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It's all about grade

by Jaynan Clark Egland (President, WordAlone Network)

December 12, 2002

Last week I had a long conversation with a project engineer for the railroad.

I was preparing to preach on the Mark 1:1-8 text where John is out bellowing in the wilderness to make the Lord’s path straight. I had hoped to speak to someone from the highway department but had no contacts there. You see, I wanted to find out who makes the decisions on where and when to blow hills out of the way and to remove obstacles in order to construct the road as straight as possible.

My grandpa, who died many years ago, was a demolitionist for the highway department. His responsibility was to blow away whatever was blocking the way, either by implosion or explosion. Obviously, he can’t answer my questions, so I sought another.

The railroad engineer listened intently as I read the text to him over the phone and explained what I needed to know. Who decides where and how to straighten the track? There was a long pause and he replied, “I’m sorry but I think I’m not going to be of much help to you. The railroad isn’t all that concerned about curves, or even distance but rather it is all about grade.”

He went on to explain in great detail how the railroad’s primary concern was with the inclines and the declines. They never wanted the trains to have to haul freight up too steep a grade nor to have to descend too steep a decline. He recalled the history of the railroad as it laid track since the 1890’s; they primarily followed the riverbeds. Though a river meandered, one curve after another, it was basically flat with only gradual changes in grade. Going up too high or down too low is dangerous.

He apologized once more as he hung up the phone knowing he had probably blown my whole “train” of thought! He had in fact blown to smithereens the path to where I thought I was going with making the crooked straight, yet he had been of more help than either of us could ever have imagined. He opened up my eyes to John’s words from the book of Isaiah. . . .

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill be made low and the uneven ground shall become level and the rough places a plain. . . .

It’s all about grade. It’s about straightening by reducing the grade. Leveling the playing field.

I have observed firsthand as time marches on how the WordAlone Network swings like a pendulum, not back and forth as much as up and down. Everyone is “up” now with the writing of the admonition. Yes, we have reason to be excited about the possibilities. But we must be careful not to swing from mania to depression. Going up too high or down too low is dangerous. Let all of our exuberance and highs and all of our sadness and despair belong to God. Let nothing be to our own glory nor our own demise but as Isaiah reminds us, the playing field shall be leveled, “So the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all of us shall see it together.”

No hills, valleys, mountains or deep pits to block our vision.