Provision in Troubled Times: Thoughts on the things we need and ask for that God already provides.

Provision in Troubled Times

We are in the second message about resilience in troubled times.

Last week we learned that we need to understand our troubles are not permanent, not personal, and not pervasive.

That allows us to be optimistic about the future.

And as people of faith, we can be even more optimistic because God has made us a promise.

That by remaining faithful, God will be our God and we will be God’s people.

These things give us hope, allow us to persevere and make us resilient in troubled times.

But our lessons on resilience don’t end there.

We need more than a good attitude to be resilient.

We need some other things, too.

You know, provisions.

A few years ago, my family made a trip to Olympia National Park in Washington State.

It is a huge, beautiful place full of mountains and hiking trails, forest and wilderness.

And we were heading in.

We started in a Ranger Station gift shop – there are always gift shops – and we saw a little book called “How Not to Die in the Woods”.

We thought it was funny, but a quick scan told us that while the book was presented in a lighthearted manner, it was, pardon the expression, dead serious.

The overall purpose of the book was to teach people what they needed to survive in the woods.

What provisions were required.

I did not buy the book, but I wish I had because there is much to learn in it about resilience in the face of adversity.

Like our current troubled times.

I mean, don’t we feel sort of stuck in the woods right now?

And it’s getting dark, we are getting cold, we are hungry, we are thirsty, and we are getting a bit anxious.

How are we going to get out of the woods safely?

We need to find a way to be resilient.

So, if we had read that little book, we might take a look inside our back packs and pull out a few of the things it told us to pack.

A map.

A flashlight.

Fire.

Emergency shelter.

A first aid kit.

Proper clothing.

A tool kit.

Food.

Water.

And here is one I added – a few friends.

These are the provisions that allow us to remain calm and resilient – and alive – in the woods or in any of our troubled times.

And guess what?

Those are the kinds of things God provides us, whether we realize it or not.

Which brings us to our scripture readings.

Exodus 17: 1-7

17From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 3But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 5The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

Matthew 7: 7-12

‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

I love Exodus.

It proves to me that humanity has changed little over the millennia.

In today’s text, we find the Hebrew people in the wilderness right after they escaped captivity in Egypt.

The Hebrew people cried out to God for freedom.

God took them out of slavery in Egypt.

God gave them a leader.

God promises them a new home though they have to travel through the wilderness to get to it.

And as God leads them to that new home, the Hebrew people continually ask God for what they need.

And God provides it.

They have no bread.

God gives them manna.

They have no meat.

God sends quails.

They have no water.

As we see in our text today, God provides water from a rock.

Throughout their journey through the wilderness, God provided the Hebrews everything they needed, when they asked.

And why wouldn’t God?

God chose them to be his people!

Yet we also see in our text that, the Hebrews continued to “test” God.

They did not fully trust God to provide for them.

And they did not appreciate that God was already providing for them all along the way.

Jesus continues this theme in his Sermon on the Mount a few millennia later.

He is preaching about how people of faith, like us, should trust to God to provide what we need just like God did with the Hebrews in the wilderness.

And not in just in trouble times, but all the time.

And there is an expectation that, like the Hebrews, we will ask God for the provisions we need, just as God provided for the Hebrews in the wilderness.

Why the expectation that we are going to ask?

Because like the Israelites, we don’t fully trust God to know when we need things.

What does Jesus tell us to do?

Do what the Israelites did.

Ask.

Seek.

Knock.

And God will answer.

But what is interesting about Jesus’ words is that the Greek is better translated:

Keep asking.

Keep seeking.

Keep knocking.

We are to continually look to God to provide for our needs.

Because we will always have needs.

So, what is it we really need?

Well, Janice Joplin wanted a Mercedes Benz; a color TV, and a night on the town.

She must have been into the prosperity gospel.

But think about it.

If we had been there on the side of that hill listening to Jesus, and Jesus had said ask, seek knock and it will be provided by God, what would we have asked for, sought after, or looked for behind the door?

Take a moment.

What comes to mind?

I read a story this week by Leah Schade in “Feasting on the Word”.

She was leading a Confirmation Class through this passage in Matthew.

The children were impressed that God was going to grant them whatever they asked for.

Schade asked them to say what they wanted.

Their response was not surprising.

Techno devices, brand named clothing, trips to exotic locations; that sort of thing. 

