Last Sunday night was a beautiful autumn evening. We hadn’t changed the clocks yet and so the sun sat low on the horizon as we stared at the breath-taking fall sky. We decided we had enough light remaining to take a short walk along the path we have behind our house. Our two dogs danced excitedly at our feet as it dawned on them what we had decided to do.
I have never seen a dog smile, but when we take our dogs for a walk I sometimes think I almost see them smiling. They are never happier than when they are exploring the pathway ahead of us. We think nothing of it and let them wander to their heart’s content, while we walk and talk.
Surrounding the path are corn fields,woods, and brush, with lots of places for our small dog, Belle, to explore that our Lab could never reach. And this particular evening Belle decided to follow her nose into the deepest parts of the thicket.
She is a dog, so she has no capacity to stop and think: Is this wise?
Which is too bad, for dangers abound in the thicket.
Hours later, while we were watching football, my daughter had Belle on her lap. Suddenly she cried out in dismay, “There’s a tick! And another one! And another one!”
My husband and I walked over to take a look. Sure enough, there were several small black things with legs that looked suspiciously like the dreaded disease-carriers.
Ugh. I hate those things.
How thankful I am for a husband who will do the honors of removing ticks (and splinters!) and so I found him a tweezers and he started removing the ticks.
Within a few moments, he had removed eleven of them!
Along with the ticks, he found several harmless burrs clinging tightly to her chin that were making it hard for her to open her mouth.
This romp through the thicket had been more costly than most.
The next day I gave her a bath and found one more tick lodged at her eye. I gathered my courage (is that what it’s called when you do something you absolutely don’t want to do?) and removed it myself. A dozen ticks in all.
At first, we thought they were deer ticks because they were so much smaller than the normal ticks we normally find around here. But after doing some googling and then later talking to the vet, we came to the conclusion that it must have been a nest full of just-hatched dog ticks.
As I bathed her, I thought of the possibilities of lyme or another tick-born disease. She seems fine, but now we will be watching her to make sure. But it seems unlikely (thankfully!), as they were not deer ticks and they are the ones that usually carry the disease.
So why I am telling you about my dog’s romp in the thicket?
Because we so often do the same thing!
We Christians will be traversing the straight and narrow and doing pretty well, too. But then something distracts us to our right or left. Or sometimes behind us. And we stray off the path.
We do have the capacity to ask ourselves: Is this wise? But, normally, that is not the question we are asking ourselves. No, our question often centers more around our selfish desires and whims and looks more like this: Do I want this?
Since we have a whole culture encouraging us to do what makes us happy, we consider that the blessing of man and move off the path into sin.
But how rarely we come away unscathed.
Some of us will get away with a few harmless burrs. Others will find a tick or two clinging to them. An unfortunate few will give their lives for their whims and come down with some terminal disease. At the very least, our clean, snow-white garments will become stained, torn, and dirty and the name of Jesus disgraced.
While sin looks like a blast, it rarely is. And the ironic thing is that while we chase after our happiness, leaving the path of righteousness to chase after things of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21 below), we really are eroding our only opportunity of true joy and happiness, which is to follow God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).
Psalm 16:11 puts it this way–You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Following our own path does not lead us to joy and, more likely than not, will lead us to heartache.
I am truly amazed at the amount of people who call themselves Christians and yet regularly commit these sins, without conviction and generally defending them to be acceptable, listed in Galatians 5: 19-21: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
As if somehow these are no longer really sins.
As if God has changed.
But God hasn’t changed. And we are to avoid these things. Not only to please God but also to protect ourselves.
My pastor said something so profound yesterday about this whole topic of sin in our lives. It is something we should all consider as we leave the path of holiness and righteousness to chase after our dreams in the thicket:
Holiness always comes before joy and happiness.
Compromise with the world will not lead to happiness. Sleeping with that co-worker will not make us happy. Getting a different husband or wife will not make us happy. Getting drunk will not make us happy. Neither will cheating on our taxes, lying to stay out of trouble, or filling our minds with ungodly entertainment.
But following God whole-heartedly? Staying on the straight and narrow path? That is how we experience true joy and happiness.
Which is such a wonderful truth, isn’t it? God has designed it so that, in pleasing Him in all that we do, we actually are at our most joyous, happiest selves. True believers are not sad that they can’t join the world or participate in all its “fun” because we see it for what it is.
I love that God loves us and cares enough about us to bring us true peace and joy in following hard after Him. What a gracious and kind God we serve.
So let’s stay far from the thicket. Whatever beckons from the deep underbrush will never be worth the price we pay for it. Instead let’s keep our feet on the path of righteousness, living a life of godliness and purity, setting a glowing example for those who are following after us.