Fix your eyes on Jesus

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

Wow! Can you believe that we are at the end of October?

What a year!!

We couldn’t wait for 2020 to be over, and then 2021 has been a bit difficult, too.

Planning music and youth choir activities has been challenging.

Sometimes the obstacles and uncertainty seem to overwhelm and distract me from doing the things I need to be doing.

As many of you are aware, we just finished this year’s Running 4 Clean Water 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run.

As chairperson, Joey Fisher had many obstacles to overcome.

Originally scheduled for April 2020, the event was rescheduled because of the ‘COVID lockdown.’

With the uncertainty of the situation, even the new dates had to be postponed twice. Finally, the October 2021 date was locked in!

We were set to hold the run at the Duck Creek Green Belt in South Garland.

About six weeks before the race, Joey and Cindy went to scout out the course and – BOOM – a massive section of the route including a bridge was under construction.

Ugh – yet another obstacle!

Obviously, Joey and Cindy led the committee through the obstacles and race was successful, raising more than $10,500!

Lives will be changed because of their perseverance!

(Thanks, Joey and Cindy!)
 
Considering the race and the upcoming All Saints’ Day holiday on November 1, this scripture passage from Hebrews comes to mind: 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.


Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) 

There is a lot packed into these verses and that book of the Bible!

For this reflection, I am focusing on the phrase fixing our eyes on Jesus.
 
I am so thankful for those who have gone before me, teaching me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus’ way.

I am thankful for those of you who encourage each other, overcoming the obstacles that hinder God’s kingdom on earth.

I am thankful that Jesus sees each of us and is not distracted.

Jesus sees who we were, who we are and who we are becoming.

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in shame, guilt, grudges or just the business of life, we can’t move forward.

Please know that you are Jesus’ beloved.

Keeping that in mind, take one step at a time, knowing that God is with you each step of the way.

You will persevere! You will finish the race!
 
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, 
look full in his wonderful face, 
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace. 

Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus
Hymn 349
United Methodist Hymnal

Through faith

… for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 

– Galatians 3:26 NRSV


I am a child of God through faith. So says the scripture.

Not sure I always believed that, but I do now.

Throughout my 67-plus years on this earth, I have had good times and bad. Blessings and challenges.

The good times, the blessings, I’m convinced are not of my own doing, but of God’s mercy and grace.

The bad times, the challenges, God has been right there with me, seeing me through.

I know this through faith.

Faith sustains me in good times and bad … because I am a child of God. 

None of this can be considered earth-shattering revelation.

Believers have known for years. Faithful readers of the Bible have known for years.

I was reminded of this as I read Galatians 3:25-28, the text of this coming Sunday morning’s message, “Children of God,” from Rev. Caroline Noll, our Associate Pastor and Pastor for Children and Families.

And as I pondered this simple yet profound idea, a song came to mind. A favorite, but one I hadn’t heard or thought about for years.

The song – I Am a Friend of God by Israel Houghton – reminds me that I am not only a child of God, but a friend as well.

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 

– John 15:15 NRSV


I am a child of God. I am a friend of God. He calls me friend.

And I know this, through faith. 

We can’t lose

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

My community orchestra, the Mansfield Philharmonic, began rehearsing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in mid-July to start preparing for our re-opening concert in September.

I chose the symphony because it represents victory against struggle. However, I came to learn that my “victory pose” was premature.

Given the state of the COVID-19 variants, I had been fielding calls and texts from worried orchestra members for weeks, wondering if we’re going to do our September Beethoven concert as planned.

After being inspired by the outdoor concert I gave in Los Angeles two weeks ago, I finally had the answer I sought.

I took two hours to re-plan and spread the entire orchestra out over the entire chancel of First United Methodist Church Mansfield and into the rafters near the organ pipes.

I required everyone to wear masks, despite vaccination statuses.

Once everyone streamed into the sanctuary to start rehearsal, I finally gave my answer to the entire orchestra assembled:

“Several of you have texted, called and shared your concerns over the variants. I want to address that right now.
 
