Why does God allow suffering?

Robbie and I were in Colorado last week. We had a blast hiking with friends and taping a couple of shows (Focus on the Family and Rebel Parenting; I’ll keep you posted on air dates in case you want to tune in), but there were at least two other highlights on our trip.

The first was that we did not get eaten by a bear. (There’s a story there, but it will keep. Maybe next week.)

The second big plus was seeing our friends, Ann and Ty Saltzgiver. Ann’s the one on the left in this pic…

…and Ty, as you know, is our featured author this month. We spent some time catching up, the way that friends do, and as we looked back on the peaks and valleys of our lives, Ty made an interesting observation:

“If I graphed my life by the times I was experiencing more of Jesus,” he said, “and then overlaid that graph with another graph of the difficult times in my life, the lines would match up. The graphs would be nearly the same.”

That was both a sobering and an encouraging thought. I mean, given the choice, I’m pretty sure I’d “just say no” to pain…but if difficulty or suffering serves as a kind of conduit to Christ, I want to at least be open to experiencing it. Or rather, to experiencing him.

Ty writes about suffering in his book, Longing to Experience More of Jesus“Suffering, pain, trouble, and affliction happen to each one of us,” he says, but it’s never “all right.” It’s a mess. It is crushing. And it can sometimes lead to despair.

And also to questions.

A lot of people, Ty says, find it difficult to trust God in the face of their hurt, or someone else’s. “How could God allow pain and suffering, when he could so easily fix it?”

There are, of course, no easy answers. We may find it hard to read Scripture in the midst of our pain, and our prayers can seem pointless or empty. We long for God’s presence, for some reassurance, but when we feel like we need God the most, we don’t sense that he is anywhere near. Ty quotes St. Teresa of Avila, who once said to God, “It’s not at all surprising You have so few friends, considering how You treat the friends you have.”

We get that.

But we also, if we are honest, get what Ty means about graphing his life. Pain has an uncanny way of making us realize that we are not in control. And in our desperation (marked, as it often is, by a diminishing sense of independence), we may find ourselves moving closer to God.

And when we come near to him, he comes near to us, enfolding us in his embrace.

In writing about the place suffering has in our lives, Ty says he is not trying to “put a smiley face” on our pain. Rather, his aim seems to be to remind us that Jesus took on the crush of our hurt (Isaiah 53:4) and that he understands exactly how we feel. After all, he he has been there before (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Suffering is just one of 30 sometimes-challenging topics Ty covers in Longing to Experience. There’s also stuff about trusting God, going deeper in prayer, discovering your true identity, and much more. None of the chapters are long–they’re designed for use as a daily devotion–but they’re rich.

And if you’d like to win a copy…

…hop on over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) and leave a comment. Or tag a friend who might want to experience more of the Lord.

Which is what I want to do.

Even (and I’m struggling to type this next part) if it means also experiencing pain. I think it was maybe Joyce Meyer who said that, having tasted the incredible blessing of God’s comfort, she found herself almost hoping she’d need it. As in, she was open to the hurt because the hug was just so much more.

Yeah. I’m not quite there yet. But…I want to be.

Heavenly Father,

You are close to the brokenhearted, you comfort us in all our troubles, and you know exactly how it feels to be despised, rejected, and familiar with pain. (Psalm 34:18, 2 Corinthians 1:4, Isaiah 53:4)

Come near to us as we come near to you. Draw us into your loving arms, and may we take refuge in your embrace. (James 4:8, Song of Songs 2:6)

Amen

❤️

P.S. This post marks the end of our September with Saltzgiver…but there’s more to come! In fact, Ty has a brand new book that’s set to release on November 1. Designed especially for families, Ready or Not (clever title, eh?) is an Advent devotional that will help prepare our hearts and our homes for Christmas. You can’t pre-order the book, but jot yourself a note to visit SaltResources.com in early November and pick up a copy for everyone on your “nice” list! 🙂

Leave a Reply


You don’t need a hat for this leadership job

Whenever a young man seemed to be getting serious about one of our daughters, Robbie would “invite” him to have The Talk.

