Reflections after a fantastic Pilgrimage (Presbyterian Cursillo) weekend

My wife and I just returned this evening from a fantastic renewal weekend with members of our church congregation as well as other Protestant church members from around Oklahoma. This event was Oklahoma Presbyterian Pilgrimage (or OPP) #40. Presbyterian Pilgrimage was formerly known as Presbyterian Cursillo, a movement which began in Spain after the Spanish Civil War as a means to renew the Catholic church and reunite the country. Because of World War II, however, the first Cursillo was not held until the late 1940s in Spain. Eventually in the late 1950s the program came to the United States. The current WikiPedia article for Cursillo contains a less detailed description of the movement’s history than the one we were provided at our weekend. I do not want to focus this post on the history of Cursillo, but will point out that recently the Presbyterian version of this renewal event was renamed “Pilgrimage” because of a trademark/licensing issue on the name with the Catholic church. From what I understand, the Presbyterian license to use the name “Cursillo” permitted ONLY Presbyterians to attend these weekend events, NOT people from other Protestant denominations or people not affiliated with a church denomination. Apparently, the Catholic church opposes Presbyterians using events named “Cursillo” for the purpose of evangelism and sharing the gospel with non-Presbyterians. I find this situation both surprising and disheartening in our day in age. I’d like to think that anyone who is a Christ-follower would support others learning about Christ and God in any way they can, regardless of the name of the event. After experiencing a Presbyterian Pilgrimage weekend myself I am delighted, however, that Presbyterian Pilgrimage leaders have found a way to continue these renewal events and keep them open to ALL PEOPLE (Presbyterians or not.) In the case of our Pilgrimage weekend, people representing ten different church congregations from around Oklahoma participated. It was a fantastic and energizing experience.

The registered website for Presbyterian Cursillo / Presbyterian Pilgrimage (www.cursillo.com) appears to have most of its content taken down (including the history page.) I’m guessing the name change situation is the reason for this missing content. The official Cursillo Movement website (www.cursillo.org) provides a little background, but disappointingly asks visitors to order a commercial, print-based publication to learn more about the movement:

If you wish to learn more about the Cursillo® Movement, please order “Cursillo – What is it?” (publication 719) from the on-line Cursillo® Bookstore or contact your Diocesan Cursillo® Movement Secretariat.

Evidently, the gatekeepers of content for cursillo.org do not yet fully understand the power and potential of digital texts. 🙁

I’ll conclude my historical points about the Presbyterian Pilgrimage movement here, because I want to focus the bulk of my post on some reflections as well as notes I took during the weekend.

At the outset, I want to first encourage anyone who has not participated in a renewal event like Pilgrimage to do so if you can. There are other similar programs, including Walk to Emmaus, which are based on the Cursillo model and have a similar format. The chance to spend three days with other believers learning more about Christ, reading the Bible, spending time alone in prayer and meditation, and experiencing together the overwhelming joy and love of a caring community is certainly one that should not be missed. I hope in the not too distant future my wife and I will be able to return to a OPP event as members of the volunteer staff.

I also want to say that I am NOT going to reveal all the aspects of Pilgrimage, because part of the fun of the weekend is enjoying the surprises which are part of the program and have been prepared by the staff as well as other 4th day volunteers. I had never experienced a retreat or renewal event as powerful as this one before. I had some good experiences attending summer church camps when I was growing up, but those experiences were not anything like Pilgrimage. My wife attended camp at Montreat several years when she was growing up, and said those experiences WERE comparable to Pilgrimage. I knew this would be a wonderful experience and powerful weekend, but I must say it exceeded my expectations in many ways.

I want to take some time this evening to record some reflections and digitize many of the notes I took during the excellent presentations from the weekend. I’ve learned that if I don’t take time to do this QUICKLY after an event, life seems to just zip on by and I often never return to this task of processing, documenting and sharing many of the things I’ve learned. Last May I attended (again) the annual men’s conference at Mo-Ranch in the hill country of Texas. I still want and need to process, record and share many of the things I learned there (particularly because our keynote speaker was Rick Ufford-Chase and I found many of the things he shared to be quite illuminating considering many of the recent controversies in our denomination) but unfortunately I have not done that yet. My notes from that weekend are stashed on a shelf somewhere in our house, and hopefully I’ll make time to do the same thing with them sometime before long that I want to do with my Pilgrimage notes tonight. Here we go…

There were many learning points and “takeaways” from my Pilgrimage weekend, but this one was perhaps the clearest message I heard this morning from God as I sat quietly outside, prayed, and strove to clear my mind of thoughts, ideas, and song snippets:

Rest my son. Rest thy mind and rest thy body. Allow my spirit to enter and fill you with my peace.

