In the grip of fear

It’s not that I don’t like easy. I really do like easy. But easy rarely ever gets us much, really. My parents taught me to work hard. They pushed me to do hard things. I grew up believing that I could do anything, and that I could accomplish anything if I was just willing to work hard. Honestly the only thing standing between me and world domination was fear. It was the one thing I grew up not learning how to handle well. 

So often, we stand at a crossroads while trying to make a decision. There are usually two choices. Easy and hard. We can come up with so many excuses to go the easy route, and so many reasons why we should avoid taking the hard path. Quite often, it is fear that keeps us from doing hard things. Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Fear of ridicule. Fear of the unknown. Even fear of harm. 

Studies show that only about 15 percent of the things we fear ever actually come to pass. If we do the math, and this is math even I can do, that means that 85 percent of the stuff we are afraid will happen…won’t. That’s a lot of time spent on the fear of things that are never going to come to pass. 

My mother had a lot a quirky sayings. One of my favorites was, “If they kill you, they can’t eat you”. Where she got that one, I have no idea, but she would say it to help me when I was afraid of being in trouble or of making someone angry. 

I have a few quirky sayings of my own. My personal favorite is “Let’s not jump off that bridge until we have to”. That little saying is banking on the 85 percent. It also has to do with the fact that I try to keep fear at bay these days, and I do my best to make decisions based in reality rather than on some intangible fear. I have even intentionally tried to avoid beginning sentences with “I’m afraid…”. Our words matter, and I don’t want to label myself as fearful right out of the gate.

So many times we are paralyzed by the fear that stalks the halls of our thoughts, and we fail to do the very thing that would be the absolute best option for us, or the ones we love, because of it. 

God has a few sayings about fear, too. Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind”. And in one of the most famous prayers of all, Psalm 23, the Lord tells us, that even though we walk through rough times that bring us even close to death, we have no reason to fear the evil around us- because God the Father is with us. Like a good shepherd, He has the means to protect us from harm, and we should be comforted by that. 

When we operate out of fear, we do not behave like the overcomers we are as children of the Most High God. We are called to be strong and courageous, not fearful and timid. Most of the time, when we are walking in fear, we are giving in to the plans the enemy has for us rather than the plans the Lord has for us. Quite often, those godly plans require us to be brave. But the best thing about being a follower of Christ is that we never have to be brave alone. Isaiah tells us that God goes before us and He is our rear guard. We can truly leave fear in the shadows where it belongs and walk in the confidence that being a child of the light affords. After all…

If God is for us… who can be against us? 

I mean, really?

Shibboleth

I’m at home today, trying desperately not to be sick. It came on me like a thief in the night last evening. I sat down from some pre-Thanksgiving preparations about 8:00 and realized I didn’t feel so good. A sneeze here, a sniff there. I had a feeling of unusual tiredness, and I realized… “Oh, no!” I reached out to my best buddies and asked them to help me pray it away, and one of them suggested I stay home today. I’m not usually one to stay home from work. I usually need someone to give me permission. Still I figured I’d go in for a while today, until morning came and I realized that wasn’t happening.

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So I’m lying in bed with my snuggle buddies (the cats love sick days) and watching my favorite television series on Netflix for the third time. West Wing. I’m in the middle of season two, again, and some Chinese Christian refugees are seeking asylum in the US, and the President is meeting with their leader to determine if he really believes they are Christians, or if they are just making the claim in order to gain access to the US. It is then that I learn a new word. I have let it pass the other two times I have watched this episode in the last few years. But this time it grabbed my attention.

Shibboleth. If you are like me and have not heard this word before, let me tell you what it means. Basically, it means the one thing that sets a group apart from all others.

Back to the West Wing. The President kept asking the Chinese leader to prove his Christianity by recitation of Christian facts. Could he name the twelve disciples? Could he state their religious practices? It was then that the leader realized the predicament the President was in and he said, “Christianity is not demonstrated by a recitation of facts… but we are justified by faith alone… faith is the true shibboleth.” Faith in Jesus Christ is that which separates us from all other religions and all other groups. We try to make it about other things. Our tendency is to be pharisaical in our judgements of Christians who hold to doctrines that are not exactly like our own.

I’m not sure Jesus intended on it being all that hard. In John 14:1 Jesus told his disciples not to be troubled. He knew they believed in God, but he urged him to believe in Him. Simple. Uncomplicated. Jesus wasn’t about complicated. We tend to make easy things hard because we cannot simply accept that something so completely unfathomable could be so straightforward and uncomplicated. Its not enough to simply believe, we must also hold to this or that doctrine, or practice this or that tradition. I have listened to Christians of all flavors hurl insults at believers who disagree with them. They actually make fun, find offense, and draw lines in the sand. Denominations are not the work of Jesus. He established one church. He chose Peter, one of the most unlikely disciples upon which to build His church. Peter, the one who rarely got it right was chosen to be the rock upon which the Church would be built.

