Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Back Country Roads

An Arkie's Faith column from the April 26, 2017, issue of The Mena Star.

I love driving on the back roads in western Arkansas. I love the scenery. I love the adventure. I love to explore new roads. When I see a road, I always wonder where it goes. Last weekend my wife and I took a long drive on back country roads. It was a beautiful day, and the scenery was gorgeous. The wildflowers were in bloom. Fire Pink, Dwarf Crested Iris, Phlox, Spiderwort, Skullcap, Daisies, and Violets adorned the hillsides. 

We traveled through Posey Hollow to Brushy Knob, where we turned onto Forest Service Road 216. The road meandered up the side of the mountain providing magnificent views. The exposed rocks and deep ruts made the road difficult to negotiate as it made its way over the mountains. While we were enthralled with the commanding views, we weren’t sure where the road was taking us. We considered turning around and going back the way we came, but the road was narrow and turning around would have been difficult. We were curious where the road would lead us.

The condition of the road worsened as we carefully made our way down the back side of the mountain. At times my wife had to get out of our sport utility to help guide me over the large rocks in the road. It seemed to us that we were a hundred miles from civilization. When the road made its way from the side of the mountain to the valley below, we found ourselves in the community of Highland. I still wasn’t sure exactly where we were. Although I have lived in the area for over 35 years, I had never been to Highland. I didn’t even know it existed. Just a few miles on down the road we came to Cherry Hill. Finally, I knew where I was.

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 find that narrow mountain roads are much more interesting than four-lane highways.

I think that Jesus liked country roads and mountainsides. 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 I am traveling on back roads, and I come to a fork in the road, I have 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 just 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. 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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