God Speaks Southern

I grew up, like most church people my age used to, reading and hearing the King James Version of the Bible. It was full of “thees”, and “thous”, “thuses”, “thines”. It all made for quite a confusing experience. I was told that the Bible was God’s letter to us, only I apparently didn’t speak God’s language. Obviously, God spoke early English. It wasn’t until my late childhood that I realized God did indeed speak my language. It was then that I was given a copy of the “New American Standard” version of the scriptures. Finally! I could both read and understand what the Bible was saying.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Bible market was flooded with newer versions of the scriptures. You had the NIV or New International Version, Amplified Version (for the hard of hearing. I’m kidding. That’s not for the hearing impaired at all.), Contemporary English Version, The Living Bible, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, and The Even Newer Revised Standard Version (I’m kidding about that one, too)

The latest, most popular version came out in 2002, and is called simply, “The Message”, but the list is crazy long. I am not about to step into which version is the best or closest to the original language. People of faith will pick up rocks to throw over that one. (Even though, in every version rock throwing is expressly frowned upon.)

My point is, that God speaks our language.
Whatever that language is. Mine happens to be Southern English. Did you know God speaks Southern English? He does. But that’s not all. I got caught up one day watching a series of shows on the History Channel called Swamp People. It’s a show about the people who live and make their living in the Louisiana swamps. I’m not quite sure how this show made it to the History Channel, but there it was. These are American folks, but they don’t speak the English I speak. They speak Cajun. Their speech is so garbled up, that the producers of Swamp People include subtitles so that what the folks are saying can be understood. God speaks that garbled up mess, too.

No matter where you are from, what language you speak, God speaks right to your heart. He speaks your language. We still get caught up in knowing for sure if the voice we hear is the Lord’s. We ask, “How can I know for sure? I really want to hear from God.” It’s true that sometimes God is silent, but even in His silence He speaks to us. When He decides to really speak to us, though, we can hear Him loud and clear… if we listen. That’s our problem. Well, that’s my problem. Sometimes I talk so much; He can’t get a word in edgewise. And even if He could, I wouldn’t hear it.

Sometimes we just have to hush. We have to stop bending God’s ear, and let Him bend ours. The Bible never tells us that we can’t hear God’s voice. Actually, it tells us we can if we listen. The Bible compares us to sheep. All sheep are dumb, but even they can hear and know their Shepherd’s voice. (John 10:27) We don’t have to be some great Bible scholar to hear God’s voice. We just have to be like a dumb sheep and listen for it.

I particularly like it when He says, “Y’all”.

Now that was just for fun… Did y’all like it?

We Are Blessed

It’s tough to cram five days of work into three, but that’s what most of us do in order to have a nice four day Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I am bushed. On my way home today, (which since daylight savings time change feels like bedtime) I stopped by Winn Dixie to grab a few last minute items I will need to complete the dishes I will be taking for the Thanksgiving meal. I was not the only one who had to make a last minute run to the store. There was a line at every register, but no one was complaining or impatient. The holiday season seems to bring out the best in people.

The holiday season can be hard for some folks. My pastor said this last weekend that while people hurt all year long, they just feel it more during the holidays. I tend to agree with that. Those who have experienced the loss of a loved one feel that loss more this time of year. Those who have broken relationships feel that pain of separation more. Those with serious illness fear this holiday season might be their last. The unemployed face trying to make a bright Christmas on an inadequate budget. The list of hurts and wounds goes on.

So as I stood in line at the grocery store on the eve of Thanksgiving, I looked at my fellow shoppers. I wondered what hurts they might be facing this season. I watched as the cashiers feverishly tried to get everyone through the lines as quickly as they could, and thought of how hard it must be to make a living as a cashier.

And I thought of all I have to be thankful for this year. Oh so much. Big things like family and friends. I am so thankful that my dad has fully recovered from what seemed like a stroke. I am thankful for the jobs my husband and I have. I am thankful that those I love are healthy and happy. I am most happy that my four kids love God with a passion I did not know at their ages. Little things also come to mind, like three pet cats that greet me at the door every day. And like Coke. I just love Coke. Even Coke in the white save-the-polar-bears cans. (I’m okay with saving the polar bears) I’m thankful for front porch swings and fuzzy pajamas. For great music and m&m’s. Lots and lots of little things that bless my every day.

