Counterfeit Repentance

I’ve been involved with several conversations this week about the concept of repentance.  I was anticipating it coming up in the Sunday School lesson from the book of Ruth, but imagine my surprise when it also came up during the sermon.  Don’t you love when God has a message for you and it’s reinforced repeatedly?!?!?!

According to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of repentance is the act of turning away from a behavior; sincere regret or remorse.

Most Christians would agree that scripture details repentance as an integral part of salvation.  We acknowledge our sin, we repent of it, we ask forgiveness for it, and we accept that Jesus took our punishment and is our Savior.

God has offered us amazing grace.  However, I think there are many within the church who have fallen for the lies of the enemy that repentance is cloaked in grace.

In other words, true repentance is acknowledging sin and turning from that sinful thought or behavior. In the case of counterfeit repentance, church culture acknowledges the sin but does not turn from the sinfulness in the belief that grace will cover that sin.

Not only is that counterfeit repentance, but it is also counterfeit grace.  That is grace that allows us to remain in sin.  But it is not true grace.  God did not design grace in that manner.  In fact, the enemy delights in us falling for the counterfeit grace, as it does not lead us to the cross nor will it allow us to live life abundantly.

In order to combat “counterfeit-ness” in our lives, we need to get tough on our sins.  We need to complete an in-depth analysis of our thoughts, our words, and our actions.  Do they glorify God? Or are they steeped in sin?  Are we willing to turn from that sin, ask for forgiveness, and then do our best to not return to that sin?

I am praying that I will have a serious chat with myself about sin…I am praying that for you too.  I pray God reveals sin that we have previously excused. And I pray that we beg for forgiveness and turn from that sin.

At that point, we’ll have true repentance…and true grace can be experienced.

~Emily

Repentance

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Mindfulness Exercises

In the last two months, I’ve started incorporating mindfulness exercises into my daily life in an effort to battle anxiety and depression.  Mindfulness exercises are 3-5 blips where you deliberately concentrate on an activity through assessing your senses, emotions, or memories.

For instance, you could do a “mindful listening” exercise where you put on classical music and then concentrate on only listening for the violin.  One that I really liked was the “mindful eating” challenge, where you take your favorite flavored skittle and really concentrate on eating that one skittle for the 3-5 minutes.  For me, it was the purple skittle, which was a walk down memory lane of my childhood with grape Hubba-Bubba gum.

This last Saturday I tried the “mindful walking” exercise while hiking with the 3-month-old puppy.  The task during the walk is to concentrate on the aspects of the walk for 3-5 minutes.  The crunch of dried sticks and leaves under my hiking boots.  The shimmer of sunbeams coming through the trees.  The tug on my wrist from the puppy’s leash.  The rustle of leaves in the wind. The coolness of the creek as it splashes on my shins as I cross a stone bridge.  The smell of water-moss-mud on the creek beds. The tension in my quads from climbing inclines.

For the first time, I also incorporated scripture in the mindful walking because scripture actually tells us to be mindful and meditate on what God has provided for us (including the nature found during a hike).

It seemed appropriate to start with Psalm 145:5 (NET) which states “I will focus on your honor and majestic splendor, and your amazing deeds.” In the NKJV of the same verse, it states, “I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Your wondrous works.”

Keeping in mind the scriptural guidance of focusing on the splendor of God and meditating on His wondrous works, brought a whole new level to the mindful walking exercise!

The tug of the puppy’s leash doesn’t just become a sensation of my arm, it becomes gratitude that God created this puppy and that the puppy is part of our family.  The rustling of the wind in the treetops doesn’t just become a wonderous noise in the background, it becomes a reminder of God’s faithfulness to give me shade from those treetops and a cool breeze on my sweaty brow.

I wasn’t just centering myself in an exercise to control my anxiety…I was actually acknowledging God’s abundant gifts that are literally all around us!  I was following the direction in Psalm 96:12 (NET) “Let the fields and everything in them celebrate.  Then let the trees of the forest shout with joy.”

A mindful exercise that is full of celebration and joy!  I hope this next week is mindful for you too!

~Emily

Mindful Walking Hike copy

The Wisteria Vine

One of the things that I love about our house is wisteria vines that line the barbed wire fence in the front yard.  It’s clear that the property was well-loved based on the dozens of bulbs and trees that were planted years ago. This wisteria plant is no different.  The roots are deep, the trunk is thick, and the vines have trellised for yards and yards.

While this wisteria vine is beautiful with its lush leaves and gorgeous purple flowers, there’s one small wisteria wisp that is even more precious to me.  It’s small. It’s tender leaves and vines are barely two feet tall.  To my knowledge, it’s never bloomed purple blossoms.

