Jesus paid it all…didn’t He?

Some of my favorite Bible verses are the ones that speak to Gods grace for me. (I will share those at the end of this post.) I spent a lot of years not understanding the freedom that comes with accepting that grace. I see a lot of people give lip service to it, but sadly, few actually walk in it. That used to be me. I try not to get all preachy here on this blog, but I am troubled right now for some who are carrying burdens they don’t need to be lugging around.

There are grace resisters out there. People who feel somehow closer to God in carrying around the weight of sin. Suffering saints, I call them. There are those who fear walking in the freedom of God’s grace because they see it as a free license to sin. It is actually nothing of the kind.

Either you believe Jesus paid it ALL or you don’t. For those who do, they understand the freedom that comes from walking in grace. Up on that cross, Jesus paid the price of sin for all time. That means the sin I committed fifteen years ago, week before last, thirty minutes ago, as well as the sin I’ll commit a week from next Tuesday. It’s covered, paid for. My account is settled. My balance has been reconciled.

I am not free to sin, I am free FROM sin.

See that important difference?

I want to speak to the Suffering Saints out there because I am troubled by the thought of all you carry around each day. I so want you to experience the freedom I have found. Forgiveness of sin is a pretty universal doctrine regardless of your particular flavor of Christianity. Far and wide, Christ followers believe that confession and repentance from sin is rewarded by forgiveness of that sin. Yet so many feel that God is still punishing them for that confessed and repented from sin. This just doesn’t compute. Either Jesus paid it all, or He didn’t. Make up your mind.

If He paid it all, then for your sake, walk in that freedom. If He didn’t we are all in up to our eyeballs. So which sins did He cover? Which ones did He not? And how do we know which ones we still have to carry around? Well, apparently we decide. We choose which sin to carry, and then those are the ones we expect God to punish us for.

Again, this just doesn’t compute. God gave his most precious possession to pay the price for our sin when he sent Jesus to that cross. He loved us that much. How does it stand to reason that He would then turn around and zap us when we mess up? “But God is a just God and sin must be paid for.” Yes. That’s right. That’s what Jesus did.

Some of us confuse consequences for punishment. God doesn’t punish us for sin anymore. Jesus took on our punishment. God does however allow us to suffer consequences of our sin if it will serve us better for that to happen. But I have also been witness in my own life to times when He has –in His grace- lifted due consequences from me.

My son failed to wear his retainer after his braces came off his teeth. Now, a year later, he is forced to wear this retainer that no longer feels good. Now he has to wear it day and night until his teeth are able to straighten back up. He is not being punished, although he feels he is, he is suffering the consequences of failing to do what was right. I could tell him to just forget it, but as much as I hate to see him suffer, I know it is for his good.

How painful must it be for God to sit in heaven and look upon his children who refuse to walk in the grace He provided through His Son. The sacrifice was huge. Unspeakable.

I remember when my daughter was small. During those years I worked two night shifts every weekend so that I could be a stay-at-home mom for my kids during the week. I didn’t work night shift because I liked staying up all night. The opposite was true. But because of that decision I was able to pick my kids up from school every day, and I was available for my children.

I will never forget the day my daughter got into the van after school and told me how much she wished she could go to after-school care like her friend, Jessica. Laura had no idea the sacrifice I was making on her behalf so that she would not have to go to after-school care. I was completely disappointed. Laura could not fully understand what I had done for her. She completely took for granted the fact that I was there for her every day. I didn’t work nights for me; I did it for my children.

God made a huge sacrifice for us. How sad he must be when we don’t fully appreciate it and walk in the freedom it provides. When we confess sin, repent of it, God chooses to remember it no more. The Bible says He casts our sin as far as the east is from the west and remembers it no more. We may bring it up to Him again, but He has no idea what we are talking about. If He can’t remember it, why do we burden ourselves by carrying it around every day?

