Soapbox Friday: Stone Throwing Believers

We make judgements. Evaluations. We assign value to things, situations, and people based on our own conceived set of qualifications of merit. We are so qualified, aren’t we? I simply hate it when I pronounce a judgment only to find out more details later that prove me wrong about a situation or, especially, a person. I am so quick to make judgments of others. I hold others to an incredible standard that I am not willing to hold myself to, and in doing so I make myself look oh so good. And what’s worse? I claim to love Jesus, and still I finger point, look down my nose, and refuse to offer the very mercy and grace that was so freely offered to me. I am a rascal of the worst kind.

As followers of Christ, we throw stones at other believers. We argue over points of theology as if we are somehow better equipped or more learned. Little churches hurl rocks at big ones, big ones belittle little ones. Fundamentalist believers criticize evangelicals, and mainline Christians mock Charismatics.

priscilla-du-preez-98675-unsplash

When Matthew and I were working our way through seminary, (and yes, I say “we” because if you have ever been married to someone in seminary, you know it takes you both to get it done) we sorted our minds through every point of theology we could. We had to settle our hearts on each topic- or we thought we did- to establish our biblical theology. Now I’m not talking about the easy ones that everyone can agree upon… like the inherency of scripture or the virgin birth. For the most part, except for the way-out kooks (I’m joking), we can all agree on those. I’m talking about the finer points. I mean issues like predestination, infant baptism, sign gifts, end times, and who wrote the book of Hebrews? (You thought it was Paul? Just kidding, so do I.) We spent gobs of time deciding where we came down on those issues and why. I mean, we were going into ministry. We needed to know it all. It had to be settled once. and. for. all…

Haha.

And it was, until it wasn’t. We continued to grow our faith and knowledge, even after seminary. Through the years, we met and sat under different teaching and theological perspectives. And what we once believed so staunchly, changed here and there with time. There was a little tweak here, and little tweak there. Here a tweak, there a tweak… everywhere… oh you get it. (a tweak, tweak)

Here’s a bit of truth. For all those biblical issues where there are debate, there are learned theologians who come down on either side of those issues. Each one seeking, earnestly, the truth. Seeking it more often and with much more zeal than I do, most of the time. People who know the original languages, look at ancient texts, and study supporting literature. Each one sincere. Some sincerely wrong, but should I throw rocks at them (or those who agree with them) for their very best guesses?

I don’t think so. Because here’s what I know. I don’t know everything. I mean I think I know a lot, but what I don’t know far outweighs what I do. And what I thought I knew for sure even a few years ago, I have to wonder about sometimes because some Christian people I truly love and admire, disagree with me on some points of theology. Am I right or are they right? And does it really matter? I mean, does it? I believe to some degree it does, especially if we are in a position to teach others. We need to do our utmost best to get it right if others are following us. But no matter our stance on most things biblical, I think we can agree that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. He appointed us, his church, as ambassadors of the gospel, to love people and reflect His glory.

Maybe we should just put those stones down and get busy doing that, and leave all the rock throwing to the politicians.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”    1 Thessalonians 5:11

Show him who you are

valeria-zoncoll-145929-unsplash

We are sort of comic book movie geeks in our family. We are not the kind that wears costumes to movie theaters, though. I mean, maybe a random Vader or Captain America shirt or something… We are, however, the nerds who sit through the credits to watch the last scene at the end. (For you novices, yes… there are ALWAYS final scenes at the very end. Kind of like the final scene from Ferris Bueller back in the 80s. And if you don’t know about that either, I simply cannot help you.)

I was recently watching the new Black Panther movie again with my husband. There are several good lines in the movie, but one of my favorites is spoken by the matriarch in the story, and since we are heading into Mother’s Day this weekend, I thought I would share it with you.

During the movie, the king of Wakanda, T’Challa, is challenged for the throne by Erik Killmonger. During the battle, the young king is getting his behind handed to him by his challenger. It is during this battle that T’Challa’s mother delivers a great line. When it looks like her son will be defeated, she says,

“Show him who you are.”

I believe one of the most important things a mother can do for her children is to ensure that they know who they are. There will be times in our children’s lives when it will be important for them to stand on that knowledge. Children who have no knowledge of who they are have a hard time when hard times come.

