Monday, March 2, 2015

Hope For The Present

After one of my recent blog posts, I received an encouraging reply from a friend that had related to some of the things I had written about. The conclusion of the message stood out to me for some reason, though: "Guess we both gotta trust that God has written us both awesome stories, but we just can't see them yet." Initially, I didn't address that specific line, instead opting for the generic, "Thanks so much for the encouragement!" or something along those lines.

But that one line ate at me. I kept thinking about it. Is that the message my posts were sending across? That there is only hope down the road, as long as God decides to reveal it to us?

And so a couple of days later, I replied again. I'm trying to be more true to myself in this season of life, and I knew that this slight disagreement could even be a huge encouragement to the friend. I don't believe that hope is only something for the future. 

If God has written us awesome stories, it means we are living in the middle of them right now. 

Let me explain with two very different stories.

The city that I currently live in has hardly any western food. There are KFC's and Pizza Hut's, which is a nice convenience to have every now and again, but the eclectic, Asia menus are hardly satisfying. Even the grocery stores lack most of the foods that I have grown used to eating during my 22 years of American living. In America, one of my favorite items for consumption is a drink called Arnold Palmer. You most likely know what I'm talking about. Half Iced Tea. Half Lemonade. Half Heaven. It's delicious, and is a drink that I have so many fond memories with over the past couple of years. After all, it was this exact beverage that I spilled all over my MacBook Pro last year (the computer miraculously survived), the beverage that still makes my keyboard extremely sticky. 

But around Christmas time, I found out some amazing news. There is a grocery store in our city that carries Arnold Palmers. There are physical cans of Arnold Palmer. And not the wimpy kind that comes in 12-packs and are only 12 oz. They have the 23 oz. tall cans that are sold for only 99 cents in gas stations all across America. Only here they are $3. Details aside, I needed to get my hand on a can. 

I knew that the Arnold Palmers weren't going to grow feet and walk to my apartment. I had to get off my butt, travel halfway across the city to the only store that carries them and buy it myself. So one day, my roommate and I hopped on a bus with the grocery store in our sights. We made it there as smoothly as could be, enter the store, and go to the aisle where the beautiful cans wait to be consumed. Nothing. My roommate says there might be one other aisle where they are now. Nothing. Cue disappointment.


During my senior year of college (last year), I was a part time student for Winter Quarter, finishing up my last class of college with a whopping three hours of class every week. So I decided to seek out an internship. I had already done an internship with a large consulting firm during my junior year, so I sought out a marketing internship to get my feet wet in that area. Miraculously, I found an internship that was paid, in downtown Evanston, and had flexible-enough hours to accommodate my class schedule. It was too good to be true. So I jumped at the offer after interviewing. 

The internship was a disaster. That's a little dramatic, let me rephrase. The internship was far from an enjoyable experience. I came in thinking I would be doing a social media internship with a home security company, and instead was stuck doing HTML coding for a fledgling startup still trying to find some of its first customers. Not exactly my cup of tea. Our team was three people: me, my boss, and our web developer in Costa Rica. I had hoped to do the internship until graduation in June, but ended up "quitting" (I didn't use that wording when I spoke to my boss) in March, after one quarter. I ended up spending spring quarter jobless, classless, and scrounging every psych study possible to have some cash flow.

Were these experiences failures? Were they a part of a bad story, which can only be redeemed if something better happens in the future? Think about those questions for a second, evaluate them honestly in your head, and give an answer.

I am a firm believer that the answer is no.

Was it discouraging? Yes. Was it hard? The internship more difficult than the search for Arnold Palmer, but of course. Did it feel good in the moment? Absolutely not.

But was it a failure? No. Why? Because I believe that part of living in God's awesome story is actually living it. There will always be conflict in any story, but that doesn't make the story any more beautiful. The conflict itself is part of what makes the story beautiful. Would the moment where Frodo throws the ring into Mordor have been as beautiful if they hadn't spent three movies/books fighting orcs, running for their lives, and battling the evil of the ring? Would the scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon and Robin Williams embrace be as beautiful if they hadn't been at each other's throats for the majority of the movie? Would Marlin finding Nemo have been as beautiful if he hadn't traversed the Pacific Ocean? (whoops...spoiler alerts....)

The conflict itself is part of what makes the story beautiful.

These experiences taught me two different things about the human involvement in God's story and, to some extent, the involvement we are called to have in our own stories. 

