The Outsider

This last weekend, deer season for youth rifle started in Alabama.  That means my husband and son were out in the deer blind whenever they had extra time. About 4 hours before church on Sunday, I heard the shot in our back pasture. I knew a young buck had wandered into the line of sight of an eager 8-year-old hunter.

The boys excitedly tried to convince me to go track the deer with them.  I had zero desire to go tromping through the woods looking for drops of blood while avoiding thorny vines and ticks.  I had a long to-do list to accomplish.  I was still in my PJs.  Coffee had just started brewing.

I can just imagine the ladies of the Iron Porch all coming up with valid reasons why I should NOT go smashing through the woods!

While all of those statements were truthful, they really are excuses to not accompany my husband and son on the trail of a dead or soon-to-be-dead deer.

Excuses? Why you ask?  (I mean, besides the obvious that I hadn’t had coffee and was still braless!).  The reason is that when I go with the boys on hunting adventures I feel like an outsider.

There’s showmanship and male bonding that is occurring that makes me feel like I’m an outsider. The high-fives and fist bumps…the wiping of blood on cheeks…the chuckles about peeing out of the deer blind.  All of which makes me feel like I’m not in on the joke. It makes me feel like I’m not in the “inner circle.”

How often are people coming up with excuses to not go to church because they feel like the outsider?

The parallels between the outsider on a hunting or tracking adventure and that of church attendance weighed heavily on me throughout the day.  I started to consider if I was inclusive or exclusive while I was at church.  Did I encourage the new visitor to sit with me? Did I show her where her babies would be safely cared for while she recharged in the sanctuary? Did I pray with the gal who is struggling with her teenage daughter?

Or…

Did I sit in the same spot? Do I notice that certain couples only socialize with themselves? Did I greet the same people that I do week after week? Are there cliques at my church?  Does social media tell a story that is different from what I see in the sanctuary?  Did I chat with the same moms near the children’s area? Did I make eye contact with anyone new?!?!?!?

You see, I think we occasionally make people feel like the outsider even when we are the church.  We may not do it intentionally, but there are times where we are more consumed with our own personal connections that we fail to create personal connections for those around us.

I’ve been a recipient of this behavior in church.  There was a scenario where I wanted to make a connection with a gal, but over time I noticed this lady was uninterested in anyone who was not already in her small circle.  That stung a bit. It made me feel unworthy.  She may not have intended to have that reputation, but it was the predominate view of her relationship skills.

As a result of that personal example, I’ve tried my best to be more receptive to conversations.  I’m not perfect, however, so I know that there are times that I am drawn towards those I already know.

The next time that I notice myself be less inclusive, I’m going to be mindful to ensure that others are feeling a part of the larger group.

I know what it’s like to be an outsider.  In church and in hunting.

~Emily

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. ~Romans 15:7 (NIV)

The Outsider copy

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

 

Kid Questions

“Do you have cancer?”

This was the question I heard a 5-year-old boy ask a balding gentleman, as I went into the aftercare building to pick up my son.

The adult responded with a chuckle and said, “No, I’ve just lost all my hair.”

My initial internal response was “what has this child seen or heard to make them instantly think bald equals cancer?”

My next response was “Thank you, Jesus, for the innocent questions of our little ones.”

Children have very few inhibitions when it comes to questioning the world around them.  They ask simply because they need understanding. They aren’t intimidated by politically correct wording or the emotions that questions may bring up.

Jesus asked a lot of questions too.  His weren’t always simple or designed for His own understanding. Most of His questions were crafted to get His followers thinking about God’s promises, about salvation, and about deliverance.  One of my favorite questions Jesus asked the disciples is “Who do you say I am?”

In several books of the Gospel, we read that Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus could have easily said, “I am the Christ.”  Instead, He challenged the disciples to answer the questions of their own heart.

Jesus taught using a questioning method of presentation. It creates a learning atmosphere where the disciples (and subsequently us) are able to interpret and deliver our own answers to questions.  This often lends itself to a longer retention of information…and a stronger belief in the answers that we declare ourselves.

