Friday, January 27, 2006

Beyond the Rituals:Letting God Reign in Our Lives

...true stories intended to touch your heart and change your life...

The Testing of Our Faith

…for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in prise, glory and honor… 1 Peter 1:6-7

Jackson Arap Rono, our first convert among the Kalenjin, has tasted the cup of testing many times. One of the most memorable came on a Sunday morning in 1987.

African praise rose from the ruins of what was once the home of an English Lord named Wellwood. The mansion must have been impressive in its prime, but time and weather had taken their toll and the large ballroom with its parquet floors laid in herring bone style were weathered and drab. On the lawn, beneath towering eucalyptus trees, orchids clustered too tightly and roses, gone wild, choked the front entrance with branches.

As worship neared its conclusion, this tranquil country scene erupted. The local chief and four police officers in a Land Rover roared their way onto the lawn. They demanded to see Jackson. He went out to meet them. They delivered a clear message, "Stop these services immediately, or else you and all your followers will be put in jail. This Church has been declared illegal!" That's it. No explanation. No options. Just the bitter cup.

Jackson stepped back inside and quelled everyone's curiosity by passing on the message. They quickly dismissed with a prayer and everyone hurried home. Jackson went home too, puzzled, dumbfounded, debating over what he should do. Obeying the police meant forsaking God's will. Obeying God meant imprisonment. At that moment Jackson had two difficult options, or, from another perspective, one whale of an opportunity.

For times of such trials and testings God has given us cheerleaders. Abraham, Moses, Deborah, Mary and Joseph, and others surround us and shout, "Do not be afraid! Believe!" They encourage and assure that just beyond our sight, God is waiting in hopes that we will clear the way for Him to act, overtly, in our life. Obedience, faith, risking it for the sake of what is right in God's eyes, puts nails in the coffin of a sermonized God and rolls the stone from the tomb of ritualized religion.

Perseverance in trial. Trust in Truth. Obedience at any/all cost. These are multiples more than mere acquiescence to religious dogma and constitute what it means to live by faith. Only, those who swallow hard and proceed as God prescribes experience Him in this bold, tangible and living way.

Jackson, being a man of faith, didn't debate long. By the time the sun had slipped beyond the African horizon, he had visited every member of the congregation and informed them that he planned to meet next Sunday to worship God, and that he hoped they would join him. Taking the cup of testing into his hands, he drank deeply.

Wellwood -- a serene picture. Breezy and cool. Romantic. Comfortable. Proud. Stable. Established. Historic. To this list a new descriptive was to be added the following gloriously beautiful Sunday morning -- Holy.

The day began apprehensively, shrouded in mist, hidden beyond the clouds. The members arrived in like manner -- quietly, singly, circling cautiously before entry. Then, gaining confidence, they increased until finally a record attendance filled the building! Jackson was there. His family was there. All the members were there. Villagers' children were there. Even one of the well-known drunkards was there. But the chief never came. The police never arrived. It was Sunday, but no one went to jail, because God was there -- Holy.

It seems that God doesn’t prefer to provide easy ways out. Instead, He delights in allowing withered women to bear babies, tumble weeds to sprout rams, desert wildernesses to house angels, and old mansions to produce faith -- Holy.

PS. The Church at Wellwood continues to worship every Sunday and now has its own building. The Chief still hasn't visited.

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