Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Journey of a Lifetime: Reflections on Pilgrim's Progress

Last weekend I attended my churches annual Women's retreat. All the Orthodox Presbyterian churches in N. California and Nevada get together for this annual retreat. I attended my first on last year and loved it.

This year was a little different. We had about 10 women representing our church go last year. This year is was just three of us. My Pastor's wife, another woman and myself. This conference truly is a "retreat" for us women who live in "remote middle-of-nowhere Nevada" as we have to drive 8 hours to the Bay Area in California to attend. Being a day-long conference starting at 8am and ending at 5pm. We arrived the afternoon before, and left the morning after.

We really enjoyed the company of one another over our 3 day weekend! As well as getting to fellowship with other women in our Presbytery and hear an amazing conference. We had fun with one another shopping and enjoying good food as well! Here is the conference in a nut shell. What I learned from it, things that stood out, and what I was most challenged by. I hope you can get something from my mental notes as I blog about them here.

Speaker: Mary Haney Underwood - Wife and mother, raised in the church and has a passion for teaching!
I. Theme: Pilgrim's Progress. The Journey of a Lifetime. (I never knew you could spend a day dissecting Pilgrim's Progress).

a. Theme Verse: Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
We are not promised an easy journey as a Christian, but we are promised that all our needs will be met. Phil. 4:19

b. Defining 'Pilgrim' & 'Progress':
"Pilgrim": Strangers; aliens; one not at home; "to embrace the journey to where we belong"
"Progress": "Moving Forward" Not where we began once we reach the end.
A Christian is one who's home is not this world. Who is temporarily dwelling here on earth - a Pilgrim journeying toward sanctification in Christ Jesus. As a true believe in Christ we will move forward and make progress, no matter how slow or how fast. Progress simply means "moving forward" no pace is indicated.

c. Conversion - The beginning: The Bible recorded two types of conversion:
1. Miraculous - Example being Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).
2. Covenant - Example being Timothy's conversion, or rather blessing of being raised with a knowledge and love of God for 3 generations in the family (2 Timothy 1:5).
This was a huge blessing to me as well as an "eye-opener". I'd never heard conversion explained this way. Myself often struggling with "am I a Christian? do I need to pray again to make sure? how do I really know? I can't remember a time I didn't believe, know, and love God. When was MY conversion? My testimony is boring." etc. To understand it as God's covenant to His people that also belongs to their children should they choose to accept it make so much sense and clears up this doubt and confusion I dealt with for much of my childhood.

II. Coming to Jesus:The story of Pilgrim's Progress begins with a man named Christian, reading a Book, being convicted of sin and fearing judgment. He deals with a weight of guilt in the form of a literal burden strapped to his back that he cannot get off, and is confused.
We see this analogy:
Man - A sinner in filthy rags --Isaiah 64:6
Book - The Bible is powerful to convict --Hebrews 4:12
Burden - Guilt of sin --Psalm 38:4
Confusion - No one can do good --Romans 3:10-11

a. The Sinner
Christian's condition as the story begins is the condition of the Sinner before repentance. We all start this way in one sense or another. There is none without sin, no one who does good. Christian actually starts out with the name "Graceless" meaning literally "without grace" at the cross he becomes "Christian" literally "with Christ".
Christian understands his condition and is not ready for Judgment, being death (Heb. 9:27). He meets Evangelist who points him to the the Gate through which he will reach The Light.
The position of Evangelist is not a profession given to some and not others. All believers are called to be Evangelist and show Sinners the Way to the Light.

On the Way, Christian meets Obstinate and Pliable who we see by their actions are not true believers. The seed planted in them was not in fertile soil (Matt. 13:4-9, 18-23). They give up once they fall into the Slough of Despair. Christian is not able to get out and turn back to the City of Destruction (from where he came). Help comes to help him out of the pond and point him toward the Gate.  Help is a gift given to us on our journey. Important to cling to the promises in God's Word that help us from falling and getting stuck in despair.

b. The Gate

"You must abhor anyone who turns you from the way." Christian on his journey meets those who tell him he can reach the Celestial City another way. But Help told him to knock at the Gate.
Christian knocks 3 times. He has perseverance on the Way. He is asked three questions by the Gate keeper, and is required to give his testimony. Three Questions to ask ourselves from time to time, and a good way to give our testimony.
--Who Are You (who do you belong to)? Are you Christ's or are you Satan's?
--Where Do You Come From? Why are you fleeing the World - what is your motive?
--What Do You Want? Is heaven your goal?
We see Christian's answers were, he is Christian, from City of Destruction to flee judgment, seeking the Celestial City. That is his testimony! What is your testimony on your journey?

