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.

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