I am serving as camp pastor at a placed called Laurel Ridge in the NC moutains this week, so today I decided to go hiking on some trails in an effort to keep from gaining 15 pounds from all the camp food I’m going to be consuming. These trails aren’t new to me - I’ve hiked them countless times over the years as I have been up here as a camper, counselor, and pastor, so when I approached the trail head I was more than ready to get my sweat on and burn some calories.
There are four different trails and they are labeled according to color. Yellow is the longest, red is the steepest, green is not as challenging, and blue takes you to some scenic overlooks. I decided to start at the red/yellow point and then venture down the red trail. I thought about the yellow trail because it’s the one I remember the best from years past, but I wanted to give myself a bit of a challenge since I am such an outdoorsman (cue the sarcasm).
The initial decent on the red trail was pretty steep and I new that when it looped back around I would have to come back up, and I was already dreading the burn that I would experience. After about a quarter of a mile on the red trail, I noticed that the footpath that I was on was no longer clearly defined. It honestly looked like no one had hiked this trail in years. Was I lost? No, because the red markers were clearly visible along the trees at the trail wound along the side of the mountain.
As I continued on this trail, the actual path itself ceased to exist. Instead of hiking, I found myself bush whacking, tramping through patches of ferns, hopping over downed trees, and jumping small creeks. Every step I took felt as if I was pioneer trail blazer, minus the covered wagon and team of mules. Yet every step I took was with a purpose, because the entire time I was following this series of red markers spaced evenly on the trees.
Then things got a bit sketchy. At one point, I completely lost sight of the red ribbons and I was standing in the middle of a patch of brush and downed limbs. I continued to walk forward when suddenly I spotted a red ribbon on a tree in the distance. This happened to me on several occasions. It dawned on me that if I died out there, no one would find me for years. I would be nature’s compost. Then I began to wonder if someone had placed these ribbons on these trees just to see if anyone was a sucker enough to actually follow them. They say there is one born every minute…
Drenched in sweat and realizing that the shoes I had worn were woefully inadequate for such a trek, I finally looped back around to a piece of ground that looked vaguely familiar. The red ribbons had led me into a circuit that ended almost where they began. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to their placement, yet someone had taken the time to put them there knowing that eventually they would lead whoever followed them back to their starting point.
The whole time that I was hiking this oddly marked trail, two thoughts continue to go through my mind. First, I hope I can find my way out of here before I starve to death. And second, walking along a trail like this reminds me of how so many people traverse their spiritual journey through life.
Think about this for a minute. How easy is it for us to take the yellow trail, the one that we know best? Yes it’s long but it’s also safe. The red trail is the one the we often avoid because even though it’s marked for us, we seem to take every step with uncertainty because the path is not always clear.
If you are a follower of Jesus, then you know that God has not called you to safety or comfort but rather to share the good news of Jesus with the rest of the world. Yet doing so seems an awful lot like the red path. You can see the objective ahead of you - the people that you know you need to pull alongside of - but getting to where they are seems awful difficult if not just downright scary.
Underwear is meant to be comfortable. If it’s not, you put on a new pair. Life, however, holds no such guarantees. There are times when you will wonder if you are on the right path and more than once you will be tempted to turn around and call it quits. But that is not what Jesus did and that is not what we are called to do either. Take the red path. Sure it’s hard and it might hurt your feet, but there are people along the way on the red path that otherwise would never understand the meaning of life's journey if you don't meet them on it.
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