AC-47 Testimonies

For those who don’t know, I work as a curator at a military museum.  While we have fantastic displays and precious artifacts on display, my favorite thing about working there is interacting with veterans and their families.  This last week we hosted a group of Vietnam Veterans who had each been involved with one particular aircraft; the AC-47, known as Spooky or Puff the Magic Dragon. 

During the ceremony, one of the pilots of this aircraft during the Vietnam conflict was the guest speaker.  His speech, titled “Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow” started with what it meant to be part of the “Spooky Brotherhood.”  

He discussed where they were yesterday and when each of their yesterday’s began.  

Then he recapped how they came to design monuments, selected where they were placed, and how they have reunions.  It was the today portion of his speech.

Finally, he spoke about their tomorrows.  At that pivotal point in his speech he told them he was concerned about their salvation and if he would see them as a brotherhood in their tomorrows.  He launched into sharing the Gospel and challenging them to get right with the Lord.  

I could not believe my ears!  You see, it’s rare at a military event for the Gospel to be presented in such an overt manner.  I was so proud of him for his boldness to speak truth in a military group.

He was truly living Romans 1:16 (NIV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”

While I’m not ashamed of the gospel, there are plenty of situations I find myself in where I lose the opportunity to share. Maybe it’s the timing, or maybe it’s my own fear of rejection, or maybe it’s the atmosphere.  Regardless of why I don’t share, it’s a lost chance to win souls for heaven. 

I love that this Vietnam Vet took the step to care for the eternal souls of those in the audience.  He was not ashamed…not at all.

~Emily

Focus, Squirrel…Focus!

During the creative process of writing academically, fiction, or the blog, I often find myself following a rabbit hole that has nothing to do with my original intent in writing.  I start researching or reading tangents (likely the reason I know so many bits of useless information).  I become engrossed in the television if it’s on.  I start singing to music even if it’s background noise.  

I am notorious for distracting myself.  Squirrel.  

The point is that I often have to tell myself, “Focus, Emily, Focus.”

I need that phrase for my life’s walk with Jesus too.  Focus, Emily, Focus.  

Paul does a fantastic job of teaching us the need for focusing in Philippians.  

“Not that I have already grasped it all or have already become perfect, but I press on fi I may also have hold of that for which I as even taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not regard myself as having taken hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.  I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 3:12-14 (NASB)

This text reminds us that in order to grow in our faith with Jesus, we have to remain focused.  We must reach forward.   We must press on towards the goal.   No rabbit hole research projects allowed. No distracting media platforms.  No squirrels.

Our salvation is clearly outlined in the Bible as grace alone through faith….but the growth in our relationship with God requires work to remain focused.  

A few verses before, Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10 (NASB), “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”  In this verse, we can glean a few goals that Paul had for remaining focused on the Lord, and they are goals that I want for my own focus.  

He wanted to know Jesus in a more personal way, as do I. 

He wanted to really know the power of Christ’s resurrection, as do I.

He wanted a similar attitude to Jesus in the face of suffering, as do I. 

He wanted connection to Jesus through His death, as do I. 

Like any other goals in our lives, we can’t be successful at accomplishing the goals without being specific with the goal writing.  In the military (and in other leadership courses), I was taught the SMART method in regards to goal writing:  

– Specific (details of the goals)

– Measurable (how do I know if I’m accomplishing the goal)

– Achievable (can I actually accomplish what I’m setting out to do)

– Realistic (is it within reach and relevant to my life)

– Time-framed (is there an end/stopping point to determine goal accomplishment)

If my generalized goal is to remain focused on the Lord so that I can build a closer relationship with him, then I know I should use the SMART method to refine that goal.  Otherwise I risk not fulfilling my goal.  When going through a goal setting process, I often find that I begin to set “mini-goals” in order to accomplish the larger task.  

For instance, my larger goal is that I want to have a stronger relationship with God.

My mini goals, that will assist with attaining the larger goal, could include:

– Specific Bible reading plans

– Planning prayer times

– Making corporate worship a priority

– Stretching myself in personal study of the Bible

Each of those mini-goals can be tracked with the SMART method and lend themselves to the larger goal.  Utilizing goal setting, specifically a method that showcases growth, allows for me to stay focused.  No distractions…just focus.  

I’m sure I’ll have to keep saying, “Focus, Emily, Focus,” but I’m happy to know I can redirect that focus back to something very specific.  

