After church service on February 21, 2010, we had guests who were making themselves available for prophetic prayer ministry. My limited experience with such encounters was encouraging enough that I thought that I’d ask one of the pray-ers to pray for me. People who have learned to clearly hear from God can be a huge encouragement. Every one of us needs encouragement in some way. On February 21, 2010, I was in need of encouragement perhaps more than I’d ever been in my life.
I was sitting on the front row, watching clusters of people gathered together in prayer. One praying guest in particular was distinguished from the crowd, in my estimation. He had a presence about him that was different, perhaps more authoritative than anyone else I saw. I decided I’d wait for him. When he finished praying, I approached the church member who was coordinating the guest effort and asked if I could visit with the man in question. The coordinator asked the man if he had time for one more, and he said yes. I extended my hand and said, “My name is Joe.” The man shook my hand and pointed at me. “Joseph!” he declared, with what felt like non sequitur triumphant confidence. Completely unprepared for what was to follow, I corrected him. “No. Just Joe.”
The man proceeded to tell me a great deal about myself that he shouldn’t have possibly known. He talked about my past and my present. He gave me an answer from God for a prayer that I’d prayed out loud, alone, some months before. He told me, “You’re like Joseph, in prison. And one day, like Joseph, you’re going to just be out. A lot of people have been saying nasty things about you, mostly out of jealousy. Over the next seven years those same people will be coming to your, tearfully asking forgiveness. God is going to give you a gift that can help them.” And on it went. I was a mess. That’s the thing about receiving ministry from someone who can reveal God’s heart to you – when it’s happening, you sometimes have no recourse but to break down in stunned and tearful relief that there really is a God and that He loves you more than you ever knew before. That five-minute encounter changed my entire outlook on life. Years later I am still coming to terms with all that transpired in that mundane looking church huddle.
For purposes of this blog post, it’s the ‘Joseph’ angle that matters. Circumstances in my life at the time of that encounter were indeed weirdly analogous to the story of Joseph, son of Jacob. I had begun noticing that connection myself, several months before February 2010. I’d even noticed that I was noticing it, which was weird. I had read and re-read the Joseph narrative in Genesis, with an awareness that I’d not had during any previous study. That meeting at church with a total stranger blasted the whole thing into a collision of past and present. It hinted at the possibility that God might work with us today in ways that illuminate themes shared by both Biblical-past and modern circumstances. It’s a train of thought that will mess with one’s understanding of the space-time continuum in a big way. HE is outside that continuum and is capable of anything.
On January 31, 2016, at the end of our church service, our pastor asked us to stand up if we were having trouble holding out hope for something. I figured that I qualified; so I stood. A man I’d never seen before had been sitting in front of me during the service. He came around the end of the aisle and prayed for me, joining a handful of other generous faithful.
Prayers probably lasted five minutes. I was a snotty tearful mess at the end. The pastor asked us to meet someone we didn’t know. I introduced myself to the stranger who’d been praying for me. He’d apparently been crying, also. I don’t remember his name, because after he told me his name, he started dropping serious prophecy on me.
Paraphrased: (a) while you were standing there, God imparted courage to you. Courage to withstand the things people are going to say about you. People are going to say all kinds of things about you, but you won’t be fearful. (b) God is going to restore over and above all that you’ve lost. Ten times what you’ve lost, in the way of material possessions, He will pay you back. He’s already paid for it. (c) He is lighting your path. You are following that lighted path, not a lesser route.
The guy spoke with an understated confidence that was disarming. The things he said to me all made sense, in context of my experience over the past few years and of what could reasonably or possibly be expected in my future. Which is a weird way to look at things. I was intrigued and asked God for clarification and confirmation. I’m not interested in having false hope. I thought about the meeting throughout the week.
The following Sunday, after our worship time, we prayed as a church. Then the pastor asked us to greet the people around us. I raised my head from prayer and looked around for someone to meet. Suddenly, the man from the previous Sunday was standing right in front of me.
Him (big smile, excited): You’re Joseph!
Me (thinking he was trying to remember my name): Nope. Just Joe.
Him (ignoring my correction): God is changing your name! He changed Paul’s name. He changed Jacob’s name. He’s changing your name!