Like a Christmas or birthday gift wish list.

But of course, the “prayers” were not answered.

When asked why, one of the students pointed out that Jesus said we are to ask for “good things”.

Maybe the wish list items were not good things.

Maybe good things are not what we want but what we need.

What we all need.

See, God is not a wish granter.

God is a need provider.

And what God provides are the good things we ask for.

What are those good things?

What we need to survive.

Jesus uses two examples of what we need that God will provide.

Bread and meat.

Sound familiar?

These are things we need to survive and the things the Hebrews were worried about in Exodus.

These are the good things we are to ask for.

Not the stuff, wealth and entertainment we want.

We might want a night on the town, but we don’t need a night on the town.

What we really need to survive is bread and protein.

And God provides it, has always provided it, and will continue to provide it.

Don’t believe me?

There is plenty of grain to make bread in the world for everyone in it.

There is plenty of fish for everyone in the world in the lakes, streams and oceans.

There always has been, currently is and, if we are faithful and responsible and good stewards of creation, there always will be food and water.

It might not be all what we want, but it is what we need.

And if we ask for it, God will provide it.

And why wouldn’t God?

God created us, freed us from our slavery to sin, and leads us into God’s Kingdom.

And God also provides for the journey.

But there is something we must recognize.

When the Hebrews “prayed” for bread, meat and water, they were praying for the Hebrew people, not just themselves.

Jesus is saying the same thing.

The people who call themselves disciples are to pray for all the people, not just themselves.

Schade’s kids then started listing what they thought might be good things.

This message must have been understood because when the kids rethought their list.

It included peace, healing, relief for disaster victims, less pollution, food for the hungry, relief from parents who abuse their kids by giving them rocks instead of bread and snakes instead of fish.

One of the students then asked a rally good question.

“How will we know if the prayers are answered?”

The pastor pointed out how the church was part of those answers.

The church had food boxes for the hungry.

An abused foster child adopted by a church family.

The ecology ministry’s work on protecting God’s creation.

The congregation’s soldiers coming home.

Things like that.

Kind of like what we do here.

Serving from the stoop.

Backpacks for Duquesne kids.

Shelter for the homeless.

A garden the church tended to supply food for the local food bank.

Members who provided a home for a foster child.

Members who have adopted children.

God has given most of more than what we need so can answer the prayers and fill the needs of others.

God does provide.

Often through us.

All we need to do is look around and see it to believe it.

So, again, think about what you want to ask God for now.

Sure, we have our pandemic, our politics and our protests right now.

Our wilderness troubles.

And we are asking, seeking, knocking.

What are we asking for?

What are we seeking?

What do we think is on the other side of that door?

What do we want?

The lesson of Exodus and Matthew are that we don’t always get what we want, but we can get what we need, if we ask, seek and knock.

And here is the thing, God has already provided us with what we need.

Let’s look in our backpack.

God gave us Jesus.

And Jesus gave us a way of life.

And the Holy Spirit gives encouragement to live the Jesus way.

These are the things we need.

They are our map, light, warmth, shelter, first ais, clothing, tools, food and water.

Good things.

Things God gave us that to allow us to persevere and remain resilient in the woods and in our current trouble times.

Take a Licking and Keep on Ticking: Thoughts on optimism in troubled times.

Take a Licking and Keep on Ticking

One of my favorite pastimes is playing tennis.

While I was away last week, I played every day.

Tennis is one of those sports that requires hand/eye coordination, flexibility, speed and endurance.

I have a bit of each of those.

Just enough to make it fun.

It also requires resilience.

Resilience is the ability to persevere when things are not going your way until they start going your way.

This is what resilience looks like on the tennis court.

During this year’s women’s US Open Championship, Serena Williams, perhaps the greatest woman tennis player of all time, played Victoria Azarenka, a woman who has had struggles on and off the court for several years.

Williams was seeking to tie the record for the number of major tournaments ever won by a woman.

Winning this year’s US Open would do it.

Williams won the first set 6-1.

Not a good sign for Azarenka.

But Azarenka did not quit.

She continued to play.

Azarenka continued to “construct” her points.

She stuck to her game.

She was patient.

She was resilient.

And won the second set 6-3.

But Williams upped her game for the third set.

She pounded her serves and groundstrokes.

And Azarenka responded.

She upper her game, too.

