They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Entering the Chaos

On the morning of our last full day in Israel, we hiked down to the Jordan River. The area we were in was above the Sea of Galilee and the river flows very swiftly there, even though it is only about ten yards wide. It looks a lot more like a mountain river here than the placid waters you see in so many pictures of the Jordan. It took some real effort just to get to the water’s edge. We went through lots of trees and over boulders on our way to the river. When we got to the river we sat on some boulders at the water’s edge and heard the Biblical stories that were centered around the Jordan River. We were told the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan at flood stage, by Jericho. Also, we heard the stories of John the Baptizer and that most of his ministry was done along the Jordan. The waters of the Jordan River always symbolized chaos to the Hebrews, because it was a barrier to be crossed and they were desert people and couldn’t swim.

The last story we looked at was Jesus’ baptism by John which occurs in all four gospels (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, and John 1:31-34). In all the accounts, when Jesus is baptized, the spirit of God descends on him and hovers over him like a dove. This is the same image and words used in Genesis 1, when the Earth was without form and void and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. In both the Genesis and New Testament stories the world is in chaos until the Spirit of God enters from heaven and gives meaning to the chaos. As Jesus steps out of the water, God is commissioning him to enter the chaos and to make order out of disorder, just like God himself did at the creation.

What is the faith lesson here? If we are honest with ourselves, all our lives contain chaos. We try to make it look like we are handling things well and we are usually unwilling to share our chaos with anyone. We are also usually not willing to enter the chaos of others, because it can be messy, depressing, and time consuming. The key to the Kingdom of Heaven coming on earth for us is to be willing to share our chaos and also be willing to enter the chaos of others.

As we sat there on the river an amazing event took place. One person spoke up and shared with us some of the chaos going on in their life and asked to be baptized for repentance. An immediate response went out through our group and everyone began to share their own battles with the things that were troubling them in life. The whole group was baptized in the river and we ended up staying there most of the morning, sharing and comforting each other. It was a very emotional experience and one of the great community moments of the trip. Our group really bonded together that morning as we entered each other’s chaos. The Kingdom of Heaven came down to earth in our presence there on the banks of the Jordan River in the form of caring people that were genuinely concerned for their fellow man. The lesson we learned was that we have to be willing not only to open up to others but also be willing to step into the problems of the people around us. If we are to be like Jesus, we will have to have a heart for others just like He did. It is a daunting but tremendously rewarding task. Can we be so bold and caring that we are willing to enter into the chaos of life and help restore the order that only Jesus can bring?

Don’t Hold Back! A Story at the Jordan River

Scripture references: Joshua 1:1-11 and Joshua 3:1-17

On day 9 of our trip to Israel, we took an early morning hike down to the banks of the Jordan River. The name “Jordan” comes from the Hebrew word that means,”To descend or go down”. The Jordan River is not a big river by American standards, but it is a strong and swift river for its size. From its origin on the slopes of Mt. Hermon (9000′ ft. above sea level), it drops over 900 ft. in the ten miles it takes to get to the Sea of Galilee. Then it flows another 90 miles to the Dead Sea, which is over 1400 ft below sea level. This makes it one of the fastest flowing and descending rivers in the world. The Jordan is the most frequently mentioned geographical feature in the Bible, occurring 181 times in the Old Testament and 32 times in the New Testament. Two very significant biblical events occurred here, the crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites into the Promised Land, and Jesus baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptizer in the New Testament.

Water, to a biblical character, was not the same as it is to people today. Water was scarce in these desert lands and there was never enough to swim in or to be comfortable being around. Water, to these desert people, was a barrier to be crossed and an obstacle to overcome. The Israelites believed that the Devil lived in the abyss, in the bottom of the lake. They were afraid of the water and what it represented in their world. When the Israelites reached the banks of the Jordan, they were facing an almost insurmountable obstacle. The Bible says the Jordan was at flood stage and in this particular area the banks are very tall and steep. To complicate matters, none of the Israelites could swim. They were standing at the brink of something great that God had promised them, but they had a huge barrier to overcome to receive that promise.

In Chapter 1 of Joshua, God encouraged the leadership and the people to,”Be Strong and Courageous”! “Even though you haven’t been this way before, I have and I know the way”! God was asking them to trust Him to take them to a place that they were afraid to go on their own. Now, can you picture the Priest and Levites with the Ark of the Covenant, standing on the edge of the steep banks, looking down at the flood stage waters of the Jordan? When does the Bible say that the river divided? When they took the plunge! God required them to have “wet feet”! They had to slide down the bank and get into the river, where they couldn’t swim before God would divide the water.

How does this apply to us and our walk of faith? We often have a sense that God is calling us to do something that is beyond our comfort zone. We don’t like the unknown. We want God to open all the doors, show us the path and then place plenty of road signs along the way to assure us. Otherwise, we are afraid to go. This Bible story shows us that we often have to just “go for it’ and take the plunge! God won’t act until you jump in! He needs to see if you will trust Him to take you to a place that you haven’t been before. If not, don’t expect God to divide any rivers in your life! Go For It! I’m Diving In, sink or swim, I’m Diving In!