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Archive | Grace

Grace Trumps Failure Every Time

Thank you to today’s guest, author Sue Edwards! She knows all about experiencing God’s grace through failure. This post is also a giveaway! Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Sue’s new Bible study, “Galatians: Discovering Freedom in Christ Through Daily Practice.”

grace failure

I learned about God’s grace through failure. And I learned that He is the God of second, third, fourth – infinite really – chances!

Discouraged by Failure

My first failure in ministry came while leading a small group in a community-wide Women’s Bible study. I’d only been a Christian three years, but I was on fire for Jesus and eager to serve Him. I was determined to be the best small group leader in the entire study, but every week, fewer and fewer women showed up.

Naïve and self-dependent, I called the women weekly, with urgent questions about their attendance. Of course, that only made things worse.

As I faced the looming reality that my first attempt at leading a small group might bomb, the enemy successfully and relentlessly whispered discouragement. As yearend drew closer, I wondered if the leadership would give me another chance. I wasn’t sure I wanted one. But when I met with the leader to discuss the possibility, she said,

“We are only called to be faithful, not successful. You have been faithful.”

This significant life lesson taught me more about God’s grace.

Too Insecure to Succeed

The second big ministry failure came several years later, after I had led several small groups that bonded and thrived. The leadership of the community Bible study asked me to take on an administrative position and I said “yes.”

One of my duties was to recruit small group leaders for the following year. But when several of the current leaders decided they could not return, I took their resignation personally. The enemy successfully and relentlessly whispered “This is about you. They don’t want to work with you.”

Obviously, I was not ready for this role.

New in faith and still insecure in heart, I crumbled under the pressure. With less than a month before the study was to kick-off, I called the leadership and resigned. My immaturity caused the leaders to scramble to replace me, amidst much angst I’m sure.

But, amazingly – and graciously – they kept me on as a leader, and continued to pour into my life to build my spiritual and emotional strength. Another example of God’s character and grace.

Now, after almost forty years of ministry, I thank God for these dear women who continued to forgive me and invest in me. My service to others builds on the shoulders of these women who mentored me in my early Christian life. They did not give up on a naïve, insecure woman who loved the Lord but failed miserably many times. Their grace reflected God’s grace to us all.

Jesus is about second chances, and third, and fourth, and fifth. I’m constantly reminded of His grace and mercy. God’s grace–what an unspeakable gift!

Oh, Lord, help us all to remember our own failures and your tender mercies, and pass it on.

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Sue Edwards new Bible Study, “Galatians: Discovering Freedom in Christ Through Daily Practice.” The winner will be drawn Wednesday, February 14th.

Sue EdwardsDr. Sue Edwards has over 40 years experience as a Bible teacher, overseer of several megachurch ministries, and author. Now, as Associate Professor of Educational Ministries and Leadership, she teaches full-time at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has trained women leaders in Russia, Africa, and Germany. She is the author of 5 leadership books and the Discover Together Bible study series. Galatians: Discovering Freedom in Christ Through Daily Practice is the newest in the series. Find out more about the series at www.discovertogetherseries.com 

Galatians

 

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4 Christmas Gifts from Jesus

One of our family’s Christmas traditions has been to read the biblical Christmas story together on Christmas Eve. We read those chapters from Matthew and Luke about the angels, the shepherds, the star, the magi, and the infant Christ born in a stable in Bethlehem. These beloved passages are so dear and familiar I can recite huge chunks of them from memory.

But did you know there is also a Christmas account in John’s Gospel?

Christmas gifts

John gives us a different perspective. He didn’t write about the earthly circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. Instead, John’s account is more of a heavenly perspective. He wrote about the eternal, divine nature of Jesus the Word and His purpose in coming to earth.

4 Christmas Gifts from Jesus to You

If you have time, read John 1:1-14 now. Or read it tonight with your family. As you read, look for the 4 things Jesus brought to the earth with His first coming. They are His Christmas gifts to us.

