The “I” in Team

As a retired military member, I’ve been to plenty of leadership trainings that make sure to remind students that there is no “I” in “Team.”  It’s a sentiment that is often repeated in the workplace and indicates that there is no one person whose contributions are greater than another’s on the team.

At my work center, I’ve often encouraged others to use “we” or “ours” in referencing programs, processes, and successes.  I am a firm believer in acknowledging superb performance of individuals, but overall, the team seems to be more successful when there is cohesive ownership.  

On my son’s baseball team, I’ve often seen the coaches acknowledge an individual’s great job in a game, but they win & lose together as a team.  They practice together as a team.  They rejoice and they are disciplined…as a team.  Not as individuals.

If the concept of “no I in team” holds true for the workplace and for a sports team, does it also hold true with the church…with the disciples of Jesus Christ? 

In terms of the twelve disciples of Jesus, outlined in the Gospels, Jesus drew together a team of men who had a few things in common, such as fishing and tax collecting, but they each had differences, such as their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.  As we walk through the New Testament, we can see that they collectively were working towards professing Jesus as the Messiah and the Savior for the sinners of the world. 

While some were praised for answering questions correctly (Peter answering “Who Do You Say I am?” in Matthew 16:17), or providing insight to others, none are raised above the others in terms of accomplishing the mission that Jesus gave them. 

While some were rebuked for betrayal (Jesus acknowledging that Judas would betray him at the Last Supper or that Peter would deny knowing him three times-John 13:21 and Mark 14:30), none of the others were raised above them in terms of accomplishing their ultimate mission.

This shows that Jesus’ leadership included acknowledging strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately He was more concerned with saving souls for eternity than praising and rebuking those on the team. Each disciple was part of the team and they were collectively being trained for a time when Jesus was no longer with them physically.  In my opinion, it’s a solid example of thereTea being “no I in team.”  

The secular leader in me wants to know if you are embracing the concept of team at work and on sports teams.  

The women’s ministry leader in me wants to urge you desperately to endorse this concept of teamwork (without acknowledging the I’s) so that we can work together on the mission we were given by Christ: to share the Gospel, to show the lost how to be found for all eternity, and to make disciples.

Does your team have an “I” on it?

~Emily

Not All Who Wander are Lost: Packing List for Heaven

I’m a self-declared lover of travel.  It could be one town over, the next State, or another country.  I love exploring new location, eating the local food, and meeting people who live in those destinations.  I have wanderlust and am most content planning the next trip. 

I completely embrace the quote “Not all who wander are lost.” 

One of the things I enjoy about traveling is the preparation.  I love the planning and researching to make the most of a vacation.  If it hasn’t been selected for me, I choose the location, the amount of time to travel, and the mode of transportation.  I make lists of foodie-related places to check out.  I figure out the historic or notable attractions to explore.  I game plan if I have any friends or family in the vacation location.  I count down to the departure date.  And then I pack.

Preparing for your vacation is similar to preparing for a journey to heaven.  Like a vacation destination selection, you must make the decision of if heaven is a location you’d like to go.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (NASB) 

You must accept the gift of Jesus’ death for your sins, which essentially becomes the selection of your transportation.  The difference between an earthy vacation and a journey to heaven is that Jesus paid the price of the ticket for you to go to heaven.  Only Christ’s blood is a sufficient payment for this particular trip.  

Like earthly vacation research, our preparation for heaven does not end with choosing the destination and transportation.   No, we still have work to do.  Once we become Christians, our entire life should be focused on the journey and preparations that God has for our lives.  This could include Bible study, mission work, sharing the Gospel, tithing, holy living and even attending church faithfully.  

Are you a traveler?  

Are you going to heaven?

Have you started packing?

~Emily

For we know that if our earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Corinthians 5:1 (NASB)

Discovery: Nazirite Vow

I must have been under a rock during the day I was taught about the Nazirite vow in Sunday school.  Maybe I was day dreaming; maybe I was absent that day; maybe it wasn’t even a subject taught at my church.  A devotion I read several weeks ago mentioned the Nazirite vow and I’ve had to really dig in so that I could understand this concept.

Numbers 6:1-8 describes the vow as a way to make a special Covent with the Lord.   It was a strictly voluntary, special in its intent, and indicates a separation from a temptation.  It seems that the vow was used most frequently during a time of difficulty or extremely hard trials and temptation…at that time, the person could take this vow as a way to grow closer to the Lord. 

