Tara’s Blog

Pleasures that leave NO residual guilt, exhaustion, or unrest. (Disordered Affections Week 3)

I am currently doing summaries of our church’s summer women’s study on “Disordered Affections.” You can read week 1 hereweek 2 here, week 3 here, week 4 here, and week 5 here.

SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 3 of the Summer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”

Three weeks ago, we began our summer study discussing what the term “disordered affection” means; studying James 4:1-3 (“monster wants” and “functional idolatry”); what makes our affections disordered (the heart / Satan, the world, our flesh); our past efforts to turn away from disordered affections; and the use of the terms “addiction” and “sin.” Ed Welch’s book, “Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave” has been extremely helpful to us.

Two weeks ago, we were  greatly helped by Pastor Tim Keller’s sermons, Sin as Slavery as we looked at Numbers 11. His analysis of “the addiction pattern” was particularly helpful to us as we considered how easily the very things we have craved become what we loathe. Whenever we deal with distress by turning to an agent (rather than God), we develop tolerance (we need more and more and our joy decreases), we are often stuck in denial and rationalization, and our willpower is trashed as we try to deal with the distress with the very thing the caused our distress.

Last week, we were deeply helped by Pastor Tim Keller’s sermon How Sin Makes Us Addicts as we studied Jeremiah 2:1-8 and 23-32. It was hard to face, but we saw how when we don’t have intimacy with God; if He is not the center of our lives, then we have something else as our (functional) god. We also agreed with his analysis that the way to tell you are addicted is to ask how you respond when you are in trouble and the agent is taken away. What then? Do we fret? Are we distraught? Do we think “we’re never going to be able to make it?” If so, we are caught. “Addicted.” Enslaved. In bondage. Something or someone other than God is functionally ruling our lives in that moment. It might be something good, it might be something inherently evil. The problem is not the thing; the problem is us … we love it too much.

We were also greatly helped by a careful review of David Powlison’s booklet, “Pleasure.” I personally think this is one of the very best things Dr. Powlison has ever written and that’s saying something because he is a prolific writer and I’m a huge fan. Here are just a few highlights from our discussion of this biblically-rich, practical & helpful resource:

  • Many of us had never considered how God created pleasure and that pleasure in and of itself is not inherently sinful or evil. This also challenged us to consider carefully just how often we “indulge” in our “guilty pleasures” NOT because they are even pleasurable any longer … but simply for the distraction.
  • It was a delight to hear each other’s real pleasure (“better joys” and “more lasting and truer pleasures”). We shared openly about “what gives us pure and simple pleasure, truly refreshes us, helps us to lay our cares down and get a fresh perspective on life.” It would be inappropriate for me to share what others said—but I may shock a few of you when I say that one of my deepest pleasures in recent time has been my time working cattle on our friends’ ranch. I absolutely LOVED the refreshing, relaxing, world-class view of their back property; the intelligence and gentleness (and stubbornness and ridiculousness) of moving a herd of mothers and babies (not the technical ranch terms!!) through gates and into different pastures so they would be where they needed to be for branding. L.O.V.E.D. I.T. I can’t wait to get to do it again.
  • It was also humbling and eye-opening to consider what guilty pleasures we hide and harbor in our lives: the things that “leave a residue, an oily stain; contain a quality of obsession, guilt, anxiety; bring disappointment; hijack us—promising to make us feel better but than failing” because we are looking for a “restless escape from troubles; we want a BREAK because we are bored/lonely, stressed/frustrated/worn out, hurt/betrayed/treated unfairly.” So “we grab for anything hat will protect, soothe, comfort, or save us” because we do not want to face our pain.
  • I think we were also extremely encouraged by Dr. Powlison’s “Action Plan”: First of all, we were to STOP and ENJOY. Really enjoy. Figure out what proves truly restful and what nourishes us with no residual guilt, exhaustion, or unrest. And then we were to take a one-week fast from our impulsive/compulsive “guilty pleasures.” To do this, we would absolutely need the help of our Savior—and praise God, we have everything we need for life and godliness in Him.

I hope these notes are helpful to you. Talking about hidden, habitual sins and ruling lusts is NOT easy (!), but I can say with all my heart that bringing the light and love of real, prayerful fellowship that is centered around the Word of God has been life changing for me (and I think some of the other women in the study might say the same thing).

One of the worst lies in our lives is when we think we are the ONLY ONES who struggle. It’s just not true! And it keeps us from redemptive relationships; safe and loving friendships; and help to change. I am so grateful for the help I have received and am receiving to help me to change to be conformed more into the image of Jesus Christ … God Himself is at work and He is definitely using people as well.

Blessings to you and much love!
Tara B.

I came up with the title “disordered affections” after reading a bunch of books/articles, etc. on the topic and after my blog on “Recovering from a Lifetime of Disordered Eating” went crazy stats-wise with hundreds of readers from all over the world who were not regular visitors. When Fred read the title in our church’s bulletin, he teased me a bit about how archaic it was and how vague it was (“What do that even mean?! Is it from the Valley of Vision or something?”). But I stuck with it because I like it quite a lot—it’s a better fit for me than “addiction” or even “idolatry” (although both of those terms are helpful to me in understanding aspects of my heart struggle).

[A re-post from 2013]

The Inevitable Last Step Before You Repent (Disordered Affections Week 2)

I am currently doing summaries of our church’s summer women’s study on “Disordered Affections.” (You can read week 1 hereweek 2 here, week 3 here, week 4 here, and week 5 here.)

SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 2 of the Summer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”

We began our study by reviewing the first lesson: What does the term “disordered affection” even mean?; James 4:1-3 (“monster wants” and “functional idolatry”); what makes our affections disordered (the heart / Satan, the world, our flesh); our past efforts to turn away from disordered affections; and the use of the term “addiction.”

