The following is taken from a sermon series preached at The Southeast Project. You can listen to the audio of this teaching on our sermon audio page at www.wearesoutheast.org
Bob Carrell turned 75 years old this week. No matter how long you’ve been at Southeast, even if this is your first week, you have probably met this man. He is the one who will come up to you and make you feel welcome and at home before anyone else has a chance. If you’ve been around this place very long, you just know him as Bob.
And while here he may be known only as Bob, for over 40 years he was known as Pastor Carrell as he faithfully pastored six different church communities and made a difference in the lives of countless people in five different states. Lives and families have been changed for generations because my father was committed to sharing the love and message of Jesus.
And while he may be Bob or Pastor to all of those people, to me, he’s always been, Dad. And, I’m so thankful for my dad. My dad is a wonderful example of a man of character and integrity. He was the same man when he was preaching as he was at home. I’ve learned about life, faith, and love from my dad. I’ve learned to accept people and hear their stories from this man who truly has never met a stranger.
If you don’t know my dad, you should count not knowing him as a loss and something you should rectify immediately because my dad is worth knowing. He is a one of a kind, incredible man and will not take you being around my dad very long to realize how much he honestly loves Jesus and loves people.
Today, on the week of his 75th birthday, I would like my dad to stand up this morning so we can honor him. To honor him for his integrity, faithfulness, his service to the church for over 40 years, and for simply being the man we all know him to be.
I told you I’ve always known Bob Carrell as Dad, so of course, that means I have a few stories from growing up with this man. And, most of those stories center on one thing: summer vacation. Like the church version of the Griswolds, every year, without interruption, our family would pack ourselves into our station wagon, attach our pop-up camper, and head out onto the great open road. I don’t know how my parents did it. I’m not sure how we survived. How did they do it without GPS, iPads, and earbuds? Somehow we all survived.
Now, this vacation thing was really important to our family. So, after my junior year of high school, my parents decided we needed to take an epic vacation. So, the four of us in our family got in the car, and we drove east. We didn’t have a destination. We didn’t book hotels. We just drove, and it was the most amazing trip I’ve ever been on. We went to Hershey and saw the chocolate factory, we went to Connecticut to the world’s biggest guitar store, we went to Boston and walked the Freedom Trail, and we ended up in Maine and saw the Atlantic ocean while we ate seafood in a small town. It was an epic trip.
However, the best part of the story is the part of this trip that never happened as we tried to go to New York City. We still talk about it to this day because it lives in infamy in my families lore. My parents were in the front seat, and my sister and I were in the back. We were on this interstate surrounding New York City that was just packed. Cars were streaming by from every direction, buses streaming by, horns blaring, and my dad trying to take an exit into the city.
He’s got his turn signal on, he turns down the radio, and he’s telling us to be quiet as he puts all his energy into getting onto that exit ramp. We can see the ramp coming up, we start getting anxious, and yell for my dad to get over, and he says, “They won’t let me in! They won’t let me in!” And we miss the exit. The cool thing is you can just loop around and try again like 20 minutes later. So, and I may be exaggerating, we did this like 10 times. The ramp comes up, my dad tries to get over, we start screaming as we see the exit go by, and my dad telling us, they wouldn’t let him in.
Finally, after the like 100th try, my dad decides New York City is overrated, and we just head North with everyone else. The man who has never met someone he doesn’t like has found his match in New York interstate drivers. These people are going like 100 miles an hour and could care less where we were trying to go. And because of that, we get in the flow and head somewhere else. We don’t know where we are going, but we know we are getting there quickly.
You know this feeling. Whether you have driven in New York, Chicago, Detroit, or even the spaghetti bowl in Indy during rush hour. You know that feeling of the tensing of your muscles, the concentration, and the intention you have to have, or you are going to miss it.
This is the kind of image Jesus gives at the end of the Sermon on the Mount.
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
In cities like Jerusalem, walls surrounded the city but there were also all sorts of gates that could bring you into the city. And there were these wide roads that led to these gates that became narrower and narrower. These roads became packed with people and animals, huge crowds, and caravans trying to get to different places in the city. Now, most of these people were just trying to get into the city so they would allow the crowd to push them along toward one of the large gates.
