The Owner’s Manual

I bought a new car a few weeks ago.  I wanted something just a bit bigger, and it seemed like the right time to take the plunge.  One of the things the salesman handed me as I walked out the door with keys in hand was a ginormous owner’s manual.  It amazes me how detailed the manual is, giving you specific instructions on not only the strange button you find on the side of your console but how to properly put your car in Drive.  If I need the owner’s manual to learn how to put it in Drive, I’m not sure I should be buying a car just yet!

As Christians, we also have an owner’s manual!  When we accept Christ as Lord of our life, we have the Bible that teaches us about how to live for God every day.  It teaches us seemingly small things like being kind.  It teaches us big things like how to apply appropriate church discipline.  It reminds us that to love the world means we hate the Father.  It also gives us reminders of what can happen when we look back after God has taken us out of the ungodly situation (pillar of salt, anyone?).

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

He also says in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

The Bible is meant to guide us and shape us.  It’s God letter to us, rich in wisdom.  When we read it daily, it’s a direct line to our Heavenly Father.  Even when there’s something tough to read or hard to swallow, it’s our Father giving us the right way to live our lives.  We need no other book!  It loves.  It corrects.  It chastens.  It guides.  It heals.

As we read our Bibles this week, I pray that we hear God’s voice in the scriptures.  And if this will be the first time you’ve picked up your Bible in a while, I pray that God’s love pours over you in words.  If you’re looking for a place to start, try starting with the book of John.  It will remind that you God is love.  And that love allowed Him to become a sacrifice for you so that you might know what eternity in heaven is.

~Erin

Hiding Under the Couch

In the late 1990s, I was stationed in California.  While there, I lived next door to a young family in a condo-style building.  The oldest child, Merissa, was about 3 years old when I first met her.  Anytime she was in trouble or afraid, she’d hide under the couch in the living room.  Imagine the sweet little face of a toddler half smooshed under the couch, peeking out to see if the coast was clear. 

Do you have a spot you “hide under” when you’re in trouble or scared? Is it under the covers? In a bubble bath? In a tub of ice cream?  Does that hiding spot also include times you want to try to hide from God?  Notice I used the phrase “try” to hide from God.  Trying to hide is a human quality that does not consider God’s omnipresence.

Jeremiah 23:24 (NASB) shows us that God is everywhere.  “’Can a person hide himself in hiding places so that I do not see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?’ declares the Lord.”

The infinite spirit of God includes omnipresence, which means He is present everywhere in creation. And that my friends…is really hard to wrap our minds around. That omnipresence is awe-inspiring and difficult to understand, but it should also motivate our own sanctification. 

In regards to sin: It helps us with blatant and deliberate sin to remember that God is in all places at all times.  He is a literal witness to all of our sinful behavior.  When I remind myself that God is watching, it often makes me more hesitant to commit the sin.  On the other hand, when I let myself forget that God is omnipresent, I find myself making poor choices.   

In regards to service: It helps us with creating a ‘servant’s heart’ in our own life when we remember that God is in all places at all times.  He is witness to our kindness, our sweet words and actions, and our giving of talents, time, and tithes.  We should not be acting kindly simply because God is watching, but rather it should assist us with becoming more eager to please Him.   

Regardless of if you are hiding under the couch like a toddler or under the covers with ice cream, remember that God’s omnipresence misses nothing. 

~Emily

Clean the Dishes

I hate doing dishes.  Any by hate doing dishes, what I really mean is that all housework feels horrific to me and I’d rather chew my nails down to stubs than do clean my house. (Don’t ask my husband.  I don’t want him to have to hurt my feelings by acknowledging this sad fact!) 

Now, there are fewer people eating in my house as my children grow up and move out, but it feels like there are just as many dishes as there ever have been.  I’m going to chalk it up to me deciding to be a gourmet cook and the necessity of needing 32 bowls to make macaroni and cheese.  There are dishes everywhere!  And as I was scrubbing out the inside of a bowl yesterday, my mind went to Matthew 23.

Jesus was among a crowd of people that included not only the average townspeople but also Pharisees and the disciples.  Jesus spoke of the Pharisees, essentially stating that they do not practice what they preach.  He went on to give Eight Woes, one of which is in verse 25 and 26.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may also be clean.”