Then we discussed the excerpt, “Sin, Sickness, or Both?” (from “Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave”). The bottom-line of this discussion was summarized on page 20: “Sin is our deepest problem.” We discussed how “sin by its very nature is more often quiet and secretive than loud and public.” And we all cringed as we read Proverbs 23:29-35 … especially the truth that just like a drunk says, “When will I wake up so I can find another drink?” We have all, at times, faced great suffering and bondage due to our disordered affections—but then the very way we tried to deal with our misery was by returning to the source of our misery. Just as “heavy drinkers love alcohol,” we love the object of our disordered affections too much. It really is a “lordship problem.” And so often, when we tried to abstain, we longed for the object more and more. So we reviewed 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 (about turning to God from idols rather than turning from one idol to another idol and about waiting for His Son Jesus who rescues us!).

Then we reviewed how “the Spirit of God awakens our hearts to the presence of sin in our lives, and then convinces us that he forgives sin because of Jesus Christ, and gives us peace.” And that “it is when we experience no conviction of sin that we should be most alarmed.” That when we indulge in our disordered affection “we experience no fear of the Lord; we have no keen sense of the presence and holiness of God.”

We also looked briefly at “Streams in the Desert” (from “How People Change”) and then we closed by reading the discussing Number 11:4-6, 11-13, 31-34 and discussed a few points from the Timothy Keller sermon, Sin as Slavery:

  • Sin has a powerful effect in which our own freedom to want the good, will the good, think the good, understand the good is undermined. We lose our freedom—sin underminds our mind, emotion, will.
  • We CRAVE. The more we get, the less we love it. In the end, we loathe it, though it’s coming out of our nostrils.
  • Not that all addictions are sin; but all sin IS addiction. Not that all alcoholism is JUST sin; but alcoholism is slavery. Every sin: bitterness, laziness, impurity … every sinful action becomes an addiction; brings into our lives a power that operates exactly like addictions cycles.
  • The addiction pattern: 1) Distress or disappointment in our lives; 2) We deal with that distress with an agent: sex, shopping, drugs, alcohol; 3) The agent promises transcendence and freedom and sense of being in control / above all this / liberated / escape.
  • The trap is set … three things happen:

1. You get into TOLERANCE. The tolerance effect is that TODAY this amount is enough; but tomorrow, you need more and more. And the more you give it, the more you need. Your emotions shrivel up. Brought you joy today will not bring you joy tomorrow. At first: “If I just had this.” But then? It does not deliver.

2. Then comes DENIAL: your craving makes you rationalize and justify it. You are not thinking straight. You are selective in your reasoning and memory. You give in to tortured rationalizations.

3. It destroys your willpower. You know you are an addict when you are trying to deal with the distress with the very thing the caused your distress. When you are in that, you are stuck. Down and down and down.

  • This is how sin operates! When you think that disobey God will bring me freedom? The very thing traps you. When you live for anything more than God; crave something more than God; make something more important than God; living for something more than God
  • If God is on the periphery of your life, that is sin. That is the essence of sin. “ETERNAL TOLERANCE EFFECT” – career will make me happy (no, it won’t). Marriage will make me happy (no, it won’t). Children. Money. Success. Beauty. Nope!
  • When you live for anything more than God, that is sin and it has an addictive dynamic. The more you get it, the more you need it, the less satisfying it is and your mind and emotions shrivel. We need to worship Him. Know Him. Be moved by Who God is and all He has done for you. We need to TASTE God. Not just know facts about Him.

And then we closed in prayer after I told the story of how once I was really struggling with all sorts of disordered affections (again!) and a woman from my church was counseling me. One day, I was JUST MAD. I did NOT want to repent. I did NOT want to change. I really didn’t want to give up the object of my disordered affections. And thankfully? I was MISERABLE. (I couldn’t remember if it was C. Plantinga or Kris Lundgaard who said something along the lines of, “Our misery is a sign that we belong to God; a sign of His covenant keeping care because unbelievers don’t care when they sin.”)

At that moment? Sitting across from my friend? I was a total wreck. And as I kept sharing about how mad I was and frustrated I was, this woman’s face was like Stephen’s—radiant with the light of the Lord; like an angel! And that just ticked me off more! So I ranted on and on for a few more minutes until I couldn’t take her beautiful, sweet smile any more and I pretty much yelled at her, “What is going on?! Why are you SMILING?! I’m MISERABLE here!” And she compassionately (yet wisely) said, “Tara? I know this is horrible for you and I know you are really suffering and I’m sorry about that. But I also know that your rebellion and anger and rage is the inevitable last step before you taste and see that the Lord is good. And repent.

Thank God for His grace at work in our hearts helping us to repent!

I came up with the title “disordered affections” after reading a bunch of books/articles, etc. on the topic and after my blog on “Recovering from a Lifetime of Disordered Eating” went crazy stats-wise with hundreds of readers from all over the world who were not regular visitors. When Fred read the title in our church’s bulletin, he teased me a bit about how archaic it was and how vague it was (“What do that even mean?! Is it from the Valley of Vision or something?”). But I stuck with it because I like it quite a lot—it’s a better fit for me than “addiction” or even “idolatry” (although both of those terms are helpful to me in understanding aspects of my heart struggle).

[A re-post from 2013]

Recovering from My (Lifetime of) Disordered Eating (Disordered Affections Part 1)

yo yo weight

Many of my 2016 events are related to my new retreat on disordered affections. This teaching content has really been born out of my lifetime problems with food. (Ever since my pacifier was dipped in white sugar to sooth me as a newborn with multiple birth defects, I have always been comforted by sugar. This is not good—physically or emotionally! I was able to keep it relatively in check as a young person, but WOW! Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I struggle with this a LOT, especially when I am recovering from the shock and misery of physical and/or relational trauma.) This content has also been born out of multiple studies I have led at my church for women and out of my Master’s work at Reformed Theological Seminary.

