Feb 23, 2012

“Stiff Neck(ed)”

I woke up with a stiff neck today and I know how I got it. I was in the gym yesterday and working on my triceps. My body was sore from painting my daughter’s ceilings at her house the day before and I decided that I would keep the weights at a much lower weight than I normally used when I worked out. 

I’ve had trouble with my neck in the past and know that when it stiffens up I need to rest it. In January 2011, I was having trouble with a stiff neck that wouldn’t go away. An MRI had revealed that I had degenerative changes in my cervical spine at the C4-C7 region of my neck “large posterior disc herniation that touches the anterior surface of the cervical cord uncinate hypertrophy bilaterally which results in the narrowing in the spinal canal”.  

After a few months of therapy, I had a cervical epidural steroid injection (ESI) which is a cortisone injection into the epidural space surrounding spinal nerve roots to help alleviate pain in the upper spine/neck caused by irritated nerves.  

So yesterday in the gym, I was doing some “seated two arm dumbbell extensions” and someone came over to the area that I was lifting at to do some “bicep curls”. I noticed that the individual was using smaller weights than I would use and that his arms weren’t very developed or defined, and my pride kicked in. I decided that I would try to “impress” him by lifting the heavier weights that I normally use since he was (probably) around thirty years younger than I.  

He had switched to working his triceps and continued to using much, much lighter weights than I would use so I continued to use my normal weights for all of the different types of lifting that I was doing even though, as I stated before, my body was already sore and needed to rest. 

And, so I woke up with a stiff neck today and I know how I got it. No, not from lifting, but from my pride; and not the good kind of pride either. This is the kind of pride that is arrogant, pompous, proud, swelling, and filled with haughtiness.

And God hates pride. In fact it is one of the six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him (See Proverbs 6:16-19). The Bible tells us that; “Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18).  

When we have pride that is out of check in our lives it often times causes us to dig in our heels and we become “stiff-necked”. God hates it when we are stiff-necked. Throughout the Bible we see the frustration of this loving God who is slow to anger, and full of mercy and compassion pleading with His people who He calls; “stiff-necked”. 

“But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction.” (Jeremiah 17:23)  

“Your fierceness has deceived you, The pride of your heart, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Who hold the height of the hill! Though you make your nest as high as the eagle, I will bring you down from there," says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 49:16)   

"You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51)

So what is the solution? We need to pay attention to things that fill our hearts with pride (the bad kind) BEFORE we get to the point where we become stiff-necked.  

We need to humble ourselves before God: “Then Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, he and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the wrath of the LORD did not come upon them in the days of Hezekiah” (2 Chronicles 32:26)   

We need to yield to God: “Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the LORD; and enter His sanctuary, which He has sanctified forever, and serve the LORD your God, that the fierceness of His wrath may turn away from you.” (2 Chronicles 30:8) 

We need to respond to His grace and stay soft; without it we would surely fall away. Doing this, we will be much easier to live with; including to ourselves..

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Feb 16, 2012

New Year, New Miracles

NOTE: The following testimony is written by Sarah of Minneapolis, Minnesota.Sarah's husband Sam is the lead pastor Bethel Christian Fellowship in Minneapolis

“About seven years ago, right before our one year anniversary, we were super excited when we found out that we were expecting our first child. However, a few months later, very unexpectedly, I miscarried our baby.   That was one of the hardest things that we have ever gone through. Over the course of those next two years I miscarried two other children. After the third miscarriage we were at a place of deep surrender to God…the pain was too great to carry on our own. It was during that time that God gave Sam and I both a heart to adopt. 

One of the ways was through Isaiah 54 which says “ 1 “Sing, barren woman,  you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman    than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD.  2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” 

Among many other things that God did was to give us His heart for adoption.  Did that mean that we wouldn’t have any biological children? No, we felt that our family heritage was going to be a wonderful mix of both. God miraculously brought healing and hope. In May of 2008, a friend prayed for us that in 9 months I would give birth to a baby. Nine months and one day later, our daughter was born! Then along came our son a few years later with no complications. He just turned 1 in December. We are SO thankful for these amazing lives! 

When we moved to Minneapolis we were extremely excited to be surrounded by so many people that had a heart for adoption. And during 2010, the theme at our church was the year of Restoration. We felt God bring us back to that Scripture in Isaiah 54. It was also early that year that our friends, along with their four children, were in the midst of making a decision to open up their home to a sibling group of three children. These children were related to them and had just entered the foster care system. I remember sitting with them in their kitchen as they asked for prayer in the direction that they felt God leading them, to open up not only their house but also their hearts to these precious little ones. It's almost been two years since they opened up their home and their hearts and during that time we have felt God speaking to us in many different ways to be a part of their lives and the lives of these kids. To help in any way that we could since having seven kids seemed like no easy task even though our friends made it look so easy!