For my children, knowing who they are means first knowing that they are Bensons. With four kids in the family, our children grew up never being alone… even when they wanted to be alone. We lived, for many years, far away from any family, so what one of us did, all of us did together. There were precious few play dates with other kids. If our kids wanted someone to play with, they had to look no farther than the Benson standing right in front of them. To be a Benson means never having to walk through anything alone. It is easier to walk in confidence when we do not walk alone.

Being a Benson means we try lots of things. We try hard things together, and we push through when things get harder. We have enjoyed success together, and we have supported each other during defeat. We laugh together and we cry together. We get mad and we forgive. We laugh at and pick at one another, but outsiders will only get so far with that sort of thing.

We have had many honorary Bensons, because to be a Benson is a good thing. This year we will add two new official Bensons to the clan, and I look forward to having them learn what it means to bear the name. They will be loved fiercely because any kind of love that isn’t fierce is no kind of love at all.

It is also important that kids know whose they are. This lesson I learned from the matriarch of my own family, my grandmother, years ago. The Lord gave Matthew and me these children, but they are only on loan. They belong to God. No matter where they go, what they do, or the choices they make, they all belong the One who made them and gave Himself up for them. It is from Him that their true identity comes. Ultimately, they are who He says they are. He says they are called, anointed, set apart, gifted, valued, loved, and grafted into His family. Our kids are sons and daughter to the King of Kings.

Our kids won’t face Erik Killmonger, but they do have an enemy, and that enemy will stop at nothing in his efforts to defeat them. There will be times when our kids will need to show him who they are, but in order to do that, they have to know themselves, who they are. Kids who can stand firmly planted in both their earthly family and their heavenly one will fair far better during the challenges that are sure to come their way.

So to my children, when the enemy comes at you, and he’s handing your behind to you…

Show. Him. Who. You. Are.

Just. Wait.

Can we not wait for one hour?

Just yesterday I was thinking about the passage in Matthew 26 when Jesus told his disciples to wait and keep watch while he went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. There had been a lot going on. The time was nigh that Jesus would be arrested, suffer through a mock trial, be wrongfully convicted, abandoned, bruised and battered beyond recognition, and crucified. He needed a minute. He needed to go talk to his Father about what was coming. He needed his disciples to just pray and wait. It was a simple request. Just wait. Just pray. Jesus just needed an hour. But the disciples couldn’t do it. In this case, their waiting quickly turned to sleeping.

I am embarrassed because I am often not unlike these disciples. I may not fall asleep waiting, but there are times when I am going through a thing and I need God to come through for me. I need to see Him working all those things together for my good, and I really need Him to get a move on. But He asks me to wait. There are things about which I have no knowledge. The divine weaving of lives takes time, sometimes.

Waiting is hard.

daria-nepriakhina-194420-unsplash

I’m not so good at waiting. Often, time is not my friend, or so I think. Like these disciples, there’s a lot going on. Life is moving fast, and I really need Him to keep up. He wants me to watch and pray. Okay. Fine. I’ll try that. For a minute or two, anyway. (Insert crossed arms and toe tapping here)

For the last week or so I had been growing very impatient about a situation for which I needed resolution. I had prayed. I had asked my warriors to pray with me. I had waited. But I was growing impatient. I had all but resorted to just figuring out my own resolution. I was just going to make my own way. Who has time to wait?

I must look so silly to Him.

Because at the appointed time, His- not mine, the resolution came. It came unexpectedly, and in a way I could not have orchestrated if I had tried. How many times must this sort of thing happen before I learn? How many times must I grow weary of waiting on the Creator of the Universe, attempt my own pitiful resolution, only to have Him blow past me with a solution I could not have concocted on my best day?

In our world of instant rice, instant grits, and Instagram… we are not very good at waiting. It’s a lost art, really. I am one of the worst waiting offenders. Psalm 27 tell us to be strong… take heart… and WAIT on the Lord. It takes a good deal of strength to wait. The weak jump ahead. The weak rush in. The waiters? They appear to be the weak ones, holding back, biding their time. In our society the early bird gets the worm. The smart strike while the iron is hot. But for the waiters… the Bible says, “take heart”. Waiting on the Lord is quite often the strongest, bravest, and wisest choice of all.

I’m thinking one of you guys needed to hear this today. Just wait. He’s working on it. He is. Pray and wait. Wait on the Lord. He’s got this.

