It is amazing how much influence and control lines, especially parallel lines have on us. From highway lines, to railroad tracks or even to the longitude lines on a globe or map.
God called each of us to perform specific tasks and has given each of us responsibilities that may differ from those He gives others; though we each have different God given goals, they frequently parallel each other but all lead to the same place. Like trains on railroad tracks, we are to advance and stay on track (pun intended). Though we may see others going the same direction, they are generally on different tracks and therefore going somewhere that we are not. We must be careful not to accuse those on a different track of being wrong.
Have you ever seen the railroad tracks in a railroad yard? It is unbelievable how many sets of tracks start or move through it. Each one is designed for a specific purpose and to perform a specific job and they were all designed by a person or persons to orchestrate the movement of trains, so they can perform specific duties and arrive at their appointed stations. Many of the tracks cross each other but never get in each other’s way.
In reality, there are many parallels associated with our God orchestrated walk and that of others. Each of us following lines to get from place A to place B; do our work and then press on again. This is the purpose of this month’s message. As you read, keep in mind that some lines are individual which has limited control while others are parallel lines which have more control. Therefore, some control tightly while others provide more freedom.
This is how it is with God. There may be times He sends us on our way for a specific mission with tight controls and other times He may give us some flexibility along the way.
Remember when you see others advancing differently than us, God made the arrangements for both and though we are going to different “stations” if we all listened to God, our trips will certainly follow different paths across diverse terrains; this is because we are on different tracks going to different places. However, all of this is being directed by the one true God.
We have to be careful when we are directed by God. Too often, we as Christians assume because God is doing something a certain way in, through, or for us, it should be the same for everyone. For many years, a number of main stream denominations established rules of conduct which all members were to follow. These rules included no card playing, men could not swim with their daughters, women were to dress a certain way both in and out of church… Many of the rules may seem absurd; however, they were and in some cases are in place in many churches/denominations.
While I cannot prove this, I believe God recognizes our weaknesses and in order to keep certain sins from occurring in our lives (each individual’s life), He tells specific individuals not to do stuff they cannot handle. These things are intended for an individual and not necessarily for others.
Unfortunately, many people who are given these directions by God, wrongly assume it is a directive for everyone and thereby impose it as a rule not just on themselves but others too. Then much like the pharisees of the New Testament, there are so many rules we cannot keep up with them, much less follow them and as a result people stumble and fall away.
For example, there may have been an influential leader in a denomination who had a problem with lust. Knowing this and to prevent him from failing, God told him not to swim with his daughter. Either because of pride or something else, he believed this was given to him as a rule for everyone and thereby declared it as a requirement for the entire denomination. While this would have been important for him it was not intended for others and therefore, he took something intended as good for him and turned it into a stumbling block for others.
When God gives us direction, it is incumbent on us to know specifically if God intends it for us or for a few others or an entire group. This happens to frequently when someone receives a word from God intended for them and they recite it as a prophecy for others. If you want to avoid being a stumbling block for others, be certain of what God intended you to do with His word when He gave it to you.
We are all called by God to do something and because our somethings differ, the tracks we follow will also differ. Ephesians 4:1-13 [MSG] says:
He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.
Obviously, the Bible could not list everything for which a person can be called, so suffice it to say while some are called to work in a formal ministry, others are called to work in secular environments, in their home, as a volunteer, or some combination of these. No matter what we are called to do, it is a ministry and we should approach it that way.
Picture if you will two college friends. One prepares to have a career in church ministry and the other to become a physician. Assuming both are saved, both will find that God can and will use them where they are. As Christians they share the same goal and that is to lead others to salvation. So, while their mission is the same, they will follow entirely different tracks to get there.
So, what we have here is a parallel; two completely different callings, both productive for God, and both on track and moving forward. They may continue their friendship; however, what each does on any given day is completely different from the other. Parallel lives but different tracks.
When I was younger, and people asked me what I wanted to do with my life I usually said something like, ‘I’ll let you know when I figure it out.’ Well God is not done with me yet so these days I am more likely to say, ‘I’ll let you know when God tells me.’ During my life I have had many incredible opportunities including high level jobs in a Fortune 50 company, executive jobs in a various company’s and of course, a later life call to full time ministry. In each opportunity, God used me to reach people; whether it was as a financial employee, an engineer, a customer service person, or in corporate leadership, as long as I kept alert (with my eyes on God), I never jumped the track and moved from station to station to arrive where I am today.
However, this is not the end of the line, He is not done with me yet. As strange as it may sound, as I followed the tracks, I frequently did not know, nor do I fully understand now, how He was using me to reach others, but it was not important because trusting Him allowed me to continue to advance. Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering – while we may eventually retire from a job or career, our commitment to Christ is eternal and our expectations as a Christian in this world do not have an end; they may change but will not end until He calls us home.
Parallel Lines that Keep Us in Check
In this section I am going to stray from the railroad analogy and use a swimming pool. Have you ever noticed that in a swimming pool set up for a swim meet there are two sets of parallel lines? While both provide guidance to the athletes, they have different ‘responsibilities.’ The first are parallel lines on the surface. These keep the swimmers from crossing into another lane and interfering with another competitor as well as reducing the effects of ones wake on the others. The second are on the bottom of the pool. These lines are wider to make them more visible to the swimmer and help them avoid wandering (and also know when they are near the wall). When swimmers wander, they have to travel longer distances and will perform more poorly.
Just like the pool, God uses lines similar to pool lines to keep us in the right place/lane. As a child, your parents, teachers, and others in leadership influenced you to stay on track. As an adult, we have spouses, bosses, government, pastors, and others to do the same thing. They help us through mentoring, teaching, preaching, overseeing or just about everything we do. In reality, they function as the lines to keep us on track.