I am most thankful for the One who gives me reason to be grateful.
The Bible tells us that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights, in whom there is no shifting of shadows. (James 1:17) All these things I am thankful for, both large and small, come to me only because of His great love. Even those hard things. Things that I might not list as things I am particularly thankful for, come from His loving hand to bless me.

I am so blessed, and so are you. We are blessed to be a blessing. God loves to touch folks through us. This holiday season, think of ways you can bless those around you. Holidays can be hard. Someone needs that kindness you can give. Buy someone a cup of coffee. Pay for the person behind you in the drive through. Our church gives us these little cards that say “Just a little something extra to let you know God loves you.” So when we do something for someone during the holiday season, we can slip them that card and point them to the One who is really blessing them.

You don’t have to go to my church to get in on the fun. Make your own cards and start blessing people. And do it anonymously. It’s fun, and it just might make someone’s day. Rake your neighbor’s yard this weekend while they’re out of town. Leave the note. Leave your waitress a huge tip. Leave the note. Get creative. It doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money, give what you can. Trust God with the outcome. I’ll bet you smile all day about it.

In Our Own Backyard

Well, here we are on the eve of another 21st of the month. It’s time once again to remind us of the global effort to stop human trafficking forever. As I look across the ocean, via CNN, and see that Greece is on the verge of a total economic collapse, I have to shrug my shoulders and say, “Hey, if you weren’t the European hub for human sex trafficking, this might not be happening to you.” Now I know there are lots of great folks in Greece who have nothing to do with this horrendous issue, but really, let the good folks of Greece stand up and say, “No more! Not here!”

But the truth is, I don’t really have to look across the globe to find a hub for human sex trafficking. I can look just two hours east to Atlanta, Georgia to what is quickly becoming the North American hub for trafficking. Stats show that two to three hundred children every month are forced into this nasty business. Wow. That’s as many fifth graders as there are at my son’s school. No longer do sicko consumers of this shameful business have to fly out of the country to Thailand, they can hop a plane to Atlanta where they will be picked up and escorted, “entertained”, and taken right back to the airport. They can be eating dinner with their families that same night. Now that is disturbing.

It’s uncomfortable for us to think about. I am squirming in my chair just writing about this. I’d much rather be writing about the latest funny thing that happened to me, or the last crazy stunt one of my kids pulled, but it’s nearly the 21st of the month, and frankly, we might not think about this issue if I wrote about something else. It’s very uncomfortable to do the research for a post like this. I want to shield myself from the information I read. But then, there are literally millions of women and children who need to be shielded from this travesty. They need a rescue.

So what is Alabama doing to end this injustice here at home?
Well last year, the Alabama lawmakers passed a law that made human sex trafficking a Class A felony… the only thing worse than that in this state is murder. Now there’s a great reason to say, “Go Bama!” The sad thing about that is, it took until 2010 to pass that law.

And what about here in Birmingham? Do we have a problem here in our own backyard? Well, I am happy to say we are no Atlanta, but even one victim of this horrible crime is one too many. Thanks to some wonderful people, there is a place for victims who are rescued to go and seek help. It’s called The Wellhouse. You can check them out on Facebook. They are a local, faith-based outreach making a difference on the front lines of this issue right here in our own backyard.

Church of the Highlands is sponsoring a 5K Run called –Race to the Heights- on December 3rd at 8am at the Grants Mill Campus. Registration for the event is $25 with the deadline to register on November 25th. All the proceeds will go to the A21Campaign to end human trafficking. My fourteen-year-old daughter is running… She is running in support of all those fourteen-year-old girls who have had their childhood taken away in a most brutal fashion. (I’m paying her $25 registration, and I will be there to cheer her on.) How about the rest of you runners out there? Care to join her? Or if you’d like to support her as she runs with a financial donation, that’d be great, as well. She would be proud to run on behalf you, too! You can email me at stacey.benson@me.com for details on registration or financial support.

