Tara’s Blog

1 in 36 Chance of Winning the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible + 11 Other (Great!) Books

esv womens devotional bible

Just a little reminder that our family’s current WIN FREE STUFF! giveaway ends in one week and there are currently only 36 entries—so the likelihood of your winning is very high. (I have no idea how high because I’m terrible at math—but I know that 1 in 36 is much better odds than most drawings.)

(As a quick side note—I don’t know idea why all of you (wonderful!) thousands of lurkers don’t enter my drawings. Maybe, like me, you assume all online things are tied to creepy SPAM and creepy non-real-people entities? If so, please know that there is never (ever!) a risk of SPAM withh our giveaways. I’m truly just little ol’ Momma Tara and Fred really is Steady Freddy, the world’s kindest man, and we just like to share biblical, practical resources with women. So you can trust that I will never share your contact information with anyone or add you to some constantly-bothered-by-the-Bartherls mailing list.)

Why not join in the fun?

Click Here to Enter to Win the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible + 11 Other (Great!) Books

Hope you win! The ESV Bible really is excellent. (I reviewed it and endorsed it here if you’d like to read more about it.)

Blessings and g’nite,
Tara B.

What I Tell My Ten Year Old About Porn

Yesterday, I did a quick check in with my ten year-old daughter about how her heart and mind were doing re: inadvertent exposure to sexual or violent images. I use different words, of course. Otherwise, the very act of asking about things could create trouble—and I surely don’t want to do that! But as we were there, nose-to-nose, snuggling and talking about important things, I asked if she had seen anything troubling or tempting on any technology or on a bookshelf at a friend’s home or in a store, etc.

She mentioned how the title “The Lady with the Dragon Tattoo” had created in her a desire for a second glance when she saw it on a bookshelf, but that was pretty much it. She didn’t explore it and she wasn’t having any troubling thoughts about it.

I thanked her for sharing about this important part of her life (as I always do). I reiterated what an honor it was to pray for her about such things, especially as she continues to mature and have more and more opportunities to glance longer and longer and things that might seems so … interesting. Enticing. (As adults, the term “titillating” would be an appropriate descriptor.)

And then I told her a variation of what I tell her pretty much every single time we venture into this area of life. My spiel goes something like this:

“My darling daughter. I hope you know that when daddy and I talk about these things with you, and urge you to be careful, wise, and intentional about avoiding these things, we’re not trying to keep something good from you. We’re not standing here, body-blocking you from something super fun and interesting and beautiful because we just want you to have a drag of a life and we don’t want you to be blessed.

When I ask you about these things; when I pray and beg God for His protection for you; when I counsel you to STAY AWAY FROM THESE IMAGES AND SOUNDSI am doing it because I SO long for you to NEVER have to deal with the ramifications of them being inside of you. Not even for ONE MINUTE.

Like a drop of black ink spreading throughout a clear glass of crystal clean water, these sounds and images get into our brains in a darkening, clouding way.

Of course, God gives us grace. You know my story. You know that by the time I was your age, my mind was bombarded by hundreds, thousands, of images and sounds that I wish I never knew existed. And God was so gracious and is so gracious to help me—to save me and sanctify me and my memories so that, by His grace alone, daddy and I enjoy a happy, sweet, fun, intimate life together.

But. It has still been hard. Very hard. It was hard for me as a child. Harder still as a teenager and young adult. Hard when I met and fell in love with your daddy and we were married and we began the good, pure, God-honoring, strong, cement-together-one-man-and-one-woman-for-LIFE, aspect of our intimate life together. At the worst possible times, specific images would come into my mind from 1974. 1975. Preschool! Kindergarten! Images that my five year-old self didn’t understand; that provoked strong physical and emotional responses in me; things that brought me shame; things that warped my view of women and of men and of sexuality. Forty years later, I remember exactly what I saw and what I felt and how I didn’t understand either. And this, my dear, is what I want to protect you from to the utmost of my ability.

Yes, we live in a hyper-erotic society. Yes, billboards are everywhere. Sounds are everywhere. Even our careful use of Netflix and iTunes with no “real” tv cannot protect you as you continue to grow up and are in increasingly unsupervised situations with increasing amounts of opportunities to look. And look again. And again.

That’s why I ask you direct questions now. I tell you the stories of the GOOD (because this aspect of life IS SO GOOD in its proper context). I try to give age-appropriate warnings and, like so many aspects of life, I pray that you will NOT be like me.

God gives us grace! I am a living testimony to that. But it would be far, far better to just avoid the disastrous poison of sexually explicit and exploitave images and sounds.”

(‘Course, that’s not even going down the whole rabbit trail of why we live the way we do as a family so that every single month we can donate to International Justice Mission so that we can be one tiny part of trying to rescue victims of violence, sexual exploitation, and slavery—a whole ‘nother aspect of this conversation that, it seems to me, we MUST be having with our children.)

Is this a hard topic for you? It is for me too. Maybe you’ll want to read some of my other posts for encouragement and practical helps.

Oh. And Mary? I don’t think I would have shared this story if I hadn’t been encouraged by your blog post that recently showed up in my stats/feed. Thank you, my friend. I love you. And maybe our combined efforts will keep even just one child from the statistically “guaranteed” early childhood inadvertent exposure to porn. I pray that it is so.

Off to church now!

For the glory of the Lord and His Bride—and the protection of the children in our care,
Tara B.


