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“If You Can’t Beat ‘Em?” Philippians 1: 12-14 Key verse(s): 14:“Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”


If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! We’ve all said it at times when it just seemed hopeless and there was no other way to cope other than relenting and giving in to the problem. Back in the late 1940’s the extensive system of railroads that criss-crossed the United States found themselves in just such a situation. For over a century rail had been not only the way to ship goods between towns and cities, it was about the only safe, secure and fast way to travel as well. In the early part of the last century it appeared to most who owned, operated, worked-on and used the over a million miles of steel rails in this country that the future of the railroad would go on forever. The automobile was but as decade or two old and it was prone to mechanical failure, prone to slow speeds and, most of all, relegated to a poorly constructed network of antiquated wagon paths turned into muddy highways. Although several companies were manufacturing trucks, none were designed to go the long haul. Trucks were simply ways of moving things around in town and carting goods to the, of course, rail head. Air travel was primitive at best with little or no goods shipped by air with the exception of the mail. And since air travel was fairly dangerous and expensive, it offered little competition to the burgeoning rail lines of America.


Then in 1906 something called the Lincoln highway went on the drawing boards. The dream of a few visionary believers in the future of over-the-road travel and commerce, the idea was to link New York City with Chicago via a paved highway over over 1,500 miles. It took over a decade to build and some segments of it were little more than repaved country lanes. Nonetheless, as World War I swept through Europe, cars and trucks began sweeping from the New York to the midwest in the incredible time of only eight to nine days. By the mid-1920’s the Lincoln Highway was connected to the Los Angeles and the west coast of the United States by U.S. Route 66. From these two pioneering roadways, a network of U.S. and state highways, county road and eventually metropolitan freeways quickly developed. By 1938, for the first time in nearly a century and a half, more fright was being hauled by truck than by rail. And, by 1948, more people were traveling interstate by automobile than by passenger train. Even air freight threatened the very existence of rail by the early 1950’s. It seemed the future of rail freight as well as travel was in grave doubt.


But the major rail lines refused to accept their own demise. Convinced that they could still compete with the ever-widening network of interstate highways and large full-service air ports, they began to see what had been viewed as a threat as a beckoning opportunity. For too long rail service had been focused on inter-city linkages and not interstate connections. As the railroads developed in the 1800’s, they followed a very parochial pattern of growth. Every city or at least portion of a state had its own railroad meaning that hundreds of thousands of lines of track were independently owned and, therefore, not available for easy pass-through traffic by a rival rail shipper. Seeing an opportunity to buy-out the little guy and merge many of the less than competitive lines, a handful of major railroads began to build a smooth system of long-haul, interstate rail lines. National railroads finally found their niche and by the 1970’s many had once again become profitable as long-haul, freight and passenger services. What had been a threat to their very existence turned out to be the very opportunity that saved them.


Being thrown into prison, especially the brutally cold and dank confines of the infamous Mamertine prison of Rome, was not treat. If you happened to survive the confinement, odds are you wouldn’t survive the diseases and maladies that were part and parcel of the stay. Only a fool would fine any comfort in that. Yet Paul, a fool for Christ, was able to find comfort, even joy in the fact that he had been thrown into prison. Thrown into a dark and cold cell unjustly, Paul, recognizing that he was “in chains for Christ,” gloried in the hardship and reveled in the opportunity. The “brothers” were using Paul’s misfortune and suffering to inspire and teach others about Christ Jesus. They were holding him up as an example of courage, faith and hope, hope that can only come from a believing heart and a spirit that was daily replenished and restore by the pure Word of God. His body may be suffering but his spirit was soaring. Paul turned the bad situation of Mamertine into a wonderful opportunity to reflect the glory of his Lord. Deep in that dark and dirty hole, a magnificent light was reflecting skyward. The circumstance that had dictated his defeat and turned into an opportunity that would eventually reflect his victory. Paul had found through hardship, a new purpose for living even as he was dying to do it.

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