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James 1:19-27 | The Lonesome Road

THE LONESOME ROAD

JAMES 1:19-27

AUGUST 30, 2015

WALKING HAS ALWAYS BEEN SYNONYMOUS WITH OUR JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE.

ROBERT FROST – “TWO ROADS DIVERGED INTO A YELLOW WOOD… AND I TOOK THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED BY, AND THAT HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.”

MARY STEVENSON – YOU MIGHT NOT RECOGNIZE HER NAME QUITE AS READILY, BUT YOU KNOW THE POEM, FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND.

HOW, WHILE REFLECTING UPON HER LIFE, SHE HAS SEEN TIMES WHEN THERE WERE TWO SETS OF FOOTPRINTS ALONG THE BEACH, HERS AND THE LORD’S…

AND YET, AT HER LOWEST, OR WHEN SUFFERING, ONLY ONE SET APPEARED…

THIS DISTURBS HER, AND WHEN SHE ASKS THE LORD WHY HE DESERTED HER AT TIMES LIKE THOSE, HE GENTLY CORRECTS HER, TELLING HER THAT IT WAS THEN THAT HE CARRIED HER.

PSALM 119:105 – “THY WORD IS A LAMP UNTO MY FEET AND A LIGHT UNTO MY PATH.”

THE APOSTLE PAUL’S CONVERSION WHILE WALKING ON THE DAMASCUS ROAD.

THEN THERE’S THE POPULAR BUMPER STICKER AROUND TOWN: “NOT ALL WHO WANDER ARE LOST.”

THE AUSTRALIAN TRADITION OF THE “WALKABOUT” OF SETTING OFF, ALONE, USUALLY, TO REFLECT UPON LIFE, TO GAIN PERSPECTIVE, AND TO SORT OUT ONE’S PATH AND ONE’S SELF.

AND THEN THESE WORDS FROM THE SONG TO WHICH WE JUST LISTENED, FROM JAMES TAYLOR:

WALK DOWN THAT LONESOME ROAD ALL BY YOURSELF,

DON’T TURN YOUR HEAD BACK OVER YOUR SHOULDER.

AND ONLY STOP TO REST YOURSELF WHEN THE SILVER MOON

IS SHINING HIGH ABOVE THE TREES.

WALKING HAS ALWAYS BEEN SYNONYMOUS WITH OUR JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE.

BUT HOW DO WE GET THERE?  HOW DO WE GET ON THOSE ROADS, AND PATHS, AND STRETCHES OF SANDY BEACH WE WALK ON THROUGH THIS LIFE?

DO WE STUMBLE UPON THEM WHILE WANDERING THROUGH THE WOODS OF LIFE, AS FROST SUGGESTS?  OR ARE THE PATHS WE TRAVEL OF OUR OWN CHOOSING, AS HE ALSO SEEMS TO SAY?

DO WE SIMPLY WANDER THROUGH LIFE, TO AND FRO, COME WHAT MAY…?

IS IT SUFFERING OR SORROW THAT PUTS US ON CERTAIN PATHS WE MUST WALK, SOMETIMES THROUGH NO FAULT OF OUR OWN, STEERED THERE SIMPLY BY LIFE ITSELF?

OR IS IT SOMETHING WE’VE DONE, OR FAILED TO DO THAT SETS US ON CERTAIN PATHS, OR IN PARTICULAR DIRECTIONS, AS JAMES TAYLOR SUGGESTS?

“IF I HAD STOPPED TO LISTEN ONCE OR TWICE,

IF I HAD CLOSED MY MOUTH AND OPENED MY EYES.

IF I HAD COOLED MY HEAD AND WARMED MY HEART,

I’D NOT BE ON THIS ROAD TONIGHT.”

IS IT BY WALKING IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD, HIS WORD A LAMP UNTO OUR FEET, AND A LIGHT UNTO OUR PATH, THAT GETS US GOING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION?

THE ANSWER TO ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS, OF COURSE, IS “YES.”