Other Christian Books that I (Mentally or Actually) SHARPIE-OUT their Titles and Rename

sharpieI’m a little worried that my previous post might be discouraging to people who title books (is there a term of art for that?) and/or to the incredibly gifted men and women who make graphic designs that I can only DREAM of being able to create in Heaven one day. (I, being the most graphically-challenged human being on the planet.) I especially don’t want to communicate criticism of Crossway (my dream publisher!!), so in the interest of fairness, I thought I’d take a stab at sharpie-ing out the titles of some of my other all-time Christian books (none of which was published by Crossway) and tell you the titles that I use to describe them in my mind and to others:

1. The Peacemaking Pastor. Blergh. What a ridiculous title. Probably the worst one ever for one of the best modern books ever. If anyone would have ever asked ME, I would have called it, “Hey! Every church member and every church leader! So you’re sick of the fights and divisions and gossip in your church too? Me too! You should READ THIS BOOK!”

2. Addictions: A Banquet At The Grave. Oh man. It’s weird to be criticizing the books I love the most in the world, so let’s stop thinking about these little thoughts as criticisms, shall we? And instead, let’s call this, “Tara’s way of hopefully drumming up some sales for these FABULOUS—and possibly ill-named—books.” Here’s what I would’ve called this one: “OK. I know a lot about 12-Step-Disease-Based-Models of addiction (like AA and Celebrate Recovery) and I’m SUPER grateful for God’s common grace through these organizations so I’m SO not interested in any bashing of them … and yet … I’d like to go deeper because sometimes, even though they REALLY REALLY get the DESCRIPTION OF THE PROBLEM right, I think there is something more robustly biblical / Christ-exalting / Spirit-empowered / doctrinally-sound, than their solutions … so … can ya’ help a guy out? You bet! READ THIS BOOK!”

3. When People Are Big and God is Small. Yeah. Let’s just call it: “Why am I still clambering for peoples’ approval like a nervous junior high school kid?!” and we’ll be well on our way to a nicely descriptive title.

4. The Peacemaker. Peacemaking Schmeacemaking. Whatever. I’d just call it, “Every Christian Needs to Read This Book” and be done with it.

(Graphic HT: Novelties & Trinkets.)

Why do so many excellent (biblical, Christ-centered) books have uninteresting titles and graphics?

biblical theology

A few months ago, I mentioned to a friend how wonderfully, biblically, rich, Christ-exalting, and helpful one of my currently-being-read-books was. (I’m one of those people who usually has a PILE O’ BOOKS surrounding me, on every level, all the time.)

I told her that this might actually be one of my favorite books of all time (!!) and I was super excited to describe it to her. But then I told her the name of the book. Uh-oh. She was not impressed:

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry

This dear, amazing woman. A hero of the faith in my book. One of the finest churchmen, bible teachers, evangelists, and peacemakers I have ever known rolled. her. eyes. 

I couldn’t believe it. Really. I didn’t know how to respond. What is an appropriate transition from “THIS MIGHT BE ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF ALL TIME!!” to an eye roll from one of your bestest (most godly) friends in the whole world? I mean! This book resonates with so much I know about her: she loves the Word! Prayer! God! People! She is constantly lifting high Jesus, living for eternity, while studying, memorizing, and applying biblical truth to her own life and helping others to do the same. She lays down her life to fight injustice and wickedness and unbelief. Plus, she puts up with me as a friend! This is clearly a saint.

But the name of this book alone TURNED HER OFF. So  it got me thinking about its packaging. It did. Because the CONTENT was PHENOMENAL and NEEDED. And the publisher is my DREAM DREAM PUBLISHER (Oh, Crossway, Crossway! One day, one day, Sophia is praying that I might have the privilege of publishing with you—and I have to warn you, she is quite a faithful little eleven year-old prayer-er.)

So what’s mucking up the communication flow? Sure. The title is, shall we say, a little dry. But I personally like dry! Give me a paragraph-long-dusty-ol’-Puritan-Title that actually communicates what it’s about and I LIKE IT. But clearly others do not. So what do you do with that? I have NO IDEA. (So now I’m praying for your graphic design team too because the cheesy robot-eyed-chick-in-the-kerchief-and-apron-holding-out-plates-o’-cookies-graphic in SOME women’s materials—-EVEN WHEN SURROUNDED BY ROCK-SOLID, SPOT-ON CONTENT AND THEOLOGY that goes SO far beyond aprons and cookies (!!)—makes me actually, physically sick.)

But back to the theology book at hand …

I don’t know for sure who made the final decisions, but my guess would be that somewhere, a group of people decided that this book is FOR THE GUYSI say that because it’s cover has an oil-stained mechanic’s rag and nuts and bolts and whatever tools attach nuts and bolts (wrenches?? do-hickeys??) as its primary/sole graphic.


Just like Judy Dabler and I never understood why Baker plopped a vase of flowers on the cover of our “Peacemaking Women” book (since I seriously doubt Judy has ever arranged a vase of flowers and I know I haven’t. Plus, in a conflict among Christian women you are FAR more likely to see a vase of flowers being FLUNG AT SOMEONE ACROSS A ROOM rather than looking oh-so-lovely-in-a-happy-sunbeam, as the cover of our book, chosen by Baker, has placed it.)

Who decided that an AUTO MECHANICS graphic would be the best way to communicate that the following (life-giving!) content:

  • Exegetical Tools: Grammatical-Historical Method
  • Biblical Tools: Covenants, Epochs, Canon; Prophecy, Typology, Continuity
  • Systematical Theology Tools: How and Why to Think Theologically

I mean. C’mon! We are talking about the propositional nature of God’s Word here. The sufficiency of Scripture. The powerful and effectual work of God’s Word because it is “carried along by God’s Spirit” (p.17).

