Three little words. A short clear declaration the can launch us into untold adventures: “In the beginning,”…”I love you,”…”Once upon a time”. We are attuned at our deepest level to respond to these. For instance:
Once upon a time, a young woman in a fit of youthful passion defied her parents’ wishes and absconded with a rakish young man to a magical land that would bless their hearts’ longings. She was home from her first foray into the real world, freshman year of college, and far from a young man who had stolen her heart. He was likewise smitten and the distance was driving him to distraction. Her parents were not pleased with this turn of developments; he was, after all, a young man with all of the built-in perils of young men everywhere.
To her parents, his unforgivable offense was not that he was pining for their daughter, but rather that, without portfolio, he would stoop to hitchhiking in order to cross the miles. An argument between the girl and her parents led to an ultimatum to break things off. Wiping away tears, sitting in the kitchen, with her parents hovering over her, she placed a long-distance call to Mt. Ida, Arkansas, and gave him the heartbreaking news.
“Are they there?” he asked in hushed tones.
“Yes,” she replied trying to sound cryptic.
“Would you like to go get married?”
“Yes,” her voice quivering but trying not to give away the conspiracy.
“I’ll be there before morning.”
And so, at roughly 3 a.m. one mid-June morning, she quietly raised the window sill in her bedroom, tossed a bag and followed it. It was 1967; her Summer of Love had begun. By noon the next day an Oklahoma Justice of the Peace had said the words; and that’s how my mother and father came to be married.
The stories we tell are central to our identities: separately and together. I would argue they are the most important pieces of our identity. In a 2019 article in Forbes magazine, Angela Rodriquez tells us, “Storytelling is at the core of culture. It is how histories are passed down, how customs are shared and how traditions become endemic to a group.” Stories define us, partly because they are how we unify all the sensory input that we collect and partly because they allow us turn the ephemeral into the enduring.
Stories are, by their very nature, entirely true. Because we use them to explain the how and the why of us, they become as true as gravity and sunrise. Interestingly, this means that the specifics of the story may not be accurate but it doesn’t change their validity. Consider for one second how our memories vary from person to person and over time. Who said what, what they said, what they were wearing, even in what order, it all wiggles in the telling. Add in time and movement from one teller to another and the pieces in between “once upon a time” and “the end” can change and reform and change back. This doesn’t affect the veracity of the story one bit (at least from the perspective of an old English teacher).
Last Sunday we started a churchwide study called Testimony. It is designed to challenge us and help us to become more comfortable in telling our stories. As a people of God, that is one of our responsibilities. The last thing Jesus told the disciples was to go make more disciples—by telling the story. The story of a God who loved everyone and wanted everyone to be reconciled to Him. The story of a Savior who came to show them how to live, explained the heart of God, and sacrificed Himself to do what no person could do: redeem humanity. The story of a people who so profoundly changed that they would dedicate themselves to spreading the Gospel and glorifying God. The stories of Jesus and of those early disciples have been handed down from then until now. And they are absolutely true. They are capital “T”, “True”. And they define us.
I am who I am because two very young and impulsive people did a wildly impulsive thing. It makes for great story. I writing this down because those people grew up and made sure that their children understood the stories of their God and our church. I bet you have stories like this as well. Let’s go tell them.
Lay Servant, Child of God
As you may have noticed, my articles for the Newsletter are typically based on my observations. I observe something and it stirs something in my brain, and it goes, “Aha”. I call them, of course, “Aha Moments”.
I hope you have stopped during your busy time this Spring to observe how beautiful the flowers and trees are right now. The weather has been mild, and they are fresh, beautiful and not burned up by the Arkansas summer. I call your attention to the knock-out roses in front of our Sanctuary. They are in full bloom at this time, with lush green leaves to frame their beauty. As I was going Main Street the other day, I noticed the knock-outs in front of McDonalds. They were also lovely and in full bloom. However, I noticed in a couple of the bushes that some sort of vine had invaded the rose bush. It was also doing very well. Ok, you know what happened next. Yep, I had an “Aha Moment”.
My immediate thought was, “Are those rose bushes going to survive with that vine growing right in the middle of it? That rose bush didn’t mind the vine, but was it going to lead to the destruction of that beautiful rose bush?” So, then it reminded me of how easily our lives can become entangled with sin. 1 John 1:8 states, “If we see we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” One major sin that entangles us is worry. To worry is to believe that we must take care of ourselves. Additionally, we all have weaknesses that seem to pop up at the most inopportune times. Each of us will find ourselves with one of more of these sins, or countless others such as, greed, jealousy, judging, addiction, envy, etc. These sins try to sneak and up and invade our lives, just like that seemingly harmless vine in the rose bush.
So, what do we do? We are reminded in the Book of Hebrews that we are surrounded ‘by such a great cloud of witnesses’. We must remember that we are not alone in this battle. There are people who have come before us, people that are running with us now and people that will run after us. Second, Hebrews goes on to tell us to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’. Sound simple? Well, we all know it’s not easy at all. It takes prayers, support from fellow believers, delving into God’s Word, strength, opportunities to serve; all things you can find right here at Jacksonville First. Let’s support and work together to detangle ourselves from sin. Always be vigilant! Those rose bushes will be taken care of. Hopefully the person that cares for the City’s flowers will come yank out that pesky vine. This will give the rose bushes the opportunity to flourish and grow to its full capacity without being entangled by sin. Let’s all try to do the same!!
Jo Ann Silvi
and Finance Manager
It is always amazing for me to think about the change which occurs among the disciples after Jesus has been raised from the dead. In many ways, their transformation is astounding. Initially, the disciples are locked away and in hiding after Jesus has been executed. They are fearful for their lives. But in a short period of time, they go from being in hiding to putting their lives at risk for the sake of the good news of Jesus’ Kingdom. They go from heading back to their former ways of life (fishing for example) to risking living counter culture lives (See Acts 2:43-47). Even more, they go from being afraid of Caesar, as well as the Jewish leaders, to being defiant proclaiming there is only one Lord who is Jesus. (Just read some early church history and you will discover such defiance led to many of their own deaths). All to say, there is an astounding transformation. The resurrection and its promises become the lynchpin, the anchor, the deciding factor that transforms the disciples.
Such a sudden change is a rarity. It may take years for someone to change their minds or to get through a traumatic experience like the disciples had experienced. And yet, their experience of the Resurrected Christ altered their outlook on life, what mattered, and how they spent their time. They were willing to let go of their previous thoughts and understandings and lean further into the Kingdom mindset. Most of the early disciples didn’t keep one foot in one world and another foot in Jesus’ new world. Rather they lived with a deep seated conviction as to the veracity and reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
What would it look like to live with the same conviction today? How might our lives be different if the resurrection took full control in our lives? What would it require of us to let go? What fears hold us back? Even more so, what is the nature of Jesus’ resurrected kingdom? What are the characteristics we would live into and seek to sustain in the world? How does it look different from the world around us? These are all questions worth pondering and even answering with our lives. The Resurrection and its effects are world altering. The early church understood its power. May we grasp it and continue to strive toward it also!
Rev. Nathan Kilbourne