Principles of the Path

How To Ask Directions (The Path of Life)

 When my family went to the Grand Rapids Zoo a couple weeks ago, the first thing we did was get a map. Why? Because we wanted to know where to go to see the things we wanted to see. We wanted to be able to know where we were. We wanted to know how to handle our time so we could be done before the zoo closed.We all use maps. We like to know where we are and where we should go and how to get there. There’s two ways we get them: people give them to us, and we choose them.

 Sometimes, other people hand us a map that we use it consciously or subconsciously. We think it shows us where we are in life and where we are supposed to go. 

  • Parents who say, “You will never be good enough” or act like they are ashamed of their children are handing them a map that says, “You are here in the City of Never Good Enough.”
  • Parents who say, “Do your best; it’s okay if it’s not perfect!” and treat them as of they are precious gifts from God are handing them a map that says, “You are here in a City where your Worth is not the same as Your Accomplishments.”
  • People who treat us like objects and misuse or abuse us are handing us a map that says, “You are here in the city of Worthless.”
  • People who love us with the love of Christ are handing us a map that says, “You are here in the City of Eternal Value.”

If we aren’t able to see the bad maps for what they are, we believe them. When we move in life we take the road that we think we deserve. “You are here” has always meant, “I am unworthy of love and respect,” so we keep taking the road that takes us to other familiar places. Everywhere we go we subconsciously do things that ensure we will end up in another town – another relationship, another situation – that confirms this.  

On the other hand, if we believe that “You are here” means “I am a beloved child of God with eternal value and worth,” then we move toward the places where we both experience and pass on these things. Even when we see optional paths and different destinations, we tend to follow the path and journey toward the place that makes those assumptions continue.

So there are maps given to us that we continue to use often without begin aware of it. But when it comes to the things in our life that we can control (things we do rather than the things done to us) we also choose maps. This is our overriding belief or set of priorities that guides our journeys. 

  • “Follow your heart” is a map.
  • “Do what feels good” is a map.
  • “The most important thing is that I am happy” is a map.
  • “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” is a map.

So our background hands us a map, and we also choose our own maps. We count on them to tell us who we are and where we are supposed to go. The problem isn’t that we have them; the problem is that we don’t always know if the information is true. Is this really who I am? Am I really where I think I am? Are the destinations and paths I assume are good actually good? How do we resolve this dilemma?

Part of the good news of the Gospel is that Christ can set us free from being enslaved by the maps others have given us. When we give our lives to Christ we become members of His family, we become citizens of another country, we put off the old and put on the new. Christ remaps our lives. He redeems where we are and redefines where we should go. This is good news. We have been given a new map. The trouble, though, is that it takes time to understand what it means that we really are in a new place, and we tend to carry our old lousy maps along with us. It takes some time break old habits; we are still harvesting what’s been planted before in a practical sense.

 How do we make sure we understand where we are, and that the only map we are following is the one God has given us for our lives?

THE HOLY SPIRIT

As Christians, we already have the Holy Spirit working in our lives as a Counselor (John 16:8), a Helper (Romans 8), a Comforter (John 14:27) and Equipper (1 Corinthians 12). God is working within us constantly. With His help, we are able to do the following three things effectively as we work on our life’s map.

 PRAYER

“DEMONSTRATE Your ways, O Eternal One.
Teach me to understand so I can follow. EASE me down the path of Your truth.
FEED me Your word
because You are the True God who has saved me.
I wait all day long, hoping, trusting in You... He teaches sinners the way with JUSTICE, He directs the humble in all that is right,
and He shows them His way. KIND and true are all the ways of the Eternal to the people who keep His covenant and His decrees.”(Psalm 25:4-5; 8-10)

 The imagery for “teaching” and "directing" is that of shooting an arrow or pointing a finger. God will do this for to show sinners how to leave their sin, and for the humble or needy to show them a good course for their life. (biblehub.com) And how does He do this? In Psalm 25, it’s with His covenant and His words – or in other words, the Bible, the written text of God’s revelation to us. It points us in the right direction spiritually (that's for all of us sinners) and practically (for all of us who are in need of help or guidance). So our prayer is that God teach and direct us through His Word. Why is this so important?

