Tag Archive: Grace


When Our Best Efforts Are Not Good Enough

God's grace

As a wife and mother, I really don’t like the times I have to admit that my best isn’t good enough. In fact, I wonder how often I really do admit it because as I think about it, it seems like I keep trying an awful lot. That’s our reality though, isn’t it? Don’t quit. Keep trying. Work harder.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not for giving up after one half-hearted attempt. I believe that we can’t succeed if we don’t bother to try. And we definitely learn a lot from the mistakes we make.

But sometimes…our best efforts are simply not good enough.

We can live in guilt and regret over this fact, or we can accept it. I accept it for others without smothering them with a guilt trip. I suspect you do to. We extend grace.

But grace for ourselves seems to be so much harder. So, we keep trying. We work harder. We keep beating ourselves up.

And yet, our best efforts still will not be good enough.

It sounds depressing, but it’s not—it’s freeing.

Because God extends to us His grace—His free and unearned favor proffered to us.

Where we are not enough, He is more than enough. Always.

Our determination, strength, energy, and hard work will never be enough to restore our relationship with God—but we don’t have to—because God already has. (<==Click to tweet.)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT

God offered the sacrifice we could never offer. He did the work we cannot possibly do.

He gives us grace.

And through God’s grace, we are able to extend grace to others—and ourselves.

Grace is freedom. (<==Click to tweet.)

Freedom to no longer live in guilt and shame.

Freedom to accept that while our efforts are not enough, God’s grace is more than enough.

Freedom to stop trying to do—and live in what’s already been done.

Freedom to breathe a sigh of thankful relief and live in His grace.

 

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith

 

[Photo credit: Stock photo: Alone by lake]

 

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What Do You Hold Most Valuable?

Philippians 3.8

What do you consider valuable in your life?

Is it objects or possessions? These may be the first things that come to mind because we are used to thinking of things in terms of monetary value. A new flat screen television is more valuable than an old black and white one.

Or maybe you value time—where you would rather spend your time, or how much time spent earning something you really wanted.

Whether we realize it or not, we place value on people, things, and ways of life, and those values may change over time.

As a new mother, I valued sleep over staying up late to watch a movie. While more recently, I’ve realized spending time hanging out with my family is more valuable to me than spending time online.

Over time, and as our lives change, we realize certain things hold greater or lesser importance to us than they may have before.

For Paul, his values changed when he came to know Christ.

Known then as Saul, he was zealous for the Jewish law. Born straight from the lineage of the tribe of Benjamin, and circumcised at eight days old, he counted himself as righteous because he obeyed the law without fault. (Philippians 3:5-6)

And then…Saul met Jesus and his life was changed forever. He realized his value for upholding every aspect of the Jewish law paled in comparison to knowing Christ as his personal Savior.

Knowing Jesus changed him, and in turn, his values (and his name) changed.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! Philippians 3:7-11 NLT

That’s what Christ does—He transforms us.

As our faith grows, our values change…because knowing Jesus changes us—from the inside out.

Walking with Jesus changes our hearts. It changes what we see as important. And it changes what we don’t want to live without.

How have your values changed as your faith has grown and as you’ve gone through different life stages?

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith
 

Small Steps to Big Growth

Last week, we talked about transformational growth—the changes God wants to make in us as we walk through the Land Between. This transformational growth is God’s work, but there is something needed from us.

Our willingness.

We need to be willing to see God’s work in us through the struggles and trials in life. If we’re not willing, He won’t force the issue. But when we’re willing and open to His work in us…a whole new perspective on life becomes ours.

Transformational growth requires small changes. It starts with incremental growth.

God is asking Will you trust Me? If we answer yes, then are we willing to take intentional steps toward growing in faith?

Incremental growth starts with…

Praying for those who hurt us instead of trying to get back at them.

Practicing forgiveness when we’d rather stay angry.

Trusting God with a situation instead of trying to make it happen on our own.

Trusting God with our finances…being good stewards with what God has blessed us with, and stepping out in faith when giving back to God.

Resisting the urge to complain, choosing to praise and thank God instead.

Choosing God’s path instead of what looks and feels good at the moment.

Acknowledging when we see God at work, giving Him the credit and glory, even when tempted to take the credit ourselves.

Being in God’s Word, starting with a schedule, if necessary, and sticking with it until spending time with God feels natural.

Learning Scripture…equipping ourselves with His Word to strengthen and nourish us.

