Tag Archives: Grace Challenge

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Every year the President of the United States makes a proclamation of a day of Thanksgiving.  It wasn’t until 1942 that the fourth Thursday of November was the “regular” day for Thanksgiving.  In the early days Thanksgiving was often celebrated in December.  This proclamation by Franklin Delano Roosevelt was given the last year of WW2.  It is a good read!  I also enjoyed his suggestion that people read the Scriptures between Thanksgiving and Christmas “to the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God…”

In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands.
For the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction; for the unity of spirit which has kept our Nation strong; for our abiding faith in freedom; and for the promise of an enduring peace, we should lift up our hearts in thanksgiving.
For the harvest that has sustained us and, in its fullness, brought succor to other peoples; for the bounty of our soil, which has produced the sinews of war for the protection of our liberties; and for a multitude of private blessings, known only in our hearts, we should give united thanks to God.
To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, do hereby proclaim Thursday the twenty-third day of November 1944 a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States to observe it by bending every effort to hasten the day of final victory and by offering to God our devout gratitude for His goodness to us and to our fellow men.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this first day of November in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-four and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-ninth.

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The Shape of Pain

My wife Kelly is our guest blogger on this

Day 21 of the Grace Challenge

My life has been shaped by pain.

I was 11 when it became a daily companion. At first it was restricted to my feet and back, and meant adaptive P.E. Classes, physical therapy, and occasionally crutches. As time passed, I got better at adapting. About 10 years ago, the pain became more widespread and more challenging to manage. This month has been particularly bad.

If you read the Grace Challenge post on the 20th, you will remember that Steve ended the post by saying we need to flesh out our gratitude, and one simple way to do that is to pray a simple prayer, thanking God for how He has made us. I’m sure there have been times in all of our lives when that is a difficult prayer to pray. For me, it’s the laying in bed at 2 in the morning unable to sleep because of the pain, but over the years, I’ve learned to be very thankful for how I was made and that I serve a God who is in the business of redeeming.

God redeems, He takes what is broken, twisted, imperfect, and works with it to bring about good. In His hands we can all be used to bring Him glory. I find great comfort in that fact. Comfort in knowing that God can redeem and use pain, to transform me, to understand another, to bring Him glory.

We may struggle to give thanks in all things, but we can always give thanks that we serve a God who can take those struggles and make them good. And as we do that, as our gratitude becomes focused not on what we are giving thanks for…but on who we are giving thanks to, we are transformed.

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How Blessed Are You?

I find it amazing that I can find things to complain about even when things are going well.  Do you do the same thing?  It has become popular to label some of the things that we complain about as “First World Problems,” meaning that they really aren’t problems at all in comparison to someone who lives in an impoverished country.

For instance.  I am really upset that the microphone on my Android Tablet doesn’t work so I can’t Skype or Hangout on Google or use the voice to text feature.  Arhhhggggh! (My spell checker isn’t working either).

That is a first world problem.  As I sit here in Starbucks with my Black Tea Lemonade (I don’t drink coffee) ready to complain that the AC is too low and the music too loud and the chair is too hard…well, you get my point.  This is not to say that people who have “much” can’t suffer or have real problems.  It is to say that we need to guard what we consider a legitimate gripe or complaint.

A real first world problem is that we have a superabundance of material blessings for which to be grateful. (Check out the Global Rich List to see where you rank among the world’s wealthy) And we should be grateful.  But the lesson is that no amount of physical and material wealth and blessing will bring true satisfaction and this base dissatisfaction will drive us to greed, consumerism, materialism, the constant pursuit of wealth above everything else, and , ultimately, a lack of contentment.  There are different arenas in which we give thanks.  We give thanks for things.  We give thanks for people/relationships. We give thanks for beauty.  We give thanks for spiritual things.  Those things are all proper and good.

But there is another area of thanks that is necessary and more basic than all the rest, that  is thankfulness for personal creation.  It is this area of gratitude that will make sure that you will be a thankful person no matter the circumstances external to you.

Are you thankful for how God has put you together?  

Before we finish the Grace Challenge and so that it isn’t just a passing activity that we involve ourselves in, this feature of Grace-Gratitude-Graciousness demands exploration.  This is how we move from Gratitude simply being something that we do and make it into something that we are:  truly Gracious people.

So here is a Grace Challenge Prayer that needs to be fleshed out by you, but let’s start with a simple phrase to pray:

“Father, thank you for making me the way you did.”

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The Grace Challenge Works

As we walk through the Grace Challenge together the habits of our life and the assumptions we make are put to the test.  One of the challenges shared with me is summed up by this question:  “So, I got a ticket the other day, how am I supposed to be thankful in that situation?”  The room exploded with suggestions:

  • Thank God that you missed a potential bad situation.
  • Thank God for your ability to drive, your car etc.
  • Ignore the ticket and thank God for one of the other many blessings you experienced that day.

What struck me was the amount of alternatives that the room came up with (some pretty wacky) and it struck me that people were changing over the course of the month as a result of the challenge.  The important thing about the challenge is not simply the change of behavior, rather a change of perspective. Be careful that it doesn’t become another thing that you “do”, but something that you “become.”


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The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The villain in this parable is the “thankful” one.

Building on the idea that Jolene shared with us Friday (Tone is EVERYTHING), that tone is as important as the words we use, this parable intimates that we can be thankful for the wrong things, or be thankful in the wrong way.  Thanksgiving can become another ugly “religious” posture that we take.

In this parable the Pharisee expresses thanks, but it is self-centered and self-oriented.  The thanks he expresses takes credit for the gift given and uses it to look down his nose at others.  The way that we avoid the practice of thanksgiving devolving into “ugly” is by maintaining our twofold focus.  We are in the middle of the equation:  Grace – Gratitude – Graciousness.  Our part is to give thanks.  Gratitude is flanked by two others: God and people.  God is the grace giver.  People are the recipients of our graciousness.  It is a parallel to to the greatest commandments:  Love God, Love others.

When our thanksgiving is focused correctly we avoid the ugly religious “thankfulness” of the Pharisee.

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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

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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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