Tara’s Blog

Our family wants to give you a gift of books for your summer reading! Gloria Furman, Trillia Newbell, Elyse Fitpatrick, Nancy Leigh DeMmoss, Ellen Dykas, Nancy Guthrie … and more!

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When you hear the term “Titus 2 Woman” do the words doctrine, logic, and community come quickly to mind? Do you ever wonder why you (or someone you love), “just can’t get over this certain habitual sin”? Do your children ever fight? How about your women’s ministry, Christian organization, or in your marriage–when two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name, is there eventually conflict? Does that lead you to stress out? Are you sometimes anxious, worried, or afraid?

Well … if you answered yes to any of those questions, then I may have a women’s event that will provide encouragement, biblical help, and, apparently, a lot of laughter too! (For some reason, the older I get, the more I keep getting feedback about how funny I am. Don’t you find that a little odd? A funny lawyer? Weird! But this is real feedback from just a few of my events this year … )

  • “I love your practical truth-telling delivery and your sense of humor!”
  • “This was fantastic! Love the incorporation of humor and reality.”
  • “You are so funny and so intelligent. You have totally inspired me to learn and read more about the Bible.”
  • “Love your sense of humor—love your wisdom!”
  • “By FAR, the BEST speaker we have had—clear, concise, funny, and pure biblical truth and reference.”
  • “You are so funny & refreshing!”
  • “This was wonderful. I felt like my best friend was talking to me and I’ve never met you! Love your humor.”

So … if you are looking for a retreat speaker who is, apparently, kind of funny as she talks about the double imputation aspects of justification, the doctrine of total depravity and, you know, other hilarious topics like those, I hope that you will click on through to the Speaking page of my website and consider inviting me to serve at your event. If you do and if you let just one other person know about my speaking events, then you can leave a comment below and enter our family’s little drawing for over $100 in wonderful resources:

All you have to do to be entered to win ALL these books is, by 5:00PM (Mountain), Sunday, April 26:

  1. Tell someone about my speaking events—either in person or via social media—and point them to the Speaking Page of my website;
  2. Leave a comment below telling me how many “shares” you made (one entry for each share);
  3. Check back after 5PM on April 26 to see if you’ve won (and make sure I have your contact information).

On Sunday, April 26, I will let RandomNumberGenerator choose the winner. And it will probably be YOU because historically, my blog is populated by lurkers (whom I LOVE!) but whom almost never de-lurk to leave a comment or enter a drawing. So the chances are pretty good for you to win. Hope you’ll join in the fun!

(And don’t forget: our family will never use your name or contact information for SPAM or even marketing. So you can enter with no fear about that.)

Thanks for helping to get the word out about this new retreat. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Your friend,
Tara B.

PS
Just to give you a little peek into why this is a timely subject for our family … I am currently trying to evaluate some requests for free events for this fall (2015) and early 2016. I do not have a set fee for speaking events because I always want to be available to serve! But in order to help our family keep the ol’ lights on, usually I am paid some level of an honorarium. To help us to determine which of these  invitations I can accept, it would be helpful to know what paid events are planning to schedule. So if you are thinking about inviting me to serve your women, would you please let me know? (And, as always, if you would like to be considered for a free event, please let us know that too!) Our family is always so honored and humbled when I am invited to serve in any context. Hugs!! — tkb

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Ministers are Suspicious, Insecure and Jealous People

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Or so says, Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan in a sermon that I encourage every one of you to listen to:

Who is the Greatest?

(Taken from Luke 9:46-56 ESV …) An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”

John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.

Of course, the moment after Dr. Duncan makes the provocative statement:

“Ministers, by nature, are suspicious, insecure, and jealous people.”

He quickly goes on to show that it’s not just ministers who struggle in this way. Ordained, non-ordained. Single, married. Old, young …

“When we see others doing better than we are doing, we can easily become jealous, insecure, and suspicious. Why? Because our pride gets the best of us.”

We all struggle with pride, a party spirit, and a tendency to forget the real mission of Jesus! This is especially true for those of us who are in denominations where the careful study and application of biblical doctrine is, to use Dr. Duncan’s words, “taken seriously.”

