Opposite Life – Wide vs. Narrow

“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

The gateway and its portico had narrow openings all around, like the openings of the others. It was fifty cubits long and twenty-five cubits wide.”

  • Ezekiel 40:25

“In 2012, Henry and I took the largest step of faith we’d ever taken.  With nothing else but a word from God in our hearts, we moved across the globe to Nashville. At that time, Henry began work freelancing as a studio mix engineer and itinerant worship leader. But honestly, we were walking aimlessly into the future with no direction and no sense of financial security.
“I had been wrestling with the concept of the local church because over the years I had seen so much collateral damage. I wondered if the idea of church as a whole was broken, and realized I was struggling with wanting to be part of a local body of believers.  I remember sitting in bed one day with tears rolling down my cheeks and saying to the Lord,
I think the church is broken, and I don’t like it. I don’t believe this is how You intended it to look.
“I felt the Lord whisper these words to my heart:
Alex, don’t hate My church. The church was My idea. Instead of getting mad and disappointed with how many have messed it up, I’m asking you to become the bride I am coming back for. I am asking you to create a place where people belong before they believe. A place where people discover who they are in Christ.
“The challenge of loving God’s church once again felt costly. He was asking me to walk the narrow road, and I knew it would only be possible through Him. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Not being part of a church body that had the potential to hurt me again felt easier. I pleaded with God to allow me to instead be an interior decorator and write books at my leisure.
“During this season God challenged me again:
Alex, who are you without the job title? Who are you without the paycheck?  I answered, “I’m Your daughter.” And He responded with a tender rebuke: Then start acting like one.
And I did. I began to love people. And then seven months later we found ourselves inviting a few friends over for a small Bible study.  Within a very short time, much to our surprise, the group grew to over a hundred people who met regularly in our basement every Tuesday night. A year later, Henry and I were still in denial that this was a church. We had resolved in our hearts that we were just stewarding a place for people to worship and encounter the presence of God, so we did not see ourselves as senior pastors of a church.  …
“The first step to taking the narrow road is walking by faith, not by sight. You must trust God’s wisdom to do what is best for you.  Proverbs 3:6 says, ‘In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’  Also, when you are at a crossroads and wondering which way to go, don’t go by what feels right according to your flesh or what looks the best on the surface. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, ‘There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.’  Let the Word be the lamp unto your feet.
“If you are faced with making a decision between two things and you are being tempted to take the road that looks good and feels better, take a moment and ask God what He wants you to do. Go to His Word. Ask for wisdom. Watch for others to confirm it. Pray and fast.  Maybe the narrow road will lead to the greatest opportunity even if it seems insignificant at the time.”

  • Alex Seeley, The Opposite Life

Alex Seeley touched a sore spot in this chapter, probably among the worst mistakes that I ever made, and I prayed over that decision a lot before making it.

But before we get to that, let us look at the Scriptures.  These are the only verses in the NIV that have both “narrow” and “wide” in them.  Yes, the Matthew 7 Scripture is what Alex Seeley talks about, but the Ezekiel Scripture uses “wide” in a different sense.  Yet, it says that the openings are narrow.  While anyone can pass through, only a few will choose to do so.

That leads me to one uncomfortable issue that I have with what Alex Seeley wrote, “create a place where people belong before they believe.”  The problem that I have with most churches, not just the churches where I have belonged, is that they see a visitor who is just checking out the church, among many, and someone shoves an application form (if they really have such a thing) to become a member in their face.  The visitor has learned little about the church, and the church only sees a warm body that once a member of the church will receive offering envelopes.  It is as if the only interest that the church has in the new person is in their money.  It becomes even more obvious when once they join the church, they are virtually forgotten unless the new members take the initiative to volunteer.

I have always been Presbyterian, but I am only a frozen chosen in that I like a dignified traditional worship service with old hymns, some carefully selected contemporary stuff to change the pace.  I am trying to achieve more acceptance of the contemporary music, but I cling tightly to the old hymns.  I cannot let them go.

But the trend in some Presbyterian denominations, headed by the one I am presently a member is either on the verge of apostacy or is far beyond apostacy.  According to Rev. David Robertson, it is this branch of Presbyterianism that is leading the way in the effort of “Queering the Bible.”  They are starting with a total rewrite of the Bible to draw in the LGBTQ+.

My problem with that one phrase in the Alex Seeley quote is that if they are voting members, you get “Queering the Bible.”  If only true believers are voting members, you get “You are welcome to worship, but if you wish to be a voting member, you must repent of your sins.  For starters, admit that the Bible is inerrant and the sin in your life is sin.”

