The Owner’s Manual

I bought a new car a few weeks ago.  I wanted something just a bit bigger, and it seemed like the right time to take the plunge.  One of the things the salesman handed me as I walked out the door with keys in hand was a ginormous owner’s manual.  It amazes me how detailed the manual is, giving you specific instructions on not only the strange button you find on the side of your console but how to properly put your car in Drive.  If I need the owner’s manual to learn how to put it in Drive, I’m not sure I should be buying a car just yet!

As Christians, we also have an owner’s manual!  When we accept Christ as Lord of our life, we have the Bible that teaches us about how to live for God every day.  It teaches us seemingly small things like being kind.  It teaches us big things like how to apply appropriate church discipline.  It reminds us that to love the world means we hate the Father.  It also gives us reminders of what can happen when we look back after God has taken us out of the ungodly situation (pillar of salt, anyone?).

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

He also says in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

The Bible is meant to guide us and shape us.  It’s God letter to us, rich in wisdom.  When we read it daily, it’s a direct line to our Heavenly Father.  Even when there’s something tough to read or hard to swallow, it’s our Father giving us the right way to live our lives.  We need no other book!  It loves.  It corrects.  It chastens.  It guides.  It heals.

As we read our Bibles this week, I pray that we hear God’s voice in the scriptures.  And if this will be the first time you’ve picked up your Bible in a while, I pray that God’s love pours over you in words.  If you’re looking for a place to start, try starting with the book of John.  It will remind that you God is love.  And that love allowed Him to become a sacrifice for you so that you might know what eternity in heaven is.

~Erin

Stuck Like Glue

I’m pretty sure Winnie has separation anxiety.  I’m slightly teasing, but our 11-month old pup cannot stand to be away from me or Chris.  She gets up on the couch and will “nose” you to get you to start petting her.  She has the weird sitting stance where she sits up straight like a statue as you pet her and then she slowly falls backwards until she’s almost off the couch.  If you stop, she nudges you again with to get close and get some petting time. 

When we get up, she gets up.  When we walk to the kitchen, she’s right there.  It’s become the running joke in our house that we tell her that we’re just “going to the bathroom and we don’t need her to watch.”  She still follows.

As she followed me into the other room this morning, I thought about my relationship with God.  Is it the same way? 

We often lean in close to Him when we are struggling.  We praise Him when a prayer has been answered.  We go to church on Sunday or attend a Bible study once a week.  But what about the rest of the time?  There’s so much scripture about drawing close to Him.

“Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.” –Isaiah 55:6

“Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.” –Hebrews 4:16

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.  He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them.” –Psalm 145:18-19

The Bible tells us him can approach with confidence.  It doesn’t say TRY and seek the Lord.  It says SEEK the Lord.  When we are always making our day about Him, leaning into Him, praying with ceasing, praising without ceasing, what does that do for our emotional and mental well-being?!  It brings contentment.  It brings a joy and a peace.  It cloaks you with the Armor of God; it brings protection!

If I followed God as faithfully as Winnie follows us, there would be no room for Satan to step in between.  Oh, he’ll try.  But when we are firmly planted by Jesus, the devil’s plans will be thwarted.  God will have the victory because we have not left a gap in our walk!

Do you have a pet (or even a child) that can’t stand to leave your side?  As you go through the week and you’re spending time with them, remind yourself to stay that close to our Heavenly Father.

~Erin

Selfish Prayers

I was thinking about prayer a lot today.  Tomorrow, Peyton turns 18, and I’ve prayed with her every morning before school (whether she wanted to or not).  I’ve prayed for her when she’s hurting.  I’ve prayed for her when she’s had victories.  And now, my prayer changes ever so slightly as she ventures into the realm of ‘adulthood.’

Prayers in general tends to be a hot topic.  We were talking about it a few weeks ago during Table 8’s weekly Bible study.  The discussion of what constitutes a good prayer and how often we don’t take things to God for ourselves because it feels selfish or trivial was on the table.

