Tara’s Blog

It’s Time. Name Guardians, Sign Your Powers of Attorney, and Get Your Basic Estate Planning Done (!).

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Tonight I will meet with some friends to help them finish a task they’ve been meaning to do for, well, years:

Get a Will

Name Guardians for Our Children

Figure Out What the Heck Powers of Attorney & Living Wills Are and Maybe Get One? Or Two?

Maybe some of you can relate …

You’re adults. You have young children. You know you should have those basic estate planning documents, but oh! Those pesky lawyers are so expensive. And you’re just barely living month-to-month financially, so what does it really matter anyway?

It. Matters.

Not just because you have young children–but because so many of the financial medical issues that you may be facing one day are wisdom issues. They are not black and white. They are gray!

You value life. Great.

But you’re not afraid of heaven. Wonderful!

You know that humans beings have immense worth because they have souls and they are created in God’s image … so you don’t judge people based on their intellectual or physical abilities. But. What does that mean when a doctor turns to you (or your loved one) and asks: What do you want me to do if your heart stops beating?

What about gifting away even the limited financial assets you have if you and your family were to die in an accident without warning. Are you making wise decisions re: the tax implications of your retirements accounts? Will the equity in your house go to your unbelieving parents or siblings (and maybe even lead to their destruction if they are addicts who are currently using and for whom a huge financial windfall would actually be one of the most unloving things that could ever happen to them)?

If you have your documents in order. (Great job!) Are they up-to-date? Do your executors hear from you on a regular basis so that they know the names and addresses of the ministries and individuals that you want to distribute to? Do they know your logins and passwords for Quicken & your financial institutions? Can they easily find your insurance policies?

Are you confident that your children will go to a Christian family that will love them and pray for them and raise them in Christ and help them believe in the goodness of God, even as they are facing the unimaginable grief of losing both of their parents?

Maybe you can answer all of these questions with a happy, “Yes!’ Maybe your loved ones know your desires. Maybe you have all of the documents and files ready to go. But if so, that would be a statistical anomaly.

Most of us haven’t had these hard discussions yet. Most of us haven’t drafted and executed the required legally-binding documents. Yet.

But maybe this summer is the summer to get these things done! Maybe we can crank out this basic estate planning stuff and hope that none of it is ever needed for a long, long time.

Here is where I’m starting with my friends this evening …

(This is based on a Sunday School class that the wonderful Deacon Fred Barthel did one year. I was his happy, former estate-planning attorney sidekick.)

I hope it is a blessing to you and that it helps you to get this important task done.

(You can do it! You can do it! If you don’t have tax implications, it’s really not that hard. Not like COOKING A MEAL hard or anything. :) ! )

With love from your friend,
Tara B.

BASIC ESTATE PLANNING IDEAS
(!!Not to be Construed in ANY Way as Legal Advice!!)

Here are my notes for today’s “(Actually!) Setting Your House in Order” Sunday School class. We’re tackling the topic of BASIC ESTATE PLANNING:

INTRODUCTION

1. Disclaimers/Goals:

a. It’s been a long time since Tara has practiced law as an estate planning attorney—and even when she was actively licensed: a) it was in Illinois, not Montana; and b) she practiced in a highly specialized area of the law (high net worth/charitable estate planning), not general practice. Therefore …

b. This Sunday School Class is NOT going to provide you with any specific legal advice. Either you will research, prepare, and execute your documentation yourselves (without legal counsel) or you will need to hire an attorney to assist you.

c. That being said, we really hope that these classes on basic estate planning will help you, encourage you, and that by the end of the class semester, those of you who want and need basic estate planning documentation will have what you need to get started and/or make some serious progress on your estate plan.

2.Other Resources:

a. We continue to recommend that each one of you get to know Crown Financial Ministries to help you with all of the financial issues we are covering in this class. In particular, we recommend the workbook, Set Your House in Order, to help you to organize your finances and plan your estate.

b. There is also a plethora of helpful, basic estate planning books available at the library and through any bookseller. If you want to go deeper into these topics, pick one up! The basics are really not that difficult to understand.

c. In addition, just to get us started on these topics, I’ve copied off a bunch of documentation off of the internet that is free / in the public domain and I will be sharing those documents with you in these classes. Please bring this ‘estate planning packet’ back with you to all of our classes on estate planning! I will not have extra copies of documents available at future classes.

