In my early years I was influenced by many things in my life, one being poetry. In school we were taught the many facts of poetry such as its aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language. We were also taught that poetry should evoke meaning, paint a picture in your mind and have a degree of structure. My attempts often started with “Roses are red” and went downhill from there.
I will be the first to tell you my endeavor in poetry did not have the same effect as that of Geoffrey Chaucer. Known as the father of English poetry and author of The Canterbury Tales Chaucer, writes “now I beg all those that listen to this little treatise, or read it, that if there be anything in it that pleases them, they thank our Lord Jesus for it, from whom all proceeds all understanding and goodness.”
Just as Chaucer tells us to be thankful, the book of Psalms shows us that being thankful and prayer can take a wide variety of forms. It give us the means to come to prayer in a fresh state of mind and enable us to feel things that we may never have felt before. The Psalms speak to us. We cannot read very far in the Psalms without drawing the conclusion that the psalmist seems to have been reading our mind. How is it that after centuries have passed, we find a man who lived in a different time and culture expressing our innermost feelings, fears, and hopes? The answer, of course, is that we are reading the Scriptures, divinely inspired, infallible and inerrant, to be a word from God to us.
You see, The Psalms teach us that God has sovereign rule as the great King over all things. The Psalms declare our God is a great and powerful God. The Psalms are fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. The Psalms praise God for being a just God.
I am often moved by one of my favorite scriptures, the 23rd Psalm. When I read it to myself, I can almost stop after the first nine words, “the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Those words say it all! If our Lord is our Shepherd, we will never be lonely, sad, or in need for anything. Throughout the book of Psalm there are other passages that are just as commanding, and they inspire us and cause us to be more engaged in our daily spiritual lives.
So, this week as you prepare yourselves for Sunday services, read the scriptures and be thankful to the Lord for “they are from he who proceeds all understanding and goodness”. May the poetry of the Psalms influence and affect your week.
Two facts for you today:
1. Charles Wesley wrote over 6,500 hymns yet never heard one sung in a service in his own church.
2. Elvis Presley was nominated for 14 Grammy awards but only won three—all for his gospel work, and two of them for different versions of “How Great Thou Art”.
It’s not just the Summer of 2022 that connects these seemingly random tidbits; it’s a fundamental truth about the nature of spiritual music. Summer 2022 helps though, as Pastor Nathan is taking us through a series of sermons on hymns and Elvis is once again filling theaters. Consider the nature of both of these “rebels”.
Charles Wesley helped to propel the Methodist movement through song. An ordained Anglican minister like his brother John, Charles was moved to an evangelism that was not well received inside the Church of England. Scandalously, the Wesley brothers joined other evangelical leaders and took the Gospel to the people, engaging in open air preaching to the masses. Both brothers were preachers and songwriters, but Charles was a composer of almost unimaginable prolificity. Those 6,500 hymns are the equivalent of two fully composed hymns a week—every week—for fifty years. I think if you gave me fifty years, I might come up with one decent verse.
Wesley understood that song and hymnody resonate deep in the soul. It can do as much to impart Gospel truths as any sermon. And honestly, when have you ever caught someone absentmindedly repeating a sermon? I don’t even need to play one note and you can hear “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” or “Love Divine All Loves Excelling” or “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”. Your singing some part of them right now, aren’t you? That’s the power of song.
Like his brother, Charles never intended to split from the Church of England. In fact, he publicly criticized John for the latter’s ordination of ministers to the Americas. It’s the very fact that he considered himself to be a devout Anglican that leads to our “Believe it or Not” fact of the day. One of the greatest hymn writers of any age lived and died without ever seeing his work accepted by his church. Charles died in 1788. The Church of England did not officially sanction the singing of hymns as part of the worship service until 1820.
Fast forward 160-odd years later and almost 4,500 miles west, and we arrive in Memphis in the 1950s. Completely different type of rebels were upsetting the social order. Sam Phillips’ Sun Records stable was putting a serious backbeat to the roots, gospel, and rhythm and blues music. The result was Rock and Roll and the undisputed leader of the new sound was Elvis Presley. He had the voice; he had the moves; he had the look; and he had that other thing, a magnetism that made him impossible to ignore.
For all the trouble that Elvis stirred up—I didn’t know whether to go with the “If you’re looking for trouble” or the “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” reference here—hymns were deeply embedded in his sound and his love of music. The last song Elvis performed on his Ed Sullivan run was “Peace in the Valley”. The fifth album he released was “His Hand in Mine,” an all gospel album.
For all the groundbreaking, earth shaking, on your feet in the aisles dancing that Elvis created, he would only ever win three awards at the Grammys for his gospel work. Some of this is due to timing (the first Grammy awards were given out two years after Elvis mania swept the globe); some is due to the eccentricities of the voting body (you can look it up, Bob Newhart’s standup album beat the Beatles one year); but if you’ve heard the live version of “How Great Thou Art” from 1974 you understand that even the Grammy voters couldn’t look away from a spirit-channeled tour de force.
Elvis has sold over one billion records—one BILLION. Charles Wesley wrote 6,500 hymns. It took a while for the music of both to be fully accepted inside the houses of worship, but both point to the power of song to open the doors of the soul.
Friends, there are so many items happening in our congregation this summer. We have VBS starting next Sunday! Don’t forget to register. We will have one service at 11:00am, followed by a Fish Fry, happening on Sunday, July 31st. I want to also let you know of my new sermon series starting on July 31st. This summer we will be doing a sermon series entitled, “Summer at the movies.” Throughout the series, we will be taking popular movies from the past couple years and using them as a launching point of our sermons. As part of this family-friendly series, we will be showing each of the movies the week prior to the Sunday it will be used as the sermon starter.
There will be a couple of opportunities to gather to watch it. Each Wednesday evening we will host a free showing in the Connection Center at 6:30pm. And throughout the week, families within our congregation have volunteered their homes to be a second site in case people cannot make the Wednesday showing. There will be more information to come and how to sign up at these houses if you need to watch a movie other than Wednesday evening.
To give you a little teaser, these are the movies we will be studying and watching over the course of the series.
July 31st - Luca (Main showing - July 27th in Connection Center)*
August 7th - Soul (Main showing - Aug. 3 in Connection Center)*
August 14th - The Bad Guys (Main Showing Aug. 10th in Connection Center)*
August 21st - Encanto (Main Showing Aug. 17th in Connection Center)*
*Optional other showings will be announced at later date
Be sure to spread the word to come and have a wonderful time together and join in growing our faith together.
Join the fun!
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