Railroad Tracks

by John Harbison

Have you seen the recent car commercial on television showing a car running over speed bumps or grooves in the highway in order to play a tune? The automobile drives over the bumps at a given speed while the bumps cause tire noise to make a melody that is heard in the car.

If you drive your car over three or four sets of railroad tracks, the noise made by the rails occurs in an identical pattern regardless of what railroad companyowns the line. Santa Fe, Denver and Rio Grande, Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern all sound the same. Why?

A longstanding tradition

All rails in the United States share an identical gauge—the distance between the rails. This distance is 4 feet 8.5 inches regardless of who owns the railway, allowing everyone’s railcars and engines to be used on everyone’s tracks. But why 4 feet 8.5 inches? This seems to be an odd number. Why not 6 feet or 2 meters? The reason that 4 feet 8.5 inches was used in the United States is because English expatriates built the first railroads in this country and that is the gauge they used in England.

Why did the English use 4 feet 8.5 inches? The first rail–liners in England were built by the same people who built pre–railroad train–ways, which used the same gauge. Why did train–ways use the same gauge? Because people who built wagons used the same spacing, jigs and tools to build train cars. Why did wagons use 4 feet 8.5 inch spacings? Because some of the old long distance roads in England had ruts of that width. If another spacing was used it was easy to break a wheel if you were in the ruts. Where did the ruts of that width come from? Legend says Imperial Rome built wagons and chariots 4 feet 8.5 inches apart to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.

Even today much of our technology is controlled by our past. The Space Shuttle requires two large booster rockets attached to the side of the main fuel tank. These solid fuel rocket boosters or SRB’s are made by THIOKOL in Utah. Engineers desired to make them larger in diameter, but the SRB’s had to be shipped by rail from Utah to the launch site. The rail line runs through a tunnel only slightly wider than the tracks—4 feet 8.5 inches. One could say a major Space Shuttle design on one of the world’s most advanced transportation systems was determined by the width of two horses’ rumps over a thousand years ago!

Is this typical of your history? Have your families been in a rut for generations? Have you been in a rut in your personal life over some time that you need to change? We are commanded by God to examine ourselves to see our errors in behavior and to make changes. We should be practicing this the year–round to become better Christians.

Be responsible

We all have behaviors that we have had for years that you need to change. How can we get out of a rut and really make changes in our life? In today’s society it is the custom of someone who has made an error to blame someone else. Those who commit crimes blame broken homes, growing up in a slum or lack of education for their error. In a way, they are saying society controls them. In order to get out of a rut, you need to accept your own responsibility. King David admitted his error and asked for God’s mercy when he made the error of numbering Israel (II Sam. 24:1–17). David rejected Joab’s advice, numbered Israel, and at the threshing floor of Araunah he said, “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly” (v 17). We all need to see that it is our errors we must change, and that we are responsible for what we do. We need to ask for mercy because it is our fault.

Ask for help

Once we accept responsibility we must believe we can change with God’s help. In Mark 10 a blind man seeks Christ’s healing. Christ was on his way to Jerusalem for his last Passover and the crucifixion. If the blind man, Bartimaeus, did not request healing that day, Christ would not be back. Bartimaeus did not let fear, doubt, or unbelief prevent him from requesting healing. He told Christ “Lord, that I might receive my sight” (v 51).

Do we sometimes hesitate asking because we doubt that God can grant our request? Mark 11:22–23 tells us that if we ask in faith, we can move mountains. But what if I do not feel I have the faith? A man whose son was possessed by a demon felt just that way in Mark 9:22–24: "And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

He cried out to God to help his unbelief. We can cry out to God and ask the same thing! We can be specific in our prayers that God will help us out of a specific rut to change a specific behavior. Sometimes we generalize too much and say “Make me good” or “I want to be a better person.” Ask God for help in a way specific to your goals. Tell God what you really want to accomplish, have faith and he will answer.

Let nothing stop you

The next step to getting out of a rut is not to let “road blocks” stop you. Ruts are not easy to get out of and they carry you to places you might not want to travel. When wheels or tires are stuck in a rut, you have to follow the rut wherever it takes you. Sometimes when we try to jump a rut, we let road blocks like what people might say or think prevent us from changing to what God desires from us. We worry about schoolmates, co–workers or our own self image. Pride may be a roadblock. We do not want to admit we are wrong. Bartimaeus in Mark 10:48 was warned to be quiet, don’t make a scene, yet he continued to cry out. He did not wait for perfect circumstances of a one–on–one with Christ, and he did not wait to see if someone else would go up to Christ first before going. Our idea of perfect circumstances is not always the same as God’s. Bartimaeus did not wait, but cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”

No time like the present

Sometimes our biggest roadblock in jumping a rut is our own inertia. Act and act now. A well–known Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. A snow skier told me the first step in getting out of a rut is to lift your leg. The longer you are in a rut, the deeper it gets. The longer you are in a rut, the harder it is to get out of the rut. Bartimaeus did not wait. He acted. He threw aside his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. We need to remember the longer we wait, the harder it is to act.

Getting out of a rut may not be easy, but if we take responsibility for our actions, believe we can change with God’s help, refuse to let roadblocks stop us and act now, then ruts will not be a permanent problem. They will never be the determining factor in the direction we take or the quality of life we can all enjoy!

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