Laying It Down To Pick It Up

Lay-it-DownTwo-and-a-half-year-old Andrew Benton loves life.  When this grandson of ours visits, he wants nonstop play and activity.

Recently Andrew had a large toy in each hand, and saw another that he wanted.  He could not pick up the new toy,  because he wasn’t willing to lay down what was already in his hands.  He fussed, tried to figure out how to do it, but to no avail.  I kept saying to Andrew, “Lay it down, so you can pick up what you desire.”  But, no, no, no!  Andrew never did pick up what was before him, because he was not willing to release the grip on what he thought was so precious.

Andrew was overloaded with his own stuff.

One of the greatest enemies of walking in what God has for us, is holding on to things that we need to lay down.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Let’s lay down the failures of the past, things we cannot change, and walk in the new day God gives us. This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice in today!
  • Let’s lay down the disappointment of Church folks, and become a vital part of a local church.  The oyster puts up with the irritant of sand, and winds up with a pearl.
  • Let’s lay down the hurts that are suffocating us, and release them to God.
  • Let’s lay down the negative self-images, and thank God for who He made us to be.
  • Let’s lay down wishing we had a certain gift, and pick up the anointed gift God has given us.  There are miracles in every anointed gift that God bestows.
  • Let’s lay down bad, harsh attitudes, and pick up joy.
  • Let’s lay down Facebook and other media, and pick up the Word of God.
  • Let’s lay down a wagging tongue, and pick up words that heal and offer hope.

I could go on and on.  We all fight these kinds of battles, and it’s easy to hold on to these things.  The power is in releasing stuff that keeps us from walking through the open door God has for us. As a great  Bill Gaither song says:

In the things familiar we find security
Resisting all the changes that days and years can bring
When God decides to lead you through an open door
Inviting you to walk in realms you’ve never known before

Beyond the open door is a new and fresh anointing
Hear the Spirit calling you to go
Walk on through the door for the Lord will go before you
Into a greater power you’ve never known before.

“Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress …” (Hebrews 12:1b NLT)

Autism Matters. Children Matter. Families Matter.

Autism - CopyAutism matters. Children matter. Families matter.

My grandson Joseph will celebrate his fourth birthday soon.  Joseph and I share an amazing love affair. This boy has my heart, and I have his.  When we received the official diagnosis that Joseph was affected by autism disorder, I cried many tears.   Through much prayer, love and therapy, Joseph has made progress.

We personally have since learned of two pastoral families, friends of ours, who have received the same diagnosis.

We don’t talk about it a lot, but autism affects so many families.  I think I always cared about children with special needs, but when it touched my family, that caring went off the scale.  I love Joseph Benton beyond words.

Much can be done to help these children if therapy is started early.  Often insurance won’t cover all the child needs to improve their lives, and in some cases covers nothing.  While some free therapies are available, they often need more.

I think even more, I have realized that, as the Church, we must be caring and prayerful for these families.

For instance, does your church have any kind of ministry in place for families affected by autism?  Does your church offer any kind of ministry to families with children who have special needs?  The Church must minister to these families.

I’m thankful that our church is trying.  Our church offers a group for moms to get together to encourage, support and pray for each other.  I am personally working to put together a group, inviting moms into my home to minister to them.  Our local church also has a ministry, The Haven, for all children with disabilities.  In essence, The Haven allows a family to attend a church service.  While the parents are in the regular service, someone sits one-on-one in the nursery or children’s church to help the child.  For a season, the same person is usually with the same child, so that familiarity is built.  The Haven throws a big Christmas party for these families.  I know of a small church in the Midwest that raised funds to set up a sensory room, utilized workers trained in this area, and used it as outreach. They immediately got new families – families who had never been able to regularly attend a church service.

The Church has to step up.  Don’t close your eyes to this need.  Ask other churches for ideas.  Search Pinterest for ministry for children with special needs.  Call that mom and ask her how she is today.   Pray with her.  Men, reach out to a man who is trying to be a dad to a special child.