  1. Life – In his Gospel, John uses the Greek word zoe, translated as “life,” 36 times! True life – eternal, spiritual life – is in Jesus. He embodies life (John 1:4). He alone can give life (John 5:24-26; John 11:25-26). And He came to earth to bring it to us (John 3:16).
  2. Light – This world and everyone in it is dead and dying without Jesus. We stumble around in the darkness and can’t find our way to God. Jesus came to light the way to God (John 1:4-5). Many claim to know the way, but Jesus is the “true light” that gives light to everyone (John 1:9).
  3. Grace – Jesus came from the Father to bring us grace (John 1:14). Jesus’s death on the cross is the ultimate act of grace. Our sin separates us from God and we cannot save ourselves. But Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins deserve. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus and His death and resurrection we receive God’s gracious gift of salvation (John 3:16-17).
  4. Truth – Jesus came to bring us God’s truth (John 1:14). During His time on earth He testified to the truth of God (John 18:37). Many reject it. Many cling to the world’s “truth.” But only Jesus gives us God’s truth (John 3:31-36).

You may receive gifts this Christmas that cost a lot of money. But none compare to the 4 gifts Jesus longs to give. Open them up. Embrace them. Share them.

May God abundantly bless you with His life, light, grace, and truth this Christmas.

 

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6 Things You May Not Know about Apostle Paul

Apostle PaulI thought I knew him. I’ve followed his ministry. And over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading his writings. But recently, I realized I didn’t know as much about the Apostle Paul as I thought.

While studying Paul’s life for my latest Bible study, I discovered several “new” things about the apostle of grace. Of course they were there all along; I had simply overlooked them. Maybe some will be new to you too.

6 little-known facts about Paul

  1. Paul didn’t jump right into long-term ministry (Galatians 1:13-18) – In my mind, Paul met Jesus on a dusty road, spent three days fasting in Damascus, regained his eyesight, then jumped right into ministry to the Gentiles and never looked back. But a closer examination of Scripture tells a little different story. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote he “went immediately into Arabia (Galatians 1:17).” In fact, he didn’t return to Jerusalem for three years (Galatians 1:18). What did Paul do during all this time in Arabia? Many scholars feel this may have been a spiritual retreat for Paul, a time to reconcile everything he knew from the Old Testament Scriptures with his new reality in Christ. In Arabia, Paul could immerse himself in the reality of his Savior and focus on learning and growing in preparation for ministry.
  2. Paul’s nephew saved his life (Acts 23:12-35) – After Paul’s arrest by a Roman commander in Jerusalem, 40 Jewish men bound themselves in an oath to not eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. The Jewish leaders agreed to help them by petitioning the Roman commander to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin for questioning. The assassins planned to attack Paul during the transfer. But the son of Paul’s sister heard of the plot and reported it to Paul at the Roman barracks. When Paul told a centurion, the Roman commander ordered a detachment of almost 500 guards to move him to Caesarea under the cover of night.
  3. Saul’s name was not changed to Paul (Acts 13:6-9)– During the biblical account of Paul’s first missionary journey, Luke writes: “Then Saul, who was also called Paul…” (Acts 13:9). From this point forward, Luke only refers to the apostle as “Paul.” This shift does not reflect a name change, as has often been said, but rather a conscious decision on Paul’s part to use a name he already had. Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he would have been given three names at birth. The third – Paul’s Latin name – was a better fit for the predominately Roman environment. “Saul the Pharisee” chose to be known as “Paul, citizen of Rome.”
  4. God gave Paul more than he could handle (2 Corinthians 1:8-11) – Paul and his companions suffered such extreme pressure during a particular situation in Asia they “despaired even of life.” Scholars aren’t sure what event Paul referred to in these verses, but it was a situation so dire Paul believed he and his companions might die. He saw no way out of the life-threatening situation. And indeed, without God’s miraculous intervention, they would have perished. When all human hope was lost God delivered them by His grace through the prayers of the believers (2 Corinthians 1:11).
  5. Paul visited heaven before his death (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) – God gave Paul a glimpse of heaven during his early years as a believer, perhaps during his time of spiritual retreat in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Paul didn’t know if he had been physically transported or was there in spirit. But he saw and heard “inexpressible things.” Pride would be the natural sinful response to an experience like this, but pride and conceit have no place in God’s servant. Therefore, God allowed something into Paul’s life to foster humility – a “thorn of the flesh.”
  6. Paul felt deserted by everyone but God (2 Timothy 4:9-18) – Throughout Paul’s ministry he suffered trials and persecution for the sake of Christ. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and betrayed. He often went without food, sleep, and shelter. During his Roman imprisonment, he also felt alone with no other person to support or defend him. Demas left him because he loved the world. Alexander did him “a great deal of harm.” Yet through it all, the Lord stood with him. Paul was comforted and strengthened by God’s powerful presence.

