Four Steps to Answering Hard Questions

Meet any 3-year-old, and you’ll quickly learn their favorite question—“Why?”

You’d think such a simple question would have an easy answer, but this isn’t always the case. How much more difficult are questions from adults about complex biblical truths and the mysterious ways of our great God?

Whether your primary ministry is small group leadership, discipling other women, meeting with unbelievers, or facilitating events within your church, rest assured, you will be asked some hard questions. How will you handle them? How can you keep God’s Word central and exercise wisdom as you do?

The hard questions our women ask challenge and encourage us to apply Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” Consider the following four steps, keeping this verse in mind:

1. Discern

Is this person genuinely curious, or do they want to stir conflict?

Your first step is to discern the motivation behind the question. While many hard questions will come from hearts of genuine curiosity, confusion, or conviction, some may cause conflict, whether the question-poser realizes it or not. As a leader, try to discern if the woman asking the question intends this, or if she’s unaware this could be the result.

Let’s say you lead a small group, and you’re discussing God’s plan for marriage according to Genesis 1 and Ephesians 4. One woman asks, “So do you think Christians who get legally married to a same-sex spouse go to hell?”

Before responding, exercise the “wisdom” of Colossians 3:16 and discern the heart behind her question:

  • Does she have a family member or friend in this situation whom she loves and wants to see safe in Christ?
  • Is she actually asking about the Bible’s authority on marriage?
  • Or does she simply want to stir conflict within the group through a controversial topic?

If it’s conflict she’s seeking, it’s best to acknowledge her question for later discussion and move on from it. If it’s genuine curiosity, then feel the freedom to proceed to the next step.

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It Is Well With My Soul

In the middle of suffering, can you say, “It is well with my soul?”

While sick on the couch one week, I read the Shunammite woman’s story in 2 Kings and was immediately helped. I’d been fighting fear because I was terrified that our infant daughter would catch my sickness, and because I had no idea how I would care for her in such a depleted state.

I’m not proud of the fruit I bore that week: frustration, unkindness, negativity, and even more fear and doubt. But God, in his mercy, convicted and helped me through his Word, through the story of the Shunammite woman’s suffering.

The Shunammite Woman’s Suffering

Here’s the short version (see 2 Kings 4:8-37):

A wealthy woman (our Shunammite) knew that Elisha was God’s prophet; so she convinced her husband to make him a small room on their roof, where he could rest when he passed by. Elisha figured she’d want something done for her in return (which she didn’t), so he promised her a son the following year. She conceived according to his word and despite her doubts.

When he’d grown, her God-given son died on her lap. Without hesitation, she saddled up her donkey and went to find Elisha for help:

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” (vv. 25-26)

All is well? What?! Didn’t her son, her unexpected gift from God, just die on her lap? How could she say this?

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Let God’s Voice Cast Out Fear

What are you afraid of?

Between the two of us, I’m sure we could fill a sheet of paper with reasons for fear. I used to be afraid of a failing body and uncertain future, as Lyme disease took its toll on my immune system. That fear has been subdued to a degree, as God has allowed much healing and worked in my heart—but new fears have replaced it.

When our daughter’s due date was approaching, I feared labor and delivery. I feared complications. I still fear something going terribly wrong.

With financial responsibilities increasing, I fear being unable to make ends meet. I fear surprise expenses. I fear we won’t get to fully enjoy the home God’s provided for us, or freely give to those in need.

I still fear the chronic pain in my body. I fear it will never go away. I fear that the rest of my days will be strewn with even minor discomforts, a constant reminder of the disease that’s taken its toll.

Fear is not of God. I’m exhausted simply writing this list of fears, let alone feeling them. I know the enemy of my soul uses fear as a tool to steal, kill, and destroy faith, when Jesus came to give me fullness of life, his perfect love promising to cast out my fears (1 John 4:18). So I’ve been thinking lately, What are some truths we can cling to when fear looms and threatens our faith?

