Facing A Fork In The Road Jack Graham July 1, 2006 Matthew 7:13-14 I’m a big baseball fan and one of my favorite characters is Yogi Berra, the legendary former catcher for the New York Yankees. Yogi is as famous for his use of words as he was for his use of a bat and glove. He was a slashing hitter who has slashed up the English language more than once. One of the great “Yogisms” is this piece of timeless advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” There is actually a solid truth behind that puzzling piece of wisdom from old Yogi. When we come to a fork in the road of life, we have to go one way or the other. We can’t just stand there scratching our heads forever, turn back and pretend the choice doesn’t exist, or sit down and wait for someone else to come along and make the choice for us. The reality is that we are constantly facing forks in the road of our lives – and the road we take at these decisive moments will help to shape our lives, the lives of our family, and ultimately even the future of civilization. It’s that important that we learn to recognize the true nature of the choices before us, and then make the right choice. This is the first step toward a life of integrity. Men today are asked to wear many hats and fill many roles. I am convinced that more men and boys are confused today as to what a man is supposed to be and do than at any time in our history. That’s why I want to encourage you to make maximum, nothing-held-back commitment to Jesus Christ the top priority in your life. When you and I are sold out to Him, we can live with the kind of integrity it will take to be a man of God in the twenty-first century. A life of integrity is forged out of the choices we make every day, whether as fathers and husbands or in the workplace. A lot of dads and husbands have abdicated their roles as men of God who are called to lead their churches and their families in God-honoring ways. As the culture around us continues to deteriorate morally, and as the secular world continues to try and push the church into a little “religious corner,” out of sight and out of mind, Christian men are standing at a critical fork or point of decision today, with two roads before them. One of these roads is broad, well-paved, and easy to follow, with plenty of room for one more traveler. The other road is narrow and looks confining. The broad road is filled with people inviting us to join them, while there are few on the narrow road. This is the way Jesus described life’s choices (Matthew 7:13-14). Of course, the foundational choice is our decision to trust and follow Him as Savior and Lord. But life-shaping decisions do not end with our salvation. In fact, for most men this is when some really hard decisions begin because now they have a brand-new orientation and mindset. But whatever the case, we have to make life-shaping decisions all the time. We Must Deliberately Choose to Take the Narrow Road Now a lot of men would ask, “Why should I take a narrow, difficult road when this wide, easy road is available to me, and most of my neighbors, coworkers, and buddies are already on it?” Good question. The reason is that Jesus said the broad road leads to destruction, while the narrow road leads to life. It takes a man of real integrity and moral strength to take the narrow road, because Jesus is not calling us to a life of ease as His disciples. He told us the truth about what it would cost to follow Him, but He also told us the truth about what we would gain by becoming His disciples. Taking the broad road is often the easier choice and the more glitzy-looking of the two roads, which is why so many men today are taking it. The world has been hard at work for a long time lining that road with pleasures and allurements, and all some men can see is clear sailing, with no delays or problems. There Are Problems Ahead on the Broad Road But the world’s road reminds me of an infamous freeway in Dallas, called the Lyndon B. Johnson Freeway. It loops around the city and suburbs, and offers many lanes. But any commuter in Dallas can tell you that taking the LBJ, whether at rush hour or on the weekends, can be a bad decision. It can back up before you know it, and without warning you are sitting in a massive traffic jam with no way out. You’re there in the middle lane, and you can feel the frustration growing as the cars inch along. It’s especially frustrating to be stuck in a jam on the LBJ when the Texas heat is beating down on you, you’re going nowhere, and the jam extends as far you can see. And it doesn’t help when the traffic reporter on the radio tells you the problem is about three miles ahead, and all the exits and side roads are also jammed with people bailing off the freeway. Many a Dallas driver has roared onto the LBJ with everything looking good, only to find very quickly that this broad and inviting road led them straight to “destruction.” Jesus talked about a road like the LBJ Freeway, except that it’s a spiritual road running through our hearts. It’s broad and expansive and offers what looks like an easy path to get where you want to go. The problem is that this road appeals to our selfish interests and desires. Many men have decided they’re going to be their own bosses and go their own way. As a result, their lives revolve around self, because the reality is that when a man takes the broad road, he is on an ego trip. Thus, we see men who have decided to live self-centered, self-serving lives. They are on a dogged pursuit of the power and pleasures of the world, a pursuit that does not include God because they took the wrong fork in the road. But