So for this 21st day of November, let’s remember to pray for the global efforts going on to end human trafficking. Pray against the efforts of the evil one as he orchestrates each transaction. Pray for protection and deliverance of those who are innocently caught up in this horrible industry. Pray for those on the front line who fight to rescue these modern day slaves.

One woman, girl, and child at a time.

For Evil to Flourish

“In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing.” That’s a loose quote from a long dead European Statesman, Edmund Burke. This guy may be pushing up daisies, but he got that one right. I don’t know of another sentiment he spoke, but this one is proving true at Penn State University today.

The Bible teaches us that there are no righteous people among us. “Not one”, it says. It also teaches us that apart from God we can do no .. good .. thing (John 15:1-8). So who is really to blame for the evils of one that have taken place at Penn State while others turned a deaf ear? Well, we know who is primarily to blame, but who else is culpable? Evil flourishes when good men and women turn their heads because to deal with evil up that close and personal can get ugly. Evil doesn’t just bow out quietly. Evil is up for the fight and doesn’t let go of a stronghold easily. (It’s not called a stronghold for nothing.)

As Christians we have to recognize that these evils are not going to grow less in number.
Until Jesus has his triumphant return, Evil is in control here, and it is gaining ground. Maybe that’s why we choose to turn away from situations like this one. We figure it’s bigger than we are. What can we really do? We can shake our heads, think shame on them, talk about it among ourselves and decide what those other people should have done.

As evil gains ground in this world, our tendency is to build up walls around our own, and try to insulate our worlds from it as much as possible. But if we look at our example in scripture, we never see a time that Jesus walked away from evil. He could have. Yet as our best example, we see him time and time again confronting evil face to face and calling it like He saw it. In the end, evil killed Him for it. That’s our example. That’s love lived out.

I once heard the youth pastor at our church say this from the stage during a youth service:

“I hate the Devil. And I love Jesus.” ~Mark Pettis

It is our disdain for the evil one and our great love of the Savior that will motivate us to stand up in the face of evil and call it for what it is. That’s what causes us to move forward in the defense of righteousness with no thought of putting ourselves at risk to shed light on injustice.

I want to be the kind of person that loves enough to stand up for the weak. I want to be the kind of person that will face evil and call it for what it is. I want to raise children that will do the same. Still, we can’t be fooled into thinking that being a truth-teller will get us any accolades. I married a truth-teller. Quite often people aren’t ready to hear the truth truth-tellers have to tell. We say we want it, but so very often we really just want a very watered down, syrupy sweet version that doesn’t call us to act rashly or change radically anything. Just ask my husband; truth telling can cost you your job, relationships, and your security. Evil does not go quietly into the dark night when exposed. It will fight back.

But we can take heart! We have not been left defenseless in these things. We have all we need to be equipped for the battles we face. The Bible tells us that no weapon formed against us will prevail (Isaiah 54:17). It tells us that while evil doesn’t have to flee because we’ve arrived on the scene, at the mention of the name of Jesus, it does. Why? Because of love. Love is powerful. It was His great love for us that conquered death.

We can be equipped to face evil if we put on the whole armor of God. Ephesians 6:10-17 puts it like this:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

We can equip ourselves to face the evil around us. We don’t have to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. We don’t have to circle the wagons and hunker down. We can face these giants, and we can prevail… one battle at a time.

Tis the Season

Tis the season to be thankful. I see lots of my friends posting things on Facebook they are thankful for this November. They are turning it into a month of thankfulness rather than just one day. Nice job.

I like to say that I don’t take my blessings for granted. I really do know what a charmed life I lead. I have been blessed with good health, a wonderful family, a roof over my head, food in my belly, more than a couple cute outfits, and friends that bless my socks off. I serve a living Savior who is “the author and perfecter of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2). I have no real complaints. No real ones. I have some fake ones that like to scratch at my joyfulness, but all in all while my life is not perfect, it’s the perfect life for me.