As we take small steps toward growth, we see God moving in our lives and we learn to trust Him more and more. This incremental growth not only keeps us moving forward, but produces in us the desire to keep going.

Step-by-step, God is bringing us to a place of complete trust in Him. We’ve seen Him work in our lives, and we know He will continue, because despite what we see at the moment, we know God sees the big picture—He knows the plans He has for us.

We find that our willingness to let God make changes in us has led to transformational growth. Growth we didn’t realize was happening until we stood on the other side of the Land Between—stronger in our faith, and with a deeper trust in God.

 

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith
 

The Other Side

License: Public Domain

The Land Between is a time of uncertainty—what used to be normal has changed, and what the future will be is unknown. But eventually, whether it’s sooner or later, we reach the other side of the Land Between. Life has settled down and feels stable again, and we can look back at what we’ve gone through.

Now, consider this…

When you look back from the other side of the Land Between, what do you see?

Is your relationship with God stronger than it was before? Maybe you look back and see where He was walking along side you the entire time. Despite the grief and emotional pain, you know without a doubt God never left you.

Or, maybe you realize that somewhere along the way, you stopped turning to God. You remember only the negative experience and are still grumbling about it.

The Land Between is a perfect time for transformational growth to occur, and one of two things will happen—we move toward God or away from Him.

How we respond to difficult circumstances gives us a visual of which way we’re moving.

When life gets hard (illness, death, unemployment, financial setbacks, separation and divorce, unexplained depression, or something else), we cry out to God, knowing won’t leave us. We look for Him at every twist and turn, and let Him walk us through this time.

This reaction enables us to grow closer to God, experiencing His presence and provision in ways we’ve never seen before.

But sometimes, we put up a wall, withdrawing from family and friends…and God. Although He never leaves us, we choose to turn away from Him, refusing to let Him in. Worse yet, we might blame God for the trial we’re going through.

Reacting this way puts everything on our own shoulders and isolates us from the very One who can support and help us.

What do you see when you look back from the edge of the other side? Now, look to the future.

From your experience in the Land Between, what to you see ahead of you?

If you’ve grown closer to God, you’ve seen Him like you’ve never seen Him before. Your faith and trust in Him are stronger than ever, and you know when the next storm in life starts to brew He’ll be right there beside you, guiding you through it.

If you’ve pulled away from God, you might look to the future and dread knowing another trial will come your way. You might feel like the only one you can depend on is yourself…and that didn’t go so well the last time.

If you find yourself on the path leading away from God, know that it’s never too late to turn back to Him. There is growth in realizing where you strayed, and knowing you don’t want it to happen again when the next struggle comes.

As you look back on your journey in the Land Between, what do you see? And how does it help you as you move into the future?

 

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith
 

Looking Back at God’s Provision

Photo credit: Greenfleet Forester, May 2013

Have you ever noticed it’s sometimes difficult to see God’s provision until after the fact?

After we walk through the valley or make it to the other side of the land between, that’s when it’s easier to look back and see where God was at work. But while we’re in the exhausting day-to-day of the land between, it can be harder to see the ways God provides for us.

We know what we’re looking for. We already have in mind what we need or want God to do, and when we don’t see it, it’s easy to assume He’s not doing anything.

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. In that time, God supplied everything they needed. The obvious was food and water. They were looking for it, and they saw God provide it.

But I wonder if during those years anyone said, “Hey, have you noticed how long these sandals have lasted? And our clothes—seems like they should be worn out by now.”

God provided what they needed, whether they noticed it at the time or not. But as Moses prepared to die, he looked back over those years…

Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:

Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.Yet the Lord says, “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 29:2-6

The Israelites weren’t getting it—all that time God took care of them. He wanted them to trust Him for everything and know that He would continue to provide.

Are we any different?

We get bogged down and miss seeing God’s ways, but when we look back, our vision of God’s provision is clearer. We’re able to see that God knew just what we needed, even when we didn’t.

The perfectly-timed phone call from a friend that turned a bad day around.

The utility bill we dreaded receiving, but turned out to be less than expected.

A good night’s sleep that enabled us to deal with the events of the next day.

The direction we needed and found in His Word.

It’s so important to look back at how God has provided because it allows us to see the full picture; where before we could only see one piece at a time.

Looking back strengthens our trust. We see how God provided then…and our trust that He will continue to take care of all of our needs grows stronger.