let’s admit it. Sometimes it’s hard for us to see the real picture because a lot of men who are on this road look great. They are enjoying success in their chosen fields and all the perks that come with it. They are recognized and admired. Their homes are beautiful and their lawns are manicured. Their cars are waxed and waiting in the driveway. But the men who live in the beautiful homes and drive the awesome cars are often falling apart on the inside because their lives are built on sand. The Narrow Road Leads Us to True Life That’s why we need to see ourselves and the world around us through God’s eyes. Jesus gave us the real deal when He called the crowd and His disciples together one day and said: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37). I don’t want to sound too harsh here, but we have to face the fact that many men are living life at the animal level. I say that because an animal lives for three purposes: self-preservation, self-propagation, and self-gratification. It’s tragic when men who have been made in the image of God with the capacity to know, love, and serve Him seek fulfillment in the stuff of the world that is passing away. Certainly, I know many men who are very successful and prosperous who are also faithful, committed servants of Jesus Christ. What I’m saying is that we cannot make life’s crucial decisions based on our wants and ambitions, because Jesus Christ measures life by a different standard, and He is calling us to a different pursuit. The Narrow Road Leads to True Victory Did you notice the save/lose, gain/lose language Jesus used in Mark 8? This is terminology men can identify with, because we are all about winning. God has placed within us a strong drive to provide for, protect, and prove ourselves, and now that we don’t have to hunt for our daily food, we seek other outlets for our natural aggressiveness. Women often complain that we can’t do anything without turning it into a competition, and they’re probably right. We love to test ourselves, particularly against other men, and we love to win. But since we were created first and foremost for intimate fellowship with God, we can never be completely satisfied with temporal, temporary victories. There are legions of men who have gained what they went after, but after they got it their victory turned hollow, and now they’re wondering what life is all about. These men heard all their lives how they needed to get ahead, and they did. But after they reached the top of the ladder, they looked around and asked, “Is this all there is?” One of the great statements of this syndrome was made by Muhammad Ali after he had been retired from boxing for some time. His family had splintered, and he was beginning to have the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Ali said, “I had the world, and it wasn’t nuthin’.” I wish we could have that quote framed and hang it in the den or office of every man in this country. That wasn’t a preacher, but the man who before Michael Jordan was the most famous and recognizable athlete in the world. Ali literally won the world in his profession, but the glory didn’t last. We also have a biblical example in King Solomon, the wisest and richest man who ever lived. Solomon had it all to a degree we cannot even conceive of, and yet as his foreign wives and his sensual desires led him away from God (read 1 Kings 11:1-8 and Ecclesiastes 2:1-11), he concluded that life was just “vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). That means a big zero! It’s another way of saying what Jesus said in Mark 8. He left the questions open-ended, but the answers are clear. What do we gain by winning the world at the cost of our souls? Nothing. And what do we have of sufficient worth to exchange for our souls? Nothing. Getting the answer to those questions right demands an eternal, spiritual perspective. From the other side of eternity, the answer is obvious – but by then it’s too late. We can be sure any lost person in hell would give anything to redeem his soul. That’s what the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 wanted to do, but it was too late. We have to make life’s decisions, as the old Sunday school chorus said, “with eternity’s values in view.” We Need God’s Wisdom to Take the Right Road Do you feel that you’re at a key fork in the road in your life? If not, just hang on, because one is probably just ahead. How do we gain the wisdom Jesus was talking about? How do we learn, once and for all, that losing our life in terms of all-out commitment to Him is the way to save it? This kind of wisdom comes only from God’s Word. That’s why I am deeply committed to sharing the Word with men. It’s exciting to see how many men in our church have a deep hunger to be men of God. All of us need to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, and we need resources to help us do that. My prayer is that this book will be a resource for you. And since men usually respond well to a challenge, I like to give the guys in our men’s Bible study something to work on from time to time. I found one interesting exercise in the book Seasons of a Man’s Life, by Patrick Morley, a man whom God is using to speak to men in this generation. Morley suggests that we take a piece of paper and write down the year of our birth, then add eighty years to it and write down the date of our death, with a dash in between the two dates. Then he challenges us to focus on that little dash, which represents a normal life span, and ask ourselves what we are doing with the short amount of time we have between those two dates. Are the things we’re