Category Archives: Difficult Questions

Do you ever get to feel good about yourself?

One of the tools I use as a parent is discipline when my monkeys need it. But it’s not the only thing. I also use a lot of encouragement and praise.

Sometimes it seems like the only thing I ever see or hear in sermons or Christian books is exhortations to recognize your own sinfulness and repent, repent, repent. Not that I’m disagreeing! Oh no, I am not. I probably tend toward overdoing it (can you actually do that?)

But what about the encouragement? I know God gives us all our abilities to love our neighbor and love ourselves, but I just rarely see much discussion about when you do something well. Is God happy? Or is it just okay, you’ve been less bad today, but gee whiz look at what else you have to work on!

Luke 17:10

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ “

I don’t think I’d get very far with my kids if I never told them I was happy when they did right, and it was just their duty to behave.  I’m having a hard time phrasing that without sounding flippant or disrespectful, but I do not mean it that way.  I’m just trying to understand.

Hebrews 3:13

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

This verse also comes to mind. Perhaps this is one way of showing that?


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Mercy Beyond Measure

Of all the horror, of all the shock, and the sorrow and the sheer obscenity of the Amish school girl murders, one thing stood out in my mind.

Marie Roberts was in a prayer meeting, a prayer meeting at the time her husband was breaking in to the school, ready to commit unspeakable mayhem.

The media has not said much about Marie Roberts (and praise be to God for what is hopefully unusual restraint from the media), but I get the sense from what I’ve pieced together, she was involved, caring and genuine. She was at a prayer meeting for a group called Moms in Touch.

She was praying to God, our Heavenly Father, while her husband was carrying out his monstrous plot.

Such terrible awe and horror in the subcutaneous realization of our hearts: the evil that men do is right here, right now, in each of us. Even in the moments while we appeal to God, evil tortures and kills.

We torture and we kill.

No one can say that this was from God.

I cannot fathom the workings of this war between light and darkness, but I am given hope by this: the forgiveness shown to Marie Roberts and her family by the Amish is the purest mercy God could show to Ms. Roberts. It may even feel terrible to her – I can imagine I might feel that I didn’t even want them to forgive me much less look at me in my shame. But one of the most crystalline displays of forgiveness in modern memory is an utterly profound gift to Ms. Roberts, one to rise above and overcome one of the most dark and demonic displays of evil. To be the recipient of such grace and mercy must be humbling beyond measure.

Pray for mercy. The power and glory of mercy is matchless.

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Salvation, Fear and Trembling

As I’ve been working through the Arminian upbringing of my childhood and the Calvinist beliefs of my current church (and I think mine now as well), I have been confused, fearful, heartsick, and starting to question my mental state. Some days I think I’m fine…I can live with the uncertainty…and then there are days, such as I’ve had in the past week that I would like to hide under my bedcovers and cry myself to sleep, so that I can turn my brain off for a while. To make the thoughts stop. The endless cycling of the what if’s and the how can I know’s and the this says this thing’s, but the that says that thing’s, and I can’t see how they both can be true’s. I can feel them traveling over the same grooves in my brain, wearing down the matter and imprinting themselves in my soul.


Was I saved as a teen? Was I apostate for the last 20 years? Was I never a “true” believer before? If I wasn’t, how can I know whether I am now? How can I take comfort in the assurance of my salvation if there’s even the slightest chance I was not ever really saved before or am not really saved now? How do I know whether I’ve had or have now, the fruits of the Spirit? Where is the yardstick, that I might measure myself against it?


I’m not going to go into all the evidences for or against me in the last 20 years, or in the last few months. I was a sinner and continue to be one. But for Christ crucified, I believe I was saved then and I believe I am saved now. The Spirit never left me. I believe I didn’t always (even often) listen to the Spirit when I should have, but I knew who it was. I believe the Spirit wooed me back home, a prodigal daughter. I believe Jesus never did and never will let me go.


I do not simply profess, but I believe.

    All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. [John 6:37]


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Suffer the little kittens

I just got back from visiting my grandmother in central Illinois. She is 85. She is outwardly frail, but she refuses to make concession to the infirmities of age. She has had a life of hard work and of much sorrow, but she, more than anyone I know, knows the Lord, and He gives her much love and strength.

About two years ago kitten of my mother’s that grandma had taken in after my mother died had to be put down. Grandma had not really wanted the cat and she never even gave her a name – she was only Kitty. But she grew to love that black cat, and kept her well.  But after Kitty was gone, grandma felt she was too old to take on another pet, even though she would have loved to. But the Giver of Good Gifts knew better. Along came a stray, only 8 months or so old, right up to my grandma’s house, and the stray would not be ignored! My grandmother has taken in this cat, named her Kitty 2, and fallen head over heels for this near-carbon copy of her old black cat.

This last week, I saw my grandma just in love with that cat. And I never saw a cat love a person so. They rock together in the rocking chair in the morning and in the evening. Kitty 2 hides her cold nose in my grandma’s hand while grandma sings to her.

I was telling a co-worker today about this lovely feline-grandmother relationship, and what she said struck me: she said the kitties who have been strays are the ones who love the most, because they know the cold and the wild, and they are truly grateful for the kindness they are being shown.

Now I know I’ve read that God allows us to suffer so that we can love Him more. And I’ve read this parable several times:

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.[Luke 7:40-43 NIV]

But it never really hit me like it did today. Oh that I should truly love and purr in gratitude to my Savior like this little kitten. Meow!

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Why Pain?

My friend Tim gave me permission to quote him from one of our email conversations about another friend of mine who experienced a distressing childhood: (the italics are my addition)

It is sad that bad things happen — and they do — and it raises questions of why God allows us to experience pain. But he does: there is no contract which says otherwise. The existence of evil and pain is the biggest theological barrier to most people's belief in God. In a way, it is a symptom of our natural narcissism: God's first job should be to keep us from harm and pain, emotional, physical, or otherwise. (Never mind that God himself chooses to suffer and weep.)

But, to quote the old song, "I beg your pardon: I never promised you a rose garden." And in a world full of free agents, having the ability to impact each other, some are allowed to run amok. God allows it. I've read so many atheists' stories, where, sometimes after years of believing in God, they suddenly wake up and realize there is pain in the universe, and suffering, and that bad things happen to relatively "good" people. (Well, duh.) And it destroys their faith, because they're not prepared to believe in a God who might allow such a thing. It blows my mind that people can go whole decades of their lives without noticing the universe is unjust. And when the clue sets in, *blam*, atheism.

Well, get a clue, friends: there is indeed pain in the universe. Besides natural occurences (to repeat myself) most of it comes about because we're allowed to make choices, and allowed to have an impact on each other. We can even murder each other. It's just that simple. God will straigthen out everything in the end — recompensing even the murdered for what went wrong — but he doesn't (always) intervene now because he's hoping the murderers, despite what they've already done — just as Christ hoped on the cross ("Father, forgive them!") — will come their senses, and that their souls may be spared from the judgement they rightfully deserve. He loves even the murderers. So the wheat and tares grow up together, indistinguishable for the moment. Every ounce of pain we've felt can be more than compensated for. Ask Jesus, who was tortured and murdered unjustly, but has been raised above all names which are named.

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