Yikes!  The Pharisees were a group of Jewish men who were typically well versed and knowledgeable in the legal traditions and laws of the Jews.  They were constantly reminding people of the correct ways to worship, how to tithe, and how certain rituals and festivals were correctly completed.  They were considered scholars in Jewish law.

Jesus wasn’t very fond of them by all accounts because of the hypocrisy in not only their lives but in the worship of the Father.  They were often known to ignore their own sins but to willingly point out everyone else’s.   

In these verses, Jesus was telling them how they made themselves look pure, clean, and just on the outside so that people could SEE their righteousness.  They appeared polished and pristine.  But their inside…what a mess!  Sins of pride, ego, arrogance soiled them and perverted the process of sanctification.  There was nothing clean about them.  By not truly surrendering to God, repenting, and cleaning up their minds and their hearts, they made their outside actions futile, unworthy of praise.  I would even offer up that because of this, they could’ve easily caused an unbeliever to continue in their unbelief or perhaps a new/seasoned Christian to stumble.  They were doing for themselves and not for the Creator of this world!

The question for us then becomes, how does we relate to this?  I’m so glad you asked!  Our outward actions and life should reflect the inner surrendering of self to God.  When we have fully surrendered and accepted the free gift of salvation, we should then be striving for daily sanctification.  Our eyes should never leave Him.  Our inner thoughts of devotion to the Father should match the outward devotion to Him.  This, in turn, allows friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, ANYONE to see Christ shining through us!

Friends!  Let’s clean the inside as much as we try to clean the outside!  Let our prayer be that we keep the inside and the outside clean, solely focused on His perfect will in all aspects of our lives.

~Erin

Go Away “Ms. Motivated Volunteer”

Recently I became interested in volunteering for a military-related non-profit organization that matches mentors to new hobbyists.  I’m too new to the hobby to be a mentor and I’ve already got a fabulous mentor of my own.  So how else can I assist? Fundraise? Graphics? Social Media?   They couldn’t really give me an answer, but a couple of suggestions were simple jobs.  I’m happy to do whatever will help them…even if it’s pushing a broom or passing out flyers.

It got me thinking about the excitement and motivation of the new Christian in our churches.  We tell them they are too new to teach a Sunday School or be in charge of a children’s program.  We may or may not assign someone to help disciple them, but I’d venture to guess most newbie Christ followers are not relying on others to mentor them.

That new Christian is motivated in their excitement to learn…and to serve.  And yet, we hand them bulletins to fold or a serving spoon for a potluck buffet line.  We give them simple jobs until they are deemed worthy in experience to perform other tasks.  The simple task may be exciting to the new person, but it could also be de-motivating.  In essence, we tell them ‘Go Away Ms. Motivated volunteer.”

Make no mistake; I understand that there is a need to have experience in any given field to teach and/or mentor.  I’m commenting on the perception that we give the newer people in any given field simplistic jobs in response to their high motivation. 

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (NASB) states, “ Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” 

This means that each of us has unique skills to offer and that those skills will impact with differing results.  What is most important is that we volunteer to serve our church communities.  The structure of the church lends itself to serving to be central to the growth of a Christian. The commandment of “love one another as ourselves” (Matthew 22:35-40) directs us towards love, but indirectly towards volunteering to serve. 

This nicely backs up the verse in Philippians 2:4 (NASB) where we are told “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Once again God lets us know that volunteering allows us to serve others rather than our own personal interests.

When a volunteer is able to give time, talents, or tithes, they should not withhold that ability.  Likewise, if they are able to serve, we should not prevent them from doing that.  This is an example of Proverbs 3:27 (NASB), “do not withhold good from those to whom it is due…”

In regard to the volunteer who is new to the field…we should be supportive of their desires to serve.  We should also take the time to discover their strengths and interests.  We may be surprised to discover that the new person, who doesn’t have the experience to teach and mentor, may be very qualified to fulfill other roles…not just the simple ones of folding Sunday bulletins or cleaning after an event.

In the next week, I pray you are able to concentrate on scenarios when you can encourage a volunteer…rather than indirectly tell them to ‘go away.’