doing adding up to something eternally significant? Are we heading toward fulfillment, or futility? You may be saying, “Jack, this is heavy stuff. Lighten up a little. Let’s talk about the stuff we gain when we come to Christ.” I love to talk about that too, because when you follow Jesus you gain everything worth having. We could even say that the cross is a plus sign. But the Christian life is a subtraction as well as an addition. Jesus said we have to lose our lives in terms of this world before we can save them. Turning to Christ means turning away from sin, self, and the world. It means dying to ourselves every day and taking up our cross to follow Jesus to Calvary. We often talk about the need to make a decision for Christ, because that’s exactly what is involved. It’s coming to a decisive point – an unmistakable fork in the road that leads to two totally different destinations – and saying, “I choose Christ, wherever He leads me.” If you’ve ever been on skis or skates, you know what happens when your feet start taking separate routes. You are going down, because your body cannot go in two directions at once. Neither can your soul. I’m especially concerned about men who are standing at a critical fork in the road today and deciding they can keep one foot in the world and one in the church. They used to be called Sunday Christians, but you can call them cultural Christians or any other term you want. The result is the same, because when a man tries to take the broad road and the narrow road at the same time, his heart is hopelessly divided, and he winds up being miserable in both worlds. You Can Step Up Today and Take the Narrow Road with Christ My brother, you cannot live in the world and in Christ. You won’t get anywhere in either sphere; and more importantly, Jesus will not accept divided loyalty from those who want to be His disciples. The two paths He gave us in Mark 8 are not save/save and gain/gain in terms of being able to enjoy the world’s best and His best at the same time. There is a loss that precedes the gain in terms of surrendering the earthly that we may lay hold of the heavenly. You probably remember the saying, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” But Jesus said, “Keepers weepers, losers finders.” When we lose our life in surrender and sacrifice to Christ, we find the joy, power, purpose, and eternal life He has for us. I’m convinced this is what you want, or you probably wouldn’t be reading this. So let me mention some decisions you can make that will help you as you choose the narrow road. Decide You Will Be a Promise Keeper. I’m grateful for the Promise Keepers movement that has helped thousands of men in this generation discover the power and joy of living for Christ. But every man of God needs to decide that he will keep his promises to God and will be His sold-out follower. He also needs to keep his promises to his family, his church, his employer – and even to himself. Keeping our word is at the very heart of a life of integrity. Decide You Will Be a Pacesetter. A pacesetter is the guy who is willing to step out from the pack and take responsibility to lead. I’m not really talking about being leaders in the public square so much as taking the lead in our families – making a commitment to be there for our wives and children instead of being at the office or somewhere else when they need us. Too many men have let their wives assume the spiritual leadership of their homes, but that’s not God’s plan. I often tell a group of men, “Some of you need to go home and say to your wife and children, ‘I’m sorry. I have not been the spiritual leader of this family, but by God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit, from this day forward I’m going to start leading this family spiritually.'” Values are caught by children more than they are taught. Kids can read us like books, and they can tell from the atmosphere of your home what is important to you. That’s why I hope your home is filled with the fragrance of Christ as your life is being poured out for Him. Decide You Will Be a Prayer Warrior. I could bang the drum here, but there’s not a lot that needs to be said. Is prayer an integral, indispensable part of your daily routine? It’s safe to say that you will never rise higher spiritually than the level of your prayers. The Bible says, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy! Will your wife and children remember you as a man of prayer? Decide You Will Be a Peacemaker. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God,” Jesus said in Matthew 5:9. A man of God is a reconciler instead of a fight-starter. Peace begins at home and then radiates out through the church into the community. We need men who are willing to help mend broken lives, whether in prison ministries, across town, or in their own neighborhoods. Of course, the greatest reconciliation takes place when we introduce people to Jesus Christ. The only way many of the people in our world will ever find out that they can have peace with God through Jesus Christ is if we tell them. You Can Make Moral Decisions That Reflect Spiritual Integrity There is one very critical area of a man’s personal decision making and integrity that I haven’t mentioned yet. This is the area of our moral conduct in relation to sexual purity, in light of the sexual temptation and sin that are all around us. Let me outline some pathways to purity that I believe will help take you toward faithfulness and away from moral failure. The time is long past to be silent about the plague of sexual temptation and the rate at which we are losing Christian men to