Walking in the freedom grace offers us is not a denominational thing
. It’s a Bible thing. I’m going to leave you with some of the verses that make my heart sing of His grace. I hope they leave you singing as well, and I hope you find a new way of walking.

2 Corinthians 12:9 -But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Ephesians 2:4-10 -But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Titus 2:11-13 -For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…

Ephesians 1:7 -In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace

Ephesians 2:8-9 -For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

Hebrews 8:12 -For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

Psalm 10:12 -As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

What’s Your Passion?

There are a few things that I am really passionate about. Mostly I am a pretty laid back, mild mannered sort. Mostly. That is until someone brings up something that really gets me going. It happened this week. Completely out of the blue. I wasn’t paying attention and walked right into it. What could I do?

I have a nurse friend who lives in another state. She is a great nurse, and I enjoyed very much working with her. A few years ago she gave birth to twins. A boy and a girl. Red heads.
Totally edible these two kids, and by edible I mean off the hook cute.

My friend attends a Seventh Day Adventist church. This is the church tradition she grew up in, and so this is where she takes her kids to church. Her kids are now preschoolers. A double dose of fun… that is until church time. She recently shared that church is not exactly an enjoyable experience now that she has to manage two busy preschoolers during the adult worship service.

This is what tweaked my passionate heart. I am completely sold on churches investing in the next generation by providing them with their own worship experience. I grew up before the days of kid’s church, and I remember Sunday worship services as mostly… painfully boring. Lots of stuff going on I didn’t understand, music I didn’t like, and messages preached that I couldn’t understand. And I was expected to behave and sit statue-still in scratchy clothing through it all.

The best I could hope for was free space on the bulletin to doodle on. If I got too fidgety, my mom would give me the eye and poke my leg with her finger. The weekly worship service was not the highlight of my week. I think it should be the highlight of my week. So I had a problem.

I grew up and married a minister. We had kids. You’d think I would have remembered my early days suffering through worship services and then would do something different for my kids. Well. I did. But in all honesty, I waited a few years until we left traditional church behind. My husband and I planted a brand new church when my kids were still little.

In this new space there was no one to tell me, “We’ve never done it that way before!” So I was determined at that point to create a place for kids to worship in a way that meant something to them. I wanted to present Bible truths in a way that would speak to their precious hearts and minds. And I wanted it to be FUN! I wanted church to be the best part of their week.

The first time a parent came to me and told me their kids woke THEM up for church that morning I knew we had done it. Imagine that. Kids dragging their parents to church. I was thrilled.

That was a long time ago. I stayed in kid’s ministry for a lot of years. In all honesty, I did it mostly and primarily for my own kids. I didn’t want them to miss out on Bible truths because no one cared to direct it to them. But I soon began to see how children’s ministry affected entire families. Kids were having Bible-centered conversations with their parents on the drive home after church. Families were coming to church happy, not frustrated. You know how frustrating getting everyone ready for church can be! By the time you get there you are a mess! But it is oh so much easier to accomplish when the kids really WANT to go.

My husband moved on to serve in a couple more new church starts over the next few years, and at each place I was blessed with the opportunity to help develop and lead children’s church. The investment was great, but the payoff has been even greater. Beginning in Children’s Church, each of my kids has found a relationship with Christ, and a place of service in the church as they have grown up.

My husband is now serving on staff in the first church in a long while where I have not served in kid’s ministry. It was the first thing I wanted to investigate when we arrived there. I walked into the Children’s Church room and my jaw dropped open. It looked like a Nickelodeon sound stage. I thought… “Now that cost a pretty penny!” But I knew then that this church understood the investment is well worth the return, and as I watched the children in worship I knew the return was even greater than the investment. As I turned to walk out of that room, I thought for the first time ever as I turned to leave, “They’ve got this!”

I may not always serve in kid’s ministry, but I will always be passionate about its importance.