c. The Cross
Christian comes to the Cross after passing through the Gate. By simply LOOKING up at the cross his burden falls off. He does nothing to remove his burden of sin but look to the cross. A vivid picture of "For by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8-9.
We see the sovereignty and power of God in our salvation. It is by Grace along, through Faith alone, in Christ alone!!
Keep coming back to the Cross when remembrance of sin weighs us down. Just look at the cross. "Work out your own salvation" (Phil. 2:12-13) as you continue on your journey to sanctification in Christ. That is what this journey is all about: SANCTIFICATION! Continually look to the Cross daily!
"Only at the Cross are we released from the burden of sin and guilt."

Supplies for the Journey
I. Internal Supplies/Provisions (individual)
We are not at home. We are aliens and strangers - "Pilgrims" But we have been given all we need for our journey here 2 Peter 1:3 - "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to his own glory and excellence."
These are some of the provisions given.

a. Word of God  - "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17
In the story the Word of God appears as many different tools such as, Conviction, Scroll, Sword, Key, Map. All these tools Christian treasured and kept safe as he needed them to fight his battles and find his way to the Celestial City. Scripture is to be valued above all!

b. Prayer - Ephesians 6:18; Mark 9:17-29.
When Christian comes to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he is physically prepared with physical armor and weaponry, but he quickly finds it is a battle of the mind, all this weapons cannot aid in this battle. He finds victory only through Prayer.
c. Singing - "He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God." Psalm 40:3
Christian sings: At the Cross, after a night of rest, after the Valley of the Shadow of Death, at Vanity Fair, after escape from Castle, and welcomed into heaven singing with the angels.
God gives us the gift of music and song to praise Him with! All glory belongs to God, by praising, worshiping and thanking Him through out our journey we are helped, refreshed and encouraged along the way! "Singing: Our closest connection to Heaven while on earth."
d. Holy Spirit - "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." Romans 8:26
In the story, Christian meets The Interpreter and spends time in his house where he is shown and taught many things, as well as given warnings. Christian is taken into the Dust room (grace of the gospel) we cannot clean up the filthy state of our hearts, we just stir up the dust. Need Christ to clean and make new. He is shown the Hopeless Man in Cage (letting go of God and the way makes a sad, hopeless, bound soul - constant warning to always follow the Way). He meets the Man Trembling from a Dream (hears of a vivid dream that judgment day came, he was unprepared and not taken to heaven). The Holy Spirit shows the journey ahead and things to be cautious of. He comforts, reminds, teaches, helps, and guides.

II. External Supplies/Provisions (corporate)
a. The Church - Palace Beautiful.
The Body of Christ, strengthening fellowship, and communion all centered on Christ.
Once again, Christian is asked the 3 questions asked at the Gate. He is held accountable to make sure he is who he says he is. He once again must give his testimony.
Being questioned and examined by the Church is to make sure he belongs there - the duty of church leadership. 

You Must Know Your Testimony. Christian had to defend his faith and give his testimony 4 times on his journey. It was needed for getting him on the right path throughout the journey.

Palace Beautiful also provided Christian with supplies for the rest of his journey. Bread, wine, and grapes. A picture of The Lord's Supper/Communion. Church provides the means of grace by which we are spiritually sustained and can grow and continue.
How do you utilize the Church? What are you doing to share and give of the Church's service (as Evangelist did)? 

b. Church Leaders - Pastor, Elders, Deacons.
In the story, many different types of characters ask lots of personal questions of Christian.
Pastor and Elders need to be aware and involved in our progress on our journey of the Christian life.
Evangelist - Encourage in the Way
Pastor - Teach and instruct (found at the House of the Interpreter)
Elders - Examine and make sure testimony is true.
Pastor is also seen: on the Delectable Mountains as Shepherds, at the Place of Rest (sabbath). Each of these characters give Instruction and Guidance, that is the job of a Pastor.

