Eclectic Christmas

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The small Alabama town my family calls home hovers around a population of 1000.  Each year this town hosts a walk-through Nativity scene with the assistance of dozens of churches.  This production is hosted on private property with amateur actors, real animals, campfires, and amazing singing angels.

Acting, donating, or visiting, our family has participated in some capacity for the last four years. Each year, the details of the production blow me away.

The visitor starts with a guide from one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is provided a gold coin for bribing Roman soldiers who barrage the group on horseback several times throughout the stroll.   As the group walks around a very large pond, visitors stop at stations to hear the Nativity Story.  One of the highlights is visiting the village, where fresh bread and fruits are offered, businesses are selling wares, priests are speaking…and an innkeeper is proclaiming no more room for the travelers.  Towards the end of the walk, there is an amazing stable scene with a real-life Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus amongst the sheep, goats, and donkeys.

Let me tell you why this is such an amazing community ministry. https://www.aneclecticministry.org

First; it started as a smaller church’s vision to reach the community, but has now grown to dozens of churches assisting.  There is no politics or denomination talk, but rather a presentation of the Nativity story as read in the Bible.

Second; it runs for a week each December and has been running consecutively since 2013. It has a longer past, but the formalization at its current location allows the community for miles around to have access to parking and the walk-through venue.

Third; it’s run entirely by volunteers. The clean-up crews, the marketing through the year, the costume design, the parking crew…even the sound, which we can hear through the woods over a mile away at our house (what a blessing to hear the music in our yard for a week solid every 20-30 minutes from 6-9pm!)

Fourth; the tour ends in a large white circus tent with the hosting church of the evening presenting the Gospel.  People who have church homes, meet new people. People without church homes are introduced to all of the churches participating over the week.  Unchurched folks hear the Gospel.  Folks are accepting Christ at this event.  There are souls being saved, y’all!!!

Souls being saved.  All because someone thought there should be a walking, live-action, Nativity Scene for the community.  Years later, dozens of churches later, hundreds of visitors later…and souls are still being saved!

What could happen in your community if you dreamed big dreams and let God work through your hands?  What could happen this Christmas if you listened to the nudge of the Holy Spirit?  Would souls be saved?

~Emily

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Prepper for Heaven

True confession time…I’m a prepper.

Seriously, I’m prepped for an electromagnetic pulse, a tornado, zombies, drought, or Armageddon.  I spend time watching videos, participating on discussion boards, learning about water purification, or researching homeopathic medical treatments. I have an elaborate “bug-out” bag for each of my family members, which includes three days of food and water for each of us.  In light of the most recent tornados in Alabama, I have recently added whistles to the outside of the backpacks so that we would be able to identify ourselves to first responders if we happened to be buried in debris.

I’m prepared for a disaster.  And I’m okay with both my husband and my best friend making fun of me for it.

I believe that in life, you must be ready for anything.  If you have a plan and don’t need it, does it hurt anyone? No.  But if you don’t have a plan and need one, then it hurts those around you.  I understand that not everyone subscribes to this thought process.  In some instance, I believe people think they have plenty of time to develop a plan so they procrastinate.

I think people also procrastinate when it comes to God.  I believe everyone must be ready for Jesus, for He will come like a thief in the night.

Matthew 24: 42-44 (NIV) says, “Therefore keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So, you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

If everyone knew when He was coming, then everyone would accept His plan.  But many don’t see the merits of having an eternal plan.  They procrastinate their decision.  Essentially they haven’t acknowledged the need for Christ’s gift of eternal life.

If you were to die tomorrow, would you be prepared? Would you have your spiritual “bug-out” bag already packed with Jesus? Or would you be wandering and helpless in the face of eternity without Christ?

While I am concerned about the lost souls who don’t know a personal relationship with Christ, I am also concerned with the Christian woman who does not know how to share her faith with non-believers.  Just as I am a prepper for the natural needs of humans, we must also be preppers for the souls who do not yet know Christ as their Savior.  It is our role and responsibility as Christians to share the gospel.  It is our role to be Preppers for Heaven.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:15 (ESV), “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life.  And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”

If you don’t know how to share the Gospel, if you are intimidated by the thought of sharing the Gospel, or if you don’t see that you have any opportunities to share the Gospel, please come to the porch…Erin and I would love to chat with you about how to become comfortable sharing Christ’s love at any time with anyone.

