Paul

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Stuck: 10 Things Paul and John NEVER Said From Prison

Published April 12, 2014 by joypatton

Lately I’ve been talking and writing about this idea of being in prison. Sometimes God takes us through seasons where he makes our worlds very small, and it doesn’t make sense to us. It got me thinking about Paul, John and others who wrote most of the New Testament while sitting in prison.  I thought about the excuses I often gave and the things I complained about in my metaphorical prison sentence.  They are things I say that discount my calling as a writer/ speaker/ teacher and discourage my heart.  Here are 10 things we never heard Paul and John say in prison:

  1. I’m too tired to write.
  2. Only 20 people are going to read this, so why bother.
  3. I should be “out there.”
  4. God must be done using me if I’m here.
  5. Doesn’t God know I’m more effective as a speaker than a writer?
  6. Why?
  7. I thought I was called to preach the gospel, but since I’m stuck here, I guess I was wrong.
  8. I’m not doing enough for the kingdom; I should be doing more.
  9. I’m just not happy.
  10. I’m wasting my gifts.

When I read this list, I have to say “ouch” because such things have often come from my heart.  They reveal what I truly believe about God and about myself.  I’m not saying that Paul and John never had down moments or moments where they thought these things.  However they never had the audacity to put them on paper.  In fact, they put quite the opposite on paper.  What they wrote were words of deep faith and deep hope in spite of their dire circumstances.  We know that they continued to preach the gospel and advance the kingdom no matter where they were.

The challenge for you and for me is to replace the faithless statements above with faith-full truths from scripture.  I know what’s on my new list, what’s on yours?

Lessons from the Wasteland: Prison is Not the Same as the Wilderness

Published March 18, 2014 by joypatton

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Being in prison is not the same as wandering in the wilderness.  In Scripture, we see different characters deal with these two different challenges.  The Israelites and Elijah experienced the wilderness.  Joseph and Paul were familiar with prison.  Lately I’ve been identifying with Joseph more than the Israelites.  Unjustly accused, misunderstood, thrown away, discarded, locked up, prevented from going where I would choose to go.  I used to think that the wilderness was difficult, but prison is a whole different story.

In the wilderness, you still feel like you are moving forward.  Sure it’s slow and the steps are difficult and painful, but at least you are moving.  In prison, you don’t go anywhere.  You don’t feel like you are making any progress at all.

In the wilderness, you see the sky.  You are in a vast, expanding place.  In prison, it’s small and confusing.  There is no freedom; no illusion of freedom.  Everything you see, everywhere you turn you are reminded that you are not free.

In the wilderness, you are moving away from something bad, something that enslaved you.  Even though you dream of going back and long for the comfort of Egypt, you know that the wilderness will ultimately bring you to the promised land, a better place.  Each painful step is filled with the hope of a land flowing with milk and honey.

In prison, the good thing you had was taken away.  Joseph was taken out of a prestigious position.  Paul was taken out of his traveling ministry.  Both good things; both things given by God.  In prison, the good things were taken away without just cause, and there is no hope of a promised land.  Your only hope is early release, and years of working your way back to a good reputation.  But you have no control over when the locked door will open.  For Joseph, it opened and led to his ultimate dream.  For Paul, it opened and ended with a death sentence, which he joyfully received to enter the ultimate, eternal promised land.

You don’t really get new promises in prison.  You generally harken back to what God promised before prison. This is why it’s called faith; it’s difficult to see the promised land sitting in a dungeon cell.

In the wasteland, you know there is a purpose, a point you will eventually get to.  In prison, waiting is the point.  You feel stuck.  It’s like the progress is so slow and so small, you wonder if you are getting anywhere.

The lesson of the wilderness is to follow.  Step after painful step completely dependent on someone else to guide you.  The lesson of prison is to suffer.  To suffer joyfully.  To suffer and not lose faith.  To suffer and remain hopeful.

The wilderness and prison are both places of testing.  Testing of faith.  Prison is a test of character; you find out who you are and what you really believe when you are sitting alone in the dark.  Both test endurance and patience.

Prison makes you question what you thought you knew about yourself.  Joseph emerged from prison broken and humbled.  He was no longer the cocky kid brother boasting of his greatness.  He left a mature man who understood his fate rested solely in the hands of the sovereign God.  Paul was in prison so that he could write the words that impacted not only his generation, but many that followed.  I wonder if he would have taken time off from traveling if it hadn’t been for house arrest.  Prison is not without purpose.  Prison is not outside the presence of God.  He is still with me, and that is the hope that remains in this cold, confined space.

