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General Assembly 2014: A Congregational Conversation

mspc-pcusa-logoMany of our members have expressed concern and questions regarding the actions of the most recent General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, our denominational family (download a brief). Actions taken by the Assembly on Israel and in proposing a redefinition of marriage are among the issues that our own Session and Board of Deacons have discussed. It is felt that offering an evening of education and discussion around these issues and actions of the Assembly would be the next logical step for our congregation.

Tuesday night, October 28, we will gather in the Jones Session Room at 6:30 p.m. to consider both the actions taken by the Assembly and to engage in a discussion of these issues in the light of our Reformed, Presbyterian Christian faith. Todd Jones will lead this session, and will elicit help from both our Session and our staff. Anyone concerned about these matters is encouraged to attend.

Week of September 2

Dr. Todd B. Jones

My dear friends,

At the end of the First World War, the poet William Butler Yeats wrote his poem, “The Second Coming.” In it, Yeats voiced the essentially modern fear and anxiety that is often in the very air that we breathe:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The fear that things are falling apart, that there is nothing left to hold us together, is one many of us have. Tragic acts of senseless violence loosed upon innocent people this summer in America leave us shaken. We wonder where things are heading, and in our worst moments, fear can take hold of our lives. While the Bible reminds us that “perfect love casts out fear,” it has always seemed to me that the opposite is also true. Perfect fear has the power to control our lives and to blind us to the power of love that “watches over us by night and by day, in all times and all seasons.” Perhaps this is why the Bible so often bids us “Be not afraid!” and “Fear not!” I read once that these words appear 365 times in the Bible, which means that we have one such reminder for every day of the year.

Presbyterian Women this year are using a study of the Letter to the Colossians for their circle Bible study. Colossians offers a powerful word of hope that speaks to our fears and the anxiety that has gripped this age in which we live. The word that it proclaims is one that is about the sufficiency of the Gospel, the adequacy of Jesus Christ to enable us to face whatever life presents. In the letter, Paul writes of Jesus and says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created; things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” I try to remember these last words often. “In Him all things hold together.” In a world where we often are afraid that things are falling apart, the Gospel affirms that there is a “centre” that holds “all things together.” All things hold together in Jesus Christ, who provides for us the coherence and meaning that we need for the living of our days.

When you fear that your life is falling apart, remember this good word from Paul: “He himself is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Over and against our anxiety that nothing can hold this fractured, broken world together, the Gospel makes a different claim. There is a Centre that holds, and that center is Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to say, “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross.” Find you peace here, dear friend, in the One alone in whom “all things hold together.”

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of August 19

Dr. Todd B. Jones

My dear friends,

One thing I have dearly loved about First Presbyterian Church since I arrived ten years ago is our mission statement: “To know Christ, to make Him known, and to exhibit His love in worship, education and service.” It is clear, direct and aimed right at the heart of the Gospel, and right at the center of what the church is called to do, which is to love and praise God, to learn and grow all of our days and to serve Christ in the world. We have tried to measure all that we do by virtue of our mission statement. Much of what emerged from our strategic plan that was adopted in 2004 has been accomplished, but much remains to be fulfilled. We have grown by almost 1,000 members in the last ten years; we have grown in mission and service in our community and in the world, establishing vital mission partnerships that have nourished the life of our congregation. We have begun the work of planting a new Presbyterian Church in the Indian Lakes area of Sumner County. Our facilities have been renewed and expanded, and we currently are putting the finishing touches on our long-held plans to create a first class youth ministry facility in the former Oak Hill School Library space. Come see this wonderful new facility which will open in the coming weeks! God has blessed us in so many ways as a church family, but we are far from being the church we can be, the church God is calling us to be.

With this in mind, our Long Range Planning Committee has been hard at work, along with our Session and Board of Deacons, to establish a new strategic plan to guide us into the next decade of our life. The congregation survey sent out by email last year to everyone in our church family was part of this work, and we have mined that data for the wisdom and direction it yielded. We have also run our findings and insights by all of our current Elders and Deacons for their input. We are still hard at work on a new strategic plan, but as it takes final shape, I am especially excited about a new Vision Statement that has emerged from our work. A vision statement is a crisp, descriptive picture of what we want to look like, of who we are seeking to become. “First Presbyterian Church is a church family where all generations exhibit Christ’s love though lives marked by gratitude, hospitality and generosity.” The real treasure of our church is that we include and embrace all generations where we value and celebrate the gifts we are to each other. From the very youngest to the oldest, we are richly represented. Many of our families are represented by three and four generations of members, but even those who have no family in our church span a wide and beautiful spectrum of age and experience. What a gift from God our congregation is!

We want to grow into the church God is calling us to be by focusing upon three wonderful traits that mark our lives, and increasingly mark our life together:

Gratitude, Hospitality and Generosity

“Gratitude is the mature emotion.” St. Augustine realized that Christian faith is based upon what God has done for us out of love. The first and primary religious response in the Christian faith is not duty, not service, but gratitude. At the center of our worship sits a table where we are called to give thanks. One ancient name for the Lord’s Supper is the Eucharist, which comes from a Greek word that means to give thanks. Lives marked by gratitude are gracious lives. And people who are thankful add grace and beauty to the world. Paul asked, “What have you that you have not received?” Gratitude is the mark of Christ’s presence in our lives and the grateful life is a blessing to behold. “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!”

Hospitality is another trait which I pray will grow deeper and wider as we celebrate all that God has done for us. Hospitality welcomes and invites, it opens arms and hearts and makes room for the stranger, the sojourner, the seeker and the questioner. Hospitality is the practice of welcoming people into our community through gracious acts of kindness and care. Hospitality includes and works consciously never to exclude or overlook or ignore. In Leviticus, we are told, “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” Hospitable communities do not forget what it feels like to have been a stranger or an alien, and they treat strangers as friends. Jesus said, “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” As Jesus welcomes and invites all, so are we called to radical hospitality.

Generosity is the final mark of the graceful and blessed life to which Christ calls us. Generosity begins with the recognition of how good and gracious that God has been to us. It remembers always the Gospel’s central claim that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” It was Jesus who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” God calls us to be generous people and that generosity is marked by a faithful stewardship of all of life, of our time, talents and treasure. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” It is surely one of the most powerful things Jesus ever said. That is how I want to live! How about you?

Gratitude…Hospitality…Generosity.

With Love and Prayers, 

Todd Jones

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