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.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Justine Sacco, a 30 year old senior director of corporate communications for a large company, begin sending out tweets on her trip to South Africa. During her lay over in London she jokingly sent out a tweet saying “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS…”

As she pushed “send” to her 170 followers she would have never imagined how her world would be altered during the 11 hour flight to Cape Town. Her tweet was re-tweeted and went viral as thousands read it and responded with outrage. Her careless words cost her job, friends, and reputation.

Social media has vomited out opinions, personal bias, and hate at a supersonic speed for all to see. How should followers of Christ respond to to this cultural phenomenon? I recently read a book by R.T. Kendall called More of God. Kendall states that before we speak we should ask ourselves four questions, represented in the acrostic NEED (p. 110).

Is it Necessary?- Is it necessary to say what I am about to say? If not, I won’t say it! Remember too, when words are many, sin is not absent (Prov. 10:19).

Is it Emancipating?- Do you realize that 100% of people you will meet today have a guilt problem over something? Say what will set them free! That is what Jesus did with His words. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

Is it Energizing? – There are two kinds of people: the energizers and the complainers. Complainers will zap your energy, however energizers will breathe words of life and strengthen you.

Is it Dignifying? – Through out the Gospels we see Jesus using words to give people dignity. The woman caught in adultery dreaded how Jesus respond, but He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

Patty and I were recently out with another couple and I was “sharing” something about another person when I heard her quietly say “NEED, NEED!” It took me a moment and then I promptly shut my mouth.

So the next time you send out a Tweet or make a comment on Facebook, ask yourself, “Does this NEED to be said?” Will my words bring blessing and life to those who will read or hear them? I know I can’t do this without the help of the Holy Spirit, who only speaks Truth & Life (John 14:16). Daily I have to pray “Holy Spirit take control of my tongue today let me know when and what to speak!” May the Holy Spirit grant us grace to speak words of blessing, but also to receive His gracious forgiveness when we stumble.

Trust Your Feelings!

As my daughter Anna got into the car and she said to me “Dad that’s Kingdom!” We were both bubbling over with joy after filling 72 backpacks with school supplies for needy children in our community. Take a glance at the picture above and you will understand the source of our joy.

My partner for the evening at Parker Task Force was Heather. She was meticulous about what color folders we picked out for the the students and how we placed everything in the backpack. But she also had a crush on one of the other Rotary Volunteers and would giggle every time she caught his eye. Heather’s beautiful smile and love for life was contagious and you could feel droplets of Heaven’s grace overtake the place.

As we drove home I thought about how God’s tangible presence was in the room. It spurred my memory to reflect on times when I have felt the Father’s presence, His Kingdom coming to earth. Just than I got a text from my friend Steve who runs Parker Task Force, “This is my Africa!” Translated to mean you don’t have to travel all the way to Africa to feel the Heart of Father God.

He’s right, God’s Kingdom and God’s presence is all around us and you can feel it and find it if you’re willing to go look for it. Perhaps some of you are taking exception to the title of this blog, “Trust Your Feelings!” Many of us have heard the opposite, “Don’t Trust Your Feelings!” – because feelings can be deceptive and it is possible that feelings can lead you down a painful path.

I agree in part to that statement, but I have also realized over the years that feelings can be a strong indicator of The Father’s Heart. Our Father, a serving God and saving God sent His only Son Jesus to live amongst us by humbly coming to earth to die for our wicked hearts so we could be healed and know lasting love. Yes, Jesus came to serve us.

When we receive His gracious service-by faith-and turn around and serve others-we begin to experience and feel His Kingdom, yes feel it! It maybe loving orphans in Africa or washing dishes for your wife, but when you serve out of the Father’s love for you kingdom’s collide and you can trust that feeling as it is connect to heaven above which is always overflowing with love.

Anna and I felt it as we served alongside special needs adults who served needy kids in our community with a joyous freedom beaming with hearts of love. It brought to my mind 2 Corinthians 3:17:

Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, He gives freedom. (NLT).

Can you feel it? When you start severing others-Heaven’s love is given to you-you will feel it-and that is a feeling you can trust because it comes from the Spirit of our Father. So find someone you can serve today and let me know if you felt it? After all, HIS PRESENCE is all around us!

Winter is Over!

Picture by Katie Mullen

Or perhaps I should say, “hopefully winter is over.” It has been a long winter here in Colorado and just when you think it’s spring-it snows. The older I get the more I long for spring and the promise it brings of warmer days and the breaking forth of new life in a multitude of hues.

Our Good Father knew that spring was the perfect time to unwrap the gift of salvation in the death and resurrection of His beloved Son. Creation shouts of winter’s death-giving way to the abundant resurrection of life. The French biblical scholar Pierre Benoit prayed over the passion and death narratives found in the gospel of Luke for 35 years. After all those years of study He concluded that as God, the Father saw His Son’s torn and bloody body surrendered in perfect obedience for His lost children, He spoke these words to Jesus from Song of Songs 2:10-13, NIV:

Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with Me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come my darling; my beautiful one, come with Me.

Of course no one knows for sure if our Abba Father spoke these words, but this song undoubtedly declares the Father’s love, a glorious new season has broken forth. As I write this blog I hear birds singing joyfully as the sun chases away the darkness, the tree in my backyard is bursting with white flowering buds. All of creation is shouting out that a new season is dawning.

Right now we are in between the Jewish feast of Passover and Pentecost and I sense in my spirit that the Father is singing to us these words from Song of Songs. He is calling us to live into the resurrection season and await with glorious hope the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

A new day is breaking forth for the Father’s children. Winter is coming to an end. We are invited to receive the gift of His love through Jesus. Don’t expect to hear this song from the news or social media, but do take a few moment to quiet your spirit and focus on the resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead! The Apostle Paul reminds us that this same power also lives in us (Ephesians 1:19-20). Claim this truth, hear this love Song of the Father and believe these words are intended for you!

I believe a fresh Revival of His Love is about to break forth over our world. I felt this hope last month in South Africa and this past weekend here in Colorado as a pastor called his flock to prayer and repentance to prepare hearts for what God is soon bringing. As we hear His song over us (Zephaniah 3:17), and are awakened by His life transforming love we will begin to sing to our world “The winter is past; the rains are over and gone…” The Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is covering the earth with the Father’s glory.

During this spring season take some time to be in creation and reflect on the glory of the resurrected Jesus, how He longs for you to have His resurrected life transform you. Hear your Father sing these words over you.

Your winter is over-I’m bringing you into a new season of Heaven’s love that will revive you and those around you for My Kingdom glory and your good!

Picture by Katie Mullen