I have needed a weekend like this one for many weeks and many months, really, and I treasure the opportunities it provided to not only deepen friendships and develop new friendships, but also to draw closer to God and seek guidance for my life as well as my marriage with Shelly.

I’m now going to share the notes I jotted down during our Pilgrimage teaching sessions. I could attribute these to each individual speaker, but because of potential confidentiality issues I am not going to. So, credit the notes below to “the staff of OPP #40.”

IDEALS

We CAN act on our choices, this is what defines us as humans as different from animals
– say: I will be brave and change my thinking
– the key to being human is choosing NOT to merely act on instinct
– we have the will to act on our choices

At times we can be in danger of forgetting our humanness
The real test of being human is to live out loud
– how much do we stretch ourselves to be better each day?

Ideals can simplify our lives in some ways because they clarify what we already know that we think
– when we recognize our ideals we have more control over our environment
Ideals are revealed in our relationships
Ideals can change
Be bold: change your name

Question to discuss: How are your ideals recognizable to others, and what would make them worthy of you?

In moments of transparency our ideals can be revealed
– when we admit a mistake or a shortcoming, often those are some of the most important moments when we reveal ideals
We MUST practice our ideals
– some experts say only 7% of communication is verbal (most is non-verbal) [THIS MAKES COMMUNICATION VIA TEXT BLOGS INHERENTLY LIMITED, DOESN’T IT?!]

What goes in a man’s mouth is not what defiles him, it is what comes out
One of our table group members said she’s always had such great respect for Billy Graham, because he never held himself out to be a perfect man

I think that often when I’m hearing a speaker talk at a conference or event, it is when they tell a story about their own shortcomings or a failure they’ve experienced that I begin to connect with them most directly and personally
– I wrote this idea in the following way:

When people share a story of their own brokenness or failure, often we connect most directly with them.

John Eldridge’s new book “Walking with God” was highly recommended by a participant, it uses very real language to which she could easily relate

Often we want to respond automatically to a situation with our instincts, but our challenge is to instead respond IAW (in accordance with) our ideals.

GRACE: AN INVITATION TO BE RESTORED

We need to pay attention to the words of familiar hymns

1 John 4

God’s grace is an invitation to be restored in our relationship with Him
grace = getting what we don’t deserve and doing nothing to deserve it
if your fists are clenched you can’t receive anything
“When I let go of the plan to go to seminary, God’s grace worked through other people”
Grace is the act of letting someone love you
Grace is God reaching out with abundant love
palanca is a gift of grace at Pilgrimage

Question to discuss: Where have you seen or experienced God’s grace in your life?

forgiving yourself is one of the most important things we all need to do
it can be a great challenge at times to accept others as they are and simply love them, yet that is what we are called to do

LAITY: THE PRIESTHOOD OF BELIEVERS

Jeremiah foretold that God would forgive us and “remember our sin no more”
II Corinthians: We can become a new people through Jesus Christ

Question to discuss: What was your response to the last time you were asked to serve in your church or community?

On average (according to some studies) spouses in the United States talk to each other just 12 minutes per day.

In a church of one of the participants, small groups are called “rock groups” (building in the Rock)

FAITH: LIVING IN GRACE

faith is given to us as a gift
grace is an invitation from and a gift from God
faith is our response

is my faith just a seed that hasn’t sprouted yet?
Has an intense desire to express my faith sprouted up?
Does my belief in God have any bearing on my life?

one of our speakers was an atheist from age 18 to 30

God works through people and our stories

no matter how much rhythm one of our speakers had as a young person, he still had to PRACTICE it to be good (on the drums)

palanca = to lift up (we interpret this at Pilgrimage as a “gift of grace”)

PIETY: PRACTICING THE PRESENCE

piety is how we grant consent to allow God into all aspects of our life
– it is the intentional process of spending time with God
– we must turn loose of the control
– we must make regular investments in our relationship with God

GRATITUDE AND JOY

Cited Psalms: 46, 134, 28:2, 100:1, 150
We should all reaffirm our relationship with Jesus Christ

Recommended book: “God is Closer than you think”

STUDY

Study is the consequence of our God-given abilities to learn, reason and reflect
– study is putting the whole of our humanity at the service of truth
– it is 1 way God knows we are seeking Him

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is God-breathed

We should strive to grow in conformity to God’s will

Why study? To pursue truth (a means to sanctification)
Resources we have:
– scripture
– church sermons
– Sunday School classes
– small group study classes
– Christian books
– Bible dictionary
– Christian music

Find out why a Pastor chose a particular passage of scripture for a message and then research it in depth

Key element to the Christian life: daily routine of prayer and scripture reading

Process of study:
1- Prayer
2- Reading
3- Interpretation

Question to discuss: Do you believe in your heart the Bible is God-breathed and divinely inspired?

