So last week was a pretty special weekend. We started a new series and it’s a very important one on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Then Sunday afternoon we headed to Messiah College for what is probably my favorite service that we do each year which is our baptism service. It’s so meaningful to watch people make a public commitment to God, and for me it’s an amazing experience to listen to them share what God is doing in their lives and why they want to be baptized. What a powerful moment it is to watch people speak of how their lives are radically changing because they are choosing to live for Jesus. Watching them walk out into the water and seeing their faces as they come up out of the water is just beautiful, and last Sunday was an amazing experience watching people make that choice. You know for someone like me who has made a choice to be in ministry…those are the moments that are so meaningful because they are so real. In full transparency when it comes to ministry (just like anything we do) there are parts of it that I really enjoy…and there are things that really can discourage or tire me out but it’s moments like the baptism service listening to story after story of what Jesus is doing in people’s lives that are so inspiring…and so energizing to me on a personal level because it’s just so real. So just a beautiful day and moment, and we are so happy for all of you who made that choice last week to be baptized.
So even in my introduction, there were two words that just kept coming up and they are two words that I want to keep coming back to today. The words are “real” and “choice.” What gets us most excited around here is when we make choices to live our lives for Jesus, which would be what we would call real and I want to explain this to you. Christianity is about living your life differently because of what Jesus is doing in your life. So what makes it real is the life change. I pray every week here at MRC, that our worship, our services, our teachings, and all that we do here at MRC would be real…and if you think about it when it comes to church one of the challenges so many of us have is being our true selves. And one of the things that is very important to us is that we can all come in here, to a safe place and be real…no faking it, no masks, no pretending we are perfect or that we are better than anyone else, just being our true selves. This makes me think of something Jesus says as he outed the religious leaders of His time in Luke 12…
Luke 12:2 You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town. MSG
What a ferocious statement here! This obviously enraged the religious leaders, and I want you to think about why this bothered them. I mean why was this so insulting. Jesus isn’t lying…His statement’s true. I think what bothered them so much was that Jesus was exposing something they were able to hide from everyone else. You see these guys looked the part. They memorized scripture. They led the local church. They followed the rules and changed their behaviors so everything looked great on the outside and what Jesus was doing was pushing in on who they really are…in the deepest parts of their hearts where the secrets are, where the thoughts that no one would ever hear are…where things get real and lets face it, we humans aren’t always into diving into those deepest parts of who we are. And frankly I don’t know too many people that would want their motives, and internal thoughts broadcasted out publicly do you! So everything to these leaders of that time was how they looked publicly and Jesus was outing what was on the inside and private in their lives to that public that they wanted to appear perfect to…can you see the rub? There is something really unsettling for so many of us when things start to get real.
You know I have had people come and visit MRC, and decide it isn’t for them because they talk of how real and direct, we are about heart condition. While I view this as a compliment it does confuse me as to why we wouldn’t want it to be so real, so transparent, and so focused on our heart condition. It confuses me because everything that Jesus came to do from day one, was bigger than just a religious event…it was about total transformation. Jesus loves us enough to get past the surface and into the real truth of who we are, that is what mattered to Him…and it should matter to us as well. I think this is harder on us people than we realize. It’s easier to stay on the surface but if you think about it, or read Scripture you see that Jesus loves us enough to confront us, and force us to choose to live one way or the other but what is really interesting is how hard that is for us people to deal with and accept. It’s so polarizing for us and can both attract people and repel them. Scripture told us that Jesus would come and draw this line in the sand. I think one of the most impactful prophecies about Jesus and who we would be is found in Luke when Mary and Joseph first brought Jesus to the temple.
Luke 2:34-35 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” NLT
So here Simeon is holding Jesus is his arms as a baby and He lets us know what Jesus has come to do, and just how penetrating He will be to our lives. Do you remember the two words were talking about today? “Real” and “choice” and I see them both here. Jesus is going to cause many to rise which we are all for that, but Simeon also prophesied that many would fall because of Jesus. This is because Jesus confronts us with a choice in how we will live our lives and what else do we see here? That Jesus was coming to reveal the deepest thoughts of our hearts, piercing our very soul…yeah Simeon just told you that this is going to get real.
