Our Peculiar Pilgrimage - Week 3

Strange things happen. And sometimes these events don’t seem quite fair.

Futurist Faith Popcorn approaches this subject from a different angle. She writes about the “Right, But” Club. The “Right, But” Club has as its members all the people who did the right thing, BUT life still didn’t work out for them as they had planned.
“I exercised BUT got heart disease;” “I took antioxidants BUT got cancer;” “I spent quality time with my kids BUT their SAT scores stink;” “I went to an Ivy League school BUT I’m stuck in middle management quicksand.”

Ms. Popcorn says, “It shouldn’t be surprising that life isn’t predictable, but our consumer society, the self -help industry and the media have all conspired to have us believe that we can actually micromanage our destinies.”

Consider Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson's twitter post last fall after dropping a pass: I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! I’LL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!! It was just a dropped pass, but Steve Johnson unloaded on God. Johnson, of course, is not alone.

In his book Disappointment With God, author Philip Yancey interviewed a friend of his who had in a short time, found himself with his wife facing cancer, a collapse of finances and injury due to a drunk driver. When Yancey asked him about God being unfair, the friend responded: “I learned a long time ago and especially through this accident not to confuse God with life. Is life unfair? You bet. My life has been unfair. What has happened to my wife, what has happened to my daughter, what has happened to me, it’s unfair. But I think God feels exactly the same way. I think He is grieved and hurt by what that drunk driver did as much as I am. Don’t confuse God with life.” (1)

But the best example that life isn’t fair is the crucifixion of Christ. Never forget Peter's words that, “ Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God's approval. His wounds have healed you. (25) You were like lost sheep. Now you have come back to the shepherd and bishop of your lives.”

But here is the Good News: We live on the other side of Easter. Resurrection faith is about living faithfully in an unfair world.

Unfair was Peter's forte: he had lived alongside Jesus and seen it in the days after the resurrection and experienced it himself when he too was crucified. He uses the word “anastrophe” 6 times in this letter which is more times than it is used anywhere in the Bible. Go back just a few verses where Peter sets this idea up: Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable,...(1 Peter 2:12) The word means conduct – how we live and face what is perceived unfairness matters!

Peter specifically looks at a slaves life. I didn't read those words but go back and you'll see Peter associates the life of a slave to that of the Christian. We may not like it but there it is. This isn't a call to right belief but a call to faithful living. If right belief was what was needed then all of us need to go Seminary and get Master's Degrees. It isn't and you don't. Faithful living in the face of unfair will be just fine. For that, Peter says, you need only look to Jesus.

Personally, I've journeyed this very road and willingly or not, you've been on it with me. I have in my time with God demanded justice like Job for his dealings with me and at the same time I have cried with David and the tax collector in the temple – Have mercy on me O God! I have learned from being a pastor and church planter, that indeed life isn't fair but God is faithful. I have experienced incredible highs and the lowest of lows in my life. I concur with Peter, it is our conduct that matters.

We need not be part of the “Right But” club. Don't fear UNFAIR! We live on the other side of Easter!

Now, in the body of Christ, what appears unfair and maybe the end is often a new beginning. Paul says it this way:
1Co 3:5-11 ESV What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. (6) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (7) So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (8) He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. (9) For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building. (10) According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

I have had the privilege of being the one to plant but Crossroads will take the Next Step of growth under another pastor and with leadership from this advisory team and all of you. It is going to be hard but it is going to be okay.

The North Georgia Annual Conference has chosen Crossroads to be one of two vital new churches participating in the NEXT STEP program for coming years. Rev. Brian Funderburke will be taking over the pastoral leadership as the UMC renews financial support in a significant way through salary and program support. Combine this with our new location and open invitation to help our community find ways to connect through our church's ministries and space, the stage is truly set for an exciting journey. Brian is joined by his wife, one child and one on the way!

For our family, we'll take our next steps up the road to Cumming First United Methodist Church where I'll be joining the staff as Associate Pastor. Our transitions to a new house, new school and new community have just started. For me, it is the next step on this peculiar pilgrimage. Through much time in prayer and suffering, spiritually, mentally, and physically, I came to see this spring that my time at Crossroads needed to come to an end for me and for you. The Bishop and DS agreed with that as well. Cumming FUMC will be in part a place of healing, further education and ministries.

The United Methodist Church is a connectional church and there will be a renewing of that covenant to see Crossroads become the Church we all envision us to become! This next Sunday, May 22nd, Tommy Willingham, Executive Director of New Church Development to help clarify and answer questions about the Next Step for Crossroads UMC.