Interestingly enough, Numbers 6:3 commands that anyone taking the Nazirite vow should abstain from drinking alcohol.  More specifically, it called for an abstinent from wine and all products made from the grape plant. This would have included grape seed oil or cream of tartar.  

Another aspect of the vow included continually growing one’s hair.  If one temporarily forgot the vow, a simple look in the mirror would remind them.  It became not only a reminder of the vow, but a testimony opportunity when asked why they were growing out their hair.  

This led me to another question…are there any examples in the New Testament that speak to the Nazirite vow?  Guess what? Of course, there is! 

In Acts 18:18 (NASB), Luke wrote “Now Paul, when he had remained many days longer, took leave of the brothers and sisters and sailed away to Syria, and Priscilla and Aquila were with him.  Paul first had his hair cut at Cenchrea, for he was keeping a vow.” 

Why was Paul exhibiting behavior associated with Nazirite vow?  He was traveling from Corinth towards Syria when he cut his hair.  His recent experiences in Corinth and in Athens, where he had apathetic encounters with non-believers, very few conversions to Christianity, a lack of new church establishment, and cult-like behaviors of worshiping Aphrodite.  His decision to take a special vow with an outward showing of cutting his hair was a way to mark the growth of his hair from the moment of the vow, as well as a means to protect himself and draw closer to the Lord during his trials.  

Most Americans would be able to tell you about the unique attributes of the wedding vows.  Heck, most would even acknowledge it’s a convent with/before God.  All would recognize that the wedding ring is the outward sign of the wedding vow having been taken.  We know about the wedding vows because we’ve attended ceremonies, watched them on tv, or even taken part in our own commitment with this vow.  We are comfortable with the concept of the wedding vow.

Why am I not as comfortable with this vow mentioned in Numbers and Acts?  How did I know about this very personal “Nazirite vow?”  In a moment of self-doubt, I felt like a horrible Christian that wasn’t studying her Bible enough.  And in the next instance, I was reminded by the Holy Spirit that I just need to keep studying…keep digging…keep praying.

What Biblical revelations have you had this week? Come to the porch and share!!

~Emily

Numbers 6:1-8 (NIV)

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of dedication to the Lord as a Nazirite, they must abstain from wine and other fermented drink and must not drink vinegar made from wine or other fermented drink. They must not drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins. As long as they remain under their Nazirite vow, they must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, not even the seeds or skins. During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long. Throughout the period of their dedication to the Lord, the Nazirite must not go near a dead body. Even if their own father or mother or brother or sister dies, they must not make themselves ceremonially unclean on account of them, because the symbol of their dedication to God is on their head. Throughout the period of their dedication, they are consecrated to the Lord.’”

The Silence of God

In a European prison cell, the following inscription was found; “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.  I believe in God even when He is silent.”

Sometimes it feels like God is so quiet! 

This last week, I had several conversations with God about this particular issue.  Yet, it felt like there was complete silence from God.  Several of my prayers started with something to the effect of, “I know scripture tells us that you hear us…that you hold each of our tears in your hand…but why does it seem that you aren’t responding!!!”  *Insert whining and moaning*  

Talk about the quintessential child who knows that the parent is parenting, but the child continues to question the methods!!

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation?  If I’m honest with myself, questioning the silence of God is a dangerous place.  It causes me to question if I’m important to God or if my thoughts and requests are trivial compared to some of the bigger requests that He must receive on a daily basis.  It leads to doubt, which leads to fear, which leads to loneliness and a host of other negative emotions.  

As I should do often, I turned to the Word.  I started at Isaiah 41:10, which tends to be my “go-to” verse when I am in a funk.  However, mindless flipping through scripture had me landing on Job 34:29.  The NASB version reads, “When He keeps quiet, who can condemn? And when He hides His face, who then can look at Him, That is, regarding both nation and a person?”

Basically, scripture reaffirms that what God does is good. Always. Even when it appears that He is being silent.  Who am I to question that? Who am I to condemn the perceived silence?

Interestingly enough, I was sent a note later that day that said, “…often when God seems to be silent, it’s because we are too exhausted to listen.”  

