Narrow

2013.07.11 Th ~14:00 "You see the world? It is so wide."

I looked up at the sight. We were up on the tenth story of a church nearby, and the city of Taipei lay sprawled before me. Dusty apartment buildings the color of mud rose in front of me. Restaurant signs the color of exploding fireworks dotted the city landscape like urban flowers. I could see the grocery store where I bought mangoes, the restaurants where I had eaten just last week, and the campus where I shared the gospel daily. Everything looked so much different from up here.

To my left was Roosevelt Street. Taxis and mobs of scooters zoomed back and forth on the main street. Students and shoppers wove in and out of the crowd on the sidewalk. How little they knew of the things going on right above their heads! I looked to my right, and craned my neck to look down at the alleyways in front of church. Bicycles and scooters lined the sides of the road like soldiers at attention. Moms and children walked briskly, dodging rusty old bicycles, old dogs, and zooming scooters. Cars too fancy and too big for the area squeezed past. Just beyond the city stood the mountains of muted green and blue hues — silent and steady against the busyness of the streets just below. They were beautiful. I wanted to keep looking at the sight; but something inside compelled me to answer my friend.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"You are too narrow," he said didactically. "Just look at the world. They will not accept something as narrow as what you say. You condemn the world by saying that the way is narrow. It is so narrow. You should make the gate wider, the way wider. It is so hard to walk on. It is impossible. If the gate is so narrow, how are people going to find it? If there is no one to tell them about the gate, how will they be saved?"

I spoke in a steady, controlled voice, "I am not making the way narrow. I am merely saying what Jesus said." I slid my Bible towards him. "Look: '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. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.' (Matthew 7:13-14) By wanting to make the gate wider you contradict Jesus. He says that only a few will enter the gate, and he says that the path is narrow. But we are not talking about the world finding the gate. We're talking about you finding the gate."

"You are not Jesus," he said quickly. "You cannot judge them.

"I am not Jesus." I interjected. "I totally agree. I cannot and do not condemn them."

"But," he objected, "you threaten people with hell if they do not accept the Bible."

I turned away from the view and looked at him. "Do you think I delight in telling people that they are going to hell? Why do you think I came to Taipei for two months? I came to declare a way to be saved. The entire purpose for a missionary is to warn them of hell and call them to repentance and to believe in Jesus Christ. I am merely warning people that they are driving off a cliff to destruction. Wouldn't you do the same thing? I do not push them off the cliff. God is the judge. He will judge them, not me."

He paused, eyes locked on the horizon. Slowly, he said, "I am not strong enough to accept this." Slowly, his voice gained confidence, "If you keep saying this, it will cause civil unrest in society. People will reject it. They will hate you for it. If you keep speaking this way, it will push people away from Christianity. If you keep saying, 'It is narrow, it is narrow, it is narrow,' then Christianity will die and there will be no one to tell people about the gate."

I despaired inside. "This has always been the way of Christianity. I follow a Man who was killed by the populace. Jesus was crucified because the people hated Him. The twelve apostles were persecuted and killed because what they said was not popular. People did not like what they said. Christians do not cause civil unrest merely for the sake of making trouble. Rather, we speak the truth from God. Civil unrest is the natural result because the world hates the truth."

He stood in silence, but I could feel the his resentment rising. So I continued. "The reason why you cannot accept this is because you love the world. Stop trying to splice Christianity with your theories adopted from the world. It will not work. I don't say this merely to prove you wrong; I say this because I don't want you to waste your time. It is impossible to synchronize worldly thinking with Jesus Christ. Give it up."

His voice became terse and low. "You are not God. You don't know that."

"I am not God. I do know that. Jesus says so." I flipped to 1 John. "Look," I said. "Those are not my words: 'Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.' Until you fear God more than people, until you care more about receiving praise from God rather than man, it is impossible for you to become a Christian."

He raised his voice. "You are not God. You don't know that!"

"I do." I said quietly. "I do know that. I'm not making it up. That is just the way it works."

"You are not God! You don't know that!" Something inside him let loose. "You keep speaking as if you are God's representative. You say that you have read the Bible so many times and you keep saying that you speak for God. You do not! You are not God. How dare you! That is arrogant. I do not despise you because I know that you are trying to do good. I do not despise you. I know you are trying to do a good thing. But you are not God. How dare you."

I tried to show him a verse. "I don't want to hear that the Bible supports your view," he said defiantly. "I will not read it."

Silence. As the conversation had proceeded we had ceased to look at each other; the movement of the city below became our constant and intense focus. I picked up my lunch bag and closed my Bible. "It was nice talking to you, Gary." I put my hand lightly on his shoulder. "I'm going to leave now." I proceeded to walk slowly to the stairs behind us, and saw him turn his head frantically.

"What? Are you upset?" Fear lit up his eyes.

I stood at the top of the stairs and looked him in the eyes. "No," I said. "Just sad." And I left.