On the cross over breaks, Azarenka closed her eyes and seemed to be imagining the next game, the next point, the next shot.

And Azarenka won.

6-3 in the third set to win the match.

That’s resilience.

Remaining calm in the onslaught of adversity.

Now it does not always work out the way you want it to.

Naomi Osaka did the same thing to Azarenka in the finals when she lost the first set 6-1 and then came back to will the next two, 6-3; 6-3.

Resilience.

That is what we need these days, right?

We need to stick to our values.

Construct our lives.

Imagine better times.

It will not always go the way we want, but we can manage the disappointments until things go our way.

Look at what we are getting pummeled with these days.

Pandemic.

Politics.

Protests.

And all the sub parts that come with them.

Seems like the perfect trifecta of trouble.

How can we be resilient in these troubled times?

That’s what I am going to be talking about for the next three weeks.

The first way is to take a lesson from someone who knows.

The Prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 30: 18-22

18 Thus says the Lord:
I am going to restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob,
   and have compassion on his dwellings;
the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound,
   and the citadel set on its rightful site.
19 Out of them shall come thanksgiving,
   and the sound of merrymakers.
I will make them many, and they shall not be few;
   I will make them honored, and they shall not be disdained.
20 Their children shall be as of old,
   their congregation shall be established before me;
   and I will punish all who oppress them.
21 Their prince shall be one of their own,
   their ruler shall come from their midst;
I will bring him near, and he shall approach me,
   for who would otherwise dare to approach me? says the Lord.
22 And you shall be my people,
   and I will be your God.

I read a book called a while back called “Learned Optimism” By Dr. Martin Seligman.

Seligman is the scientific guru on how optimism can change your life for the better.

But he starts out his book describing a phenomenon he discovered he calls “learned helplessness”.

“Learned helplessness” results when we are faced with what we believe are inescapable negative events.

We have no hope.

We resign ourselves to our plight.

We have accepted that we are helpless.

And we stop trying to escape.

Seligman discovered something about learned helplessness.

It can be prevented and even un-learned.

How?

By changing the way we look at our circumstances.

Those who are most likely to learn helplessness have a pessimistic world view.

They believed their unwanted circumstances are permanent (“it will never change”), personal (“it’s somehow our fault”), and pervasive (“it underlies everything in our lives”).

Seligman would tell them to change that outlook.

Be optimistic.

Our circumstances are not permanent.

Times and circumstances change.

Our circumstances are not personal.

We can’t control when bad things happen, so when they do, it’s not our fault.

Our circumstances are not pervasive.

There are other parts of our lives that are good and joyful.

When we look at the world this way, Seligman says we should not feel helpless.

We can take a licking and keep on ticking!

We can play out the match point by point.

We become resilient.

The Jews Jeremiah preached to needed some resilience.

Times were bad.

Here is some history.

The height of Israel’s power and prestige in the world occurred during Solomon’s reign.

At Solomon’s death, internal disputes and questions of succession led the kingdom to split.

The northern part of the kingdom became Israel.

The southern part of the kingdom became Judah.

Jerusalem was in Judah.

The holy city where the temple was located.

Assyria conquered Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and assimilated it.

When the Babylonians replaced the Assyrians as the world power, Judah became a Babylonian vassal state.

After a brief rebellion by the Judeans, the Babylonians leveled Jerusalem, including Solomon’s Temple, and deported all the children, women and educated men to Babylon.

Judah was a wasteland.

David’s kingdom was no more.

Jeremiah was called preach to these people in exile.

People whose homeland had ceased to exist.

While Jeremiah was called to tell these people many things, in my view, his most important message was hope.

Hope that God would restore Judah and return the people to their homeland.

With that hope, the Jewish exiles could be resilient.

And they needed that.

The exiles lived under constant threat of cultural destruction and extinction.

There was nothing for them to go back to.

Their country, their city, their Temple was gone.

The Jews in Babylonian exile had certainly learned helplessness.

The Babylonians made sure of that.

That they need a little therapy!

And so, here comes Jeremiah the therapist, who gives the Jews in exile a bit of optimism.

God will restore …

God will have compassion …

God will rebuild …

There shall be thanksgiving …

And the sound of merrymaking …

God will make them many…

God will make them honored…

Their children shall learn the old ways …

Their congregation shall be established before God …

Their prince shall be one of their own …

God will bring him near, and he shall approach God …

And then Jeremiah tells them God’s promise.

