My wife and I vacationed at Portland, Oregon recently. Oregon is a beautiful state, much of it resplendent with God’s creation on full display. But there is much spiritual darkness there as well. In the city we encountered many who seemed angry, despondent, worn out. Homelessness was everywhere. Please understand, that scripture records Jesus as homeless in Luke 9: 57-58:
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
But there is a vast difference between being homeless and hopeless. Jesus was the reason for hope even while he walked on earth. Many we saw just seemed without hope. This left us in somewhat of a quandary. What do we do in the midst of such overwhelming tragedy around us? Who can we help? While we were outside of the city, it was possible to enjoy God’s creation in relative peace. In the city it felt like we were in a spiritual infirmary with no doctors around. I’d like to say we spread the Gospel like wildfire, saw God move mightily at our hands, and left an impression on the city, but in reality we were tired, frustrated and overwhelmed at the scope of the darkness.
On the last day we went to a Farmer’s Market someone had recommended. There were street vendors of all stripes — food trucks, trinkets, jewelry, and so on. Again, the spiritual darkness. Fortune tellers, aura photographers (first I’ve seen this), tarot readers, occult symbolism and jewelry everywhere. It is amazing how people will willingly pay for some spiritual direction in life, even if it’s deception and bondage, as long as it seems mysterious, profound, and promises something in return. It seemed that in this city, there was very little in the way of light whatsoever. Then, we heard something unusual. Someone was proclaiming words out loud for anybody to hear. The words were from the Bible, the Book of John to be exact. We saw him standing there in simple garb and workboots, a backpack beside him with a stack of Bibles. He read through the Book of John loudly and clearly as people passed by. There was a sign that said “Free Bibles” if I recall.
How stark the contrast. In a place where everyone else was charging money in exchange for goods and services, this man was simply proclaiming the Word and giving away Bibles. His location was in the corner of the market, near the restrooms, tucked away from the main sources of traffic; yet many would need to go near him to use the bathroom. I knew I had to talk to him.
Eventually I walked beside him, even as he read aloud, and upon noticing my presence, he simply said, “Hello, sir, please take a Bible. They’re free.” It warmed my heart. We introduced ourselves as believers and asked him what had led him to this corner. Turns out this was a family man — an accountant, a husband, and a father. He had grown up a “good guy” in church his entire life and had heard about Jesus his entire life. He said if anyone had asked him he would have said he was a believer. But at some point two years ago, it became apparent to him that there was no fruit of Christ in his life. He said there’s no way anyone would be able to know he’s a Christian unless he told them.
So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. (Matthew 7: 17 – 18)
The Spirit began convicting him, and his life began changing as he repented and turned towards the risen Lord instead of going through religious motions. Because he didn’t feel like he knew the Bible well enough to teach it, he felt that the Lord was calling him to simply read it aloud to others. A verse from 1 Timothy 4:12 had especially encouraged him: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” This man was clearly humble, gracious and loving, you could tell it within 20 seconds of talking to him. I loved it.
I’m sure that most of the people at the market missed the significance of someone preaching the Word for free, as many there probably prefer it not be preached at all. But think about it. The man was commuting away from his family to face a lonely stretch of hours with nothing but a water bottle, a backpack, and a stack of Bibles. He would not get paid for doing this. He would not receive much encouragement, most likely. He would not get a financial kickback from an institution or a payment from a patron. He would only get the satisfaction of knowing that he was serving the Lord, and that through his efforts, seeds of everlasting life would be planted.
And the true hope is that even in spiritually dark places, God is commissioning his messengers of reconciliation to reach a lost and dying world. Even in the darkest places, there is a remnant of his people. There is great hope.
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