Think about it.  Pray about it. Care about it.  But, please don’t ignore it.  Why?  Because autism matters, children with special needs matter and families matter.

“Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2 

Having A Failure Doesn’t Make You A Failure

Failure2There are few weeks that go by without someone confessing to me how they have royally messed up, how they have failed.  Many times these people feel condemned.   Fear grips them that the Church and God will mark them off the list, calling them disqualified.

Having a failure doesn’t make YOU a failure!

The book of James has a powerful scripture: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.”  – James 5:16

James understood the need for the Church (not the building) to be a place where people who failed could come, confess, be prayed for and be healed.   Why don’t we see very much of that today?    I believe it’s because we are not always authentic in the Church.  It’s easy to yell at the top of our lungs, or post on Facebook how evil people are when they commit sexual sin, or when our country openly embraces things contrary to scripture.  Open computer – get fingers ready to tell the whole world how they are going to hell.

Don’t stop reading out of anger … keep reading.

Over these forty-seven years I have walked with God, I have failed many times:

  • During one period in my life, I stopped preaching/teaching several months because I was offended by folks in church.  That is failure.
  • During one period in my life, while married to my wonderful, godly husband, I pulled away from God, stopped listening to any worship music, and only listened to country music.  The point is not the country music; the point is why I was listening.  I was letting my heart walk away from God, while my body sat on a pew.   On the outside, I was the “holy” wife of a wonderful pastor.   On the inside I was playing games with the devil.  That is failure.
  • I have gone through periods when I was jealous of other ministries, and I let it overtake my thought life to the point of disliking the success of others.  That is failure.
  • I have carried grudges and unforgiveness for long periods.  That is failure.
  • As a leader, I have been infuriated with people who did not do things the way I wanted them done, and they got a taste of my venom.  I had to control everything! That is failure.
  • While rolling my eyes at the “terrible” sins of  others, I allowed myself to binge eat, better known as gluttony in the Bible. That is failure.

So, what do you think of Barbara Benton now?  (Rhetorical, so please don’t answer.)

Thank God I am not the woman above any more.  I have learned to receive the grace of God that says to me, “Having a failure doesn’t make me a failure.”   Because of that grace, I am simply not that woman above.  She has been changed by His grace.

One of the things that has helped me most in overcoming the mindset of failure, is that I found trusted people with whom I could talk.  I could talk openly and honestly, without fear of condemnation.  I could talk with people who weren’t ready to throw me out of the Body of Christ or out of ministry; people who genuinely prayed with me, kept in touch with me, and wanted to see me totally healed.  Thank God for healing!  Thank God for the power to overcome!

What about you?  Can God trust with the failures of other?  Can we be authentic enough to say, I’ve not walked this thing perfectly?

We desperately need authentic Christianity – the kind that says, “I have failed, but God has forgiven me and given me the strength to rise up and continue walking.”

This is one of the most vulnerable blogs I have ever written.  I, like others, still wrestle with the fear of what will others think or say about me. What impact will this have on my ministry?   Will people no longer invite me to conferences and churches?

It is essential that we have welcoming arms for those who have failed.  Oh I know, some will read this and think I’m just opening the doors to all kinds of people.  Well, yes I am.  That is what the Church is called to do.  We are called to be a place of forgiveness, restoration, love, exhortation and patience.

I am so thankful that God said to me, “Having a failure, doesn’t make YOU a failure.”

Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!

Two-Degree Living

cockpit2In 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back.

Unknown to the pilots, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees.  This error placed the aircraft 28 miles to the east of where the pilots assumed they were.

As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better view of the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither were aware that incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises to a height of more than 12,000 feet.

As the pilots continued the course, the snow and ice-covered volcano blended with the white of the clouds, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board.

It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only two degrees.

Over the years I have been blessed with the opportunity to mentor and counsel many people.  As I look at God’s people, including myself, I have learned that much of the failure we are seeing is a result of “two-degree” error living.

