Put on a happy face

Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. {Matthew 6:16-18}

I have had a gloomy face on.

As I mentioned yesterday, God has told me that this year will include sacrifice. One of those sacrifices was my iPhone. Now honestly, there are children starving, people going without proper health care and women enslaved in horrific conditions; all situations far worse than me not having an iPhone.

I get that.

This is still hard for me. Relationships I have built online through Twitter, Facebook and blogging are more difficult to maintain without the ease of the internet in my pocket. A sense of disconnect and loss has dwelt in my mind over the last month.

And I’m bored.

We received some money for Christmas, and I have toyed with the idea of purchasing an iPod Touch.

I can put it away – I’m more distracted on the computer than I was on my phone – It won’t cost anything each month

Yet, something stops me.

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Have I had a good attitude about it? No.

Frankly, I vacillate between pride over being so obedient and envy that others aren’t being asked to make the same sacrifice.

My face was definitely green as I sat in a room on New Year’s Eve with three people playing on their iPads. Seeing other people’s Instagram pics on Facebook and Twitter reminds me of how much fun I had capturing a moment and sharing it with others. And I really want to play Words with Friends!

I may have thrown a minor tantrum last week; OK a major tantrum.

Sacrifice is not fun.

Then I heard this:

God is not impressed with your sacrifice.

Huh? I thought at least it would put me on the A-list. A lot of other people were impressed with it.

It’s not about what I possess, it’s about what possesses me.

I’ve been so focused on the sacrifice that I have lost sight of the One I sacrificed for.

And all God asked of me was a phone.

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Abraham was asked for a son. His promised son. His only son.

Faithfully, Abraham obeyed the word of the LORD, to the point of placing his son on the altar and raising the knife above him. How could he do this?

He loved God above all else.

We are not far from the kingdom of heaven when we understand that to love God is more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.

When I love God, nothing He asks of me is too much. I feel like this is simplistic, but it’s biblical. He carries me through all situations, guides my feet on all paths and provides for my needs at all times.

Who am I to begrudge Him an iPhone…or question why others don’t have to give up theirs?

For those of you who think this is all shallow and materialistic, I’m sorry to be harping on the subject. I fully realize that it’s a minor thing to be upset about, but the bigger picture of the situation is hitting me hard. Because there are times in life where the sacrifice God asks of us is not just a phone; it’s a family member, it’s a plan, it’s our life.

By teaching me these lessons in the small things, He is building a foundation for trusting Him in the future with much more.

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My Sister Got Her Head Stuck in a Bridge

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Every family has their stories.

You know the ones, the embarrassing anecdotes that remain funny no matter how many times you tell them.

In my family, it starts out with, “My sister got her head stuck in a bridge.”

Right from the start you can tell that this is going to be an unusual and interesting story.

How many people do you know who’ve gotten themselves trapped in a piece of architecture?

It gets funnier when you understand that my sister was an extremely fearful little girl. She would have screaming, immobilizing panic attacks on our way to school in the morning if a slug happened to be in her path. She knew, with certainty, that the offensive creature was going to jump up on her. Another of her major fears was, and still is, heights.

So my family was vacationing in Eastern Washington. We stopped at one of those tourist pull-offs to take in the view of the ravine we were driving over. My mom, the originator of our childhood fears, was too afraid to come out on the bridge with us, so my dad took my brother, sister and I out to the middle to look down and spit (that being what you do when you’re really high up).

I was tall enough to lean over the railing of the bridge and my brother was small enough that his head easily slipped through the bars. My sister was just enough between us she was able to quickly stick her head through the bars, but when she tried to pull her head back out her ears got stuck.

This of course caused panic.

Extreme, terrible panic. She started flailing about and screaming. My mom couldn’t tell what was actually happening, she just knew that my sister was throwing a fit and yet still was looking down into the deep canyon below us. My brother and I were cracking up that my sister was stuck in the bridge and my dad was trying to calm her down enough to get her unstuck.

Can’t you just picture it? An eight year old girl looking down through the bars of a bridge screaming. Her siblings laughing at her and relishing each car that drives by on the bridge and increases the panic. Her dad yelling at her to stop crying and calm down. Her mom yelling at the whole family from the edge of the bridge but completely unwilling to come out. It was wonderful.

Finally my dad convinced my sister to calm down and he helped her extract herself from the bridge. We all walked back to the car and headed home. That moment will never be forgotten by any of us, though, and my brother and I do our best to make sure that anyone we come into contact with will never forget it either.

