Category Archives: Devotional

The Riches of Grace

Today’s post is offered by my friend Roy Goble.  Roy was the best man at my wedding.  Read more great stuff at his blog called Junkyard Wisdom and visit PathLight Ministries, an organization that he founded. The only thing I have against him is that he is a Giant’s fan, but congratulations anyway, Roy!  Thanks for your contribution to the

Grace Challenge – today is Day 7

“All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.” Galatians 2:10

The most significant missionary effort ever pursued by the Church began with the mandate to not forget the poor.

Who are the poor? Our minds go to those who have the least in material possessions. But there are also the spiritually poor. They live without the inner grace of God to guide their hopes and dreams. Sadness and ingratitude are often their companions. By contrast, the spiritually rich have the Spirit to warm their hearts and guide them through the most difficult of times.

I know of such a person. She has every right to complain. She is 88-years old and her body still suffers the consequences of a stroke. It is a difficult adjustment for a person who was constantly in motion. Her eyesight has been taken by macular degeneration. So many simple joys – reading, bird watching, driving, watching a movie – are all in the past.

The most difficult part is losing her daughter to cancer. No mother should ever have to bury her child.

It’s amazing that depression doesn’t simply crush her. But she has an inner richness that defies the physical and emotional poverty.

I asked her, “How is it that you fight off the sadness? How do you push it away?”

Her answer was simple, “I’m thankful. Whenever I feel down, I start to think about all the things that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for good parents who cared for me, for friends who shared life with me, for children that love me, and for a warm home that comforts me. Most of all, I’m thankful for the grace of God. When I’m down, I focus on those things. And my spirits are renewed. How can I be sad when there is so much to appreciate?”

I think of her often. She makes me rethink the poor – and the rich. Her spirit of thankfulness shapes my own heart, mind and soul. She models the grace of Christ.

There is an old Celtic prayer that goes like this:

Bless, O Lord,
this food we are about to eat;
and we pray you, O God,
that it may be good
for our body and soul;
and, if there is any poor creature
hungry or thirsty walking the road,
may God send them in to us
so that we can share the food with them,
just as Christ shares His gifts
with all of us.

Amen.

May we too remember the poor, and may both the spiritually poor and materially poor find their way to our home, for in their company we can find the grace of God at work in our hearts.

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Gracious Worship

I shall wash my hands in innocence, And I will go about Your altar, O LORD,
That I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving And declare all Your wonders.
O LORD, I love the habitation of Your house And the place where Your glory dwells. Psalm 26:6-8

Is worship an obligation?  Do I have to worship God?  Well the answer to that question is yes.  Our only reasonable response to a powerful, holy God is worship.  But the beauty of a gracious God is that His love toward us turns obligatory worship driven by necessity and fear into free worship driven by deep gratitude.  When we see that God has blessed us beyond imagining our response becomes more than rote and much more than obligation.  It now becomes driven by joy.

So what is driving you to church today?  Is it obligation, the “have-to’s”?  Or is it best described by the phrase above:  “I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells? When you practice thanksgiving on a daily basis keeping in contact with the day to day, moment by moment grace of God, our obligations become our desires, even more, obligations become our loves and passions.

So let’s follow the progression:  Grace leads to Gratitude leads to Graciousness.

The first movement of gratitude to graciousness is how we “treat” God.  Do we deal with God graciously?  If our worship remains simply obligation the answer to that question is no.  The way we are gracious to God is by returning love to him freely; worshipping him not out of obligation but willingly.  The way we get there is by internalizing His grace to us through thanksgiving.

Keep giving thanks.  Keep on worshipping God.  When done in concert you can overcome the drudgery of obligatory worship and be transformed into a passionate and gracious worshipper.

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Gratitude Overflowing

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude  (Colossians 2:6-7)

You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).

These two verses are parallels. Paul may as well be making commentary on Psalm 23.

The first part speaks of God’s blessing of salvation.  The Psalmist describes it as an anointing, the picture is of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:5  and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Paul in Colossians speaks about this as the receiving of Christ.  This is Grace.