If this is a topic that is of interest to you, I hope that you will check out my other articles on disordered affections and peace with food. If you, too, go up-and-down, up-and-down with your weight; if you are also (still) recovering from a lifetime of disordered eating, I do SO hope and pray that they will be an encouragement to you. As I’ve blogged about before, I can totally relate to the ongoing, annoying, exhausting struggle!  If you can’t relate to this struggle, but you love someone who can, I hope and pray that they will help you to have compassion and patience and empathy as you minister wisdom and grace in their lives.

With that, I will sign off for the day by sharing my inaugural blog on this topic … from years ago, but the content still holds firm.

Thanks for stopping by!

Yours in the battle,
Tara B.

Recovering from My (Lifetime of) Disordered Eating

There are many very good things going on in my life right now related to my lifetime of disordered eating (and the last ten years of my life that I have spent as a morbidly obese woman). I am so grateful to God for His continued, gracious, winnowing work! And one day, I may be ready to blog about the details. But not today.

Today, what I am ready to talk about is our church’s summer women’s study on Disordered Affections. I came up with the title after reading a bunch of books/articles, etc. on the topic, but when Fred read the title in our church’s bulletin, he teased me a bit about how archaic it was and how vague it was (“What do that even mean?! Is it from The Valley of Vision or something?”). But I stuck with it because I like it quite a lot—it’s a better fit for me than “addiction” or even “idolatry” (although both of those terms are helpful to me in understanding aspects of my heart struggle).

And what I’d like to do now is give you a glimpse into our study last week. I won’t be sharing any personal information about the attendees (of course!), but I will be giving you the same overview that I am providing to the attendees each week because it’s summer and we have a lot of women going in-and-out due to schedule changes, travel, etc.

I hope these notes are a blessing to you!

Grateful to be with you on the journey—

Tara B.

SUMMARY NOTES FROM SESSION 1 of theSummer Women’s Study – “Disordered Affections”

We began our study by discussing the question: What does the term “disordered affection” even mean?

 – Any affection that is out of order or out of balance
– Sin / inappropriate
– Self-serving
– When good goods become bad gods
– Codependent / disease
– Hopelessly stuck / caught

We then spent an extended time in God’s Word studying James 4:1-10 and discussing “monster wants” and “functional idolatry”:

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (ESV)

Many of us deeply resonated with some of the statements I had typed in our handout from Ed Welch’s “Crossroads Addictions Curriculum”):

  • You feel out of control. What began as an escape from the hassles of life has become hazardous. Something—drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, sex—is taking over. You feel like its slave.
  • You still love your addiction, but it is no longer friendly. You think it is time for a change.
  • You think it is time for change—you want to leave your addiction—but you aren’t sure how to change. You have already tried a few strategies and they didn’t work.
  • Someone told you that you’d better change.
  • You are sick and tired of the lies, broken relationships, and nagging conscience that accompany all addictions.
  • You are already off and running, already leaving your addiction behind.

When then discussed  what makes our affections disordered. We talked about a lot of things—being deceived, discontent, etc. But ultimately, everything we talked about came down to our “three enemies” as summarized in the catechism: Satan, the world, our flesh (“The Old Man”).

By the end of that discussion, our time was running short. But we still discussed briefly the question: Have you (or someone you love) ever tried to turn away from a disordered affection? What did you do? Where did you turn for help? How did your effort to change go?

  • Some of us looked to Scripture and wise role models (and “reverse role models”–people we did NOT want to emulate)
  • We sought counseling (biblical, pastoral, professional psychiatric counseling and medication)
  • We went to 12-Step Groups, read books, studied, made lists 
  • We tried to do healthy things like listen to music, make sure we got enough fresh air and light and water (and coffee)

But then I really wanted us to dig into our use of the term “addiction” … (See Crossroads Addictions Curriculum, Addictions: A Banquet At The Grave, and Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be—A Breviary of Sin). I knew that the term “addiction” might be TOO comfortable for some people (especially if they grew up around or were greatly helped by AA/NA/OA or any 12-Step, disease-based program, like “Celebrate Recovery” for example). And that the term “addiction” might be too AWFUL for some people (who think that all we need to do to combat our sin is “believe the gospel” and POOF! We’re all fixed!).

The content I sent them home with had a number of quotations from Dr. Plantinga’s “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be”: A Breviary of Sin (my favorite book thus far on the doctrine of sin, although my current reading and study schedule is bringing me to more and more tomes that are so excellent that they might rival it one day). If I could have assigned the entire book, I would have. But 200+ pages of reading a week is a little aggressive, even for a bunch of Presbyterian women, so this is the summary I gave them from the section that was directly applicable to our discussion:

“Addiction is a complex, progressive, injurious, and often, disabling attachment to a substance (alcohol, heroin, barbiturates) or behavior (sex, work, shopping, gambling) in which a person compulsively seeks a change of mood. Addictions eventually center in distress and in the self-defeating choice of an agent to relieve the distress. In fact, trying to cure distress with the same thing that caused it is typically the mechanism that closes the trap on an addict.”

“Addiction is driven by longing—not just of brain, belly, or loins but finally of the heart. Addiction longs long for wholeness, fulfillment, the final good that believers call God. Like all idolatries, addiction taps this vital spiritual force and draws off its energies to objects and processes that drain the addict instead of filling him.”

“An addict longs not for God but for transcendence; not for joy but only for pleasure; mere escape from pain.  Addicts go to saloons to buy for a few hours the illusion of comfort, hope, love—whatever one most longs for.”

