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I’ve always read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as if the events happened seamlessly, one after another and, to be honest, a little bit “by magic.” I have always taken it for granted that God somehow just “did something” and that everything happened pretty quickly. This time through, I took a deeper look into the story – into the details and the drama –  for the miraculous ways God worked through (instead of “in spite of”) history and people.

Sometimes, it's what you don't say that is the most encouraging.

As the news about Jesus spread beyond the epicenter of Jerusalem and was believed by people outside the original Jewish community, one question that quickly arose is, "Just how Jewish should these new people be required to become?" Some wanted high performance and high standards: all the Jewish laws must be kept!

Matthew 10:2-4 names 12 men who, until this point, had made no mark on history. From other passages, we know they were mostly fishermen. There were no statesmen, no religious leaders, no military conquerers. Instead, there were guys with nicknames, somebody's brother, somebody's son, a tax collector and Simon, a man so obscure, scholars today have no clear idea what his name, "the Cananaean," really means. These were not well-know people.

I recently finished a quick read of the Gospel of Mark and was struck by Jesus' careful awareness of bystanders. In Mark 10:17-22, for example, Jesus is approached by an individual and has a short, intense conversation with him about wealth. The next thing Jesus does is "look around" to see who was watching. Later in the chapter (10:39-42), he says something that upsets the people who overheard his conversation, so he calls them over to straighten it out.

I recently heard someone tell the story of how their life got turned around for God through a "chance" encounter. Sitting in a waiting room, the speaker was recognized by an old acquaintance. They said a quick hello and then, just as they were about to part, the guy handed him a little brochure/track that talked about Jesus. The speaker stuck it in his pocket, read it later and said the short prayer on the back. It changed his life.

What made this possible?