failure in this area. We are being bombarded from every side with the filth of a sex-saturated culture. And with the use of Internet pornography reaching epidemic proportions among men in this country, we have to be in each other’s faces, as it were, asking the tough questions and challenging our brothers to stay true to their vows and true to God’s Word. It’s different today than it used to be. Most of us can remember the days when morality mattered, even to people who made no profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Sure, sexual misconduct has always been winked at in some circles, but at least those who practiced it hid it for fear of public disapproval. Now it is celebrated. We’ve gone from separate beds for married couples on old television programs like I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show, to sexual free-for-alls in prime time. But if there is any area where a man of God proves his mettle, it is in keeping himself pure and undefiled from sexual sin – whether in the body or in the mind. I think lists are helpful, and I’ll have more for you in upcoming chapters. Here are those pathways of purity you need to take as you come again and again to that fork in the road and desire to make God-honoring decisions in regard to your morality. Accept Your Potential for Moral Failure There is no immunity to temptation. King David was described in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), but you know the sordid story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba that started with a single lustful look (2 Samuel 11). David’s grievous sin also resulted in the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, the death of the child she and David conceived out of wedlock, and a dark cloud of mistrust and murder that hung over David’s family and throne for the rest of his life. God forgave David, but the consequences of his sin followed him beyond the grave as the next generation of his family unraveled. The Scripture says, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). We must recognize that apart from God, every one of us is a target for the enemy. A man named Jeff Ray used to teach at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth when I was a student. One day a student asked, “Professor Ray, how old do you have to be before you stop being tempted sexually?” Professor Ray answered, “Well, I don’t know, but it’s somewhere past eighty-five,” which was his age at the time. If you’re still breathing, expect to be tempted. Affirm That You Don’t Have to Give in to Temptation Sometimes men rationalize their behavior by saying things like, “Well, God made me with these desires,” “Just looking at pictures on the Internet is no big deal,” or, “If my wife were meeting my needs, I wouldn’t be tempted to look for satisfaction elsewhere.” But we have to realize that a victim mentality is bogus. If a man is a Christian, the Holy Spirit lives within him. A man of God needs to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). Aim to Be Morally Pure When the Hebrew prophet Daniel was taken captive to Babylon at about seventeen years of age, his Babylonian masters tried to change his culture, his language, and even his diet. He was given food that had been sacrificed to idols. But Daniel 1:8 says, “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies.” That is one of my favorite verses in all the Bible. Daniel made a resolution to be obedient to God. What we’re talking about isn’t just behavior modification, but a resolve in the heart that is backed by the power of God’s Word and His Spirit and that is reinforced by making right decisions. That will put some steel in a man’s spiritual backbone. As a young man I resolved to be morally pure. This was a high priority for me, and I give all the glory to God that He enabled me to stay sexually pure even though I grew up with the sexual revolution of the 60s breaking out all around me. And over the years, God has strengthened that resolve. There is a wonderful program for youth today called True Love Waits. It has helped hundreds of thousands of Christian teenagers stay true to God and come to the marriage altar with a clear conscience before Him and their families. But let’s not get the idea that sexual temptation and the need for purity is just a teen thing. A lot of single men think that once they get married and their sexual desires are being legitimately met, they will be free from temptation. But nothing could be further from the truth. You and I have to renew our resolve each day to be faithful to our wives and to the Lord. And the good thing is that the more we choose the right, the more we build spiritual muscle and the stronger we become. We’re not helpless in this battle. Abandon All Bitterness in Your Life Hebrews 12:15 speaks of a “root of bitterness” that leads to defilement. Then the writer adds in Hebrews 12:16, “Lest there be any fornicator,” which is related to the Greek word porneia, the word for sexual immorality of all kinds that yields our word pornography. What does bitterness have to do with sexual sin? If I allow hurt, whether real or perceived, to turn into bitterness, I start thinking with that victim mentality again. “Poor me, I’ve been hurt, and I didn’t deserve it. So I deserve a little pleasure to make up for this injustice.” A preacher once told me that he thought he deserved a little sexual pleasure because he had worked so hard and had been hurt by some in the church. Again, these are the kinds of rationalizations, or rational-lies-ations, that we begin to make when we allow bitterness in any form to eat at our