I was thinking about that later that night.  I don’t believe it’s wrong to pray for something that you want.  Clearly in the Bible, there are passages that tell us that we are tell God what we want.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” –Philippians 4:6

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” –James 1:6

There are even great examples of people who prayed for things that they wanted.  Paul asked the Lord to remove the thorn is his flesh three separate times and God denied the request.  He told Paul that His grace was sufficient and to find strength in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).  Hannah prayed for a baby, and she was finally made pregnant with baby Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11).  Jesus Himself prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for God to take the cup from Him before He was tortured and ultimately killed (Mark 14:36).

The important thing to remember when we are seeking God in prayer for things that we want, is to recognize and allow for the answer that God gives.  The answer from God will be His will, not necessarily ours.  While we may be thankful for the response that He gives us to a request for some things, we may not like the answer on others. 

We must also understand that if God’s answer is the opposite of what we want or desire in an answer, we are not to take over and ‘make it happen.’  I’ve been guilty of this so many times in my life.  I think I know the answer, God is clearly closing the door, and I still manufacture the outcome, because I’m pretty sure I know better than God…how ridiculous does that sound?!

I pray, dear friends, that as you seek the Lord this week that you share with Him what you want.  Nothing is too trivial for God to hear.  He desires for you to bring it to Him.  Then wait for His answer and trust the outcome.  His way is always the right way!

~Erin

Your Biblical Arsenal

From the time my children were little, they were taught gun safety.  They are aware of the ways in which to handle and carry a gun.  They know how to load and shoot guns, as well.  It was important as their parent for Chris to teach them how to use and take care of guns responsibly.

While I don’t believe in a “zombie apocalypse,” it HAS been the running joke for years that we need to have protection, know how to defend ourselves in the event of an attack and what an arsenal would look like in a situation like that. 

This makes me think of our own personal Biblical arsenal.  The Bible is the sword of the Spirit.  It is the part of the Armor of God that allows protection against the devil’s schemes and attacks against us.  It is to be used at all times!  A biblical arsenal can be a book of scripture or your actual Bible that you have with you.  Maybe you have a notebook that you’ve written some verses down in or a Bible study book that you keep handy.

Many verses in the Bible speak to knowing scripture and having scripture handy as a necessity.

This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will achieve success.” –Joshua 1:8

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

“The Law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.” –Psalm 37:31

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” –Colossians 3:16

I know that I write a LOT about knowing scripture.  I do this twofold. 

The first, because I know how important it is to have a Biblical arsenal handy in times of struggle, attacks, and trials.  I can’t stress enough how calming it feels when a verse that you’ve memorized or read dozens of times pops into your head courtesy of the Holy Spirit during a time of need.  It’s comforting.  It feels like confidence.  It feels as if you’re not alone.  It also opens up the opportunity to take a moment to pray and thank God for the arsenal He’s given.

The second, because I need the reminder even now.  And I know I’m not the only one that needs this reminder.  It’s work to look up and learn verses.  But it’s work that isn’t regretted. 

When you are struggling to find joy in your day and the Holy Spirit lays on your heart Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” it allows for a moment to reflect and give praise to our Father.  It allows a change of direction in our attitude.  When we feel the attack of the devil, perhaps one of the verses you’ve got in your arsenal is “Go away, Satan!  For it is written: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only,’” Matthew 4:10, the words of Jesus to Satan.

If you’re not great at memorizing, I’d like to suggest something that has worked for me for years.  I’ve carried with me 3×5 spiral-bound notecards.  I found it in Walmart and started writing verses in it that were important to me.  There are verses about salvation and verses about God’s love.  There are verses like the previous ones mentioned.  There’s verses in it about prayer.  They are simply my own hand-written biblical arsenal that I can carry to help me through at a moment’s notice.

I encourage you to put together your own arsenal!  Let us know in the comments below what your biblical arsenal looks like!

~Erin

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

The Broken Shells

As Chris and I walked along the beach, we jut could not believe the amount of broken shells we saw lying around.  Thousands of pieces, shards of clams and oysters, conch and olive shells rolling up and down the shoreline were a sight to see.  I told Chris that I couldn’t remember the beaches in California having this many shells and he agreed.  As we walked down to the edge of a waterway, the entire bottom of the bed looked like a mass of jumbled gravel…it was more shells!

We spent close to an hour every day that we were there walking around and picking up the shells to take home for display.  As each of us selected one, we exclaimed to the other about what we’d found and would decide if we wanted to add it to our collection.  However, as we chose, I told Chris how sad it seemed to see so many little pieces of shells scattered about.  So many of them were broken into tiny pieces—pieces that no one wanted to pick up.

