Being Confident of This

Grace for the work-in-progress woman

Counting Bedtime Blessings

Bedtime Blessings, counting blessings, motherhood, love

It’s past midnight now, yet I sit sleepy-eyed in the too quiet house.  Our four children are all tucked safely into bed and my husband snores beside me.  An extra chill hangs in the air as temperatures outdoor have dipped below zero once again.

I should have gone to bed long ago, but the quiet is so peaceful and I’m feeling so thankful.  Not for any one thing in particular, really, but for many small things all at once that pile up to one pretty spectacular life that I just don’t deserve.

And it’s because of Him, our Creator God, that I am gifted with this one life, this one year, this one day never to be repeated again.

So, I’m thankful because in the midst of trial, I’m finally seeing some of the good.  I don’t always see it, don’t always “count it joy,” but today I can see the progress.

Today I realized that this time of trial has greatly strengthened our marriage.  I’m able to  appreciate my husband in ways that I haven’t been able to before.  He’s been my comfort in times of need and my encourager in times of weakness.  We’ve regained that sense of companionship that so easily gets lost in the daily urgency of parenthood and of ministry. I’m counting that a victory!

Even more, after finishing only part of the laundry and part of the coupon clipping, I felt free to stop and just “be” with them, those fabulous  kids who amaze me with their zest for life and their love for others.  And again I’m thankful because I don’t always take the time to stop and read books or play legos or look at drawings or dance. I can’t always resist the desire for domestic perfection, but I’m never sorry when I do.  Another victory I’m claiming!

And I, I walk away the richer for it.  I fall even more in love with these creatures the Lord has entrusted to us.

bedtime blessings, counting blessings, love, family

I notice the way my daughter’s bedtime hugs and kisses always come with compliments like beautifulest or sweetest or nicest or bestest.  And when I pay her a compliment in return, her face fairly glows with joy.  She’s my enthusiastic encourager.

I notice, too, the way our youngest son really hugs me back, both small arms around my neck and a nice squeeze (but not too hard), maybe even a few pats on the back.  He lingers there, not old enough to be embarrassed yet by sitting in Mommy’s lap.   He’s my sweet snuggler.

I can’t leave out our middle son, our macho man, who seems unusually happy and eager to please this evening (bedtime is normally met with his frowns).  In fact, he asks me to stop reading before his bedtime story is finished so that he will have time to pick up his blankets from the floor (shocking!), the leftovers of a massive tent-fort built on this unexpected snow day.  It delighted me because…he’s my energetic entertainer.

The only one left is our oldest son, quick to help, slow to anger.  His shoulders seem to grow broader by the day as his voice deepens.   He’s developing a hunger and thirst for the Lord that thrills this mama’s heart.  He’s my gentle leader of the pack. 🙂

What really struck me this evening, though, was the sense of peace that pervaded the air here.  The transformation that love in action has on our children is profound.  When they know that in this moment right here, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are incredibly loved, that they are valued for who they are, then they blossom right before my eyes.

No tears at bedtime, no scowling, no stalling…

I can see it on their smiling faces, that in just a few lovely hours, they’ve been filled to the brim so much so that it just overflows in return – love and joy and peace.

bedtime blessings, great love, God loves us, children of God

Suddenly, I realize that it’s no different for me.  How much easier it is for me to obey my Heavenly Father when I’ve taken time to revel in His love for me, His perfect, unfailing, unconditional love for me.  Not for everyone else, but for me.

How quick I am to chose right instead of wrong.

How strong I stand in the face of temptation.

How peaceful I feel.

And in me, the joy is unspeakable because it’s true.  My Father God loves me. He’s patient with me.  He comforts me.  He rejoices in me.  He blesses me with an abundance of good things.

And even on the tough days, when I act like an ungrateful child, He waits for me.  And when I sink to the ground in absolute despair, He sits beside me.  And when I’m ready to press on, He helps me stand.

Isn’t it the same for all of us, sisters?  If we could just live every day with this soul-deep thankfulness for who He is and for who we are because of Him, then being the women of faith we should be, the ones we really long to be, wouldn’t be half as hard!

Instead, the work-in-progress would come easy to us.  The victories frequent rather than few and far between.   It would spill right over the edges of our very selves and stream out to everyone around us, this supernatural love.

All of those good things that we cannot manufacture on our own?  They begin with Him, through Him, from Him.

Because He is good and His love endures forever.

We can be confident in that Love, sisters, for it tells us who we are.

It brings us victory!

Jen 🙂

You may find me linking up at any of these places.

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Confidence Born of Chaos

If you are a faithful follower, you’ve probably noticed that the new posts on Being Confident of This have been few and far between lately. I apologize!  I feel as if I’ve been in an extended period of wrestling with the Lord, like Jacob.  I vacillate between patient waiting on my Redeemer and repeated attempts to escape this difficult lesson.

This season of trial has been just that – trying, and at times I feel so keenly the attempts of the Enemy. I don’t want to bore you with a list of everything that has added to our burden lately, neither do I wish to complain about our temporary trials.  “When it rains it pours” and Noah’s storm lasted 40 days and nights with weeks of patient waiting to follow, right?! 🙂

But in this time of waiting on the Lord, I’m also learning.  One of the things I’ve been learning is to let Him have control of everything, including the words that end up published here.  And He seems to be telling me to stay silent often lately, to be still, to simply listen and wait for Him.