THE BIBLE

“Since childhood you have known the holy Scriptures, which enable you to be wise and lead to salvation through faith in Jesus. All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God’s people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 15-17, The Voice)

It’s a map that points us toward salvation (Christ’s rescue of us from spiritual destruction) and shows us where and how to do good work (actions that complete our purpose). 

OTHER PEOPLE

  • “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” 12:15
  • “Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise.” 13:10
  • “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise...” 19:20
  • “In an abundance of counselors there is safety.” 11:14
  • “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” 15:22

 Wise people are honest about their limits and seek the advice and help of others. (Parenting, marriage, finances, does God exist, how do I live well, how do I know what matters in life?) People who never consult others about their maps will be limited in their ability to see where they are and where they should go.  Asking directions is not a sign that you lack wisdom: it’s a sign that you have wisdom.

We are supposed to ask for directions from our godly friends –but they need to be friends who know the way, whether it be spiritual or practical issues. There are at least 3 signs that you are asking advice from people who know the way.

  • They have earned the right to be asked. Now that football season is going, all kinds of commentators are weighing in on what they think will happen or what teams should do. Do you know who gets hired? Guys who have played. And the longer they play and the more successful they were, the more they are worth listening too. I often talk with teens about serious issues they are facing. They usually talk to their friends, many of whom are well-meaning, serious about following God, and have good character. Even then the advice is often not that good. They just haven’t learned enough about life. The same thing can happen with adults. Before you make important decisions, find those with age and experience appropriate to the issue. This does not mean everyone who is older had good advice, but in general, those with experience have more to offer than those who don’t have that experience.
  • They know the issue. Don’t ask me how to fix your car or draft a fantasy football team. You might as well let a monkey give it a shot. If the cast of Jersey Shore write a book on integrity and self-restraint, I’m not buying it. But when Steve Forbes has something to say about money, it’s worth listening to. If you want to be a talk show host, listen to everything Oprah has to say, but don't listen to her if you want to hear truth about God. Your friend at work might be a great person who understands you; that doesn’t mean she knows how to answer your questions about marriage, or investing, or why God allows suffering.
  • They aren’t afraid to challenge you. If your advisors owe you (you're an employer), or they benefit from you in some kind of tangible way (you always pay the restaurant bill or you're the one financing the parties), or they think you are some kind of celebrity, they probably aren’t the ones you need to go to for certain kinds of advice. They are likely to always tell you that your ideas, personality and character are awesome even if they aren’t.  

So we pray for God’s Spirit to lead us, to illuminate Scripture and direct us toward wise friends. Then we read the Bible and we ask directions from those who know the way.

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 Questions Worth Asking:

  • In what paths of my life do I need a godly map?
  • Am I praying for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and direction, or am I just thinking about it?
  • What does the Bible have to say? Does the Bible speak specifically to my dilemma? (“Don’t steal.”) Does it speak generally? (“Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King.”) Is the Bible silent? (I wonder if I should get a dog or a cat for my kids to play with?)
  • Who do I know that has earned the right to be asked about this particular issue?
  • Who will give me honest feedback (and am I ready to hear it)?

Eyes on the Road (The Path of Life)*

Last night Sheila and I watched August: Osago County. It’s a movie based on a play which was based loosely on some members of the scriptwriter's family. It’s about three generations of dysfunction passed along on the Oklahoma plains. Part of the power of the story is that it reminds us how much our families influence us, but you also see moment after moment when a decision is made about how to act or interact, and you can see how moment after moment built this huge wall between people. Our legacies impact us, but our decisions determine our destination.

At one point, the daughters take their drug-addicted mother to the doctor to talk about putting her in a program. On the way home, the mother gets them to stop the car in the middle of a field, and she begins to run. One of the daughters chases her, and when the both finally stop from exhaustion, the script says it’s beneath “an unforgiving sky,” and the daughter says, “There’s no place to run to get away.” I’m grateful that’s not true. As much as we are talking in this series about consequences, I’m grateful that, because of Christ, because of the Holy Spirit, because of the truth in the Bible, and the church, our history is not our destiny.