Three Final Warnings – Purpose Part 6

Published July 9, 2012 by joypatton

Finding your purpose sounds like a really great thing.  But I have to warn you that it is not smooth sailing.  You don’t punch it into the GPS of your life and have clear direction at every turn, advance warnings of detours, and safe arrival at exactly the time predicted.  In this sixth blog on purpose, I have three final warnings.

Brace yourself!  Once you know your purpose and start to live it, you have a target on your back.  After Jesus was baptized, he was led into the wilderness to be tested for 40 days.  After Paul was blinded by the light on the road to Damascus, his new identity and purpose were immediately put to the test.  Paul started preaching that Jesus was the Messiah in the Jewish synagogues, and the people there were amazed because they knew of his previous reputation.  (When Ice Queens, turn into Princesses, people notice.)  But soon the Jews in Damascus decided to “take care of the situation” and plotted to kill Paul.  Paul escaped Damascus with the help of friends who lowered him over the wall in a basket.

Why is it important for a Princess to know her identity and her purpose?  Because some day, her Princess status will be challenged.  It may or may not be challenged by other people, but I know for certain that the enemy Satan will challenge it.  Paul knew where he came from, who he was, and what he was called to do.  His confidence came from his identity in Christ and his belief in the true Gospel.  Paul and the Princess have no confidence in themselves and all the things they are gifted in.  Rather their confidence is in the One who gifted and called them to His purposes.

Remember that suffering was part of God’s purpose for Paul.  Was Paul any less anointed or gifted when he was sitting in a jail cell?  Was he less called when he was under house arrest?  In God’s kingdom, suffering has a purpose.  Are you ready to suffer?  Will the Enemy be able to sidetrack you at the first sign of trouble?

Beware of the box – Sometimes God’s purpose does not look the way we always thought it would.  Sometimes we look at our gifts and passions and we think we know exactly how God wants to use us. A couple weeks ago, I met a girl who loves Spanish and Latin cultures.  Her grandmother was a missionary to Honduras, so naturally she felt she wanted to be a missionary.   But what if God has a different way for her to use her love of Latin culture?  What if she doesn’t ever become a missionary, but instead works in the United Nations?  Would she have missed God’s purpose for her life?  Or maybe you are a gifted singer, songwriter, musician.  When that is your gifting we automatically see record deals and touring.  But what if it’s leading worship in your local church or teaching music in a classroom?  Have you missed God’s purpose if you never get your Nashville dream box?

Maybe you thought you had the perfect guy who met every one of your requirements for an ideal mate.  You thought you would be living happily ever after by now, but you aren’t.  Have you missed God’s best for your life?  Consider other women who have a passion for children, but never marry or can’t have children of their own.  Have they missed God’s purpose?  Is the passion he put in them wasted?  Nothing is wasted in the kingdom of God.

For me, I have a passion for teaching women the Bible.  I always thought that meant I would be teaching in my local church like I have for the last five years.  But that’s not what I’m doing this year.  If I don’t do it through my church, does that mean I’ve missed God’s purpose for my life?  I’m learning that there are lots of ways to teach women the Bible.  I think God is blowing up my box.  This box held my dream in a predictable place where I was safe and comfortable.  However living with purpose when you don’t know the plan is quite terrifying.  But it takes me to the place where I have to choose whether or not I will trust him more.  The Princess must choose to look to him and follow, no matter where he leads.  Will you trust that he has a purpose even when it doesn’t fit your box?

You can’t please everyone – When you live according to your purpose, you will have to say no.  You will have to disappoint some people, especially people who are used to you saying yes.  One of the myths of modern womanhood is that you can be 100% wife, 100% mom and 100% employee.  This will leave you exhausted and failing 100% of the time.  You can’t be everywhere and do everything.  Something has to give.  Someone is going to be unhappy and feel left out.  Someone is going to get less than 100%.

Some days your kids don’t have a home cooked dinner because you go on a date with your spouse.  Some days your husband has no clean underwear because you had a work project that required extra time.  Sometimes you have to take a sick day to be with a sick child.  So how do you know who you should disappoint?  The Princess asks the King.  The Holy Spirit is the one who knows exactly what you should do.  The King is fully capable of filling in the gaps and picking up the balls you have dropped.  Remember it is ultimately his job to make sure everyone, including you, has what he or she needs.

It is so important to remember whom you are trying to please because sometimes, you won’t please the people around you.  Tamar didn’t look like a nice Christian girl dressed as a prostitute waiting for Judah to come along.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, didn’t look like a good Jewish girl when she showed up pregnant and unmarried.  The woman who anointed Jesus with perfume and wept as his feet experienced scowls from religious leaders, even the disciples, in the room.  But each one was declared righteous in God’s sight.  Each one was exactly where God needed her to be to accomplish His purposes.

