Tag Archives: faith

What Comfort Zone?

While visiting a brand new mall, in the new city we just moved to, in an unfamiliar state where we know no one—and in the midst of reflecting on the fact that within a six month period I’ve finished the last 28 hours of my bachelors, gotten out of the military, found out we’re having a baby girl, and am preparing to start seminaryI received this fortune cookie:

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I guess we’ve always got room to grow, eh?

My Testimony (A time to brag…)

It was the middle of September and I was despondent. I felt like I was drowning; I felt like the Psalmist in Psalm 69:1-3. I was in way over my head and I knew it. How could I have been so foolish? I had bit off more than I could chew. Every day after work, from 6-10, my weekly night routine looked like this:  during on Monday nights I would do my online OT Writings class homework, on Tuesday nights I would do my online Theology class homework, on Wednesday night I would do homework for my theology class, on Thursday night I would go to my theology class, on Friday nights I would tie up any loose ends (message boards from my online classes, things I didn’t get done earlier in the week), and then I would spend all day Saturday and Sunday doing research for the three papers I had due at the end of the semester. After 5 weeks of this, and still not being finished with my first (of three) paper, I realized there was no way I could do this. I was taking a 9-hour course load of senior-level classes while still in active duty. More than one person told me I was insane…and for good reason.
Rewind back that summer. I had just returned from a deployment and sat down with my education counselor, Tom. I had almost exactly a year left in the Air Force and I needed to finish my bachelor’s before I got out; that would allow me to start seminary as soon as I separated. Looks like I had 48 hours of classes plus a 1-hour senior exit seminar to tackle. That’s right, 49 hours in one year…while on active duty. God had given me a vision and I knew that He would be with me as I labored to do His will. Things started out pretty good. While on R&R from my deployment I took a 2-week, condensed math class; I followed that up by taking a math CLEP. I had only been home three weeks and had already knocked 6 hours off of my degree; only 43 more to go! I was going to study for the American Government and Computer Sciences CLEPs during August before the fall semester started. I had a pretty good plan, but then something horrible happened.
On July 28th, I got an email about a routine job:  someone needed to stay late to videotape one of our C-17’s doing its air show routine. That footage would then be sent to our MAJCOM so they could demonstrate competency and then be cleared to perform their routine at the Air Show that weekend. I volunteered because I had just gotten back and thought it would set a good example. I decided the best place to get my footage from would be the air traffic control tower. I remember being up there getting some great shots of all the different aircraft as they taxied, launched, and landed.
Pretty soon, the group I was up there for taxied onto the runway. The co-pilot called me to let me know that they were going to do a test-takeoff, check out the weather, and then they’d do the real thing. After they finished their test-flight, they landed, did some last minutes checks, and called me to say they were still good to go. Little did I know that I’d be the last person they ever talked to on the phone. Less than a minute after they took off, the aircraft took a sharp, sharp right bank. I remember watching through my viewfinder as they gained speed and disappeared behind the tree line. In an instant I thought it was both strange that they would go so low and wondering where they’d come back up from behind the tree line; after all, I needed to make sure I got a good shot!
I still remember being shocked and horrified when I saw a ball of fire rise up from behind the trees. Many people—myself included before that night—claim that people are desensitized by our media today. I’m not sure I agree, because nothing I had ever seen could prepare me for that moment. It was honestly too much to handle so, without a thought, I reverted back to simple muscle memory and started manning my camera. I did a slow, smooth, steady zoom out as the explosion grew in size. I knew that investigators would want to see all of these. I documented as much as I could. I called Connie—it was hard dialing with my hands trembling—and told her I was okay.
For the next few weeks it was impossible for me to concentrate. I didn’t study for the CLEP but I knew that I still had to finish my degree. I could still catch up. So I signed up for three of my senior classes and started. I had a pretty steady routine, but I felt like I was slowly and surely getting more and more behind. It was the middle of September and I was despondent. I knew also knew that, even if I managed to finish that semester I still had 11 more classes to finish. I honestly felt like I was drowning. I remember at one moment burying my face in my hands as I listened to Storm by Lifehouse praying to God for the strength to do what I knew was His will.
God is good, and He gave me strength—His strength—to make it not only through that week, but through the entire semester. By the grace and power of God, I got straight A’s that entire semester. In between the semesters I managed to study for and pass my American Government CLEP thanks to some help from a close friend, many prayers, and God blessing the time I put into studying.
I only had two more senior-level classes to finish over the course of two 12-week semesters, so I decided to split my efforts across three fronts:  I would take my theology classes in the remaining 12-week semesters I had while simultaneously taking my general education classes online through a university that offered 8-week semesters (thus giving me three semesters with them to complete everything) while simultaneously knocking out CLEPs when I could fit them in! So I had 6 hours of theology classes, 9 hours of 8-week classes, and 15 hours in CLEPs… assuming I didn’t fail any of the CLEPs because then I’d have to take the class in its place!
It sounds crazy doesn’t it? It sounds impossible doesn’t it? And truthfully, I think it would have been impossible if God had not been with me. My prayer was that God would help me and that He would reward the effort that I put in to all my studying. He has blessed me with an amazing wife to take care of me while I’ve been neck-deep in homework and many amazing friends who have prayed for me and encouraged me along the way.
I have passed all my classes with A’s and aced every CLEP along the way. This afternoon I passed my final CLEP. I only have the Senior Exit Seminar to complete and I will be finished with my bachelor’s just in time to start seminary this fall. I can’t even put into words how excited I am about what God has been doing in my life. Through God’s power I have completed 48 hours in 10.5 months while on active duty. I feel like I have finally crossed a monumental finish line!
This is part of my testimony and I share it with you to show you that nothing is impossible for my God. He is a mighty God and I hope you know Him!
“I love you, LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 18:1-2