Don’t we want every single Christian (man, woman, child, handy-with-power-tools/handy-with-word-processors-and-thick-books) to understand THIS:

“Biblical theology: a theology that not only tried to systematically understand what the Bible teaches, but to do so in the context of the Bible’s own progressively revealed and progressively developing story line …

Scriptures are not an eclectic, chaotic, seemingly contradictory collection of religious writings, but rather a single story, a unified narrative that conveys a coherent and consistent message.

“Biblical theology assumes and depends upon a number of things demonstrated by systematic theology: things like infallibility, inerrancy of revelation as it comes to us in Scripture, the objectivity of the knowledge of God through revelation, and the trustworthiness of inspiration.”

Now I love getting to be the girl and I REALLY am SO happy that I will never be the boy (i.e., I will never hold ordained office and preach God’s Word in a church service to the gathered ekklesia.) But I need every single biblical theology point that I just typed above every single day of my homemaking, church-serving, community-serving, Christian-conciliation-serving life.

These are not gender-specific or formal profession-specific skills. These are Christian life skills. We all need to grow in the them and then we, who are influencing our children (both familial and spiritual familial) need to be not only equipped but actually IN THE BATTLE in helping them to grow too. 

That means you and I. Right now. Busy in our professions or formal education or just-pay-the-bills-jobs. Busy in new marriage or child-rearing or empty-nesting on mountains with bird-watching/flower-watching cameras galore. We are blowing it if our relationships with young people fail to go beyond, “I hope you can avoid porn and sex and somehow you make it though your education and skill development to earn enough money to function as adults one day and, hopefully, attend a church and “be a good Christian,” blah, blah, blah “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

No. No. No.

What we need is LIFE! (Jesus says HE is the Way and the Truth and the Life!) Purpose. A clear sense of (and an ability to articulate) our entire worldview:

  1. Origin: from where did we come?
  2. Purpose: why are we here?
  3. Morality: how are we to live?
  4. Destiny: where will we end up?

I talk about this with my five year-old. And I REALLY talk about this with my eleven year-old. And the pre-teens, teens, and twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings who so graciously, generously, honestly give me the gift of getting to be their friends and process this together.

How do we do it? Of course! We need the ordinary means of grace!

  • “Do not neglect meeting together!” (Hebrews 10) — We go to church.
  • We listen to the preaching of the Word by our ordained leaders.
  • We are fed by the Lord’s Supper.
  • We pray corporately and privately.

And yes. We learn things like hermeneutics (theories of interpretation) and we purposefully stand against the “modern approach” and its insidious little sister “postmodernism” and together we say (with joy! humility! gratitude!):

“In fact, there is such a thing as a correct meaning of a text, precisely because God, who created the world, our brains, and thus our ability to use language, is himself a speaking God.”

“It was God who created rationality and language so that language could accurately convey meaning from one mind to another mind … We see this again and again in the pages of Scriptures. God speaks and explains what he’s about to do and why.”

“Words, when placed in sentences and paragraphs convey meaning.”

And THAT, my friends, leads us to EXEGESIS. Are you jumping up and down with me by now? Because I surely am! Exegesis!

“Exegesis is the disciplined attempt to lead out of a text the author’s original intent, rather than my own preference or experience or opinion … “

And THAT means we need to at least understand what “The Grammatical-Historical” Method of exegesis is …

Which leads us into “the exploration and study of grammar, syntax, and literary and historical context of the words we are reading”

And before you know it! We better be on the watch against “intentional fallacy” (the fallacy of presuming intentions) …

So “CONTEXT IS KEY.” And we’d better have at least a rudimentary understanding of the text. The whole text. A basic grammatical and structural analysis of the text (units, arguments, diagram of sentences and how they relate) + the larger context (the book, the historical context, the cultural context, the issues of geography/peolitics/history that inform the meaning) + other biblical references (rest of entire book is on that) …

AND we need to know the literary forms/genres/types. The rules or patterns for communicating in these forms differ and they matter: narrative, parable, poetry, wisdom, prophecy, epistles apocalyptic …

So that all of these exegetical tools and biblical theology and systematic theology will help us to read the Bible to help us to KNOW GOD. Which is our whole  goal all along, right? To know God and make Him known!

Okey-dokey, so let’s talk covenants, epochs, and canon because:

 “The three horizons of Scripture are the textual horizon, the epochal horizon, and the canonical horizon.”

‘Recognizing where the passage you’re studying fits in that development is crucial to its interpretation.”

“We need to understand each passage in its epochal context.”

We do? We do!

Do you? Do our children? The women we teach in our women’s studies?

I know I’m really feeling the lack as I’m gearing up for my Theology/Worldview/Logic course this year. But I’m feeling the lack just in my life (the internal sermons I tell myself every single day) and in how I parent too.

All of these ideas, verses, catechism questions. This whole Christian way of living. The routines. The lingo. The patterns.

“True theology, worthy of the name, can never be mere abstract, academic, theoretical language.”

“Our knowledge of God through his normative Word confronts us with knowledge of ourselves as simultaneously noble image-bearers and ignoble rebels of the Most High.”

Truer words have never been said.

Thank you, Crossway, and Michael Lawrence, for this wonderful, wonderful book. I want to understand, memorize, and internalize it so that I can help others to Sharpie out the title if they don’t like it and glue on a better graphic if that motivates them to get past the cover and DIVE IN.

