This past weekend I took a few days off to meet some friends from Atlanta in St. Louis to cycle the Katy Trail. It’s a 240 mile “rails to trails” project (www.railstotrails.org) that took a derelict railroad route and turned it into a gem of a gravel trail running parallel to the Missouri River. People walk, run, hike, and bike the trail, stopping along the way at the small towns on the route to eat, rest, and visit the wineries. Some do a few miles and some do more!

What I didn’t know going in to it, however, is that the trail was the route pioneered by Lewis and Clark on their expedition west beginning in 1804. Setting out from St. Charles, MO just west of St. Louis, they traveled until they reached the Pacific Ocean in the late winter of 1805. Quite an accomplishment!

The railroad? Well, they did no such thing. They chose the obvious and used the already pioneered course. Ho-hum.

But that’s just it. Lewis and Clark chose to create a trail, a route westward out of nothing, while the railroad used what someone else had done. I get the idea that one shouldn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel if one doesn’t have to, but whereas Lewis and Clark are known all over the world for their pioneering spirit and accomplishments, the Katy Railroad (Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad) is all but forgotten. Except for the trail in Missouri and one here in Texas, the railroad is but a blip on the historical record.

If anything, the trip taught me about risk and about a willingness to do something I had never done before. I love to ride, but 75+ miles a day for three days is not something I normally do! But more importantly, it reminded me of the necessity of taking risks and that when we do, the reward can be huge. What would have happened if President Thomas Jefferson didn’t have the vision and energy to send an expedition? What would have happened if Lewis and Clark chose to remain in their homes, in the safety and comfort of the known world?

The pioneering spirit of Lewis and Clark and their men remind me of Hebrews 12. The author writes:

“1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Consider him (Jesus)… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Consider HIM. 

Lewis and Clark’s goal was the Pacific Ocean. My goal was to finish the trail. These are worthy, but temporal goals. Jesus’ goal was our salvation, a risk to reward ratio that is beyond our understanding. What Jesus did for you and me was an effort of endurance never to be duplicated. We rejoice that He has won for us our salvation and continues His renewing work in our lives today. Now this is an accomplishment!

But I think there is another lesson for our faith. A secondary one built on the Gospel of His work. One that reminds us we are called to take risks to reach those around us who don’t know the love of Christ in their lives. Risks that are worth taking because we do so for eternal purposes.

Think about it this way: The world traffics in safety. Meaning, it sells us on the safety of our automobiles, our neighborhoods, our airlines, our food supply, etc., implying that we want to buy their product or services because we will be safe if we do so. It plays to our fears even if there isn’t a reason to be afraid!

This flight to safety dilutes, even suffocates, the risks we will take in life. And if we stop taking risks, what then of the reward? For what kind of life is it when we never leave the house for fear of ____________? Now, I get in the midst of COVID-19 the need to take the disease seriously and take precautions, but my point goes beyond our current circumstances which will change. Have we become so conditioned to fear and flee to safety that our will to take risks for the sake of others is lost? 

The good thing is, that to risk, you don’t even have to leave your house right now if you are uncomfortable going out in public. Social media, used graciously, can open doors for you and me to point people to Jesus and his pioneering success at bringing salvation to the world. But to use social media means you will take a risk, perhaps of someone unfollowing you or leaving a negative comment.

Maybe the risk you and I need to take is to get to know our neighbor better—not the one you like, but the one who has a yard sign promoting your least favorite political candidate. Is the risk you need to take befriending your Muslim co-worker or perhaps the agnostic in your running club or parent-teacher organization? If all your friends are “like you,” what does that say about your willingness to take a risk?  

There is reward with risk, not with every risk, but it’s not for us to decide what the results are. But we are called to step out in faith. With eyes fixed on HIM so as not to grow weary, we pioneer a new trail, reaching new people with the power and love of Jesus. The risk is ours but the reward is Christ’s. We are challenged to look for places in our life where eternity matters—that is, with the people around us.

Perhaps as you finish reading this, names and faces of people are before you. Do they know Jesus’s love and grace in their lives? His power? Follow the Holy Spirit, praying for them and begin to ask Jesus to lead the way, to go ahead of you, to pioneer the ground you will take as you risk telling others about His love for them.

In Christ,

Pastor Tom

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