I have a friend in Jerusalem name Amir. He was born and raised in the holy city. Today, he is a tour guide and a pastor. When he introduces himself to groups at the beginning of their holy land tour, he explains that he is an Arab Palestinian Israeli Jerusalemite Christian Believer. If the group has just arrived with a travel hangover from a long international flight, their eyes widen at Amir’s introduction, and they are suddenly both confused and intrigued. He goes on to explain.

            He is Arab because Arabic is his native language, and his ethnic roots are from that genealogy.

            He is Palestinian because his parents were born in pre-1948 Israel when the area was known as Palestine. In fact, his entire lineage rests solely in the geographic region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, divided today between Israel proper and the West Bank.

            He is a Jerusalemite by virtue of having lived his entire life in the heart of the city.

            He is a citizen of Israel since his residence has always remained on that side of the various dividing lines drawn up through wars and resolutions.

            He was born into a Maronite Christian family, a denomination that traces its history back to the fourth century. Today he has connections to the Anglican church in Jerusalem.

            He calls himself a “Believer” because this is often how Christians from traditional, cultural backgrounds in the Holy Land let it be known that their faith is an active one, that they wake up each day imperfect and broken, but with a resolve to follow the Savior from Nazareth.

            Asking Amir whose “side” he’s on in the current or historical Arab-Israeli conflict, and attempting to push him in a particular direction, is like asking him to peel off layers of his own skin. He is what he is, and instead of choosing sides, he must instead figure out how to live and love in the midst of all the human layers that surround him.

            At times like this, during heightened conflict between the various people groups involved, much of the world, including and in fact perhaps led by the Christian community, is pushing us to choose and take sides. But so often we let the world define those sides for us, instead of looking to the Lord. The world hones in on descriptors like race and ethnicity, politics and religion, theology, and geography. And yet, God Himself, in the person of Christ, lived and died among us in order to re-set the criteria for who might claim citizenship in His family.

            “Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”  John 18:36

            “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is, that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him, and does what is right’” Acts 10:34-35

“Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Col 2:16-17

“He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” Matt 12:48-49

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.” Gal 6:15-16

            All. All! Jew, Gentile, Arab, Israeli, Palestinian, Gazan, American.

            He died for all.  Unequivocally all. For any and everyone who puts their trust in Him. And whether we are prepared or unprepared for the scene, the Kingdom of God is and will be, full of people who are outwardly, culturally, and perhaps even theologically, different than ourselves. And yet we are all welcome. We all belong.

            We have a social media group for the members of our ministry staff in the Holy Land. About a third are Messianic Jews from the south of Israel. Another third are Arab Israelis from the north. And the rest are Palestinian Christians who live in the West Bank. While they cannot legally meet together, except for under very unique circumstances, we do gather regularly on Zoom, and team members send sporadic messages to each other over social media. Admittedly, these virtual connections have been strained and difficult since October 7th. During one recent exchange, when the term “sides” repeatedly found its way into our conversation, we decided to take a different tack with how we approach and reconcile our external differences.  Instead of letting the world define those for us, we came up with our own ruling. We decided that we will in fact take sides, the side of those who love and follow Jesus, a side we know we all stand on, regardless of certain dissimilarities regarding those aforementioned elements. And just as quickly, we realized that we what we want most is for all of those on the other side, the side that doesn’t yet know the depth of God’s love, to discover that love as soon as possible, and to come across the divide to join us. And we want to do anything we can to break down the walls between us, and to build a bridge across any chasm that might exist. Since God has told us He is for all, why wouldn’t we follow His lead with total abandon?

That’s the “side” I want to be on.

~ ~ ~

The author welcomes comments, questions and even kind rebuttals at: MHL23@juno.com

Next: The Answer

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