Self-Denying or Self-Indulgent

We live in a world today that is all about the ‘ME.’  TikToks and IG posts are filled with “Top 20 Amazon Finds under $20” and the next “State of the Art Cookware.”  You simply must have the biggest TV to watch the Superbowl, and everyone must know about it.  I’m guilty of telling my husband I want the $1000 cookware that Gordon Ramsay swears by.  (Don’t worry, my husband gives me the same look you’re giving the screen as you read this!) Do I need it?  No.  But it’s so cool and the chefs use it.  It’s alright…you can roll your eyes at me!  We also often see talk of self-care and taking care of our own needs first.

Here, however, is where I out myself and possibly step on some toes in the process.  I can tell you the last time I went out for dinner but I can’t tell you the last time I gave to Missions at my church—at ANY church in the last 3 years.  Ask me about the last time I assisted a homeless person or prayed with one, yet I’ve made sure to cover myself in prayer when I had some shoulder pain.  Let’s look past monetary needs…when’s the last time I stopped myself from speaking negatively to my husband so I could have the last word and instead prayed silently for his relationship with Christ in that moment. I could go on forever.

The point here is, are we living a self-denying lifestyle or are we living a self-indulgent lifestyle?

We see a couple of examples in the Bible of people who chose a self-denying lifestyle.  Daniel declined to participate in the food and drink that King Nebuchadnezzar required of him.  He made a decision that he wouldn’t defile his body in things that God had said “No” to in order to please and honor Him.

We know the Jews told John the Baptist that he must’ve had a demon because he came fasting and refused to drink wine.  He chose to deny himself.  We see Paul talking multiple times about denying ourselves.  In fact, Paul wrote one of the most beautiful verses in Galatians 2:20.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which now I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Are we living like this?  Are we recognizing that the Holy Spirit lives in us as believers and that our lives are not our own anymore?  We were bought with a price.  That price was the blood of the Lamb.  It shouldn’t be asking too much for me to stop indulging this world, instead denying ‘self’ and giving myself to serve God.

I pray that this week we recognize where our indulgences are.  The challenge I’m throwing out there is to begin denying self and start honoring God.

~Erin

What is the Goal?

Have you ever thought about how easy it is to live in this world?  I’m talking from a Biblical viewpoint.  Because Satan’s domain is the earth and we have free will, our human nature automatically wants to jump to the easy things, the selfish things, the busy things, and the “fun” things.  Satan and his demons make the world look so enticing.  They also make things other than God seem like a priority.

I’ve thought about this a lot lately, especially in light of the message Pastor Trey preached on Sunday.  He was reading from 2 Peter 1:3-8, and he touched on the fact that godliness is our goal.  He certainly wasn’t saying we are in some way little gods.  But, per scripture, we are meant to live a godly life always pursuing righteousness.  By consistently pursuing righteousness, we gain greater Christian/Biblical perspective that enhance our relationship with Him and keep us from being ineffective in our work for the Lord.

He tells us in Romans 12:2 not to be conformed to the world.  We instead are to be transformed by the renewal of our mind (on Christ) so that we can know what the will of God is.  When we live IN the world, we lose sight of what our goals are in Christ.  We forget that faith is key.  Goodness is key.  Perseverance is key.  Self-control is key.  The list goes in. 

And lest I fool myself into thinking this doesn’t apply to me because I read my bible every day and write a blog, I remind myself of the times I was too busy to honor Him in reading the Word.  I remind myself of the times I could’ve volunteered at the local food pantry and instead chose to sleep in on Saturday morning.  I remind myself of the times I read the Bible and then got on the phone with a friend and said mean things about a co-worker.

It applies to all of us.  Our focus should always be on God.  With that comes remembering that we are not to be in the world.  When we remember that our pursuit should be on godliness, we can drown out our own sinful will and pursue one goal…our Heavenly Father.

~Erin

She Never Complains: A Thankfulness Story

I love to hike. Why? It’s peaceful, it’s out in nature, it’s time to chat with God, time to spend with family and friends, and it’s a way to get some exercise.   I have lofty hiking goals, like completing 52 hikes in a year or section hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.

As a result of my love of hiking and my goals relating to hiking, I never complain while on the hike. 

Until this last week.

I was on an easy 3-mile hike with Erin…my first in several weeks as a result of a knee procedure. The hike was miserable…I was miserable.  Miserable and grumpy.  Erin was quite amused by this shifting of roles on this particular hike….you see, she’s normally the complainer during our hikes.  