“Alcohol and other drug abuse: chronic intoxications are marked by increasing depression, anxiety, and belligerence. An addict repeatedly makes and then breaks contracts with himself. An addict finds his longing narrowing and hardening into an obsession with things he knows will devastate his work, self-respect, relationships, and bank account and who yet seeks compulsively to satisfy those longings.”

“An addict finds his will split between wanting to banish an addictive substance from the earth and wanting to protect his private cache of it. Addicts reproach themselves, confess their sins to God, make and break resolutions, set even new dates for one last fling. Addicts struggle to deal with the depressing accompaniments of their secret life—lies, deceptions, scapegoating, alternating rage and self-pity, isolation, fear of discovery, the loss of real intimacy with loved ones.”

“When her attempts at self-management fail, as they usually do, and when her self-esteem plummets, as it always does, the addict feels compelled to seek solace in her obsessive behavior and thus cycles down one more level. Addictions flourish by feeding on human attempts to master them.”

“Addiction is misplaced longing. Healthy people keep a rein on their longings; enjoy the freedom that is born of contentment (a “freedom from want”) which is in turn owed to a sturdy and persistent discipline of desire; eat and drink only enough to relieve hunger and thirst, not to sate themselves.”

“Addictions include patterns of self-seeking, childish impatience with delayed gratification, and refusal to accept reasonable limits on behavior. Addiction is disordered appetite.”

“People often commit sins in order to relieve distress caused by other sins.”

We ran out of time before we could discuss the notes I had provided about Dr. Welch’s Crossroads Addictions Curriculum (I have even more information on this curriculum available on my liveblogs from his teaching the material when it was first released):

“The inner world of addiction is: foreign, hidden, complicated, insane, shame-filled, hopeless, immature, and God-suppressing. The fog of addiction is so messy and unclear that it is hard to find words to express it.”

“The words, “STOP IT” are not enough.”

“The experience of addiction is complicated. Coexisting in one heart: hatred for the addictive object; love for the addictive object. You find death and you find life. Warring themes; kingdoms in conflict. Chaos and insanity. Hopelessness. Immaturity.”

“So how do you start? ‘Lord, have mercy!’ The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of change.”

“We sin because we love it. That’s why saying, “No” is not effective. We say “no” when the thing is far away. But when it gets close? We love it. That’s why when talking to the addict, we quickly begin saying, “we” instead of “you.” Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector? This is a wonderful beginning every day treatment for the addictive heart. We come to the temple and don’t feel worthy to lift our heads. “Lord have mercy toward me a sinner.”

“We have a God Who delights in showering an abundance of mercy on those who ask for mercy. Those who ask for mercy receive an abundance of mercy.”

“Your struggle is a common one. Don’t begin with the idea that your experience is out of the ordinary. It is, of course, unique—no one completely understands your struggle (not even you). Still, we are all cut from the same cloth. All of us, if we are truly honest would have to acknowledge a familiarity with that tug of addictions. A lot of wanting is in the human heart. The desire for drugs, alcohol, sex, and food are the more dramatic ones, but they aren’t fundamentally different from our cravings for comfort, significance, relationship, money, love, and so on. Try to find one person who has successfully and consistently said no to any of those wants. You won’t succeed.”

“The path you will be traveling has much to do with God. That should come as no surprise. Books about addictions always say something about God. But much more is happening between you and God than you may think. You will be surprised: To learn how you avoid him; To learn how he pursues you; That you know him more than you think; That you know him less than you think.”

“If at all possible, do this work with someone else. Addictions are private, so doing this in public is a way to take a stand against your addiction. God has always planned for people to live and grow in a community, where we give and receive, pray for others and get prayed for, and learn wisdom and offer it.”

And then we closed with an extended time of prayer. I shared my favorite quote from Paul Miller’s excellent book, A Praying Life:

“Jesus does not say, “Come to me all you who have learned how to concentrate in prayer, whose minds no longer wander, and I will give you rest.” No. Jesus opens his arms to his needy children and says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). The criteria for coming to Jesus is weariness. Come overwhelmed with life. Come with your wandering mind. Come messy … Don’t try to get the prayer right; just tell God where you are and what’s on your mind … Private, personal prayer is one of the last great bastions of legalism. In order to pray like a child, you might need to unlearn the non-personal, non-real praying that you’ve been taught. The real you has to meet the real God.


  1. Read the handout: “Sin, Sickness, or Both?” (from pgs 17-43 of Addictions: A Banquet at the Grave) and come prepared next week to discuss its contents. Also complete the questions on pages 41-42 (“As You Face Your Own Addiction”) and consider sharing some of your responses if you feel comfortable doing so. (No pressure!)
  2. Read the (brief!) handout: “Streams in the Desert” (from pgs 212-214 of How People Change) and come prepared next week to discuss its contents.

(If you would like to read the summaries from all of our church’s summer women’s study sessions on “Disordered Affections,” you can read week 1 hereweek 2 here, week 3 here, week 4 here, and week 5 here.)


[This is a re-post from 2013]

What about repeating (habitual?) patterns of sin and struggle? How do the Seven A’s of Confession and Four Promises of Forgiveness apply?

I recently had to make a “Seven A’s Confession” to a dear friend. Like all real confessions, it was embarrassing. I was frustrated with myself for blowing it. Again. I felt bad about hurting someone I care about. Talking it out for real took time and effort and emotion, three things that neither of us really had extra margin in this month. But she is a real friend and it was a real hurt, so (thank God!) we did the right thing, the loving thing, and had that uncomfortable—but ultimately GOOD—conversation. And I was, as always, amazed at how genuine and balming true forgiveness from a true friend can be. It really is like a breath of Heaven! A waft of that which is good, lovely, pure, other-worldly, best.

