Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. —1Sam 11.
Now I know for certain that there is a spiritual realm with forces outside of my control, good, evil and…well, I just don’t know. But you do, so help me figure this one out, Lord.
The day following our confrontation with an “unfriendly” at the Christ Church gate and our border crossing challenge related to the Tour D’Italy bike race, we charged on with anticipation. The itinerary was well mapped out with a trip up to Cesarea Marittima, Elijah’s Lookout and Megiddo. Two of the destinations I had previously visited and so was confident in guiding our group in discovery. The other, Elijiah’s Lookout on Mt. Carmel was a new opportunity for me as well. I had studied up, best as I could on the mapped routes to each and had boned up on their histories. Now was my chance to demonstrate my acumen for your land. This would be a good and well-orchestrated journey.
In other words, I had not counted on your Spirit’s intervention—other plans, not exactly matched to mine. We were destined for glitches right from the start. Once arrived at Caesarea, we eagerly approached the entrance gate. I had already heralded this site as extra special because it was the home of the first recorded Gentile convert in the book of Acts, none other than…Cornelius! As I chattered on about Paul’s imprisonment experience in this place as well, the gate attendant mentioned nonchalantly, “It’s a good thing you got here when you did.”
We all turned our heads immediately her direction and she took the cue, “The Tour D’Italy will be running their bicycle race through the town starting at noon.”
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. We had just been alerted by this unassuming watchwoman that we had exactly ninety minutes to walk through an excavation site more than two miles in circumference. The look on everyone’s faces (and I was informed by others that my countenance too was evident) said it all. We did NOT want to be forced-spectators two days in a row.
Our gang quickly came together and we discussed the options. Lord, I confess that I probably had built up the anticipation of this place significantly, but I claim your inspiration in the matter. You had turned me on to the history of the stadia, the amphitheater, the dwellings, the aqueduct and the culture of this place. You infused a sense of connection in the concept that perhaps, just perhaps, that first Cornelius and I have a blood and certainly a spiritual connection. You gave me a love for the seaside and a curiosity for antiquities. I perhaps zealously passed this on to our crew and they wanted to take in as much as possible before our rushed exit.
On that note, trying to regather seven eager explorers who had independently dispersed was an act I liken to herding cats. Still, we all made it back to our van and out of the area prior to the two-wheeling onslaught. Our next stop: Elijah’s Lookout; a spot on Mt. Carmel noted to be the location where the man of YHWH took on the Baal prophets in a demonstration of your supremacy. I know what a sticky issue this remains to this day, Lord, as many people have tried to dilute your authority by claiming God is all gods. It seems in our efforts to be inclusive; we are reluctant to consider the same thing the Baal worshipers failed at—that, perhaps, just perhaps, there may be One who is clearly identifiable as HaShem—The Name—and that denying you as Sovereign might turn out as badly for us as it did for those folks. Some people don’t like to hear me say stuff like that, Master: What’s a believer to do?
Back to our travels that day—the challenge, we discovered with Mt. Carmel is that it is better described as Mts. Carmel with numerous peaks and speculation rather than demarcation as to where the sacrificial flaming took place. GPS had just as much trouble figuring out the likely location as we did, and with no historical markers to suggest otherwise, we pulled in at a remote highland spot where we noticed some parked cars. It turned out to be a nicely shaded campground and we could imagine Elijah nodding his head that this would be a good place to show the world that you are Elohim Echad.
Under the covering of a broom tree, I felt inspired to read the account in 1 Kings 18 to the group and that’s when you showed up, again in the strangest of ways. A woman from one of the camp sites invited herself into our midst with a plate of dates, ginger, and sweet spices, offering each of us a taste. Her name was Shoshana which translates as Rose, and so she was, Lord. Her warm hospitality spoke to the beauty of your people, a contrast to the reading which suggested at one time, great division. The verbal communication in our day, with our newfound friend, was clumsy, but the message was clear, Israel is a place of fresh, renewed invitation.
Just as we were delighting in this moment, you raised the bar. Somewhere in the background, music began to faintly tinkle. It was familiar, but oddly out of place in this venue. The tune slowly grew in volume and I could make out the Blue Danube Waltz by Strauss. Lord your sense of humor is so vast. It was not the music that was strange, but the producer. Up and around the corner of this isolated mountain vista appears a bright aqua-blue ice cream truck (and I bet all of you reading along can hear in your minds not only the music, but the timber of the truck speakers, the slight warble of the recording—what joy can be found in one’s memories)! All of the Hebrew inscriptions on the sides of the vehicle were unnecessary—pictures instead announced the perfect message of cool refreshment on this warm day.
Everyone, including Rose, was lured by the waltz to its terminus and we each eagerly purchased our preferred portion of (what do you call Americana in the land?)…Israelana. In this strange way, we were able to repay the generosity of our new friend, offering to buy her frozen treat. God of the universe, you own the unexpected and teach us by it, that you give your messengers the power to light fires on logs saturated with water, and you provide clever ways to join people in international fellowship to the purpose of your glory. How do I know that your purpose was and is served in this day? Your word was spoken out loud in prayer by all of us surrounding the ice-cream truck; simple, edifying; unifying us all and affirming that you too can share a good time.
Our day concluded with an odyssey to Megiddo, one of the most provocative places on the planet where more wars and conflicts have been manifested than anywhere in the written records. I have written of this hotspot before, now a peaceful, dormant monument; yet awaiting The Day prophesied to come; a culminating battle when you will speak your final word to a rebellious world. Knowing that, as a child in Nazareth, you could observe this place and know its future significance astounds me, and impressed our group in that moment. We left the place awed by the vastness of your plan; you being ever present even in orchestrating the lessons we were absorbing…
—And to give us that extra time to consider these things, you managed another comical wink. Exiting the Megiddo archeological site, we were immediately enveloped in a two-hour traffic jam caused by Tour D’Italy enthusiasts returning from Caesarea Marittima to Jerusalem. I hoped they had as profound an experience as we had—but I suspect not.
Even with the traffic, the travel time seemed to pass quickly as we reviewed the excursion, sharing laughter and song. You, the God of unpredictable paradoxical interactions; you the joiner, the forgiver and the judge; you the Father and the son, were there in the van with us, your Spirit preparing us for even greater adventures to come.
Thanks for the day, Lord. Thanks for the prize and surprise of it all.