Sunday Best

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:3-4                                                                                                           

I doubt anyone who grew up in the South when I did would be confused by the term, “Sunday best”. Sunday best referred to the clothing that was acceptable to wear to church on Sunday mornings. For me, it meant my prettiest dress, panty hose (yes, panty hose), and nice shiny patent leather shoes. When I was little it also meant a matching hair bow. A big one. You see, church tradition back then included dressing up in fine clothes for church.

Why? Well I asked that question once and the answer I got was that we were supposed to offer up our best for God on Sunday. Even my young mind didn’t quite buy that. I mean, God cared that my bow matched my dress? He cared that what I put on my body for church was my absolute best? But the rest of the week, He didn’t care about so much? Some of the biggest struggles I had growing up were making sure I did, indeed, look my best on Sunday mornings.

matias-dubini-3869-unsplash

Now that I am a grown up, I know better. I understand now that while church is supposed to be a spiritual experience, it is also largely a social one. Our culture these days is decidedly casual, and if you were to use the term Sunday best on my kids, they’d look at you funny. They wear what they wear, and they understand that the Lord is more concerned over what they put on spiritually than any outer adornment they are sporting.

When my kids were little, I participated in the whole Easter clothes tradition. For a few years when my daughter was very small, my mother would make her the most adorable Easter dresses. And I would do my best to find the boys something a little extra special to wear on Easter. But there was no charade of presenting our stylish best for the Risen Savior. No, it was merely to participate in what was still, and is still to a great degree, a social tradition. And it made for cute pictures.

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with church being a largely social experience. We are encouraged in the scriptures to not forsake the gathering together of the saints. We are created to live in community with other believers. If we convince ourselves that we can have a perfectly fine relationship with God apart from other believers, we have bought a line from the enemy. We are supposed to gather. We are supposed to see one another, talk to one another, and present ourselves to the group for the common purpose of loving God and loving one another. And we should wear clothes while we do that. To not wear clothes would be, well, disturbing. For the spring and summer months upcoming, for me and my friends, that usually means a pair of white jeans and a cute top.

When we cease to worry so much about church dress codes, we do open ourselves up for risk. Trust me, I’ve seen some pretty questionable outfits show up at church, and I’ve heard some pretty harsh comments from fellow believers about them. But people have to start somewhere. And what if we still required a Sunday best wardrobe for church? Well, frankly it closes the door on scores of people who think they can’t measure up in that area. Look, we already have issues of failure measuring up in plenty of areas, do we have to add wardrobe to that list? Are we going to throw them one more excuse?

Some may not believe that’s a thing, but it is. My mother’s parents never went to church. My grandfather was a farmer, and my grandmother raised the best strawberries in Blount County. They didn’t have a lot of finery for Sunday mornings. My grandfather wore overalls, and my grandmother wore house dresses she made on her pedal powered sewing machine. The only automobile they had was an old, unimpressive farm truck. The whole Sunday best was the best excuse they could come up with for staying home on Sundays and watching TV preachers on their black and white television. It was just easier to do that than to show up feeling immediately less than.

I had a friend in college back in the late 80s who intentionally wore blue jeans to church every Sunday. Trust me, that was a no-no back then. I accused him of simply being a rebel, but he told me the reason he did it was for the random visitor who didn’t know about the unspoken dress code. He said if they showed up in jeans, they could look around, see him wearing jeans and figure they were okay. See? Social experience. We can’t avoid comparison.

I went shopping yesterday for something to wear to my son’s wedding. I walked into a popular department store in the middle of their Easter dress sale. Scores of women and girls were frantically looking for that perfect dress to wear next Sunday. I just prayed they understood that it was that inner adornment that matters to Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with showing up in a pretty new dress next week, but if we show up without a real excitement for all that Jesus did and continues to do, then we’ve really missed the boat, haven’t we? I mean He did conquer death and the grave to give us an abundant life and an eternal life to come, after all.

We can still offer God our Sunday best, we’re just supposed to offer it to Him every day of the week. And we do that by loving Him and loving others. A big hair bow and patent leather shoes are completely optional.

Either Way, You’re Giving In

People say that if your marriage can survive building a house, then it can survive anything. Matthew and I are in the midst of building for the third time. I don’t know if that really speaks more to the strength of our marriage or to the hardness of our heads. Did we not learn from the first two times how difficult this is? Apparently we did not.

