Month: July 2015

Faith in Motion

It’s Motion Conference week here in Birmingham, Alabama. Motion Conference is a student conference put on by Church of the Highlands and held at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center that hopes to motivate students to put their faith in Jesus into motion. Matthew is Creative Director for Student Ministries at Highlands, so this is a big week around the Benson house. We expect more than ten thousand in attendance this year.

That’s more than twice the attendance just two years ago. Motion Conference is kind of a big deal.

But why is it that it’s called Motion? Why are we so interested in seeing students put feet to their faith?

The Bible teaches that we are not saved by our works, but that it is because of our faith that we do good works. It is by our good works, done in the name of Jesus, that others are pointed to Christ, and hopefully, then, to salvation. We do not do good works to earn God’s favor; we have God’s favor, so we do good works. Got it? Okay.

I wasn’t entirely clear on that point growing up. Neither were some of the good folks around me. I could just tell. They were “Do-gooders”; people always bustling around helping and serving and proving their worth to the Father by their worthy deeds. For them, it was burdensome and never ending, exhausting even. I mean, how many good deeds are enough to win God’s favor? How can you ever really know you have tipped the scale in your favor, and can keep it tipped in your favor, to guarantee your eternal residence?

There was only one good deed in all of history that was enough to win us God’s favor. Just one, and that was accomplished by Christ himself on our behalf. Jesus is the ultimate “Do-gooder”. Only His action is enough to insure our place with Him in eternity. It was a once for all kind of deal. To say that your good deeds are required of you lessens the sacrifice He made. It tells Jesus that His suffering, death, and resurrection are not enough for you to find favor in the sight of God.

Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever been in a situation where you sincerely did everything you could do, and yet were told it was not enough? Then you know how that feels. I can imagine when we go about doing good deeds to earn God’s favor, Jesus must feel that same way. We are, in effect, telling Him that what He did was good, but not quite good enough.

Earning favor is a part of all of the world’s religions except for Christianity. Ours is the only faith based on a God who gave Himself up for His followers. In every other major world religion, it is the followers who are expected to give for the god. There is a record of deposits and withdrawals. But with Jesus, our balance is clear, our account is reconciled. That’s what it means to be reconciled. It means the balance is brought to zero.

My son has a relationship with a local mechanic. He has invested in this person, and is faithful to take his car to this mechanic whenever whatever is wrong with the car is something he can fix. When he calls my son to come pick up his car, my son will ask what the charges are and, on occasion, the mechanic will tell him, “There’s no charge this time”, that his balance is zero. There is no amount of talking that will cause the mechanic to come up with a balance for my son to pay.

When we come to faith in Jesus, it’s like that. We come, recognizing our need for a savior. We come in full knowledge of our sin and our misdeeds. We know how bad we are. We come expecting that there is a price to be paid, only to find out that our bill has been covered.

Our pastor says that hell is where folks go to pay their own bill.

My bill has been paid, and if you love Jesus, yours has, too. So back to my original question. Why Motion? Why encourage students, and anyone else, to put feet to their faith in good deeds? As believers, it is our job to share Jesus with the world. The words we speak, our actions and our deeds are to point dying people to a living Savior. Very likely, it was the good deeds done in the name of Jesus that pointed us to him. It’s only fitting that we return the favor. By the end of this week, I am praying that ten thousand students go back to school this fall ready to put their faith in motion.

Because if they do, they just might change the world.

The Upsidedownness of Fear

One of my summer reading books this summer has been Forbidden by Ted Dekker. In the novel, a virus was unleashed on humanity that robbed it of every emotion except for fear. The emotions or feelings of love, sadness, joy, anger, jealousy… all of those are gone from the human race. But fear? Fear was kept, because fear is the one emotion or feeling that can control us like none other.

There are some that say there are 365 references regarding not being afraid in the Bible; places where we are told for one reason or another to “Fear not”. I did a little research of my own. That’s not true. It’s in there quite a bit, for different reasons or in different circumstances, but it is not in there quite so many times as some have purported.

Nevertheless, Jesus, himself, did say it at least once, and so we might ought to listen. (In a quick search I found five times… but it was a quick search, and who’s really counting anyway?)

Many of us might not even know how much we are driven by our own fears. Maybe you are like me and begin more sentences than we might like to admit with the words, “I’m afraid…”

“I’m afraid if I say that she’ll be disappointed in me.”

“I’m afraid if my child does that, he might get hurt.”

“I’m afraid if I try to do that, I will fail.”

“I’m afraid of all the evil in the world today.”

“I’m afraid of what will happen if that person gets elected to office.”