For one, we are called to be active participants. The Bible is littered with examples of God's people needing to do things in order to see God move. David and his armies had to fight enemies in battle in order to see God's deliverance, Paul had to travel around the Roman Empire in order to see churches planted, and Jesus had to die on the cross for the wrath of God to be poured out on him and sinful men forgiven.  There is human involvement in God's story. We are not always called to sit around and wait for God to plop an Arnold Palmer on our doorstep. We are called to follow Christ. There is participation involved, whether it is in your spiritual life, your career, or relationships. I knew where the Arnold Palmer was, so I went to it. I did the work to find an internship. When it wasn't healthy for me, I quit. There was an active participation in these stories.

Second, God is writing an awesome story for our lives right now. It is not something that we need to wait twenty years to see. Even if it is hard right now or it is depressing or exhausting, there is hope that we are in the middle of that awesome story in the present. There is beauty in the journey, even if it is hard. And this is especially true for the Christian, where the end has already been written. I think there is something written in the Bible about a wedding feast, and no tears, and eternity with the Father. But there is so much beauty in the journey to get there as well. There is beauty in grinding out quiet times in the morning despite exhaustion. There is beauty in being stuck in a hard internship, even if you quit. There is beauty in journeying halfway across a city with your roommate just to buy a silly drink.

God teaches us so much through the conflicts that we experience. I don't know where I would be right now if it weren't for my infinitude of failures, mishaps, and wrong steps. But that doesn't stop me from continuing to move forward, even at the risk of failure. I'm learning more about myself, I'm growing as a human, and I'm experiencing a God who guides every step I take in the midst of a beautiful story that he is writing by hand, in the present tense.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Voices of Fear

I've been reading a book by a guy named Jon Acuff. It's called Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters. Acuff is a Christian (you may know his name from the Stuff Christians Like blog/book), but this book isn't a Christian book. It's in the Business/Motivational/Self-Improvement section on Amazon, but since he is a Christian, I wanted to hear his thoughts on doing work that matters.

I was kind of expecting the book to be a bunch of fluffy, motivational mumbo jumbo, but it has caused me a lot of introspection. Not that it takes a lot for me to get introspective, but in more meaningful ways than I was expecting. Probably the most impactful insight has been regarding the role fear plays in our everyday lives. Acuff is talking to a counselor, who asks him to speak about the voices inside his head, the self-talk that goes on behind the scenes. After Acuff asks exactly what he means, the counselor explains:

"Well, I've asked thousands of people that question [What do your voices tell you?] over the years, and I've learned something: no one has a positive internal voice. No one's internal voice tells them, 'You're skinny enough. You sure are pretty. People are going to love that new project you're working on. It's going to be a huge success.' Which makes me curious about what your voices are telling you. Most of us tend to think they're telling us the truth. We've heard them for so long that we trust them. We think they're looking out for us, that they've got our best in mind. That they're trying to protect us or help us. We think our voices are friends, but they're not. They're foes."

When we document those voices, when we give them a name, when we call them out, it is easier to label them what they are: lies. And the root of these lies is so often fear.

I don't know about you, maybe you have tons of really positive, self-confidence-building conversations in your head, but I know I am one of the many that has a negative internal voice. I enjoy cutting myself down with insults, convincing myself that my dreams will fail before I have the chance to begin, and condemn myself when I'm convicted of sin in my life.

You're not good enough to be a Christian. Nobody cares what you have to say, you'll just look stupid. Everyone in America has already forgotten about you. You will be lonely forever. You are replaceable. It is better to act than show your real self. There is something wrong with you. You have way more insecurities than anyone else. You have good reason to feel the shame you do. If you can't get rid of your sin, why even try? You are lazy. You are stupid. You are difficult to love. You are high-maintenance. You are selfish. God is not able to fix you. You are a bad son. You are a bad brother. You are a bad friend.

This is what the voices of fear tell me. This is what they sound like, ringing through my head throughout the day.

I think the hardest thing about these voices is that they are so deeply engrained and so subtle. I don't walk around all day hanging my head and berating myself with insults. I'm typically a pretty upbeat person who loves to have fun and laugh and enjoy the company of others. But since an early age, they have learned to kick me while I'm down and piggyback on each other. And they are the hardest voices to ignore. They are the voices that too often drown out reason and truth when I need those two things the most.

The beautiful thing about these voices and fear is that there is hope.

I am not a slave to fears or lies or insecurities or sins. I'm ready to start labeling them, giving them a name, and kicking them to the curb. Are you?

"For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'"
Romans 8:15

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."
2 Timothy 1:7

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
1 John 4:18

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Joshua 1:9

I'm thankful for a God who speaks truth.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


It's a little bit sad to me that a blog post about something I've been learning about on a heart level can get so few likes on Facebook, when I could probably share a picture of a sea otter (I love sea otters too....) and double or triple the likes. This is far from a plea for likes. I don't write for Facebook likes; I write because I enjoy expressing myself in this way. But I think it's a scary observation about our society.

