Week of October 7

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

During the years that Abraham Lincoln lived with his family in Springfield, Illinois, he practiced law as a part of the circuit court. The whole court, including the District Attorney, the Circuit Court Judge and a few defense attorneys would travel from county seat to county seat in Illinois in order to try cases. In each town where they held court, the defense attorneys would meet with defendants and plaintiffs, establish lawyer-client relationships, and try cases before the court. When they finished their work, they would travel on to the next county seat and begin the process again. Lincoln learned many of the skills that would serve him well later in life. He obviously learned to practice the law, but he also learned to listen with understanding and learned how to argue a case and how to tell a story so that everyone would listen to him with rapt attention. In truth, the travelling circuit court was made up of lawyers who came to know each other well during their travels and have resources like lawyers specialized in green card procedures such as Sam Shihab who was really helpful in these travels. One night, staying together at an inn when their work was finished, due the next day in the neighboring county, anxiety ran high as rains continued to fall heavily. To get to the next town, they would have to cross the swollen waters of the Red River. It was all that his colleagues could think about, and as they shared their fears out loud, their collective anxiety only rose. Finally, someone said to Lincoln, “What are you going to do tomorrow about the Red River?” Lincoln replied, “I always follow the same rule with regard to the Red River: I never cross it until I get to it.”

There is much wisdom in Lincoln’s decision not to worry about matters over which you have no control until you actually find yourself facing them. Jesus actually counseled such wisdom in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” Jesus was speaking about our tendency to worry, to focus upon our fears, forgetting about God’s providence. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What do you understand by the providence of God?” The answer is direct: “The almighty and ever-present power of God whereby he still upholds, as it were by his own hand, heaven and earth together with all creatures, and rules in such a way that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but by God’s fatherly hand.” Then the Catechism asks, “What advantage comes from acknowledging God’s creation and providence?” “We learn that we are to be patient in the midst of adversity, grateful in the midst of blessing, and to trust our faithful God and Father for the future, assured that no creature shall separate us from his love, since all creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they cannot even move.”

Remembering that God provides is one way for believers to deal with worry. Living lives in day-tight compartments, as God gives them to us live, is another way to contend with anxiety. How often have we worried about tomorrows that never actually materialized, robbing ourselves of life and joy by so doing? Jesus finally concludes, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Never cross the Red River until you get to it!

Todd Jones

Week of September 24

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Please mark October 5 on your calendar as a day in the life of our church that you will not want to miss. Two years ago our congregation lost a beloved member, Barry Bennett Gibbs. Barry had not been a member of our congregation a long time, but she came to love dearly First Presbyterian Church, for it brought Barry and her husband Homer back into a worshiping community where they felt at home. Barry loved our church so much that she left in her estate a gift to First Presbyterian Church, and in conversation with Homer and our Endowment Committee, we established the Barry B. Gibbs Lectureship, using the proceeds from her estate gift to fund an annual lecturer or preacher to enrich our ministry and mission for Christ.

Sunday, October 5 will mark the first Barry B. Gibbs weekend, welcoming Dr. M. Craig Barnes to our pulpit, and New Testament theologian Shane Berg to offer a lecture in Courtenay Hall during the Sunday school hour for our whole membership. We are asking our adult Sunday school classes to consider attending Dr. Berg’s lecture on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Shane is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from Yale University, and after teaching New Testament for many years at Princeton, Shane now serves as Vice President for Communications and as a special assistant to Craig Barnes, the seminary’s new President. Craig Barnes will be preaching that morning at both of our services, which is something that should bless us all! Craig is widely regarded as one of the finest preachers in America today. He is the author of eight books and countless articles on preaching and the Christian journey. For many years, Craig served as Pastor of the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. He was there when the Pentagon was hit by a terrorist attack, and the pulpit of National Presbyterian Church became one of the most profound and listened to voices in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In 2004, Craig left National Presbyterian Church for a faculty position at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He later accepted the pulpit of Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, and held two posts, as both professor and preacher, for the next nine years. Last year Craig was called back to serve as the seventh President of his alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary. A 1981 graduate of the Seminary, Craig went on to earn his Ph.D. in church history from the University of Chicago, serving pastorates in Colorado Springs, Chicago and Madison, Wisconsin. His great gift is preaching, and Craig is in great demand all over this country to fill pulpits and to offer lectures. He also writes a column for the Christian Century, one of the most widely read Christian periodicals in America.
October 5 is also World Communion Sunday, so we will offer a wonderful Sunday of word and sacrament, and a chance to hear one of the most popular and dynamic young professors of New Testament share his passion for the Gospel. Many of you have heard Craig preach at Montreat, Chautauqua, and at the National Presbyterian Church. Craig is clearly becoming one of the wisest and most thoughtful voices in American church life. I hope and pray that this will be the start of a relationship with Craig that continues to bless and enrich both First Presbyterian Church and Princeton Theological Seminary. In what is how our two-hundredth year, I am keenly aware of our congregation’s indebtedness to Princeton. ­­Walter Courtenay graduated from PTS in 1932, and Bill Bryant, Mark DeVries, Adam DeVries and Sam Cooper are also alumni of the seminary. The first Barry B. Gibbs series speakers will provide a wonderful opportunity for our whole congregation to be enriched and blessed by two outstanding Christian thinkers. Craig’s sermon is entitled, Jesus the Center. It is, of course, in three short words, the life we are called to live.