“We will have the concert as scheduled, as planned. The concert will continue, come hell or high water. We’re still having this concert. 

“If the church shuts us down because they don’t want outside activities in here due to the variant, there is a big parking lot right next to the sanctuary. We’ll set up a tent, and keep on pushing.
 
“Keep September 19 on your calendars and perish the thought of cancellation. Board members, if you want to have a meeting about any of this, put it on the agenda. We doin’ this.”


The thought of an outdoor concert strikes dread in many classical musicians because our instruments are designed for indoor use.

But given where we are, is it better to sit at home, bored and silent, or to play outdoors where it’s safer for human beings to gather? 

I chose to defiantly decide the show will go on because music is my ministry, and it cannot be silent.

Where do you see yourself in this story?

What is your “God put this in my bones; it must be heard” struggle?

In whatever it may be, remember that if you are working for God, you can’t lose, even if everything around you looks bleak. 

Put a little love in your heart

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” – Psalm 122:1

It was wonderful to be back together in sanctuary at First United Methodist in Garland on Sunday.

I am so thankful for all the doctors and scientists who developed the vaccination.

Now we can be close to all the people we love.

All of my family received their COVID-19 vaccination!

And now, the visiting has begun!

I got to visit my youngest daughter and son-in-law in Washington State.

Then on the other side of United States, I visited my oldest daughter, son-in-law, my son AND my grandson in Washington DC!

The last time I saw my grandson, he was a baby. Now he is a toddler. He is such a sweetie and smart!

My nephew and his family came for a visit to Texas! He has two sweet daughters.

Now that I’m of the ‘grandmother’ age, I enjoy watching how my children, nieces and nephews work, play and lovingly discipline their children.

My three-year-old great niece is a budding graffiti artist.

Unfortunately, she colored on my mom’s kitchen floor.

I took a picture of my sweet niece kneeling beside her young daughter as her little girl cleaned the floor where she had drawn.

The mom was so patient with the child.

When I was a child, I remember being disciplined for several wrongdoings.

Once I got in trouble for singing at church. Granted it was during the sermon!

My parents sang in the choir while their three young children sat near the front row.

As a six year old, I flipped through the hymnal and just made up my own words and tunes.

My sister, who is three years older, reported the grievance!

Can’t you just hear it? 

“Mama, Kitty was singing during the sermon!”

As a parent, I know it is difficult to figure out ways to lovingly guide your children.

Last week, when my brother and his wife came for a visit, we reminisced the challenges of parenthood.

Along with the lecture/time out or whatever discipline was being administered, my brother had his boys say, “Thank you, Dad, for enforcing standards that help me become a better person.”

My sister-in-law used that in her classroom.

If you had siblings or children close in age, you know that with two or more children come the skirmishes.

Most of the time, my kids enjoyed being together.

However, there were times when they had to learn to get along.

Once my children were arguing in the car.

Some of you may remember arguing with siblings saying, “Here is the line, don’t cross the line.”

Well, my kids would not stop quarreling.

So from the front seat, I threatened, “If you don’t stop, I am going to make you walk.”

They thought I was bluffing.

Let’s just say, they got their ‘steps in’ that day.

(Luckily, we were not in a hurry to get to our destination.)

If they ever had trouble getting along in the house, I made them sit in the hall and look at each other.

This posturing would continue until they could figure out a way to get along.

Somehow, they would reconcile and all was well.

Since they are all friends today, I’m assuming it was true reconciliation.

I wonder if God would like to sit us in the hall until we reconcile our relationships.

God’s desire is for us to “love one another.”

So the question is, how can we do this?

“Are we willing to act in love and mercy regardless of the path ahead?

“Are we willing to patiently wait for another to want to speak to us?

“Are we willing to consider a conversation that we know will be painful?

“Are we willing to trust that God’s love and grace for us and everyone else involved is big enough to heal each according to his/her needs, understanding and timetable?”* 

Perhaps this little prayer of humility will begin the healing:

“Lord, I am willing to receive the grace to take the best way forward.”