“We need to take care that that does not lead us to have a party spirit in regard to other faithful, Gospel-believing, Christ-exalting, Bible-preaching Christians who may differ from us on certain points of doctrine, even points of doctrine that are very important and precious to us because we believe the Bible teaches it.

That is, where we see Christ exalted and the Bible preached, perhaps with theological distinctives different from our own, we ought to praise God when we see the Kingdom truly being advanced. There should be no party spirit in us which causes us to frown upon or be suspicious of others when they are faithfully ministering the Word of God.”

A party spirit—among ministers and laypeople alike—has its root in pride.

So let’s say we’re convicted. We recognize that we are proud. How do we change? What does it look like for us to turn away from what C.S. Lewis describes as “the national religion of Hell” (pride)? Dr. Duncan explains:

The first step of fighting pride is recognizing who we really are because pride always has with it self-delusion. We put ourselves first; we aggrandize ourselves; we put ourselves over others because we think that will make us happy …

Only the gospel gives us what we need to fight pride: to recognize who we really are and see that we don’t really have a reason to be proud.

We struggle, we fail, but Jesus looks at us (“stumbling, mumbling, nincompoops of disciples”) and says, “This is why I am here. I am going to the cross to die for them because that is the only way. They are not going to save themselves. They are not the solution to any problem—-theirs or anyone else’s. I am here to save them.”

That is how we turn away from pride! We remember that Jesus “set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem” to save you. Me. All of his children. We could never save ourselves, but God saves us. This is the greatness of God our Savior!

“Jesus’ mission in the incarnation was not to call down fire upon sinners to consume them. Jesus’ mission in the incarnation was to be consumed by God’s fire in the place of sinners … to receive the judgment and the condemnation of God’s wrath upon his own person so that Hell-deserving sinners could be ushered into God’s household and family forever.”

Ah. This is how we guard our hearts from ever thinking that we are the greatest at, well, anything. If there is anything good in us, it is God’s grace in us. If we have been blessed to be taught rigorous, Christ-exalting, biblically-faithful doctrine? That is not because of anything we have done to deserve such a gift—but that is solely due to God’s grace. Have we repented of a sin? God’s grace at work! Do we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? God’s grace!

And thus, to use the language from the end of Dr. Duncan’s sermon:

“A proud Christian is an inconsistent and an immature Christian.”

The Greatest One who ever lived said that if we want to be great, we must be the least; we must see what we really are. We are far worse than we think we are, but God’s grace, love, and forgiveness are far greater than we could ever imagine.

Amen & Amen! Our only hope. And the way that we turn from pride!

(BTW – I hope that you will click through and listen not only to this sermon, but to other First Presbyterian Church podcasts. They are definitely some of my favorites.)

Your grateful friend,
Tara B.

Preaching to Him Will Only Deepen His Guilt

Yesterday, I had a wonderfully interesting and edifying conversation about the difference between guilt and shame—and why assurances of forgiveness do not comfort us when we are burdened by ungodly shame. (For more on that topic, I encourage you to read one of the few books I have ever endorsed–Ed Welch’s excellent book, Shame InterruptedAnd Judy and I also have a chapter on Shame in Peacemaking Women.)

Our discussion reminded me of some notes I took from a specific letter in The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller. In this letter, Pastor Jack was reflecting on a young, gifted leader who seemed to struggle with perfectionism and shame. (Please note: there is much more to this letter than my little notes. Pastor Jack was very gracious and encouraging! As well as redemptive in his confrontation.)

- Mike seems to have many surface worries; he is overly conscientious and overly self-critical in his work habits; he keeps endlessly and restlessly busy in his work; he is intense.

- Underlying his surface worries, Mike seems to have fears about almost everything … appearance, lack of ministry or job success, relationships, acceptance with God, financial concerns. It would be hard to have so many fears and not be angry with people, circumstances, and God.

- Mike is locked in unbelief and ignorance of God’s holiness and love; he is controlled by a completely negative evaluation of himself and his future; his nagging guilt (and fear) often confirm his judgment that his is worthless.

- How can Mike break out of this pattern? Yes, secular psychology might help bring to the surface core elements; but it can offer no real hope because it does not offer the real solutions. Mike needs a foundation of faith: the inward experience and sure conviction that his sins are forgiven (justification deals with guilt) and that he is not an orphan (adoption deals with shame).