souls. Avoid the Flesh in All Areas of Your Life Romans 13:14 says, “Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” In other words, don’t give the devil a stick to hit you with! If you know you are weak in a certain area and you walk into temptation in that area, you’re being a fool. You’re walking into an ambush. Get yourself out of harm’s way. We may honestly say we would never think of cheating on our wives, but we can still make plenty of provision for the flesh by the things we hear, see, and read. The Bible says, “As [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Recalling this verse, one guy said it was a wonder he didn’t turn into a girl when he was about sixteen, because that’s all he thought about. We need to develop some mental toughness in this area. I’ve been working on that because I grew up in the television generation when kids were pretty pampered. It’s just as tempting for me as it is for the next guy to plop down in front of the TV after a long day and start channel-surfing. It takes mental and spiritual toughness to say to yourself, No, I’m not going to sit here and do this tonight. I’m going to say no to my flesh. A man no longer has to make any real effort to find sexual stimuli. The effort comes in removing it from our lives. Almost on a weekly basis I hear about men who are captured by porneia on the Internet. This is rapidly becoming the greatest moral crisis in men’s lives. Abstain from Every Form of Evil That’s why Paul counseled Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). Run from it. This is one time you don’t want to stand and try to fight. The old King James Version says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). That means every time evil raises its ugly head, get out of there. I don’t go to lunch with any woman but my wife, unless it’s in a group. I don’t counsel women in my office unless the door is open and my secretary is eight feet away. You say, “Well, are you that suspicious of women or of yourself?” Not necessarily. I just don’t want to give the devil a foothold. As a matter of fact, I run just a little bit scared because I know what I need to do to protect myself. If a situation looks like trouble, it probably is. But I’m afraid that some men who wouldn’t think of walking down the street at night if they saw a gang of thugs lingering under a streetlight will walk into sexually compromising situations with their eyes wide open. Maybe you remember the sergeant on the old television police drama Hill Street Blues who would tell the officers going out on their shift, “Be careful out there.” That’s a good word for a man of God. Let me also say a word about flirting. Some men love to flirt with women other than their wives. It’s a little game they play. But it’s dangerous, and it is dishonoring to their wives. Don’t tell me women come to you wanting to flirt. I think the truth is that men give off signals that say they are looking. Yes, some women are aggressive; but if you really want to, you can stop that stuff cold. Ask your wife to help you if it’s really a problem. Abide in the Spirit of God Confess to God, “I can’t do this on my own, but I can do all things because You give me the strength.” Don’t say you can’t, when the Spirit of the Living God within you says you can. Arm Yourself with the Word of God The psalmist asked, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Psalms 119:9). Philippians 4:8 is a verse that ought to be tattooed backwards on our foreheads so we can read it in the mirror every morning. One of the areas it commands us to meditate on is “whatever things are pure.” God has made us so that we can really think about only one thing at a time. That means if I’m thinking the right thing, I can’t be thinking the wrong thing. This goes back to our need for mental toughness. Saturate and sanctify your mind with Scripture. If you have to, lay the TV remote on top of your Bible so you’ll be reminded to shut down the tube and open up God’s renewing, life-giving Word. Some of us need renewed minds because we’ve got a lot of dirty pictures on our mental walls. We’ve seen and done some things that are pasted there and are hard to erase. One of the most insidious things about sexual sin is that it enslaves a person. The most sexual organ in our body is our brain. Someone said sex starts in the kitchen, but it really starts in the mind. But, praise God, His Word can cleanse the mind. Affirm the Grace and Forgiveness of God Praise brings power and leads to victory. The devil departs when we praise God. The next time you are tempted in the area of sex, start praising God. And when you fail, confess your sin to Him and thank Him for the cleansing power of His blood (1 John 1:9). Remember That You Must Give an Account to God You cannot sin indiscriminately and independently of your accountability to God. If you are saved, God won’t send you to hell; but you’ll feel like hell before it’s over, if your life goes up in smoke when tested by fire at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:13). We are standing at a critical fork in the road today. The road we take and the decisions we make will determine not only our destiny, but the destiny of our children, grandchildren, and their children. Let’s take a stand for integrity and purity in every part of our lives. __________________ Jack Graham is Senior Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, TX. __________________ From A Man of God by Jack Graham, © 2005, pages 69-84. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, www.crossway.com. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.