However, if you had a specific destination in mind, you would want to take a smaller gate that led to that particular area of the city. So, if you had it in your mind to go through one of these smaller gates you had to have all this intention about trying to get to that particular gate. You couldn’t just meander your way into that gate. You had to have a purpose, intention, and direction or you would get swept away to the gate you weren’t aiming for.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had been talking about being a person of forgiveness, of non-violence, of giving to the needy, of entrusting all of life to God, of not trying to control or judge others, of becoming a certain kind of person in the world. And to become this kind of person, to be serious about the teaching of Jesus, you have to be a person of intention. What we’ve discovered is that choices, motives, and actions do matter.
The problem with the broad gate is that almost everyone else is going through that gate. Everyone is just sort of being swept up into what appears to be normal. But let’s say this together, “Normal isn’t working.” Normal is greed, violence, hatred, racism, mistrust, and judgment. None of this is the way God wanted us to live, and it leads to the destruction of the lives of ourselves and of others.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows us a better way to live. And when he gets to these final words, he gives us this warning that it’s not going to be easy. We can’t just simply believe what he said, we actually have to have intention about living this new way. We are choosing not to be normal. And if you’ve been paying attention, the Sermon on the Mount deals with everything from time to money to sex to relationships. The life that Jesus is talking about is an all-encompassing change that takes place within us of new desires, new priorities, and new direction. Your new normal, if you follow Jesus, will probably look very weird to everyone else.
So the questions become what kind of people will we be and who will we follow for direction as we try to navigate our way to that narrow gate? This is what Jesus says next.
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
So, Jesus went from talking about gates to talking about fruit. What’s he getting at here? Now, I also want to be careful here.
We can forget that whole thing about not judging, and we can get into a whole bunch of self-righteous stuff here. The theological term for the people who judge others, with this passage in mind, are called “fruit inspectors.” And, I don’t think that’s the point. So, what do we do with this?
A few years after this, a pastor named Paul wrote a letter to a church in the city of Galatia, and he also described the life of faith using the metaphor of fruit. This is what he had to say:
…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control…
Paul told these people to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But what’s so interesting is that in the same letter he also called these same people “foolish Galatians.” They didn’t always get it right. So, what do we do with that disconnect? The qualities of our faith are supposed to show up, but we don’t always look like that.
The key to understanding this is found in verse 22 Paul calls this list the “fruit of the Spirit.” We are called to give our lives over to God and allow the Holy Spirit to change us and move us toward life. It may not always look perfect but if it comes from the right source we are on the right track.
My wife just started having fruits and vegetables delivered to our house. It shows up about once per week, and it’s called Imperfect Fruit. Here is how they describe their mission:
1 in 5 fruits and veggies grown in the U.S. don’t meet cosmetic standards – the crooked carrot, the curvy cucumber, the undersized apple – usually causing them to go to waste. We’re here to change that.
The fruit may be imperfect, but it’s still good for you. We don’t need to judge each other for our imperfections; we need to help each other move in the right direction. We need to remind ourselves and each other that while we may be imperfect, God is continuing to work in our lives. And this matters, because we have a purpose. Listen to this as Jesus closes this section with these words:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Some patterns of living are incredibly destructive and don’t lead to life or to Jesus, and sometimes millions of people are headed in that direction. The problem isn’t merely that you could join them on that road. The problem is that we are all called to participate in this thing that Jesus calls the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven. This reality is God’s dimension, but it is God’s dimension in the here and now. This is God’s will done here, where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control become the norm. All of this is found in that narrow gate. And what Jesus is saying is that simply knowing about the that isn’t enough. We have to be intentionally walking towards that reality.
But here is where this get’s very cool. You and I are called not merely to find that gate, but to grab others, and lead them there. The goal is that we begin to move the crowd toward that gate so that what is found there continues to come alive right here and right now until that day that God breaks the gate wide open, tears down that wall, and heaven meets earth for good.
Imagine a world where love becomes the norm. Imagine a world where joy, peace patience, kindness, and goodness define our relationships. Imagine a world of gentleness and self-control. This is the world Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount.
I’m so thankful that my dad as a pastor, a friend, and a father, with his life, showed me that world. I hope that I can be that kind of person for my kids, my friends, and for you. And I hope you will be the same for me. We can’t get to that life on our own which is why Jesus created this amazing community called the church and may we continue to discover the life of Jesus together.