Friday was market day in the rural town in Ghana where I grew up. After all these years, I still recall one particular vendor. Her fingers and toes eroded by Hansen’s disease (leprosy), she would crouch on her mat and scoop her produce with a hollowed-out gourd. Some avoided her. My mother made it a point to buy from her regularly. I saw her only on market days. Then she would disappear outside the town.
In the time of the ancient Israelites, diseases like leprosy meant living “outside the camp.” It was a forlorn existence. Israelite law said of such people, “They must live alone” (Leviticus 13:45–46). Outside the camp was also where the carcasses of the sacrificial bulls were burned (Leviticus 4:12). Outside the camp was not where you wanted to be.
This harsh reality breathes life into the statement about Jesus in Hebrews 13: “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore” (v. 13). Jesus was crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem, a significant point when we study the Hebrew sacrificial system.
We want to be popular, to be honored, to live comfortable lives. But God calls us to go “outside the camp”—where the disgrace is. That’s where we’ll find the vendor with Hansen’s disease. That’s where we’ll find people the world has rejected. That’s where we’ll find Jesus.
Sam’s father had to flee for his life during a military coup. With the sudden loss of income, the family could no longer afford the crucial medicine that kept Sam’s brother alive. Seething at God, Sam thought, What have we done to deserve this?
A follower of Jesus heard about the family’s troubles. Finding he had enough money to cover the medicine, he bought a supply and took it to them. The life-saving gift from a stranger had a profound impact. “This Sunday, we will go to this man’s church,” his mother declared. Sam’s anger began to subside. And eventually, one by one, each member of the family would put their faith in Jesus.
When James wrote about the necessity of a lifestyle of integrity accompanying a profession of faith in Christ, he singled out the need to care for others. “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food,” James wrote. “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” (2:16–17).
Our actions demonstrate the genuineness of our faith. Significantly, those actions can influence the faith-choices of others. In Sam’s case, he became a pastor and church-planter. Eventually he would call the man who helped his family “Papa Mapes.” He now knew him as his spiritual father—the one who showed them the love of Jesus.
When Conner and Sarah Smith moved five miles up the road, their cat S’mores expressed his displeasure by running away. One day Sarah saw a current photo of their old farmhouse on social media. There was S’mores in the picture!
Happily the Smiths went to retrieve him. S’mores ran away again. Guess where he went. This time, the family that had purchased their house agreed to keep S’mores too. The Smiths couldn’t stop the inevitable; S’mores would always return “home.”
Nehemiah served in a prestigious position in the king’s court in Susa, but his heart was elsewhere. He had just heard news of the sad condition of “the city where my ancestors are buried” (Nehemiah 2:3). And so he prayed, e had H“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, . . . ‘if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name’ ” (1:8–9).
Home is where the heart is, they say. In Nehemiah’s case, longing for home was more than being tied to the land. It was communion with God that he most desired. Jerusalem was “the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.”
The dissatisfaction we sense deep down is actually a longing for God. We’re yearning to be home with Him.
Aubrey bought a fleece-lined coat for her aging father, but he died before he could wear it. So she tucked a note of encouragement with a $20 bill into the pocket and donated the jacket to charity.
Ninety miles away, unable to endure his family’s dysfunction any longer, nineteen-year-old Kelly left his house without grabbing a coat. He knew of only one place to turn—the home of his grandmother who prayed for him. Hours later he stepped off a bus and into grandma’s arms. Shielding him from the winter wind, she said, “We’ve got to get you a coat!” At the mission store, Kelly tried on a coat he liked. Slipping his hands into the pockets he found an envelope—with a $20 bill and Aubrey’s note.
Jacob fled his dysfunctional family in fear for his life (Genesis 27:41–45). When he stopped for the night, God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go,” God told him (28:15). Jacob vowed, “If God will . . . give me food to eat and clothes to wear . . . , then the L
Jacob made a rudimentary altar and named the spot “God’s house” (v. 22). Kelly keeps Aubrey’s note and that $20 wherever he goes. Each serves as a reminder that no matter where we run, God is there.
After Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, he parachuted into the Russian countryside. A farmwoman spotted the orange-clad cosmonaut, still wearing his helmet and dragging two parachutes. “Can it be that you have come from outer space?” she asked in surprise. “As a matter of fact, I have,” he said.
Soviet leaders sadly turned the historic flight into anti-religious propaganda. “Gagarin went into space, but he didn’t see any god there,” their premier declared. (Gagarin himself never said such a thing.) As C. S. Lewis observed, “Those who do not find [God] on earth are unlikely to find Him in space.”