WE GET WHERE WE ARE GOING; WHERE WE MEANT TO GO; WHERE WE NEVER THOUGHT WE’D GO; WHERE WE DREAMED OF GOING; WHERE WE NEVER DREAMED WE’D GO; WHERE WE HATE GOING; WHERE WE LOVE GOING; WHERE WE WERE MEANT TO GO; WHERE NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO GO; IN ALL OF THESE WAYS.

WHEN I MET TOM HE WAS IN HIS LATE SEVENTIES, EARLY EIGHTIES.  HE STILL CAME TO CHURCH, BUT DIDN’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE.

BY THE TIME I MET HIM HE LIVED MOSTLY IN THE PAST, MOSTLY IN HIS MIND, IN THE GOOD OL’ DAYS, AND HE WOULD REGALE ME WITH TALES OF YESTERYEAR.

MANY OF HIS STORIES WERE ABOUT HOW HE HAD SPENT MUCH OF HIS LIFE AS A TENNESSEE STATE TROOPER IN THE ROUGH AND TUMBLE YEARS OF MOONSHINING, RACKETEERING, AND UNFORTUNATELY, SEGREGATION.

HE WOULD ALSO TALK OF HIS LONG HISTORY WITH THE CHURCH, AND HOW HE, ALONG WITH OTHERS, HAD BEEN A PART IN HELPING BUILD IT; BUT IT HAD NOT ALWAYS BEEN SO.

YOU SEE, ONE OF THE STORIES HE LOVED TO TELL MOST, WAS THE STORY THAT MOST CHANGED HIS LIFE.

IT HAPPENED EARLY IN LIFE, SHORTLY AFTER HE HAD MARRIED HIS YOUNG BRIDE, AND BEFORE HE BECAME A STATE TROOPER.

ADMITTEDLY, HE WASN’T A VERY NICE PERSON; AND HE WAS INVOLVED IN A LOT OF STUFF, AS HE PUT IT, THAT HE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN.

HE WAS DRIVING A TRUCK AT THE TIME, A LONG HAUL TRUCK DRIVER, SO HE SPENT A LOT OF TIME ON THE ROAD, DOING PLENTY OF STUFF HE REGRETTED.

ONE NIGHT AS HE WAS DRIVING THROUGH KENTUCKY ON HIS WAY TO TENNESSEE, HE PASSED UNDER AN OVERPASS ON WHICH SOMEONE HAD SCRIBBLED THE WORDS, “JESUS SAVES” IN SPRAY PAINT.

HE SAID AT THAT MOMENT, HE PULLED HIS TRUCK OFF TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, SAT DOWN ON THE FRONT BUMPER OF HIS RIG, AND CRIED LIKE A BABY.

HE PROMISED GOD THAT HE’D STOP ALL THE STUFF HE WAS DOING; HE’D STOP HURTING HIS WIFE, UNBEKNOWNST TO HER; HE PROMISED THAT HE’D STOP SMOKING AND DRINKING, AND START GOING TO CHURCH;

AND HE DID, AND HE NEVER STOPPED GOING, AND HE TURNED HIS LIFE IN THE NEW DIRECTION THAT HE BELIEVED IT SHOULD GO.

“I’M FAR FROM PERFECT,” HE USED TO SAY, “BUT I’M A DARN SIGHT BETTER THAN I WAS, AND WHERE I WAS HEADED WITH MY LIFE.”

“IF I HAD STOPPED TO LISTEN ONCE OR TWICE,

IF I HAD CLOSED MY MOUTH AND OPENED MY EYES.

IF I HAD COOLED MY HEAD AND WARMED MY HEART,

I’D NOT BE ON THIS ROAD TONIGHT.”

IF WE MAY READ INTO THESE WORDS FOR A MOMENT, OR OUT OF THEM, AS THE CASE MAY BE, “THAT LONESOME ROAD” SUGGESTS SEVERAL HELPFUL THINGS REGARDING THE ROADS WE WALK AND THE LIFE WE LEAD.