I do the same thing too. I'm not trying to condemn or judge anyone. I fail to read long posts on Facebook or skip over links to blog posts because "I don't have the time" or "I'll come back to it later" or some other excuse. I miss out on a chance to learn more about someone's heart because I am looking for the metaphorical sea otter picture.

We live in a quick-hitting, fast-paced society that is only accelerating. We live in a world of ten-second Snapchats, six-second Vines, and 140-character Tweets. Is there a lost desire for knowing each other deeply, preferring to spread ourselves thin over eight different social media platforms? Is this the reason I so often think that other people have perfect lives, while highly criticizing my own? I don't know. I'm not even trying to berate social media. I like social media for the most part. This post isn't even about social media or about society. Those are just questions I wrestle with. I don't know.

Sharing a piece of my heart is a scary thing for me, especially on social media. I'm not afraid of having a small amount of likes, but what scares me is that my life can simply be lost in the shuffle. And not simply sharing a picture or a one liner, but sharing something that shares a deeper picture of who I am and who I am becoming. I'm scared that I'll find out people don't care about me as much as I think they do. Or at least hope they do.

There have been so many times where I have wanted to write but haven't. Worried that my words don't hold any weight. Not even worried that it will fall on deaf ears, but worried that it won't fall on any ears at all. Worried that insecurities about being replaceable, forgettable, or easy to reject will come true.

I've been in a season of life recently where I'm learning a lot more about myself and my own confidence. For a long time, I've been ignorant to who God has uniquely crafted me to be. Have you ever taken a step back and thought about what an amazing creator God is? He has crafted this story that we all like to call the planet Earth. He has created billions of characters in this story, with each playing a unique role in furthering the narrative. Each character in the story God is telling on Earth matters. They have their own strengths, their own gifts, their own desires, that are unique to each individual, having been beautifully and masterfully created by a perfect, caring, loving God.

I matter. My thoughts matter. My desires matter. My passions matter. They matter to me and they matter to God.

So here I am, writing a blog post because it matters. Here I am, writing not to get more likes, not to receive cheap affirmation or quick satisfaction, but writing because I'm starting to really believe that the things I have to say matter.

Am I replaceable, forgettable, and easy to reject for some? Sure. We simply don't have the capacity to deeply care about every person on this Earth. I know I don't. But that doesn't change the fact that I am a uniquely, carefully, divinely shaped individual that has words and thoughts that matter to the story God is telling on this Earth.

God invites me to be Danny in His story, and I don't want to miss this opportunity.

"Sometimes the story we're telling the world isn't half as endearing as the one that lives inside us."
-Donald Miller

Monday, February 23, 2015

Frolicking in the Mystery

I'm not sure where, but somewhere along the line, I got the idea that surrendering my life, and specifically my future, to God meant putting up with a life without happiness.

It has made me afraid to give everything over to Him. I'm afraid that the minute I surrender to God is the minute that I accept a life that I hate, a life that sticks me in the middle of doing something that I don't enjoy. There might still exist the underlying joy that Christ brings, I'm not talking about joy. And I'm not talking about having horrible things happen to me. I'm more talking about everyday life, the ins and outs of "mundane" happenings. And overall, I won't be happy, I won't be doing things that I am passionate about, I won't be using my strengths, and I will be generally dissatisfied. I'm worried that I'll feel stuck in what I'm doing because I am surrendering to God.

But I'm starting to convince myself more and more that this is not the case.

I'm starting to believe that God uniquely gifted every person with different strengths and passions for a reason. He has brought to light different things for different people that bring us joy and give us life. I'm beginning to experience the freedom in exploring what I am passionate about and what gives me life, and I am becoming enlightened to the fact that this is not mutually exclusive to surrendering everything in my life with God. I can do something with my life that I find personally fulfilling and still be surrendering to God.

This might go without saying, but I want to acknowledge the obvious fact that there is discernment involved in this still. There is very much a fleshly desire to only do what we want. That has to be identified, repented of, and cut out of our lives. A desire to do something, alone, is not at all a reason to do something.

I used to feel stuck in a box. If I surrender to God, he is going to make me do something that I don't like because it will force me trust Him more. I will have to endure the unhappiness and dissatisfaction because of how it will draw me closer to God. There is certainly a ton of truth to the fact that hardships can bring you closer to God, but I don't think that God is trying to box us in a corner and make us miserable so that we will trust him more.

I see this as being different than the suffering that is talked about in the Bible. I believe that it is possible to be doing something that you enjoy, something that plays into your strengths, and is aligned with your passions and still suffer. I won't go on a tangent, but Biblical suffering isn't what I'm talking about.

