Taking the Long View

Picture of East Colfax by Amy Forestieri, a volunteer for Jesus on Colfax

In our instant fast paced culture it is good to be reminded to put on the brakes and take the long view of God’s glorious Kingdom plan. My wife Patty introduced me to the prayer reflection below and it helped me reframe my thoughts about looking at life and ministry with vision that goes beyond our efforts. Working with prisoners, the poor, spiritual and physical orphans, and those experiencing injustice as well as the daily grind of life can get overwhelming at times. Take a moment to read and reflect on these words written by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan, hopefully it will help you take the Long View!

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enable us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not masters builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Bishop Untener wrote this reflection to honor Oscar Romero a priest in El Salvador. Oscar worked tirelessly to be the voice of Jesus and social justice, speaking out against violence and oppression in the land. Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980.

Finding the Father’s Heart in Lesotho, Africa

Written by Mike Verkaik

Ministry Team from Holland Christian

As I write this I am riding through the streets of Lesotho. It is 6:45 AM and the streets are crowded with taxis and people, thousands of them.  As we crawl down the street the walkers pass us by, all heading to a small entrance in a fence leading to another day in the factory.  It is a powerful picture of daily living in Lesotho.  As an ambassador for Oceans Ministries I’ve had the privilege of leading this group of students from Holland Christian. Over the last two weeks we have been immersed in the culture and lives of the Basotho people, and built relationships through shared experiences and hands on projects.

Last night I listened to students share what they were taking away from their time spent in Lesotho and at Beautiful Gate.  Here is a short list of the ways their hearts have been opened to the heart of the Father:

  • Prayer – How powerful prayer is. How many ministries were birthed through prayer. How the people of Lesotho rely on it.
  • Trust – Having courage to step out and surrender our fears and insecurities to our Abba Father who has shown Himself trustworthy.
  • Freedom – To worship. How we are led and to be who our Father created us to be. Importance of resting in dependence on Him.
  • Joy – True joy, not happiness.  Joy experienced through relationships with the people they dwelt with.

Though every trip and team is different one thing remains the same – The Father pours out the River of His Holy Spirit in life transforming ways that will leave us forever changed for His Kingdom! Here are a few pictures high lighting our trip:

We shared our stories of God’s healing and faithfulness in chapel.
We helped with the building of Abba’s Play House.
We experienced a powerful anointing and freedom to worship.

The children of Beautiful Gate taught us joy and that we are no longer orphans but sons and daughters of the King!

Oceans Israel Trip June 2020

The Grind After Grace – Part 2

Written by Mike Verkaik/Elizabeth Bruxvoort

The word “grit” has been echoing in my mind for the past week.  I thought of it watching Lizzy run her last leg of the 1600-meter relay with determination. It came to the forefront as I prayed over three young people after they shared their love for Jesus.  Inside there was a deep longing for them to have courage, boldness and discipline to run the race well as they face their spiritual battles.

However, as much as I resonated with Lizzy’s wrestling thoughts on her relationship with Jesus, it was the conclusion of her paper that sent me away rejoicing.  I was reminded again of the heart of the Father, and a prayer I learned while reading Climbing Prayer Mountain (Tim Spykstra), “Father, show me the love you have for your Son is the same love you have for me.”

May the following reflections of Lizzy’s on Frederick Buechner’s writings be a reminder of the Father’s love, which is kneaded through the process of sanctification.

A relationship with God was not intended to be simple, but satisfying. It’s a paradox. In part God requires nothing of us, as “God’s love’s all gift, for God has need of naught” (Buechner 48).  Yet God also requires everything.  He requires us to sacrifice every ounce of that nothing we have to offer, in order to be used for something.  God continually asks us to offer up our trivial gifts to Him until we “can give to Jesus nothing that I have, for I have nothing left to give” (Buechner 110).  Jesus didn’t need to make his mission simple to draw people to the call.  Just being with Jesus was enough for countless believers to brave the high stake that Jesus laid out for sainthood.  Jesus is still enough for followers like us today.

That day that I sat down in a puddle halfway through my 300’s and cried was the closest I’ve ever come to quitting track.  Maybe I would have if my coach hadn’t tapped me on the shoulder, pulled me up out of my puddle, looked me right in the eyes, and said, “Lizzy, you can be done if you want, but your grit is what I love so much about you.”

