The Culture

Last week was my two-year anniversary of living in the beautiful state of Alabama!  I’ve loved every minute of living here, and there are no regrets with making such a huge move to make our home in the south.  While I could do without temperatures of 143° and 923° humidity, I love the people I’ve met, the friends I’ve made and the home we’ve created.

One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed between here and California (where I lived for five years before moving here) are the amount of people who say they’re Christians and talk about God openly.  Church is almost a culture out here, a legacy that’s been passed down from generation to generation.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that someone’s membership to a local church started with their MawMaw or GreatGranny taking their kids so many years ago!

In California, the conversation was not as free-flowing about Christianity.  Don’t get me wrong…it wasn’t nonexistent.  You just didn’t hear, “I’ll pray for you,” or “God bless” as you left your local grocery store.  No one was asking random strangers if the church’s youth group could help clean up your yard!

Now, hear me out on this one.  I’m not looking to step on toes.  I’m not looking to rile up the great people of the south (or of California).  But this idea of Christianity being a “culture” around here got me thinking.

Have you fully surrendered to God?  Are you a blood-bought believer, saved by the grace of God, living for Him in every aspect of your life?  Or is it just a culture….a legacy that’s been given to you because it’s what the family has always believed?

These are not questions I ask lightly.  And these are not questions I have not already asked myself.  My parents were Christians.  My father was raised in a Christian home.  It’s what I’ve always known.  But I would be remiss in not recognizing whether or not my salvation is because I made a choice to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ or because it’s what my mom and dad “did” so I did.  My actions, my attitude, and my heart should be clear indicators as to whether or not I am a new creation.

The Bible speaks clearly to being not of this world and being about the Father’s world.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” –1 John 2:15

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” –Colossians 3:2

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” –Romans 12:2 

While it’s important to attend a church, have your children going, have your children’s children going, there must be more to the story than just a legacy.  Does our faith show?  Does our faith produce works that show?  Is our heart truly surrendered to the Creator of the Universe?

Our actions and our life should reflect 100% submission to God.  There should be no room for doubt when someone sees us that we are committed to Christ.  I’m not saying perfection.  I’m saying active pursuit of righteousness.

There’s one way to heaven.  I don’t get to go because my mom and pop were Christians or because my Grandma prayed for me.  I get to be a citizen of heaven because I made the personal decision to accept Christ as my Savior.

Maybe you’re reading this and recognize that you haven’t done that yet.  I encourage, dear friend, call on the Lord.  Tell Him you’re a sinner and that you’re nothing without Him.  Repent of your sins and ask Christ to come live in your heart as Lord of your life.  There is no greater moment than knowing you have stopped becoming a citizen of this earth and are bound for your true home in heaven!

~Erin

This Past Year

I’m a few days away from being 43.  That just sounds old.  I mean, I know it’s not.  But if I think back a looooong time ago to the sweet age of 10, I thought 43 was practically retirement-village,-using-a-walker,-putting-away-my-dentures-every-night-old. 

As I do every year, I like to think back over the previous 365 days and reflect on it.  What did I do that was exciting?  What is something I wish I had done?  Did I waste time on ‘stuff’?  Am I happy with the actions I took?  A lot of people might do this at the end of the year.  I find I love to do it at my birthday, because it makes me feel like I’m not trying to do some cheesy resolution and instead really contemplating what I’ve done.

This year, I feel like I spent much more time truly meditating on God’s Word.  I was thoughtful in my Bible reading, not just looking for verses that applied to me.  Rather, I was looking meaningfully at the passages for the context, how it applied, and where I saw God in each verse.  The more I dug in, the more I found my own ‘self’ was changing!  I realized that the things that never bothered me before are now striking a chord with me, and not one that plays a sweet note. 

TV and movies don’t have the same appeal when I see the worldly actions and images across the screen.  Secular (and even some contemporary Christian) music doesn’t ring true lately when it promotes unhealthy and inappropriate relationships or a diluted message of who God is and what He does.  Foul language is becoming more and more difficult to tolerate.

To the average person, they might see this as a legalistic point of view, these things that I’ve discovered about myself from this past year.  However, I believe that it’s less about being legalistic and more about recognizing that I want my relationship with God to be pure and untainted from the ways of the world.  I don’t want my walk to be conforming but rather transformative.  I want to be different because our Father commands us to be different and not of this world.