This morning I learned of something else that I am thankful for. I am thankful that I attend a church that knows it’s all about “the one”. The Bible teaches that our God is like a good shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine good sheep who hang around and do the right sheep things, and goes to find “the one” lost sheep that has wandered off. The Bible says that all of heaven rejoices when the lost one is found.

I learned today that there are seven billion people on the Earth. That’s kind of mind blowing. Someone has determined that about 4.9 billion– give or take- of those do not know Jesus or accept him at the Messiah. I’m not sure how they determined that number. A door-to-door campaign seems unlikely. Still, should today be the day Jesus makes his grand return, that’s a lot of people looking at a very bleak eternity. I also learned that if you lined up all of those people front to back, that line would circle the globe at its equator over 37 times. Got that picture in your head? Those are God’s lost sheep. He loves the rest who love him back, but he longs for those who are out there and lost.

Today I learned what my church is doing about this, and I was impressed. I know other churches are doing things, too, but I felt just a bit of holy pride today for the work that is going on around the globe to reach those lost sheep from Church of the HIghlands. Can you tolerate a little brag?

420 Highlands members (two of them were my sons) went on short-term missions trips this year. I also learned that my church is going into hard places. Places where the church must still be underground, for not to be means persecution or death. Places like China, North Korea, Yemen, and Jordan. One Jordanian church leader from a church of ninety attended an EQUIP (an organization that trains Christian leaders my church partners with) and got the skills he needed to go home and train 200 other leaders and now his church has grown to 1,000… In JORDAN. (That’s in the Middle East… I thought others might be geographically challenged, like me.)

Today I learned that through our church planting organization (ARC), that 58 churches have been planted with those new churches giving over $8 million to missions this year.

But what about here at home? I learned that at our Christ Health Center we served the poor in our city with over 7,000 visits for medical, dental, and counseling services this year. The Birmingham Dream Center logged over 25,000 hours of service by the Highlands Dream Team. Those are just regular folks that go to my church.

I also learned that I can be really short sighted. I worry and plan and strategize over my little life so much. Every detail becomes a focus of my attention. So often I fail to look beyond my little patch of the world, to see beyond my small concerns, to the greater ones next door, across town, or around the world.

While alone I can only do so much, through joining with other believers, so much more can be done for the Kingdom. It’s about the 4.9 BILLION people who still walk this life everyday apart from God. And it’s about the ONE, because every ONE matters.

I know my church is not alone in the effort to further the Kingdom of God both here and abroad. So what’s going on through your church? If you’re not sure, go find out. Give your money, your time, and your gifts to help. It’s not that your issues don’t matter, they do. But looking outside of yourself to the really bigger picture will help keep all that stuff in perspective.

I needed a little perspective today. Maybe you do, too.

Skinny Koreans

“Got me some skinny KOREANS!” Yes, that was the text I sent to my daughter the other day. Never mind she was in school and as a parent I’m not supposed to do that. But after weeks of pestering me to get some, I just had to let her know I had. She is my self-appointed fashion consultant. After sending the text, I looked down at my phone to read it. (I realize now that this is the wrong order of doing things.) When I saw what I had sent, I laughed out loud in the parking lot of the JCPenney store where I had just bought my first pair of Levis skinny JEANS! The auto correct on my phone changed what I had intended to say, to something that made more sense to it.

My daughter and I have laughed about skinny Koreans for several days now. It is funny. I do get tired of my “smart” phone adjusting my text messages to things I never intended to say. It’s amazing how one small adjustment can change the whole message.

Has anyone ever misquoted you? It’s pretty frustrating when it happens. I can remember years ago, my husband was interviewed for the newspaper. They were doing a series on local pastors and set up this interview with him. We were so excited to see it in the paper. The next week, there, along with his picture, was the interview in print. Then we read it. It was okay, but even though what Matthew said was in quotations, it wasn’t what he had said to the reporter at all. It wasn’t even close. She had changed it to something she thought sounded better. Except it didn’t. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was the last time my husband agreed to be interviewed.

