Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

In the desert

CHURCHES LOOKING for biblical examples of how to engage well with outsiders seem to have overlooked the “seeker insensitive model” to be found there, pioneered by John the Baptist.

If ever there was an anti-welcomer, here was one. Not content with holding his services in some in-the-middle-of-nowhere forsaken place that you can be sure didn’t have a free coffee bar or visitors’ parking area, he then berated some of those who made the effort to trek out to hear him.

No, “Glad you made it, thanks for coming.” Nope, his was the original “turn or burn” message (Matthew 3).

What strikes me most about the account of John’s impact is how it all began, though. He “came preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” Not the best location for an effective outreach, you might agree.

I wonder, did he just stand on top of a rock somewhere and begin preaching one day? How did people get to hear about him? Did he have an advance party going out to the surrounding towns and villages passing out leaflets? Did they arrange a donkey shuttle service? What sort of follow-up did they do?

Think about it: this was the cradle of the revolution, if you will. It was the time and place that God’s great rescue plan was ushered in, when Jesus accepted His role as ransomer—in the back of beyond.

It’s interesting that, having stepped into His sending (it wasn’t a calling, after all, right?), the first thing that Jesus did was—head out into the wilderness.

With the crowds having just heard a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3: 17), wouldn’t it have made more sense for Him to return to civilization and capitalize on the buzz?

Sometimes God’s plan sends us in the other direction. In this case it was for a pivotal encounter with the devil, overcoming the temptation to pleasure and pride that felled the very first humans.

Fast-forward to the days of the early church. Philip has been at the center of amazing scenes in Samaria—people being healed and set free from darkness and oppression. The perfect time to go to other places where people will be anxious to hear him, right?

Instead, we read in Acts 8 how an angel tells him to go south on the Jerusalem-Gaza highway. He lets Philip know: “This is a desert place” (verse 26).

But when he arrives, Philip encounters the Ethiopian eunuch. This passing traveler has questions about what he is reading in his holy book, and Philip has the answers, leading the man to an encounter with Jesus. Tradition has it that the eunuch carried the good news back to his homeland, birthing the Ethiopian church.

Who needs a crowd when there’s one pivotal person out in the desert?

Time and again, I see how God often chooses to confound what appears to be common sense. It reminds me to be cautious about judging what He may be up to by what I see around me. The desert may just be the place where He is about to do something I can’t even begin to imagine.

Photo credit: Foter.com

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