Pilgrims Progress - Jon Fryer
‘As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted upon a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back…’ (Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress).
The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a man named Christian who is desperate to be saved from the great burdens upon his back. A man named Evangelist points him towards a Cross on a hill, where the heavy burden that is weighing him down is taken from him… but rather than the end, this is simply the beginning of his very long journey towards the his final destination, the great and shining City of God.
Everyone here is on a journey. Some of us are just setting out on the journey and have only just begun to lay down our burdens at the Cross. Some of us have been tramping on our way for years with the glorious destination still before us. Some of us may not have even left our house yet, and are still carrying a great heavy load on our back. None of us have yet arrived – we’re all still breathing, and that means that there is still a little bit further to go before we get there.
The first thing is that if you haven't met Jesus yet, then you are carrying around a great big load of stuff, even if you haven't realised that yet. This load of stuff is made up of our guilt, and our failures, and our past history, and all of things that anyone has ever criticized you for, and of the weight of expectations that we can never live up to. That’s a lot of heavy stuff.
And I have found (and many of the people here tonight agree with me) that the only person who can take that load off of your back is the man Jesus, the one God sent to us to save us from ourselves. If you have come tonight because one of the guys being baptised asked you to, then thankyou very much for coming along, because this stuff is important to them - I'm not going to abuse that relationship by beating you over the head with Bible stuff. If you want to find out more about Jesus then feel free to ask any of the people here.
The rest of this talk is really for those of you who have already met Jesus, but if you wouldn't describe yourself as a Christian yet then I want to invite you to listen in, 'cos you might actually hear something that you recognise because the Christian life is just the life of everyone lived on a bigger scale. You see Jesus isn't about all of the 'Thou shalt nots'. Instead Jesus said 'I have come that you might life, and life until it overflows out of you.' Jesus says that life is meant to be lived unencumbered by all of the stuff that we carry around with us. We are not meant to live life with a great big burden of guilt and worry and sin and addiction and unforgiveness and all the other stuff. It’s not how we were designed, and it is not what Jesus wants for us. When we go under the water at our baptism we share in Jesus’ death on the Cross, and all of that stuff that we used to carry around dies with us. When we rise up out of the water we step out of ordinary selves and come back changed, just as Jesus came back changed, and the burdens we carried are left behind. You guys getting baptized tonight remember that – we come back changed. We come back fit to live life on a bigger stage, freed from our burdens – and if Jesus sets you free from something then you stay set free. So that’s my first question to everyone, wherever you are on the journey – are you living like you are free? Or are you living like you are carrying the world around on your shoulders? What does living life to the full look like? That will be different for each person, and will depend where you are on the journey, but there is one example that I can point you to. Consider the mayfly…
(Click on the image to the view the clip - Requires Quicktime - or visit the Vodafone Mayfly website)
The common mayfly has a life expectancy of just one day. But is he miserable about it? Not one bit. He fills his day with the things he loves. Just think … If we embrace life like the mayfly What a life that would be.
Wise words for an advertising gimmick – I absolutely love this ad – not sure what it has got to do with phones, but there you go… you see the Mayfly, in that ad, he fills his days with the important things and doesn’t worry about the stuff he can’t change. That’s a message that Jesus has for everyone in our society today – you only have to read the papers to see that we live in a culture of fear – fear of people who are different to us, fear of violence, fear of not having enough. Jesus said ‘Why do you spend so much time worrying about stuff you can’t change? It doesn’t help. Not only that, but God is your Father, and He gives food to the birds, and dresses the flowers up real pretty, and He loves you more than them, so what makes you think he won’t look after you?’ Now, if we could learn to leave that kind of worry with Jesus, along with all of the other stuff we carry, and spend our time doing the important things in life, well, what a life that would be!
So, we’ve met with Jesus in the water, we’ve given him our burden, and we’re free… where do we go from here? Let me tell you guys who have only just become Christians – the journey is only just starting! You said you want to follow Jesus… so follow. Where will he take us? I don’t know, but you won’t ever find out if you stay standing on the shore. This guy isn’t ever going to catch some waves if he just stands there and looks – he needs to get in the water and get on with it. When we go on holiday somewhere hot and there happens to be a pool, Susie will usually go through all the effort of changing into a swimming costume, finding a towel, and hobbling down to the edge in her flip flops… and then will just sit on the side and tip her toes in. I’m sure she’s having fun, but she is not using the facilities provided to their full potential.