Here are just a few verses I’ve leaned on this year without even realizing that I was doing it!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things. –Philippians 4:8

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:2

Beloved, I urge you as foreigners and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. –1 Peter 2:11

As I look back I realize that, while there may be things I wish I had done, I love that I have recognized the Holy Spirit prodding me to a life that’s more pleasing to God.  I’m not perfect at it.  I never will be.  But any small thing that pushes me to a closer relationship to my Heavenly Father, is a small thing I’ll do as often as I can!

Dear friends, join me in meditating on those verses this week.  Think about ways we can think on things that are honorable, true and right and remind ourselves that, as Christians, we are only visitors on this earth for a short time compared to eternity with Him!

~Erin

Put Down Your Phone!

We were seated at a small table in the corner.  The restaurant wasn’t very crowded as we waited for our family to be served.  As we were talking, I noticed my younger daughter staring into her lap.  Her father, right beside her, pulls his phone out of his pocket and scrolls emails.  My eyes wide, I exclaimed, “We’re having a conversation!  Could you put your phone away?!”  To which he did the obvious….he threw his daughter under the bus.  “She’s checking her phone, too!”

Anyone else have a meal like that?!  Really, it doesn’t even have to be a meal.  It happens all the time.  People check their phones as they walk down the street with their friends, chatting with the neighbor, or standing in line with their sibling while waiting for their coffee.  We pull out the phone to keep busy as we wait for Bible study to begin or church service to start.  It’s as if we can’t function without that little piece of hardware! 

I’m guilty of it, too!  There is absolutely no condemnation coming from this end of the keyboard.  I’d like to think I’m much better about it than I used to be, but I know that I’m sometimes not any better than anyone else in this department.

For whatever reason, though, this thought has continued to pop into my head for the last couple of months:  Put down your phone! That phrase has plagued me when I’ve pulled out my phone in the middle of a conversation.  It’s hit me when I tried to film some event and realized that I’d spent so much time trying to make sure I got the perfect angle with no noise or movement that I’d missed the real enjoyment.  And it’s even hit me when I’m in the middle of my Bible studies and I pick it up to check my newest Facebook notifications.  Is it really that important?

Table 8 (my California Bible study crew) is currently going through the book of Romans, and there is a verse in there that I’m leaning into now more than ever.  In a society that’s burdened with this feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out), I’m clinging to this.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor,” –Romans 12:10

I don’t feel I’m being honoring to my friends when my face is buried in the most recent Facebook post about my neighbor’s horse.  I’m not honoring time with my family when I’m checking the headlines on an app.  I’m not honoring the work that someone put into something when I’m more worried about the right lighting than what they’re saying or performing.

I think relationships would be enriched if we all devoted ourselves as the Bible encourages us to do.  Paul, here, was encouraging the Romans to walk with one another in love as they navigated a life in Christ.  He advised them to be humble and honor others over themselves.  What better way than to put down the distraction and really engage with each other?!

I’m laying down a challenge to all of us.  Let’s spend less time on our phones and more time in real fellowship!  Let’s get back to the days where we forged our friendships and family time in conversations and face-to-face interactions.  Let’s honor each other with true quality time.  Let’s put down our phones!

~Erin

Observations: Poop vs. Sin

“Have you ever noticed that everyone else’s poop smells way worse than your own?”

This was literally the first thing my 4th grade son told me, as he got into my car last week after school.  

Let me start by admitting that poop seems to be a pseudo-normal conversation in our house…he is a boy and for some reason the “y” chromosomes of my house are obsessed with poop and farts.   But I will admit that his observation about everyone else’s poop smells had me giggling (and wondering what happened at school for him to make this observation!!!!).  

Later when reflecting on his comment, I got to thinking that often I think of sin the same way my son was thinking about poop.

Everyone else’s sin is way worse than my own.

The much beloved Reverend Billy Graham wrote, “From a human standpoint some sins are certainly worse than others; sins like murder, assault, or stealing. These things deeply hurt others. But the Bible doesn’t tell us which sin is worst in God’s eyes, and the reason is because God hates all sin. God is absolutely pure and holy; even the smallest sin is evil in His sight.”

