We begin our new worship series on Sunday, September 8. It’s called Back to the future. But our new series is not so much about time travel as the focus. During our series, I plan to ask a lot of questions about the future that you are hoping will come true for you. Although our primary focus is on the here and now. The past, present, and future are connected, but our clarity is limited to the present. Our minds obscure the past, and we cannot know the future.
Our series will follow the story of a fictional character named Christian. This story dates back to the 17th century, but I prefer the animated version that was released as a movie this year. It’s called The Pilgrim’s Progress. The story begins with Christian reading a book and recognizing that he was carrying a burden that was becoming progressively heavier. We follow Christian on his journey to find relief from his burden.
What is the burden that Christian is carrying? In the movie, Christian is carrying a backpack that is strapped in such a way that he cannot take it off. It’s like the buckles are rusted and frozen. His burden must take him beyond the boundaries of the City of Destruction, where Christian lives with his family. Christian pleads with his family to go with him, but they don’t understand why Christian is so burdened and apparently won’t read the book that he has read, despite his urging.
Pilgrim’s Progress was written by a pastor, and the book includes references from scripture. The book is not a veiled attempt to write about God and our spiritual journey. Instead, the book is an “in your face” story about one man’s spiritual journey. So let’s cut to the chase. Christian has learned from reading scripture that he must change his life or face harsh judgment. This is his burden. Christian learns from the first person he meets as he begins his journey, a man named Evangelist, what he must do to be relieved of his burden. Christian responds that he does not want to do the first and cannot do the second. Now what?
Some of us long to hear the voice of God in an obvious way, while others claim that they have daily conversations with God. What gives? Does God have a handful of friends, and the rest of us are simply acquaintances? Or does hearing God’s voice require specialized training, or is there a particular recipe, like making the perfect pizza crust, that catches God’s attention?
And a few of us would rather that God speaks to someone else. I find this position sad. Nevertheless, I understand. Consider Christian. He hears the voice of God through scripture, and God’s voice feels to him like a burden for which he cannot find relief. Who needs that? But Christian is focused on the future after he realizes that the present is not what his heart desires.
I believe, like many others who have spent a lot of time with scripture, that God loves every one of us, whether or not we return God’s love. For me, this begins with my belief that we are each created in God’s image. We are a reflection of God. We are God’s creation. A lot of scripture reads like a love story complete with the sort of drama that we all find in our lives when those we love disappoint us.
Sometimes we learn that we are disappointed because our expectations are unrealistic. Often, we come to realize that we didn’t create the people we love. God created them. While our own children may look a lot like us, and have similar eyes and hair, they are not an image of us. And we don’t get to control what others do regardless of whether our intentions are good or bad.
The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you.”
Somewhere along my own path from child to adolescent to adult, I picked up my own burden. It was a burden, not unlike Christian’s burden, but uniquely my own. At the time, I thought that my burden was a burning desire to become wealthy. It didn’t start out this way. My journey began quite innocently. I wanted to attend college after high school. It turned out that my career choice had less to do with a burning passion for accomplishing something significant and more to do with being really good at something. And believe that when we are really good at something that enough people feel is important, we make a lot of money.
In many respects, there were parts of my thinking that many parents want for their children. I had the motivation, and I was willing to work hard. While I found school difficult, even high school, I managed to get through a very challenging curriculum while a lot of my classmates failed. And I discovered that businesses were willing to pay for my services. I dreamed of a future where I could go where I wanted to go, live where I wanted to live, and buy what I wanted to buy. The problem was that I completely missed the boat in actually knowing what my burden really was and how to remove the burden that I was carrying. And my burden was getting heavier.
Priorities. That was the issue for me. I thought that being successful in my career should be my priority. I eventually learned that my priorities were wrong. Pursuing a career is a good thing. Putting my career ahead of hearing the voice of God is destructive to me and eventually to everyone around me. I call this recognition that while I couldn’t change the past, I could change my own future by changing my priority in the present, a blessing.
In the movie, Christian does not recognize his burden as a blessing. Nor does Christian fully understand how he came to be carrying such a burden. I can identify with Christian. Blessings seem to come disguised as hard choices and giving something up. This is confusing. We think of a blessing as an immediate and recognizable gift. And if a blessing is wrapped, we expect pretty paper and bows that can be unwrapped without the use of special tools.
In the Book of Genesis, we read that Abram was able to hear the voice of God. Scripture doesn’t tell us a lot about the actual conversation, but we do learn what Abram believes he heard. Abram was to go on a trip that would require that he leave behind the comfortable and trust God that blessings will follow. God had a different future in mind for Abram. But Abram needed to make changes in the present so that his new future would be possible.
Are you wiling to allow for a different future that contains blessings disguised as hard decisions in the present?
What about you? What does your future look like based on your past? Can you imagine a different future? Are you willing to allow for a different future that contains blessings disguised as hard decisions in the present?
I hope that you will join us as we follow Christian’s journey towards the light where he is to find how to be relieved of his burden. More importantly, my prayer is that you will discover how to be relieved of your own burden.
We worship each Sunday at 10:30 am. Come learn why it is important to tell your story and how to do so. I lead a short Bible study in the Asbury Café at 9:30 am. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.