Will you join me in “focusing” this week?

~Emily

Automatic Doors of Life

A little boy stepped on the automated rubber mat…jumping on it over and over again as the glass doors slid open and shut. He was not deterred by the gentle tug of his mother’s hand.  The jumping continued even with his arm stretched out further and further by his mom.  All he saw in that moment was that he controlled the opening/closing of the sliding glass doors.  He was enthralled with his new-found superpower.  

If only I could control my life like that!

Have you ever wished that you had the ability to jump on a rubber mat in order to open and close doors?  I’ve desired the control over simple and more complex things of my life. 

You know which opening and closing glass door I can control?  My own mouth.

While there are dozens of examples in the Bible of how we should control our mouths.  Here are just three of those examples:

Proverbs 13:3 (ESV) “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”

1 Peter 3:10 (NASB) “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” 

James 1:19 (NASB) “You know this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Now everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger…”

Scripture gives us clear direction that our mouths are controllable, but we often let them go wild without constraint.  We lose control over our mouths in such detrimental ways.  It may be through gossip, or a false statement. We lose control when we use a swear word, or a harsh criticism.  It’s even when we repeat an inappropriate joke or sing along to the popular song that is not so wholesome.  

Instead of randomly jumping up and down on a rubber mat; allowing our mouth to open and close at any ol’ time, perhaps now is the time to slow down and become more deliberate in controlling our tongue.  

By no means do I have control over my own tongue (and as evident by prior blog entries, I have struggled with profanity).  However, I’ve written down some goals that I’m going to implement so that I have better control over what I am saying.

1. Slow down on the cursing (stopping all together is the ultimate goal)

2. Replacing sketchy lyrics from the radio with Gospel Music/Contemporary Christian Music

3. Offering a compliment…even when I want to offer the criticism

4. Issuing silent prayers/pleas for help to the Lord when I’m in contentious conversations

I may not be able to control everything in my life, but I can wrangle in some control over my tongue. I’m going to stop jumping on the rubber mat, watching the door open and close on its own.  Instead, I’m going to start being deliberate about closing my mouth when it should stay shut, and opening it only when necessary and when its kind words flowing from it.

How are you working on the automatic doors of your own life?  Come to the porch and share your goals with us!

~Emily

Restoration 49: A Coffee Shop Story

One town over from where I live, there is an adorable coffee shop, with the most amazing coffee that I’ve had in the South (and that is high praise from the girl who grew up in the Pacific NW).   Bonus points because they make their syrups in-house!  I go there often, for hours at a time, to study and work.  Most frequently, I complete Bible Study preparations for the Tuesday night class I facilitate or work on blogs for Iron Porch. Check them out on their Restoration 49 Facebook Page!

The coffee is fantastic, the Wi-Fi password is sweet and memorable, the décor is fascinating, and the people are lovely.  It’s truly a bunch of lovely baristas, who serve customers with a smile and a parting “have a blessed day!”

I have never had an in-depth conversation with any of them about religion or faith.  But if I had to guess, I’d say that most of them, if not all, have Christ in their lives.  Why would I guess that?  

I can’t guess that from their confession of faith.

I just admitted I’d never spoken with them about their faith.  Clearly, I’ve not asked and they’ve not volunteered that information.  

Maybe I could guess from subtle clues.  

Often contemporary Christian music is softly playing overhead.  There are old Church pews that separate the sitting area from the restrooms.  Based on my experiences and observations from their social media it seems like Bible Study groups meet frequently in the establishment…and so do Daddy-Daughter dances.    

I would guess that, based upon their behaviors. 

In the hours that I’ve spent working on my laptop with a notebook and Bible open at a lone table tucked in the corner, I’ve also been privileged to watch their interactions with others. 

Their behaviors:

I’ve seen them assist someone in a wheelchair with getting drinks to the table.  

I’ve seen them cleaning with a distraught mother, whose toddler went nuclear in mess-making.

I’ve seen them greet customers like old friends.

I’ve seen (and heard) them humming/singing along with the Christian music.

I’ve seen them stop and pray out loud with patrons.

This adorable coffee shop is more than just fantastic coffee.  It’s a showcase in humanity and caring for others.  

In Matthew 7:20-21 (NASB) Jesus said, “So you will know them by their fruits.  Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”

We will know them by their fruits.  