From the roof of Palace Beautiful (Church) the characters there (Pastor/Elders) Show Christian a view of the Delectable Mountains, and from there the Shepherds show him a view of Celestial City.
"Church is next door to Heaven."

c. Travel Companions - "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17
As Christian journeys through a hard, trying place, The Valley of the Shadow of Death. He is encouraged to hear a voice ahead calling to him. Giving him encouragement to continue on through the dark valley, and mental battle. Faithful journeys with Christian for a time and they share each others' testimonies to encourage one another. When Faithful is martyred at Vanity Fair, Hopeful joins Christian as he continues on the journey. Hopeful joins Christian because of him and Faithful's testimonies at Vanity Fair.
5 Characteristics of a Travel Companion:
- Both agree to one goal - advance the kingdom of God and give Him the glory.
- Exchange of godly advice and encouragement.
- Fellowship of prayer.
- Agree to confront one another with sin.
- Point out snares and hindrances to each other.

d. Others 
Throughout Christian's journey he meets many different people and things. Some good and some bad. Some of the good people and things he meets along the way are provisions given for the journey that help him along. Such as, Help, Angels, Companions Faithful and Hopeful, encouragement, instruction, nourishment, supplies, tools, etc.
Do you see all that God has given and provided for your journey? And do you use them?

Speed Bumps, Potholes & Detours:
Psalm 1 is a contrast between God's Way and Satan's. 

I. Speed Bumps - Slow downs
a. Hill Difficulty
Christian is absorbed in self shortly after leaving the Cross. He is feeling good about his burden being gone, his spirits are high, and he's doing well. He lets his guard down, falls asleep and loses the Scroll given to him by angels at the Cross. He travels up the hard, steep, Hill Difficulty. Only to get to the top and realize he lost his Scroll. He now has to back track, setting him back on his journey.
How often we become absorbed in self, life is good, and we're happy. We quickly become relaxed, comfortable, let our guard down, and are "spiritually asleep" not paying attention. Be alert! The devil is at work! (1 Peter 5:8)

b. Two Valleys - Apollyon - "and give no opportunity to the Devil" Ephesians 4:27
At this "speed bump" Christian needs his armor (Eph. 6:12-18). Apollyon attacks mentally, spiritually and physically. His arrows hit Christian in the head - attacking his knowledge, in the hand, which hold his Sword, (the Word), and he is hit in the feet, effecting his walk, (godly behavior).  
Must have the Armor of God at all times: (belt) Truth, (breastplate) Righteousness, (Shoes) Gospel of Peace/Readiness, (shield) Faith, (helmet) Salvation, (sword) Spirit, and Prayer!!

In the second valley, Christian is prepared physically for battle, but soon finds it is a battle of the mind. He is ready with his sword, but this battle demands bravery and courage. Was a dark, dreary place. Valley of the Shadow of Death. Christian's prayer at this time is, "I will walk in the strength of the Lord God." Prayer, in this valley is his one and only defense.
Looking back we see how God leads and protects. Cling to these promises and encouragement: Psa. 72:12; 17:5; 145:18-19; Rom. 16:20; Isa. 48:10; Lam. 3:22-27

II. Detours - Off the beaten path
Others that come and distract us on the Way

a. Talkative & Ignorance
Talkative at first appears to be a believer, on the right path. But Christian soon finds out he only has head-knowledge and is not a true believer. (1 Cor. 13:1-3; John 13:17).
Knowledge must be put into action - Psalm 119:4.
Instruction on how to deal with "fakes" Ephesians 5:11

Ignorance is a believer in "works-righteousness" his statements in the story are, "I will never believe my heart is bad" & "I believe Christ died... He will accept my obedience." These statements reveal his spiritual condition. His faith is in himself and his good works & obedience, not Christ alone for his salvation.

b. The Flatterer
Black person dressed in white. Misleads them by sounding appealing.
Satan thrives on subtlety. "Come my way, I'm headed there too" was essentially the Flatterer's message. Very subtley deceptive.  We're easily lead the wrong way by those who flatter and sound appealing but distract us and deceive until we are no long following Christ.

