grace

All posts in the grace category

Olympic Commentator, Judge, or Athlete?

Published August 7, 2012 by joypatton

When the Olympics come on TV, they are very inspiring, but they also get into my head.  I’ve noticed that after two weeks of listening to the commentators talk abut the athletes, I start commentating everything in my head.  “Now in order for this to go her way, Joy’s timing has to be perfect.  Here she comes to the first obstacle…Laundry.  She’s a little slow opening the drier door, but she’s making up a lot of time loading from the washer.  Look at the concentration!  She’s been working on this event for months, especially folding the fitted sheets.  But when I talked to her earlier, she felt she had what it takes to make it to the gold.”

When I watched gymnastics, they kept saying “She just has to be perfect.  That’s what she needs to win the gold.  There is no room for mistakes.”  They go on to talk about every toe that isn’t pointed and the slight hesitations that will bring “big” deductions.  And it gets into my head.  “I don’t know.  Joy took time to write a blog this morning and then run.  That’s a lot of time for herself and her kids have been in front of the TV for three hours.  That’s a major deduction because it’s only supposed to be an hour or less.  She’s going to have a hard time making that up later in the course.  At this level, you just can’t make those kind of mistakes.  We may have just seen her fall out of medal contention as Mother of the Year.  That’s why mental concentration and focus is so important in these games.”

I end up commentating my day and aiming for perfection.  What’s worse is that I start commentating on other people’s routines and lives.  Not only do I nitpick my life, but I can nitpick their lives too.  In the church we have become very good at doing this.  It’s practically an Olympic sport.  The commentators have so much experience that they think they know exactly what the judges will say, what the judges will see, and what is important to the judge.  Most of the time, they are not that far off.  But the truth is that none of the commentators are the judges.  They are merely observers who make comments on someone else’s work.

What happens in the church is that the commentators begin to act and behave like they are the judges.  As observers, we think we know everything the Judge will think about given situations.  We have so much experience with the Judge and the rule Book that we think we can accurately predict what the outcome will be.  And as commentators we feel the need to say something.  But the truth is that there is only one Judge.  And some day when I stand before the Judge, in spite of what all the commentators have said including the one in my head, this Judge will look at me and give me a perfect score.  Not because I performed perfectly, but because I have trusted in the One who did.  My routine here on earth full of unpointed toes and falling off the beam and complete failure will be covered by the perfect performance of Jesus Christ.  He stands between me and the Judge and has given me his perfect score. (Hebrews 2:24)

Can you imagine what would happen on any team if the athletes were to start commentating on each other?  During their routine you hear the athletes on the bench saying “She missed that in practice all the time.  You have to practice that skill perfectly in order to make it work.  Oh, that’s going to be a big deduction.  The rest of us are going to have be even better to make up for that one.”  And when she comes off the bench instead of hugs and encouraging words, she gets a list of everything her teammates noticed that the judges are going to take deductions for.

But this is what we have done to each other.  When we have a really bad fall, we come back to a cold bench full of crossed arms and scowling looks to a team that no longer wants to claim us.  We forget that we are all just athletes, running the same race.  We were never meant to be the commentators or the Judge.  We can’t run or comment on someone else’s race.  We are not in the position to judge whether or not they perfectly followed the rules or how well the other runner performed.  We’ve heard the athletes say, “I just had to come out here today and run my race.”  In that moment, it doesn’t matter what the commentators are saying on TV, and they have no control over what the judges will see.  They just have to do their best, do what they trained to do.  They trust the judges to do their job with fairness and integrity.

We can trust our Judge as well.  We follow the example of Christ who continually entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. (I Perter 2:23)  “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus…seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

When I am tempted to become a commentator instead of an athlete, I must remember Paul’s words. “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.  For we are each responsible for our own conduct.”  (Galatians 6:4-5)

In these final days of the Olympics, watch how the athletes encourage each other, even if they are from different countries.  When one of them messes up, their team is still there waiting for them to come back.  Sometimes they just stand there and give each other space.  Sometimes they offer an encouraging touch on the shoulder.  But the team is still there.  When an athlete watches a teammate mess up, they know that they could have done the same thing.  They remember the last competition when they messed it up big time.  When a teammate succeeds, the whole team celebrates.  When my teammate falls, I don’t want to push her away or p0int out her mistakes.  I want to stand beside her.  I don’t want to be the commentators or the judges, pointing out mistakes.  When a fellow athlete wins, I want to be there rejoicing with her.  “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