Scripture is clear that our actions will tell others about Jesus.  If a person does not show any fruit—for example, visible evidence that a change has taken place in their heart since receiving Jesus as their Savior—then perhaps they aren’t truly living a Christian lifestyle. 

Evidence of kindness, of Godliness, of humility…those are possible indications of fruit.  All of those are characteristics that I have seen while studying and sipping coffee at Restoration 49.  

Someday, I may ask. Someday, I may initiate a conversation.  But for now, I love watching them interact with their patrons in a loving manner.  

It’s soul-soothing to watch their behavior.  Plus, they have amazing coffee!

~Emily

P.S. Do you have any examples of witnessing fruitful behavior in others this week?  Feel free to come share with us!

My Friend, Jennifer

Last Tuesday, I lost a friend to Covid-19.  I know it can happen to anyone.  I just didn’t think it would hit me this close to home.  I met Jennifer more than 7 years ago.  One of my favorite memories with her is when her sweet oldest son took my daughter to a dance.  We got such a kick out of “grilling” Jakob on how he was going to treat McKenna that night.  He was a class act because he had a classy mom.

In the last week, there has been post after post on Facebook, people shocked at the fact she’s gone.  Story after story leaped off the page. 

“She listened to me.” 

“She gave me wise advice.” 

“She was funny.” 

“She loved Jesus.” 

“She brought me back to church.” 

“She was an amazing mom and wife.” 

“She was generous to everyone.”

Literally hundreds of people have written about how she touched their lives in some way or another.  And it got me to thinking, what impact will I leave when my time on earth is done?  You see, Jennifer was a Christian, and she lived that faith out every day of her life.  She honored her husband and you could see their love. Her children were her heritage from the Lord and she was so proud of them. She took seriously the commands to love one another, take care of the less fortunate, and spread the good news of Jesus.  She wasn’t ashamed of who she was and took pride in knowing she was a child of the King. 

Are we the same way?  There are so many verses in the bible that tell us how to live our life.

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” –Proverbs 19:17

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13

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

I want to have the kind of impact that Jennifer had on people.  She didn’t just give lip service.  She didn’t do ‘just enough’ to earn Jesus-brownie-points.  With her interactions among strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family, our Creator was the center of it all. She lived every day like she was in the presence of God because she knew she was.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit as a believer.

I pray that the light of Jesus can shine through me as much as it did in her.  My prayer for my life is that people see how God impacted me to impact them.

We’ll miss you, Jennifer.  We were blessed to know you.  You are assuredly a beautiful example of a Godly woman.

~Erin

Jennifer Levengood 1974-2021

Search and Rescue

I work in a military museum so “search and rescue” is not entirely a foreign concept to me.  We have an exhibit called “Star Catchers,” which showcases Airmen who were responsible for capturing satellites falling to earth.  A search and rescue of capsules containing cameras and film…and a race against time and sinking, as the capsule hit the massive ocean.  

Of course, there are also countless stories of Airmen searching for and rescuing other military members…in the jungles of Southeast Asia or the deserts of the Middle East.  Stories of POWs, downed aircraft, and special operations…all centered around the concept of search and rescue. 

There are plenty of times that I wonder if God feels like He’s continuously on a “search and rescue” mission.  He literally searches the Earth for His children who don’t know the Savior as their lifeline.  He searches and then offers them the rope for rescue.  He offers the solution to perilous situations.  He offers the ultimate rescue.  

Many accept God’s gift of His Son for our sins as their personal rescue.  Yet there are others who refuse that gift. 

Can you imagine the downed pilot who tells the rescue team, “No, no, I don’t need your assistance; I’ve got this under control”?

Can you envision the National Security impacts of a capsule with film sinking to the bottom of the ocean?

Can you even fathom the victim of the road side bomb refusing assistance from the first responders?

As sinful humans, our souls send out a distress signal that can only be answered by God.  When presented the Gospel, are we grasping the life-line?  Or are we refusing?  God leaves the choice up to each one of us.  Accept or reject God by accepting or rejecting the gift of salvation.  There are eternal consequences for either choice.  

Those who need rescue in an emergency situation do not refuse assistance. This next week, ask yourself if you’ve accepted the rescue of God.  I encourage you to take time in the next couple of days to pray for those who may be struggling with this decision…do they want to accept or reject their personal “Search and Rescue”?

