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The Old Paths

At the end of every old path is a frontier that calls for a new path

By Ken Raggio

The writer said, "Ask for the old paths" (Jeremiah 6:16). He said there is rest for your souls in the old paths.

Every path began as a rugged course.

The courses our modern highways follow were once raw frontier land. Today, we take for granted the fast-moving, multiple-lanes, wide-shouldered, brightly lit and well-marked "freeways," almost never remembering the old paths. The best paths we take today are the old paths, the ancient landmarks that have proven to be right and safe for a long, long time.

These old paths were once new paths that were rough-hewn out of terrain that defied progress. All of nature seemed to oppose it. There were obstacles of all kinds - geological formations that rose up and dipped down; surface conditions that sank and bogged; shrubs and weeds and trees and creek-bottoms and rocks.

The spiritual application of this fact is that all our modern revelation of God should be based on the most ancient and proven of Biblical teachings and practices. It is entirely too dangerous to be "re-inventing the wheel" when it comes to religion. We do not need a new religion, a new God, or a new way to have church. We need to cling to the old, unchangeable, non-negotiable truths of the Bible. We need to stick to the old paths. And I am not speaking of "old" as in 20 years or even 50 years ago. I am speaking of New Testament beliefs and practices.

Trail Blazers cut the Old Paths

Think how the old paths came to be old paths. The men and women whose destinies lay beyond the commonly traveled routes were forced to blaze new trails. They literally burned the terrain in some cases. Then, with whatever tools necessary, they carved their way through wildernesses, forests, prairies, mountains, hills and valleys, creeks and rivers.

The average person knows precious little about conquering frontiers, or the awesome risks encountered by men like Columbus and Magellan, who first explored the wonders of the world.

Prince Henry, the Navigator

Early in the fifteenth century, a Portuguese mariner known as Prince Henry the Navigator began seeking a new route to the East. Up to that time, European trade routes to the Orient were long and dangerous overland journeys, beset by natural hazards, robbers and the fierce competition of merchants from Asian and Middle-eastern countries.

For more than forty years, Prince Henry the Navigator pored over maps and sent forth expeditions to explore the coastlines of Africa. His own invention, the compass, enabled him to pursue a course more accurately than ever before. Prince Henry died in 1460, before any of his expeditions had explored the entire length of Africa.

Bartholomew Diaz, then Vasco de Gama

But in 1486, following the OLD PATHS of Prince Henry, Bartholomew Diaz was able to sail around the southern tip of Africa. A disgruntled crew forced him to turn back. Not until 1497, following the OLD PATHS of Diaz, did Vasco de Gama sail around Africa, into the Indian Ocean to the West Coast of India. The King of Portugal later endowed him with the lavish title, "Lord of Conquest, Navigation, and Commerce."

Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan

At almost the same time in history, Christopher Columbus was penetrating uncharted horizons to the west, in search of a shortcut to the East. Four times he accidentally discovered the Americas without realizing the magnitude of his accomplishment. Within a few years, his OLD PATHS had inspired and helped direct Ferdinand Magellan completely around the world, for the first time in history.

Abraham, Father of the Faithful

Every old path was once a new path. Biblical trailblazers like Abraham marched off the maps in search of their destinies. He obeyed the Lord and forsook his ancestors and homeland for a land of inheritance where the Lord Himself would lead him. Today, the trail that was new to Abraham is our old path. We often define bold faith in Abrahamic terms.

Jacob vs. Esau

Jacob blazed a trail looking for his inheritance. His unconventional tactics are still a shock to the methodologists. We presume that we would be just like Jacob in desiring the divine birthright and the Lord's blessing. But if we had been first-hand observers, we might have pitched a fit over Jacob's goat-hair lie, or the fake venison, because we cannot comprehend how Jacob justified his means for the end. Yet God's opinion is clear, if not shocking: "...I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau," (Malachi 1:3,4).

This shows how we tend to dream, like Jacob, about exciting frontiers to conquer, such as the blessing of God that would revive our souls and our churches, but how unprepared we are to actually march off the map, and find it. More times than not, we slander the man who first steps across the line from complacency into unexplored territory. Progress is inherently, inevitably, and unavoidably controversial, because it is truly dangerous and unchartable in advance. But progress is worth the risks.

Queen Esther

Young Queen Esther needed to approach the King for a favor, but there were no precedents for approaching the King safely without being bidden. The law stated that anyone who entered unbidden into the king's throne-room must be put to death. But real desperation defies danger. Esther concluded, "if I perish, I perish," then boldly approached the throne of King Ahasuerus for help. She got what she went for.

The Four Starving Lepers

This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. The four starving lepers sat in the gates of their city, contemplating their fate. None of their options were good. They were starving to death in the gate. There was famine in the city. And outside the city were enemies.

