Grace of Catastrophe: When What You Know about God Is All You Have

Overview

Catastrophes can strike anyone, at any time. No life is immune. No place is invulnerable. The only difference is what we do with them when they come. Jan Winebrenner writes to encourage women who have been stricken by catastrophe: cling to God for comfort and security. He uses challenges in our lives to conform us to His character. Like nothing else, devastation allows God to reveal Himself to us in unimaginable ways, drawing us into closer, deeper intimacy with Him.

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The Grace of Catastrophe: When What You Know About God is All You Have

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Overview

Catastrophes can strike anyone, at any time. No life is immune. No place is invulnerable. The only difference is what we do with them when they come. Jan Winebrenner writes to encourage women who have been stricken by catastrophe: cling to God for comfort and security. He uses challenges in our lives to conform us to His character. Like nothing else, devastation allows God to reveal Himself to us in unimaginable ways, drawing us into closer, deeper intimacy with Him.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802450418
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/2005
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 895,581
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

JAN WINEBRENNER is a freelance writer who grew up in Northern Arizona, spending her teen years on the Navajo Indian Reservation where her parents taught school. Her gifts in writing and speaking were further refined at Northern Arizona University and John Brown University where she studied literature and education. Jan is author of eight books including The Grace of Catastrophe, Steel In His Soul, and Intimate Faith and has written countless articles for periodicals as diverse as Vietnam Today, Leadership, The Dallas Morning News, Today's Christian Woman, and Decision. Jan founded the Dallas Christian Writers Guild and frequently speaks for writers' groups and college and university writing classes. Jan and her husband, Ken, have been married over 35 years. They have two children and two grandchildren and reside in Plano, Texas.

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Read an Excerpt

When we are wounded, hurting, crying in our pain, our theology-what we believe about God, about His kingdom-becomes suddenly very significant, very practical. We have no room for arrogance, the arrogance of certainty, when the unimaginable happens to us. Theology, for the struggling disciple, is more than theory, more than a stimulating topic of discussion. It is more than the text of Sunday school curricula, more than the subject of a sermon. Theology is the truth that hauls us up out of the chaos and into the place of comfort in God's arms. It is the message that gives us courage to keep on living when everything in our lives seems to be decaying and deteriorating. It is the truth of God, revealed in His Word, spoken in our hearts by His Spirit, lived in front of us by the incarnate Son that lifts us up. Without it, "we remain little people with little concerns who live little lives and die little deaths."

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

1. Life in the Midst of Mess

2. God's Unfathomable Ways

The Theology of Transcendence

3. The Realm of the "Totally Other"

God Is Love

4. The Basis for Everything

God Is Good

5. The First Necessary Truth

God Is Holy and I Am Not

6. Our Safe Refuge

God's Omni-Attributes

7. Nothing's Changed-It Never Will

God Is Immutable

8. Between the Paws of the True Lion

God's Sovereignty

9. Body Heat

Living in the Fellowship of Believers

10. The Great Art

Conversation with God

Notes

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First Chapter

The GRACE of Catastrophe

When What You KNOW About GOD Is All You Have
By Jan Winebrenner

Moody Publishers

Copyright © 2005 Jan Winebrenner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8024-5041-5


Chapter One

LIFE IN THE MIDST OF MESS

Desperation makes us do strange things-things like sit up all night in a cheap motel and read the Bible out loud.

It's not something I'd usually do after a day on the road. On my best day, I'd probably watch a little TV, read a novel, then turn out the lights, and get to sleep early.

But let a catastrophe strike, and God has my attention.

Like the day my husband, Ken, and I set out on a cross-country move only to discover that the company transferring us to Texas had been sold. There was no job. That was the day we left town anyway-there was nothing to stay for. We were leaving behind an unsold house in South Carolina and heading toward one that the night before had just been flooded by torrential spring storms in Dallas. And so there we were: no job, two houses, and a truck full of furniture rolling along somewhere on Interstate 20.

That's the same day we were burglarized in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Atlanta.

Thugs now owned the few things we'd been reluctant to trust with the moving company, if they hadn't already discarded them in a Dumpster. Gone was Ken's wedding ring, his briefcase, our Bibles, clean clothes to change into, my special treasures, including six chapters and all my research and study notes for a book I was writing.

After doing an inventory and filing a police report, we climbed into the car and continued our journey west toward whatever fate awaited us.

I can't remember a time in my life when I felt more forlorn.

It's been a few years since that miserable, chaotic time in our lives, but it all seemed so recent when I read Charles Colson's words:

Life isn't like a book. Life isn't logical or sensible or orderly. Life is a mess most of the time. And theology must be lived out in the midst of that mess.

Looking back, our lives couldn't have been messier.

We had been stripped down to nothing in less than twenty-four hours. Our ideas about God were being challenged at the most basic level. That day, huddled together in a motel room in a Dallas suburb, we reached for the Gideon Bible in the drawer of a tacky nightstand.

We had nothing else to reach for.

The Most Important Question

That night we sat for a major exam in "Practical Theology." And the first question on the test: What do you really believe about God?

That's what catastrophe does for us, isn't it?

