righteousness

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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?

 

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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.

Where I want to Live

Published February 12, 2013 by joypatton

This last weekend I was in Los Angeles to attend our first Grammy Awards. It was my first time in L.A. and my first time to the Grammy’s. I realized just how white and how small my little corner of the world is. That’s what I love about traveling, seeing new places and meeting new people.

On the flight out, we met a young woman who used to live in L.A. We talked about the differences between L.A. and Nashville. She confirmed what I suspected about life in L.A. That religious life didn’t intersect with real life. That there was pressure to always look like you had it together, to keep working harder and more to reach the bigger, better life.

I felt this pressure even before we left. The last few weeks, I found a BCBG dress and Chinese Laundry shoes. I had my highlights done and got a spray tan to hide my winter white. I ran out of time and money or I would have gotten a mani/pedi and had my teeth whitened. I had carefully planned outfits that only including skinny jeans. It was lot of work. My sister saw a picture and told me I looked good. Of course, I did. If I could keep up that kind of beauty and shopping regimen and my real life, I would definitely look better.

But life isn’t about just looking the part. That’s the lie we have believed. That if everything looks good on the outside, then it must be good. It’s a lie that runs rampant in the church as well. We want to put a pretty bow on every story and let everyone think that we are strong, in the Lord of course. But when we are just looking the part, we often neglect our hearts. They become another part of us to manage and control and make pretty.

My friend said that in LA going to church was just another thing you did to make yourself look good. If you had time, you went on Sunday. But if you could find something else to do, you did. It’s not something you want to do or look forward to or even miss. I have fallen into that trap before too. My faith became just another accessory to my image, another part to play, something else to put on.

When this was all that my faith was to me, it was no wonder that I still felt empty inside. I couldn’t experience all that the gospel had to offer because I was busy using it to make myself look better. It was just another accessory in my closet to make me look cool. I could leave it at home or check it at the door if I wanted to.

But I dare you to truly believe the gospel. Don’t just use it to make yourself look good or sound cool. Let it into every part of your life. Let it affect every thought and everything you do and say. The great thing about Jesus is that he loves broken people, not just the ones who look like they have it all together. When I let him see the broken places, I invite him in to work. He brings compassion and grace and mercy to all the ugliest parts of me. Instead of hiding and covering them up, I can be true.

When your life is perfect, you don’t really need Jesus. When you can get everything you need on your own, you don’t need a Provider. When you can be good enough at keeping the rules, you don’t need a Savior. But when you can’t keep up your L.A. look and your life falls apart, Jesus will be there. The gospel is for people who aren’t perfect. When you come to the end of your resources, Jesus has exactly what you need. When you realized you have broken more rules than you could ever keep, you know you need his precious blood to cover it all.

I’m so glad I get to go home. I have a place where people love me even when I’m not perfect. I have kids who think I’m the best even when I’m the worst. I have a husband who loves me all dolled up or just plain old me. I have a God who is more concerned about my heart than about my look. He is there waiting for me to turn to him on the good days and on the bad days.

To get to him, I don’t have to own the right clothes, say the right things or keep all the rules. To get to him, I just have to be true. I have to honestly admit how desperately I need him and then accept his provision. The gospel becomes part of my every day life, not just my Sunday life. That is where I want to live, in the center of his grace.

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.

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…

My Orphan Thinking

Published May 17, 2011 by joypatton

Last weekend my orphan thinking got the best of me. My friends saw a side of me they have never seen before. The person they knew as gregarious and vivacious who took charge and worked the room dissolved into a trepidatious wall flower.

I went to a national Women’s conference with Heidi and Karthi, two of my closest friends. Karthi’s husband was in the worship band so he hooked us up with All Access Passes. We went back stage, ate the catered food and mingled with the speakers and artists. My friends were both eager to talk to whoever they could find. They boldly started conversations while I shrank away in the background.

To me it felt like we were sneaking into a place we didn’t belong. In my mind, we had no right or reason to be there in spite of the All Access lanyards around our necks. What bothered me was that I hadn’t done anything to earn the right to be in the room. I was just tagging along on the coattails of my friend. I had convinced myself that these people had no idea who we were, so why in the world would they waste their time on us? after one of the sessions, I actually stood in line for 30 minutes to meet one of the speakers instead of trying to catch her back stage. When I talked to her, it felt like I had earned my two minutes with her.

I felt guilty slipping back stage between sessions to grab a bottled water. (However after I paid $3.50 for one bottle at the concession stand, I felt less guilty.) When they had a meet and greet, Karthi wanted us to join in. I just couldn’t do it. How could I be in that room and take time away from people who deserved it? After all, they won a contest that gave them access.

