It’s Halloween. I saw some kids dressed up in costumes and saw some adults dressed in what I hope were costumes… strong wardrobe choices today.
How many of you are taking your kids trick or treating today? It’s really ok… you’re allowed to raise your hand. This isn’t a trick question. I saw the hesitancy on some of your faces…are we allowed to admit that…?!?
I love giving out candy during trick or treat. It’s fun to see the different things people dress up as. Some of them are ridiculously cute… others absolutely disturbing.
Just a little heart-to-heart, trick or treat tip today… if you see an older teen dressed up, trick or treating with friends, please hold back the urge to say something like “aren’t you a little old to be doing this?” Listen, they could be doing a lot of things right now… drinking your booze in the basement… making out in a car somewhere… or both. So please, it may seem silly to you, but just hand over the Snickers and let them hold onto their innocence for one more year.
If you’re hangin out with us for the first time today… welcome. We’re in the midst of a teaching series called A Better Way. Wrestling with how there’s got to be a better way to navigate life without all the judging and the finger-pointing. The tension and irritation. Despair and division. Ya know… where's the grace? The peace? The answers? Where's the manual for all this? There’s got to be a better way.
Everyone say, “a better way."
There’s gotta be a better way.
There’s gotta be a better Halloween costume than CHUCKY this year...
Kelly and I handed out candy at Three Rivers trunk or treat and I was amazed and terrified at the number of Chucky costumes I saw. Listen, few things creeped me out growing up as a kid but that little Chucky doll… nope. Not today. It’s a wrap. Nightmares for days.
Google released the most popular Halloween costume based on nationwide costume sales, and you know what… Chucky was #10. Are you kidding me? Terrifying.
Cruella De Ville #5
What do you think #1 was??
#1 was a witch. That was a little surprising. Can’t go wrong with a classic.
Batman #26… The Joker #21. What kind of world do we live in where more kids want to dress up as The Joker than Batman. There’s got to be a Better Way…
In our text today as we are finishing up Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7…
We get to this moment where Jesus is wrapping things up, and it feels like Jesus takes a breath and looks around at the crowd. He sees three different groups of people… those that are following him, those that are just listening and sorta curious, and those that oppose him, the Pharisees, the super religious people.
I think it’s safe to say we have those same three groups listening in today.
And with these three groups in mind, Jesus starts to be very pointed with his final thoughts. Here at the end, he’s pointing us to four statements that present the question, are you in or out? Are you going to follow me or not?
Verses 24-27, Will you build your life on a solid foundation or sinking sand?
Verses 21-23, Are you gonna love me or just try to impress me?
Verses 15-20, Are you gonna listen to teachers that make you feel good or a teacher who is good?
And in today’s text, verses 13-14…
Will you choose what is popular and comfortable or will you choose Jesus?
All four of these statements from Jesus lead us back to “What are we gonna do with Jesus?” Are we in or out?
And there are very real implications attached to how we answer that question.
Now before you get any ideas, some of you may be disappointed, and others may breathe a sigh of relief, (remember there’s always three types of people in the room)…
Just know, I’m never going to be a hellfire and brimstone preacher. Turn or Burn. I’ve seen those guys. They make a career at selling fire insurance, but they’re not very good at changing lives.
Listen, there are very real implications for how we answer the questions: What will we do with Jesus? Are we in or out? Are we with him or against him?
But approach is everything.
I have no desire to use scare tactics and guilt trips. I’ll leave that to religion. I’m more interested in taking my cues from Jesus, not the religious know-it-alls.
Meeting people where they are, letting them know they matter, letting them know they are loved. Building up trust to be able to speak the truth in love. So please know, even as we dig into four very pointed sections of scripture… hear my heart…
This ministry is all about offering people a better, healthier way to navigate their lives. Offering people HOPE for this life, right now, AND the next.
In Matthew 7, verse 13, Jesus says this, "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."
Lots of things to unpack in these two verses. A couple of things that jump off the page right away. Two gates, two paths. One is small and narrow. One is wide and broad.
Then there’s a reference to people choosing the gates. Many will choose the wide and broad gate. Few will choose the small and narrow gate.
Then there’s a warning or caution sign letting us know where each gate leads. One leads to life. One leads to destruction.
So, if I were to tie it all together… I’d say it this way - popular isn’t pretty. In this section, Jesus literally is talking about a better way or path to go down. But the better way isn’t the popular way apparently.
Man, it’s too bad this bible thing isn’t relevant to our struggles today.
How easy is it to choose to do something or not do something because that’s what the majority of the people around you are doing or not doing? And before you say, “Jon, I’m not a sheep, I'm the sheepdog. I’m a leader, not a follower” just tread lightly here… there’s a reason Jesus (not me) says few choose to follow this better way.
Jesus says many people will choose the popular way instead… so why is that? He says the popular way is broad and wide.