~Emily

“To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sin and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in me.” ~Acts 26:18

Saving Freedom & The Statue of Liberty

As an elementary school student, I remember collecting pennies to donate towards the restoration of the Statue of Liberty crown.  Can you imagine the coordination it took for millions of small children to collect pennies towards a National Treasure?  This amazingly oversized statue is not only special to the immigrants that passed by her in the 1800s and early 1900s, but is an iconic symbol of America.    

It has become a symbol of leaving everything behind, risking everything for a new life, and creating new life with freedom.  

This is the same picture of what must happen when we come to know Jesus Christ as our Savior.  We leave behind worldly items and behaviors, risking much for a new life in Him.  Jesus becomes the way to freedom…not just a resolute statue in symbolism, but rather real freedom.  

In John 8:12 (NASB), Jesus said “I am the Light of the world; the one who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

Simply stated, Jesus as a lamplight towards freedom surpasses any amount of political, economic, or social persecution that could occur on earth.  That type of freedom is all encompassing.  Passing the Statue of Liberty as a new arrival must have been an awe-inspiring experience and sense of freedom, but knowing you are heaven bound is an even greater feeling.  

The freedom offered by the Father, through His Son, is the ultimate freedom.  As we celebrate the freedoms of America on certain days, such as the 4th of July, let us not forget that Christ’s freedom should be celebrated daily.  

Happy day after the 4th of July!

~Emily 

The Rooster and Jonah

We have a rooster now.  He’s young and just growing into his cock-a-doodle-doo.  He came to our home just a few days ago.  Emily inadvertently had a few too many roosters hanging around and since Peyton wanted to integrate a rooster into her flock, we got Squirrel, a tiny Bantam rooster. 

What we learned in the first day of receiving him is that he’s…lively.  Peyton had him separate from the hens but in the same chicken coop.   It’s an eight-foot-tall enclosure that ensures everyone has plenty of room.  Off Peyton went in the morning to get him out of his carrier when he decided to show her that he could fly.  Right out of the coop!  That teeny tiny bird flew right over the enclosure and wouldn’t get near Peyton again.  To make it even more comical, Squirrel flew up to a power line and hung out there all night! 

Even though that was his new home and he needed to integrate with the flock, he wanted nothing to do with the coop.  It wasn’t where he wanted to be.  But it’s where he needed to be.

Jonah was the same way.  The Lord told Jonah to go to Ninevah to preach to the city because of its abhorrent behavior.  They were desperately wicked.  But Jonah wanted none of it.  The man ran for a ship going to Tarshish instead.  Think about that; Jonah tried to outrun God’s calling.  When he was on the ship, it was involved in a great storm.  Jonah knew exactly why and when given the decision on what the shipmates needed to do to calm the storm, he told them to throw him into the sea.

The bible goes on to say that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and was inside the belly for three days and nights.  When Jonah repented, the fish spit him onto dry land and he went to the city of Ninevah, preaching to them and giving them the message received from God.  Thankfully, the Ninevites repented of their sins and the Lord spared them.

We have the same tendencies at times that both Squirrel and Jonah have.  We’re not wanting to be where we are supposed to be.  Often, we second guess what God has planned for us and decide we’d rather do what we want to do.  Perhaps we think it’s only a slight veer off course.  Or maybe we just don’t feel like stepping out of the world’s embrace.  We enjoy where we’re at because it’s comfortable and it’s known.

We need to remember, however, that we must obey the will of God.  No matter how scary it may be or unknown the circumstances are, God would have us obey Him and follow His direction.  He leads us; we don’t lead Him!  Everything we do should bring glory to our Father in Heaven, and obeying His will ensures exactly that.  We bring glory to Him in our faithfulness through obedience.

I encourage you follow God’s instructions for your life.  Perhaps you are being led to give up something or witness to someone.  Maybe He’s telling you to teach a Bible study.  He might even be calling you to the mission field.  Spend some time reading, studying, and listening to God’s Word to know where He would have you be today, tomorrow, and always!

~Erin

Yes….that’s Squirrel!

Pride, Love & A Christian Walk

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24 (NIV)

For nearly a year, I’ve been researching and preparing to conduct a presentation, during Pride Month 2021, on the history of LGBTQ+ Airmen in the United States Air Force.  Last week I gave this presentation, which was filled with history, policy changes, and individual stories of Airmen who have served in the military from the 1940s through today.  As a note of consideration to the reader, I’m a historian who works as a curator of an Air Force Historic Research Institute and museum.  My job is to tell the story of Airmen and research the history of the Air Force.  