Why is this little wisp so perfect for me? It’s from Erin’s oldest daughter, McKenna’s Florida house.  This perfect little wisp was dug up by the roots, carefully wrapped in wet paper towels, and transported to Alabama in a bucket during the aftermath of Hurricane Michael’s wrath on McKenna and Indy’s house in the panhandle.

This perfect little vine that I’ve been carefully nurturing for a year and a half is standing tall this spring.  Yesterday, I had to provide ties to give it support on a decorative light pole.  As I worked to train this little vine, I was able to think about how these two examples of wisteria vines are so much like my knowledge of the Bible.

There are times that I’m strong in the knowledge of some verses or stories.  That knowledge has been nurtured for years and is like a thick wisteria trunk supporting vines running for yards and producing fruit.

There are other times that I’m small and tender in knowledge (if I’m honest, this is waaaaaaay more frequent than me being strong in knowledge).  That little vine represents new knowledge that is being tended to by a loving Father in the hopes that through the years it will grow stronger and stronger…. eventually producing flowers.

One day, my little “McKenna” wisteria vine will grow into a big flower producing machine.  Each year it will be a reminder of my extended family and how we support one another.  More than that, it will also remind me to stay focused on the continuous learning of God’s Word.  Each day I know I need to keep watering it, tending to it, strengthening it with support, and loving on it.  I can’t wait to see the McKenna flowers!

~Emily

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5 (NIV)

The Wisteria Vine

Passion For Us

Over the Easter weekend, my family watched the movie “The Passion of The Christ,” directed by Mel Gibson. It’s an incredible account that puts vision to what Christ did for us as we celebrate Easter under quarantine.

Right before it started, my child asked me if I remembered the 1st time I saw the movie.  I told him I saw it in the theater when it first was released.  I remember everyone around me crying.  In fact, I distinctly remember hearing sobbing.  There was soberness in the audience that is rarely if ever, felt in an American movie theater.

I wasn’t one of the masses who were crying.

Why?

At the time of the movie’s release in 2004, I was fully immersed in a pagan lifestyle by participating in Wicca as a High Priestess.  I was being stoic and detached from the visions of the movie.  More than that, I was being stoic and detached from the knowledge that spoke to my heart through the movie.

The kicker about why I wasn’t crying?  I was in shock. I was in shock that God would love me so much that He sent His Son to be tortured and killed for me.  And what was I doing with that gift?

I was throwing it back in His face by practicing false religion.

The passion God has for us is amazing.  It is always enough for each of us.  While we acknowledge that God’s gift is enough, we also need to be aware that the enemy is constantly trying to divert us from our walk with the Father.  In 1 Peter 5:8 we are told: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour.”

In my life, it wasn’t enough that I was raised in a family knowing God. It wasn’t enough that I gave my life to Christ as a teenager.  It wasn’t enough that I knew scripture. I was still deceived and turned my back on God.

The good news is that our Father is a forgiving one.  A year after watching “The Passion of The Christ” in the theater, I denounced that false religion and returned to my walk with Christ.

Each time I’ve watched that movie since I’ve joined the masses who were crying.  I’ve cried for the utter destruction of a man who willingly died for me. I’ve cried for my own sins against God.  I’ve cried for those under the bondage of false religions. And I’ve cried for those who don’t know Christ as their personal savior.

On this Monday after Easter, this is my prayer:

Father God,

We are so thankful for your passion for each of us and that you were willing to provide the ultimate sacrifice of your Son on our behalf. I pray that those who have hardened hearts toward you will find their hearts softened.  That those with scales on their ears will be able to hear the truth of the Gospel.  That those who are worshiping idols and false gods will discover You, as the truth.  That those who are vulnerable will be barred from falling prey to deception. If someone doesn’t know You, please put someone in their path that will speak truth into their life. Father, I pray a hedge of protection over any and all who are drawing away from you…let them see your love in a way that is fresh and new.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sweet sisters of the Iron Porch, remember that the Father has a passion for you.

~Emily

1 Peter 5;8

 

 

 

Hairballs & Prayer Requests

I take prayer requests very seriously.  I carefully place them on scraps of paper and pin them to a bulletin board in my bathroom.  I can pray over each of those requests as I get ready in the morning for my day and at night as I get ready for bed.

This last week I came home to find that my cats had taken down all of the thumbtacks and prayer requests.  The tacks were scattered around the bathroom like a “Legos versus bare feet” game of frogger.  The prayer requests were scratched, torn, and bitten.

Out of a dozen scraps of paper with valued words, I could still only read three.  Apparently, my cats’ slobber melted ink and those sharp little razer teeth (or possibly claws) shredded the few that weren’t wet from the slobber.