- So. Should we preach to him? No. Preaching will only deepen his guilt. He needs to know there is solid hope for him in the Lord and in his salvation. He needs to discover God’s grace and how God gives objective peace as a free gift through faith. And he needs to discover how these truths touch the central insecurities of his life.

- And all of that must take place in the context of affirmation: the knowledge that we love him unconditionally and we accept him as he is. We ourselves have gone through similar dark times in life and eventually we emerged on the other side by God’s grace.

- Inherently Mike’s problem is that in his unbelief, all he sees is his insecurity. His whole mindset plans as though he were an orphan. We must help him to claim his relationship with God as his Father through faith in Jesus Christ.

Amen!

Oh, how I pray that God’s truth and grace will touch the “central insecurities” of our lives. And that truth and grace will begin to splash over onto all of our relationships as we help each other to reject unbelief and to believe the promises of God in Christ! All in the context of love and acceptance.

(I read a quote yesterday that said something like, “Anyone can be kind to a king. It takes a real man to be kind to his brother.”)

Sending my love!

Your friend,
Tara B.

PS
Don’t forget! Our family is giving away a set of NINE (excellent!) books valued at over $100 by some of my favorite authors: Trillia NewbellGloria FurmanNancy Guthrie, Susan Hunt, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Ellen Mary Dykas, John Calvin (can’t tag him on FB!), Noel Piper, and Helen Roseveare.

If you entered today, you would have a 1 in 22 chance of winning  No risk of SPAM! Why not CLICK HERE to join in the fun and enter the drawing?!

 

Choosing (Graciously) to Hear What the Person MEANT to Say

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I misspoke last night at the women’s retreat I am serving at in California. It wasn’t a catastrophic error—I inverted the definitions of imperative and indicative, but only for a few seconds. I caught myself pretty much in my next sentence, corrected my mistake, and moved on. The women were very gracious about it—for which I was immensely thankful! And I didn’t beat myself up about it either—now that is evidence of growth in grace in me for which I am also immensely thankful! (Praise the Lord!)

This morning, as I have been praying and prepping (and listening to a great John Frame lecture while getting ready), I remembered a time when my eldest daughter was four or five years old and I misspoke to her about something. She caught me on it, brought it to my attention, and she was right. It was no biggie. I cleared up my error in just a few moments. But I also took a little time to explain to her that when people misspeak, it is often most loving and appropriate to choose not to correct them—to just cover it over and reinterpret what they said in line with what they meant, because that can be a lovely, gracious way to live.

As an example, I told about a time when I said a misspeak to one of our favorite people in the world, our deacon, Mr. Skiles. He and I had been chatting after church and it wasn’t until hours later, when I was already home, that I had this weird sense that I had actually said the OPPOSITE of what I had MEANT to say. I had meant to say something really kind and encouraging, but the actual words I said were, well, rude. Disparaging. (All due to my silly, accidental omission of the tiny word “not.”)

Anyway, when I called him up to ask if I had actually said the misspeak and to apologize if I had, he just laughed and said what I think are extraordinarily gracious words:

“Tara? Yes. Yes. That’s what you said. But don’t give it another thought. I knew what you meant. I know you. And I know you would never mean to say what you said. So I just chose to hear what you meant rather than what you actually said.

When I told my five year-old this story, she said, “I want to be like Deacon Skiles!” And I said, “Me, too.”

It’s just such gracious, kind way to live—truly modeling 1 Peter 4:8 … love covering over not only sin, but mistakes and humanness too.

To use my daughter’s words:

“Mom! It’s like the person making a mistake has an owie scratch and love covering it over is like a soothing bandaid.”

Yes. Yes it is.

Oh that we would all be like a gracious bandaid, a balm, as we interact with people today.

Blessings to you from sunny California!

Your friend,
Tara B.

Should a Christian Put Up “Boundaries” with a Mentally Ill Addict (Who Happens to be Her Mother)?

