Lessons from a Fire

Not Your Average Monday

There’s a joke in my family that I’m the only one in the world that likes Mondays. Monday is my day off. A day to do piddly things around the house and just relax in the quietness. Last Monday was no different. In the early afternoon I was sitting in my office, working on finishing my BSF Bible study, paying some bills, and enjoying the quiet in my home.

I received a phone call around 1:30pm in the afternoon from a girlfriend telling me that there was a fire in my backyard. I didn’t get too excited. Since I’d been home all day, surely I would know if there was a fire in my backyard! I calmly sauntered up to the edge of my fence, and saw that there was smoke not 10 feet from my back fence line. At the time, I still didn’t realize what was really going on, didn’t seem like that big of a deal.

Unfortunately, my girlfriend was right. It was a huge deal. A fire had been started by a local construction company, and the winds had shifted, making my home and the neighbors on either side of me, the focal point of the raging fire. Shortly after getting off the phone with my girlfriend, I began grabbing things, once again evacuating my house. One of the downsides of backing up to BLM land.

I stopped quickly to call my mom and husband and told them to rush over to help me evacuate. Made a phone call to Pastor Dan’s wife, to ask her to pray for me, and then continued to load things into my vehicle. Shortly after those phone calls a firefighter knocked on my door – pounded is probably a better word – and he said, “Grab what you need, do it quickly. You have five minutes.”

Fast forward to this week – our firefighters in the Reno/Sparks area are amazing! There was no earthly reason why the fire stopped where it did. It’s like God drew a line in my backyard and everything west of my back fence is charred and black, and everything east of my fence, including my home, is pristine. I thank God for His grace and mercy that He chose to bestow on our family!

A Lesson Learned

One week ago, I was sitting in my office working on my Bible study. I was completely oblivious to the fact that there was a raging fire going on in my own backyard. I wonder if that’s how we live our lives in many ways. We assume since we don’t focus on something it must not be there; it must not be happening. Whether I knew about the fire, didn’t change its existence or its fury. If we sit idly and don’t see or think about our salvation or need for Christ – that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It doesn’t mean it goes away. It doesn’t mean it’s “fine.”

I also think about my girlfriend. She did not just call me to let me know that there was a fire in my backyard. She called my cell phone, called my home phone, and eventually called my parents. No matter what, she was determined to make sure I knew how eminent the danger was. Do we do that with our friends concerning Christ? Do we call them, repeatedly, in a Christlike way, to make sure they understand the eminence of their danger?

Ephesians 6:12 says “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

We spend so much time worrying about the forces here on earth that are against us. People, circumstances. Instead, God has shown me that I really need to be focused on our true enemy, the dark forces working against us. The evilness that is our true enemy, Satan. And God has shown me my responsibility in making sure that I don’t give up. Whether it takes three phone calls, or a million, I don’t give up on those who I love – until they fully understand their dire circumstances.

Our God is a gracious God, and can use the worst circumstances to draw us closer to Him. I’m so thankful that He chose to save our home. But I’m even more thankful that He chose to wake me up this Monday, and show me how much I can learn from a fire.

Arthur

Last September my wife and I decided to get pregnant. This will be our second child, but our first time deciding to get pregnant. So this time is different. Not like the first time at 21, and 19 years old, scared to death to tell our parents and wondering how in the world we would support and raise a family.

This time was better, but still, we needed a miracle.

We’ve come along since three years ago when we found out our daughter, Penelope, would be joining us shortly. We got married, and I graduated school. Our families welcomed her with open and loving arms. I’m working full time as the “video guy” at Grace, while Heidi is working full time as a teaching assistant in a special ed classroom and attending school online. Penelope is a two-year-old ball of fire and energy blazing her way through everything she touches (except for vegetables.) Heidi sang on the main stage for the first time last sunday giving me, and I assume everyone else, goosebumps; while I have started playing guitar with Walker in the youth group. God has become a big part of our lives, and the main reason for that was having Penelope!

So last September we decided, after careful thought and prayer, that we should add the next member to our family. We are young but who cares! We’ll be rich when we’re dead and Penelope needs a friend. Plus, we wanted to feel what it’s like to be excited to be pregnant and not terrified! Alas came Arthur. Currently 26 weeks old and growing quietly in my wife’s ever-widening belly. Heidi’s eyes glow when she feels him move.

At our 20 week ultrasound the technician noticed something odd. Arthur’s cephalic index was on the edge of alarmingly low. This means that the width of his head wasn’t growing at the correct proportion to the length of his head. It was still early in the pregnancy but this was not a good sign. It can develop into a condition called dolichocephaly which can lead to other birth and brain defects. Our midwife said that she was very concerned but it was too early to tell. We had to wait. We had to wait to let Arthur grow. We had to wait to see whether he would normalize or get worse.