Sometimes pleasing Him makes us look stupid or even worse, unrighteous.  But Paul lived a life that was solely focused on pleasing the Father.  Jesus said that he did nothing apart from the Father.  His food was to do the will of Him who sent him.  The Princess lives only to please the Father and carry out His mission for His kingdom.  So whom are you trying to please?

Don’t give up!  My hope is that you will know who you are in Christ, that you will know how he has gifted you and that you will make courageous choices to trust him more with your life.  Dear Princess, you can trust the King with your life.  You belong to Him!

So how do I know? – Purpose Part 5

Published July 3, 2012 by joypatton

Last year I started a mini-series on finding your purpose.  It’s something I’ve found that people wrestle with no matter what stage of life they are in.  Sometimes we simply don’t know; sometimes we feel stuck; sometimes we have been side-tracked.  In this series I’ve talked about paying attention, messing it upwhere purpose comes from and waiting in the dark.  Many people have written on life plans, personal goals and personal mission statements.  But I wondered, how did Paul come up with his personal mission statement?  I think the more accurate question is how did God show Paul what his purpose was?  How did he know?  And the pressing question for me is how will I know?

God used one of His followers to speak the truth to Paul.  In Acts 9:10, we meet Ananias who was a disciple living in Damascus.  The Lord spoke to him in a vision. He called his name and Ananias answered, “Here I am, Lord.”  (That’s what a Princess says when the King calls.)  Notice that Ananias was still afraid to go see this man who was known for throwing Christians in jail and killing them.  But he didn’t let his fear make the decision; his faith compelled him to obey the Lord in spite of his fear.

It’s interesting that the Lord tells Ananias Paul’s purpose before he even tells Paul.  The Lord said, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.  For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”  (Acts 9:15 ESV)  Paul’s purpose was to carry the name of Christ to Gentiles, kings and Jews and to suffer for the sake of Jesus.  Paul comes out of the three days of darkness to a stranger telling him these things.  I’m sure it felt like a u-turn to Paul, but from God’s perspective, Paul was exactly where he needed to be.

After his conversion, Paul was still himself.  He still had all the knowledge of the Jewish law and the Old Testament that had been poured into him as a child.  He still had all the zeal and passion that God had built into his personality.  But now that zeal and passion were being used to build the church instead of destroy it.  God didn’t change Paul’s personality or his life experiences.  Rather when Paul looked back at his life, he could see how God had knit him together in his mother’s womb for such a purpose.  God has put things in your personality and life experiences that will be part of your purpose too.  (Psalm 139:13-16)

What will it take for you to come out of the dark?  What will help you know what your purpose is?  Relationships.  God uses relationships and people to get you where he needs you to be.  God has put people around you to help you see your gifts and talents.  Your gifts and talents were meant to be used in the context of community, not in the context of you sitting alone in your basement.  Now I have to warn you that relationships with other imperfect, broken people get messy.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Paul was never promised easy.  In fact, suffering was also a part of his purpose.  Paul also knew that he was not called to please men, but to only please God.  He chose to trust a the loving Father and sought to please only him.  He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the gospel he preached was the true gospel.  He lived out his purpose with courage and boldness.

I encourage you to ask your Princess friends to help you understand your purpose.  Recently I gave my Women’s Connection leaders an opportunity to take a spiritual gifts inventory so that they could understand how God had gifted them to serve in the context of community.  One of the women said that as she took the test, most of it was what she expected and lined up with how she felt she was gifted.  But there was one that she wasn’t so sure about: the gift of wisdom and discernment.  She asked God to confirm it if it was true.  The next day she was talking with a friend on the phone and they discussed some serious things that were happening in her friend’s life.  At the end of the conversation, the friend said, “I knew you were the right person to call.  You always have a lot of wisdom.”  God had answered her question.  Through her relationship with her friend, she was able to embrace the gift the God had given her.

My closest friends are also the ones who encourage me to press on in my purpose.  They won’t let me give up or settle for something less.  They stand with me against the Enemy who wants to get me sidetracked and off course.  I took a break from teaching a weekly Bible study, so that I could focus on the mission God gave me to write a book.  Early on I realized that it would be difficult because I wasn’t getting the weekly encouragement and pats on the back I was used to, and quite honestly, thrived on.  I asked my friends to stand with me in prayer and to help keep me focused.  They have been my biggest cheerleaders and have encouraged me to press on even when I want to give up.  My chief Ananias has been my husband.  He held my feet to the fire, and he wouldn’t let me give up or find the easy way out.  He is beside me fighting for the dreams God has given to me.  I love my warrior friend!  Our gifts cannot be used to their full potential outside of relationship and community.