Recommended websites by a participant at our table:
www.earlychristianwritings.com (unfortunately the site is offline because it has been suspended for some reason)
www.crosswalk.com (it strikes me as having way too much advertising)

There are HUGE differences in the perspectives and biases evident in search results for Google searches on Biblical topics

NASV is (according to some sources) the most accurate English translation of the Bible

Some Pentecostal believers see big problems with the concept of the Christian trinity, and engage in “unity versus Trinity” debates

SACRAMENTS

the word “sacrament” is not in the Bible
Sacro in Latin means “oath of allegiance”
– a life or death pledge

Sacraments point to 2 truths: God IS and God is WITH US
– since the Reformation, two sacraments have been maintained by Protestants: baptism and communion

A sacrament has two primary elements: An outward sign and an inward grace

John 13:1-7

Akumal is an amazing destination on the Yucatan

A sacrament is much more than a ritual, a memorial, or a re-enactment
– it is flesh meeting spirit

Baptism: the sacrament of belonging
– a Biblically required sign of incorporation

The torn edges of the bread during communion show and should represent the torn flesh of Christ on the cross

When we have met face to face with God, in Christ we have the power of reconciliation within us

Recommended book: “How to spell PRESBYTERIAN”

We are extensions of Jesus’ incarnation in this world

the bread and the wine are SIMPLE things which remind us of POWERFUL things

sacraments prepare us to do battle

ACTION: COMMITTED IN LOVE

You have a timeshare in your local church

service does not equal “serve us”

Mark 10:43 – God has a covenant with us through Christ

Story of no piety: “I just did for God”
– the story of someone who had good intentions with no direction

Ask God for directions without the noise of business (everyday life)

“my new action was to BE STILL”

Genesis 2:7 – Don’t be so busy you are out of breath

Think of a 3 legged stool as your firm foundation with Chris
1- Study
2- Piety
3- Action

All should be equal and balanced

piety key: listening for directions

Action because of him, not for Him (we’re not earning stickers here / earning our way into heaven via works righteousness)

A litmus test for determining whether we are within God’s will with a particular new commitment?
– wait at least 24 hours before saying yes
– pray about it
– consult with spouse
– am I full of peace and joy with respect to this decision?

Question to discuss: If you were an action figure, what works of yours would be superpowered?
– wisdom
– communication skills

Key is delivering a message (any message) with Christ’s love
– we are called to show and share Christ’s love to a suffering world

SIN

sin is universal, personal, and has corrupted creation
– sin distorts your view of God’s colors
– satan is the adversary
– Peter was Satan when he was thinking of himself and his will

wages of sin: include alienation from others, from God, and from his will

sin is about killing the abundant life available through and in Christ
– we can become anesthesitized to sin (numb – like the Pink Floyd song when they sing “I am comfortably numb”)

3 keys to overcoming obstacles and sin
1- Repentance: turning away
2- Confession: confronting sin, acknowledging it before God
3- Discipline: overcoming sin with instruction, correction, and training

remedies for sin are not automatic
Satan is a LIAR

Your sin is NEVER too big for God

LEADERS TO THE FRONT

focus on what it means to “dwell in Christ” in our own lives

John 15:4 – remain in Christ
Christ’s call to us: to be called to transform the world
False impressions of Christian leadership: it is not necessarily positional, just for wealthy folks, or for people talented in management or leadership

1 Timothy 3:5 you must manage your family to manage the church

Worship God through music: 1st take in the words into your heart
If you live fully as a Christian, others will be influenced by you

Hebrews 13:7
1 Chronicles 16:11 Seek God’s presence (study and pray)
Romans 15:1
Testimony: to tell your story
1 Peter 3:15 – set Christ as Lord
1 Peter 5:3 – do not lord it over, be an example

Story of a church member who dutifully prepared the elements for communion for 30 years, in the background, not in the spotlight

1 Timothy 4:12 set an example, do not feel put down because you are young

THE CHRISTIAN LIFE: THE THEME OF DAY 3

EVANGELISM: REFORMING THE WORLD

the Bible does not talk about “a river of life recirculating in me!”
– this is a how-to
Matthew 28: the great commission
Red Green Show oath of the men (story of the “man’s prayer”)

Changing doesn’t mean becoming more involved or changing the quality or quantity of our activities necessarily

1892 David Ross Boyd planted hundreds of trees and grass seeds in Norman Oklahoma
– become the symbol of the seed sower for OU

We are seed sowers, God is the gardner

“evangelism” = good news

Colossians 3:12 – clothe yourself in the fruits of the spirit

Changing your environment is being YOU in your environment
– helping people belong so they can believe is key
– before inviting someone to church, befriend them

Discussion question: What can you do to change your environment for Christ?