FIRST OF ALL, THERE ARE SOME “LONESOME ROADS” THAT WE JUST MIGHT BE ABLE TO AVOID HAVING TO WALK DOWN, IF ONLY WE’LL DO A COUPLE OF THINGS:

  • IF ONLY WE’D STOP TO LISTEN ONCE OR TWICE (REMEMBER THE OLD ADAGE ABOUT GOD GIVING US ONE MOUTH AND TWO EARS, SO THAT WE CAN LISTEN TWICE AS MUCH AS WE SPEAK?)
  • IF ONLY WE’D CLOSE OUR MOUTHS AND OPEN OUR EYES (SEE THE AFOREMENTIONED ONE MOUTH/TWO EARS, BUT ALSO OPENING OUR EYES TO NEW POSSIBILITIES, OTHER OPINIONS AND IDEAS, OTHER POINTS OF VIEW, RATHER THAN SPEAKING OF CERTAINTIES, OR WORSE, SPEAKING IN PIOUS OR HAUGHTY PLATITUDES –NOTHING BUT A LOT OF HOT AIR, MOST OF THE TIME.)
  • IF ONLY WE’D COOLED OUR HEADS, AND WARMED OUR HEARTS (HOW MANY ARGUMENTS, HOW MANY BATTLES, HOW MANY FIGHTS, MISUNDERSTANDINGS AND BREAK-UPS COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED BY COOLING OUR HEADS, AND WARMING OUR HEARTS?)

BUT BEYOND WHAT WE MIGHT HAVE DONE SO AS TO NEVER HAVE GOTTEN ON THOSE LONESOME ROADS, GIVEN THAT WE ARE NOT PERFECT, ONCE WE’RE ON THEM, WHAT CAN WE DO?  WHAT DOES THE SONG SAY?

  • “DON’T TURN YOUR HEAD BACK OVER YOUR SHOULDER;”

WE CAN’T CHANGE THE PAST; WE MAY NEED TO FORGIVE OURSELVES, OR ANOTHER; WE MAY NEED TO ASK ANOTHER’S FORGIVENESS; OR GOD’S FORGIVENESS; BUT WE’LL NEVER CHANGE WHAT’S HAPPENED, SO WE NEED TO FIND A WAY TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT, OR TO TURN FROM IT, AND NEVER GO BACK.

JESUS HIMSELF WARNS US ABOUT PUTTING OUR HAND TO THE PLOUGH, AND LOOKING BACK; THERE’S NO WAY WE CAN MOVE INTO THE FUTURE, BY CONSTANTLY LOOKING BEHIND US.

OR AS I SAW IT WRITTEN AT THE BOTTOM OF SOMEONE’S EMAIL THIS PAST WEEK: YESTERDAY IS A CANCELED CHECK; TOMORROW IS A PROMISSORY NOTE; BUT TODAY IS CASH – SPEND IT WISELY.

  • “CARRY ON, NEVER MIND FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF”;

SELF-PITY RARELY SOLVES ANYTHING, AND IT HAS A WAY OF TRAPPING US INTO A MOMENTARY OR LIFELONG PITY-PARTY.  WE BECOME THE PERPETUAL VICTIM, AND NOT ONLY OF WHAT HAPPENED TO US IN THE PAST, BUT OF WHAT WE PERCEIVE CONTINUES TO HAPPEN TO US ALL THE TIME – ALWAYS THE VICTIM, ALWAYS VICTIMIZED.