The second part speaks of the result of salvation and is described in superlative terms  “My cup overflows,”  and “gratitude overflowing.”  A believer is one who has been blessed beyond our capacity to hold the blessing – it is too much. God gives us more than we can handle!

I have often thought of what I call a “Job Situation.”  If God took everything away from me: job; family, house, car, bike, etc., would I still be able to give thanks?  Another way to look at it is that if all God gave me was Jesus, would it be enough? Our answer to both questions is yes.  All I need is Jesus. If this becomes existentially true, that is we really believe it for ourselves, then every other blessing is more than overflowing!

Today, thank God for Jesus, the cross, the resurrection, the Holy Spirit, regeneration, sanctification, eternal life, abundant life and whatever else you can add to the list that describes the inheritance of the saints in Christ, ahhhh, that’s you!

Grace Challenge Day 2: Singing in the Key of G

Grace Challenge Day 4: Gracious Worship

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Singing in the key of G

Grace Challenge Day 2

Grace may be the word that best summarizes Christianity. In English, “grace” is connected to two other important words that teach us a response to grace: Gratitude and Graciousness.

Here is how it works. First and foremost, our life, salvation and everything in between is a result of the grace of God. Every breath I take is a grace of God. I cannot be saved apart from grace. Grace emphasizes and points to God as the center. Life is all about Him. He reveals Himself to me not by force, but by grace.

Second, the only appropriate response to grace is gratitude. Thank you is the highest form of praise. Thanksgiving demands a subject and object relationship. You must give thanks “to” someone, it isn’t a “personal” activity. Gratitude acknowledges God’s activity and includes my response to His activity. “I” and “Thou” are included in thanksgiving. The activity of God and its effect on man are tightly woven together in thanksgiving.

Third, when grace has its full impact upon me it forces my vision outward. Grace and gratitude grow into graciousness. Gracious living characterizes true conversion. Judgmentalism, legalism, “holyism”, all deny grace and manifest themselves in me-centered selfish living. It is no mistake that the gifts of the Spirit are called “charismata” ie. “graces” or “grace-gifts.”

Grace leads to gratitude leads to graciousness.

This Thanksgiving month we will be focusing on grace and our response to grace, that is gratitude! Cultivating gratitude is an everyday discipline; it is retraining our minds to focus on grace. The hymn writer got it right: “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” The lyrics to the tune of Grace are framed in gratitude, they are words of Thanksgiving.

Read Romans 1:1-12, noting the progression of GRACE (1:5, 7) to GRATITUDE (1:8) to GRACIOUSNESS (1:11).

Instructions for Starting the Challenge

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The Grace Challenge

Today we start a monthlong experience of Grace.

For the month of November you will find a daily devotional available at both The Temple Blog and the Olive Grove Church Website.  Reminders and links will be posted daily on Facebook, Twitter, Google+.

Here is the challenge:

  1. Give Thanks every day.  Be deliberate and specific.  Grace demands gratitude and our daily challenge will be to frame our thinking, attitude, heart, and outlook on grace that results in thanksgiving. Every day you will be encouraged to have gratitude be the dominant expression of our inner and outer person.
  2. Verbally express your thanksgiving every day, multiple times per day.  Express verbally (outloud) in prayer. Give thanks to God for every perfect and good gift that he has given to you.  Express verbally to someone else what you are thankful for.
  3. Record your experiences daily.  Get a notebook dedicated to keeping your record of gratitude (we will have notebooks available at church on Sunday – or you can simply get one yourself).  If you are faithful in this task you will have an amazing record of blessing and grace from God that will serve as a memorial and reminder.
  4. Refrain from posting negative posts on Facebook, rather taking a positive posture.  So no whining or complaining.
  5. Come regularly to worship and express publicly what you have collected in your pool of praise and thanks for the week.