I would love to sit down with Paul and hear all his stories, find out all those things not recorded in Scripture. Perhaps he would recount all the Gospel victories and tell me more about the suffering he endured for the name of Christ. Pain and struggle may have marked his life, but God’s lavish grace sustained him every moment.

Was one of these facts about Paul new to you? If so, which one? Do you know any other little-known facts about Paul?

This article first appeared on www.Crosswalk.com on July 15, 2016.

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Grace with No Reservations

imageI’ve experienced it several times – the miracle in the Starbucks’ drive-thru line. That thrilling experience when you order your drink, pull around to the window, and the barista announces that the person in front of you paid for your coffee.

My first reaction is always “Wow! That’s awesome!” Then almost as quickly I think, “Man, I should have ordered a venti!” (That means “extra large” in Starbuckese!)

My gratitude initially fosters a desire to buy the coffee for the person behind me. But before I pull out my wallet, I check out the vehicle behind me to make sure it’s not a 12-passenger van carrying a high school basketball team. I mean, I want to pass along the blessing, but there are limits.

Sometimes we feel that way about sharing God’s grace. We want to actively love others and submit to them out of reverence for Christ. But some people don’t deserve it. And others can’t do anything for me. Oh, wait… that’s the point of grace.

By definition, “grace” means being kind to those who don’t deserve it. To give and do without any expectation that the other person will reciprocate. To show kindness to those who have hurt us and meet the needs of those who will never be able to help us in return.

Yet sometimes we are stingy or choosy with the kindness God has freely given us. As believers, we have an abundant supply of His grace. God has given us more than we need; yet sometimes we hoard it. Sometimes we are stingy or choosy with God’s lavish grace, withholding it from those who desperately need it.

We may withhold kind words or actions from someone who has hurt us. Or we may take a meal to a sick friend hoping they will do the same for us in our time of need. While that expectation of reciprocation may not be our primary motivation, it is often still there, lurking in the back of our minds. Our sinful nature qualifies our grace.

Jesus constantly extended grace to those who could give Him nothing in return – the orphan, the prisoner, the widow, the homeless, the invalid, the dying, the sinner. He healed, He touched, He gave. The One “who came from the Father full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) extended grace with no expectations. And Jesus calls us, His followers, to do the same.

Who are the “needy” people right around you – neighbors, friends, family members, church members? In what ways are you extending grace with no expectation of return?

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Online Bible Study and a Giveaway!

I might be just a little – or a lot – excited! Here’s the big news: The Mom Initiative will be using my newly released book, “Lavish Grace” , as their fall online Bible study!

online bible study

A few Details about this Online Bible Study

All the details are posted today at TheMomInitiative.com, but here are the basics. The TMI online Bible study, which begins Monday, September 19 and continues through October 31, is designed with you in mind. We have built in four levels of involvement, so you can participate as much or as little as you are able.

  1. Brief weekly video and short blog lesson by one of the TMI team here on TMI each Monday, beginning September 19
  2. Deeper printable PDF lesson available in the Monday post
  3. Go deeper still by purchasing and using the Lavish Grace Bible study book (Available now in print and ebook formats at Amazon, CBD, New Hope Publishers)
  4. Join us throughout the week for ongoing discussion and practical application in the closed Facebook study group.

WorldCraft apronPLUS… each Saturday we will share a “Let’s Say Grace” recipe created just for the TMI study. And to celebrate the fall study, TMI is giving away a pair of Mother/Daughter aprons donated by WorldCrafts! Check out the TMI post to find out how to enter.

