Thursday, May 21, 2015

Take The Narrow Road

Early on in His ministry, Jesus gave this crucial piece of advice, “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." (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV)

I've always loved the imagery in this passage - a narrow gate, a wide gate, a broad road, a narrow road. Jesus is the master of lessons by illustrations. There is no teacher greater, no professor smarter, and no lecturer with more skill or authority than the Lord. He can deliver a simple, brief lesson using everyday, common terms understood by all, but yet have a double meaning. Such is the nature of His many parables - short, simple stories describing a physical scenario but having a spiritual message. 

When we read the above passage, we visualize two contrasting gates, each the entryway to a path or road. Each gate is the same width as the road that follows, however, the two gates are very different. One is wide, and one is narrow. It's interesting how the one that is wide and spacious, and perhaps more inviting, is the one that leads to destruction. Yet, it is the road that more will choose. 

But isn't that the nature of Satan and his ploy? After all, sin is enticing at first. But then it leads to all kinds of consequences. It destroys. It ruins. So it is with those who choose sin and unrighteousness. 

On the other hand, the road that is narrow is the correct road to take. It may be more difficult to walk, it may be more challenging, it may be a more disciplined walk, and certainly it is less popular, but it's the destination in the end that counts. You've probably heard the term, "walk the straight and narrow." Most likely this is where it came from. It means to do what's right and honorable, and avoid what is evil and wrong. We must stay on course and not waver. "Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path." (Proverbs 4:26)

In both the wide road and the narrow road, the reward is not the journey, but what's at the end of the line. However, it is a journey, it is a road, and it is a path to an end. For those who choose the more attractive wide road, it may be short-sightedness that influences their decision. After all, the wide road appears easier and smoother. As for those who choose the narrow road, wisdom and Godly conviction prompts their decision. It's another story of instant gratification verses eternal reward. 

What's interesting about this particular teaching of Jesus is that it basically consists of one simple piece of advice, just five words that guide us, "Enter through the narrow gate." That's really it. Enter through the narrow gate! We may not know what's on the road ahead, and we may not know how long the journey takes or what it entails, but we know one thing for sure, we know it is the gate we are supposed to choose. And we know why. It leads to life. And you know what the opposite of life is. 

Unfortunately, the ratio of good to bad in His illustration is not good. Most people do not choose the road that leads to life. The majority head toward destruction. Less find life than those who find destruction. Since the words and truths that Jesus teaches will never change, this ratio will never change either. Sad.

The bottom line is this - we have a choice. We must choose which gate to enter - which course to take through life. The journey is up to each one of us. The good news is this - we are able to choose wisely because Jesus tells us which way to go. And He will guide us all the way. "The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you." (Psalm 32:8) And for those who don't know the way, who are lost, guess what? We need to guide them into the correct path.

The teaching that Jesus gives regarding the wide and narrow gates is surely an important and essential life lesson. And it's one we should take to heart. I'm always reminded of it every time I hear the words of the famous poet, Robert Frost, from his poem, "The Road Not Taken". He talks about two roads as well, and his concluding thought is one I fully share. 

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference." (Robert Frost)     -  Amen!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

To Everything There Is A Season


"To everything there is a season
a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace."

King Solomon, son of David, brilliantly contrasts the good and bad experiences of life in the above passage (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). There's a time to grieve, but there is also a time to dance. There is a time to be quiet, but there is also a time to speak. There is a time to scatter stones, but there is also a time to gather stones. There's a time to be born, and ultimately, there's a time to die. It's the big picture of our lives. It's the good times, and it's the bad times. It's simple, but it's perfect. And in the grand scheme of things, it makes us realize one very important truth - we are all alike. 

Life involves change, constant change. Nothing stays the same and one thing always leads to another. These words of Solomon are timeless. They apply to everyone, past, present, and future. His words are just as true today as they were thousands of years ago. They transcend culture, race, and gender. They apply to those who are rich and those who are poor. They describe the basic human condition of every mortal who ever lived and whoever will live.

I find that every time I read this passage, I get a feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia is both pleasure and sadness that is caused by reflecting on something from the past. And as I read this, I reminisce on things in my life and see that there really is a time and a place for everything. And the older you get, the more you see how the words of King Solomon hold true. No one can dispute them. But how can something so simple be so profound? I suppose because it hits on the basic undeniable experience of life itself.

There is much value in this passage. First of all, I think it brings us hope in bad times. How? Because it makes us realize that during a rough season of life, better times are coming - that the bad times will pass. It makes us understand that bad times are temporary. 

Secondly, I believe it brings appreciation for the good times, that we should enjoy them while they last because they are fleeting. Everything is fragile in life. When we are in a good season of life, we should savor the moment, thanking God for the blessings.

And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, these words of Solomon should make us acknowledge God's sovereignty regarding the seasons of life. "God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time." (Ecclesiastes 3:11a). God's timing is perfect. He is in control, and He has ordained an "appropriate" time for all things.

To everything there is a season - a time for every purpose under heaven."

That's just the way it is.