This is a great book, ladies. a GREAT book. I pray you will joyfully embrace its life-giving, Christ-exalting, desperately needed, truths.

A grateful sister in Christ,
Tara Barthel

Win TWO MORE Free Books: In addition to the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible and nine others, I’m adding TWO MORE BOOKS: “Housewife Theologian” by Amy Byrd and “Leadership for Women in the Church” by Susan Hunt and Peggy Hutcheson

three books

I’m SO enjoying all of your entries and comments on our family’s current WIN FREE (BIBLICAL! PRACTICAL!) BOOKS giveaway. Thanks so much! And I can’t wait to see who wins all ELEVEN BOOKS on September 1!

I’ve added TWO MORE BOOKS today, so here are the current books you could win:

  1. The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible (I reviewed this brand-new resource here and I strongly recommend it!)
  2. Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & Rejection (Ed Welch)
  3. Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (David Murray)
  4. The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way through the Wilderness to God  (Elisabeth Elliot)
  5. Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future (Tim Elmore)
  6. Joshua: All God’s Good Promises (Kathleen Buswell Nielson—if your church has not yet discovered her studies, you really really should! Get her study way, way before anything I’ve written. Phenomenal!)
  7. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson)
  8. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Zack Eswine)
  9. Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up (Amy Baker)
  10. Redeeming Church Conflicts (Barthel & Edling—because we never have conflicts in our women’s groups and studies, right? ;) ! )
  11. Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary (Amy Byrd)
  12. Leadership for Women in the Church (Susan Hunt and Peggy Hutcheson)

It’s not to late to join in the fun! The odds are still very much in your favor that RandomNumberGenerator.org will pick YOU!

**Click Here (for the details on how to) Enter to Win!**

I love a good giveaway. Especially with **NO RISK OF SPAM**. Ever.

Please pray for Fred and me if you are reading this on Tuesday night, August 19, around 5:00PM (Mountain). I’m about to head into what could be the HARDEST discipline issue we have ever faced. I am cringing and trying to have HOPE …

Thanks, friends.

Big hugs,
Tara B.

I hope it’s not a disappointment to you, but just one of the books is a used library version—the Susan Hunt Leadership book. I picked up the used copy at our church library giveaway with the hope of giving it away to you one of these days and when I cleaned my office this weekend and unearthed it, I thought I’d add it into the list o’ fun. All of the rest are brand new of course!

“Housewife Theologian” sure has some fabulous recommendations!

“This is a fine book, written with gusto and infectious enthusiasm by a lady who glories in the counter cultural role of being a housewife and yet moves beyond that to delight in the character of God himself, the salvation he has wrought, and the lives he calls his people to live. Frankly, if I had a feminine side, I suspect this book would have put me in touch with it. Thankfully, I don’t—but the Housewife Theologian almost makes me wish I did.”
—Carl R. Trueman, Paul Woolley Professor of Church History, Westminster Theological Seminary, Pa.

“Aimee Byrd has created a resource that will benefit women tremendously. This book is the result of Aimee’s passion to think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Dive into this theology primer for housewives in the context of community. The intentional journaling questions at the end of each chapter will certainly facilitate some fantastic discussions in your small groups.”
—Gloria Furman, Author of Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home

“When we think of a ‘housewife’ words like doormat, archaic, and cleaning may come to mind; but what about theologian? In Housewife Theologian, Aimee Byrd turns the word on its head, bringing it back to life and reminding us of the unique opportunity to leverage learning as we serve our families. She makes being a housewife beautiful, and it is. She covers a broad range of topics such as submission, beauty, and sex using God’s word as the foundation for each subject. Housewife Theologian is theological yet relatable as we get to know her better through her personal stories. Aimee’s words make me eager to open my Bible and learn more about God, who is in the mundane of my everyday as a housewife theologian!”
—Trillia Newbell, Author; Writer; and Editor of Karis, the Women s Channel at The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

“With wisdom, warmth, and wit Aimee challenges women to think biblically about all of life. She connects sound doctrine to daily life in a way that inspires us to intentionally live out the gospel.”
—Susan Hunt, Author and Women’s Ministry Consultant, Christian Education and Publications, Presbyterian Church in America


Satan, the world, and ME

sophie ella summer 2014She was no Chesterton, but she reflected the truths of her catechism training well when, at all of just-five-years-old, my second born wisely responded to Fred’s question last night:

What tempts us to all of this sin? What is wrong with us?!

By saying, literally:

“Satan. The world. AND ME!”

And then. This morning? My ten year-old stopped my propensity to panic (as I looked around the growing piles of chaos in my life and started to head down those well-worn-August-paths-of-motherhood-FREAK OUT-ville) by saying something alone the lines of:

“Mom? Maybe we aren’t doing enough educationally and maybe we’re doing too much. Maybe we don’t have enough playtime in our lives and maybe we don’t work hard enough. OK. Sure. Maybe I need to listen to more audiobooks or maybe I need to have more quiet.

But given how you’re feeling right now. Today. I don’t think it’s the best time to try to figure all of that out. 

Plus. I know these things feel really stressful to you right now, but remember all of those Christian moms whose husbands are at war or who are praying for enough money for clean water or food for the day or that their children will not be killed today.

Our problems can feel really big, but they are really rich people’s easy problems. So let’s pray. And do the next thing.”

From the mouths of babes …

(And thinking of an extended Elisabeth Elliot quote that my dear friend was also thinking about this week too …)

Your friend,
Tara B.