It forces us to confront our beliefs, maybe for the first time, maybe for the hundredth time.

It forces us to admit that maybe, when it comes to what we say we believe about God, we're frauds. It forces us to see where our trust really lies.

It forces us to face what we really believe we can expect from the God we call our Father.

All through that long night, Ken and I wrestled with these questions. We discarded what we thought were the wrong answers and pulled out what we thought were the right ones. And then, the next question loomed: How does that belief affect your life in this mess?

Which, of course, begs the next question: Does what you say you believe affect your life at all?

These were the questions that most needed answering -not, what will we do? Or, where will we live? Or, how will we live? And the answers would reveal the truth about us-if we really believed what we had for years claimed to believe; if the knowledge we held of God was biblically accurate, or false; if we were living authentic lives of faith.

What We Really Believe

A. W. Tozer wrote, "The difference between a great Christian life and any other kind lies in the quality of our religious concepts ... i.e., what we think of God, what we believe about Him."

Nothing so challenges us to examine what we believe about God like catastrophe.

That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us.... Often only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God?

We face difficulty, and we have to ask: Do we really believe God is strong and faithful? We face pain and illness, and we wonder: Is He as good as I've always been told to believe?

Death comes, and weeping, and we ask: Is heaven a reality?

Is prayer effective? Does God really hear?

The struggles and disasters of our lives prompt us to ask these questions, and dozens more.

Every tragedy, every crisis, offers us this:

It can be a means of grace-an instrument used by God by which we can cease floating passively on all manner of external attractions. It is by the grace of catastrophe that people sometimes come to themselves and see what is before them as if for the first time. Catastrophe can, like a mighty wind, blow away the abstracting veils of theory and ideology and enable our own sovereign seeing. -Eugene Peterson

It is the testimony of the ancients, as well as contemporary saints, that the greatest lessons of faith have been learned against the backdrop of suffering. The theology we say we believe takes root in soil watered by tears and bears fruit in lives characterized by peace and righteousness, lives that delight in the person of God Himself.

The "grace of catastrophe" comes through in places where our theology is tested, our faith forged, our knowledge of God made personal and practical, and our love for Him impassioned.

On the Brink

John Piper wrote, "Every moment in every circumstance we stand on the brink between the lure of idolatry and the delight of seeing and knowing God."

Our stance is never more precarious than when we are in pain-any kind of pain. The voice of God whispers in our souls, "Love Me, worship Me, trust Me." But His soft words are hard to hear over the raucous voices in our culture and in our own hearts-voices that shout at us to berate God, to ignore Him and move on in search of other comforts, if there be any-any that don't wear off after a few minutes or hours.

Still, Jesus calls us to come close, to cuddle in His love and rest in the certainty of His goodness and His sovereign power. He invites us to take comfort in all that He has promised to be to us-savior, friend, healer, lover.

This is the challenge we face with each day as we step out into life.

Will we seek God and take our refuge in Him when our path is littered with broken dreams? Or will we turn elsewhere? We have only these two options when catastrophe strikes. If we choose God, then catastrophe becomes for us a special grace-gift, ushering us into the place where we can experience God in ways we never before imagined. We find ourselves poised on the brink of life's greatest discovery: that God is the ultimate presence in the universe, and that knowing Him, interacting with Him, by faith, is more satisfying, more exhilarating than anything the human heart ever hoped for or imagined.

Practical Theology

"What do unwounded servants do? They become arrogant, join country clubs, sell out to middle-class mediocrity.... Only the protected have the privilege of making theology a discussion; the endangered cling to it and weep."

When we are wounded, hurting, crying in our pain, our theology-what we believe about God, about His kingdom-becomes suddenly very significant, very practical. We don't have the luxury of keeping it superficial. The truth of God's power and love and goodness, the truth of who we really are in Christ, the reality of His purposes for His people, the church, is suddenly relevant in ways we didn't consider in easier, more comfortable times.

We have no room for arrogance-the arrogance of certainty-when the unimaginable happens to us. Now, when our own souls are aching, we are suddenly haunted by the trite answers we so blithely tossed at others in their times of sorrow and fear.

It becomes painfully obvious to us-we don't have the privilege of making our theology a mere discussion. What we believe about God is now suddenly more important than anything else we will ever believe. It is more important than the doctor's opinion or second opinion. It is more important than a judge's ruling, more important than class rank, salary, retirement portfolio, or any of the other things that concern us in the course of our seventy-or eighty-odd years of life on this planet.

Theology, for the struggling disciple, is more than theory, more than a stimulating topic of discussion. It is more than the text of Sunday school curricula, more than the subject of a sermon. Theology is the truth that hauls us tip out of the chaos and into the place of comfort in God's arms. It is the message that gives us courage to keep on living when everything in our lives seems to be decaying and deteriorating.

It is the truth of God, revealed in His Word, spoken in our hearts by His Spirit, lived in front of us by the incarnate Son that lifts us up. Without it, "we remain little people with little concerns who live little lives and die little deaths."

