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Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Oregon Trail: An American Saga


I am currently reading a fascinating book by David Dary entitled, "The Oregon Trail: An American Saga." Though it contains a few factual errors, the gist of it is correct and it is well-written. What originally piqued my interest in a book on this subject was a quick stop made with the Hites on our mini-vacation up to South Dakota a few years ago. We stopped at Fort Laramie and Independence Rock, both spots integral to this famous American road. We even stood on the trail, so well-traveled that there were actually ruts in the rock making up the portion of road where we stood. The trail was blazed as the result of European explorers searching for a northwest passage to travel west from Europe to trade in the orient as well as by fur trading interests from several nations seeking an overland route to the northwest. The Lewis and Clark expedition also contributed greatly to the formation of this road. The blazing of this trail helped settle the west and give America its modern boundaries. However, starvation, ambush, poverty, and natural hazards cost many their lives and their livelihood. They would not give up, but rather traversed raging waters and withstood unthinkable adversity to open up one-half of this nation to settlement.


The old preachers used to say, "We are standing on the shoulders of pioneers." We sit in buildings we did not build or for which we did not pay. We often are surrounded by Christians won to Christ or whose ancestors were so won through the efforts of brethren long since dead. We are beneficiaries, in so many ways, of efforts made by Christians we will never meet until eternity. The first Christians were part of the church persecuted, depicted apocalyptically by John in the book of Revelation. The Christians in the next several centuries were driven underground and served "under the radar" (cf. Dan. 2:44; Mat. 16:18; Heb. 12:28). Men and women influenced by the Reformation Movement made more public the cry and effort to return to "primitive Christianity." New Testament Christians in the 19th and 20th centuries made sacrifices to preach Christ and spread the message of unadulterated, New Testament Christianity.


To me, it is remarkable how often their efforts, methods, and message are scorned, ridiculed, and lambasted by men and women not worthy to tie their shoes. These have converted few to none. They have sacrificed scant to nothing. They have endured no persecution, realized no meaningful hardship, and contributed no lasting gift to the perpetuation of the glorious body of Christ. Yet, they deem themselves experts on where the church needs to go--even if it 180 degrees from the direction where these predecessors back to the first century went. May we pray for the humility to appreciate the fact that we travel a well-worn path. May it motivate us to follow, with dedication, the same road (cf. Mat. 7:13-14).

--Neal Pollard

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