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A Journaling Template for Your New Year’s Resolutions

How will you be intentional about the next 365 days?

As we’ve closed another year and started a fresh one, there’s much to thank God for, to process, and also to pray over and anticipate.

Over the past few years, I’ve found a concise and clear way to journal these thoughts and prayers. And I hope it might be useful to you!

So grab your Bible, along with a pen and notebook, and find some time to be alone with the Lord, seeking his will and wisdom for the coming year.

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The 10 Most Popular Articles of 2017

With all the web-noise and digital content published every second of every day, it’s hard to choose how and where to spend our time online. So, for those of you who’ve chosen to spend time here throughout 2017, thank you!

My desire is to be faithful to God and to his Word. One of my writing goals for 2018 has less to do with writing and more to do with praying—particularly for the readers who come across this website and stick around to read.

For you.

So please know I’m praying for you, dear reader: for God to strengthen you and sanctify you in his truth, and for you to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

That said

These were your favorite articles from this year. Enjoy!

1. Three Takeaways from TGC17

2. Confessions of an Insecure Writer (Part 1)

3. What Should I Do When I’m Struggling to Read God’s Word?

4. An Open Letter to Myself: On Motherhood, Writing, and Identity in Christ

5. 20 Practical Ways to Kill Sin Every Day

6. 22 Prayers for Your Bible Reading

7. 10 Bible Verses to Strengthen You As You Wait

8. Why I Read Christian Books All Wrong

9. 2017 Reading Favorites

10. When Satan Demands to Have You

May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you and keep you in his peace as you enter 2018!

Four Creative Ways to Be Generous

Perhaps, like me, you wonder if it’s possible to be generous when finances are tight.

I’ve wrestled with this question, since it can feel like my family doesn’t have “wiggle room” for spontaneous financial gifts. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of needs around us—an ailing saint, a new baby, a financial crisis—and in my discouragement over finances, pride has taken root.

It’s a pride that says, “It has to be us who meet such-and-such a need.” Pride that doubts God’s goodness and ability to provide for all our needs. Pride that asserts my natural desire for independence and control, rather than a humble submission to what he’s allotted for us.

Grace-Fueled Generosity

The Lord has humbled me with a simple reminder: Generosity comes in many shapes and sizes.

Generosity is the overflow of a humble heart—an attitude, not a one-size-fits-all act. If it were only about money, many of us would be disqualified from exercising it. But since God has called all his people to generosity of spirit, there’s more to it than meets the eye:

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. . . . They will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them . . . because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. (2 Corinthians 9:8, 13–14, emphases mine)

Paul is exhorting the church at Corinth to give cheerfully to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. He encourages them that no gift ultimately comes from their striving or efforts or resources, but rather from their sufficient God, the Creator and Provider of all. He alone “is able to make all grace abound” to them for the purpose of generosity. And Paul says this grace fuels “every good work”—not only monetary giving, but works of many shapes and sizes.

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A Question About Christian Satire

Love is patient and kind.

Our God commands us to love him first and foremost, and to love our neighbor as ourselves—but are we doing this online? Especially when we disagree with our neighbor?

I’ve been saddened by the lack of love strewn throughout Christian circles on the web in recent years. Lately, someone brought a satirical article to my attention that called out by name a person with whom the author disagreed, poking fun at them and attempting to make them a laughingstock to the reader.

My heart broke.

Is satire funny and helpful when it deals with ideas? Yes. But this was about a person. Someone created in the image of God. Someone who genuinely believes they’re following Christ.

Loving Our Neighbor

Doesn’t our great God call us to more than this? Doesn’t he command us to love others because he first loved us—even when we sorely disagree with them?

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2017 Reading Favorites

The saying is true: Less is indeed more.

Or shall I say fewer? I chose to read fewer books this year, with the goal of comprehending and enjoying them more. And it worked! Rather than pressuring myself to read 50 books in haste, I didn’t set a goal; I simply read. I chose one or two books at a time and relished their messages (instead of five or six at a time, rushing through them to meet my goal).

