Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gibraltar and the Sabbath

About 13 months ago I was sitting in a rickety old train traveling slowly through southern Spain. Andrew Crosson and I were making our pilgrimage across Spain together, and one of the last stops was Gibraltar. We were both excited and intrigued to see what this giant rock would look like in person. Already we'd made stops in Madrid and Sevilla, with incredible results. I was clearly getting the picture that Spain was an incredibly beautiful country with so much history and culture.

Andrew and I were on our way next to Gibraltar, and we were both excited and a little bit tired. By this point we were already 13 days into our travel break (the break at the end of our semester studying abroad in London), and it was getting tiring lugging around a giant pack with that many days worth of provisions. So with a little bit of fatigue and a steady reserve of untapped energy we got on our train to head to Gibraltar.

It was one of those journeys that just sucks the life out of you. The train stopped so many times I began to wonder if it would have been quicker to rent a moped...It also had this weird vibe the whole time. There were literally only a few other people in the train with us, and as we followed the tracks south and the sun set to the west, there was this eerie feeling you get when you're traveling to an unfamiliar place and you're not quite sure if you're going the right direction...

Well we finally got there, and after a quick stay in the hostel that night, we headed out the next morning to see Gibraltar. And what a disappointment it was. I mean it was just a huge let down. Yeah there was a big rock and lots of ocean surrounding the whole peninsula, but the streets were dirty and cramped and the place had an ultra-touristy feel to it. Both Andrew and I left Gibraltar more than a little bummed as we headed to our final destination in Spain.

After 13 months, though, I've realized that it wasn't really Gibraltar that was the let down. It was how we got there. The long, tiring train ride eeked out any of that untapped energy we had in our reserves and left us totally deflated. By the time we even got to Gibraltar our excitement level was so low that it would have taken one of the 7 wonders of the world to shake us out of our stupor. I guess that's just how traveling is. Sometimes when you pack too much in, the journey just gets long and hard and frustrating, and the destination loses its appeal.

You're probably already following where I am going with this. It's kind of the same reason God commanded us to observe the Sabbath and to guard it fiercely. We are creatures designed to work, but in order to do our work well we have to have periods of rest and rejuvenation. If we don't take the time to rest and get recharged, the journey starts feeling like a slug through the mud. Everything, even the fun moments of life, lose their luster when you're so tired and worn down that you can't enjoy them.

I'm starting to see just how much of a difference observing the Sabbath can have in my life. It's amazing. And I want to highly recommend that you try it as well. It just might make the journey that much better.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coats and Jackets

Yesterday I had the beautiful opportunity to rest with good friends. We took a little car drive and rode out into the country, past the blinking lights and the strip malls that seem to be everywhere around us. There was good music in the car, and just the right amount of good conversation. As we drove, I thought about how rarely I take notice of the night sky, the way it blinks and shines with little lights, like a free art show every night.

I thought about how the biting of a sharp gust of wind reminds me that I am alive and that I can not rely on myself. It works itself to your skin, wriggling through your jackets and coats like a hunter stalking prey, and when you feel it in the deep of your bones you realize that even with all these layers on you are vulnerable still. You walk with brisk steps, intent on reaching a destination of warmth. And when you do, you exhale and the blood seems to rush all through your body like a dam being broken. It's a wonderful feeling, and it reminds me that I am alive, and that I am needy as I live out this journey of life.

We have to put on so many layers just to keep warm out in the cold, and it's no different with our hearts. To survive in a world where hurt and pain, distrust and indifference, and hate and grudges are so pervasive we quickly learn to fit our hearts with coats and jackets, insulating ourselves from getting too hurt. When someone says something out of anger to us for the first time, we feel the pain right in the center of our hearts, and we look for wars to keep that from happening again. When we reach out in love to someone and the love is not returned, we turn back toward ourselves like a turtle withdrawing into its shell, never wanting to feel that way again.

So we learn that in order to protect our hearts we must insulate them with coats and jackets. We quickly become very good at this, and learn to be wary of the outstretched hand of another person, of the kind words they offer to us, and of simple hospitality. We present ourselves in just the right light so that the people we meet can know what we want them to know about us. We may even let a few people peek at the heart that lies behind the coats, but it is never for long. And as we do this, we learn how to fit in, with whatever crowd we want to fit in with. We wear the clothes, say the right things, and laugh at the right times. But down deep the heart becomes restless under the weight of so many jackets and coats. It's getting stiflingly hot in there.

It can take a long time to realize this, and thus it takes a long time to replace the coats and blankets with the right kind of insulation. But when we meet the person of Jesus, we know that He sees right through those layers in our hearts. And beyond that, He tells us He wants to recreate us, to make us new in His image. We have to learn to take off these coats and jackets and let the love and mercy of Christ seep into every corner of our thirsty hearts. And there's a certain amount of trust that we must place in Jesus. We have to trust Him because it takes time for Him to fit us with new insulation. Not the old kind of coats and jackets we were used to, but a layer of peace, grace, and love. It is this kind of insulation that protects us from the searing arrows that come our way, but also allow us to open up and be transparent with other people, all at the same time.

It's amazing how intricately God wants to recreate us, and how much He will if we will simply submit ourselves to Him. It's just so hard for me and you to trust that God can do better than we can. When we do, though, we find that the journey is anything but safe, but it is the most amazing journey of new life and new creation.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rain, Rain, go away

A couple of weeks ago I took up the initiative of trying to get back in shape. I don't know exactly where "back" is, but it sounds good because I remember being in fairly good physical condition in my high school years. I felt that the time was right for me to try to get back to that state.

Maybe it's better if I look at it as just getting in shape. After all, I can't really even remember how good or bad of shape I was in at any particular moment, i just remember feeling in shape. The point is, I wanted regular strenuous exercise to be a normal, re-occuring thing as I started out the new semester.

So I laced up the shoes and started out with some simple stretching exercises, realizing that it's pretty hard to be effective with any form of exercise if your muscles feel more like wooden boards than pliable tissue. After a few days of intense stretching I was ready to commence with the running.

And boy did it feel good. Running is just so good for so many different reasons. It satisfies that physical urge to feel utterly exhausted, but it also is just such a simple thing that it becomes an easy pleasure. I pushed myself, knowing that without goals my training would amount to nothing more than a series of let downs. If I've learned one thing in personal fitness, it's that you have to learn how to push your body, how to keep going, how to be disciplined.

Well, as I arrived back in birmingham, eager to continue the running, I was met with more rain in the past few days than I could have imagined possible. Seriously. Most of the last three days has been rainy, and not the kind where there is a break, but the kind of steady, sodden rain.

But while the rain has kept me indoors, it's been a good thing in many respects. It's in these kinds of situations where I learn again the truth of the verse that says "a man's heart plans his ways, but the Lord directs his steps". The rainy days that keep me indoors remind me that I must not get so caught up in my daily schedules, my plans and schemes that I miss out on the things the Lord wants me to do, and the things He wants to teach me.

Indeed the Lord works in mysterious ways.