~Emily


The Culture

Last week was my two-year anniversary of living in the beautiful state of Alabama!  I’ve loved every minute of living here, and there are no regrets with making such a huge move to make our home in the south.  While I could do without temperatures of 143° and 923° humidity, I love the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made and the home we’ve created.

One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between here and California (where I lived for five years before moving here) are the amount of people who say they’re Christians and talk about God openly.  Church is almost a culture out here, a legacy that’s been passed down from generation to generation.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that someone’s membership to a local church started with their MawMaw or GreatGranny taking their kids so many years ago!

In California, the conversation was not as free-flowing about Christianity.  Don’t get me wrong…it wasn’t nonexistent.  You just didn’t hear, “I’ll pray for you,” or “God bless” as you left your local grocery store.  No one was asking random strangers if the church’s youth group could help clean up your yard!

Now, hear me out on this one.  I’m not looking to step on toes.  I’m not looking to rile up the great people of the south (or of California).  But this idea of Christianity being a “culture” around here got me thinking.

Have you fully surrendered to God?  Are you a blood-bought believer, saved by the grace of God, living for Him in every aspect of your life?  Or is it just a culture….a legacy that’s been given to you because it’s what the family has always believed?

These are not questions I ask lightly.  And these are not questions I have not already asked myself.  My parents were Christians.  My father was raised in a Christian home.  It’s what I’ve always known.  But I would be remiss in not recognizing whether or not my salvation is because I made a choice to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ or because it’s what my mom and dad “did” so I did.  My actions, my attitude, and my heart should be clear indicators as to whether or not I am a new creation.

The Bible speaks clearly to being not of this world and being about the Father’s world.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” –1 John 2:15

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” –Colossians 3:2

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” –Romans 12:2 

While it’s important to attend a church, have your children going, have your children’s children going, there must be more to the story than just a legacy.  Does our faith show?  Does our faith produce works that show?  Is our heart truly surrendered to the Creator of the Universe?

Our actions and our life should reflect 100% submission to God.  There should be no room for doubt when someone sees us that we are committed to Christ.  I’m not saying perfection.  I’m saying active pursuit of righteousness.

There’s one way to heaven.  I don’t get to go because my mom and pop were Christians or because my Grandma prayed for me.  I get to be a citizen of heaven because I made the personal decision to accept Christ as my Savior.

Maybe you’re reading this and recognize that you haven’t done that yet.  I encourage, dear friend, call on the Lord.  Tell Him you’re a sinner and that you’re nothing without Him.  Repent of your sins and ask Christ to come live in your heart as Lord of your life.  There is no greater moment than knowing you have stopped becoming a citizen of this earth and are bound for your true home in heaven!

~Erin

The Perfect Last Word

How often have you been in a scenario where you thought of the perfect come-back or retort…after the conversation was done?

Last week I had an encounter with a guy who was hogging up a spot at a gas pump while eating a burger.  He had me blocked in and there were two other cars behind me waiting for their turn at the pump.  When I tapped my horn to get him to scoot out of the way, he shook his head at me…and then he flipped me off.

I was shocked. And in disbelief, I managed to get around him and leave the gas station.  

Over the next few hours, I revisited the interaction often.  I wish I had gotten out of my car to chat with the man. 

I know, I know.  That’s not necessarily safe in our society. But I do wish I had gotten more involved.  Why?  Because of some contextual clues.  He had out-of-State plates, a military haircut, and an Air Force sticker on his bumper.  As a retired military member, I wish I had engaged to let him know that his behavior was reflecting on the entire military service.  

I wanted to have the last word. 

In John 19:13, Christ said, “It is finished.”  

He had the last word.  

In this instance the Greek translation is that of an accounting term and means that it’s been paid in full.  


What is paid in full?  

Our debt due to our own sins, which trace all the way back to Adam and Eve’s original sins in the Garden of Eden is what was paid in full.  Jesus was saying that “it is finished” in regards to removing the consequences of our sin nature.  

Earlier in the book of John, we see Jesus praying to the Father prior to his arrest by the Romans.  In John 17:4 He prayed to ‘finish the work you have given me to do.”  