Waiting is the last thing you want to do when you find out something is wrong with your child.

Waiting was hard. Especially for Heidi. We prayed everyday and told everyone we knew to pray for us. I reached out to friends who don’t know God and asked if they would pray for us. We asked God for a miracle. That our boy would normalize and be completely healthy. We prayed that if it were God’s will for Arthur to be born with defects that God would grant us the wisdom and strength required to raise a son that would have such special needs.

Weeks went by and though we still asked God for a miracle we felt like our lives would change drastically at the next ultrasound. In some ways it was easier to prepare ourselves for the worst. So that when the waiting was over it wasn’t so much of a shock. So much of a letdown.

Our midwife got us an emergency specialist appointment with a renowned prenatal neurologist in Sacramento. The morning of the appointment we read through Psalm 91 which says, from the perspective of God,

“When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

God said that if we called out to him he would answer. In the name of Jesus we called to God knowing completely that he would answer. Whether he would bless with a miracle or grant us to strength to love and accept our son no matter what his problems were, we knew God would be faithful. Knowing this we still drove to Sacramento last Tuesday ready for the worst.

We were sitting in the doctor’s office looking at a widescreen television of the ultrasound while the technician worked at her usual square screen. She rotated around to look at the top of Arthur’s head and the ratio from width to length is much more extreme. Our worst fears confirmed. He has not normalized but instead gotten worse. I grip Heidi’s hand tighter as the nurse continues to take other measurements of Arthur’s brain and head. She then says, “He’s looking really good but I’m just going to check with the doctor.” She must have seen the scared and confused looks on our faces because she then said, glancing at the screen we were looking at, “Oh that screen isn’t accurate; it stretches the image. Look at this one.” So I look over at her screen and I see a nearly perfectly round top of a baby’s head. My baby’s head.

The nurse heads out to double check with the doctor as I look at my wife feeling hope for the first time in weeks. It sounded like she said he looked normal right? We smile at each other but try to not get too hopeful without first hearing a sure diagnosis. But I can’t help it! I feel renewed energy in my bones and I get up to pace the room.

The nurse then pokes her head into the room and says so casually, “Your son looks completely normal so you can go home.”

It was surreal.

God performed a miracle right before our very eyes.
God performed a miracle on our son!

So we shuffle out of the office still in shock at what we had seen and heard. Our son was healed! Our son will be born completely normal and healthy. I still wasn’t sure if it was true with how nonchalantly the nurse told us that we didn’t have to see the doctor because Arthur looked so normal. I had asked her what was wrong with him before? Why was his initial ultrasound so alarming and this one not at all? She just kind of shrugged and said, “Who knows? Probably just an issue with the previous technician.”

It felt a bit like the nurse, or the world, or Satan himself, however you want to look at it, was trying to minimize our miracle. Was trying to shrug it off like it was just a mistake or a misunderstanding. For a second I believed it too. For a second I was almost convinced that there was never anything wrong with Arthur and that all of our prayers and worrying had been for nothing because he was fine all along.

But this didn’t make any sense!

God had performed a miracle!

We had fears and feelings that something was wrong with him but now there was evidence that there wasn’t anything wrong at all! God answered our call; God healed our son!

It makes me wonder how many miracles we miss in our everyday lives because the world just shrugs it off as happenstance. How many miracles have we missed because the world convinced us it was just an accident or coincidence? Probably a lot.

God is performing miracles all the time and all around. Arthur is just one.

Why I believe in HopeFirst – Ashley’s Story

I started attending services in 2013 after my fiancé lost his life to suicide and addiction at the age of 28. He left my son, Chase, who was 3 at the time, and me to pick up the pieces. He didn’t mean to hurt us – he was very sick with his addiction. Being the fiancé, I was left to emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially fend for my young child and myself. I went back to work (sole proprietor) the day after his service and had no choice but to get out of bed every day and pretend to be okay. One foot in front of the other and a day at a time I made my way through the ups and downs of grief. My voice was barely a whisper for weeks and a forced smile hid the brokenness deep within my heart and soul. Shortly thereafter, I began to attend Grace. At first it was every once in a while, and in time my Sundays at Grace became more and more consistent. I just came in, and took a seat ☺. Grace was one of the only places I felt at peace during a time of such turmoil. I would check Chase into the Grace Kids and find myself a place to hide in the back. Grace was one of the only places I felt I could be honest with myself about my pain. I cried myself through many services. I strongly connected with the worship music and with Pastor Dan’s message. Many times I have felt that he was speaking directly to me.