So, while I’ve been resting at His feet, waiting and listening, I’ve thought a lot about the title of this blog: Being Confident of This.  What exactly is it that we are confident of?  When I first claimed Phil. 1:6 (look for it in the sidebar) as my very own, my life verse, I did so because I knew I struggled with perfection, since as long as I can remember.  This verse offers comfort to those who, like me, know their desire to please the Lord, their desire to do right, maybe even to be perfect, but they also deeply understand their own flaws.

In the beginning, being confident of this meant that I was confident God would never give up on someone like me, so flawed, so imperfect. I was confident He would keep His promise to carry out the “good work” He began in me.   It also meant that someday I would be free of the chains of perfection!  Hallelujah! I have no words to even begin to describe what that means to me – that because of what Christ suffered, I can find freedom!  In fact, because He suffered, I am now a co-heir with Him, positionally perfected by His blood.

As I’ve grown in my Christian walk, especially in the intensity of these last few years, I’ve begun to learn another kind of confidence, the kind of confidence born of a certain amount of chaos.  I think this lesson in confidence first began about 5 years ago, when we discovered we were expecting twins!  I knew myself, my desire for my agenda, and my impatient nature.  Although I’ve been a baby-lover from a very young age, I sincerely doubted my ability to handle twins, especially after the frightful toddler years with our second-born, strong-willed ball of energy and enthusiasm. 🙂

Yet, the Lord carried us through every hurdle we faced, even when… our babies were born six weeks early and ended up in the NICU. Even a few months later when our infant son began to have seizures.  Even when we lacked money for necessities.  Even when we faced developmental delays, and head-shaping helmets, and corrective eyeware,  and one specialist after the other, etc.  He’s been faithful every step of the way!

A few years later, when He asked us to say yes to moving wherever…like Abraham going forth into the desert with no destination in mind, He remained faithful.  We truly didn’t know what we were saying yes, to, but it just so happened that we said yes to leaving a comfortable job with benefits for a full-time ministry position that required a move, albeit thankfully a short distance.

We waited for a year, with half of our belongings packed away, for Him to sell our home so that we could move to our new community.  He proved faithful every step of the way, providing a place for us to stay when we were temporarily homeless (thanks, Mom and Dad!), a place for our belongings to be stored, furniture for our growing family, a better mower for our bigger yard, and the faith and boldness to jump into a new-to-us church with its old-to-them problems. 🙂

I was so excited about where He was leading us that I temporarily forgot the pain of moving and the insecurity of building new relationships.  How can an MK like me forget such things?!  But I did.  And then I remembered…when winter came… and loneliness settled around us.  We mourned the loss of friends, the comfort of familiarity, the quiet of just “being” with family.  Even then, especially then, He showed Himself faithful.  He carried us through that darkest winter and right into the hope of spring!

And now, now I feel we are in the midst of the Refiner’s fire again.  It’s painful, but also beautiful. Even here, right here in this tough spot that seems to last for eternity, He is faithful.  He does not leave me, nor forsake me. He reminds me of my blessings.  He reminds me of His promises.  He reminds me of His faithfulness.  Most importantly, He reminds me that I belong to Him.

Great is His faithfulness, time and time again. That’s what confidence is beginning to mean to me, my sisters in Christ.  I’m confident that He will see us through this current set of circumstances.  I’m confident that even though my faith may at times falter, it will never fail.  I’m confident that when I am weak, He’ll be my Strength and when I am poor, He’ll be my Provider.  And when I just need to be held and comforted, He’ll be my Rock.

faithful one, Great is Thy Faithfulness

That’s a confidence worth keeping, right?  Let’s not throw it away.

If you find yourself struggling as I have been, cling to this truth, sisters.  He is faithful; we can be fully certain of that.  When the road ahead looks to be too dark and you find yourself fearing, remember His faithfulness and be confident.  When the burden grows so great that you want to throw it off altogether, remember His faithfulness and be confident.  When you find yourself stumbling and sorrowing over sin, remember His faithfulness and be confident.

Be confident of this…

that the God of the Universe who walks by your side is the Faithful One.

And that you, you belong to Him.

Jen 🙂

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Ordinary People, Extraordinary Children

Child of the King

It’s one of those days when I feel so plain.

A tad, well, ordinary.

And I know, I know, I know the truth.  That I am.  Ordinary.

Except I’m not.  To Him, I’m not.

Why is it such a struggle to be okay with the ordinary when surrendering to that makes us so completely extraordinary?  Why do I look for the praise of man, the love of others, when I know the unfailing love of the King and the pride of Big Brother Jesus?

It’s like this fever within us, the desire to be more.  More than ordinary.  And it creeps up when we least expect it, even when we’re in the midst of reveling in the extraordinary that He reveals to us.

At first, it’s just a quiet whisper.

We shove it aside, hoping it will go away on its own.  But it doesn’t.  It grows stronger still, this whisper that we are ordinary, plain, nothing special.  And gaining strength, the whisper goes even deeper. You are weak. Your faith is weak. You are worthless.

With a groan, we turn to it, not wanting the whisper to be true, but fearing all the while that it is.   Why do we turn to it before turning away, my sisters?

Why do we listen to that whisperer, the Father of Lies?

Why don’t we turn instead to that Voice of Truth?

The Voice that calls us Beloved, Chosen, My People, Redeemed Saints,

Vessels, Lights in a dark world,

Worthy of a one and only Son, Brides of Christ.

Is there anything ordinary about being a bride?  I think those of us who are married would say it’s the day in our lives when we felt most special, most beautiful, most beloved.

There is nothing ordinary about bearing the names He gives us!

Be still, whispers.

Roar aloud, Voice of Truth!

