The Back & Forth Gifts

My Mom had her 70th birthday this last week and was once again the recipient of “The Card.”  It’s a tradition between my Mom and my Aunt that is decades old.  One sent the other a birthday card that had an implication that the card was recycled.  The other, thinking they were being coy about the recycling reference, saved the card until the next birthday. So on, and so on for decades.  The card started to fall apart, so they created a more permanent Linus cardholder, but continued writing birthday notes year after year.  The card got heavier and heavier to send so there are occasional gaps in the years where they agreed to stop sending the card in an effort to save on postage.  And when they were least expecting it…the card showed up again on a birthday.

Much like “The Card” between my mom and her sister, Iron Porch has a smacking doll that gets additions year after year.  The doll is sent between Erin and me when the other is least expecting it.  The additions are hysterical to us…and probably only us.  There’s a crazy-ill-fitting-camo dress, a little pink kitty cat, a yellow purse filled with memorabilia, a hard hat from when we went to Florida after Hurricane Michael, and recently added a COVID-19 mask of protection.

While I thought that my mom and I had this super-secret transfer between co-conspirators, I recently was told by a dear friend at church that she also had a back and forth gift.  One year at a white elephant event she battled another gal for a candy dish with cinnamon candies.  She lost.  But received it soon after from the winner as a gift.  They passed it back and forth as wedding gifts and other marked occasions multiple times. I didn’t ask her, but I assume they added new candy each time they passed the gift.

I present to you three examples of women passing a gift back and forth.  Occasion to occasion.  Year after year.  All in a means to acknowledge a special relationship and have detailed memories associated with a particular object (ie: card, doll, or candy dish).

Instead of the occasion by occasion sharing of a tangible item, we shared a piece of God each day? What if day by day, we shared a prayer with those closest to us? What if we shared a scripture with one another? What if it was simply a smile or a kind word?

What if we made each other a priority in an eternal way?

Scripture gives us a model of friendship, not between two women, but rather two men: Jonathan and David.  Jonathan was heir to the throne of Israel, as his father was King Saul.  In 1 Samuel 14: 6-15, we see that he is a man of action and ready to challenge the Philistines from a military perspective.  The Israelites, and specifically Saul, were terrified of the mounting Philistine army and the giant, Goliath, who was sent in to end the conflict.

And then a shepherd boy shows up and takes the challenge (hence the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17).  At that point, it’s easy for us to see how the friendship between David and Jonathan blossomed. They both acted and had courage despite the odds being against them.  They both had faith in God’s power and experienced deliverance in battle.  They were great leaders with integrity and loyalty.

In 1 Samuel 18:1-4 (NASB) it states, “Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved his as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the rode that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”

You see, Jonathan loved David as himself.  They were dear friends.  Because of that friendship, Jonathan gave David his gifts.  More than just the tangible gifts of his robe and his armor.  Jonathan gave David the acknowledgment that this was the man God had chosen to be Israel’s king.  Jonathan loved David as we can only hope friends will love us.

True friendship with true giving and with an eternal impact.  Back and forth, year after year, occasion after occasion…or an acknowledgment of God’s work in their lives.

From the Iron Porch, I pray that you each have some type of “Back & Forth Gift” this week!

~Emily

The Back & Forth Gifts copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tripping Hazards

Have you ever tripped and fallen?  I’m not talking a little misstep.  I’m talking about the full-on-fall to the ground type of trip.  Have you ever experienced that?

This last Saturday morning, I got to experience that very thing.  As I was walking with a group of ladies in the streets of Birmingham to attend the Connecting Ministry Conference, I misstepped on a lower portion of asphalt and went crashing to the ground.  While flying through the air, time stalled. I literally thought “please don’t let my jeans rip, please don’t let my coffee splash on anyone else, please don’t let my purse get scratched.”spilled coffee

And down I went.  Smackdown on my bad knee.  I managed to bloody up both palms, twisted my ankle, and bruise my knee pretty good.

I also managed to startle my group.  Imagine this…I’m at the back of the group when I conducted my solo-ballet performance. However, a city worker saw my antics and came running towards our group (as though he was going to make it super-speed and catch me).  As I went down, Erin felt me brush across her hip and she immediately thought I was trying to move her out of harm’s way.

As I’m on the ground in the middle of the street in downtown Birmingham, the rest of the group turned and assumed their appropriate friendship roles.  They each assessed the scene for danger, but it was more than that….they each played a specific role.

Cheryl, the founder of the ministry hosting the conference event, immediately starts asking if I’m okay and what she can do to help.  Carrie, our prayer team leader, immediately cried out for some heavenly assistance.  Janice, the mama bear of the group, immediately tried to start helping me up.  Erin, the best friend, asked if I was okay, took my purse, and then started laughing at me.  (Okay, she didn’t really laugh right then…but she did later!)

