Let Us Rejoice!

This weekend, my oldest daughter came to visit me and brought my two absolutely amazing grandchildren.  They are fabulous!  Andros exudes happiness when he gets excited.  Kalan’s mischievous grin just melts your heart. Watching two little boys light up a room make my heart sing!  I wish I could see them more than I get to, but when they come into town our world revolves around them.

It reminds me of how joyful I should be on a regular basis!  God has created this beautiful world we live in.  I sit on my deck in the morning and listen to the morning songs from the birds that fly around.  We feel the air in our lungs, and see the wind gently pushing tree limbs back and forth. We hear the laughter from children.  We feel the love of a grandparent’s touch.  It’s all so beautiful, and it should make my heart happy!

The bible reminds us of this, as well! 

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. –Psalm 118:24

Even on days when we’re not feeling the greatest, let’s remind ourselves of this.  We can be thankful for the day that our Father has made for us and be joyful that He created it for us!

~Erin

A Spiritual Gift

Music is my thing.  It always has been.  I’m pretty confident that I came out of the womb singing some kind of tune.  Both of my parents can sing.  One is shy and won’t sing on a stage.  The other loves the spotlight and never minded singing in front of people.  I wonder which one I took after in that area?  From the time I started school, any time there was a play or musical or an opportunity to sing in church, I was there.  And I wasn’t going for the chorus line.  I wanted center stage.  I LOVE to sing loud and clear.

When I was little, it was because I liked the attention.  As I got older, I continued to sing in church, but the reason changed.  I now wanted to glorify God and give Him the praise.  And when I moved to a new and bigger church at the age of 30, it all changed.  There was no choir.  There was a praise band, a worship team and contemporary Christian music.  The church that I was going to didn’t do “specials” like they did in the church I went to growing up.  I felt far inferior to the professionals they had on stage!  There was no way I could bring anything to the table with them.   And so I stuck to singing with the congregation in the pews, knowing that God had given me a gift….but afraid to use it.

As I started looking for my new church here in Alabama, one of the things I was looking at was the worship time.  It wasn’t as important as other things like sound doctrine, or a gospel-sharing church.  But I love the peace I feel as I worship in song so it wasn’t far from the top.  Imagine my surprise that I’ve been repeatedly visiting a smaller church with old-fashioned hymns and a piano.  I just found out they have a small choir.  It’s like I’ve stepped back in time to my childhood!  And it’s not what I’ve been used to for 12 years.  And I think it might be right where God wants me.

You see, I long to feel the presence of God with music.  But the truth is, I don’t need that music to feel the presence of God.  He’s all around me.  The Holy Spirit lives inside of me because I am a blood-bought daughter of the King.  The music and the words are there to help me praise Him, to rejoice in who He is and what He’s done for us.  The ability to sing is the spiritual gift that God has given me to use and honor for His glory.  And I feel like I’ve wasted it for 12 years. 

1 Peter 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

The Lord has changed what I see as beneficial for me in finding a church.  Rather than a church with a “stellar” worship hour, I long for a church that shares the gospel, who believes in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).  Then show me that same church that allows me to use the spiritual gifts that God has bestowed on me to serve others.  In finding that, I find my church.

I’m thankful for a God who leads us exactly where we need to be.  We only need to listen, trust, and obey.  How about you, friends?  Do you have a spiritual gift that you’ve been tucking away?  Share in the comments below what it is, and let’s pray for opportunities to serve others with that precious gift from God!

~Erin

I’m Lost!

Last week, my family flew in from Cheyenne, Wyoming and I needed to pick them up from the airport.  It was a busy day full of many errands, so I quickly input my desired location into the GPS without giving it much notice and off I went. 

The drive was beautiful.  It took me along a more scenic route, and I was enjoying seeing the sweet little towns.  As I got closer to my destination, it seemed that I should’ve hit a sign that said I had rolled into Georgia, but I didn’t worry too much about, because not all side roads have these kinds of signs.  I finally saw the airport sign at my exit and turned to get off the road.  But I was getting confused because it still seemed rather….too-small-townish?  I quickly pulled up the “details” in my GPS and confirmed I was indeed right near my location.  But as I hit “End,” a flash of the abbreviation AL came into view.  Lightning fast, I clicked the GPS again.  VALLEY HEAD, AL.