I did try to make it clear, however, that even as grateful as I was for her beautiful “Four Promises of Forgiveness”, and as much as I REALLY wanted to stand up from that conversation with a clean heart and no gap of hurt between us, I was also keenly aware that the way I had hurt her can sometimes be a bad pattern for me.

(It has to do with me not being as careful in my speech and tone with my dearest friends (and family!) especially when I am spent. Exhausted. Introvert-peopled-out-FRIED. And scared. That’s really GOT to become my RED FLAG of warning:

*** CAREFUL TARA! CAREFUL! You are tired and peopled-out and SCARED. This is when you are most likely to fail re: being loving and gentle in tone. CAREFUL! ***

Hmmmm. If only I could emblazon that somewhere in flashing lights in front of my eyes. Or, I suppose, if only I would grow up and learn to listen to that Still Small Voice of the Holy Spirit leading me in repentance and faith.)

In any case, even as I made confession and (gratefully!) received her forgiveness, I also expressed to her that I was aware that this can be a repeating pattern for me and THUS. I would make EVERY effort to never repeat this pattern towards her again. My heart’s desire, my fervent prayer was to never repeat this pattern with her (or anyone!) ever again. But if I did, I wanted her to know that bringing this incident up and talking with me about again would NOT violate the “Four Promises.” In fact, I was inviting her to bring this incident up and talk with me about it again because that is how seriously I take my confession. I am genuinely sorry and genuinely repentant—that means I want to change.

Plus, I truly don’t believe that bringing it up again would violate “The Four Promises” because, just as Peacemaking Women explains, I think the heart of “The Four Promises” can be described like this:

Ken Sande / Relational Wisdom:

– I will not dwell on this incident.
– I will not bring this incident up again and use it against you.
– I will not talk to others about this incident.
– I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

Peacemaking Women:

– I will not dwell on or ruminate on this incident. Instead, when I become aware that thoughts about this incident pop into my mind, I will take them captive and commit them to Christ.
– I will not use this incident against you to cause you hurt, shame, or fear. Instead, I will only bring this incident up when it is necessary for our healing and growth.
– I will not gossip to others about this incident. Instead, I will only bring it up to others when it is necessary to ask for their assistance for God’s glory and our good.
– I will not avoid you or neglect our relationship. Instead, I will pray, allow time, and faithfully labor toward our continued reconciliation and the true restoration of our relationship.

In this situation, just like in so many parenting situations, it is necessary to bring a past incident up for healing and growth because they are part of a pattern or habit and just bringing up the one, current, presenting issue won’t REALLY address the depth of the problem. That’s why I invited my friend to (be gentle please! but also be bold and) bring it up again if she needed to do so.

I should note that I had a similar situation like this years and years ago wherein someone confronted me about a habitual/pattern weakness/sin in my life and he used examples that he had “forgiven” me for. Ouch! I remember those conversations as being some of the most graceless, hopeless, burdensome conversations of my young life. I remember thinking:

  • Why are you bringing this up again?! I thought you said I was FORGIVEN!?
  • Will I NEVER get to grow in your eyes? Do I never get to CHANGE? Or will you forever view me through the lens of my failures / immaturities / weaknesses  from two, five, and ten years ago?
  • Wow! You sure don’t know what forgiveness means.

The thing is? I have a completely different view of that conversation now. I wouldn’t think those thoughts any longer. Instead, I would focus on how my confession / repentance was really very shallow and lacking. I would stop pointing a finger outward at him and point lots more fingers inward at myself—specifically, my truly awful habitual, repeated patterns that were hurting people. I would invite him to talk with me about these patterns and bring them up again because I would know that is the ONLY way I could possibly change. (Because I need Galatians 6 rescue! I need Matthew 18 help from my brothers and sisters in Christ!) And also? I would want him to know that I sincerely, truly repentant and whatever he needed to hear from me to help to communicate that and live in line with that confessed repentance? Well. Bring it on. I was the one confessing. He was the one forgiving. The burden was on ME to pay the price and do whatever it took to communicate sincerity, rebuild relationship and and trust, and help him to forgive me.

It’s a difficult thing to nuance, though, isn’t it? Especially with our children.

The FREEDOM of FORGIVENESS is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children (and they can give us too):

“Forgiving each other just as the Lord has forgiven you …” Colossians 3:13

The weightlessness of leaving a painful discipline and confession/forgiveness time with a (REAL!) fresh start and clear / clean / OPEN hearts toward one another? Running back onto the playground—the day not ruined? Recovering out of the grouchy, ungrateful response to a disappointing stocking stuffer—all of Christmas not ruined? Actually getting to experience a taste of the fresh breath of God in the forgiving, warm breath of a friend who doesn’t give up on us but who makes the time in a crushingly busy week to come to our home, sit on our Golden-Retriever-Fur-Covered-Floor, talk, listen, pray, and forgive? This is the ideal. This is the goal.

I just think that habitual patterns may require that loving, grace-filled breath to sometimes look a little different. And that the onus is on the confessor (not the forgiver) to invite that ongoing part of the reconciliation and restoration process.

Praying for grace and forgiveness for all of us today,
Tara B.

[A re-post from 2012]

If you only read one book in 2018 (besides the Bible), read this one!

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 one of my dream publishers.

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 the graphic design teams 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 biblical theology that goes SO far beyond aprons and cookies (!!)—really grieves me.)

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 I never understood why Baker plopped a vase of flowers on the cover of our “Peacemaking Women” book since I know I have never successfully arranged a vaseo of flowers. 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 mechanic 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.”

