I saw a blurb in our church bulletin at First Baptist in Dalton for an upcoming event: Celebrate Life! was to be presented on Good Friday.
I immediately got excited. If you grew up in a Baptist church in the seventies, you are probably familiar with Celebrate Life! It was one of the first musicals performed by youth choirs that involved music that might have been called rock ‘n roll at the time. Written by Ragan Courtney and Buryl Red, it chronicles Jesus’ life through a combination of singing and drama and includes clapping, drums, guitars, arm movements and even, yes, shouting. In 1973, as a fourteen-year-old at First Baptist Church of Mooresville, NC, I loved it.
I look back now and I’m appreciative to that church in Mooresville for stepping out of their comfort zone for us kids. Even in the day when church was our main social group and young people didn’t have as many activities vying for their time, the adults knew that they needed to stay ‘hip’ to keep us interested.
Celebrate Life! had a profound impact on my life. I got to perform it again as a teen at First Baptist in Greensboro, NC and years later at a youth choir reunion there. The words and music still go through my mind often.
So of course, I had to ask our music minister, Susan Deal, if I could sing with them. The production is being done by a select group of really good singers, known as First Light, and I don’t think I qualify to be part of this talented ensemble. But Susan was gracious to let me come in on a temporary basis. Now once a week I’m sitting next to strong altos who keep me on key and singing the beautiful lyrics that are so much a part of me. I can’t wait to perform it!
The opening number is taken from Jesus’ words in John 8:32: Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Ragan Courtney’s lyrics say, “Of all the things you said to me, the best was truth shall make you free!”
I confess that after all these years I didn’t really know what this phrase meant. What did I need to be set free from? What was this truth that would set me free?
This morning I was doing the “homework” for a very insightful Women’s Bible Study I’m attending using a book by Christine Caine, called 20/20: Seen. Chosen. Sent. The Scripture passage was – you guessed it – John 8:32.
When I’m praying for God to show me His face and the same scripture comes up repeatedly, then I figure He wants me to see it. And this time, through Christine’s explanation, the meaning came through, simple as can be:
The truth Jesus is talking about is that God loves me.
Simple. Yet why is this so hard for me to get my mind around?
Part of the problem is that we are all bombarded with lies continually. I’m not talking just about fake news, but social media which shows everyone at their best, television that indoctrinates us with all the material stuff we need in order to be happy and the constant pressure to have perfect kids, an amazing job and a clean well-decorated house. The lies that tell us that if you don’t have all this, something is wrong with you.
But the lies that cause us the most harm are the ones we tell ourselves, the ones which come from deep down inside. To quote Christine Caine:
The lie I believed was that I wasn’t enough. Ever. Of anything. (p. 94)
I can so relate. I feel like I’ve spent most of my life feeling that I didn’t measure up, that I wasn’t as pretty, smart, organized, or fun as everyone else. I tend to focus on the times I’ve messed up instead of my victories. Trying to be enough is exhausting.
What sets me free from these lies? The truth that God loves me. That uncomplicated fact sets me free from this prison of always trying to prove that I am worthy. Worthy of being loved, even when I’m not perfect. I’m enough because God says so.
I wish I had gotten this truth when I was fourteen. How much different my life might have been! But God has to keep growing and teaching me and slowly some of it starts to sink in.
Believing that God loves me is a daily decision, made with my mind. Once I accept that fact, I can go on with my day as a dearly loved child, free to accept all God wants to give me.
I may not have understood all the great Truths in Celebrate Life! as a young person, but what I learned then is that this Christian life can be fun and exciting. It keeps on getting better!