~Emily

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ~Benjamin Franklin

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The Hands and Feet: Isaiah 58 Ministries

In a small town of Alabama, an amazing group of ladies is acting as the hands and feet of Christ.  They are touching women’s hearts every single day. They are spreading the gospel through actions…through love.  They are making an impact for the Kingdom.

For the last five years, these ladies have met faithfully three times a week to pack suitcase for women who are leaving prison. You ask, “Packing suitcases?!?!?”

Yes, packing suitcases.  In fact, they pack 80-100 suitcases a month!!!

Isaiah 58 ministries collects gently used, as well as brand new clothes and toiletries to pack into suitcases for women who are gaining freedom from a prison or are facing a crisis, such as domestic violence or a house fire.  These women, many of whom have absolutely nothing to their name, are given several outfits to start their new life of freedom, as well as some basic hygiene products.  If the donations support, these newly released women are given non-essential items too, such as jewelry, perfume, or purses.  The suitcases also include a Bible and devotions or scriptures.

Obviously, Isaiah 58 ministries is providing tangible items to meet physical needs that each human possesses.  However, there is an intangible component to this ministry. The recently released inmates are able to have a moment, knowing God provided for them.  God is blessing this ministry to provide these items at a time when these women are scared to enter the “real world,” but also excited to be leaving prison behind.

Yet there is another very important component of this ministry.  The women of Isaiah 58 ministry are praying for every single one of these women in prison; for each one that is released and each one that isn’t released. They are praying for the ladies who are facing turmoil through crisis.  They pray for their salvation, as well as for the children and families of the incarcerated. They pray over the suitcases in hopes that this small act of kindness will bring someone closer to a relationship with God.

The blessings of this ministry don’t just extend to the women of prison system and their families. It extends to every single person who volunteers with them…every single person who donates to their cause…to their entire church congregation who supports the ministry by allowing a physical location for storage and processing.  It has become a “sweet sisterhood” of ladies working towards a common goal.

The women of Isaiah 58 ministries are a humble group of gals who will repeatedly tell you that this is all God.  God providing the donations…God providing the mechanism to assist other humans…God’s love being shown to women who may not otherwise know love.

Their words are correct in giving God the glory.

I would contend that their actions also give God the glory.

They have been obeying God’s command of “love one another.”  They are obeying God’s direction to take care of “orphans and widows…and prisoners.” They have literally become the hands and feet of Christ.

As a point to ponder this week, what are you doing in your own life to act as the hands and feet?

~Emily

“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” ~Isaiah 58:11 (NIV)

If you have questions about Isaiah 58 Ministries or if you would like to support, please feel free to contact them at I58@santuckbaptist.org

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When Your Calling Isn’t “Ministry”

“God placed His calling on my heart to be a Minister/Pastor/Sunday School Teacher.”

“Writing or Speaking is God’s calling on my life.”

“God has called me to go on a mission.”

All valuable statements. All truths in someone’s life. But…

But what if the calling on your life isn’t a “traditional” Christian role? What if that calling has nothing to do with what most would see as a typical Christian position?  Does that make it less valuable? Does it make it less God honoring?

I know this gorgeous gal, Chaunte Myers, who is absolutely in love with the Lord.  The calling on her life, and that of her family’s lives, has been to establish a non-profit organization that assists military members, veterans, and their spouses with transitioning into civilian jobs.  It would become a delicate balance to walk because of dealing with government agencies that do not overtly discuss religious views.

1 Peter 4:10 (NIV) states that each of us“…should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Nearly a decade ago, this family of seven veterans followed God’s urging and created Centurion Military Alliance (CMA).

Is this a traditional “positional” calling from God? Most would say no.

Why? Probably because we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that a worthy calling on a Christian’s life is narrowly confined to leadership roles in the church, such as Pastor, worship band, small group leader, etc.

Perhaps it’s time to re-define what we believe is a “calling” on our lives.  I would contend that anytime God calls you to do something…anything…that is a calling on your life.

How do you know that you have a God-ordained calling on your life?  It’s because the work you are doing touches people. It changes them for the better. It robs you of your sleep as you pray and collaborate on how to impact lives.

CMA is able to do that. They touch lives in a ton of different ways.

Tangibly, they assist veterans with building robust LinkedIn profiles, practicing elevator speeches, and crafting military lingo into civilian verbiage on master resumes. They create space where military members are able to become gainfully employed civilians.

