Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Hold on to instruction; do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way. For they cannot rest until they do evil; they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble. They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble (Proverbs 4:10-19).
Many years ago as a Boy Scout, I forgot my flashlight and had to make my way at night across a ridge and through a valley while returning to the main camp. Once down in the valley, there was barely any moonlight. It was difficult, even impossible, not to make wrong turns and become lost. It was a nervous and harrowing hike—and I was very glad when I saw the light of the dining hall in the distance. The memory of the small amount of fear and danger of that evening, when I might have lost my way, has never left me. Imagine then the terror a person might feel in the vast wastelands of the ancient world.
Life is a series of choices. Sometimes in unclear situations, day in and day out we decide what course of action we are going to take—what path we are going to follow—in a variety of situations. The character of our decisions depends not only on what we know but also upon our experience and our character. C. S. Lewis describes the importance of the decisions we make this way:
[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. 
Choices are important, because our choices determine who we are and what kind of person we are going to be now and in eternity.
This morning, we are talking about the importance of choices—and in particular about the importance of the fundamental choice we make concerning how we will approach life. Proverbs describes the basic decision we make in life as a decision among fundamental path we might take to guide our life. There are basic choices we all make in life. Those basic choices determine, for better or worse, our future. 
The Two Paths.
One constant theme of wisdom literature is that we all make a fundamental choice concerning how we will live and what will guide all the choices we make in life. Everyone has a basic orientation in life. We have a basic way of seeing the world. Human beings always make motivated decisions. That is to say, we decide what to value and what to do based upon our perception of the advantages and disadvantages of a particular choice. We normally choose the path we think will lead to our happiness, one way or another. Many of the motivations for our choices are unconscious and may involve our human brokenness. Consequently, it is important for us to be conscious of our motivations and control them.
Wisdom literature presumes that there are basic orientations we all have that guide our decision-making. Often, this basic orientation is described as a decision between two paths or ways of life. Sometimes, these two ways are described as the choice between the Path of Wisdom and the Path of Foolishness. On other occasions, they are described as the Path of the Righteous and the Path of the Wicked. On occasion, they are described as the Path of Light and the Path of Darkness. Finally, frequently the two paths are characterized as a Path of Life and a Path of Death. The first path (the path of wisdom) leads to life, wholeness and happiness; the other path (the path of foolishness) leads to frustration, failure, and death.
Psalm 1 is a kind of poetic meditation on the two paths. It reads as follows:
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Psalm 1 beautifully portrays the results of two paths. Those who love wisdom and righteousness are like trees in a fertile field by a stream of water growing strong, healthy and fruitful. Those who love the way of wickedness and foolishness are like grass planted in the desert. When the winds of life blow, they dry up and die. Our basic choices in life matter because our ultimate happiness depends upon our basic choices.
Listen to the Voice of Wisdom.
Years ago, I had an opportunity to backpack across Europe. One day in Athens, I had an experience that has impacted my life in a big way. For some reason, I was left alone for a long time. I sat on a bench in a museum and stared for close to an hour at a statute of Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom. Athena, if you know of her, was a lovely maiden and an athlete—a huntress as well as the patron of wisdom in Greek culture. The ancient artist who carved the statute I was looking at did a wonderful job. Athena was presented with one arm and hand outstretched as if offering someone standing across from her a gift. The brilliance of the sculptor was shown in the expression on her perfectly lovely, composed face. Somehow, despite portraying Athena as quiet, calm, and composed, he or she left an impression of sadness upon her face, as if the goddess were offering the human race a gift she knew they would not take the gift of wisdom.
Over and over again in wisdom literature, two ladies are portrayed as vying for the attention and devotion of the human race. The two ladies are Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly. For example, in Chapter 9 of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom is pictured as preparing her home for a party:
Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight” (Proverbs 9:1-6).
This image of wisdom as a lady crying out from a prominent place in an ancient city urging human beings to follow her path and enjoy the riches she offers appears over and over again in wisdom literature (Proverbs 1:20-33; Proverbs 8:1-11). Even more frequently in Proverbs, wisdom is portrayed as a parent urging a child to follow the path of wisdom and good behavior. Always, financial security, honor, peace, long life, and blessing are promised to those who follow the path of wisdom and resist the always-popular path of foolishness and immoral behavior.
