Series: Restoring Vitality – How we hide from God

TOY STORY 3This is the third in a series of exploring our own spiritual growth and health.  I’m calling it “Restoring Vitality” because there are many of us who feel like life is missing from our own spiritual journey.  We may feel stuck or oppressed. Overall, it just doesn’t seem like I should be where I am.  The question is, how do we experience the life God designed for us?

The first blog described the problem of being stuck in spiritual infancy.  There is a problem of not moving forward in our faith toward greater intimacy with Christ. The second blog identified some of the important questions we can ask which will help us honestly assess where we are.  In this blog, I’d like to explore our own strategies for producing a sense of movement when in fact they may be doing the opposite.

If you remember, the first question I thought we should ask was the same question God asked Adam in the garden.  “Where are you?”  It’s a question I don’t particularly like.  It is easier for me to move on with my plans, march through the days and years of my life, hoping and wishing and hiding.  Let’s consider some ways we hide from the intimacy God desires for us.  These are in no particular order.

We trade Jesus for moral rules.  Moral rules make us feel good.  When we obey them, we compare ourselves with those who don’t and then we can feel a little better about hiding in the bushes.  Rules soothe our consciences.  I once knew of two fundamentalist churches who wanted to have a combined church picnic.  But they got stuck on whether the women would be allowed to wear pants! One church felt good about their stricter rules because more rules equals more holiness. The other church felt good about their freedom!  Needless to say, no picnic happened.  I imagine Jesus sitting at the park with unbelievers wishing his kids were there with him.

We trade Jesus for conquests.  Maybe you’re not a rule person.  But what drives you is getting things done for God. Just like rules, we can hide from God in mission statements and in the efforts to accomplish great things for God. Planting a new church, growing a ministry, mission trips, fighting for justice can all make us feel better about being distant from God.  Even if God doesn’t seem especially close, I speculate he will surely like what I do for him.  That is a wrong thought.  Do you remember the condemnation of Matthew 7:22-23? Jesus said, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and do many might works in your name?  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  God needs nothing we can do for him. Doing something for God without God must be abhorrent to the One who wants to be known.

We trade Jesus for our theology.  I love theology and theological discussions.  From the earliest days of the church, leaders and learners have been trying to summarize, contextualize and categorize what the Scriptures say about God.  It has a real benefit to the church.  But it can become like researching and writing a historical biography.  It’s great to know about Abraham Lincoln.  But I have no way of knowing him.  We rehearse traits, movements and mission of God, while missing the living God.  We easily speak of him out there, or back there, but we hide from him right here. Instead of humbly seeking him, we find significance in our own knowledge and understanding of the truth.  We become more sure while God remains distant.

We trade Jesus for religious practices.  All our religious activities can easily become a Jesus substitute.  I have been in church services where Christ was never mentioned.  And I’ve been to some that didn’t even include a real prayerful conversation with him – as if He wasn’t there.  Church becomes about church.  We judge our activity by how we felt about it, rather than if we actually interacted with the God who was in the room.  We fast at Lent, give our tithes and offerings, hold prayer meetings, teach the Word, all without Jesus being involved.  These things can lull us into a false sense of spiritual vitality all while missing the One who gives life.

Let me stop here and reassure you, there is nothing wrong with these things in principle.  Just like there was nothing wrong with the bushes in the garden.  Adam and Eve misused them to keep God at a comfortable distance.  And that’s what we can do. Morality, mission, theology and even religion can add depth, guidance, comfort and strength to our relationship with God in Christ.  Our temptation is that we forget they are means to an end.  Even our own spiritual maturity is a means to an end.  And that end is intimacy with the God who created us for oneness with him. He created us and redeemed us to live face to face with him.  Any replacement of that hope keeps us hiding from the One who faithfully pursues us.

I hope the Spirit of Christ is nudging you to think that there might be more for you.  There is. It is LIFE in and with HIM.  Hiding from him robs us of the life he gives.  Consider what stepping out from behind your bush might look like.

In the next blog, we’ll take a look at the kind of relationship God actually wants for us and with us.