I stared in disbelief at this comment because I felt the exact opposite of gritty in that moment, but that’s who he believed I was, and so when he looked at me crying in a puddle, grit is what he saw.  So, on that thirty-five degree day with slapping sleet and pooling puddles, I marched to the starting line and did the rest of my 300’s.  I didn’t hit a single split, but I finished.  That’s the thing about grit, it’s not about the production, it’s about the process.

God is a lot like my coach.  He looks at us in our puddle of sin, offers his hand, and says, “Saint.”  When we feel as far from the way God sees us as possible, grace is the reminder of our identity.  

Let us be a people who celebrates grace, but let us also be a people who lives with grit.  May we rise above the mistaken belief that a life of faith will be easy and remember that the hope of salvation brings with it the hard work of sanctification. 

The Grind After Grace

Written by Mike Verkaik/Elizabeth Bruxvoort

Two years ago I stopped teaching at Holland Christian High School (HC) to join Oceans Ministries. Since leaving I’ve maintained a relationship with the staff and students through occasional subbing, chapels, coaching track and leading teams of students to Beautiful Gate, Lesotho.  Last week as I walked the halls at HC an English teacher stopped me to share a paper written by a senior on the track team named Elizabeth Bruxvoort.

After being asked to read writings by Frederick Buechner, she titled her paper

” The Grind after Grace”.  While reading her paper, it became apparent she was telling part of my story, probably all of our stories as we strive to follow in the steps of Jesus. For the next two weeks, my hopes are you will be blessed and encouraged by excerpts from her paper, as she compares her grit in track and field to our walk with Jesus.

I remember the first time I cried because of a workout.  It was thirty-three degrees and sleeting so hard you needed windshield wipers for your eyes.  I stood at the start line for the 300, drowning in my rain soaked clothes and my bad attitude.  Just an hour before, our meet had been cancelled due to bad weather and we’d all cheered.  

“Not a chance he has us run in this,” a senior runner said, “It’d just be unhealthy.”

Confident we walked out of the locker room with short sleeves and high hopes of a warm, easy run inside. We’d enjoyed about two minutes of our wishful thinking before we were sent back in where we left our shorts and optimism behind. We waved goodbye to the school and walked reluctantly towards our outdoor workout.

Halfway through the workout everything was frozen but my legs, which burned.  Our coach’s hand went down again signaling the start of yet another 300. I took off, pouring out everything I had, including my negative attitude.  I heard my split again as I crossed the finish line. Slow. Again.  I couldn’t’ breathe.  I collapsed in a puddle, daring it to try to get me more wet and miserable than I already was. 

Today was supposed to be easy, chanted the chorus in my head as my throat tightened and I fought back tears.

It was supposed to be easy.  It was supposed to be easy.  I felt cheated.

In some ways this year, I’ve felt cheated at HC.  I’m not sure when exactly, but somewhere along the line I was led to believe it would be easy – a relationship with Jesus, that is.  I’m positive no one explicitly said that from the chapel stage or in one of my Bible classes. … No one ever lied to me or intentionally led me astray.  Instead, I believe my not-so-uncommon misconception was created by a culture that tries to make a relationship with Jesus sound appealing by making it sound simple.  They do this by focusing on a very true, very beautiful reality of a relationship with Jesus, which is grace. But it’s time to stop pretending that grace is the goal. God’s gift of grace is designed to be our condition not our ambition.

We are all in desperate dependence on grace. We will never outgrow our need for grace since “nothing human’s not a broth of false and true” (Buechner 31) St. Godric understood his reliance on God’s grace, but he also understood that this reliance was not the sum of their relationship.  Grace does not make us a saint. 

The gift of grace is open to anyone, but not everyone goes down in history as a saint.  Grace is the reality that equips us for the race, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the courage to continue after chasing our call.  Sinners are saved by grace, but saints are shaped by grit.

As a middle distance runner, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about grit.  The first thing I know is this: grit does not look glamorous.  Grit is needed more often in seasons of failure than seasons of flourishing.  Grit is what gets me out of bed before the sun rises on summer vacation to get in an eight-mile run before it hits eighty. Grit is what drives me to the finish line, even after the race has gotten messy.  Grit will do the same for all of us who dare to believe that we have what it takes to become the saints God has called us to be.

A relationship with God was not intended to be simple, but satisfying.