Joy in Jordan

I just returned from a two-week trip to Israel. I have so many pictures in my mind as I remember those weeks. It is amazing to stand in the place where David fought Goliath. I climbed the steps to the place where the Herod of the Christmas story wanted his elaborate tomb to be built. I walked through Hezekiah’s tunnel that was ingeniously designed and chiseled out of solid rock so the city of Jerusalem could continue to have water, even when attacked. We saw the wilderness where Jesus walked after his baptism. We visited the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. The tension was palpable between the Jews and Muslims who both feel that “rock” should be theirs. And we crossed the border to Jordan so we could visit the amazing site of Petra.

Israel is a unique country, and it is easy to see why God chose that location for his Holy Land. The nation continues to survive and thrive amidst the ongoing struggles between the Jews and the Muslim people. They don’t agree on very much, except for the importance of owning that land. They have survived by dividing the “dirt” and building walls and armies to protect those boundaries. But, the boundaries continue to be a significant point of contention for the people.

As always, my favorite part of the two-week trip came when I opened my front door. I love to travel, but I agree with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “There is no place like home.” I came home with a profound appreciation for this country. The United States isn’t “better” than other countries, but it is home. And I think the United States could learn a great deal from the country of Israel.

You and I live at a crucial time in our nation’s history. We are not divided by concrete walls topped with barbed wire, but we are divided. I returned home to listen to political ads that emphasize that division. A man walked into a synagogue and slaughtered innocent people who were there to worship. A crowd of people is marching toward our border, knowing they will not be welcomed. And the media is reporting these stories to create headlines they hope will influence midterm elections.

Sometimes it is easier to focus on problems rather than solutions. But, God always has a perfect plan and a desire to bring unity. How do we, as his disciples, seek that plan for ourselves and our nation? The early church had the answer and changed the world. Paul, who lived every day of his ministry amid tension and conflict, taught the church in Colossae the answer we need in America today.

He wrote: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:9–14).

Paul taught the early Christians:

  • Pray and ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will.
  • Pray and gain God’s wisdom and understanding
  • Walk in a manner worthy of our Lord—pleasing him.
  • Bear fruit in each of your good works.
  • Increase in your knowledge of God.
  • Be strengthened with his power and might so that you can live with patience and joy.
  • Give thanks to the Father because you are a saint who lives with, and as, the light of Christ.
  • Live as one delivered and redeemed from darkness by God’s beloved Son.
  • Live as someone who has been forgiven so that you can share God’s forgiveness with others.                                                                     

The most vivid memory I brought home is from a moment in Jordan. We had stopped in a small city to have lunch. Our group passed by on the sidewalks, our women dressed as Americans amidst a sea of women who were dressed in burkas. While we enjoyed our lunch, the conversation was loud and filled with joyful laughter. We had a great group with us and we were having a good time. During the meal, the children of the city were returning home from school. Two children came up and stood at a window, looking through the bars at our group below. They both had big grins on their faces as they watched us eat. At first, it felt a bit uncomfortable, like we were on display. I wondered why the children stayed so long at the window and decided we were simply a curiosity to them. But now, I think it was something else.

We spent two days in Jordan, and all of us were glad to return to the other side of the border. Jordan is a progressive Muslim country, about 95 percent Sunni Muslim and 3 percent Christian. As I think back to those two young faces peering into the restaurant, I think it was our laughter that drew them to the open window. We smiled and waved back at those two boys and they smiled in return. I think the sound of our laughter was the sound of joy—and those boys wanted to be part of that. They stayed until they were hurried off by someone outside.

I came home with a renewed conviction that our country’s greatest needs have little to do with politics and everything to do with God’s blessings. Our safety won’t be secured by stricter laws or stronger borders. People need to know Jesus and his power in their lives. Christians need to live in the power of God’s Holy Spirit, with great joy. There is, and should be, a huge difference in the people who know Jesus and live redeemed and those who do not.

We all need to vote, but that won’t solve the division in our nation. We all need to obey the laws, but that won’t make us safe from those who don’t. We all need a home, but none of us reading these words is truly “home” yet. America is a blessed nation, and most of us take that for granted. Israel did the same thing and broke their covenant with God. Most of Israel didn’t accept Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. As a result, they are still waiting for a gift that has already been given. They have great strength as a nation, but little joy. Is God’s Holy Spirit the source of your strength and joy?

Those two Muslim boys are the faces I can’t forget. They saw our joy and wanted to be part of it. I wish they knew that the source of our joy was Jesus and that he died for them too. We have God’s truth: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” (Psalm 33:12). There is great power and influence in living with the joy of the Lord. I returned home with that strong conviction. Help me, Lord, to remember those two faces in Jordan who need to know you—and the thousands of faces in this country who need that same grace.