As always, comments, likes and shares are welcome and appreciated.  Also, if you will subscribe to the blog, you’ll be sure to get the next installments.

Enjoy My Birthday!!!!

Transformed_Pain_Cover_for_KindleMy birthday is on April 1st, but this is no joke.  I thought it would be fun to give a gift to others for my birthday. So, for the next few days, I am giving away my book on Kindle for free!  As one of my subscribers, I want to thank you for reading all my posts.  Feel free to share this offer with others.  The paperback price has been cut by nearly 50%.

Here is the link!

While reading, I hope you are encouraged that your struggles are redeemed by God into a gift that brings life.

If the book is an encouragement, be sure to leave a review on Amazon!  Thanks again for all your support over the years!

Blessings,

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God Changes Our Pain

Are you struggling?  Are you being tested?  Are you looking for a way to understand and process all the pain that happens in your life and in our world?  I’ve been there and still go there from time to time.  Transformed Pain is about how God has led me through personal pain.  I invite you to check it out.  It’s available in paperback and on Kindle.

Some quotes from the book.

“God created all things with the full knowledge that we would choose a path of resistance and independence.  Because of love, He responded to the need with the plan that He had put in place for our rescue.  This is the God who meets us in our suffering with a unique and transformative plan.” p. 57

“In Christ, my suffering has been transformed.  It is the death of Christ and my response of faith that changes the very nature of the struggles I face.  When I suffer, I don’t suffer as a victim of the created order, I suffer as a participant in the work of redemption.” p. 76

“Pride keeps us in slavery to our circumstances. We are controlled by what’s happening to us because it’s happening to us.  Humility frees us from that control. This freedom gives us the ability to see the good of what we’re going through with God.  Humility frees us to surrender our will to the will of our Father.” p. 103

“I have gained a new perspective on God, His grace, His ways and His purposes.  I have new faith in His power to transform what is evil into what is good.  I have new confidence that His goodness can reshape what is ugly into something that is beautiful.  I have a new hope that He is writing a story with my life that is worth reading.” p. 121

I’ve received comments by a few who have been encouraged by the book.

From Amazon…
“This is a good book that challenged me to look at suffering in new ways. Some of the author’s comments on suffering caused me to stop and say, “why on earth had I not looked at it in that way before?” He writes from personal experience, and uses scripture throughout the book. It is easy to read, straightforward and practical for the everyday person.”

“I love the fact that this book is written very practically. By that I mean that it is not written from pie in the sky theory and with platitudes but from real life and real experience all with a strong base in true faith. It also helps that you want to hear the rest of the story and that keeps you turning the pages. Engaging, full of truth, and applicable to more of life than I have room to mention. I just purchased extra copies for some good friends of mine.”

“When I read Jim’s book, I found it to be a personal, humble, practical, and helpful perspective on suffering. This is not a sermon series put into book form. Jim’s observations are not just gleaned from Bible study. Rather they flow from his own experience with suffering as he has wrestled with God in prayer and in reflection on the Scriptures. This book will be an encouragement to all who read it.”

“In Acts chapter 9, after Sauls conversion the Lord said ” I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” There are hundreds of books written on this topic and none better than this one. It is written for us “ordinary” Christians who need a working knowledge of this subject. Everyone suffers but God works through this channel to get our attention and cause us to look up. This book gives us insight on how God makes it good as only He can do. As servants of the Lord we need to be ready to help those who are suffering. This book inspired me to do just that.”

And from a local pastor by email…
“Sooner or later we all have to come to terms with personal suffering. Transformed Pain will enable you to see your own pain in a whole new light. The fruit of a wise and seasoned pastor’s journey with chronic illness, Jim’s book unlocks the secret to finding joy despite the unanswered questions.”  

…if you’ve read it, what did you think?  What has God taught /is God teaching you in your painful times?

*NOTE:  A few of you have received copies where all the edits hadn’t been done (another one of my challenges).  I apologize.  If you’re one of those and want a “fixed” copy, please email me and we’ll get you one.  rev.jimrenke@gmail.com

The cradle & the stars…

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I loved these words I read from St. Ambrose (378 AD), when writing of the divinity of Christ.