Intangibly, they touch lives through living a Christ-like lifestyle.  This may be one of the few times a military member is able to see a family functioning together for the pure joy of fulfilling God’s calling. It may be the first time military members are seeing someone help them without expectations of return.  It may be the first time that individuals are able to witness God’s love without feeling condemnation.

God’s calling doesn’t have to be to a traditional Christian platform.  God’s calling is simply used to touch people.  It influences the basic human needs, as well as the heart.  It answers the question of how God shows up in people’s lives.

The members who attend a CMA workshop will see how God has shown up in Chaunte’s life.  They will see how He’s showing up in their lives, through her example. They may not see it immediately, but it’s there.

The sleepless nights thinking about drafting grants or dispositions, using the traveling points to go to the next location, missing the events of the littles, and praying through development and delivery of curriculum…all of it worth it…if it touches one person’s life.

Romans 8:30 reassures us of our calling, “And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.”

 In the end, doesn’t that mean that every single calling on one’s life is a ministry?

What’s the calling on your life?

~Emily

This is my shameless plug for Centurion Military Alliance.  If you know anyone with a military connection that needs transition assistance, please have them contact CMA…they love to connect the military member with the next chapter of their employment!

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Answered and Exceeded

For the last year, we have been working towards our dream of writing in order to impact women’s lives. That dream birthed the Iron Porch.  But it also birthed the start of independent stories that each us began pursuing.

Last week we started a road trip that took us up and down the east coast. It also took us up and down a rollercoaster of emotions.  You see, the dream brought us to the She Speaks Conference, sponsored by Proverbs 31 Ministries.    If you are unfamiliar with She Speaks, the premise is a location for nearly 800 women to follow the calling on their lives to speak, write, and lead for the Lord.

The dream brought us in front of real life publishers.  Let’s all take a moment to soak that in…real life…publishers!! Like for real, real life publishers!!!

While a publisher appointment is a scary thing to contemplate, there is beauty in knowing when it is God ordained.

Before the registration opened, one of us was FREAKING out that we would miss the actual registration date and miss out on the opportunity to attend.  Yet, we both received the email with plenty of time to consult before committing to workshops. We were afforded the opportunity to choose five publishers out of a list of dozens in the hopes of receiving one appointment. We prayed that we each would get one.

Weeks later, we both got the email revealing that we had each been scheduled for three appointments! Prayers answered and exceeded!

Not only had we each received three, we got the exact same three publishers.  Prayers answered and exceeded!

And if God wasn’t already amazing in these gifts, two of the three publisher appointments were back-to-back appointments…Emily at 11:45 and Erin at 12:00.  Essentially, Iron Porch had two publishers listening to our hearts for 30 minutes total!  Unrequested prayer answered…and exceeded!!

God wasn’t done answering unrequested prayers.  He allowed us an amazing amount of time with dozens of women in prayer, in fellowship, and in community.  In preparation for the conference, we prayed for our friendship. We prayed for the Iron Porch. We prayed for our books. We prayed for good feedback from the publishers. We dared to pray for “yes” from the publishers.  We prayed for our assigned prayer partners…strangers we met via email weeks before the conference. And we prayed for the staff and faculty of P31.

But we hadn’t prayed for the sense of belonging with other women called to this path. We hadn’t prayed to gain new friendships.  We hadn’t prayed to be moved to tears and laughter with strangers who had touched our hearts.

God answered the prayers that we didn’t even realize were on our hearts.

God answered the asked and unasked.

The Bible teaches us about exceeded expectations in 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV) “And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

This is a lesson that we both have taken away this week.  It’s okay to ask God for what you want.  It’s okay to ask in detail.  It’s also okay to forget to ask for things.

You know why?

Because God is going to answer your heart. He’ll answer the asked and unasked.

~Emily and Erin

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Rough Patch

There was evil in the air last Saturday.

A horrific tragedy unfolded in my community when a husband decided to kill his wife and children, before lighting their home on fire and subsequently committing suicide.  On the same day, a friend had her basement renters also commit suicide.  On the same day, an Airman I mentor lost his brother in a terrible car accident.

These three separate events, in three separate cities, have impacted my life this week.  Not because I knew the key players, but because it has impacted people I care about. It has impacted my church’s youth group. It has impacted my military community. It has impacted the elementary school.

When I found out about my Airmen’s brother’s death, I told him that I was available if he needed to chat. He’s Muslim.  I’m Christian.  I wanted to offer prayers, but was unsure how to say that without offending him or his family.  I was treading softly, as we are both Active Duty.  He told me, “Chief, I’m going through a rough patch.”  And my immediate response was this:  “It’s okay to be going through a rough patch. It’s not okay to stay there for a long time.”