Me: The last person who told me I was Joseph changed my life with his words. One of the things he told me was, “You’re in prison, like him. And one day, you’re going to be out.”
Him (with immediate conviction and without hesitation): You’re at the door.
The guy definitely had my attention. I figured out within the next day that this particular encounter was two weeks shy of six years since my first Joseph experience.
It is 0100 on March 11, 2016. I am in Tel Aviv/Ben Gurion Airport, waiting for a flight to the USA via Frankfurt. I have spent the previous two weeks on a rigorous tour of Israel, along with some outstanding folks from Minnesota. I have been awake for nineteen hours. My flight doesn’t leave until 0500. It is something like twenty-four hours from now that I will land in Dallas. I cannot sleep on planes. Due to some complications from antibiotics in early February, compounded by the digestive hex of intercontinental travel, it’s been over a month since I’ve had a bowel movement that didn’t involve gymnastics and pain. I tell God that it would be OK with me if I were to die in the airport.
My Minnesota friends are flying out right about now. We said goodbye three hours ago, before they went into their gate area. I have been roaming the airport since then, trying to stay alert and engaged. Every thirty minutes I get up and walk for a bit and find another place to sit and wait for thirty minutes before I get up and walk for a bit and find another seat. I am concerned that I’m going to make a critical mental error somewhere, due to my brain operating at something like 60% of normal capability. I am in low grade shock from fatigue, boredom, pain, and the ultimately-pulverizing wonder that comes from two relentless weeks of seeing the Bible come alive.
I am seated near the gate area for the flights to Germany. I cannot pass to my gate until 0200. A man has sat two seats down from me, looking suspicious. He waits a few minutes and then asks me in English if I’d be interested in buying a phone card from him. I wave him off. He stands and walks away. A German-looking woman comes and sits in the row of chairs a few feet away down the wall from my row of chairs. She’s wearing a completely stuffed backpack. She sits in a chair and places her bag in the chair next to her. I stand and put on my own bags. Half an hour has passed since my last tour. Time to walk around and stay awake.
I see many familiar faces, more haggard than when I last saw them, thirty minutes or an hour prior. People who have been in the same seats for hours are sinking, melting in sleepless misery into their chairs. There is the young woman in IDF fatigues, who has been waiting with what appears to be her mother. As long as I’ve been in the terminal, they’ve been waiting for someone to come through the passage from the arriving flights. The young woman has strawberry blonde hair and a persistent cough. On this my current trudge through the expansive lobby, the woman and her mother are finally walking toward the exit, with a man who might be her brother joining them.
I take the escalator up to the next floor, looking for a radical change of scenery. Stepping off the escalator, I stand against the rail and look down on the floor below, the one I’d just watched the IDF woman crossing on her way to the door. I focus primarily on the Orthodox Jewish men, wearing all manner of head coverings and black outfits. It will be strange to be home soon in a city where I will goes years at a time without seeing anyone so dressed. The variety of hats is remarkable. Our tour directory said he has a friend who counted at least twenty-five styles of hats that the Orthodox Jewish men wear. I’m partial to those that look like your average fedora shot full of HGH. FGH, mebbe. I wander around for a few more minutes and then head back to the same general area of terminal that I’d just left. In less than an hour, I’ll be able to go through security and on to my flight gate; I might as well stay close to the Lufthansa gates.
I take a seat in the last row of chairs available in the terminal, three seats down from the dozing German woman. The restroom entrances are immediately to my right. Just past them is the sliding door to the employee parking lot. Dozens of employees come and go during either a shift change or a lunch break. I glance to my left, down the terminal. The German woman lifts her head and looks in my direction. Our eyes meet, and she puts her head back down. The door to the employee parking lot gets stuck open. Cold air is pouring in. I walk over to the door and step on the automatic door pad. Nothing happens. I check to see if the door is off its track. I eventually leave the thing alone, not wanting to draw any security -related attention to myself in Ben Gurion Airport. It is better to be cold than to provoke Mossad, there by the sliding glass door. After a few minutes a maintenance crew of young Jewish guys come and get the door closed and operational.