And the more we experience and know we can depend on Him, the more confident we are that God will provide…even when it’s not in the ways we’re looking for.

When you look back, is there a time in your life when you didn’t recognize God’s provision, but you see it now?

 

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith
 

Emotional Meltdowns

The Land Between…life has been interrupted. What was normal is gone, and the future is unclear. Even in our grief, we must adjust to a time of transition and uncertainty.

We grieve over death, but we also experience sorrow and regret when there is a loss of a relationship (breakup or divorce), an unwanted change in lifestyle (loss of finances or home), or a change in family structure (child grows up and moves away).

Even when we know the change is coming, we grieve for the past. But there can also be regret over what might never be.

We may feel sadness or anger when what we hoped for in life doesn’t appear to be in God’s plans, and our dreams go unfulfilled…especially if we thought the dream was God’s plan.

Frustrated, discouraged, maybe even feeling lost in life, we have complaints and questions for God.

God, I thought this was Your plan for my life. Now what?!?

Really, God? One more thing?!? I can’t take any it more!

I’m barely staying afloat here, God. Where are You?!?

I miss ______. Why did You have to take ______ (him/her/it) away?

After a while, we are emotionally drained with nothing left to give.

Emotional meltdowns are not new to God. He knows there is only so much we can deal with—especially if we’re trying to cope all on our own.

Moses had reached his limit with leading the Israelites and listening to them complain against God over the manna He had provided.

The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” Numbers 11:4-6

With nothing of himself left to give, Moses cried out to God.

He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors?Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” Numbers 11:11-15

Don’t miss the difference in their complaints. The Israelites complained against God, discontent over what He had provided for them. While Moses, in distress, bared his heart and complained to God, in need of His comfort and help.

There is also a big difference in how God responded. The Israelites continued to make God angry with their complaints. But, for Moses, God responded by helping him.

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you.  I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone. Numbers 11:16-17

God knew what Moses was capable of and how much he could handle. He didn’t get angry because Moses was worn out and emotionally exhausted. He had mercy on Moses and lifted a share of the burden.

He wants to do this for us, as well. He invites us to let the walls down and come to Him—with open, honest hearts and emotional meltdowns—where He will lift us up and give us rest.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NLT)

The invitation has been extended. How will you respond?

 

In Christ,
Laura
Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith
 

Everything Seems Upside-down

upside-down

Jesus never ceases to amaze me! He shocked the religious and the irreligious in his earthly ministry. The standards and ways of the world would not dictate how Jesus responded and spoke. The beautiful thing about all of this, is that he still does it today.

The Bible is full of references and themes that suggest God is on the side of the poor, outcast and marginalized of our society. God wants his people to reach out to them and declare his love for them. It would be hard to find a part in the Scriptures that would refute this idea at all. The Gospels and Jesus ministry thrust the “least of these” before us because they were always before Jesus. Our calling as Christians is clear, we are to care for them.

But this is where Jesus’ mission surprises all of humanity. As we work to fix the injustice of this world as we want relief to come to the poor and justice for the oppressed. But what do we want for the oppressors, the ones creating all the problems? What do we want for the abuser, the one in charge of human trafficking rings, the thief on Wall St. that stole every penny of someone’s savings, the bullies, etc? This is where it gets difficult for me. I want justice to be had with these people but it is exactly where Jesus acts in an upside-down way. Jesus not only loves the victims of suffering and injustice, but he loves the perpetrators of those very injustices. Jesus goes after the oppressed and the oppressor. This is what separates Christians from “good people.” We don’t just seek to save the lost who are poor, destitute and marginalized…we also seek to offer the good news of salvation to the ones we believe are outside of God’s grace because that is exactly what Jesus did and continues to do today.

Jesus works on both sides of the spectrum even when we think he shouldn’t care. Chapter 24 of “The Story” we see Jesus acting in upside-down ways. Through his parables we learn about the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ heart for people far from him. The Luke 15 parables all point to the rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. The lengths Jesus will go for one lost person is truly amazing. This gospel has the power to redeem and restore, and even in the face of extreme evil the Gospel has the power to turn it back.

How far are we willing to go? Would we fight harder for some people and not others? How can we take on the full spectrum and be for the oppressed and oppressor?