Like small children asking strangers about lost hair and cancer treatments, we as Christians must ask about and interpret the world around us.  Lucky for us, if we’re in the Word, we’ll find answers!

What questions are on your mind this week?  Come to the Porch and share!

~Emily

Kid Questions

 

Cardboard Testimony

Do you remember in the early to mid-2000s the start of the phenomenon in churches called the “Cardboard Testimony”?  The premise is a sweet one…in a few words, you share your past before Christ on one side, flip the cardboard over, and share your “now” with Christ. Essentially a quick blip testimony.

I love this concept. Just a few words to showcase what God has done in your life.

Some of the ones that I’ve seen before include:

Battling Infertility to Adoption

Thief to Redeemed

Suicidal to Living for God

Single Parent to Raising Kids with God

Cancer Diagnosis to Fully Healed

Lonely to Fulfilled

Eating Disorder to Feasting on the Word

Inmate to Prison Ministry

If you are anything like me, you’re juggling thousands of tasks and titles.  The concept of a cardboard testimony reminds me to take a moment in the midst of all the tasks to think about my testimony at that moment. It’s potentially an opportunity to change a negative into a positive.

If you had to do one today, what would your cardboard read? 

Dirty Clothes to Clean Heart

Screaming Children to Still Soft Voice of God

Uncompassionate Traffic to More Time With Praise Music in the Car

Canceled Dentist Appointment to Bible Study Time

Wi-Fi Failure to Time for a Book

Regardless of if the cardboard testimony is truly your testimony or if it’s a moment to see positives in the negative, the concept gives us a moment to draw closer to God.

~Emily

cardboard Testimony-2 copy

 

 

 

Burn The Shirt

There is a huge burned hole in my shirt!

There is a huge burned hole-size piece of blue fabric adhered to my iron!

There I was.  Standing in the dining room in my cute pants, with my cute necklace and matching earrings, with my cute shoes…and a bra, while ironing my shirt. And then.  I literally burned a hole in my shirt with the iron.

That wasn’t even the worst of the morning, but rather the culmination of it.  You see, I had been woken up an hour before my alarm with an elbow to the jaw from the wild sleeper I happened to marry.  I got out of bed rubbing my jaw to promptly step in cat puke.  I dropped my toothbrush on the floor by the toilet (thank you Jesus that it wasn’t INTO the toilet). I spilled my coffee across the counter trying to avoid stepping on the Legos that my cats thought were new kitty toys.  Then I burned my shirt.

That’s a lot of stuff in one morning that could make for the foundation of a crummy day!  Our crummy days are full of circumstances…but they are full of choices too.

As I stood in my bra and pants in the dining room, holding a ruined iron and looking at a ruined shirt, I thought “this is my chance to realign my attitude towards today.”  I brought to mind Psalm 121, which I’m in the process of memorizing for a women’s small group that I’m currently co-leading.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

~ Psalm 121 (NIV)

My help comes from the Lord.  He alone will get me through those crummy mornings when I have a choice to acknowledge that circumstances sometimes are “blah,” but those “blah” moments don’t have to dictate the day.

He will not let my foot slip.  He will watch over me.  He will keep me from harm.

He alone will protect me from things that are truly detrimental to my soul.  His gift of salvation through the death of His Son, Jesus,  has already proven He protects me through all things.

The reality is that cat puke, toothbrushes & Legos on the floor, spilled coffee or even a burned hole in a shirt is truly a minor thing when it comes to the help the Lord provides to us.

I pray your crummy-shirt-burning mornings can be turned into thanksgiving to the Lord!

~Emily

Burn the shirt

 

 

Servant vs. Slave

Several years ago, I served at a large church as the event coordinator for the monthly women’s events.  Because of the size of the events, there was a need for immense organization and planning months in advance.  There was a lack of commitment to pre-planning and subsequently, I ended up with a lot of last-minute changes dictated by the church leadership.   Initially, I was excited and joyful about the experience, but as time went on I became bitter about my role.  I had volunteered for this role, yet I began thinking of how I could resign gracefully.  I no longer wanted to serve in that capacity.