Because Satan is defeated.  And we…we are new creations.  He no longer has dominion over us.

So, be gone foul whisperer!

We.

Are.

Children.

Of the One True King.

Ordinary people, extraordinary children.

We can be confident of that.

1 Peter 2:9

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,

a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,

so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…”

Jen 🙂

It’s Five Minute Friday, and I’m linking up with Lisa Jo again.  You can join in, too!  Five minutes of raw, uneditted, stress-free writing on a word prompt she gives us.

I might also be linking this post up with any of these lovely blogs.

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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The Light at the end of the tunnel

If you follow this blog, you know that the last month or so has been very trying for our family (read part of the story here). Now that I’ve rested at His feet for a while and regained strength, I feel like I really can “count it all joy” in spite of present circumstances.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about suffering and why the Lord allows certain suffering to come into our lives.  He’s omnipotent God, after all, and could supernaturally prevent such trials if He chose to do so.  Obviously, this suffering is part of what makes us human, but it wasn’t His original plan!  Adam and Eve lived in a perfect atmosphere – no sin, no death, no sickness, no hardship of any kind.  That’s the sort of existence our Father God intended for us to experience!  Even their marriage relationship was perfect.  Can you imagine working alongside your spouse in perfect harmony?  It sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?! 🙂  So, what happened?  Why is our world so full of evil, pain, suffering, and trials?  Why does life have to be so difficult sometimes?

Suffering because of Sin

In the Bible, God’s message to us, we find that several reasons exist for suffering.  The first suffering took place when man first sinned.  As a result guilt and death entered the world; an animal was sacrificed to cover their nakedness.  Before Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they never experienced guilt, never experienced death. It must have been horrifying to realize that because of their choices, an innocent animal must be slaughtered.  And even more horrifying to realize they must leave paradise and could no longer walk alongside the Lord God.

So by this token, sin leads to suffering, and sometimes our present-day suffering is directly related to the natural consequences we experience as a result of our choices to follow our own ways and ideas rather than God’s.  We choose not to stay inside the fence of His protection and leave ourselves open for calamity.

But there is still good news!  We serve a God of grace.  Even though Adam and Eve brought sin and suffering to the world, God did not leave them to suffer alone.  Instead, He promised a Deliverer, the Messiah, who would one day restore man to a right relationship with Him.

Consider the prodigal son in Luke 15:10-32.  Even though he sinned by leaving his father’s home to live a worldly life that lead to his own ruin, his father welcomed him home with rejoicing, not grudging acceptance, but rejoicing!

It’s the same for us, Chosen Children –no,  even more so!  For if an earthly father could forgive an ungrateful son and welcome him home with full acceptance and even rejoicing, how much more can our perfect, loving Heavenly Father welcome us back when we make wrong choices?  So, even if we suffer for a while because of sin in our lives, God promises redemption and restoration.  Although  we may feel too ashamed to ask for His help, He willingly offers it!

James 4

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Suffering at the hand of Satan, For the Lord’s Glory

We also read in 1 Peter 5:8-9  that suffering and trials can be brought upon us simply because we follow the Lord.  Satan is God’s enemy and does not desire that we should exist in a harmonious relationship with God.  I Peter says he is prowling like a lion, seeking to devour. Even the very world we live in is also our enemy because of our beliefs according to this passage in John.

John 15:19

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

In our home, we have never experienced Satan’s obvious persecution to the extent that we have the past year.  However, his attacks make sense.  My husband is a full-time pastor and we moved a year ago in order to live in the community that God has us ministering to.  That move was a huge leap of faith for us. Satan desires to limit our reach in this community, of that I am sure.

Thus, sometimes our suffering is a result of the Enemy’s attacks.

Never was there a clearer picture of this type of suffering than the life of Job, a man who lived uprightly.  His suffering was two-fold.  Satan asked for permission to test his faith and the Lord granted it.  Why?  So that through his endurance, Job might bring glory to the Lord!

But the story doesn’t end there, sisters.  Because the Lord required great things from Job, including losing his family and all of his possessions and even his very health, He also blessed Job abundantly by restoring him and even adding to all that he had before.  And through it all, the Lord was glorified!

Consider also the blind man in John 9:1-3.

 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

When asked why this man suffered with blindness, Jesus declared that the blindness was not due to sin, but was meant to bring glory to the Father.  Then, He restored the blind man’s eyesight miraculously!

What suffering have you endured that the Lord might want to use for His glory?  We sometimes like to hide away those painful things, but what if our restoration can only be found in surrendering those things to the Lord to do with as He pleases?  The longer we hold onto them and attempt to control them, the longer that healing process takes.

Suffering for Refined Faith

Isaiah 48:10

 “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

In the Bible, we read that trials will refine our faith, like gold is refined by fire.  Such suffering is not a punishment from the Lord, although it may certainly feel like it at times.  Rather, these trials are intended to grow our faith, to help us better understand who God is and who we are through Him.

It’s for this reason alone that James can admonish us to “count it all joy” when we suffer.

James 1:2-4
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

We can count it joy, not because the suffering is painless, not because we don’t want to wish it away,  but because we believe that God is faithful to use it for our benefit.

1 Peter 1:6-7

 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,

 so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire,

may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

Sisters, our perspective is skewed.  We see and live in the here-and-now.  Any present suffering feels bad, unbearable even. But God’s view is all-encompassing because He is all-knowing and eternal.  He can see how something that looks bad can actually result in good for us.  He can also see how the lives we live today will not only affect those around us and perhaps even our children or grandchildren, but also how our lives will affect generations upon generations to come. Who knows how our suffering might be used for His glory?!  Do you think people like Job or Corrie Ten Boom every imagined the reach that their suffering would have? I doubt it.