“And they shall be my people, and I will be their God!”

These are words of hope.

This exile is not permanent.

It is not your fault.

You can still be Jews – the people of God – even in exile.

The Judeans grabbed these words, held on to them and survived.

They learned to control what they could control and wait for things to change.

Even if they couldn’t understand how or when.

Even if it was not to be in their lifetime.

Jeremiah gave them resilience.

He told them God was with them.

Over the next 550 years, they continued to worship the God of their ancestors and carry on the rituals, traditions and requirements of their faith.

Ultimately, they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and the land of Judah.

But they still waited for the prince from their own people who would go before God on their behalf.

Then a young Jewish woman was approached by a messenger from God and asked to bear a king from and for the people of Judah.

One who could approach God.

One who would restore, rebuild, multiply and have compassion.

One who would reconcile the people with their God.

The one who would bring the Kingdom of God.

And while that happened, we often feel like we are living in exile from God’s kingdom.

We look at the world around us and see precious little that allows optimism.

Life can be hard.

Catastrophes happen.

There always seem to be barbarians at the gate.

Pandemic.

Politics.

Protests.

The current sources of our communal heart burn.

And we struggle.

We think it will be permanent.

We think it is somehow our fault.

We think it is all consuming.

But if we think that way we are learning helplessness.

It is then that we need to remember Jeremiah and Jesus.

God still says:

I am going to restore …

I am going to have compassion …

There shall be thanksgiving …

And the sound of merrymakers …

I will make you many…

I will make you honored…

Your children shall grow of old …

Your congregation shall be established before me …

Your prince is one of your own …

I brought him near, and he is with me …

And you shall be my people, and I will be your God!

You will be with me in my Kingdom.

Your troubles are not permanent.

They are not your fault.

There is more to life than this adversity.

Act like it!

Live like it.

You are not helpless.

These are words of hope.

Words of optimism.

Words of resilience.

For the world.

For the church.

For us.

We must do what the exiles did.

We must be resilient.

We must live in our faith, continue the rituals and traditions and lessons that define who we are.

We must live the Jesus way, in a world that doesn’t.

And if we do, we can be resilient.

Even though our lives are not always quite what we anticipated.

Not what we had hoped for.

Bad things have occurred to us or our families.

We worry for our kids.

We worry for our kids’ kids.

We live with anxiety and fear of the future.

Pandemic.

Politics.

Protest.

We believe it will never end.

That it is somehow our fault.

And it consumes our lives.

We learn helplessness.

We resign to it.

We want to take our racket and walk off the court.

But then we remember Jeremiah.

We remember Jesus.

We remember the promises.

Restoration.

Compassion.

Reconstruction.

Thanksgiving.

Merrymaking.

Regeneration.

Redemption.

The presence of God.

Life in God’s kingdom.

This pandemic will end.

The election will be over in a few weeks.

There are other things in life that can give us joy and pleasure.

We can look to the future with the hope that comes from following Jesus.

I just picked up a book called “Beautiful and Terrible Things; A Christian Struggle with Suffering, Grief, and Hope”, by Christian Brady.

The book was written as a lament for the death of his young son.

He says this:

[W]e must remember the past and hope for the future even as we walk in the confidence of the love of God. It is never an easy journey, and it requires honesty. We must look truthfully at our lives and the world we live in. … [Hope] provides us with the resilience and strength needed to be honest about life. When we hope, we can address wickedness and hurt in the confidence that God will ultimately bring justice and peace to all creation. Through hope, we can come through joblessness and broken relationships and walk forward with purpose and meaning.

Let me rephrase that:

Hope provides us with the resilience and strength needed to be honest about life.

Through hope, we can come through pandemics, politics and protest and walk forward with purpose and meaning living as disciples of Jesus.

And we will be God’s people and God will be our God.

Looking Forward into a New World: Thoughts on keeping Christ relevant in changing times.

Looking Forward

One of my favorite authors is Michael Connelly.

He has a series of books in which the main character is a police officer named Hironimus Bosch.

The first book I read was a couple of years ago.

It was the most recent at that time.

I decided to go back and read the entire series starting from the beginning.

It turned out that the first Bosch book was written in 1992.

When I read it, I was really amused by how different life was back in 1992.

Consider just these two things:

No computers.