There was once a study conducted that showed upwards of 85% of all the things we are afraid might happen never actually do. We are wrong 85% of the time, and yet we still allow the things that we are afraid of shape our thoughts, action, and our very lives.

Unknown

So if fear is so useless to us, why did God even give it to us? I think fear, in its proper place, is a huge benefit. My fear of a wild bear in the forest will cause me to keep my distance should I ever come upon one in the woods. That’s using fear to my advantage. Now if I never take a walk in the forest because I am afraid of the potential of a bear being there and then eating me, I have allowed my fear to control my better judgment… and I miss out on some natural beauty and experiences in nature.

The Bible tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Three times in Proverbs, actually, but again… who’s counting?) So maybe we have fear so that we can be afraid of God, then? I don’t think so. At least not in the way that I am afraid of that bear in the forest.

When I was a kid, I had what some might call a healthy fear of my dad. I wasn’t afraid of what my dad would ever do to me, he was never ever an abusive person, but I understood the control and influence he held over my life and so my fear of him was a healthy thing for me.

In this way, today, I fear the Lord.

God is the creator of the universe, and the giver of life itself. To stand in awe and, yes, some kind of fear of that kind of immense power will only bless me. But when I allow fear to run rampant in my mind unchecked, it can control me to the point of paralysis.

Recently, I heard an audio clip from Andy Stanley, Pastor of NorthPoint Community Church in Atlanta, talking about fear. He was speaking in response to the South Carolina church shootings. Andy said that as followers of Christ, we don’t have to be afraid, even when there is something to be afraid of.

Where did he get that?

From Jesus.

Whenever Jesus told folks not to be scared, it looked like a perfect time to be afraid! Whether it was in the midst of a storm, or during a time of great loss… everything surrounding the circumstance logically led people to fear. But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” (Is. 40:10)

God gave us fear to bless us, not to paralyze us. To fear God leads us to understand his character and is vastness. To grasp even a glimpse of that is a little scary, and a great reminder of who is actually in control here.

How often do you start sentences with “I’m afraid…”? I’m going to do my best to cut that stuff out… how about you? Let’s let fear work for us, and not against us. Let fear serve us instead of us serving fear. It’s the upsidedowness of fear. We gotta flip this thing over.

Where might this life take us if we did? 

Raising Kids is Kind of Like Raising Chickens… Not Really

If you have kids on the verge of flying from the nest you will relate to this. If your kids are still little enough to snuggle with you on the couch, then snuggle a little longer, hug them a little tighter, because these grown up days that seem so far away will be tapping you on the shoulder before you know it. I can promise you that.

You don’t pick up your little crying bundle in a blanket and rock them back to sleep thinking of the day they look back into your eyes with eyes from an adult face. There is no way you can even think about all the paths they will walk that will lead them to that day. You’re too busy feeding, burping, diaper changing, and bathing to even go there in your mind. But the day is coming.

Many of you know that Matthew and I have recently decided to become backyard chicken keepers. We ordered day old chicks that came in the mail, yes- the mail, and now are the proud owners of five different types of hens. All because we apparently don’t have enough to do already.

IMG_2442I was surprised at how quickly the little hens grew. Within just a couple of days, feathers were sprouting where there once was just chick fuzz. They immediately knew how to eat and what. They found their water dish instantly, and knew just how to drink from it. They had no mother hen to show them these things. They just came equipped with all this chicken knowledge right from the egg.

Now, only 4-5 weeks old, it takes two hands to hold them, and they look more like grown chickens than the little peeps that came in our mail. Now when I open the lid to the brooder where they currently live, at least two will try to make a flying break for it. The situation culminates with me playing tennis with chickens, batting them back into the brooder box, feathers flying, as they try to escape the confines of the enclosure that has grown too restrictive for them. They so want to spread their wings and fly. To run free and do what chickens were created to do. You know, run around eating bugs, pooping, and the like. FullSizeRender

As I push my chickens back into their nest, the irony of it all does not escape me. I’m quick like that. My kids are, each one, getting painfully close to the edge of my nest. All of them in varying stages of readiness to fly, all of them wanting freedom from childhood. One ready and on the verge of flight, another close at his heals. A third trying to push their way to the head of the line too early, and the last in line watching with anticipation to see how the older ones do, and sort of enjoying the show.

Some days I wonder how we all got to this place in time. Where did all the days and weeks and years go? This momma hen worries sometimes about these kids who are growing up so fast, too fast. I panic and I worry. Then I pray and meet the Prince of Peace who calms my spirit and smooths my ruffled feathers.