Sometimes, I feel that way about circumstances in my life.  With sadness and pain comes the pieces of my heart feeling as if it’s broken into hundred of shards.  They’re pieces so small that I’m sure they will never be put back together.   It’s the brokenness from a damaged relationship.  It’s the brokenness from a death.  It’s the brokenness from a sin that I so willingly committed.  Those pieces can never be brought back together to make me whole again.  But is that really true?

Those broken pieces can be loved and healed by God.  The bible tells us in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.”  Those pieces that are broken due to sin…when we come to Our Father with the fragments and a repentant heart, He can restore that beauty.

When we come to him with the shards of pain from a hurt or a devastation, He molds them in His hands to heal them.

“But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our Potter; we are all the work of your hand.” –Isaiah 64:8

Thank you, Jehovah Rapha, for healing those broken pieces and putting us back together.  Without your loving touch, we cannot know what wholeness truly means.

I encourage you, dear friends, to lean into God and allow Him to take what’s broken and trust that He will make it whole.

~Erin

Brush Your Hair

(*I have been given permission to share this personal story in the hope that others might let go of the stigma behind mental health issues.)

My daughter, Peyton, texted me the other day begging to come home.  She didn’t want to be at school and felt overwhelmed.  Her depression was hitting a low and she was really struggling.  To make matters worse, she had been confiding in a friend about the struggle on the bus when another girl, overhearing, leaned over and made a comment that she’d noticed something was wrong because it looked like she hadn’t brushed her hair in a few days.  It felt like a gut punch.

I encouraged her to tough it out at least until lunch and if she was still struggling she could give me a call.  The call came as soon as lunch began.  She drove herself home and walked into my office.  I asked her if she was ok, and she broke down in tears, “I’m so tired of feeling like this, mom.  I just want to feel better.”  As I hugged her, I told her over and over again that she would get through this.  We would walk with her in this and that it was ok to feel like this right now.

The diagnosis doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I was diagnosed with depression in my 20’s and have worked through the same kinds of feelings for 20+ years.  I’ve learned that with medication and appropriate techniques, I can manage the symptoms and work through the ups and downs.  I’m not ashamed of it.  It’s just part of who I am.  But over the years, I’ve had to learn to figure out how to take those lows and channel them into leaning into my Creator.

More often than not, when I’m in the mire of an episode I’m not thinking, “Take this to God.”  I’m thinking how horrible this feeling is, how overwhelmed I am, how can I make this feeling go away.  I want to hole myself up in a dark room under the covers.  Sleep the day away.  

But none of those solutions are really solutions at all.  One of the first things I should be doing is calling out to my Protector and asking Him to cover me.  It’s something I’ve had to train myself to do.  It absolutely does NOT come naturally.  But when I purposely call attention to God, I allow myself permission to stop trying to control what I can’t control and give it to Him to take on.  Here are a few verses that help me when this happens.

“Answer me quickly, Lord, my spirit fails; do not hide Your face from me, or I will be the same as those who go down in the pit.  Let me hear Your faithfulness in the morning, for I trust in You; teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift up my soul.  Save me, Lord, from my enemies; I take refuge in You.” –Psalm 143:7-9

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” –Matthew 11:28

“He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may take refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and wall.” –Psalm 91:4

When I pray on these verses and ask God to help me through the depression or anxiety, it allows me to recognize that my hope is in God, that He knows exactly what’s happening, and that He’s walking with me through it.  It doesn’t change the fact that I’m in the middle of a depression cycle.  But it changes who I rely on in that cycle—HIM!

I encourage you, dear friends, if you struggle with depression or anxiety to know and understand that you are not alone.  God is there beside you, fighting the fight.  And you have friends here at the Iron Porch who support you, too!

~Erin

A Praise Report

One of the things we do every week at Table 8 Bible study is spend some time discussing prayer requests.  It’s wonderful to be able to share concerns with our sisters in Christ.  However, as we began a study on prayer, I realized we weren’t looking at the praises that we were blessed with! 

