Holy Land

A single conversation can change the trajectory of your life. These unplanned conversations spark a light inside to take larger risks than normally taken. I, for one, did not expect this kind of conversation late last summer.

Lexington summers are like walking into a sauna fully clothed with no relief of a nearby open body of water to jump in. A consistent complaint of mine while I have lived in the Bluegrass. A friend cheerfully once described the humidity as a warm blanket to sink yourself into. She did not have the curse of sweating profusely no matter the temperature. Yes, somehow, my feet still sweat in the middle of a snowstorm.

These unplanned conversations spark a light inside to take larger risks than normally taken.

The warm humid blanket which only a few actually wanted to wrap themselves in described the weather that day. Hot, sticky, wetness. Praise Jesus for air conditioners in coffee shops. KP and I met at a local coffee shop to catch up on life and what the Lord had been doing. I drank iced tea and she a coffee beverage as our feet dangled from the tall stools at a high table next to the tinted windows. Our conversation jumped around with the theme of Israel popping up from time to time.

“It’s funny,” I noted. “I just heard a woman speak in Louisville about taking a group to Israel. I keep wondering if this is a trip I need to go on.”

Without missing a beat, KP inquired, “You’re going in November, right?”

Freaked out, I placed both of my hands on the table and blurted out, “Wait, how did you know when the trip is?”

With an older sister like tone, KP smiled at me and stated. “Nate… the Lord kept telling me ‘November.’ I guess you have a phone call to make.”

Our conversation dwindled down a bit as we walked into the bluegrass sauna.

“Let me know what happens, okay?”

“I certainly will!”

With the car air conditioner blowing into my face, I left a voicemail on the speaker’s phone inquiring about the trip and wanting to sign up. I heard back from her within a few minutes with confirmation of me going on the trip. She stated someone felt like there would be a connection between Lexington and Israel specifically for this trip. Before receiving my voicemail, she also wondered if I should be going.

Confirmation upon confirmation upon confirmation got me to register for the spiritual pilgrimage. I honestly did not know what I was going for, but I knew I needed to go.

A few short months later, with my single mustard-colored travel backpack, I landed in the Holy Land. Holy mayhem could describe the immigration lines. Lines would be a loose term as tour groups lumped themselves together trying to get to the front. International groups sung songs to match their religious persuasion. Matching colored t-shirts kept their groups intact. And here I was elbowing my way past a rowdy group of older Italian women in order to not get pushed to the back of the line again.

After thirty minutes of claustrophobic anticipation, I made my way through customs and officially onto Israeli soil. The Israeli flag hung overhead welcoming visitors with the Hebrew and English stating their greetings for first time visitors. Surreal would not adequately describe the emotions I had walking onto the Holy Land. It felt like the first time parents met their newborn after nine months of waiting. Or a high school senior waiting for their first official acceptance letter to college. By looking around at the other visitors around me, I knew they felt the same way. Life was about to change.

A Hebrew-speaking American picked me and a few others up as we made our way from Tel Aviv to an Airbnb in Tiberias overlooking the Sea of Galilee. By the time we arrived, the sun had already hid itself behind the city skyline. But the others prepared a beautiful first meal of kabobs, vegetable dishes, and glasses of wine to celebrate our arrival.

Brief introductory conversations were made with our excitement filling in the quiet spaces of our dialogue. The next forty-eight hours seemed to have blurred together for several reasons. My joy of stepping into the Middle East for the first time. A roommate having difficulty breathing in his sleep. A more diplomatic way of saying, “He snores.” And Jesus meeting me in a vision on the first two nights.

It all felt familiar from the summer I lived with Wade. The summer I thought I had about lost my mind. The dark, dusty spiritual field with no refuge from the attacks. A desert with low lying thorny bushes. Explosions from every side as the army of light rose up from the underground to begin their attacks. I, a part of the army of light, took an offensive stance against the darkness. We ran towards the hills where the cowards hid themselves in this warzone. And like before, bombs plummeted onto the earth near me with the impact flinging my body into the air. I crashed and slid across the sandy terrain until I completely stopped. This time my helmet did not come off.

This was how darkness operates. Destruction with no purpose or reason.

Internal groans echoed in my body while the war shook the ground. Slowly, I opened my eyes to the other warriors of light dodging the air attacks near them. The darkness did not want us here. We all knew this. But we did not understand how anyone would want to make a land destitute and dead. This was how darkness operates. Destruction with no purpose or reason. If anything, only to hinder life from healing the land.

I rolled over to my side and pushed myself out of the sand. I would not end my fight this way. I stretched my back and repositioned my helmet. I grasped my sword and shield and let out an uncontrollable, earth shaking warrior cry. My aching body came into full submission to my soul and spirit as the others screamed out their largest warrior cries.

“You’re still a part of this,” the Holy Spirit reminded me.

As each bomb crashed closer and closer to me - I leaped over the craters it made and dashed towards the darkness while crying out to the enemy to let them know I did not fear them. And instantly, the light behind me rushed over me and swept across the darkened desert and into the hills exposing their camps.

Never again would I fall into one of their scare tactics.

In the natural world, I squinted my eyes at my cell phone reading “06:00 AM.” Quietly, I grabbed my pillow and laid on the outdoor hammock to watch the sunrise. Only forty-eight hours into this trip and I knew I would never return home the same.