3. Biblical Principles: As we progress through these estate planning classes, please brings up questions and ideas related to how biblical principles apply to these topics. We surely do not have all of the answers for you! But in line with our corporate goal of glorifying God in all we do, we truly hope that this class will be a safe environment to consider such things. We’ll get us started along these lines with:


ARTICLES ON ESTATE PLANNING TO HELP YOU

1. Consider what basic estate planning is and why estate planning might be important so that you can prayerfully come to your own convictions re: what your goals and intentions are.

Handout #1Basic Estate Planning Fact Series—Introduction - Estate planning objectives include arranging for the well-being of your loved ones and yourself while you are living and after your death.’ This includes both personal relationships and financial considerations.

Pages 9, 10, 11 help you (and your spouse if you are married) to discuss your goals re: estate planning.

(NOTE: Many of the documents I have copied for you are Ohio State University Fact Sheets so they do not provide state-specific information for Montana.)

2. Understand the ‘Big Picture’ of the basic estate planning documents (and consider another—The Letter of Instruction):

Handout #2: Basic Estate Planning Documents

3. Think/talk through the common steps to creating an estate plan:

Handout #3Estate Planning in Montana: Getting Started

(NOTE: The “Steps in Estate Planning” and (Page 3) “What My Attorney Should Know” are particularly helpful sections.)


MORE ARTICLES IF YOU’RE NOT FEELING OVERWHELMED
(!!Don’t Read These if You are Feeling Overwhelmed!!)

4. Take time in the next few weeks to make your estate planning a priority. Read some of the supporting documentation I’ve provided for you—or other resources that you find/purchase. Come back to class with your questions so that we can help you to get ready to either do your own documentation or meet with an attorney.

Handout #4: Why Have a Will?

Handout #5: Power of Attorney — What is it? Should I have one? / Living Wills, Health-Care Proxies, and Advanced Health Care DirectivesWhat is a Fiduciary / Who Can Serve as Fiduciaries / How to Choose a Personal Representative / Choosing a Health Care Agent for Your Advance Medical Directive

Handout #6Letter of Instruction

Handout #7How to Calculate the Value of Your Gross Estate

Handout #8: Sample Estate Planning Calculations

Handout #9: When Does a Revocable Living Trust Make SenseTrusts


FINAL THOUGHTS FROM TARA

1. Understand the big picture / basic documents

2. If you have MINOR CHILDREN—don’t delay! (You don’t want the courts deciding this issue. This is especially important if your family members do not share your worldview/convictions.)

3. Know your gross estate value closely enough to determine if you have tax issues and if you do, ALWAYS hire an attorney.

4. Even if you don’t THINK you have ‘money issues’—consider HOW you are distributing TAX-DEFERRED ASSETS especially if you have charitable intents.

5. It is a MUCH higher likelihood that you or your spouse will become incapacitated. Be sure to plan for DISABILITY (insurance / powers of attorney).

6. This is why your FIDUCIARIES are SO important. Don’t just pick your ‘oldest son/child’. Read the documentation I’ve given you and THINK/PRAY about it.

7. No matter WHAT—you’ve GOT to start talking about this stuff. With your spouse. With your CHILDREN. With your HEIRS / potential guardians / powers of attorney. It’s awkward, yes, but you have to do it.

8. Don’t be taken in by the ‘TRUSTS FIX EVERYTHING’ advertisements. Read the documentation I’ve provided you and be wise.

9. Regularly REVIEW and UPDATE your estate plan.

One Danger You Must Avoid at ALL Costs — Regular Church Attendance

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Yes, yes. Kevin DeYoung is really gaining on Ed Welch as my favorite contemporary author.

I love all of his writings (both online and in print), but this classic (written in the voice of a C.S. Lewis letter to Wormwood) is particularly appropriate this month for all of us who are celebrating our beloved high school graduates:

A Lost Letter to Wormwood

Here is just a snippet to tempt you:

“Your subject is now enrolled in what the earth world calls ‘college.’ I do not need to remind you what splendid opportunities these places afford us. But there is one particular danger, and you must see to it that it is avoided at all costs. And that danger is church attendance.