A-New-Day-Is-Coming-Screen-One

Perspective 1- Barb Miles

The book of Esther talks of two queens – Vashti and Esther. Queen Vashti chooses not to obey King Xerxes when he summons her, defiling the customs. This was seen as a defiant act, in those days it would have shown disrespect of the head of their household. Esther, one of many concubines in training catches the king’s eye with her beauty and is clearly seen as one who obeys the customs of the kingdom. Due to her demeanor she was seen as one who was pleasant and was given attendants along with a prime spot in the harem.

Esther’s qualities were what separated her from the others. She was faithful to her uncle’s suggestions by following Mordecai’s recommendation to keep her family background and nationality private. When Mordecai learned of a plot to kill King Xerxes, he told Esther who in turn told the king but gave Mordecai the credit for discovering this news. Not one out for her own gain, was she?

A noble in the king’s court Haman, had gotten the king to agree to annihilate the Jews and left it up to Haman to decide when this would take place. But Esther risked her life by going to the king even though she had not been summoned, speaking up and asking the king to save her people. Due to Esther’s request, the king issued a decree giving the Jews the right to stand up as one and protect themselves from any danger.

The title of this chapter is “The Queen of Beauty and Courage.” I believe God gave Esther her beauty to put her in a position to use her courage to save her people.

Perspective 2- Pastor Ron

I wonder how many times Mordicai and Esther second-guessed themselves. Most of the people of Judah, now known as Jews, have returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their former lives. There were those who decided to stay behind and continue with the new lives they had established in Babylon. Mordicai and Esther belonged to those who remained behind and I wonder how many times they second-guessed their decision. In reading Esther, you can at least get the idea that they were still looked down upon by the general population. After all, Mordicai instructs Esther to keep her nationality a secret. Later on Haman wants to wipe out all of the Jews! Would it have been better to be back in Jerusalem with their own people? They would have no way of knowing that those who returned had their own problems. My guess is the grass is always greener on the other side, at least when things are not going to well. So, at times, they could dream of how those who returned were back in their homes and worshiping at the Temple.

There was no second-guessing for God. He had Mordicai and Esther right where they needed to be. They would be part of His plan to protect His people from extinction. Looking back as we can, we can see God’s plan coming together. On the other hand, while Mordicai and Esther were dealing with life, they had to ride the waves of good and bad times. In the end, they too could look back and see that their decision to stay was right in line with God’s plan.

Second-guessing comes…..well, second nature to us. We make decisions and then wonder if it was the correct one. Perhaps you should have stayed at the first job. Maybe it would have been better to take that transfer. We can second-guess ourselves silly, but in the end, God is still active in our lives and in our decisions. By his grace, one day we will be able to look back and discover God used us right where we were.

Perspective 3- Kelsey Rath

One word that I think of when I think of Esther is courage. For example, this paragraph from the book of Esther 2:8-11:

Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favor. Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.

So really, Esther was taken by the king’s order (not wanting to go, having to go) to go to his palace to choose a new queen. It ended up being Esther. If I had to guess what was going through Esther’s head right then, I would say she would have to be stunned. I mean, she wasn’t even fit to be queen (not including that she was a Jew!) That’s when the courage starts to make its appearance. Esther had to trust that God would lead her and that he would be watching over her step by step. That’s exactly what God did. Now Esther is known as the queen of courage and beauty. Some things may seem unreal or impossible, but God makes them real and possible.

Perspective 4- Dan Petrak

The King Who Had It All (4 Perspectives)

Kings

Perspective 1-Pastor Ron

God’s grace and Jesus’ genealogy is what struck me the most from this chapter.  God’s grace to David is incredible. David’s relationship with Bathsheba had obviously started all wrong – an affair, the murder of her husband, and the death of the first child they had together. Yet, God allows them to have other children and even allows their first son to become the next king! Others were in line to be king before Solomon, but God knows the love that David has for Bathsheba and he allows their child to be the heir to the throne.

One has to believe that when God formed Solomon in the womb He had plans for him. Believers and unbelievers alike know the Wisdom of Solomon. A wisdom that he received from God when he could have asked for anything, anything at all! I would suggest that Solomon had maturity beyond his years and a good deal of wisdom before God blessed him with even more. God’s grace in all of this is indescribable. How incredible that God could take an adulterous affair and turn it around to produce a wise king for Israel!

You add to all this grace the genealogy of Jesus and it becomes even more overwhelming. Jesus’ family history now includes Bathsheba. Add her to the woman of the night who hid the spies that Joshua sent into the Promise Land, along with Ruth the Moabite! Even Jesus’ genealogy is a testament to God’s grace. He indeed came for all people—people from every ethnic background and shady background.