On another matter of church life, this a joyful note, Lee Barfield, who has served as an Elder on our Session and been our Clerk of Session, was named the recipient of the Joe and Honey Rodgers Leadership Award for 2014, an award that cites someone in our city whose life offers an exemplary model of Christian service and leadership. It was a heartening night of celebration for Lee, Mary and for their wonderful family. Lee has worked as an attorney in Nashville since graduating from Vanderbilt Law School for Bass, Berry and Sims, and served in our community in a variety of leadership roles to build up the work of God’s Kingdom, and to bless and enrich God’s people. He has had a passion for education at every level in our community, and has blessed our own congregation by teaching Sunday school and leading men’s study groups. Lee also makes Courtenay Hall a more hospitable place by his warm, engaging presence! One of the people playing an important role in this night given to honoring Lee was Marty Dickens, himself the recipient of the Joe and Honey Rodgers Leadership Award in 2012. As always, as Connie and I sat at our table with members of the Barfield and Frist family, we felt richly blessed to serve as part of this wonderful church, this remarkable community of faith that is known as First Presbyterian Church. We are two hundred years old, and still growing into what God is calling us to be!

Todd Jones

Week of September 10

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

One of my favorite things to do in our wonderful city is to hike the Warner Woods Loop in Percy Warner Park. Recently, in the interest of erosion control, the course of this two-and-a-half-mile trail has been altered. In digging a new path for the trail in two places, they unwittingly uncovered two active bumble bee nests. So in two places along the new trail, you are greeted by signs that say,

BUMBLE BEE NEST AHEAD.
PASS BY QUICKLY.
LEASH ALL DOGS.

These homemade signs make me smile each time I pass them, and the more I read them, the more wisdom I find. There is always wisdom in taking into account what lies ahead on the road of life. All of us do well to factor in what the future might hold and to anticipate how that future might influence your actions today. Some things take us by surprise, but there are others that telegraph themselves. We should learn to think ahead.
Additionally, there is a world of wisdom in anticipating potential trouble spots and avoiding those which can easily be sidestepped. At the end of his life, Paul wrote to young Timothy and said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” There are indeed “good fights” that must be joined if we are to live well and keep faith with both God and ourselves. The fight for justice is one that God would always have us join. The fight against hunger and homelessness is a constant Biblical call. The fight for what you believe in most deeply is one that people of faith have always joined. The fight for freedom and for human rights summon many to enter in “the good fight.” But not every fight qualifies as a “good fight.” Some fights are not worth our trouble, and sometimes we join fights out of ignorance or foolishness or just plain fear. Jesus said once, “Be wise as serpents, be harmless as doves.” I want to suggest that passing by quickly a potential bee’s hive, whether literal or figurative, can be what Jesus called wisdom.
Things can be said to you to elicit a response, and wisdom often is found in not taking the bait. There are words that are better left unsaid and fights that are wisely avoided, because they are not worth waging. I recall times when I wish I could take back the words that tumbled out of my mouth. They were not things I needed to say at all, and they caused both hurt and anger. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” In the French, the word for peacemaker can also be translated “artisan of peace.” How blessed are those who know the craft of bringing peace into this world! Part of this art is found in knowing when to avoid an unnecessary fight, a fight that is finally not at all what Paul called “the good fight.”

BUMBLE BEE NEST AHEAD.
PASS BY QUICKLY.
LEASH ALL DOGS.

