Training in Grace

Training in Grace


For some crazy reason I decided to try and run a 5K on Thanksgiving Day 2016. After a long stretch of not feeling up to a lot of physical activity, the month before heading back to the States I had increased energy, was able to exercise more, and felt inspired. I hate running. I’ll just put that out there. Yet, setting a goal and working toward it sounded good in the midst of a lot of things not going well in my life at the time.

My brothers are the running experts, with several full and half-marathon medals on display in their rooms. They showed me warm-up exercises, the proper technique to avoid injury, and got me set up with some good running shoes. I downloaded the app they both use for tracking how much to do on what days in order to be ready to go on race day. The app even had a plan for couch to 5K in 2 months (yes, that would be me). I was set. And I started training. I ran up and down the rolling hills of Pierce County, slowly adding up the minutes I was able to run without stopping and needing a break.

I wish this illustration ended with a successful race on Thanksgiving morning, but unfortunately a serious respiratory issue and a flare-up of some other health challenges…and travels…and life, brought my training to a grinding halt and then there just wasn’t time to prepare adequately. So there you go.

But here’s the deal. We were talking about the idea of self-control in Sunday school this Sunday, sharing honestly about some of the places we struggle. This verse from the study sort of popped up off the page and worked its way into my heart.

Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness and devotion to God. 

I’ve often thought of self-control as a matter of the will. If I decide I’m not going to do something, then I need to stick to it and will myself into shape. I’ve never thought atraining-in-gracebout self-control being linked to grace. Grace brings salvation, as these verses point out, but then it is the foundation for right living. I don’t know about you, but like I can’t just jump off the couch and run a 5K tomorrow, I don’t naturally give myself grace. I am not good at living a grace-full life, or often extending that grace to others. I need training. I need practice. I need reminders to let the Holy Spirit cultivate a heart of grace, which then helps me learn how to reign in my mind and emotions and actions. Maybe grace is more about wisdom, knowing when to say yes and when to say no, than a free pass to do whatever we want. Grace teaches us that self-control isn’t about rigid rules and regulations, but safety and protection around our hearts and minds and relationships.

I still want to run a 5K someday, and have switched my app to give me a plan for being able to complete that length in April (so if anyone knows of a race in the middle of hot season in southeast Asia, just let me know). I haven’t given up. And I’m slowly learning that training needs to happen in the area of grace and self-control too (if only they had an app for that).

Contributed by Sarah Hilkemann, friend of Jen Vogel. Sarah says in her blog, I’m Sarah, and I’ve been calling Cambodia home since 2013. I am the proud big sister of 5, auntie to two, and will always be a Nebraska farm girl at heart. I’m starting to figure out life’s new adventures as I begin my 30s!



Exercising Choice

There’s nothing like another birth and a post-pregnancy body to remind me that I need exercise.  Muscles need toning, the extra weight needs to be lost, and in general there is a level of stamina that needs to be rebuilt for the physical demands of keeping up with my kids.  The lower back groans with each bend, I get winded when I climb the stairs to my friend’s 3rd floor apartmenshoest, and my arms beg for mercy when my baby’s 14 pound body is too much to bear.  It’s this discomfort and pain that remind me that exercise is vital to my health.

In much the same way, our faith needs toning.  And what is faith?   It is a willful choice to act on what we know to be true despite what we see. It is this muscle of choice which must be exercised. If not, our faith will beflabby and unable to stand against the demands of our day.  These days when terrorism is a normal word in conversation…. …when the countries of the world are mixing and mingling through immigration like never before in history.  This is our day. This is our opportunity to exercise choice.

Dear friends, I beg you to respond to the events of our world with a choice to love, a choice to believe. Every terrorist plot, every dichotomy between Christianity and Islam, every advance of ISIS provides us with another reminder to exercise the muscle of our faith.  It’s an opportunity to choose love over hate.

If the followers of Jesus will not respond in love, who will?  If faith, hope and love do not mark the character of the church, what will?  And if now is not the time to respond in love and to exercise this faith, then when?

When I was younger, I never imagined that I would bring three children into the world and send them to school next to a mosque.  I didn’t know that I would live in Europe among Muslim immigrants.  If my faith in Jesus Christ is real, than I can love – when I’m tempted to fear…when I doubt the intentions of the Muslims who know where we live.  It is still a choice to love when I invite women into my home, when I encourage friendships between my daughters and their immigrant friends, and when I pass my newborn baby to my neighbors to hold and play with.

Every day holds new opportunities for all of us – in the US as well as here in Europe – to exercise our muscles of faith.  Let’s choose to love, dear friends.

Choose to love.

Article by: An Alliance worker serving in Europe.