“In one God did the Magi believe, and they brought, in adoration, gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Christ’s cradle, confessing, by the gift of gold, His royalty, and with the incense worshipping Him as God.  for gold is the sign of the kingdom, incense of God, myrrh of burial.

“What, then, was the meaning of the mystic offerings in the lowly cattle-stalls, save that we should discern in Christ the difference between the Godhead and the flesh?  He is seen as man, [Philippians 2:7] He is adored as Lord.  He lies in swaddling-clothes, but shines amid the stars; the cradle shows His birth, the stars His dominion; it is the flesh that is wrapped in clothes, the Godhead that receives the ministry of angels.  Thus the dignity of His natural majesty is not lost, and His true assumption of the flesh is proved.”

He is God who came.

Lord, Creator, God of the universe, you have come!  Do not let the noise in my world, nor in my mind, keep me from hearing the praises of the heavenly hosts.  Do not let the man-made lights dilute the brightness of the star that proclaims your presence.  Do not let my plans for celebration over shadow your plans for the redemption of humanity, nor your plans for my next hour.

Bless You, my God.  Amen and Amen.

Who’s Right on Justice?

Being from diverse backgrounds, we all look at the world so differently, it makes it hard to define problems, let alone find solutions.

There is a big difference in the way different groups talk about justice, or some might use the word righteousness.  When those of a conservative bent talk about justice, they usually think about it as “law and order.”  It’s usually in the context of an individual who breaks a law and now justice must be done.  This means they will get theirs.  And if that doesn’t work in the here and now, Christians know in the end Jesus will be ultimate Judge.  But the whole discussion turns on the idea of personal responsibility, personal accountability, and even personal punishment.  A good life depends on individuals making good choices.

Those considered more left-leaning, talk about justice in terms of broken systems.  They use the term for the collective.  Society is either just, or unjust.  Injustice is when the system doesn’t work for a group of people which then oppresses them.  It creates a harder life, with fewer good choices.  The idea of justice happens when the system is fixed and people are granted life-giving opportunities.  And as those opportunities are given, more and more will make good choices and life will get better.

The church as the opportunity to move the discussion forward, if we will.  God’s word speaks of 3 influences that create injustice in our world.  The first, the apostle Paul calls the flesh.  This is each person’s proclivity to sin.  It refers to the brokenness of each individual.  The second is “the world.”  This, the apostle John seems to refer to as the broken systems of the world.  The third influence are the evil forces of Satan and his emissaries.

So, what is the source of injustice in this world?  Broken individuals, broken systems and evil spiritual influences that keep people trapped.  What’s the answer?  And how can the church help create another way?

  1. Listen to what the other is saying.  Create room in the discussion for the truth about broken people and broken systems.  Admitting one doesn’t negate the other.  In fact, it strengthens the other.  A broken world creates broken people and broken people keep creating broken systems.
  2. Remember, as the church, we know the answer is reconciliation.  We may get distracted by political frameworks from time to time, but we have both a ministry and message of reconciliation.  Christ came and died to restore us to a relationship with the Creator.  In Him, we have one message.  A new Kingdom has come in Jesus.  As we yield to Him in faith, we are given what we need to pursue His righteousness.
  3. Offer reconciliation to your world.  Take the initiative to step into broken lives and broken systems and proclaim a Savior and Kingdom of love, forgiveness and grace.  Take steps to let others know that their concerns are valid. And Christ came because of this brokenness and offers a path back to justice, righteousness and wholeness.
  4. Don’t negate the influence of evil, we know as Satan.  He is the accuser and divider.  He prods and pushes the church into seeing people on the other side, as the enemy.  They are not.  He is.  The other, no matter their views, perspective, or background, are loved by God.
  5. Ultimately, trust in the justice of God.  This justice doesn’t just punish the wrongdoer, but frees and restores the world He created and binds the enemy of God.  Christ’s life, death and resurrection shows us the power of that reality.  And His words; “Come to me, follow me, believe in me”; invite us to that new future.