Though your subject seems safe from the clutches of our Enemy Above, you will recall that he has spent the majority of his Sundays, thus far, in church. The habit may not be easy to break. If he tries church for a few weeks, make sure it is a pointless endeavor. Do not forget our little rhyme: ‘If to church one must go, lead him to an empty show. And when all we can do is mettle, makes sure on one church he does not settle.’

Church attendance is bad enough, nephew, but consistent attendance at the same church spells almost certain doom for our cause. If your human persists in his church interest, you simply must devise some way to shuffle him around from congregation to congregation. See to it he never knows the people he is worshiping with. Keep reminding him of how rotten the music is over here, and how long the sermon is over there, and how bland the coffee is at that other church. Trust me, it won’t take much to get him floundering on church. Almost any excuse will do …”

SHIVER! This is just WAY too important a topic and WAY too accurate a portrayal of our “higher learning” institutions for me to do anything other than CRINGE and PRAY for the many college and grad school students in my life—and for their Christian professors and the churches near their campuses too.

I simply cannot imagine where I would be in life had God not graciously rooted me in one church during my undergraduate years in Moline, Illinois and one church during my graduate studies in Champaign-Urbana. How skewed and squishy my theology would have become were it not for great men like Vic Varkonyi, Paul Jensen, Bill Meier, and John Roeckeman. How duplicitous and immature I would have remained were it not for great women like June Kalemkarian, Cindy Lambrecht, Kim Mills, and Dixie Zietlow. I needed the counsel and oversight of deacons and elders then, and I need the counsel and oversight of deacons and elders now. I needed the encouragement, care, and accountability of authentic relationships then, and I need the encouragement, care, and accountability of authentic relationships now.

And so do our college students! As Pastor DeYoung says earlier in his post:

“Churchless Christians are on their way to being no Christian at all.”

Please do encourage your college students to PLUG IN and COMMIT to one local church as they transition to this exciting new season of life. Don’t let them believe the fallacy that a parachurch student group, as great as it is, can ever be a church.

Send them ongoing, scholarly helps to remind them that smart people believe the Bible (contrary to what most of their professors will say) — I started reading Imprimis as an undergraduate student and I’ve read it ever since.

If they can persevere through meaty prose, I strongly urge them to read anything by Phillip E. Johnson and Frame/Poythress But if that bogs them down too much, then of course anything by C.S. Lewis will surely be edifying and accessible.

I also began to study systematic theology and philosophy as a college student and both were SO engaging and SO exciting to me that, because I had wise and godly teachers in my church, I was equipped to stand against the blatant naturalism and post-modern relativism that filled almost all of my academic classes.

How grateful I am for the protection, nourishment, accountability, equipping, and opportunities to serve in the local church! And how I pray that our college students will benefit from (and take seriously their commitments to) membership in the local church too.

And with that, I’m off into my day—

I hope your Monday has been a blessed one!

Your friend,
Tara B.

PS
Pastor DeYoung has a final installation of this letter here.

Sticking with People is Frustrating … You Will Suffer Pain if You are Committed to People

Hands in Prayer

What a contrast in articles I just read!

The first is what I would charitably characterize as a, well, not very gracious, thoughtful, or helpful article on why every woman should “ditch the guilt” dropping her little baby off with the “professionals” because staying home with young children can “drive you bonkers,” “give you a back problem and a brain ache,” and women “just need more.”

(If you’re really interested, you can read it here, but I think there are far better articles “out there” that graciously and intelligently address this important wisdom issue. And I do think it is a wisdom issue—so discernment, humility, and love are required when we talk about this or any other parenting issue. Drawing harsh, judgmental, black and white lines in the sand is never encouraging, redemptive, or helpful—but boy people can sure do it.)

In contradistinction to that “I don’t like it; it’s not a good fit for me; I’m not using my gifts; I want—I DESERVE—more!” attitude, oh oh oh! If you only read one online article today … I urge you to read THIS ONE (!). It has “nothing” to do with parenting or motherhood, well, except the way that all good (biblical, Christ-exalting, focused on eternity, loving God & neighbor for the glory of God) theology always applies to all of life.

The author is a personal hero of mine—truly one of the greatest men I have ever met with in person in this life. Brilliant, yet humble. Extraordinarily gifted, yet laying down his life to take the least place and serve. A preacher who can hold the attention of thousands, yet is a quiet and gentle man when he talks face-to-face with you. A churchman. Laying down his life for his wife and children.

