The Real Life Narrow Way Pictured


I’ve been off the grid for a bit, partly because of spending a week at the NorCal Pastor’s Retreat. This retreat, by design, was retreat from everything resembling a normal, daily routine, including cell phones, text messages, internet service, television, indoor plumbing, private bathrooms, etc.

For me, the retreat also served as a kind of metaphor for the Christian faith. On the drive in to this mountainous area of northern California, I was struck by how precisely the drive mirrored the Christian’s pilgrimage through life.

Jesus Christian Life narrow way persecution pastorsThe driving portion of the trip began with a very crowded arrival at San Francisco International Airport. I proceeded from there to a crowded train which took me to a very crowded rental car area. Apparently, a large number of folks desire to fly into San Francisco. (Are there tourist attractions or something?)

Not only are there a great many folks visiting San Francisco, but there are also tons of people living there. So, I drove north toward the mountains on a crowded U.S. 101.  The further north I drove, the less crowded the roads became. Still, U.S. 101 is a freeway in California. Therefore, it was still crowded with residents and visitors heading into and out of the beautiful wine country of Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties.

Once I left the freeway, however, the crowds diminished severely. The road from U.S. 101 to Potter Valley, CA, is as unpopulated as, say, the road from Dry Prong to Tioga in the rural center of Louisiana. As it turns out, not all of California is crowded. Anyway, leaving the freeway focused more sharply the lesson this trip offered for Christian living.

First, the retreat was accessible only to the determined. It was not located in a place which one might “happen” to see. A sign at the last intersection before heading up the hill made the point plain: “No Outlet.” As Christ taught is disciples that the kingdom life is one in which both hands would be fixed to a plow looking forward (Lk 9:62), so, too, this sign made clear that one need not hope to simply wander through or pass by this retreat setting. There was no way out.

Those who say they “tried Christianity, but it didn’t work,” prove only that they were never on the kingdom way. They prove, as John says, that they went out from us because they were not of us (1 Jn 2:19). Maybe in our discipleship, we ought to tell would-be Christians that the road begins with a sign that says, “No Outlet.” One is either “in Christ” and “on the way,” or he is not.

Second, as the road continued further toward its end at our retreat setting, another sign appeared. This time, the sign had an even more Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingunmistakable Christian message: “Road Narrows.” That sounds a lot like Jesus Himself:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The beginning of the journey in the sought-after Bay area of San Francisco ended in this remote, desolate wilderness with no one around. The road was already small and unoccupied, and, yet, it was still getting smaller, and more narrow, and less traveled. Christians need not wonder that they often feel alone. They are on the narrow way of life. As the road narrows, the crowds shrink.

Finally, the road itself not only narrowed but became rough and more difficult to traverse. There were potholes and washouts along the shoulders. Eventually, the patchy asphalt gave way to gravel and dirt. By the end of the journey, the road simply disintegrated into the retreat setting, a quaint, rustic Bible camp complete with outhouses and dinner bells to ring in campers three times a day for a hearty meal.

The illustration here is obvious. There are times when Christians mingle with the masses and live in the world. Yet, the more prevailing reality for Christian living is that—even when we are in the world, we are not of it. We are always on the narrow way that leads to life. Our life is promised to be (1) one way, from earth to the heavenly presence of Christ; (2) more narrow—and thus often more lonely—than the way most in the world travel through their time on earth; and (3) often difficult. As Paul told the Christians in Antioch (Acts 14:22),

Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingthrough many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Tribulation Now for Nigerian Christians


 

Usually, I love debating theology and the finer points of Christian doctrine. I am a pastor and a professor; I am supposed to love such things. But there is one aspect of doctrine that tends to provoke my inner Mike Tyson.  I go nuts whenever I see or hear some modern day prophet spewing his end-time apocalyptic fire.

Typically, such “prophecies” warn Christians (ur, American Christians) about some latter day tribulation that will be intolerable (unless you believe in a pre-Trib rapture). I find such claptrap to be both uninspired and downright deplorable. Nigeria gives us just one reason why.

In Nigeria, between 25-30 Christian students have been murdered by Muslim terrorists.  The students were in their rooms studying for their college exams—just like your Christian persecution Nigeria tribulation kids and my kids are (supposed to be) doing week after week in their apartments and dorm rooms.  Suddenly, armed Muslim terrorists broke into their rooms, called them out by name, and killed them either by shooting them or by slitting their throats. Why were they murdered? Because they were Christian and not Muslim.

Imagine if this were your child. Imagine your son, your daughter, working hard to get entry into college and trying to study to improve his or her future, only to be robbed of that future by men who fashion themselves Allah’s executioners.  What right do these men have to decide that your child should die today? Can you imagine the agony of these mothers and fathers today, as they now must struggle to find a way to bury their children?

I dare say it would be cruel to speak to these parents and warn them (like a prophecy preacher would) of some horrible time in the future which might include intense persecution for the church. That future is now for Christians all over the world. Tribulation is now for Christians in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there has been violence against Christians every single day since November 2011.  It seems to me they are facing tribulation now on account of Christ. Persecution is their normal day.

Rather than prophesying to Christians about some future apocalyptic persecution, the Apostle Paul made a regular practice of encouraging Christians by telling them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Fear-mongering by futuristic prophecy preaching only works from the comfort of America, where examples of suffering might include sitting in uncomfortable pews or enduring painfully loud drums in the worship service.  In Nigeria, they are not afraid of the future prospect of persecution because their present reality is a call to survive, to endure, to persevere to the end of their tribulation and receive their white robes and new names in the presence of the one whose eyes are flaming fire and whose tongue is a two-edged sword, razor-sharp with truth and justice.  Undoubtedly, their thoughts are Christ-ward as their souls cry, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”