Seriously. If you only read one book (besdies the Bible) in 2018, you would be well served to read this one. Every single biblical theology point that I just typed above applies to every single aspect of our lives in our workplaces, schools, homes, churches, communities, world.

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

[A re-post from 2014]

The Most Important Thing We Will Give Our Children During These Growing Up Years

I had SUCH a strong inclination to just pull the covers up over my head this morning and HIDE AWAY from all of my duties. It was just one of those Mondays.

But then I put one foot in front of the other and tried to enjoy each task. Starting with an extra long cuddle/visit time with Sophia. There’s just something so sweet about those early morning hours when everyone else is asleep and we can talk nose-to-nose under the covers.

I was also truly blessed and encouraged when a good friend emailed me about something I need to pick up at her home today. Rather than just coordinating times, we ended up having a sweet, real-life exchange about what really matters in life. I thought a portion of our exchange might encourage you too, so here it is:

“Can I stop by a Mountain Mudd and pick you up some sort of chai tea healthy something??? 🙂

Many pockets of chaos are yelling at me, but I keep thinking of what one of our elders often says:

“Clutter is faithful. It will be there for you when you have time to address it.”

Clutter IS faithful! What a good reminder. Disorder is still not my favorite, but life is life. We can only do our best.”

And that’s the message I hope you can preach to yourself today (and every day) re: parenting your children. I know you know this already, so it’s just a reminder … but the most important thing we will give our children during these growing up years is an abiding, overarching sense of our neediness for God’s saving grace and His sufficient, abundant, eternal love for His children because of the incarnation, perfect righteousness, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Latin is great.
French is amazing.
Math is hard but fascinating. Ditto for Chemistry.
Ella’s addicted to logic attributes now, too. So fun!
History is interesting.
School is cool.

But the education that will really prepare our children for life—whether they live 15 years or 105 years—is that God is real, we are sinners, God’s Word is True, Jesus is God, the Holy Spirit really does live in our hearts by faith, and one day, we will go Home to be with God forever—or Jesus will split the sky in two in glory.

In between, today, during the “already but not yet”—we work. We love. We try and succeed. We try and fail. We live life.

But this world is not our home. We live for the things of eternal worth.

So maybe? Given the state of stress and exhaustion and hard things you and your kiddos are facing? Maybe it’s a good day to not have A++’s in academics, music, and sports, but instead to spend a little extra time cuddling, talking, connecting, listening, praying, crying, laughing.

We can take their math lessons into another year if we need to—but we only have this one day to enter into their lives, know their hearts, and share (age appropriately) the blessings and burdens in our own hearts too.

Big hugs to you from the Barthel home!

Your prayerful friend who is cheering you on!
Tara B.

[A re-post from 2013]

Loving Well Even if You Haven’t Been

Every Christmas, Fred surprises me with at least one book. Usually it’s theology, philosophy, or history … but always, it’s one of my favorite parts of Christmas.

This year, in addition to indulging in his gift of a new book, I am also going to re-read a title from five years ago:

Loving Well Even if You Haven’t Been (by William P. Smith)

I was honored to review and recommend Pastor Smith’s book when it came out in 2012. And as I pray for so many people who are hurting right now because of specific, loveless ways that certain Christians are acting towards them, I highly recommend this book in 2017 too.

Here is the endorsement I wrote for it back in 2012 and I stand by it today:

“Soaked in Scripture and solidly biblical in all of its counsel, this wonderful book by a seasoned pastor and Christian counselor provides practical, Christ-centered guidance for growing authentic, vulnerable, and loving relationships. This is true regardless of our upbringing and regardless of how others treat us today. This is true no matter what our personality type or how weak we naturally are regarding relationships. By exegeting both Scripture and people, Pastor Smith humbly shows us that God is a loving God Who graciously enables us to love one another. I highly recommend this book and I look very forward to studying it in depth and repeatedly in the coming years.” Tara Barthel, author of Living the Gospel in Relationships and coauthor of Peacemaking Women and Redeeming Church Conflicts

Oh! That we would love well even if we haven’t been. Please help us, Jesus.

“Don’t worry, Mom. The pastors will come.”

I just arrived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania after a long day of travel from Montana. Some minor hiccups along the way (including a sincere PTSD reaction to sitting in the same row of a 757 that I was sitting in back in January when the overhead bin popped open—twice!—and heavy bags dropped on my head both times). But all things considered, it was an uneventful day. Most things went just fine. But one thing was remarkably, beautifully, so precious and good.

It actually started a little scarily for me …

When I picked up a voicemail during my airport sprint in Detroit, I heard a man’s voice introducing himself as the pastor from the church I will be serving this weekend for a women’s retreat. Uh-oh! That is not usually a good sign. My mind raced to thoughts about some big conflict in the women’s ministry or maybe the entire church. Or possibly some tragedy had happened in the church family and the women’s retreat was off?

Then the pastor said, “I’m here with our Session.” (For my non-Presbyterian blog readers, those are the ordained shepherd-overseer church leaders for us.) And then I REALLY thought something was up. Maybe they read my blog from yesterday and thought, “This chick is WAY too unstable! We’re pulling the plug on this retreat!” Or maybe I would be wheels-down into a huge church-related lawsuit or split that really needed a team of Christian mediators, not a women’s retreat speaker.

But no.
My catastrophizing thoughts could not have been more wrong.

Here is a paraphrase of what the pastor actually said:

“Tara? I’m pastor so-and-so and I’m here with the Session and we all just wanted to greet you upon your arrival in Pennsylvania. (And then they went around the room introducing themselves by name and giving me a warm, personal greeting.)

We all wanted you to know that we have just spent an extended time in prayer for you and for our women and the retreat this weekend. We are so grateful that you have come all this way to discuss biblical peacemaking with our women and we are excited for how God is going to be glorified through this event and how our women will be encouraged and refreshed and helped by the insights you will share with them.