I stood there for a moment in stunned silence.  As I started gathering tacks, I chatted with God.  I asked that if there were prayer requests that still needed to be prayed over, then He was going to have to lead my hand to rewrite them. If they didn’t need to be prayed over anymore, then I was asking for discretion to throw the scraps away in the trash.

I was worried that I was throwing away requests that people had entrusted to me.  Even though I’d chatted with God, I was worried about the scraps I threw away.  I worried about a full night and part of the next day.  With His perfect timing, He then let two separate people come to me with updates on their prayer requests.  Guess what?  They were praise reports and I would have removed those slips of paper anyways.

Maybe the cats were just giving me a “reset” message on the prayer board.  Or maybe I just needed to listen to God’s perfect timing in confirming how He works.

In this next week, I’m praying all the Iron Porch readers to have a prayer-filled week with listening ears attuned to God’s direction!

~Emily

 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” ~Mark 11:24 (NIV)


Cats

 

 

Flattened Frogs

My cats would not leave the pantry alone and I couldn’t figure out what was intriguing them so much about cases of bottled water.  I moved the cases out and found two flattened frogs on the ground.

Flattened, like they’d been dead for a very long time.

Flattened, like dehydrated beef jerky.

Flattened, like smashed, dried, and brittle.

I was totally grossed out to think that these two frogs were once alive in my pantry. More than that, I was grossed out to think about how long they had to hang out in order to become so flattened!

As I cleaned up frog carcasses, I reflected on the passage in Exodus, when the Lord sent frogs (through Moses and Aaron) to catch the attention of Pharaoh.  Imagine frogs being all over your body and your house. Imagine them on your family members and your friends.  Imagine them taking over the kitchen and being in your ovens and bread bowls!?!?!?!  That would certainly have gotten my attention!

I’m grateful that the Lord hasn’t sent hordes of frogs to my house to get my attention, but I imagine that He gets frustrated when I don’t pay attention…or worse become deliberately disobedient.  I’d argue that God uses other tactics to get my attention.

Some of those tactics include:

-Feeling convicted by the Word or a sermon

-Lack of peace

-Stormy days (ie: work, relationships, finances)

-Hitting a rock bottom AKA: a road to Damascus Moment

-Unusual or unexpected blessings

Even if you aren’t picking up flattened frogs in the pantry, I urge you to conduct some self-reflection about how God is getting your attention.  Are you listening? Or do you need to have the frogs sent in?

~Emily

Exodus 8:2-14 (ESV)

But if you refuse to let them go, behold, I will plague all your country with frogs. The Nile shall swarm with frogs that shall come up into your house and into your bedroom and on your bed and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls.  The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your servants. And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, over the canals and over the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt!’”  So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt.  But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.  Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Plead with the Lord to take away the frogs from me and from my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” Moses said to Pharaoh, “Be pleased to command me when I am to plead for you and for your servants and for your people, that the frogs be cut off from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.”  And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “Be it as you say, so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God.  The frogs shall go away from you and your houses and your servants and your people. They shall be left only in the Nile.” So, Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh, and Moses cried to the Lord about the frogs, as he had agreed with Pharaoh. And the Lord did according to the word of Moses. The frogs died out in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields.  And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank.

Frog

 

 

 

 

Suicidal Dream

Recently, my 9-year-old son came to my bedside in the middle of the night asking to lay down with me.  He said he’d had a bad dream and wanted to snuggle. I asked him about the dream and he shared that it included a pretty explicit description of me committing suicide in front of him.

Through the years, I’ve comforted him several times after a bad dream, but nothing had prepared me for him dreaming that I’d shot myself in front of him.  I held him tight and prayed with him to have a calm spirit so that he could fall back to sleep.  He recalled a scripture from Deuteronomy 31:6, “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord, your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”

I felt his heart rate slow down and his breathing level out as he fell asleep.

I, however, was wide awake and troubled by his dream.  Why on earth would his little mind have created a scenario where I would abandon him in such a manner? Are these residual ideas from his birth mom and the adoption process?  For that matter, how did he even know something so horrific could happen to a mom or a child?

I untangled myself from the blankets and the kiddo so I could get on my knees and place this burden at the feet of our Lord.  While I don’t understand the dream or why my child had it, I do know that I felt relief in sharing my concerns with God.

In the days after that situation, other verses of comfort came to both me and my son.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears.” ~Psalm 34:4

For the Lord says…do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine. ~Isaiah 43:1

Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” ~Isaiah 35:4

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” ~2 Timothy 1:7

The Iron Porch is a place to be transparent about real-life events.  With that in mind, I’ve got to admit my son’s dream has shaken me up for a few days.  The one thing that has kept me calm is scripture and prayer.  The constant provision of God’s word has encouraged me and reminded us that he does not want us to fear anything.

