Saturday, September 29, 2007

It's All About the Cross

As I have mentioned, one of the most significant things the choir can contribute to a worship service is "singing truth" to the congregation. And, as I have also mentioned, that colors my selection of new music. Every season I recieve a number of catalogs and demo discs to review. I listen to a lot of Christian "elevator music", but once in a while one of the demonstrated anthems really grabs me emotionally-in fact, I usually suddenly find myself in tears as I am listening. Invariably, it is the Truth of the lyrics that brings this about.

This summer, as I listened to the demos by the hour in the choir room, I found the one. "It's All About the Cross", by Ruth Elaine Schram, is what I call a meta-narrative anthem. It gives a "Gospel-in-a-nutshell" presentation. I especially like to include meta-narratives around the holidays, when the church is often full of visitors and Christmas-and-Easter attenders. This particular anthem stood out to me as the one that we should do on Palm Sunday, when Pastor usually gives a sermon in first person style, and our members often invite friends. It is the perfect narrative to lead us into Holy Week.

I ordered it immediately. But throughout the summer, the lyrics of that anthem ministered to me so many times, especially those times when I was feeling some discouragement, because they helped me to focus on what I was really doing by serving in my position as Music Coordinator. After a particularly tough situation, I slipped that demo disc into the boombox in my room, and felt once again the "peace that passes understanding" fill me, healing me, encouraging me, and renewing my sense of purpose.

I decided that it would make a great piece to focus the choir on their personal ministry through music as well. So, rather than hold it for Palm Sunday, I introduced it this fall, and invited the choir to make it our ministry theme for the year. They loved it! Then the Lord led me to invite Dana, a woman in our congregation who teaches the hearing impaired, to sign along with us as we sang it. Little did I know that she has especially loved doing this as a way to share Truth with some deaf friends. She helped us, but we also helped her by giving her this outlet for ministry.

Last Sunday, we offered "It's All About the Cross" in the worship service, right at the close of the service. As the choir and Dana finished, there were resounding "Amens!" from the congregation, as well as applause, not for us, but for the powerful testimony of the words.

"It's All About the Cross" by Ruth Elaine Schram

We read about creation, the world You made for us,
The beauty of the garden, sublime and glorious.
We read about the Fall when innocence was lost,
When innocence was lost.
We read of people's lives and the lessons that begin;
The consequence of evil, the wretched stain of sin;
And then, the Ten Commandments, the firm, unyielding Law,
The firm, unyielding Law.

It's all about the Cross,
And God's amazing grace,
To take us from the Fall to a Holy place!
To seek us in our helpless and fallen state,
To find us when we're lost;
It's all about the Cross!

And so, You sent a Saviour, the Lamb without a flaw,
To fully keep the letter and spirit of the Law;
To live a life that's holy, a life that pleases God.
And then the Spotless Lamb was the final sacrifice;
Our righteousness complete through the precious blood of Christ.
We finally see how far from your holiness we are,
How much we need the Cross!

It's all about the Cross, and God's amazing grace,
To take us from the Fall to a holy place!
To seek us in our helpless and fallen state,
To find us when we're lost;
It's all about the Cross!
Thank God for the Cross!

So, that's our ministry theme for the choral season. It's all about the Cross!

"When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. " (1 Cor.2:1-2)

Monday, September 10, 2007


Where were you?

I was standing at my crossing guard post, wearing my orange vest, holding my orange flags, waiting for the children. The sky was a spectacular September blue, air dry and beautifully cool. A day when I should pay the city to work as a crossing guard, instead of them paying me.

A little boy and his mother hurried toward me, a child I crossed every day, a mother I chatted with every day. They weren't smiling. "I was watching the news while we ate breakfast", she said. "A plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, and then, while they were showing that, another plane crashed into the other building, just a few minutes later!"

"Wow! That's so strange!" I responded. " The second plane's pilot must have been gawking at the first accident. That's just incredible!"

But the mom was shaking her head. "I don't know-I don't think it could be an accident."

But it was time to cross them. Then, after the last bell rang, I jogged home and ran down to the family room, calling out to my oldest son, "I've got to see the news. I heard there was some accident at the World Trade Center where planes flew into them!"

