What Do I Believe About GRACE?

Hello again. It’s been a while. January 2019 is so welcome, isn’t it?

Although I haven’t written anything for 6 months, I have been thinking about what I would write if I could. I expected to be able to write at least one or two posts over the fall, but life threw things in the way. I just read a couple of the last blog posts (Moving Summer and I Know Better). I noticed they both had the theme of expectations even though they were written months apart. Expectations still pose a problem for me, and I am being challenged to consider my beliefs, the desires of my heart, and my actions and reactions.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

My attitude was a bit sour this past Fall.  I was angry and frustrated about not being able to set up the house properly before the semester started. I have been increasingly fearful about our plans to move overseas next summer and my ability to get a job where I don’t know anyone, fresh out of school, and with no experience. And, we had to put our big dog down due to a sudden and unexpected health issue even though he should have lived several more years.  He’s the fourth dog, all different breeds, where we’ve had to do that.  I allowed circumstances to pull me under into a sense of desperation and defeat.

It’s time to deal with that properly.

I’ve noticed there’s a trend in choosing a word for the year.  The thing I’ve been thinking about this last semester is Belief. And more specifically, what does it look like to live out what I believe?  I have been struggling with what I believe about God’s grace and love for me, right now, even when I act petulantly and faithlessly.  Perhaps you can relate.  I think God’s grace is something we think we understand, but allowing that grace to fully saturate our lives and relationships can be a sticking point.  I invite you to join me as I see what God shows me through this particular lesson.

The verse that began this theme is this:

John 6: 29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (NLT)

This statement by Jesus challenges all kinds of inherent beliefs I have about my responsibilities and the way I choose to live and engage with others.  When I became a mom, I knew I had the privilege to raise and influence my children for a limited period of time.  I took my responsibility seriously, and I tried to do all the right things.  As a wife, I tried to support and honor my husband in a way that would please God and help us grow closer spiritually.  I prayed over my marriage, my children, my relationships with my parents and siblings, our many moves, my husband and his work, and even my children’s friends.  I attended and led Bible Studies, church services, volunteered at VBS and youth activities, did Bible studies at home, and tried to set a good example for what loving and believing God looks like expecting that all this love and doing good stuff would result in my family wanting to experience God in the same way.  I love doing all those things!

Here’s the thing –  my expectations haven’t been realized.  And I don’t know if they ever will. Meaning, I don’t know if my children and husband will ever want to be as devoted and engaged that same way.  So the thought occurs to me – Does their not wanting to be as involved in church mean I failed in setting a good enough example of love, forgiveness, and kindness?  I can tell you, I know where I’ve failed.  Even in all my attempts in doing things right.  I have and continue to fail again and again.

I hear God whisper, “My grace is sufficient for you.” But do I believe this?

So, when I don’t see the expected fruits of my labor, then my perseverance in doing good is weakened, and I feel worn out. I don’t have the heart to keep going. I stop praying. I stop having those amazing quiet times where God is speaking to me, encouraging me. I think about all the ways that I messed up, didn’t pray well enough, acted in doubt instead of faith, was impatient, and I take on the responsibility for what’s not right – according to my expectations.

Again, I hear God whisper, “Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” and “God knows the heart of a man.”  And I think, I believe this, but look . . .

I mix guilt with a little bit of truth, and I feel even more defeated. I know God loves me. I know I have received salvation and grace for later. I know I have asked for forgiveness, and that God forgives.  I know I am a child of God, but I must not be (good, faithful, obedient, fill in the blank) enough because I don’t see the fruit from my labor.  Inherent in that belief is that although I’m forgiven, grace doesn’t apply to my life at the moment, and I am still responsible for the fallout of my faithless actions.

God patiently reminds me, “Without me, you can do nothing,” and that “He is faithful, even when we are faithless.”

Do I really believe that?  Is that the truth?  Or are my failures so significant, that God can’t redeem and restore what I’ve broken?  If I believe and act as if the results of my messed up attempts at life and love can’t be fixed, then I am saying that my sin is bigger than God’s redeeming love and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Basically, I’m saying God’s grace doesn’t apply to me.  And I recognize the lie.

