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

New Year’s Priorities with “Reasonable” Expectations

I love to scrapbook, but I feel like I can’t get caught up on decades worth of photos that are well organized in folders.  Each of these folders is waiting to be creatively placed with stickers on the pages of my books.  I have an entire basket of photos from the two years I was stationed in Europe…in 2010-2012!!!  What fun it would be to sit down and reminisce all the places I traveled, all the people I met, and all the food that I ate!   

While I want to eliminate the backlog of photos, I do not prioritize this as something that must be done.  Clearly other things have captured my attention over the years that have taken precedence over scrapbooking.   Things like getting married, finishing a degree, raising a child, or retiring from the military.  Other things were a greater priority to me than scrapbooking.  

If I were to set a goal to scrapbook the decades of photos that are waiting page placement, I would likely fail to meet the goal based upon it not being a priority to me. 

In fact, when I set goals in relationship to New Years, I tend to fail. I set unreasonable expectations.  And then I fail.  Finances, weigh-loss, relationship mending, Bible Studies, gardening…doesn’t matter what the topic, there seems to be a failure involved.  

As I assess the craziness of 2020 and what might come in 2021, I decided that I won’t make resolutions.  No resolutions this year. Instead, I’m setting priorities with reasonable expectations. 

And I’m only setting one.  

I’m making God a priority in 2021.  I want to make time each day to spend in the Word.  I recognize that some days may be an hour, while others might be 15 minutes.  The reasonable part of this priority is this: I’m going to spend time with my Bible each day and I am not setting a specific timeframe for how long it will be each day.  

I recently acquired a yearlong Billy Graham devotional, as well as a 90 day walk with Paul by Beth Moore.  Both of these resources have me excited to start.  However, I need to be clear about my priority of spending time with God in 2021…I’m committing to spending time studying the Bible each day…in addition to any other study or devotion that I might also be doing.  

In James 4:8 (NASB), we are instructed to spend time with God and we are told what happens when we do.   “Come close to God and He will come close to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Come close to God and He will come close to you.

That is my priority for 2021.  I’m setting a reasonable expectation that I will do it every day without a time constraint. 

Come to the porch and share your priorities and expectations for 2021.  

~Emily

P.S.  I hope I get a little scrapbooking time too!!

A December Spelling Bee: “Jesus, J-E-S-U-S, Jesus”

My fourth grader made it into the finals at his elementary school spelling bee, which meant we were studying a lengthy list of spelling words for the first few weeks of December.  Words were given at random times, such as waiting in check-out lines, while driving to the dentist, and through the phone.  Erin was also recruited to help testing spelling words.

I’ll be honest, the words started blurring together over the days of helping prepare for the spelling competition.  We started getting creative and silly with the process.  If Kambell said he was hungry, I’d start to give him food related words that weren’t even on the list.  If I started a to-do list, he would start spelling items that needed to be on the list.  We spelled animals, neighbor names, places we’d like to travel…anything was fair game for spelling.

And then one morning my son suggested we spell Christmas words.  I started by giving him the word “Present” followed by the word “Candy-cane.”  He said the word, spelled the word, then repeated the word in both instances.  As I was thinking about the next word he looked at me and said, “I was thinking more of Christmas words like Jesus, Manger or Bethlehem.” 

It’s at this point that the judgey-side-eyes should be headed my way.  

In the midst of strange COVID related 2020 shenanigans, I was not focused on the truest meaning of Christmas.  It took a 9-year-old to remind me.  For real, y’all! My son straight schooled me on which words should be the true Christmas words!!!

It took that conversation to re-focus me on the intent of this season.  The remembrance of the birth of our Savior. The truest and most precious gift ever given to any of us by our Lord.  Give yourself the gift of remembering why we celebrate Christmas and share that gift with those around you who may not know Christ. 

I pray that in the next couple days leading to Christmas 2020, you are able to have time to reflect on that gift and what it means in your life. I’m praying we see a mighty movement of new believers as a result of the sharing of the Gospel.  And I’m praying health and wellness for all of the Iron Porch family.

Merry Christmas!