 

 

Find out more about Lavish Grace

Not sure this particular study is for you? Find out more about it now:

Visit The Mom Initiative now to find out more about the online study and enter the giveaway for a chance to win the Mother/Daughter aprons!

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“Lavish Grace” Resources, Freebies, Printables

Lavish Grace freebiesThank you for helping me celebrate the release of my new Bible study, “Lavish Grace.” I want to wrap up the celebration today with a collection of all the resources, freebies, printables and more I shared with you throughout the month of August. So in case you missed anything along the way, you will find it right here!

Free 3-Week Bible Reading Plan

Do you need a fresh awareness of God’s lavish grace? This plan will help you recognize, rest in, and share the glorious grace of God. (This plan is also a supplemental resource for Kathy’s 9-week Bible study, “Lavish Grace.” Each week of the reading plan corresponds to the 3 sections of the study. Use it with the study or on its own.) Here’s the printable PDF!

Free “Lavish Grace” Coloring Sheets

Lavish Grace coloring sheet

Lavish Grace Coloring Sheet

Lavish Grace coloring sheet

 

 

 

 

 

These beautiful coloring sheets were the focus of three great giveaways during August. It’s too late to enter the contest, but you can still enjoy the relaxing, creative fun of coloring and reflecting on the colorful, lavish grace of God! Print, color, and share!

Printable “Let’s Say Grace” Recipes

recipe

Creamy Chicken & Spinach Cups

My sister-in-law, Cindy Head, is an amazing cook, so I asked her to help us spice up last week’s Facebook launch party with a few party food recipes. (If you missed the party, you can still catch all the videos, conversations, and fun here.) I added to the recipes to create 4 printables that include the recipe, Scripture verse, and a “grace” to pray. Enjoy!

“Lavish Grace” Necklace

Lavish Grace necklaceThis is the only thing in this post that isn’t free. But it’s well worth the $19! When I saw Sheila Dresbach’s jewelry designs at Dandelions in December, I knew she should be the one to create this tangible reminder of God’s constant, lavish grace. I’ve been wearing mine almost every day! Please check out this necklace and the rest of Sheila’s beautiful jewelry on her Etsy store!

“Lavish Grace” Blog Posts

Encouragement, practical advice, and spiritual challenges filled August’s blog posts. Here’s a list in case you missed one or would like to review:

Find Out More about “Lavish Grace”

Are you embracing the abundant, grace-filled life God offers? Or have you underestimated His lavish grace? God’s lavish grace is more than sufficient for any day and every day of your life. Find out more in this 9-week Bible study journey with the apostle Paul.

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Less than a Gracious Witness

Gracious witnessI struggle with being the gracious witness God desires. One Tuesday morning years ago, I had a “traffic incident” on my way to lead ladies’ Bible study. I started the drive frustrated with myself because I left the house late. Then two stoplights from my destination, the driver of the only car in front of me sat through the green light without moving. While busily chatting with her passenger, she missed the opportunity to turn left. I “patiently” waited behind her for the next green light.

When the light changed to green again, she continued to chat, but failed to drive. So I hit my horn. And no, not a friendly, quick toot. It was a long, irritated blast. She slowly began to move and we both barely made it through the intersection before the light changed again.

As soon as I had the chance, I darted around her, tossing back one of those icy glares as I sped by. I approached the last light and got in the right lane to make my turn. I glanced in the rear view mirror. “Distracted Driver” was also in the turn lane. One block from church, a horrible possibility hit me. What if Distracted Driver was also headed to my church?

A community group also met in our church building on Tuesday mornings. She would see me go in and know I was one of those “Christian” women. I slowed to make the turn into the church parking lot. Another furtive glance in the rearview confirmed my fear. Distract Driver was turning too. I quickly scooted into the one remaining parking spot close to the doors and she made her way further down the lot. I ducked inside the building and into my classroom before she had time to get her seat belt unfastened.