Even if the only “good” that comes out of our family’s present circumstances is that we draw into a closer walk with Him, that alone is cause for rejoicing, is it not?  But it truly doesn’t stop there, friends; it doesn’t.  Because I have seen already how the Lord continues to use this season of trial not only to lift us up, but by our witness of His goodness, to lift up others who are suffering up as well.

verse for comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,

who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction

with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

(emphasis mine)

This, this right here is the light at the end of the tunnel, sisters.  Not the deliverance, although we’ll be grateful for that when it comes.  It’s the purpose, to know that we do not suffer in vain.   To know that we are not being punished by an angry God, but pruned  and pursued by a loving God.  To find rest in Him when we feel we can no longer go on. To soar on the wings of eagles when He lifts us up!  To find joy even in the midst of pain! To watch Him keep His promises time and time again!

And, oh, the beauty of it all, ladies.  It’s so beautiful. When He takes my insignificant pain and suffering and uses it to comfort a sister in need.  I’m just in awe .

This is the God we serve – Who can take the ugly and make it beautiful,

Who can turn weeping into rejoicing, pain into promise,

Who lifts up the humble,

Who chooses the weak,

Who redeems the sinner and exalts the unworthy!

He is the Lord and is worthy to be praised!

verse on suffering

Take heart, my sisters in Christ.

Whatever trial you are going through,

there is purpose in the pain.

Jen 🙂

 For resources on this topic, visit here:

http://rachelwojo.com/resources-understanding-pain-suffering/

You may also find me linking up at any of these lovely blogs.

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The Day I Saw Red

1 John 1:9  If we confess our sins...

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins…

Today I saw red.  I was so angry at the injustice that I burst into tears.  That’s my response, ya know, when the going gets so tough that all kinds of nastiness is about to spew forth from my lips.  But I know I’m held to a higher standard than the world; I know the tongue is sharper than any two-edged sword.  I know letting those words escape would be wrong.  So I gulp the words down and they rise up as tears instead.

You see, there was this insurance claim for a broken bone, which happened during our family vacation (see the story about Buttkill Falls).  And even though we followed every step that we should have, even though we did everything right according to the insurance company’s procedures, they still refuse to pay.

It’s really not just the fact that this month we’re already short, and the medical center has already removed money from our account.  I know Our Provider can handle dollars and cents.  It’s not even just that my tailbone still hurts and now I’m miserable with a cold (or maybe fall allergies), too.  It’s more the incredible injustice of knowing you did everything right, and still you suffer.

I saw red, and I was tempted to despair.  I asked the Lord, “Why? Hasn’t enough gone wrong already in the last few weeks?”  And the truth is that it really has been an incredibly crazy few weeks for us.  One trial after another.  When it rains it pours.  That kind of few weeks.  The kind of weeks that string into one long line of day after day of some new problem to cope with – problems with ministry, problems in the home, problems with old, leaky  pipes, problems with finances, problems with health. You cling to His promises and try to face each new challenge with a trusting heart.  But it all sort of piles up on you until you feel like you can’t breathe anymore and you want to beg for rescue, cry out for mercy.

It feels unfair.

And whenever I get to that point, the point when I’m telling the Lord He’s not being fair to me, He has only to say one word.

Jesus.

It wasn’t fair to Him, either.

He did everything right and nothing wrong, yet He suffered even unto death for my sin, my wrongdoing, my evil.

Oh, the shame!  The shame of having questioned.  The shame of telling myself my petty, short-term suffering is unbearable, that it shouldn’t be required of me.  The shame of my sinful pride.

And the perspective!  The perspective of realizing there are so many others suffering much, much worse evils around the world.  People struggling just to survive.  People dying for their faith.  People dying without any Hope.  The perspective of remembering Who is on my side – how could I forget?  Has He not proven Himself faithful time and time again?  And still I doubt, like Peter who saw the 5,000 fed, yet feared the wind and the waves, walking toward Christ, yet slowly sinking.

So, I saw red today.  My face turned red.  Tears fell.  I shouted angrily at the Lord, even if only in my mind.

And then He showed me red.

Red blood dripping from the sacrificial Lamb, the perfect Son of God who deserved only glory, not death.

My salvation and my forgiveness.

The One who understands true suffering.

Forgive me, Father, for my faith is weak and I sometimes doubt.

But You, You are good.

Even when I am not.

And You love me, even when I fail to love You.

Thanks for reminding me that I’m a work in progress, and that work is not yet complete.

I have Hope in You.

Jen 🙂

I’ll be linking this post to other blogs you can find listed under the Favorite Link-ups tab in my sidebar.

Okay, I’m pretty sure I bent the Five Minute Friday rules again today, and this is way more personal than what I’m comfortable sharing. In fact, I’m downright embarrassed and a little afraid.  But… when I sat down to write, this is what came out at the end of a long day, concluding a long week.  And I can’t hide it away as I would like to, or I wouldn’t be a truth-teller.  Sisters in Christ, we all have sinned. And we all doubt.   Even missionary kids.  Even ministers’ wives. Even faith bloggers.  🙂  If you’re struggling today, I want you to know that you’re not alone.  And that He loves you anyway.  Just listen to the words of the song below.

Read more encouraging words from another blogger who’s having “one of those days” here.