God’s love is unfathomable. It can’t be forced on us. But in humility, we can accept it.

Then God’s love will radiate through us – reconciling, healing, enriching.

Let’s see what this love can do!

* Vinita Hampton Wright

Anticipation

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

June 6 sits boldly on my calendar.
 
It’s the day when we can say that our long 2020 Lenten nightmare is over.
 
When leadership announced our return date, a certain inspiration in my practice sessions that has been missing for 14 months suddenly reappeared.
 
Instead of lying awake at night wondering if music would return to the stage, or if I would have a church to return to, I now lay awake planning and re-planning concerts.
 
My mood is quickened, and I feel a sense of positivity that I hope is infectious.
 
I can’t wait to experience the thrill of leading the congregation through robust hymns of praise from the organ. 

I eagerly anticipate the Chancel Choir filling the loft again, singing joyous anthems to God.
 
In my inner ear, I once again hear the Bell Choir ringing praises to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
 
I can’t wait to reconnect and reacquaint myself with the new Pure Joy! Youth Choir as, in these last 14 months, the membership has changed.
 
My mind hasn’t stopped racing with potential projects, possible serial concerts, or probable theatrical productions for a revived West Avenue B Community Concerts series.
 
While I am thankful to the overlong 2020 Lent for forcing me to get more comfortable with cameras and microphones, I’m raring to move onward and upward.
 
I can’t wait to play for you once again. In real life.
 
I pray I see you soon!

By his love

Rev. Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? 
Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace! 

Charles Wesley, master hymn writer, brother of John Wesley, and our ancestor in Methodism, penned these words in 1749.

This hymn (sung to the tune of Blest Be the Tie That Binds) was popular at annual meetings of the Methodist Societies in England. 

Times could be hard, and the lyrics of this hymn recognized that, giving the gathered body the opportunity to sing of what they had struggled with over the last year:

What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, 
Fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last. 

This hymn feels like it was written just for us – the people called Methodist – who have lived through a year beyond our imagining. 

Yet we are coming through this, all the while holding in our hearts the suffering of people across the globe who continue to struggle with the effects of COVID-19. 

And joy of joys, we will be able to see each other’s face as we gather for in-person worship on June 6 for the first time in 15 months! 

We are re-entering in a careful fashion, paying attention to CDC and Dallas County guidelines.

We want to “do no harm,” to keep everyone as healthy and safe as possible. 

But we will gather for worship again – to pray together, praise together, see each other, give thanks that God has been faithful through this ordeal. 

Yet out of all the Lord hath brought us by his love; 
and still he doth his help afford, and hides our life above. 

I am excited to gather again, and to see you, my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. 

May God bless this new stage of our journey together! 

Then let us make our boast of his redeeming power, 
which saves us to the uttermost, till we can sin no more. 

Let us take up the cross till we the crown attain, 
and gladly reckon all things loss so we may Jesus gain. 

Make it a good-un

Kitty Williams, Director of Music Ministries

I will occasionally search the Internet – “This day in history.”

Usually war history and celebrity birthdays are at the top of the list.

But there are also the scientists and engineers with all their inventions and discoveries.

The musicians and artists with their compositions.

And occasionally an author with a famous book.

I wonder, what is special about this day for me?

When I was the Director of Music at Wesley United Methodist Church in Greenville, Texas, instead of saying, “see you later,” one of our older gentlemen would say, “Make it a good-un!”

Meaning make this day a good one.

That actually has great wisdom and some deep theological implications!

Consider this – how do you make this day a good one?

Sometimes we go about our day, letting our day happen to us, instead of intentionally making it a good-un. 

Granted, there are days that are legitimately bad.

But sometimes, I will allow myself to complain about everyone and everything.

During this pandemic, many of us have had those griping and complaining days.

We end up saying things, writing letters and emails, or posting things that only tear down each other, the church and the Kingdom of God.