The premise to the challenge is this very simple principle:  Gratitude will change your life because it connects you directly to the power of Grace.  The promise is included in the challenge:  Discipline yourself to 30 days of immersion into gratitude and you will be a different person at the end.

I Will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Thy wonders.  I will be glad and exult in Thee; I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High (Psalm 9:1-2).

Grace Challenge Day 2

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Love God…Thank God

A reprint from 2007 becomes

Grace Challenge Day 26

“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

This is at the same time the easiest and the hardest part of Christianity. When you love something, no effort is needed to express that love.Being “in love” consumes us.Our every waking hour is devoted to thinking about the object of our love.We find ourselves struggling to focus on other things.We have to force ourselves to work, eat, sleep – or we do all these things with that person in and on our mind. Remember?When we love God on this plane, obedience and service and study and worship become effortless.My yoke is easy, my burden is light is realized in the context of absolute mad love.When we look at the verse as a whole, resisting the temptation to break it down into parts (What does it mean to love God with my heart or mind?) we see that the command is all encompassing. Love God with every part of you:the inside, the outside, the tangible, the intangible, the major, the minor, the significant and insignificant.In every way, with everything, LOVE GOD.

This leads us to the first problem:this is a command.If we are honest with ourselves we would recognize that the above statement is not descriptive of our natural tendency toward God.How do you force yourself to love someone or something?We have the idea that loving someone happens naturally, hence the term:“falling in love.”It just happens.It just keeps going.Well for most of us, this is not the way it is. We may have a sense that it just happened, but keeping it going has proved to be more of an effort – more like climbing than falling.

As I have contemplated this, here is an incomplete list of things to do to increase and build your love for God.

  1. Recognize the depth of your sin and the huge need you have to be forgiven (Luke 7:36-50). The one who has been forgiven much, loves much.
  2. Recognize that all that you have, everything, comes from God (James 1:17).Everything.Everything.Big things, small things, seemingly insignificant things, the things you love the most in this world, they all come from God.Try disliking someone who daily gives you a gift.If I were to take you out to lunch every day, pick up the tab and give you a present, after a while – you would look for me.You would love me.God showers us with gifts every moment, multiple times over.Think about your every breath, it is a gift from God.Start counting.
  3. Recognize, behold the beauty of God (Psalm 27:4). Beauty triggered our love affair with our girl.Beauty makes love easy.And God has surrounded us with beauty – Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name (Psalm 29:2).Beauty triggers love in us.
  4. Verbalize the value (Psalm 9:1-2).I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, for every good and perfect gift. I will tell of all Your wonders and brag about Your beauty.Speaking is a powerful tool.It affirms the truth we believe.It discerns and points out our inconsistencies. To speak the words, “I love you Lord,” affirms and builds in us the emotion of love.It acknowledges and gives credit to God when you verbally thank Him, which affirms in you that the gift is a gift. It makes it harder to take for granted.
  5. Spend time in proximity to God (James 4:8). The promise is that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us.When you spend a lot of time with generous, good, beautiful people, your tendency to love them will increase commensurately.God is the ultimate good, the most magnanimous, the unmatched beauty of the universe – when you see Him, you will love Him.He rewards those who seek Him.

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Having A Bad Day?

Grace Challenge, Day 15

Here is a repost from December 1, 2007…

Have you ever had one of those days?  Where you skipped breakfast, didn’t eat lunch till 2 and finally stopped for dinner at 10pm?  Where you ran from thing to thing, didn’t get anything done, had all sorts of interruptions, and then the water heater stops working, then your wife calls and tells you she was robbed at Costco.  Well, here is how you can praise God and rejoice even in the midst of your worst day.

I have been using this phrase lately, with myself and with others I have been interacting with:  “I have forgotten more good things that God has blessed me with than I deserve.”

I had dinner with some old friends a few weeks back and we reminisced about days gone by.  It brought back so many good memories that I had truly forgotten, abandoned to the deep crevices in my brain, banished by the onslaught of my pessimism and negative attitude.  For most humans, our default mindset is on the failures, shortcomings, disasters, hurts, regrets of our life.  It takes initiative and purpose to remember the good, the successes and the joys of life, all of us have forgotten a wealth of happiness and blessing.