If both the Bible and Billy Graham agree that sins are not “ranked” and one is not worse than another, when did I start thinking someone else’s sin was more egregious than my own?

I believe that the enemy has a method of whispering in my ear.  In my humanness, I listen.  Satan convinces me that the differences between right or wrong aren’t as defined as the Bible tells us.  It’s his classic move.  He started using it in the Garden of Eden with Eve.  So of course, he’s using the same tactics on me.  

I have to acknowledge that my sin is my sin. No matter how big or small it may be (or how I may perceive it), ANY sin in my life breaks God’s heart.  Romans 3:12 (NASB) reminds us that there is not one of us who will get through this life without committing sin; “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, There is not even one.”

His judgements stand firm.  We must repent, turn from our sin, ask for forgiveness and move forward.  We (I’m specifically talking to myself here) need to fully understand that not one single sin is greater or lesser than another.  They are all an affront to God.

While someone else’s poop may smell worse than yours, their sin is not worse than yours.

~Emily

Soup Explosions of Encouragement

I was employed as a personal chef, preparing a sweet and savory butternut squash soup, when I made the mistake of the year.  I put hot, freshly roasted butternut squash into the blender with broth.  Then hit the pulse button.  Without venting the lid to the blender.

About 10 seconds into the spin cycle, the lid catapulted vertically.  Before I could react, I was covered in butternut squash soup.  It was soaking my hair; it was in my shoes; it was literally dripping off the tip of my nose. 

Worst…it was covering my client’s kitchen.  The ceiling, the microwave, the floor, the curtains over the sink…all of it had evidence of orange splatter.  

As I stood in the center of the kitchen, covered in what looked like baby poo, I felt the tears start—plus I literally wanted to say a swear word.  

Of course, that was the moment that the lady of the house chose to come around the corner.  She took in the scene of her chef, and more importantly, her kitchen covered in orange goo…hours before a dinner party.  Her reaction?  She immediately started laughing. Then she started helping me clean.

To this day, when I think about how to build another up or how to encourage someone, I immediately think of her reaction to my mistake of the year. I think of her example because she found humor in the situation, because she assisted in the aftermath, and because she took the time to build me up.  In Romans 14:19 (NASB), we are told “so then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”  

We’ve all heard advice over the last year of COVID that includes being kind.  We’ve all heard reminders that we don’t know what others are going through.  We’ve probably all even observed scenarios where a nice gesture would have made someone’s day.

What’s more important than the advice, reminders, and observations is that scripture demands that we encourage each other.  In most instances provided by scripture, we are to encourage other believers.  In some instances of life, we provide insight into the Christian life and the Gospel when we encourage non-believers.  When we encourage the believer or the non-believer, we are making a difference in someone’s day. 

In the midst of the butternut squash soup explosion, I was encouraged.  I pray this week that you are able to encourage others…and that you notice when others encourage you.

~Emily

 “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB)

My Dog Is So Brave

Every morning between 4-6 am, my 10-month-old lab stands by the front door and hits the bells with his nose indicating he would like to go potty.  Every morning, I open the door to the complete darkness of early morning and he just stands there for a few seconds sniffing the air.  Once his sniffer assesses the air, he trots out to do his business.

He is so brave.

Nearly every morning I think about just how brave he is.  I certainly don’t want to step out into the darkness every morning to relieve myself.  We live in the country…do you have any idea what types of critters are hanging out around our house?!?!?!  There could be racoons, opossums, coyotes, spiders…lions…tigers…bears!!!!  Not to mention the bad guy or the zombie that could leap out of the woods!!!

He sniffs the air and then proceeds about his task.  He’s brave.

I want that type of bravery in regards to sharing the Gospel.  I want to “sniff the air” and proceed with telling people about Jesus.  However, more often than not, I allow my fear of the “critters in the yard” to dissuade me from stepping out into the darkness.  

In John 20:21 (NASB), we read, So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be to you; just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”  In this passage, there is clear direction that He is specifically sending us to share the good news.  

Furthermore, He tells us in Matthew 4:19 that once we choose to follow Him, we will be made as fishers of men.  There is a task associated with being a Christ-follower…and that task includes sharing the gospel.  