And then my friend and mentor tells me:

“I pray for peace to flood your mind, body, and soul. I pray that God would make fresh every Word ever spoken over your children’s lives. His Word will not come back void. I pray that God will cause you to speak Life over their circumstances… that He will open your eyes to see His hand at work. Behind the scene. He will make a way where there seems to be no way. Our God is able to do exceedingly more!!!

Stacey, there is nothing more powerful than a Momma’s prayers! God hears your heart for your babies and He turns His heart toward them. He loves them even more than you do.”

If you don’t have a mentor like mine… get you one. That’s some good stuff. Sometimes we just need someone to remind us of truth in these days that pass too quickly for our liking. Our Father cares for our kids more than we do.

I have discovered that raising chickens is nothing like raising kids. Chickens come here knowing everything they need to know about being a chicken. Kids? We gotta start from scratch with them. It can make a mother weary some days, but when all those long days of childhood add up quickly before our eyes, it will all pay off when we watch them take flight.

Hopefully.

An Ear in the Hand

Have you ever noticed that each and every person who played a part in the written account of scripture is, in one way or another, a mess? Some are bigger messes than others, but they are pretty much all, well, human.

Noah was a drunk. Moses was a murderer… and so was David. And David was also an adulterer. Esther lied about her heritage, and Sarah laughed at God’s promise of a son. Ananias and Sapphira took money from the church. Lot’s wife couldn’t let go of the past. Thomas doubted. Did I mention Judas already? I could go on. Issues. All God’s children got ‘em.

But one of my favorites from scripture is Peter. I can’t help having a soft spot in my heart for Peter. It’s probably because in many ways, I married a Peter. Strong. Confident. You know, sometimes like a bull in a china shop, only with good intentions. Yes, Peter was bigger than life, and Jesus saw something in him of value and chose him to be a part of His life and His ministry. Peter didn’t always get it right, but he took risks and always tried hard.

One of my favorite accounts of Peter was in the garden of Gethsemane. When Judas betrayed Jesus, and the soldiers closed in upon them, Peter drew his sword in defense of his Savior. If Peter had been aiming for the soldier’s ear, the fact that he lobbed it right off with just one swing is pretty impressive, but I’m guessing the “go big or go home” Peter of scripture was actually aiming for the guy’s head and missed. Most of the time the Peter in my imagination has a Carolina Panthers jersey on and has his face painted with the team colors.

6594104An ear in the hand for most of us would just be icky. But for Jesus? It was an opportunity to do what Jesus did, and He made the soldier whole again. It also likely saved Peter’s life. No one stood against the Roman guard like that, but they couldn’t exactly arrest Peter for an ear that wasn’t cut off… anymore.

Peter had an imperfect faith. Like mine. Walk-on-the-water strong one minute, and sinking-below-the-waves weak the next. Lobbing off a soldier’s ear one day, and denying his faith to three different people on another day.

And yet, Peter had undoubtedly captured the heart of Christ. Jesus loved Peter in all of his reckless abandon… so much so, that after Jesus reappeared following his death, he took Peter and spent time alone with him. He restored the relationship, secured his faith once again, and in so doing chose the likes of Peter upon which to build His church. The likes of Peter. That’s really good news.

Why? Because Jesus didn’t require perfection. He required the faith of imperfect believers who would love Him enough, and love others enough, to build His Kingdom on the earth.

You see, Jesus is the real Cornerstone of the church, not Peter. Why do I say this? (Obviously, she’s lost her mind. Didn’t Jesus, himself, say to Peter, “Upon this rock I shall build my church?” Yes. He. Did.)

Check out 1 Peter… the letter written by Peter. Starting in verse four of Chapter 2, he declares who the Cornerstone of the Church really is. Peter declares it is actually Jesus. Go check it out… I’ll wait…

So why did Jesus say what He said to Peter as they shared that meal of fish, just the two of them, by the water? I believe it was to establish a pattern… one for which I am personally grateful. Peter was just the first misfit in a long line of misfits that would make up the Kingdom of God on earth. It started with Peter… right behind the Cornerstone, Jesus. Peter understood his position as a “living stone” in the foundation of the church… but he also called the rest of us “living stones” with him.

Don’t take it from me… Peter said it, and Peter got it right.

I think this should come as wonderful news to all of us. The Cornerstone sets the foundation for the rest of the construction. You want the Cornerstone to be perfect. Peter, as we have established, was not perfect. But our Cornerstone? The place where our faith begins? The power by which we live and breathe and have our being? Total perfection. We are secure in Christ alone… our Cornerstone. Jesus finds us useful for His Kingdom in the midst of our weaknesses because it is not through our own strengths that we are great, but through our identity in Christ that we stand as living stones.