That’s right….NOT Atlanta Airport.  Not Hartsfield-Jackson.  Not even Georgia.  I had directed myself to the quaint little town of Valley Head.  Where’s Valley Head you ask? NOT IN GEORGIA.  Turns out that as I was clicking on the Atlanta airport location in my phone, it downloaded several more locations I had been looking at recently, and I accidentally chose Valley Head. 

What was supposed to be a 20ish minute wait for my family while I completed the drive to get them turned into an additional 2 ½ hour wait.  It was awesome.  I cried like a baby.  And I felt so stupid!  I know it was a mistake, but it still stung of carelessness.  I trusted that when I rushed, what I had briefly read/seen was right without making sure my action of picking the correct location and following the right directions was true.

This reminds me of my walk with God sometimes.  I’ve been saved a long time.  I grew up in church and for the first 6 years of school attended a school that was affiliated with my church, so I’ve been around the Bible for as long as I can remember.  And sometimes the prideful nature in me that thinks, “I know what it says in the Bible and how to live uprightly” is quickly destroyed.  Just like being careless in not paying attention when I pushed the button on my GPS, it can be easy to spout off what I’ve learned from my years of following Jesus.  It’s simple to follow some Godly instruction, but not paying attention and not being firmly planted in the study of the Bible can lead you far of the course God has set for you.

There’s so much more in following Jesus and knowing what His Word says.  James 1:22 says “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves.”  Am I really DOING what the Word says when I don’t pay enough mind to read, study, learn, pray, and meditate on His goodness?  Is it enough to remember a few stories from when I was 12 and hope I’ve remembered 30 years down the road? 

It’s not.  We need to be diving in, reading what He says and pursuing knowledge of God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit!  When we do this, we are careful with our directions rather than careless.  We become knowledgeable in His truth and less mindless.  We become doers of the Word and not just hearers!

I encourage each one of you to not merely hit a button, take a quick peek, and walk away.  Dive in, paying careful attention to the words and commands that are in the Holy Bible.  I’ll be doing that!

Who wants to take on this challenge with me?  Comment in the section below!

~Erin 

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)

The Beauty In Creation

We hit the crest of the hill and just beyond was the most beautiful landscape I’d ever seen in my life.  The greens, oranges, yellows and reds were so vibrant.  The sun hit the peaks of the Ozarks, and the clouds created the most beautiful shadows in the gorge as we meandered down the road.  It took my breath away.  The only time I’d seen something so stunning was in a beautiful painting, and that painting didn’t even compare to the sight that I was witnessing.  Deep in the valley, as we rounded the bend sat a small white church in the middle of a soft green meadow.  I was simply awestruck.  God’s beauty was all around, and it brought these verses in Psalm to mind.

For the Lord is a great God

And a great King above all gods,

In whose hand are the depths of the earth,

The peaks of the mountains are also His.

The sea is His, for it was He who made it,

And His hands formed the dry land.

Come, let us worship and bow down,

Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

–Psalm 95:3-6

God is Elohim.  He is my Creator.  He formed nothingness into beauty, and we are the chosen ones to live in His beauty and creation.  How amazing is it that our Heavenly Father has given us such a beautiful space in which to call home!

Part of our daily prayer should be dedicated to the adoration of our King.  As we talk to Him, praise Him for what He has made!  Glorify Him for the splendor that is around us!  Thank Him for the exquisite gift of Earth that He’s given us to be a part of! 

I challenge you, dear ones, to spend time this week praising Him for the beauty that is all around us.  Thank Him each day for something different that you see as you drive around, take a walk, or look out your window.  Thank Him for this gift of creation!

~Erin

The Master Gardener

We’re heading into planting season, and this will be my first year planting a full-fledged, on-the-ground garden in the state of Alabama!  I’m so excited to get started, and Chris graciously took up the previous owner’s garden bed and is reconfiguring it so that I can have a few beds rather than one big space.  I’ll be ready to go any day!

Now that you know how excited I am about this, let me acknowledge that I generally kill most plants.  For those who read my previous blog on gardening, I’ll remind you that I only tried gardening for the first time last year.  I kill most houseplants.  In fact, Emily doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve already killed one of the plants in the pot she gave me as a birthday gift in September by over watering it.  (Sorry, Emily!)  I want so badly to grow fresh veggies so that we can eat what I’ve grown myself, but I’m already in worry mode that I’m going to kill it all off; we’ll be destined to eat Piggly Wiggly lettuce and tomatoes for the rest of our lives!