My brave friend started conversations with everyone she could find from a woman with one leg to the president of the conference to the security guard. Meanwhile I, the shy one, stood against the wall waiting and hoping she would invite me into the conversation because them I would have a right to be there.

I had turned into a backward, anxious person that my friends did not recognize. They are used to me being the outgoing one because they are used to seeing me in situations where I am the leader, the teacher or the speaker. I earned the right to be in those roles and was free to welcome people and initiate conversations. But back stage at a Women’s conference I was just a nobody who was desperately hoping to be a somebody someday. 

I realized that this is often how I approach my relationship with God. When I haven’t been reading my Bible, I have no right to ask Him to help me. If I haven’t been doing my part in serving others, I have no reason to ask Him to give me strength or energy. When I’ve really messed up and been abusive with my kids or selfish with my husband, I stay away from Him until I can do better. If I haven’t gone to church in weeks, I begin to think He has forgotten about me because I have forgotten about Him. In my mind, I haven’t earned the right to be in His throne room and should just stay against the wall and hope that He somehow invites me in.

But the truth of my status is that I have an All Access pass hanging around my neck. I have the cross of Christ covering me. I have access to the Father, not because I earned it or deserved it, but because Jesus earned it through His great sacrifice. He lived a perfect life, so that I don’t have to (not that I could even if I tried).

But the amazing thing is that I not only have access to throne room, I can walk right up to the throne and talk to the Father and be in relationship with Him. Not because I have earn it, but because He loves me and wants to know me and wants me to know Him. When he sent Jesus to earth, He made a way for me to be made right with Him, even when I mess it up, even when I don’t do my part, even when I have forgotten Him.

So why do I stand against the wall outside looking at my feet waiting for someone to notice me? It’s my Orphan thinking that convinces me I am not worthy to be in the room, that I’m tagging along on someone else’s coattails. Well it is true…I’m tagging along on the coattails of one and only Son of God.  But I’m not just some urchin he accidentally drug in off the street.  He chose me to be His Princess, a Daughter of the King.  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6)  Hopefully I will be more like my Princess friends, Heidi and Karthi, when I’m in the throne room with my All Access Pass.  I will choose to believe and rest in the work of the wonderful cross.

Cast out the slave woman!

Published January 19, 2011 by joypatton

In our modern Christian culture we have created this picture of the ideal Christian woman.  When I picture her in my head, she has a long braid down her back and wears a denim dress that she sewed for herself.  She has at least four children, probably more, and she homeschools all of them.  By the way, she had all of them at home with no drugs and nursed them until she got pregnant with the next one.  She also grows her own food organically in the backyard and bakes her own bread.  She leads a Bible study or two.  She has devotions every morning with her husband, and then he leads family devotions in the evening.  Plus she spends an hour every day in prayer often early in the morning.  She volunteers for a charity and runs the children’s ministry at church.  She never fights with her husband, and she always says, “Whatever you think is best, dear.”  She is kind, compassionate, gentle and never gets impatient with her children.  She never admits she’s having a bad day and no matter what happens she smiles and tells you that God works all things together for good.  She never doubts and she never falters in her faith.  Consider her a modern Proverbs 31 woman.

To me, she sounds kind of plastic and boring.  Kind of like a Barbie doll…  There’s no life in her.  But somehow I want to be her.  Or at least I think that God wants me to be her.  I think in the church we have built our idea of godly womanhood on a few verses.  We think God wants all women to be gentle, quiet, submissive and busy at home all the time.  When I started studying real women in the Bible through the study Women Who Dare to Believe, I doubted that was true, but had nothing to replace it with.  Last semester, I felt like God began teaching me to see women as God sees them.  He broadened my view of God’s woman and showed me that she is free.  She is free to live and breathe and be all that God uniquely created her to be in the time and place He placed her.  God has no cookie cutter for women.  He has no expectation that we would all be the same.

I would venture to say that he does not want all of us to be gentle, quiet and submissive all the time in every circumstance. I don’t think people thought of Deborah as gentle when she marched out into the battlefield.  The midwives of Egypt were not being submissive when they disobeyed Pharoah’s order to kill Hebrew babies. Tamar, wife of Judah, was not quiet or submissive when she pointed out Judah’s sin and hypocrisy.

So what does this mean for me?  I have come to believe that God made me the way He did to uniquely accomplish His purposes in the time and place He has me.  I had to believe that God could use a strong woman who is not so quiet and submissive.