This is the latter end of my most recent conversation with Gary. You may remember him from my trip to Taiwan in 2011. Quoted below are the things I wrote in my updates:

2011.07.07: He's an Econ major at NTU. He came to English camp for three or four days straight, and even joined us for service on Sunday. Jessica and I explained the gospel to him multiple times, yet until three days ago, he still thought that our sins are washed away by doing Christian good works (church, praying, reading Bible, growing in God, etc.) After emphasizing grace once again, I think he understands salvation better. As he is quite intelligent and wise according to the world's standards, pray that he would become a fool for Christ, and be humbled and broken before the cross that is foolish to the world, but the wisdom of God. Pray that the God who is pleased to use that which is weak and despised to shame the wise and strong of the world would save him.

2011.07.12: He came to EC for the first time maybe two weeks ago. Every time he spent time with us, whether it be at EC or church, he repeatedly said, "For some reason, I feel comfortable around you guys. You are always so happy, always loving and helping one another. It is very strange." He came to church twice to hear messages on Ro 8:18 from Pastor Matt and Mt 18:1-6 from Pastor John. Just last Sunday he went with the whole team and some EBCTers to MaoKong, a tourist attraction. I got to talk to him on the way there and back, and we were able to have a good conversation about Christian life, and about how the church is supposed to be a society of redeemed sinners who love graciously because their Father in heaven loves us graciously, which for someone who views himself as socially unacceptable, was pertinent. Unfortunately, we won't be able to see him anymore because he's going to China and won't be back until August. We said goodbye to him Wednesday, and he felt compelled to buy us a drink from 7-11, as a token of thanks. Literally, we pled with him to come to Christ, and to keep going to EBCT, but he felt attracted by the mysticism and solidarity of the Buddhist monks and other Asian leaders. Pray that he'll see the truth of Christ and be saved.

2011.07.26: Guess who came back? His trip to China was delayed, and he surprised us! Unfortunately, we had to send him home after only after ten minutes, but invited him to dinner and Bible study the next day.

2011.07.27: Rebecca was able to talk to him a bit, in which she revealed that he thought of men too highly. During the Bible study (an overview of Exodus), I saw him writing notes and even writing down questions — from what I remember, (1) why didn't God send His emissary to convert Egypt, and two others that I can't remember. I told him to ask Pastor Matt, and Matt answered wonderfully, so wonderfully that Gary spent a good amount of time trying to memorize the answers. After Bible study, we talked a bit, and I asked him what he thought of Christianity. He said, 'There's something inside of my heart that's pushing against this, against accepting and believing it.' I love his honesty! I told him that its name is sin, and that he must plea for God to change his heart and to save him, because there is no power in us to save ourselves. Keep praying! He is attracted to Christianity because of its spiritual nature, and also because of its strength against all questions and attacks. Pray that he would go to EBCT consistently, and come to love Christ with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Now, almost two years later, he has become a different sort of creature. He clings tight to achieving worldly success, and yet clothes it in religious garb; he wants to be rich in order to be philanthropic and do good works so that God will be pleased with him. He calls himself "weak" and so bows to societal pressures and what his peers (particularly in the academic economic community) consider to be good. Just before our conversation recorded above, we had lunch together, and he confessed that he was trying to integrate Christian thought into his economic theories of the world. Here are other tidbits from our conversation:

  • I asked him point blank, "How much is Jesus worth to you?" His response: "To be honest, almost zero."
  • He said, "I think I have a weak faith." My response: "Gary you don't have any faith in God. To believe in God is to trust Him entirely, to through yourself entirely at His mercy and leave everything else behind."
  • He said, "I try to please God." My response: "Gary, no matter how many good things that you do, God is not pleased with you. If you do not trust and believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, you cannot please God. He will not accept you."

These things were hard to say. I was talking to someone whose mind had already been settled; he gave no quarter and provided no convincing argument. Rather, he merely stated his conclusions and refused to budge even as I pushed. And I pushed hard.

Some may think that I was hard with him. I agree; I was hard with him. I meant to be. I was hard not for the sake of being hard, but because he displayed religious arrogance, and reminded me of the man in Mk 10:17-22, the arrogant religious folk that John rebukes in Mt 3:7, the Pharisees that Jesus rebukes in Mt 23:13-26, the deceived religionists whom Jesus refuses in Mt 7:21-23. Those who know me well know that I am not afraid to be hard with those who will have closed themselves to the gospel. But those who criticize me for doing so probably don't understand the pain and the motivation: Jesus Christ deserves glory, God the Father loves his soul, God the Spirit works through His Word, and I want him to believe. God wants him to be saved; how could I not love Gary by speaking the truth straight?

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As I descended the stairs, I was compelled to stop and pray. I chose a table on the eighth floor and looked out again at the city. Strangely, I wasn't angry - not in the least. I didn't feel any resentment nor was I even excited over the whole thing. Just sad. And, slightly mystified at my Lord's words: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me" (Mt 5:11).

"So this is what it costs to share the gospel," I thought. "This is what it means to be hated by all for the sake of the Name. There will be more like these. Help me endure it, and love them like You do. Glorify Yourself."

Father forgive him. Hold not this sin against him. Break his hard heart and save his soul.