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Dirt Paths of Influence

August 27th, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 2: 20-22 (NLT)

 20 Follow the steps of good men instead,
      and stay on the paths of the righteous.
 21 For only the godly will live in the land,
      and those with integrity will remain in it.
 22 But the wicked will be removed from the land,
      and the treacherous will be uprooted.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

In my time at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, no other professor was more intriguing to me than Dr. Bruce Wheeler.  I first met Dr. Wheeler when I was still a high school senior and was applying for the scholarship that I would eventually be graciously awarded.  Dr. Wheeler was one of the faculty who interviewed me and I remember the lasting impression that he made.

He was a professor of History.  I’d put him somewhere in his mid-fifties, although he looked younger.  I think his youthful demeanor was more a result of attitude and outlook than physical characteristic.  His mind was as sharp as any I have encountered and he had a way of pointing out obvious truths that were seemingly hidden among the shadows of academia.  And since I eventually became a History major, I encountered him time and time again throughout my tenure at UT.  

But the illustration that I best remember from Dr. Wheeler came in a freshman scholarship seminar that I took.  He had us read, of all things, a very cheesy 1950’s smutty romance novel.  Yeah, real scholastic.  Here was a man who had literally written the textbooks that I would use years down the road . . . a man whose office wall was completely covered in honor society certificates and doctoral diplomas reflecting a lifetime of study . . . a man whose knowledge of American history made you feel that he might have actually been at the signing of the Declaration of Independence . . . and he assigned us a romance novel.  What a deviation from my expectation, but that was Dr. Wheeler’s way.  

I’ll never forget that he pointed out to us that all around the Humanities plaza (the same sight of the aforementioned street preaching incident– see blog history) there were sidewalks that were the obvious pathways to various destinations around campus.  But across the huge lawns that surrounded the plaza were “other” pathways. These were never planned by university architects or laid out meticulously by skilled masons.  No these were simply dirt pathways- long, narrow, and surprisingly well-defined.

How did they get there?  They came to be because some students figured out alternate, more time-effective routes to their classes than just using the sidewalks.  When Dr. Wheeler pointed it out, each of us in his class instantly knew what he was talking about- mostly because we usually took those dirt paths instead of the concrete ones.  Those paths just made more sense and for decades, UT students had traversed them independent of the conventional plans of university leadership.

As we conclude our discussion on the second chapter of Proverbs, we are again faced with a father’s plea to his son to choose the right influences.  In this passage, we see what positive influences can do instead of just being warned about the negative ones. Solomon urges us to “Follow the steps of good men instead, and stay on the paths of the righteous.”  

When I consider this truth, I’m reminded of the power of imitation.  So much of my own lifestyle and outlook on life has come from imitating my dad and mom.  In like manner, my little Sadie will learn the majority of her first life lessons by imitating her mommy and I.  At the heart of humanity is the influence of those whom we choose to imitate– to follow.

For younger people, this concept can be a slippery slope because they are sometimes inclined to choose the wrong “right” person to be their unofficial guide through life’s winding trails.  Wisdom here would say that we should only follow someone who knows where they’re going and who walks correctly to get there.  Asking a fourteen year-old what the best method is for braking in a vehicle while coming down a mountain is probably not the best idea?  Why?  Uhh, because they don’t have a license and they’ve never driven on a mountain . . . hopefully.  Equally as comical (and foolish) is following someone down a path who has never walked there before and does not have the same ideology or destination as you do.  This is just asking for a collision.

All around us are the worldly expectations of where and how we should walk, but God has placed people in our lives who are courageously blazing dirt trails towards the correct destinations.  As this passage says, they are people who are “Godly”– people of “integrity.”  Trust me, these kinds of people will be easy to spot because their path will be obvious detours from the world’s architectural design.

They will not only reach their goals (or what this scripture calls “the land”), but they will “live” there when they arrive.  This means that these individuals are getting there the right way and that nothing can stop them from being established in their place of integrity.  They will leave a lasting legacy by their lifestyle and love.

Of course, this passage doesn’t mean that we should ever let a human being be our primary influence in life– that honor should always fall to God.  However, never overlook the people whom God will place in your life who will walk the path before and show you the correct way.  For me, my parents.  My campus pastor at UT, Chuck Lester. My pastor and ministry mentor, Andrew Wharton.  My best friend, Jonnie.  My lifelong love, Laura.  And there are several more, as well.  

God’s love and directional path for my life has thousands of times been made clear to me through the influence of these Godly individuals.  So, I try to walk in their steps and follow the path that they help me find through prayer, wisdom, and unconditional love.

So, like Dr. Wheeler said, we must take note of the dirt trails, for they are the evidence of those who find the best routes to their destinations.  May I be found walking in the steps of the good people God has placed in my path.



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