HOPE AND JOY
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
By Bill McLean
ILLUSTRATION BY BARRY BLITT
Jim Renke nearly lost his right index finger while operating a press brake at a metal fabrication shop in California decades ago. He was nearly 20 at the time, a community college student toiling in the summer for pizza and gas money for the fall semester.
A press brake bends metal bars or sheets—and always wins brief battles with human digits.
“Came close to severing it,” says a still-relieved Renke, a Vernon Hills resident and the senior pastor at The Village Church of Lincolnshire since 2021.
“I couldn’t work for a while.”
That gave an idle Renke plenty of time to field questions and discuss a serious subject matter that ultimately put him on a manof- the-cloth path.
“My father (Marvin) asked me, ‘Are you still thinking about a ministry career?’” recounts the 61-year-old Renke, who attended Kennedy High School in Fremont, California. “I told him, ‘No.’ Not long after that, our church’s pastor called me to talk about the same topic. Then, a little while later, a friend and I discussed the church and the possibilities for my future.”
Renke’s abrupt “no” to his father’s inquiry began to soften after the trinity of interactions with VIPs in his life. Self-reflection ensued. A “maybe” to ministry marched steadily to a “yes.”
Renke then applied for admission to the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago and made a pact with a higher power.
“I said, ‘God, if you get me accepted, I’ll go to Moody Bible,’” Renke says. “I got a call from Moody Bible’s registrar on a Friday in August. The administrator asked me if I’d commit to the school if accepted. My response was, ‘I don’t have a choice; I made a deal with God.’”
The registrar ended the phone call with an order: “Be here on Tuesday, Jim.”
Christmas 2023 arrives on Monday, December 25, the start of the season that celebrates an inestimable gift—the birth of Christ—in Christendom. The season preceding Christmas, Advent, is filled to the brim with hope, a feeling Renke clung to after his work accident and after a major health scare—emergency heart surgery—at age 49.
Look around. Each Christmastime light you see signifies hope and the conqueror of darkness. “Christmas celebrates God’s love for us through the birth of his Son,” says Renke, who wrote the book Transformed Pain: How God Makes it Good (Onward & Upward Press, 2017). “Jesus Christ entered our world to fulfill God’s promise to us. He’s the tangible answer. Christmas is about renewal, restoration, the new covenant.
“I had four stents inserted, over a threeyear stretch, after my heart surgery,” he adds. “I was suffering, struggling. I felt weak. I often thought, ‘What is God trying to do with me?’ Weakness turned out to be a good thing in my life, because it made me depend on God’s strength.”
The Village Church of Lincolnshire held a Blue Christmas service for the first time on December Open to all, not just the Evangelical Free Church’s congregants, it welcomed those who were mourning or grappling to find a sliver of joy or hope among redand- green decorations everywhere and seas of smiling, festive people of all ages.
“More people than many realize are hurting more than ever during Advent,” Renke says of the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day. “Those who attend a Blue Christmas service—an evening of reflection— see others are in their same boat and discover they’re not alone. That’s comforting to them as they seek Christ’s comfort.
“Yes, they’re feeling broken in their darkness,” he continues. “But Advent is the season of anticipation, of waiting, of seeking light. It’s okay to long for something and to wait for it. Hope is coming. Hope will heal.”
Renke describes his bout with cardiovascular disease as a “journey” in his book. The potent combination of medical care and his faith shepherded him to health.
“When you respond in faith, the Lord uses the story of our lives to move His story of redemption and reconciliation forward,” he writes. “All the while, giving us the hope that no pain is futile and without hope.”
Renke met his future wife, Kris, in an evangelism class at Moody Bible Institute. He asked her to accompany him to a Giordano’s in Chicago for their first date. Time spent with her there must have felt like a slice of heaven, minus the pepperoni and green peppers and anchovies.
They got married and raised four sons, ages 36-28. They have two grandchildren and two on the way.
Renke attended seminary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and earned his Doctorate of Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts.
His parish stops before The Village Church of Lincolnshire included two in Iowa, one in California, and Village Green Baptist Church in Glen Ellyn.
The heart of The Village Church of Lincolnshire (VCL) mission is to foster disciples in Christ through the first and greatest commandment (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”) and the second (“Love your neighbor as yourself ”).
The parishioners of VCL on Riverwoods Road “endeavor to live out that love and share the hope that is in Christ, his death, and resurrection.”
Renke had also served as an Evangelical Free Church regional minister, or “as a pastor to pastors,” Renke says.
The call to lead VCL’s flock more than two years ago heartened Jim and Kris.
“My wife and I,” Renke says, “had missed being a part of a local church and longed to build meaningful relationships with church members again. We prayed for an opportunity like this. The joys of being a pastor … too many to count. But they begin with the important moments I get to be a part of in the lives of others. Moments like births, baptisms, and weddings. I also get to be there for people who are hospitalized, when they’re looking for answers to hard questions. I’m there for those mourning the loss of a loved one.
“I consider it a privilege to be a part of each moment.”
The Village Church of Lincolnshire is located at 201 Riverwoods Road, Lake Forest. Call 847-295-7707 or visit evcl.org for more information. To read Pastor Jim Renke’s “Onward & Upward” blog, visit jimrenke.com.