When you hear the word servant what do you think of? Within the context of the church if someone asks you to serve on a committee or in a ministry does it strike up an image in your head?  In your mind, does servant and slave have a different definition?

Servanthood is typically a voluntary position.  It involves willingly acting on behalf of another. It could be offering to get someone a cup of coffee. It could be sitting with nursing home residents playing bingo. It could even be assisting someone with changing a tire.

How does that differ from slavery? The definition of slavery is a distinctly negative one, which expresses that someone does not have a choice in their title or in the expectations for their performance.  It historically has involved hard labor with less than ideal living conditions.  We’ve seen slavery in our nation from before the Declaration of Independence.  We know that the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians in the Bible.  Even today, we are seeing an increase in slavery around the globe.

Think about this…what if within the walls of our churches, people are identifying unconsciously as a servant or as a slave?

What if I’m on a committee or involved with a ministry out of a sense of obligation? What if I’m tired, but I was guilted into staying in the nursery during service?  What if I’m in a position that is a mismatch with my spiritual gifts or natural talents?  Am I doing things out of fear of judgment?  Isn’t that a form of self-imposed slavery?

This is in contrast to the joy that is received with willingly volunteering in servanthood.  The person who is functioning in the perfect position for them. The member who is using the skills God gave them.

There’s a distinct difference in the attitude of the joyful servant and the obligated slave.  When this difference occurs in a church, there is a risk for tension to arise. People want to have a particular ministry program, but no one steps up to lead. Probably more common is that the faithful volunteers supporting the ministry programs of a church become over-extended and subsequently quitting.

When we serve, we need to be responsible for where we serve.  We need to have the discernment that we are serving where we are called by God to serve. For instance, if my spiritual gift is teaching, then I know I should not be on the evangelism team.

When we serve responsibility, we are witnessing to the goodness of Christ.  We begin to give visible, real, and tangible displays of God’s love.

 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracle of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever.

~1 Peter 4:10-11

Ultimately, we serve not for our own glory, but to honor our Lord.

I urge you to volunteer and become involved in your church through a servant’s heart. Do not volunteer out of obligation or through guilt…or you risk slipping into a mindset of slavery.

~Emily

@servantsheart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peezing

For over a year, I’ve been peeing a little every time I sneeze.  My husband and I have begun calling it “peezing” and he finds it quite hilarious when I run for the bathroom after a good sneeze.

My peezing is starting to creep into laughter now. During a boisterous card game with the girls after a women’s conference, I had to make a mad dash to the restroom due to the peezing-laughter. These girls, my closest friends, whooped it up when I can back into the room with new PJ bottoms on!

Boo-Hiss to the terrible 40s and my weakening bladder!!!

The reality is that peezing is annoying, but the connections I have with my circle of friends are anything but.  I’m content that I have close friends where I can be transparent about what’s going on in my life.  I can tell some of these ladies anything and they will drop everything to pray with me or support me.  They will call me out on my garbage and hold me accountable to the commitments I’ve made. They strengthen me. They uphold me. They walk with me, as I walk with Jesus.

The truth is that reliable friends are hard to find.  People often talk about how they could support you, but their actions do not always support their words.  Likewise, we may not always approve of the decisions or actions our friends are exhibiting, but we can always be an encourager in the ways of God. Reliability coupled with transparency makes a formula for a stronger friendship.

Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?~Proverbs 20:6 (NLT)

Many a person proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy person?~Proverbs 20:6 (CSB)

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?                ~Proverbs 20:6 (NIV)

Most men will proclaim everyone his own goodness, but a faithful man who can find?~Proverbs 20:6 (KJV)

Whether you are being transparent about serious situations and prayer requests or it’s a silly card game that leads to peezing-laughter…we need friendships to bolster us.

Who is your go-to friend for prayer?

Who is your go-to friend for accountability?

Who do you consider to be the most reliable?

Come to the porch and tell us who is walking with you and Jesus!

~Emily