Category Archives: Thanksgiving Devotionals

Tone is EVERYTHING

Today’s Grace Challenge, day 16, is inspired by Jolene Flores…

If you have ever been a parent to a teenager, or if you have ever been a teenager, you know the truth in the adage “It is not what you say but how you say it.” As we seek to be more cognizant of our thanksgivings, I have been reminded of the truth kernel within such a maxim.

Being married to a pastor who is actively involved in the grace challenge, I have been impressed and humbled by his attitude. He genuinely is thankful, and seeking the blessings in all things. On the other hand, I have had a bit of a struggle. Though I strive to incorporate “grace” and “eucharisteo” in my every days, lately I have struggled with my tone.

It isn’t that I am not thankful, but tone and context indicate more than just my spoken words. Let me give you an example to help color the picture in a bit. Laundry. I was picking up laundry after a challenging day at work, and I bumped something and had all kinds of clothes (clean and otherwise) fall on me. Oh boy, did I grumble. And then a little voice (something like the angel on my shoulder) reminded me that I should not complain but in everything be thankful. And so, I “thanked” God for hangers and this mess. However, to say that my tone was off would be an understatement. My tone was the kind of tone that you would get from a bratty toddler…or teenager….that is more sarcastic and patronizing than true to the words spoken. “Thanks a lot MOM.” “This is just GREAT, thank you SO much.” Indeed, that was me. A cross somewhere between rebellious toddler and bratty teenager.

I immediately repented. After all, doesn’t God deserve more than a patronizing “thankful” grumble through clenched teeth? I think so. I remembered the Israelites wandering, having their breakfast manna, and saying “Hey God, thanks a lot for this bland, blah, cardboard to eat.” (Ok, so I am taking creative liberties in my imaginings of their conversations, but you get the point.) Can you imagine if your spouse came home to you on a special anniversary evening and said to you, “You know, you really are ugly. But I am glad you can at least ______ (cook / clean / cut the grass / fill in the blank).” Obviously tone and context is everything.

Gratitude is so much more than words. It is a condition of the heart. It is looking at the simple, seemingly insignificant, and finding awe in it. It is overlooking a dirty floor and reveling in the sound of child laughter spilling out of the next room. It is wonder in an embrace during a lonely season. It is looking at a sunset and marveling at the color palate that is never exactly the same as the days previous. It is quiet, introspective, and most importantly, honest.

So today, let me challenge you. Don’t patronize God with your thanksgiving. If you are not thankful for a pile of dishes that need to be washed, don’t “thank” Him. He created you, after all, and He knows better than anyone what is in your heart. Be honest when you practice gratitude. Only then will you truly understand the incredible gift that it truly is.

Jolene Grace Flores

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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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I’m Thankful for the Saints, Pt. 1

Grace Challenge Day 14

Dan Flores shares this with us…

November 1st is a significant day on the liturgical calendar for congregations of the High Church and the Catholic Church.

Known as All Saints Day, it’s a time for reflection and prayer, commemorating the death of faithful Christians who have preceded us. The Catholic Church uses this time to venerate and pray to canonized saints. While we do not join them in these practices, remembering the dead remains an important observance for the living. A saint is literally a ‘holy one’ or even ‘godly one.’ The scripture uses this title for all who trust and obey in the Lord. Therefore, both the dead and the living can be called saints. How is it beneficial for living saints to remember the dead ones?

First, it is beneficial because the dead can continue to live with us. Now don’t misunderstand this statement. Dead saints are with Christ now, not with us. The pain of death is its finality and our inability for relationship with the deceased. However, our memories are something real and exist as part of normative human life. The dead exist in the memory of the living. When we bring to mind their holy qualities, they have a sense of eternality that transcends death. They continue to live in the ways they were most like God.

Second, remembrance has the potential to make us holy and to create strong legacies and meaningful traditions. We want to emulate their holy qualities. Martin Luther was a brave saint with uncompromised conviction. These are attributes I want to duplicate in my life. If I can transfer to my sons certain God-fearing qualities I’ve learned from other faithful Christians, then the family name they carry will have a transcendent, unmovable reputation long after I’m gone.

Third, memories bring comfort from grief. Memories, unlike physical possessions, have the potential to remain with us forever. They have power over our will and emotion. If we feel the grief of losing a loved one, our memory is the ultimate therapist that brings healing. At any moment, in an instant we can recall our loved one and as we remember, grief is replaced with gratitude.

Finally, we are given hope in remembering dead saints. They are a message to us that we will join them one day. Death is universal. Death is frightening. But it inevitability prompts us to trust Jesus Christ who defeated death. We hold fast to the hope of resurrection.

Today I’m remembering the saints from our church we’ve lost in the recent past. While it is precious in the sight of the Lord when His godly ones die, I’m missing and thanking God for my memories of:

Bob & Betty Piester: For their benevolence that helped hundreds of people including me.
Squeak Valenzuela: For his meekness and example of faithfulness.
Jim Lotze: For his Christ-like care for a wife and family.
Bonnie Smith: Who was a light in this world, leading many to Christ.
Virginia Pinnell: For her sincere prayers for all of us.
Manuel Villalovos: For his service to our country, our community, and our church.
Mary Gramkcow: For her intimate, longing for our Savior Jesus Christ.
Mildred Luke: For her concern and care for all of God’s creatures.
Sue Partlow: For her fiery spirit coupled with a love for others.
Vicky Casados: For her unforgettable Christ-like radiance and unswerving hope in the midst of trouble.
Jeremy VanLiew: That so many called him brother, he wasn’t distracted by evils but fought them with creativity and
friendship.

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People of Grace

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…

God has put a lot of people into my life and as I reflect upon the regular thread of relationships over the years I can see God’s hand of grace.