Countries, relationships, businesses and holy living don’t fail overnight.  It’s usually “two-degree” error living.   What are you accepting in your life that used to be unacceptable?

It is my opinion that the USA finds herself where she is today, because those at the helm have led us away two-degrees at a time.  As I observe the differences in our world between when I was thirty and when I turned sixty, it is shocking.  Very little, if any of it, happened over night.

The same can be said of Christian living.

What is your tolerance for being off course?  The longer one stays off course, the further one will be away from the intended target, which invites unwanted pain and consequences. We don’t run away from our values – we drift away two-degrees at a time, and find ourselves in places we never meant to be.

Straying off course does not have to result in a terrible crash in life. Course corrections can be made in-flight.  Here’s the Good News – no matter how terribly off course you are, no matter how far you have strayed, the way back is clear.  Make a course correction and head back towards God, towards His word. He awaits you with open arms.

 “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” – Job 23:12

Defining Moments – Who Will I Be?

635693748712989117972323024_leverage-your-life-now-defining-momentsDefining moments in life can mold us, shape us and direct our lives.

Some defining moments can be traumatic, and others can be incredibly wonderful.   For example, after the first instance of abuse at the hands of my father, my life direction and thought process were profoundly impacted.   For years that event and subsequent events molded me to be angry, agitated and headed in the wrong direction.  These events bred a lack of belief that I could ever be healed, and make anything of my life.

I’ve also had defining moments that were wonderful and changed my life.  Giving my life to Jesus Christ, and going to Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, was life-changing for me.  For the first time, I was in a stable, Christian environment, and over time I no longer lived in fear.    Marrying Gaylon Benton and birthing three children were defining moments in my life.  What kind of wife and mother did I want to be?

Did those moments define me?  Not really.  How I responded to those moments determined the course of my life.

Because of childhood abuse, miscarriage of my first baby, church hurt and the painful reality of losing a son, I have the right to be angry.  Mix that with other hurts and betrayals in life, and I have the right to live angry.  But, I did not want that to define my life, so instead I chose to give up the right to live an angry life.

At the age of seventeen, I made a choice to follow Jesus Christ, not just go to church, but follow Jesus Christ.   I chose to let that decision define who I would become over time.    I gave up the right to live angry, and allowed God to give me abundant life.  I do not regret that decision for one moment!  Not one!

Moses could have been defined by the murder he committed, but he was redefined by a burning bush experience.   Peter could have been defined by sinking into an angry sea, but he was redefined by the power of the Holy Spirit, and became a powerhouse for God.   Saul could have been defined by his involvement in the killing and persecution of many Christians.  Instead, he was redefined by an encounter with God, and renamed Paul.

What defines your life?  The negative moments?  Those moments do not have to control your destiny in life.    I am so grateful for a God who offers us defining moments, and once you affirmatively respond to a defining moment from God, you are never the same

I Used To Be A Shepherd

ShepherdAs a kid growing up, I was “po.” I’ve often said that we were not poor, since we could not even afford the “o and the r.”  We were  plain old “po.” Additionally, we grew up in a really bad house, unlike so many with whom I attended school.    By societal terms, we were not much of anything.

I was recently chatting with one of my sisters, and asked her if she could help me recall fun memories as a kid.  She said, “Are you kidding?  We were abused and poor. We have no happy memories.”   Though she said this in jest, there was more truth to the statement than either of us wanted to acknowledge.

For years, I considered myself as the bottom rung on the ladder.

There are many characters in the story of the birth of Jesus.  I love the fact that God chose to involve shepherds in the story.  In that time, shepherds were considered to be people of the lower class, a very low rung on the ladder.  These “low-class” shepherds were visited by angels, who told them of the birth of the Savior.  After that experience, they took the initiative to say, “We have to find Him.  We have to see Him. We have to meet Him.”   They started the journey towards the Savior.  After finding Him, they could not help themselves – they began to announce the Savior to everyone who would listen.  It was life-changing when they met Jesus.