Unfortunately many Christians treat the freedom God has given them in the same way. They meet Jesus at the Cross, dip their toes into the freedom that He gives us, and then never do any more with it. I’m sure they think that they’re having fun… but they’re not living up to their full potential. Jesus wants to take us on a journey that will enable us to grow into the people that we were always meant to be, rather than the stunted little people we became once our burdens grew too large for us to stand up under. Guys, now that you’re at the water’s edge, don’t chicken out. If Jesus says follow, then follow wherever he goes. If God asks you to do something, jump straight on in there. If your church leader asks you take on something that seems far too big for you to ever do – say yes and do it anyway with Jesus’ help! Whatever God puts in your way to do – seize it with both hands, jump in with both feet, and hang on for dear life. Jesus is committed to you, all the way to death itself, and he wants you to return the favour!
I know that its scary sometimes – I never planned running a church, even if its only for three months, but God had other ideas. Hell, the twelve disciples spent most of their three years with Jesus terrified out of their wits. Jesus had faith in them, that they could do everything he could, but they just couldn’t see it. In Matthew 14 it says:
"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the waves, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.
I’ve heard lots of preaching on this story about how Peter was lacking in faith and how we shouldn’t be like him… I disagree. Be like Peter. Peter saw what the Master was doing, and he wanted to be doing it too. That’s the mark of a true disciple… to copy the Rabbi in every way. Peter didn’t lose faith in Jesus – Jesus was still out there! He lost faith in himself, and he suddenly doubted that he could be the best of the best. He suddenly doubted whether he had what it takes to be like the Master… but you know what? At least he got out of the boat. That’s more that the other eleven managed. I’m sure Jesus was more pleased with Peter’s glorious failure than with the other eleven’s good sense. Peter, for his faith, had an incredible experience that only he and Jesus have shared in the history of the world. He got to walk on water! What adventure is Jesus calling you to? Where are you saying to the Master ‘Lord, tell me to come to you?’. Whatever and wherever it is, be like Peter. If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. Jesus is out there, and he is saying:
Voice 1: Come
Voice 2: I can’t do it
1: You can do it.
2: I’m not strong enough.
1: You don’t have to be strong: the water will hold you.
2: I might get wet.
1: Yes, you will.
2: I might sink.
1: Only if you panic.
2: I might drown.
1: You won’t drown: the waves will hold you.
2: People will see me.
1: Yes, they will definitely see you. You might even encourage them to do the same…
2: But some of them might try to stop me for my own good.
1: Yes, but you can’t live out of other peoples fears.
2: Some of them might throw stones at me.
1: That’s a risk you’ll just have to take.
2: The water’s very dark.
1: Round the headland it’s a beautiful green colour…
2: There might be monsters.
1: Yes, but there are monsters where you are now too.
2: How will I know which direction to go in?
1: Just keep your eyes on me.
2: What if I can’t see you for the waves?
1: I’ll still be here.
2: I’m very scared.
1: We’re all scared; but don’t trust your fears, they’re not reliable.
2: What will I trust?
1: Trust your love.
2: But what if I get that wrong?
1: Then trust my love; they come from the same place.
2: But what if…?
1: This conversation is becoming very circular. I’m not going to sit here all day while you theorise. Now is the time for you move. If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat. Now are you coming, or not?
(Kathy Galloway (Adapted))
Now for those of us who have already begun the adventure, for those of us who have left our boats behind, sometimes we do start to sink. Why is this? Well, as with any great journey, we come across obstacles in our way, and like the waves on the lake of Galilee, sometimes they block our view of Jesus, and cause us to take our eyes off of him.