Like President Bartlett of the West Wing, we try to prove the faith of others by the recitation of facts rather than by the one thing that separates us from all groups. Our Shibboleth, our faith. If you put your faith in Jesus alone, then you are my brother or sister in Christ. All the rest of it is just details, and we all know the devil is in the details. If he can distract us from demonstrating Christ’s love to a dying world with infighting among ourselves over doctrines that don’t save anyone, then he’s done a good days work in his book.

I don’t really care if you think the world was created in a literal seven days, or if you think the wine Jesus made at the wedding contained alcohol or not. All of that stuff makes for interesting study and discussion, and I have my definite opinions on all of it, for sure (I mean except for the thing about the wine, who cares really?). But I won’t discount your faith in Jesus if you believe differently than me on those things and others.

We share Shibboleth, and that’s what truly matters.

Stay well, everyone!

We Instead of Me

As I sit here eating the last chocolate chip cookie, I have come to a conclusion. I think that oxytocin is the nice hormone. I’m not really making this up. Studies do show that while estrogen is linked to a woman’s sense of well-being, it is oxytocin that makes women think “we” instead of “me”. It’s the hormone that causes us to save the last cookie for someone else. It’s the hormone that makes women the glue that holds the family together. It makes us giving and considerate. Without it… well, we are more like… men.

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I have done my research and have gathered some personal facts about myself. You can thank me later for not sharing most of them, but they have led me to the conclusion that I am probably entering menopause. One of these facts I will share is that lately I am sometimes not so nice… with the words that come out of my mouth. Now I’m not saying that I didn’t used to think the same things I say now… I just used to be able to keep them in my head, but now… they bypass the filter, run right down through the roof of my mouth, and straight out into the world. Why is this?

Back to the hormones.

So I’m blaming estrogen. When estrogen starts deflating, it causes oxytocin to follow suit. If I am entering menopause, and believe me… I am, then my levels of both are lower. And so is my niceness quotient. I’ve always been pretty even keeled. My husband hasn’t been used to a lot of emotional outbursts from me since the days of pregnancy. He has enjoyed relative calm for the last few decades, and he’s been lulled into a false sense of security. Kind of like the antelope naively taking a drink from the watering hole with no idea that the hungry alligator waits just under the surface. Don’t watch, it’s too awful.

Poor guy, he thought my going through menopause would be a win. He thought the only thing he’d get would be a woman free of those pesky monthly cycles. (I liked the thought of that one, too.) He also looked forward to the thermostat debates finally being over. He was especially looking forward to that. (I’m tired of being cold all the time. I considered that a plus as well.) He had no idea what else was in store on this womanly journey for him. Honestly, I didn’t either.

It’s that oxytocin shift in our minds from thinking “we” to thinking “me” that causes a lot of divorces among women of that certain age. You can google the stats on that one. We menopausal women can become… someone else. Someone our husbands don’t understand. Heck, we don’t even understand us.

I will admit there is a certain freedom I enjoy in saying just exactly what is on my mind. It’s… satisfying. But I don’t live on an island. People have to work and live with me. And menopause or no menopause, I am supposed to try to sound like Jesus… no matter what my hormones are doing. I think that Proverbs 13:3 was written for the menopausal woman like me.

“Whoever guards her mouth preserves her lifeshe who opens wide her lips comes to ruin.”

I can’t just play the Menopause Card every time my mouth opens and unguarded words fly out. Hormones or no hormones, I have to watch my words. I have to guard my heart and my mind. I am still called to speak the truth in LOVE, or keep my mouth shut, even if I have to bite my tongue to do it.

And I need to go back to saving the last cookie for someone else.

Conviction is not the same as guilt

I’d like to say that the lessons God shows me come to me quickly and clearly all the time. However, most of the time, I’m a little slow to the party. Mostly I am just happy that they come at all. This last week was a bit of a challenge. Let’s just say that sometimes family can be hard to handle. Thank you, Captain Obvious. My pastor says that unless you can point to the crazy in your family, you probably are the crazy in your family. Well, luckily, I can point to the crazy in my family.

Dealing with crazy can make even the sanest among us a little bonkers. I wanted to do the right thing for all involved last week, but doing the right thing for all seemed impossible. Taking care of some meant not taking care of someone else. I’m a nurse by training, we take care of people. I’m a follower of Jesus. We take care of people, too. So not taking care of someone pushed all my guilty buttons.

Here’s the lesson I learned about three days too late:

Conviction is not the same as guilt.

You see, I was feeling a whole heap of guilt. Was there more I should or could do? What about what I had done, what that the right thing? And I was reminded that the devil will use scripture against us. He did that to Jesus in the wilderness.

Three times. You can go see for yourself in Matthew 4:1-11. Three times, the devil used scripture to tempt Jesus into sin. He didn’t want Jesus to be able to be the spotless sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world.