I really could go on and on, but a) I know he would hate that; and b) I know that he is not the reason why the insights in this article are so profound. Instead, it is because Christians through the ages (until recently, in certain geographical areas) have not only known these truths to be, in fact, true; they have lived these truths:

To Serve is to Suffer

Oh, friends! If we could only begin to grasp even just a sliver of how important suffering is in the life of the Christian … our families, churches, schools / homeschool co-ops / tutoring relationships (did I get everyone?), sports leagues, youth orchestras, workplaces, rescue missions, pregnancy care centers, mission organizations … would be changed. If Christians would learn to suffer well, the world would be changed.

Let me pull just a few excerpts from this profound article by Ajith Fernando to hopefully tempt you to click through and read it all:

“I write this shortly after returning from a week of teaching pastors in the deep south of Sri Lanka. These pastors’ experience shows that when people pioneer in unreached areas, they usually wait 10 to 15 years before seeing significant fruit and reduced hostility. In the early years, they are assaulted and accused falsely; stones are thrown onto their roofs; their children are given a hard time in school; and they see few genuine conversions. Many pioneers give up after a few years. But those who persevere bear much eternal fruit. I am humbled and ashamed of the way I complain about problems that are minute compared to theirs.

When I return from ministry in the West, my feelings are very different. I have been able to “use my gifts” and spend most of my time doing things I like. But when I resume being a leader in Sri Lanka’s less-efficient culture, frustration hits me. The transition from being a speaker in the West to being a leader in Sri Lanka is difficult. As a leader, I am the bond-servant (doulos) of the people I lead (2 Cor. 4:5). This means that my schedule is shaped more by their needs than by mine.

… “Young Christian workers who come back to Sri Lanka after studying in the West struggle with this. They are highly qualified, but our poor nation cannot afford to give them the recognition they think their qualifications deserve. They cannot use their gifts to the fullest; they struggle with frustration; some start their own organizations so as to fulfill their “vision.” … I try to tell these students that their frustration could be the means to developing penetrating insight. I explain that people like John Calvin and Martin Luther had a dizzying variety of responsibilities, so that they could only use their gifts in the fog of fatigue …”

“We call our churches and Christian organizations “families,” but families are very inefficient organizations. In a healthy family, everything stops when a member has big needs. We are often not willing to extend this commitment to Christian body life.”

…”When people leave a church because they do not fit the program, it communicates a deadly message: that our commitment is to the work and not to the person, that our unity is primarily in the work and not in Christ and the gospel. The sad result is that Christians do not have the security of a community that will stay by them no matter what happens. They become shallow individuals, never having true fellowship and moving from group to group. Churches committed to programs can grow numerically, but they don’t nurture biblical Christians who understand the implications of belonging to the body of Christ.”

“Sticking with people is frustrating. Taking hours to listen to an angry or hurt person seems inefficient. Why should we waste time on that when professionals could do it? So people have counselors to do what friends should be doing.”

“Ideally, counselors help diagnose and treat difficult cases, and friends give the time that is needed to bring healing through acceptance, comfort, and friendship … Several people have sympathized with me, saying it must be hard and frustrating to serve in a country wracked by war and hostile to evangelism. Indeed, we have suffered. A few months ago, one of our staff workers was brutally assaulted and killed. But I think the biggest pain I have experienced is the pain I have received from Youth for Christ, the organization for which I have worked for 34 years. I can also say that next to Jesus and my family, Youth for Christ has been the greatest source of joy in my life.”

“Whether you live in the East or the West, you will suffer pain if you are committed to people. This is suffering that can be avoided. We can avoid pain by stopping the relationship or moving on to something more “fulfilling.” But what do we lose?

Some years ago I was preparing a message on commitment while traveling in the West. Within the space of a few days, three people told me how they or someone close to them had left a group or a person because of problems. One had left an unhappy marriage; another, a church; another, an organization. Each person described his leaving as a merciful release from suffering. But I could not help asking myself whether, in each of these cases, the Christian thing to do would have been to stay and suffer …”

There are still two more pages of nuggets and his conclusion (“The Glory of the Gospel”)—well—I just want you to read it for yourself.