No cell phones.

It reminded me of my first days as a lawyer back in 1983.

In my office on the first day of work, I had on my desk a hard-wired phone, a rolodex, a paper calendar and a dictation recorder.

All the phone calls came into the firm through a receptionist who had to transfer the calls to each lawyer.

There were no direct lines.

If I could not answer the phone, my secretary, Mary Lou, would take a message on a pink slip of paper and put it on my desk.

Voicemail did not exist.

I would dictate the letters and other documents I needed Mary Lou to type and she would put on headphones and type away on a typewriter.

If a correction on the document was required, she would have to retype the entire document.

Word processing did not exist.

Appointments were handwritten in the paper calendar as were deadlines.

There were no automatic reminders.

If I was on the road and wanted to check in with my secretary, I had to find a pay phone.

There we no cell phones.

Then things changed.

Like lightning.

We got word processing.

We got voicemail.

We got car phones.

We got computers.

We got the internet.

We got Microsoft Office with word processing, electronic calendars, contacts and reminders.

All us lawyers had to learn to type because we got email.

Instead of dictating, lawyers started to type the first draft of our own documents.

We got cell phones.

Everything we did required us to learn new skills.

New ways of communicating.

New ways of doing what we had to do to stay competitive.

New ways of staying relevant.

It was hard.

It was annoying.

It was frustrating.

Some took to the changes like ducks to water.

Others kicked and screamed into the new world.

But the world kept on moving on, so we needed to keep learning new things so we could keep moving on with it.

As hard as it was, no one I know wants to go back to the old ways.

We have adapted.

Every day we see things we have never seen before.

We do things we have never done before.

Something new.

Something unexpected.

Something important.

Regardless of whether these changes are the result of human or environmental causes, they are unavoidable.

Some of us take to these new things like a duck takes to water.

Some of us only take to these new things kicking and screaming.

Irrespective of the camp you are in, the change comes.

The old ways are obsolete.

No one has any choice but to learn, adapt and carry on.

Which brings us, interestingly enough, to our scripture reading.

Philippians 3: 4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

The old adage goes like this:

“The only thing that’s constant is change.”

That is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the Philippians.

Paul is telling the Philippians that something has changed.

A new thing has happened.

 A new way is required.

That change, that new thing, that new way, is Jesus.

What came before, while once beautiful and faithful, is nothing compared to a life following Jesus.

And he uses himself as an example.

Paul fully believes he has a history he could be proud about.

5circumcised on the eighth day,

a member of the people of Israel,

of the tribe of Benjamin,

a Hebrew born of Hebrews;

as to the law, a Pharisee;

6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church;

as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

That, my friends, is a nice history.

One we could aspire to, right?

But Paul then says that because he now follows Jesus, none of that means anything to him.

That’s the old way.

It is no longer relevant.

Jesus is the new way.

Paul is saying that when we follow Jesus, what has happened before has lost its effectiveness.

Its relevance.

But, “Jeff”, you say, “We are following Jesus! What does this mean for us? What do we need to change? How do we do it?”

Leonard Sweet in his excellent book “Soul Salsa” describes discipleship this way.

The word “disciple” means student.

So, we are students of Jesus.

As disciples of Jesus we must be lifelong learners who never graduate from discipleship.

We just learn new ways to follow Jesus.

Jesus spent his life reaching out to people, teaching about the Kingdom of God in ways that the people could identify with, understand and do.

We must learn how to do that in 2020 and beyond.

We must take Jesus into the world in a way that makes Jesus relevant.

Today!

Reaching out to people, teaching about the Kingdom of God in ways that people can identify with, understand and do.

Today!

We follow Jesus are through worship, education, mission, fellowship and shared resources.

How do we make these things relevant today?

We need to ask this question.

“What is our mission?”

Once we know what that mission is, we can learn and do new things that make a difference for God today.

As Paul says:

… but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Changing from the past.

The goal in front.

The heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Now we in the church must be about the process of learning new ways to do all these things.

Not necessarily because we want to, but because the world has changed, so we need to change, too,if we, as a community of faith want to remain relevant.

Sweet puts it this way:

In our lifetime, one way of living in the world has ended … and a new waw has begun … . Individuals and churches can never be the same again. You can try to block from your lives, you can try to block from your church these changes. But these changes won’t go away. Chances are your church will go away. But they won’t.