Guess what, making others believe and act in a certain way is not my work. God’s work is something more significant, creative, loving, and perfect than anything I could ever imagine.  And, I need to trust Him with my mistakes.  I need to trust His forgiveness is just as real and relevant in the present as it will be on judgment day. And, my work or joy in doing the churchy things I listed above are not the only ways people can show their own love of God.  How arrogant of me!

Back to scripture:

Regarding the fears  I have about getting a job next year:

Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Regarding the areas where I know I mess up:

2 Corinthians 12:9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

And regarding my efforts:

Ephesians 2: 8 – 10  For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Berean Study Bible)

God gives grace. His grace. Not just in the time to come, but now. And my work is to believe in Jesus Christ, the person of His Grace. If I doubt God’s grace is applicable to me as I live right now, then I undervalue that amazing and precious grace not just for myself, but for others as well. And there it is, the lie hidden in the works. I know God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. His grace is not just a one-time thing, at the point of salvation that just sits there until judgment day.

I didn’t even realize what my belief of limited grace implied until I was challenged by that one verse.

God gives grace. God gives faith.

And, I know that God has been patient and gentle with me. Why wouldn’t He be the same with everyone else?  As far as the guilt I feel for the ways I have messed up, said hurtful things, or lacked discipline and wisdom, I imagine God as a teacher, knowing the mistakes I have and will make, and allowing me to make them because He’s got it all worked out already.

My work is to believe in Jesus, the one God sent. And believing in Jesus means I need to trust God’s grace – for me, for others, and for right now. He knows it’s going to be all okay in the end.

So that’s my word for 2019

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Moving Summer

This summer’s move was not supposed to be this hard.

When it’s the third time moving back into your house, you kind of expect to be able to put things away fairly quickly, get things in order without too much trouble. After all, I should know where everything goes. I mean, my husband and I are pretty experienced at doing this move-in thing, and we expected it to be a breeze. I expected to have everything finished by the end of July leaving August to actually get to enjoy having my husband home, go camping/hiking, and be fully refreshed and relaxed for the school year.

orange plastic container on brown wooden table

Long story short, we experienced delays and obstacles even before the packing began, lived for a month in a hotel with 3 dogs, and had to make major renovations/repairs that continued weeks after we moved into the house.  All these circumstances caused unpacking to be put on hold well after we typically would have had all the boxes already discarded.

Just when I thought we were making significant progress, there was another water event that caused me to have to repack and redo the items we had already put in storage. It’s amazing how much water one load of laundry can spill onto the floor.

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This summer, I put into practice Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Actually, knowing the full context, “ . . . for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or need. I am able to do all things through Him who gives me strengthens me.” (HCSB)

Today is the first day of school in our neighborhood. School has unofficially started for me as well. The house isn’t finished, and now I no longer have the luxury of time devoted just to getting things settled. And it would be easy to feel overwhelmed with all that still needs to be done.

However, all along this school journey, I have seen how God has given me the strength and perseverance to do the work required. As I look forward to this school year, and another planned moving summer right after graduation, I will continue to trust that He will continue to provide just what I need.

I refuse to allow the anxiety I feel over all the work still unfinished to consume my time and thoughts. Instead, I will take out time each day, in some small significant way, to remember His faithfulness and give thanks for each new day. I can expect God to hear my prayers, to show His love, patience, and faithfulness.

I recognize that this summer’s move has been full of delays, and at worst, inconveniences. Many others may be dealing with much more serious issues. Scripture is full of encouragement, and it can apply to all kinds of personal trials and adversities. We are often disappointed and disheartened by circumstances and relationships that don’t work out as we expect. But we don’t have to stay stuck there.

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Here are a few of the verses I try to remember to stay positive:

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (HCSB)  Philippians 4: 6 – 7

“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34

“Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end.  23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!  24 I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.   25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.  26 It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord.”    Lamentations 3: 22 – 26

All These Things

Hello Friends!

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But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

This verse was put into a song we often sang growing up.  I remember wondering, “What ‘things’ will be added unto you?

Today’s post is about being a good steward, and money. This is something I feel quite uncomfortable posting about since I still have a lot of growing and trusting to do.

But a quick note about what happened after my last post on work –

So, I was confronted with the reality that I do not know how to maintain a healthy work-home balance. Last Thursday, I stayed up past midnight doing some organization work for my practicum. I completely let that keep me from posting the next lesson. Please forgive my inconsistency. Plus, I realized I have put in almost half the hours needed for my practicum designed to cover a 16 week period within a 4 week period. I obviously need to create a more healthy balance!