In reading Rick Warren’s books, he talked about how the inner circle were the true believers and all were welcome.  If what he said in his books is true, they never pushed membership, but once you were performing a mission within the church, “your purpose,” and you were professing with your mouth that Jesus Christ was Lord, and you were living the Christian life all week long, then they asked if you would like to get closer to the inner circle, with even more testing of faith before you finally “arrived.”

In too many churches, you had to be a member before you could lead a Sunday school class, sort books in the church library, or start a valet parking program.  But if you are a voting member and you wish to remove the Bible from the foundation of the church, you are also removing the true foundation, Jesus Christ, and replacing Him with someone named “Jesus,” just a creation of your own choosing.

I have been to modern churches with a contemporary style.  Us old folks have to sit in the lobby because the worship is so loud that it is painful.  Then, I turn to my wife and ask, “Why are we watching this on a television screen in the lobby?  The sofa at home is so much more comfortable.”

But back to what Alex Seeley was setting up.  At this point of having about a hundred people in her basement, she and her husband were offered a church in California for mind blowing stacks of cash, more money than they ever imagined a church might offer.  After a lot of prayer, they chose to stay in Nashville, and the thing that they were not calling a church grew.  They chose wisely and God blessed them.

I promised that I would return to the worst decision that I ever made.  It was when I was leaving the military.

I had four interviews in person and one interview over the phone.  The result was four job offers.  Two of the job offers were insulting.  I had three years of petrochemical experience.  I had a masters’ degree in engineering (mostly chemical engineering, but a lot of mechanical engineering with computer programming added).  And I was presently a captain in the United States Army.  I am not saying that my army skills were transferable, but it showed leadership ability and some additional engineering experience (the Corps of Engineers, building large structures and managing multimillion dollar contracts).  The two insulting offers was to start me at a lower pay than the recent college graduates with no experience and see if I could compete with them.

The other two offers were on the edge of being a pay cut from my military pay, considering I would have to provide for a home out of my salary.  One was from where I had left to go into the military and the other was with a company I had always wanted to work for, doing exactly what I had been excelling at doing in the military, but not in a chemical environment, nuclear instead (and I had a few nuclear engineering classes at the graduate school level).

On one side, my old employer was required by law to give me my old job back.  In the interview process, they learned the location that I was least interested in and the type of work that I was least interested in.  I really wanted to go to their research and development group in Austin, Texas so that I could get a doctorate studying under the professor known as Dr. Chemical Engineer.  I had met the man and he was impressed with my undergraduate research work.  But the company made a clean sweep of offering me my least desired of everything: location, the type of work, and the pay (a slight pay cut from the military).  I determined that they only made the offer due to being required to do so.  They were still suffering from the gas crisis of the 1970s, and they had no desire to hire me.

That left staying in the military or taking the other job that everything seemed perfect.  A company that I always wanted to work for.  A job description that matched what I had done in the military.  A promise to be a manager within the next two years.  And a promise to move into chemical plant operations as soon as an appropriate opening arose.  We prayed, but our minds were already set.  It was a no-brainer.  We moved to South Carolina, leaving active-duty military.  Three months later, I learned that every promise was a lie, including the job.  They wanted me to be an operator and if I kept my nose clean, maybe a supervisor, on rotating shifts, in five years or so.  It was too late, I would lose a lot, even pay, if I went back to the military, and I really was not the military type.  I was trapped.  That did not mean that my employer did not take advantage of my experience and skills.  I worked as a manager to “prove myself,” but in the end they had every intention of never paying me to be a supervisor.

How evil could they be?  I don’t know, but it was obvious that I was not where God wanted me to be.  I had not chosen wisely, but God used my forty years in the wilderness, thirty-three years until I was permanently laid off, to hone me into the servant that I am today.  I could be bitter, but I did not know how to listen for God’s answer, maybe unwilling to listen.  I could blame God, but I made the choice, asking my wife for her opinion.  And when the Bible says that we will suffer in this life, the Bible does not let anyone off the hook if they chose wisely on the first try.

The long and short of it was that one job offer was on a ten-lane expressway and the other offer was a tiny, obscure, even scary dirt road.  The largest ramification from that decision was not that I would never get promoted and eventually have financial problems as a result, it was that we were far from family – no free babysitting, no shoulder to cry on, the emergency flights when it was suspected that my wife’s father would die before dawn.  We learned self-sufficiency, but we were really only treading in deep, rough seas.  Yet, God was faithful even then.

It wasn’t that I was not being faithful in return, but I did not wait to hear God’s answer.  I have always had a problem with patience.  But also, I saw that wide open multilane road ahead and the narrow dirt path disappeared.

Lord, guide me.  Help me to see the path less travelled.  Help me to rely on You, listen to You, wait for Your guidance.  And thank You for guiding me each day, but even now I could learn more about listening to You and seeing those narrow paths.  Amen

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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