Why do we have to think about smiling?
Why is it that if happiness is not directly connected to some current experience that we are having, we have to “choose” to be happy?

As Christians, we have substantive foundation for our positive outlook on life.  The Bible even commands us to be positive in the direst of circumstances.  Our foundation for positive thinking is the sovereignty and fatherhood of God.  He is in control and he loves his children.  Plain and simple.

So, here is how I found room to praise God on one of “those days.”

I was busy…I have a job, a family, a home (they demand my time).  That is a good thing.
I ate…I never go hungry, the only variable in my eating is my schedule.
I have a water heater to fix…or replace.  In Russia my parents showered with a pot of boiled hot water and a cup…like I did, once.

In the midst of the day there were also endless supply of joys…friends called my phone, friends helped with my project, a big check is on its way to my mailbox, the sunset that night was indescribable…very simply, counteract your default mindset with active thanksgiving and gratitude for all the good things during the day.  When you are overwhelmed by circumstance, actively look for something good, and praise God for it.  Make lists of memories that can serve you at low times.  In the OT they were big on memorial stones, memorial piles of stones (they called them altars).  Build yourself a memorial at the entrance to your home, to remind you every time you park your car that God has blessed you with a mansion, good relationships and …electricity.

Kelly’s wallet was stolen during “that” day…here is what Matthew Henry said when he was robbed:

“I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

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

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There’s Nothing nuevo about Nuevo

Dan Flores shares our

Grace Challenge Day 12

“There’s nothing nuevo about Nuevo.”

It was the conclusion my college buddies came to after they visited our town for the first time. Having never been to Nuevo (or even heard of it), they slightly expected something ‘new’ about the area based on its name. Passing over the hill on the Expressway into town, they were greeted with a whole lot of….nothing. Agricultural fields, livestock, a disorderly collection of well fenced houses, the Nuevo Village Shopping Center (otherwise known as Greater Downtown Nuevo), the only thing that was new to them was the aroma of fertilizer. I was asked, ‘what’s that smell?’ In their opinion, calling the town Nuevo was false advertising. They said:

“Maybe it should be renamed Nada because there is a whole lot of nothing.”

I used to resonate with their opinions. Having grown up here, I couldn’t wait to move out. I saw what they saw and longed for more. So at 18 I moved and lived somewhere else ‘new’ for almost 8 years. After moving back into town with a family, I see things differently. Anywhere one might go or anything one might have or anything one might do can get old. For some reason, when things get old in our lives, we get bored, desensitized to what is valuable, negligent of what we have, and unmotivated to change our perspective. Naturally, the inevitable result is discontentment. Being in other pastures has taught me that they aren’t greener. Sure, ours in Nuevo may have more fertilizer on it than others, but that means at least that it’s green!

Recently we had a Canadian visitor who was vacationing in Palm Springs come to our town for church. She wrote a blog post about her day which you can read here. She saw the beauty of our town and from her outside perspective, I revisited our valley as if it were new to me. This gave me a renewed appreciation and gratitude for this place God has put me. I have plenty to write in my Grace Challenge Journal.

What about you? If you pretended to visit where you live for the first time, what would you appreciate?

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Mis-Spoken Prayer

I originally posted this back in March, thought it was worth moving to the top of the blog for

Grace Challenge Day 10

My Dad is a Russian immigrant and English is not his first language.  He prays at all our family functions.  We often make fun of the mistakes that he makes in speaking. For instance,  he (as many people who have English as a second language might do) struggles with the gerund and distinguishing it from a participle.  I love that many of you  English as a first language people are scrambling to Google right now. He often says “take care-ving (taking care) of us.”  Here are some examples of what we are now dubbing “Moisi-ism’s” (His name is Moisi):

  • Celkular phone
  • Macadonian macaronis instead of macadamian macaroons…
  • The fire department checking the hydrogens
  • They got their bookshelf at the stapler instead of staples
  • He cussing us out…
  • Pie Alamo for Pie ala mode…
  • Crackpots for crockpots…
  • They lived till they died….

