Sunday, February 13, 2005

"Stuff" Gets in the Way

“29And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them.
30But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?
31And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.
32I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

I spent a couple of hours last night with some of the guys from church meeting with some inmates down at the Lyon County Jail. It’s not nearly as bad as some “joints” I’ve been in, the Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth or the Federal lockup in Memphis, Tennessee, for example. They’re really unpleasant places. But the Lyon County Jail isn’t a fun place to be, either as a “resident” or a visitor.

It’s interesting how we sometimes connect with someone else. There was a young guy there, twenty two years old. This was his sixth stint in jail. He was born in New York City, had lived all around the country and had been in trouble just about everywhere he’d been. He’s married and has a nineteen month old son. His face, which should have exuded youth, looked even longer than its natural features displayed. It was the victim of bitter experience. His eyes were heavy. There was a look of sadness that appeared to be sculpted into his countenance. His shoulders were stooped. All in all, he looked much older than twenty-two. The few short years of availing himself of “street smarts” had stripped him of his youth, his dignity, and his family.

Well we connected. Toward the end of our visit I asked him, “Mark, it sure looks to me like you’re at arm’s length with God.” He lifted his head slightly and responded, “Yeah, I am.” The tone of his answer told me that he didn’t believe there was any hope for him. It took us a while, but we finally came to the place where he really wanted to let go of the hopelessness and embrace hope in his life. When I sensed it I asked, “Where are you with Jesus?” man.
“I really don’t know.”
“Do you want to know?”
His answer was the first emphatic answer he gave during the entire evening. “Yes, I do.”

Mark has traveled a lot of roads carrying lots of heavy burdens, too many for a man that young. But our brief walk down the Romans Road changed all of that for Mark last night. The burden’s being lifted. Mark was “born again!”

Now I know there’s a long, long way to go for him. But I’ve always been amazed by the skeptics who look at the “jailhouse conversion” as something that is less desirable than the paths they have taken. It's suspect. In their minds someone like Mark is incorrigable. They extol their experience and their conversion as somehow being more worthy and noble than that of a “lesser person” like Mark. Their proof is “stuff.” They’ve got a good job, an SUV, money in the bank. Their friends admire them; they’re the envy of the community.

Ah, yes, stuff, the baggage of life! It’s what once got a king in trouble:

“20 When Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, the tribe of Benjamin was chosen. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri's clan was chosen. Finally Saul son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the LORD , "Has the man come here yet?"
And the LORD said, "Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

And Mark, the jailhouse convert, what “stuff” does he have to hide himself in? None really. He’s a six time “loser.” He’s got a cell to live in, an orange suit to wear, and flip flops for his feet. He doesn’t have a cloak of decency to hide his sin and shame.

The kingdom of heaven is an amazing thing. Everything is so upside-down. Jesus is looking for those who are sick, the people like Mark. He’s calling the others too, the folks with all the stuff, the folks who parade up and down Rodeo drive. But their stuff is getting in the way. Last night Mark came empty and left fulfilled. He still had the orange suit on, he still went back to a dreary cell. There were no shopping bags from the trendy shops to show that a wonderful transaction had taken place. There was just a heart filled to overflowing.

It really is upside down. In a few hours people will be scurrying up and down Rodeo Drive, the Miracle Mile, and the malls all across America. By the end of the day many will be loaded down with goods, the stuff that for far too many, will lull them into a false sense of security. Mark will still be in the Lyon County Jail, clinging for all he’s worth to God. The cell will be pretty much empty; there’ll be no “stuff” to get in the way. But his heart will be full.

I ask you, dear reader, who on this Sunday is better off than Mark?


Guy said...

I, a sinner, rejoice, along with the angels in heaven, over another sinner that has found Jesus Christ. What an incredible story! Thanks for making my day.

Anonymous said...

Please tell Mark that Grace is freely given and will always be there for him. I look forward to reading more about him.

thebloke said...

Thanks for sharing Mark's story, and for the encouragement that people all around us, no matter how callous or even antagonistic they seem to God are constantly pursued by His Spirit, and we need to be willing and able to listen to His promptings to assist them to respond to His invitation back to the Father's bosom.

Anonymous said...

Hey, the italics are pretty hard on the eyes. :)