My mentor, Mary Grace Birkhead described this as a woman on top of a hill who calls down to me at the bottom of the hill to come and strive to become like her.  Occassionally she recommends a good website or a book I should read that was really helpful to her.  Yet she never comes down to help me or to actually journey with me.  She sits there on the top of the hill calling down to me that I too could be perfect just like her.  (Introduce the Barbie doll)

It’s the deception of perfection that we chase after.  It creeps in so subtly and before I know it I am trapped.  I am enslaved to the desire, the expectation, that I meet certain standards.  For some, it’s that I have perfect clothes or perfect hair or perfect figure like our friend Barbie.  For some of you it’s chasing the perfect marriage or trying to have perfect children that never mess up your perfect house.  Maybe you have even given up of perfect and are just striving for good or happy.  Maybe it’s trying to be the best kind of grandma or figuring out just the right amount of times to call your adult daughter every week.  For others it’s that dream job, that career that you would wake up every morning happy to go to.  We all have our pictures of how our life should be going if only we…

The lie is that if I just did the right thing or did the right things better that life would be better, that I would be happy, that I would be whole.  I become driven my desire to reach this unspoken standard.  I take it all on myself and make plans and develop systems to make it better.

Last month I paid a counselor to remind me that it’s all broken, me, my kids, my husband, and no amount of striving or self-effort will ever change that.  He also reminded me that I am not the center of the universe and it does not all depend on me and my efforts and my genius to make the world go around.  I had once again succumbed to the great deception of perfection, that there was something I should be doing differently to make life better for me and everyone around me.

I hoped you’ve noticed how much of me has been wrapped up in all this.  Somehow God just becomes a distant entity, impersonal and quiet.

The truth is that God doesn’t define womanhood by just a few verses in Scripture, so why should I?

Galatians has become one of my favorite books of the Bible.  Paul depicts this epic struggle between the flesh and the Spirit.  In Chapter 4, he uses two women to illustrate his argument…Sarah and Hagar.  Both women gave Abraham sons.   One by a slave woman and one by a free woman.  One born according to the flesh (because it was Abraham and Sarah’s plan apart from God) and one born to a free woman by a promise.

Allegorically speaking, the two women represent two covenants (v. 24)  Hagar, the slave woman represents the covenant at Mount Sinai, the giving of the law; the children, or the fruit, of this covenant is slavery.  They are enslaved to a system based on self-effort.  They are doomed to striving for a standard they can never reach.  Paul says that the Hagar/ Mt. Sinai children correspond to the Jerusalem of his day, that is the religious leaders who persecuted Paul and tried to silence the true gospel.  These people who loved their religious systems more than the grace of God.  The people who would rather do the right thing than believe the right thing.  The people who believed they could reach God’s standard through their own self-effort.  The people who were slaves to impossible standards and expectations.  The people who sound a lot like me and many others in our modern church.  This is the slavery I get trapped into when I hold myself and those around me to immovable standards and expectations.  When I judge myself and my day based on what was done, not the condition of my heart.

Paul goes on to say that the Jerusalem above is free (v. 26).  He is talking about the heavenly kingdom of God and the Jerusalem that is to come.  “She is our mother,” he says to the believers of his time.  The good news is that we have not been born to the slave woman, destined to live a life of slavery.  But through Christ, we are born into the promise.  We are adopted into a new family that is free.  We, like Isaac, are children of a promise.  We were born not of self-effort, but of faith in a promise.  Isaac came because Abraham believed God.

When Abraham believed, he was declared righteous before God.  Likewise when we believe in God’s promise of salvation through Jesus, we are declared righteous before God.  We are free because God’s standard of righteousness has been met in the sacrifice of His Son.  We are free from judging ourselves and others based on outward behavior.   We are free to repent when we sin and know that we are forgiven.  We are free to love others because God loves them, not because of what they can do for us.  I am free because I am no longer judged based on how well I meet God’s standard; but God has judged me according to the righteousness of Christ and how He perfectly fulfilled God’s holy standard.

“But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out (NASB); Get rid of (NIV); Cast out and send away (Amplified) the slave woman and her son, for never shall the son of the slave woman be heir and share the inheritance with the son of the free woman.”

Get rid of that woman on the hill!  Cast her out, send her away!  You will never get the inheritance you desire when you chase after her.  You can’t strive up the hill and walk by the Spirit.  For me this year, part of casting her out has been expanding my view of God’s view of women.  As I study the real life women in the Bible, I get such a bigger picture of what God desires for women.  I realize that God can use anyone, not just the perfect women on the hill.

Galatians 4:31 – “So then, [sisters], we are not children of a slave woman, but of the free woman.” (Gal. 4:31)  “In this freedom Christ has made us free [and completely liberated us]; stand fast then, and do not be hampered and held ensnared and submit again to a yoke of slavery [which you have once put off].” (Amplified) (Galatians 5:1)

Do not believe again the deception of perfection.  Don’t play the game!  Do not adopt those expectations and standards that trapped you in the first place.  You don’t need to!

Cast out that woman on the hill!  (Throw the Barbie doll.)  It was for freedom that Christ set us free!

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