No one enjoys hard times….the rough patches.  And yet, we’ve all had a rough patch.  The rough patches could be unemployment, divorce, infertility or the rough patch could be health related.  The rough patch could be gossip, slander, low self-esteem or loneliness.  The rough patch could be death:  a family member, a murder, or a suicide.  There are thousands of reasons for the rough patches. Rough Patches are really hard when you feel as though you have done everything correctly, but you still have to suffer through the rough patch.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”  So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”        1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV)

 In 1 Peter 4:12-19, we read that there will be suffering for the Christian.  We will see and experience the rough patches. Essentially, we should expect some amount of trial and tribulation, and yet we should also continue to press forward looking towards God for help and comfort.

The rough patch offers us time to examine ourselves while in the trial and allows us to entrust ourselves to God within the trial.

Peter warns us in verse 12 that the trials are expected. Yet, we are often surprised by the intensity of the trials.  Peter refers to the trials as a “Fiery Ordeal.” I don’t know about you, but the adjective “fiery” makes me feel like this is a super big deal!  Fiery is intense.

More than the intensity, I think I’m often surprised by the purpose of the rough patch. On a brain level, I understand that God is allowing us time to draw closer to Him.  On a heart level, I want so desperately to have everyone healthy and happy around me!  I understand the trial’s ultimate purpose, but like most of us, I would rather not fulfill the purpose through a rough patch.

When there is evil in the air…when we are facing hard times…when we are going through a rough patch, it’s so much easier to bear the burden in remembering that our God is for us. He is with us. He is allowing us to stretch and grow through trials in order to be closer to Him.

The rough patches suck.  They’re horrible.  But it’s okay to be in the rough patch.  They have purpose. They let us grow.

Just don’t stay there for too long.

~Emily

P.S. If you are contemplating staying in the rough patch too long, I am praying that you seek Godly council.Find a strong Christian woman to pray with, talk to your Pastor, call a suicide hotline…please, please, please get help.

The rough patch is meant to grow you…not break you.

Find Your Community

Last night, our weekly women’s Bible study group met for week two of our newest venture.  You often hear me refer to them as Table 8.  When I met most of these women a little over a year ago, I was a table leader at our church’s women’s Bible study.  The names of the participants were prayed over and given seat assignments. While I’ve led Bible studies before, this was my first time leading a table at my new church in California, and I had no idea who or what to expect!  We’ve since changed table numbers, grafted new women into our group, and even started meeting outside of church to go through different Bible studies together.  But we’ve always been “Table 8.”

Table 8 has talked at length about being surrounded by a community of like-minded women to share life together.  Sometimes they’re referred to as life groups.  Others call them communities.  Often, women struggle with finding women they can fellowship with in this way.  We fear what the other people will think about our life and choices.  We wonder if they’ll judge us for our past, look down on us for how our children behave, or shy away for the depression we’re currently sitting in.

I did this for a long time.  I would get into a group only to find myself holding back. While my life is an open book which I believe God has called me to share with others, I could sense that I was keeping pieces of myself separate from the group for fear of judgment.  Many times, those pieces were exactly what I needed to share to garner advice on the situation from others, to help me heal, and to help me grow closer to my Creator.

God encourages us to have the kinds of friends that we can find in these life groups. These groups can help hold us accountable to studying and learning God’s Word. They can lift us up in prayer, comfort us when we’re hurting, and celebrate with us in victories.

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.—Proverbs 27:9

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you’re doing.—1 Thessalonians 5:11

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. –Proverbs 27:17

In the case of Table 8, each woman brings something different and unique to the table.  We’re all at different points in our lives, yet we all lift each other up exactly where we are.  With fresh perspective and God’s presence in our community, there isn’t anything we can’t handle!

My encouragement to you today is to find your community.  Even if it’s scary, pray about it and then gather a group of women together to grow in Jesus together.  Pick a Bible study that you can do.  Grab some snacks and spend some time dissecting a passage of scripture together.  Choose an evening to get together for a Prayer ‘N Praise hour, praying for intercession and praising for answered prayers.

Don’t be afraid.  You don’t have to have grown up in church or know the Bible inside and out to get a group together.  You simply need a desire to know Jesus and what He wants for us. He’ll take care of the rest for you.

God desires you to have your own Table 8.  He knit our group together.  He’ll do the same for you.

~Erin