We will be praying all weekend. Know that we are standing with you and we are so glad you are here.”

And then they prayed for me again. Right then. On the voicemail.

I almost could not believe it. In all of the years I’ve been doing women’s events, I have never received a call like that. So much love! So much care. I was bowled over and grateful, yet again, for leaders who lead from a place of service.  What a beautiful reflection of Jesus taking the basin and the towel.

It reminded me of something funny Ella said to me last night. She was watching me pack some extra protein and granola bars because this retreat is actually being hosted at a rugged campground (i.e., no wifi!) and since I don’t like to eat big meals right before I teach, and other food is not going to be available through the camp, I like to pack a few provisions so that I can serve well and not inconvenience anyone.

But Ella said:

“Hey Mom! You don’t have to pack those granola bars. Don’t worry! The pastors will come.

Now that was a stumper for me. “The pastors will come?” What is she talking about in her sweet, albeit slightly obscure, four year-old way? Sophie had to interpret for me:

“Mom? Remember how last night you were telling us stories of various events you have served at over the years and how that one, very small women’s retreat in Texas was out in a beautiful, rugged campground and on the Saturday night of the retreat, the church leaders came out to the campground, set the tables, prepared (and cleaned up) all of the dishes, and grilled you all the most delicious steaks you had ever eaten. Yum-yum-nummy-num-num! And you said they wouldn’t let any of the women lift a finger to help clean up because they just wanted to take care of everything and facilitate a relaxed, refreshing time of fellowship, study, and prayer for the women. That’s what Ella is referring to.”

I love it!

The faithful shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
(And who does dishes and leaves encouraging, prayer-filled voicemails from the entire Session too.)

Thank You, Lord, for pastors who watch out over their flocks. Now I’m even MORE excited to be here serving in the beautiful state of Pennsylvania. May God be praised!

Tara B.

[A re-post of a 2014 article.]

Tiger Mother Moment

I’m assuming that most of you have already read the Wall Street Journal “Tiger Mother” Article. If not, you might want to pop over and give it a glance. This woman says some amazing things and you’ll probably have a strong reaction to much of what she writes. (And if you’re really curious, you can read thousands of comments and responses to it, including In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.)

In light of the millions of words you can already read analyzing the strengths and weaknesses and theologically-errant and behaviorally-questionable aspects of “the tiger mother”, I’m not going to even dip my toe into that water beyond saying that I disagree with much of what she wrote and I agree with some things at a surface level, but I surely did not hear any gospel in her parenting. So. You know. I hope I don’t follow in her path in that regard.

BUT–I did have a total tiger mother experience last night that I thought I’d retell for you just to, hmmmmm, make you question my parenting? No. (So unless you are a real-life friend who really knows me, please don’t assume you know how I parent my children based on this one story.) Have a little chuckle and grin picturing Sophie and me? Maybe. (It does make me smile every time I think of it.) Affirm one aspect of what Amy Chua wrote? Sure. Yeah. I do have to agree with her on this …

So here’s the story: Yesterday was a “beyond my first job as wife and mother” day. I worked on lots of things—my current book manuscript, my new retreat on fear, two of my three teachings for this fall’s Amazing Grace 360, one of my new teachings for next month’s Women’s Leadership Conference, my summer discussion course for the teens and young women in my church, etc. etc. It was a hard, but great, day and since I accomplished so much, I decided to stop work and have family time when Fred and the girls got home around 6:00PM.

One aspect of family time was helping Sophie to learn four new fiddle tunes for an upcoming Ceileidh Fiddlers’ gig. (If you haven’t seen Sophie fiddle yet, you might want to click through to this video from her very first rehearsal with the fiddlers. She was six years old and we had NEVER practiced that song at anything CLOSE to that tempo. When the leader counted it off, I thought, “There is no way she’s going to be able to keep up.” But she did. And the look on her face at 1 minute 38 seconds is hysterical. Of all the things I know in life, I know she really couldn’t believe that she could keep going either.)

So there we were last night, trying to work through this extremely long and extremely hard fiddle tune that bounces from 6/8 to 4/4 and has dotted eighth sixteenth and sixteenth dotted eighth rhythms throughout both time signatures plus tied quarter notes to eighth notes, funky upbeats on repeats, PLUS lots and lots of NOTES too in addition to the crazy rhythms. (Non-musicians, if I’m losing you here, just bear with me. I think you’ll get the gist of my point.)

As we practiced the song, I could tell Soph was just faking it—she has a great ear and can pretty much play anything once she hears it. So she was waiting for me to play it and then playing it back like a little recording. But she had NO idea how to interpret the rhythms. None. But I know that being a good musician means actually knowing how to count, subdivide, and read music and even if a “good ear” comes naturally to a person, reading complex rhythms in changing time signatures takes WORK. Effort. Failure. Trying again. Failing again. Persevering.

And that’s what we were doing. FOR HOURS.

She was tired. I was tired. It was past her bedtime. A part of her did NOT want to keep trying. A part of her was DYING to get it right. We were doing math (fractions). We were drawing pictures and making analogies to baking chocolate chip cookies. (1/2 cup and 1/4 cup are needed for the sugars in the standard Nestle recipe—very helpful for demonstrating what a dotted eighth note and a sixteenth note look like in 4/4.). We were tapping and counting. We broke out the metronome. Once I knew she was close, I refused to count with her or play with her. She HAD to actually do it. Once she got it in 4/4, I jumped her back to 6/8 and her brain went SCREECH. And she had to work hard to get it. Again. Then I’d jump her back to 4/4.