For me there are three main reasons why I take my eyes off of the Master. This is the first: In the Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian’s journey is hindered when he gets stuck in a place called the Slough of Despond, which in modern language would probably be called the Swamp of Unhappiness. Sometimes I let myself get bogged down in the hassles of day to day life, in the small arguments with friends and family, in the worries about money and all of the stuff that comes with 21st century living. Sometimes I forget (or more truthfully, I refuse) to forgive people for stuff and the bitterness that goes with that drags me down. Sometimes I start to listen to the lies of the enemy and take on the guilt that he wants me to feel. In short, I get swamped with unhappiness. I take up the burden that I once laid down at the Cross and the weight causes me to start to sink. Believe me, there is no shortage of people in the world who will try to give your burden back to you, who will try to load you down with cares and worries and all of the things that the world says are important, but that are as useful to you as a bowling ball is to a man drowning at sea. On your journey, you need to keep your head, ‘cos the world is full of people who will try to distract you from what you are meant to be doing with stuff that seems important, but is ultimately junk…
My life is full of people like the junk lady from the movie Labyrinth there (CLick on the picture), who try to give me stuff ‘for my own good’ but that actually causes me to sink. The only cure is to remember what I am doing, to look to Jesus, to say ‘Lord, save me!’… and when I do, then faster than fast, quicker than quick, the Lord is there taking my hand. The Good Book says ‘Immediately’ Jesus was there to take Peter’s hand, even though Jesus had originally been far off on the lake. We have to keep our eyes on Jesus. Like Sarah in Labyrinth we have two things to help us – firstly, we have a book to remind us of where we are and what we are supposed to be doing – we need to remember what it says in the Book! Secondly, Sarah has friends to point her towards her destination - this is why meeting with other Christians is so important, so that we can remind each other to look to Jesus, and point out the way onwards to the City to each other.
The second thing that may cause us to sink is not just trouble, but actual sin. Christian is hindered on his journey at a place called Vanity City, which we would call the City of Wickedness or the City of Sin. This City is definitely not on our journey plan and we really don’t want to be going there. It has lots of pretty lights and promised attractions, but it’s all a big con, and it’s very difficult to get out again once you are there. We talked about temptation last week so there is no real need to spend much time on this – the Devil’s tricks to divert your attention from your journey are obvious if you are paying attention and keeping good company along the way. Far more sneaky is the third thing that may cause us to sink. There is another City along the journey that seems very pleasant at first, and it’s called Christian City…
Quoted from ‘Escape from Christendom’ by Robert Burnell
In my dream I see the lone figure of a man following a road. As the sun sets beneath the hills, a city comes into view. Nearing it, the traveller sees what appears to be a large group of churches. Spires and crosses pierce the skyline. His pace quickens. Is this his destination? He passes an imposing structure, a neon sign flashing "Cathedral of the Future." Farther on a floodlit stadium supports a billboard boasting that fifty thousand people crowd into evangelistic meetings there three nights a week. Beyond this, modest "New Testament" chapels and Hebrew Christian synagogues cluster together on the street front.
"Is this the City of God?" I hear the traveller ask a woman at the information booth in the central square.
"No, this is Christian City," she replies.
"But I thought this road led to the City of God!" he exclaims with great disappointment.
"That's what we all thought when we arrived," she answers, her tone sympathetic.
"This road continues up the mountain, doesn't it?" he asks.
"I wouldn't know, really," she answers blankly.
I watch the man turn away from her and trudge on up the mountain in the gathering darkness. Reaching the top, he stares out into the blackness; it looks as though there is nothing, absolutely nothing, beyond. With a shudder he retraces his steps into Christian City and takes a room at a hotel.
Strangely unrefreshed, at dawn he arises and follows the road up the mountain again; in the brightening light of the sun he discovers that what seemed like a void the night before is actually a desert—dry, hot, rolling sand as far as the eye can see. The road narrows to a path which rises over a dune and disappears. "Can this trail lead to the City of God?" he wonders aloud. It appears to be quite deserted and rarely travelled.
Indecision slowing his steps, he again returns to Christian City and has lunch in a Christian restaurant. Over the music of a gospel record, I hear him ask a man at the next table, "That path up the mountain, where the desert begins, does it lead to the City of God?"
"Don't be a fool!" his neighbour replies quickly. "Everyone who has ever taken that path has been lost… swallowed up by the desert! If you want God, there are plenty of good churches in this town. You should pick one and settle down."
After leaving the restaurant, looking weary and confused, the traveller finds a spot under a tree and sits down. An ancient man approaches and begins pleading with him in urgent tones, "If you stay here in Christian City, you'll wither away. You must take the path. I belong to the desert you saw earlier. I was sent here to encourage you to press on. You'll travel many miles. You'll be hot and thirsty; but angels will walk with you, and there will be springs of water along the way. And at your journey's end you will reach the City of God! You have never seen such beauty! And when you arrive the gates will open for you, for you are expected."
"What you say sounds wonderful," the traveller replies. "But I'm afraid I'd never survive that desert. I'm probably better off here in Christian City."
