gospel

All posts in the gospel category

Easter: A Reason to Rejoice

Published December 15, 2013 by joypatton

Easter LilyHave you ever had one of those seasons in life where  “the hits keep coming?”  It feels like lately every time we turn around, it’s something else.  A kid that needs eye therapy or an expensive car repair.  Employees that leave and clients who decide not to be clients any more.  Rejections from publishers or, even worse, being rejected by friends.  Having to decide whether to pay your taxes or pay your mortgage.  Days when you don’t feel good at any of your jobs, and you feel like a failure.  Sometimes the hits just keep on coming.

But even when everything falls apart, I am reminded that my greatest affliction, my biggest problem, has already been taken care of.  All of the other problems are small compared to my biggest problem.  Sure, those other issues make life difficult and very uncomfortable, but because my greatest affliction has been removed, I have hope that it won’t always be like this.  I can know for sure that things will change; I will experience peace and rest.  My greatest affliction, the problem I can not solve on my own, is my sin.

When I approach God with my list of all the things that I think I need…better health, more money, more time with friends, more wisdom in parenting…I am reminded that my greatest need, the thing I need the most to make it through this life, has already been provided for.  My greatest need, the deepest ache of my soul, is peace with God.

This Easter I remember that my greatest affliction has been removed…permanently.  That my greatest need has been fulfilled…once and for all.  Because of the work of Christ on the cross, my sins can be forgiven.  I don’t have to be good enough to be in a right relationship with God.  Because Jesus chose to be the sacrifice that would atone for the sins of the world, I can be at peace with God.  He loved us so much that He made a way for us to be with Him forever.

So when I stand in worship, singing of his love, I will look at all of this week’s “hits” from a different perspective.  I will remember that my greatest affliction and my greatest need have been provided for.  If He is big enough and loving enough to take care of those great problems, then surely He is able to take care of all the “hits” that come my way.  I will be grateful for his love; I will rejoice in his provision; I will know that he is with me; I will trust Him more.

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A Love Story Worth Telling

Published October 11, 2013 by joypatton

I recently read a story about gospel artist Bryan Popin and how he and his wife met.

Bryan&SusanPopin-30 CROPPED AND EDITED copyPrior to the release of his latest album “You Can Make It,” gospel artist Bryan Popin experienced many difficult moments through which he learned to persevere.  Perhaps none was more life-changing than when performing at a conference just outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. After playing his first song, he scanned the audience and his eyes were instantly drawn to a girl named Susan.

“She just glowed,” Popin says. “I was stunned. Watching her worship with her hands lifted to God was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen—at least to a 16-year old boy that was in ministry.”Immediately following service, Popin proclaimed to his mother that this was the girl he was going to marry. 

Two years later, he returned to that church in Indiana, but Susan wasn’t there. Instead, her father informed Popin that she was now living in Los Angeles. Another two years later, Popin visited a different church in the Fort Wayne area and amazingly saw Susan’s parents again. This time, the 20-year old musician took decisive action. He asked the father for her phone number.

 “I called her the very next morning,” Popin says. “In fact for four days, she didn’t even call me back. So then I started sending her flowers every day. By the seventh day, she called me and asked me to please stop sending flowers because she wasn’t in a good place. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting, but at least I’d gotten Susan to talk to me.”

Popin then poured out his heart. He told her how he had missed his opportunity four years earlier and how desperately he wanted the chance to pursue a relationship with her. But then Susan had something important to say.

 “Eight months earlier, Susan had gotten married and was now pregnant,” Popin explains. “When her husband found out, he closed their joint bank account and left her. She was moving home to Indiana to be back with her family.”

Over the next several months, Popin consistently traveled to Indiana to visit Susan. “When I finally got to hold the newly-born Isabella Grace in my arms and look into her big beautiful brown eyes, I fell deeply in love for a second time,” Popin says.

 About 18 months later, Popin married Susan and they have been together ever since.  Popin and his wife Susan now have four beautiful children.

 “I wasn’t planning on getting married and having an immediate family, but I loved Susan and fell in love with Isabella,” Popin says. “She has totally changed my world. She showed me what true love was. When you’re a dad with a little girl, it’s pure, innocent love. But as much as I love my four children and my wife, even more than that, God loves us. It’s just mind-boggling.”

I loved this story, and thought it was such a beautiful picture of God’s persistent, pursuing love for us.  There’s part of us that says, “I wish someone would love me that way.”  Whether you are a teenager, a single woman or a married woman with an imperfect husband (I think that covers everyone), the heart of a woman wants to be pursued and valued and chosen.  You may look at their story and want what they have, but the good news is that you already have it.

