The ‘No Amen’ Challenge

Years ago, when Skype became popular, I was living in Germany.  There were plenty of occasions that, with the time difference, I would fall asleep while Skyping someone in America.  I’d wake up and see my mom making dinner with Skype still going, or my friend also napping, or my brother reading.  

I love remembering that they didn’t disconnect the Skype call while I slept, but rather they went about their normal activities.  They didn’t say goodbye to me while I was sleeping, but waited until I woke up from my snooze.  

They left the video call open…

What would happen if we left our prayer life open?  

As we read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NASB), “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” consider what would occur if we actually didn’t cease incremental talking with God. 

I vowed to become more cognisant of my prayers ceasing, so I made up some rules to challenge myself.  Then I recruited others to try the challenge with me. 

Recently, I challenged the women of a Bible Study group that I facilitate to try my newly made up “No Amen Challenge.”  The premise is that you begin praying to God in the morning, but refrain from saying “amen.”  Instead, you start the norms of your day, and continuously talk to God throughout those tasks…again without ever ending these conversations with “amen” until you are ready to fall asleep.   

When I started deliberately leaving my prayer life “open” without the closing salutation, I found myself talking to God a lot more frequently throughout the day.  God wants us to have a more intimate relationship with Him through our prayer life.  It’s easy to bring concerns and requests to Him…it’s an entirely different thing to bring exhalations and thanksgiving.  It’s even more unique to chat about random thoughts, motivations, observations, or even things you find humours or concerning.  

In the moments of talking to God, as though He was a friend sitting next to me throughout the day, I found that I was much more aware of His continuous presence.  I was also much more aware of my own reactions to situations when I had an open line of communication going with God.  

For me, the “no amen challenge” became similar to the open Skype call that is on-going while one party is snoozing (**mark my words, I’m not saying that God snoozes on a Skype call while we wash the dishes).  Without the “amen,” I didn’t say “goodbye” nor did I hang up with God.  Instead, I knew He was still on the line as I started daily tasks.

How often are you praying without ceasing?  Do you want to talk more often with God?  Are you ready to try the “no amen challenge?”

Share your thoughts on praying without ceasing!

~Emily

Dear Army Dad,

Memorial Day, 2021

Dear Army Dad,

Last week I was driving behind you, when I saw your non-descript truck with the personalized license plates: ARMYDAD.  Initially I thought, “What a proud Father that must be to get a personalized plate.”  Then I felt an overwhelming urge to pray for you.

I know that may sound random, but I typically use my 30-40-minute morning commute to chat with God. It’s not that unusual for me to pray for strangers while driving.

The unusual part was that I started to cry.  While praying for you and a hypothetical Army Mom, I also started praying for your Soldier.  I prayed for tactics and knowledge in any situation. I prayed for health and well-being.  I prayed for safety. I prayed for peace and tranquility…for the Soldier and for the parents.  Because John 14:27 (NASB) say, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful,” I know that your family is able to have that peace. 

I don’t know you, your family, or your Soldier, but I do know that I would never want a parent to face losing a child on a battlefield.  One who is proud enough to get a personalized plate, probably could handle a loss…but it’s not a loss I want you to have. 

2 Timothy 2:3 (NASB) reads, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him.”

On this Memorial Day, I know that there are parents, siblings, spouses, friends and countless others who are mourning the loss of their military members.  Take comfort in knowing you are not alone…I will stand with you and suffer the hardship in Christ while continuing to pray for you.

Army Dad, keep being proud, keep parenting, and keep praying.  I will too.

~Emily (USAF, Retired)

Floundering Without Ministry

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a project desperate to quit?  Or have you seen someone in the background that you believe to be more qualified to fulfill your commitment?  There are a ton of reasons why we step away from projects…there are even more emotions associated with those decisions. 

Almost 7 months ago, I resigned my membership at a church and concurrently gave up my position as the Director of Women’s Ministry.  It was an angst-filled decision that came with a small measure of relief.  

I truly love women’s ministry and all that comes with it.  However, I needed to step back from the ministry in order to focus more fully on what God had for me and my family. In listening to the Lord and resigning, I gave up serving in a capacity that I adore.

Since then, I’ve felt like I’m floundering without the ministry position.  Frankly, I’m a series of contradictions.  I’m sad to not be involved, but I’m ecstatic to hear news of how well the ladies are doing without me.  I’m unsettled without teaching, but content to wait on the next chapter.  I’ve struggled to define purpose, but recognize that there is purpose around the corner.  

I’m a happy, relieved, lonely mess that is floundering without a ministry.  

Psalm 46:10 (NIV), “Be still and know…” is a much-quoted verse for Christians who are focusing on being still and quiet. In the past, I’ve typically used this particular section of the verse to settle myself; essentially so that I stop trashing around making my own way.  

In the season of floundering without directly contributing to a ministry, this seems a like it would be a good section of scripture to focus on.  

