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TONY ELDER: Following Jesus may not be the popular pathway, but it's the best one

Last weekend I made it a point to steer clear of downtown Atlanta. I had heard that there would be huge crowds in the area due to the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, Braves games and other special events.

It's not that I normally venture into our nearby capital, but I do at least travel that way at times, if nothing else simply to get to the other side of town to visit my parents.

Some people enjoy being part of such big crowds. It's exciting to be where the action is or to witness firsthand popular events which people will be talking about. It's nice to be able to say, "I was there" rather than simply "I watched it on TV."

It can be invigorating to sense and to participate in the atmosphere surrounding those activities. It's just not the same when you're sitting by yourself in your own home viewing the festivities.

However, as I've gotten older, the prospect of big crowds tends to make an event less attractive to me instead of more inviting. I don't care for all the hassle that can go along with attending those events, such as heavy traffic, expensive or hard-to-find parking, rude people, unpredictable weather, and ear-shattering noise. My idea of a prime seat has transformed from the front row of the arena to my comfortable living room recliner.

Jesus reminded us that in the more important areas of our lives, the way of the crowd is not always the best way. He told His followers, "Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).

So according to Jesus, going along with the crowd is not the most reliable way to find the right pathway toward life -- spiritual life, a life lived in right relationship with Him, and eventually life in heaven.

Following what's popular is not likely to lead you to that desired destination.

We sometimes talk about a person's willingness to "brave the crowds" -- indicating that it takes courage to face the difficulties associated with being among a large group of people. But I would suggest that it often requires more courage to refuse to be part of the crowd.

As Jesus indicated, it can be difficult to walk on that less-traveled pathway which leads to life. It's not easy at times to choose the unpopular stance.

If you've ever been in a crowd in which most people are moving one direction while you're trying to go the opposite way, you know how hard and even bruising such a course can be. You can expect to receive harsh looks, to be ridiculed, and to get shoved around if you dare to go against the tide of popular thinking.

Other times the difficulty is in the fact that we find ourselves walking that road alone, except of course for the promised presence of the Lord with us. Faithfully standing up for Jesus and for the truth of His Word is increasingly becoming a lonely path for someone to choose to follow in today's world.

Maybe you enjoy crowds. That's fine when it comes to ballgames, concerts, and other special events. But concerning our walk with the Lord, remember that the practice of following the crowd is liable to lead you astray.

Let's keep our eyes on Jesus and make sure we follow Him, no matter how few people accompany us. It may not be the popular pathway, but it's definitely the best one.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.