Jesus has chosen you.  He saw you across time and picked you to be his.  He is sending you flowers every day all around you to let you know he wants a relationship with you.  The problem is that many of us feel like Susan probably did when Bryan called her in L.A.  We feel like we have messed things up and that no one could possibly choose to love us again.  We believe we are damaged goods because we are “not in a good place.”

This is me.  I reject the good news of God’s everlasting love because I know that I don’t deserve it.  I reject his love, not because of who he is, but because of who I am.  I put him off and tell myself we will get back together when I’m in a better place.  Do you see how the story would have changed if Susan would have done this?  Do you see all the love she would have missed had she refused to let Bryan in?

Jesus is standing there telling you that he loves you with arms full of flowers even in your “bad place.”  Often we act like the gospel story begins with “Because we were such great sinners and made such a big mess, God sent His Son into the world.”  I hear this version preached from the pulpit very often.  And while it is true, it is not the beginning of the story.  The story really begins with “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Don’t leave the love out of the gospel.  Don’t forget that you have already been loved, chosen and pursued by God.  Do not reject his advances toward you and his voice that gently calls you to love him.  Instead return his call and receive his love.  You don’t have to be in a “good place” to be in a relationship with him.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16)

Popin’s album “You Can Make It” will be released October 22 through a partnership with eOne Music and will be the first national debut for this piano player who is dedicated to bringing his listeners closer to the heart of God. Check it out here: http://bryanpopin.com/

Good vs. Bad

Published July 16, 2013 by joypatton

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I’ve been realizing lately that I have two columns running through my head all day long. One column keeps all the good things I’ve done and one keeps all the bad. Mostly it’s good mom vs. bad mom. I have been realizing how often I tell myself I’m a bad mom in one form or another. (See last week’s post.)

For example, this morning started off with the good mom column. I spent time checking my kids “work boxes,” giving points for yesterday’s chores and loading them up with chores for the day. I even included “fun chores” like playing UNO Attack together. But this could turn out to be an item in the bad mom column if they actually attack each other during the game. You see, I’m a bad mom because I haven’t taught my children how to play together without fighting. Then at work I realized I didn’t have my phone within ear shot. Bad mom. Fortunately when I checked it, there were no urgent messages, so the work boxes must be working. Good mom.

This afternoon I came home and the girls wanted to go to the pool. But I couldn’t take them because I had to take Connor to the doctor. This is bad mom because I let him play in the woods, and he got poison ivy because I didn’t make him shower when he came in. Every time he gets poison ivy it takes over, and we can’t get rid of it until he gets a steroid prescription.  Bad mom.

While at the doctor’s, my dear husband texted to say he was taking the girls to the pool. Bad mom because he had to stop working to take care of the kids. When I got home, I made a good mom choice…I think. Andrew stayed at the pool with the kids and I mopped the floor. It could be bad mom for not choosing to spend time with the girls or it could be bad wife for not spending time with the husband.  But it could also be good wife because he came home to a clean house.

Tonight the boys went to a baseball game, so I was trying to find something fun to do with the girls. We decided to go to the mall and ride the little train. Bad mom for teaching my girls that shopping is what girls do for fun. Bad mom for not being content to spend the evening at home. Good mom for spending time with the girls.

When we got there, I had no cash. Bad mom. After the train ride, I let them pick the restaurant in the food court. Of course, it was pizza again. Bad mom. I picked the salad. Good choice. But also ate a big helping of pasta. Bad choice. I did have a diet Pepsi that I split with my daughter. Now this one could go in either column depending who you talk to. Bad for the caffeine and letting my daughter have it and that all diet drinks are just bad for you and you should just have water. Good because it was diet and had very few calories?? So confusing. I realized that pasta was a really bad choice when I went to try on clothes and everything made me look fat. Very bad choice.

Then we went to the playground at the mall. Good mom. And I just removed the sucker from my daughter’s mouth so as not to worry other moms that she would get a sucker stick through her brain. Good mom. But then again, I’m sitting here typing a blog instead of engaging with them. Bad mom.

Maybe your columns are different. maybe your day is measured by smart vs. dumb or cool vs. lame. Do you think that God keeps this kind of record of your day? If he did, would his record match yours?

