ORDINARY PEOPLE , THE NARROW WAY AND GRACE

The MSG version of the Bible says that God has not revealed himself to the sophisticated people but to the little ones, the children, and the ordinary folks. See below in Matthew 11:25-30.

25-26 Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.” (I have left out some verses that don’t affect the context.)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

 

‘Know it alls’ need not apply.

 

So what about theology, philosophy and the other ‘sophisticated’ means of understanding God? Well, Jesus himself was wearied by the lack of simple trust on the part of the ‘smart’ people. It’s very simple, this Gospel. Simple enough for a child.

Jesus comes as the very presence and essence of God among us and invites us to place our confidence in him for every aspect of our lives. He says to us that he is humble and being his apprentice, or student is not as difficult as might think. It is surely not as difficult as the religious leaders made it for the first century people with their 613 laws to follow. Jesus will in fact, at some point, say that the two great commandments are to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (See Matthew 22) Paul will even break that down for believers in God already when he says the whole law is summed up in ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ (See Galatians 5:14)

See living with Christ is only difficult when you leave decisions about life till the last moment instead of trust him all the time and practicing that trust. It’s a relationship, a daily connection with Jesus.

Sometimes, though, we read another passage in the Bible and get nervous about this ‘faith’ thing. You might remember in Matthew 7 that Jesus says enter through the narrow gate.

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

We westerners misunderstand that verse to mean that the way to salvation is through the narrow gate, like you have to have your life so in order to get into heaven but no, Jesus means something very different.

Jesus is saying that if we want the fullness of life that he offers right here and now then come to him, take that easy yoke and learn from this gentle and humble master how to best live.

When I was in the Coast Guard Academy we had a leader of our platoon who was exemplary for his apprentices. He put us through some rigorous activities and exercises and here’s the thing. He did everyone one of them with us to show us that they could be done and that this training would prepare us for the life for which we signed up.

Jesus will never ask us to do anything or live in any manner that he has not lived or understood. Remember, he is God. He is the full expression of our Father in heaven and we are asked and invited to live as he lives, in love with those nearest to us.

Let me give an example:

Here’s the wide way, the large way to live- someone curses you, gives you the finger or cuts you off on the highway. The world says, cuss ’em out, blow them off, and curse the suckers. That’s ok but…and here’s the thing (again) by doing so you and I will not learn the heart of the Father revealed in Jesus.

The world says that when someone wrongs you get even. That ‘way’ is broad and you can wander it to your delight but Jesus invites us into the Father’s heart by saying ‘forgive’.

Now the wide path is full of reasons, good reasons NOT to forgive. The narrow path along which Jesus walks has one purpose: to have the heart of the Father.

Certainly all of us will graduate to the sky. Not sure of a better phrase. And that’s fine but I for one want to live with Jesus who says to me, ‘Take my hand, I will lead you even when you don’t know where the heck you are going.’ But he has laid out the plans for our lives.

See, anybody can get married and that’s about it for most people. A vow, a ring and a few words and voila. Married. But followers of Jesus want more. They want love, a love that is shared and a love that cares deeply for the ‘other’ first.

Most anybody can build a house (well that’s arguable). Some nails, wood, a hammer and you could put up some kind of structure. But if you want to live in that home you need to follow the teachings of a master builder.

Jesus isn’t laying down a law that says if you don’t do such and such God won’t love you or accept you. No, certainly not. That’s not grace. Jesus is simply stating that living the ‘good’ ‘full’ and even ‘abundant life’ means looking for the best way to working with him, to access God’s grace.

If this life is ‘just’ about being forgiven then we can consider ourselves ‘in’. Scriptures says such in John 1:29 and 2Corinthians 5:19. But if we want LIFE a life that will last forever then here’s the little path through the woods, through the entanglements of life and the temptations for self- sufficiency. Here’s a life of love with the Father, Son and Spirit.