Now if I could just turn off that commentator in my head…

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Clear the Stage

Published June 11, 2012 by joypatton

This past spring has been a blur.  Two baseball teams, a flag football team and a gymnastics class have kept our kids very busy.  Andrew and I had additional things to keep us busy: newlywed community group, teaching pre-k Sunday School, running cameras at church.  He also worked two full-time jobs, and I finished writing a book.  Many times I said that I was grateful for my great full life.  In the past, we had felt the need for expansion (can you tell??), but now we feel the need for it to get smaller.  But what should go and how do you decide?

Jimmy Needham has a new song on his most recent album titled “Clear the Stage.”  The song talks about true worship.  The picture is that we have a lot of other things that have crowded the stage in our lives.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who the real star is.  We have other things that have taken center stage.  Sometimes the other things are godly things, like teaching Sunday School or leading Bible studies.  Sometimes the other things are good things, like baseball and flag football that help our kids grow and learn.  Sometimes the other things are bad things, sin patterns, bad habits and character flaws, that we refuse to surrender.  Nevertheless all of the other things, godly, good or bad, are simply idols.  They are other things that take our affection and devotion.  There is no longer room on the stage for the One who should be the center of it all.

At the end of our ragged spring when we went down to one baseball team, flag football ended and Hope decided to stop gymnastics, I told Andrew I felt it was time to clear the stage.  However I did not know it would cost so much and hurt so bad.  I look back at our year so far, and see it filled with loss.  This year started with the loss of Andrew’s mom.  She passed away last December, and I was in a fog most of January.  I’ve also lost a close friendship because I’ve been hurtful.  I’ve tried to find a way to mend it, and yet it remains broken.  My best-laid plans have been lost.  I’ve lost a position I thought God had for me, but obviously He didn’t.  I’m on a long waiting list for a speaking conference I was planning to attend this summer.  Last weekend I lost my hard drive with the latest revisions of my book.  Obviously not all the losses carry the same weight, yet all are losses that bring sadness.

In it all, I see God clearing the stage so that He can take his proper place.  The idol of reputation has been kicked off the stage.  I’ve had to step back and let God defend my reputation, let Him protect my name.  The idol of self-effort has been banished as well.  My self-effort has reached a dead end.  It has accomplished nothing.  I still have a broken friendship; I have still been disqualified; I am still a bad mom who yells at her kids.  In spite of my efforts and all of my trying harder, my heart remains the same.  The idol of control and planning has been sufficiently removed.  I’m in a place I didn’t plan to be.  In years past I’ve always had a plan for the fall by the beginning of the summer.  I can honestly say that I don’t know what the fall holds.  The only thing I know is what God has given me to do today…and some days this week.  (It’s His grace that gives this Type-A planner some type of working plan for the week.)  My eyes are open and my heart is asking who are the people He has given to me to serve this week.  All I can do is take the next step and trust Him more, extremely difficult and sometimes painful for this melting Ice Queen.

When it’s time to clear the stage, all I can do is surrender the stage.  He is the One who moves the pieces where they need be.  He is the One who decides what goes and what stays.  The stage of my life belongs to Him because He bought it with the precious blood of His only Son.  I want him to have the stage because he will make it beautiful.  When I have the stage, I tend to mess it up because I’m not perfect.  I want him to be in the center because he is perfect.  He is the Creator of the universe, sovereign over all, reigning in love.  I am merely a piece of that stage for him to use to tell His story.  Whether I have a big part or a small part is all up to the Director.  So let the clearing continue!  God…what else has to go?  All I want, all I need, all I have is You.

So how is God asking you to Clear the Stage?

Click here to see a video of Jimmy Needham’s song, “Clear the Stage.”

My Love Hate Relationship with December

Published December 14, 2011 by joypatton

While there are some things I like about Christmas, I’ve realized that what I don’t like about December is that it is the month of not enough.  Not enough sunlight.  Not enough time.  Not enough money,  Not enough family…. Maybe it’s too much family who make you feel not enough.  It seems that everywhere I look I’m reminded that I’m not enough.  But the ironic thing is that is the exact reason why I love December.

