savior whose love contrained them
To toil with zel untired.
From cowardice defend us,
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake.
Amen, Lord, let it be so!
This blogpost goes along with the post on my more general site: www.paulclarkjr.com
Is it just me or is it getting more and more difficult to schedule anything these days? No matter what time of year it seems when you have an idea or an inspiration for something new, or think you will attend a new conference, a music reading session, or engage in some other added activity for personal or group development, it just seems impossible to make the time. Sometimes the calendar itself becomes oppressive. But I dare not stop reviewing it, because I am just likely to miss something if I do, and that is never good.
The TBC team that I am assigned to under updated reorganization is the Church Revitalization Team. We have stated over and again on our team that before churches are revived it is most likely that leaders will need to be renewed. So with all this busy-ness how can we be renewed, revived, or revitalized? As noted in my other blogsite’s post, silence and solitude are surely prerequisites, which means pulling away at some level. I am not talking about vacation days. Those are relaxing and fun, and usually with family, but those are not the same as spiritual renewal that begs for seclusion, silence, and solitude that allows for personal spiritual growth and development. With a slammed calendar and Christmas coming, where and how will any of us find time for renewing solitude? Here are a few suggestions to consider:
- Make an appointment: place an itemt on your calendar that blocks out a morning, or a few hours, and stick to it.
- Find a quiet place: whether out in the woods, in a church building, perhaps of another faith tradition, or even in a location in or around your home, find somewhere that you can actually be away for spiritual reflection, prayer, personal worship, singing, and reading scripture
- Open the agenda: activities for renewal need to be part of your plan, but the agenda is best left up to God. IN other words, schedule time for praying, reading, sitting in silence, singing/praising, but let God determine direction. If you decide you will pray about leaving your church, for example, that means you are setting the agenda rather than God. Leaving the agenda open God may direct you toward praying for neighbors, friends, the poor, or others according to His desires.
- Keep a journal: keeping a journal of what God reveals in times of solitude gives you a record to go back and review as the Lord answers prayer, or in some other way connects your spiritual journey and awakens your spirit
- Pray the Bible: rather than stream of conscience try praying the Bible with a disciplined plan. See helps below.
- Listen: silence provides opportunity to hear the Spirit
- Avoid work: this time is first about what God has for you, not about your job as a church leader.
Praying the Bible by Don Whitney
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Don Whitney
Spiritual Classics Richard Foster, editor
Life of the Beloved: Sacred Living in a Secular World by Henri Nouwen
The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri Nouwen
The great Robert Robinson hymn is a prayer and asks “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” I find that the Lord answers that prayer in many ways. Sometimes it is in remembrance of a movement of the Spirit in a totally different setting that connects my heart anew to His grace. Other times it is in the beauty of the singing of the beautiful NETTLETON tune that my heart is stirred to reflect upon His grace and I sense His presence in the flood of gratitude for singing, for music, for His willingness to meet us as we worship through song. Even in moments when I could not sing this favorite hymn for various reasons still my heart was stirred, I believe stirred to sing His grace, even inaudibly.
Friday morning as our Tennessee Mens Chorale gathered to begin day 2 of our retreat we were blessed by the sharing of Chris Headley of First Baptist Dandridge and moved deeply by his transparency and testimony of worship on the road marked with suffering. What a powerful reminder of our need to be aware as we lead our congregations in worship that there are those who are suffering. I have high appreciation for Chris and his ministry in his church, with his family, and among his fellow worship music leaders. I believe Chris’s testimony of God’s grace filled our hearts and we were prepared to sing of that grace. Then you guys who are members of TMC absolutely blew me away. Yes, you totally surprised me with the presentation of the painting by Kay Hinson, and the recognition of my 15 years as your director with the anthem based on the text of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing that Mary wrote for the occasion, which so beautifully captures TMC sound and sensitivity to this great text. Of course the lyric of the hymn reaches the depth of my soul as I heard you sing it to this beautiful new melody that fits your voices perfectly. When you came to the new lyric the second time it really soaked in.