Sometimes falling into sin looks similar to me tripping in the street.  We don’t see the danger of sin ahead of us and it “sneaks up” on us. It jumps up and grabs us when we are least expecting it.  It pulls us down…sometimes quickly…sometimes as though time stalls so we can really think through the impacts of the sinful behavior.

Each of us needs to surround ourselves with women who will assume specific roles when we trip into sinful behavior.  We need a friend who will ask if we’re okay and try to help. We need those who cry out to Heaven on our behalf.  We need the one helping us up. And we need the closest confidant, who will hold our purse and will later laugh with us when the situation is over.

That circle of ladies, who each assumes a role, are the ones that help us live a more Christ-like life.  They hold us accountable while praying with us and assisting us with recovery.

I love those ladies who each assumed their roles when I fell on my hands and knees in the streets of a big city.  I love them more, knowing that they would each assume similar roles if they saw me trip into sin.

~Emily

“…remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” ~James 5:20 (NIV)

 

 

 

 

Roots of Bitterness

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. ~Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)

Imagine this: so much had been changing with the policies at my job that I considered looking for new employment.  I did not want to become bitter towards an organization that I’d given my adult life towards, so I began to think about when would be a good time to transition.

As I read Hebrews 12:15, it reminded me of the sentiment towards my job, but I was unsure if the roots of bitterness referenced in Hebrews were the same that I was feeling towards my employer.  Using prayer and research, I decided to dig in.

The scenario occurred well over a year ago, but it’s given me plenty of time to spend time in Hebrews and Deuteronomy trying to understand the “roots of bitterness.”

The KJV refers to the root of bitterness springing up and troubling you, which in turn will cause many to be defiled.  Within the NIV, one can see that bitter roots grow and cause trouble.  As you read this verse, it appears that the passage is directed at the entire church of believers rather than just one individual battling bitterness.

The context of the passage becomes even more clear when you consider Hebrew culture, where any poisonous plant was referred to as bitter.  If poison destroys, then the author of the book of Hebrews could arguably be using the metaphor of a bitter root for something that would destroy the church, much like poison would.

Taking this New Testament passage and crossing it to the Old Testament, one sees that in Deuteronomy 29:18, Moses cautions of being vigilant to the growth of bitter roots of poison.  In reviewing the covenant between God and Israel, Moses is referencing the “bitter root” of idolatry.  There are other references in the Old Testament where the concept of a bitter root is mentioned. For instance, in Amos 6:12 the unfaithful are called out as a bitter root.

Much like in nature, a bitter root in a church or individual’s life starts as a tender shoot.

If it’s nurtured and cared for, it begins to grow longer and stronger as the days go by.  The poison of that root begins to gain strength, subsequently becoming more and more dangerous.  The sin of the bitter root in a person’s life or within the church must be dug up, cut off, and not allowed to continue growing.  If it’s allowed to continue, there are catastrophic consequences: the spiral of more sin begotten of other sin or the lack of unification in church membership.  Essentially that bitter root becomes a stronghold for the enemy to mess with our lives.

Within the church, we are all responsible for cutting off the root of bitterness. It’s time to practice grace with one another. It’s time to speak truth to one another. It’s time to hold each other accountable.  It’s time to support one another.  It’s time to stop gossiping.

It’s time to stop nurturing the root of bitterness.

For me and my job challenges, I had to assess if bitterness was going to take root.  If it was, then I had choices to make in order to cut off that root.

During the next week, look at your life and determine if there are shoots that need to be pulled before they begin to take root!

~Emily

Roots of Bitterness copy

 

Conviction Truth

Recently I had a gal from my church share some truth with me….and it involved one of my Facebook posts from several months ago.  There was nothing sinful about the post, but she pointed out that the content could be a stumbling block for others, considering I am in a leadership position as the women’s ministry director.

Her truth gave me pause.  It created a scenario where I went to the Lord in prayer to ask for forgiveness and ask for Him to reveal any other places in my life where I may have been blind to such occurrences.

She was right.  And more than that, she was right to tell me.

How often have I known that I should speak to someone about a perceived wrong or sinful behavior? The Lord has prompted me before but I’ve been reluctant to follow that nudge.

Why? Why am I negligent in confronting truth with other Christians?  I know I’m capable of it. I am able to tell Erin when I think something is wrong. I’m able to speak to my husband about truth. Why can’t I tell others?

I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I’ve concluded that it’s primarily fear that inhibits me from speaking truth into another’s life.  I don’t want to be shunned, or I don’t want to be wrong, or I don’t want to tarnish the relationship.

