Finding God Abroad: Reflections from the Sea of Galilee by Brad LaChapell

Sea of Galilee

DAY 22:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

 

Brad LaChapell is one of the best guys I know.  A junior pastoral ministries major at Lee with me, he has edified me as an accountability group member and inspired me as the chaplain of my dorm.

With a heart full of grace, Brad lives out the Gospel daily amongst both the privileged and the destitute, finding God everywhere he looks.

Having taken the same trip to Israel as Valerie from “Unearthing Israel,” I had to share with you Brad’s moving story of his spiritual musings from the Sea of Galilee.  //

I really like stories. There is something about them that draws the attention, fixates the mind, and captivates the imagination.

Stories have the ability to take you along on a journey, thrusting you to the edge of your seat as you experience the narrative’s ebb and flow, awaiting its conclusion. The best stories will leave you walking away with a sense of wonder.

Countless stories have taken me on such journeys, but never has it been so easy to place myself within a story as it was sailing the Sea of Galilee. On those waters, the very waters that Jesus set foot upon, I felt so vividly immersed in the story of scripture.

Everything had been moving so quickly leading up to that point. It began with a four o’clock in the morning flight from Atlanta, and a few plane rides, conversations with strangers, and naps later, I was on the ground in Tel Aviv, Israel, for two weeks of touring the country–my first experience abroad.

The start of many endeavors in the Holy Land, my life stood still on those waters.

 

I think we all long to go on the adventure of a lifetime, to be a part of a grand story.

We are infatuated with travel and captivated by books and movies that can take us to another world. Like children when they first learn to crawl, we venture to explore unknown places. We seek to discover all things new in the world of study and research and create bucketlists to squeeze as much adventure into life as possible.

We long for a life of purpose, a journey that is meaningful. It is a part of what it is to be human.

I can imagine Peter had such a longing. Sailing this very sea two thousand years ago, in a boat similar to the one that I had been sailing in, Peter had been missing something deep in his soul, though he knew not exactly what.

That is, until he heard the two words that satisfied his longing. With two words, Jesus called Peter to the adventure of a lifetime:

“Follow Me.”

He was comforted and confounded as these two words created feelings so paradoxical. Jesus promised to make Peter, the fisherman, a “fisher of men.” Peter’s life would be changed to change lives.

Jesus took Peter’s ordinary everyday calling and reinvented it, breathing his divine life and purpose into it and establishing an even greater calling.

Now, Jesus beckons all people to the same: “Follow Me.”

It is hard to believe that it has been about three and a half years since I said “yes” to these words, yet it’s as if it has been a lifetime full of adventure.

Much of that time, I’ve spent in places of poverty and brokenness. Along the way I have met some of the most amazing people. Though some of these places and situations are heavy, I’ve seen God in these places as I’ve joined with Him in bringing restoration and hope to these broken places.

As God’s people, we are on this journey together, though it may look different for everyone. We have been invited into the grand narrative of redemptive history, and we have become vital characters in the story.

We all play a role in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purpose in the world, building a Kingdom whose reign will never end.

Like all of the best stories, ours will have times of great sorrow and great joy. While not every moment will produce adrenaline-filled excitement, Christianity should never be a boring existence, void of meaning.

Sea of Galilee

In both the mundane and the remarkable, journeying with Christ is an endlessly meaningful adventure. Following Jesus is like conquering the open sea.

But because we know we will arrive safely at shore, we are freed to enjoy the journey with our hearts at ease, exploring the depths of God, ourselves, humanity, and the rest of creation and discovering the beauty of God amidst it all.

I believe Jesus’ call to follow Him is an invitation to embark on the great adventure.  It’s like what C.S. Lewis notably described in The Last Battle as the “Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

As I stepped off of that boat onto the shore of the Sea of Galilee, I was filled with wonder as I realized I was not leaving a story but stepping back into one–the narrative of those beckoned by the call, “Follow me.”

