Making the Past into the Future
Dr. Jim Denison
In the United States, the standard distance between the rails of railroad tracks is 4 feet 8.5 inches, and has been since the first railroads were built in this country more than 170 years ago. Why such an odd distance?
These first tracks were made by railroad pioneers from England, and that’s the distance between their rails. Why? Because the people who made the first railway cars were carriage makers, and the wheels on their carriages were 4 ft. 8.5 inches apart, so their manufacturing equipment was set up to make railway cars that wide.
Why were their carriages that wide? Because the dirt roads in England at the time had ruts that were 4 ft. 8.5 in. wide. Why were their ruts this wide? The original roads in England were laid out by the Romans after they conquered the country in Julius Caesar’s day. The Roman war chariots were 4 ft. 8.5 inches wide, so two war horses could be hitched to them side-by-side.
Now the story gets even more involved. You’ll remember seeing the launch of a space shuttle, and the two large round rockets strapped to its side to help blast it into space. These are the Solid Rocket Boosters, or SRBs. They are made at a plant in Utah, then shipped by rail to Cape Canaveral, where they are strapped to the shuttle.
Their manufacturer would like to make the SRBs bigger than they are, but there’s a problem: a railroad tunnel along the only feasible route to Florida. The tunnel is just a little bigger than the width of the railroad rails, and the rails are the width of two war horses’ rear ends.
So the size of the major booster rockets on the world’s most advanced transportation system is the result of ruts made by Romans twenty centuries ago. And that’s how the past affects the present, and the present affects the future.
We all want our lives to matter. We want to know that what we do today will have a legacy tomorrow. But there’s only one way to be guaranteed that your legacy will matter. We’ll discover it today.
What can God do with a life?
Isaiah 55 calls us worship in response to the grace of God (v. 1), and to submit our lives to the revelation of God (v. 11). When we do, when God’s worship and word accomplish their life-transforming purpose in us, here are the results.
You will experience the presence and purpose of God (v. 12a).
“You will go out.” The people are enslaved in Babylon, but not forever. They are in captivity today, but not tomorrow. They will be set free. So will you, when you worship God in gratitude for his grace, and obey the revelation of his word. Whatever traps you in despair, in discouragement, in hopelessness, will be broken. You will mount up on wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint, in the victory of God.
You will go out “in joy.” God’s joy is not that happiness which depends on happenings or happenstance, but a deep sense of well-being which transcends our circumstances. Whatever frustrates or hurts you today, you can “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). When you worship God and obey his word, you have his joy.
You will be “led forth”—God will guide your steps and make straight your paths. Whatever decision you’re facing, or confusion you’re feeling, he will “lead you in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
And you will be led forth “in peace.” No matter what conflicts you may face in your family, friendships, or future, you can experience God’s inner serenity which nothing and no person can steal from your heart. When you walk in God’s worship and God’s word, you have his peace.
Do you know today the victory, joy, leadership, and peace of God?
Others will see a difference in your life.
“The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (v. 12b).
God’s presence and peace in your life will be so obvious that the mountains and hills and trees will see it. People will notice it, even more than you do. Moses’ face shone when he came down from the mountain with God, though he did not know it. When the Jewish Sanhedrin put the apostles on trial, they “took note that they had been with Jesus.” When last did someone say that about you?
Others will be changed by the God who works in you.
“Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow” (v. 13a).
The thornbush and briers were worthless nuisance plants. They produced no edible food, and made cultivation difficult. The pine tree and myrtle, on the other hand, gave shade and beauty to this arid land.
God will remove the bad and grow the good. And as God changes us, he will change others through us. They will want what we have. They will see the Christ who lives in us. And that Christ will touch their hearts through ours.
With this result: “This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign which will not be destroyed” (v. 13b).
The Lord’s “renown” or glory will be advanced through us.
This legacy will be “an everlasting sign,” a permanent mark left on the history of humankind “which will not be destroyed.”
Here is how to leave a legacy, to make your life matter. Put it in God’s hands. Worship him each week and each day, in gratitude for his grace. Yield each day in obedience to his word and will. And he will use your life to change the world.
As you know, Dr. E. K. Bailey died this week. I know of no human being who more proves the promise of this text. His visionary leadership, prophetic preaching, scholarly mind, and humble heart were the result of a soul placed in the hands of its Father and King. God gave him his victory, joy, guidance and peace. Others were changed by the Christ we saw in him. When his cancer was first diagnosed, E. K. told his congregation, “You have heard me preach. Now you will watch me preach.” And we have.