My friend who is struggling now with her twins in church probably got more from me than she bargained for on this topic. I should probably apologize for spraying my zeal all over her. I encouraged her to let necessity be the mother of invention. I urged her to start a Children’s Church in her own church. But that’s what happens with passion. When God places it in your heart, you can’t leave it sitting there.

Where is your passion? What is it that really gets you going? How can you use that to impact your world for the Kingdom? It’s why you are given that passion, you know. For it’s passion that God uses to move the Kingdom forward. So. What does it for you, and how are you using it to move His Kingdom forward?

Let God Do His Thing

It is great fun to see God at work. I mean really fun. Have you ever seen it? It’s like when you put a jigsaw puzzle together, and you find that illusive piece you’ve needed to complete a part of the picture. There’s joy and satisfaction in seeing it come together a bit.

Only when God does that it is truly remarkable. For some of us, we like to fit the missing pieces of our lives together ourselves. It gives us a great sense of accomplishment. We reach far around and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. It is a wonderful sense of satisfaction, but it really does not compare to when God does it.

Here is the difference. When we work these things out on our own, all we have to work with are the things we can see, or the things we know or think we know to be true. We cannot work with those unseen things or variables. Yet when God does His thing, He takes even the unseen things and weaves an outcome for us that we could not have imagined.

But here’s the thing… God is an awfully polite God. He will wait oh so patiently while we go about working hard to meet our own need. And while the outcome might bring us some satisfaction, it pales in comparison to what He could have brought about on our behalf. We are so quick to rush in and fix our situations, relationships, and circumstances. We want instant resolution, a quick fix. So we choose not to wait on God to do His thing. We probably even pray and ask God to bless what we are planning to do for ourselves. See? It really even sounds silly right now, doesn’t it?

I love the feeling I get when I realize God has worked out something amazing in my life so much so that I want to feel that every day. Yet I won’t unless I wake up every day, and hand that day over to Him from the get go. Lots of days my feet hit the floor, and I’m off to the races so quickly that I forget to give my day over to Him. I’m racing off just hoping that God can keep up with me. I tell Him I have so much to get done; I hope He will see to it that I manage it all.

See how backwards and messed up that is? How about, if before my feet ever hit the floor, I just give it all to Him? That I say, “Today I will follow not lead, I will listen not talk, and I will watch You work out the maze of my life to Your end, not mine.”

For many of us, giving up that much control of our lives is just too scary. We hold tight to our destinies, and refuse to give ourselves over completely to what He has for us. And yet we believe He is the creator of our universe and all that is in it. We see, even if we don’t understand, the intricacies of our world and know that He did it all. And yet we doubt that He can work out the intricacies of our lives. What? Our lives are all that complicated? Really?

He knew just how far from the sun to place our blue planet so that we would neither burn up from the heat of the sun, nor freeze to death from lack of it. We have all we need here to sustain life, all in a delicate balance. Our lives are a delicate balance too, right? We live our lives so often with them completely out of balance because we insist on being masters of our own destinies. You know, you give some people enough rope they will hang themselves.

Do you need more proof that God can manage the details of your life? Well, how about the way he managed the details of Paul’s conversion? These details were just recently brought to my own attention. Take a peek at this.

After Saul’s encounter with Jesus while walking along the road to Damascus, Saul (Paul’s name prior to his conversion) was led by the hand to Damascus, where Acts 9:9 says “He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.”
During that period of time the Bible tells us that Saul was praying to God, and while that was happening, God was busy communicating with a believer in Damascus named Ananias. Take a peek at Acts 9:10-12…
Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias.” “Yes, Lord,” he replied. The Lord said. “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
Did you catch all the specifics in the passage?
Three specific people were addressed: Saul, Ananias, and Judas

God gives specific directions: The house of Judas on Straight Street.

God even multi-tasks: While speaking to Ananias in one vision, God says in
verse 11 that Saul “is praying to me right now.”

No one could have worked out the details of Saul’s conversion in the way that God did. He left nothing to chance. Not one detail.