~Emily

John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”


The Polishing Cloth

I took apart my Pandora charm bracelet this afternoon.  I hadn’t worn it in quite a while and it was tarnished.  The charms attached were dark and dingy from lack of care and cleaning.  It looked old but I knew I wanted to start wearing it again.  I wished for it to look as fresh and beautiful as the day it was purchased.  Each charm represents a moment or a person in my life.  Parts of my story is laid out in those tiny pieces.  

I began to wipe them down with the cloth.  But it wasn’t just any cloth.  It was a polishing cloth that had some seemingly magical ability to take the tarnish away and make it look as if it was brand new!  It was fascinating.  I don’t know quite how it worked, but following the directions, the dullness was gone!  Before me sat my first charm gleaming as if I’d just procured it.  I quickly finished the others, and the bracelet came to life with a cleanness I hadn’t seen from it in a very long time.  It may not have been perfect-looking, but it was so very close.

Our sins can be taken away in the same fashion.  No, it’s not some magic miracle that makes us clean and whole again.  It’s the gift that God gave us through His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Isaiah 1:18b says “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall become as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Our heavenly Father sent His Son to be born in a manger over 2,000 years ago.  The gift He gave to Mary and Joseph was actually a gift to all of us.  That gift, the man—Jesus, would live a sinless life only to be tortured and sacrificed on a cross to cover our sins.  His shed blood alone would make us clean again…as white as snow. And thank you, Jesus, for that sacrifice!  He tells us plainly that the wages of our sin is actually death (Romans 6:23), but because of this generous gift of Jesus on the cross, He agreed to pay the penalty so that we wouldn’t have to.  How great is our God?!

Like that polishing cloth cleaned the charms, His blood cleans our sins.  When we accept salvation and ask Him to live in us we, like the charms, are restored.  Yes, we may have wear and tear, the scars from our former life.  But we are made complete in HIS image. 

If you haven’t yet made the decision to ask God to come live in your heart, please reach out to us or someone you know who is a Christ follower.  We’d be happy to share the plan of salvation so that you might receive the best Christmas gift you could give yourself…eternity in heaven!

~Erin

Sharing the Gospel

There’s been a lot of discussion in the last several weeks in both my Sunday School as well as my Bible study about sharing the gospel.  We’ve talked about learning to give your testimony in 3-5 minutes as well as how important it is to share how God has changed your life.  If someone should want to know how to accept Christ as their personal Savior and they ask you how it’s done, the ability to talk to them about asking God to become the Lord of their life is so important.

I was thinking about this when I posted on Facebook the other day.  Now that I live in a small town, I find myself really encouraging people to shop small business.  There are many people in our area who sell their crafted goods and food at such reasonable prices.  I love being able to share their information so that they might be able to snag another customer.

Do I share that often about Jesus?  If someone came across my Facebook page, would they see notes of encouragement or verses from the Bible that are uplifting?  Would they read about how God provided me with the perfect house or a great opportunity on a deal? 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we only should post stuff about Jesus on our pages or wear shirts that proclaim us Christians or “Jesus Freaks!”  What I AM saying is am I putting just as many things that lead people to Christ on the internet as I do the posts that show just how much ‘stuff’ I buy or how much fun I’m having?

The Bible reminds us many times to tell others of Christ.  Are we following those commands?  One of the most well-known verses that tell us this is Mark 16:15—“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  That’s not a request!  We are to share the gospel with everyone! 

I pray that in the next two weeks leading up to Christmas (and even past that) there be opportunity after opportunity to share about the love of God and how He can change their life.

~Erin

Serving at Christmas: And Beyond the Holidays

During the Christmas season, we have a unique opportunity to build our own leadership skills while teaching others how to serve. Repeatedly throughout scripture, we see that Jesus used everyday circumstances to train his disciples (and us) how to serve and minister to others.  An example that immediately comes to mind is when Jesus feeds five thousand.  In John 6:1-13, notice all the times that Jesus had his disciples minister to the people. 

While conducting the miracle of feeding so many, Jesus taught others about ministry and serving.  He was modeling intentional relationship building with others.  He provided first hand experiences of how to minister…and what the rewards would be when service happens.  While Jesus showed us how to do this daily, we can use the holidays as a mechanism to “jump start” serving and ministry.

Often the holiday season becomes a time where serving is routine.  Without too much thought, we toss some change into a red kettle.  Perhaps we bring extra canned goods for the entrance to a craft fair.  We purchase small items for a shoebox ministry.  We take an angel tree tag and purchase a toy for a child.  

