Tag Archives: gratitude

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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Gratitude leads to Rest

Grace Challenge, Day 17

Traditionally in Jewish culture, Saturday is the Sabbath – a day of rest.  

Rooted in creation and the Ten Commandments, Sabbath was a calendared reminder of the sovereignty of God and of His blessing.  It served as a reminder of God’s grace, His promise to overcome sin.  In the Sabbath we have the promise of the cessation of work, a reward for labor.  

The book of Hebrews looks at this from the negative standpoint:  The Israelites in the wilderness provoked God, hardened their hearts and failed to enter the rest of God, the promised land. It serves as a vivid warning as the Psalmist and the author to Hebrews express that illustration with these words:

Today if you hear His voice,

Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked me. (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 4:15)

The hardening describes people who were not happy with what God provided (water in this case, Exodus 17) and grumbled.  It would make sense that gratitude would be the opposite of hardening, thanksgiving the opposite of grumbling.  So, if you want rest – give thanks.

Today is Saturday; it might be a good practice to make every Saturday Thanksgiving.

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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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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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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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