  • ALL WE CAN REALLY DO IS TO “WALK DOWN THAT ROAD ALL BY OURSELVES,” OR IF WE BELIEVE IN FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND, ALLOW THE LORD TO CARRY US AT TIMES; EITHER WAY WE HAVE TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD. “DON’T TURN YOUR HEAD BACK OVER YOUR SHOULDER, AND ONLY STOP TO REST YOURSELF WHEN THE SILVER MOON IS SHINING HIGH IN THE TREES.”
  • FINALLY, AND THIS MAY NOT ACTUALLY BE PART OF THE SONG, BUT IT’S GOOD ADVICE ANYWAY, WE NEED TO REMEMBER HOW WE GOT ON THAT LONESOME ROAD IN THE FIRST PLACE; AND STOP DOING WHATEVER IT WAS THAT GOT US THERE; STOP BEING THE KIND OF PERSON THAT GOT US THERE; STOP TREATING OTHERS IN WAYS THAT CAUSE THEM TO REJECT AND ABANDON US; STOP ALIENATING OTHERS AND EVEN OURSELVES BY BEING SOMEONE WE OUGHT NOT BE.
  • HOWEVER, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, IF THOSE SORTS OF THINGS HAPPEN TO US THROUGH NO FAULT OF OUR OWN; IF WE ARE ON THOSE LONESOME ROADS BECAUSE OF WHO OTHERS ARE, AND WHAT THEY DID OR DO TO US, AND HOW THEY TREAT OR HAVE TREATED US, HARMED US, REJECTED OR ABANDONED US, THEN IT’S BETTER TO TRAVEL THOSE LONESOME ROADS ALONE, THAN WITH THEM!

THE LETTER OF JAMES HAS ALWAYS BEEN THOUGHT OF AS ONE OF THE MORE PRACTICAL BOOKS OF THE BIBLE.

TIME AFTER TIME, JAMES TALKS ABOUT PUTTING OUR FAITH INTO ACTION, AS HE DOES HERE: “…BE DOERS OF THE WORD, NOT MERELY HEARERS WHO DECEIVE THEMSELVES…”

JAMES TALKS A LOT ABOUT HOW OUR FAITH AND OUR ACTIONS GO TOGETHER.

THE LETTER HAS PRACTICAL ADVICE ABOUT HOW TO LIVE OUR LIVES; HOW TO CURB OUR TONGUES; HOW TO HELP OTHERS;

SUGGESTING THAT WE NOT SIMPLY PRAY ABOUT THINGS, BUT THAT WE DO SOMETHING TO MAKE THOSE PRAYERS COME TRUE EVEN WHILE WE WAIT FOR OUR PRAYERS TO BE ANSWERED.

AND SO OUR PASSAGE FOR THIS MORNING BEGAN:

“YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THIS, MY BELOVED:

LET EVERYONE BE QUICK TO LISTEN, AND SLOW TO SPEAK;

SLOW TO ANGER; FOR YOUR ANGER DOES NOT PRODUCE GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS.  THEREFORE RID YOURSELVES OF ALL SORDIDNESS

AND RANK GROWTH OF WICKEDNESS,

AND WELCOME WITH MEEKNESS THE IMPLANTED WORD (OF GOD)

THAT HAS THE POWER TO SAVE YOUR SOULS.”

“QUICK TO LISTEN; SLOW TO SPEAK; SLOW TO ANGER…”

I DO NOT KNOW ON WHAT LONESOME ROAD YOU MAY BE WALKING THIS MORNING; OR HOW YOU GOT THERE; OR WHO PUT YOU THERE…

I DO NOT KNOW IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE WALKING ALL ALONE; OR FEEL AS IF THE LORD IS CARRYING YOU;

OR IF YOU ARE STILL WALKING THAT LONESOME ROAD WITH SOMEBODY ELSE WHO SIMPLY DOESN’T NOTICE, OR DOESN’T CARE, AND WHO MAY BE FEELING EXACTLY THE SAME WAY YOU DO…

I DO NOT NECESSARILY KNOW THE DIFFICULTY OF THE PARTICULAR ROAD YOU ARE ON, AND I’LL NOT MINIMIZE YOUR PAIN BY SUGGESTING THAT I UNDERSTAND YOUR PAIN.  I DO NOT.

I DO KNOW THAT OUR JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE IS FILLED WITH SUCH ROADS, AND THE BEST WE CAN DO IS TO BE PRACTICAL ABOUT THEM, AS JAMES WOULD SUGGEST.