Listen, God loves us and He wants into the deepest parts of who we are so that we don’t have to fake it anymore…but that is difficult for us people isn’t it? Letting anyone into the deepest parts of who we are is not an easy thing to do, and the idea of God penetrating our hearts and revealing our deepest thoughts and piercing our very souls…is a little more real than most of us would ever want to be. I think in some regard it’s harder to be real. It’s harder to be honest. It’s harder to slow down and focus on God. It’s a lot easier to just change a couple behaviors, attend a church service on Sunday a couple of times a month, feel better about yourself, and move on. It just seems easier to leave this whole God thing all on the surface of our lives doesn’t it? Maybe for you the word isn’t easier maybe it’s safer that way because I can keep living life the way I want to live it without ever making any real or significant changes in my life and without feeling any convictions about it in the process. Quite frankly this is where so many people get stuck in their faith. They get to a place where they understand that they need God in their life, and they start doing the church thing. They love God and start attending church and may even clean up some behaviors. They stop swearing so much. They listen to different radio stations. They stop going to rated R movies unless Jesus is in them. They stop drinking alcohol…well that would be crazy, let’s say it this way, they stop drinking alcohol publicly. They try to smile more and be nicer to people, and maybe even serve some in their local church…but this is only the tip-of-the-iceberg. In reality cleaning up these behaviors is only around 10% of our lives, and there is another 90% beneath the surface…that no one really sees or knows but you and God. It’s much like an iceberg. What we see above the water barely even scratches the surface of what is going on beneath the surface. This is a great illustration of our lives and it’s the part underneath the surface that Jesus is so interested in…this is where the deepest thoughts of many hearts are revealed…which we read early is what Jesus was coming to do right? This is where things get real…and for so many of us, it is challenging, maybe even painful to dive into the deepest parts of who we are…it’s a lot easier to keep things on the surface…but deep down I think we all know that it’s not enough to look the part and we have a God in heaven who wants to see our lives transformed. He loves us enough to want us to find true and deep healing…but to do that we have to get real.
You know, I bring up culture and the world we live in a lot around here. I try to bring it up so that you can see that there may actually be a deliberate way that the enemy works around us that is hard to see unless you are looking for it. I like to try and expose these things to you. And I think this idea of being fake vs being real or keeping things nice on the outside while everything is a struggle on the inside is a behavior that we are really taught our whole lives in the world we live in…just like the religious leaders back in Jesus time. First, we want to look good to people…we want people to like us, we have been wired by God with a need for people and community and I think our enemy uses that against us. Can I ask you something? How endearing is it to others to be honest and transparent with them about your weaknesses and short comings? Yikes, right? Then let’s add the way we live our lives today in a world of social media…of sharing filtered pictures of the highlight of our lives, and we can look so good with the push of a button. Everything is about image in our culture. Projecting perfection. The world sets us up to live superficially lives while God is after our hearts. Even as I write this, I think of the prophet Samuel looking for the next King of Israel…and what does God say?
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” NIV
God’s way of thinking and the way He wants us to live our lives is just so opposite of our instincts as people. We tend to place a much higher priority on the outward appearance while God would say what really matters is what is going on in our hearts. We people look and see the nice house, the nice car, the nice clothes, and the smiling faces and think that person is doing great, without even knowing if they really are doing well or not. We can have all those nice things and the smiling face and the perfect pictures posted to our social media, and still be a total mess where God would say it matters most…on the inside. If we are really honest today, we can know that behind the smile and all those nice things is still a broken heart and hurting soul. So we look great on the outside which is what our human eyes see, while God wants us to get real…and to do that we must engage the heart and the depth of who we are on the inside…which isn’t so popular a message is it? Well, we love you enough here at MRC to engage into what is most important, even if it isn’t really all that popular…and I think I’m hitting that nerve pretty hard today as we talk about being real, and the choice that Jesus confronts each and everyone of us with…and maybe it’s a little risky because the scripture even said earlier…many will rise but many will fall! Remember that? It’s polarizing, it’s yes or no…and at some point, in each of our lives we enter a crossroads…where Jesus confronts us with this choice to live for Him or not. This really leads me into the scripture that I wanted to study with you today which is found in Matthew and is all about the idea of the choice that each person must make. So today we are building on the idea that it isn’t a very popular thing to talk about, but I can walk you all through Jesus teaching and show you time and time again as we did earlier, how Jesus confronts, and pushes in on us, and exposes the deepest parts of who we are…and I want you to understand this is done out of love. So today I want to really focus on Jesus’ words here in Matthew 7…