The Discernment Dilemma

Philippians 1:9-10
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…

It’s hot and humid here in the Deep South. Just like I like it. I know it sounds crazy, but give me hot and muggy over cold and rainy any day. This summer, I have had the pleasure of leading a small group of young professional women leaders in my church. We have taken the time to read and discuss Lysa Terkeurst’s book, The Best Yes.

I am happy to be leading these young women through the ideas and principles within this book because I wish someone had shared them with me when I was young like they are. Oh, how much easier my life could have been if I had heard these ideas early on! Have you ever just handed out so many yeses that you thought you might collapse under the weight of them all?

FullSizeRenderLysa bases her book from the verses from Philippians above. She hopes to teach people to have the ability to know when to say yes, when to say no, and how. Because the hard truth is, every opportunity that presents itself isn’t supposed to get our yes.

Remember the song in the musical, “Oklahoma”, that goes, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no”? Sometimes that is me, because if someone asks something of me, I think I should say yes. Not because I always really ought to say yes, (or that I even truly WANT to say yes) but if I do say yes, then I think that person will like me more. Which is really all about me, and not so much about them or the task to which I now have to apply myself.

Knowing when to give out what Lysa calls our “Best Yes” only comes after we master discernment. Discernment is an ability, a spiritual gift and a spiritual discipline even, mentioned time and again in scripture. Discernment comes after we gain wisdom. From where does this wisdom come?

The Bible tells us the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We must first come to appreciate the nature of God through His holy word to gain wisdom. Then, and only then, will we be able to discern good from evil. Only then will we be able to decide if an opportunity deserves a yes from us.

Most of the time, we aren’t willing to ponder our opportunities enough before we hand out our yeses. We feel pressure from those asking things from us to give an immediate answer, and lots of times, when we answer without thinking the thing through, we end up regretting our decisions made in haste.

We have to learn to follow our decisions to their ultimate end BEFORE we commit.

In The Principle of the Path, Andy Stanley says, “Direction, not intention, determines destination.” How many times have we had great intentions, but chose poorly our direction, and ended up at a destination we never would have planned? If we had just taken a few moments to think our decision through to its ultimate end, we would never have said yes to the offer or request in the first place.

It reminds me of the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse Cookie. It’s a nonsensical story about a boy who thinks through all the ramifications of serving up a cookie to a mouse. If you ever read that book to your kids, you know that what seemed like a simple enough action on the front end, ended up being quite the involved situation. I’ve given out a few cookies in my time.

Sometimes we have as much problem telling ourselves no as we do telling others no. I’ll tell you, I have come up with some crazy stuff all on my own. I’ll jump on an idea I have and run with it without thinking it through completely. Lysa suggests taking any decision, whether it’s your own idea or someone else’s, through a list of qualifiers.

Is the opportunity financially sound?
Is the opportunity going to bless me emotionally?
Is the opportunity going to grow me spiritually?

There are certainly other factors you might consider (time investment, impact on others, etc.), but you get the gist.

Learning to have good discernment follows our ability to put our desires under God’s authority. When we do that, we want what He wants more than we want what we want. We care more about pleasing Him than we do about pleasing others or ourselves.

Discernment is available to all who seek the wisdom of God’s word. We cannot truly ask God for discernment and expect to gain it without a willingness to spend time in His love letter to us. It’s an investment, and an opportunity deserving of our “Best Yes”.

A Shift in the Universe

One of my favorite things is when I get to see God moving in the lives of the people I care about. I sometimes call it a “shift in the universe”. Like, something just happened, and it was BIG. It’s like the shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates. It’s huge, but if you aren’t paying attention, you can miss it.

For me, it’s an adrenaline rush like little else, and when it happens I become like a junkie waiting for the next fix. I NEED it. I WANT it.

I’d love nothing more than to see God move mountains every day of my life. To see Him do things in ways that I could never have fathomed He could… or would. It reminds me that usually my idea of who God is, and just what He is capable of, is woefully small.

I mean we belong to the Creator of the universe. The same One who spoke earth into existence. The very One who created everything out of nothing. (I enjoy crafting things, “creating” things… but to date, I have never been able to create something from nothing.) And I want to put THAT God in a box and set limits to what He can do, what He is willing to do?

universeI have a friend who writes articles for real. Like it’s her job. She is one of my heroes. She recently wrote about God’s mercy and called it “severe mercy”. That’s when God walks us through painful things, and all the while it’s the most merciful thing He can do for us… even though it hurts. We walk through those valleys to get us to the place where we should be, to a position where we can see His face more clearly than ever before. He loves us enough to do that for us. It’s painfully wonderful.