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As a Certified Christian Conciliator with The Institute for Christian Conciliation (a division of Peacemaker Ministries), I have the privilege of participating in webinars with Christian conciliators from around the world. Yesterday, we discussed the topic of forgiveness and how hard it can for us to forgive and to help the parties we serve to forgive, especially when there are complicating factors like dangerous situation, active addictions, and undiagnosed/untreaated mental illnesses.

One of the conciliators brought up the (oft’ popular) idea of “boundaries.” and whether we should, as Christian conciliators, be promoting “boundaries” with our clients. I’ve actually been thinking about this topic a lot lately because Words to Live By just sent me another letter giving me a heads-up that they will be re-airing my testimony tomorrow and Friday. This is the third or fourth airing they have done for my testimony and I assume it is getting so much airtime for the same reason that my “How to Write a Eulogy for a Bad Mother / A Mother Who Didn’t Love You” blog post is always (every day) in my list of most popular blog posts:

Some of us have had very painful, complex relationships with our mothers.

I talk about many things in this Words to Live By broadcast, but the interviewer went deep into my relationship with my mother—its brokenness, pain, horror, “death” (by the time I was a young adult, my mother’s and my relationship was pretty much as dead as any relationship could ever be), and God’s grace in “resurrecting” our relationship (when I was in my 30′s) to one of the deepest friendships of my life. (I still miss my mother and ache to hear her strong-Chicago-accent / crackly-lifetime-smoker’s-voice pretty much every day.)

How is this possible? How did I learn to love a mentally-ill addict*** (who happened to be my mom)? Well. It never would have happened if I had followed my instinct (and even some advice I received from well-meaning people) in my teens and early twenties to put up “boundaries” and just walk away from the “toxic person” altogether. Sure, my life would have been easier in the short-term, but I would have missed out on the blessings of learning how to obey the Second Greatest commandments (Matthew 22)! Laying down my life not only for my friends (John 15) but loving even my enemy (Matthew 5). Remembering the great debt I have been forgiven so that I never choke my fellow servant (Matthew 18). Learning how to bear all things (1 Corinthians 13) because I am mindful of the mercies of God (Romans 12). Remembering that I have been cleansed from my former sins so that I can stop being nearsighted and blind and can instead grow in brotherly kindness and love (2 Peter 1).

God’s Word and God’s people constrained me to not put up “boundaries” but instead, to be wise and loving, with an eternal perspective re: how I interacted with my mother.

Does that mean I was taught to be a doormat? A victim? A codependent people-pleaser? By no means! Instead, I was taught that my interests—including at times, my safety—were at issue in my relationship with my mother (especially when she was drunk or not in her right mind). Thus, my interests were to be rightfully considered. But I was also taught that my interests were not the only interests that should be considered. As a Christian, I was also called to consider the interests of others (for example, my mother and all of the people who were observing how I treated my mother), and most of all–the interests of Christ (Philippians 2:1-4 & 21).

Almost 25 years after the last time I ever lived with my mother (she attempted suicide when I was 16 years old and after rescuing her, I never lived with anyone in my biological family again), I read an article by Ed Welch that concisely and clearly articulated what I was (stumblingly) trying to do all of those decades ago re: my relationship with my mother:

Boundaries in Relationships

I urge you to read Dr. Welch’s article in its entirety (and consider subscribing to the CCEF Journal of Biblical Counseling so that you can read more gems from him in the future!). But just to give you a taste of its wisdom, consider a few of the notes I took when I first read this article:

- Even “Christian” books will encourage you to “set a personal boundary” and “just say no.” But is that how we should think about such things? Is “setting a boundary” a biblical paradigm?

- Instead of “boundaries,” perhaps we should think in terms of wisdom and love; the knowledge of God revealed in Christ; repentance; faith expressing itself in love.

- Love and discernment are the constituent parts of wisdom.

- Instead of erecting “boundaries,” ask: “How should I wisely love this person? What is my calling? What are my priorities?” The challenge of love is that wisdom and love are so multi-faceted. Love and wisdom may entail taking a bullet for someone OR kicking them out of your house. Love and wisdom may mean bearing their burden or encouraging them and helping them as they bear their own burden.

- Love does not always mean self-sacrifice. Love and wisdom can mean saying no.

- (In cases of physical abuse)—a boundary is appropriate : call the police; provide a safe place; initiate a protection from abuse order; do whatever is necessary to protect her. Why? Love. Love says no to evil. .