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When Church Becomes Worship

Church

It’s almost here:  Sunday, a day when brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world gather together to worship the one true God.  And this Sunday, I will be able to go to church!  Isn’t that exciting! I’m ready, ready for worship, for fellowship, even for conviction to sting my heart during worship.

I’m ready for serving, for listening, for both giving and receiving.  I’m ready for hugs and how-are-yous and happy-to-see-you-todays.  I’m so ready that I would love to skip right over Saturday straight to Sunday!

I wish I could say I felt this way each and every Sunday, but the truth is that I don’t.  Many Sundays, I would rather not attend church.  I would rather not serve or worship or fellowship.  I usually go anyways; it’s kind of hard not to when you’re the pastor’s wife. 🙂  But on those Sundays when I grudgingly rise up from bed and grudgingly head out the door to church, I’m the loser, the one who misses out.

There is nothing different about those Sundays except for my own attitude.  I take worship for granted and fail to see it for the privilege that it is.  Thus, I miss out on the blessing church attendance could be.

It’s funny, really, how an illness or injury or absence of any kind can help you to appreciate those things in life that sometimes feel like burdens rather than the blessings that they truly are.  Like family.  Like motherhood.  Like worship.  Like serving the Lord.  We who are in Christ, especially here in America, are blessed with so many privileges that we fail to see as such!

When does church attendance become a burden?  When do we forget the blessing of knowing God, of being chosen?  When does spiritual life become less razzle-dazzle and more ho-hum?

It happens when we forget who we are and who He is.  Because when I remember what an unworthy sinner I am, how flawed, how small, how unlikely to be chosen, I know my real place.

And when I remember who He is,

the King of Kings,

Creator of the heavens and earth,

Blessed Redeemer,

Constant Provider,

a Refuge of Comfort,

Faithful Friend,

Lover of my soul,

then I leap at the chance to give Him the praise He is due!

I’m reminded, too, that I live in America, the land of the free, while so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world do not share in that privilege to fellowship and worship without fear!  In fact, nearly a third of the world does not even know the truth of a Savior who willingly bled and died for the sake of our redemption from sin and slavery.

And with that perspective, the opportunity to worship with fellow believers becomes a blessing and not a burden, a delight rather than a duty.  That’s when church becomes worship.

church 2

I wish we who are in Christ could feel this way about a chance to worship Him in church every Sunday! How powerful would that be?  Even if our church isn’t perfect (and which one is??), even if our relationships aren’t perfect (yes, those, too), even if we aren’t perfect (and no one is, no, not one), our God is perfect.  Does He not deserve our adoration and obedience?

Hebrews 10

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,

20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,

21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;

24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,

25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Where will you be this Sunday?  I plan to be praising my Lord at church because

He

is

worthy.

Jen 🙂

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A Savior Who Never Grows Weary

I’m privileged to attend a women’s bible study on Tuesday mornings most weeks.  We’re currently studying the book of Hebrews in depth, and this week the focus was on the latter part of chapter seven.

In this chapter, the author spends a great deal of space demonstrating why Jesus is the ultimate High Priest, even greater than Melchizedek, who was a pillar of the Hebrew faith. Because Jesus is eternal, He is superior.  Because He is perfect, blameless, He is superior.  Because He continues to intercede on our behalf at the Father’s right hand, He is superior.

Hebrews 7

“23 The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, 24 but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.”

When asked to reflect on these verses, the end of verse 25 jumped out at me.  “He always lives to make intercession for them.” That is His purpose at the right hand of the Father, to intercede on my behalf, continuously, for all of eternity.

Did you catch that?  Our risen Savior didn’t just choose us at the cross. He chooses us now; defends us now; redeems us now; intercedes for us now, moment by moment, forever and ever, hallelujah! 

I often grow weary of my children (let’s be honest, now :)). I often grow weary of my husband, of others, and sometimes I even grow weary of my Lord. My love fails.

But His love never fails.  

He never grows weary of being my Savior.

He never grows weary

It wasn’t just a one-time act, that choice to suffer on the cross, that forgiveness of even the most unpardonable sins. He continues to act on my behalf, acts for my forgiveness, over and over again. Today, and the next day, and for all of eternity.

As humans, we cannot even come close to that kind of love!  In fact, even our most sacred vows end with ” til death do us part.” One day we will come to an end, and with that end, our imperfect love will also cease.  We says things like, “I’ll love you forever” but that promise is impossible for us to keep.  And even if we manage to love one another for a lifetime, our love  is full of faults, imperfections, wounds, conditions.

But His love is not our love. He alone can keep the promise of a perfect, forever love.  Our High Priest claims us time and time again. “Father, you see that one right there?  I chose her. I died for her.  Her sin is covered by my blood.  She belongs to us now. I call her beloved.  I love her as she is.”

Oh, the overwhelming grace!  It’s almost painful in its power.  It floods us and we drown in it, dying to self and rising anew.  Rising to bone-deep gratefulness.  Rising to undeserved confidence in our eternal position. Rising to true love.

Grace floods us

If you’re feeling low-down and unworthy today, unloved or under-appreciated, overwhelmed by sin or temptation or trials, or maybe just a little weary of life in general, remember who your Savior is.

He is real.

His love is real.

And it never ceases.

He sits at the right hand of the Father and proclaims, “Covered by my blood, covered by my blood.”

Rise anew, beloved, rise anew.

Jen 🙂

Sharing with: A Little R&R

See the Favorite Link-ups tab on my sidebar to find the other blogs I’ll be linking to.