The Storms of Life – Mark 4:37-40

We all claim that we want God to reveal Himself to us, but what does that look like? How does God most often seem to demonstrate His power? Perhaps for the same reason people tell us to be careful what we wish for…

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

There was a time early in Jesus’ ministry when He was traveling with His disciples in a boat at night. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself! During the day before, Jesus had spent some time teaching on the shore in this boat (Mk 4:1). At the end of the day, for whatever reason, He decided to go to the other side of the sea (Mk 4:35). (By the way, I have my suspicions that Jesus knew what He was doing.) All seemed well until “a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling” (Mk 4:37). It’s at this point that the disciples get scared. Wouldn’t you? Mark 4:38 says that they woke Jesus up and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Isn’t that an easy question to ask? When the storms of this life come, and they will, don’t we sometimes feel as though God doesn’t care? Don’t we wonder if He sees what we’re going through? I can make you one sure promise in this life: Troubles will come (Jn 16:33). Ask anyone who has been around longer than… a week! You’ll find that this life does bring storms. Storms may look different from person-to-person; for some it may be a bounced check, for others it may be a broken leg! But Jesus promised us that the storms will come (Mt 7:24-27).

Don’t you care that I’m drowning?

And don’t we find it easy to wonder why it seems as though God does nothing? Doesn’t it sometimes feel as though God is just watching from afar; as though He’s sitting up in Heaven on His throne watching us as the storm sweeps over us, the waves crash into us, and it’s all we can do to keep our head above water?
“Teacher, don’t you care that my life is falling apart? Don’t you care that I don’t think I can make it? Don’t you care that I’m hurting, I’m alone? Don’t you care that I’m drowning?”
“Don’t you care?”
But isn’t this what gives our lives their meaning? Doesn’t God demonstrate His peace through our storms? Doesn’t God demonstrate His power through our weakness? What would happen if we didn’t have any storms? I know I would become arrogant and self-reliant. Wouldn’t we start to think that we deserved all the credit for all our great accomplishments? I know I would.

Are we really that different?