As we peer into our nativity scenes, let’s not pass over the shepherds.  Let’s not lose sight that God chose those diminished by society, to be the ones who would herald the birth of Jesus Christ.  Let’s rejoice in the shepherds.   GOD visited them, and invited them to be a part of the story.

I am so incredibly thankful God included the shepherds.   I can’t identify with kings in palaces, but I can identify with those who have felt less than, those who have felt hopeless that they could ever get off the bottom rung.  A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes changed my perspective.

I once was a shepherd, but now I am a child of the most high God.   “Nuff” said!

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. – Luke 2:8-17

Hearing the Snap, Crackle, Pop

snap2A young man had a dream to be in the music industry.  Door after door slammed in his face, but he would not give up on his dream.  Finally, after years of trying, he was offered a job at a record label.  His job was to listen to recordings and find their flaws.  He would listen for all the snaps, crackles and pops that needed to be removed.  He took the job, because at least it was foot in the door of the music industry.

The young man was at a party one night, and another guest asked where he worked.  He reported that he was employed at the well-known music label, and had been there for five years.  The guest responded, “Wow, it must be great to work there and listen to all that great music.”  The young man replied, “For five years, I have trained my ear to listen for the snaps, crackles and pops.  I never hear the music anymore. I only hear the flaws.”

In life, if we are not careful we might find ourselves in a position where we are no longer bending our ears to hear the music, but to hear the snaps, crackles and pops.

How easy it is to listen for the snaps, crackles and pops, when we have been offended, especially in Church-world.  The pastor has offended us and we no longer hear the Word, we hear the mistakes of the pastor.  A soloist hurts our feelings, and when he/she sings again, we no longer hear the powerful, beautiful lyrics, but we hear the mistakes of the singer.  Perhaps we have had a bad experience at a church, so we no longer hear that the Church is the people of God, but we envision only the bad experience.

Perhaps now all we can see and hear are the snaps, crackles and pops. What are you hearing?  Maybe it’s time to retune our hearts and ears.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” – Philippians 4:8

My “Reel” Story

ReelChurch of the Highlands is my home church in Birmingham, AL.  We are currently in one of my favorite annual series, “At The Movies.”   Each week our pastor plays clips from a movie, then makes great spiritual applications.  It is creative, touching, hope-filled and a great evangelism tool.

I have a real life, but I have asked myself, if my life was a movie for all to see, what clips would I want shown? What clips would offer hope, and sway people for God?

Here are a few clips, from my real story that  I would want in my “reel” story:

  1. When you have rough beginnings as a child, God still has a plan for your life. My life growing up was quite difficult, yet God had a plan to find me, change my life and use me for His glory.  How life started does not have to determine how it ends.
  2. When life doesn’t turn out like you had hoped, allow God to take your lemons and make lemonade. The woman who led me to the Lord was never married. She wanted to be married and have a family of her own, but it never happened.  Yet, she allowed God to use her to be a spiritual mother to many.  I am a product of her encouragement and training.   I can only imagine the number of people she touched, who then touched others, who then touched others.
  3. When you’ve messed up, forgive yourself. I was ridiculously hard on myself for the mistakes I made as a wife, mother and woman of God.   I allowed mistakes to hold me back way too long.  There is life after mistakes!
  4. Choose to enjoy life. There will be periods of hardship, periods of deep grief, periods of unfairness.  Don’t let those drain you of joy forever.  Live again. Laugh again. Love again.
  5. Serve others. By nature, I am very introverted and could spend most of my time alone.    As I have allowed God to use me in a variety of settings, not just teaching, I have found there is great joy in being His servant.
  6. Leave a legacy. At the end of movies, there are often paragraphs flashed on the screen.  Those paragraphs tell the rest of the story, and often the legacy left behind. In my “reel” life, my hope is for paragraphs that say, “She made a difference for God – a tangible difference in the lives of family, and in the lives of those with whom she crossed paths.”