We got to know the kids  (ages 7, 6 & 3) and our hearts grew. We felt that God was leading us to help out in their situation in a long term way. We wanted to be available to adopt them if the need arose. We became licensed for foster care this past summer so that we could help out even more. Then it happened…the need arose this past November for these precious kids to have a mom and dad. It was an emotional process of praying through things with our friends as we were all extremely connected to the kids and wanted the best for them. It wasn’t a matter of “if” the kids would be adopted but “who”? We knew that no matter what, these kids would be loved because they would forever have both families in their lives. It was an extremely hard decision but God spoke through his Holy Spirit to both families clearly. The decision was made that Sam and I would move forward with our family adopting the kids. And in the next 2 weeks we will be making the transition to having 5 kids in our home! We are so humbled, honored, and excited! Wow!

The popular question throughout the past months when we would talk about this to friends was…”Are you guys able to fit that many people into your house?” Inside, I probably got a little defensive and thought, “what's wrong with our house? It may be small but it will be filled with love!” I knew that our house was small but with Sam and I’s organizational gifts we thought out every nook and cranny to make it work! We even figured out a way to move our refrigerator a few inches which would enable all seven of us to squeeze, I mean, sit around our kitchen table. In this whole process I knew that by becoming a family of seven it would change our lifestyle too. I thoroughly enjoy opening up our home to others but in this season caring for these kids and having a secured seat for them at our table would be the most important thing. 

Well, a little over a week ago we met with the social workers to finalize plans. All that was left was to share the news with the kids. During that time, our friends sent an email inquiring about the status of a house that was for sale right across the street from them. A two story colonial home with plenty of room. Sam and I had actually thought about that house over 2 years ago, but it wasn't for sale at the time and we knew it would be out of our price range. We had also actually already walked through the home this past summer when they had an estate sale. It was beautiful…way out of our price range…but beautiful! I remember at that time thinking about the teal shutters that were on the house. Teal shutters might be your thing…they just aren’t my thing. I thought, if that was my house I would put black shutters up. Not too long after the estate sale as they were preparing the house to officially go on the market they made a few changes…one of which was putting up black shutters. For the past six months I have driven by that house on a regular basis thinking of what it would be like to live there with our growing family. It wasn’t about living the American dream but about the dream of having a dining room table with room for our family and others. About bedrooms that could fit beds AND dressers…About a kitchen that had lots of room to gather in and talk about how school went that day…and about plenty of open walls for family pictures.

Because the house was overpriced in this market it remained un-sold and the owners continued to drop the price slowly. After our friend received a response from the owner that the house was still for sale we looked into some options of owning the home but didn’t get anywhere. Then unexpectedly as I shared with our lender about how we wanted to do this because of our plans to adopt she mentioned an amazing “exception” to one of our options. Because of our growing family we could qualify to have two FHA mortgages at the same time. Allowing us to not have to sell our current home in this down market and qualify to purchase this one. Awesome news! But then there is still the fact that the price just dropped and tons of people have been looking at the house all along. Of course, there is also the fact that we serve a God who is GREATER than any of that! So we submitted an offer, much lower than the asking price, which had already dropped significantly, and we waited.

All of our focus was now on the most important thing…this past Tuesday night when we would be sharing with the kids that we wanted to be their forever family. We gathered at our friend's home. Together the four of us shared the news with the kids. We gave them some special gifts with pictures and expressed how much they were loved by so many! The night was so special with lots of hugs and ice cream sundaes to celebrate! Right before we were about to head home we got a call from the realtor. He informed us that…we got the house!!!!!!! The four adults gave out a big shout and then excitedly gathered both families in the living room. “We have some great news: Our family is going to live across the street!” Not only do we get to begin a new season as a family of seven, but we will begin this new season in a new home for everyone. 

The number seven means a lot to me. Through the process of having our two biological children I struggled with how to express that even though you could only see two children we were supposed to have five. Five…three children that would have been older then our daughter. Really God? Can you really be THAT Good?!?! This past week I have been completely….COMPLETELY overwhelmed by the goodness of God! 2010 & 2011 have truly been years of Restoration and Return: Five children…a home that they can grow in across the street from a family who loves them as much as we do…two miles from the church…doing what we feel God has called us to do in life, ministry and our family? I will be forever grateful for the couple that sat in their kitchen almost two years ago following the prompting of opening their hearts and home to three very special kids. Thank you! The truth is…God REALLY IS THAT GOOD!”

Feb 9, 2012

You Smell!