Aren’t we blessed that our Heavenly Father is a Master Gardener!?  We are called to spread the good news to all people.  The good news is the gospel of Jesus Christ!  People all over the world need to know that Jesus came down to earth, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the grave on the third day.  They need to accept the gift of salvation.

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” –Mark 16:15

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of age. –Matthew 28:19-20

That can be nerve-wracking!  Reaching out to people and sharing God’s gift can cause anxiousness out of a fear of rejection.  It’s scary to feel as if we are responsible for leading people to the Lord and helping them grow in their relationship with God once they’ve accepted Christ as their personal Savior.  However, God tells us in the bible that we are to plant the seed, but that it’s God that causes it to grow!

Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about this very thing.  He let them know that he planted the seed by preaching the good news and getting them established, Apollos had watered it by continued teaching and encouragement, but that God was what caused the growth.

So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. –I Corinthians 3:7

Isn’t that comforting!?  Our job is to tell everyone the joyous news of our God-plant the seed.  Once they accept the free gift of salvation, we can encourage them as they dig in to the Word-water the plant.  But God will grow them in the knowledge of the Truth.  He is the one who will deepen their relationship with Him. 

We don’t need to be afraid to plant the seed, sweet friends!  We can be delighted in the fact that we are doing what God has called us to do.  He will do the rest!

I encourage you to reach out to at least one person this week and share the gospel.  Plant the seed so that God may tend His garden.

~Erin

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

4th Grade Girlfriend Distractions

From the moment I fell in love with a top-heavy-head-two-year old, I knew that one day there would be a girl who would begin to consume his thoughts.  

I knew I wouldn’t be the main chick in his life forever.  

I watched in amusement how at age 3, he called both Erin and Peyton his girlfriend.

I acknowledged that he was growing up when he told our waitress she had pretty eyes when he was 6 years old.  

I even understood completely when he started giggling uncontrollably the first time he heard the word “boobs.”

But I was not expecting this “1000 shades of red” situation when you merely mention the name of a particular girl in his 4th grade class.   It seems too soon for him to be crushing so hard on this little girl, who gives him token gifts weekly, who he shares his bubble gum, who he emails in the evening, and who is forgiven when she kicks him in the shin.  

Who is this little girl who is stealing my son’s attention at age 10?!?!?!?!

I can’t even pretend to know how God feels about particular situations, but I would be willing to guess that God feels a similar questioning or exasperation when we start to pull away from Him…or when other things grab our attention more fully than our relationship with Him.   

Our work, worry about finances, our newest technology/gadgets, dating, planning parties, eating…the list goes on and on…all potential distractions from God. 

It’s dangerous to shift our focus from God to other things.  Not only do the distractions cause a separation between us and God, it also leads to more sinful behavior. For instance, the distraction of social media, could lead to unhealthy relationships that aren’t God honoring.  Likewise, removing focus from God can cause increased stress, fear, anger, and anxiety.  

Fear not, God gave us directions to avoid distractions!  In 1 Corinthians 7:25 (NASB), scripture says, “I say this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” 

Each morning while praying, I ask the Lord to deliver me from the distractions of the day.  It’s a conscious effort to focus on God, rather than the world.  It helps me set my sights on the Lord. But if I’m honest, that doesn’t “stick” most days. Despite a daily attempt, I often fall short and become distracted.  I know a God of grace and I just try again and again to be better.

It’s clear that the 4th grade crush is a distraction to my son, just as the clutter of the world can become a distraction to me concerning my relationship with God. 

Stay strong this week as you divert your attention away from the distractions of the world!

~Emily

Bruleed Grapefruit

Our girls shopping trip included breakfast at a well-reviewed Alabama restaurant, “Big Bad Breakfast.”  The order included a grapefruit that had been sprinkled with sugared and then torched…just like a crème brulee.  As a culinarian, the combo sounded intriguing but I wasn’t completely confident that I would like it.  The results were amazing! They were absolutely delicious and I wished that we had ordered multiple ones.    