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5 Ways to Stretch a Budget: Part 2 (the practical bit)

Yesterday I shared with you the first half of 5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget.  If you haven’t read the first half, I encourage you to do so as it contains the foundation of our frugal living.  In these tough economic times, it’s hard to find ways to make a small budget work, especially if you have a large family and are living on a single income. These tips should help.

And now, for part 2:

3. Pray for Your Needs and 4. Buy Gently Used

(these two overlap quite a bit)

Appliances – Finding good deals on appliances is admittedly harder than saving money on other items, but it can be done!  Our first action is to pray about it.  Remember, the Lord promises to provide for our needs.  Our favorite money-saving techniques when buying gently used appliances are to look at garage sales, ask friends and family to be on the lookout for us, check craigslist, buy scratch and dent, and so forth.

Vehicles – We have never had a car payment, ever. When we realize that it’s time for a new (to us) vehicle, we start praying! Sensing a theme yet? 🙂 We know we cannot afford a car payment while attempting to pay down student loans, so we ask God to send us a vehicle that will meet our needs as well as our budget.  Praise the Lord, He has always provided the vehicles we needed, sometimes even at no cost to us, including the necessary switch to a minivan before the birth of our twins!  Then, we are often able to pass on the blessing by giving our old vehicle to someone else in need.

For necessary car repairs, we also pray.  My husband does whatever he can himself, but if it’s a major repair, we usually have to ask for help.  We’ve been blessed with some mechanics in the family, but when they are busy we have also turned to church family or friends.  If you know someone mechanically minded, you could even trade services – offer to babysit, make a meal, or some other skill you or your husband have!

Furniture – In our home, you will not find new furniture. It’s a luxury we cannot afford, although I’ll admit I’ve been tempted at times!  The majority of our furniture has come from garage sales, hand-me-downs, Goodwill, Craigslist, and so forth. We often pray for furniture needs as well, especially when we moved last year and our twins needed to graduate to full-sized beds and dressers of their own.

God provided a set of bunkbeds, a loft bed, a few dressers, a desk, and more – most of which came from one garage sale.  We had looked at loft beds online for our daughter’s room since it was going to be quite small, but they were very pricey. We prayed about it and just didn’t feel peaceful about spending that much money on a want.  That very weekend, God provided via the garage sale where we found a white loft bed with matching shelves and dresser – all for $50!  They wanted to get rid of it so badly, they even threw in an extra desk. Praise the Lord! If we had not been willing to wait, we would have unnecessarily spent well over $400.

Baby Items – We have pretty much outgrown the baby years here, but when we found out we were pregnant with twins over four years ago, I learned a lot about trusting God to provide for needs in this area.  He provided a second crib, clothing, a second exersaucer (which wasn’t even a need, really), and so forth from generous friends and even neighbors. We even found car seats we really liked on clearance in one of those moments when you know God is just blessing you for the fun of it! 🙂

I also shopped a lot of garage sales, but my favorite place to shop was the nearest second-hand baby store, called Once Upon a Child.  Not only are the gently used items half the price of a new item, but also outgrown baby clothing and items can be traded in for cash or store credit.  If you don’t have one in your area, check for another baby thrift store. E-bay was another source of gently used items that I utilized.  Last but not least, I often swapped items with ladies at church. For more ideas on how to save in the baby area, read 9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes.

Vacations – We do splurge a little in this area (at least what we call splurging). God has always provided a way for us to vacation when needed.

5 Ways to Stretch a Budget, big family on single income, make a tight budget work, how to save money, pastor's salary, vacation

Now that my husband ministers full-time, vacations are becoming much more of an actual need than a want, and as the saver in the family, I’m learning to see them that way. 🙂  However, the funding isn’t always available, even for a “cheap” vacation like camping. In this case, we have vacationed at relatives’ homes, we have swapped houses, and we have even found some ministries for pastor’s families who help provide lodging.  If you are a family in full-time ministry in desperate need of rejuvenation, please visit this site: http://www.lawrencewilson.com/free-retreats-vacations-pastors/ .

Utilities – You can only stretch this budget so far since heat and electricity are necessities (in this country anyway).  However, setting the thermostat at 66 or 67 in the winter months and 75 or 76  in the summer months saves quite a bit of money.  If you can’t go that far, even a couple of degrees can make a difference.

Consider rewarding your children for turning off unnecessary lights or appliances in the home to motivate them to keep utility costs to a minimum.  Additionally, we utilize the budget-billing program to keep our monthly costs even, which is easier to budget for. Consider investing in energy efficient appliances, but only if you have the finances to.  Again, if your budget is lacking, pray about it.

5. Do It Yourself Whenever Possible

Haircuts, Home  improvements, Home decorating, Lanscaping, Gardening, Sewing, Homemade cleaning products – whatever you can do on your own rather than paying someone else to do is like money in the bank!  A $25 pair of clippers lasts a long time – just sayin’. (See this tutorial to learn how to cut boy hair at home and my pinterest board for lots of other DIY tutorials.) Learn how to re-purpose everyday items such as baby wipes.  And with the invention of Pinterest and the DIY blogs readily available, we really have little excuse to avoid learning some new skills, right? 🙂

If you have already tried to d-i-y and it just isn’t working, why not trade services to save money on the things you need help with?  A few years ago, I promised my husband I would never again ask him to lay laminate wood flooring after we sold our previous home.  He was miserable doing it and encountered much difficulty, even with the help of my brother-in-law!  But we can barter with friends next time we need new flooring.

