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It was a beautiful spring Sunday morning and I found myself leading a Bible Study in our church. Our verse for discussion was from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 42, verse 16. “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” When preparing for the lesson, I had focused in on key words like blind, unfamiliar paths, being guided. As the lesson went on, we all came to understand that we are the “blind.” Why may you ask? Well, there are many reasons but here are a few.

Like the Israelites who wondered for 40 years, we too are wandering. Stuck here on spaceship earth, we are influenced by very worldly events, every day events like our search for food, shelter and basic comforts. But stop one of us in the street and ask us where we are going, you might find someone who says, “Heaven, to be with God.” More probable would be responses like Atlanta, California, up the corporate ladder, to a nice retirement near the ocean or for many, somewhere to find a job. Do you notice, however, that those are only destinations and not directions useful for a journey? That was Isaiah’s point when he was relating his prophecy from God. We are blind because we don’t know the way. Even if we were told the way, it is not somewhere familiar to us. Most Israelites, after 40 years of wandering, were either old with only distant memories of where they had been and no memories of the “Promised Land.” For the young, all they knew was that life itself was a just difficult journey through the desert.

For the class, I was searching for some good examples in the world today that I could share and my mind took me back some 35 years, to a time when I was a salesman. Many of those years were spent on the road, calling on U.S. and Foreign manufacturing companies. Computer technology was just emerging and I found that selling the complex software came easy to me. When you travel to hundreds of U.S. cities and dozens of other countries, you develop a pretty good sense of direction. I found myself either driving or walking in diverse places like Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, Frankfurt, New York, Dallas, and so the list went on. But there was one place that I could never master and that was Pittsburgh PA. Each memory that I had of Pittsburgh was one of being lost.

OrangeBeltSignOne particular trip I made sure that prior to my departure from my first client that I had very complete directions, written instructions, to my next stop. Yes, out the parking lot, down the road for two stop lights, right turn at the red sign, then straight until the hill, stay left at the triple fork, just look for the orange belt sign. I was told over and over, you just look for the sign with the orange ball on it, and the orange belt east would take me right to where I needed to go next. Here is what actually happened.

In spite of those stellar written instructions, within one block from the client, I was lost. There were two stop lights but no intersection. The red sign had been removed many years ago and only the natives would have known where it was originally. As far as the hill is concerned, Pittsburgh is nothing but hills. In fact, it is the flat land that is more noticeable. No triple fork ever came up but I was living right and eventually came to a sign with an orange ball on it. So joyfully, I thanked God that I found the “orange belt.” Now you might think that the orange belt is a highway. It is not. Hundreds of small signs, very small innocuous signs were placed along city streets plotting a path along meandering hills, curves and intersections. In fact, there were red belts, yellow belts, green belts, blue belts plotted around the city. Think of the Pittsburgh colored belt system as a modern day colored blazed trail.

PittsburghBeltMap

Pittsburgh Beltway Map

It took me several years to fully understand that when the highway department first placed those signed as a guide for weary travelers, they were careful to place each very small sign behind large trees, big obstacles and, whenever possible, just out of the view of a driver. If you were lucky to see one, there might be several with arrows in view just to make sure it was impossible to understand whether you were actually on the right road or needed to turn to get to the right road. So I followed a sign with an orange ball and within a few blocks I was lost again, never seeing another orange belt sign. Even the published road map I had was not helpful. Here I would see where I was and where I needed to be only to discover a mountain between my way points. No ten minute trips. Hours upon hours were spent in search of clients. Yes, I now could understand what God meant when He told the Israelites, you are blind. I once found someone who understood the roads in Pittsburgh. I think they were born and raised in the city and had helped blaze the original trails on horseback. Their directions, however, often included phrases like “the large oak tree” or “left at the river.” That is when I became convinced I would never master Pittsburgh roads in my lifetime. In fact, the only way to navigate the city is put a native Pittsburgh resident in your car.

Many years later my sour attitude on the Pittsburgh roadways was further confirmed when our church did an inner city mission trip there. Good news here is that now I had a GPS. Bad news was that the GPS had this notorious habit of telling me where to turn, just after I passed the intersection. So I humbly accepted the premise that I was no better than the blind in Pittsburgh and, unless led by one of the city’s original founders, leave really early for any appointments.

What should we, the modern people of today, deduce from Isaiah’s prophetic words? First, the road for our life’s journey is not always known to us. While we may understand and seek that eternal destination, all roads to eternity run through Pittsburgh. We are lost and don’t know the way. Isaiah also tells us that God will smooth out our rough places. Well, after the winter snow, freezing temperatures and spring thaws, Pittsburgh’s roads are a model of destruction. On one of my many trips to Pittsburgh I had finally arrived at my client and had a very successful business meeting. The firm went on to be one of my best clients. After signing a very nice order, I retreated to my car for my journey home. As I walked up to my car, I was greeted by a left front tire that had chosen to disassemble itself in the parking lot while I worked inside. The tread fell off, the side wall was in a dozen pieces. The hundreds of potholes had taken their toll and my exhausted tire just gave up that day. Life seems like that sometime and I find comfort in knowing that in my life’s journey, God stands ready to help smooth the roadway.

My conclusion on this beautiful Sunday was that each of us really need a guide to get through life (Pittsburgh) and what better guide can we find than the engineering architect who designed the roads. God was trying to tell us that He would give us something better than a road map, something better than a GPS, he would give us a driver to guide us all the way. Our Light, of course is our Savior, Jesus. In all of history, He was the only one who came from eternity to us and is willing to invite us into the back seat of a heavenly bound limo and take us back with Him. Yes, we can have a first class journey to an eternal life if we just accept the ride and leave the driving through Pittsburgh to our Lord.

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