It’s easy to see the struggles in our lives and what we need to pray for.  We see our friends or family hurting, a neighbor that’s sick, a test that our children are about take, maybe someone we know isn’t saved.  We seek out prayer for those things.  And we’re not wrong to do that at all!

But there is also value in seeing the ways our Father blesses our lives. It’s encouraging to hear praise reports of that neighbor on the mend, that child who got a 92%, or the peace that the Holy Spirit gave you about a decision you needed to make.  The people that have been praying get an opportunity to see God at work.  And you get a moment to acknowledge the grace of God! 

We are encouraged many times in the Bible to give Him thanks for what He has done.  It should be part of our worship to Him.

Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; for You have worked wonders, plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. –Isaiah 24:1 (NASB)

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. –Psalm 9:1 (ESV)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

Sometimes, it’s not so easy to recognize the praises in our lives.  Victories may seem small or insignificant.  Perhaps we even don’t think about how God answered a prayer or a need that we had in our life because we weren’t looking for it. 

I’ve made it a challenge to myself to really look for how God has answered prayer in my days and weeks.  Now, rather than starting off my prayer with a request to Him, I get excited to start by thanking Him for what He’s done and how He’s provided. 

This month, God answered a prayer that I’ve been praying about faithfully for 5 years!  I want to shout from the rooftops how amazing God is! 

How about you, dear friends!?  Share with your friends at the Iron Porch a praise report and let’s be encouraged at God’s faithfulness.

~Erin

Have We Studied?

This week, a famous pastor posted about a quote about God that could not stand biblically.  Not even a little bit.  If you had inferred what you thought he meant, you might have been able to twist it into truth.  But as a post on a social media site, there isn’t a lot of room for inferences, especially when it comes to the Bible.

This had me up in arms with my Table 8 study group!  We laugh because they hear me say the same thing every single week at some point….you MUST be in the Word.  You must be reading and studying and seeking God.  You cannot guard yourself against wrong teaching, against incorrect theology, from false gospel if you don’t know what is in the Bible.

As well, how can we lead people to the Truth if we are not understanding of what’s in our Bible?!  Satan skulks around trying desperately to deceive us.  If he can distract us from the truth of the Holy Bible, he can prevent us from spreading the gospel.

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

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. –Hebrews 4:12

But his is delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. –Psalm 1:2

It is imperative as believers in the one and only Creator of this world that we know what He says in the pages of scripture.  I cannot stress this enough.  I encourage you, friends, be in the Bible.  Read His Word.  Start your day with His commands and precepts.  Revel in the words of love from our Father.

Let’s challenge ourselves to make it a habit to study the Bible so that when the deceiver tries to trip us up, we are prepared for battle!

~Erin

Are They Trustworthy?

Trust is such a simple yet complex feeling.  We want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  We believe that we can have confidence in the words that they say.  However, sometimes in our lives, we can be left burned and hurt.

I would love to believe that people are not untrustworthy on purpose.  I don’t think anyone likes to intentionally break that bond.  Most often, I see it when there is fear of being hurt themselves or perhaps even fear of being found out.  Sometimes, it’s just genuine misunderstanding of the circumstance that leaves a feeling of nagging doubt at the person’s words.

Recently, I had to deal with this issue of trust.  The words appeared calculated and dishonest.  The first thought that came to my mind is something my mom used to say to me when I lied as a child, “Do I have ‘stupid’ tattooed on my forehead!”  The visceral reaction was to be angry.  I felt injured by the words.  I can’t even be 100% sure that what was being said was a lie, but every bone in my body went into full can-I-trust-this-answer mode.

Despite there being people in our lives that can break that trust bond, there’s someone who will never break that bond. That’s our Heavenly Father.

God is the ultimate trustworthy Creator.  We see it over and over in scripture.  He repeatedly saved the Israelites.  He sent judges to help them be victorious.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to walk the earth and take on our punishment of death.  He sent apostles to teach us about a relationship with Christ and salvation.  He’s, even now, preparing a place for us in heaven.  We can trust Him.

Psalm 9:10 says, “and those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, Lord, have not abandoned those who seek You.”

No matter what happens with the humans surrounding us, trust of God need not ever waver.  He created us and He loves us.

Friends, are you dealing with issues of trust in your life this week?  Come to the porch and know you’re not alone.  Our Father is forever trustworthy!

~Erin