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For 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.” NIV
This is going to be an important conversation, and I want you thinking with me today as we really step into this teaching. I told you I wanted you thinking about two key words today…we have hit the idea of “being real” pretty hard, but I think it’s this idea of “choice” that is such a big deal in who we are going to be as people. Have you ever noticed how many choices you make in your life? I mean if you really stop and think about it, life is just one choice after another isn’t it? We are always choosing to do one thing or another. You woke up this morning to choices, will I go to church or not. Where will I eat lunch today. Life is one choice after another isn’t it? Something that always has interested me though is how polarizing it is for people to be confronted with the choice of living for God or not. I guess it’s just not supposed to be this clear when it comes to the God stuff. This is off putting for so many people. Clarity seems to be scary, but I will be honest I crave it! No one wants it to be so straight forward, but I want you to see something today, this is what Jesus came to do…to confront us with a choice. You have a God in heaven that loves you enough to give you freedom to choose…and we love that, as long as no one makes it as clear as I’m making it today! But this is what Jesus does right? We saw it earlier, he is coming to expose our hearts and penetrates our souls…and here in Matthew 7 we see Him confronting us with this choice. Leading us to a crossroads in our lives. There is a narrow and small gate that few go through, and we are to go that way, while everyone else takes the broad gate and larger road which leads to destruction. I love the wording here in the NLT…
Matthew 7:13-14 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” NLT
Hmm, so I can only enter God’s kingdom through this narrow gate…that doesn’t seem fair culturally does it? I love that in the NLT we see the word choose. This is a big moment and it’s something we need to understand about our faith and life in Christ. Jesus is leading you to a confrontation on how you will live your life, and you will choose to live it one way or the other. This idea of the choice on how we will live comes up a lot in Scripture. Moses comes to the end of his incredible life of leading the people of Israel and look how he challenges the people…
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 “Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy. “But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” NLT
Think about what Moses is saying, think about how deeply he cares for these people. Think about how intimately close Moses has been to God. Literally talking with God and having God move through him on behalf of these people in ways that were simply miraculous and here at the end of his life he is commanding them to love God, literally begging them to live for God…knowing that in the end they must choose to do so. Moses is leading them to the same choice Jesus is talking of here in Matthew.
I’m telling you I could walk you to this idea over and over again in Scripture…God seems to be leading us to this choice. Jesus loves us people enough to confront us, leading us to this crossroads or choice, even showing us the ramifications of the choice we make and I really want to spend some time here in this idea of the choice and why so few choose it…especially if Jesus says one leads to life and the other is a literally pathway to hell. So let’s get into this a little deeper.
Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For 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.” NIV
Jesus is confronting us in this passage with a choice. There is a broad and easy way which many people take…and there is a narrow, harder and less popular way to live your life which few take. Many take the easier more popular way and it leads to death. Few take the narrow or harder road which leads to life. This is so interesting to me, few take the path Jesus invites them to take even though they know the outcome of the choice. One leads to life, one leads to death…this choice should be simple, but most people choose the broad road which in the end leads to death…instead of choosing a harder or less popular path that would in the end lead to life.
It’s interesting isn’t it? So who in the right mind would choose death over life? Who would choose hell over heaven? Who would literally say, “thank you Jesus for leading me to a crossroads in my life where I need to choose…hmm, you know what Jesus, I will take death! Thanks!” That sounds so strange, but it happens all the time, it just sounds bad when I say it so clearly. So why would so few choose life? Well if you think about it we people aren’t looking for more work, or more discipline, or less fun and more challenges and adversity in our lives are we? Well I think this becomes the challenge. The broad road is easier to choose for a couple of reasons. First, it’s fun right now and it really allows me to enjoy this moment with no thought on all of eternity in front of me. There isn’t a lot work involved, I’m just doing my thing. The broad road also means I don’t have to live with priorities or intentionality, and I can just go with the flow and do whatever feels good in the moment. But in the end, it may seem fun but this way will sacrifice you and I living out this life to the full thing that Jesus literally came to provide us. So few choose the narrow road because in the end it’s a life lived with discipline and priorities and God focus. You seeing a lot of that in the times that we live in today? It’s a way that rewards all of eternity to come and will mean living a life fully submitted to God, rather than just feeding your fleshly desires in the now, and while it may seem like the fun is on the broad road…there is true joy and depth and purpose found in life lived on the narrow road, but so few find it…which is sad if you ask me.