I flipped on the TV. There was footage of something burning heavily. Matt joined me. "That's the Pentagon!", we both exclaimed at the same time. "This can't be an accident. It must be an attack," Matt said. I was still processing the incomprehensible idea that our nation might be getting bombed by some enemy-but who? News reporters, speaking in flustered, rapid fire phrases, read from memos pouring in that there might be more, more planes headed for targets in the nation's capitol-wait, did all this damage to the Pentagon come from a plane? The picture returned to the scene at New York, two towers billowing black smoke into that also-perfect September blue sky. And then, as we watched, the anchorman's eyes widened and he began to shout "Where did it go? Where is it? It came down! Oh, my God, one of the towers just came down! There must be thousands of people killed!" I had never seen the national news network people break down, become human, respond with unfeigned emotion. A female TV journalist eventually stumbled onto the set, powdery dust masking the navy-blue professionalism of her suit. "I was just out there, I had to run, an officer pulled me to safety, or I would have died!" And she burst into tears.

We watched, riveted, the rest of the morning. Another plane was down, in a field in Pennsylvania. The second tower fell. The FAA was grounding all flights. Trains and buses were halted. Border crossings were closed. Fighter jets were scrambled-we heard those, roaring overhead, reassuring and yet not. On the TV, doctors and nurses paced outside of New York hospitals, waiting for the wounded, wondering why no one came. Locally, a call went out for blood donors.

Matt was trying to pack for his move to Northern Baptist Seminary, and watch the news at the same time. At one point, watching rescuers load the injured from the Pentagon into ambulances, he exclaimed "I'm not going to Seminary! I'm going to enlist in the Air Force!"

An honorable sentiment for a 22 year old. I talked him out of it-knowing it was just the emotion of the moment.

About noon I walked outside into my back yard. The day was so perfect, with it's cloudless sky (plane-less sky), it's gentle breeze, it's warm buzz of September insects. I should not have been hearing the insects at mid-day over our busy street's traffic roar. But there was no traffic. All was as still as if we lived miles out in the country. Everyone was inside, riveted by their TVs.

Three days later, we drove Matt up to the seminary. It was not an easy time to move away from home. He and his dad drove the U-Haul, while I drove the car. Another perfect September day, the sky an enormous azure bowl over the expanses of dun-colored corn stalks. I noticed that harvest was starting-I could see the dust rising from the distant combines. And, in every farm yard, flags. Even in the busy harvest season, no one was forgetting.

In a way, it's hard to remember what it was like before the attack, because we've changed, everything has changed, so much. We think differently now, about who we are as a people, how we feel about our safety. We've been united, then divided, by how to respond.

While we were living out all this at home, our third son, Paul, newly arrived at a Youth With A Mission base in Arkansas, was experiencing it among his new friends. A few days after the attack, while all of us were still struggling with the emotions produced by it, Paul helped set up a venue in Springdale, AK, for a Twyla Paris concert. Ms. Paris performs there every fall as a benefit for her hometown high school music program. That evening, she walked out on to the stage and sat down at the piano, and proceeded to play the powerful, driving worship song she had written-"God is in control. We believe that His children will not be forsaken". And she ministered to her wounded audience through the medium of music.

This blog is about life as worship. There are times when it seems that worship is the furthest thing from our hearts and minds. But with David the Songwriter we must say "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!"

Monday, September 3, 2007

Control Issues

It's just been one of those weeks.

I was feeling very good about the start to the choir season, and felt like our new worship pianist was settling in well and starting to get us figured out. Then bam, life began to intervene!
My father had a stress test on Tuesday, which led to a heart catheterization on Thursday, which led to a quadruple bypass on Friday. Mom doesn't drive, and needs some other help, too, so of course I needed to help, and wanted to anyway. But as anyone who has been through this kind of family event knows, you can sometimes feel like a week just vanished from your life. That's how I'm feeling today.

Why are am I always so surprised by this? I had the same feeling last fall when a very confused six-point buck decided to charge through our front picture window, wreck our main floor, and then leave by another window. That was followed by a head-spinning few weeks of dealing with insurance claims, window companies, choosing new carpet and waiting for it to be installed (three days before Christmas was happening at my house!), all while trying to get the seasonal tasks done at the church. I thought I would lose my mind!

This morning, as I began to have a freakout about helping my parents, managing my job, and remaining available to my husband and children, I opened up my e-mail to find a beautiful devotional message from Nancy DeMoss about God as manager of the universe. I read the suggested passage, Psalm 104. And took a deep breath. I didn't have to know how to "do it all". God knows how. He runs the whole universe, without freakouts! I can lean on his everlasting arms and just move forward day by day in his strength.