But the latter had at least some potential. "Why sit we here until we die?" (2 Kings 7:3). "Let us fall into the hands of the Syrians. If they save us alive, we shall live. If they kill us, we shall but die."

When they rose up, God showed them favor, and when they arrived at the Syrian camp, no one was there. The Syrians mysteriously heard the noises of ensuing chariots, horses, and a great army, and fled. The four starving lepers raided the place. God had intervened in their behalf.

After a sumptuous feast to squelch their hunger, they reported their day's good fortune to their king. Then, the Israelites followed the OLD PATH of the lepers, and found abundant spoils of silver, gold, raiment, and vessels. Everybody benefited from the faith of a few desperate men, and the trail they blazed to victory.

The Psychology of Fences

A well-known sociologist reported this finding: In observing school children at play, those who were sent out into a school yard WITHOUT fences tended to hover near the building for security. Those who were sent into a school yard WITH fences, tended to run freely and play more ambitiously.

This example demonstrates that we are able to learn more and have a better overall spiritual experience if we will stay within certain boundaries in religion. Fences keep us on the old, familiar paths.

Our experiences will be much richer if we are "bounded" by a fence of doctrinal truth and godly, holy living. We are likely to experience far more in life by always keeping the most important doctrines and beliefs nearby, than if we abandon ancient beliefs and practices to wander off into a disconnected unknown, totally detached from God and ancient truth.

Exploration must begin with, and be anchored to familiar routes

If we are afraid of "falling off the edges," we will seldom, if ever, move away from a well-worn trail of behavioral habits, even though they may deprive us of experiencing the thrill and exhilaration of true freedom. On the other hand, if we will keep constantly in mind the fact that the Biblical precepts of truth and holiness form a protective fence around us, we will be more apt to explore and exercise our real spiritual potentials. As long as we never lose sight of the great Bible doctrines of the oneness of God, the name of Jesus, the water and spirit birth, and the holy, sanctified life, we should feel free to "press the envelope," and stretch, and move into new dimensions of the Spirit, without defiling our sacred purpose.

The Evolution of Ministry

Religion experiences periodic upheavals that thrust entire movements into new paths. In the not-too-distant past, church congregations in America were formed without the advantage of permanent buildings such as we have today. Congregations met under arbors made from brush, tents hastily erected, and rough-hewn tabernacles, devoid of such modern conveniences as electricity and plumbing. The musical worship in those days utilized portable instruments such as guitars, fiddles and accordions.

When buildings were finally built, pump organs and oldtime upright pianos moved in. As time progressed, electric lights came on, and eventually, electric organs and grand pianos became the norm. Now we see computerized keyboards, synthesizers, drums, and entire orchestras incorporated into our worship. What's next?

But Old Paths led us to this.

We need not fear the NEW that has come as a natural outgrowth of the OLD, as long as THE FENCE IS STILL UP. As long as we never veer from the old paths that brought us to where we are today, we should have confidence that the old paths will ultimately lead us to the right places. On the contrary, if we ABANDON the old paths, and REMOVE the ancient landmarks, we are certain to find ourselves in completely foreign territory with no semblance of truth or righteousness. We cannot and must not forsake the great New Testament truths that have revolutionized and converted men for 2,000 years.

The early explorers marched off the map, applying ancient navigational principles to new instruments and technology, but their new searches were all fixed to their original positions. It is now possible for us to conduct exploits in new ways that were never even heard of or dreamed of in previous generations, but we have no mandate to go anywhere, no matter how exotic or daring, if we do not take with us the original Apostles' doctrines and godliness based upon the eternal truths of God's Word.

We must not stop at the dead ends!

Like Abraham, we have a right to claim everything that the soles of our feet shall tread upon. God says, "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession," Psalms 2:8. We have come this far by faith, and we cannot please God if we stop walking by faith.

If we want the heathen for our inheritance, we must diligently pursue the direction God has led us. If we hesitate, or balk at the prospect, we may find ourselves unable to gaze at the horizon for grief that we may never know what lies beyond it. The OLD PATHS will begin to run backwards to the places where miracles never happened, and the desperation was overwhelming.

In the final analysis, old paths lead to newness of life

Paul told the Romans to "walk in the NEWNESS of life" (Romans 6:4) and "serve in NEWNESS of spirit"(7:6). Walking the OLD PATHS will not lead to a dead-end of redundancy, but to a NEW and refreshing and vibrant walk with the Lord.
If you carefully follow the old paths each day, you will eventually find yourself at a frontier. But you will have the assurance that you are at the right place as you march off the map. Take everything you have learned to this point, and keep it bound up in your soul. Then march confidently toward the challenges of a new day.

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Ken Raggio

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