From a knowledge perspective, I understand this.  I know the scripture, I know my responsibility in relation to this task, and I know how I should proceed.  The issue comes into play when I allow the fear of rejection or judgement of man to overshadow the need to proclaim Jesus as my Savior.  In order to combat this fear, I am committing to memorizing and implementing Romans 1:16 (ESV) “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

This next week I plan to be brave, like my puppy.  I will sniff the air and then proceed out the door to proclaim the Gospel and what Jesus has done in my life.  Will you join me?

~Emily

Airport COVID Masks

Two weeks ago, I made a quick trip via airplane.  And via a mask.

I made a few observations about masks while I was traveling between airports.

  • In the airport, everyone was wearing a mask without question. It made me wonder if you have money on the line (as in your purchased plane tickets), are you more compliant with mask wear?
  • Those who don’t want to wear the mask continuously drink and eat in public.  This made me wonder if we’ll survive COVID to find out that we are a more obese country as a result.
  • Masks seem to make it extremely hard to hear in the airplane.
  • The creativity of mask marketing is CRAZY!  I saw flags, businesses, NFL teams, BLM, Disney…you name it and there was a mask for it.
  • There is truth in the phrase that “you smile with your eyes”…and you can truly see that when a mask covers the actual smile.
  • Chewing peppermint gum with a mask causes minty breath to shoot straight up into one’s eyes…which in turn causes some eye-watering.

Despite my observations on mask-wear at the airport, I know that the topic of wearing a mask is contentious.  There are groups who are pro-mask wear and groups who are anti-mask wear.  There are various compelling arguments on both sides of this topic.

The division over masks got me thinking about if there were to be a Federal mandate for masks.  Would we still be so divided over it?  How would Christians react to a Federal law requiring masks in public?

Romans 13:1-2 (NASB) says, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation themselves.”

When looking at this verse, I know I should adhere to the law, whether I agree with the law or not, in a way that would please our Lord.  We are so incredibly blessed to live in a nation that allows us the freedom to disagree and discuss. It’s a blessing to know that if we disagree with a law we are able to exercise the power of the pen and the power of the vote.

We have the responsibility to follow the law.  In addition to responsibility, we also have the right to assist with changing laws to align more closely with our Christian beliefs.  Let’s each keep that in mind as we vote in the coming weeks…and as we decide about where we stand on our mask-wearing compliance.

~Emily

mask airport

 

 

 

 

Annual Sunburn

The first sunburn of summer 2020 is in the books.

Year after year, I never learn that my pale Scandinavian skin needs a thick lather of sunscreen… as evidenced by the annual first sunburn of the summer.

Once I suffer through the first searing, and subsequent shedding of peeled skin, I won’t likely burn again for the rest of the summer.  In the past, I would claim that I only started to tan after the first sunburn, as that sunburn is the “base” for the rest of the summer’s sun-filled activities.

While there may be some truth in the “base-tan-sunburn,” the reality is the pain of that first sunburn creates a scenario where I remember my sunscreen protection for the rest of the summer.

The same is true with our sinful nature.

As with the sunburn, often our first brush with a particular sin is the “base” for continued sinful activity with or without protection.  Sinful scenarios can cause pain. They can cause a tangible reminder of the sin.  They can have “peeling” regrowth, as a result.

Also, like the sunburn, our sin can be painful enough that we will remember our protection against it.  Essentially we will experience the pain of the sin and subsequently do our best to avoid experiencing it again, as with the use of sunscreen.

What is the sunscreen protection against sin? The Word of God.  He’s given us the instruction manual on how to protect ourselves, as well as what to do when we fall short within that sinful nature.  This is why it is so vitally important, as Christians, that we are studying the Word and placing it firmly in our hearts.  It is the protection that we need.

Remember what Paul shared with us in Romans 6:14 (NASB), “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”

Whether your sin/sunburn is a base for further activities, or if it is a stark reminder that you need protection, I would encourage the ladies of the Iron Porch to seek God’s will this week about how best to protect yourself.