My kids can be pretty good at misquoting me, too. More than once when my kids have wanted to do something, I have over heard their conversations with their dad go something like this:

Dad will ask, “What did your mother say?” Then they will launch into their version of what I said. To which I fly into the room saying, “If you are going to quote me, get it right. I actually said…”

Communication is key. Both the giving and receiving of information correctly is paramount to a great relationship. More often than not, when a relationship between people goes south, it started with a breakdown in communication.

The Bible is God’s first and best communication to us, yet so many of us don’t even know what it says. My husband gets frustrated when he sends me a text or an email and finds out later that I have not read it. He sent me what he considered important information, but I didn’t receive it even though it was right there for me. The same is true of scripture.

In this day and age of technology, we are without excuse when it comes to access to the scriptures. They are as readily available as anything else. In a matter of seconds, I can pull up any verse in the Bible, in any number of translations, on my phone with just a few clicks of a button.

God has a clear message for us today and everyday. He never sends us a message that is altered or incorrect in any way. (No skinny KOREANS!) What’s His message for you today? Unsure of where to start? Let me make a suggestion. It’s the “One-year Bible”. You can Google it, or use this link from Church of the Highlands.
http://churchofthehighlands.com/bible. In a year’s time you will have read the entire Bible, a little bit every day. So I’ll ask you again, What’s God’s message for you today? Go on… go see.

Baby Doll Religion

When I was a little girl I played with baby dolls. I had one that would tilt her head and giggle when I raised and lowered her right hand. I had several baby dolls, but my favorite was my Baby Alive by Hasbro. She was amazing. She could drink from a bottle and eat from a spoon. A little motor somewhere inside her made her mouth move. She even rewarded her “mom” with a wet diaper to change. As a little girl, this doll felt so real to me. She was my baby. She was all soft on the outside and had pretty blue eyes, and a sweet little mouth. Her blond hair lay in little curls on her head, always perfect. She never cried, slept when I laid her down, and ate when I wanted to feed her. On the outside she seemed so real. But apart from the motor placed somewhere on her inside, she was empty.

Religion is like that. I’m not even a fan of the word, “religion” and I shudder when I hear people call me religious. Apart from brushing my teeth every day, I’ve never been religious about anything. Religion looks all good on the outside. Religion causes us to do all the “right” things, but if you ever look inside religion, you find that apart from the mechanics, it’s all empty. Pretty on the outside, empty on the inside.

I played with my Baby Alive for several years, but eventually I grew tired of what was missing. I pretended she was real, even wished that she were real, but she never offered me what the real thing could. I never even completely understood what I was missing until I became a mom of a real baby. Yet from the moment I held my first-born baby boy, I understood completely the difference. As I looked into his eyes for the first time, and those sweet little baby eyes looked back at me, I would never take anything less than the real deal.

I never wanted to put my baby down in favor of an empty doll. Of course that would be crazy, but sadly, that’s what many Christians do every day. The real deal is right in front of them, and they set that aside for empty religion.

The American church has offered us a religion and has called it Christianity. We are told it’s all about the things you can’t do and the few things you can, most if which don’t sound very fun at all. It’s little more than a list of do’s and don’ts with a whole heaping pile of guilt if you ever slip up. Yet even scripture tells us that trying to keep all those rules will eventually bring us death. We need the real deal, not an empty substitute. The truth is we need relationship, not religion. The day I discovered the real deal, I never wanted empty religion again.

I no longer struggle to follow a set of rules or laws for God to accept me. Rather His laws are written on my heart and because of His great love for me, and for my love for Him, I seek to follow those. Hebrews 8:10 (NLT) says this:

“But this is the new covenant I will make
      with the people of Israel on that day, says the Lord:
   I will put my laws in their minds,
      and I will write them on their hearts.
   I will be their God,
      and they will be my people.”

Are you finding faith empty and religion meaningless? Good. This time, let me ask that you throw that baby out with the bath water. Pick up the real thing. It’s life giving, not life sapping. It will bring you into an amazing relationship with a God who loves you just the way you are, and who wants so much to write His way of living on your heart.