The Talk is strictly a guy thing, but from the after-action reports I’ve been privy to over the years, I think the nutshell version goes something like this:  Every relationship my daughter has is going to draw her closer to Christ, or farther away. Which one are you?

And then, if the fellow indicates that his intentions fall into the first category, there is a follow-up query: How do you see yourself doing that? 

I think these questions are worth considering, and not just for would-be boyfriends or grooms. At the end of the day, I imagine all of us would love for our companions to say, “I am closer to Christ because of my relationship with ______.”

And that, says our friend Ty Saltzgiver, is “the influence of our Spiritual Leadership.”

If you’ve been tracking with us in September, you know that this is Book Giveaway month, and each week I am highlighting a different offering from Ty’s website, SaltResources.com. This week’s featured title is Reflections on Spiritual Leadership.

Now, I realize that the phrase “spiritual leadership” can be tricky. I’ll never forget one of our friends telling us how confused he was when his girlfriend’s father told him that it was his job to be the spiritual leader in their relationship.

“I had never heard that term before,” our friend said. “I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe it was like a Halloween costume or something–you know, something where I needed a hat.”

(Happily, the guy figured it out, and he has been a beautiful influence on his wife, his three children, and their assorted family and friends for the past 30-plus years.)

Acknowledging that his little book is not a “comprehensive treatment” of spiritual leadership, Ty draws on his own relationships and ministry experience (he spent more than 40 years on staff with Young Life) to flesh out reflections on a handful of leadership categories, including:

The state of our soul. “The main plot of our lives,” Ty says, “is how we are growing and maturing in Jesus, not how we are doing in our job or ministry.” If we sense that we are depleted (like, if we start seeing people as interruptions instead of as friends, or if we freak out when the toilet stops up or whatever), that’s a sign that we’ve drifted from our Number One Love (Jesus), and that we need to re-calibrate.

Our belief about success. Do we think that accomplishing goals and fulfilling plans is up to us? Or do we realize that it’s all up to God? Mother Teresa considered herself “just a pencil in the Hand of God”; do we see ourselves the same way? “Jesus wasn’t kidding,” Ty writes, “when he said, ‘Apart from me, you can do nothing.’

Humility. “None of us wants to be arrogant, proud, self-sufficient, or unapproachable,” Ty says. “Yet, humility is the most elusive character trait for the Spiritual Leader.” Gosh, I like this chapter. Ty digs into what humility is (and what it isn’t) and points us toward Jesus as the model for what our lives should look like: Confident in our identity (“humility has nothing to do with a low self-image”), but never forcing ourselves on other people. Being always willing to learn. Choosing gratitude. And, like Moses (who was “very humble, more than any other man”), unwilling to go anywhere or do anything without God.

Like I said, good stuff.

Ty tackles other topics in the book, too, topics like the practical steps we should take (including praying for people and entering into their pain, which, Ty says, can be a “learned art”), and building a culture of trust. But becoming a better leader is not a matter of “measuring up,” or of adding godly stuff to our lives so that we can impact people in a positive way.

“Our doing more things to be a Spiritual Leader,” Ty writes, “is like an apple tree grunting and trying harder to produce good apples.”

Sure, we can water and fertilize the tree (Ty calls this “greenhousing” our souls), but at the end of the day, God spurs the growth. The simple fact that we desire to grow brings pleasure to God–and we can trust him to mature and develop us (even if we sometimes seem to move backwards). We can relax and rejoice in the knowledge that God is getting it done.

Which, for anyone who longs to draw closer to Christ (and to bring others along for the ride), is very good news.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins, and for entrusting us with the task of telling everyone what you are doing. Make us wise and faithful representatives as we encourage others to walk with you, work with you, and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 & Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)

Amen.