He has a vantage point from which to view our lives that we do not. He can see clearly that which is unclear to us, and work all things for our good. Often, the only missing ingredient is a willing heart on our part. Then God can do His thing in our lives!

On the Move… Again

It looks like the Benson’s will be moving again. Honestly I am beginning to feel like the Nomadic herdsmen of the Middle East. Never staying too long in any one place before moving along. I am excited about this move, though. We are not going far, only a few miles to a house of our own. We will be leaving the small rental house we moved into just over a year ago. I will be glad for that. I need just a little elbowroom. The house we are moving to is down a little country road with plenty of woodsy property around. I feel all peaceful and contented just thinking about it.

One thing the Nomads have that we don’t is the good sense to travel light. When they decide it’s time to go, they can pretty much fit all of their worldly belongings on the back of a camel or two. No U-HAUL needed. No boxes, no wrapping paper. No trips to the donation center to get rid of unwanted stuff.

While I may not be a real Nomad, the Bensons have moved so many times that I do feel as though I am somewhat of an expert on the subject. When I know a move is coming, I tend to go through the same processes. Way before I pack my first box, I know it’s time to look at all my stuff, and decide what gets to move and what has to go.

I get almost more satisfaction out of getting rid of stuff than in keeping it. Deciding to let things go is really very cathartic for me. Forcing myself, and my family members, to be honest with themselves about what is really important, is actually quite satisfying. It really is amazing how much stuff you can accumulate in just over a year.

It’s hard to be honest with ourselves. We are good at lying to us. I had to be honest about a few pairs of jeans in my closet. I was not likely to get into them any time soon. They were just taking up space in my closet and constantly reminding me that they will no longer zip up and let me breathe at the same time. They mocked me from the hanger. So I let them go. And guess what? They no longer mock me. And hey, should the day come when they would have fit again….

I’ll go buy NEW ones.

I’ve already made two trips to the donation center to give away stuff we don’t need, use, wear, or even know what to do with. Each time the feeling I have can only be described as giddy.

It’s like a palpable weight is lifted with each trip. I imagine my new space with all this clutter gone. I look at the mass of what I have just given away and imagine that much free space in my new home. I’m getting all happy just telling you about it now!

What if we could do the same thing with all the emotional “stuff” we insist on carrying around?

Some of us would need a whole herd of camels to carry around the emotional baggage we insist on holding onto. Maybe it’s time to make an emotional move, and decide it’s time to get rid of some things.

What about that careless comment your grade school teacher said about how you’d never amount to anything?

How about that statement your mom made in anger when you were a teenager and completely stressing her out?

And that thoughtless action from that so called friend, spouse, family member?

Some of us carry around even heavier things… things we don’t talk to anyone about.

But what if we decided to let all that stuff go? Just let it go? You know, on my trips to the donation center, I pull up, open my trunk, take out the bags and boxes, and hand it all over to the nice man there. I have no idea what happens to it next. He puts it in this big truck, gives me a receipt, and I never see it again. Never. I don’t wake up the next day to find it back at my front door. Nope. It’s gone for good.

That can be true of our emotional stuff, too. We can hand it all over to God and He will get rid of it for us. He loves to do that. He won’t bring it back to us either. I don’t know what He does with it, but He won’t bring it back. Once we truly let it go, I mean really let it go, it’s done. Gone. And then what’s left? Space! Space in our hearts and minds that can be filled with peace and contentment.

Just think of how crowded your emotional space is. What if you decided to move to a better space? How much of that emotional junk would you be willing to let go of? Be honest. Is it really serving you all that well? Doesn’t it just get in the way of better things that could come into your life if it was gone?

His Delight

Having kids generally means that you are expected to attend things like ballgames, dance or piano recitals, awards ceremonies, and school programs. As parents, we put on our game faces and smile as though we’d rather be no where else on earth than sitting listening to twenty five other kids plunk their way through their rendition of “Who knows what that song is” while you wait for your kid’s two minutes of fame on the stage.