The truth of the matter is this…if God wants someone to feel convicted about a sin in their life, then He’s going to somehow let them know.  That may be through my words, or it could be through a podcast, or a Bible study, or countless other methods.

However, that does not absolve me of my responsibility to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Repeatedly throughout scripture, Christ-followers are instructed to hold one another accountable to “right” living.  For instance, Colossians 3:16 (NIV) states “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

I am grateful to those around me that are bold enough to speak truth into my life…and for pointing out where I may be straying.

As I walk through this next week reflecting how to better speak truth into other’s lives, I would love to hear your thoughts on truth convictions.  Come to the porch and share your thoughts!

~Emily

Conviction Truth

Cruise Ship Chapels

Erin and I just took our 1st cruise together and it was AMAZING!  Five days of nothing to do but relax without many expectations of either of us.  We have joked that all we did was eat and sleep. In full disclosure, we did a fair amount of both.

We also explored the entire ship.  We went to all the eating establishments and passed by every beverage station (both the coffee and alcoholic versions).  We attended the art auction.  We spent a very long-time watching people attempt to surf at the “Flow Rider,” as well as curvy slides and rock climbing.  We stepped into a silent disco (which was a surprisingly great time!), as well as entertaining the idea of watching a comedian, an ice-skating show and even a juggler.  We even watched a game of Bingo from the sidelines that brought many hoping they would win their next cruise.

We strolled through the casino but spent zero time there.  We went to the library and had a wonderful conversation with a college student leaving to join the Air National Guard soon.  We stumbled on the most delightful game of Lip-Syncing on the promenade.  We watched the ship leave port from the best Titanic location and we “supervised” the Captain from the behind the bridge on a viewing deck.

We even went to the fitness center.  Once. For a selfie.

Thank God we did not see the infirmary or the morgue, despite knowing they were both on the ship’s lower decks.

You know what we didn’t see? The Chapel.  We totally missed seeing the church area reserved on the ship.  It’s ironic that two Jesus loving girls who co-founded Iron Porch would miss that area, right?!?!?

Except that our ship didn’t have a chapel.  Many ships don’t have this area set aside for worship and/or prayer.  While some ships have chapels, but they are reserved for an exclusive wedding package.

I’ve been pondering on the lack of a chapel or religious services for a few days.  We were on a floating city for several days and had access to Wi-Fi, gambling, fitness center, spa and salon, entertainment, and impressive chef staff.  But we couldn’t go to a reserved spot to pray or read religious materials.

Interesting dynamic, don’t you think?

Does that mean the tourist and vacationing industry don’t see value in a religious space?  Is our spiritual walk not important on vacation? Does the average person take a “vacation” from their religion while they are on vacation?  In a politically correct world, are we so afraid of offending ship passengers that it was decided not to create religious space?

There are potentially bigger questions, as a result of the lack of vacation chapels.  When we aren’t on vacation, are we only seeking Jesus in a formal space, such as our churches or prayer closets?  Or are we seeking God in every and all situations, in any setting?

I’d venture to guess that many who make Jesus a priority in their lives will do it with or without a formal space, such as a chapel.  Erin and I found a way to stay close to God without a cruise ship chapel.  We prayed as we walked the outer deck and before meals. We had time to read devotions by the pool or on the balcony.

We made time to stay connected to the Lord on vacation.

I’m wondering if there were others like us who are deliberately making time.  Both on vacation and at home.  I’m wondering if the lack of formalized space, such as a chapel, leads to the temptation to step away from quality time with Jesus while on vacation…or in our everyday life.

Do you need the cruise ship chapel to be reminded to draw close to God?

~Emily

Cruise Ship Chapels

 

 

 

Time of Their Lives

On the end of the fishing pier, there were about 20 adolescent boys fishing their hearts out.  There was no talk of school projects or grades.  No talk of girls.  No talk of parents or problems at home.  Just teenage boys razzing each other and slinging fishing rods over the Atlantic Ocean. Every day for the entire summer they were planning to meet at this pier at sunrise and wait for parents to pick them up at sunset.  They were having the time of their lives.

When was the last time you had the time of your life?  Hanging out with friends?  No cares in the world? When was the last time you had the time of your life in your Christian walk?

While in High School, I had the time of my life every summer for a week at church camp. Started the mornings with a nature walk chat with God and prayer time in small groups followed by group Bible Studies in between playing in the pool during the days, ending with worship songs and smores around a campfire in the evenings.  Learning the Word and praising God, while hanging out with my closest friends in the foothills of Mt. Hood, Oregon.

