TIBERIAS, ISRAEL, February 15, 2020—“Son, I made you a storyteller, not a reporter. You know what to do.”
Walking the Holy Land these last three days has greatly expanded my understanding of “immersion.” I knew my experience here would make the Bible three-dimensional, but now that I’m here it’s beyond what I could have imagined. My mind and heart are full, and when I started writing this post I wrestled a good bit with how to highlight it all for you.
But Father God reminded me that that’s not why I’m here…
“I Am The Lord…I Am Yahweh…I Am That I Am”
Our 60-seat bus (with only 27 people in it!) wound its way up to the summit of Mount Carmel and rolled into the parking area of Stella Maris, a Carmelite monastery that houses Muhraka (or Muhrachah), the location where the prophet Elijah confronted the 400 priests of Baal (1 Kings 18). A white marble statue of Elijah slaying one of the false prophets (photo at the top of this post) towers over a courtyard opposite the monastery building.
After our tour leader taught from the Biblical account and our tour guide shared some cultural context, I ventured inside the monastery’s small chapel. I took an up-close look at the uncut stone altar, then sat on a bench and soaked up the gravity of what had happened here.
As I ruminated, my breathing shortened and a weighty sensation settled on my body. Feelings of fear and foreboding rose from foot to head. The great and terrible day of the LORD coursed through my mind. In my spirit I heard, “I Am the LORD. I am Yahweh. I Am That I Am.” Once. Twice. A third time.
I was surrounded by His Presence. It was heavy, awesome, even dreadful. I felt unworthy to be there. A momentary doubt about my relationship with Him, my salvation, shot through my consciousness.
I was firmly planted on that bench. I didn’t dare move. After what felt like ten minutes, the weight of His presence lifted.
“What did that mean, Lord?” I said under my breath.
My question met silence. I let the experience settle and chewed on it the rest of the day.
“I Am Your Protector”
We’d traversed the scenic drive around the north shore of the Sea of Galilee and began our ascent up to Mount Hermon under a bright, cloudless sky. When we approached the mountain town of Majdal Shams, traffic came to a dead stop. We’d expected a slowdown one we reached this location due to the popularity of Mount Hermon, but we soon learned we faced up to a two-hour delay due to a traffic accident.
We debated several options—walk the remaining distance (about 4km), wait out the delay, or turn around and head to the Sea of Galilee for our scheduled boat ride. Our guide suggested a fourth option—a drive up to an adjacent mountain, Mount Bental, where we could observe Mount Hermon from a reasonable distance and also some other important sites. We voted for the adjacent mountain.
About halfway into our second climb, thick fog billowed in. We persisted to the summit. By the time we arrived the visibility was near-zero and the winds reached a steady 40 mph with strong intermittent gusts. We bolted from the bus to a restaurant/visitor center about two hundred paces away.
Mount Bental is on the eastern edge of the Golan Heights, which is disputed territory between Israel and Syria. Our tour guide shared information about an abandoned network of military trenches and turrets constructed on this mountain after the 1967 War and it’s tactical role in defending against Syrian incursions.
We decided to brave the elements and visit the bunkers. Zero-degree wind chill pelted our faces as we moved through the installation. The white-out conditions caused some disorientation. The winds distorted sound. It wasn’t too difficult in that moment to imagine “the fog of war.”
We kept our visit to the trenches short, lest we tempt hypothermia to afflict us. As we drove down the switchbacks to the main road, the blue sky over the Sea of Galilee had turned a deep gray, and the wind was nearly as strong as what we’d just left. We arrived at the docks on the eastern shore, not far from the place where Jesus cast the Legion spirits from the Gadarene demoniac into the herd of pigs.
White capped waves covered the surface of the waters. We boarded one of the wooden tour boats and our skipper set us on a course to cross to the western shore. The crew played worship music on the big speakers, and we sang to the Lord as we motored over choppy surface.
About a third of the way, near gale force winds whipped the waves into a frenzy. Thankfully our craft was much larger than what the disciples sailed in with Jesus the night he calmed the wind and waves, but we got a real taste of the conditions they’d endured.
Soon our skipper announced we were turning back because the mid-sea conditions were too risky.
I felt completely secure and protected by the Lord, as did our whole team. We continued to worship and praise Jesus, and the winds calmed, the waves flattened, and the sun began to shine through the clouds.
“I Am Your Restorer”
The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter is a modest chapel built over a rock that is believed to be the site where Jesus appeared to Peter, James, and John after His resurrection and restored Peter.
As has been customary at each stop, our tour leader read and discussed the Biblical account of what took place, and then we moved into the chapel.
As I approached the rock and envisioned the scene, a warmth gradually enveloped me. My eyes moistened. I felt the enormity of how Jesus has redeemed my life from the pit and restored me as a son and fellow heir of the Kingdom. My gaze stayed locked on the rock… “He is my Rock and my Salvation” never felt more real to me than in that moment.
The Lord. My Protector. My Restorer.
The Bible, alive and active.
My spirit hears this from Him as I close:
“I am the Lord…I am your Father. I visited My Glory upon you at the monastery. I am a consuming fire, and I gave you the opportunity to experience My refining presence. I have set you apart for My purposes. Draw near to Me. Follow Me. Do what I have set before you, with Me.
“I am your Protector. Just as I have spread my protection over the State of Israel, my protection covers you. I gave you the opportunity to experience how quickly conditions shift in the Sea of Galilee to give you a reminder that life can shift just as suddenly and, when it does, I Am with you.
“I am your Restorer. Your past, even up to today, your sins and failures and lost opportunities, do not define you. I do. You are who I say you are. What you see as failure, I see as growth. Stay on the path I have marked for you. Follow My lead. Trust Me with the results.
The Bible, alive and active.