I’m not discounting those tasks as bad.  All of those are good things to do.  I am pointing out that they can become routine and we don’t pause to think or pray about the why…or the who…is behind these acts of service. I’m suggesting that before we toss change into the pot or purchase a toy for a stranger that we stop to pray.  Pray over why we are giving and pray over who will be receiving. 

I would also propose that we need to encourage others in serving during the Christmas season.  Jesus brought the disciples alongside him while He fed the 5000.  Why? Because it was a first-hand opportunity to learn how to serve effectively. 

– If you already serve in a ministry, ask someone to serve alongside of you.  This is a chance to ask those who are not typically involved to step out of their own comfort zones.  It may create relationships that develop into other serving opportunities. 

– If there isn’t an opportunity within ministry organizations, ask someone to come to a volunteer project outside of the church.  It could be as simple as writing letters to nursing home residents, or supervising a children’s event or doing yard work for those who need help.

– If you have children you are leading, brainstorm ideas with them of how to begin serving at Christmas and how that can continue into the new year.  Maybe your kids want to volunteer at the food bank for Christmas week and that evolves into a weekly or monthly volunteer project.

Once you’ve invited someone to serve with you, a scenario is created where they are empowered to continue serving on their own.  It requires that you are an intentional leader in assisting others in serving.  In the next few weeks, look for Christmas opportunities to encourage others to serve…and encourage service past the holidays.

~Emily

P.S. I’m so encouraged by the women of my church who chose to forgo a typical Christmas party this year to focus on raising awareness for The Elmore County Pregnancy Resource Center, Isaiah 58 Ministry, The Backpack Ministry, as well as writing Christmas cards for Nursing Home residents and deployed military members…they truly modeled Jesus’ behavior in serving others this season!

My Dog Is So Brave

Every morning between 4-6 am, my 10-month-old lab stands by the front door and hits the bells with his nose indicating he would like to go potty.  Every morning, I open the door to the complete darkness of early morning and he just stands there for a few seconds sniffing the air.  Once his sniffer assesses the air, he trots out to do his business.

He is so brave.

Nearly every morning I think about just how brave he is.  I certainly don’t want to step out into the darkness every morning to relieve myself.  We live in the country…do you have any idea what types of critters are hanging out around our house?!?!?!  There could be racoons, opossums, coyotes, spiders…lions…tigers…bears!!!!  Not to mention the bad guy or the zombie that could leap out of the woods!!!

He sniffs the air and then proceeds about his task.  He’s brave.

I want that type of bravery in regards to sharing the Gospel.  I want to “sniff the air” and proceed with telling people about Jesus.  However, more often than not, I allow my fear of the “critters in the yard” to dissuade me from stepping out into the darkness.  

In John 20:21 (NASB), we read, So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be to you; just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  In this passage, there is clear direction that He is specifically sending us to share the good news.  

Furthermore, He tells us in Matthew 4:19 that once we choose to follow Him, we will be made as fishers of men.  There is a task associated with being a Christ-follower…and that task includes sharing the gospel.  

From a knowledge perspective, I understand this.  I know the scripture, I know my responsibility in relation to this task, and I know how I should proceed.  The issue comes into play when I allow the fear of rejection or judgement of man to overshadow the need to proclaim Jesus as my Savior.  In order to combat this fear, I am committing to memorizing and implementing Romans 1:16 (ESV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

This next week I plan to be brave, like my puppy.  I will sniff the air and then proceed out the door to proclaim the Gospel and what Jesus has done in my life.  Will you join me?

~Emily

Mismatched Socks

My sister-in-law works at a sock company and often supplies us with fun-loving, colorful foot coverings.  In the past we’ve gotten fish, kittens, avocados, sloths, mermaids, firemen, dragons and countless other ankle or knee-high socks.  

My son has taken to wearing mismatched, knee-high socks.  He doesn’t care if he’s wearing shorts or pants and he certainly doesn’t care if the socks match. 

I want to believe that he’s making a statement of individual thinking.  However, I think his mismatched sock fashion is a result of his not wanting to match the socks out of the dryer.  

