Mulberry Bushes…and a Little Faith

I have a necklace that features a tiny little glass globe with a mustard seed inside of it.  It’s a simple reminder to continue working towards greater faith in my walk with Jesus. 

I’d venture to guess most Christians know the adage that if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains (Matthew 17:20-21). It’s the verse I’ve clung when I wear this necklace.  

During my morning devotion a few weeks ago, I re-read Luke 17:5-6 (NASB), which gave me a slight surprise.  The verses state, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ But the Lord said, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

There have been several times in my Bible Study times that I’ve been surprised by scriptures and clarifications on what I know…and what I don’t know.  I was surprised when I discovered that Ruth was King David’s Great-Grandmother.  I’ve been surprised by prophesy connections in the Old Testament to the New Testament.  And most recently, I was surprised that I missed the mulberry bush analogy with the mustard seed.  

It stuck with me for several days and I’ve been chatting with God about this verse a lot.  I have always associated the mustard seed with moving mountains…not with uprooting and replanting the mulberry bush.  

There are a couple areas of my life that I should have more faith.  As I’ve prayed about those areas the last few days, I’ve realized that if I had enough faith I could literally pick those issues up and re-plant them somewhere else.  No more worry or concern over bushes growing in my path.  

In all honesty, I like the surprises of scripture when I start to put the connections together. It gives me assurance that I’m studying the Word…and increases my faith that our all-knowing God has a very intricate plan in place.  That faith increases with each encounter I have with the Word.  And thus, could potentially move a mulberry bush to another location.

I pray that you’re finding surprises in the Word.  And that you have the faith of a mustard seed to move mountains…or mulberry bushes!

~Emily

A Well-Marked Path

Emily can attest to the fact that I’m not a hiker.  Let’s be honest…anything that’s related to being healthy, working out, enjoying oodles of outdoor time…not a fan.  I’m content to sit in my living room for the entire weekend secretly eating cake.  It’s just who I am.

On the RARE occasion, I decide to frolic along behind Emily in the woods, I like to know where I’m going, what the path will be like, and how high the elevation is.  If I have to exert myself, it’s likely to make me grumpy.  And if I’m getting hit by sticks in the face, tripping over roots and rocks, or guessing whether we go left or right, the Ranger Service is about to be called.

This makes me think about my faith journey.  Really, it makes me think about everyone’s faith journey.  When we accept Christ as our Savior and make the choice to live for Him, we do that by faith.  The biblical definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  We believe God is real.  We trust that He created us.  We know that He sent His Son to die for our sins and raise from the grave.  We accept His gift of salvation.  We are confident that we will live one day with Him in heaven.  While we don’t see Him, our faith dictates that He is the one true living God. 

Sometimes, I hear people talking about their faith in God in a way that makes my heart hurt.  I’ve heard statements about being lost in not knowing where God is taking them.  There are discussions about not really knowing what God has had for their lives or where He intends to take them.  But I have to encourage you, my friends, that our faith is not about aimless wandering, hoping that God will reveal His will.

Our Pastor Trey said something a few weeks ago that really stuck with me. “Faith is not about bumbling around.  It’s a well-marked path.”  It doesn’t have to be wandering, trying this path or that route to see what ‘sticks.’ We don’t need to trip over our own plans or our sins to take a guess at the direction God wants us to go!  When we choose faith, we choose to go down the marked path.  That path is marked ‘Obedience.’  It’s marked, ‘Trust.’  It’s marked, ‘His will.’  Because when we follow God and His ways, the path should and will go in the proper direction it’s supposed to go!  To Him!

When we stop wandering around trying to have faith in what we THINK is His will, we move onto the marked and worn path that has only one objective–to follow our faith and God no matter where it leads us.

I pray, Iron Porch, that we lean into the that well-marked path of faith and trust in a Savior who is ours.

~Erin

What Do Our Works Say?

A few weeks ago, my girls and I decided to get tattoos.  It wasn’t really spur of the moment in the true sense of the phrase.  Peyton has been wanting mother/daughter tattoos for a while and since the three of us were together, we just went for it!

We each have a different dinosaur on our wrist. The theme is the same, but they don’t match.  We were wanting something that identified us as a unit.

This got me to thinking about how I’m identified as a Christian.  When people see me or talk to me, do they know I’m a believer?  Do they recognize I put my trust in Him? Do my actions scream ‘I love Jesus!’? 

In James 2:17-18 it says, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  But someone may say, “you have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith BY (emphasis mine) my works.”

I LOVE that!  This doesn’t mean that works saves you.  What the scripture is telling us is that if you have faith (you are a believer), it compels us to do good work for the cause of Christ.  When we walk in Christ, we produce faith-filled works that represent who God is and what He commands us to do.  In Bible study, we say those actions are faith-based works and not a works-based faith!

The works we produce as believers bring about things like love, joy, peace, faithfulness, self-control….you might recognize these as some of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  I love looking at these two passages of scripture together! 