The ancient one smiles. "Christian City is the place for those who want religion but don't want to lose their lives. The desert is the territory of those whose hearts are so thirsty for God that they are willing to be lost in Him. My friend, when Peter brought his boat to land, forsook all and followed Jesus, he was being swallowed by the desert. When Matthew left his tax collecting and Paul his Pharisaism, they too were leaving a city much like this to pursue Jesus out over the dunes and be lost in God. So don't be afraid. Many have gone before you."
Then I see the traveller look away from the old man's burning eyes to the bustle of Christian City. He sees busy people hurrying hither and yon with their Bibles and shiny attaché cases, looking like men and women who know their destiny. But it is clear they lack something which the old man with eyes like a prophet possesses.
Some of us here in this room got as far as Christian City… and then stopped. We’ve bought the nice leather Bible, got the CD’s in the car, go to church on Sundays, give some of our money to charity, and we think that we’ve arrived. We’ve given Jesus enough of ourselves, and we’re happy… but the prophet tells us that God’s heart for us is bigger still, and wilder, and far more precious than just a mere ‘church life’. Jesus wants us to walk on water. He wants us to give ourselves to the desert. He wants us to do the impossible, touch the untouchable, and spend ourselves on the least, the last and the lost. Unfortunately the people who stop their journey in Christian City haven’t arrived, they only think they have… there is always more to learn, more to do. As I said at the beginning, if you’re still breathing, you’re still supposed to be travelling on with Jesus. Don’t settle for second best – keep looking for the adventures that God has in store for you. As a community of travellers we need to make it our prayer that God will always disturb us when we get too comfortable, ‘cos sitting still doesn’t get us any closer to the great City of God.
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Ok, coming in to land now… So we’ve left our boats behind, crossed the water, avoided the cities of the plain, and now Jesus wants us to cross a desert?! The Rabbi must be nuts!
…Except that when you’ve been walking with Jesus a while you will come to know that he often has to take us through desert places to get us to our destination. Desert places feel uncomfortable, empty and desolate. Living life to the full? In the desert it feels like we’ll have trouble to just keep on living. How will we cope? On a journey? In the desert it feels like we’ve been wandering in circles for forty years. How will we know where to go?
More than ever, when we are in a desert place, we need to look to Jesus. Jesus says ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’. Jesus is the Way, OUR Way, and we follow him. We have to trust that he knows the path of our journey, even through the difficult places, the dry places, the empty places. We have faith that Jesus will lead us through. Jesus is different from every other religious leader in history. Confucius said ‘I know the Way... but I’m not going to tell you – not the kind of guide that I want when I am lost in the desert. Buddha said ‘I am seeking the Way’ – well so am I, once you find it maybe you can help me out here. The Reverend Moon says ‘I can show you the Way'... if you turn over control of your life, and especially your money, to me – when we’re lost in the desert, anyone taking bribes to show you the way out is exploiting you. Mohammed, well he said ‘I am the Prophet of the Way’ – which is great, but I’m dying of thirst here and I need a way out of the desert now, not in the future. The New Age Movement says ‘Lets all travel together… on the Way’ – great, so we’re all as lost as each other – and when the blind lead the blind they both fall in the ditch… but Jesus says ‘I AM the Way’ – follow me, and I’ll get you out of here. Say ‘Lord, save me’ and quicker than quick he is our rescue. We need to follow Jesus when we are lost in the desert places.
Someone will say ‘But there’s loads of rules and stuff in the Bible – how do we follow him?’ It’s easy – Jesus showed us how. He summed up the entire Bible as two sentences ‘Love God. Love everybody else’. That’s all there is to it. That’s our way through the desert, as clear as if a pillar of fire was leading us. Love God. Love everybody else. Relationships squared. If we look to Jesus, and keep his two commandments, then when we look back, we won’t even see a desert, ‘cos all we’ll be able to see is His goodness to us. We’ll see that he was with us all the way.
And when all is said and done, after lots of adventure and travelling (and mishaps!) along the way, we might finally be getting close to the City of God. What’s it like? I can’t tell you – I’ve still got a way to go yet… but I’m told by people further along the way that it is glorious. I’m told that it is worth it. I believe that to be true. And because I believe that to be true I try to encourage people to come along with me… because soon and very soon we are going to see the King, yes? And I’m glad of the company on the way, I’m glad to be surrounded by my brothers and sisters, because I find that the journey is long and tiring as often as it is fun and inspiring, and I find that I am just too weak to make it all the way to the City on my own.
