Free Advice Friday

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Free Advice Friday: I believe in God. I just don’t think He is good and kind.

Published June 14, 2013 by joypatton

Okay…so I stole this one from The Wally Show on WayFM.  Wally used this comment from his email as a 10-second topic about whether God is good.  He asked what you would say to this person, so that got me thinking…

What if the only part of planet earth that you experienced was the desert?  Everyone told you that the earth was beautiful, full of green and blue, but all you ever knew was brown and hot.  They also told you the earth was round, but from where you stood it only looked flat.  At some point, you would have to decide whether or not to believe what they said.

Then imagine that one day you went to outer space and saw for yourself what was true.  That the earth was round, that it was beautiful.  You would see that it wasn’t just one giant desert as your experience told you, but that the desert parts were outnumbered by the beautiful greens and blues.  You would be able to see the whole picture.

That’s how it is with God.  “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (I Corinthians 13:12)  Some day we will know how the deserts fit into God’s beautiful plan, but now we know in part.  We are finite, and God is infinite.  We only see from our small perspective, but God sees everything, beginning and end at the same time.  That would be why He is God and I am not.

What’s interesting to me is that it requires some degree of faith to believe that God even exists.  So why not believe that God is also kind and good?  Both require faith.  At times I feel like God isn’t there, and I feel like he is an apathetic and indifferent to my suffering.  But those are the times I must rely on the Truth that I know from His Word.  That is when what I know in part overrides what I feel. Faith is believing what we cannot see.  I choose to believe that the earth is round, even though I haven’t been to space to see for myself.  I trust the pictures and words of others who have been to outer space, just like I trust the pictures and words God gives in Scripture.  Personally if I’m going to believe in God, then I will believe that he is good and kind.  When I judge God as evil and unkind, I make myself god, and I believe that I know more than God.  How absurd for the finite to judge the infinite!

My prayer is that God will show Himself to you.  That God will show you that He is caring, kind, fair and good.  That you will come to know him as a loving Father, not a tyrannical king.  That you will come to see that the Creator knows you fully and loves you completely and unconditionally.  That you might have a small glimpse of what God sees when he looks you and sees the bigger picture of your life.

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Free Advice Friday: I need more patience.

Published March 22, 2013 by joypatton

I’ve heard a lot of people say this.  I recently even heard Jeff Probst admit that he wasn’t a very patient person on his show.  (This, by the way, is what I love about the show.)  Inevitably when someone realizes they lack patience, they next phrase is “I need to be more patient.”

However I would argue that this isn’t really what you need.  More patience isn’t something you can order off the cosmic menu and have show up at your door.  Neither is being more gentle or being more joyful.  I’ve found from personal experience you can’t will yourself out of  depression, nor can you will yourself to be more patient.

One thing that is helpful is getting to the root of the issue.  I bet that if you dig deep enough you will find that the behavior you are trying to prevent begins with not acknowledging your heart.  Your impatience with your husband comes out because you lack compassion for whatever he is dealing with.  Your impatience with coworkers who have bad ideas comes from the pride in your heart that your ideas are the best or your unwillingness to be honest with them about how you feel about their ideas.  My impatience with my kids comes because I think that guarding my reputation and being on time is more important than their hearts.  Often I find an idol or an even uglier sin that needs to be confessed and brought into light.  And when you do, confess it.  It’s just that simple.  Confess it to God and then if needed, confess to the people affected by your actions.  Yes, true repentance is painful, but it’s that pain that ultimately helps change my behavior.

The second thing is to realize that you can’t be more patient.  Do you know where patience comes from?  In Galatians 5:22, patience is listed as a fruit of the Spirit.  Fruits grow because they are attached to a tree that gives them what they need to grow.  God grants sun and rain to grow the fruit.  The fruit doesn’t decide in which season it will grow or how big it will get or how sweet it will be.  The best thing the fruit can do to promote its growth is to remain attached to the tree.