May the message of your grace
Flow from our hearts into this place
Til we see you face to face
Lord, tune our hearts to sing your grace
I had no interest in analyzing anything musically in the moment. It was such a perfect expression of what I totally believe is the desire of our shared heart, that wherever and whenever we sing the message of God’s grace, the Gospel would flow from our hearts. It becomes the very desire of our hearts, and thus the prayer on our lips. We pray the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Then the second part of the new lyric hit me, “Til we see you face to face.” We have undergone so many changes in these last months and some have brought about strain on the organization, so much so that I wondered how we would go on, plus so many of you have experienced loss of position, loss of family, in some cases loss of confidence, and yet we sing on in response to the call upon our lives, and the need of the hour. It is what we are made to do “til we see Him face to face.” Now as that began to soak in I wanted to share those thoughts and at once knew I would just blubber, which I sorta did anyway, but you guys are an understanding bunch.
Here is what I simply could not begin to get out Friday that was in my heart to say. And to be honest, Chris set it up sharing openly with what he had said in his devotional. One of the richest means by which God tunes my heart to sing His grace is the depth of fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. Look, we all know there is plenty of shallow to go around in what often goes on among those who claim the faith. And that can really hurt, especially for those who risked and felt that someone took advantage. To exercise grace it is important to be forgiving, to pray for those who may struggle with shallowness and do not even know, or who need enlightenment. Serious fellowship rooted richly in Christ that prefers others above ourselves is both risky and freeing at once. As you sang Friday I was praying that some of you would find your Ebenezer soon. I was grateful that so many of you have felt the freedom to call upon me to walk into dark places by your side, even for a moment. And I was reminded how several of you have been that same strength for me in my own time of despair, as well as sharing the joys of victory. And I think that through such unconditional fellowship of grace my heart is tuned to sing His grace. Lord, help us stay in tune ‘til we see you face to face.
This past week our Tennessee Baptist Church Music family was struck with a measure of sadness in the passing of another sister from our Tennessee Ladies Chorus ranks. Cheryl Dusky was a faithful member of TLC to the extent she was able. Cheryl experienced back problems and yet continued to sing, often apologizing that she needed special positioning in the lineup so as to be able to sit if needed. I tried to assure her that her beautiful voice and sweet disposition were always welcome, whether she was able to stand or not. I love the picture of the group singing at Tulip Grove as it captures Cheryl in her special position where she could sit down if needed. She was so good-natured, fun, and very musical. Cheryl’s mezzo-soprano voice was powerful and she knew it. She use to ask me about her blend and requested that I feel free to give her a “hi sign” if she was overpowering. That kind of sensitivity comes from someone who is a good musician, and a humble spirit. Cheryl Dusky was both of those things. She was an effective music ministry leader in the churches she served and a recognized music leader in her community – a real advocate for music as a means of building community and education.
Last Sunday I was privileged to fill in for Zach Young at First Baptist Church Jackson, where I served as Music & Worship Minister for nearly eight years. It was such a blessing to be with several who are still in the choir now who were part of the music ministry during my days on the staff. Wonderful memories flooded my mind and spirit as we warmed up Sunday morning and through kind expressions before and after the worship service Sunday. Meanwhile my youngest son, Adam was filling in for Joe Fitzpatrick at First Baptist Nashville Sunday and as I contemplated that joy while driving back home from Jackson I was warmed by thoughts of that special church family and the joy of sharing in music ministry during my own time of serving as their interim between Mark Edwards and Joe. The thought of my son and his family as part of that faith community and his being affirmed among the great fellowship and rich tradition of the choir and instrumentalists there brought words of praise from my lips. There is something special about the fellowship of those who serve together making music to praise and minister in the name of Jesus.
When the shocking news of Cheryl’s passing came up as a text message on my phone I began to fret because I had intended to check on her just recently and was distracted. Now as I read this message there was a pause of disbelief. I could only imagine what the family was feeling. The sadness of separation was deepened by the thought of missed opportunity for ministry and concern for Paul Dusky, and Cheryl’s daughter and TLC member, Rachel Yoder, as well as the rest of the family. Going to social media to learn more of the situation I was blessed to see pictures of Cheryl, expressions of love by the family. My heart was lifted as I read ministry expressions and assurance of love and prayer from members of the Tennessee Ladies Chorus family. I also noted so many expressions from those who had sung under Cheryl’s leadership in church or in community chorus settings. It was a good reminder of the depth of connection that occurs among those who not only declare their faith but learn to sing it together. There is something very special about touching the soul-nerves that can only be reached through the stirring miracle of music-making together.