Readers of Q Magazine last year voted a song by U2 to be the best song ever written. The song is called ‘One’ and it’s actually about the break-up of a relationship, but in the chorus it has this one line that says ‘We get to carry each other’, and its that line that seems to make it for people. Bono tells of how the line originally went ‘We have to carry each other’, but that makes it sound like a chore. No! ‘We get to carry each other’ on the way. ‘We get to carry each other’ turns the chore into an immense privilege. It is an immense privilege to get to hold somebody’s hand on the way. It is an immense privilege to hold the light out to a brother and say ‘this is the way’. It is an immense privilege get to say to people ‘Come and meet my friend Jesus’. It is an immense privilege to hold each other up across the desert by prayer. If you don’t remember anything else from this talk, remember this one thing: We get to carry each other on the journey… and when we remember that, then together we’ll find our way home to the bright and shining City of God.
What was Jesus like?
The Character of God
How do we know what God is like?
The Authority of Scripture
How should we obey what the Bible teaches us?
The Wise Mans Tragedy
What can we learn from Solomon?
What can we learn from the mother of Jesus?
Cain and Abel
What can we learn from the first murderer?
Who is Aslan? Who is Jesus?
When the Fire Burns Low
How do we cope when we have grown tired of God's way?
Fix Your Eyes
How do we look for God?
Why should we look after the world God has given us?
How do we know who we are in God?
Lent - Pride, Doubt and Jealousy
What is the period of Lent all about?
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked...
How do get to have intimacy with God?
Can we feel the breath of God?
Hearing From God
How can I hear what God wants to say to me?
The Story We Find Ourselves In
The Bible tells the story of all creation - what is my part in that story?
What does Passover mean to us as Christians?
What does it mean to say that Jesus is alive?
What is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit?
Teaching for Christmas Eve...
What does it mean to have authority?
What can we do when it all seems like too much?
I Will Be With You
What does it mean to say "God is with us"?
What are angels, and what can we learn from what the Bible says about them?
A contemplative service for Pentecost
A creative/contemplative baptism service
How do we know what we should do?
A creative prayer/worship service
The Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
A Relationship With Jesus
What does it mean to have a 'relationship' with the Son of God?
The Pilgrim's Progress
If we keep our eyes on the prize, what a journey it could be!
Heroes, Promises and Trust
How does our relationship with Jesus realy work?
A liturgy for masculine prayer
Living Life to the Full
How do we get the most out of life?
What is so speacial about the faith of Abraham?
The Presence of God
What does it mean to say God is present?
How Do I Know My Faith is Real?
We all wrestle with doubt, so how can we cope?
Who is Jesus?
...and what does he want from you?
To Act Justly Every Day...
What does the Lord your God require of you?
Sex and Self Image
Don't you know how beautiful you are?
Will you let Jesus be in charge?
Would you know him if he met you on the road?
The Person of the Holy Spirit
Who is the Holy Spirit, and what does (s)he do?
The Passion of the King
What does Jesus really want?
How can we really 'count it all joy'?
More Than Words
"... but words can never hurt me"?
The Armour of God
What tools does God give us to protect us from the Enemy?
The Heart of the Gospel
The Kingdom of Heaven has drawn near to you, therefore...
Do you really want to follow him?
How should I prepare to give a sermon?
The gift of healing comes from the Holy Spirit, but how does it work?
The People of God
What does it mean when we say that the Bible is the Word of God?
Jesus Part 2: The Deity of Christ
How can Jesus be God and Man at the same time?
Jesus Part 1: Who Do You Say I Am?
Who is Jesus, and why does He matter?
How do we resist?
What is holiness and how do we try to achieve it?
The Art of Spiritual Warfare
We're in a constant battle, so how do we try and prepare to fight?
Forgiveness Part Two: Forgiving Others
What is forgiveness and why do we need to forgive others?
Forgiveness Part One: Forgiven by God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part Two: Receiving From God
Why does it seem so often that God is a million miles away?
Prayer Part One: The Lords Prayer
We look in detail at the Lords Prayer
It's one of the spiritual gifts, but what exactly is it, how does it happen?
Becoming a Christian
What is a Christian, how do you become one?
Basics of Christianity
Here we delve into the Nicene Creed