I came across a poem today, written by John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. I realize many of us may not be in the habit of reading and studying poetry – and this one is not necessarily easy. However, it challenges us to consider what it means to be a pilgrim – a disciple – and what it means to obey our Lord and trust Him completely. Take a minute to ponder what’s being said :
To Be a Pilgrim, by John Bunyan (1628 – 1688)
Who would true valour see
Let him come hither ;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent,
His first avowed intent,
To be a Pilgrim.
Who so beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound ;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a Pilgrim.
Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,
Can daunt his spirit :
He knows, he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a Pilgrim.
Do you get the picture of the pilgrim … moving forward, always with a keen eye on who he has been called to be ? His trust is in the Lord ; nothing frightens him ; trials only make him stronger and more determined. He knows that in the end he shall inherit true life. He labors night and day to finish the journey God has called him to travel.
It reminds me some of the sermon series we’ve recently started in the Old Testament book of Judges. Since our theme last Sunday was that the Israelites’ partial obedience led to open idolatry which in turn led to God’s anger (and then, later, God’s grace), I’ve been asking myself a lot this week what does partial obedience look like for Christians today ?
It seems to me that for most of us two things cut into our complete obedience to the Lord and His calling upon our lives. One seems to be work (and with work, the pursuit of more income, success, and prestige). The other seems to be the pursuit of pleasure. For some kinds of work and for many kinds of pleasure, we will sacrifice parts of our pilgrimage with the Lord.
Our world challenges us to do so. Our world says, “Don’t ever disconnect (from your communication devices, from the demands of people, or from work) ! Don’t ever take a break – you might miss an chance to achieve more !” Even our recreational pursuits demand high energy, high personal investment, and sometimes large commitments of time and money.
The pilgrim understands, on the other hand, that there is a right time for everything (Ecclesiastes 2:24 – 3:11) and that the calling of the Lord – not people or “fancies” (in the poem) – is paramount. He finds real pleasure and satisfaction in engaging in relationships, conversations, pursuits, work, and play that contribute to eternity. He has – like the judges we’re reading about on Sundays – a vision of God’s intense desire to draw humanity to a place of reconciliation and eternal life … before the day of judgment arrives.
It reminds me of another old-time missionary I’ve been reading about with my kids – John G. Paton. Paton grew up, and initially served God, in Scotland. One of his first assignments was to reach spiritually lost people in an area of Glasgow known for its broken homes and heavy drinking. He was so passionate about reaching these people with Good News that he woke up early on Sunday mornings to venture out into the neighborhood knocking on doors, rousing people out of their beds in order to get these (oftentimes hung over) people to the Sabbath meeting ! That’s devotion. That’s zeal. That’s also a man who went on to carry the Gospel to cannibalistic people living in the New Hebrides Islands of the South Pacific.
In other words, that’s a pilgrim. No partial obedience for him.
It’s a radical kind of Christianity, but I think the kind Jesus calls for … because we are His ambassadors in a world that is truly falling apart. I get a taste, or a glimpse of it, from time to time at Emmanuel. By and large, you’ve been willing to walk that pilgrim way. I’m proud of you. Let’s keep our walking shoes on and our eyes fixed intently on the goal. I wonder, where is your pilgrimage taking you today ?
(By the way, it was thrilling to be at the church yesterday evening and experience the life, the noise, the outreach, and the journeys taking place there. There must have been upwards of 60 middle school and high school students participating in JAM and Overflow – and Darrel Boyer said he hasn’t even invited his football team yet ! A Sticky Group was crowded into one of the classrooms because they had so many new attendees and there was little other space left in the church building for study and fellowship. Personally, I had a fun conversation with someone who brought her son to JAM for the very first time. On top of all that, a new high school small study group was forming. It was in many respects a fulfillment of things we have dreamed of and prayed for over a period of years. And it was the result of much hard work and commitment to being pilgrims.)
Coming Up :
Staying Strong in a World That’s Falling Apart : I’m amazed at how relevant and applicable the book of Judges is becoming to me. I encourage you to come share in that part of God’s Word this Sunday morning. Worship and message beginning at 10:15. We will look at Judges 3 – exciting stories about three of the judges : Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar.
Adult & Children’s Classes this Sunday morning at 9:00 : If you’re out of the habit of coming to the 9:00 hour on Sunday mornings, now is a great time to make a small change in your routine and join others in some really good classes. (Don’t make me come knocking at your door early Sunday morning !)
“Word Connections” for kids ages 3-11 and beyond, led by Lisa Horstmann and Lindsey Engemann.
“What is Faith,” for adults and young people, led by Scott Parker.
“A Survey of the Book of Acts,” for adults and young people, led by David Kiser.
“Discovering Christ and the Church 101,” membership class, led by Pastor Jeff Roth.
Congregational Meeting this Sunday : There will be a short congregational meeting immediately following worship this Sunday. Two items will be on the agenda : There will be a short presentation given of a proposed update of our church by-laws, and there will be the election of a Nominating Committee whose task it will be this fall to nominate church officers for 2015. Please plan on attending ; we need and value your participation.
Tuesday Prayer : Join several of us Tuesday at noon to pray for ministry and personal needs at Emmanuel.
New Applications for Membership : The Elder Board is pleased to inform the Emmanuel family that Austin and Ashley Smith have asked to become members of the church. Austin and Ashley completed the 101 membership course recently and have met with the elders to share their testimonies of faith in Jesus Christ.
Pictorial Directory : Finally, don’t forget your appointment either this Friday or Saturday for your portrait which will be included in the new church directory. Be prepared to provide whatever contact information you would like to have included in the directory. Thank you !
See you Sunday !