I immediately went home and tied myself to my ice-compression machine to get a little relief.  And as I settled into the couch with ice and Tylenol, I felt a nudge of the Holy Spirit about my complaining during the hike.  There I was trying to relax and compensate for pushing my knee so hard and I kept hearing the whisper of Philippians 2:14 in my head. 

“Do everything without complaining and arguing.” ~Philippians 2:14. 

But I was hurting.  But I was hot and sweaty.  But I hadn’t stayed on top of my hiking and workouts.  But there were more hills than I remembered. But, but, but. 

Excuse after excuse came to mind to justify my grumbling.  Within a short period of time, that nudging had me re-examining how I had behaved on the hike. 

Yes, I was hurting and probably pushed too hard to go on the hike so quickly after the knee procedure.  However, that did not justify my grumpy words about the hike.  With a repentant heart, I opened my Bible to read 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

How do we ask for forgiveness for something that seems as trivial as complaining about the length of a hike? We identify the wayward behavior; we repent and ask for forgiveness…and then we shift gears. In that instance, I gave thanks to the Lord as directed by 1 Thessalonians.  I am thankful for medical interventions for my knee. I’m thankful I made it through the hike. I’m thankful for electricity and frozen water to help after the hike. I’m thankful for cool Fall weather and changing leaves.  Of course, I’m thankful for my friendship with Erin…who indulges me by going on hikes with me.  In all, I am grateful to the Lord who has provided each of these things.

She who never complains (about hikes)…she complained (about a hike).

And then this simple example of grouchiness, turned into a personal lesson about being thankful.

~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!

The Armoire

My office is a disaster zone right now.  There are piles everywhere, furniture moved, and painting tape along the edges.  A week ago, I had Rylan paint my office from Royal Blue to “White Pepper.”  I’m sure you can imagine how bright it is now!

I realized I wanted to change some of the furniture around at that time, using my armoire for my printer and scanner instead of random storage.  But using that armoire required me to clean out what was already inside. 

Have I told you that I’m also a packrat?  I keep my children’s baby teeth, the CD I got signed 12 years ago, every card, letter, and picture Emily has ever sent, along with 312 crafting tools that never get used in that armoire.  As I go through it now, the piles outside the armoire grow larger as I decide how I need to rehome each item.  It really is a mess!

Scripture can sometimes be like that to me.  I have a story or passage from the Bible in my head that I’ve known for a while.  Often, however, I like to go back and revisit those chapters.  It allows me to grow deeper in knowledge of the situation.  It gives me the ability to study it better in regards to context.  Reviewing them permits me to dig deep and get application from God’s words.

In order to do that, I can’t just read through and hope I understand.  I must unpack it, bit by bit, verse by verse, and lean into each word.  When I’ve considered it, I then need to determine what it means relating to my walk with God; I want to give glory to Him with everything I do.

Just like unpacking my armoire, I need to unravel the scriptures from thought that I may have had previously.  Maybe I was taught something inappropriately.  Perhaps I have a misunderstanding of the Bible because I didn’t do adequate research the first time.  It could even be that a sermon or Sunday School lesson I heard in my childhood was framed differently in my mind as I got older. 

I strive to unpack the scriptures!  I want them replaced in the right spot…the spot that allows me to have a deep understanding of who God is and what He has done for us.  I want to know that I’m accurately representing what I say to my Bible study groups and people around me with whom I share the Word.

I pray you begin to unpack the beautiful words in the Bible.  It is filled with God’s love, grace and redemption!  Perhaps you’ll find something new in an older story or verse that you hadn’t realized before!

~Erin

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!

The Food Program

I participated yesterday in my first summer food program through the Elmore County Child Nutrition Program.  In our county they are providing food for the summer for any child 18 and under.  It’s enough food to allow for 7 days of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  It’s an amazing program they’ve been offering since Covid-19 hit, and it’s been a huge blessing to the residents with children here in our region.

As this is my first summer here, I had only heard stories of what it would be like.  I was shocked to see a well-oiled machine…three stations, each set up with their own volunteers, welcoming us as we pulled up, letting us know when they’d put their portion in and guiding us to the next station.  As we rolled up to each station, I couldn’t help but be shocked at what I saw them putting in my trunk. 

Fresh local produce, meat, cereal, milk, cheese, crackers, pasta—these were items with which you could build meals.  It seems as if it’s an opportunity to not only feed the children of Elmore County, but also bring families together during mealtimes.  This was an outpouring of love from a community onto its members.  Many communities are doing things like this, but just as many are not. 

The willingness and love given to these local families reminds me of a verse.  John 15:12 says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

This act of love helps those around us.  No, they’re not necessarily giving out of their own pockets.  However, they are giving so much time and energy and support into making sure that each child in this area has an opportunity to be fed and cared for through this outreach.  There are, I’m sure, countless hours being given to ensure a successful program. 