That movie gave a really honest look at life without Christ. In the end, there’s nowhere to run to get away. But with Christ, we are not trapped inside our family history or inside the cycles we create through our bad decisions. I need to say that before we get into the topic today: the importance of choosing the right path.*

Our text is found in Proverbs 27:12: “The wise see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.”  Let’s be honest: don’t we all at some point see the penalty of something coming up and just decide to keep going? Sometimes it’s a minor thing, but other times it's more significant. We know the penalty. We know where this is going. Last week we talked about this as living disconnected lives, as if today has no relevance for tomorrow. We disconnect the moment from the story of our life.

Obviously, as followers of Christ we believe that God forgives us, heals us, puts us back together, and gives us new life. In the spiritual world, God’s grace relieves us of paying the price we deserve for our sin. But in the practical sense of harvesting what we plant, at some point we won’t be able to sidestep the consequences of our choices.

  • Our diet and exercise routine will show up in our weight and/or overall health
  • Our hiddenness or dishonesty with our spouse will lead to a blowup or disconnection
  • Our callous interaction with our kids will leave us wondering why our kids don’t respect us or want to hang out with us
  • Ignoring Biblical boundaries and the nudging of the Holy Spirit will lead us down a road to the heartache and brokenness that sin brings.

God offers to take away the eternal consequence of our sins, but at some point, the inevitable will become the unavoidable. There are two ways to respond.

RESPONSE #1: We can choose to think we are victims when we aren't.

“It’s not fair!” Of course it is. It is entirely fair. We like to say, “I just want what I deserve in life.” Well, here we go. We are harvesting what we planted.

  • “Why did I get pregnant now?”
  • “I don’t understand why we never have enough money!”
  • “Why does everyone else know more about the Bible?”
  • “Why won’t my kids respond better to me?”
  • “I wish I had a spouse I could talk to!”
  • “Why is she so much better at ____ than I am?”

Of course, when other people are involved, some of these questions can reflect what they bring to the relationship (relationships with kids or spouse, for example). And there are truly victims of other people’s decisions - all of us have at some time paid the price for someone else’s sin. There are also times when circumstances out of our control impact us (money or level of talent). But when we make decisions that bring us to destinations we did not want, we are not victims. But if we think we are, we will insist that people forgive us and help us clean up our mess.

Let’s be clear: the Bible calls us to be forgiving people. We are to be generous to those who confess and repent. Holding a grudge is not an option for Christians. But this sermon isn’t about people who need to forgive; it’s about people who need to understand the difference between forgiveness and consequences. Consequences are what happen when you do something. That’s just how God made the world to work. Consequences are what you deserve. Other people wouldn’t have to forgive you if you hadn’t done something worth condemnation. If you suffer the consequences of your actions, no injustice has been done. That’s eminently fair. If you ask someone to forgive you, you need to approach them with the full expectation that consequences will play themselves out.

  • If you stole and you repent, you can be forgiven and still have to pay back the money or go to jail.
  • If you slept around and repent, you can be forgiven and still have to deal with broken hearts, anger, and maybe kids or STD’s.
  • If you spent 18 years creating hostility in your kids and spouse and repent, you can be forgiven and still have to do a lot of hard work rebuilding what you broke.

Forgiveness is amazing – but people have to give it because you did something that was so bad it wouldn’t just go away and be okay. It needed forgiving. You did something that required other people to overcome their selfishness and hurt and betrayal and choose to be selfless and loving instead. When forgiveness happens, you are given a second chance at great cost to the one who gave it to you – but that might mean the practical consequences still unfold. And if they do, that does not mean you have not been forgiven. For those who have given their life to Christ, the eternal spiritual penalty for our sin has been paid by Christ. In that sense, we will never have to suffer what we deserve. But in this life, even forgiven people harvest what they plant.

RESPONSE #2: You can choose to grow up.

“The wise see danger and take refuge.” We have to be thinking ahead!!!

  • When our doctor tells us that our health is in the toilet, we know it’s time to make some lifestyle changes. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.
  • When our spouse finally drags us into counseling or walks out, we know it’s time to work on our marriage. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.
  • When we are in the midst of addiction, we know it’s time to start thinking about accountability. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.
  • When the pregnancy test is positive, we know it’s time to start thinking about our sexual choices, or whether or not we wanted kids. The wise see the signs ahead of time and take refuge.