The Holy Spirit swiftly convicted me. Instead of extending grace, I acted with impatience and anger. My behavior negatively impacted the name of Jesus. Instead of sharing the grace of Christ that day, I was just another example of a graceless Christian.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,  keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16, NIV

Grace lays downGod woos people to Himself with grace. Yet far too often our witness is anything but gracious. Sometimes our ungracious behavior reflects poorly on Jesus. Sometimes, our verbal witness lacks grace. And still other times our spiritual conversations simply fail to connect with the hearer.

Christians have experienced God’s grace in abundance yet sometimes we fail to share the Gospel of grace in a gracious way. God’s Word encourages us to be graceful witnesses, to behave and speak in ways that connect with others and honor Jesus.

What specific changes can you make in your behavior or speech to be a more gracious witness?

Other posts about being a person of grace in a lost world:

Want to learn more about being a person of grace? Particularly being a gracious witness? This post is adapted from Kathy’s new Bible study Lavish Grace: Poured Out, Poured Through, and Overflowing. Lavish Grace a 9-week journey with the apostle Paul that helps readers discover God’s abundant grace for their daily lives and relationships – explores what the Bible says about being a channel of God’s grace to others. You can find out more about Kathy, her speaking and writing, and find free resources at www.KathyHoward.org.

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Clinging to Grace

Clinging to GraceJust about this time last year, I lost my precious sister-friend Janet. In 2008, Janet was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a rare form of leukemia. She participated in a number of clinical trials. She endured regular chemo. She was in and out of the hospital, increasingly so the last couple of years of her life. Although Janet had days of discouragement and days she wanted to give up, those days were the exception. Overall, Janet clung tight to God and shared Jesus with everyone who would listen.

In the last few weeks of her life, the doctors also treated Janet for a fungal infection in her lungs.The aggressive treatment required almost daily trips to the hospital for intravenous medications. Many of Janet’s friends, including me, pitched in to help her husband with the hospital trips, which often took all day. I wanted to help and encourage her, but she blessed me instead.

Thanksgiving 1996

Thanksgiving 1996

On one trip, the lab tech struggled to get the blood she needed for testing from the port in Janet’s arm. Getting it from another vein would have been an ordeal. Janet naturally went straight to prayer. Not silent prayer, but out loud, asking God to intervene. At first, I worried about how the lab tech would respond, but when she began to pray with Janet, I joined in too. Within moments the blood was flowing and the three of us were singing a praise chorus.

On another day, during yet another intravenous treatment, I walked with Janet down the hallway to the bathroom, as she pushed the IV pole ahead of her. I stood outside the bathroom door, just in case she needed anything. Almost immediately I heard her voice. It sounded like conversation, not distress, but I still asked her if she was okay. She quickly replied, “Oh, yes. I’m just talking to Jesus.”

The Howards & The Valentines - Thanksgiving 2014God used the crucible of this terrible illness to refine Janet’s faith and foster total dependency on Him. Her relationship with Jesus was intimate and real and very tangible. Anyone she came into contact with could feel it, even if they didn’t understand it. And she never hesitated to tell others the source of her strength.

Janet’s journey greatly impacted me. I watched her faith grow increasingly stronger even as her body grew weaker. She leaned on God every moment. She gave Him praise for everything, big and small. She never hesitated to talk about Jesus with the medical personnel, hospital employees, and other patients. Her trust in God and her love for Jesus were obvious. Her physical weakness revealed the strength and grace of God.

God’s Grace is Sufficient and Powerful

Janet’s life exemplified the sufficiency and power of God’s grace. Her “weakness” constantly revealed God’s glory and strength. She gave God the glory and praised the name of Jesus every step of the way. In small victories and massive setbacks, she stood firm, unshakeable in her resolve to hold tight to her Savior. Janet’s life – and death – pointed others to the grace and glory of God. And I had a front row seat.

Has there ever been a time in your life when God worked through a trial or difficulty to point others to Jesus? If so, describe it.

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You are Invited to Celebrate Grace

I’m throwing a party and you are invited. We are going to celebrate grace!

Please join me this Thursday, August 25th from 7-9pm for the official launch of my newest Bible study, “Lavish Grace.” There will be food (and I’m sharing the recipes!), videos, giveaways, and lots more.