What do we like about highways that are wide? (I'm not talking about 71/75 South at 5pm near downtown.) In general, wide-open lanes... it’s convenient, you can move at your own pace… it’s roomy and comfortable. I mean, who doesn’t love roomy and comfortable…oversized hoodies and sweatpants? Of course, this is the popular choice. But listen, Jesus isn’t calling us to a life of oversized comforts. Jesus is not a Snuggie.
Jesus will comfort you… absolutely. But he does not call us to a comfortable life. He calls us to a “pick up your cross and follow me” life. Of course, this isn’t the popular path.
Who wants to choose the narrow and small way of life that requires being pushed out of our comfort zones, and requires us to change, and sacrifice, and be inconvenienced?
Let me ask it this way… why in the world would anyone ever choose spandex over sweatpants?
Who remembers when spandex came on the scene in the 80s? This was the absolute worst thing ever given to humanity. Unless you are a professional athlete with negative body fat. Unless you fall into the 0.5% of the population that falls into that category. No one looks good in SPANDEX.
Trick or Treat tip… if you’re looking for that last-minute costume at Target or Party City today, don’t choose anything with spandex.
It’s a bold choice, and you know I like bold choices, but trust me… I love you enough to tell you… spandex is not your friend. Spandex was made to make you miserable.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever tried on spandex? Let me expand the net here… has anyone ever worn an under armor base layer? Cold gear…
Kelly and I ran the PIG yesterday. It was so good to get back out to a race after so much time off during COVID. It was an incredible race day. Kelly and I ran together the whole time which we’ve never done… just a great experience running downtown, through Covington and Newport. But let me tell you about yesterday. We’ve been training for the last several weeks, I was starting to feel good about myself. My jeans were fitting a little nicer. I was starting to think… “ok… you still got it.”
And then yesterday happened.
It was a little cooler and raining… so I was like, ok, I’ll put on my under armor to stay warm.
As I stood there in all my spandex/under armor glory… starting to feel good about myself… I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Let me tell you something… I don’t got it.
Why in the world would we put on something that accentuates every little defect. Every blemish. Every roll. Every saddlebag. Every dimple that shouldn’t be a dimple. Every little imperfection and put it on full display?!?!
We may have had a great time running together yesterday, but I’m never letting her see me in spandex.
The day I look good in spandex is the day I’m in Heaven. When I’ve been given my new and perfect body. I’m gonna have my hair back… have zero body fat… just gonna be hangin out, all day long, in spandex… loud neon colors, too.
But until then… of course, I’m choosing sweatpants over spandex.
What if (hang with me), Jesus calls us to a life that is more like spandex and less like sweatpants? What if he doesn’t want us to hide all of our stuff, all of our imperfections… under the convenience and comfort of sweatpants? What if he wants our imperfections on display? What if he’s calling us to an authentic life where things aren’t hidden? What if he is calling us to a life of transparency that not only shows where we need him, but shows the world that even with all of our imperfections… he accepts us.
Even with all our flaws and brokenness Jesus chooses us and says we’re worth dying for. He calls us chosen, masterpieces, children of the King. With all our imperfections and blemishes, he calls us beautiful, strong, loved, redeemed, protected, powerful and free!
So why should we hide all that??
What if choosing the narrow path wasn’t just about the eternal significance, but more about what Jesus can do in us, with us, and through us RIGHT NOW?
What if His name is lifted even higher and His kingdom advances even further if I put his craftsmanship on full display?
What if we DID choose spandex over sweatpants???
Listen, I will not be responsible for our wifi servers suddenly crashing because of the number of people on their phones ordering spandex from amazon right now.
Jesus says this better way, the way of spandex… ha… (this is the way).
He says this way is the road less traveled.
The Jesus way, the small and narrow way isn’t easy.
In John 16, verse 33, Jesus says this, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
In this life, you’re gonna have struggles. Life is gonna be hard. But Jesus says, those who follow ME… in ME… you can find peace in the middle of the storm. He doesn’t stop the storm, but he does offer shelter in the midst of it.
In Matthew, chap 11, verse 28, Jesus says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
There is a road less traveled because many people think this way is too hard. They just don’t know that Jesus makes the impossible possible. He takes our burden and replaces it with rest and grace. He gives us our life back.
For some, they don’t choose this way, because they’ve simply never seen a Jesus worth following. They’ve only ever been beaten up by religion or religious people and so they want nothing to do with this ‘other way.'
What has stopped you from taking the road less traveled? We’ve all got places in our life where we’ve not fully continued down the path with Jesus. Some have never started… some just veered off course.
In the gospel of John, chapter 10, we find Jesus talking to some folks that have veered off course, the religious know-it-alls. Verse 7, Jesus says this, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
Jesus wasn’t winning any popularity points here.