Enter to Win a FREE Copy of the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible + Over $100 in Biblical Resources — Just by Mentioning My Reformed Video Series for Women


I know a lot of us are trying to figure out our fall and spring women’s studies and I hope it’s not too “self-promotey” to mention my own video series, but honestly? I don’t receive any advertising from the PCA Bookstore or Westminster Books or Peacemakers or, well, anyone … so I’m hoping to generate a teeny tiny little e-social-media-buzz by asking you if you might pretty please TELL SOMEONE that this video series exists:

The Peacemaking Church Women’s Study: Living the Gospel in Relationships

… and please let them know that it is being used widely in both Reformed churches and “broadly evangelical” Christian churches because the creators of the series wisely forced me to not be lazy and use a bunch o’ Reformed lingo, but instead, explain the biblical teachings behind the doctrines of grace.

That means that if your church and women’s ministry likes to self-identify as “Reformed,” I have every hope and confidence that you will approve and enjoy this series! OR … if your church does not like the “Reformed” moniker, but prefers to use words like “biblical” and “doctrines of grace,” I am similarly hopeful and confident that you will like it too!

(That being said … if you’re interested neither in the Word of God nor the glory of God as revealed in Christ, this series is really, really not for you.)

A number of people that we respect and trust have endorsed it, including:

  • Ed Welch: “Here is a one-stop guide for relationships. It is filled with Scripture. It will point you to Jesus at every opportunity. It is very practical … “
  • Elyse Fitzpatrick: “It’s with overwhelming joy that I can highly recommend Living the Gospel in Relationships by Tara Barthel. I am recommending these teaching sessions not only because they beautifully avoid the moralistic strategies so common in our me-centered churches but because she connects our struggle for peace to the only source of peace, the one who is called the Prince of Peace.”
  • Thabiti Anyabwile: “I love women’s material that doesn’t shy away from sound theological categories … I’m thankful for material I can recommend to women, material that does not shy away from good biblical truth.”
  • Colin Smith: “Tara Barthel speaks lovingly and candidly to women about what it means to live out the gospel day by day in their relationships. Looking at Scripture, she points out how many women look to the law without fully grasping what Christ has done for them in the cross, and is doing in them by the Spirit …”

And I regularly hear from women around the world, young and old, married/single/widowed who are grateful for the way the series has helped them to believe the Word of God and live out what they believe, especially in their relationships.

So would you PRETTY PLEASE consider letting someone, ANYONE, know about this series? And then please leave a comment on this post by 11:59pm, September 1, 2014 letting me you know you have told someone (anyone!), and I will totally take you at your word and enter you in our family’s drawing for over $100 in (biblical! Christ-centered!) resources that I truly hope will be of help and encouragement to you, especially as you plan your women’s ministry year:

  1. The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible (I reviewed this brand-new resource here and I strongly recommend it!)
  2. Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & Rejection (Ed Welch)
  3. Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament (David Murray)
  4. The Path of Loneliness: Finding Your Way through the Wilderness to God  (Elisabeth Elliot)
  5. Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future (Tim Elmore)
  6. Joshua: All God’s Good Promises (Kathleen Buswell Nielson—if your church has not yet discovered her studies, you really really should! Get her study way, way before anything I’ve written. Phenomenal!)
  7. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus (Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson)
  8. Recovering Eden: The Gospel According to Ecclesiastes (Zack Eswine)
  9. Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up (Amy Baker)
  10. Redeeming Church Conflicts (Barthel & Edling—because we never have conflicts in our women’s groups and studies, right? ;) ! )
  11. Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary (Amy Byrd)
  12. Leadership for Women in the Church (this is the only book that is used/a library version—by Susan Hunt and Peggy Hutcheson)

Thanks so much for your help! I look forward to hearing about how you mentioned this vidoe series. (Maybe a quick call or text to a church leader? A tweet or Facebook post or blog entry? Or maybe even wrote a quick note to the PCA Bookstore or Westminster Books or Peacemakers letting them know how the series has blessed your women and how you would love to see them promote it more?)

Please know how much I appreciate your help to get the word out. Oh, how I pray that God will be glorified and His people built up in Christ! And yes, honestly, our family could use the financial help too, especially with some scary big medical bills screaming in my face right now. (I need to get some specific medical things taken care of, but I am postponing it simply because of finances.)

Thanks, all.

Your friend,
Tara B.

**FREE SHIPPING when you order the complete series from our family!**

Statistically, you will PROBABLY WIN if you enter this drawing because I historically have an extremely low number of entries for my giveaways. For example, of the thousands of hits I will get to this post, I will probably have less than 50 entries—with NO RISK OF SPAM … why not join in the fun?! Thanks again! — tkb

Just Tell Them You’re Not a Christian. Nothing is Worth Dying For.

If you have ever listened to my testimony, you know that when God saved me way back in 1984 (my freshman year of high school), I was a bonafide Christian jerk. Yes, I had heard the distinct call of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Yes, I wanted to be forgiven all my sins; have a new heart; be the daughter of God, etc. That was all fine and well and remains the defining moment of my life and the most important thing to me, bar none.

But, unfortunately, along with the true gospel, I also heard the distinct call to be a “good person” and I tried, in my simplistic and immature way, to do just that. This meant I self-righteously stomped down our apartment’s hallway to throw away all of my BMG rock-and-roll cassette tapes. (Click here if you need help to understand the cultural reference.) And this meant that I had all sorts of long, drawn-out “conversations” (air quotes definitely needed because I’m sure my fourteen year-old, knows-nothing “preaching” was neither well-informed not conversational) with my family members in my infuriated, frantic state to “get them saved.”