Praying for Needs, How to stretch an already tight budget, single income, large family, how to save money

So that’s how we live frugally to achieve our financial goals.  After 14 years of marriage, my husband has learned to appreciate my frugal nature, and I have learned to allow him to balance it out.  Sometimes it’s nice to have the freedom to buy something new, or something that is a want rather than a need.  I’m thankful for God’s wisdom in the mate He chose for me!

I’m sure I missed something, but I hope these ideas have helped you find areas in which you can stretch your budget, tooEven if you currently have a budget with a little room to spare, why not consider cutting back in just one area so that you can support global missions or feed a hungry child?  When looking around our home, I can see there are things that we could live without even today, so I’m challenging myself here, too.  Remember that as with any changes in life, learning to live more frugally is a work in progress.  Even small steps can lead to success!

Have a great budget-stretching tip?  Share with us in the comments!

Jen 🙂

If you enjoyed this post, you might suggest these practical suggestions for making things last:

http://harvestlanecottage.blogspot.com/2013/06/forty-ways-to-use-it-up-wear-it-out.html

or this post with additional ideas for savings in order to live on one income:

http://yourmodernfamily.com/how-to-become-a-stay-at-home-mom-on-one-income/

or these postw detailing how to save on kids’ clothes:

9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes (part 1)

9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes (part 2)

 

Also linking up at:

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5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget: How a Family of 6 Lives on a Single Income

  Today on Mama Monday, I want to touch on the matter of saving money!  I know in these tough times, many families are looking for ways to stretch the budget.  I also know that my husband and I learned several difficult lessons about finances early on in our marriage. So, as a family of six living on a single income, I’d love to share with you how we make our tight budget work! 🙂

Growing up an MK (missionary kid) taught me many life lessons.  I’ve seen what it is to truly be in need.  I know in many areas of the world, children often go hungry and families sleep on the bare dirt floors of a thatched jungle hut.  I’ve witnessed firsthand the difference between needs (for survival) and wants (for pleasure).  I’ve also seen our Father God provide for our family in some amazing ways – money for shoes sent from another state, postmarked before we even prayed for it!

So, when my husband and I first joined our lives together, it’s not surprising that some of our first arguments were over money – how to spend it.  🙂  I was very reluctant to spend our finances on anything I did not deem a need and my husband was more laid-back in his approach to finances.

However, a few short months later, we found ourselves expecting our first child and my husband without a job.  During that time of zero income, I forgot those missionary kid lessons.  I forgot that when we have needs, we turn to our Heavenly Father for help.

Matthew 6

 25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

………………………

As a result of trusting in our own abilities rather than in the Lord, we quickly found ourselves in debilitating debt.  It took 5 long years to dig out of the money pit we created.  Since then, we have grown tremendously in our financial stewardship, mostly out of pure necessity.

I praise the Lord for the work He has done in overhauling our money mindset!  Today, being a stay-at-home mom of four, I contribute very little to our family finances, so making the most of what we have is not optional – it’s mandatory!

5 Ways to Stretch a Budget, tight budget, single income, large family, ways to make a small budget work

I often field questions from others on how we make a single income work for our larger than average family (although I know many much larger than ours).  So, I asked my husband to help me make a list of the areas in which we save money so that we can achieve our financial goals, the primary goal being that I am free to stay home with our children, and a secondary goal being to eventually live debt-free (that’s the work-in-progress part).  🙂

I hope you find these budget-stretching tips helpful!

***Disclaimer – this is not a post about whether or not women should stay home or go to work. That is a decision for each family to make with God’s guidance, and I recognize that some families just don’t have that option. Additionally, it is not a post to brag about our money-saving budget – it truly is by God’s grace alone that we are no longer living paycheck to paycheck and we still have much growing left to do.  This is a post on ways to stretch the budget if you are looking for help – how we make a single income (a pastor’s salary) work for our family of six. 🙂

Top 5 Ways to stretch your budget.  Budgeting for a family of six on one income, tight budget, making a small budget work for a large family, single income, pastor's salary

Top 5 Ways to stretch your budget. Budgeting for a family of six on one income.

1.       Follow God’s Plan for Finances

Start with a Budget!  It seems obvious, but many people don’t have a detailed budget, or they have one that they don’t follow. (Of course, we always stick to ours….Ha!)  If you don’t have one, make one.  If you don’t know how, ask someone for help. If you aren’t sure where to start, visit Crown Financial Ministries  for some helpful tools.

Pay off Debt – OR better yet, try not to take on any debt in the first place; instead trust God to provide for your needs.  Oh, how I wish I had understood how interest works earlier on in life!  If you are already overwhelmed by debt, check into Credit Counselors’ Corporation or a similar non-profit group as soon as possible.  The longer you wait, the worse it will get.  Trust me – we’ve walked that path before! 🙂

Offerings –  For us, giving a regular offering is non-negotiable.  However, it was not always so!  When first married, we were both still in college, so our income was very, very small, at times non-existent.  So, we didn’t give consistently and usually what we did give was the leftovers at the end of the week.  In time, however, we both became convicted that giving needed to be a priority.

We started very small: only five dollars a week.  But we gave faithfully, and little by little God helped us to increase it.  And while we wondered where our food was going to come from, He continued to provide! I want to encourage you that even if you have so very little at the moment, you can still be obedient to the Lord in this area.  Even if the amount seems too small to matter, remember that it’s not about the money, it’s about the heart.  I’ve heard that “you can never out-give God.”  Test Him!