Have you experienced a shift in the universe lately? Are you paying attention? Are you praying for God to do something only He can do, and then doubting his ability to do it? I do that. I say I don’t, but then when God moves, and I see it, I become painfully aware of just how much I doubted He would really move. How sad is that? It’s not like it’s my first time. I’m not new at this.

But when it happens, I can’t seem to wipe the smile off my face, and for a while my feet barely touch the ground. I giggle like a little girl. I come to appreciate even more my Heavenly Father and His miraculous interest in the lives of those who love Him. It’s awesome, and I feel a closer connectedness to the Father, and a better understanding of who He is and what He is capable of, that can elude me other times.

Hopeless or difficult situations are hopeless or difficult in the hands of man, but hopeless and difficult don’t even enter God’s vocabulary. God made hope… and difficult? What is difficult for God? (Matthew 19:26) Are we really willing to say that there is something God cannot do? Yes. Often we are. I am.

God gave us hope incarnate when He sent us His Son. We were dead in our sinfulness… without hope of any kind, and He sent Hope to us. Talk about a shift in the universe! What a day that was!

So that hopeless situation you face… that difficult problem that looms… place it securely in the hands of the One who has the power to make something from nothing. Give it to the One who can do more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). And then watch for that shift in the universe…

You’ll be a junkie just like me…

Making the Pieces Fit, God’s Way

Matthew and I went to Lowe’s recently to try to engineer a waterer from PVC pipe and pieces for our new chickens. He had ordered this gadget that will water the chickens without letting their water get dirty. It seemed simple enough. Just go get the pieces that fit, put them together and wah-la, a chicken waterer.

FullSizeRender

We spent the better part of an hour standing in the PVC aisle of Lowe’s trying first one and then another PVC piece, only we couldn’t make it work. The pieces just didn’t fit together. We had what appeared to be an endless supply of different options, but we couldn’t make them work because we lacked the right pieces. What looked like great options in front of us, just didn’t match up the way they needed to for our success.

When God first created earth and its inhabitants, He sat back and looked at His creation. Day after day, He had completed parts and pieces that fit perfectly together, and at the end of most days He had said, “It is good.” But one day, He sat back and didn’t say that. He watched all the parts and pieces and decided He had left out one important piece; the final piece that would actually complete His greatest work. He needed Eve, or well, Adam needed Eve.

So the Creator made the very thing that could complete the picture of creation. He made a woman. She was perfect for Adam in every way. His exact and complete opposite, and with the creation of Eve, the first family came to be. Perfection.

There’s been a lot of recorded history since that day. Men and women haven’t always gotten that relationship right. Heck, it didn’t take Adam and Eve long to let it go sideways. But just because people mess things up, doesn’t negate what God sees as good and perfect if done the way He intended.

Even at creation, God was up to something. He began then to paint a picture of His church. God created man and woman for intimacy in order that we might one day understand the intimacy He desires to have with His church.

Like I said, in short order, people got this family thing messed up. You can read in the Old Testament of men marrying lots of women. If they were rich and powerful, they had concubines to meet their sexual desires. Some men became interested in men, and there is even an account in the Bible where angels came to earth and mated with women. Some funky stuff.

When Jesus came, women were seen as property, and had no rights apart from their husbands or fathers. Jesus stood that idea on its ear when He said that in the Kingdom of God there is no superiority among the sexes. Each is to be valued, and each has an important role to play in the Kingdom.

Later, the apostle Paul wrote about the family. He said, just as Christ is head of the church, man is to be head of the family. And just as the church submits itself to Christ’s leadership, the woman shall submit herself to the leadership of the man. (Ephesians)

As Christians, we believe that the three parts of the Trinity are equal. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But Christ, chooses to submit Himself to the Father’s leadership. This in no way downplays His power or His importance. It doesn’t lessens His position as Son. In the same way, wives choosing to submit themselves to the husbands in no way lessens their importance or ability. For families to work God’s way, there must be an appointed leader. There’s only room for one sheriff in this town.

We can try to make pieces fit together that were never meant to fit together. Women can try to take the lead in the family. Men can try to use women as doormats. Men can desire to be with men and women with women. Give us an opportunity to get it wrong, and we will give it a go. I mean we have all these pieces in front of us, surely if we try hard enough we can make them fit. We’ll force them if we have to.

Yet the pieces were created to fit only one way. Until we get that right, we will never truly understand intimacy God’s way. God established the family before He established the church, and He defined what it should look like. It was His idea, and He’s given us all the pieces we need for success. Marriage, the family, the church, intimacy… they’re all His.

Matthew and I are back at the drawing board for our chicken waterer. It’s all about lining up the right pieces and putting them together the right way. We aren’t giving up yet. It will work, if we do it the right way.