Perhaps the silence is an indicator that I’m not listening well.  Just like that child questioning the parenting methods…

In some regards, we live in figurative prison cells, which God still works in.  Just like that European prison cell and the intuitive inmate who once wrote “I believe in God even when He is silent.” 

~Emily

Bystander to the Hurting

I recently read a devotion that began with the question, “Which is harder; going through a painful ordeal yourself or watching someone close to you face a trial?”

I can think of dozens of examples where I would gladly go through a trial in order to save someone else the pain.  But that wasn’t the actual question….is it harder to do it yourself or watch someone else?  For me, it’s much harder to watch someone else and to know how best to support that individual.  

In Acts 16:16-24, we see that the faithful Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy had gone to preach the Gospel in Philippi.  It was a time of turmoil with great danger to those proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.  “and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men, Jews as they are, are causing our city trouble, and they are proclaiming customs that are not lawful for us to accept or to practice, since we are Romans.’” Acts 16:20-21 (NASB)

Only two of them were arrested and flogged; Paul and Silas.

Why only two and not four?  

During a crazy time in Philippi, as a Roman colony, there was great prejudice and anti-Semitism.  While Christianity was not completely understood, Luke and Timothy were likely seen as Gentile and subsequently not arrested.  Whereas Paul and Silas were of Jewish heritage and were arrested out of hatred for that Jewish background.  

It is not easy to have the role as bystander to the hurting.  I’m confident that Luke and Timothy struggled with watching their friends punished.  They probably had turmoil over the unfairness of the situation.  Likewise, I know that I struggle watching those that I care about struggle and I certainly have trouble understanding when things seem unfair.  

God understands that it’s hurtful to observe the hurting.  Often it seems unbearable to bear witness to someone else’s pain.  He understands it so well, in part because He watches us hurting.  If He didn’t understand, He wouldn’t have given us so many examples within scripture to learn from. 

It’s not easy to watch someone else’s hurt.  Luke and Timothy had to endure that pain, as have I.  I’m sure you have as well.

In the next week, I’m praying for those around the porch who are hurting. And I’m specifically praying for those of you who are watching someone else’s hurting.  Rest assured you aren’t alone and that God understands.

~Emily

Soup Explosions of Encouragement

I was employed as a personal chef, preparing a sweet and savory butternut squash soup, when I made the mistake of the year.  I put hot, freshly roasted butternut squash into the blender with broth.  Then hit the pulse button.  Without venting the lid to the blender.

About 10 seconds into the spin cycle, the lid catapulted vertically.  Before I could react, I was covered in butternut squash soup.  It was soaking my hair; it was in my shoes; it was literally dripping off the tip of my nose. 

Worst…it was covering my client’s kitchen.  The ceiling, the microwave, the floor, the curtains over the sink…all of it had evidence of orange splatter.  

As I stood in the center of the kitchen, covered in what looked like baby poo, I felt the tears start—plus I literally wanted to say a swear word.  

Of course, that was the moment that the lady of the house chose to come around the corner.  She took in the scene of her chef, and more importantly, her kitchen covered in orange goo…hours before a dinner party.  Her reaction?  She immediately started laughing. Then she started helping me clean.

To this day, when I think about how to build another up or how to encourage someone, I immediately think of her reaction to my mistake of the year. I think of her example because she found humor in the situation, because she assisted in the aftermath, and because she took the time to build me up.  In Romans 14:19 (NASB), we are told “so then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”  

We’ve all heard advice over the last year of COVID that includes being kind.  We’ve all heard reminders that we don’t know what others are going through.  We’ve probably all even observed scenarios where a nice gesture would have made someone’s day.

What’s more important than the advice, reminders, and observations is that scripture demands that we encourage each other.  In most instances provided by scripture, we are to encourage other believers.  In some instances of life, we provide insight into the Christian life and the Gospel when we encourage non-believers.  When we encourage the believer or the non-believer, we are making a difference in someone’s day. 

In the midst of the butternut squash soup explosion, I was encouraged.  I pray this week that you are able to encourage others…and that you notice when others encourage you.

~Emily

 “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB)

Crashing onto the Garage

There’s a small step from my laundry room into the garage.  

One that I completely missed a couple days ago.  The misstep had me crashing to the ground in an ungraceful, slow-motion, plump-middle-aged-lady-winning-money-on-America’s-Funniest-Home-videos, type of way.  

