Do you believe God is good? But, what about when… ?

Its an interesting point to note that when Jesus was addressed as “Good Teacher,” he said, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone (Lk. 18:19).”  Jesus was reminding his hearers that “goodness” is an essential characteristic of God.

When things are tough, one of the great questions we have is, “how can a good God allow all this?”  It’s a fair question.  But it presupposes that what we think is good, is actually good.  We have a perspective that is admittedly limited.  Many of us think cheeseburgers are good.  But they are not, if you want to actually nourish your body with your food.  Our definition of good has a lot to do with our value system and our over-arching purpose.

If our value system is wrapped up in the here and now, then suffering and struggling is a horrible violation of how we want to experience life now.  But if we value the eternal, growth, maturity, transformation, etc., our ideas of what is good, will be drastically changed.  Because it is in the hard times that we are formed into something new, especially when we grow through it under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

Author and theologian, Peter Kreeft, wrote in his book, “Making Sense Out of Suffering”, these words, “If we love God, we will understand that everything is grace, that Job’s sores were grace, that Job’s abandonment was grace, that even Jesus’ abandonment (‘My god, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’) was grace.  Even the delay of grace is grace.  Suffering is grace.  The cross is grace.  The grave is grace.  Even hell is made of God’s love and grace, experienced as pain by those who hate it.  There is nothing but God’s love. ‘Everything is grace.’”

When you read the word grace in the paragraph above, replace it with the words “a good gift.”  This can be a tough exercise because it confronts our idea of what is good.  But doing this teaches us that all things God gives to us are good gifts, given to accomplish His good purposes.  He can only give what is good because He is good.

Rather than judging the goodness of God by our circumstances, let’s define our circumstances by the goodness of God.  No matter what we are going through, God is good and He is bringing about His good work in our lives.  To believe this is the beginning of experiencing the goodness of God in every area and every experience of our lives.

 

Thank you for reading, for your comments, your shares and your likes.

“Taking Initiative in Tough Times”

Last Sunday, I had the joy of sharing the Word at Village Green Baptist Church, Glen Ellyn, IL.  This was the church I last pastored.  And they graciously invited me back.  It was a good Sunday of worship.

If you’re going through any difficult times, I thought my sermon might be an encouragement to you.  If there’s nothing wrong in your life, then bookmark this page because it will! 🙂

Blessings!

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

5 Hard Questions for Hard Times

Why does no one really understand your pain?

Where does suffering come from?

How is God involved in your hardships?

Why doesn’t He just end all suffering?

How does my suffering relate to Christ’s suffering?

If you are looking for a new, hopeful path through tough times, I invite you to join me on the path I’ve traveled the past several years.  God has truly redeemed my hardships and made them good.  I believe He wants you to know the same hope.

I invite you to check out my book, “Transformed Pain, How God Makes It Good.”

Transformed_Pain_Cover_for_Kindle(Note: the picture I took at Engedi.  This is the place where David hid from a pursuing King Saul).

A couple of early reviewers have already graciously given their comments.

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My prayer is that this book encourages a deeper trust and intimacy with Christ as you go through tough times.

All your comments, shares and likes are appreciated!

 

Transformed Pain

Hey friends and readers,

Here are several quotes from a book I’ve written called, “Transformed Pain – How God Makes It Good.”  This is a book I’ve been working on for quite a while.  It flows from my experience and study of pain and suffering.

Here’s the deal.  If after reading this, you’d like to read more, I have a deal for you. I will send the first 20 people a free pdf copy of my book, if you will agree to write a review on Amazon.com when the book becomes available.

“The problem of pain is real and while pain hurts everyone, we experience it differently.  CS Lewis pointed out in his book The Problem of Pain, pain is only truly felt by the one on whom it is inflicted.  I can care, I can be compassionate, I can even work to alleviate pain.   I cannot feel the pain of another.  Our pain is our pain.” p. 18

“I am convinced that freedom and joy in suffering come not only when we thank God for the good results of our suffering, but also when we thank Him for our suffering itself.  I believe I can do that most fully, if I accept this suffering as an aspect of my life that has been chosen by Him and is good itself.” p.41

“So, what did God do with our suffering?  He noticed it and entered it so the work of redemption could continue until the hope of the final restoration is experienced at Christ’s return.  He continues to invite us to join Him in the work of redemption through our suffering.” p.67

“The Word of God also confirms that He is the great Redeemer.  As I’ve mentioned before, He takes the evil of the world, the greatest being the cross of Christ, and transforms it into an instrument of life.  By His grace, He transforms night into morning, sorrow into joy and despair into hope. Redemption is His mission and humanity is the object of that mission.  By faith, my life is part of that work.” p.95

If you’re interested in a free pdf copy, and are willing to write a review when it is up on Amazon, email me. Be one of the first 20 and it is yours.

As always, thanks for reading!

Suffering Makes Space for God, pt. 2

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Here is part 2, to the challenge my friend gave me for a Sunday School class session, “explain how your heart issues have had bearing on your Christian journey especially in terms of making space for God in your life.”  If you want to read more about my journey, you can read Part 1 here.  You can also read something about this process that I’ve written earlier on this blog, here.

I tend to be a pretty self-sufficient guy.  At least I’ve tried to appear that way through the years.  Remember the old commercial tag line, “never let them see you sweat”?  That’s what one of my interior voices said to me often.  Because of this, one thing I’ve been horrible at all my life is asking for help.  I always figured in the end I would figure it out.  As I get older, I realize that I could have increased my impact, if only I would have asked more for input, advice, coaching and even correction.