There will only be one founding pastor of Crossroads, one planter. But being the second is equally daunting, Brian will be adding the water on this pilgrimage. Know that part of me will always be at Crossroads and Crossroads will always be a part of me.

NOTE: The Haglers last Sunday in worship with Crossroads will be June 12th. A reception will be planned and announced in the coming weeks. Ken will be on call as pastor in charge until June 24th when Brian Funderburke assumes responsibility for the pastoral leadership at Crossroads UMC.

1) A large portion of this sermon is taken from “It's Not Fair” by Dr. King Duncan.

Our Peculiar Pilgrimage Week 2

1Pe 1:17-23 NASB  If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth;  (18)  knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,  (19)  but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.  (20)  For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you  (21)  who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.  (22)  Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,  (23)  for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

The pastor had preached a strong sermon on personal evangelism pointing out every Christian's obligation to reach out and win others to the Lord. In the conclusion of the sermon he tried to obliterate every excuse that anyone might have for failure to lead others to Christ. The sermon needed to be preached, of course, as it still does. Only apparently he had been guilty of some unfair emphasis.

After the sermon he was invited home with a lovely Christian family. The husband was completing his resident work as a medical doctor, and had little spare time, but still he spent time in the churches ministry. The wife beautifully cared for their three lovely children. All of them were very young-one still an infant in arms-and required a lot of time.

During the meal the wife asked the pastor if he remembered the Scripture, "For as his share is who goes down into battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage" (1Samuel_30:24). He confessed his ignorance, and she gave the context of King David insisting that the home guard be rewarded equally with those who had the more obviously essential role of fighting in the front line.

And then she shared a wonderful truth which is so easily forgotten. She mentioned that she felt that taking care of children, patiently teaching them the ways of God and His great values, looking for moments of readiness to deflect them gently when they get on the wrong track was "staying with the baggage." She went on to point out that she often felt guilty for not doing more of the "church" work than she did. But she felt her greatest ministry was being a dedicated Christian mother.

Where will those children trace their faith to I wonder? I would imagine it will be the same place John and Charles Wesley looked, their mother Suzanna. Paul noted the same in his letter to the young pastor Timothy. What would the church have missed had those two not have had that kind of mother? What will the church miss if we don't consider the legacy we leave behind to the next generation.

In grabbing hold of the image of pilgrim, Peter connects all Christians together on one journey. It is an important parallel for in doing so, Peter invites the new believer, the gentile, the rest of the world to join the story of the Jews. No, let me rephrase that – He invites us ALL to be part of God's family and the story of God's people from the beginning.

Don't miss for a minute that when we choose to go the way of Jesus, we are joining the same journey the Jews did when they fled from Egypt. One commentary notes, I think very accurately the parallel that the new believers face a difficult journey. It is one that he rightly worries about. That as new pilgrims, when we feel the struggle of the journey "...you have brought us out into the wilderness to kill this whole assembly..." (Exodus 16:3b).

And don't think for a minute Peter doesn't miss the temptations of silver and gold in verse 18. It tempted the Israelites at Sinai and it continues to tempt the followers of Jesus on the journey and I'm not speaking for pastors alone. The silver and gold that tempts us can be our children, our jobs, our hobbies, our free-time, yes, even the time we 'deserve' on Sundays.

Professor Daniel Deffenbaugh (www.workingpreacher.org) notes as well an important fact: When we began to speak of the Passover Lamb and compare it to Jesus Christ, we need to note that “..blood was offered not as an appeasement to God but as a symbol of Yahweh's favor.”

And if we are going to own a journey with God, we need to make note of the dangerous nature of God's sovereignty. This is what verse 17 notes. God shows no partiality – he doesn't play games. We get to join in with the full of history of his actions on behalf of creation. But in doing so, we don't get to dictate to God. To trace our roots back through the Old Testament means we recognize that it has always been God who acts first. It is God who chooses to extend his hand.  God is not petty in his dealings with our petty issues with Him. He doesn't spend time cutting us down to size, laughing at our attempts to manipulate or our consistent inconsistency about our trusting in him. He is not Zeus after all.

Two disciples were on the road traveling between two cities. They shared later their conversation was about their doubts regarding their faith. Along the way they picked up a stranger and he inquired about their conversation. They couldn't believe this person was unaware of the story of Jesus. To contrary, the stranger began to teach them the meaning of Jesus' life. When they got to their destination, the two men invited the stranger to dinner. As the stranger prayed for God's blessing on the meal, they realized, this was no stranger...it was Jesus Christ.

It is a story found in Luke 24 and it demonstrates what God has done throughout our history. He hasn't left us to our own devices, he journies with us, he on the road with us, he is in the midst of the questions we ask, he his there at the moments of greatest need even when he is a stranger to us. In other words, he has loved us.