Let those who have ears to hear, listen!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of August 20, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Saint Anselm defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” As such, the task of theology is incumbent upon all vital Christians. We will never know all that there is to know of God, which ought always to make us humble, even as we hunger to learn and grow in “faith seeking understanding.” One of the great Biblical examples of this is the Apostle Paul at the Areopagus in Athens. The Areopagus is a large outcropping of green marble that stands at the base of the Acropolis, the intellectual and cultural center of ancient Greece. Paul came to this place in order to engage the best thinkers of the day with the Gospel. Acts 17:17 says, “So Paul argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” Surrounded by temples and idols to other gods, Paul said, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:24,25). Paul was engaging the Greeks, who loved philosophical discussion and debate, in thinking about God. While his own theology was rooted in the religion of his Jewish forbearers, God for Paul was not confined to one people or to one race or religion. The God that Paul encountered in Jesus Christ was as wide as the world that God created, and as deep as the truth that ran right to the heart of all things. Paul was able to quote from their own Greek poets and philosophers to build bridges of understanding that might bring his audience to Christ. He took seriously the genuine desire for God that he found among the Greeks, and sought to meet them in the places where they may be in agreement to take them to another place. Standing atop what the Romans called Mars Hill a few years ago, I marveled again at the courage and faith that Paul demonstrated at the Areopagus.

Paul was convinced that everyone needed to know Jesus Christ if they were truly to live. To the Corinthians he could say, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). To the Philippians, Paul would say, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This passion for God turned Paul into one of the most influential thinkers of all time, and Paul’s every thought was captive to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis spoke to a whole new generation of people both inside and outside the Church. He came back to the faith in which he was baptized as a middle-age adult. While many of his friends helped Lewis to understand the importance of God, he later would write that he was “surprised by joy.” For both Paul and Lewis, it was the Spirit of God that gave to them the faith to discover in Christ all that they had longed for and ever wanted.

I always feel a deep concern for those who never come to this encounter with the Living God, or who find faith impossible to affirm. Paul spoke on Mars Hill of those who “would search for God and perhaps grope for him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us.” We all find ourselves in times and seasons when we search for God, and even grope after a more firm and certain knowledge of God. Some find God harder to believe in than others do, and it is for those who find faith difficult to affirm that I think about often. It was just such people that C.S. Lewis had in mind when he wrote that “God designed the human machine to run on himself. He is the fuel our spirits are designed to burn. That is why it is no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us happiness apart from himself, because there is no such thing.” This is what Augustine was getting at when he said, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in Thee.” May every restless heart follow that God-given restlessness to its true home in Jesus Christ.

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of August 6, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

This past spring, I was invited to join a group of our members and some men from other churches in a study of Eric Metaxas’ popular biog raphy of Dietr ich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor/theologian who was executed by the Third Reich in the waning days of World War II for his part in a failed conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer has become a much-studied, deeply admired figure among many Christians, and while Metaxas does a masterful job of telling the story of his life, he does so as a journalist rather than as a theologian. The study prompted me to read another, more academic treatment of this Christian martyr’s life, Strange Glory, by Charles Marsh, from the University of Virg inia. Marsh points out that Bonhoeffer was born into an upper-class German family, the son of a noted psychiatrist. As a child and well into his adult years, he had never had a conversation with a person of a race or color other than his own. All of this changed for Bonhoeffer when he found himself in New York City in 1930 as a student at Union Theological Seminary, studying with the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr introduced Bonhoeffer to what he would call “the American dilemma.” Bonhoeffer would write of this as “the real face of America, something that is hidden behind the veil of words in the Amer ican constitution that ‘all men are created free and equal.’” Bonhoeffer was speaking of what he learned by befriending a black seminarian named Franklin Fisher.

Fisher, a pastor’s son, brought Dietrich with him to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. There, Bonhoeffer discovered what he would call “the eruptive joy” of black church worship and formed fr iendships among this community that would influence him for the rest of his life. In 1930 he wrote, “It really does seem to me that there is a great movement for ming, and I do believe that the Negroes will still give the whites here considerably more than merely their folksongs.” Just as Bonhoeffer spoke prophetically, almost presciently of the emergence of what he termed a “post-Christian Europe” in the 1930s, so he also foresaw what would become the monumental Civil Rights movement in America. In 1930, Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw clearly what the future held.