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Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

You can read more adventures in travel from the Finding God Abroad series here.

 

Managing Your Energy

DAY 21:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

This week has been nothing but fighting to keep my head above water.  School has been a lot to handle, but this unexpected revelation actually came from one of my classes.

My professor has been studying human capital and has learned that research is pointing to a new method to manage our hectic schedules and find balance in our lives:  energy management.

So much effort has been focused on time management–on squeezing the life out of every second of every day–that we often feel guilty for taking time off, for napping, for seeing friends, or even goofing off.

Our society has no value for rest, and the people who make it to the top are the most over-worked and exhausted.  Our technology-based and results-obsessed culture–after robbing us of our attention spans–expects increasingly more of us, and our relationships and creativity are suffering for it.

There’s just not enough time, and we’re not going to get any more.  How are we supposed to complete everything expected of us as well as take care of our bodies and minds?

As my professor described, this time deficit makes us feel like we’re in a strong river current rapidly moving towards a waterfall, fighting against the swift flow of the water.  Instead, we should be conserving our efforts to make one quick push to the shore.

Situations, activities, and people have both negative and positive impacts on our lives.  Time management is simply making time for all the stuff that we have to do–the chores that mostly take our energy.

But for increased productivity and a more balanced life, we have to also really invest in things that give us energy back–sleep, eating well, a movie with friends, day trips, etc.

Our society tells us we should do more of the negatives stuff that zaps our energy, yet our tired bodies tell us to only do things that add energy.  The secret to being productive, it seems, is finding a balance.

I know this isn’t totally revolutionary thinking, but I just wanted to share because it opened up my eyes to how incorrectly I’ve been approaching my time:  focusing solely on the negatives and neglecting the positives (that would in turn help me do the negatives).  It’s just all one big, unhealthy cycle.

Anyway, I help this was interesting and helps you take charge (get it, + and – charges…) of your life!

For more on energy management, check out this New York Times article, “The Personal Energy Crisis.”

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I’m 21 days into my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters!  You can read more of them here.  

 

 

Finding God Abroad: The Burning Bush (Costa Rica)

San Jose--Finding God Abroad

DAY 20:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

“The Lord is going to speak to you on this trip in ways He has never spoken to you before.”

That’s what everyone kept telling me leading up to my three-week study abroad in Costa Rica.  In the summer of 2012, I was quite timid, an adamant Pentecostal, and just eighteen years old.  Oh, and I’d never been outside of the country without my parents, so that was new (and terrifying).

The trip consisted mostly of studying in the capital city of San Jose, including a week at the University of Costa Rica, while staying at a Nazarene seminary just outside the city.

As a study program for telecommunications students, the last week would be spent focusing on photojournalism, chronicling our journey from the volcanic hot springs of Arenal to the Monteverde cloud forest to the Pacific Ocean.

The trip was unforgettably exciting:  we chopped through poisonous plants with machetes, avoided tarantulas while spotting toucans, toured news studios and the roof of a bougie PR firm, delivered presents to orphans, zip-lined over miles of rain forest, and even filmed an amateur horror movie.

I had experienced God many times in my life, but here I was able to see Him outside my small town context:  in the sound of crickets, in the image of colorful flowers, and in the bustle of the city.

San Jose

But out of the blue, an unexpected event interrupted my blissful trip.  At the start of our studies at the University of Costa Rica, my friend and I visited a local cafe for lunch and somehow my expensive Nikon camera was stolen right from under our table.

Check out this post from Caroline’s blog, The College Cosmopolitan, when something similar happened to her in Florence, Italy.  You can read it here.

How was I supposed to pass a photojournalism class without a camera?!

Costa Rica

God had truly spoken to me but in a way I never expected–a frightening and incredibly disheartening theft.

Yet in the midst of this bad situation, I had unexplainable inner peace.  It was as if God was whispering, “Do you really trust me, even with these unfortunate circumstances?”