Back to today’s lesson –

I’ve been thinking about the struggles I found from the last lesson on work, and the known struggles I have about money. I read what I wrote originally, and I realize that what I wrote is still relevant, but I sense I have an opportunity to be a little more honest and direct about why I struggle so much with this topic. Which brings us back to Matthew 6:33.

If you read Matthew 6:33 in context, you’ll find this is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Starting at Matthew 6:19, Jesus begins talking quite specifically about treasures, money, and anxiety.

Over the course of my life, I have lived with anxiety surrounding not having enough money. There have been times of seemingly insurmountable debt, and times of plenty. Anxiety over income and financial security goes hand in hand with the work balance struggle.

Right now, I am adding to our family’s debt by taking out loans for the school counseling degree. It adds to my anxiety, and my desire to earn my own way to pay for it once I can work. When I used loans to pay for my undergrad debt, I didn’t really trust God regarding finances. I doubted His provision. While I did work for a couple of years, my husband pretty much paid for my school. I am so grateful to him. So, in a way, God provided through my husband. But, we struggled, and it wasn’t easy.

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My incredible husband!

This time, I have made a conscious choice to Seek God first, and His righteousness. I have seen how He has blessed this time for me to be in school, to follow this path that I believe is a calling from God, and to be encouraged to do so by my husband. Through the doubts in my ability to achieve academically, to handle the workload, and the guilt that wants to press in for increasing debt, God has shown Himself faithful through the encouragement of my husband first, my children, the support of friends, and through the ability to get the work done. I am learning to how to turn my anxiety over to God. When I feel anxious, I pray and re-center my thoughts towards the foundation of God’s promises.

I’m still growing and learning. I hope this post leads you to trusting God more, and at least, having a prayerful conversation with Him on this subject.  Like the last post, I added a few thoughts in blue!


Lesson 3 Good Steward/ Wise with Money/ Generous

The objective here is to understand how to handle the money, profits, and blessings earned and gained from our work. We do not work to have money just for our own benefit, for selfish ambition, but to be able to use our resources responsibly. These resources aren’t just in the form of money, but also time, material goods and service to others. Again, we do these things out of love and honor for God and others.

She selects wool and flax
 and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships,
 bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night;
 she provides food for her family
 and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it;
 out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously;
 her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable,
 and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff
 and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor
 and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
 for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes linen garments and sells them,
 and supplies the merchants with sashes.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you think are the biggest differences in the worldly view of money and God’s view of money?
  • Do you think He cares about how much money we make, or how we spend it?
  • How much debt is OK?
  • Is there something wrong with being wealthy?
  • Do you think poor people have themselves to blame for their poverty?
  • Can someone be too generous or irresponsible with his or her generosity?
  • Is being a good steward only about money?

The Bible has a lot to say about money, how to spend it, how to handle loans and borrowing, and taking care of the poor. Jesus often spoke in parables using the wealthy and servants alike as examples to describe conditions of the heart or what the kingdom of God is like. Proverbs is full of wise financial advice among other topics. In the book, Ecclesiastes, we find a different kind of take on wisdom about money and work. Take a look at this.

  • Ecclesiastes 5: 10 –11, 18 – 20 (HCSB) The one who loves money is never satisfied with money, and whoever loves wealth (is) never (satisfied) with income. This too is futile. When good things increase, the ones who consume them multiply; what, then, is the profit to the owner, except to gaze at them with his eyes? . . .  18 Here is what I have seen to be good: it is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. God has also given riches and wealth to every man, and He has allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart. 

Questions To Consider (I wrote this while living in a wealthy suburb near Washington, DC. You can adapt the questions according to your circumstances.)

  • How does living in an affluent community affect your ideas of earning and giving?
  • Do you feel pressure to have certain things that other people have, even if you have to borrow to get them?
  • Do you believe your attitude towards money affects your spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ and God, the Father?
  • Have you ever had to trust God to provide when there seemed no way you could do it on your own?