III. Potholes - Causes for damage
a. Vanity Fair
Here you can do anything you want. It is strategically built along the Way, designed to distract and lure in those on the Way to the Celestial City to destroy them.
Sin always appears pleasurable, and often is for a time. Many sins are represented at Vanity Fair, one being Gold. Gold is promised, leading to a superficial, materialism lifestyle. 
In what ways are we caught up in sins like this? Have you visited Vanity Fair in the past 24 hours? How did you spend those 24 hours?
Christian and Faithful are different from the other people at Vanity Fair.
They are clothed in Spiritual Robes, speak of godly and spiritual things, they desire to buy truth. They expose and convict those at Vanity Fair and quickly stand out and are disliked and unwelcome (Eph. 5:11). They arrest Christian and Faithful. Faithful is martyred for his testimony. Hopeful is at Vanity Fair, but chooses to follow Christian because of the testimony of him and Faithful.

b. Doubting Castle
Christian is caught off guard by a weak moment. He complains about the journey, being tired and weary. He decides to rest in a near by meadow that looks inviting and comfortable that is off the Path. Because of straying off the Path he ends up in Doubting Castle as a prisoner.
This shows up how destructive sin is, yet even in "doubting castle" God's mercy can reach us. When Christians doubt God's way Satan is ready to provide temptation. "Doubt isn't God's will for the believer, rather it is an effect of sin." It is so important to be consistent in confession and repentance and to constantly "look to the Cross".
Christian has progressed so far, yet finds himself in a dungeon of doubt. But then remembers he has the Key of Promise.
"What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom called Promise; that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle."
Remember you have the Key of Promise, the Word of God. Use it to escape from sin, and once again, constantly go to the Cross!

c. Enchanted Ground
At the Enchanted Ground, which Christian was warned, about Hopeful becomes sleepy. Knowing how dangerous it is to sleep, Christian talks and sings to him to help him stay awake and alert.
When Christians talk together they won't fall asleep. Two people walking together on the Way to Heaven get there faster than on journeying alone.  When are we most likely to fall asleep (spiritually)? when things are good, comfortable and easy. We get lazy in our Christian walk, start to neglect the Word and Prayer, even Church and Fellowship. When you are asleep you are not alert, you are vulnerable and have let your guard down. The best time to be attacked by Satan is while you are asleep. Don't sleep. Find a companion to join you on your journey to keep you accountable... and AWAKE! "Lively conversations about things of the Lord is a good way to stay alert!"

Souvenirs and Scrapbooks
What we are left with after a journey is souvenirs and memories. We don't know what Heaven will be like apart of the little that is revealed about it in Scripture.
I. Reflecting on God's Faithfulness
Review gives us hope and encouragement to persevere. We get glimpses of heaven along the Way. Looking ahead and longing to be Home with Christ. Just as Christian did at Palace Beautiful!

II. Glimpses of Heaven - a prospective view of the journey
Christian must face one last trial before entering the Celestial City, which is physical death. We should not fear death as only through an earthly death can we finally live eternally with Christ (with the exception of His 2nd coming).
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Phil. 3:20
Fearing death, or being sad at the death of loved ones is a human perspective. Death for the believer is a time of rejoicing in their homegoing - just as was the case with Faithful. Even though we miss our brothers and sisters in Christ, and grieve, we have Hope that the world does not have! "It is not death to die" is life eternal for the Christian!
As our bodies decay on the outside, our souls are being renewed on the inside. Physically we die and decay. Spiritually we grow into eternal life.  Death should point us to the Cross.

III. Eternity with Jesus - This world is not my Home
Heaven is describe in the Bible as "the marriage supper of the Lamb" The Church is the Bride, and Christ our Bridegroom!
Think about how much time and preparation goes into a wedding. What do you remember about your wedding? Are you preparing for your up coming wedding? Live today preparing for your last day!  

In the story we meet Ignorance again at the gate of the Celestial City. Since he did not have a certificate, nor the Scroll he was not allowed to enter and was sent to Hell. "There is a way to hell from the gates of heaven as well as from the City of Destruction."
If we do not follow the Way we cannot get to heaven. Thought we may find our way there - we will be condemned to Hell at the gate and never enter. Only by placing trust in Christ alone for salvation, following Him in obedience on the Way, and not trusting in ourselves can we get to heaven. Look to the Cross and lean not on your own understanding!

Pilgrim's Progress is an allegorical story of the Christian's walk beginning at conviction and repentance and ending with physical death leading to eternal life with Christ! Psalm 16:11

I thoroughly enjoyed this conference! I never could have got this much out of the famous, historical piece of literature! Though I know this post is long, I hope you enjoyed it and that you were encouraged by it!


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