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
I was asked last week in a meeting why I was traveling to the Northwest. I said, to speak at a Baccalaureate service for the graduating class at Tumwater (WA) High School—the Tumwater High School Thunderbirds! They all said, “Well, that’s kind of random. Why would a pastor from the Southern California desert be asked to travel all this way to speak for twenty minutes?”
Well, you’re not going to believe this, but I’m also a proud Thunderbird! Yucaipa High School (Southern California), Class of 1971. We were the Yucaipa Thunderbirds, no joke! Which must be, in the grand scheme of things, why God specifically chose me for this event. I looked it up—there are only 51 high schools in the country called the Thunderbirds. So, I’m pretty sure I’m the only speaker for a Baccalaureate service at a Thunderbird High School, who personally graduated from a different Thunderbird High School—maybe ever! So, you have to admit, that could be considered as nothing short of epic!
Randomness aside, I talked to the graduates about choices, and how our culture has provided us with so many. But also how researchers have discovered that this proliferation of choices have created a new syndrome they call Consumer Paralysis. In the quest to give consumers exactly what we want, our culture has become extremely stressed out. Because we now live in a world with so many options, we have a hard time making a decision and moving forward! I passed a display the other day at Costco for Peanut Butter Cheerios. Peanut Butter Cheerios? I believe that now makes sixteen different kinds of Cheerios. When I graduated from High School, there was one. Nobody ever asked, “What kindof Cheerios do you want?” The only question I heard was, “Do you want a bowl or not?”
That was my challenge to the graduates. Not, “What kind of Cheerios do you want?” but, “Do you want a bowl or not?” Just when life’s complexities are about to bury us, Jesus enters the conversation and simplifies everything instantly.
I listen to Jesus for two basic reasons. One, He always seems to be right about everything. (I like being right.) And, two, He simplifies everything. (I’m a simple minded guy.) In Jesus’ world, the question we face, whether we’re Thunderbirds or not, is really simple, “Will we continue to follow Jesus, or not?” He both rightly and simply reduces all of life down to two basic options—you can choose to walk the broad road of popularity, which leads to destruction, or you can choose to walk with far fewer people on a narrower road, but one that leads to life.
His is a very simple premise. He said, “There’s a clear correlation between the road you choose and where you end up.” So, this is His advice. “Decide on a destination before you choose a road.”
The wide road is the road of diverse choices and permissiveness, a world where all religions claim to lead to Heaven and all opinions have equal weight. A world where there is no absolute truth, only relative ideas. There are no curbs on that street or centerlines to give a sense of order or purpose or direction. The gate that leads to it is wide, so no discretion or discernment is needed.
There are a lot of your contemporaries on that road. So many, if fact, if you choose to follow it, you probably won’t even need to use your legs—just stop and you’ll be swept off your feet and carried down that wide road by the sheer mass of people propelling you forward. The only problem is, it leads to where you don’t want to end up. It leads to destruction.
You see, that’s the thing. In any other conversation, you would never just say, “Let’s go somewhere, it doesn’t matter where we end up, as long as the road is wide and smooth.”
It’s like getting on a plane at the airport. There are over 5,000 planes in the air over our country right now, with three-quarters of a million people in them, and they’re all going where they thought they’d be going when they boarded those planes. If you think that’s not the case, you can go ahead and test Jesus’ advice. Drive to your local international airport, pick a gate and you will end up wherever the little sign on that gate predicted that particular plane would be going. Or pick a destination and you’ll be told to go to a very specific gate. Pick a gate or pick a destination—but when you pick one, you’ll be stuck with the other. Jesus said the same thing. Nobody gets to mix and match.
“Here’s another idea,” I told them. “Look around for some old people. Look at their marriage, their kids, their reputation, and ask yourself some questions. Do you want your marriage to be like theirs in thirty years? Do you want your kids to be like their kids, or your reputation to be like their reputation?” Decide where you want to go, find someone who’s already there and ask them, “Hey, through which gate did you board that plane?”
Let’s be intellectually honest here. When you decide to follow Jesus, by default, you’ve decided to bypass a lot of other gates.
The Sea of Galilee provided the backdrop for much of Jesus’ public ministry. One day, He approached a small group of fishermen and offered them a choice between two lives.
“No doubt, you men have mastered the craft of fishing for fish, much like many of the men who live near this same water. Fishing is a noble vocation—one that can provide you esteem and a comfortable living for your family. In fact, you can join the rest of the fishing ventures in this part of Israel and keep fishing for fish, and you’d probably have a pretty good life. Or...you can follow Me and, if you do, we will change the world together.” They didn’t hesitate—the very next verse tells us that, “Immediately, they left their nets and followed him.”
That’s the choice that you, me and everyone else faces, whether we’re Thunderbirds or not. It may have absolutely nothing to do with a choice of college or vocation, whether you get married or remain single for the rest of your lives. Not that those decisions aren’t important but, all of them aside, everything eventually boils down to one simple choice. Who are you going to follow, the culture or Jesus?
Choose the culture and get ready to fight the traffic.
More traffic, more stress.