TO PRAY, YES, BUT TO DO WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO GET DOWN THOSE ROADS OR HOPEFULLY OFF OF THEM ALTOGETHER.

TO WALK ALONE, WHEN NECESSARY; TO TRUST THAT THE LORD WILL CARRY US, WHEN WE CAN’T TAKE ANOTHER STEP; AND TO LET THOSE WHO LOVE US WALK BESIDE US, AND HELP US AS WE GO.

TO NOT LOOK BACK; TO CARRY ON, TO NOT WALLOW IN SELF-PITY, AND TO NOT REST ON OUR JOURNEY FORWARD, “UNTIL THE SILVER MOON IS SHINING HIGH ABOVE THE TREES.”

TOM LONG TELLS A STORY ABOUT A YOUNG BOY WHO DECIDES TO MAKE HIS FATHER A CERAMIC ASHTRAY FOR CHRISTMAS.  HE MOLDS THE CLAY, PAINTS IT EXACTLY AS HE WANTS IT, AND WITH HIS TEACHER’S HELP, FIRES IT IN THE KILN.

THE YOUNG BOY WAS MOST PLEASED WITH THE RESULT, A WONDERFUL GIFT HE HAD PROUDLY MADE WITH HIS OWN HANDS.

ON THE LAST DAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS BREAK, THE LITTLE BOY WRAPPED HIS GIFT ASHTRAY IN BRIGHT WRAPPING PAPER WITH YARDS OF SCOTCH TAPE.

WHEN THE SCHOOL BELL RANG, HE REACHED FOR HIS WINTER COAT AND HIS GIFT AT THE SAME TIME.

STRUGGLING TO PUT ON HIS COAT, HE GRASPED HIS GIFT, WAVED GOOD-BYE TO HIS FRIENDS, AND RAN OUT TO HIS WAITING PARENTS, WHERE HE THEN, ACCIDENTALLY, DROPPED HIS CHRISTMAS PRESENT.

THE SOUND OF BREAKING CERAMIC WAS UNMISTAKABLE.

WHEN HE REALIZED WHAT HAD JUST HAPPENED, THAT THE GIFT HE SO PROUDLY FASHIONED WAS NOW BROKEN, AS WERE HIS HOPES OF SURPRISING HIS PARENTS, BE BEGAN TO SOB UNCONTROLLABLY.

THE FATHER WAS THE FIRST TO GET TO HIS SON.  PARTLY TO ADDRESS HIS PAIN AND PARTLY TO MANAGE HIS OWN SENSE OF DISCOMFORT, THE FATHER EMBRACED HIS SON AND SAID, “IT’S ALL RIGHT, SON.  IT DOESN’T MATTER, IT DOESN’T MATTER.”

THE MOTHER WAS MUCH WISER IN THESE MATTERS.  SHE PUSHED HER HUSBAND ASIDE, EMBRACED HER SON AND CORRECTED THE FATHER.

“NO, YOU’RE WRONG – YOU ARE VERY WRONG.  IT MATTERS A GREAT DEAL.”

SHE THEN PROCEEDED TO CRY WITH HER SON.

AFTER SEVERAL MINUTES OF TEARS, THE MOTHER REMOVED FROM HER PURSE A TISSUE, CAREFULLY DRIED HER SON’S EYES AND THEN WITH INCREDIBLE WISDOM SPOKE TENDERLY TO HER SON:

“COME ON, LET’S PICK UP THE PIECES AND SEE WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF WHAT’S LEFT.”

MY HOPE AND PRAYER FOR ALL OF US THIS MORNING IS THAT WE REALIZE THAT OUR LIVES DO, IN FACT, MATTER VERY MUCH;

AND THAT AS WE NEED TO, WE CAN PICK UP THE PIECES AND SEE WHAT WE CAN MAKE OF WHAT’S LEFT.

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Pastor Daniel writes and posts a weekly newsletter that keeps members and friends of the congregation up-to-date. His earlier newsletters are also online, so if you missed something, check those past editions.

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