As I have considered it, I think the answer to both of those questions is no. When God looks at me he doesn’t see two columns. He has no cosmic scale. When he looks at the chart of my day, the current of his thought is love. His abundant, free-flowing grace covers my day. His mercy is new every morning. He keeps no record of wrongs. It has all been forgiven. He is far more concerned with my heart because when my heart is turned toward him, the choices that matter fall into place. My heart turns toward him because of his great love for me, not because I’m trying to keep points in the good column. I also don’t avoid him because I’m afraid the bad column will bring his wrath, which is completely deserved. Instead I turn toward him because of his steadfast, everlasting love.

When I judge my day according to columns, it also affects those closest to me. They get columns too: good kid vs. bad kid, good husband vs. bad husband, good friend vs. bad friend. But when I learn to accept the grace and mercy God pours on my day, I am free to pour out grace and mercy on those around me. And they feel loved.

Consider this question: how many checks in the bad column could your child have before you stopped loving him or her? This is a ridiculous question because I simply can’t come up with a number. No matter how full the bad column was this good mom would always love her kid. So then if we know how to love our children in spite of poor choices, how much more does our Father in heaven?

I’m learning to replace two words, good and bad, with one word… LOVE. To receive it from the Father and to give it to others.

What are your columns today? Will you believe in and accept the Father’s love?

 

Lessons from the Wasteland: Saturday

Published March 29, 2013 by joypatton

“I get Friday, and I get Sunday. But why Saturday?” This was the question Pete Wilson proposed in his sermon at Cross Point Church last week. We understand clearly from Scripture why Jesus had to die on Saturday. He was the perfect blood sacrifice that covered the sin of the world. And we understand why Easter Sunday was the best day for all of humanity.  It meant that Someone had the power to overcome death once for all. But why Saturday? Why didn’t Jesus raise from the dead on Saturday morning? Why leave the ones he loved the most in that dark space of waiting?

On Friday they watched all their hopes and dreams die. They realized this was not going to end the way they thought it would. In fact ever since the crazy events in the garden, things felt horribly out of control. The ending was coming much sooner than they thought it would. The end was much more difficult and disastrous than they could imagine. Friday ended with the hasty burial on their most beloved Rabbi. The one they had watched heal others and raise others from the dead seemed incapable of saving himself. No one understood.

As dark as Friday was, I imagine that Saturday was even darker. In God’s perfect timing it was the Sabbath, and even though there was much work to do, nothing could be done.  Having nothing to distract your mind from the pain only makes you more aware of how much your heart hurts.  I wonder if the Ice Queen side of the disciples kicked in.  I imagine one of them suggesting they send for a prophet who could lay on his body like Elisha had done.  But no messages could be sent.  The women worried about all the things they should have done to the body yesterday , but didn’t have time to do.  But they could go nowhere and buy nothing.  Maybe some suggested war and taking up arms, but it was a holy day and everyone was scattered.  Maybe instead of fighting they would organize a peaceful protest, a march or a sit in.  But then they remembered what had just happened to their peaceful Teacher.  But every idea fell apart when they asked, “What’s the point?”  The world marched in Sabbath tradition as they sat still in fear and sadness.

The disciples searched their feeble memories trying to make the pieces fit, but their light was gone. The darkness had come. And silently it held them captive.

I looked in the gospel accounts to see what was said about Saturday. All it says is “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56)  Nothing much is said about the longest day in history. But based on where we find the players on Sunday, we can assume that they had lost it.  They were filled with fear, not faith.  They woke up Sunday not expecting a miracle, but expecting to find a dead body.  Even after the women had seen him on Sunday morning, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)  When the women returned with the good news, it did not go into hearts eager and willing to believe.  “And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.  Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.” (Mark 16:13-14)

On Saturday they did not remember the words of Jesus.  They didn’t remember until they the angel on top of the empty tomb reminded them. (Luke 24:8) “But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:12)  Jesus says to the two on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25)  He says to the disciples, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38) “For as yet they did not understand the Scriptures.” (John 20:9)  “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45)  Even after many disciples saw him standing there in the flesh, the Bible says “but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17)

Sometimes in my waiting, in my long Saturday, in my wasteland, I have lost it.  I have doubted what God has said.  I have dared God to prove himself.  I am not a stellar example of faith in the midst of trial.  In fact, I have failed the test miserably.  But the Resurrection didn’t happen because of the disciples’ perfect faith.  It didn’t happen because they prayed so much and believed that everything would work out for good.  It didn’t happen because they held fast to their faith.  It didn’t come because they wouldn’t stop hoping for a miracle.