So yes, both approaches to justice are based on truth.  But there is one lie that all political perspectives promote:  Humans can affect the change necessary to redeem and restore the world, both in the individual and in systems.  Not so.  Church, this is what makes our task essential!

As always, thanks for reading, commenting and sharing.

Jim’s Life Adventure #10642

Usually these begin with one of my great, fun ideas!  I’ve been looking at used cars since I sold my old pickup to my son.  And I thought, “hey, why don’t I get something fun!”  So, I started looking and settled on a Mazda Miata.  One of those little two-seaters that my wife and I could enjoy tootling around town in.  Since I travel almost every week, I searched all over my territory.  I found one two weeks ago in Hudson, Wisconsin, right across the river from Minneapolis/St. Paul.IMG_3974

The transaction was a little hectic.  I squeezed in looking at the car between appointments.  And we settled on a deal.  I put down a deposit and promised I would be back the next week to pick it up.  I used my Southwest miles and got a plane flight to Minneapolis, landing yesterday at 8:15am.  Now, at this point you may be thinking… “you’re going to drive an old car, you don’t know 400 miles on your first trip?”  “Sounds risky.”  But then again, this is the stuff adventures are made of.

I handed over the cash, started the car and off I went.  All seemed well.  About an hour into the trip, I thought… you know, I don’t really know if the gas gauge is accurate.  I better stop and fill it up, so I can make sure it works.  And if it doesn’t work, I can keep track of the mileage to make sure I don’t run out.  I stopped in Eau Claire, WI.

I filled up the car and was ready to get on the road, when I noticed that the battery light went on.  I knew this was an indication that there was something wrong with the electrical system.  Huh.  What to do?  I whispered a prayer… actually the whole day, my mental conversations were prayers.  Across the street I noticed a auto repair garage.  A little blessing from heaven, I thought.  I drove it across the street and was told they’d be happy to take a look at it.  I sat and waited, then the bad news came.

The battery looked good, but the alternator (that thing which charges the battery as you drive), was registering no output.  The car was running on battery power only.  He said no one in town had one to fit the little Mazda.  But helpfully he said he could order one for the next day.  And I could be on my way by tomorrow evening.  Well that wouldn’t work.  I had another trip to take tomorrow.  So, I thought, prayed short-rapid-fire prayers and asked, how far can I go on battery power?  He wouldn’t venture a real guess, but was sure I wouldn’t make it more than an hour, or two of a 5 hour drive.  He didn’t have any options, other than a $400 tow.

I didn’t want to be stuck on the road, but I did certainly wanted to get closer to home.  So, I asked, what if I bought a second battery?  He was sure that wouldn’t get me home and who knew where it would strand me? Again, I prayed and considered.  It seemed like the best shot.  So I went to a Wal-Mart about 5 miles away.  When I searched and my car wasn’t on their battery list.  Okay, Google-time.  I bought a battery and wrenches so I could make the switch.

I drove in constant prayer for God’s favor.  I put the top down, but the battery didn’t have the power to roll the windows down.  I left the radio off, the cruise off, the a/c off.  And off I went.  About 2 hours and 15 minutes in, as I was approaching the Wisconsin Dells, I began to feel a little confident, but overly so.  I texted Kris that I was still going on battery 1 and just as I hit send, a dash light began to flicker.  The radio clock went blank.  And the car started losing power.  I put the car in neutral, coasted onto exit 85, I’m blessed it was a downhill ramp, so I could roll well off the road.  I texted Kris that it was time for battery 2.  I switched the batteries in about 3 minutes and I was on my way again, still 3 hours from home.

In my mind I kept devising plans for what I would do when this one died.  But I asked, that if God would give my his favor, I would certainly appreciate it.  Any way and however it would work out, I was glad He was there and I could count on Him helping me through.  One other little discomfort to my trip was that it was 95 degrees out and I dared not stop for water, or the bathroom.  I didn’t know how many starts was left in that battery.  Rockford, DeKalb and then exit 109, Sugar Grove!  Kris had opened the garage door, so I could drive straight in.  I made it!  Over 3 hours on that battery!  It was a precious gift that God gave to me.