I wanted to give you some practical imagery of what this choice can look like in our lives and I will use distance running. My sons love to run and run for their schools in both Cross Country and Track. I have really come to enjoy the sport, because it is just so pure. Your time is your time, and the work you put in behind the scenes really matters. I’m really proud of the work they put into running. They run every day…rain or shine, all off season long, if it’s a hundred degrees or below freezing and then what is cool about that is, they both have success on the days of their races because of the choices they made leading into the race. You see everyone wants to look good on race day, but it’s pretty clear that not everyone chose to run all off season to be prepared on race day. So to tie this to our teaching today, every runner on their team has a choice. They can go out all summer long and run, and work at being in great shape when no one is looking (which I would call this the narrow gate) and what is interesting is the coach tells them, if you do this you will have fun during the races. So they understand the product of choosing to work hard, long before the race starts. Or they can choose to stay in the air conditioning and play video games (I would call this the broad gate) and their coach is very clear on what that choice will look like on race day too. So why would someone who loves running and wants to be successful on race day choose to stay in the air conditioning and play video games over going out in the summer on a 95 degree day and run…even knowing that there is a ramification in the future? Well it’s because one way is simply easier than the other. It’s because one way allows me to do what I want in the moment, and the other way means I’m sweating, and working, and tired at times in the now, but it leads to a fun and successful race day in the fall.
It’s really the same with your Christian journey and this is exactly what Jesus is trying to help us see here. Jesus leads us to the choice. He shows us what the ramification of our choice will be…but He allows us to choose and what is amazing is how many people choose what appears to be easier, or more fun in the now…and just choose to ignore the ramifications that come from these choices. You know I’m not a distance runner but I can imagine it’s not a lot of fun to get to race day and realize you should have made some different choices a long the way. And I can tell you that when it comes to your eternal destiny, we don’t want to come to the end of our lives and realize we made the choice to enjoy life in the moment at the expense of all eternity to come…because eternity is a really, really long time.
As we jump into this fall series on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, I think what you are going to see is that we are leading you to a similar crossroads in your life. The life we are inviting you into would be a life where you choose discipline, focus, and intentionality. This may mean at times that you are choosing a challenging path that in the end leads to life. This series can lead to real life change as we look to learn how to do three things.
- Slow down and pay attention to God.
- Discover who God really is, and who you really are.
- How to break free and choose God in a culture trying to pull you away from Him.
These three things sound simple but this is what it looks like to choose the narrow road. It is all about doing the heart work needed to live a real life in Christ…this means focus, priorities, intentionality, and discipline in a world screaming that none of those things matter to today. So God loves us enough to confront us, to lead us to this crossroads with these choices, and whether you realize it or not, we are all making a choice and it’s our prayer that you choose the narrow road which leads to life and life to the full because we want this life in Christ to be real for you not superficial…and we want you to choose to live a life fully submitted to Christ, which leads to real life change and true and deep healing and transformation…the way I see it life is one choice after another…and Jesus is leading us to the most important choice of all…and your answer to the question literally becomes a matter of life and death, so what will it be. Will you choose the broad or the narrow road? One-way may appear more fun than the other, but even that may be a matter of perspective. I’d like to leave you with this scripture we read today one more time, this time in the Message version…
Matthew 7:13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.” MSG
So today I would like you to have some time and space as we close to search your heart. Personalize this for a moment, think about it. Is your Christianity real? Are you the same person at church that you are at work, that you are at home? Do you struggle on the inside while smiling on the outside? Do you wonder why going to church isn’t enough? Do you wonder where this life and life to the full thing is that Sam and Ken bring up all the time? Well if you have these questions welcome to life…because I think we all do…and if you have these questions and are living in this internal tension it’s because Jesus has led you to this crossroads and you need to choose. Will I go through the narrow gate, or the broad gate?