❤️

Want to know more about spiritual leadership and what that looks like in our lives? Order your copy of Reflections on Spiritual Leadership from SaltResources.com, or post a comment here, or on Instagram or Facebook, for your chance to win this week’s book giveaway.

Congrats to last week’s giveaway winner, a gal who always cleans out her lint trap! Lilly, send me your address (contact me here) and your copy of …And Jesus said, “Follow me” will be on its way!

Leave a Reply


Don’t let bad stuff get stuck in your vent

Our clothes dryer stopped working last week.

We had a repair guy come take a look, and it sputtered to life–but then quit again after a handful of loads. Finally, we gave in and bought a new dryer. When the guys came to install it, the old vent thing fell out of the wall…along with about eight years’ worth of dog hair, beach sand, and lint.

I know. I know. Don’t be telling me what a fire hazard that is. Or that we should have checked the vent set-up before replacing the whole thing. Believe me, I know. But that’s not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is that September is Book Giveaway month, and this week’s featured title from author Ty Saltzgiver is And Jesus Said, “…Follow Me”.

Follow Me has soooo many great pearls to ponder. On the subject of trust, for instance, Ty writes, “We all want clarity, but isn’t clarity the opposite of trust?”

On the difficulty we face, sometimes, in receiving, he says, “Doing love is good for the ego; sitting quietly and receiving love is humbling.”

And on the longing we have for more than position, possessions, and pleasures, Ty writes, “The soul’s function is to yearn in order for us to know that LIFE is more than what this world can bring us.”

See? So much good stuff, all offered in bite-sized chapters we can read on our own or with friends.

Surprisingly (because this is NOT a subject that I like to dwell on too much), one of the Follow Me chapters I found most captivating was about sin.

(I know, I know. You don’t like that topic either. But stick with me for a hot sec.)

Nobody likes to acknowledge their sin, to admit that they’ve failed, or that they’ve blown it (again). But doing so, Ty says, is “vital and growth-producing.”

Here’s why (and I’m quoting Ty here):

A sign of drawing closer to Jesus is being more aware of one’s sin (sometimes even having the accompanying “feeling” of being farther from Jesus). It’s like the light being turned up brighter in a room revealing faded paint, a water spot, and a crack in the wall, all that were unnoticed in the previous low light.

Boy, do I get that.

And I’d find the whole light-on-the-spot thing super discouraging, except for what happens when sin gets revealed–and confessed. More from Ty:

Once you call sin by name before God (that is, once you confess it), three things happen:

  1. You are forgiven and God does not count it against you.
  2. The sin is disarmed; it no longer has the same power in your life.
  3. God can begin, in his power and time, to heal you and take that sin from you.

The courage to confess sin springs from knowing that God’s love for us is undiminished by our sin. He longs to pour out His love on us, and in us, in Tidal Wave fashion. He longs to grow us into the unique person who He’s dreamed us to be. He longs to be intimate with us. Our sin unconfessed is the only barrier.

I love that.

And there’s lots more in the chapter–like, thought-provoking discussion questions, catchy Greek words for sin, and Bible verses that can help us flesh out the picture.

The only thing missing (and I don’t mean to tell Ty how to write) is the obvious illustration about how our relationship with the Lord is like a clothes dryer vent. As long as it’s clear, our lives work pretty well. But clog up the works with a mix of dog hair and sin, and stuff starts to break down. There is just no flow.

But when we identify and dislodge the bad stuff–when we name our sin and humbly confess it, even if that feels painful or awkward (and speaking from experience, it often does)–God goes to work. The stream of living water which flows from the heart of Jesus into our hearts flows less constricted, more freely.

We find ourselves caught up in a tidal wave of God’s love.

Heavenly Father,

How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven! Keeping silent about our sin saps our strength, but confession takes away guilt. (Psalm 32:1-5)

Show me the places where I resist reviewing myself, places where I may be (even unknowingly) hiding my sin. Grant me the courage to confess, secure in your limitless love.

