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No “Mulligans” In Life

Matthew 7:13-14

You can tell that I am just back from some vacation time because my mind today turns to the subject of golf—that most divine and most devilish—that most heavenly and most hellish of all our earthly pursuits. Just recently I came across a wonderfully humorous little book on golf entitled “Mulligan’s Laws: A Lifetime of Golfing Wisdom from the Genius Who Invented the Do-Over.” Here are some of Mulligan’s Laws:

  • A golf match is a test of your skill against your opponent’s luck.
  • Since bad shots come in groups of’ 3, a 4th bad shot is actually the beginning of the next group of 3.
  • A ball hit to the wrong green will always land 2 feet from the hole.
  • If there is a ball in the rough and a ball in the bunker, your ball is in the bunker. If both balls are in the bunker, yours is in the footprint.
  • No matter how early your tee time, there will always be a foursome in the middle of the first fairway.
  • It is surprisingly easy to hole a 50-foot putt when you lie 10.
  • Anytime a golfer makes a birdie, he must subsequently make two triple bogies in order to restore the fundamental equilibrium of the universe.
  • The only thing you can learn from golf books is that you can’t learn anything from golf books, but you have to read an awful lot of golf books to learn it.
  • Mulligan’s greatest law: It is often necessary to hit a second drive in order to really appreciate the first one.

Now in the game of golf there is that wonderful little gift called “a mulligan.” On the first tee, if you wish, you can hit a second drive. You can do it over. However, in the game of life, there is no “mulligan.” This life is all we have. We cannot do it over. Therefore, we have to do it right the first time.

Let me please cut right to the chase. The Bible teaches us quite clearly that you and I, after our days on this earth are done, are going to have to stand before God and render account for the way we have lived our lives on this earth. So let me ask you: What are you going to say on that occasion? Are you going to say, “Lord, my greatest dream in life was owning a Mercedes, and when I was 45 years old, at last I got one. It was splendid, and I was so proud.” Or are you going to say: “Lord, I want you to know that I spent a lot of time taking care of this body you gave me. In fact, I was so good looking that whenever I walked down the shopping mall, I could just feel those heads turning to look at me.” Are you going to say something like that? Dear friends, I want you to understand that what Scripture teaches is simply this: When at last we stand before God to render account for the living of our days, God is going to say to us, “I do not really care how you handled your positions or your possessions. What I care about is just one thing. I invested in you one eternal treasure, therefore I want to know how it is with your soul. How is it with that part of you which is made in my image? How did you handle that?” That’s the question God will put to us when we stand before Him, and that’s the question I wish for us to consider today.

Several years back, a tabloid newspaper carried the story about a house fire where when the firemen arrived on the scene, they found a man sleeping in a burning bed. They woke him up and got him out before he was hurt. After they put out the fire, they asked the man the obvious question, “Sir, how did this bed catch on fire?” The man replied, “I don’t have any idea. It was on fire when I laid down on it!” Well, so bizarre was that statement that Robert Fulghum took it and wrote a whole book about it. In that book he asked, “What makes us do the foolish things we do in life? What leads us to such stupidity in the choices we sometimes make? What would make a human being lie down on a bed that’s on fire?” Now that is not quite as outlandish as it first seems. I remember in Scripture the story about the disciples being out in a boat one night. They got caught in a terrible storm. The wind and the waves were about to sink the boat. Then the disciples looked up and saw Jesus coming toward them walking on the water. Suddenly Simon Peter jumped out of the boat and headed toward Jesus. Well I have to tell you that for all of my life I have loved that story, and for all of my life I have focused upon the storm and Peter and Jesus—until the other day, that is. Then I saw something in the story that had escaped me before—the other disciples stayed in the boat. Remember please, we are told that the boat was sinking, and yet those disciples chose to stay in that boat. Peter had the faith to step out. The other disciples had the stupidity to stay in. What in the world would lead them to stay in a sinking boat when a saving solution was right there before them? But of course, we all do indeed make foolish choices in life. We choose to lie down on beds that are on fire. We choose to stay in boats that are sinking.

Here’s the point: God says to us, “There are many things in life and in this world which you cannot control, but there is one thing which you can control absolutely, and that is where you will spend eternity.” God says, “I’m going to leave that decision up to you. The choice is yours to make. You can lie down on a bed that’s on fire, if you wish. You can stay on a boat that is sinking, if you wish. The choice is yours.” Jesus never spoke more clearly on this matter than He did in these few verses in Matthew 7. Jesus is saying, “The choice is clear. In life, there are two gates—narrow or wide. There are two roads—hard or easy. There are two destinations—life or death. The choice is yours.”

In life, Jesus says, there are two gates—narrow or wide.

Jesus is saying to us that we can choose eternal joy or we can choose fleeting pleasures. Understand please, that in the walls of the old city of Jerusalem, there is a very large gate that was built for caravans. It is called the Jaffa Gate. It was built very high and very wide so that caravans of camels and donkeys laden down with goods and furnishings to trade could enter the old city of Jerusalem. Along the wall of the old city, there is another gate. It is small and narrow. A human being can pass through that smaller gate, but a camel could get through that gate only if it was stripped of all the goods on its back and only if it was forced down onto its knees. That’s the picture that Jesus was drawing here and the people who heard Him speak these words would have known exactly what He meant. He was saying that the only way to get into heaven is to enter by the narrow gate. You have to unload all of the possessions and the stuff of life. You have to humble yourself. You have to get down on your knees. In other words, if you are not willing to lay aside all the positions, pleasures, and possessions of this world, then you’ll never know the eternal joy of heaven.