Facebook party

A few friends and I will be hanging out at my house and you can join us via the event page on Facebook. Here’s how it works:

  1. Follow this link to RSVP
  2. Mark your calendar for Thursday, August 25 at 7pm
  3. Invite a few friends to join you!
  4. On Thursday at 7pm grab your smart phone, tablet, or laptop and “show up” to the party
  5. Have fun! Here’s some of what you’ll be able to do:

Lavish Grace necklace

  • Print the recipes we share.
  • Join in the “grace discussions.”
  • Be the first to correctly answer the giveaway questions to win a Lavish Grace necklace! One will be given away every half hour!
  • Interact with the live videos.

Don’t miss any of the fun! Will you come celebrate grace with me?

 

 

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3 Ways God Gives Grace in Trials

Grace in trialsGod does not remove all the struggles and pain in our lives but He does overflow His grace in trials so we can stand  firm and keep going. I know this is true because His Word teaches it. And I have experienced it myself.

I woke in the middle of the night and the rawness of it all washed over me again. Our family faced a heart-breaking situation. I tried to fix it, but it seemed hopeless. I knew sleep would not come easily. I had no words left for prayer. I was prayed out.

Anxiety welled up and I reached for God. The Holy Spirit began to bring Scriptures to mind, so I began to “pray” them. Soon peace started to push out the anxiety until it was gone. Somewhere in the first chapter of 1 Peter I drifted off to sleep.

At the time, I was away from home staying with my oldest daughter. My grandson was just a few days old and I was helping out. The next morning, Kelley reported on how Micah slept the night before. Then almost as an afterthought she added, “The second time I came back to bed, Jeremy asked me to pray with him. He felt strongly we should pray for you right then.”

“What time was that?” I asked.

“It was about 3:15, 3:20,” Kelley replied.

That was the same time I lay awake in bed with anxiety threatening to take over. I know because I had looked at my phone. God did not fix the situation like I’d hoped, but He was not idle. He saw my need and He cared. He poured out His grace through the heart of my son-in-law and gave me the peace and strength to keep going.

Sometimes God intervenes in our trials in physical ways. He heals. He frees. He delivers. But He does not always. Often God works in far more miraculous ways. He pours out His grace to cover our soul needs.

God physically delivered the apostle Paul many times, like the release from prison shackles in Philippi. But it wasn’t those physical rescues Paul marveled over. No, Paul preached passionately about the lavish, unbounded grace of God poured out to sustain him in the midst of his trials.

Sometimes God allows struggles and difficulties to remain in our lives because He is using them to work out His spiritual and eternal purposes. He works in and through our trials to spiritually conform us to the image of Christ and to refine our faith and character.

Yet in the midst of those trials – while His “soul work” is being accomplished – God extends His grace to comfort, encourage, strengthen, and provide.

3 Ways God Extends Grace in Trials

  1. Presence – God may not change our difficult circumstances, but He will be with us. He will draw us close to His side through the presence of His Spirit to encourage, comfort, and console. He will ease our pain and grief through the fellowship of His people. He will even later use that experience to comfort others. Praise be to the God of all comfort! (See 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.)
  2. Power – When we have no strength to go on, God has more than enough. Acknowledge your need to God and accept His strength. Allow Him to push out any pride and self-sufficiency and make room for the abundant flow of God’s power. What we lack in our weakness, God will provide by His grace. (See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.)
  3. Provision – Even if God doesn’t change our basic circumstances, He still meets our needs in the midst of them. Sometimes He makes physical provision. Sometimes He protects us from additional difficulty. But all the time, He is our Helper and Provider. (See 2 Corinthians 1:10-11.)

God may not always save the job, heal the illness, or calm the storm. But He will always give you an anchor of grace to hold you securely to the Solid Rock while the storm rages. God may not remove your difficult circumstances, but He will graciously give you everything you need to keep going.

In what ways have you experienced God’s grace in past trials? How can you look for His grace in your current struggle?

This post is part of a month-long emphasis on grace to celebrate the release of Kathy’s newest Bible study “Lavish Grace.” Here are a few ways you can join in the celebration!

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