Listening to a John Piper sermon the other day, one line in particular made me realize how much freedom there is as a follower of Christ. The sermon had a lot to say on the future and how we think about it. Towards the end, he light-heartedly jokes that some new people might leave the service hanging their heads, complaining that Christians only talk about heavy things. But according to Piper, this is not the case at all! "We are frolicking in the mystery!" He proclaimed it so excitedly, so joyfully! It brought this beautiful picture to mind of the Christian sitting in and enjoying the mystery that is God's will. There is so much freedom in that. It's beautiful

We have the freedom to frolic in the mystery. I have the freedom to frolic in the mystery.

Intellectually, I am aware that God has my good in mind. I can read Romans 8:28 and see that pretty clearly. But in my heart, I am fearful that in the scheme of life, God has me in a box, doing something that makes me anxious and something that I don't like. Because it will increase my faith. Because it will cause me to press into God. I use these awesome, fruitful end results to justify making myself do things that aren't healthy for my soul while in process.

I believe that God has uniquely gifted each and every person on Earth for a divine, appointed purpose. It wasn't a mistake that each person has different passions, hopes, and dreams. God is a beautiful storyteller, and he isn't going to stop with the stories we are telling with our own lives.

I want to understand, on a heart level, the freedom there is to surrender everything to God. I want to believe so deeply that God is good. I want to frolic in the mystery.

Friday, December 20, 2013


My roommate, Nolan, and I started this thing called Pancakes and Stories at the beginning of the school year. Every week we invited a group of people over to our apartment for a pancake feast and medley of stories. We did this nearly every Saturday morning for the entire Fall Quarter. Pretty much every week we invited a different group of people who brought different stories and unique experiences to share, and we prompted them with questions to invite vulnerability and authenticity.

What is your favorite memory with your parents?

What was the event in high school that had the most significant impact on you?

When was a hard time in your life?

Pancakes and Stories started as an idea Nolan and I had over Skype during the summer. I was enamored with the ideas of "story" and "narrative", realizing that so many people have these experiences that have greatly shaped who they are. Some people have been waiting to share them with others. Some people have been reluctant to give a glimpse into that part of their life. Either way, we wanted to invite people to be more fully known.

The stories we heard were beautiful, and they were written by a Creator who wants to be intimately involved in our lives. Our hope was that Pancakes and Stories would be a way we could allow people to invite others into their personal narratives. We wanted to know people better, to know how their narratives have been shaped, and be able to walk through some of the highs and lows of our memories together. It was a really sweet time of fellowship that I am extremely grateful for. 

Pancakes and Stories was just the pinnacle of my interest in the idea of a story, though. Since high school, I have found this concept intriguing. Donald Miller wrote a book called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that talks about living our lives as if they are a story. I've read it twice, and I would recommend it. He defines story as a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Pretty vague, but applicable to every story ever written. It got me thinking about what the character in my story (myself) wants and what conflict I will have to overcome to get it. It also got me thinking about the bigger narrative that we are a part of. My story is not an independent entity solely shaped by my desires, but I am a part of the story that God is currently writing. 

It's easy to become very self-centered when I think of my life as a story. What do I want? How will this affect my life? Am I willing to take on the conflict that this will likely result in? One character in the Bible who experienced quite a bit of conflict was Job. He pretty much had everything taken away from him. If there are any things in your life that mean something to you, imagine losing all of it. Now, this is kind of Job's situation. Not easy. Donald Miller had this to say: "Job found contentment and even joy, outside the context of comfort, health or stability. He understood the story was not about him, and he cared more about the story then he did about himself." Job struggled with God, definitely, but he was able to realize the greater narrative. The narrative God is writing is not about us, it is about His glory. But He is a loving God that chose to write a story of redemption that involves unworthy people like you and me. 

With this being Christmas time, I can't help but reflect on how the birth of Jesus fits into the narrative that God is writing. Immanuel means "God with us" and that is exactly what happened when Christ was born. God came down to be with us and become involved in our stories. God intimately and intentionally chose to weave himself into the narratives we are trying to write for ourselves. As I celebrate this season, I fight the temptation to be convinced that Christmas is about fuzzy feelings, presents, and delicious cookies (though I do love those things). I want this season to be one where I can celebrate with joy the fact that God became involved in the life of a wretched sinner (myself) and died on the cross so that I could experience His forgiveness and presence. I want my life to be about bringing glory to my Savior, who has never left me nor forsaken me despite my continuous rebellion from Him. 