There I told you; somebody had to…you smell! We all smell; and the smells that linger on us are sometimes good and are sometimes bad. Some smells are stronger than others such as alcohol or garlic or mint or cologne or smoke or sweat or fish. Again, some are good and some are, well, not so good.

Smells tell us a lot about where a person has been. It’s kind of hard for a youth to sneak in a house after a late night of drinking and smoking and think that parents won’t be able to tell where they’ve been and what they have been doing. (You stink; the breath mints aren’t working!)

For me, one of the great bonuses about spending time in a coffee shop is that when I leave; I can still smell the coffee in my clothing and my hair. I also love the smell on my clothes the next morning after I spent an evening sitting at a camp fire.

The only bad part about playing hockey is sitting on the bench next to players who refuse to wash their equipment after a game; they smell! There I told them; somebody had to…some hockey players really smell! It’s probably the reason that I wash and then hang up to dry ALL of my equipment after EVERY game!

Many years ago my wife Cathy would smell my clothes in an attempt to try and guess what kind of wood I had been working with after a day of making cabinetry or furniture or doing finish carpentry. Other times I would come home with the odor from working with fiberglass or latex and it would be requested of me to change my clothes ‘immediately’.

Some smells can trigger happy memories from our past like Christmas cookies or a turkey at Thanksgiving or sparklers on July fourth. I still can remember each of my children when they were born and how they smelled; something that always brings back happy memories of great joy!

As strange as it may sound, several times throughout my relationship with Cathy I have ‘smelt’ her skin and her hair and it reminded me why I fell in love with her. Whenever I smell dirt and worms and fish and pipe tobacco on a warm day I flash back to summers that I spent at the lake with my maternal grandparents.

We also can ‘smell’ like those we hang with. Often times I can still smell perfume or cigarette smoke transferred to my clothing several minutes after receiving a hug from a friend or relative. Cathy could also tell who I had been working with based on how I acted or what kind of mood I was in; I ‘smelled’ like the person I had spent time with.

In the Bible we read an account of the leaders of the early church when they were brought to court for preaching and praying for people. I love this passage because it communicates that when we spend time with Jesus, others will be able to tell that we had been with Him:

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NKJV)

We can even get through this life without smelling like the world, if we let God help us. Remember the story of Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace:

 “And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.” (Daniel 3:27)

Question: Who do you smell like? As Christians we are supposed to ‘smell’ like the One whom we are following:

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-15)

Or as Eugene Peterson translates verse 15;

“Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life” (From The Message Version)

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” (Ephesians 1:1-2)

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

Feb 2, 2012

Stuck in A Holding Pattern

Stuck in an airplane at night, somewhere between 30-50 thousand feet above the ground which I so much longed to once again to walk on. I was on an airplane flying home after being gone for a long trip. And instead of hearing the captain telling us; “Folks we are now beginning our descent”, I heard him say; “This is your captain and I want you to know that we are continuing to be in a holding pattern due to some severe thunderstorms surrounding the airport”.

He continued to let us know that we would be in a holding pattern for another twenty minutes or so and, once again reminded us passengers to keep our seat belts fastened as he warned us of some impending turbulence. This was (at least) the second time he had said this to us; ultimately we would be in this holding pattern for close to an hour. 

In time, the weather cleared and the captain came on the radio to let us know that we were indeed finally about to start our descent. Finally, after a long trip, we were back on the ground.

When my wife Cathy picked me up at the airport she described how terrible the storm had been down on the ground. The severe thunderstorms had lashed out on the city with an “apocalyptic” fury that included extremely high winds, lightning, hail, and flooding. It sounded as though it was actually calmer 30-50 thousand feet above the ground than it was below where mere mortals walk. By staying up in the air in the (multiple) holding patterns, we had been protected from some horrific storms!

When we are stuck in holding patterns it can be hard to see that we are really in the best possible place considering the circumstance. This is true for airplanes as well as life circumstances that cause us to cry out; “Really? When am I going to finally get to where I am supposed to be?” What I am referring to are those times when we have to wait for the next step and we are tired of waiting for the child we long to have, or to get married, or for the house, or the job, or simply what is the will and purpose of God for our lives.

It is during those times that we must turn to One who is greater than ourselves in order to believe that we are really in the best possible place considering the circumstance. We don’t know what storms God is protecting us from as we remain in our holding pattern!

We must look to Him to help us and let Him once again remind us: “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand.” -Psalm 139:17-18

And that He really does have a plan for us: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29:11

And wants to show us the next step: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds him with His hand.”  - Psalm 37:23-24

He wants us to: “Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:3-4 NKJV)

And so, we take our seats, and fasten our seat belts, and rest as we once again remain in our holding pattern knowing that we are really in the best possible place; in the center of His will.

“I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth—Praise to our God;  Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."