Brother Ron Barnes
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May the Lord continue to bless and preserve you.
The Two Paths

There is a group of people walking along a beautiful path through a wooded area. There are all sorts of people in the group - businessmen, workers, gardeners, husbands, housewives, and musicians. They are all happy and carefree. They walk along chatting and playing, flirting and joking, talking of the latest unimportant piece of gossip. They enjoy all of the scenery, often stopping to eat fruits or berries. They search for flowers. They pluck them, marvel at their feel, inhale their aroma, giggling with delight, then toss them to the side of the path while they laugh running ahead to find another. Others that follow later step on the flowers, not noticing them, while their attention is fixed on some other object further on. They often bathe in pools of water along the path, laughing and splashing the days away, but when they turn away from each other, their faces hidden, sadness and fear shows in their eyes.

Some people are injured along the way. They turn their ankles on a stone or step on a snake. These people cry out in agony, then crawling over to the edge of the path, they sit there waiting for someone to come along and help them, but no one comes. They sit, pretending everything is alright, but secretly long for understanding and help. As they wait, they wait in vain, for all on the path are far more interested in other things.

Some of the injured, remembering they helped no one, and there will be no one for them, eventually get up. Some walk the same path, meeting the same end. Others however, get up and strike out through the forest to another path, finding themselves among quite different people. At first they feel awkward, but are soon comforted, taking up the journey with new vigor.

Most making the journey are distracted by the surroundings, oblivious to things of importance; the beauty; the idle chit chat; the games; the pleasure of the fresh air and the feel of dirt underfoot commands all their attention. They
leave many things unnoticed on the path, many things misunderstood. They are consumed by what seems real, what they are able to touch and see. They are not interested in hidden things, for they mistakenly think they are of no value on the path.

Some on the path are important people. They think of themselves as 'sleepers'. They value their high esteem; their prestige. Often offering guidance and leadership, often commenting on their abilities and attributes, the 'sleepers' believe their intelligence is above that of the others. They pride themselves in their easy manner of speaking; they claim to fully understand things along the path. They think themselves wise. Some, while walking along beside the 'sleepers', seem interested in their advice and accomplishments, but only for a short time. Others on the path respect them openly if they hike together, but secretly dislike them, striding ahead or falling behind to provide some distance. The 'sleepers' soon find they are hiking alone, as are all the rest.

There is another path in the forest and, while it appears that there are many,
we see there are actually only two. This other path stretches through the same forest, but is not the same path. All the surroundings appear similar until one looks closely. This path is narrow, wrought with difficulties. The people on this path are different. They walk straight ahead, eyes focused on some unseen destination. They seem happy and joyous, yet they do not stop to
examine the flowers and the grass. They continually step onward, always making progress. All experience difficulties, the precipitous climbs and dangerous crossings, the vast thick trees, the dark and cold nights, but this does not stop them. When they lose their footing, they keep looking in the direction of the path's end, pushing on. They often look down, studying, searching, as they place one foot in front of the other. They rarely stop to rest.

They do not normally flirt or joke or engage in idle chit-chat or talk of silly
notions. They consider this behavior a waste of time. If one of them begins to
act in some manner similar to the people on the other path, their friends rush
up and chastise them, after thoughtful consideration, perhaps a restful moment along the side of the path, they again focus all attention on the portion of the path that has not been walked, then set afoot with new vigor.

At first one might think they are not happy, but on closer examination it is
apparent they possess deep profound contentment; they know risk, they know loss, they know insecurity, but they also know that these things are part of the path as well as part of the journey - they also know these things are only temporary, for the path will end.

Some step on thorns or sharp rocks, but they do not crawl off the path to wait. Instead, they just keep going, allowing their feet to bleed as if it is a
natural expected occurrence on the path; they find some amount of joy in the
path's trials. Often when one is injured, many others hasten to help. They
provide comfort as best they can, then quickly urge the hurt onward to take up their trek again. Some even lift others, carrying them on their backs.

One young woman broke her ankle after tripping over a tree root. She kept going as well, dragging her leg behind her in pain. Some rushed up to help her, but she happily refused them, shaking her head, pointing at someone else more severely injured farther on, she slowly continued. As she moved on down the path, her leg healing, she eventually stood up and continued walking again.

She later offered all her water to a sick man on the side of the path. A friend asked, 'where will you find more?' She replied, 'I'm not concerned with that, all I have to do is keep walking.' Many, many years later, she told her friends that she was never thirsty, that her broken leg added, not only to the importance of the journey, but to the experience as well. She often claimed the path was shorter than she thought.

It seems their destination is close at hand, but the path sometimes stretches
onward for miles and miles and miles. After observing them for awhile, one
wonders how they are able to proceed in light of such challenge. There are hills and rivers, mountains and valleys, and hazards of all imaginable sorts. How can they possibly think their journey is within reason? Yet they seem to accept the dangers, still fearful at times, but only momentarily. Then the fear melts away and they take up the task again; setting one foot in the dust; following it with the next and the next and the next.

Upon cresting a hill and seeing the path stretch onward, disappearing over the
horizon as a thin line, some lower their heads. Others walk faster. Still others
stop to quietly rest. Some sit on the side of the path, eyes closed for awhile,
oblivious to their surroundings. Most of them eventually keep going with greater determination. Some allow their hope to falter, turning around and wondering absent-mindedly through the forest until finding themselves on the other - wider -- path.

