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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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I am Thankful for Church

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.   Paul to the Thessalonians, book 1, chapter 1, verses 2-8.

I am thankful for my church.

It is the place I have been fellowshipping and serving for the last 21 years.  Like Paul, I have been practicing thanksgiving for the church for 21 years.  God is at work in the church.  He is cultivating faith, love and hope in Christ Jesus.  The people are beloved of God and chosen by God.  I have witnessed growth and the imitation of Christ repeatedly.

Are you thankful for your church?  If not, I would recommend a change of attitude.  Here are some reasons to be thankful for your church.

It is a place of faith.  One of the primary graces of God to you and your brothers and sisters in Christ is the gift of faith.  In the church we find people of faith and since faith results in faithfulness, trustworthiness, and loyalty you can find people who will be faithful to you, that you can trust.  Everyone needs those kinds of relationships and they are to be found in the church.

It is a place of love. God is love.  If we love God we will love one another.  The church is a place of love.  Everyone needs people to love them.  The church is a safe place where love rules.

It is a place of hope.  God is in the business of replacing despair with hope.  No matter what the circumstances around us we can find hope in the worship and promise of the church.  God is in charge.  He works all things together for good, He will never leave or forsake us.

In over 50 years of belonging to the church I have found this to be true, and I am thankful for the church.

If you have a different experience, here is my advice:  start being thankful for the church.  Start small.  Be consistent in thanksgiving and then look for people who need a dose of faith, hope or love and start giving it out to them.  Instead of looking for others to love you, build up your faith and give you some hope, be the person who loves, offers a leg up to someone who needs a boost of faith, and find someone who is more desperate than you and inject some hope into their lives.  I guarantee it will change your experience of the gathering on Sunday that we call church.  If you become a reason for someone else to be thankful, you will start to like being a part of the church too.

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Lexicon of Gratitude

Yesterday’s post was simply a posting of Psalm 100.  It is a simple Psalm of Thanksgiving.  Here are some of the key words in the Psalm.

Joy:  the highest mood of worship is joy.  Shouting with joy accompanied the sacrifices because they brought about forgiveness (Leviticus 9:24).  Shouting with joy accompanied the presence of God (Isaiah 12:6).

Praise: sincerely exalting the character, nature, and activity of another, specifically God. Praise is a confession or declaration of who God is and what he does.

Thanksgiving: express one’s public proclamation or declaration (confession) of God’s attributes and his works. This concept is at the heart of the meaning of praise.

Bless:  Bless the Lord is an odd phrase.  Usually the blessing goes from the greater to the lesser, and in this case we are called to “bless the Lord.”  Its answer may be found in noting that the root of the word is “kneel.”  Just as Thanksgiving is a necessarily reciprocal activity (Thanksgiving has a subject and an object, you can’t be “thankful” without someone to be thankful to) blessing may have the same reciprocal characteristic.  In order to receive God’s blessings, we must bless/kneel to Him in praise and Thanksgiving.

Grace Challenge Day 24 leads us into the final weekend. Fill tomorrow’s worship with shouts and songs of Joy, Praise and Thanksgiving, and bend then knee in worship so that you might experience the blessing of God.

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Psalm 100

A Psalm for Thanksgiving.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.
Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing.
Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.

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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…”

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1944
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – A PROCLAMATION
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.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

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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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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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