Life is a journey. Life is a hike from our City of Destruction to the Celestial City. But no matter how the journey unfolds along the path, it has a beginning point. In Jesus’ imagery, the journey begins at the gate. In my imagery, the hike begins at the trailhead.
Everyone’s trailhead is a little different. For some, we started the journey on our mother’s knee at a young age. For others it starts after a difficult time in the teenage years, and perhaps in the midst of those difficult times you met a friend who started to walk with you. For others the trailhead is much later, after you have sampled life and found it lacking. Our trailheads can often look quite different.
However all of our trailheads have many things in common, and today I want to talk about what we all have in common. As you start your journey as a follower of Jesus, or if you are just thinking about it, or if you are walking with a new traveler, it is important that we have the same understanding of what the trailhead looks like; otherwise it will become confusing on down the path.
One of the defining moments in my life was when I was in graduate school. I was waiting for the bus, and a young coed asked if I was one of those “Divinity” students. (That’s what it is called in Scotland.) I said yes, and she asked if I were a Christian. I said yes, and she responded, “What is a Christian?” Much to my shame, I had never thought through a quick and decisive answer. I was working on a Ph.D. but had not thought through this most important of all questions. The bus came in two minutes and she got on.
I didn’t go to the office that day. I went back to the dorm and started reading and praying, working on an answer I could give in two minutes. I spent much of the next day looking for her on campus but never found her.
So what would you say? Remember, you know nothing about the person, and you can see the bus coming. You have two minutes. You don’t want to say too much, but you don’t want to say too little You want to say enough so that if she responds, either now or later, then she truly is a follower of Christ. But you don’t want to say too much and make the decision harder for her.
What would you say? Yes, the trailhead at the beginning of our spiritual journeys are all somewhat different, and yet there must be a common thread running through them. There must be the non-negotiables.
For example, John tells us that if you deny the reality of the Incarnation, that Jesus came in the flesh, you are the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). Does our two minute answer include the dual nature of Christ?
Jesus also says that we should count the cost of following him (Luke 14:26-28).
Paul says a person must “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:6), and yet Jesus says there will be many at the judgment seat who did many miracles in his name and yet were not true followers (Matt 7:22ff.).
I made a nuisance of myself for several years by asking everyone I could, especially academics, “What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven?” It was always interesting to me which of my academic acquaintances could answer the question, and who couldn’t.
Some replied, “That is the wrong question.” My answer always was, “Someone you will never see again just asked you the question, and the bus will be there in two minutes. Go!”
Some would still respond, “It can’t be answered in two minutes. It is the wrong question.”
My response? “You now have less than two minutes.”