The paths' share certain commonalities. The people on each path always find the last step. Irregardless of which path they are on; it is shorter for some, longer for others. Some find the end after only setting foot at the very beginning. Others must step thousands and thousands of times.

One path ends very suddenly at the edge of a dark and endless chasm. This
fissure appears to fall into darkness, but on closer inspection it really falls
into a horrifying place surrounded by eternal blackness. The people on this path very suddenly and shockingly come to the end. They all have a look of great surprise on their face when they stumble over the edge. Nearly all of them try to turn around, or grasp at a tree root as they topple over, but to no avail.

When they arrive at the end of the path they are astounded that it has ended. It seems they expected it to continue onward. They are so shocked as they fall into the fissure of blackness, that instead of worrying about the bottom of the chasm, they focus on the edge of it, looking at the path's end as they fall. It appears that they may have some thought of grabbing hold of the edge, pulling themselves up, to turn back, but they cannot. Only at the last moment do they turn in the air and look downward. It is then that a truly horrifying expression envelops their faces.

These people seemed very happy all the way along the path - but in actuality
they were not happy at all. They had an appreciation of all that surrounded them on the path, but only the unimportant things. Working to gather what they thought they needed, then just as quickly throwing it away, then stumbling round and round to gather more, paying close attention to what they thought others might have, they left all the real treasures behind. They never bothered to study the hidden beauty all along the path. They never bothered to store up treasure in a place away from the path. As they fall it is easily noticeable that they were actually very selfish people, only interested in life's pleasures; this can be seen mirrored in their faces as they also realize it -
but only too late.

On the way down, some shout angry and foul things. Others shout regret, but they are already falling and cannot be stopped. Those reaching the end, stepping on the thin edge before the fissure, cannot see or hear those that are falling. They cannot even see the cliff until it is too late, for once they step upon the edge it is already crumbling. There are sounds that come from the bottom of the chasm, echoing up out of the darkness. They cannot be described.

The other path also has an end.

When people reach the end of this path they seem to expect it. They are not
surprised that the path has ended, only surprised at the wondrous view. The
people that reach the end of this path do not suddenly fall of its edge, but
gather in joyous completion of their journey. They are ecstatic that it is over,
but they often comment that the journey has just begun. They cannot explain this statement to others back on the path, nevertheless those at the end all nod in agreement. Those still farther back on the path seem to understand this somehow, walking faster, without knowing exactly where they are going, they remain determined to get to the end.

The people nearing the end of this path can sometimes even sense its completion, as one might realize that something is guiding us; pushing us along; and that we are rushing headlong into its fullness. They can 'feel' this but not see it, for they have faith. As they get closer, they become even more determined and, rushing to the end as quickly as they are able, their faith grows and grows. While they cannot actually see the end, they do feel it. They seem to burn with a desire to complete their journey, focusing on the end - and on what lies in the future.

The second similarity is the most shocking.

All the people on the paths' continue to live, but not in the same way. To
distinguish best between the way in which the people survive one must think of one group imprisoned in horrific anguish and the other set free in joyous
happiness. Those that fell into the chasm die a spiritual death, not the death of non-existence. They do not cease but remain, not vanish but live; tortured and tormented, they continue on in darkness and anguish, horror and disgust; resentment and anger. Quickly they realize that their present situation is more real - much more real -- than the path through the forest.

They constantly wish they could just return and walk the path again, for it was far better than this place; they had fun on the path; there were distractions and pleasures; but all those things are gone now and they are tormented by this knowledge, for they know that these things they desire will never return. Their anger never ebbs, but grows and grows. Their sorrow never subsides, but expands to unimaginable proportions. They do not hate, but become hate. They are sorrow. They are hate. They are anguish. They are fear. They are death.

Those on the other path expected the end, even looking for it with joyous
anticipation. They do not die at all but begin to live. These are the people
that walked the other path. They find themselves in a place that directly
opposes everything about the chasm. They find joy and happiness not darkness; they find contentment and peace not resentment; they find tranquility and serenity not fear. They become these things they have found, they become joy.

One might not realize it at first, but these people that looked for the end were
all following a person that walked the path before them. These were the people that knew the end, that dreamt it. They often scratched at his footsteps in the dust along the way. Some stooped and looked for his footprints but could not find them. It seemed they knew that the dust was there, that the impressions made by his feet used to be there - then they just kept going not at all disappointed. Others found signs of him nearly everywhere and in everything. Some found deep grooves and cuts in the dirt. They ran their fingers along the small channels, nodding amongst themselves, pointing and gesturing toward the end.

Still others found him somehow written on their very hearts, never looking
around at the dust or dirt or grooves or footprints; never searching their
surroundings at all. Clutching their hands to their chests they would often
smile inwardly, then bound on down the path lightly afoot. These people did not look for his marks. It seemed they needn't find them.

Some found blood on the path; old blood, shed long ago. Yet it still freshly
remained as a marker for the proper path. It could only be found on one path. It led people along the path, allowing them to find its end. Some would stray and, walking the other path but finding no blood, they would return to their original path, relieved to find the blood still there and still fresh.

The shedding of this blood was intended even before anyone walked the path; even before the path existed. A very wise man on the path said, 'This blood came out of eternity.' The blood was shed for the path; as a result of the path; as a consequence of the people on the path. This blood was there so they could make it; so they could find the end. It was shed as; before; because of; in evidence of, ----- of all that mattered."