Grace in Doubt

Since that messy, frightening arrival in Texas, I have faced many other obstacles, many that were much more painful, much more life altering than a job crisis and a real estate deal gone sour and the loss of a few material goods. I've had to retake that exam on "Practical Theology," and many times, I've failed.

I've doubted that God is really good.

I've wanted to curse, not sit and read Psalms.

I've refused to pray, because in those moments of greatest agony, I wasn't certain that God would hear and answer, that He could be trusted with my pain.

I've wondered, really wondered, if there is a plan to all the chaos. I've doubted if God was going to come through for me.

In my worst moments, I've wondered if He cares, if He loves. And I still, at times, wonder if lie is really as good as He says He is, as good as I need Him to be.

I've said with David the psalmist, "Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" (10:1).

Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? -Psalm 13:1-2

You've probably echoed David's sentiment. You've felt the pain of loss and the desolation of loneliness. You've struggled to believe the truth and wondered if maybe, just maybe, you've gotten it all wrong. But have you ever echoed these words of David?

I trust in your unfailing love; My heart rejoices in your salvation. -Psalm 13:5

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. -Psalm 16:7

David, grubbing for food in the desert, sleeping in a cave with vagabond mercenaries, fighting for his life, discovered that grace could be found in unlikely places. God Himself counseled him in moments of confusion. Listen to his testimony: "You have made known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand" (Psalm 16:11).

A Gift of Opportunity

Catastrophes come to all of us, in forms too numerous to count. But with every catastrophe comes this gift-the opportunity to see God at work in our lives, on our behalf; the gift of opportunity to experience what we say we believe-about God, about His kingdom, about His people. It is through the grace of catastrophe that we begin to experience the theology that, for most of us, is too often relegated to the academic, the theoretical, realms of our existence. By the grace of catastrophe, we are offered the opportunity to enter into our theology, humbly, and with great anticipation. We are gifted with the chance to experience God in ways we never before imagined, nor hoped for.

John Bunyan wrote, "Let it rain, let it blow, let it thunder, let it light[ning], a Christian must still believe."

The thunderbolts reverberate from every corner of the world, it seems. The echoes of suicide bombs shake us in the depths of our souls. The sounds of gunfire in our world, in our cities, in our own communities, send us in search of shelter, if there be any. The Internet brings us images of beheadings, images of torture and ignominy. Our hearts reel at the kind of catastrophes that greet us in the morning paper-and this before we've had our first cup of coffee, before the phone rings with news of a family crisis, a job crisis, before we've had a chance to enter the fray of our own chaos-kids, jobs, road rage. Everywhere we turn there is catastrophe on some level. Everywhere we turn there is the challenge to believe.

We must still believe that God is who He says He is; that He is as good as we hope and pray He is; that His kingdom purposes will prevail, regardless of the storms that encircle our world.

The Christian must still believe-theology must be lived out in the midst of whatever mess we might find ourselves: the international/global kind that makes the evening news, as well as the interpersonal ones that greet us when the kids climb out of bed in the morning, when the boss walks into the office with less-than-good news, when the car engine refuses to turn over, when the medical tests reveal something awful, when the parent/teacher meeting is negative.

When life happens, we must still believe.

We must hold on to the truth.

And as we deliberately choose to hold on to the truth, which is holding on to God Himself, we discover His presence to be more loving and tender, more astoundingly personal than ever before, and catastrophes become for us a means of grace-a means of knowing and delighting in God.

Tracking Grace

But what does it look like to "hold on to" an invisible God?

Can our fingers actually grip His hand? Can we wrap ourselves in the warmth of His regal garments?

Years ago I discovered that I could hold on to God through pen and paper. It was my mother's suggestion to me when I was a young mother of two, struggling to stay a few steps ahead of despair. Ken was traveling heavily, my children were babies, and I was lonely, weary, and battling a growing cancer of bitterness. Every day held its own catastrophe-whether an emergency visit to the pediatrician for a shot that would enable Molly to breathe, or a broken air conditioner on a summer day when the temperature soared to 113 degrees (we lived in Phoenix).

Mom visited me one day when I was especially haggard.

Continues...


Excerpted from The GRACE of Catastrophe by Jan Winebrenner Copyright © 2005 by Jan Winebrenner. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2005

    Catastrophe? Find grace here.

    I opened Jan Winebrenner¿s The Grace of Catastrophe while flying over Europe, far above my own catastrophes. Her words of authenticity and raw spirituality gave me hope that someone else had walked the journey I was now stumbling through. Quoting classic authors like A.W. Tozer, Julian of Norwich, John Bunyan and C. S. Lewis, Winebrenner shows that we are all dusty, needy pilgrims who serve an immutable, sovereign God¿a God who allows our craziness, welcomes our questions, sees our frailty, and communes with us in the most personal way possible. Stripping away Christianese and the all-is-well façade Christians sometimes hide behind, Winebrenner offers readers a genuine picture of God¿not the easily manipulated deity we¿ve become comfortable with, but the wild, holy, loving God of the Bible. Woven throughout are the author¿s personal catastrophes as well as those of other pilgrims, backdropped against the grace of God. If you are struggling to understand God in the midst of catastrophe, benefit your soul by buying this book. Grace awaits you.

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