A HOLY VISION

Tom Thule: a successful life is to know God and to make him known

For 3 centuries when Christianity started, it grew in homes, marketplaces, even catacombs (not in church buildings or synagogues after the very early days)

“Christianity was made for the road”

“Sanctuaryism” has isolated Christianity from the world in many situations

James 2:7 – faith without works is dead

To deny oneself for the sake of others is to show grace in action
The Christian life is so much more than a formula
the key is living in surrender to Christ motivated by PASSION

Passion is the basic ingredient that enables us to live the Christian life
– it lets us let our light shine
– passion drives us to live in unity and harmony every day and everywhere, even when no one is watching

Isaiah said: Here I am, send me!
– this was said with passion, undergirded by his desire to live and serve God
– he belonged to God and nothing could separate him from God

Creativity + Passion can lead to huge transformations in our neighborhoods

passion is a fundamental Christian characteristic
– read the book of Acts to see and hear about passionate Christians: their infectious desire to know God, be on his team, and share Him with others

You will try these things and see them actualized, you will do things you never thought you’d dare to do

Belonging to God is no abstract theory
– it is not simply elevator music for your soul

We belong to God: we have experientially affirmed this belief this weekend

Sam Kiser’s formula: Attitude + Self-Discipline = Transformation
– attitude: glorify God through my life
– transformation: that others may know Him and the power of his love

this leads to elevated trust in God
– the impact of being accepted unconditionally for who you are is potentially huge and something everyone should experience

the authentic Christian life
– a life to live, not a statement to make
– it is for “between Sundays”
– it can only be lived if you belong it God

Forever God is faithful. Forever God is true. Forever God is with us. FOREVER!

Question to discuss: What does knowing you belong to God mean to you, and the Christian life you desire to live?

CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

This weekend starts with an inward look
Now our focus is on our Christian community
break down the walls
be lavished with gifts of grace
we have a community to help us
book of Acts: details an amazing time
Acts 2:42 – fellowship of believers
Remember piety / study / action = tools for us to use daily
Passion is like the train horn, energizing us for our work

Let Christ take the lead, let Jesus be the light
Accountability: remember “what would Jesus do?” (WWJD)

Question to discuss: Who is your Christian community?

REVIEW

We asked you to trust us, and you have
Seeds grow when they are attached to the true vine
Food, music and grace during this weekend is like cement binding us together

Allow God to use you in the transforming of the world

TOMORROW: HOPE AND PROMISE (What now?)

Greater purpose of pilgrimage and this weekend: transformation of the world

God is ready and working at revealing himself to you: through the church and people He’s put in your life
He created me for a purpose, to call the world to Himself

As long as we are here (living on earth) God has a purpose for us to transform the world

Individually we are small and incapable
– God is REALLY big, and really loves us

We were NOT designed to “go it alone” in life
You can’t baptize yourself or serve yourself communion (think about it)

4th day community: renewal groups
piety: seeing God, study and action
Family reunions for Pilgrimage: Altreas

in the end all these are tools to remind us of the hope we have in God to live out the purposes of God

sharing testimonies in the final worship service is NOT about pilgrimage or thanking the staff: these are mere methods for advancing God’s purposes

OTHER THOUGHTS AND IDEAS FROM THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND I JOTTED DOWN:

Someone should make a free iPhone app for the Presbyterian Book of Order and for the Book of Confessions (this is available as a freely downloadable PDF)

We should have a family foot washing at home like we did saw this weekend: this was very powerful and meaningful
– we also should celebrate communion together at home as a family

I need to see the movies:
– Powder
– Shawshank Redemption (again)
– We Were Soldiers (Mel Gibson)

We saw the old movie “The Music Box” Saturday night. It was rather cheesy but funny and made a good point.

The purpose of Pilgrimage is to change our environments for Christ

We do and act for GOD, not for money, for school, for others, for recognition

There is a partial Biblical translation titled “The Word on the Street”

Did man say it was bad or did God say it was bad in his Word?

I want to learn to make bread from flour I grind myself

Other recommended books:
– The Shack
– AKA Lost

Dwight Mission is a nearby Presbyterian camp which offers a great Memorial Day weekend camp for families that we need to consider attending

That’s it! All my notes from Pilgrimage! This was a fantastic weekend experience and a great blessing to me as well as my wife. Maybe we’ll record a podcast sometime soon to reflect more on our experiences.

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