Now all parallel lines designed to keep us in check are not perfect. You can see that unless the train jumps the tracks, it must go one way. The swimmer cannot, without extreme effort, jump the lines on the surface of the pool, however, it can happen. In addition, there are some not so perfect parallel lines such as those on a multilane highway. We will examine these more completely in the next section but here is a sneak peek.
When you look at the photo below, you see lines that keep cars in a lane while moving forward and giving some general direction. Now we have all seen cars unintentionally crossing into our lane because they are texting or some other distraction; however, normally, those lines do a good job of keeping people moving forward without affecting each other. Though any of those cars can change lanes, they are limited how far they can go by the barricades and medians that limit how far off path they can move. Frequently, God gives us this kind of flexibility when He is directing us. As long as we remain on the highway, He will let us change lanes and move around a bit. Even when we are not in His perfect will, we are at least in His good will and we continue to move forward.
As I mentioned, the problem with these lines is we can unintentionally change lanes and that can lead to trouble. When we are not focused and wander on the road we may strike another car or force someone off the road. We must be even more vigilant when we have flexibility in our mission – vigilant to ensure we are still following God’s directions.
Parallel Lines that Allow us to Stray
Continuing with the highway analogy, while following a highway, we can make mistakes, move into the wrong lanes, take an exit we do not want and so forth. Just as it is on the highway, we have even more opportunities to miss God – especially when we approach an exit. Sometimes we see the exit and take it without thinking or more importantly, checking first with God. As we exit there are still parallel lines; however, the further from the highway we go, the more likely the lines will end. To compound matters, if it was the wrong exit, we may find there is no way back onto the highway.
Remember, this doesn’t happen to the train because the tracks force the train to go to a certain place. It would be nice to believe we are all on railroad tracks that keep us moving without a chance of distraction. Unfortunately, our lives are more like the highway where we can make our own decisions and mistakes.
God uses the good and bad decisions we make to help us grow closer to Him. So, the good news here is, when we focus on God, no matter how far we have strayed from the highway, He will help us get back-eventually.
Parallels Without Lines
In Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, you will find word #3850 to be parable which is where we get the word “parable.” In Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, there are 5 definitions of the word parable; however, for this message, I will only focus on the first which says, “a placing of one thing by the side of another, juxtaposition…” For clarification, a juxtaposition is a literary device where two (or more) ideas, places, characters, or actions are placed side by side in prose or poetry to develop comparisons and contrasts of the objects.
One of my all-time favorite books (and movies) is Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. In the opening paragraph, Dickens uses juxtaposition to provide an idea of the conflicts between various people, conflicts that would eventually lead to the French revolution:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way …”
As you can see, Dickens provides a comparison of those who have with those who don’t – wealth and royalty vs poverty. These are laid out side by side to show the inequality and disharmony during that time that were the catalysts for the revolution. This use of juxtaposition allows readers to imagine/picture the atmosphere prior to the revolution.
Using the juxtaposition concept, you may better understand how thoughts, discussions or writings concerning Christianity compared to the world, show two sets of options existing in contrast. In John 18:36, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Well it stands to reason that as His followers, we are members of His kingdom and as John 18:36 said, “not of this world.” Yes, we exist in the world and suffer with the world during our stay, but our lives and beliefs stand in contrast with those of the world.
According to James 4:14, we “do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” Therefore, though we are not of this world, but exist in it, our lives should always demonstrate to this world what we look forward to and that is what I am referring to, the world we represent compared to the world in which we exist.
Although the worlds values are not the same as those of Jesus and as tempting as they may be, the worlds pleasures are not to be touched except as allowed in the Bible. We must separate ourselves from these without judging those who do not follow our beliefs. Remember, we used to believe differently also. If we fall in the trap of judging others, we will soon hate the world and those in it; that is not our place or what God wants from us.
I know this section deals with parallels void of lines; however, for a simple clarification, I am throwing lines into the discussion. Our lives will parallel those in the world to some extent; however, when the line representing the world begins to engage in activities that God despises, it is time for our line to change directions. Because the lines are parallel, they cannot cross, and it is up to us to ensure that does not happen. James 4:7-10 says,
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Following these instructions prevent the lines from crossing. Going forward, you will probably see more juxtapositions in your Christian walk; most are associated with our Holy values compared to the world’s secular values; parallel existences that but existences that are significantly different.
So, what are the lines in your life that God uses to ensure you stay on task, His task? Watch for them so you can recognize them and make sure you have not jumped off the track or taken an exit (yes, I know, mixed metaphor). Once you identify the lines you believe are there as guides, seek God to make sure they are His and not one’s placed there to misguide you and lead you some place you do not want to go. When you have lost your way and are no longer following the lines put in place to keep you advancing for God, STOP, and find out where God is and what He will do to get you back on track. This will require repentance and prayer. Remember, God wants you to succeed and will always provide a way.
A local athlete has a pet chicken, it is his personal foul.
People are always looking up to basketball players.
Whomever said, it is so quiet you can hear a pin drop has never visited a bowling alley.
The police detained the hysterical tennis player and charged her with racket-tearing.
The gymnast was quite confused when the coach told him to quit hanging around the bars.
Once you quit soccer, you cannot achieve your goals.
Golfers possess a driving ambition to hit a long ball.
Water skiers without talent are a real drag.
Track coaches are notorious for giving people the run around.
The rodeo bronc rider ended up with a few bucks.
When the marathon runner go blisters, he suffered the agony of de-feat.