I have had this growing spark in my gut. I don’t know when it exactly started. I have loved the Lord for a long time; I have also tried to love His people. Loving people exactly like me isn’t that difficult of a task. I’ve begun to really ask myself “What about everyone else?” What about the desperately hopeless and broken people? We are commanded to share the gospel with these people. What about the ones who are screaming mess and destruction? They are made of hard times, poor choices, and lots of consequences. It’s not quite so easy to love those dirty and visibly stained people, is it?
I met a man on the streets of Jackson, Mississippi. We met quite accidentally. I was there, (along with my dear friend and our children) to pray outside of the last abortion “clinic” in that state. That day has been burned into my mind, but mostly my soul. I could write pages about standing in the darkness that enveloped that pink building of death, perhaps another time I will.
We were looking for missionary opportunities to serve, with the children, as we were visiting our friends in neighboring Brandon, Ms. Everyone likes to take their children to the ghetto on vacation, right? I didn't know what to expect taking the children into Jackson, outside of an abortion mill of all places. How can you anticipate what a day of standing on the street pleading for the unborn and the pitiful mothers going inside will look like? You cannot. I don’t think it could ever look exactly the same way twice.
As it was, we had just left the sidewalk of the clinic and were walking back to the van. There was another man, a young man, Keith, who was there that day (and many other days before) Keith was praying, pleading, and street preaching. As we were leaving we caught up with him on the street, but he wasn't alone. Keith was talking with another man– a homeless, strung-out-looking man. A man carrying everything he owned in a not –even- close- to full Kroger bag.
This is where an interesting conversation took place. It has stuck with me these many months later; caused me to recall that day again and again. This homeless man, Mark, was speaking to the young man I mentioned. They knew each other. They had spoken before on the streets of Jackson.
Mark was immediately likeable–soft, gentle and southern in speech. I don’t know how long he has been living on the streets, but I’m guessing quite some time. We struck up a conversation.
You see, you would think what in the world could we have in common–Mark and me? He, alone, a homeless drug addict with all his worldly possessions in a grocery sack, living on the streets of Mississippi; and I, a married, homeschooling, suburban driving, comfy living mama from Indiana. I can tell you exactly what we have in common. Humanity. We both live in the same great big, messed up world.
My friend who was with me told Mark that my dad (who came to live with us at one time) had also been homeless. (A story for a different day).
Mark couldn’t believe that I was old enough to have a child as grown as Cole. I’m sure he doesn’t spend a lot of time with ladies who have had life quite as easy as I have. I don’t say that braggingly. I just realize my life has been easy, comparatively, and I am grateful. Believe me I am not looking unusually youthful these days;) Whatever the reason; I had Mark’s attention. You see Mark was upset with the young man, Keith ( the street preaching, baby advocate.) Mark said, “I confided stuff in him, and he told his preacher, and I was getting money from that preacher.” So I asked him, “Well, what were you doing with that preacher’s money?” Do you think Mark lied? No, he didn’t. He said, “Yeah, yeah I know.” Mark didn’t try to justify what he was doing. He didn’t try to pretend he wasn’t manipulating people for money to support his drug and/or alcohol problems.
We went on talking for a while. Keith was trying to help him; he had a guy willing to take Mark in, give him a safe place to live, probably help him find a job. The problem was, Mark wouldn’t go. He didn’t want to go where he didn’t know anyone. He didn’t want to go where he would be held accountable for his actions. He would rather sleep on the streets. Mark and I went on talking. He said, “You wouldn’t believe the stuff that’s happened to me on these streets. I’ve been beat, stabbed, shot…..You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen on these streets.” He didn’t say any of this loudly or even dramatically; just matter-of-factly. That is the world Mark lives in, by choice even. I said, “Mark, have you ever considered the reason you survived all of these crazy things you’re talking about? Do you think God, in His mercy, has spared you, hoping that you will turn your life to him? You are not dead, yet. You still have time to choose Christ.” This is when he said something that was profound to me. You see Mark has heard the gospel. He has had opportunities to turn away from the life he lives. He even knows there is a better way to live life. The problem is his flesh. He will not deny what his flesh wants. His flesh wants to do drugs. His flesh wants the carnal satisfaction that comes with it. I do not underestimate the hold of addiction, nor do I pretend to understand that demon first hand. I do, however, understand the battle of the flesh and the sinful nature of man (and woman of course) This is is what Mark said to me. “Ain’t nobody can save me, but me. I gotta want it, in my heart. No preacher can do it for me. Ain’t nobody can do it, but me.” Oh, how accidently deep a statement that is, and oh so true. How much I wanted to save Mark’s soul right there on the sidewalk in downtown Jackson, Mississippi! How many times, including today, I have prayed for Mark to understand who Christ really is and have the strength to choose Him.
But, the truth remains. I cannot save Mark, or anyone else for that matter. He has to choose it.
The bottom line is simple: Jesus died, for all of us; but not all of us are going to accept the gift He is offering. Just the same, whether we choose it or not, He died.
We are all slaves to our own selfish flesh, Christians and non-Christians alike. The only thing that will control that struggle is the living Spirit of God. God is not going to force me, or anyone else to choose Him. That’s not the way He works. He does not send us to hell; we send ourselves with our sins and choice not to accept His grace. He created a way for EVERYONE to be saved from the condemnation that is coming.
We think living a lifestyle of drugs/alcoholism/homelessness leads to undesirable consequences? We have not even begun to understand undesirable consequences!
I should be broken hearted for the lost! I should be grieved and pleading for their souls. If people I love are going to go to hell it should be with my arms wrapped around their legs begging them to choose Christ until the second they leave. I should care about my friend, Mark. My soul is not worth more than his because I have clean clothes, nice shoes and an SUV. None of those things amount to a hill of beans in the Kingdom of Christ. Mark’s soul was purchased for the exact same price as mine; and shame on me for forgetting to care!
I know that I cannot save people in my own strength. I am so very weak, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying. Why am I living at all if not to love people and point them to hope and life in Christ?!
I bet Mark could tell us a thing or two about what this world has to offer from the view he has. This world does not have the answers. It is my duty (and my desire) to love every Mark that I meet. I want to care for the souls of everyone who crosses my path. I want to sound the alarm; regardless of the reaction. The watch guard’s job is to sound the alarm. If we sound it and the people to do not respond, their blood is not on our hands. But, oh, what if we don’t sound it? How many chances have I already missed?! What keeps my mouth from speaking the warning? What prevents the words of life, healing and hope from forming?
I want to see the opportunities to speak, and seize them. I need boldness and courage.
I will keep reading His Word and let Him make me brave again. I will keep praying for Mark. I will keep praying for the young man, Keith, who goes where so many won’t. Keith goes into the dark places. He is sounding the alarm. He is offering hope and peace and life, and sometimes, (a lot of times) people hate him for it.
Lord, put urgency in the hearts of the church to speak. Put urgency in my heart to speak! This world is dying, and fast. Look around. You don’t have to go to the ghetto in Jackson to see it. Step outside of your house.
Mark was right in a way when he said, ‘Ain’t nobody can save me but me.’ What Mark has failed to realize though is this. He has already been saved by the only one who could. If only he weren’t too poor, weak and blind to accept it.
Lord, give us eyes so we can see. Break our hearts for what breaks yours. Let us sound the alarm! Let us love the Marks.