For three days, the enemy tempted me with scripture. Wasn’t this person among the “least of these”? I mean “who is your neighbor” anyway? Isn’t she your neighbor? Isn’t she among the least of these?

In time, I was able to hear Him. Before, I was busy running around screaming that the world was on fire, and that the sky was falling. I’m not proud of that… but I’m trying to be honest here. I was so busy listening to what the devil was saying, I failed to hear what the Lord was quietly trying to say.

When Jesus left the earth to go be with the Father until His return again, he told us he would send us a Helper. He sent us the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that has the power to convict us. Conviction is not guilt. There is no shame in conviction. There is only loving correction. I spent three days running around feeling guilty. All along, the Lord was quietly taking care of the situation. When it all finally did resolve, I was able to sit still long enough to hear.

I realize now that I was being manipulated by that family member, and by the devil. I know now that the guilt I felt was the same old trick he always uses. Our enemy has no new tricks. He speaks the language of lies, and he is good at it. (John 8:44)

So I apologized to the Lord for lending my ear to my enemy instead of listening for His voice. I’m sure a few more hairs on my head turned gray last week, but I’ve learned my lesson, for now.

For those who like to use guilt as a motivator, just remember you are using a tool of the devil. If you want to motivate someone, simply speak truth into their lives and allow the Holy Spirit time and room to convict them.

The end result is so much sweeter.

We Need to Stop Making Them Pay

Have you ever paid for someone else’s sin? Most of us try and avoid paying any penalty that is not duly ours. As kids, with siblings or classmates, when accused of something perpetrated by some other kid, we emphatically pled our innocence and threw the other guy as far under the bus as possible. No way are we going down for their misdeeds. I mean, I did plenty that I was guilty of all on my own, did I need to pay the price for what someone else had done, too?

I am guilty of making someone else pay for the misdeeds of another. Just ask my kids. I am sure I mistakenly punished the wrong one from time to time. I don’t worry about it too much, though, because I figure with all the shenanigans going on while raising those four, it all came out in the wash one way or another.

That’s not what I am talking about. I’m talking about when those unfortunate circumstances come along, and we find ourselves in a relationship where someone has behaved in a way that is abusive towards us, and every subsequent similar figure in our lives pays the price for the wrongdoings of a completely different person. I’ve done that to someone. I am guilty of making someone new pay for what I see in my rear view mirror.

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I once had a boss for which, at times, I found it very difficult to work. There were conversations I avoided, situations I steered clear of, just because I didn’t want to deal with her. It worked most of the time, but sometimes things just had to be talked about. I would worry myself for days and weeks ahead, steeling myself for the berating that would come when I sat down to talk to her. Understand, I loved this person. Most of the time, we did fine together, but on those occasions when I had to bring up certain things that should I even mention them, most of you would think silly and matter of fact, she had a hard time maintaining her reasonable demeanor… and that’s putting it mildly.

I have since moved on from that job, but the boss I had next paid dearly for a long time. And I did, too. I was no longer in that less than ideal relationship, but I behaved as if I still was. I finally came clean with my new boss and explained my dread and anxiety over talking to her about very usual and customary things that bosses and employees talk about. We talked about my previous employer and the things she did that made it very difficult at times. She assured me again and again that she was not like my previous boss, and that we could talk reasonably about anything. It still took me a long time to believe that things could be different. I had been wounded by my previous boss, conditioned to behaviors that I didn’t even have to deal with anymore, and it was hard for me to believe that my new boss would be any different.

It was unfair. I had no right to make this new person pay for the sins of someone she had never even met… Never even heard of. It took me a lot of time, and if I am completely honest, while I am so much better, I’m not completely over it. And that abuse pales in comparison to what some of you have endured, but it is no less fair for you to make the new person in your life continue paying for the sins carried out by someone else. It is an abuse of it’s own kind. They are paying the price for sins they did not commit. If you learned anything from your previous experience, you have chosen better people to be in your life this time. If you didn’t learn… well, then… isn’t about time you did learn?

If we are still making someone pay for the abuses we suffered in the past, then we have not completely moved on from them. We have not chased it to the end and experienced real freedom from it. It is a burden to carry. I get it. I do. I carry my own, but in looking around, even just in close proximity, I see it happening with others again and again. So I truly believe that, in these cases, we are not experiencing real and lasting freedom from our past. We owe it to the people in our lives now, the ones who love us in spite of where we have been and the hurts we carry. We owe it to them to stop making them pay for things they did not do to us.

To willingly pay for someone else’s sin is the sign of an extraordinary person. Jesus took the sin of the whole world, for all time, on His shoulders. Extraordinary does not come close to describing His sacrifice. Only He was equipped to handle such abuse. He has paid for it all, the sins you have committed and those committed against you. The bill is settled. Because of Jesus, we can walk in true freedom. We can leave the past in the past, and move forward to the abundant life He promised. Excusing our poor behavior because of a past experience only goes so far before we become the abuser. The people in our lives now deserve better than that.

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.

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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

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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.