I encourage each of you to look around at what’s going on in your community.  If there’s a way to support the people around and show them some love, the way Jesus showed His love to us, get busy doing it!  Be a part of the programs in your community, as well!  The volunteers that dedicate their time love to see that people are taking part in the activities.  It shows just as much love to them as love to you!

Thank you, Elmore County Child Nutrition Program, for your dedication to our children.  It’s not unnoticed!  Does your community have something like this?  Share in the comments how your community is being loved on.

~Erin

Is It Necessary?

“Are you ready?!  Are. You. Ready?!  I’m getting excited!!  Romans…..3:10!  Who’s righteous? NO ONE!  Here wo go!  How about another?! Romans 4……22-25!!!!  Who was raised for our justification?  JESUS!”  Fists pumping in the air, grin from ear to ear; you would’ve thought I was trying to get a crowd of 200 excited at an event.  But it was me on Monday for our Table 8 Zoom call, yelling out some of our memory verses to the rest of my awesome Bible study group.  I like to THINK I facilitate a group of 200.  This go-around of Bible study, we’re a group of 6!

God has led us to the book of Romans, and I decided that we’ve talked long enough about the need and the desire to memorize Bible verses.  We’ve attempted to do it a few times over the last five years we’ve met but have never really made it a priority.  This time, we’re going at it hard core.  We are going to be memorizing no less than 17 verses in the book of Romans!  Maybe more as God leads…let’s not box us in just yet!

Why should we be memorizing Bible verses?  Why is it important to remember the words of God?  The list is endless but let’s chat about a few.

Satan is lurking around trying to distort our thoughts and actions, keeping us from a relationship with our heavenly Father.

Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. –1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. –Ephesians 6:11 (ESV)

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” –Genesis 3:4-5 (NIV)

There are still people around us that need to know about the gospel of Jesus Christ!

And He said until them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” –Mark 16:15 (KJV)

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. –Romans 10:17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17

It allows us to have a deeper relationship with God.

I have treasured Your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against You. –Psalm 119:11

But He answered and said, “It is written:  ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes out of the mouth of God.’” –Matthew 4:4 (NASB) (reference to Deuteronomy 8:3)

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. –Romans 15:4

A wonderful Bible study leader of mine years ago, Laura Whitmore, said that when we stain God’s Word into our hearts and into the core of who we are, just a like a piece of wood receiving stain, it soaks in, changing you…the way you think, the way you feel, the way you do things.  It’s not just at the surface.  It deepens your faith in our Savior and becomes a part of who you are.

And that’s why we’re going to memorize verses at Table 8.  We desire a closer and deeper relationship with God that allows us to trust Him and Him alone as our Hope.

How about you, dear friends?!  Can I encourage you to start memorizing Scripture with us?  What tips do you have to help memorize verses?  Share in the comments below!

~Erin

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

Decisions

The heaviness of a decision lay at my feet, and it’s all I can do to figure out how to make the right choice.  Have I thought it through and how will it affect everyone?  I’m left feeling a weight on my shoulders as I calculate the cost.  What if it’s the wrong path?  Did I think it through enough?

I’m sure you’ve felt it, too.  Choices, both big and small, are always needing to be made.  The burden can be almost overwhelming when you must decide to do what’s best for you, for your family, for your life.  The chaos of this world tells us to do what we want; do what feels good or ‘right,’ but is what feels right really the right thing to do?

And while this world tells me one thing, my heart tells me another.  I have someone that I can go to.  I have someone I MUST go to when I have decisions that need to be made.  I want to hear His voice.  I NEED to hear His voice.  I know that He is good, and I know that He hears me.  Dear friends, are we going to our Savior with our decisions or are we trying to make them ourselves?

I found a verse tonight in the midst of my Bible reading.  I was actually looking up verses about knowing the Bible.  The internet led me to one verse…HE led me to more.  103 verses later, I found what my heart needed the whole time…

“You are my hiding place and my shield; I wait for Your word.” –Psalm 119:114 

I realized I wasn’t looking for verses about knowing the Bible.  I was looking for a verse to tell me that it was ok that I didn’t make a decision the moment a choice was handed to me.  As a Christian I must give it to God and trust that He will provide the answer whether it’s an answer I like or not.  I do that because I trust in His unchanging and unfailing wisdom to direct me to the answer that will lead me closer to Him.

I pray that you can know this sense of assurance that I felt tonight reading that verse.  If you have a decision that needs to be made, trust it to our Father.  He is Jehovah Jireh-The Lord Will Provide.

~Erin