Amen.

❤️
And Jesus said, “…Follow Me” is a great book for small group discussion–even if your “group” is the teenagers around your table at dinnertime. I tested a few chapters (they’re just two pages long) on my (young adult) children this summer, with decent results. I mean, my people actually made a few engaged-sounding comments. Which I count as a win.
Want your own copy of Follow Me? Click here to order, or enter to win this week’s giveaway by posting a comment here, or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt), or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites). And congrats to last week’s winner, Jenny Francis – Jenny, your copy of My First 30 Quiet Times is on it’s way!

 

 

 

Leave a Reply


How Can We Know God’s Heart?

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know how much I love sharing books and other resources to help us grow closer to Christ. This month features a series of powerful little books by Ty Saltzgiver, and we’ll be giving away a different one every week.

Today’s post is from My First Thirty Quiet Times, a day-by-day devotional that has sold more than 600,000 copies. In this excerpt from Day 5, Ty asks some really good questions: How can we know the Father’s heart? How can we be sure that God really is GOOD, and that He truly CARES for us? And how can we be sure we can trust Him?

Here’s Ty:

So often, Christianity is presented to us as a set of beliefs to adhere to and a set of rules (or commands) to obey. In other words, we must believe what is true and do what is right. If we do, then we are a Christian, or to the degree that we do these well, then we are good Christians.

Certainly, there are things to believe and a way God wants us to live, but they are not “in order to be” a Christian. Rather, they are “because of” the reality that we have a relationship with Jesus, where we’ve received His love and invited Him to live in our hearts and trusted Him with our lives.

It is a huge thing to entrust our very lives to God, to give Him the thing most precious to us–our hearts. Therefore, to trust God, we must be convinced His heart is GOOD and that He truly CARES for us. How can we know the Father’s heart?

(That’s a great question. And the answer, Ty says, is not by knowing doctrines or following rules or even seeing God’s beauty in nature. The answer to knowing God’s heart is by looking at Jesus.)

Jesus says essentially, “Let me tell you a story to try and describe for you my Father’s heart.” And then he tells the Prodigal Son parable. He says His Father is always standing on the porch waiting and looking for us who are lost or hurting. Then, when He sees us, He rushes to meet us and showers us with kisses, healing and restoring us.

Jesus represents (and therefore reveals) His Father as the One who pursues and accepts us. Even when there is infidelity or inattention on our part, God’s acceptance is always absolute, no retribution or payback is required. No one could invent a god like this–one who pursues and accepts sinners, one who becomes human and hangs out with us.

All other gods despise sinners, condemn them, and withhold blessings from them.

Not Jesus’ Father. Not our Heavenly Father.

Of course, Jesus’ death on the cross tells us more about the Father’s heart than anything else. Can you imagine the Father’s agony over His Son’s suffering and death, all so we could be in a relationship with Him? When someone dies for you, you no longer question if that person cares for you, or if you matter to them.

You can trust their heart with yours.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

No one has ever seen you, but Jesus–your one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with You, has made you known. (John 1:18)

Thank you for sending Jesus to not only be the way to You but also to show us who You are. Help me to know You more and trust You more.

Amen

 

P.S. (and book giveaway scoop):

Salt Resources

Ty Saltzgiver (above) spent over 40 years with Young Life, and he’s particularly gifted at making complex spiritual issues easy to grasp. My First Thirty Quiet Times comes with short scripture readings, thoughtful application steps, and a prayer every day. The book is designed for a new Christian, but I’ve picked up it up countless times over the years when I want straightforward answers on topics ranging from sin and forgiveness, to what to do when doubt comes, to knowing God’s will for my life.

If you’d like a free copy, post a comment here or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) for your chance to win. Or, since the books cost just $1.99, go ahead and order one–or ten!–and share this great resource with someone you love!

Leave a Reply