Happily, we are not blocking.

We are learning new things.

We have learned how to do online worship.

This is new.

Our Sunday virtual services have been a great success.

Since we have gone online, our worship services have been “viewed” by an average of 200+ people.

What encourages me about these numbers is that there are more people who want to worship with us than we can fit in the sanctuary, but who, for whatever reason, can’t get to the church on Sunday morning.

Worshiping online is a new way that allows folks to worship when the sanctuary is not an option.

Today we are doing something even more radical.

Here in the parking lot we are worshiping, learning, celebrating the sacraments, enjoying the creation around us and then having a donut.

One way I have tried to keep in touch with our community is to offer my Mid-Week Meditations.

This is new.

I offer a scripture reading, a brief meditation on it, church announcements and a prayer.

What encourages me is that folks are viewing it and seem to be encouraged themselves.

With regard to mission, when the world shut down in March, JMPC recognized that there might be food shortages for some.

This was new.

We started the “serving from your stoop” campaign that generated literally tons of food for SHIM and 412FoodRescue.

We also continued our SHIM gardening and have already provided 900 pounds of fresh produce that has been distributed to those suffering from food insecurity.

Just recently, our Outreach Pillar donated school supplies to fill 50 backpacks for kids in Duquesne who will be learning from home this fall.

On the Fellowship front, our parking lot has become a community meeting place.

This is new.

We have had meetings, counseling sessions, play dates, coffee claches, graduation photos, driving lessons and joggers.

People gathered here outside at safe distances to just get out and be with others for whatever reason.

And we have not forgotten our children.

One of the casualties of the pandemic was the cancellation of our beloved VBS.

Usually we get around 150 to 180 kids to worship and learn about Jesus for a week in June.

But our building is closed.

Nevertheless, we created Staycation Bible School instead.

This was new.

Over 60 children signed up to get lessons, crafts, and online packages for a week with the Bible.

And lastly, I am encouraged by the continued financial support for JMPC even when our building is closed.

Without the financial support of you all, we could not continue our missions and ministries that make us true disciples of Jesus.

So rather than the offering plate on Sunday mornings, people are mailing checks, having automatic checks sent from banks, and sending money online.

This is new.

All this is new, and we are clearly adapting, learning, doing and making a difference for God.

I am truly encouraged, and so should you be.

Looking back, we can take much satisfaction in the accomplishments of this congregation.

As the years have passed, we have always been ready, willing and able to learn new ways and do new things.

And we must continue to … well … continue.

As Sweet says, we must never “graduate”.

We must always be looking for new ways to make reach out to people and tell them about the Jesus way. 

However we have done things up to now, we are called to learn new ways when the circumstances surrounding us require it.

This congregation has never rested on its laurels.

It takes seriously the call to follow Jesus and to learn from him.

We move … towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

Whatever that might mean.

And whatever it takes to get there.

What is coming next?

How will the world change in the future?

I don’t know.

But I know Jesus is leading us, so there is no reason to be afraid.

Kick Off Sunday in the Parking Lot this week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church: September 13, 2020

When I was a kid, we got three newspapers delivered every day. In the morning we got the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In the afternoon we got both the Pittsburgh Press and the McKeesport Daily News. We got the Daily News because my Dad grew up in McKeesport and he wanted to know what was going on in the Mon Valley. There was a lot of overlapping news, but there was also some uniqueness to each. My favorite was the Daily News, primarily because it had the high school wrestling “box scores” after every match. It was the only way I could ever see my name in any paper. Over the years, things changed. The Press was the first to go. It published its last edition on July 28, 1992 and was subsequently purchased by the Post-Gazette. The next to go was the Daily News. After exactly 131 years and six months, it published its final edition on December 31, 2015. Since that time, only the Post-Gazette has offered daily news in print. But now the Post- Gazette prints only three days a week (and will likely reduce that number in the future). The other days it is online. I was initially not much of a fan of this new way to read the Post-Gazette. But now I am … well … not a fan, but I am OK with it. That is the way of the world, right? Change is the only thing that is permanent. Church is like that, too. The way we do church changes, though the Gospel does not. Come and hear about what JMPC is doing that is new and different and what it means to be the church in 2020. Pastor Jeff will preach “Looking Forward into a New World” this Sunday in the JMPC parking lot at 10 AM (note the new time) and on Facebook Live.