The cold air has stopped blowing in, and that is a good thing. An Orthodox Jewish woman walks just past me to the entrance of the restrooms. She stops, turns, and calls back to her husband, twenty feet away with their daughter. “Ari, you can get her changed into her pajamas, if you want to.” I am instantly transfixed by the woman’s presentation. She’s in her early- to mid-20’s and pretty. Most striking, she’s effortlessly feminine. Her voice is soft, as are her mannerisms. Something like grief wells up in me, as I consider the fact that a comfortably feminine woman should be such a show-stopping discovery. I’m 24hrs from being immersed again in the acid bath of Western culture, which culture destroys masculine and feminine. I’m grateful that this life doesn’t last forever.
Ari is alternately looking at his smartphone and interacting with their toddler. I wonder if he realizes his wife just suggested that things would go well with him, were he to put their daughter in PJ’s. In a manipulative way? After a couple of minutes, his wife returns from the restroom to find the daughter still in regular clothes and Ari looking at his phone. No harm, no foul. The small family exudes peace and warmth. What would it be like to live in a place where family and children were valued to that extent? What would it be like to be 23yrs old with a beautiful wife and daughter, with no expectation that I should want more or different than that? I watch Ari and his precious family vanish around the corner into the elevator lobby.
I get up from my chair and walk about twenty yards straight ahead, toward the vacant Lufthansa ticketing counter. How many seconds will it be before our flight from Frankfurt touches down in Dallas? Travel is so very glamorous, and there’s no guarantee that I’ll ever again actually have a normal bowel movement. I hear a gregarious voice where I have previously not heard one. I turn and look back at the row of chairs next to the bathroom. There’s an older guy, maybe mid- to late-60s, talking to the German woman. He’s got a cart laden with luggage, and he’s peppering the frau with inane questions out of nowhere. “Are you sleepy? Are you tired?” She nods in the affirmative and smiles. He says something else and shoves his cart on into the restroom.
The Minnesota crew is bound for Newark, en route to Minneapolis. They’re presumably settled in and maybe even sleeping by now. Our tour director and his family are presumably asleep, getting a couple of days’ rest before the next tour group arrives. That crowd comes from Nashville. You gotta figure they will be a bit edgy, what with the Vandy grad student being stabbed to death a few days ago. The voice, again. I look back at the bank of chairs. The talking man has returned and settled into a chair close to the German woman. He’s talking quickly and with much enthusiasm. She’s listening, as she’s apparently got no choice, other than to get up and leave.
The man has settled comfortably into an airport lounge chair, looking for all the world like he’s in his own easy chair at home. No small feat. I head back to my seat, both irritated by the man’s presumptuous nature and somewhat pleased at the distraction of whatever he’s bringing to the table. He’s asking her questions, speaking rapidly, and I cannot follow what he’s saying. He then gestures towards me and asks the woman a question about ‘your friend’. She says something and shakes her head side to side. We are not friends, you see. He tells us he wants to give us his phone number so we can talk after everyone gets back home. She and I both decline to take his number. In my molasses brain state of the moment, I’m thinking he wants me give him my number. Whatever the case, I shake my head and say no thanks. But I’m interested in this guy, whose presence has arrived like a megawatt bulb. I stand and walk to their end of the chairs.
The man offers a greeting of sorts and launches into an explanation of how he knows many important world leaders, how he’s always being invited to counsel them. He looks like Average Israeli guy, and I’m not buying his story. He’s incredibly joyful, whatever else he might be. He’s speed-talking. Bilderberg Summit. Kings and other heads of state. I stare at him, incredulous. He starts talking about farming. He talks about how people don’t know how to farm anymore, and that it’s bad thing that so many people are dependent on grocery stores for their livelihood. I tell him that I agree with him. He begins talking about the crush of refugees moving into Europe. Something about how if they only knew how to farm, then they could immediately be productive.
He tells me I should move to Israel so that he can teach me to farm. I decline. He says, “For twenty years, I’ve been waiting for you to move to Israel so I can teach you to farm.” This is getting weird. In an alternate universe, I’d love to move to Israel and let this guy teach me to farm. The guy is friendly and apparently harmless. I begin to think he doesn’t really mean anything he’s saying. It’s like he’s playing a joke, but that I’m in on the joke with him. I walk back to my bag and get a bag of pumpkin seeds. I offer pumpkin seeds to the man and woman. They both decline my offer. He’s talking about Nazis and how they were descended from the Knights of the Order of Malta. I figure everything is getting tense right about now. I don’t look at the German woman. He says that he’s a Jew of German heritage, but all his family ‘went up in the crematoria’. Yeah, it’s getting tense.