Sometimes our thoughts are like mismatched socks.  We try our best to think one way, but there’s another version of the thoughts right there.  Scripture in Matthew 14:29 (NASB) reminds us that Peter’s thoughts were on Jesus and the faith to walk on water.  Jesus called him, and Peter was able to get out of the boat and walk towards Jesus on top of the water.  

Moments later, another thought enters Peter’s mind.  A mismatched thought; if you will.  He begins to doubt himself and subsequently begins to sink into the water.  Jesus saves him but chastises him for being of little faith.  

How often are mismatched thoughts entering your own mind?  

I’d like to help that single mother; contrasted with: I don’t have enough money to assist her.  

I want to spend more time studying the Bible; contrasted with: I have to pick up kids/make dinner/clean the house.  

I have an opportunity to present the Gospel to an unbeliever; contrasted with: I’m too scared that I’ll be rejected.  

Like my son’s mismatched socks, our thoughts are often in contrast with other thoughts.  This week, I’m praying that you have the wisdom and the strength to determine which thoughts you want to follow.  

~Emily

“And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.” ~Matthew 14:29 (NASB)

The Syrup-Creamer Difference

Every once in a while, my 9-year-old asks to add a splash of coffee to his hot chocolate in the morning.  And every once in a while I allow him to do so.

This morning, he asked if he could pour some coffee.  In a horrible mothering moment, I assumed he meant pour a small amount into his hot chocolate, as he had done before. Instead, he poured himself a full cup and then proceeded to add “vanilla creamer.” 

A few moments later, he brought me his cup and asked, “Why doesn’t it taste like yours?”

I took a sip and discovered it was pure coffee…with a VERY large helping of vanilla coffee syrup.  Not, creamer.  

Have you ever tried to substitute syrup for creamer?  In my opinion, it was disgusting!  Substitutes may taste slightly the same, but there are distinct differences.  

The same is true with God.  There are seasons of our lives that we make slight adjustments to our walk with God.  

Some adjustments may include the amount of time we spend in prayer, or the time of day we spend in prayer.  Those substitutes may be exchanging time reading a fiction novel for the time to read the Bible.  Perhaps I skip the pedicure and instead go serve at the community center. 

But what about when we substitute our Bible study time for shopping on line? When we sacrifice prayer time for reading a magazine?  When we choose to fiddle with the radio nob rather than take a moment to pray for the homeless person on the side of the road?

Sometimes the substitutes are for the better, sometimes for the worse.  Some are syrup and some are creamer. 

Take a moment this week and assess what is being substituted in your life…is it better or worse for your relationship with God.  I’ll be praying that you have healthy substitutes and grow closer to the Lord.  

~Emily

The Free Gift

A few days ago, I put two boxes of books out on the corner of our lawn with a sign that says “Free books!  Help yourself!”  These were some books that we’d already read and decided not to keep in our collection.  We thought to ourselves that maybe someone walking by would see the books and grab one or four so that they could enjoy one of the titles we had left.

The pile started with about 40 books and slowly, we’ve whittled the pile to about half that.  I’m kind of surprised that they’re not gone.  I’ve seen people walk past, stop and peek in as if to see if there’s really something in there.  I’ve also seen people start to take them and then change their mind, looking around as if to see if there’s some kind of trap I’ve set up!  Like I’m going to spring out of the bushes screaming, “IT SAYS FREE, BUT YOU CAN’T HAVE ALL OF THEM!”

Sometimes, people can be that way when we present the truth of Jesus.  God encourages us to spread the gospel to every creature.  Telling everyone about the gift of salvation is so simple and the steps to accept Christ as your personal Savior seems so easy, yet does it really have the “FREE…take it!” sign in front of it?!  It’s ours to just take?!

The answer is yes!  Choosing to have a relationship with God is a gift that He gives us freely and openly.  We only need to repent of our sins, ask forgiveness, turn ourselves over to Him, and ask Him to live in us forever.  There’s nothing fancy about the request.  There’s no special handshake or secret code you have to know.  We can take that free gift, knowing that it completely changes our lives.  I’m so thankful that I accepted that free gift so long ago!

How about you, dear friends?  Is there someone you know that needs to hear about that gift of salvation?  We can be praying for them.  Or perhaps you want to accept that gift yourself?  Message us at the Iron Porch, and we’d love to show you how.

~Erin

The Free Gift