Why It Matters

There is a very specific verse that says, “No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.” Matthew 6:24 (HCSB) If we allow the love of money to take first place in our heart, then we have broken the very first commandment, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. We find ourselves no longer looking to God to be the one we trust, but instead, we put our trust in money. That is no good. Did you notice in Ecclesiastes where it says to enjoy your work and wealth is a gift of God? If we can enjoy the fruit of our labor without becoming consumed by the appetite for more and more, we can thank God for that is a gift.

My Story

I can tell you this is an area in which I struggle. I am still learning how to trust God with money. In college, I made some irresponsible choices that had far reaching consequences. I am sharing some of the choices I made with the prayer that God uses them to let you learn from my negative examples. Some of my choices came from outside influences, some from ignorance, while others came from weak areas in my own heart like envy, self-centeredness, and impatience.

Some of my mistakes to avoid:

  • Getting a credit card when I didn’t have steady income – and using it.
  • Getting married and having children before our school loans were paid off.
  • Looking at the way others lived, allowing envy to cause discontent.
  • Allowing my financial status to affect my belief in my value to others and God.
  • Having a lack of self-discipline in setting boundaries for expenditures.
  • Forgetting to trust that God will provide. Doubting that God will provide.
  • Thinking that God won’t provide because of my disobedience and lack of trust.

Now I’m in a transition period from being a stay home mom to working outside the home. As I begin to earn more, I see how easy it is to let financial success become my source of security and purpose. It’s easy to think I have control where I don’t and to let the responsibilities of the job squeeze out time with God. It takes trusting God to a new level. It also gives me a new appreciation for my husband’s role as provider for the family, and his fight to keep balance within his own spirit. The verse, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you,” Matthew 6: 33 has taken on a deeper meaning for me.

(As I mentioned earlier, I find the struggle remains. Since I am currently back in a non-earning position while going through the master’s program with school loans, I am deciding to actively pray and apply Matthew 6:33 to my current situation and the unknown future job and loan repayment. I look forward to seeing how God works through all of this.)

Finally, regarding generosity, when we had so much in the way of expenses, and so little to share, I would look for other ways to practice generosity. Even though my debt amount was large, I still wanted to give. In limited capacities, I had time, possessions, and friendship. I tried to be respectful of the things we did have so I could pass them on while they were still in good shape to others who needed them. Being creatively generous is a way to honor God and to show your gratitude for the things you have. Gratitude helps block the feelings of discontent and envy. It also shows honor to the one who is working and providing. For me, that was and still is my husband, and for you who are not yet earning your own income, it’s your parents. This is all a part of being a good steward and honoring God.

I can sum up my experiences with this: avoid debt, be patient, learn how to be content with what you have, prepare and plan for the future, but don’t forget that God is the one we trust. Watch out for those things that will distract and trap you from benefitting from good, honest work. Guard your heart!

The Big Question

  • How can you seek the kingdom of God first?
  • How is God showing you He knows what you need?
  • Are there things you are doing that keep you from being grateful and content with what you have? 

Dig a Little Deeper (HCSB)

  • Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor people in the land; that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’
  • Proverbs 22:9 A generous person will be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.
  • Ephesians 4:28 The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.
  • Romans 12:13 Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality.
  • Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
  • Matthew 13: 44 – 45 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it.”
  • Luke 12: 15 He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”
  • Luke 16: 19 – 31 Lazarus and The Rich Man
  • Luke 21: 1-4 The Widow’s offering
  • Matthew 6: 19 – 34 Treasure, Heart and Need

Read through Proverbs, the verses about money are plentiful.

For two websites on managing money with a Christian perspective, check out:

http://www.crown.org/   and  https://www.daveramsey.com/

Several years ago, I went on a nature walk as a time of prayerful meditation. This was about the time I was deciding if I was supposed to work full-time, questioning if teaching was really what I was supposed to do, and deciding to trust God with the unknowns in my future. It was a cold, gray, and muddy day. I put on my rubber boots and waded through several icy streams. Looking at the ice on the banks, the clear water flowing by, I felt as if God was saying to me that the ice was kind of like gifts or promises that were being stored until the time was right.

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Money ebbs and flows. Time, like the stream, flows at an unstoppable, sometimes smooth, sometimes rough, pace. Being anxious doesn’t help, because God is in control of it all. I just needed to trust Him, and things would work more smoothly if I did. It’s still kind of scary sometimes, but I choose to be brave.