Thursday, August 8, 2019

Driving in Circles

An Arkie's Faith column from the August 8, 2019, issue of The Mena Star.

The rough rocky road seemed to get narrower as we drove along. Even though it was August, the foliage was bright green, and the sides of the road were lush with green grass and flowers. It was a beautiful, unseasonably cool summer day. The forecast for the day was rain, but it was a lovely afternoon for a ride in Ouachita National Forest. The cloudy but rain-free skies along with temperatures in the ’70s made it a perfect day to be outdoors.

When we left the house that afternoon, we had no particular destination in mind. We just knew that we wanted to go for a drive in the forest. We drove out Hwy 375 to Shady and then headed west on forest service roads. As we drove over rough roads with many washed out areas from the heavy rains that we have had this year, we were not lost, we just weren’t exactly sure where we were. When we would come to an intersection, we would have to decide which way to go. I wasn’t sure about the last decision we had made. The road was getting worse, and grass was growing in the middle of the road. As we were deciding that we needed to turn around and go back the other way, we came to a place where a stream had completely washed out the road. There was no choice but to turn around.

We love exploring back roads and not necessarily know where we are going, but my wife was getting nervous. My daughter and her family were coming to our house from Louisiana, and my wife began to worry that we would not get home in time. When I looked at the time, I realized that she was probably right to be worried. After we turned around and retraced our path to the last intersection, we felt better about the road we were on. It started to look like a road that was being used more frequently than many of the roads we had been traveling. When we saw an electrical box beside the road, we knew that we were headed back to civilization. Before long we came to a home. We knew that we would soon come to a road out of the forest, but where were we. Would we be coming out in Vandervoort, in Cove, or Hatfield? We were so turned around that we had no idea.

To our surprise, we didn’t come out of the forest in any of those locations. When we reached a paved road, my wife said in surprise, “do you know where we are? We are at Bethesda Road.” We were just a couple of miles from our house. We had wandered around on forest service roads for two hours and had come back to where we started. Sometimes exploring a new road can be quite an adventure. When you are traveling a rural Arkansas road, you just don’t know where you will end up.

I think that Jesus liked country roads and mountains. In Matthew 5:1,2 (NIRV), we find Jesus teaching. “Jesus saw the crowds. So he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him. Then He began to teach them.” Christians often refer to the teaching Jesus did on that day as the sermon on the mount. As Jesus was teaching the people, he talked about roads. He said, “enter God’s kingdom through the narrow gate. The gate is large and the road is wide that leads to ruin. Many people go that way. But the gate is small and the road is narrow that leads to life. Only a few people find it.” Matthew 7:13,14 (NIRV)

In one of his most famous poems, Robert Frost wrote about roads. The poem starts with the line, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, long I stood.” I know how he felt. When we were traveling on the forest service roads, and came to a fork in the road, we had to make a decision. Robert Frost ended his poem with these words; “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

As we go through life, following the most popular road is usually not the best choice. Following Jesus often goes against popular opinion. Following Jesus is to take the road less traveled. Taking the road less traveled doesn’t mean we prefer to go against what everyone else is doing to be different. It means we follow the narrow road because God calls us to do what is right.

Jesus tells us that most people want to follow a lifestyle without restrictions. But those people tend to be selfish, putting their desires ahead of anything else, and other people get hurt. That kind of life leads to self-destruction. Many lives, marriages, families, and communities have been harmed or even destroyed because people have insisted on following their own self-serving path.

One of the last songs that George Harrison recorded was a song titled “Any Road.” The chorus of the song says, “If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.” His words are very true. They describe the kind of roads that I like to explore. I like to drive on them because I don’t know where I’m going. I like to explore new roads. When I see a road, I always wonder where it goes. Just like our driving adventure this weekend, sometimes I have been completely lost, but eventually, I made it home. It can be fun not knowing where you are going.

Gentle Reader, it can be fun to explore unknown roads on a Sunday afternoon drive, but it’s not a good plan for our spiritual lives. We should know where we are going. We should all have the same destination in mind. I hope that you know where you are going. Jesus told us that not just any road would take us there. Have you found the road that leads to life? Have you studied the map? The Bible is the roadmap for our lives. “Your word is like a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NCV)

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