Not only did Jesus state “it is finished” in regards to covering our sins with his blood, but also that His work on Earth was finished.  While they seem to be the same implication, there is a slight difference in knowing that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.  As part God and part man, He was able to fulfill that prophecy despite His own human experiences.  “It is finished” is the completion of the Old Testament prophecies.  

The will of God…The faithful service of Christ….The option for forgiveness of our sins…All of these are covered under the simple statement of “it is finished.”

Those famous last words of Christ, which are so much more profound than any last words we may have in an argument or altercation.  

In the next week, I pray your last words are ones of grace and love…and not just because you wanted to have the last word.

~Emily

Stuck Like Glue

I’m pretty sure Winnie has separation anxiety.  I’m slightly teasing, but our 11-month old pup cannot stand to be away from me or Chris.  She gets up on the couch and will “nose” you to get you to start petting her.  She has the weird sitting stance where she sits up straight like a statue as you pet her and then she slowly falls backwards until she’s almost off the couch.  If you stop, she nudges you again with to get close and get some petting time. 

When we get up, she gets up.  When we walk to the kitchen, she’s right there.  It’s become the running joke in our house that we tell her that we’re just “going to the bathroom and we don’t need her to watch.”  She still follows.

As she followed me into the other room this morning, I thought about my relationship with God.  Is it the same way? 

We often lean in close to Him when we are struggling.  We praise Him when a prayer has been answered.  We go to church on Sunday or attend a Bible study once a week.  But what about the rest of the time?  There’s so much scripture about drawing close to Him.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.” –Isaiah 55:6

“Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.” –Hebrews 4:16

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.  He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them.” –Psalm 145:18-19

The Bible tells us him can approach with confidence.  It doesn’t say TRY and seek the Lord.  It says SEEK the Lord.  When we are always making our day about Him, leaning into Him, praying with ceasing, praising without ceasing, what does that do for our emotional and mental well-being?!  It brings contentment.  It brings a joy and a peace.  It cloaks you with the Armor of God; it brings protection!

If I followed God as faithfully as Winnie follows us, there would be no room for Satan to step in between.  Oh, he’ll try.  But when we are firmly planted by Jesus, the devil’s plans will be thwarted.  God will have the victory because we have not left a gap in our walk!

Do you have a pet (or even a child) that can’t stand to leave your side?  As you go through the week and you’re spending time with them, remind yourself to stay that close to our Heavenly Father.

~Erin

Childhood Nostalgia

Recently, my Mom and I were reminiscing about the chaos and joy surrounding the arrival of the Sunday Paper in our living room when I was younger.  Everyone pulled their favorite section and as a family, we poured over the paper for a couple hours. Before he could read, I remember reading the comics to my brother and later we would fight over who got them first.

This small conversation with my Mom had me recalling other aspects of my childhood that I remember fondly.  For instance, if the summer temperature in Oregon went over 100, we had ice cream and fruit for dinner.  I remember walking to the comic book store with my Brother so he could spend his allowance…and on the way, there was one particular ‘barkless’ dog that we would play with through the fence.  I remember going crawdad hunting with chunks of hot dogs tied to a string.  I also remember my parents dancing in the kitchen.

These are each endearing memories of my childhood.  Each remind me of how family can be structured in moments of happiness.  

I recognize that not everyone had such pleasant childhood memories or parents who were so involved in the children’s lives.  I also recognize that I’m remembering great memories and often gloss over the not so amazing memories.  It was not all sunshine and butterflies for me.  And I know it wasn’t for others either.  

However, the not so nice memories are cloaked in the comfort of scripture.  

A scripture that I often lean on when thinking about family is from Ephesians 3:15 (NASB), which reads “from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”

When reading this verse, it’s important to know that the word ‘family’ is closely transplanted in the original language as ‘father.’ In both the Old Testament tradition, as well as our current society, it’s easy to think this verse is referencing families taking the name of the Patriarch’s family.  This is still seen now, as brides take their husband’s last name.  

In reality, the verse is much deeper.  It refers to ‘every family,’ as in ‘all believers’ in Christ.  All of us…as one big family.  Furthermore, we all derive our names from that belonging to Jesus when we adopt the name ‘Christian,’ as derived from the name ‘Christ.’ 