In High School it was Gary, Kirk, and Peter.  In College it was Ford and Roy. In Seminary it was Jeff and Brad.  In Anaheim Hills it was Terry, John, and Brian.  In Nuevo the list is long! It is all of you, the church.  And I practice giving thanks for you in my every remembrance of you.

The common thread in all these people was their connection to me as the church, the body of Christ.  God placed them in my life for friendship, encouragement, partnership, inspiration, challenge and confrontation.  And I thank God for them, and for all those unnamed as well.

But over the course of years, there were other relationships and contacts.  Not all were good memories.  There was the woman who called me a used car salesman.  There was the friend who turned against me at a time of crisis.  There were people who simply disappeared with no explanation.  And I thank God for these as well.  There were lessons in these relationships as well – lessons tempered and seasoned by the grace of God.

So who are you thankful for in the body?  God has placed people in your path on a regular basis – it is a provision for you from the bounty of His grace.  Make a list of people from your own history and people who are part of your church that you can give thanks for every time you remember them.

God has also put you into the path of many people.  Is your residue a residue of grace? Are they giving thanks for your presence in their lives?

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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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Thanking Veterans

On the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 the Germans and Allied Forces came to a peace agreement.  On November 11, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson declared that Armistice day should be “filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”  In 1926 Congress declared that the day should be celebrated annually and marked by prayer and thanksgiving.  As time passed, Veterans Day and Armistice Day began to be celebrated on the same day – a national day of remembrance and honor for Veterans.

On Tuesday we voted on Election Day.  Regardless of the outcome, thanks should be given for the privilege of living in a nation as blessed as the United States.  A nation where (for the most part) wars have been reluctantly yet honorably fought.  A nation where freedom is a value we share.

The Scriptures call us to pray for “kings and all who are in authority.”

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,
2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

So today on a day when we celebrate the ending of the 1st World War (and the end of all wars) and honor those living veterans who served our country I urge a few things upon you:

  1. Thank God for the nation
  2. Pray for our leaders, from the President on down
  3. Pray for Peace in a world where there is still the division of war
  4. Thank a Veteran for their service

Here is a prayer for Veterans Day:

We ask for blessings on all those who have served their country in the armed forces.
We ask for healing for the veterans who have been wounded, in body and soul, in conflicts around the globe.
We pray especially for the young men and women, in the thousands, who are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with injured bodies and traumatized spirits.
Bring peace to them, O Lord; may we pray for them when they cannot pray.
We ask for an end to wars and the dawning of a new era of peace,
As a way to honor all the veterans of past wars.

Have mercy on all our veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq,
Bring peace to their hearts and peace to the regions they fought in.
Bless all the soldiers who served in non-combative posts;
May their calling to service continue in their lives in many positive ways.

Give us all the creative vision to see a world which, grown weary with fighting,
Moves to affirming the life of every human being and so moves beyond war.
Hear our prayer, O Prince of Peace, hear our prayer
(adapted from Franciscan Sisters)

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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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Sunrise Thankfulness

Today’s guest blogger is Jolene Flores.  Jolene describes herself as a Wife, Mother, Baker, looking to infuse a dash of Grace into this world.  Dan Flores is fortunate to be married to Jolene.  She used to blog at Grace Infusion and you can see some of her cake creations at Cakes by Grace.  Thanks for your addition to…

The Grace Challenge Day 8

Morning light sets ablaze a darkened world.

I awake each day before daylight slips onto the horizon. Each day that my heels click on pavement towards car, I glance at the still night sky. Stars scattered in great brilliance, and the moon looks as though there a pinhole in the night sky and now revealed to us is a slight snippet of heaven-light.

As I drive to work, the hour or so that I drive, I search the horizon from all directions. I witness the morning hues stretch out their arms and suppress all semblance of night darkness. That golden morning light that washes over the mountains is the last view I have before I walk into the office. It is confirmation that the day has begun, the world has awoken.

To me, a sunrise is a sacred moment in the day, when God’s masterful hand paints a glorious magnum opus for us. For us. His chosen. His beloved. A sunrise is a reminder that God never rests. I sometimes envision Him looking upon us with an adoring Father-glance, the way I look upon my children as they sleep. To God, we are the most glorious of all creations. More lovely than the daybreak. More of a masterpiece than any other works of His hands.

A sunrise is also a reminder of renewal. Of forgiveness. Each morn is a new one; the day before is put to bed and the day ahead is a blank canvas for us to paint beauty upon. As heaven light warms us out of the cold dark night, we are given great opportunity to begin anew; make this day better than the last. That gift is given by He alone who spoke the light into being, framed and colored in Salvation Grace, and breathed life into our very lungs.

And so, in this day’s morning light, my heart swells with gratitude. Father-glances, grace, renewal, salvation, warmth.

Anything less than gratitude for this new day would be blasphemous.

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Thankful Workers

For Monday.

The clichés abound about Monday.  Monday blues.  Monday blahs.  Monday is arguably the most difficult day of the week.  Transitioning from the weekend back to work is hard because we typically like what we do on weekends, and don’t like work.  Starting our week on a downer typically makes for a long week, resulting in a lot of complaining.  Complaining is the opposite of thanksgiving.

Work is a blessing.  Getting a job is usually a reason for bragging.  Having a job is God’s provision for our security and future. Finishing a job brings satisfaction.  If your job is connected to your strength, passion, and purpose then happiness, contentment, and fulfilment are in your future.  Work is a grace from God.

So, a moratorium on complaining about your job during the challenge.  On Monday morning, thank God for work and more specifically, your work.  Include your boss, your co-workers, the opportunities and challenges, the rewards.  Frame your Monday with thanksgiving.  As you drive to work, bless the Lord.

Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward.  Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

The Grace Challenge Introduction and Instructions

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