In fact, I’m not even going to tell you how many books I read. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how many you read—just that you read, and engaged the mind, imagination, and heart God gave you. (If you read one book and grew because of it, good for you! If you didn’t read any, set a goal to read at least one great book in 2018. You won’t be sorry!)

So, yes, 2017 was another year of great books. The titles I’m sharing with you below were my favorites, and they follow the criteria I first used in 2015’s Reading Favorites article:

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Beware These Seven Gospel-Distortions

A dear friend of mine worked in a bank overseas for about a year, handling large amounts of money. During training, she had to study various bills and learn their details, so she could easily discern counterfeits if they came along.

She studied the real thing so she could identify distortions.

The same goes for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As leaders in the church, we want to be women equipping women to know the gospel so we can identify false “gospels” and grasp how the truth applies to our lives.

But where do we start?

Build the Foundation

We begin with the gospel to build a firm foundation for all our events, gatherings, Bible studies, and small groups:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:1-2, 8-9)

Three questions are answered in this passage that we can use as a framework to help our women build a firm gospel-foundation:

Saved from what? The wrath of God. There is no gospel apart from the wrath of God and his righteous judgment against sinners (v. 9). This is an uncomfortable reality, but one we must teach our women because ignoring or belittling sin does not mean sin goes away. God is the standard—and we have sinned against him.

Saved by whom? Jesus Christ. Christians are saved from the wrath of God by the righteous blood of Jesus, the spotless sacrificial Lamb who absorbed the wrath on our behalf (v. 8). Only Jesus has the power to save desperate, dead sinners from God’s wrath by giving them eternal life in his Name, accomplishing what we never could.

Saved how? By grace through faith. True faith says, “I bring nothing to the table. I come empty-handed, but Christ gladly gives himself to me.” We teach our women that faith is trusting Jesus to rescue us from sin because we know we can’t rescue ourselves. And faith is trusting Jesus to do this apart from anything we have done.

Beware the Distortions

When the women in our churches forget the gospel, they’re more likely to be carried along and tossed about by the world’s ever-changing ideas. So, just as it’s important for us as leaders to build a firm foundation for the flock under our care, we must also beware the distortions at work in our world and churches.

Here are seven we should be aware of as we seek to lead women well:

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Is the Word of God a Quick Fix?

When you come to God’s Word, are you looking for a “quick fix”?

I was struck by the following quotation, as I read through one of Pastor Colin’s sermons from the radio series The Anatomy of Faith:

God may be saying to you, “Instead of looking for a quick fix to the problems in your life, you need to establish a regular pattern of receiving my Word with faith, so that it will bear long-term fruit that you have not been bearing in years.” You never know what God is going to say to you, but you know he is going to say it through his Word. (Colin Smith)

This statement is striking because it pegs our human tendency to view God’s Word as a “quick fix.” I’ll bet that I’m not alone in wanting to hear God speak truth into my heart. But I’ll also bet that many of us tend to be drawn to Scripture thinking we need an instant solution for our troubles, rather than nourishing, consistent sustenance for our souls.

In effect, the Word of God becomes a means to an end, and—I admit—it’s usually a selfish end! Deliver me from circumstantial trouble. Show me the next step I should take in my own carefully crafted plans. Make sense for me of this enigmatic reality that makes up God’s sovereignty.

God’s Word can easily become information for our brains, rather than nourishment for our souls. Instead of genuinely loving and craving the Word, we can use the Word for selfish gain, hoping that it will give us a way out of worldly troubles and suffering.

Scripture becomes a “quick fix.”

So how can we learn to love God’s Word increasingly more every day? How can we avoid looking to Scripture as a mere “quick fix”? I think there are three key points in Pastor Colin’s statement above that will help us see how we can—only by God’s grace—grow in loving the Word:

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