As I stayed still on my hands and knees for a moment, I did a mental inventory of my body.  

Palms, scuffed up but no blood-check.

Knees both in terrible pain, but no blood-check.

Right ankle/foot in an awkward folded position, but not broken-check.  

Tears-check.

Fast breathing-double check. 

My first thought after “owwwwww” was “that was a lot of weight to come crashing down on my knees!”

If I’m being completely honest, I’m not pleased about the amount of weight I’ve gained since I retired from the military.  I know the magic formula…eat less calories and exercise more.  Of course, I also know all the tricks and techniques of years of yo-yo dieting.

At that “hands and knees on the ground” moment, I realized that I needed to be more serious about evaluating what I can do with myself. I need a food and exercise game plan. I wondered what the Bible had to say about exercise-besides the “your body is a temple” type of verse. I found that in 1 Timothy 4:8 (NASB), the Bible states “…for bodily traning is just slightly beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things, since it holds promise for hte present life and also for the life to come.”

That verse was so convicting! I don’t just need a game plan for food and exercise…I need to have an accountable increase in spritural matters too! While the bodily training has small benefits, it is the godliness benefits that are larger. Ironically, I had just told Erin that I thought my own preparations for Bible Studies, church, devotions, and even Iron Porch could be classified as a casual Christian walk.

In the next week, I’m going to get more serious about all my game plans. Meal planning, exercising…and a more deliberate approach to my prayer life and studying the Bible. Come to the porch and let me know what types of plans you have…and how you remember that little step that has you crashing onto the garage floor.

~Emily

Promotion Responsibilities & Expectations

Today, my sweet friend, Nancy will promote to Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force. 

As many around the military know, this promotion is the highest grade an enlisted member can attain and only 1% of the military will make it to this particular rank.  With this promotion, comes much responsibility…and expectation.

There is an expectation that a Chief will be knowledgeable.  They will correct poor behavior and praise good.  They will advise, they will mentor, they will excel, they will speak well, they will encourage others, they will say the unpopular things…they will support other Chiefs.  These expectations, as well as countless others can be a burden to the one responsible for maintaining them.  

In Genesis 41:1-45, we see Joseph receiving a promotion from Pharaoh….and we know that he also had great responsibilities and expectations placed upon him.  

For instance, in Genesis 41:37-45, Pharaoh not only promotes Joseph to second-in-command of Egypt, he specifically tasks Joseph with preparing for the coming famine.  Based on previous verses, we know that Joseph is humble and repeatedly requests assistance from the Lord.  He confesses his sin and inability to meet challenges.  If we do that in our workplaces, we create an environment that attributes success to God, rather than ourselves.  

Joseph’s promotion brought overt signs of his new position of leadership.  He was offered fine clothes, official transportation, a signet ring, a new Egyptian name…and even an Egyptian spouse.  His response to these trapping could have been prideful.  However, Joseph exhibited great restraint from a worldly perspective and allowed God to receive the glory.  In short, Joseph gets a ton of stuff simply by being promoted.

In the modern military, this is true of the promotion to Chief Master Sergeant.  You’ve earned the most stripes…recognizable from a distance. You have an official parking spot at certain locations on base.  There is a reverence for the title.  You may get a bigger office or a government paid smart phone.  You even receive the new name of “Chief” and when the word Chief is mentioned, those who hold this title will respond.  This title and name “Chief” stays with you even into retirement. 

Handling promotions with all these types of extras is hard. Joseph remained humble by continuously falling back on the lessons he learned in childhood…but more than that, he also remembered where the true credit belonged: God, the Father Almighty.

When one makes Chief in the Air Force, they will often give credit to those before them who mentored them. They will acknowledge previous supervisors and mentors…they may even acknowledge those they’ve personally led.  They will thank family and friends.  And some will credit God for His hand in their promotion.  This is applicable to any job…not just the military.  

Regardless of the promotion, the expectations, or the trappings that mark the new position, leadership is difficult. It’s a challenge that stretches each person’s humbleness vs. pride.  Yet, if we look to the newly promoted leadership of Joseph, we can glean hope that it’s not an insurmountable challenge.  

While surrounded by other Chief Master Sergeants, today will mark the day that Nancy takes on the challenge.  Today marks the day she begins to comprehend a little of what Joseph faced under Pharaoh.  