How do you stay attached to the tree that produces the fruits of the Spirit?  By believing that Jesus died on the cross to cover all your sin, including my impatience and whatever ugly thing is driving it.  Paul also encourages us to “keep in step” with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).  To me this also sounds a lot like the “abiding” Jesus encourages us to do in John 15.  It sounds a lot like how a fruit grows in a tree.

So instead of needing more patience, we really need more Jesus.  He is the source of all of those things.  Truthfully I have no ability to be more patient on my own apart from him.  If you see me being patience with my kids, giving my husband grace or being joyful on a bad day, it’s because of the Spirit at work in my life.  And on the days my abiding is less than stellar, you know what I need to do more?  Confess it.  And it all leads to more humility, more grace,, more patience because I realized that Jesus was humiliated on my behalf and has given infinite grace and patience to me on my worst days.  How could I withhold that from anyone else?

What would it look like to “abide more” today?

Free Advice Friday: What does it mean if we are “offended” by something someone does or says?

Published March 1, 2013 by joypatton

First you need to understand your own heart. Were you hurt by what they said or offended? If someone does or says something that hurt your feelings, then you need to own that. Sometimes it’s easier to say we were “offended” than to say we were “hurt.” Kind of like saying “I’m frustrated” rather than “I’m angry.” Using the terms “offended” and “frustrated” allows us to save face and maintain a “stronger” position. But to say that I was hurt or angry, takes courage because it makes me vulnerable. I’m vulnerable because I got my feelings hurt.

What I learned from counseling and from one of my all-time favorite books Voice of the Heart by Chip Dodd was to speak my feelings in simple honest terms without hiding them. Now when someone does or says something that hurts me, I can tell them I was hurt. Your feelings are your feelings and no one can tell you how to feel. Whether they meant to or not doesn’t change the fact that I was hurt. So just tell them, simply and honestly without an expectation of an apology. When I tell someone how I feel, I tell them because I want to be known by them. I let them see me as I truly am, and I let them be who they truly are, sorry or not sorry.

As Christians, we are so quick to use the word “offended.” Many were offended by Beyonce’s Superbowl Halftime Show. Many are offended by what how the liberal media reports the news. Many are offended by how common swear words are in our culture today. The list of things that Christians find “offensive” is extremely long, never-ending and quite varied. But my question is what offended Jesus, the person we are all supposedly trying to be more like?

Was Jesus offended when they flung a partially dressed woman caught in adultery at his feet? Was he offended when he ate in the home of Zaccheus the tax collector? Was he offended when Simon the Pharisee had him over for dinner and didn’t properly wash his feet? Was he offended by the rough life of his fishermen disciples who sometimes didn’t wash their hands before they ate? Was he offended when the disciples tried to turn away the little children? Was he offended when the friends of the paralytic man destroyed private property to bring their friend to Jesus? Was he offended when the woman at the well asked him theological questions all the while avoiding his?

Of all the people who ever walked this earth, Jesus, the perfect, unblemished, holy Son of God, had more reasons to be offended by the unrighteous filth of our world than anyone else. And yet these are not the things that “offended” him. None of those things could diminish or tarnish or take away his righteousness. An unclean woman washing his feet with her tears and her hair does not make him any less righteous. The Pharisees however criticized him for letting him touch her. They would never let her unrighteousness come near to their righteousness lest she tarnish their holiness. They failed to understand that righteousness is a matter of the heart, not something you maintain on the outside.

Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for the Pharisees in Matthew 23. He says “Woe to you!” seven times in this chapter directed at them. He calls them hypocrites and fools. It seems to me that these were the people who “offended” him the most. These were people who valued their righteousness more than justice and truth and love. They treated righteousness as something to be earned, deserved and protected. I think we fall into the same trap when we rant and rave about all the things that are offensive to us as Christians. Typically people are offended when their sense of right-ness is transgressed. They fear that what they have seen or heard will tarnish their righteousness.

But the truth is that I am righteous not because of what I do or don’t do. I have been declared righteous when I trust Jesus’ perfect righteousness to cover all my unrighteousness. Therefore I don’t get “offended” by the unrighteous things of this world. The world and the people in it are simply acting according to their nature. Jesus’ righteousness was not “offended” by all the unrighteousness of this world. Rather he was moved to compassion and love for the sick and dying, those headed toward eternal damnation.