This is a family of hope and love. Can you imagine how that family will interact?  How much greater Heaven will be than pursuing the comics out of the Sunday paper?!?!? There’s no need for nostalgia with a future like that!

No matter what our childhood’s looked like, our future is one of hope through Christ. 

~Emily

Is He Watching?

There is no funny story today.  I’m here to tell you to read your Bible.  Why, Erin?  I’m glad you asked.  Because it’s God’s Word.  He fashioned it.  He formed it.  It’s God-breathed.  And while I may not get some spectacular “AHA!” moment every time I open those pages, reading it leads me to a beautiful place where I know God’s Word is just for me.

We started studying the book of Revelation recently, and I was reading chapter 2.  It’s the beginning of the seven letters to the seven churches.  Specifically, I was reading the letters to the church of Smyrna and the church of Pergamum.

The Church of Smyrna was known as the Suffering Church or Martyr Church because of the intense persecution the believers from that area received.  In fact, in the letter, there was not one weakness that God spoke of related to that church, only that they had fully endured suffering and despite that, continued to worship God.  God told them they were in for more suffering but to hold faithful even to the point of death and there would be a victor’s crown at the end of their life.

The Church of Pergamum was slightly different.  While they had some things God pointed out that were wrong, He says to the church that He see where they dwell, WHERE SATAN’S THRONE is!  He tells the church He knows they are right in the middle of something so evil, but He sees that they still remain true to Christ’s name.  He tells them of specific rewards that wait for them at the end of their life, too.

Let me tell you, Iron Porch, I felt such comfort in both of those letters.  Under normal circumstances, I might slide right past those verses only giving thought to how hard those two churches had it.  But what it really did was open my eyes to the idea that we’re never really alone.

Our circumstances can be difficult.  Many of you read my blog earlier this year that spoke of my younger daughter making a suicide attempt.  It’s been a hard year full of mental health challenges for everyone.  I have an AMAZING support system, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are times where I still feel by myself in the journey.

In these letters to the churches, God told them, “I see you.  I know what you’re going through.”  Even at what seems like some of the toughest times, He did not stop looking over them.  Rather, He’s reminding them that He’s there, and tells them there is a reward at the end of life for their faithfulness to Him.  How good is our God!

I am not truly alone.  God has seen where I’m at.  He’s not oblivious to what’s happening or what I’m going through.  He doesn’t hide in some corner, too busy to see the suffering.  He sees struggles and victories.  And through His Word, I can be assured of that promise.

No matter what you’re struggling with, friends, God is there.  He knows and you’re not unseen.  I pray that this week, you remember that He is forever watching over you and loving you as His child.

~Erin

Mulberry Bushes…and a Little Faith

I have a necklace that features a tiny little glass globe with a mustard seed inside of it.  It’s a simple reminder to continue working towards greater faith in my walk with Jesus. 

I’d venture to guess most Christians know the adage that if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains (Matthew 17:20-21). It’s the verse I’ve clung when I wear this necklace.  

During my morning devotion a few weeks ago, I re-read Luke 17:5-6 (NASB), which gave me a slight surprise.  The verses state, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ But the Lord said, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

There have been several times in my Bible Study times that I’ve been surprised by scriptures and clarifications on what I know…and what I don’t know.  I was surprised when I discovered that Ruth was King David’s Great-Grandmother.  I’ve been surprised by prophesy connections in the Old Testament to the New Testament.  And most recently, I was surprised that I missed the mulberry bush analogy with the mustard seed.  

It stuck with me for several days and I’ve been chatting with God about this verse a lot.  I have always associated the mustard seed with moving mountains…not with uprooting and replanting the mulberry bush.  

There are a couple areas of my life that I should have more faith.  As I’ve prayed about those areas the last few days, I’ve realized that if I had enough faith I could literally pick those issues up and re-plant them somewhere else.  No more worry or concern over bushes growing in my path.  

In all honesty, I like the surprises of scripture when I start to put the connections together. It gives me assurance that I’m studying the Word…and increases my faith that our all-knowing God has a very intricate plan in place.  That faith increases with each encounter I have with the Word.  And thus, could potentially move a mulberry bush to another location.

I pray that you’re finding surprises in the Word.  And that you have the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains…or mulberry bushes!

~Emily