I remember one conversation in particular with my now-deceased father …

In it, I was trying to explain how important salvation is and what GOOD NEWS the gospel of Jesus Christ is. I talked about the holiness of God and the darkness of our sin and how we needed a Mediator and Savior. I talked about how all of history hinged on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; that One Day, we would all face God in judgment; that everything in all of life was to be directed toward The Day, which would be here before we knew it (either with our own death or the return of Christ in glory).

(When I think about how much I must have been interrupting his post-work beer and “Wheel of Fortune”-watching, I really think my dad, especially for a generally angry and impatient man, showed a lot of forbearance toward me as I passionately went on and on about topics that held no interest to him. Even up to his death, my father never indicated to me that he had any interest whatsoever in eternally-important things.)

Still. There I was. 1980’s Tara. Big hair. Parachute pants. Neon jellies galore. Worked up to an impassioned plea, even pulling out the big guns of the examples of the martyrs who gave their lives for the cause of Christ. To this, my dad responded in such a nonchalant, blind way that even my brand-spankin-new-baby-Christian-heart knew was wrong to its very depth. He said something like this:

“Tara. It’s all well and fine for you to believe this stuff about Jesus. If this particular religion means something to you, then great. Go for it. But just remember—if someone ever points a gun to your head and tells you that they will kill you if you keep professing faith in Christ, just tell them you are NOT a Christian. Say whatever it takes to STAY ALIVE because nothing is worth dying for. You can always take it back later.”

Oh, dad. This is simply not true.

And friends? Today? It felt as though that 1984 conversation happened just yesterday, so fresh were the details (the words, the emotion, the very room it took place in) when my preteen daughter asked me pretty much the exact question:

“Mom? Is it really worth it to DIE for Christ? Wouldn’t it be OK to just SAY the WORDS of denying Him, but know all along in your heart that you REALLY love Him?”

(I assume her question was prompted by our reading about Amy Carmichael and my age-appropriate explanation and call to prayer with her and my five year-old daughter re: the things that are happening this very day that are being widely reported in the news and that are making me physically sick as I am driven either to the depths of despair or to the Only Hope.)

Oh, how happy—an uneasy!—my Momma-heart was when she answered her own question with truth, even though she did not know the biblical citation. She said:

“But then again—where would we go if we denied Christ? Where would we turn? What could we ever say?”

Yes, my dear, darling daughter.  That is the right question and it leads us to the right answer:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69 ESV)

O, my child. I cannot bear the thought of your martyrdom. Like you, I cannot imagine being able to die for my faith. But my hope and my counsel for you is this: God does not promise us grace for tomorrow, but just for the day. And statistically, at least right now, during your young years, as we live life in this home, in this city, in this country, you are probably not going to be asked to die for the faith. Our persecution comes more in being ostracized and labeled as bigoted hate-mongerers for failing to call good something we believe is evil or having the audacity to claim we know the Truth or even that there IS truth to be known.

Still. If one day we are driven to the stake; or if stakes are driven through us or our children. (It is becoming nearly impossible to type now because of my tears.) I believe in faith that God will give us the grace to persevere to the end. Not because of anything in us, but only because of Christ in us, who sustains us.

Tonight, let us pray along with all the saints throughout the ages:

“O Lord God,
Teach me to know that grace precedes,
accompanies, and follows my salvation,
that it sustains the redeemed soul,
that not one link of its chain can ever break.

From Calvary’s cross wave upon wave of grace
reaches me,
deals with my sin,
washes me clean,
renews my heart,
strengthens my will,
draws out my affection,
kindles a flame in my soul,
rules throughout my inner man,
consecrates my every thought, word, work,
teaches me Thy immeasurable love.

How great are my privileges in Christ Jesus!

Without Him I stand far off, a stranger, an outcast;
in Him I draw near and touch His kingly sceptre.

Without Him I dare not lift up my guilty eyes;
in Him I gaze upon my Father-God and Friend.

Without Him I hide my lips in trembling shame;
in Him I open my mouth in petition and praise.

Without Him all is wrath and consuming fire;
in Him is all love, and the repose of my soul.

Without Him is gaping hell below me, and eternal anguish;
in Him its gates are barred to me by His precious blood.

Without Him darkness spreads its horrors in front;
in Him an eternity of glory is my boundless horizon.

Without Him all within me is terror and dismay,
in Him every accusation is charmed into joy and peace.

Without Him all things external call for my condemnation;
in Him they minister to my comfort,
and are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.

Praise be to Thee for grace,
and for the unspeakable gift of Jesus.”

–“Privileges” in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Does the Neglect and Abuse of Your Childhood Sometimes Still Jump Up and Surprise You (Even as an Adult, Christian Woman)?

Recently, a dear friend of mine wept silent streams of tears as she learned a little bit more about my childhood and some of the suffering I experienced in my family of origin. This is not a topic I talk about often, but when I do, it does not currently hurt me. It did at first. The ache; the ripping open of my chest as though I would die; the hot feeling of acid on every inch of my skin and the acute, instinctual reaction to pull back from every single person? I felt it all as a young adult when I first started to look back, acknowledge what had happened to me, and bring light into the darkness of my childhood (1 Peter 2:9).