When we’re having the time of our lives, do we even recognize it? Do we know we’re in a moment that won’t ever be recreated? Do those boys know that they are living their best lives getting tan and fishing with one another every day of the summer? Did I know that I was having the time of my life at a summer church camp?

In the months leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, did the disciples know that they were in a space of time with Christ that could never be recreated? Did they recognize the miracles, the travel, the teachings, even the rebuking for what it was? It was the time of their lives.

They may have missed it.  Just like the boys on the fishing pier this summer.  Just like me at summer camp.

As summer becomes fuller with activities, I’m praying that you are taking a moment to recognize what is happening around you. Are you living in a moment where you are having the time of your life?

~Emily

Fishing

The Influencing Friends

Through the years, I’ve been blessed with friends from all over the world.   These friends have explored new cultures with me, traveled with me, drank with me, held me while I cried, celebrated life with me, and prayed with me. I truly have been blessed and touched by each of their roles in my life.

Three friends stand out as being the largest influences over my life.

The 1st is Lindy, who was my very first best friend.  We met at age three and lived two houses apart so we played together often. She had the most amazing collection of Barbie dolls, but my mom didn’t want me playing with her dolls because I had a horrible habit of biting the feet of barbies (yes, you read that correctly…I used to bite the barbie’s feet).   Lindy is the friend who taught me about sharing, about compromise, and about truthfulness.

The 2nd is Linina, who became my closest friend in the 7th grade.  We were inseparable for the next six years and I can’t imagine how I would have done High School without her.  We shared every teenage secret, church camp, wintergreen gum, and heartache over boys.  Linina is the friend who taught me about Christ’s unfailing love, about loyalty, about perseverance, and about loss.

The 3rd is Erin, who became my prayer partner mid-way through my military career.  While we lived in the same city for a short period of time, our daily phone calls for the last ten years have enhanced my life.  We stood by one another as relationships crumbled, as children grew, and our love for God became the center of our friendship.  Erin is the friend who taught me about strength, about growing, and about contentment.

As I look back on my life at these three stages of besties, I’m reminded that scripture tells us we will have similar stages of spiritual growth.

Infancy

As an infant/young child, we are just beginning our walk with the Lord.  1 Peter 2:2     relates that we are like newborn babies who desire the milk of the Word.  It’s essentially a developmental phase where we are learning about our new Christian walk.

In the flesh, a newborn is completely dependent on a caretaker.

In the spiritual, the newborn Christian must be taught how to study and read the Bible because there isn’t a developed ability to ‘feed themselves.’

I saw this phase distinctly with Lindy, as three-year old’s, embarking on our first friendships where we were being taught the principles and boundaries of friendship.

Adolescence

Maturing into adolescence, the Christian has a strong faith in God and has learned about prayer and fasting.  While spiritually strong, there is often a lack of maturity at this stage.  1 John 2:14 states, “I have written unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the wicked one.” This stage is about learning submission and patience, rather than knowledge.

In the flesh, a teenager is knowledgeable and able to care for themselves, but they can be prone to missteps in decision making based on their experience levels.

In the spiritual, the adolescent Christian must practice restraint and continue to seek guidance from authorities.

As teenagers, I saw this phase in my friendship with Linina, when we thought we knew it all but still need to submit to the authority of our parents.  It was a season of becoming stronger in friendship and holding one another accountable, while still relying on guidance from wiser Christians.

Adulthood

In our Christian walks, maturity brings the realization that heaven is not our goal, but rather it is our destiny.  Our goal is to live as close as possible to the example provided by Jesus.  This includes continued growth in our personal relationship with God, as well as loving our neighbors deeply.  Paul reiterated this when he wrote, “..for me to live is Christ…” (Philippians 1:21), which is indicating that from his own conversion until his martyrdom, everything he did was to advance the gospel and bring glory to Jesus.

In the flesh, an adult is comfortable with continued learning but is often the one sought for advice.

In the spiritual, the adult Christian strives to meet believers and non-believers, in order to enhance everyone’s knowledge of the Bible and the gift of salvation. During this stage, there is conscious effort to win souls for the Kingdom.

I have seen the adult phase develop over the last decade, as my friendship with Erin has grown. This has been a season of building relationships and Iron Porch, as a space to share the gospel.

I can clearly track my spiritual growth through these phases, as well as in my friendships. I’m still friends with all three of these lovely ladies; Lindy, Linina, and Erin (obviously, Erin).  These three ladies influenced my “being” more than any others.

One started me on learning what friendship meant, one taught me about Christ’s love, and one has studied with me on how to bring Christ to the center of a friendship.

Each of those friendships is a reflection of the women influencing “Emily” and a reflection of the stages of a Christian’s development.

Come to the porch and share who has been influencing your development…

~Emily

The Influencing Friends