~Emily

sunscreen

 

Soda Doctrine

I haven’t had a dark colored soda since December 31, 2015.  No Cokes, no Root Beer, no Dr. Pepper.  I do love carbonated drinks though.  Flavored sparkly water, sprite and ginger ale are all on the menu.  My husband makes fun of my distinction between clear and dark soda…he claims that I can’t say I haven’t had soda in 3 years.  I contend there is a difference and that it’s a matter of semantics.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations about semantics in regards to Protestant denomination doctrine. One doctrine doesn’t allow musical instruments, another recognizes immersion baptism over sprinkling, and yet another believes in praying in tongues.  Each justifies their position with specified scriptures.  Each compels members to believe their individual doctrine while rejecting the thoughts of others.

Think for a moment on the many ways that someone describes their own salvation.  Some Christians have a “decision for Christ” while others refer to “being saved.” Still, others call it being “born again” or “giving their life to Christ.” Most of those phrases are specific to various denominations.  Don’t they all relate to the basic premise that one acknowledges their own sin, the death of Christ for their sins, and the acceptance of that gift as salvation?

Is doctrine a simple matter of semantics? This is a topic that is very much over my head in terms of my own education.  However, I know that the Bible is specific in telling us that there is one way to heaven and that is through acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior.

No matter the semantics differences in soda doctrine, carbonation is the foundation that justifies a beverage being called a soda.

No matter the semantics differences in church doctrines, belief in Christ is the foundation that justifies a person being called a Christian.

~Emily

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.             ~Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

Raise Your Glasses! copy

A Sports Mom & Grace

I have a love-hate relationship with baseball season.

I’m not talking about Major League Baseball—not the Yankees and the Red Sox.  I’m talking about 7-8 coach pitch baseball.  Coaches pitching to 7 and 8 year old boys.  This was my son’s 2ndyear playing ball and his 1styear as catcher. The regular season ended last week and has provided an opportunity for me to reflect on this love-hate relationship.

I love how happy my son is being on a team, while exercising, and learning a sport. I love watching his eyes dance when he catches the ball or hits a run.  I’m content being behind the camera catching the intense moments of concentration.  I adore that the coaches pray with the boys before practices and games.  I’m grateful that he hasn’t been on a team that chose white uniform.

Despite the “love” part of being a baseball-mom, I have some issues with baseball season.  I hate 7 pm games, which means I’m in a dinner dilemma…to feed before or to feed after???  I hate that late weekday games equals cranky mornings…for the kiddo and for me.

And I have come to hate the group texting with parents for snacks and practice times.  Each time my phone indicates a text message; I start dreading the massive text chain. Why?  Probably because I’m a very organized, type A personality, who has been in the military for over 20 years. I have a hard time with loose schedules and lack of pre-planning.  I want lists of snack responsibilities.  I want to know who has scoreboard or dug out duty for each game.  I want to know when the team party and photos are scheduled. Not knowing these things in advance makes me cringe.

Not knowing makes me less gracious.

Grace has been defined in several different ways.  Typically, we think of God’s grace in relationship to His providing a way to salvation through acceptance of His son.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” ~Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

Essentially grace is God providing for us even when we don’t deserve it.  Knowing about God’s grace is not enough. We have to accept God’s grace. Then the hard part…we have to demonstrate God’s grace by showing grace to one another.

Grace for others is demonstrated in our thoughts, words, and actions.

If we think dreadful thoughts, we aren’t illustrating grace.  When I have grouchy thoughts about a 7pm, mid-week game, I’m not demonstrating grace in thought.  We are given guidance on our thoughts in Romans 12:2 (NIV), “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

If we speak negative words, we aren’t speaking grace.  When I complain to my husband about the lack of snack organization, I am not demonstrating grace in speech.  We are given guidance on our voice in Colossians 4:6 (NIV), “Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

If we roll our eyes or have huffy behavior, we aren’t acting in grace. When my Type A personality encourages me “take over” team mom responsibilities, I am not demonstrating grace in action.  We are given guidance on our actions in Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV), “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”

If we act in grace, then we honor the grace God has provided for us.   I need to work on turning my thoughts, words, and actions into grace-filled examples of God’s love for each of us.  I need to turn my love-hate relationships into love-love relationships. Proverbs 4:23 (NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

phdLadies,

I want to have grace flowing from my heart….not just behind the camera, but rather in all of my thoughts, words, & actions.

Do you?

~Emily