I gave a presentation about the suffering church in a comfortable church in Chino Valley last Saturday night. I spent the night with a congenial 70 year old man whose son pastors the church. On Sunday morning, I rose, ate, and left for my own home church in Cottonwood. I was scheduled to give the adult Sunday School lesson that morning, and I was really looking forward to it.
There are several ways to get to Chino. When I came, I came through Dewey, because that way is shorter from where I live. But to get to Cottonwood it's faster to go over Mingus Mountain and down through Jerome.
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However, there were a few wildfires burning on Mingus. I could see the smoke from them, but it wasn't bad. We are used to fires burning here in the summertime. Often the forest service lets them burn because they clean out dead underbrush. My mother had advised me not to use the Jerome route. But I had never driven across Mingus before, and I knew it would be a beautiful experience. (It takes you up into the cool pine forest, a lovely change from the desert floor. And the views are awesome.)
I left Chino about 7:15 AM, which left me plenty of time to get to church. I took my time, enjoying the drive. When I turned on to Highway 89A, there were a few signs warning that smoke could cause visibility problems. Visibility seemed fine so I kept going. I was not disappointed by the beauty of Mingus. I stopped partway up the mountain to take pictures.
I triumphantly crested the mountain and began the downward journey toward Jerome. No smoke on the road so far. However, there were small plumes of smoke rising quietly from small fires burning on this side of the mountain too. A mile or two down the hill side, I encountered a line up of about 6 or 7 stopped cars. Since there were not many cars in the line, and since there were no signs announcing a road closure, I assumed that one lane of the road had been closed (perhaps to allow parking space for forest service vehicles) and that the traffic was forced to take turns driving through the one lane portion.
I turned the engine off, rolled down the windows, and stepped out of the car to enjoy the fresh mountain air. I snapped a few pictures of the fires burning nearby.
A bus carrying a fire fighting crew was right in front of me. I wish I had used the delay to step inside and give them a 5 minute church service!
Gradually vehicles started pulling in behind me and stopping. As the minutes ticked by some of them became uneasy and started asking other drivers if there was any word on how long the delay would be. No one knew, so eventually some people walked down to the flagman and asked for information. They walked back to us with grim news: they have no idea how long the delay will be.
It was now 8:30 AM. I was supposed to be at church in an hour to teach. If the road opened it would take only half an hour to get there. If I went back through Dewey... could I even make it in time? It was an agonizing choice.
Other drivers started turning around and driving away.
I asked a driver behind me, "If I go to Cottonwood the other way, how long do you think it would take to get there?" He said, "I think about an hour."
I took that as a sign that I should go. If it took an hour, I would be there exactly on time.
But reversing direction was not fun. Somehow I didn't notice the mountain air and pine trees so much as I drove back towards Dewey. What if the roadway reopened five minutes after I left? I confess, I was too not happy with God!
There are times in our life when we have to reverse course. To let our own labor go to waste. I encountered one of these a couple months ago when a business venture I'd attempted did not succeed. Giving up on it was not easy: it always seemed that success could be right around the corner. There is a bit of a gambling addict in each of us I think. Waiting for an easy solution that is possible but not certain seems much more attractive than taking a hard solution which always works.
This reminds me of following Jesus. A lot of people want to get to God by their own good works. They might realize that their lives to date have not been stellar (actually God calls our good deeds 'filthy rags') but they think that they are on the verge of turning over a new leaf, of finally figuring out how to improve their behavior. To turn around and take the long and narrow but sure road of trusting Jesus is a tough choice. It means abandoning any conceptions of their own goodness and turning from their sins.
Well, I did take the long route on Sunday morning. I still have not driven all the way across Mingus. I was 15 minutes late to church (and did get to teach!). But as it turned out, if I had waited for the road to open, I wouldn't have arrived until Wednesday!
Don't gamble with your life. Reverse direction. Take the tough but sure route. Follow Jesus.