Like Mark Twain said about his father (and could be said about mothers), “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years,” we just as easily apply to God as if God somehow has changed.

But it is us who is on the pilgrim journey and God with us. He has been over the ground for centuries and continues to patiently walk with us to obedience – to become the most powerful, most incredible we can – to become people who love. On this day we recognize our mothers, as human beings who seek to overcome their own frailities and failures and epitomize love to us. It is hard to find a mother's day card that doesn't express our appreciation for a mother's love.

What we are left with is a glimpse across the table or a memory of days gone by and in our mother's example, see Jesus. We see this love that Peter talked about us all having, when we obeyed our mother's wisdom and words and truth. In doing so, we began our pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that stretches back through time. Will that love be what is seen in your home? Is that the love which is seen in our actions, one to another? Is that the love we have to the enemy who stabs us in the back or attacks our nation?

When the opportunity comes and the road in front of you diverges, which path to take? There are only two after all. One looks promising with its shiny things but it is always death. Then there is the other of plainness and obvious struggle but it is always life and ultimately love.

Our Peculiar Pilgrimage - Week 1

Something happened after Easter morning.

The earth continued it's orbit around the sun. Plants and animals continued on their way of doing things. The people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover began to make their way home. And with some of them, went the story of Good News. Some who heard the story of the Rabbi Jesus, I'm sure dismissed it as a location thing, a, “You just had to be there!” moment. But time would prove that wrong as the message and the people kept on spreading around the globe.

Looking here at this letter Peter writes, we find a feature not all that foreign to our lives here in Paulding county. If you want a letter of relevance then simply look to the first verse where Peter addresses the 'aliens.' Other translations refer to the word 'pilgrim.' Both reflect the original term which refers to those who come and live alongside 'the natives.' Let's take a survey of the room. Ask the people around you where they were born (Ask for states to raise hands).

As a United Methodist pastor people talk about how often “we” move. In comparison, looking into it, the average US American moves between 12-16 times in a lifetime or roughly every 5 years. They say each move will take an average of 50 boxes too. ( ) I don't believe it but I have no doubt about this – we are a pilgrim people. We are in this together in more ways than one. Our faith, Jim Wallis of the Sojourners says, is “personal but not private.”

Peter writes to these Christians scattered throughout the region of Asia minor and in these words, we hear the echoes of his own spiritual journey through the Easter experience. We have no record of a disciple who was a bigger wash out than Peter. None of us have been THAT bad but then none of us had our lives' on the line for our faith either!

Peter's letter is one of Biblical encouragement. This is no pep-talk. No self-help seminar. No passive warm and fuzzy spirituality. Peter's letter of exhortation is intended to give us what has been behind all that Jesus has done. Peter reveals and revels in this plan God has worked out, you can almost sense his excitement. This was one, who like Judas had DENIED Jesus and yet he was sought out by Jesus for redemption – HE WAS CHOSEN and by grace, he responded.

This is the Biblical understanding of election – that God has chosen us all for salvation and by His grace alone we are given the opportunity to choose as Peter did or cast of the opportunity as Judas did.

And here is where, I think we get in the immortal words of Paul Harvey, “The Rest of the Story.” It is right here at the beginning of the book in verse 3 namely, “...according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...”

In public speaking it is the old adage: “Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” In education it is, “HOOK, BOOK, LOOK, TOOK.” In Scouting it is the EDGE method – Explain/Demonstrate/Guide/Enable.

It is too a LIVING HOPE that we are Born Again. It isn't dead or static. We're not zombies who are decaying as we live. We are people on the move by nature – the Good News spreads as we wander but that wandering often entails sacrifice. Peter talks about HOPE because he knows it is so easy to doubt. Suffering is part of the reality of faith and it is built on the resurrection of Jesus Christ not political action groups or committees.

1Co 15:13-19 NASB But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; (14) and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. (15) Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. (16) For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; (17) and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. (18) Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. (19) If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

1. If Christ is not risen, then the apostles were liars, and our faith is vain! - 1 Co 15:14-15
2. If Christ is not risen, we are still held guilty for our sins, no forgiveness has occurred! - 1 Co 15:17
3. If Christ is not risen, those who have died as Christians have perished, they are lost! - 1 Co 15:18
4. If Christ has not risen, then we do not have a “living” hope, instead we are to be pitied by others 1 Co 15:19 (Mark Copeland @ Executable Outlines)

Easter has everything to do with it - without, all of this is nothing, nonsense and we are the most to be pitied. Every sermon, every small group and every ministry, in every church comes back to this. Jesus is all we have and all we need.

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