Grace was and still is my safe haven. As a small child I remember attending a church like Grace. I remember a time around the age of four where I went into my bedroom closet and asked Jesus into my heart over and over again. I also attended Christian summer camps as a pre-teen. I believe that this foundation is what got me back to the church in a time where I needed guidance back to Jesus. When friends, acquaintances or whomever question my faith or share with me that they are non-believers, I always ask them one question. “When things in life go badly, as they sometimes do, what do you tell your children when you don’t have the answers? Without faith, how do you explain all of the bad things in this world? How do you get through that without faith.” If I didn’t have the foundation from my childhood, I don’t believe I would have made it through that challenging time in my life. I certainly don’t know how I would have explained it to my son. For this reason, I am very passionate about HopeFirst. I believe in the values Grace is helping to instill in our children. I believe in setting the foundation from a young age so that later in life, when they’re a 26 year old girl living with an alcohol-addicted fiancé, and her intuition is telling her that something is very wrong, that she may turn to prayer for the first time in years. I believe in HopeFirst so that when her heart is so broken and guilt ridden and she has nowhere else to go, she will turn to that foundation of her childhood and find her way back into the church and her faith will slowly begin mending her broken heart.

Addiction took the love of my life at the young age of 28. My foundation in faith in Jesus is what saved mine.

fullsizerender

Ashley is first and foremost mother to Chase who’s 8 years old. She runs her own business and has attended Grace for 3 years.

The Man in the Van

On September 24th, 2016, I came across a suspicious van parked behind a shopping center with a man inside of it. If my suspicions were correct, it was my intention to have the man arrested and the van towed. This guy didn’t have a driver’s license and the van was uninsured and unregistered. I soon learned that the man was homeless and that all he owned was in the van with him. I further learned that none of my initial suspicions were valid. While I still had enough reason to at least tow the van, I was oddly filled with compassion for the homeless man and did not move forward with any action at all. How could I, knowing that I would be going home to a warm home and loving family, and all my “stuff,” and he would be stuck there in the van. I was able to express my decision to those working with me during this circumstance and they too agreed that it was overall the best option to not press negative consequences on this person.

On this past Sunday, I attended services at Grace and heard Pastor Dan speak about compassion. I immediately thought of the day prior and felt pretty good about myself in this area- considering that I could have caused a major negative shift in the trajectory of the life of the man in the van. Then, in hearing Pastor Dan speak the Word, and reading the text for myself, I was overcome with the reality that my sense of compassion for people is minimal and that Jesus’ was maximal. I felt the need to have maximum compassion… to do the most I could do in a circumstance, not the least.

Throughout the rest of Sunday and into the early morning hours of Monday, the man in the van weighed heavy on my heart. I had the knowledge and the ability to help the man maximally. I knew all of the steps necessary to help him with a driver’s license – to the extent that he would qualify to get one – and could help him with insurance and even registration for the van. It might take actually driving him to several locations over several days or weeks; spending time with him and helping him study for a drivers test; spending money on insurance and fees and fines. It would most certainly take me down from my comfortable perch and into the valley where he lived…where the shadows live; where darkness is. It would be…difficult, awkward, smelly, annoying – with no guarantee that I would even be able to help him at all.

On my way to work Monday morning I made the decision to drive back behind the shopping center and actually show compassion to the man. To do the things that were impressed upon me. To help. As I got closer I wrestled with the fact that it was only 7:30 in the morning and he might not want me waking him up that early. Also that he might be ashamed of me offering to help. And, who am I to get involved with a complete stranger anyway? Excuses. I was making excuses. I continued to drive to the shopping center.

When I rounded the final corner to the rear of the building, with my heart racing, I looked – and saw – and sighed. I physically and audibly sighed with relief. The van was gone. Immediately I felt the internal struggle of wanting to be obedient to what I felt I was supposed to do versus what I have always done; what was comfortable; what was easy. I was ashamed of my sigh of relief…my internal, carnal desire to not help anyone, ever. I was embarrassed that I pretend to be a warrior – but only up on my level where it is safe and where I’m in control; never in the valley where shadows and darkness live.

I made the intentional determination to drive methodically through every parking lot and shopping center in the area. I had to override my habitual behavior and force myself to move toward being like Christ. If it was God’s will for me to help this man, then I would find him and help him. I did not find him, and I’m sad because of it. Yet, I have learned more about my need to know Christ intimately so that I can behave like him naturally; to know his Word specifically so that I can respond quickly; to love His people – all people – with compassion.


img_4426
Eric is married to Carrie and has three boys and Molly the dog. He is a public safety professional and loves Jesus above all.