After the disciples cry out to Jesus, He simply commands the wind and waves to “be still” and they obey (Mk 4:39). Just like that the storm simply stopped. It’s almost like He was God. It’s almost like He was in charge the whole time. It’s almost like the disciples were worrying for no reason… But we already knew that didn’t we?
It’s easy for us to read this story and wonder why the disciples were so terrified. I mean, they had Jesus with them. Surely they knew that God was all-powerful and could stop the storm at any time. How could the disciples be so foolish? But are we really that different? Is our storm really that much bigger? Are our circumstances the special exception where God has no power to act on our behalf?
Look at how Jesus responds to His disciples: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” It’s almost as though Jesus is disappointed. I can’t help but read this with my name in front of it: “Daniel, why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? After all that we’ve been through, after all that you’ve seen, have you still no faith?”
Have you still no faith?
So here’s how the conversation goes:
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing,” we ask as soon as the storm starts getting rough.
Jesus answers our question with a question: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
So why are we still afraid? Could it be that we lose perspective? Could it be that we forget that, just as Jesus had power over the storm in Mark 4:37-40, He also has power of the storms in 2011? Could it be that we believe the storm has more power than God? I ask God to show Himself to me, but as soon as that takes me out of my comfort zone, I become afraid. Jesus simply asks us to trust Him even in the midst of the storm.
Which brings us to the original question: We all claim that we want God to reveal Himself to us, but what does that look like?
I firmly believe that it will look like cloudy skies more often than clear skies.

Why Worry?

“Thank you for worrying about that for me; it made all the difference!”

“Hey listen, I’d really appreciate it if you’d take some time to worry about something for me…”

“Okay everyone, we need to stop what we’re doing and take some time to really just worry about what to do next.”

“You know, I just worried, and worried, and worried, and before you know it, I was through my trials. The worry is what carried me.”

Has anyone ever said anything like this to you? No? Really? Seriously?!? Not surprising, right? No one has EVER asked me to worry on their behalf. No one has ever advised me to intently worry about something to help get it done. No one has ever read any Bible verse that encouraged me to worry. I’ve never had anyone claim their spiritual gift was worrying for other people. Worrying is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit. I’ve never encountered a worry-centered ministry and I’ve never seen a book that helped people become better, more effective worriers.

So why are you worrying so much?!?

I’m going to show a couple translations of the same verse, but look at what Jesus says in Luke 12:25:

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (New International Version)

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (New Living Translation)

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?” (New American Standard Bible)

I know your problems are big. I know your trials are hard. I know the next step in your future seems unclear. I know… I know… I know… And perhaps you’re thinking, “Actually Daniel, you don’t know.” And perhaps you’re right. But surely Jesus knows? Surely Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said that worrying doesn’t add a single hour to your life. So please, do yourself a favor and stop worrying.

Jesus continues that thought in Luke 12:26 by saying “Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (The “very little thing” is add a single hour to your lifespan.) Jesus is saying that since you can’t even add an hour to your life by worrying, why are you worrying about everything else? Is it helping? Not a chance. Is it hurting? Possibly. Just take a moment to consider how effective or helpful your worrying is. It doesn’t take long to realize that worrying is not helpful or effective. So please, do yourself a favor and stop worrying.

Stop worrying and turn to God. He is so much bigger and larger than any of our tiny problems. He is eternal; our problems are temporary. He is infinite; our problems are limited. God big; problems little. So turn to a great, big God and, whether or not He takes your problems away, refuse to worry. Instead, trust.

Trust that God knows what He’s doing. Trust that God has it all figured out. Trust that God can and will use your trials to bring glory to Himself.

I believe…

(This is part one of a multi-entry blog series discussion the Apostles’ Creed.)

So we’ve created a new blog (with all the old entries intact); we wanted to move away from the Sword & the Stone because it was created for different purposes at a different time. This blog is meant to be a more enduring blog that we will share throughout the years to come. Some of you who know me might pretty quickly figure out the name, for others it might take some time. Ultimately though, I like the name Flat Hill because it encapsulates the paradox of being a Christian. You conquer by surrendering. You find true strength in your weakness. You are great when you become humble. You are the leader when you serve others. When you give, you recieve.

Since this blog is brand spankin’ new, we thought it best to start with something important…but what?

Hmmm….

After looking at a couple possibilities, we decided it would be cool to go through the Apostles’ Creed. It’s vintage, often overlooked, sometimes even forgotten, but it’s an excellent summary of the big picture of the Christian faith. The word “creed” comes from the Latin word credo. Credo is the first word of the Apostles’ Creed and means simply, “I believe…” It sounds like a fitting way to kick off Flat Hill.

In Christianity, there are two different categories that doctrine can fall into. Mark Driscoll uses the image of two hands: one open, one closed. Until recently, that was my favorite metaphor. However, I read an illustration of two tiers in an article on Neue magazine by Jim Belcher (author of Deep Church). He borrows the idea from Robert Greer‘s book Mapping Postmodernism.