Recently, I had one of those aha moments during one of his “mis-statements” in prayer.  He meant to say: “I thank you God for all that you do for us” but instead it came out “I thank you God for all that you do to us”.

I was shocked out of my “arrogant-child-internally-begging- my-father-to-not-go-on-too-long-in-prayer-while- deciphering-his-every-English-language-mistake” mindset into a Holy Spirit moment.  God does stuff TO us.  He doesn’t exist to do favors for us, rather he often just sticks stuff to us.  And that is when it hit me.  I was not seeing or speaking correctly in my prayers with regard to the activity of God in my life.

Most of the time this perspective is helpful with regard to difficult stuff God does to us.  The personal problem of evil stuff like why did he let my dad abuse me, or my wife cheat on me, or my child have some incurable disease. Even the lesser evils like my car breaking down.  Mostly in my past I would “protect” God and say that he “allowed” these things. The obvious question is if He “allowed” it, why didn’t He just stop it from happening? and what is the difference between allowing and doing for God?  I find it more helpful now to say that God did it to me.  Here is why.

I trust God (so I say).  He is in control.  I trust God for the future (all things work together for good), so shouldn’t I trust Him for the past (in all things give Thanks)?  In trusting God for the past and to get to thanksgiving, it is better to use “to” than “for”.  “For” implies that I am only thankful for the things that seem to me to be beneficial.  But that is not what I have trouble thanking God for.  I have trouble thanking God for the things that don’t seem beneficial, the suffering.  The phrasing forces me to embrace the suffering of the past as truly a part of God’s hand in my life. When I am able to embrace the suffering of the past as from God I am empowered to move beyond it to the good that is intended through the suffering.

I thank you God for all that you do TO me.

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My Record of Grace

Today’s post is offered up by Dan Flores.  Dan is a pastor at Olive Grove Church, father of two fabulous boys, married to the Diva of Nuevo (yesterday’s guest poster, Jolene).  Dan does something helpful for us here by sharing an actual journal entry from his Grace Challenge Journal. Thanks Dan for your contribution to the

Grace Challenge Day 9

Here’s an excerpt from my Grace Challenge journal this week:
Jesus Christ is my pastor. I am a pastor for Jesus Christ.
The responsibilities of leadership in my life are in this order: I’m first a husband. Secondly, I’m a father. Finally, I’m a pastor. I can only be superior in these roles because Jesus is my pastor. And I’m starting to age… I mean grow in these responsibilities…just a little.
This autumn marks five years since Jolene and I came back to Nuevo in obedience to the pastoral call on our lives. Time has passed with such speed; it feels like we just moved in. We’ve seen substantial change and additions to our lives. We bought our first home. God gave us two healthy boys. We’ve embellished our lives with almost eight years of matrimony. And I became an ordained minister. Going from studying to be a pastor to becoming one has been enlightening. The past five years have been a semester unlike any. I have plenty of gratitude to give God:
  • Thank you Lord for the wife You gave me. She continues to love me in a way that lives up to her name, Jolene Grace. May she continue in radiance despite any ways I might conceal her resplendence. Help me love her as Christ does. I love being her husband.
  • Thank you Lord for the children You gave me. They are healthy, gregarious, and turbulently active boys. As I transfer my youth to them, may I grow wiser with age and resemble You, Heavenly Father. As a result, may they always call You their Father as well. I love being their father.
  • Thank you Lord for the call You gave me. I now have a greater understanding of Jesus and am more in awe of who He is and just what He did as our Good Shepherd. While I may not be wholly perfect as He is, may you use me to direct others to Him. I love being a pastor.

New to the Grace Challenge?  Use this as a template for your own journal entries as you experience Grace this November.  If you are just starting here is the introductory and explanatory post.

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