Luke 21:1-3 “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them…”

Savings – For our family, savings is also as non-negotiable as we can possibly make it.  Of course, sometimes things come up –something major breaks on the minivan, someone becomes ill, etc.  For us, savings is definitely still a work in progress, but the goal is to have savings built up for each one of those occurrences so that we don’t have to take money from our budget to meet those additional expenses.

2.       Distinguish Needs vs. Wants

Cable TV/Internet – We  realized early in our marriage that for us, the expense was a want, not a need, and we simply didn’t have room for it in our budget.  So, for many years we used an antenna when we wanted visual entertainment, or a VCR.  Today, we splurge on Netflix – $7.99 plus tax per month. 🙂  Additionally, Internet service is not really a need (unless you work from home), but we choose to splurge on it now that we have room in our budget.  If you are struggling to meet your monthly budget, these are two expenses that can probably go.

Cell Phones – I recently read that average cell phone bills for single users are upwards of $71, and for a family of four, as much as $200!  That’s a lot of money to pay out every month for a “want”!  What has worked to keep our costs low is using Tracfone, Net10, and other prepaid companies. (Update: currently we use a company called Consumer Cellular – 3 lines on a shared plan for $67.00/ month!)

We receive all of the advantages of cell phone usage (even data plans) without being tied to a contract, and since our company pays to use larger companies’ towers (like Verizon and AT&T), we rarely lose signal! If a cell phone is a true need for you because of work, etc., consider changing to a less expensive company or plan. If you can’t change your cell phone to a lower-cost plan at this time, consider getting rid of your home phone altogether and save in that area, or consider downsizing to one shared cell phone.

Clothing – This area is probably the one in which we stretch our budget the most.  Growing up an MK, I wore whatever clothes were available, plain and simple.  Brand name loyalty was not an option for our family back  then, and it’s not an option for my family now!  Don’t get me wrong – I love nice clothing, but buying new wardrobes for our children every year is not feasible for our budget.

Clothing three children, one teen, and two adults can be a challenge, but we’ve found a variety of ways to save (check out 9 Ways to Save on Kids Clothes). Clothing for adults is more challenging, but garage sales and thrift stores can still be useful. When we have a clothing need, I often take it to the Lord in prayer before I start shopping around. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been blessed with bags of clothing from friends, church family, neighbors, and even a well-timed garage sale!

 Philippians 4:6-7

 Be anxious for nothing, but in everythingby prayer and supplication with thanksgiving

let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Food – Again, we don’t have the luxury of caring about brands.  Although, I readily admit that I am  toilet paper snob . The cheap brands just don’t cut it. 🙂    To save money on food and toiletries, I buy store brands and shop at stores like Aldi’s, as well as local  farmers markets (when in season).  In the last few years, I have also learned a great deal about couponing!  I know, I know – not everyone loves using coupons, but it works for us. (Yes, I have a small stock-pile. No, I’m not one of those extreme couponers with a basement full of paper towel). 🙂

Another way to keep grocery bills low is to create a menu and shop for only the items you need for that menu.  This really works for our family. I also cook from scratch (or nearly from scratch) almost every night of the week, rather than buying pre-made meals or eating out, although we do splurge by eating out on occasion (dollar menu, anyone?).

need or want, How to stretch a budget, how to tell needs from wants, making a small budget work for a large family, tight budget, single income, pastor's salary

Bottom line: always keep in mind the question of whether the item you want to purchase is truly a need or if it’s just a want.  Once you have honestly assessed the situation, then you can decide whether or not to fund the purchase even if it is a want.  I also cannot emphasize enough how prayer impacts the way in which we use our limited finances.  Often, when we have a need, if I cannot find the item at a price we can afford, I wait…

And He provides.

Please join me  for the second half of 5 Ways to Stretch a Budget with more practical ways to save!

Jen 🙂

Have a tip to share?  Comment with your best money-saving advice!

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Five Minute Friday: Rhythm

Image

Rhythm

I often say that our youngest son, four years old, marches to the beat of a different drum.  He’s the baby of the family.  Born a mere minute after his twin sister, he remains somewhat of a mystery to me. He’s faced many trials in his young life already: a premature birth, an apnea monitor, an adverse reaction to immunizations resulting in a seizure disorder, a misshapen head requiring a corrective helmet, enlarged tonsils that interrupted sleep, removal of said tonsils that resulted in a brief hospitalization, and so on.

Despite said trials, he is my happy child, my cuddler, the one who pats my face gently, the one who seeks me out regularly just for a quick snuggle and then it’s back to playing.  He requires near constant physical touch.

And rhythm, oh does he have rhythm. I often wonder if he will be a conductor someday because the first body part to catch the beat is usually a hand.  He loves music, and he loves it loud.  His whole body is one with the cadence.

Out of all four children, he’s the one I have the least clue about.  Who will he grow up to be, this young boy? What drives him? When I think of him, I think of words like smile and touch and laughter.  He’s the son who gets crazy silly when he’s sleepy.  He’s the one who laughs at weird noises.  I once entertained him all the way through a grocery store trip by repeating a single phrase in a weird voice. “Do it again, mommy. Again!” And peals of laughter rang out all through the store.

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To say I love him just isn’t sufficient. He’s oh-so-different, unique, precious to me. He doesn’t even have to do anything special to make me love him.  I just love him for who he is, even without completely understanding him, this boy who marches to the beat of a different drum. My love for him is overwhelming and fierce.  I would die for this boy.

And that’s how God feels about all of His children.

Jen 🙂

Five Minute Friday is a challenge, a free-writing exercise that takes place every friday over at http://www.lisajobaker.com.  Join us! 🙂

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