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Lessons from the Wasteland: It’s not about the swag

Published March 4, 2013 by joypatton

Recently we had a conversation with my oldest son about the possibility of cutting back on some of his activities because of time and money.  As we talked about his involvement in his travel baseball team, a major factor for playing on this team became apparent…the swag.  We have a team parent who is awesome at getting sponsorship for the kids and they get some pretty nice stuff.  Baseball bags, jackets, pants, Under Armour shirts and hats.  This team looks good wherever they go.  Connor looked at us and said, “You wouldn’t buy me a baseball bag that nice.”  He’s right; we wouldn’t.  So he was willing to sacrifice a lot of time and money to get the swag.

The truth is I like swag too.  I’m willing to give up a lot as long as I get some swag out of it.  As a Christian, I’ve gotten used to getting “swag” from God.  I’ve got a nice house in a quiet town.  I’ve got four beautiful, healthy, smart, talented kids, and a great husband who works really hard to support our family.  He has his own artist management company, and every day he goes to a job he loves doing, helping Christian artists.  We’ve had opportunities to serve at our church and use our gifts in the kingdom.  We are in good health and physically capable of doing a lot of things.  I’ve had people who have affirmed my spiritual gifts and given me many places to use them.  I’ve had the luxury of pursuing dreams and investing in people.

But happens when God messes with my “swag?”  What happens when the perks of being on God’s team disappear?  Will I still want to play on his team?  Will I still trust him to be my coach?  Have I been playing the Christian game just to get the swag?

In John 6, Jesus fed 5,ooo people in one sitting.  If you’ve ever tried to cook for a large group of people, you know what a miracle this is.  Of course, immediately his Klout score went up and his Twitter page was overwhelmed.  I mean, he had a lot of followers who decided to keep following Jesus.  They followed him overnight all the way to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  But soon the true motives for their dedication were revealed.  “You are seeking me not because saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:26)  They were following because they found a guy who could make bread, and they thought they would never have to work for bread again.  They wanted a bread machine, not true bread.  Later Jesus explains, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  I am the bread of life.” (John 6:33,35)

I must confess that I often want Jesus to be my bread machine and fill my belly and make my life comfortable and easy.  I don’t want the bread he has to offer.  I don’t want to do the hard faith work of trusting, resting, abiding and believing.  I just want him to give me the swag.  And when the wasteland comes and all the perks disappear, I don’t think it’s so cool to follow him.  In fact, I throw a temper tantrum and refuse to follow until he gives me what I want.

But following Jesus and being on his “team” is not about the swag.  It’s not about how cool you look or how great your life becomes when you obey all his commands.  I don’t follow him because of the blessings or the miracles.  I follow him because he is God, and I am not.  He can make bread from nothing, and I can’t.  I follow because God gave his one and only Son to show how much he loved me.  He paid a debt he didn’t owe, so I could have an eternal life I don’t deserve.  He owes me nothing, and I owe him everything.  It’s not about the swag; it’s about following one step at a time.

Heavenly Father, forgive me for throwing a fit when some of my blessings fade.  When life gets hard and I’m uncomfortable, forgive me for not believing that you are all I need.  Forgive me for wanting to make you my personal bread machine.  Help me to be satisfied with true bread from heaven.  Help me follow you more closely.  Forever grateful, Your Princess.



Lessons from the Wasteland: Follow me.

Published September 10, 2012 by joypatton

The first steps into the wilderness were timid and terrifying.  Looking back over her shoulder, she watched the peaceful meadow evaporate into mist.  Her old life was gone, and she couldn’t go back.  Into the dry desert ground she stepped.  The sand swirled around her, and she couldn’t see anything up ahead.  She wondered where this journey would lead and if it would be worth it.  This wilderness seemed so terrible that she wished she could stop and let it swallow her whole.  She dropped to her knees, discouraged, empty and alone.  And then she heard his whisper, “Follow me.”  She looked up and saw nothing but wilderness sprawling before her.  Questions and doubt chasing each other in her head as the wind chased the sand.  

As her head dropped back down, she saw a footprint in the sand.  The wind began to slowly take it away piece by piece, but before it disappeared she planted her own foot firmly in its place.  “This is the way,” he whispered.  “Walk in it.”  As she looked down again, she saw another print and quickly placed her other foot inside.  This was how she walked for hours and days.  Sometimes she would hear his voice whispering to her not to give up.  Sometimes she felt his gentle hand in the small of her back, guiding her every move as they danced through the desert.  Many times she looked for him in the distance or looked for a sign that she was on the right path, but the nothingness was all that answered her.  She continued this way looking for each step until one day she saw the grass between her toes.  

She looked up and the sand was gone.  She could see the path clearly ahead.  She turned and looked back at the wilderness.  She was surprised that she didn’t want to leave.  She was afraid that she would forget how to follow.  She was afraid that the beauty of this new world would distract her from his voice.  Yet as she turned back toward the beautiful sunlight, she heard him say, “Follow me.”

“You know who you are, don’t you?” my counselor asked as he looked at me.  Of course, I knew who I was.  I was a mom, a wife, a writer, a speaker, a teacher.  That’s who I am, but I knew he was asking me a trick question.  “You are not all of those things.  You are simply one thing: a follower.”  It was true.  All of those other things could evaporate in a second.  I might never get to speak or teach women again.  I might tragically lose my kids or my husband.  But one piece of my identity that I will never lose is that I am a follower o f Christ.  Because even if those terrible things ever came to pass, I know that the only way I could ever make it out would be to follow him.  I must also accept that following him might mean that he leads me into some of those wilderness places.

After all, the Israelites were led into the wilderness.  They didn’t end up there by accident.  And Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1).  And yet God was there.  For the Israelites their only job in navigating the wilderness was to follow a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  They didn’t have a map.  They couldn’t see the Promised Land from where they stood.  That’s why following requires faith, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

In the wasteland, God teaches me how to follow.  He teaches me how to trust him for every bit of bread from heaven.  He proves to my wandering heart that he is indeed trustworthy.  I learn to hear his voice, to see his hand.  In the wilderness, it is quiet and desolate.  My usually busy life can’t drown him out.  Like a sheep, I learn to listen to the voice of the good shepherd.

When in his good timing and by his grace the wilderness comes to an end, I must move on without forgetting the sweet lessons from my beautiful Shepherd.  I can hear his voice more clearly and my heart knows when he is leading.  I’m afraid I will forget and try to do things on my own.  But I know that when I do, I can repent, turn around, and find him waiting there.


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