Some of you are shocked at the idea that December might not be the happiest season of all, and some of you know exactly how I feel.  It’s the time of year that I have to come to grip with the fact that I am not enough.  I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be good enough.  I got straight A’s for the first time in 2nd grade.  I always tried to do the right thing…tell the truth, not steal, not kill anyone.  I describe my 20s as the decade where I tried to live the best life I could that would be pleasing to God.  I worked hard professionally, served in our church, tried to be the best mom I could.  I went to Bible studies and prayed.  Every day I laid my head on my pillow disappointed that the day was not perfect.  I would analyze what went wrong and what I needed to do better.  I woke up the next day hopeful that today would be the perfect.  The day that I would finally be enough.

You might have guessed that by the time I hit 30, I was exhausted and still not perfect.  Still not enough.  I found myself depressed, and not just because it was December.  I had been fired from a teaching job and was in marriage counseling every week with my husband.  We were dealing with some major life issues.  Life was definitely not perfect.

I was in despair because all of my efforts to be a good enough wife, a good enough mom, a good enough person, weren’t working.  I had messed up, and what could God do with the mess I had made?  I had to admit that I wasn’t perfect and never would be.  I had to admit that everything I tried wasn’t working.  I was at the end of myself.

But then God reminded me that there was a person who lived a perfect life, a person who was standing there waiting for me to accept the free gift he was offering.  Basically I remembered what Christmas was all about.   Christmas was when God sent his only son, not as a rich warrior king who came to judge the world, but as a poor, tiny, vulnerable baby born into questionable and difficult circumstances.  This tiny not-enough baby was born into a not-enough barn where he was greeted by not-enough visitors, especially considering that he was the creator of the universe.

But the tiny baby grew into a man who was God’s only Son.  He lived a perfect life, and when he died on the cross, his sacrifice was enough to cover all of my sin.  When he rose from the grave, he overcame death.  He became the person who made it possible for imperfect, unholy me to have a relationship with a perfect and holy  God.  The really good news is that he did this even while I was drowning in my not-enoughness.  I didn’t have to figure it all out or make it all right before he could be in relationship with me.  The Bible says in Romans 5:8, that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, [while I was still not-enough], Christ died for us.”  It goes on to say that we have been justified, made right, made enough, by his blood.

When I  believe that his enoughness, covers all of my not-enoughness and accept his death on the cross as payment for all my wrong-doing, I am accepted into a new relationship with God, not as an enemy, but as a daughter.  When I turn and see that the blood he shed on the cross was all I need to be righteous, then I can stop earning my way into heaven by trying to be perfect all the time.  I’m even able to admit that I’m not perfect, that I am not enough.  I can stop hiding and trying to be someone I’m not.

So even though December feels like the month of not-enough, the reason I love December, the reason I need December, is that Jesus Christ is enough to cover all of my unrighteousness.  I know that my life would be completely different if the first Christmas never came.  Because God sent his son in a not-enough package to become enough for me, I am free.  I am free from death because even after I die, I will live with him forever.  I am free to love other people well because I know what it is to be loved.  I am free to give grace, compassion and mercy because God showed me immeasurable grace, compassion and mercy by having a relationship with me.  I am free to make choices.  His Spirit gives me strength to make right choices even when I don’t feel like I can.  I am free to admit that I am not perfect, that I am not enough.

To me, this all sounds too good to be true.   But I know it’s true because someone bigger than me outside of myself says that it’s true in the Bible.  So even on the days when I don’t feel like it, I can know the Truth of God’s Word.

Do you realize that you are not enough?  Do you know that you are not perfect, never have been and never will be no matter how hard you try?  Do you know that God loves you even when you aren’t good enough, even when you’ve messed it up?  None of us is good enough on our own merit to be in relationship with God.  Some of us can look really good on the outside.  We look like we are doing the right things, like we are good enough.  But when I’m really honest with myself, I have to admit that there are things I think about in my heart that are wrong, imperfect and unholy.  Do you have the courage to admit that?

If the answer is yes, will you choose to believe that Jesus is enough?  Maybe in the season of not enough, you can confess to God that you have been trying to make yourself enough.  And maybe in this season we can all find rest from our striving to be enough.

Dear Jesus, I admit that I am not enough, that I am not perfect and that I have messed it up.  I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and that his blood is enough to cover my sin.  Thank you for your grace that will never run out.  Thank you for forgiving me all my sin.  Thank you for loving me so much that you made a way through the gift of your son for me to be in relationship with you.  In Jesus name, Amen.

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