Rather than getting caught up in trying to justify or blame, you have the opportunity to take a huge step forward by asking this simple question:“In light of my past experience and my future hope, what is the wise thing to do?”*  The wise learn and then plan ahead so they can do something today.

The wise move out from that relationship that dishonors God today. They learned from their past experience (they connect their actions and the consequences), they have a plan for holiness (they aren’t victims), and they act because they know different decisions take them to a different destination.The wise start a budget today,  join an accountability group today,  begin studying today, call a friend for coffee today, take their spouse out on a date and start the hard conversations today, go out of their way to connect with their kids today… \

In the next couple weeks we are going to talk about the importance of truth, submission to Christ, and the importance of Godly friends. But for this week, pray and seek counsel on this area of focus: am I simple or wise? In light of my past experience and future hope, what is the wise thing to do?

“The wise see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.” (Proverbs 27:12)

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I am indebted to Andy Stanley's Principles of the Path for the foundational principles in this series. I highly recommend that you buy his book and read it!

The Great Disconnect (The Path of Life)*

We have to be honest about how we got to where we are. We have to own the ways in which we chose to take certain steps, and those steps turned into a journey, and the journey brought us to our destination. Our direction determines our destination.* We often have a pretty good idea about how we want our destination to look, but we undermine the very goals we are trying to reach: 

  • She wants to marry a great Christian guy - but hangs out at night clubs and goes through man after man.
  • He want a great sex life once he’s married - but beds every girl he can.
  • She wants a great relationship with her husband - but prioritizes the kids.
  • She want a great relationship with his kids – but never enters into their world.
  • He want his kids to respect him - but openly flirts with other people or never treats the kids respectfully.
  • He want to develop closeness to God - but spends all her time on the internet or watching football
  • He want to grow old with his wife, kids and grandkids - but neglects his health and his relationship with everyone on that list
  • She wants her children to make God a priority - but skips church all the time and never actually take up a cross and experience the resurrection life in Christ
  • He wants to get a high-paying job - but never works hard or studies.

Then they end up at destinations they don’t want and get bewildered – “How did I get here?” In many ways, they pushed the dominoes. One by one. We have to be honest about how where we are got disconnected from where we want to be. We forget that God has put a principle in place in the world: we will harvest a destination that will match what we planted with our decisions. Our attention determines your decisions, and our decisions determine our destination.

Proverbs 7:6-27 gives us insight into this progression. This passage shows how our current reality is connected to our past decisions. It “connects the dots” by gives us some signs that will warn us when we are moving toward a place we don’t want to be. The writer presents Wisdom and Folly as two different women, one calling us in the direction life in the Kingdom of God, the other calling us to sin and destruction.

"One day I was at the window of my house,
looking out through my lattice shutters, And there among the usual crowd of the gullible people
I spotted a naive young man. He was going down the street near the corner where she lived—that mysterious and evil woman —
taking the road that led directly to her house."

Warning Sign #1: Hanging out with a bad crowd. Warning Sign #2: Being gullible and naïve. Warning Sign #3: Heading down a bad road. This is a bad combination. He is easily deceived - he’s not that good as sensing whether things are heading the wrong way or not. He’s on a road that has an obvious conclusion but is unaware. And the crowd is not providing any good advice for him. If he was even aware and steady he could be with a bad crowd in a bad situation as a holy presence. If he were with a crowd of good friends they would be on a mission trip as they ministered to others in this compromised situation. But none of that is happening. He lacks moral and social common sense. It’s a bad start.

Bad friends will put you into compromising situations so that you will compromise. They will encourage and applaud your downfall. Good friends will walk you through and away from bad situations, and encourage and applaud your honor and integrity.

"At the end of the day, as night approached
and darkness crept in, I saw her! A woman came out to meet him. She was dressed like a prostitute and devious with her affections. Here’s what I know about her: she is loud and obnoxious, a rebel against what is proper and decent."


