The Road Not Taken

Robert Frost could speak volumes about life in just a few words.

This poem has always been my favorite.  The imagery he creates about the choices we make in life resonate with me in a way few other poets have been able to capture.  His style is almost musical, but what I love about the poem is the fundamental truth behind his words.  Life is a series of choices.  And the KIND of life we live depends upon those choices.  Those decisions shape and mold us.  Should I go to college?  Should I change careers?  Should I move across the country?  Of course, those are HUGE decisions, and not every choice is as life-altering as those.  Sometimes, it’s a series of choices that determine our course in life.  Should I eat that candy bar or have a glass of wine or play one more round of blackjack?  On a daily basis, not a big deal. But over time those CHOICES determine our path.  In each decision, we stand before these two roads and we cannot travel both, but we do have that choice. That’s part of God’s design.  It’s part of the freewill God gives us because he loves us.  Love without choice isn’t love, and God wants us to love him and follow him because we CHOOSE to.  But freewill has its downside, too.  It gives us the freedom to make choices that carry us down a more difficult path – one that leads to sorrow, hate, fear, loneliness; a path we desperately want to avoid as much as possible.  And sometimes we make choices that impact other people’s lives and send them down a path they never wanted.  What we hope for is to make choices that make a difference in our lives and the lives of those we love.  But how can me make the right choice unless we are prepared for what the world throws at us?  How can we expect to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others if we are not equipped for the work?

2015-10-23 - Our family at Disneyland for Mickey's Halloween Party
Cassie and I with Emma at Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland back in 2015

How prepared you are will determine the path you choose.

Preparation determines destination.  Paul talks about this in his letter to the church at Ephesus.  In this letter, Paul is giving the church instructions on how to lead a Christian life.  He talks about marriage, immorality, unity in the body of Christ, being truthful, etc.  He warns the congregation how important it is that we are well equipped for the life we lead and then he closes with one final admonition and that’s where we pick up in our reading today.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

We are at war!

There is a battle that takes place every day for the hearts and minds and souls of each one of us.  Now, whether you believe this is a battle against the devil or against society or against our own sinful nature, we’ve all experienced this struggle in our lives.  We are constantly faced with temptations and urges and emotional outbursts that bring out our darker side, the side we don’t like to talk about.  We are prone to addiction and peer pressure and groupthink in ways that are tough to resist.  And we see that in the world around us seemingly more and more.  People are getting addicted to new and different things all the time.  People are adopting more closed-minded thinking and isolating themselves from new ideas.  The only we to protect ourselves is by putting on the full armor of God.  It sounds hokey, but the armor is symbolic of the spiritual preparedness God wants for us.  It isn’t a physical armor.  Instead it’s an armor that we have on us at all times when we live a life in God.  It’s an armor that shields us from giving in to things we know we shouldn’t give in to.  It’s the armor that protects us from being tempted to do something wrong.  But that kind of armor is built not given.  It is built on the firm foundation of Christ.  It is strengthened with faith and truth and having a strong relationship with God.  It is made tough by knowing the Word of God and remembering its lessons.  Wearing the armor helps equip us for life, helps us to CHOOSE the RIGHT path.  But when we live lives that are contrary to God’s will, when we do things to ourselves and those around us that bring us harm, we distance ourselves from God and can’t tell any more the difference between what feels good and what IS good.  And ultimately, those choices take us down roads that are better left untraveled.

1985 - Academic Decathlon Team with Trophy
Me in high school with our Academic Decathlon team – can you guess which one is me?

Preparation determines destination.

We see this play out in the lives of our children and grandchildren.  When we don’t help root them in faith at a young age, it becomes difficult for them to follow that path later in life.  The numbers prove it.[1]

  • 2 out of 3 high school students leave the church after graduation.
  • More than 40% of youth age 16-20 are outside of the Christian faith, 13% higher than the previous generation.
  • 77% of all Christians come to faith by the time they are 21.

It isn’t that people can’t come to faith in Christ as they get older.  I did.  It’s just that it is so much easier for a child to accept Christ and be rooted in their faith at a younger age.  And when our children and grandchildren have to face peer pressure, school pressure, performance pressure and all the other stresses that come with living in the world, when they have to stand up for themselves, BY themselves, will you have equipped them with the full armor of God?

1981 (c) - Nicole and me on her birthday
Me at about 14 years of age with my baby sister Nicole – see mom I did feed her!

When I was about 14 years old, I ran away from home.

My parents and I had gotten into a big fight and they pulled out that famous line that parents often like to pull, “As long as you live under MY roof…”  And so in my childish defiance I thought, “Well, if THAT’S the rule…” and I got on my bike and rode away!  I had all of about $7.00 in my pocket and thought for sure that was going to be enough for me to survive.  After all, Taco Bell tacos were only about 50 cents at the time and if I had one a day plus a Slurpee at 7-11, I could go a whole week on what I had!  Surely, by then I would have a full-time job and would be able to support myself.  And so there I sat in front of the local 7-11 with a Slurpee in my hand and my bike propped up next to me, sitting on the curb as faceless people walked in and out of the store not knowing me at all.  I felt so alone.  The harsh reality of running away started to hit me, and one overriding thought kept coming into my brain.  I was woefully unprepared for the world.  I didn’t know anything about child labor laws or housing or how long it takes to get a paycheck.  I sat there on that curb thinking for a long time about what decision I would make next.  Thankfully, I knew there was one place I could go that was safe.  Where people loved me.  And so I went back home.  I don’t know how my parents put up with me, but I’m glad they did.  Because the world is a big, tough, scary place and when you’re out there alone you need a place to come home to.  You need a place to belong and a place where you can learn and grow safely.  And the more of these places that we can create in the world, the better the world and the safer the world will be.  If the church is going to be the home of Jesus Christ, if we are going to live out the words of Jesus we need to be that place for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren and the children of our community.  I want to challenge you to bring your children to church, to bring your grandchildren to church, to bring your great-grandchildren to church, to bring your nephews and nieces and the kid down the street to church – not because we need the numbers or because we like seeing kids up front for Fun Time, but because we take seriously the responsibility to help children know the love of Christ.  And then I want you to consider volunteering to help out with Sunday School, especially for our elementary school age kids.  I want you to find some way to do something to help the kids of our church and the kids of our community to know how much we love them.  We need to be actively involved in their lives, to provide a place of comfort and love – free of judgment and ridicule.  And most of all, we need to be a place of preparation.  A place that helps teach our children how to morally and spiritually face the world.  Because one day, they WILL leave home.  One day, they will be on their own.  And how they face the world, what path they choose will be determined by how prepared they are.

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[1] From Outreach Magazine’s article on Finding and Keeping the Next Generation and It’s been a while since I researched the stats so it could be better (or worse).

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