I can’t wait to see how she excels as a leader and as a sister Chief!

~Emily

The Summer of Government Cheese

Have you ever been hungry with no means to get food?  

Have you ever been unable to purchase food for your kids?

I’d venture to guess it’s a hard place to be in, when you are concerned about how to feed yourself and your children.  It seems to me, that Luke 6:30 would be my favored verse if I were in such a situation.

“And He raised His eyes towards His disciples and began saying, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20 (NASB)

Please know that this verse isn’t entirely focused on the status of being poor in the physical sense…it speaks partially to those who are poor are often richer in spiritual matters.  Regardless of the commentary about the verse, it does speak to my heart when I remember what it was like to be in the status of poor.  

There were times in my childhood when my parents needed government assistance to feed our family.  I distinctly remember the packet of tear-out papers, which were food stamps. I remember my mom getting our school lunches at a lower rate.  And one summer, I know that cheese and peanuts arrived at our house, which were stamped “Government Cheese” and “Government Peanuts.”  In all fairness, there could have been other “Government Food,” but I only remember the cheese and nuts.

Why do I remember the government cheese so clearly? Because it was a ginormous block of Velveeta type of cheese, which didn’t melt well, nor would it slice thinly for a sandwich.  It was just a gooey mess….one that gave us much needed calories (even if they were completely processed and fake).  

The peanuts, on the other hand, were as perfect as God intended them. They were blanched, but unsalted.  We ate them plain, in yogurt, mixed with popcorn, in salads, in pasta…we even tried our hand at making homemade peanut butter. That summer of the ‘government cheese,’ I became an expert on making peanut brittle.  I made so much peanut brittle, that I got to a point I didn’t even consult the recipe card. 

In the midst of being poor and my parents receiving assistance, my pre-teen self didn’t even realize we were in dire straits.  

Why?

Perhaps because my parents partially hid it from us.  

Perhaps because it was part of our lives and I didn’t question it.  

Mostly because we were blessed.  Luke 6:20 assures us of that blessing, even in the midst of being poor.  God protected us physically and spiritually.  Even if we hadn’t eaten, we still were assured of our place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

God is good.  All the time.  Even with the government cheese. 

~Emily

Jack Daniels “Medicine”

Through the years I noticed that Renee, my mother-in-law, would occasionally take a small nip of Jack Daniels.  She called it her medicine and would do it so infrequently that you wouldn’t even be able to call it a habit.  In 2017, she came to visit us in Alabama from Pennsylvania for Christmas and “Santa” gave her a couple small bottle samplers of Jack Daniels in her stocking.

However, there weren’t any shot glasses in the house for her to have her sip.  I teased her that she could just take her “medicine” with a tablespoon, since that’s about all she would drink.  I also told her that someday, I was going to write a blog about her nipping Jack.  She giggled and told me to write the blog…she went on to say, “if Iron Porch is for women to know other Christian women are real, then we should know about our favorite little nips & sips.”  

At that point we had a lengthy discussion about Christian women and drinking.  I had been “called out” by a church member for posting a photo of my wine glass on social media, so I was a tad gun-shy about allowing others to see the social-drinking side of my life.  

She reminded me that of all masks women wear, there isn’t a single one that hides us from Christ.

Jesus literally knows everything about us…our thoughts…our fears…our dreams…our disappointments…our excitement.  And He even knows when we want to have a little nip of Jack Daniels.  

I admired that she was comfortable with others knowing that she enjoyed a small sip every once in a while.  Her example and gentle reminder allowed me to assess the portions of my life that may be inadvertently or consciously hidden from others.  She told me to take the masks off. 

On a whim this last weekend, I opened a tiny-useless drawer to the left of my stovetop, which has never been used.  Inside, I found a wrapped-up package of “shot glasses” with a post-it note on top.  It was a message from my mother-in-law from Christmas 2017, about her next trip to Alabama.  

Just a few months after she wrote that note, she was diagnosed with cancer.  And just a couple weeks ago, we laid her to rest knowing that she was in heaven singing to Jesus.  She never made it back to Alabama for another visit to use her nipping glasses. 

While she no longer needs her Jack Daniels “medicine” or the Alabama shot glasses, she left me with a reminder to be true to myself…and not wear the masks for others.

~Emily