These folks to whom Jesus is speaking are just ordinary folks with no degrees. They are gathered on a hill in Galilee. And they were looking for a Messiah, a purpose, and deliverance. Up to now they were excluded by their world. And Jesus words become a gift to them.

By the way, the narrow way may appear difficult at times. No doubt. But not to worry. Jesus will make sure you get through. All you need is the will to find it.

 

Just Good Enough

Luke 13:24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

In high school I had grades that were just good enough to make the ‘honor society’, but never to achieve loftier goals of any academic excellence. I played baseball just good enough to make the team but not to be very good. I played various musical instruments just good enough to get by but never really well to be the best at any of them. I have come to discover that just good enough is not really ‘good enough’.

And so sometimes I think have faith just good enough to be accepted into God’s kingdom, love that’s just good enough to care about a certain number of people near me and some who live on the fringes of life.

But Jesus says to exert myself or as the original language says, ‘strain every nerve’, or we might say to strain every muscle or fiber of your being, to step into the way of grace where with God nothing is impossible and where we can be the best and give God our best. Like those two women who made it into the Army Rangers, straining every ounce of muscle, energy, and emotional stamina to be not just good enough to get by but to be the best.

For me it has to do with my thoughts, my prayers, my reading of Scripture, my search for good fellowship and worship and striving to live my life as Jesus would live his life in me.

And as my grandfather used to say, ‘we don’t want to do it just good enough. We want it to be ‘right’’. Amen. And in this day the world needs to experience the excellence of a Christian witness that is much more than ‘good enough’.

 

A Tight Squeeze

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy [a that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. –Jesus in Mathew 7

We don’t go willy-nilly into Kingdom Life with Jesus. He inaugurated the Kingdom on earth and explained it in the Sermon on the Mount and invites his hearers to follow him, to listen to his words and do the things he says as a way towards transformation of their hearts and a way to build strong and joyful lives, knowing that no matter their circumstances they can place their confidence in him and experience the Kingdom life.

He calls the entrance into this kind of life a narrow gate, a hard way yet one that leads to life. We cannot enter it unless we are vigorous, trusting and obedient. It’s just the way it is. Life is like that in so many ways. I like the analogy Dallas Willard uses in his book ‘The Divine Conspiracy’. He writes that a math teacher tells his students, ‘Unless you can do decimals and fractions there is no way you will be able to do algebra.’ Some of us have had that experience. You can’t just do life your own way. There are ways and means and disciplines that are strenuous but lead to better life and I the case of the Kingdom, eternal life.

If you want to play the piano there are elementary things you must do first like learning the keys and the scales and then you must practice, practice and practice some more to be good and to enjoy the piano.

If you want to play basketball you must learn that the ball needs to go into the hoop and not in just some vicinity of the basket. You must learn how to dribble, pass and work as a team or you will not make it.

If we are going to follow Jesus then we must know the way that Jesus teaches, the path he sets for us. For example he tells us to forgive. If we say ‘no’, then we will never experience God’s forgiveness. That’s just the law of Kingdom life. Do we want to live that way knowing Jesus is the greatest teacher that ever lived and he is the Son of God as well? He tells us to pray, to love, to rest, and to trust and he tells us to believe that we are the children of God, that God is our Father, our Abba in the intimate Aramaic term.

He tells us there is a door of self-denial through which we must pass. It’s narrow, stress producing and confining but through it leads to open, freeing, joyous life. Not biological life but God’s eternal life that begins now.

Jesus says to stay in his word, read his word. Read it over and over until you have mastered its contents and then mastered its heart, the heart of Jesus. Those words in the Bible have life in them. Paul writes somewhere for us to let them dwell in our hearts.

I live in a gated community and to take my dog, Lucy, for a walk I have to enter through two posts where two different gates come together separating the properties. It is one tight squeeze and here’s the thing, if I gain any more weight I will not be able to get through. Through the gate is life and a long beautiful walk through the woods. Through the narrow gate is life with Jesus, with God’s spirit, with the Father. I don’t have to lose weight to get through but I might just need to lose ‘myself’.