- Walk in wisdom. Don’t erect boundaries. Sometimes you answer a foolish person, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you cover an offense, sometimes you speak out. You begin with the fear of the Lord, learn from similar situations, get the counsel of others, keep checking your own heart and its motives, remember your limitations, rehearse the law of love, recognize that keeping everyone happy is impossible but there are ways you can speak that encourage conciliation, mutual understanding, and unity.

- Thinking in terms of ‘boundaries’ can lead us to think more about self-protection than about love. 

Well said, Dr. Welch. Thank you.

I still have so far to go (of course!) but I am striving to learn how to walk in both wisdom and love in all of my relationships—the most blessed, safe, encouraging, happy ones; and the darkest, most difficult, most trying ones.

With that, I will close and head to my connecting flight that is whisking me away from snowy Montana to the beautiful beaches of Orange County, California to serve at a women’s retreat.

Oh! Before I go, I should give you a little update and tell so many of you thank you for your kind notes and emails (and even amazing, loving, wonderful gifts—Anita T!!). Fred and I have been so blessed to know that you are praying for me as I walk through this new challenge in life re: learning how to love even a true enemy (a person who has actively harmed me). God is at work (through both civil and criminal means) and I am getting lots of help and even starting to sleep a little better—so thank you for just remembering me! And especially for praying for me. I can’t say that travel has been easy this year—adrenaline is a powerful drug and I cannot avoid the place where I was hurt because it was an airport and, well, I always have to connect through multiple airports to get anywhere from Montana. But God is with me and I can honestly say that I am getting through even this new grave difficulty with at least the hope of healing and peace. One day.

May God be praised as we all learn how to walk in both wisdom and love!

Your friend in the battle,
Tara B.

PS
If you are a visual learner, Peacemaker Ministries does have: a video of me teaching on this subject at one of their Peacemaker Conferences (and this link includes the LiveBlog summary in text too if you prefer to just scan the content).

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*** I really don’t like to use the phrase “mentally ill addict” because a) there is so much complexity related to the spiritual and physical realities of mental illness and addiction; and b) my mother was much MUCH more than her struggles. She was also a poet, an artist, and one of the most generous people I have ever known. I just haven’t figured out a way to make a pithy phrase that doesn’t stop the flow of an article or a teaching but still articulates the truth. You know. Something more like:

How to Love Your Mother, Who Did the Very Best She Could, but Who, Like You, Has Many Weaknesses in Addition to Her Many Strengths and Who, Like You, Sometimes Turned to Not-the-Healthiest (Physically and Spiritually) Substances and Means to Deal with Her Suffering and Temptations and Fallenness, Including Self-Medicating with Scotch for Many Years and How to Love Your Mother Who Had Exactly the Same Amount of Neediness for the Savior as You, and How to Get Off of Your High Horse and Stop Judging Her and Instead See Yourself as Being More Like Her than Unlike Her So That You Can Enjoy the Best, Most Real, Most Intimate Relationship that Your Sin and Fallenness and Her Sin and Fallenness Will Possibly Allow

Yes. Sure. More accurate! But what it gains in meticulousness it loses in pith. So please excuse the weaknesses inherent in the term of art “mentally ill addict” and please interpret what I say in light of what I mean. And if it helps you to have a picture … here is the one of the last pictures my mother and I ever had taken together. Isn’t she lovely? And loved. I am so grateful for God’s grace in helping me learn how to love my mother. My life is richer for it.

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Have the Men of the Church Watch the Children

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Pastor Brian Croft answers yet another great question over at Practical Shepherding:

How can you disciple women and train husbands to serve their wives at the same time?

Answer: Have women’s events for the church where the men are responsible for watching the children.

This is a (potentially) great idea and I encourage you to read the reasoning behind and the caveats included in his response.

It reminds me of a church in Mississippi that went through Peacemaking Women during their Sunday School time—and they wanted all of the women to be freed up to attend, so the men took over all of the nursery and Sunday school duties for all of the children for the entire duration of the course. It was such a profound example of servant leadership, and such a scary thing for many of the men.