The Resurrection came because God keeps his promises.  It came for the glory of God.  It came because God so loved the world that he sent his Son into it to redeem it.  Christ is the only person to have ever raised himself from the dead with no outside help.  He didn’t need the faith of the disciples.  He didn’t need their prayers or good deeds to overcome death.  He was God.

Because of Saturday, no one could say “He wasn’t really dead.”  Because of Saturday, none of the disciples could say “I knew it, and I prayed for this to happen.”  Saturday was there so that everything could die and be really dead.  In the wasteland, everything must die.  My pride, my dreams, my hopes, my selfish desires, my idols, my good deeds.  But Saturday is good because without complete death, there is no resurrection.

So the really good news is that my complete lack of faith and utter disbelief can be forgiven because of the work Jesus did on the cross.  As I sat in church last Sunday, I wept because I felt him compassionately put his arm around me and say, “You are forgiven.  Come home.”  He knows how dark the darkness is.  He knows that I am weak and not perfect.  And I know this is exactly why I desperately need him in my life.

As we walk through Saturday and we lose faith and doubt and dare and tremble with fear, let us take comfort that God is bigger and greater and more powerful than our doubts and our fears.  The Resurrection will come, not because of me, but because God keeps his promises.

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.

Lessons from the Wasteland: The Ache

Published February 26, 2013 by joypatton

The Ache is the gap between how life is and how I think it ought to be.  The gap between Eden and reality.  The longing for perfection and justice that is never fully satisfied this side of heaven.  No matter how much I hate it and want it to disappear, the ache never goes away.  I tell myself if this happens, then life will be good.  If my life were better, then it wouldn’t hurt so much.  But the Ache never goes away.  In so many moments and situations, the Ache remains.  Will ever stop?  Is its defeat even a legitimate goal?

In the life of Jesus it seems that the Ache was constantly with him from the very beginning to the very end.  He was born in a stable and his mother felt the ache of wanting a warm, safe, clean place to bring him into the world.  And yet God’s provision was a stable.  The Ache of wanting the whole world to know, but his arrival only known by a faithful few.  Everyone in the story instinctively knew that this was no way for a King to be born, and yet it was exactly how the King was supposed to come.  The Ache is the gap between how we think it should be and how God made it to be.

As he chose his disciples, the Ache of knowing that Judas would be the one to betray him.  And yet, he chose Judas.  He walked with him.  He ate the Last Supper with him.  We see this gap in John 6.  He asks his disciples if they too would turn away.  Peter makes a beautiful declaration of belief, and yet Jesus feels the ache of knowing that one of them is a devil.  The gap between good and evil.

And how does Jesus deal with the ache?  Does he run away from it?  Does he pursue happiness hoping to remedy the ache?  Does he exert his power to force people to change, to make them right?  Does he cut off and cast out those who add to the ache?  No.  Instead he pushes in.  He stays consistently true to who he is and what he is called to do.

This is so contrary to everything inside of me.  I chase happiness and peace and perfection.  I cut off anyone who threatens that.  I run away from hard relationships and hard conversations because it’s just easier to ignore the ache.  I am satisfied with moments of happiness from my favorite escapes that take me out of the present: shopping, television, movies, and fancy parties that make me feel important.

And yet Jesus seemed content in sadness, chaos and imperfection.  He is at peace because he has submitted all things, including himself, to His Father.  He asked Judas to be one of the Twelve because that’s what the Father asked him to do.  He knew the Father had a purpose for the ache: His glory.  The Ache is what makes Jesus beautiful, unfathomable, supreme over all.

Jesus shows us that we don’t have to be afraid of the ache.  We don’t have to run away from it or try to fix it.  That the pain of life is mixed in with the joy.  Like the joy of sharing a good meal with good friends and the pain of knowing that it will be the last time.   The joy of feeling life in your womb and the pain of knowing it will be short lived.  The joy of being who you were made to be and the pain of being rejected and misunderstood.  Both exist in life simultaneously.

It is because of Jesus that the biggest ache, the biggest gap between God’s righteous perfection and my unrighteous imperfection, has been bridged by the blood of Christ.  Every other ache is temporary.  Every other ache will be remedied in His eternal Presence.  This is the hope we have: that because of Jesus, it won’t always be like this.

But for now…it is.  Like Jesus, I must trust the good hand of the sovereign God who is working all things for good.  In the ache, I remain true.  I pay attention to my heart.  I push in to hard relationships and hard conversations to know Him more, to follow in his steps more closely.  So rather than run from the ache, try to fix it or change it, because of His example, I embrace it.

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