I need to be very specific here. There are certain so-called pleasures in this world which God has declared to be out of bounds for us as Christians. Does that mean that God doesn’t want us to have pleasure in this life? Absolutely not. Remember, please we are God’s children, and God’s greatest desire is for His children to be happy and joy filled. So God reminds us that if we commit our lives to the way of Jesus Christ in the world, we shall know true joy in life. But God also reminds us that there are certain so-called pleasures in life which ultimately create despair and destruction. God has put a fence around those things and God has said to us, “Stay away from them.” The words from the first letter of Peter speak so clearly to us now, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action. Discipline yourselves. Set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when He is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all of your conduct. For it is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy.’” Dear friends, I’m calling us to be worthy of the Holy Name of the One Who has called us to be His own.

Jesus put it plainly. He said that there are two gates in life. One is wide and one is narrow. In life, we can choose fleeting pleasure or we can choose eternal joy. Which one is it going to be? Jesus says, “The choice is yours.”

And, in life, Jesus says there are two roads—hard or easy.

Jesus is saying that we can choose the high road in life, or we can choose the low road. Now when I think of an easy road, I think of Interstate 95. I don’t take that road to feast my eyes on scenic beauty or to refresh my soul. I take it because it’s fast. It’s dotted with service stations and fast-food restaurants. It gets me where I’m going quickly and easily, but there is nothing beautiful about it. When I think of a hard road, I think of that twisting path out in the Colorado Rockies which leads up to the summit of the Mount of the Holy Cross. There are no stop lights or Seven-Elevens on that road. It is not crowded, and it’s a tough climb. But when you reach the top, you discover that the air is pristine; the view is supreme; and best of all, carved into the summit is a great cross. So Jesus says that we can take the easy road through life. It’s the one where most people travel, and there are all sorts of conveniences along the way. Or we can defy the odds and go against the peer pressure and take the road that’s difficult to climb. However, when you take that hard road, when you reach the top you find the thin air where Christ is. What’s it going to be—hard or easy? High or low?

A man takes a sales job with a new company. He soon discovers that the salesman in this organization—well, it’s just kind of the way they do business—you skim a little bit here, and you fudge a little bit there, and you add a little padding to the expense account. At the water cooler during coffee breaks, even during the sales’ meetings, there are whispered pressures from his colleagues that if he is going to succeed there then he has got to do business their way. Well, finally he yields to the pressure. He takes one step, then another, then another, and then—well it all becomes so easy. Or a young girl decides early in her adolescent years that she’s going to save her purity until marriage. She has a circle of friends, however, with a different idea. They start working on her. Then she picks up a magazine for teens which says, “It’s alright. Everybody’s doing it.” Then she turns on MTV where she’s told that having physical relationships is part of being true to yourself. Louder and louder the voices around her get. Finally the pressure is overpowering. She yields. She turns away from the high road and follows the low road, and she winds up becoming so easy.

Jesus is telling us that we can take the low road in life. It’s always the easy way, but it always leads to destruction. However, on the other hand, we can choose to take the tough climb in life, and when we reach the top we shall discover that Jesus Christ is waiting for us there. So what’s it going to be—hard road or easy, high road or low? Jesus says, “The choice is yours.”

Then, in life, Jesus says there are two destinations—life or death.

Jesus is saying that we can choose heaven or we can choose hell. Just recently, I saw a bumper sticker which read, “Where will you be sitting in eternity, smoking or non?”—lighthearted twist on a serious subject. Are you aware of the fact that one out of twenty verses in the Bible speak about heaven or hell? Do you know that out of the 216 chapters in the New Testament, there are more than 300 different references to the consequences of choosing the way of Christ or choosing the way of evil? The Bible makes it clear that there are many things in life we cannot control but the one thing we can control is our eternal destiny. The Bible says that that choice is ours to make. Understand please, that I happen to believe that there is a real heaven—a place of eternal union with God, and I happen to believe that there is a real hell—a place of eternal separation from God. And I happen to believe that you and I are destined to spend eternity in one place or the other. So if you ever wonder why frequently there is an air of urgency and intensity in my preaching, it is because I believe that I must always struggle to be a channel through which the Spirit of God can reach the non-believer and the casual believer about their eternal destiny. I am determined to turn lives that are “hell-bent” into lives that are “heaven-bound.” You see what I love to say is with the help of God I am determined that no one in this Parish shall perish!

John Welch was a great Scot’s preacher of another day. At night, he would kneel by his bed and pray for his people. His wife would say, “John, come to bed. It’s too cold.” He would reply, “Dear, I have the souls of a whole congregation to answer for, and I do not know how it is with many of them.” I can understand that. You see, I pray for you every single day. I pray for you. I have the souls of this whole congregation to answer for, and I do not know how it is with all of you. So I am going to keep preaching Jesus Christ for all I am worth. I’m going to keep calling people to surrender their lives to Him before it is too late. I am going to keep speaking to you about your eternal destiny. You see, it is your decision to make. Your friends can’t make it for you. I can’t make it for you. I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m not asking you to join a church or a denomination. I’m not asking you to do something you cannot understand. I’m simply asking you to say today, “Jesus, I want to be on Your side in this life and I want to be at Your side in the life that is to come. I want to be Yours now, and I want to be Yours forever.” Can you say that? It’s up to you.

Jesus says, “The choice is yours!”

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