 Warning Sign #4: Noisy rebellion against all that is proper and decent. I know it’s cool to talk about being rebellious and beating the system and not listening to the man. But you have to rebel against the right things. If I rebel against my doctor’s orders, I’m foolish. If I rebel against the ad campaign that tells me I can go to Vegas and do what I want, I’m wise. I am grieved by all the award shows on TV that reward vulgar language, blatant sexuality and anti-religious sentiment as if somehow saying and doing those things makes the artists exceptional geniuses. “They’re are so cool!” No, they lack social and moral common sense. Time Magazine recently listed 100 movers and shakers. Miley Cyrus was lauded for boldly and smartly recreating herself after her Hannah Montana phase. If you think that shift is heroic, smart or cool, you’ve bought the lie. It’s a tragedy worthy or our tears and prayers.

When rebellion looks sexy and edgy, you’re probably rebelling against the wrong thing. Godly rebellion is a gritty and costly fight the true, good, and noble.

“She’s always on the move—anxious to get out of the house and down the street; at times in the open,
at others lurking around every corner.”

Warning Sign #5: Restlessness instead of peace. She is never satisfied, never at peace, never at rest. Something’s not right. It’s not as if she is restless because she is responding to God’s call, or because she realizes she is wasting her life. No, it’s a restlessness to bring others into her sin. It’s the nature of sin to never be satisfied. C.S. Lewis described it in The Screwtape Letters as “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.

”As I am watching them, she grabs him and kisses him,
then shamelessly tells him: ‘It was my turn to offer a peace offering,
 and today I paid my vows and prepared a feast with my portion, so now I come to see you.
I really want to be with you, and what luck! I have found you! You’ll be impressed. I have decorated my couch,
laid colorful Egyptian linens over where we will be together, and perfumed the bed with exotic oils and herbs: myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon."

Warning Sign #6: When you justify something because other religious people do it. She is apparently Jewish, since she took her peace offering to the temple (she sacrificed something) and returned home with her portion. In other words, she’s an observant Jew. Sin often hides behind religious pretension. “My friends said it was okay, and they go to church.” The mind justifies what the heart desires. Guard your heart and mind.

Warning Sign #7: When someone has to sell you something that shouldn’t need selling. I’ll be honest: if my wife says, “You know, I was thinking…” she doesn’t have to tack on all kinds of extras. I don’t need to be tricked or enticed for sex. I’m not thinking, “I wonder if we have the Egyptian linens and cinnamon.” Satan can never give us something in the fullness of God’s design. Sin always deprives us of the something good in what we pursue. And so it has to make up for it by bringing in all kinds of other good things to prop up the experience when it fails to deliver as promised.

When something that ought to be good and fulfilling on its own merits has to be surrounded by really cool things for it to seem good and fulfilling, that’s a warning sign.

"Come in, and we will be intoxicated with love until sunrise;
we will delight ourselves in our affections. You don’t need to worry; my husband is long gone by now,
away from home on a distant journey. He took a bag of money with him,
 so I don’t expect him home until next month."

Warning Sign #8: The allure of penalty-free sin. It’s so easy to think, “Well, what I’m about to do won’t hurt anybody. We are both adults and we agreed. I can do this with no consequences.” But sin always has wages; it will pay you for the work you do in its service. Sin promises short-term pleasure at the expense of long term joy, but you will eventually harvest what you plant.

"It worked! She enticed him with seductive words, seduced him with her smooth talk. Right away he followed her home.
He followed her like a bull being led to the slaughter,
like a deer heading toward a trap, like a bird flying straight into a net.
 He had no clue his life was at stake; everything was about to change. This is why it is so important that you listen to me, my sons,
and pay attention to all I am telling you. Do not let your mind wonder about her ways;
do not lose yourself and drift down her path, for she’s claimed one life after another,
victim after victim, too many to count. Her house is the gateway to the grave;
every step toward her is a step toward death’s dark chamber."

Our decisions determine our destination. We have to be honest about how the choices we’ve made have influenced where we are. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – God is for you. He has revealed principles in the Bible that are for our benefit. God does not want you to end up in the dark chamber of spiritual death.

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* I have pulled the main principle in this series from Andy Stanley's book Principles of the Path. I highly recommend that you read it!