We all have a real life.  But, what if you had a “reel” life?  What would the story say?  Your story is still being written, and you can still make a “reel” change.  Live life to its fullest; live for God.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  – Ephesians 2:10

It Was Just A Little Thing She Did…But Little Things Matter

Little ThingsA while back, I was going through a bit of a rough patch emotionally.  Even when we know Jesus Christ, even when we are leaders, we are humans. Stuff happens and hearts hurt. I’m not one to publicize or talk much about my own hurting heart.

One day during my period of heart heaviness, I walked to the mailbox to get the mail.  As I sat down to sort through the mail, I noticed a card.  There was no special occasion, so it caught my attention.  The name of the sender was in the left hand corner, and it was a dear friend that I rarely see.

I opened the envelope and there was a card with a very kind, sweet message. Also enclosed in the envelope was a gift card for Panera Bread.  This woman is aware of my love for Panera!   Her words basically said, I was just thinking of you and wanted to send this to bless you.   It brought a smile to my face and to my heart.

It was just a little thing, but little things matter.

As I write this blog post today, I am sitting in Panera on a chilly day, sipping a wonderful cup of coffee compliments of my friend.  As a matter of fact, this is probably the tenth cup of coffee I have enjoyed compliments of my friend.    I have prepared many of my small group teachings sitting in Panera, while sipping  coffee.  The gift card has been a gift that keeps on giving, and EVERY time I use it, I think of my friend and smile.  I’ve even texted her to say, I’m enjoying a cup of coffee on you.

Sometimes we think we cannot make a difference in people’s lives.  We aren’t rich enough, or crafty enough, or creative enough, or spiritual enough …. but, all it takes sometimes is a text, a card, an email, a call or some small thing.   Those small things can bring a smile, offer encouragement, and raise a heart that is down.

It was just a little thing she did…but little things matter.  

“So encourage each other and build each other up…” – 1 Thessalonians  5:11

I Can’t Believe How Big My Shoe Is!

God is BiggerAs I opened the package left by my door, I was so excited.  For my birthday, my son and his family sent me new athletic shoes – new cool-looking blue ones, trimmed in bright green.   I pulled them out of the box, and was shocked how big they looked.  Was my foot really that big?

I put the shoes on and they fit perfectly and looked great.  Still, I could not believe my foot was that big. I am a fairly tall woman, but normally I wear a six-and-a-half shoe, and occasionally I need a seven.  But, as I looked at the shoes they looked huge, like something Goliath might wear.

As I sat there a few minutes, looking at the shoes, I was about ready to send them back.   I stared at the shoes; I focused on the enormity of the shoes.  As I sat down to think about the largeness of the shoes, I  took off my reading glasses for a few minutes.  When I looked at the shoes again, they looked much smaller.  It was then I realized, that the shoes looked huge because I had on thick reading glasses.  The size of the shoe depended on the lens through which I viewed it.

Thus, it is with life!

Recently I found myself overwhelmed at all the problems in our world, and in the lives of people.  I am praying for/with people who have serious things going on in life – things that look so large, they scare me.  I can easily step into the realm of looking at them through the lens of my own human eyes and understanding.  They look so big – I wish I could just send them back!

Then, I remember that I must look through the lens of the incredible God with whom I walk, and to whom I pray. One of the hardest lessons we learn is that God is FAR bigger than any problem or circumstance.

In the story of Abraham in scripture, there is a narrative of Abraham trudging up the mountain of sacrifice.  As he got the altar and the wood ready, Isaac was puzzled, and asked, “Father, where is the sacrifice?” Abraham responded, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  Abraham walked up the side of the mountain, with faith that God would provide.  As Abraham and his son walked up one side of the mountain of life, God was already walking up the other side to provide what was needed.

The truth is that we do face trials in our lives that are bigger than we are. God is okay for us to acknowledge that WE ARE NOT bigger than some of the things we face.  He also wants us to know that HE IS bigger than all of those things.

What hard mountain are you walking up today?  Put on the lens of faith – the lens that sees that God is already walking up the other side of the mountain, and He will provide what is needed.  God is bigger than your mountain.

“Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.” – Psalm 147:5