In one breath he lumped the super religious and the enemy into one category and said anyone who isn’t with me is a thief that leads people to destruction.
Needless to say, the religious leaders weren’t happy about this and, later in that chapter we read they start to pick up stones to try and stone Jesus to death.
Jesus had a knack for saying things that created some awesome awkward moments... like in those Southwest Airlines commericals where somebody does or says something that nobody else likes and they’re like “wanna get away”…?
Several years ago, I was traveling on Southwest, back from Seattle by myself, and I was just exhausted. I had a layover in Chicago, my next flight didn’t take off for another two hours.
So, I went to my gate, found a seat by the jet bridge and decided to take a nap… knowing that once they started boarding for my flight to CLE, I’d wake up. I set my alarm, just to make sure.
So I fall asleep… an hour and a half later, my alarm is going off. And I wake up in a panic… there’s no one around me. No one is boarding a plane. The plane I’m supposed to be on that is about to finish boarding.
I stand up and I’m freaking out. A gate agent comes over seeing my obvious panic and says "Where are you trying to get to?" I say Cleveland and she says, “There’s only gate for CLE, and this ain’t it.”
She tells me where the gate is and of course it’s on the other side of the airport. In my exhaustion, I must have read the departure screen wrong.
So now I’m that guy running through the airport… you know that one person we all make fun of when we see them ugly running at the airport… just looking foolish. Yeah, that was me.
Jesus says, I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. This gate is not popular. But listen… there are a lot of other gates out there that will try to lure you in to destroy you, but I have come that you may have life and live it to the full.
Are you at the right gate? Where are you trying to get to?
Your gate Determines your Destination.
There’s only one gate that leads to life. Lots that lead to death. Both in this life and the next.
And just so we’re all on the same page… the gate comes before the path. The order of the text in Matthew is important.
… small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life…
If you get this out of order that’s where you get into a “I can earn my way to Jesus." If I walk the straight and narrow then I’ll get to Jesus and Heaven.
The gift of salvation and abundant life is only through a faith decision when we claim Jesus as our lord and savior. You can’t earn it. You can’t live a ‘good enough’ life to win the prize. It is an underserved gift.
Jesus is the gate that leads to a life of fulfillment, purpose, and peace… joy, it’s a path that brings healing and hope and heaven to earth, to our lives, to our families and communities, right now.
This is the road less traveled. This is the gate few choose.
We all know there’s lots of different gates to choose from…
Are you at the right gate or are you asleep at the wrong one?
Are you at a gate that is making promises that don’t deliver?
The gate of porn, pills, or popularity. The gate of success, sex, savings and more stuff…
Don’t buy what they’re selling. They all lead to being unfulfilled.
Oh, don’t hear what I’m not saying… you’ll have some fun along the way… it’ll feel good for awhile… cocaine and whiskey will give you a rush… lots of money and stuff will make you FEEL GOOD!!
Listen, it all thrills you just before it kills you.
In the end, all these other gates will leave you empty and alone… depleted… desperate… and ultimately, destroyed.
Please hear my heart…
There are gates that bring Hell to your life and you to Hell…
And there is a gate, named Jesus, that brings Heaven to your life and you to Heaven.
I love you enough to keep it real and not sugarcoat it. I want you to feel the goodness of God more than I want you to feel good. I want life for you, but some of you are asleep at the wrong gate thinking it’s gonna lead to life.
I want each of you to experience the abundance of life that Jesus offers. Yes, it requires sacrifice. Yes, it requires exposing where your flaws and imperfections are. It requires us to stop hiding our brokenness. It requires choosing spandex over sweatpants.
But a life committed to Jesus as lord and leader changes everything.
It allows us to love and be loved in ways we never thought imaginable.
It gives us a front row seat to life transformation.
It brings dead things to back to life.
It invites us into a Kingdom mission that brings healing and hope where there used to be death and destruction.
Jesus says, I am the gate. I am the way. I am the truth. You don’t get to the Father except through me.
What will you choose to do with Jesus?
Will you choose spandex over sweatpants?
Will you choose to be the few or the many?
Which gate will you choose?
We started today talking about how in this section of scripture Jesus is drawing a line in the sand and saying… are you in or are you out?
I think today of all days, is a great day to make a decision of which path we are choosing to follow. Or to make a necessary course correction. So, I’m just going to ask you a couple things.
If you’ve been following Jesus for awhile now and you find yourself asleep at the wrong gate… there’s some area of your life where you have drifted away and it’s time to course correct, I invite you to stand in a moment, we’re gonna pray with you.
If you’ve never made the decision to follow Jesus as lord and leader… you’ve been hangin out at all kinds of different gates and today you find yourself ready to choose Jesus for the first time, I invite you to stand, we’d like to pray with you.
If you’re here today and you’re willing to join these people standing to let them know they are not alone and they have a community around them that is in the battle with them, I invite you to stand…