I wanted to minimize my experience. (“After all! People have suffered FAR WORSE than me! Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember …”) I wanted to protect my parents; not speak ill of them; not draw attention to the ways that they hurt me and the imminent danger they continually put me in. (I think in many ways, I still wanted to somehow preserve the possibility that they were actually functional, loving, stable adults and we could possibly have one of those healthy, happy, functional families that I had read books about and dreamed about and observed in so many peoples’ lives—especially in the church, once God saved me as a teenager and brought me into his eternal family.)

But reality is what it is. My life story is my life story, and I can cry both for the man who has no feet and the man who has no shoes.

Yes, the Lord is sovereign. Yes, he is most definitely good. Of course there is no aspect of my childhood that was a surprise to him. Yes, he was present. He saw what happened to me as a child and he hated with a holy, hot anger the wickedness that I had to endure, just as he hates all evil, everywhere. God’s Light is so against all darkness and evil that he sent his only begotten Son into the world to deal definitively with every aspect of creation that is subject to the Fall.

This includes any and all suffering I experienced as a child. It also includes any and all suffering I am experiencing now and will experience this side of Heaven. One day, all suffering will end and God’s glory and lovingkindness will reign. Forever. But in this life, “we will  have trouble” (John 16:33). Our suffering varies, but we all suffer. The question is: how do we respond to our suffering? 

Lately, I have become more concerned over well-meaning, mature Christians who try to push themselves (and others) to “get there” (trust God! rejoice in the Lord always!) without allowing a little time to remember that God is also the God who weeps (John 11:35). Yes, we are called to trust in God’s sovereignty. Yes, he really is good. But we are denying neither God’s sovereignty nor his goodness when we stand at the tomb of our friend, suffer, and weep. It is not sin to feel pain (Luke 22:39-46). We are not failing to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) when we curl into the fetal position (in our bed, in a Garden) and finally give ourselves permission to cry so hard that it feels as though we may never stop.

One aspect of growing in grace, maturing in Christ, becoming even a slightly more functional adult Christian is learning how to remember past hurts, name them, feel them, experience them, grieve them, and entrust them to the Lord, so that we can move on. Grow up. Not be stoics!  But also, not give in to bitterness and judgment of others (especially the people who hurt us). Not give in to an overly-morbid-self-introspection that just chews and chews over our past hurts and ascribes to them far too much power, blame, and causality re: our present struggles.

(David Powlison has a fabulous article series about processing through our present sadness related to our life experiences that I strongly urge you to read. You can click here for Part 2—my personal favorite—and here to find links to all five sections.)

Some of us really did survive childhood experiences that can rightly be described as neglectful and abusive. We may be relatively functional adults now. We may have experienced great growth and healing regarding the difficult aspects of our lives. We might not be in an acute stage of suffering related to our past experiences, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still have memories that jump on us—surprise us!—hurt us, even as we are going through our little normal-happily-boring-currently-non-abusive lives.

That’s how the conversation with my friend got started last Sunday. For reasons I can’t remember now, I happened to mention to her a relatively innocuous experience I had related to cleaning lint off of a dryer. It went something like this:

When Fred and I first moved to Billings, Montana (from Chicago) to work for Peacemaker Ministries, Fred drew no salary and mine was so small that we had to live (for free) in the basement of one of our PCA elders for a year.

Our hosts were the most gracious  human beings on the planet and we could not have been more grateful for their ministerial hospitality. But I still vividly remember when the wife was showing me how to use their laundry machines and I had a HUGE, EMOTIONAL WAVE OF SHAME well up in me re: NEVER leaving lint in the lint trap or on the top of the machine. I wanted to PROMISE HER and PROVE TO HER that I would DO. IT. RIGHT. (The intensity of my response rightfully startled her, poor, dear, sweet woman.)

But here’s the thing (and this is what I was retelling to my friend last Sunday): when I was little, my parents were very unhappily married. We moved almost every year and even after we finally got settled someplace, my dad would often intentionally take a new job out of town, leaving my sister and I in the care of my mother who was a mentally ill addict. My mom was also in-and-out of mental institutions and detox centers, and my parents finally divorced when I was in junior high, so I was shuttled back and forth between so many chaotic childhood homes, I cannot even remember them all.

I do remember this, however: I was a NOT-GOOD-ENOUGH kid and neither of my parents wanted me with them. I would do something, say something, “blow it” in some way–and I would be kicked out. Again. Sent to live with the other parent who didn’t want me. Sometimes to a well-meaning friend’s home, but I would blow it there too. Back and forth. Not good enough. Not good enough. Not keeping the lint off the dryer good enough. And then I would find myself, literally (no exaggeration), sitting on a curbside with my little bag of earthly belongings, knowing I was being sent away and forced on people who didn’t want me; pretty sure I would blow it again and be kicked out. Again.

I had no hope that I could ever change and no hope that anyone would ever love me unless I changed. So of course I felt as though there was no place for me in the world. I felt like I had no safe place—NO HOME—because the truth was, I really did not have a safe place and I did not have a home.

Until that fateful day in 1985 when God saved me (just as I was) and put me into his family (the church) and then put me into the household of the Livingstons (a Christian family who took me in after I saved my mother out of a suicide attempt). The Livingstons did not kick me out, even though it was horribly, horribly hard for them to have such a messed up kid in their house. All they wanted to do was love me, but I was so terrified, wounded, incapable of trusting and loving—it was a hard, hard season of suffering for them. Plus, of course, the members of my little church in Morris, Illinois had to choose to love the unlovable me. (I really was a manipulative, mean, terrified little gossip of a jerk—but I was a Christian! Just a really, really immature Christian.)

