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

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

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

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

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

The Lucky Charms

One of my fondest memories belongs to a Christmas many years ago when my daughters were around 6 and 12 years of age.  I was a recently divorced single mom, and we didn’t have a lot.  I had to learn to be ok with where we were at and with what we had.  While my children never went without what they needed, often it was more difficult to obtain higher price ticket items for the Christmases and their birthdays.    

I was fortunate enough to have been taught myself at a young age that the thought into the gift meant more than the gift, so I was prepared for just such a time.  My girls LOVE sweet cereal; they come by it honestly.  While Cheerios was a fine breakfast food, it didn’t compare to the goodies like Trix or Fruity Pebbles!  And they were always going at each other over who got the last of the cereal out of the box.  Many a tear was shed (particularly from the younger, Peyton) over the fact that McKenna got to it first!

This particular Christmas as the girls each unwrapped identical boxes at the same time, they were over the moon excited that they received their own individual family size box of Lucky Charms!  And let me tell you, lest they forget who had which box, they wrote their names on them so there was no doubt!

Is our response to what our circumstances are one of contentment or dissatisfaction?  I know culture today tells out that we don’t have enough.  We’re always looking for the better job, better car, more Instagram followers, or better pay.  We are a society that is me-centered, always trying to get more.  But what does God tell us about that in the Bible? 

Philippians 4:11-13 says, “Not that I speak from need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

We should know how to live in both circumstances and should also know how to be content in both.  The Bible also reminds us that God supplies our needs.  The fact that He graciously supplies what we need should cause us to reflect on how content we are with where God has us!

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go after a pay raise or a new job/title.  But we should examine our hearts and speak to the Holy Spirit to ensure that we are content with what we have and determine if we’re seeking something for ourselves or if it is God-led.

I pray that this week we all take a moment to recognize our contentment in our circumstances through Jesus and ask Him to fill our hearts with that peace.

~Erin

The Sting of Pride

Pride…what a seemingly two-edged sword.  We’re taught to be proud of who we are and of what we’ve accomplished.  We’re encouraged to be proud of the stand we take or decisions that we have made.  Yet there are multiple verses in the Bible that tell us pride is wrong.

“But He gives a greater grace.  Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” –James 4:6

“This is what the Lord says, ‘Let no wise man boast of his wisdom, nor let the mighty man boast of his might, nor a rich man boast of his riches;” –Jeremiah 9:23

“When pride comes, then comes dishonor; but with the humble there is wisdom.” –Proverbs 11:2

“Through overconfidence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel.” –Proverbs 13:10

You may be asking now, “Erin, how do you know whether the pride you feel is godly?”  That’s a great question!  Pride is not just an unbeliever thing, as we all know.  It’s something that I struggle with, and I’m constantly having to ask this question of myself.  That sin applies to all of us. 

I PRIDE MYSELF on the fact that I know a little about a lot in the Bible.  It makes me feel good to know that I can help people get an answer to something that they might not have previously known.  But am I being prideful in the wrong way?

Have I acknowledged that my parents, BECAUSE OF GOD’S MERCY, accepted the Lord as their Savior and took me to church from birth.  The Sunday School teacher, BECAUSE OF GOD, decided to answer the call to lead children and talk to me about the Bible stories.  The private school I was sent to that was affiliated with my church…GOD provided the opportunity.  GOD led the preachers to teach on topics.  GOD gave me my brain to be able to soak up the knowledge.  GOD directed conversations that I have with people that allow me to tell them what I know.

I know that’s a lot of capital letters in that paragraph, but the point is, I shouldn’t be taking pride in myself.  I should be humbled that through GOD, I was given amazing opportunities.  The difference in Godly pride and ungodly pride (if I may distinguish), is our humbleness about what we’ve achieved and WHO has allowed that achievement.  Who is really getting the glory?

We can be proud of every single accomplishment or decision or of the things we say.  But if we don’t understand and acknowledge that it would have been nothing without God’s kindness, grace and mercy allowing it, it’s simply sinful pride.  We must be able to have humility and recognize that apart from God, we can do nothing (John 15:45).

I pray that as we go through this week, we can be humble in what we do and recognize what God has allowed us to do and who He has allowed us to be!

~Erin

A Hurting Heart

My heart is hurting tonight.  Really, it’s been hurting for several months.  I can feel spiritual warfare down to my bones happening in this house.  And it feels like I’m powerless against it.  The heaviness is oppressing.  It’s a sadness that I almost feel I can’t escape.  I long to have the joy of the Lord back in this home, but it’s seems like an uphill battle of biblical proportions. 

And while I can feel this settling into the cracks and crevices, I know that I have a God that is greater than any spiritual warfare in this home and in my life. 

He promises me that He is faithful and assures me that He is protection. “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” –2 Thessalonians 3:3

He tells me that I am His.  “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” –John 1:12

He gives me strength.  “He gives strength to the weary, and to the one who lacks might He increases power.” –Isaiah 40:29

He gives me armor.  “Stand firm therefore, having belted your waist with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having strapped on your feet the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” –Ephesians 6:14-17

He gives me respite.  “Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11:28

He is my Defender.  “The Lord will fight for you, while you keep silent.” –Exodus 14:14

I’m flooding this home with praise music.  I’m reading my Bible out loud.  I read it from room to room.  I pray throughout the house.  I know that even while I’m facing spiritual warfare, my God is defending me from every hit Satan and his minions try to take.  And I’m not giving up without a fight.