I have been asking myself how this man saw what so many others missed completely. There are, of course, many possible answers. Bonhoeffer was gifted with a brilliant mind, and he was offered by his family the very finest educational opportunities. But this could be said of many others who grew up with him in Berlin. Many of them were completely blind to what the Nazis were doing in their own city. What enabled Bonhoeffer to see what so many others failed to see? An important element had to be his Christian faith. Bonhoeffer always contended that the most relevant question that a follower of Jesus must ask was this: “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” He centered his faith and his life around what he would call “Christ the center.” Yet this vision of Jesus Christ was not stuck in the past, or limited to the pages of the Scriptures, though he studied them rigorously. For Bonhoeffer, the question of following Jesus was always a contemporary one. “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” In every age, disciples are called by God to ask this most crucial question of life. It sends us back to the pages of the Scripture, but it forces us to read the Bible in the light of all that is happening in the world. It is to ask with courage and a hunger for truth, “What is Jesus asking me to do?” “Who is Jesus asking me to be?”

I had a friend and mentor in a former congregation named Marshall Chapman. Marshall ran a textile firm that employed over 1,300 people. He told me once that he felt responsible not only for the company founded by his grandfather, but especially for the lives and families of his employees. He said to me once, “Every morning, when I shave, I look into the mirror and I pray, ‘Open my eyes, Lord, to see today the things that you want me to see.’” Maybe this is part of the reason why his company is one of the last family-owned textile firms in the South that is still in business. His prayer left a powerful impression on me, and it has become mine as well.

Elisha once was surrounded by a great army of enemies, in II Kings 6, and his servant was filled with fear. Elisha, the prophet of God, said, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who with them.” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.” The young man’s eyes were opened by God, and suddenly, round about them, he saw “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (II Kings 6:17). May this same Lord open our eyes to see what God would have us to see!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of July 23, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

As I write this letter to you, we are in the process of welcoming Adam DeVries as our new Associate Pastor to Youth and Their Families. This, of course, is a position held by his father Mark since 1987, during which time the youth ministry program of First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, has become one of the most deeply respected and revered in our community and across the country. Mark has served our church faithfully for over 25 years, and while he has been part-time since 2001, his impact upon our congregation’s life is incalculable. Mark, since 2001, has devoted his energies not just to our church, but also to building his consulting service to congregations across America and around the world. Mark reached a point where he realized that he could not keep working in both places and remain true to his sense of calling, and so we talked last spring about his desire to leave the payroll of our church, while still maintaining some role serving this congregation, which has meant so much to the DeVries family.

That left us with the task of replacing Mark, realizing as well that the time was ripe to move back to a full-time ordained person to lead our youth program into the future. In my quiet hours of prayer and reflection upon the future and health of our church family, I asked myself, “How do you follow a living legend?” As I pondered this question, it occurred to me that maybe you do it by calling the son of a legend! So I first raised the question of approaching Adam with Mark and Susan. They thought about it, and said, “Go ahead and ask him.” I called Adam in the fall and laid out the idea to him, urging him not to respond at all for at least a month but to think and pray about the possibility of a call to serve First, Nashville, and to follow his father. Around December, he expressed an interest in moving ahead with this idea. I next went to our Personnel Committee, then the Coordinating Council and the Session with this idea, making certain that they were in support of it as well. I then went with Sam Cooper to visit our Presbytery Executive and a member of the Committee on Ministry, the group charged with approving pastoral calls in our churches. I was open and forthright with our intentions, and after fair consideration, they urged us to proceed to elect an Associate Pastor Nominating Committee and to explain in advance to them our idea. While I know this is not the usual way that Presbyterian congregations fill pastoral openings, I also know that this is not your usual Associate Pastor position to fill. Steve Bartlett did an excellent job of heading up this committee, and the committee served ably, efficiently and well.

Of course, none of this would have happened if we already hadn’t known Adam so well! Adam grew up in our midst, attended Oak Hill School and then Franklin Road Academy. Upon graduation, he went to Sewanee! Adam came to work at First Church full time as one of our Youth Directors for three years, bringing energy and life to our whole church. During those years he and Sara married on the front lawn of our church. Shortly after Adam and Sara married, he accepted a position in a school in Quito, Ecuador, doing youth ministry among ex-pats and serving as a pastoral presence among English-speaking teens in Ecuador. Four years ago they left Ecuador and Adam became a candidate for ordination and started as a first-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary. In addition to earning his Master of Divinity degree, the basic ministerial degree, he also earned a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry at Princeton. In talking this past spring to Craig Barnes, the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, Craig said to me, “I am thrilled to learn that you are calling Adam. He is one of our very best!” (Craig Barnes will be with us in October as the first preacher in our Gibbs Lecture Series.) Of course, I knew this already about Adam, but it was a delight to hear this as well from one of America’s most astute theological educators!