Do Not Listen to the Voice of Folly.
There is another lady Proverbs presents to us over and over again. It is the voice of Lady Folly. Lady Folly is portrayed as a seductress, luring human beings into a life of infidelity, violence, foolishness, darkness and evil (See, Proverbs 5:1-23; 7:1-27; 9:18-18). Proverbs 9 is interesting because it begins with a description of Lady Wisdom and ends with the following description of Lady Folly:
Folly is an unruly woman; she is simple and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” To those who have no sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead (Proverbs 9:13-18).
In this little passage, Lady Folly is seen seducing passers-by into a life of thievery. In other passages, she is pictured as enticing human beings into a life of infidelity (Proverbs 7:1-27). In still other passages, folly is seen as enticing a person to violence (Proverbs 1:10-19). In all cases, the result is pictured as punishment, destruction, and death: physical (See, Proverbs 1:18; 2:18-19; 7:27; 9:18) and moral (4: 19; 6:33).
I am afraid that the voice of Lady Folly is loud in our society—so loud that she often drowns out the voice of wisdom and reason. The media constantly portrays the pleasures of illicit sex, and seldom pictures the ruined lives that too often result. The media often glorifies violence as a solution to human problems, and seldom pictures the terrible results violence always brings with it.  The media often glorifies illegal behavior and a person who takes advantage of others because of their intelligence, and seldom the human suffering that results in real life. We may think we have outgrown the wisdom of the ancient world, but the voice of Lady Folly is the loudest voice of all in our culture today—and listening to her seductive voice ruins many lives. Unfortunately, the young are always the most vulnerable to the voice of Lady Folly.
Walk on the Path of Life.
This has been a Great Banquet Weekend, so I could not help myself from sharing the picture I have on the screen for the final slide this morning. Just as I was finishing the first complete draft of Path of Life last fall, we had a Great Banquet at Camp Pinecrest. One evening, it rained, and then the sun came out. Several of us had just left the Dining Lodge when we turned around and saw the loveliest rainbow you can imagine. It seemed to cover Camp Pinecrest. Kathy took a picture from a bit down the road entering into the campground looking towards where the guests were located with a tree, which could be the Tree of Life illuminated in the background. You could see the road leading towards this vision of life. I wanted to use it as the cover for the book, but the publisher thought it was too busy. Nevertheless, to me it symbolizes the Path of Life.
We all want our children and grandchildren to have happy lives. Almost all parents want their children to avoid some of the mistakes they have made. Unfortunately, our society is not taking the steps that are necessary if our hopes and dreams are to come true. We have come to believe that it is easy to make good decisions, that if we live pretty much like our friends and neighbors we will find the joy and happiness we seek. Unfortunately, the evidence is to the contrary. Americans today are more worried, have more emotional problems, are in more financial bondage, and feel less hopeful about the future than ever before. The key is to stop being like everyone around us and to start being like Jesus—to start being attentive to the voice of the wisdom of the ages in Christ. It is true, as Jesus said, “…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
It is easy to walk on the Path of Foolishness, at least at the beginning, and hard to walk on the Path of Wisdom, at least at the beginning. However, in the end, it is hard to walk the path of foolishness and it leads to a kind of death and destruction. The Path of Wisdom, on the other hand, leads to life. In Deuteronomy, Moses asks the people whether they will choose to follow the Lord or other gods. He describes the choice they will make as a choice between life and death, and then urges them to “Choose Life” (Deut. 30:19). We all make fundamental choices. Wisdom literature urges us over and over again to “Chose Life.”  It this message we need to give to our families, our friends, our nation, and our world in these troubled and dark days.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London, England: Collins Fontana Books, 1952), 82.
 Most of this sermon is taken from my book, Path of Life (Eugene, OR: Wipf&Stock, 2014).
 See, G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love (Cordova, TN: Shiloh Press, 2010). The Bible and Tao of ancient China warn frequently about the danger of violence.
 Moses puts it this way, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (Proverbs 30:19).