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Monday, January 2, 2012

The trail into the canyon!


I watch my step, avoiding the ditches and ruts of evil so I can spend all my time keeping your Word.  I never make detours from the route you laid out; 
      you gave me such good directions.   Your words are so choice, so tasty; 
      I prefer them to the best home cooking.  With your instruction, I understand life; that's why I hate false propaganda.  
(Psalm 119:101-104 The Message)

Whenever anyone receives the advice to "watch their step" it is usually because there is a very good chance that they will step in something not so pleasant!  I may not have been raised on a farm, but it took only one visit to a farm to remind me of the importance of looking down - - taking each step with care and caution!  This is the idea we are presented with in our passage today - - taking great care to avoid any path that leads to evil.  It is the idea of avoiding the "ditches and ruts" that evil present in our lives.

I remember a hiking trip (more like an expedition) we took down into the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  It was just a couples thing (no children tagging along) - - groups of us all planning the trip with such excitement over the joy of getting away, enjoying nature, and having fun in one of the most scenic parks in our nation.  We had our backpacks all packed, meals planned out, sleeping bags rolled tightly, and trail maps all marked out.  If I had of been paying as much attention to the trail maps as I was the menu for the meals, I might have stayed home!

Once on the trail down into the pristine red rock of the Canyon, I began to realize that the walk UP was going to be a doozie!  We were making our way down a path with about a 60 degree downward slope.  The reality of the UPWARD climb became clear to me at the bottom of that particular trail, as I sat in the coolness of the sand gazing up toward the trail-head!  I would have to traverse the slope again, but it would be much harder going UP than it was going DOWN.  

The idea of making an UPWARD climb is sometimes more daunting than we ever realize when we start down the path that leads us DOWNWARD.  I sat in the coolness of the sand, thinking we would have two days to rest up, then we'd be able to start that climb.  The cold, hard truth was we'd only gone two miles in our thirteen mile journey into the canyon!  What I believed to be the END of the downward journey was really not over!

Sin is that way.  We begin a downward journey, believing we will be able to "recover" and find our way back up without too much difficulty.  Has anyone else realized with me that the journey DOWN is so much easier than the journey UP!  Even more surprising is the idea that the journey DOWN is never fully realized for its full impact until you get ALL THE WAY down!  At the end of those thirteen miles in that canyon journey, every fiber of muscle in my body screamed in terror for the workout it had endured.  Even the sweet promise of rest brought me more pain than I imagined....getting down onto an air mattress also required the effort of getting up from it!

What I did not realize in the weeks leading up to this venture was the extent of the journey.  No one prepared me for where this path would take me physically - - or if they did, I sure wasn't listening!  The same is true with sin's path - - we often find ourselves unprepared for the spiritual toll it will take on our lives!  We are unprepared either because we don't listen to the warnings to "watch our step", or we just blindly follow behind others taking the path!

By the end of my journey that weekend, both big toes had blisters UNDER the toenails!  My body ached in places I thought ache could never occur!  My well-planned camp meals just never materialized - - the energy to cook them took way too much effort!  The games of Farkle, Yahtzee, and spoons just lacked any of their normal enjoyment.  In a nutshell, the "enthusiasm" for life was knocked right out of me by the things I had endured along the trail INTO the canyon; not to mention the ominous feeling of terror that making my way OUT of the canyon added!

Sin robs us of our enthusiasm for life.  It makes every effort of life more taxing and less enjoyable than the last.  The things we once planned seem to matter very little in the face of the effects of the toll sin's results have taken on us.  What's more, the journey OUT weighs heavier than a ton of bricks!  We may be "worn-down" by the effects of sin - - making every step toward restoration even more demanding and difficult.

God understands this downward path better than we might think.  I believe this is why he warns us so frequently, in so many ways, at so many different turns!  His Word is rich with examples of others who have endured patches of difficulties as a result of wrong choices.  David lost his infant son as a result of his adulterous sin.  Wars were lost because the nation of Israel got their eyes off of God and onto some other enticing god of a surrounding nation.  The warnings stand as "trail-markers", warning us to avoid these paths!  

You might find yourself on a downward path today - - heading in the direction of least resistance.  Hear this:  The path DOWN is a whole lot easier than the path UP!  You will likely not know the extent of the journey until you are ALL THE WAY down!  

Here's what I did not tell you about the path out of the canyon.  We hired some pack mules to take our packs up for us - - lightening the burden we'd have to bear.  We took two days to make the journey instead of the planned one day - - affording much needed rest to our bodies so we would be energized for the path ahead.  In the journey UP, we did some better planning and we availed ourselves of the resources provided to us!  This is how God is - - we get ourselves into the canyon of sin - - he provides the resources and the strength to get us out of it!