Week of July 4
The Pioneer of our Faith
When I lived in Kenya, East Africa, I agreed to take two American guests into Masai territory early one Sunday morning. The Masai tribe, much photographed and studied, were nomadic and the last resisters of westernization in that part of the country.
Sangra, who spoke Masai, guided the three of us. We drove my Volkswagen Bug until the dirt road ended. "How far is it now?" asked Jim, one of the Americans.
"Not far. Perhaps one mile," Sangra said. He pointed to the top of a high hill. "Just over there." (The day before, he told me that he hadn't been there before, but he could find it without any trouble. I had been with him on enough treks that I trusted him implicitly to get us there).
From Sangra's answer, I knew it could be one mile or four miles. I also knew that "just over there" could easily mean over there, down the hill and up another. I wasn't totally wrong. We went up three hills, each higher than the previous.
"Where's the trail? Which way?" asked Jack, the other American, as we started our upward climb.
Despite the lack of any obvious trail, Sangra kept going forward and we followed behind him single file. The unmatted grass had grown perhaps two feet high at the place we started. Obviously, no one had been up that way for a long, long time.
"Are you sure he knows where he's going?" Jack whispered to me more than once.
"Why would he lead us astray?" I said.
"You think maybe he's lost?"
"I don't think so. He knows the area."
Our "perhaps one mile" kept us walking for more than two hours. My two friends, unused to such strenuous effort and still new to the tropics, were exhausted when we reached the clearing just before high noon. Nearly fifty Masai sat and waited for us. After a service that lasted well over two hours, we started back.
"He's not going the right way," Jack kept saying. "He's taking a different route." He pointed to the direction we had traversed before.
"We'll get there," I kept saying. I was tired from the walk, and I had preached more than an hour, standing in the hot sun. My guests' fears wore on my nerves. Finally, I just ignored them.
We made the trip back in less time than it had taken us to go.
That incident illustrates what it means to follow Jesus, the "pioneer and perfector of our faith." Scholars have translated it several ways, including author and finisher, but I like the concept of pioneer. When I call Jesus by that term, I think of him as the ground breaker, the one who goes ahead of us into the unknown. He blazes the trail for us.
Sangra wasn't Jesus, but he certainly exemplified the pioneer quality. He never hesitated, never backtracked, and never looked around to get his bearings. He knew where he was going, understood we depended on him to lead us, and he got all three of us there.
The difference between my two friends and me is that I was used to Sangra. He had led me before. I trusted him, and I never had any doubts. Jim and Jack, however, know nothing about Africa, other than viewing Tarzan movies and reading a couple of glowing missionary reports. They had come to Africa about as ignorant as any visitors I'd ever seen. They fretted and complained of the heat. They wanted to stop every twenty minutes and rest.
Most of us are like Jack and Jim in our journey through life. We don't know what's ahead and could easily get lost. It's important to trust the Pioneer and follow, despite our doubts.
I can sum up the kind of travel I envision as I pray to the Pioneer of My Faith by referring to a chorus we used to sing years ago called, "Where He Leads Me, I will Follow." He's constantly taking me into new territory-new for me-but since his lonely trek to Calvary, he has known the way. Jesus himself said, "I am the way...." Hebrews 10:19 says that by his death he made a "new and living way."
The problem is, I don't know the way. That uncertainty makes it a fearful journey at times. Like Jack, I keep thinking, wondering, worrying, and trying to give directions.
As we approached the second hill on that trip, Jack had pointed to a more gradual slope we could climb, but Sangra shook his head. He didn't stop to explain. On the way back to the car, we understood. The gentle slope hid a deep, rocky ravine.
The guide who's been there before knows the way. As I mediate on that concept, it makes me realize the futility of my worries and concerns.
Sometimes I feel like turning back, but I don't want to be like the unbelieving Israelites in the wilderness, who cried out, "Have you brought us out here to die?" Despite divine assurances, promise, and daily provisions for their needs, they wanted to go back to Egypt. Every new experience brought trembling and grumbling.
I see places ahead that scare me too and make me wonder if I'm going to make it. I even hear myself asking, "How long, God? How far (or how long) until you answer my prayer? How far do I have to go before you free me from this temper? How far is it before you fix it so that I don't worry about my children? About money? About relationships?"
Just like Sangra, Jesus doesn't usually answer directly. He simply points always ahead, showing me the right direction. He encourages me to keep on walking. It's as though he whispers, "I know you're tired, but you can make it. Just keep following me. You can do it."
And I know I will.
As I think about the completed journey, I recall when Sangra finally led us to the summit of the final hill. While we were surging upward, we didn't notice much of the landscape. We just wanted to get there. But once we reached the top, Jack paused, turned around, and looked back. He couldn't see the car or the dirt road we had followed, but he could see that we had come a long way. "Hey, we made it," he said as he wiped perspiration from his face.
Yes, we had made it. Time after time, we take the little journeys in life, going through new or strange territory. We're often unsure of where we're going. And perhaps it's only after we get there, when we can pause, turn around and look back, that we can reflect on what's happened.
"We did it. We made it."
Those are the words the Pioneer of our Faith wants to hear. Perhaps even more, he would love to hear us say as we trek upward, "We're going to make it. It's just a little farther."
So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won't let go. And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. --HEBREWS 12:1-2, CEV
Pioneer of Our Faith,
I'm grateful that you've been there before,
and you know everything that lies ahead.
Forgive me when I fret or complain,
and remind me that you're always there to lead me. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.