I was brought in to do a sort of “kick off” first Sunday session and was hosted by a family where, I believe, the husband was a seasoned elder and corporate attorney; a very gracious, but very polished and “together” kind of guy. But WOW was he nervous as he rehearsed his little Sunday school lesson with his felt board and script before we left for church that morning! (I can still hear his “opening and closing arguments,” as it were. :) ! )

In a similar vein, it has always meant so much to me when I would drop off my young children in our nursery and our elders were there (and many other men too), greeting them by name and welcoming them warmly. (One of our founding elders, Elder Mattson, has always taken a particularly strong leadership role in not only serving in this way, but calling all of the men in our church to take their turn in the nursery.)

Servant headship. Biblical leadership. I love it!

Does Motherhood Narrow the Mind?

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Last week, in our church’s Introduction to Theology and Logic class, I was privileged to discuss three extremely important topics with three extremely wonderful pre-teen girls:

  1. The Ordo Salutis
  2. God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will
  3. The Problem of Evil

I hadn’t planned on discussing these topics–but I teach by the Socratic method and thus, I go where the class takes us. And our initial discussion (that I had planned for the day) on whether you can prove Christianity scientifically landed us smack-dab on top of the three topics above. So that’s what we spend the majority of our time on—on those topics and looking at Ephesians 1.

As I debriefed with the girls’ mothers after class, I was struck again by what a tremendous privilege it is to serve in my tiny sphere of life. I love being Fred’s wife (as my colossal fail of a 3L law school interview embarrassingly  showed). I love being a mom (even if I still can’t cook and I don’t clean enough). And I love serving my church and community too.

Grace grace grace. It’s just all so much better than I deserve!

Hope your Monday was a blessed one—
And that all of us insomniacs can sleep tonight!

Your friend,
Tara B.

PS
Reflecting on all of this reminded me of one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotes:

“Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world.

But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean.

To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.” G.K. Chesterton

If you do not live a life marked by love toward others, the Bible has no encouragement for you to think that you’re a Christian. None.

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Quoting from Stop Dating the Church (by Joshua Harris):

“To be part of the universal church isn’t enough … Every Christian is called to be passionately committed to a specific local church. Why? Because the local church is the key to spiritual health and growth for a Christian. And because as the visible ‘body of Christ’ in the world, the local church is central to God’s plan for every generation.”

Quoting Mark Dever from a talk he frequently gives on college campuses about the local church …

“… in the New Testament it seems that the local church is there to verify or falsify our claims to be Christians. The man in 1 Corinthians 5 who was sleeping with his father’s wife thought of himself as a Christian.”

(Then he gives various examples, including a church choir director having affair with the lead soprano; a member of the worship team who owns a porn bookstore … ) “These are examples of people who need to have the gospel clarified for them. They need to be told that they can’t claim to have saving faith and continue to walk in darkness (see 1 John 1:5-10). Our assurance of salvation must include a changed life. Confidence that we’ve truly been saved shouldn’t rest on an emotional experience or a prayer we prayed during an altar call years ago.”

Again quoting Mark Dever

“I don’t care how much you cry during singing or preaching, if you do not live a life marked by love toward others, the Bible has no encouragement for you to think that you’re a Christian. None.”

“In 1 Peter 2 we’re told to make our calling and election sure. How do you do this? One of the most practical steps we can take is to join a local church. You need the faithful teaching of God’s Word by pastors. You need the protection and godly provocation of having other Christians who are willing to challenge sin in your life. And you need other Christians whom you can love.”

“Do you want to know that your new life is real? Commit yourself to a local group of saved sinners. Try to love them. Don’t just do it for three weeks. Don’t just do it for six months. Do it for years. And I think you’ll find out, and others will, too, whether or not you love God. The truth will show itself.”

Responding to a young Christian who wanted to go on a private “journey” to have some spiritual experience—”just him & Jesus” …

“Going away is easy. Do you want to know what is harder? Do you want to know what takes more courage and what will make you grow faster than anything else? Join a local church and lay down your selfish desires by considering others more important than yourself. Humble yourself and acknowledge that you need other Christians. Invite them into your life. Stop complaining about what’s wrong with the church, and become part of a solution.”