When we see ourselves with a steadfast faith, we WANT to do things that show God in His glory.  When we do those things, the people around us see who our Creator is.  They see the power of an awesome Father who cares for His children.  People see something ‘different’ in the Christian who is doing works because they love God and want to honor Him as opposed to the person who is doing works for the rewards or accolades.

I pray that this year we see mighty works completed and that our faith-based works bring glory to the one true God!

~Erin

Giddy Over a Christmas Concert…And a Public Life Lived for Christ

Annually I try to get tickets for my family to attend some type of Christmas concert.  It’s a tradition that has developed gradually, but one that I really enjoy sharing with my husband and son.  In years past, we’ve gone to church sponsored “Singing Christmas Tree” concerts, local hospital sponsored Chris Tomlin concerts, and have even counted the Eclectic Christmas Ministry’s singing angels as our annual concert. 

This year’s concert occurred last night when the Shade and Petersen Clans carried ourselves to Opelika, Alabama.  It was one that I anticipated for weeks; simply because it was one of my all-time-favorite Contemporary Christian Musician: Matthew West.

Many of you recall that I have a fond spot in my heart for Matthew West because he prayed with Erin over my brother’s stage 4 lymphoma in 2013.  Yet, even before he was willing to stop a “meet & greet” to pray, he was one of my favorites.  You see, every single time I’ve seen him in concert, he’s prayed from the stage for his team and for everyone in the audience.  The first time I witnessed him do this was at an all-day Christian concert festival in Virginia…and on that day he was literally the only performer who prayed from the stage.  

I love his music.  But more than that, I admire his desire to point the focus to God’s Glory; not his own.  There’s a lesson here that I need to continuously remind myself of…Focus on God; not myself.

In Romans 1:17 (NASB), we see that we are to live by faith.  “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: But the righteous one will live by faith.” 

Walking by faith has to have a destination in mind, which is God.  We, in and of ourselves, are not going to be able to have unwavering faith…we have to trust that God is able to accomplish all things.  If we are focused on ourselves, our own talents, or our circumstances, then we aren’t truly walking that faith in Christ.  Thus, our own ability is not the true object of our focus when we walking in faith.  On this side of heaven, we will be repeatedly disappointed in our own ability…even if we are a famous musician.  

How do we focus that walk of our faith?  We lean into Jesus.  We acknowledge God’s hand in our lives, we trust His role, and we confess it with our mouths.  Publicly.  Possibly at church, or in a small group…or from a stage during a concert.  

Ephesians 2:8 reminds us that “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”  

The gift of faith is one to be celebrated and one to constantly be grateful for.  One way we retain the spirit of being thankful is by keeping that focus on the giver of the gift.  God.  Not us. 

The Christmas concerts are a special annual tradition.  The example from Matthew West is a daily reminder to stay focused on our Heavenly Father.  

Merry Christmas!

~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 Mustard Seed

The idea of faith has been on my mind a lot.  How much do I trust God?  How much faith does it actually take to move a mountain?  If God says that faith as little as a mustard seed can move mountains, then just how strong is my faith?  I have surrounded myself was some amazing and faithful people of God.  I see their faith poured out on everything they do.  Am I the same way?

These have been just a few of my thoughts as I’ve had my morning time with God.  I’ve been reading in the book of Joshua, bits at a time as to not miss anything.  I’ve heard the story of Jericho my whole life, so this passage of scripture is not new to me.  However, at 42 I see it differently than when I was eight.

Joshua told the army to march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days.  They didn’t say anything or attack the people.  They simply walked around the outer wall of the city.  However, on the seventh day, they walked around it seven times.  When the priests blew the trumpets after the seventh time, they gave a “great shout” and the walls came tumbling down!

This was all because of direction given to Joshua by God.  He told Joshua that He would give him the city.  I think about Joshua hearing that from God and maybe thinking, “Did I hear Him right?  We don’t say anything?  We don’t fight?”  I wonder about the men called to battle.  They were perhaps ready to go and defeat the city and then hear the directions and think to themselves, “Walk around the perimeter once a day?  Aren’t we just giving them open targets?  You want us to just shout at the end and that’s it??” 

Yet, they obeyed.  They had faith that what Joshua told them came from God.  They had faith that God would protect them and give them the victory.  They had faith that Jericho would be theirs.  Oh, to have that kind of faith!

I would like to think I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at God’s instruction, but I do it constantly.  My idea of faith is so worldly…I’m given a direction and I add my own 14 steps to the mix.  As a Christian, I have faith that the Bible is real, that God is real, and that Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be fully God and fully man to die on the cross for a sacrifice and raise from the dead.  But often, I second guess decisions and directions.  How silly of me when we have been given example after example of faithful men and women in the Bible who just had relentless faith that God would lead them. 

When we truly have faith, we don’t need to worry or pick our problems back up.  It doesn’t mean that things won’t be a struggle for us.  We’re fallen people in a fallen world.  However, when we have faith even as little as a mustard seed, we need not hold it the way we would without our Faithful Father. 

To have the faith as a mustard seed…this is my prayer.  Now to watch it flourish!

~Erin