Monday, May 21, 2007

Mountain Top Experiences

When Nancy & I got married, we were blessed to have her Dad serve us communion and share a short, private little pep talk during the ceremony. Although I won’t claim to remember all of the details of that blur of a day, I’ll never forget the essence of what he said. He told us that in our lives, we will have many mountain top experiences, some of which may even take place on top of a mountain. Our wedding, of course, was one of those mountain top experiences, hence the message. To borrow liberally from my wife here, when a mountain top experience happened in the Bible (regardless of whether it happened on a mountain or not), it was frequently marked with a massebah, or standing stone. These standing stones were erected as a reminder of what God did in that place. When people would come upon a standing stone, the natural response would have been “What happened here that they erected a standing stone to commemorate it?” This was then an opportunity to share the story of what God did there.

So, what is the point of that elaborate introduction? As many of you may be aware, I turn 30 in a few short days. All year I have resisted that idea and insisted that I was merely beginning a new tradition of turning 29 every year. This was to be my second annual 29th birthday. Just in case, though, I spent a good part of the last year taking a poll of those who had previously crossed that 30th birthday threshold and they seemed to speak in one voice: the 30’s is the best decade of your life. Unless they are all engaged in a conspiracy to lie to me about this, I see no reason to continue to deny the fact that I am turning 30 and to, in fact, embrace the upcoming years of my life.

So, with my new found acceptance and enthusiasm for the fate that lies ahead, I figured it was an appropriate time to reflect upon the last 30 years and tell the stories inscribed upon the standing stones that are erected on the mountaintop experiences of my life.

Full Disclosure: I find that the best ideas in my life are usually not mine. Although the idea of reflecting as part of my 30th birthday celebration is mine, I also drew inspiration from Derry Prenkert’s well-written blog. His “Greatest Hits” series is beyond coincidentally similar, so I wanted to make sure to give him some credit. Nonetheless, I would expect our experiences, with several exceptions, to be strikingly different. You can check out Derry’s blog here.


I was born on June 3, 1977. I was born again on December 29, 1991. But I’m skipping ahead.

I think that I always believed in a god, even the Christian God- I just had no idea what that meant. I would occasionally go to church with extended family members or even friends. Growing up in the heavily Catholic South Bend area, I had no concept that there were churches other than Catholic churches, which was ironic since I had never been to anything other than a protestant church. I remember in 7th grade a Catholic friend of mine asked me if I was Catholic. As I held some notion of believing in the Christian God and didn’t understand the distinction, I said “yes.” It was spring time, so he asked me what I was giving up for Lent. I had to admit to him that I had no idea what he was talking about, at which point he explained to me that I wasn’t Catholic. That was nice to know.

So, I was officially not Catholic. I was curious, though, what I was. For whatever reason, I wanted discover what I “was” spiritually, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. After my Dad died, I began praying. A lot. I suppose this is natural. Even though I did not yet know God at that time, I think of those prayers as some of the most “real” prayers I’ve ever prayed. Some were angry, some were sad, some were begging, most were totally selfish, but they were all authentic.

Several months thereafter, my very good friend Mike Grove invited me to go to church with him and his family. It was Palm Sunday 1991. I began attending regularly with him- his family had to drive past the church to get to my house to pick me up, but they did it every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night for several years. I’m fairly certain my mom thought I joined a cult.

Although I eagerly attended church for the greater part of the year, I never made a commitment to follow Jesus. As I look back upon it, I find this strange, because I was clearly looking for God to fill that void in my heart. Over Christmas break of that year, Mike invited me to a youth conference, which was then known as NCYC. I remember being a little hesitant to go because, although I was starting to get into the whole church thing, the idea of spending 3 straight days in church over my Christmas break didn’t yet sound all that appealing. Mike sold me on it as a 3 day sports event. We would mostly play in basketball, soccer, and volleyball tournaments, and if there was time we might get in a little church stuff as well. We most certainly did play in a basketball, soccer, and volleyball tournament, losing in the first round of each.

During the appointed “church stuff” hours, I found myself surprisingly captivated. Although I really enjoyed our youth pastor Jim’s messages, I had never heard someone speak so clearly and intentionally for a youth audience. When he explained the heart of the gospel message and asked us to pray and invite Jesus into our lives, I knew this was a different type of prayer than anything I had ever done. I prayed it willingly and joyfully, asking Jesus to forgive me of my sins and come live in my heart. After the prayer, the speaker asked that any of us who prayed it should stick around after the imminent dismissal of the service and one of our youth leaders would come and talk to us. I knew I had prayed the prayer, but was not yet bold enough to stick my neck out on my own, so I decided that I would stay if Mike stayed as well. When the service ended Mike immediately turned to me and asked “Are you staying?” I assumed that he was staying and wanted me to stay with him, so I told him I was staying. He said “Good,” and turned around and walked away.

I figured that I was stuck there at that point, and since I had made the decision anyway, I might as well talk to one of our youth leaders. Paul Hampton found me almost immediately. I think I told him something to the effect of “You guys finally roped me in,” as though they had won and I had lost. I think the next few moments were some of the most important of my entire life, as he explained to me what my decision meant and how I had, in fact, won. I cried a lot that evening, as God began to fill the void inside me. They were mostly tears of joy, relief & wonder, but I think also tears of every other emotion available to a 14 year old. I like to think of them as my spiritual water breaking so that I could be born again.

I hate to stop at this point in the story. After all, life only begins at birth- it is not the end of the story. There is much more to tell, but I suppose that is the point of this series…


danp said...

Thanks for your story, dan. You, your life, your family are testimonies to God's faithfulness. Speaking as one who's already hit 30 (almost twice!), there's a lot more God left! Enjoy! danp

Anonymous said...

Speaking from the perspective of one who has hit 30 twice and then some, God is incredibly faithful beyond our expectations. His mercies ARE new every morning and his grace and strength are sufficient for every situation -ALWAYS. Mountain top experience every day??? Thanks Dan, I love you! Dad