Jesus said; “On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (Matt. 9:12-13)

Perspective 2-Dan Petrak

Perspective 3-Diane Schmidt

What a great event for Solomon to build the temple and then be there for its dedication, for the first sacrifices made to God in the temple. I have witnessed and heard about dedications of buildings in recent years and it’s a pretty big deal. A big party, super important people are present, speeches and accolades are given. As I read through Chapter 13 of “The Story” I just imagined how huge the event of the Temple dedication would have been. The splendor, no holds barred party that King Solomon would have held for this dedication. To be there would have been a life altering experience. Since the temple was destroyed in the first century I guess I will just have to continue to image the splendor of the temple, as we will never really know its full beauty and grandeur. Just imagine the splendor and beauty!

But what about the man Solomon? King Solomon, a very wise and rich man, had it all. He had the love of God, the guidance, the blessing and favor of God. He was known the world over, sought after for his wisdom, given gifts from foreign kings. He was achieving world peace. He was blessed with possessions of great value from foreign kings, including their daughters. The only thing Solomon had to do was follow the laws and decrees of God. Follow me and I will continue to bless you and your descendants. That was it. But what did he do? Did he get bored? Did he change his mind? He definitely let those around him influence his decisions. His wives led him astray. In this chapter of the story there is no mention of a prophet, no Nathan or Samuel. What happened there?

Perspective 4- Barb Miles

In this chapter we see that God didn’t choose the qualified but qualified the chosen, again.  This happened when Solomon was chosen to fulfill the responsibility of building the Temple.

Completing his father’s plans for building the temple of The Lord, Solomon is not unlike families of today.  As one generation takes over the previous generation’s plans and accomplishments, so did those in the Old Testament.  God continues to lay the groundwork for the next generation.

Perhaps you or someone you know is a farm family, or runs a family operated business.  They are an example of when one generation steps back from running the business daily to multi-generations working together for their continuation.  They are preparing the next generation to be qualified.  God and David prepared Solomon to be qualified.   When they are so fortunate to have been handed down their previous generations knowledge and wisdom, then God has truly blessed them.

“He is good; His love endures forever.”

“The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.” Exodus 19:8

Can you imagine telling God that you are willing and ready to do everything he has commanded…and say it with a straight face?

The Israelites are free from Egyptian rule, free from slavery, and free from brutality. They left Egypt and have been out in the desert for weeks. The people are tired, thirsty and hungry. They start to wonder if God brought them out to the desert to kill them. Then they start longing for home…not the home God is leading them to, but their homes back in Egypt. They would rather return to a place of slavery and brutality because it is what they know versus staying in the desert with an unknown future ahead. They would rather trust in their slave masters than trust in God who delivered them. Sounds like a sad place to be.

Finally we come to the base of Mt. Sinai as Moses goes up to talk with God. Moses comes to the elders and the people and reminds them of what God has done for them. He tells them all that the Lord had commanded. Instead of taking time to think over the proposal and think about the cost of their decision, they jump right in and say they are going to do everything that God has commanded. Huh?

The question is, can we trust these people? They only stopped grumbling for a moment after being freed from slavery, how long will this relationship last? Let-down after let-down God still chooses this people because of his Upper Story. In the lower story we see whiners and complainers, but God sees a people who will be used to proclaim his message to all nations, a people who will eventually bring forth his Son.

I learn a lot about myself from these people in the lower story. I think how easy it would be to long for the security of what is known, instead of listening to the call into the unknown. How easy it is to trust in my own ways and means instead of the plans that God has for me. I even think about the life of sin that was formally my master. When sin was my master, I indulged every temptation. It was a life that looked like ease, but in reality it was a life being ruined by sin.

Christ has freed us from the chains of slavery. He has set us free, so why would we ever long to return to it. But the reality of this is that we are a people no different from the Israelites. It is a different time and a different setting, but we continue in the same pattern. We have moments of pure clarity where following God is the only thing we want to do and will whole heartily say I will do everything…but we have moments that following God is the furthest from our minds. How do we get to that place?

We have a God that even when we turn our back, he never will. No matter how many times we turn away, he will continue to pursue us. God has been reckless with his grace. Time and again in the scriptures, God shows his reckless grace for all of his people, even those that were enemies of God’s people. It’s amazing that God takes us back…but that’s why grace is so amazing!

Be blessed today as you are a blessing to others!

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