6/21/12 Leonel, 22
Yesterday I wrote about how atheists justify their unbelief, and today I was reminded of how street gang members excuse their actions, even murder. I was witnessing with Luke, our church's supported elder, and while he talked with Jose, who runs with a gang that calls itself followers of Satan, I used a million dollar gospel tract as a conversation starter with another member of the same gang named Leonel. "Someone just gave me one of those yesterday at 26th & Cal" he said, referring to Chicago's Cook County jail. Someone had been witnessing to him there, which let me know God is at work in his life and I get to be part of it! But looking at Leonel, its kind of hard to see past all his piercings and Satanic and gang-related tattoos including those on his neck and face, even on his eyelids. Running down his face are teardrops representing fellow gang members who have been killed; some filled in indicating that they have been avenged and others yet to be avenged. But I also looked in his eyes and saw a soul that needs to hear the Gospel. I used God's laws to help Leonel see his need for God's grace, and as I asked about how well he has kept various commandments, it was interesting that Leonel was adamant that he has never or would never steal, yet admitted (indirectly) to murder. In his peer group, there is no respect for a thief, but the killing of an enemy brings great respect. Leonel used many well-worn excuses justifying the murder of opposing gang members, such as the need for self-defense and vengeance that he feels won't come through corrupt police or a broken court system. But in the end they are just excuses. I know better than to excuse Leonel's actions, but I also know that it is only by God's grace that I myself didn't grow up in the same circumstances and do even worse things than he has. We all have much in common with him. We all have a God-given conscience - the knowledge of good and evil - and we are all experts at making excuses for the times we go against it.