Digging into the verse, I’ve realized that not only does God want us to be still (to be quiet, to rest, to sit still), but rather He continues with a very important portion of scripture that I’ve often glossed over.  “…and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Because the psalm was written during war, it is likely there is messaging to Israel concerning her enemies.  Knowing who God is requires acknowledging that He is in control of the outcome of all things.  Thus, there is no sense in worrying over the fighting as God will take care of it.  

In light of knowing God and what He is about, it’s much easier to understand being still & knowing as not just sitting still, but rather to stopping the fighting of circumstances…to stop doing things our own way and to know God will control all aspects of the fight.  

If I’m truly still,  

If I’m truly knowing God,

Then I truly stop trying to do it my way.

And that is comfort to my heart when I feel like I’m floundering without a ministry.

What areas of your life do you need to be still and know God in this week?

~Emily

“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” ~Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

Funeral for a Church

As a military member, leaving a church has been a small part of my reality of orders and transition to a new location.  I never had to make the decision to leave a church without the military being the reason for moving on.  When having to make that decision on my own, I’ll be the first to admit that it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.  I prayed over the situation for nearly two years before I felt God releasing me to move to another location.

During that two years, I continued to serve and tithe.  I continued to join small groups and lead women’s ministry.  I also educated myself about differences in doctrine, about healthy churches, about how to leave in a graceful manner. I asked questions of my church leadership and I felt comfortable in presenting any of my concerns.  I created an excel spreadsheet phase of pros and cons of nearby churches.  Ultimately, I listened to the Lord…stayed when He told me to stay…moved on when He told me to move on.  

Emotionally, the decision felt like a horrible breakup; like a divorce of the worst kind. It felt like the death of a loved one; like I was planning a funeral.  

Let me be very clear–I’m not saying the church I left was bad.  It was very right for the people who remained.  What I am saying is this; God has released me from serving at that particular church.  My focus shifted to finding another church.  However, finding a new church home has been a challenge that I wasn’t anticipating during this stage of my life.  

There are many things to consider when looking at a church.  Is the leadership teaching from the Bible? Is there sound doctrine? What are the children and youth programs teaching?  What are the affiliations?  How is the leadership structure?  Are the finances available and transparent? 

Is it a healthy church?

According to Thom Rainer in “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” there are several ways to recognize if a church is not going to survive a season of illness and to recognize if they are unhealthy.  In other words, I’ve been able to use this as a gauge to check the health of churches that we’ve been visiting.  Usually it’s a slow erosion, which highlights that there is focus inwards on the church rather than the community, as well as a distinct focus on the past (and how the “good ole’ days” used to be).  When the church doesn’t have a clear purpose, becomes obsessed over the facility or individual preferences, or worse…when the budget moves away from ministry and is primarily focused on staff or facility, then there is a disconnect in what is occurring within the church walls.  As a new visitor, it’s nearly impossible to see if these things are occurring within a church without deliberately asking questions.

Rainer contends that only 10% of churches are truly healthy, while 40% are showing some symptoms of sickness, another 40% are very sick, and the last 10% are in the final process of dying.  I know that every church has some semblance of issues.  I recognize that churches are not perfect.  However, as a result of Rainer’s analysis, I’ve been praying for my family to find a church in the healthy 10%.  I’ve also been focusing on praying for the churches in the other 90% to have open eyes and ears to become the healthy 10%.  

Through the process of finding a new church, I realized that I’m not the first one to face the challenge of church transitions.  In the past, I searched for churches based on the style of praise music, the pastor’s speaking ability, or the programs available.  Those things were important to me at the time, but now I’ve got a different set of items I’m looking for.  Specifically, I am now analyzing churches for the breadth of teaching scripture, speech on Word and truth, the management of the budget, as well as the health of leadership of the church.  

Ephesians 4:11-16 has given me direction and hope that my family will find fellowship in a new healthy church!

Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

I acknowledge that leaving a church should be a hard decision. It truly was. In so many ways, this season of transition has allowed me to rely more fully on prayer and direction from God.  I know that the building up of the body of Christ will allow our family to grow roots in a new and healthy church.

~Emily

RAINER, T., 2017. AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH. [Place of publication not identified]: LIFEWAY CHRISTIAN RESOURCE.

Regrets vs. Repentance

While I like to remind myself that every decision that I’ve made in my life has been used to make me the person I am today, I still have many regrets.  There are relationship regrets, professional regrets, travel regrets and even financial regrets.  

Every person walking the Earth has some type of regret, but not all have repented of the behavior that have lead to regrets.  

The grieving process of repentance is not crying in self-pity.  It’s not regrets over loss; nor remorse that our sins have been publicized. 

It is very possible to be deeply sorry because of the devastation which sin has wrought into our lives…and yet still not repent.  It is possible to be deeply sorry about the devastation which sin has brought into the lives of those around us…and yet still not repent.  It’s possible to have anguish over publicized sin…and still not repent.  