That afternoon, our team split into two vehicles to travel to one of our first destinations. The crisp air matched the dusty hillside as the vehicles zigzagged up Mount Tabor to the Church of Transfiguration. Its architecture matched the Catholic Missions I once had to make sugar cube models of in fifth grade. I spray painted the elementary structure gold and used trees from a Lego toy set I had to get the landscape just right. I did miss those California school days.

Our group had an hour or so for prayer and contemplation on the grounds before gathering again. Our fearless, prophetic leader led us down a foot trail passing by bushes of golden flowers, haphazardly placed rocks, pine trees and cacti. The ten of us sat on rocks or against the skinny trees as she read the story of Deborah in Judges 4, part of which took place on this mount thousands of years ago. Our reading flowed into worship and prayer.

I rarely prayed out loud in the Spirit with others around me. I kept the spiritual language for Jesus and I when my words grew too tired to fully express my deepest thoughts. This afternoon, no words I knew of could capture what my heart desired, so I allowed the Spirit to lead me in my prayers. My physical body began to tremble and subconsciously, I prayed for someone to touch my back to let me know I was not alone.

A moment later, a dear friend in the group sat down next to me and placed her hand on my back as my emotional and spiritual broke down on the mountainside. I lowered my face into my knees as tears formed small puddles in my sunglasses. With open hands placed on my knees, I asked the Lord to guide me to what I needed.

I trusted Him with my life.

In my mind’s eye, I transferred to an open vision. Like many times before, I had full armor on waiting for instructions from the King. A lion appeared running from behind me and thrusted me onto his back as he ran through the mountainous terrain. My hands grasped his flowing mane and leaned into his torso as our pace steadily increased with leaps across the boulders and dashing underneath the tree limbs. My chest against his back could feel the heavy breathing as we raced through the woods to an unknown destination. I trusted Him with my life.

The breeze seemed to slow down as his giant paws walked over a few more exposed tree roots until we reached a clearing. The lion stopped, nudging me to get down and walk with him a few more steps. We walked to the ledge to peer over the city below. I could sense the city spiritually slept for months, even years with no lights shining through the households. It felt unsafe. Did we have permission to stare into a city, which wasn’t ours, the army of light?

“Let out your warrior cry,” directed the lion.

With a newfound confidence from his simple command, I climbed the single pine tree near us - perched on the cliff’s edge. With one arm holding on and the other outstretched over the city below. I let out the largest scream I could.

In unison, the lion screamed as an eagle joined us to let out his own. I slowed my cry as I began to joylessly laugh how silly we must have looked. The lion and eagle smiled at me. The lion instructed me to cry out once again and so I did.

As our cries let out, households began to turn on their lights one by one waking up to the sounds above. Clouds parted bringing sunlight to the city. People looked out of their window smiling as the sun rays danced around them. Amazingly, hidden snakes in their households hissed as they slithered away from the light exposing the lies the town once believed.

The louder I screamed in the supernatural, the harder I prayed in tongues and the more I cried in the natural. I had found freedom in my warrior cry with the lion. And a proclamation of freedom brings life and hope to others.

I had found freedom in my warrior cry...

An unknown amount of time went by as a few others prayed over me. I humbly received their prayers in complete exhaustion from this time. Hugs were exchanged as we silently made our way back to our vehicles and onto our next destination - lunch in Nazareth.

The Lord knew I needed relief and time to process what He had shown me. The next several days, I slowly took in each destination, its history and my surroundings. It felt gentle, yet still impactful in every way.

On our final day, our group stopped at the Church of the Primacy of Peter on the Sea of Galilee. A possible site of where Jesus appeared to the disciples for the third time after being raised from the dead. Jesus cooked them a fish breakfast. Jesus also singled Peter out by asking him if he loved him three times. In a beautiful way, Jesus used this opportunity to correct Peter and talk to him about his destiny.

The day’s light fog awakened the mysterious wonder I had of Jesus.

The gentle sea kept my company as I sat on the rocky shoreline in wonder of what I might have done if Jesus appeared out of nowhere to cook me a simple breakfast. The day’s light fog awakened the mysterious wonder I had of Jesus. I never identified having many characteristics of Peter, yet I often wished I had his zeal. The audacity to jump out of the boat and at least try to walk on water. Or defend Jesus - maybe a little too much - by using a sword to cut someone’s ear off. I may be more cautious in my approach. A little too often letting others test the water’s density before I attempted to get out of the boat.

In the silence, the Lord reminded me of my own ability to be brave with Him like shouting from the top of a pine tree leaning over a mountain ledge to declare freedom to a city below. Without warning, I looked across the water as it transformed into a rainbow flag. I blinked my eyes a few times to realize the open vision would not go away.

And - out of nowhere - Jesus appeared standing in the middle of the Sea. In a clear, confident voice, He stated, “Clean Slate, Nate.” The words caused a ripple in a straight line from Jesus all of the way to the shoreline. The rippled, colored straight line in the sea transformed to white. And soon, the pure white shot out from the line to the rest of the sea.

I nodded my head that I knew what Jesus meant.

For I had been transformed.


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