When I do this, the Holy Spirit urges me to stop and consider, “Was my action really God’s calling?” 

What is God’s calling?

That topic is another interesting Internet search – “Bible verses on God’s call.”

The top results are “to do justice,” “speak for those who can’t speak for themselves,” “love one another,” and the list goes on.

Interestingly, it doesn’t say complain or speak critically of others. 

Well – that’s it.

That’s something for us to reflect on today. 

Make it a good un!

Peace to you! 

PS – Click here to listen to Joey Fisher’s arrangement of This is the Day the Lord Has Made by Isaac Watts. (Thanks Joey!)

A hero’s respite

Dr. Eldred Marshall, Artist-in-Residence, Associate Director of Music Ministries

Last Friday, I was invited to play a short piano recital for the doctors, nurses and medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Walnut Hill and Greenville in Dallas.

The purpose of the recital was to lift weary, war-torn spirits who have spent the last year fighting a deadly pandemic and trying to save as many lives as possible in the process. 

The amount of fatigue I sensed in the room was devastating, however music cracked the ice and centered them. 

I thank God for the opportunity to serve the heroes of our era, and to bring them some aural beauty and poetry as a soulful respite. 

For my turn in the First Reflections schedule, I wanted to share one of the pieces I played for the medical staff – the middle movement of Mozart’s Sonata in F Major, K. 332

Given the fact that we are all weary, all tapped out and fatigued by everything, I hope this short, five-minute video will bring some peace.

Be blessed!

I am a child of love

Josh Medlock, Director of Student Ministries

One of my favorite things to do is scour the Internet for new music.

I love the feeling I get when I stumble across something that speaks to my soul.

Something that gives me strength or compels me to action.

Music, for me at least, does this in ways nothing else can. 

Lately it seems my drive to find music is … well, it’s in park, not drive.

I find myself lacking the motivation to even start looking.

Honestly, I feel like most music I hear today sounds the same as every other song playing on every other station.

Same words, same three or four notes, same message (if there is one).

I can hear the youth group saying, “Josh, that makes you sound old.”

But that’s how I feel. Music has lost its soul. Nothing excites me about it. 

As I think about this more and more, this feeling seeps into other parts of my life as well.

My outlook on our country and the deep divide that gets deeper by the day is bleak.

When I drive past the church and see signs on the doors that tell me, “not yet,” I feel a twinge of sadness, fear and even despair.

The music has no tune I recognize anymore. The lyrics don’t make sense.

This is how I have felt for some time.

About a week ago, as I studied and prepared for an upcoming sermon, I found myself humming.

Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal, except it was.

I was actually, subconsciously thinking about music.

So I paused to think about the tune I was humming … Child of Love by We The Kingdom.

The words struck me.

They speak to where I want to be, not where I’m at.

Nothing can change the way
You love me
Nothing can change the way
I belong to You
Yes I do
Nothing can separate 

I’m gonna climb a mountain
I’m gonna shout about it
I am a child of love

I found a world of freedom
I found a friend in Jesus
I am a child of love

I am a child of love. Nothing can change the way you love me. Nothing can separate.

These are words I needed to hear.

want to climb a mountain. I want to shout about it. I need to.

But in this climate I find it difficult to get motivated and even more difficult to do it. 

We are called to share this love with everyone we know and everyone we meet. 

Right now, it may be hard to meet new people.

I know I need to start with the people I know. That is exactly what I will do, starting with you.

So hear these words today and know that you are loved.

Know that nothing can separate that love from you and God.

Know that freedom is found in Jesus, and our witness to this is the grace given to us so freely by a God who truly loves each and every one of us. 

These are in fact very difficult times. More so for some than others.

I do not know your situation.

I do not know your burdens or your fears.

But I do know this: we all share in the same love and grace that gives us strength and peace.

May peace and comfort find you in these difficult times.

From the ashes shall rise what God needs us to be.

I hope you take some time to listen to Child of Love.

Who knows, maybe you will find yourself humming it, too.

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