My hope is that when someone in this world acts according to their fallen nature that I will not be “offended” and judge, but rather that I would be moved toward compassion and love. Lest I become like the Pharisees, truly offensive to the One I love.

Free Advice Friday: I used to feel like a Princess, but now I don’t. How do I get back?

Published November 16, 2012 by joypatton

I had two conversations with women this week who talked about how their time with the Lord has changed drastically.  Because of family, jobs and simply stage of life, things have changed.  In the past, they used to be able to have long quiet times with the Lord and lots of time to study the Word and attend Bible studies.  But now they don’t have that time, and as a result, they don’t feel as close to God as they once did.

Sometimes we forget that our relationship with God is a relationship.  It changes; it ebbs and flows.  Sometimes we feel close and sometimes we don’t.  One of the women had been married over 20 years.  I asked her if her relationship with her husband was exactly the same as it was when they were dating.  Did they spend as much time together now as they did when it was just the two of them and no kids? Well, no.  Did it make you any less married?  No.  Does it mean you love each other any less?  In fact, she told me that she loved him even more than when they were first married.  Life doesn’t stay the same, and our relationships change.

While God never changes, my season of life and the way I relate to him does.  I have heard from the college student who gets a career that by the time she gets home from work, she doesn’t have the energy for Bible study.  I’ve heard from the new mom that getting up early like she used to seems impossible when she doesn’t get that much sleep to begin with.  I’ve heard from the mom of elementary students that when her kids become teens, they need her even more, and she doesn’t have the time to herself that she once did.

We seem to think that our relationship with God is based on a specific formula of Bible study and prayer, a certain amount of time, or a certain time of day or a specific method that fits our personalities.  While it’s nice to find a groove, it’s also good to get out of a rut.

In those seasons where quiet time is not easy to find, God has sweet reminders for me.  He reminds me that he still loves me whether my quiet time is hours of Bible study or a quick prayer.  His desire to know me and be known by me is still there.  His grace is there to cover the days when time eludes me.  He is always standing at the door with open arms to welcome me home.  I’m reminded that faith is not about all the things I do like reading my Bible and praying and going to church.  Faith is simply opening my eyes to see him in my life.  It’s opening my ears to hear his voice in whatever moment I’m in.

When my seasons changed, it was good for me to put down my colored pencils, put away my concordance and learn to meditate on His Word.  When I walked and memorized my “pet” Psalms, I learned to hear his voice.  I learned to listen with my heart instead of filtering everything with logic and academic explorations.  I realized I trusted my systems to make me feel like a Princess more than trusting His Word.  Instead I had to trust that he could still speak to me even without my rules and routines.

The truth is that nothing has changed in your identity with Christ, just the way you feel.  If you wake up one day and don’t “feel” married or in love, it doesn’t mean you’re not married any more.  You didn’t become a Princess because you woke up and “felt” like a Princess.  You are God’s Princess because he loved you and picked you to be His beloved daughter.  Your adoption wasn’t based on what you did or didn’t do, it was based on what you believed.  This is the Truth.  This is grace: you didn’t deserve to become a Princess, so you can’t do anything to “undeserve” it either.

So how do you get back?  Open your eyes and believe that you are still His Princess, even on the days you feel like an ugly stepsister.  Let the mechanics of the relationship change so that it can go even deeper.  Beware that it may not fit all the rules and guidelines you have made for yourself over the years.  He knows where you are, and he’s not standing at the door tapping his toe and looking at his watch.  He just wants your heart, whatever and whenever you have time to give.  He stands at the porch looking into the night, hoping to see you come down the lane.  And when you do, he runs toward you and embraces you like his beloved daughter.  Open your eyes and turn toward Him.  He is there for His Princess.

Free Advice Friday: What do you do when you feel like a preacher trapped in a woman’s body?