When my oldest son was ten, he swam on a swim team for the local YMCA. Every Saturday during the season, we sat through four hours of swim meets to watch our son swim from one end of the pool to the other for no more than thirty seconds at a time. All added up, he was probably in the water no more than three minutes the whole four-hour meet. It was painful. While there were several places I would have rather been, I would not have missed those three minutes for all the chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

This weekend, I sat through yet another school program to see my kid on stage. It was the local talent show sponsored by the schools in our town. My son’s band was playing, and they had secured the coveted last spot in the show. They were the closing act. I wanted a good seat for the performance, so I arrived early. Two more hours for another three-minute payoff.

One by one, the students performed for the chance to be dubbed “most talented” and take home a trophy. Lots of them were quite good. There were singers, dancers, pianists, and other more unusual acts. One kid yo-yoed. Yep. For three minutes. Three minutes can feel like a lifetime when you are watching someone yo-yo.

And then it was her turn. She was the last of the middle school students to perform before intermission and the high schoolers started. She walked out onto the stage, and an uncomfortable silence fell over the crowd. You could feel it. The girl was a good bit overweight. She appeared awkward out on that big stage by herself. As everyone fidgeted in their seats waiting for her to sing, I hoped against hope that she would be a good singer. No, a great singer. I really wanted her to belt it out like Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent.

And then she started. She sang an acapella number. She had a great big voice, but it was… well… it was bad. It pains me to say, but it’s true. I’ll give it to her, though, she kept going, and by all accounts she was pleased with her performance. I was proud of the crowd because everyone clapped enthusiastically when she finished. I couldn’t figure out if they were just happy for it to be over, or if they truly were trying to encourage her. She took it as the latter, waved to the crowd, and exited the stage.

I’ve thought of that young girl a lot in the last few days. I’ve thought of how the world looks upon people like her. We are so judgmental. We look at others, and ourselves, through very critical eyes. We judge people as unworthy who do not measure up in either their physical appearance or ability. We put others down in order to lift ourselves up, but even when we look in the mirror at ourselves, we see the flaws we hope no one else notices.

The truth is we often undervalue ourselves and others. We have a hard time looking past what we can see to the things we cannot see, but God looks upon us and smiles. The things we see as flaws He sees as interesting details that make us unique. He fashioned us all as one-of-a-kind masterpieces, and when He looks upon us, He smiles at His creation.

I am sure, as we all sat feeling uncomfortable while she sang, God looked upon her with a smile. He felt none of the awkwardness we felt. He knows she can’t sing, I mean he did choose her gifts and abilities, after all. Yet she was willing to take a big risk, and it was God who gave that ability to her. One day I think He will probably have her use that ability to risk big for something great. I really hope so…

What is it that causes God to smile when He looks upon you? You are His delight, after all…

Where am I going, and why am I in this hand basket?

I totally swiped this title from my friend, Melanie. She makes me laugh a lot. I thought this was really funny, and quite telling, too.

Do you ever feel that way? Ever feel like things are just going to heck in a hand basket? Try as you might to stop it, you can’t. I have. It was just over a year ago when my carefully carved out life began to unravel. Disappointing job loss turned into a cross-country move, which turned out to be one major booboo, which led to more unemployment, and yet another move. All within six months!

I knew things were headed downhill fast, and I was paralyzed to stop it. I had a house in another state I could not sell. I had no job, and my husband had no job. We signed a lease on a house that we had no way to pay for, and we had four kids depending on us for their wellbeing. To say relationships were stressed would be a reasonable statement.

So what does one do when one finds herself in a hand basket to… um… heck? One obvious answer would be to totally freak out. I did try that for a while, but I found it did not slow my descent at all. It probably only sped things up a bit.

Looking back, I wish I could say that my first response was to dig in, lean into Christ, and trust God. My sister-in-law would say, instead, that I had a total “come apart”. That’s a completely Southern expression for a melt down.