Thank you, God, for who You are.  

Is anyone else currently struggling with spiritual warfare?  Share in the comments below and know that Emily and I are praying faithfully for you.

~Erin

False Teachers

I often get asked by my Bible study group or people that know I’m a Christian what I think of Pastor X on the TV or Pastor Y who has a large following.  Sometimes, I get asked about prominent national Bible study leaders and whether or not I listen/like/follow them.

Coincidentally, those types of questions have been lining up with our current Bible studies.  As we talk about false gospel or religion and heretical teachings, our group is diving into scripture to see what the Bible says.

Satan is always roaming around seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).  One of his greatest tactics is to manipulate Christians.  If he can get us to start interpreting scripture to meet our needs rather than the true context, he’s got a foothold.  If he can push us into sinful pride of wanting people to hear US as opposed to God, he’s gaining ground.  If he can mislead us we, in turn, can mislead others.

Because of that, the Bible teaches us that we shouldn’t be surprised at false prophets who are around us. 2 Peter 2:1 says, “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.

It happened in Biblical times, and it’s happening even today.  At least 180 Bible verses speak to false prophets and how they will distort the gospel and teach false doctrine.

The Bible also gives clear direction on what we are to do when we hear pastors/speakers/influencers.  We are not to just accept what they say but rather look at it, read it, study it, and examine whether it is biblical.  If it is not, we should reject that which is evil. 

Do not quench the Spirit, do not utterly reject prophecies, but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good and abstain from every form of evil.” –1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” –1 John 4:1

One of the best ways we can recognize false teaching is to be in the Word.  I’m not talking quick devotionals that give us a pick-me-up.  I’m talking the in-depth study and understanding of God’s Word.  We need to be taking time to dive into the Bible.  It’s how God speaks to us.  I used to say that I didn’t have time, that I was too busy.  And then my pesky iPhone started giving me my weekly updates!  Learning you’ve had 5 hours of screen time during the week is obnoxious!  That’s time I could’ve stepped away from Instagram or Facebook or YouTube and spent time reading the Bible.

I would also encourage you to pray and ask that the Holy Spirit give you discernment as you prepare to hear one of these speakers.  The Holy Spirit is one of our greatest lines of defense!  We underuse Him, and the Lord gave Him to us after Jesus left so that we could have the Helper within us.

Dear friends, we live in a time where heretical teachings are prevalent.  We must be on guard and aware of those false teachers so that we do not blind ourselves into walking down a path that allows us to stray from God!  I pray that the Holy Spirit gives each of us the discernment we need to see God’s truth!

~Erin

The Weeds

I have the most annoying vine looking weed that has thorns on it growing in one of the raised beds in my garden.  When I set it up two years ago, I fluffed the soil and added additional dirt, but I didn’t really pay attention to what was already around the area.  As a result, we’ve got this vine that chokes out whatever it is that’s planted along where it snakes around.  I went to grab it one day last year only to be stuck with one of the thorns.  Because I didn’t take it out by the root then or remove it properly from the garden, this year, it’s weaved its way around my flowers and nothing is really growing.  My flower garden is stagnant.

This is what happens when we allow sin to enter our lives.  When bitterness, resentment, and sin come into our lives, without taking the proper steps to ensure it doesn’t take root, it’s allowed to grow and fester.  It begins to take over our lives in ways we could never imagine.

God tells us that the fruit of the Spirit include joy, peace, patience, and self-control.  But when we aren’t properly weeding our faith garden, it affects those fruits.  The weed takes hold of the peace and leaves us with a feeling of jealousy that someone has something we aren’t able to have.  It stunts the patience we have learned to understand when the anger takes over at being passed over for a promotion we thought we deserved.  It strangles the self-control we have as we find ourselves trying to live in the world but not be of the world (Romans 12:2).  Those menacing vines steal the joy we have in the Lord when we don’t remove them…and remove them at the root.

Just as it is in gardening, we can pick the weed out.  We can pull at the vine to remove it to allow for more growth on the surface.  However, when we don’t remove the full root that it’s attached to, it’s allowed to continue growing and being a menace.

We can’t just ask for forgiveness of sins and “hope” it doesn’t come back.  We must repent—meaning to turn away—from what we have allowed to grow.  Then we must take the root out.  It may mean removing certain music from your life to prevent you from feeling a certain way.  It may mean reexamining your friendships.  It may mean recognizing that you need deeper study in the Word and less time on social media.  But when we take out the root, we remove the hinderance and can see the beauty in the growth of a full and complete garden.

This doesn’t mean that other choking vines or weeds won’t come, but when we take out the root of the issue, we can find our hope in the Lord that says we can be more vigilant about what may come next.  We can be prepared for what satan sends our way.  God can have the victory in our lives!

This week, I’m praying that God reveals what the weeds are in my garden so that I can take them by the root and remove them!  How about you?

~Erin