(During this entire time, Fred fed Ella, read to Ella, bathed Ella, read to her some more, gave her a baba and was ready to put her down for the night. That’s how long Soph and I were at the piano wrestling through this hard task.)

It was extremely, extraordinarily exhausting. I could almost see her brain synapses being formed and stretched. And OH! When she ACTUALLY got it? When she could explain it to me (you really only ever know something when you can teach it to someone else), count it out loud AND play it? She. Was Ecstatic.

We went dancing upstairs to get her bathed and the whole time she was twirling and singing her, “I have the best mother in the whole world!” happy song. To which I responded, “Soph, I just wrestled with you for hours, requiring you to actually learn all of that, even though it was super hard. Why would you say I’m the best mother in the world?

Soph just laughed in response and then proceeded to cuddle with Fred and explain in detail all about dotted eighth sixteenth and sixteenth dotted eighth rhythms and the difference between 6/8 and 4/4 and MAN was she just glowing. It was great.

So here is the one aspect of that “tiger mother” article that I do agree with 100%: It’s not easy for us to allow our children to struggle, really struggle. Learning is hard! excellence is hard! But the earlier we can help them to feel that horrible feeling of, “I can’t do this!” and then, prayerfully, purposefully, help them to WORK HARD (really, really hard) and even though they STILL FAIL (because the task is hard and can’t be mastered with minimal effort), we help them to keep working. To come back day after day or week after week or stay at something for an appropriate length of time so that our kids can learn to push back against that, “I can’t do this!” feeling, to listen to counsel and instruction, to fail and try again, to fail some more and try again … to work and work and work and THEN. (Cue the trumpets! Cue the happy dance!) To succeed. To feel that feeling of, “I did it! I did it! I couldn’t do it and then I kept working hard and now I can do it!” THAT is a good thing. A very good thing.

Sophie was rejoicing in the Lord for his help. Sophie was grateful to have a mother who can’t play ANYTHING by ear but who can subdivide and count music better than most. Sophie was tired but happy. And her efforts helped to form her character and the kind of adult she is going to grow up to be … Lord willing, a person who remembers that anything that is really worth doing takes hard work. And when we butt up against something that we CAN’T do, that doesn’t mean that we should just give up and shy away. We may never be an expert at (fill in the blanks) … music, math, chemistry, dance, whatever! But sometimes, we CAN learn something new and hard. But we have to pray and work hard and learn to persevere.

So that was my tiger mother moment. And it really was sweet.

Hope your Saturday is going great!

Sending my love,
Tara B.

[A re-post from 2011]

A true sign of spiritual sickness is a false peace while indulging in sin …

I once heard an excellent sermon that had two main points: “The War Within” and “Living by the Spirit Within.” It was a long sermon, but here are a few of my notes:

– The most frequent question that most pastors hear is, “If I am saved, then why do I continue to sin?! Am I even a Christian?” My pastor always replies, “The fact that you are even asking the question is very strong evidence that, yes, you are a Believer because spiritually dead people don’t struggle.” Unbelievers don’t care if they’ve grieved God. They don’t even recognize the battle. A greater concern, a true sign of spiritual sickness, is a false peace while indulging in sin (i.e., the absence of a battle).

– The war is WITHIN. Yes, the devil tempts us and the world would conform us to its ways. But the true war is within–at the level of our desires. We carry our sinful nature with us wherever we go.

– Christ makes no truce with sin. He came into the world to DESTROY sin and He IS putting to death the sin that remains in you. So where is God saying, “I need to work with you on this?” What keeps you from trusting, obeying, and serving Christ with a whole heart? In our arrogance, we fail to reckon with our flesh. We feel no need of Christ. Danger! Danger! We are all prone to wander.

– Living by the Spirit? Yes! We are a cross-bearing, self-denying people. We keep on crucifying that sinful nature. Listen! We are not crucifying our outward behaviors. We are crucifying our heart desires.

– (Quoting John Brown) “Crucifixion produces death not suddenly, but gradually …” Fix your sin on the cross and determine to keep it there until it expires! Have you struggled with the same sin for 30 years? 40 years? Keep it on the cross. Sin beckons us to take it off the cross because discipline is painful. But the Lord calls you to address and kill your sin. “Lord, search my heart!”

– Most importantly? Remember that if you are led by the Spirit, you are NOT under law. (One of the main characteristics of not living by the Spirit isn’t so much the prodigal SON as the OLDER BROTHER–the performance-based legalist.)

– Does that mean you don’t have to obey God? Of course not! Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” BUT your relationship with God is NOT based on your works. God COVERS US with his love and mercy and grace. Your imperfections are covered by God. For example: “You witnessed to your neighbor? Great! You hit him over the head with the Bible? Well … we’re going to work on that. Come to me. You can come to me freely because you’re not under law!” (i.e., God doesn’t KICK US, he LOVES US.)

– Keeping in step with the Spirit is not some sort of emotional mysticism wherein we listen to hunches and promptings. Quoting JI Packer: “The Spirit works through ordinary means–the preaching of the Word, the sacraments …” So consider how faithful you are to prepare for the Lord’s Day, participate in corporate worship, fervently pray?

– Granted, we can all come up with examples of people who know God’s Word and live ruinous lives. But don’t ever think that you can live a godly life if you don’t know God’s Word. God pierces our hearts with His Word by His Spirit.

Please, God, open my heart! Please pierce my heart and convict me of my sin.

Thank You, Jesus, that you never leave me caught in my sin, helpless, orphaned, or alone. You have given my Your Spirit! I am so grateful.

Amen & Amen?!

And blessings on you as you head into your Monday–

Yours in the battle,
Tara B.

[A re-post from December 1, 2008]

Page 5 of 202« First...«34567»102030...Last »