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.