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I could leave it at that, because it’s a funny story. But I was talking to my mom today about what spiritual lesson we could possibly derive from such a random scenario. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what a perfect example it is of our reaction when we’re “stuck” in life.

We panic.

We flail.

We focus on the bridge, the ravine, the cars and the people around us. When really all we need to do is focus on the One who is truly able to help us out. Once we are willing to tune everything else out and focus on God we’ll see that He is perfectly able to direct us on the best way to get “unstuck.” Once my sister followed my dad’s instructions her head quickly slipped back through the railing.

All she needed was to listen to his voice and obey him.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow Me. John 10:27

Don’t Make Me Repeat Myself

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“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

“Don’t make me say this again.”

As a parent I repeat myself a lot, and I frequently get exasperated that I end up sounding like a broken record.

Clean your room. Eat your lunch. Don’t hit your brother. Go to sleep. Get in and get buckled. Don’t lick me. On and on the list goes of things I say throughout the day. You’d think after a while the kids would start catching on and listen the first time. But no, I repeat and I nag until even I get sick of my own voice.

My purpose isn’t to irritate them, I am trying to mold them into functional, independent individuals. I am doing my best to ensure that when they become full-fledged members of society they don’t embarrass themselves (or me).

How does God feel when we don’t listen the first time?

So often I look at situations in my interactions with the kids and see correlation between them and my relationship with God. I am a child of God. He is my Father. Just as I’m guiding and teaching my children, God is guiding and teaching me.

The Bible and the promptings of the Holy Spirit are the guidebook for right Christian living. We read, we study, we determine to change a behavior and then we forget. Our intentions are good. We don’t mean to ignore Him, we just get distracted.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

In these instances, God doesn’t get fed up with repeating Himself to us. He is well aware of our faults and failures and patiently tells us again the way we should go.

He doesn’t throw His hands in the air in frustration and yell at us, “What part didn’t you understand?” He doesn’t get angry with us when we don’t listen and obey the first time.

Lovingly He reminds us. With untiring care He redirects us and says, “My child, try again.”

Do You Love Me?

How am I so sure that God deals with us this way? It’s in the Bible.

In John 21 there is a breakfast between Jesus and Peter that is highly significant. Impulsive, thoughtless Peter had betrayed Jesus. Despite Jesus’ prior warning, Peter had denied his Master (John 18:25-27). Imagine Peter’s feelings when he learned that Jesus was not dead, but had risen. Intermingled with his joy would have been shame and fear due to the knowledge of what he’d done.

Does Jesus come to Peter with a lecture? “I told you you would betray me and you did. What part of I’ll rise again didn’t you understand? Why do I have to repeat myself to you?”

No. Instead, Jesus speaks to Peter about love:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.”

“Tend my lambs…shepherd my sheep…tend my sheep.”

Each time Jesus asks Peter about his love for Him. Never once is Jesus’ love for Peter questioned. Not only that, but Jesus confirms to Peter with each avowal of his love that He has a call on Peter’s life. Peter has a purpose and a mission that has not changed due to his failure.

Learning through Obedience

Learning is a process. There’s no point in me teaching my son how to read a book if I haven’t first helped him learn the alphabet. The primary lessons need to be mastered before he can move on to the next phase.

The same is true in our walk with God. Oswald Chambers highlights the importance of obedience in our Christian walk:

All God’s revelations are sealed to us until they are opened to us by obedience. You will never get them open by philosophy or thinking. Immediately you obey, a flash of light comes. Let God’s truth work in you by soaking in it, not by worrying into it. Obey God in the thing He is at present showing you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. We read tomes on the work of the Holy Spirit when…five minutes of drastic obedience would make things clear as a sunbeam. We say, I suppose I shall understand these things some day. You can understand them now: it is not study that does it, but obedience. The tiniest fragment of obedience, and heaven opens up and the profoundest truths of God are yours straight away. God will never reveal more truth about Himself till you obey what you know already.

Peter had to learn his lessons. I have to learn my lessons. My children need to learn their lessons. No one has it all together and no one gets it perfect on the first try.

If you read the book of Acts you see that Peter definitely learned the lesson of confessing his relationship with Jesus despite all odds. He endured persecution and eventual death due to that relationship.

God understands our weaknesses and knows the areas we still need to grow in. Sometimes we might feel overwhelmed by the abundance of them, but He’s dealing with them one at a time.

So today, don’t believe that He’s exasperated with you, wondering when you’re going to get it and how many more times He has to tell you. Instead, recognize the small steps you have taken forward and see them for the growth they are.

And now I’m gonna have to do the same with my kids.