Repeat the Sounding Joy! Jesus is born! He invites us to be involved in his grand narrative! He wants us to know Him personally! Repeat the Sounding Joy!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Every Effort

(Wow, it's been a while since my last post.)

My job at the funeral home entails quite a bit of cleaning. While it has never been my favorite thing, I've grown to appreciate the satisfaction of seeing real, tangible change. A dusty shelf becoming clean. Immediate results. My tasks include vacuuming, dusting, and wiping down every object in the washroom, but none is more daunting than washing cars during the winter. As I walk into the garage, I no longer see the blue mini van that usually sits there, but instead, rests a faded white remnant, encrusted in salt, ice, and road grime. However, it is my job to make sure that the van is spotless, returned to it's original state and all of its navy blue glory. As I begin the task, I take careful steps to make sure that every inch of the car has been soaked with water, scrubbed with soap, rinsed, and dried. I want to please my boss, so I take care to check a second time to make sure that I didn't leave any spot blemished. Success. Unfortunately, tomorrow is a new day with a new layer of salt poured on the roads.

If only I spent the same amount of time, energy, and effort in my own life, to present myself spotless to God!

"So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him." 2 Peter 3:14

The minute I read this verse earlier today, I felt convicted. Make every effort to be found spotless. Every effort. To state the obvious, this is not a call to check in once a day and see how well our fight with sin has been. This is a call to do everything we possibly can in order to be without sin and at peace with God. 

My own life seems wrought with sin at times. Probably because it is. I am a hypocrite. Of course, I'm not alone in this, as we all are hypocritical to some extent, but sometimes it seems to be exponentially worse in my own life. I proclaim that I care about people and want to see the end of injustice, inequality, poverty, and violence in this world, but I never actually take any steps to see that happen, besides signing the occasional online petition or sharing a link on Facebook to alert everyone of how much I care. I tell people that we are saved through our faith in Jesus and his death on the cross, but I struggle to shake the performance mentality that prevents me from fully grasping the grace that God has freely given to me. I would say in a heartbeat that I desire to tell people about the gospel so that they can experience the joy of a relationship with God, but I often cower in fear of what others will think about me, shying away from what I have come to believe is the only source of truth and life. 

If I am willing to go the extra mile to present the van as spotless for my earthly boss at the funeral home, how much more effort should I put forth in presenting myself spotless to the one who holds eternity in his hands? Now, of course, I believe that I am already seen as righteous, clean, and without blemish in Jesus. In putting forth effort to be spotless, I will never succeed in getting rid of all of the sin in my life. The righteousness I will need for salvation can only come from the Passover lamb who willingly died on the cross so that I could stand in the presence of God. But in my love and servitude to God, I still want to do what He commands, no matter how imperfectly I may do it. 

God says to seek justice (Isaiah 1:17). God says he is faithful to forgive confessed sins (1 John 1:9). Jesus says to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). To go against the will of God is sin, so according to Peter, I should be making every effort to seek justice, rest in God's faithfulness, and make disciples of all nations. 

I can see so much sin in my life, yet there are times when passive indifference is the most attractive approach.  Peter, however, does not leave this as a feasible option. He calls Christians to make every effort to fight the sin in our lives so that we can present ourselves as spotless before God. This is not about performing routine checkups. This is about waging a constant, committed war against the many ways in which the enemy entices us. 

I am thankful for God's grace, that I do not need to rely on my own effort for salvation. I am a hypocrite. I will forget about this post later tonight, tomorrow, and the day after. I won't spend every effort trying to remain spotless. But my prayer is that in His goodness, God will grant me a continued desire to extend every effort in the fight against sin in my life. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


As I walk down the street, the sun is shining and the snow is melting.
It is a beautiful day.
Sin is heavy on my heart, though. Its deceit rearing its head.
I am happy. I am satisfied with the day, the weather.
However, something much deeper lingers within me, and I cannot enjoy it.
Sin grieves my soul, sucking the joy out of me.
As I stare at the sun through the trees, I am unable to enjoy the beauty.
But my enlightenment to this lack of joy brings me back to truth.
I have a God who gives me the freedom to no longer wallow in sin.
A God who gives me the freedom to feel forgiven.
A God who gives me the freedom to be fulfilled.
A God who gives me the freedom to be joyful.
Freedom to enjoy Him.
Despite my rebellious heart, despite my selfish ways, God is unchanging.
He is merciful.
He is just.
He is holy.
He is righteous.
He is faithful.
He is sovereign.
He is gracious.
He is love.
And He has given me the freedom to enjoy Him.

"Enter his gates with Thanksgiving
  and his courts with praise;
  give thanks to him and praise his name.
 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
  his faithfulness continues through all generations."
-Psalm 100:4-5