Now he’s talking about Donald Trump. How Trump keeps saying these things that generate controversy. “He needs better advisers. People who will keep him from saying things that cause chaos.” The only other time I’ve heard Israelis mention Donald Trump in the past two weeks is when a couple of check point guards were on our bus, inspecting passports. “What do you think of Trump?” one of them asked, in joking-threatening manner.
Now he’s talking about religion. He says some words about religion, and my brain is struggling to follow him from subject to subject. He looks at me and says, “What religion are you?” Christian, I reply. “What kind of Christian are you? Do you like Joel Osteen?” I laugh and tell him I don’t trust anyone who smiles that much. “What about John Hagee?” I tell him I’ve seen a couple of his sermons and liked what I saw. “You need to tell more people about your faith,” he announces. “You’re right.” He was right. He talks some about ‘Pastor Hagee’s’ views on the end times. He pauses just a bit and announces, with a disarming and almost shy smile, “I’m very friendly!” The woman and I laugh with him. I smile at him, thinking, “Who the heck are you? There’s no way you’re for real.” An Israeli Jew who interested in John Hagee and Donald Trump? Talking like a machine gun about all this stuff. He smiles broadly and with a wry twinkle back at me, again like we’re in on the same joke, and he keeps talking. Changing from subject to subject. Something about his wife.
And somehow his speech speeds up even more, like a recorder playing back a message, sped up. Only the pitch doesn’t change. I can no longer follow what he’s saying. Something about how his father did something when he (talking man) was a young boy. Some kind of project or lesson. And in the midst of the this part of the presentation, presumably because it’s part of the story, he shouts the word JOSEPH. He continues on and I feel like my mind has run off the cliff like Wyle E. Coyote. “WordswordswordswordsJOSEPH!” He stares intently at me as his speech blazes on, the verbal equivalent of fence posts blurring by while you speed past them on the highway. It’s like he’s reached the punchline of whatever joke I thought I was in on. “WordswordswordsJOSEPH! WordswordwordsJOSEPH!”
And then he is done. My mind is vapor-locked. He tells us he wants to pray for us. He proceeds to pray a most humble, lucid, reverent prayer for me and then for the German woman. Something about her career as an artist. I thank him for the wonderful prayer. And then he announces it is time for him to go. He stands up and says his goodbyes. I stare at him dumbly as he gathers his belongings. And he looks back at me, with a brand new face. Gone is the jovial speedy talker. His expression is deadly serious. Not menacing. Rather, grave; but still communicative. He bores holes through my eyes with his and raises one hand up to shoulder level. He slowly traces an invisible oval shape, parallel to the floor. He drops his hand without dropping his gaze. I have no possible response. He turns and walks off into whatever world he inhabits.
I wish that I had gotten his phone number.
Two days after the episode, I was returned to the rest of my life of trying to have a normal bowel movement. I wondered if the guy was an angel. Or a prophetic human who was off his meds. I came up with the only interpretation that made sense to me of the man’s parting gesture: “Come back to Israel.”
Update, 04/20/16: It’s entirely possible that none of the things in this post or even this blog mean anything other than there have been a bunch of interesting coincidences. At worst, I’m being wildly deceived by my self or some dark spirits. I don’t rule any of that out. In fact I generally try to not assume that any of the interesting manifestations and coincidences mean anything, good or bad. Even as I type that, I know that I’ve decided subtly over the past year that This has to be from God, for various reasons. That’s not the safest practice. My day-to-day existence is based on becoming someone who loves the Lord with all of heart, soul, strength, and mind; and loving my neighbor as myself. That’s the best I can do, the best I should do. All this other stuff that has turned into more blogging than I’d expected is (I think) real; the question all along has been and is, “Where does it come from?” The answer is: I don’t know yet. In the mean time, I’m along for the ride and reporting the sights as I go.