Anyway, back to the tiers! One is the upper tier and one is the lower tier. In the lower tier, you’ll find stuff like how pastors should dress (robes, suits, or blue jeans? shaved or with facial hear?), what type of music should be played (organs and choirs or drums and guitars), and even what type of translation should be used (KJV? NIV? NLT? ESV? LMNOP?!). In the upper tier, you’ll find beliefs that Christians cannot disagree about. These are the unchanging, unmoving beliefs that true Christianity depends upon.

These are the beliefs reflected in the Apostles’ Creed.

These are the beliefs we want to spend a little time exploring.

Come back soon to see a deeper exploration of the Apostles’ Creed.

Life is full of surprises!

This is part seven of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

When I first found out that I wasn’t going to Iraq or Afghanistan I was pretty disappointed. This may sound odd to my non-military friends, but it’s the truth. I was disappointed because I wanted to go somewhere were “the action” was; somewhere exciting! I got tasked to go to one of those non-disclosed locations in Southwest Asia. One of the things that I assumed was that no one would be searching for God at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base. I had foolishly put God in a box and decided that, because people were not in immediate danger outside the wire, no one would be considering the bigger things in life.

Surprise!

Give Him the chance by opening yourself up and God will surprise you. Always! Part of my prayer on New Years day was, “I surrender 2010 to You, for Your glory.” I actually wrote that down. I think God prompted me to write it down so I would remember my surrender. At the beginning of the year, and at the beginning of my deployment, I decided to let God do His thing. Isaiah 55:8-9 is one of my all-time favorite passages. It reminds me that God is God and I am not. He knows what He’s doing. Sometimes I don’t know, but He always knows. Faith isn’t having all the answers, it’s trusting in a God who has all the answers.

I originally deployed with a very skeptical attitude. Like I said earlier, who would be taking God seriously at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base? God surprised me because the fellowship I enjoyed there was some of the best I’ve ever had. I also met a lot of people who wanted to grow closer to God during their deployment and I met a few who came to know Christ during their deployment.

In fact, my deployment turned out to be an amazing experience. Surprise! The Chapel had Bible studies every night of the week. The worship band had about nine members including a former Tops in Blue performer and they sounded amazing every week. The Holy Spirit used me to lead a friend to Christ. I made friends who I will keep in touch with for life. I saw people grow and mature in their walks with Christ and learn more in those six months than they’d known their whole entire Christian life prior. God taught me more than I could ever share (although I am trying).

I say all of this because God surprises me. All the time, He surprises me. It’s foolish for us to put God in a box and assume anything about Him. He is God. He is bigger than any box we could put Him in. As I stated in a previous post, God puts people in the right place at the right time so that His will can be done. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know, looking back, that God put me in the absolute right spot at the right time.

If you’re reading this and you’re not sure why your life is the way it is right now, all I can tell you is to trust God. Trust that He knows what He’s doing. Surrender your life to His purposes, sit back, and be amazed. You might just be surprised!

“Come as you are” 1 Corinthians 1:26

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

Think about what this passage means for just a second. It doesn’t really need to be contextualized for me to make my point, but I’ll go ahead and briefly do so. Paul is writing to the Christians in the city of Corinth (which is a city that was known for many sinful things including its temple with a thousand prostitutes). Paul is really still making introductions and is just starting his letter. He’s reminding the Corinthian church who they were before they became Christians, which likely includes prostitutes, pimps, and customers. (Another great place where Paul discusses pre-Christian living is Ephesians 2:1-4 where he is again writing to Christians.) Paul is reminding the Corinthians that, essentially, they didn’t earn anything. Salvation was not given to them because of intelligence, rank, status, or as a birthright. In other words, they weren’t saved because they were “good enough.”

My point is this, Jesus invites us to Him as we are, not as we should be. He allows us to come to him dirty, not clean; sinful, not righteous because He is the only one who can make us clean and righteous. There are no “dress codes” for us to approach Christ. There are no prerequisites. There is no application process. There are no try-outs. Instead, He came to us and cleansed us. There really are no standards placed upon us for us to become Christians.