Adam’s coming is an important symbol of our commitment to remain one of the premier Youth Ministry programs in our own Nashville community and in the nation. Between our Children’s Ministry led by Deb O’Brien and her staff, and our Youth Ministry led by Adam DeVries and our fabulous youth staff, I feel confident that no family in Nashville could find a better place to raise their children or teenagers “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” While we will pause to mark this transition by bidding farewell for a short season to Mark, he will continue to serve as one of our Associate Pastor and will find new and innovative ways to use his gifts as we need them to enrich and deepen our lives. Some of the ideas for Mark that we have shared include a Sunday School class on parenting, but we will cross that bridge in year when we come to it. Meanwhile, we will give thanks to God for Mark and Susan as they take a leave, knowing that they will return in God’s good time.

I could not be more excited about the future of our congregation’s life as we find ourselves at an important juncture in our life. Our staff is outstanding across the board, and I give thanks every day for the wonderful colleagues with whom I share in this ministry. We are richly blessed as a church with wonderful members and families who call First Presbyterian Church their home. Keep Adam, Sara, Parish and Nealy DeVries in your prayers as they enter our life for this exciting new chapter!

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of June 25, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Considering he lived several hundred years before the birth of Jesus, he knew not the constant and abiding love of Chr ist. Still, his quote remains truthful to us today as we announce the retirement of two long-serving employees of the church and the restructuring of another’s position.

Amelia Watson has been the face of and a force behind First Presbyterian Church’s Parish Ministry since its inception. She plotted new members and their residences on enormous maps in her office that resembled a war room of church hospitality. She made non-stop phone calls lining up Parish Leaders, and she worked with Sandra Randleman to further the Congregational Care Ministries of FPC, including staffing of our church’s assigned days for the Downtown Presbyterian Church lunch program that feeds Nashville’s homeless.

Perhaps, “Go West!” will be Amelia’s call in retirement, where her daughters Laura and Becky and her two granddaughters live. Or she might taste the peaches in Atlanta and spend time with son Robert and her two grandchildren. Regardless, Amelia takes her quick wit and infectious laugh that echoed the halls of the Administrative Wing to fun and exciting places. And, as a lifelong member of the church with deep family roots here, she will always find her home at First Presbyterian Church.

Using a baseball analogy, Ginny Tindle, who retired at the end of May, has touched all the bases as an employee at First Presbyterian Church. Ginny began as bookkeeper and receptionist in the Recreation Department in 1988. In 1999, she joined the church administrative staff as membership secretary.

Most new and long-time members of the church consider Ginny the first face at First Presbyterian, as she served as Welcome Desk receptionist since 2008. In that role, Ginny took reservations for nearly every event of the church. All have been greeted by her kind voice, her smiling face and gracious offer of assistance at one time or another. If you called, Ginny transferred you to the person or took your Wednesday night dinner reservation. If you had an appointment with a pastor, she pointed the way. Need to visit the Recreation Department? Ginny could give concise directions and let them know you were coming.

Ginny and her husband Don have a daughter Kim and, again with the sports reference, an all-star grandson, who will joyfully occupy much of his beloved grandmother’s time and attention in her retirement.

Heraclitus also wrote, “Everything changes and nothing remains still… You cannot step twice into the same stream.” Again, there is much truth to his philosophy. Kim Rogers steps into the same stream with both feet.

Beginning on July 1, Kim will become full-time Director of Food Services for FPC. While Kim will continue to provide some services for Oak Hill School’s after-school program, her main focus will now become the planning and preparation of nutritious and appealing meals for the church, especially for Wednesday nights. Oak Hill School recently made the decision to outsource its food services for daily meal preparation, and FPC is the beneficiary. Kim brings a “can do” attitude to everything she does, and we are delighted that she will now have considerably more time and energy to devote to our own needs.

The FPC congregation and staff applauded the hard work and dedication of these three members of our community. Amelia, Ginny and Kim, we pray for God’s guidance and strength for you in these new endeavors.