I was reminded of the story of Moses, who heard God’s voice from the most unlikely of places–a burning bush.

“Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground,” God said.

Wherever your journey takes you–across the world or down the street–you are walking on holy ground.  Don’t miss your burning bush: it could be anywhere or anything or anyone.

Quiet your spirit long enough to listen to God’s whisper, even if what you are facing is painful.

Ultimately, the experience was a testament to Providence:  the insurance company helped pay the bill, and as my photography professor hadn’t yet joined us in San Jose, a new camera was purchased and kindly delivered to me just in time.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has a popular phrase that is essentially the Tico version of the British “cheers.”  “¡Pura Vida!” means “pure life” literally but can be used as a celebratory expression of what it truly means to be alive.

From riding off a suspended platform harnessed to a zip-line to being forced to find faith that God would provide in my seemingly hopeless situation, I experienced pura vida like never before in those three weeks:  the wild, uncertain adventure of a life that’s bursting with everyday miracles.

Even if that adventure looks like a stolen camera.

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What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you while traveling, and what did you learn from it?  Share your comments below.

I can’t believe I’m already 20 days into my 31 Days of Unexpected Spiritual Encounters!  You can read more of them here.  

You can read more Finding God Abroad adventures here.

In The Middle

In the Middle

DAY 19:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

College is a combination of having fun and getting to know yourself for the first time really, which means existential crises are suddenly a regular part of your life.  Tay Sway was right when she said she was happy, free, confused, and lonely:  I feel each one of those emotions once about every five minutes.

Yesterday and today were days where I was just all over the place.  I came back feeling refreshed from fall break but was met with a circumstance right off the bat that was less than ideal.

Additionally, my whole Monday was oddly out of whack, and despite my best intentions, I fell back into some of the same unsuccessful habits that I was beating myself up about before break.

It just further demonstrates to me how extraordinarily cyclical our lives are:  every peak is followed by a swift decent. And on our more cynical days (like today), the ebb and flow of our existence seems far too predictable.

So my unexpected spiritual encounter last night was sitting on my couch next to my best friend for a couple hours and hashing out some heart troubles that I didn’t really have language for.

It was so healing to lay my burdens down and have someone walk with me through the middle of them.

I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about our God is that He doesn’t discount our suffering:  He meets us there in the midst of them.  He knows us best, and our messes don’t frighten or discourage Him because He trusts His own plan.

God is present in the middle of your

fear,

loneliness,

grief,

doubt,

complicated emotions,

insensitivity,

hatred,

confusion,

distrust,

wrong thinking,

bad attitude,

apathy,

lusts,

excesses,

omissions,

disrespect,

hunger,

shame,

frustration,

selfishness,

lack of discipline,

insecurity,

uncertainty,

vulnerability,

bruises,

and on and on.

Even this very second, you are desperately loved.  Your humanity is no surprise to God, so stop hiding behind your dysfunction and start living in His acceptance.

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Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

 

Netflix Sunday and Biblical Literalism by Kelsy Black

DAY 18:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

If you want to talk about an unexpected spiritual encounter, spending Sunday morning at First Queue Internet Church of Netflix might just take the cake.
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My dear friend, Kelsy Black, will be sharing her enlightening review of a brilliant documentary she recently saw that gave her a big dose of clarity.

At different points in our relationship, Kelsy has been my TA, the school newspaper’s fashion columnist, my matchmaker, my blog inspiration, my fellow Brene Brown enthusiast, and my trusty how-to-backpack-through-Europe advisor.  

Now she’s the special projects associate producer for a Christian television network in Pittsburgh (and may or may not have co-hosted a cooking show).  So without further ado, Miss Kelsy Black:

If there was a Facebook status for Christianity and homosexuality, I think it’d be “It’s Complicated.”

Sure, everyone apparently knows those few specific bible verses about it being an “abomination,” but what happens when same-gender sexuality looks less like a nameless, faceless issue added to the list of things you’re supposedly against and more like your cousin? Or best friend? Or brother? Or daughter?