What community has God placed you in?  What gifts, talents, and experiences has he given to you?  What relationships has he put you in?  You may even find a Princess friend (or your husband) and ask what gifts they see that God has given you.  You might be surprised at what they say.

Waiting in the Dark – Purpose Part 4

Published January 9, 2012 by joypatton

Sometimes I get stuck.  I know that God is with me, yet I have no idea what He is doing or where we are going.  It seems that everywhere I turn, the answer is “wait” and “not yet.”  I realized over Christmas break while painting our children’s bedrooms that I am not a patient person.  I hate doing the same thing twice.  It seems so redundant to pain the wall the same color twice.  I have never read a book twice; seems silly when you know how it’s going to end.  I go insane when my house monkeys undo all the tidying I have done.  I’m not very patient, and I really don’t like waiting.  Sometimes I think that once I have an idea of where God is taking me that it’s going to happen fast.  I’m not sure where I get that idea, but it’s not from the Bible.

God usually makes people wait.  Remember Paul had an amazing personal encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.  But that was just the beginning of what God had for him.  God’s divine intervention in his life left him blind.  His friends, who were speechless after the blinding light, brought him into Damascus.  “For three days, he was without sight, and neither at nor drank.” (Acts 9:9 ESV)

According to our American version of the gospel, after Saul’s amazing personal encounter with Christ, everything in his life is blessed and he becomes a kind, humble person, and lives happily ever after.  Right??  Wrong…for three days Saul was in the dark.  He didn’t eat or drink which tells me he was probably depressed.  Even after his personal encounter, it seems he is clueless about his purpose or what to do next.

How many days have you been in the dark?  Some of you have been anxiously waiting a long time to hear God’s purpose for you. In our instant, have-it-now culture, I get bored waiting, and I reach for my smart phone anytime I have a few minutes to kill.

For the Ice Queen, waiting doesn’t usually fit into her timetable.  Waiting feels weak and passive.  Ice Queens value doing and taking action, and waiting just doesn’t fit.  She will wait as long as she thinks is an appropriate time to wait.  And then she will act, whether she has heard from God or not.  I used to determine God’s will by starting off in the direction I thought was right and praying that he would hit me upside the head with a two-by-four if it was the wrong direction.  I would rather be doing something, even the wrong thing, that sitting around waiting.  When I do this, I declare that I don’t believe that God is big enough to accomplish the something without me.

For the Orphan, the waiting often produces more self-doubt and spirals her into toxic shame.  Because she has been waiting so long, she begins to believe that she missed it or that she messed it up.  She thinks that she is not even worthy of hearing from God because her tiny little problems don’t matter to a great big God.  She becomes angry with God because it feels like he is withholding good things from her.  Her waiting leads her deeper into despair and hopelessness.  She is paralyzed by fear and can’t make a decision, even when it is time to act.  Sometimes I get tired of waiting and find other counterfeit things to give me immediate purpose or just distract me (books, television, shopping, etc.).  At least I feel good and feel like I’m accomplishing something, even if it’s not God’s big something.  When I do this, I declare that I don’t believe God cares about me because if he did care, he would make things happen now.

For the Princess, waiting is very difficult and sometimes painful.  She understands that waiting is not passive, but active.  As she waits, she is constantly praying, constantly watching to see where the King Father is at work.  She anxiously waits with eyes of faith trusting that the King will tell her when it is time to act.  She is not like the Ice Queen who runs ahead of the Father, nor is she like the Orphan who is paralyzed even when it is time to act.  The Princess waits and acts only when the Father says that it is time.  She will not proceed until the King says “Go!”  This is how we see Jesus living in relationship with the Father in his time on earth.  There were places the Father would not let him go and times that he had to wait.  Yet he trusted the Father and sought only to please him.

What will it take for you to come out of the dark?  Relationships.  God uses relationships and people to get you where he needs you to be.  God used Ananias to help bring Paul out of the dark.  God has put people around you to help you see your gifts and talents.  Your gifts and talents were meant to be used in the context of community, not in the context of you sitting alone in your basement.  Now I have to warn you that relationships with other imperfect, broken people get messy.  It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Paul was never promised easy.  In fact, suffering was also a part of his purpose.  But Paul knew that he was not called to please men, but to only please God.  He chose to trust a the loving Father and sought to please only him.  He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the gospel he preached was the true gospel.  He lived out his purpose with courage and boldness.   When I hear about Paul and other characters in the Bible (Moses was in the desert for 40 years waiting), I realize I have not been waiting nearly long enough.  So I will choose to wait, not passively, but actively praying and seeking him.  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” (I Peter 5:6 ESV)

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