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?


With Love and Prayers, 

Todd Jones

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