Published October 26, 2012 by joypatton

Recently I was talking with a friend and this question came up.  She was in a small group at church and very excited about taking the small group through some of the books and Bible studies that had been pivotal in her spiritual growth.  The small group was a mix of men and women, and she wanted to lead/teach/facilitate the group.  However as she prayed about it, the Lord graciously and gently took her to scripture to understand that she was not the one who should lead this small group through the material. (see I Timothy 2:11-14)

At first, she was frustrated because she felt like she had the same gifts in leadership and teaching as the male leadership in the group.  The only difference was that she was a woman.  This was where I could definitely identify with her story.  I too have often wondered why God put the spiritual gifts of a pastor into my body and then limited the use of those gifts in the church.  It’s enough to make the feminist within kick and scream and blow a gasket.

My spiritual gifts are teaching and shepherding.  As a pastor’s daughter, I have an innate understanding of how the church works.  I have vision and can see where a ministry needs to go or how things should be organized.  I’m outgoing and can talk to a wide variety of people.  I have a deep love of God’s Word, and I love speaking to large groups to help them understand His Word.  These are all things that God has put into me.  If I had been born as my father’s son, I probably would be pastoring or planting a church.  But alas, God also put a uterus into me and so (according to my personal understanding of scripture and convictions) the offices of pastor and elder are not open to me.

So what is a woman with the gifts of a pastor to do?  In my conversation with my friend, part of the reason she was angry about not being able to lead was because it seemed to reinforce what she was taught as a child, that women are not as good as men.  That God favors men over women and values them more.   This subtle lie creeps into our thinking and adds to our resentment.  The truth is that God values men and women equally.  In the eyes of God, there is no difference between men and women, Greek and Jew, slave nor free. (Galatians 3:28)  Paul also says that “God shows no partiality.” (Galatians 2:6)  I consider Jesus the first feminist because of the counter-cultural way he treated women.  He talked to the woman at the well and refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery.  After his resurrection, he appeared to women first.  Obviously he valued both genders equally.

So the fact that God made me a woman does not mean that he considers me second-class or less than.  Rather I have come to see that God has intentionally knit me together to accomplish His purposes in the kingdom.  It was no mistake that he made me a woman.  It was no mistake that he gave me the gifts and experiences he did.  The truth I must choose to believe is that he created me exactly the way he intended.

Does it mean I can’t use the gifts he has given me?  No, it simply means that I can’t use them the way I want to, the way that satisfies my flesh, the way that seems right to the culture.  It means I must trust him to show me how he wants me to use my gifts.  The light was not made to be hidden under a basket.  He put the light within me so that it would shine to the glory of the Father. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Personally I have realized that God has made me for teaching women the Bible.  Rather than seeing women’s ministry as a consolation prize for a second-class citizen, I choose to believe the truth, that it is the first prize.  When God changes a woman’s heart, it is the key to changing everything in her world.  I have seen that when a woman believes the gospel and understands how it affects her daily life, it changes the way she relates to everyone in her world: her husband, her children, her co-workers, her friends.  As she lives the gospel, she can’t help but share the good news with every person her life touches.  The world changes, and God’s kingdom grows.

For me, this is my “place in the wall,” my “battlefield.”  My friend reminded me of a scene in the final movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  A woman had disguised herself as a man in order to have a place on the battlefield.  When her uncle was mortally wounded, she came to his defense and revealed her true identity with her long hair flowing from her helmet.  The wraith, a horrible, ghost-like creature, turned to attack her and claim the life of her uncle.  The creature reminded her that no man could kill him.  She stood between the wraith and her uncle with her weapon drawn.  As she plunged her sword into his face, she said, “I am no man.”  Her unique nature allowed her to claim a unique victory.

If Satan can get us women to believe his lies that we are not a valuable as men in the war or if he can get us to fight the battles for position and power, then he can claim the victory.  If he can get us to pout in the corner and refuse to use our gifts because we can’t do it the way we want, then he wins.  We become paralyzed and ineffective in God’s kingdom.  But when we reject the lies and embrace the unique ways that God has knit us together, we can step into our unique place on the battlefield.  God’s light in us cannot be hidden, he is glorified, his kingdom advances and the enemy is defeated.