In fact, accepting Christ is quite the opposite: it’s admitting that you’ve made a mess of yourself and need help. To accept the grace Christ offers us, we must admit that we’re not good enough and that we need Him to redeem us. Only then, when we give him all our ugly problems, will He set us free.

That’s the beauty of this one, easy-to-glance-over, passage: you don’t have to be a religous super-star to be loved by God. You don’t have to be super-smart. You don’t have to be a high-ranking official. You don’t have to be of noble birth. You just have to accept Jesus.

Faith and “Planning?

As a Christian, I know that God has big plans for me. I know that my life has a calling. Second Peter 1:4 invites us to “participate in [God’s] divine nature.” When we become Christians, we choose to accept that invitation.

Jesus’ last words are an invitation for us not only to join his ministry, but to take it everywhere. Let’s read Matthew 28:18-20:

“All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

This verse makes me think of Jesus shooing the Apostles. “Get! Go do something; I’ve got your back. Make a difference!”

The only question that remains is, “What does God want me to do?”

And there we have our problem. One day I realized that the verse that defined my (pseudo) walk with Christ (it was really just standing in one place) had become Psalm 27:14:

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

Those who know me well will tell you that I always have a plan. I’m the type that likes to know where I’m going to be 10 years from now.

When I started living for Christ, I realized that my plans needed to change. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go or what I was supposed to do, but I knew with absolute certainty that God had other plans for me. But I had become so obsessed with what God wanted me to do that I hadn’t done anything or made any decisions.

It felt like I had been in my car at a four-way stop, wondering which way to go. I had been so afraid of going in the wrong direction that I had decided to simply put my car into park and wait.

I didn’t know what I was waiting for, perhaps a burning bush?

I knew for a long time that I was on the verge of figuring it out; I just needed to give it more time. Then one day my answer was finally reveled to me. It definitely wasn’t the answer that I was expecting.

“There is no plan, only a person.”

I had been asking the wrong questions! Instead of focusing on what God wants me to do, I needed to be asking myself who God wanted me to be!

As far as my future is concerned, what I want to do, where I want to go, that choice is mine. God gives us freedom to pursue whatever we’re passionate about. I think the key is to become the Godly person that God has called us to be. Then, when big life decisions arrive, we’ll be equipped as a person to make the right choices.

Jesus, our perfect example of faith, never taught people how to plan out a successful Christian life. Jesus taught us who to be! Suddenly, my focus became less outward, and more inward.

I began to ask myself, “What’s the point of being a Christian?” What did Jesus have in mind when he was teaching his disciples? Jesus was talking about us in John 10:10 when he says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Jesus came not to hinder us but to set us free.

Looking back, all of my hesitation and second-guessing seemed very foolish. I have the Holy Spirit as my guide. It’s very liberating when you realize that nothing is the wrong choice when you have furthering God’s Kingdom in mind.

In Hebrews 11 we find the author discussing faith. What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith isn’t knowing something, it’s trusting God and taking a risk and putting that faith doing something. Faith without action is no faith at all. If there isn’t a fight or struggle for something it probably isn’t worth having. Later in the chapter the author lists dozens of Old Testament heroes who were all successful because of their faith in God. These ‘ancients’ never knew what the outcome of their actions would be, but they knew that God was with them. So, with faith that still sets an example, they took their chances.

Looking back, I couldn’t even remember what had caused me to be so afraid. Galatians 2:20 says,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

My problem was I hadn’t been living by faith in the Son of God. Why be afraid? We’ve already died to self. Now, Christ lives in us.

I’ll admit, the world can be a scary place but Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) This verse has a warning and a promise in it. First, we’re guaranteed to have hardships, but Jesus also promises that he has overcome this world. If He is within us, then we also, through Him, have conquered this world. Romans 6:13 tells us:

“Do not offer the parts of your bad to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

The encouraging thing about this verse is the fact that, once we’ve offered ourselves to God and put the old nature to death, we can become ‘instruments of righteousness.’ Suddenly we have purpose. Suddenly we are free to make a difference.

I was finally ready to start making a difference, but I was still wondering how I was going to do it. I wanted some type of assurance that as I grew closer to God, He would bless my plans. Well in John 15:7 Jesus states, “If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” By remaining true to God, I can rest assured that my actions will be blessed. Ultimately, that’s what faith is…taking a chance and knowing that God has got your back.