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of June 11, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Some think of this as the shortest verse in the Bible. I consider it one of the most comforting. Jesus’ tears serve to hallow all of our own tears and to remind us that to be human, to be fully alive, is to weep. In the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, there is a collection of ancient, ceramic sacramental vessels. They are quite small, and the description of them in the museum informs you that people cried into them. They were made to hold human tears. A parent or a child dies. Someone you love has cancer. Someone you trusted betrays you. You have a serious rift with a close friend or family member. You weep in the face of this. So if you are a Jew of old, you pick up your tear cup, you place it under your eye, and you weep into it. When you are finished weeping, you cap it and put it away until another day arrives that is filled with tears.

Why did these people save their tears? Because they were precious and because they provided evidence, a reminder, that they had lived authentically and fully. A cup full of tears is evidence that you have felt deeply, that you have suffered and sorrowed, and survived. There is an old Rabbinic tale told of a student who approached his teacher, complaining that he was suffering so deeply that he could no longer pray and study, for all his tears. Rabbi Mendel asked him, “What if God prefers your tears to your studying?”

If we were wiser and more alive to things, we might well cry more often than we do. Life is not easy, and hardly a week passes in which something worth crying about does not happen. To pretend that life is easy or that it is not without tragedy and sorrow diminishes us and those we love. Some of us have a hard time crying because we are afraid of our feelings. To express them honestly and deeply feels to us like we are losing control. But it is also possible that if we pretend we do not feel great grief or sorrow, if we hide our passion and heartache, that over time we can forget how to care and live deeply. C. S. Lewis said unforgettably in The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries…lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

The ancient Hebrews did not live this way, mostly because they loved life too much. They were not afraid to cry. The Psalmist cried out, “They that sow tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing in his sheaves…” (Psalm 126:5,6) The ability to weep opens us up to the capacity for deep joy. The fuller one’s tear cup, the fuller one’s life. Great-hearted people, it seems, cry more readily than small-hearted ones. Life has touched them more deeply, not only with pain, but also with joy. May we weep when life calls us to such an honest response, until we can say with the Psalmist, “My cup runneth over.”

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of May 28, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

My Dear Friends, The Book of Proverbs says, “Though the righteous fall seven times, they will rise again.” Another translation says, “A righteous person falls seven times and rises again.” I love this notion of Biblical righteousness, because it assumes that good people will fall and fail. A righteous person is not the same things as a perfect person, and that is good news for all of us who know we are far from perfect! All of us fall along the path of life, and none of us are strangers to failure. In point of fact, most of us are the people we are as much because of our falls and failures as our successes. Biblical righteousness is not the same thing as moral perfection. It has far more to do with living in a relationship with God where forgiveness and redemption are real possibilities, and where we learn through all the experiences of our lives.

This past week, I read a wonderful article about the role of failure in scientific discovery. We all know the legendary stories that accompany Thomas Edison, that tell of all the failures he encountered onto his way of the invention of the first incandescent light. Each failure brought Edison closer to his breakthrough. Without failure, Edison would have never known success. This is the same story told by the life of Jerome Horowitz. Horowitz was doing cancer research at Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1964, he experimented with a chemical compound called azidothymidine, now known as AZT. He was looking for chemical compounds to treat malignancies and thought that AZT held promise. But after testing it repeatedly, he laid aside all of his failed work and moved on to work with other drugs that might be more effective. Horowitz never patented AZT but never lost faith in the promise of this chemical compound. “We had this very interesting set of compounds waiting for a disease to cure.” Twenty years after his failed experiments with AZT, the drug company Burroughs Wellcome found that it was effective in treating a form of AIDS-related pneumonia, and AZT became the first drug used widely and effectively to prolong the lives of those infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. Burroughs Wellcome, now a part of GlaxoSmithKline, made enormous profits from AZT, and the drug has been used widely across the world to save lives. While Horowitz never made a dime from his research with AZT, he died in September 2012 without a trace of bitterness. He worked to find cures for disease, not to make money, but to make a difference. In some ways, his failure to find a drug to treat cancer turned out to be his life’s greatest success. Jerome Horowitz touched and saved millions of lives across the globe through the use of his failure in cancer research.