This time, the stakes are bigger. This time we are building our dream home. Our last home. The one from which I shall be carried feet first. This is it. The one where we will visit with our adult children, and play with our dozen grandchildren (A woman can hope… right?). The one from where we will watch the sun set on our sunset years. This house has been a long time in the making. We have plotted and planned, made and remade it over and over again in our minds and on paper. Exciting stuff. Get the picture?

While it’s fun and exciting… it is very stressful. There are so many things to consider. Lots of things on which he and I must be in agreement. Lots of things on which to concede, given in, and compromise. Many, MANY opportunities to disagree. Many points that cause stress (Like going over budget!). We both just assume that the home I have imagined for so long is the same home he has envisioned. How can it not be? We have discussed it at length and to death. But we are different people, he and I, and that means we have to constantly work to make sure we hold the same vision. And for that to happen, there must be compromise.

shutterstock_white_flag.jpeg

Not too long ago, our Highlands College President, Mark Pettus, gave us the third installment in a relationship series at church. He talked to us about how to fight fair in our marriages. (The principles will work in any relationship, though.) Most people think that having a relationship where there are no fights is the best kind. I tend to disagree. Who doesn’t love a good fight every now and again? But those fights have to have safe boundaries. We have to fight fair. We can’t get into cage matches where anything goes. It doesn’t honor God, and it does nothing to grow a marriage.

The best thing Mark said in his message was this,

“You are either going to give in to your spouse or you are going to give in to the devil. Either way, you’re giving in.”

Think about that. Most of us hold on to our mad because we don’t want to be the first one to give in. If you can hold out longer than they can, you win! But do you, really? Why wouldn’t we rush to be the one to give in first? Shouldn’t that be the win? Shouldn’t we want the relationship to win? Giving a cold shoulder, or throwing verbal barbs at our spouses still means we gave in, we just gave in to the devil.

God knew we would have disagreements, He just said to deal with them in love, and not let them go on too long (Ephesians 4:26). When we let the sun go down on our anger, the enemy can have us thinking all kinds of lies about our spouses. Crazy stupid thoughts. Didn’t you not ever wonder where those random thoughts come from? You know the ones… The he nevers and the he always thoughts. How quickly those can snowball. Before we know it we have completely vilified the person we love the most. I hate the devil.

So here’s the science behind those thoughts we have… the longer we allow ourselves to think those unhealthy thoughts about our spouses, the stronger those neural pathways become in our minds, and the stronger those thought patterns become. That’s why the Bible tells us to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable (Philippians 4:8). We are literally hard-wiring a network in our brains for good thinking.

Does it really matter who gave in first last time? Are we really going to keep score like that? Are we seven? Fight fair. Fight for your spouse, not with them. And if you do find yourself fighting with your spouse… give in first… making up is fun!

Oh, and in case you’re interested… Here’s a quick pic of the house so far!

IMG_0819

 

Growing Us… It’s Kind Of His Thing

“Trust the Lord and his mighty power.  Remember his miracles and all his wonders and his fair decisions. You belong to the family of Abraham, his servant; you are his chosen ones, the descendants of Jacob.”  Psalm 105:4-6

So for 2018, I wanted to choose an area of my life that needed some attention and work on it a bit… a place in my relationship with the Lord that could use some shoring up. The area the Lord showed me was in my ability to trust Him. It’s not that I don’t trust Him with things. I trust that He alone was able to redeem me. I completely trust Him with my salvation. He chose me. He adopted me into the family of Abraham. I trust Him for that. I trust Him with my eternity, hands down, without a doubt. But do I really trust Him with everything else, or do I think I am the better overseer of those things? If I am honest, really honest, sometimes I think I am better, or at least I think He needs my counsel. I bring Him these issues of concern, but then I want to advise Him on how to best meet my needs with those things. I mean, just in case He is unclear or unaware of my particular situation. You know… just in case. Because I know.