True repentance is so much more than simply being sorry. It’s more than an apology.  It’s more than regret about sin shattering our lives.  

True repentance is about a deliberate, conscious turning towards God and away from sinful behaviors and thoughts.  It is a commitment to follow God’s will for our lives, not our own will.  I’ve heard repentance described as a 180 degree turn…a change in direction.  More than that, it’s also a change of attitude and a yielding of our own desires and will.  

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” ~Acts 3:19 (NASB)

The act of repentance does not make us worthy…nor does it make us saved.  It’s a reflection of the condition of our hearts for God.  Once we repent of sinful behavior, God does the converting, the transforming, the changing…and the forgiving.

Sinful behavior and thoughts are like having issues with your back or neck.  When you schedule an appointment with a chiropractor for help with your skeleton system, you have a re-alignment and feel “straightened out.”  When you turn towards God in order to turn away from sin, He is able to re-align your heart in repentance…you feel “straightened out.” 

This week, I’d encourage you to look at your regrets and analyze if repentance is needed.

~Emily


“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping, and mourning…” ~Joel 2:12 (NASB)

Observations: Poop vs. Sin

“Have you ever noticed that everyone else’s poop smells way worse than your own?”

This was literally the first thing my 4th grade son told me, as he got into my car last week after school.  

Let me start by admitting that poop seems to be a pseudo-normal conversation in our house…he is a boy and for some reason the “y” chromosomes of my house are obsessed with poop and farts.   But I will admit that his observation about everyone else’s poop smells had me giggling (and wondering what happened at school for him to make this observation!!!!).  

Later when reflecting on his comment, I got to thinking that often I think of sin the same way my son was thinking about poop.

Everyone else’s sin is way worse than my own.

The much beloved Reverend Billy Graham wrote, “From a human standpoint some sins are certainly worse than others; sins like murder, assault, or stealing. These things deeply hurt others. But the Bible doesn’t tell us which sin is worst in God’s eyes, and the reason is because God hates all sin. God is absolutely pure and holy; even the smallest sin is evil in His sight.”

If both the Bible and Billy Graham agree that sins are not “ranked” and one is not worse than another, when did I start thinking someone else’s sin was more egregious than my own?

I believe that the enemy has a method of whispering in my ear.  In my humanness, I listen.  Satan convinces me that the differences between right or wrong aren’t as defined as the Bible tells us.  It’s his classic move.  He started using it in the Garden of Eden with Eve.  So of course, he’s using the same tactics on me.  

I have to acknowledge that my sin is my sin. No matter how big or small it may be (or how I may perceive it), ANY sin in my life breaks God’s heart.  Romans 3:12 (NASB) reminds us that there is not one of us who will get through this life without committing sin; “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, There is not even one.”

His judgements stand firm.  We must repent, turn from our sin, ask for forgiveness and move forward.  We (I’m specifically talking to myself here) need to fully understand that not one single sin is greater or lesser than another.  They are all an affront to God.

While someone else’s poop may smell worse than yours, their sin is not worse than yours.

~Emily

Mentored By Another Generation: The Titus 2 Woman

A few months ago, my sweet friend trusted me enough to introduce me to her Aunt Bonnie.  If I had to guess, Aunt Bonnie is probably in her 80s, but mentally in her 30s.  I was enamored with her from the moment I met her and to her extended family’s amusement, I was also calling her Aunt Bonnie immediately. 

She showed me her craft room, encouraged me in learning quilting, asked about my childhood, and invited me to come spend the summer with her in Texas so we could gab and craft together.  This woman was lovely and I so honored to have met her for a brief afternoon.

My friend trusted me with her family treasure.  You see, I could have been stand-offish, impatient, rude, or unengaged. When we introduce our friends to our family, we have a small idea of how they will interact, but there is no guarantee that they will hold the same esteem for our older family members that we may. 

In my case, I jumped at the chance to learn from this lovely gal who clearly was more well versed in quilting than I was.  Not only was it selfish on my part to learn from her, I would also consider it Biblical.  

Titus 2:3-5 (NASB) states, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, no malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.” 

Our conversation was not about religion, as we chatted about quilting techniques.  But here was a more mature woman, mentoring a middle-aged woman…and in that wonderful conversation, I had an example from her about loving my husband and child, about being sensible and pure, about working at home and being kind.  She was the Titus 2 older woman to me.  

As Christian women, we need to either be seeking a more mature woman to sit under…or we need to be the more mature woman willing to allow others to sit with us. 

While the Titus 2 description is specifically geared towards life as a Christian woman, remember that these mentoring sessions could also be opportunities to share the Gospel.   In both directions!  Be open to being a mentor.  And be open to finding one for yourself too!

Come to the porch this week and tell us about your mentors!

~Emily 

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.’”