The people who loved me when I was unlovable taught me to trust in God’s love (God loved us when we were yet his enemies—Romans 5:10), and they modeled, instructed, and helped me to learn how to love people in response.

Thirty years later, sure … I have to admit that my childhood was influential as regards my overly-strong “I won’t blow it! I WILL clean the lint off right!” response to dear, sweet, patient Peg H. as we stood over that dryer years ago. But my childhood was not causative re: my response.  I sin today because I am a sinner, not because of sins done against me decades (or weeks) ago. I have annoying parts of my personality and I respond in weird, emotional ways to some situations because I am a fallen creature living in a fallen world with huge areas in need of further sanctification and growth in grace. 

That little story? Especially the laundry dryer lint little episode? I think that was the reason my sweet friend cried for me last Sunday. It can be so easy to forget (or just not know!) how much the people around us have endured. But every once in awhile, we get to learn about some of the specific, terrible, terrifying things that have happened to one another. We get to say the words:

“I am so sorry this suffering happened to you.”

We get to cry. To love one another and help each other to remember God’s tears and God’s love. And mostly wonderfully? Most encouragingly? Most healing-ly? We get to remember and remind each other with full hope and assurance that suffering is not the last word. God gets the last word!

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Yes. At times, painful memories may still jump on us. Until glory, we will have new reasons to feel pain and we may be tempted to withdraw or hide ourselves in shame. But we don’t have to respond in this way! Instead, we can “entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19). We can “comfort in the way we  have been comforted” (2 Corinthians 1:4). We can feel our feelings, sure. But ultimately, we can listen to God, more than our feelings, more than our past memories, more than our present sufferings:

“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Revelation 22:17

Amen & Amen!

I hope you have a blessed, hope-filled Wednesday. I’m off to little Miss E’s swim lessons now …

Your friend,
Tara B.

I know I already pointed you to the David Powlison article series, but just to tempt you to click through, here is a brief excerpt that I think is particularly on point to what I am trying to express in this blog. (The bold emphases are mine.) Dr. Powlison is addressing how to help a (very self-introspective) woman who is trying to process through her past hurts and suffering:

“Exhaustive analysis of an emotional moment is impossible and not worth pursuing. One of the pitfalls to which introspective people are prone is the attempt to exhaustively understand and explain themselves. You’ll drive yourself to distraction if you try to figure out the percentage. Is it 80% self-pity and 20% honest faith? 50-50? 20-80? Or is it 20% self-pity, 20% faith, 20% not knowing how to entrust cares into God’s hands, 20% just plain hardship, and 20% not knowing how to do what needs to be done?

You can’t do the calculus and come up with numbers. But you can help her sort out when and how she crosses the line into self-pity, or avoidance, or confusion. You can help her fill in wisdom where blind spots exist. And you can help her sort out how living faith and loving actions think, talk, and choose. Wise friends and wise pastoral counsel can walk with her. We can help our sister to move forward constructively even without exhaustive understanding. We can honor her bravery in asking tough questions, her existing self-awareness that enables her to even bring such questions to the table, her desire and humility to not give herself over to what might be an ungodly temperament. She can find help in moving from self-pity to faith. Other people can help her to think through and walk through some of the matters raised in the various “Perhaps ____.”

Our letter writer is dealing with what our forebears called a “case of conscience.” When is it right to feel the sadness of the world’s wrong, and when does it become an expression of self-pity or some other redressable problem? How can she move in a fruitful direction when she feels that sadness, and is tempted to turn inward? We can help her grow more fruitful and constructive without claiming to understand all the ins and outs of a particular emotional experience.

Here’s another reason to not rush too quickly to make the moral assessment. We are God-made to grieve at losses, to be troubled by troubles, to be distressed at evil. And we are God-made for taking refuge in him and for growing in confidence in him. Faith is human and humane. Self-pity works to magnify and distort grief, turning me in on myself, rather than reaching out to God and to others.

It is possible that our letter writer uses the return of Christ to short-circuit honest sorrow, and then constructive engagement with a broken world. Instead of spinning her wheels in introspection, wise cure of souls aims to lessen self-pity’s self-preoccupation (however it appears). Pastoral care and Christian friendship aim to help her grow into faith’s humanity. Faith reaches out from ourselves, rather than turning in on ourselves. So faith grieves. Faith longs, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Faith trusts God and rejoices in hope. Faith pleads with God, “Deliver us from evil.” And faith reaches out in love for other strugglers.

Praise the Lord! And thank you, Dr. Powlison.

(Oh. And if you are not already a financial supporter of CCEF—The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation—I strongly, strongly urge you to consider even just a one-time gift this month. Even in our current financial situation, Fred and I have prayerfully worked hard to not stop our monthly donation to this organization because we believe in them so much. Won’t you please consider a gift? I don’t work for them. I have no formal association with them. I just appreciate their love for the Lord, His Word, His Bride—and their careful, biblical analysis of complex psychological/emotional/spiritual/physical issues. Thanks!)

If this topic resonates with you or someone you love, I strongly recommend the books Shame Interrupted and Loving Well Even if You Haven’t Been for further study. And (updated 8/12/14), CCEF has generously made this amazing article by David Powlison available for free too: “I’ll Never Get Over It! Help for the Aggrieved

Jennifer C. is our Winner!

Congratulations, Jennifer C.! Random.org chose you as the winner of the Kevin DeYoung book.

I just emailed you a few minutes ago to ask for your shipping address …

Thanks to everyone who entered! It was really nice to hear from you all.

Blessings and joy,
Tara B.

Page 1 of 37312345»102030...Last »