We too readily label events and experiences as “failure” or “success” when we really do not know what use they will ultimately be to us or to the world. Our fear of failure is usually unnecessary, for we almost always grow from and through those failures. They bring us closer to the life we are meant to live and the people we are intended to become. “A righteous person falls seven times and rises again.” In his biography of Dwight Eisenhower called Ike: An American Hero, Michael Korda points out that it was Eisenhower’s defeats in North Africa at the beginning of our entry into World War II that would “transform Ike from a skilled military bureaucrat into the toughest, most experienced, most formidable, and most realistic American commander since Ulysses S. Grant.” You could easily argue that it was from being a failure as a general in Africa that Eisenhower would grow to be one of our greatest military heroes.

Abraham Lincoln lost elections eight times, including two unsuccessful runs for the House of Representatives and two for the United States Senate, before he was elected President. No one would suggest today that Abraham Lincoln was a loser, and no one would fail to list him among our most important and best presidents. Failure seemed to enable Lincoln to grow as a leader. This man who was no stranger to failure and sorrow would find words to galvanize and finally heal a nation almost ruined by bitter conflict. I cannot imagine someone who had not tasted the bitterness of defeat and failure writing the words, “With malice toward none, and charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” Arguably the greatest speech ever given in the history of our nation came from a man who had failed repeatedly, yet rose again from his failure to bless and redeem our whole country in its darkest and most trying hour. Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” God is always at work in our lives for good. God works good in failure and success alike. This is the heart of the Gospel.

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

Week of May 14, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

Many years ago, while a graduate student in Great Britain, I travelled with my parents to Coventry, that industrial city in England that was bombed so heavily
by the Germans during World War II. On the night of November 14, 1940, the Luftwaffe bombed the heart of the city, and with it, St. Michael’s Cathedral. The
handsome cathedral tower was left standing, but the ancient roof of the church was burned, and the interior of the lovely nave was completely ruined. Charred
beams were saved from the rubble, and they were placed together on the ancient altar in the shape of a cross, where they stand to this day, open to the weather. Behind the old altar have been carved into the stone Jesus’ words, “Father, Forgive.” Ever since the destruction of the old church, the people of St. Michael’s determined that their response would not be motivated by anger or bitterness, but by reconciling, redeeming love. They decided to build their new cathedral right out of the ruins of the old church, and the Queen laid the cornerstone on Coventry Cathedral in 1956. It is a modern cathedral in glass, steel and stone that rises up out of the rubble and ashes of the ancient church, a living symbol of the Christian conviction that God works through crucifixion and resurrection to bring hope and reconciliation into this broken world.

One of the chapels that they built was constructed to honor the guilds of artisans and workers that have played such an important role in the life of Coventry. It is called Chapel to the Guilds, and it is circular in shape, with a stone altar in the center of the circle. Carved in stone around the communion table are Jesus’ words found in Luke’s Gospel, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). When Albert Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his medical missionary work in Africa, he said in accepting his award, “The only ones among you who will ever find happiness are those who learn to serve.” What is central to Jesus’ way among us can hardly be peripheral to our lives. To follow Jesus Christ faithfully involves taking the form of a servant. Leadership in Jesus’ name is always servant leadership.

Robert K. Greenleaf was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1904 and worked for 38 years for AT&T teaching management training courses. He retired in 1968 and found a whole new calling in the second half of his life through publishing an award-winning essay in 1970 that became his 1976 book, Servant Leadership. During his adult years, as Greenleaf discovered the power of servant leadership, he became a practicing Quaker, but all his life he remained convinced that the principle of changing the world through service could cut across every religion and those with none at all. Jesus was his model, of course, but Greenleaf believed that the world could be transformed by leaders who understood the power of becoming servants. Jesus said in Mark’s Gospel, “But whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). The world was changed forever by the Servant King, and Jesus always calls us who follow to become servants ourselves.

As we seek to become a community of faith marked by Gratitude, Hospitality and Generosity, the notion of being servant leaders will be essential to our life. Lorne Sanny was a businessman who founded The Navigators, a Christian organization. He once was asked how you know when you have a servant attitude. “By how you act when you are being treated like one,” he said. We all are called by Jesus to serve. Alice Waters has written a book about food called, In the Green Kitchen. She says “Our full humanity is contingent upon our hospitality. We can be complete only when we are giving something away; when we sit at table and pass the peas to the person next to us, we see that person in a whole new way.” We see people in their true and best light only when we are serving them. Teresa of Avila understood this servant principle of Jesus profoundly. I love her advice! “Always think of yourself as everyone’s servant; look for Christ our Lord in everyone, and you will have respect and reverence for all.”

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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