But age alone didn’t get me to this kind of openness, incapacity did.  As I pastored a church, during my health struggles, there were days I just couldn’t.  I remember a couple of weeks after surgery, I decided to attend worship, just to let everyone know I was alive.  I couldn’t make it through one song without sitting down and giving in to inwardly whispering the words as a prayer.  This is something I never experienced before.  And I wanted to get over it as quickly as I could.  But with repeated trips to the hospital over the next few years, a word kept being said to me, “chronic.”  That usually means you wont’ be getting over it any time soon.

What would I do?  How would I serve, when sometimes in the middle of the afternoon, I had to lay down on the couch in my office for a 30 minute nap?  That’s not strength.  That’s not leadership.  That’s not what God called me to do.  Or did He?  I think now, He did.  But why?  He was creating space in my life for Him to work in a new way.  It wouldn’t be Jim’s ability or ingenuity (even if God-given) that would accomplish the work of His kingdom.

It would be Him and His power.  I found that people were actually being impacted and changed more in my weakened condition, than they had been in the years before.  How could that be?  I found that the weaker I became, the more space there was for the power of God.  I think that is exactly what the Apostle Paul experienced too.  He wrestled with God over a weakness.  He called it his “thorn in the flesh.”  He also referred to it as a “messenger of Satan.”  In other words, it was not a pleasant thing.  And he wanted the freedom of relief, so he could go about his ministry – God’s business.

And then he wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).”

In the beginning of my struggle, these words had little impact except to frustrate me.  Because in them, I saw no promise of deliverance.  I heard no encouragement that life would get better.  Instead, I was confronted with the fact that this is the stuff that God has given me.  Just like for Paul, the thorn of pain was transformed into a crown of glory.  Why?  How?  Because the human weakness made space for the power of Christ.  That’s grace!

When we suffer a weakness, especially a long-term weakness, our misconceptions of self-sufficiency are ripped wide open and laid bare.  And when those ideas are thoroughly dispelled, God’s power is free to flow into every area of our lives and ministries.  We become acutely aware that this is not me.  When I stand before a group of people, hardly feeling able to finish the message – at some points, having to sit on a stool – not to be cool, but because I just can’t stand, and lives are changed, it is because God’s power is free to work in a new way.

This has happened in my marriage, in my relationship with my kids, in my ministry with other pastors.  My weakness has freed God’s power to move in ways I could never have dreamed.  That, my friend is GRACE!  And that is a source for real joy.  So, now when my heart is right and I’m in tune with God, I rejoice in my weakness because there is now room for God’s power to show itself!

Let me share one more way God has made his power known.  As I’ve needed people to minister to me, God has displayed his grace and power through them.  More is done for the Kingdom, His grace is displayed and His glory is magnified.

Can you thank God today for every weakness that makes room for His power?  If not yet, or not again, I encourage you to prayerfully consider how this weakness has really made space for Him to work in ways you wouldn’t have known otherwise.

Thanks for reading… hold on for the final installment to come!

Suffering Makes Space For God pt.1

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A friend of mine asked me to share a bit of my journey with his Sunday School class.  My journey is not unlike yours.  It is filled with many blessings and a few struggles.  But in recent years, my struggles have included living with chronic cardio vascular disease.  It’s included open heart surgery, stents, repeated hospital stays, restricted diets and disciplined exercise.  All the while, pain has often continued and made me wonder what the next year, month, week, day and moment might bring.

My friend gave me these instructions, “explain how your heart issues have had bearing on your Christian journey especially in terms of making space for God in your life.”  I thank him for the challenge.  It is always good to clarify what God has done and try to get some insight into what he’s doing.

Over the next 3 posts, I’d like to point to 3 areas where I believe God has created space for himself through the ongoing difficulties.

First, my hardships have made room in my theology for new encounters with God.  By new encounters with God, I mean new ways of understanding Him and relating to Him as my God.  This is not unlike what Job experienced.  Though my hardships are nothing compared to his, the journey is much the same.

For a person of faith, it is relatively easy to begin like Job did.  In the beginning of our hardships we may be able to say with great faith,  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”  His suffering was real and his faith was real.  When you think it’s going to be over soon, we say with confidence, “God, I trust in you.  I am yours.”  And we mean it with all the hope we can muster.

But when tough times persist and get even tougher, things change.  Remember Job had a few friends come to him and help him?  Again and again, they were questioning Job.  They figured, if God was doing this to Job, he must have deserved it – at least a little.  Job needed to inspect his own life for something he had done wrong.  In between their arguments, Job made his own argument!  He was righteous.  And if he had opportunity, he could argue his case before God and he would be proven right.  They had a prosperity view of things.  When we do good, God does good to us.  Conversely, when we do bad, God does bad to us.  Therefore, if things are bad, there has to be a reason.

In the end of the story, Job was confronted by God himself.  God asserts his power, his goodness and his authority to do with his creation whatever he desires.  Job accedes.  In the end, Job has received the reward of his suffering – a new way of knowing God.  He said, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’  Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’  I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:1-6).”

Hear again what he says, “I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”  I knew about you, but now I know you.  The suffering created space in Job’s life for God to break in and make himself known.  I’ve had the same experience again and again.  God has challenged my thinking.  He has challenged my view of him, his goodness, his mission and his priorities.  He has made me rethink some aspects of my theology.  He has pushed me to a deeper understanding of His Word.  He has cleared away some of the “Sunday School” answers and replaced them with questions.  God has shown me himself in new ways.  In it all, God created space for Him to be God in new ways for me.  As a pastor and Christian, I had “heard” a lot about Him.  But now Him, “my eye sees.”

Lest you think this is an easy process, it’s not.  And it isn’t one any of us would choose.  But it is a process God chooses for us.

What is your experience?  Has suffering created space for God to show up and make Himself known?

Read more; Pt. 2