Struggling with Compassion

A few years ago I found myself in a place I thought I’d never be. My family member had been admitted to a place they take people from broken homes, off the streets, abused people, addicted people, people that deserved to be in a place like this for one reason or another. I was devastated; crushed; confused. How was this possible? We weren’t any of those things…just the opposite. Loving family – check. Good jobs, good church, good school, good friends…check, check, check, check. As I walked down the corridor for the 1-hour communal visit for the first time I was crying my eyes out for my family and the one I loved who didn’t belong in this place.

We had to wait awhile for our visit and as I sat in the room, deep in my own pain and thoughts, I was suddenly made keenly aware of what was happening around me. One girl was crying because not only would her mother not be visiting that day, she wouldn’t even take her call during the one hour allowed for calls. There were other similar situations happening all around me. In that moment I had a flashback to when I was a college student. I was a sociology major at a Christian college and had been assigned to visit a girl in the hospital. I hadn’t recalled this incident in years but my memory was vivid. As I visited her and she told me she had tried to kill herself I was externally kind but what was going on in my heart and mind was not kind at all. My thoughts were along the lines of, “How selfish of you!”; “What could possibly be so bad, so hopeless?”

And then it happened…I felt it happen. My heart broke and it grew. I was heartbroken for all of those people sitting in that room who didn’t have hope. God let me know that He loved me so much that He wasn’t going to let me go my whole life without understanding compassion. 30 years was long enough!

I know now that I believed a lie that I wasn’t gifted in the area of compassion. I’ve met others that believe similar lies. Lies that say they can’t have compassion on certain people because they’ve been hurt by people like that. Lies that say they aren’t good enough to have compassion on others because of their own issues. I’m convinced that those lies are straight from the enemy and are intended to keep us from being like Jesus.

Jesus is compassion…compassion that feels the pain and brokenness without judgment. I want to follow His lead. See with His eyes and love like He loves.


kimd-500x500Kim is wife and mom to adult kids, Kristyn and Kayla. She’s a local real estate agent and on leaders the Hello Team (and more!) at Grace.

With Empty Hands

Last Sunday, I scribbled notes feverishly into my journal as Pastor Dan spoke:

“God exchanges our human weakness for His power.”

“We must first acknowledge our frailty and place ourselves in a position to receive for He is not taking our strength and adding His power to it; but rather, giving us something new and supernatural.”

 It was when the music began to play after the sermon that this message seemed to unfold right in front of me.

One row in front of me an older lady sat during the worship songs. It was clear she was too weak to stand for all 3-4 songs in the worship set, but often she lifted her hands. Palms facing up. In her frailty, she was going to receive what God had to give her and at the same time, let Him know she wanted to surrender to Him.

A few rows ahead of me, an older man stood alongside his wife. Several times I saw him raise his right arm to worship God. Each time he was only able to do this by holding up his right arm with his left hand. His weakness was not going to stop him. He was going to praise his Lord and I sat behind him watching this thinking how this was a beautiful picture of what Pastor Dan was talking about the same day…

How we come to God with empty hands.

Our great exchange of nothing for everything.

What a vivid and beautiful illustration of the Gospel we are invited into through Jesus.


lexik-100x100

Lexi King is a mom of 3 and a deliriously smitten wife. She is passionate about encouraging and connecting women, writing, music, Jesus and queso…not necessarily in that order. She became a Christ follower at the age of 18 as a college freshman at UT Austin and now has lived in the Reno area for five years.

30 Years

When I was 23 years old I got the worse news of my life. I was told I wouldn’t live to see 30. I had developed a condition that caused my body to throw blood clots, Factor V Leiden blood mutation. What confused doctors is the frequency of the clots. Even with this condition, I should be able to live a normal life but I was clotting on every medicine they put me on.

I fell into a slump, hard and deep. I spent a lot of time in bars, drinking and smoking and going home with women. I found myself constantly asking God why he would allow this. I have been a good person, why did I deserve this? When I had kids, the drinking and partying stopped, but the doubt and fear remained.

It wasn’t until I found myself in ROOTED, a class on going deeper with God provided at Grace Church, I found the answer I needed. One of the chapters talks about how to talk to God. Part of any conversation is listening, so why not listen to Him, too? Our group met to practice this after fasting and I was sitting outside; the sun had set and I prayed. I begged for some type of answer. I began to scribble on a piece of paper and tried to drown out the barking dogs and the planes flying overhead, but couldn’t. More frustration. After going back inside, I looked at my scribbles and in the middle of the page was a sentence. “I will never leave you alone.” My 30th birthday has come and gone, I am now 36. Thanks to Grace Church, my wife and my renewed faith I now have something I haven’t had in 13 years – peace. My name is Scott Whitney and I am Unqualified.