~Emily

Deuteronomy

 

The Christmas Train

When my son was 2 years old, we bought him a Polar Express train to set up under the Christmas tree.  Every year he waits anxiously for us to get the Christmas tree decorated so that we can set up the train.  As a Christmas gift, he receives one new car or piece to his train set each December.2014

He loves this tradition and occasionally mentions how many train pieces he’ll have to share with his own children someday.  He’s not obsessed with trains, but he certainly likes to ride on them and he definitely likes to play with his Christmas train set.

As I was watching him play with the train this last week, I got to thinking about how much he anticipates Christmas traditions because it includes this train. I also have great anticipation for the Christmas season. I love the anticipation of family heirlooms hanging on the tree, the sending and receiving of greeting cards and the process of finding, wrapping, and delivering gifts to those around me. IMG_5714

Scholars debate if December 25th is actually Jesus’ birthday, but indulge me for a moment and think about the anticipation Mary would have had for the birth of her child.  The anticipation of holding your small child for the first time and hearing those strong lungs announce their arrival.  The anticipation and longing to be done with the health changes pregnancy brings.  The anticipation of blending a family together.

You know what she didn’t anticipate in the days leading up to Christmas?

She didn’t anticipate fear of a king killing all the under-two-year-old boys in the region.  She didn’t anticipate life with an intelligent child who would teach Priests. She certainly didn’t anticipate watching her son suffer humiliating torture only to be crucified on the cross.

There is so much in the lives of women that we don’t anticipate: loss of wages, deaths of friends, failing relationships, miscarriages, smart-mouthed kiddos, dents and dings on our cars or on our hearts.

But there is so much good to anticipate when we know Jesus as our Savior.  To know you are heaven-bound makes many of the unexpected anticipations a tiny bit more bearable. IMG_8077Wouldn’t the best Christmas gift be to share with others that heaven-bound promise…the anticipation?!? That precious gift of His death for our sins is so much better than the anticipation of Christmas trains and heirloom ornaments!

In the last few hours of anticipation of Christmas 2019, let’s reflect on what we’re anticipating for our own lives and the lives around us.

Merry Christmas from the Iron Porch!

~Emily

2019

 

 

Eclectic Christmas

EclecticChristmas1280x720B

The small Alabama town my family calls home hovers around a population of 1000.  Each year this town hosts a walk-through Nativity scene with the assistance of dozens of churches.  This production is hosted on private property with amateur actors, real animals, campfires, and amazing singing angels.

Acting, donating, or visiting, our family has participated in some capacity for the last four years. Each year, the details of the production blow me away.

The visitor starts with a guide from one of the 12 tribes of Israel and is provided a gold coin for bribing Roman soldiers who barrage the group on horseback several times throughout the stroll.   As the group walks around a very large pond, visitors stop at stations to hear the Nativity Story.  One of the highlights is visiting the village, where fresh bread and fruits are offered, businesses are selling wares, priests are speaking…and an innkeeper is proclaiming no more room for the travelers.  Towards the end of the walk, there is an amazing stable scene with a real-life Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus amongst the sheep, goats, and donkeys.

Let me tell you why this is such an amazing community ministry. https://www.aneclecticministry.org

First; it started as a smaller church’s vision to reach the community, but has now grown to dozens of churches assisting.  There is no politics or denomination talk, but rather a presentation of the Nativity story as read in the Bible.

Second; it runs for a week each December and has been running consecutively since 2013. It has a longer past, but the formalization at its current location allows the community for miles around to have access to parking and the walk-through venue.

Third; it’s run entirely by volunteers. The clean-up crews, the marketing through the year, the costume design, the parking crew…even the sound, which we can hear through the woods over a mile away at our house (what a blessing to hear the music in our yard for a week solid every 20-30 minutes from 6-9pm!)

Fourth; the tour ends in a large white circus tent with the hosting church of the evening presenting the Gospel.  People who have church homes, meet new people. People without church homes are introduced to all of the churches participating over the week.  Unchurched folks hear the Gospel.  Folks are accepting Christ at this event.  There are souls being saved, y’all!!!

Souls being saved.  All because someone thought there should be a walking, live-action, Nativity Scene for the community.  Years later, dozens of churches later, hundreds of visitors later…and souls are still being saved!

What could happen in your community if you dreamed big dreams and let God work through your hands?  What could happen this Christmas if you listened to the nudge of the Holy Spirit?  Would souls be saved?

~Emily

townsoldiersEclectic Christmas