I was surprised at how wonderfully sweet the fruit was and how amazing the crunch of melted sugar tasted on my tongue.  As I reflected on the taste, hours after leaving the restaurant, I realized that my reaction reminded me of Proverbs 27:7 “One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” 

The supposedly tart-and possibly bitter- grapefruit was sweet like honey.

While the verse does not mean that bitter food will become sweet to us, it does have a deeper meaning about those who are hungry.  Within the Proverbs verse, the honey signifies your walk with God, your relationship with the Trinity, and possibly even the value you place on studying God’s Word.  

Specifically, the verse is also referencing those who are hungry to have a deeper relationship with the Lord.  If one feels as though they are “full” or perhaps they think there isn’t room to grow within their spiritual walk, they aren’t desperate to seek God.  The end result is that they begin to loathe the honey…essentially they pull away from God, from biblical teaching, and fellowship with other believers. 

The second half of the verse speaks to the believer who is desperate to know God more deeply.  They are hungry.  As a result of that hunger, they taste the sweetness of walking closer to God through study, prayer, and fellowship.  

What do you do about that hunger you may be feeling?

– Spend time with God in prayer: write down your prayer requests and answers to prayer

– Study the Bible…seriously study…not just read.

– Fellowship with other believers: at church, in a small group, one-on-one

Only when we initiate knowing God more fully, will we actually get to know God more fully.

Just like the bruleed grapefruit that appears to have a bitter taste but really is super sweet, our walk with the Lord should be filled with hunger to know Him on a more intimate level.  Only then can we taste the sweetness through any bitterness.

I praying for everyone on the Iron Porch to have a sweet week with God.

~Emily

Bruleed Grapefruit

2 red or pink grapefruits

2 Tbl Sugar (coarse, brown or raw)

*Optional ¾ tsp coarse sea salt, sprinkled nutmeg, sprinkled cinnamon)

  1. Halve each grapefruit crosswise, and cut a thin slice off the bottom of each half to stabilize the pieces. Remove all seeds from the grapefruit, and loosen the segments with a paring knife. Remove any excess liquid with a paper towel patted on the top of fruit.  
  2. Sprinkle each half evenly with the sugar (and optional items).  Using a torch, melt the sugar to form a golden brown and crispy surface.  You can use the broiler in your oven, but pay careful attention to not burn the sugar.  

Praising His Attributes

It seems like such an obvious “Christian” thing to see.  We read about them many times throughout the Bible.  It’s a concept we’ve been taught over and over.  But I’ve noticed it seems the easiest thing to overlook:  Praising God with His attributes.  Songs encourage us to praise Him in hard times and praise Him in good times.   They remind us to give glory to Him whenever we can.  But are we truly praising Him for who He is?

Table 8 (my amazing California Bible Study group) and I have been going through a Bible study that urges a deeper look into several Psalms and then allow us to write our own Psalms using a formula based on the particular Psalm we’re in that week.  One of the common denominators of the exercise is to praise God using His attributes in prayer and on paper.  It’s something I haven’t always thought about doing.

Do I think God is powerful?  Yes.  Do I believe He is the Healer?  Of Course.  Is He the Almighty Deliverer?  Yes!  An ever-present Help in my time of need?  Absolutely!  But do I praise Him out loud for that?  NO.  It’s like I just assume He knows.  (Let’s be real here for a minute…He knows.)  But the reason behind why we say these things out loud in prayer and writing them down in Psalms is not so HE can know.  It’s to remind US of His attributes!

When we pray His attributes out loud, it encourages us that He is strong, He is omniscient, and He is over all.  It prompts us to be joyful of His authority in the midst of a struggle.  It reminds us that there will be victory in God and that the battle is already won.  Ephesians 6:10 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” 

With that strength, it invigorates our faith and assures us of God’s power.

I’ve tried it first-hand.  For the last five weeks, I have been starting my prayers with speaking aloud God’s beautiful attributes before I begin any request I have.  It’s prepared my soul to know that as I bring my petitions to Him I can be confident in whatever His answer and deliverance will be.

I encourage you, dear friends, to try it!  Speak aloud the attributes of our Great God.  He is mighty!  He is powerful!  He has the victory!  Enjoy the confidence and joy you can have in the assurance of our Father’s goodness and grace!

~Erin