For The Bible Tells Me So answers that question, highlighting five different conservative Christian families and their reactions to their LGBT children

When I started this documentary–appropriately on a Sunday morning when I was too under the weather to go to church–I was a little hesitant about how Christian-bashing it might be. I’m all too familiar with these easily criticizable stereotypes–Christians who would rather disown their gay child and send them to reform camp than love them.

But surprisingly, this documentary was balanced and hopeful in many ways, showing families that changed their mindsets and telling the story of how God used them to bring others to Him.

One such family was the Robinsons of Kentucky, parents of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop in the United States. His parents were raised in a very small town and went to the same church for all of their lives but still completely accepted and loved their son, attending his ordination years later when he made history in the Episcopal church.

As someone who works for a Christian TV ministry, I see and hear a lot of religious talk:  that’s pretty much the premise of my industry! Biblical literalism always fascinates me because without fail, it is a subject that most people subconsciously disagree about the most.

I meet a lot of Christian pastors, speakers, writers, and teachers, and I would say that if you put them all in the same room, they would disagree about many different interpretations of scriptural issues but yet all agree about biblical literalism (without realizing their contradictions).

What is biblical literalism? Basically, biblical literalism is just that–the belief that the Scripture can only be understood literally and transcends all literary methods like allegory or mythology, as well as cultural context.

According to a 2011 Gallup poll, “Three in 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally, saying it is the actual word of God. A 49% plurality of Americans say the Bible is the inspired word of God but that it should not be taken literally, consistently the most common view in Gallup’s nearly 40-year history of this question.”

As For the Bible Tells Me So brings up, we often are quick to refer to homosexuality as an “abomination,” citing Leviticus. This is an example of biblical literalism, defining abomination with the current English understanding of the word as “a thing that causes disgust or hatred.”

However, biblical scholars have found that the cultural context of the word “abomination” is more in line with describing something unclean or forbidden rather than morally unlawful. For example, breaking dietary restrictions such as eating seafood or pork of Deuteronomy 3 is described with the same word we’ve interpreted to be as abominable as homosexuality.

You can hold a high view of scripture while respecting the ancient cultural context often blurred by our modern understanding.  The antithesis of literalism is liberalism, and this approach takes etymological research into view when interpreting the Scriptures.

So, wow. All this to say, check out For the Bible Tells Me So on Netflix. Let it challenge, encourage, and possibly enlighten you, as it did me.

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Admittedly, this post is in no means an attempt to  fully cover the topics of biblical literalism or the church and marriage equality.  This documentary just provides some conversation starters to understanding how to respectfully but realistically approach the holy scriptures, and I highly recommend watching it.

You can find more from Kelsy check out her blog, The Accidental Extrovert, or follow @kelsyblack on Twitter.

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

In Memory of Fall Break

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DAY 17:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

“You wanted an encore, but there’s no encore today.  Because the moment is now–can’t get it back to the grave.”

-Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, “Ten Thousand Hours”

Today ends a magical fall break, most of which was spent with my parents in charming Abingdon, Virginia.  (A post from this adventure will be coming later this week.)

Two of our favorite things we did were watching The Hound of the Baskervilles at the historic Barter Theatre and biking seventeen miles down a mountain on the Virginia Creeper Trail.  However as my dad later pointed out, both were amazing yet felt like they were over so quickly.

We had been looking so forward to the break, but before we knew it, it was over.

I faced this dilemma many times in Europe when I had such high expectations about seeing a city but hardly even realized that I was having that experience until it was over.   Then, when it was, I felt guilty for not fulling living in the moment and regretted that the time was over.

How do we deal with this crisis of focus?  How do we truly engage in the present moment so afterwards we aren’t haunted with regret?

I think all we can do is try our best to appreciate the moment–both during it and following it–and then realize that no play or bike ride or adventure or spiritual encounter has the power to make us truly happy:  we alone have that power.