In the days leading up to the presentation, I started getting nervous.  It was an honor to be asked to speak and public speaking seems to be a universal “get nervous” activity.  Likewise, I wanted to present accurate information and not go on the record with any incorrect policies or historic examples. 

So, I asked a several people for prayers in that last week of practicing and refining slides.

I was shocked at the responses to these prayer requests.  While there were some positive and encouraging Christians in my corner, the overwhelming response was skepticism, questioning, and even one that expressed outrage.  How can I call myself a Christian and endorse LGBTQ+ people?!?!?!?

Let me say this part again…it’s my job to tell Airman Stories.  All Airman stories.  

But I need to further expand on the rationale behind this presentation so let me also declare this:

It’s my job…my responsibility…my task, as a Christian, to LOVE humans. 

1 John 4:7-8 (NIV) states, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

In this passage, John is specifically addressing loving other believers with the love of God. While that seems easy to say, the reality is that the believer is just as unlovable as the non-believer. The believer and non-bleiever are both sinful. Therefore, as a believer, I hold fast to the thought that Christ has an expectation that I will love other believers…regardless of it I agree or disagree with them…regardless of if I like their personality or not…regardless of it I sin like them or not.

The non-believer deserves love and respect, as well. How do Christians expect to present the Gospel without being kind and respectful towards others? How do we show Christ’s love for all, when we aren’t being loving ourselves? 

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV) states, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I may not love the sinful choices or behaviors of someone.  I don’t like that my friend stole a pen from the bank, or that my child told a lie, or that I said a swear word.  According to scripture, it is absolutely appropriate to dislike sinful thoughts, deeds, and words.  But scripture is also VERY clear that we are to love our brothers and sisters, as Christ loved the church.  

I acknowledge that there are Christians who absolutely believe that the LGBTQ+ community is wrong in their sinful lifestyles.  Hence the reason so many felt they could speak negatively about my prayer request in regards to the presentation.

I also acknowledge that we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  

All of us.  All of us.  ALL OF US.  For those in the back, ALL of us have sinned…so why are we judging someone else with such absolutes and harshness?  

Perhaps it’s time to stop judging one another based on our sins and start really loving one another past those sins, just as Christ loved us. 

~Emily

The Tornado Warning

Right about the time my weather alert went off on my phone on Tuesday night, my phone rang.  Emily was calling to tell me we were under a tornado warning and to shelter in place.  I tried to call Chris, who was still at work, and his words startled me.  “I need to call you back.  We’re about to get hit and I need to get everyone to a safe place.  I’ll call you back.”  I grabbed my go-bag (thank you, best friend, for making me one for my birthday), took two pillows and a blanket from the couch, and put on my tennis shoes to wait out the warning.  I wasn’t sure where the tornado had been spotted, but I needed to be prepared for whatever came. 

As the warning came and went, I was safe.  But the one thing I thought about during that period of waiting was how our weatherman, James Spann, recommends a helmet for sheltering in place.  It’s really the running joke around here.  But it’s a great safety precaution…especially if your house is about to fall in over your head or a projectile is headed for your brain!  And I didn’t have one.  I’ve talked about it.  I’ve joked about it with everyone else.  And still, I’ve never actually gotten one.       

Why am I the same way about the armor of God?  I’ve put on the breastplate of righteousness.  I’ve taken up the shield of faith.  I’ve got my sword of the Spirit at my side.  I walk out the front door prepared for battle and I’ve left my helmet of salvation behind.  Then I’m wandering through the day thwarting the devil’s stupid attempts at making me stumble and falter in my faith in God, and I’m wondering why I’m struggling so much.

The helmet of salvation reminds us that our salvation has secured a place in heaven at the Father’s feet.  It allows us to stay focused on the Almighty.  It help keep our eyes on the things above and not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).  Really, EVERY piece of the armor of God is essential.  If we miss any piece as we prepare for war, we are ill-equipped for the fight.  It’s just that simple.

Let me encourage you, sweet friends, to put on the WHOLE armor of God as we face the day.  Let’s be completely prepared for what satan and the worlds throws our way.  We can trust that when we are fully assembled, we are ready to defend ourselves.

~Erin