I was tired.  I was sweaty.  I was thirsty.  But I was home.  When Kris asked if we could move it out the driveway to take a few pictures, I tried, but it wouldn’t start.  The battery was dead.  Wow, thank you Lord.  A long day, enhanced by the evidence of God’s goodness and grace.  This makes me think of something that has some spiritual significance… in other words, you’ve read all of this, for this…

Why didn’t I get freaked out?  Why didn’t I get mad at people who sold me a car that they probably knew had problems?  Why didn’t this shake me?  Because I went into it with a different mindset.  I knew there could be issues.  But I was also confident that I would not be alone.  And in the end, God and I would work it out.  And He reminded me of that throughout the day.  My open heart made me stop for gas, so I would see that light, so then I could find the shop, who would point me to the Wal-Mart.  He gave me the phone that I could search the Google and get a battery.  He then kept me praying and singing and fellowshipping with him in a state of constant dependence.  At the end, He led me to try and start that car one more time, so I could laugh and rejoice in His immense goodness!

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So, why is this so different from everyday life, when things frustrate me and anger me? The difference was I woke up ready for an adventure with God.  And He let me have one.  I wonder if I could wake up like that tomorrow?  I wonder how much I would revel in each day if I just thought of everyday as an adventure with God. If I did, I think I’d be less overwhelmed by each days worries and I would be open to see all the good He surrounds us with and rejoice.  I can’t wait for adventure #10643.  I just don’t want to do it without Him.

What Does the World Need From Us Right Now?

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She didn’t want to be there.  But there she was with her young teen son who was having blood sugar imbalance.  They had traveled to Toronto on the way to see family.  In the airport, her son’s blood sugar level went a little haywire.  Before getting on her next flight, she asked a counter worker if there was some medical personnel on duty that could look at her son and make sure he should get on the plane.  They immediately called paramedics who looked him over and took him away to the nearest emergency room.  It wasn’t that he was really feeling that poorly, but they weren’t taking chances.

So, there they were.  Mom and son in an emergency room in another country, away from all family and friends.  Not only that, but the emergency room seemed like an episode of the old show, ER.  It was an overcrowded, frenzied atmosphere.  People were rushing here and there.  One man, clearly under the influence of some substance was walking back and forth, vomiting and moaning.  There was the man who was yelling obscenities who was being watched over by 3 or 4 policemen.  Staff was stressed, people were frustrated and angry.  It was hardly a place for healing for this young teen and his Mom who were hoping to see their family.

In an effort to keep their sanity, Mom suggested the two of them sing some songs they knew.  He agreed.  It started with some fun children’s songs they could quietly enjoy together.  After a few, it their singing moved into some worship songs about God’s love, His grace and His goodness.  They were quietly worshiping in the corner of that chaotic place.  And then they realized something.

The room was in a hush.  Everyone seemed to be quietly straining to hear those two voices and experience whatever was happening in that impromptu worship service.  The man quit his vomiting.  The cursing one sat still and quiet.  The staff was quietly going about their work of treating.  As Mom looked around, she caught the eyes of a big security guard across the room, near the door.  He gave half a grin, a wink and a nod of approval and appreciation.  He knew what had happened.  The place of pandemonium became a place of peace!

In an effort to experience the peace they needed from the hand of God, they brought peace to a place that knew no peace.  With all the chaos our country and world is in, those of us who know the peace of Christ, have something to offer.  But we can’t give it, if we participate in the chaos.

  1. Our peace comes from centering ourselves in a life of worshiping the God who loves us.
  2. The peace we have is not just for us.
  3. We can’t give peace through demanding, arguing, or even convincing.
  4. Peace is experienced through people of peace.

Where is your “unwanted emergency room of chaos”?  Will you endure it?  Or will you be a giver of God’s peace to people in turmoil?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Matthew 5:9

P.S.  This is a true story, told to me by a friend about his wife and son’s personal experience.  The facts were shared as I remembered them.