Jesus warned us about ignoring God in this life. He told a story of two men who died—a rich man who had no time for God, and Lazarus, a destitute man rich in faith (Luke 16:19–23). In torment, the rich man pleaded with Abraham for his brothers still on earth. “Send Lazarus,” he begged Abraham. “If someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent” (vv. 27, 30). Abraham got to the heart of the problem: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (v. 31).
“Seeing is never believing,” wrote Oswald Chambers. “We interpret what we see in the light of what we believe.”
For $300,000, you can buy a new McLaren 720S sports car. The vehicle comes with a V8 engine pumping 710 horsepower—considerably more than you’ll need for your morning commute.
Of course, you might be tempted to use all that power. One Virginia driver learned his McLaren was so "fast" it could go from an upscale showroom to the scrap heap in just twenty-four hours! One day after buying the car, he slammed it into a tree. (Thankfully, he survived.)
Just three chapters into the story of the Bible, we learn how a different bad choice and a tree marred God’s good creation. Adam and Eve ate from the one tree they were to leave alone (Genesis 3:11). The story has barely begun, and paradise is cursed (vv. 14–19).
Another tree would play a role in undoing this curse—the cross Jesus endured on our behalf. His death purchased our future with Him (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13).
The story comes full circle in the Bible’s last chapter. There we read of “the tree of life” growing beside the “river of the water of life” (Revelations 22:1–2). As John describes it, this tree will be “for the healing of the nations” (v. 2). John assures us, “No longer will there be any curse” (v. 3). God’s story comes with the happily-ever-after we all long for.
Named for a tough blue-collar neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, the grassroots musical group Over the Rhine sings about a transformation that takes place each year in the city. “Whenever we’d get our first real snowfall of the year, it felt like something sacred was happening,” explains band co-founder Linford Detweiler. “Like a little bit of a fresh start. The city would slow down and grow quiet.”
If you’ve experienced a heavy snowfall, you understand how it can inspire a song. A magical quietness drapes the world as snow conceals grime and grayness. For a few moments, winter’s bleakness brightens, inviting our reflection and delight.
Elihu, the one friend of Job’s who may have had a helpful view of God, noted how creation commands our attention. “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways,” he said (37:5). “He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’” Such splendor can interrupt our lives, demanding a sacred pause. “So that everyone he has made may know his work, he stops all people from their labor,” Elihu observed (vv. 6–7).
Nature sometimes seizes our attention in ways we don’t like. Regardless of what happens to us or what we observe around us, each moment magnificent, menacing, or mundane can inspire our worship. The poet’s heart within us craves the holy hush.
In the late 17th century, William of Orange intentionally flooded much of his nation’s land. The Dutch monarch resorted to such a drastic measure in an attempt to drive out the invading Spaniards. It didn’t work, and a vast swath of prime farmland was lost to the sea. “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” they say.
In Isaiah’s day, Jerusalem turned to desperate measures when the Assyrian army threatened them. Creating a water storage system to endure the siege, the people also tore down houses to shore up the city walls. Such tactics may have been prudent, but they neglected the most important step. “You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool,” God said, “but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11).
We aren’t likely to encounter a literal army outside our homes today. “The batterings always come in commonplace ways and through commonplace people,” said Oswald Chambers. Yet, such “batterings” are genuine threats. Thankfully, they also bring with them God’s invitation to turn to Him first for what we need.
When life’s irritations and interruptions come, will we see them as opportunities to turn to God? Or will we seek our own desperate solutions?
The little Bible college in northern Ghana didn’t look impressive—just a tin-roofed cinder-block building and a handful of students. Yet Bob Hayes poured his life into those students. He gave them leadership roles and encouraged them to preach and teach, despite their occasional reluctance. Bob passed away years ago, but dozens of thriving churches, schools, and two additional Bible institutes have sprung up across Ghana—all started by graduates of that humble school.
During the reign of King Artaxerxes (465–424
Ezra’s name means “helper,” a characteristic that resides at the heart of good leadership. Under Ezra’s prayerful guidance, he and his protégés would lead a spiritual awakening in Jerusalem (see chapters 9–10). All they had needed was a little encouragement and wise direction.
That’s how God’s church works too. As good mentors encourage and build us up, we learn to do the same for others. Such an influence will reach far beyond our lifetime. Work done faithfully for God stretches into eternity.