What is your unique place on the battlefield?  

Free Advice Friday: What are some good worship songs when you’ve messed up big time?

Published September 21, 2012 by joypatton

It’s the first ever Free Advice Friday on my blog!  Every Friday I’m turning this blog into an advice column.  Ask me anything from dating (didn’t date much, but have lots of interesting opinions), marriage (been married 15 years), parenting (have 4 kids), friendships (have had some good and some bad) or spiritual life (I have one).  I’m not sure that I will have great answers, but I know Someone who does.  My hope is that together we can carry our burdens into His presence and lay them at his feet.

Last week a friend texted me this question and I thought it was a good start for Free Advice Friday: What are some good worship songs when you’ve messed up big time?

My favorite worship album right now is Jason Gray’s “A Way to See in the Dark.”  I bought it because I heard the first song “Remind Me Who I Am” on KLove Radio in Nashville.  “In the lonely places when I can’t remember what grace is, remind me who I am to you.”  This is my new theme song.  When I get stuck in my Ice Queen and Orphan thinking, I need him to remind me that I am His Princess, his beloved.  “I’m the one You love.”

Another one of my favorites is “I Will Find a Way.”  In the beginning it talks about a woman is who so broken and afraid that she has shut the door of her heart.  “How should I come to the one that I love?  I will find a way.”  He loved her so much that he found a way to reach her and come into her heart.  I’m reminded how much the Father has loved us to send His only Son.  My other favorites on the album are “No Thief Like Fear,” “Nothing is Wasted,” and “Fear is Easy, Love is Hard.”  You can see why this is a great album for all my Orphan girls out there.

Another song that must be on this list is “One Thing” by Kristian Stanfill. “Your Love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.”  When we sing it in church, it sounds almost like a chant.  When I’ve messed up, I need to believe that his love is there, no matter what.

The problem is that when I mess up, it’s really hard to believe that God still loves me.  This exposes the lie that I believe that God loves me because of what I do.  Because I obey him or because I serve him or because I read my Bible and go to church.  None of those are the reasons that he loves me.  He loved me before I knew how to do any of those things.  He loved me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8).  So now that I’m “righteous,” has his love grown or changed?  By no means!  God’s love has no levels, no more and no less.  It has always been and will always be 100% plus infinity.

If Satan can get me to believe that God doesn’t love me, he can keep me from the cross, the ultimate sign of love.  When I doubt God’s unconditional love for me, then I am slow to repent because I don’t believe he even wants me back.  Eventually I stop repenting all together.  I stop going back to ask forgiveness again.  I stop bringing the things I did in the dark into the light.  And then I’m right where the enemy wants me, isolated, alone, in despair because I have no remedy for my sin.  This is the place where he is able to steal, kill and destroy this little lamb of God (John 10:10).

But when I am reminded of his great love, that his love for me remains, then I am free to run back to the cross and repent.  When I confess and agree with God that I messed it up again, he is faithful to forgive (I John 1:9).  I can agree with Satan that I am all those horrible things he has called me, “weak, pathetic, unworthy of love and disgusting.”  BUT GOD loves me!  I don’t know why, and I know I don’t deserve it.  This is the great mystery. But I do know that he loves me.  Because I know his love, I can trust that my sin is forgiven.

When I mess up and repent, I invite God in to be the solution.  I can ask him to show me the patterns that keep putting me in tempting situations.  I can ask him to show me the root beliefs that drive my sinful behaviors.  I can invite him in and ask him to heal those wounded places that I keep trying to heal myself.  I can live in the light and be in relationship with others because I know that I am deeply loved.  There is power in repentance because I admit that I am powerless over my own sin, that I cannot save myself, that I need Someone bigger than myself outside of myself to rescue me.

So my beloved, dear Princess, beautiful child of God…know that you are deeply loved today.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” (John 3:16)

What songs have helped you when you have messed up?

If you have a question for Free Advice Friday, email me at joy@joypatton.com.  If I answer your question in my blog next week, I will send you a copy of my book The Myth of Enuff.

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