Cheryl’s passing is also a reminder of how important these gatherings of TLC and TMC really are as we never know just when such a gathering might be our last. Not to be morbid about such a thing whatsoever, but rather taking great consolation in the assurance that when we sing, Cheryl continues to sing with us for that is precisely what she is doing now in the very presence of the Lord Jesus. In fact, I believe the same is true of every choir member, every music minister, every believer who had been saved through the power of Christ who stepped into eternity to join the everlasting song.
“I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations.” (Psalm 89:1)
Does your church know how to celebrate? I am sure not referring to any artificially inseminated atmosphere of hype. I am talking about the Sabbath pause to truly give God the glory for the great things He has done. To stop, remember and reflect on moments, seasons, periods of true outpouring of God’s Spirit among the fellowship of believers is critical to a church’s health. There are plenty of special occasions that call for such celebrations. When the era of a pastor’s leadership comes to a close or likewise the transition of a staff member or volunteer it just makes sense to celebrate what the Lord has done. Another great occasion can be the celebration of special anniversaries of a congregation denoting the passing of a given number of years that the church has engaged in Gospel witness, worship, and disciple-making.
This latter celebration was the occasion that has spawned my thinking regarding the subject as I was privileged to participate last Sunday in a celebration of the 70th anniversary and homecoming service for Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jackson. It was a special day of remembrance, of celebration, of offering praise, and hearing biblical truth from God’s Word proclaimed. In other words, it was worship of the living and sustaining God as these are the very components of the church at worship. Think about it:
- Remembrance – the Old and New Testament open to us the very story of God, which is a story of His deliverance and thus the ongoing remembrance of how He has worked in creation, in claiming a people to be His people, in the full story of redemption sending His only son, taking upon Himself our sin and paying the price upon the cross for our forgiveness, ascending and making intercession for us at the right hand of the Father, sending His Spirit, establishing the Church, promising His sure return and ultimate victory. From the Garden to the Red Sea to Joseph to prophets to a baby in a manger to a cross, an empty tomb, a gathering of belivers, to a commission and an expectant church awaiting a second coming. In worship we remember. But we also remember what he has done among us. Hillcrest looked at their beginning days, recalled the original vision, remembered all their pastor leaders, looked at pictures of their meeting places, and recalled the lives of people who poured themselves into the life and ministry of this faith family.
- Celebration – Dr Jerry Welch, pastor of Hillcrest for the past twenty-two years recognized past pastors of the church, staff members, and others who had contributed in specific ways to the church. Video testimonies were shared reflecting on experiences over the years.
- Praise through singing, expressions of fellowship, and the general spirit of the day were central in the response to consideration of what the Lord has done and continues to do in His church
- Preaching of the Word Dr Welch shared the providential timing in his sermon series which on this day was addressing Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. He took his message from Matthew 16:13-20, an important reminder to the church of who she is, whose she is, how she came about, and where her hope lies for a future.
- Response and fellowship opportunity for spiritual commitment, singing as the family of God and then a long-anticipated fellowship meal (aka dinner on the grounds) followed around tables of fellowship.
This day stirred much for me personally as it was in this church family under the pastoral tutelage of Dr Welch’s father, Brother James “Jimmy” Welch, that I answered the call to Gospel ministry while serving as part time music director. My “little brother,” Ricky followed me in that role, and on this day I was blessed to sit next to Ricky and his wife, Sandra in worship. That is a humbling privilege that does not happen often, and so I count it a rich joy when it does. I got to see ol’ high school buddies, fraternity brothers, members from other churches where I served, and just the rich fellowship of God’s people gathered with no pretense, no one to impress, but deep gratitude for what God has done in our lives through His church over many years. The tone was clearly set by Pastor Jerry Welch and Music Minister Marty Phillips for this service of gratitude and celebration.
I highly recommend that churches pay attention to anniversaries and landmark opportunities to pause and gather worship around celebrating to Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Let the earth hear His voice….and give Him the glory! Great things He hath done!