Here’s the thing, though. When you commit to growing in an area, the Lord is all too ready to offer up situations where you might actually do that. Grow, I mean. We’ve only just put a toe into February, and already I have had the opportunity to trust Him with some really BIG things this year. Three. Big. Things. All of which He resolved without my help. Each served to prove just how little I really do trust Him. Oh, I went immediately to Him with each of these things, knowing that the thing to do was to lay them at His feet and walk away. I did the first part. I laid each item right there. So close they could each have been touching His foot. But then I reminded Him what was at stake with each situation. I pointed out, with great clarity and sound argument, just what would happen if He did not choose to resolve these issues in the way I thought best. And then I sat right there next to the issues and waited for my next opportunity to advise my omnipotent, omniscient God.

jairo-alzate-45522

So picture it. There I sat, looking up at Him. Sitting at the ready to further advise the moment He needed a word from me. And there He sat looking at me, never once opening His mouth to ask for my help… just waiting for me to realize my mistake. My lack of trust. The absurdity that He would ever need counsel from me. He waited for me to get it. To realize that once again, I was not willing to fully trust in His ability to work together for good the loose strands of the situations I had brought to Him.

Eventually I got it. I did. As the fog lifted, the absurdity of what I was doing became apparent to me. I’d like to say that it became apparent before each situation resolved. I’d like to say that I was able to “Remember his miracles and all his wonders and his fair decisions.” At the time I didn’t allow that to influence my behavior. But hey, I still think I’m making progress. At least I am aware of my mistake. We are all about “raising awareness” these days, right? We can’t do something about an issue that we are not at least aware of, right? I’m counting this as a positive step.

How about you? When it comes to trusting in the Lord with those situations and people nearest and dearest to your heart… where are you? Maybe trust is not your issue. But you have an issue… Don’t kid yourself, we ALL have issues. Ask Him to show you yours. He will, and then He will work with you strengthen you in that area. Growing us. It’s kind of His thing.

I Am Inadequate

For the longest time after my mother died, the sound of an ambulance was like a kick to the chest. This was fairly problematic since I work at a hospital where ambulances and their sirens are a regular part of the scenery. But it wasn’t just that. Pictures of that night would just pop into my mind without any warning whatsoever.  My mom did not die quietly in her sleep. It was not a sweet goodbye with her family gathered quietly near. It was panicked and gut wrenching, and those pictures became a repeated reminder of how very inadequate I really am. For weeks and months those pictures just decided to appear at the most inopportune times.

Image result for ambulance

I didn’t know how long it would last… those terrible pictures. Those sirens. Oh, how I longed for the day when those pictures would fade from my memory. When the thoughts of my mom would be of better days when she was younger, healthier, happier. Because the only thoughts I had for so long were everything but that.

I don’t know the day when those sirens stopped messing with me. But they don’t anymore. I still remember every detail of the night my mom died, but the severity of it, the harsh edges are blurring a bit. Those pictures don’t visit me with such regularity now. There is a saying that tells us that time heals all wounds. It’s a lie. Time does nothing. It has no power to heal anything. It simply marches on, unwavering, without mercy or grace. But God… but God, who lives outside of time… holds the power to heal us. To soften those rough places and to bring us to a place of peace and rest.

The night my mom died, I realized just how completely inadequate I am. There I was… a nurse of nearly 30 years, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to save my own mother. Oh, the irony. How many people over the years had I been able to help and see them returned to health? But not my own mom. My nursing instincts kicked in well enough, but they were not enough. I was not enough. I stood in the room with my mom as paramedics worked on her. My feet were planted. Superman himself could not have moved me from that place. If my mom had to endure their attempts to save her, I was going to endure watching it.

I don’t know when the sirens stopped bothering me. But in His way and in His timing, God has brought me to a place of greater peace and rest. The truth is, I am inadequate. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that why I need Him so much? Isn’t it in the face of our frailties that He becomes God Almighty? That He covers our insufficiency with His sufficiency?

Can you relate to any of this? Have you felt those sucker punches to the chest? Those feelings of inadequacy that mock you? You keep thinking, in time, things will get better. I hope that they do, but it won’t be because of anything time has done. That’s a sneak cheat of the enemy. If he can keep you putting your hope in time, then he’s got you forever. Our hope is in Christ. He’s the only one who delivers us from the pit and places us back on solid ground. He is the only one with the power to accomplish it. It gets better, but only because His promises are true (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is faithful (Psalm 36:5). He never leaves us. He never forsakes us (1 Deuteronomy 31:6). He is our Comforter and our Deliverer.  We really are inadequate, but praise be to God, He is not.