(For more encouragement and practical helps for life and love in the church, I hope you will consider visiting our Redeeming Church Conflicts site. It contains a plethora of theologically-rich, imminently practical articles that you can read for free!)

sm both of us with books for faces

A Multitude of Faithful, Risk-Taking, Plodders …

Yesterday, I was researching something for one of my pastors and I came across a bunch of emails from one of the hardest-working women in our little church. Her wisdom, wit, and passion (along with her faithful, long-term service to our church family) reminded me of one of my favorite Kevin DeYoung articles that I encourage you to read in its entirety: 

The Glory of Plodding

A few snippets to hopefully tempt you to click through:

The best churches are full of gospel-saturated people holding tenaciously to a vision of godly obedience and God’s glory, and pursuing that godliness and glory with relentless, often unnoticed, plodding consistency … That’s my dream for the church — a multitude of faithful, risk-taking plodders.

Until we are content with being one of the million nameless, faceless church members and not the next globe-trotting rock star, we aren’t ready to be a part of the church. In the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd. We haven’t learned to be ordinary … Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.”

“It’s possible the church needs to change. Certainly in some areas it does. But it’s also possible we’ve changed — and not for the better. It’s possible we no longer find joy in so great a salvation. It’s possible that our boredom has less to do with the church, its doctrines, or its poor leadership and more to do with our unwillingness to tolerate imperfection in others and our own coldness to the same old message about Christ’s death and resurrection. It’s possible we talk a lot about authentic community but we aren’t willing to live in it.”

“Don’t give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity. The invisible church is for invisible Christians. The visible church is for you and me. Put away the Che Guevara t-shirts, stop the revolution, and join the rest of the plodders. Fifty years from now you’ll be glad you did.”

Remembering As We Are Dying

pilgrim's progress illustrated

Easter always makes me think a lot about death.

Of course, Good Friday is the main impetus for my thoughts. The worst day ever, leading to the best day ever.

But I also think about our second child who slipped from my womb the afternoon of Easter, 2007. The Day of Life reminds me of death. Every year.

Plus, I miss my mom. Sure, she was all about the bonnets and the gloves and the bunnies—what we call “Springtime Fun” in our home (as opposed to the Real Easter). But it was still very spring-y and very fun. So I miss her smoker’s laugh at the girls’ egg-hunting, baskets-overflowing hilarity. I hate that I can’t call her. I long for her delight in my daughters. In me. Just one friend choosing me. I miss her.

But such is the nature of life and love and death. I know many of you have been impacted by the life and death of Kara Tippetts. I didn’t know her, but people I love knew and loved her deeply. And I know what it’s like to lose a friend to breast cancer—-so that part I was relating to, but only at times, because it felt too intimate and even voyeuristic to glance in too often. Instead, I’ve tried to reach out to my real-life friend who lost her real-life friend just last week. That seems to be my actual circle of life and love, grief and pain.

The truth is, I’m not much help to anyone these days. Just breathing in and out has seemed to sap all of my energy. I keep telling myself I’m not depressed and I need to snap out of this—but then I also try to be gracious to myself and patient with myself as the ramifications of the Fall and of evil are particularly acute in my life right now. I want to hide away! But that’s not the answer. So I’m trying. I’m trying really hard to keep going—and to get help as needed.

One thing I think I might do today? I think I’ll review with my daughters one of our family’s most somber, but helpful tools for remembering the reality of the Fall; how hard life can be in this sin-sick world; how death is “not the way it’s supposed to be” (but instead is truly an enemy even though Christ has triumphed over death and the grave) … and how we can always have bedrock, certain, eternal HOPE: the illustrated children’s version of “Pilgrim’s Progress“. This is a difficult book. The penultimate scene is terribly scary, but also honest.

The transition from life through death to eternal life is hard, even for the Christian.

I also might introduce my oldest daughter to snippets of one of my favorite, chilling and inspiring, adult reads on this topic: Last Words of Saints and Sinners. I’m going to pray about that and do a little study/prep first. Might be time. Might be too early still. But her serious questions about serious topics keep intensifying … so maybe a few examples would be wise.

I pray that if you or someone you love is walking someone through the valley of the shadow of death, you will remember Truth and fear no evil for truly, God is with you.

Your friend,
Tara B.

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