So instead of bemoaning the demise of fall break, I’m going to take a few minutes to celebrate it and how wonderful a break it was for my mind and spirit.

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Cheers to cool nights and crunching leaves and the dark elegance of Old South mansions.

To small town kindness and locally produced goods and free samples and candles that smell like oatmeal and honey.

To chances to write and breath and just be.

Here’s to yellow and orange and awe-inspiring views and sharp drop-offs that make you feel slightly dangerous and coasting down inclines, fast and free.

To gushing mountain creeks and not-yet uprooted Christmas trees and truss bridges and endless panoramas you wish you had time to stop and photograph, even though you don’t.

Oh, and to ice cream at the end of your trek.

To deep car-ride conversations and lots of Cracker Barrel and family time and catching up with your favorite DVRed shows.

Thanks for the rejuvenated restart, fall break.

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Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

 

 

Venturing Out On My Own

Platform 9

DAY 16:  31 DAYS OF UNEXPECTED SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

Considering I easily get lost in small towns using my GPS, it’s really a surprise to me that my roommate and I navigated two weeks of travel in Europe by ourselves.

One of the hardest parts of touring with groups is that you feel like you are always compromising what you want to do for what the collective body wants.  And while that’s acceptable on a road trip or spring break, it’s in no way selfish to pick your own agenda somewhere as far away as Europe.

Hey, it’s not like you can hop across the Pond alone whenever you want.

So there are many times during my twelve-week study abroad when I would ditch my group and go out and do exactly what it was that I felt like doing.  It even led me to some pretty cool places:  a guided literary tour of Edinburgh, an antique library in Dublin, and (an hour lost in) a historic cemetery in Paris.

But my first full-out solo adventure was when I decided to spend a weekend in London alone. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I’m not even going to pretend like I wasn’t scared spitless.

First, I had to rush from one side of Cambridge to the other…on a bike in the rain…to a train station I had trouble locating.

After nervously fighting with the ticket machine, I boarded my train amid mental panic.  What if I didn’t actually make my B & B reservation tonight?  What if I lose the concert ticket?  Will I make it everywhere on time?  Also, how am I getting all this weekend’s homework done?

I stepped off the train at Platform 9 of King’s Cross (which was surreal in itself) and headed to the Victoria side of town.

My hotel room was (believe it or not) smaller than a cabin on a cruise, and the bed basically extended the length of the wall.  But what made it all worth it was the view:   in the distance, I could see the Big Ben across the sea of rooftops.

Venturing Out On My Own

To be fair, I wasn’t totally alone the whole weekend, as I met people at the famous O2 arena for a concert and outside London at Watford Junction for the Harry Potter Studios tour.

For the most part, however, I set my own agenda as I journeyed from the heart to the outskirts of London, discovering areas less known to ordinary tourists.  One such destination was the recently reopened (that day, in fact) London Aquatics Centre, where I enjoyed a swim in the same practice pool Michael Phelps would have used to warm up during the 2012 Olympics.

(I still wish Tom Daley had shown up, but whatevs.)

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the competition pool that I was slightly too out of shape for

I got some treasured moments of solitude walking the blocks of Victoria along with ample Kindle-reading time, an obligatory trip to H & M, and a homework session with the London Eye just across the Thames from me.

Overall, it was incredibly pleasant to get past my comfort zone and venture out by myself.

Traveling by yourself instills a sense of independence in you, and after this trip on my own, I felt much more confident heading into my two-week European free travel.

The moral of the story:  trust yourself and the intrepid leadings of your heart.  Do what’s best for you even when you are afraid.

You might just find some courage along the way and hopefully, after you’ve faced your fears, some friends to welcome you home.

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Do you ever travel by yourself?  If so, comment below with your favorite experience ridin’ solo.

Want more 31 Days of Unexpected Supernatural Encounters?  You’ll find them here.  

You can read more adventures in travel here.