In spite of my unmitigated lack of faith, God met me and cared for me through a great friend. She invited my family to attend church with her family. In all honesty, I didn’t want to go. I partially blamed church for the mess we were in, but we went anyway. When it came time to worship, I felt nothing. Zero. Except for maybe utter abandonment. I could not even bring myself to sing. The words of the songs meant little to me. They even angered me a bit. I had never felt farther from God in my life.

After church one Wednesday night, crying, I told my friend that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t worship. She cried with me, and prayed with me right there in our seats after church. I will never forget that. She didn’t offer me a sermon on faith. She cried and prayed.

Things didn’t get immediately better. It did take a while to climb out of that basket. I got a job, and then another job. A few months later, my husband got a job, too. And then he got a better one… as of three months ago, he is now on staff at the very church we visited with my friend!

We’ve been a year in this church now. It has taken a while, but it feels like home there. I still cry at church, but now they are tears of joy for who God is and how much he loves me. God was faithful to me when all I could do was come apart. God worked in my life in lots of ways. We had messed up a great deal of things that He had to make right again. It didn’t all happen overnight, but it did happen.

This next bit is completely free of charge…

The single best thing that we did during that time
was get to involved in a life-giving church.

I’ve been in life sucking churches and they pretty much make life…. well… suck. All the fighting, disagreeing, and inward focus. I’m tired just thinking about them now. The life God pours into life-giving churches is phenomenal. If you choose your church based on all the programs it has to offer you… honestly… it’s probably a life sucking church.

Look around for a church that offers you a chance to give your life away. For it’s in giving your life away that you truly receive the life you are looking for. Churches today toss about words like

“real” “relevant” and “authentic”

But few really are.

Church should be about who you can be rather than what you should do. For it’s when you discover who you are in Christ that life truly begins.

I climbed out of that nasty basket a while ago. If you find you are in that hand basket now, my advice is to seek the help of a caring, praying, crying friend. (A friend that will cry with you is a friend indeed!) Then find yourself a great life-giving church, turn it all over to Christ, and trust Him with the result. And give it some time. He’s got a plan, and He is fully capable.

After all, come aparts really don’t work…

A Little Bit of Honesty

I have a big but. I’ll confess it’s a hard thing to admit, but I want to be open and honest with myself…and with you. So here goes…The thing is, you have a big but, too.

How’s that for honesty? Only a real friend would be this honest with you.These big buts of ours often stand in the way of our doing what we should do, or what would benefit us most. Don’t go thinking those with little buts out there are getting off the hook. Even little buts can stand in the way.

Here’s my big but:

I know I should start my day off reading my Bible, BUT I’m just no good in the morning. It takes me time to wake up and pay attention… besides, I like to check email, Facebook and CNN first…

Maybe that’s not your big but, maybe yours is something like this:

I know I should go to church…but

I know God wants more of me… but

I know I should give more of myself… but

I know I should join a Bible study… but

I know I should go deeper in my faith…but

I know I should put God first in my marriage, family, etc… but

But

I’m too busy, too tired, too frustrated, too overcommitted already, or just too afraid…


See? Those big buts are just in the way.
They are in the way of all God has for us. They amount to empty excuses we use to keep us right where we are rather than allowing us to move forward in our relationships with Him. What would happen if we set aside our big buts for a minute? What would happen if we just said, “Okay”, instead?

What if we decided that whatever it is that God is asking of us, we just said–
“Okay. I’ll do it!”

If we trust in him completely then we know for sure one thing is true. Jeremiah 29:11 says:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Whether our buts come from a place of fear, laziness, or complacency, the result is the same. We are taking a pass on all that God has waiting to bless us with. His plans to prosper us, and to give us a hope and a future. So if there’s all that waiting for us, why not just get rid of these big buts? And the best part is, we don’t have to join a gym or go on a diet to do it!