Because it’s not about working “outside” of the home or “inside” of the home; it’s not about whether you CAN get a divorce (“biblically” and “without guilt”); it’s not about whether you will be happier, feel safer and more accepted, use your gifts more strategically, be rewarded, be affirmed …

Life is all about Him. God. And life is a just a blink—a flash. Then it is over and our Real Life begins.

This little season? These 40, 50, 80, 100 years? This is our one opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ; to bear up under the pain of even unjust suffering because we are conscious of God (1 Peter 2:19). Once this life is over? No more suffering for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I pray that wherever our duties take us today—to the boardroom, courtroom, or surgery center; out on the ranch, in the corn fields of Iowa, or into the blazing sun for a day of hard, manual labor; stuffing bulletins in our church office, volunteering at a local ministry … or, yes, sitting on the floor stacking blocks over and over again while your friend’s one year old delights in knocking them down, after having spent 90 minutes cuddling and reading with your five year old (and then 30 minutes talking, disciplining, and praying with your five year old … hypothetically, for, you know, a woman we’ll call Lara) …

I pray that we will use our gifts in the fog of fatigue; pick up our cross; count it all joy; and suffer well as we live lives that are committed to sticking with people. Pain is the price of love! And love is worth it.

Grateful for you—

Your friend,
Tara B.

PS
When I was checking the links for Ajith’s article, I found this Gospel Coalition post that includes links to Ajith’s book on this subject and links to videos of him teaching on this subject. Ooooh! As soon as I am done with my three-days-of-stressed-children-and-#2-pencils (I’m currently administering our co-op’s Iowa Basic & CogAT tests), I will try to watch them.

Your Childhood Does Not Determine Your Life

1970's family

This past weekend, Fred and I had more time than usual to just talk and visit. It was such a grace to me because I am currently so tired—tired to my bones tired (physically); tired and weeping a lot (emotionally) … intellectually, relationally … spent. So listening to Fred tell me new stories from his childhood—and replaying various moments from our  courtship and falling in love season of life? Well. It was sweet and I am grateful.

I am also grateful for just how much all of our discussions reminded me of the truth that I could never have experienced (almost!) twenty years of marriage and friendship and love with Fred, were it not for God’s saving grace in my life. I could never have learned how to love and be loved, were it not for my new birth and my new life as a child of God. Because of Jesus, I am forgiven and able to forgive. Because of Jesus, I am adopted and I have a home, an eternal home, an inheritance, kept in Heaven by God.

Eternity will not be long enough to express my gratitude.

If you have a life story like mine? If your story is more like Fred’s? If your family of origin was rife with abuse and confusion, or a relatively happy and stable home filled with love and clarity—know this:

Our History Explains Something and Causes Nothing

What hope! What encouragement. To know that “We may be wounded, but sin is caused by a sinful heart, not a hurting past.”

This is such good news! Because if we know our PROBLEM then we can run to, embrace, believe in, put all of our hope in … THE SOLUTION. The Real Solution—Jesus Christ, the Way, Truth, Life, Redeemer, Savior, Shepherd, Priest, King. Regardless of our pasts; regardless of the horrors we experienced as children and young people. Our childhood does not determine our future (!!). God is with His children. There is Hope.

I read John 4 today and I encourage you to do the same. Let your mind drink in the truth that, just like the woman at the well, no matter your past—Jesus is the Living Water that will quench your thirst.

Alleluia and Amen!

Sending my love—
Tara B.

PS
In addition to the David Powlison book that Pastor DeYoung mentioned (Seeing with New Eyes)—which is one of my all-time favorites (!), I also really enjoyed William P. Smith’s book on this topic: Loving Well (Even if You Haven’t Been).

PPS
Yes, that’s my real family. Circa 1975ish? Oh, man. I can still smell the leather in my dad’s leisure suit coat … :)

Elizabeth L. is our winner!

I’m so sorry I couldn’t post this earlier. Our Sunday was consumed by urgent/important matters and today was a blessed day, but just as busy.

Since I can’t sleep anyway, I  just ran the Random.org numbers and Elizabeth L. is our winner!

Many thanks to everyone for participating in our family’s giveeaway—I love hearing from you all and I deeply appreciate your help in “spreading the word” (as it were) re: my speaking events.

Hope you are all doing well! And congratulations again to Elizabeth L. :)

Yours,
Tara B.

 

 

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!

books

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disordered-affections-box

 

peacemaking retreat

 

FearNot-button

 

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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