Saturday, February 12, 2011

Outside the Camp, Outside the Comfortable

Hebrews 13:12-16 is a masterful example of Christ being willing to sacrifice Himself, to be separated from His Heavenly home, and to live in a fallen world among fallen people in order to redeem us.
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
This might sound like an impossibly spiritual thing to do. Sure, we can expect that God could do all these things, but us? What really does it mean that we would "go outside the camp" with Jesus? Ah, Americans! I am proud to be an American and love my country, but I find our comfortableness, well....uncomfortable. We are more than willing to serve God as long as it is in the perimeters of our "camp". There is ministry close to the campfire. That is true. But, seriously? How big is the campfire? Seems there are way too many Christians in America huddled around several small campfire while the rest of our country, our world remains cold and dark and without hope. Grant it, there are those exceptions and for you, I am thankful. You encourage and inspire me. I love to read your stories of how you stepped out of your comfort zone and have seen God do amazing things!

When I was younger, I wanted to be an adventurer - to travel - to see the world! When God finally got my attention and sent my little family to West Africa as missionaries, I found that I really didn't mean that. I just wanted to explore and travel, do something worthwhile for a few days, but then be able to come back to the comfort and boundaries of my suburban existence. God had different plans. We lived in and out of West Africa and the West Indies from 1985 to 2002. Little by little, as God changed me and gave me fresh eyes to that the places where He had placed us was His will for our lives, "outside the camp" became comfortable to me - in a weird sort of way. But it took quite some time. (Inside my newly-published book In This Place are the memoirs of those struggles during the first five years of missionary life)

Then in 2002, we were called by God back to the United States and an entirely different ministry: an American university campus outreach. What had once been "outside the camp" (living in West Africa), we realized, had become comfortable. God was again asking us to come with Him "outside our camp" - and that meant back to the American lifestyle to minister to the secular and humanistic academics. What did we know about that cold, dark place? We were African missionaries? What could we possibly contribute to this kind of ministry? God delights in living in the middle of impossible.

After eight years of pitching our tent outside the camp, we feel more at home. College ministry is demanding, challenging, and rewarding all wrapped up in one bundle. But we are so thankful that God is alive and well and sovereign even on these campuses that some may called "God forsaken".

Now, I am preparing to head back "outside the camp" with this new adventure of publishing a long awaited book. The opportunities are daunting. The details are blurry. The excitement is contagious.

Follow with me as a pack up my tent and move a little further from the warm, comforting campfire. Am I afraid? Yes. Confused? Yes. Unsure? Yes. Unwilling? Not on your life!