“Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” – Phil. 3:17
A few days ago my wife and I took a long walk into the woods, literally. We spent three days hiking along the beautiful Chattooga River that marks the border between northern Georgia and South Carolina, just south of the North Carolina state line. We followed the famous Foothills Trail that offers some of the most remote vistas in the southeastern United States. Some of you who know me well may be smiling at the thought of us far from cell phone coverage and wi-fi, yet there we went for 18 miles, following the trail as it took us down along the muddy banks of the river before challenging us to climb to the heights of the bluffs overlooking the valley and back down again.
Walking a long distance, up and down hills with less than sidewalk-like footing, carrying food, shelter and water on your back may not be your definition of an enjoyable getaway. Most people would not consider it to be “easy”, but I can tell you that it wasn’t nearly as hard as it could have been! We had the luxury of a well-cut, well-marked, and well-maintained trail. As I often do on these little expeditions, I found myself quietly thanking those who blazed the trail for us.
We often use the word “trailblazer” in its figurative sense, but the literal sense of the word, of course, was born in the wilderness. Trailblazers were the ones who marked the trail, moving you from point a to point b, around dangerous and difficult obstacles, ensuring that those who followed could find their way. In today’s trail systems, blazes – colorful markings that adorn the trees along the way (see left) – serve as silent guides and constant comfort to those who wonder if they have lost their way.
As we walked along last week, I was grateful for those trailblazers. Not only did someone give us a clear path through the woods, but someone else came along and built bridges of wood and stone to make creek crossing easier. Someone else took the time to set hard edges along trails that follow slope lines, keeping the trail from washing away. Those who blazed and those who have maintained the trail have certainly made things easier for those of us who have followed them.
Thinking about those things as I hiked, I began to think about the other “trailblazers” who have carved the path for us. All of us owe a debt to someone. I think of those who have stood firm for the faith throughout the centuries, those who brought the gospel to this country, those who were instrumental in leading my family to Christ, grandparents who provided a testimony of faithfulness to Christ, parents who loved and taught me, those who invested in my life as a young man learning to walk with the Lord, teachers who taught me the Word of God and pastors who challenged me to live what I read – all of these marked a course that I could follow.
In the ministry of Global Baptist Schools, we know that others have come before us. Our students read books by faithful men who have already passed this way. They sit at the feet of teachers who help them in their understanding of the word of God. In my own particular case, I have the privilege of following a trail that Chris Owens, our founder, marked clearly as he established philosophy and principles that mark this ministry. Thank God for trailblazers.
At the same time, however, I should point out that during our days along the river, I was never without my compass and a map. In fact, my wife carries those items as well. We know that sometimes unexpected circumstances can arise. A trail may be impassable. Conditions may change causing unforeseen decisions to be made. In short, there may be moments when the work of the trailblazer simply isn’t enough.
And so it is in the Christian life and ministry. We are facing difficulties today that could not have been imagined a generation ago. I am convinced that if the Lord does not return soon, our graduates will confront sin and situations that you and I will never face. What do we do when we cannot look to the examples of those who have taught us in the past? Thank God, He has given us His Word! In its pages we can find every answer we need, and to help us with the specific direction that we need in that hour, the Holy Spirit comes alongside to guide us.
These are the thoughts that encourage my heart. Not only when I am in the woods, but as I take the responsibilities that God has placed in my hand at GBS. I thank Him for the course that has been set, and for the confidence that I have in Him as we move into the future, for His glory.