I’ve dug my heels in. But I may not be winning.
I make a conscious, daily effort to take a stand against the cultural norms of our day in the area of body image. Yep, that’s me: middle-aged, suburban rebel. Americans worship youth and beauty, thereby shackling women (in particular) with concern over their appearance. We pay thousands of dollars, and spend countless hours, “managing” our bodies as measured in pounds lost, grays dyed, wrinkles stretched/treated/injected, breasts implanted, cellulite extracted, teeth whitened, and the like.
I want something different for my daughters and the young gals for whom I lead Bible study.
Following God is anything but easy.
Every day seems to bring news of tragic events. In recent days, it’s struck closer to my circles in the forms of the kidnapping and murder of an elementary student, and the suicide of an eighth grader. I looked at my own eighth grader through tear-filled eyes, thankful for her every breath. I recalled the scare we had this time last year with my younger daughter and was moved again to gratitude. The happenings of the last week have touched me deeply because of their proximity, but injustices the world over paralyze me with their enormity and pervasiveness. Evil seems rampant and I’m tempted to question both the goodness and power of God.
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
— John 10:3b, 4 ESV
It’s right there in the text, as plain as day.
But it’s easy to miss.
This passage of scripture is subtitled “I am the Good Shepherd” in our Bibles (though subtitles aren’t in John’s manuscript). As westerners, the subtitle conjures an image of a man cresting a grassy, green hill with his staff in hand, prodding the sheep along from behind the flock. Perhaps dogs are chasing the wooly creatures to keep them from falling into harm’s way as well.
I received a comment on last week’s blog post Heaven’s Anchor via email that was too good to not share with you all – as a post all of it’s own. You’ll recall the verse:
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
— Hebrews 6:19, 20 ESV
Hope. There’s a word we throw around quite easily, whether it’s a casual ‘fingers crossed’ for a specific birthday gift, or the earnest belief of triumph despite tragedy. In my musing meanderings this week, I decided I needed to know what it really meant.
As I reflected on these four heart-buoying letters, my initial thoughts were that it simply conveyed confidence about future expectations. My mind’s eye conjured images skyward, ethereal and misty. When I went to the scriptures, however, I found a different picture in Hebrews:
The road wended its way toward home, with the river and its steep, rocky embankment on the left. First a slight drizzle, then a light, pretty snow. I was relaxed after some time away with my sister and felt at ease on the roads. I was driving our reliable-but-aged SUV and casually commented to her that I was “so grateful for my all-wheel drive vehicle” in weather like that.
No sooner were the words out of my mouth than we began to slip. The initial fraction of a second alerted me, but I then realized that we were really sliding. Really sliding. The road was curving to the right and we were headed – quickly – for the ravine and the river. My prayer was a simple, “Oh, Lord” as I steered into the slide. Still sliding, I was way across the yellow line, about five feet from going off the guardrail-less road. “Oh, Lord.” A moment’s recovery. Sliding again… this time towards the concrete barrier on my right as the road was beginning to straighten out and turn left. My sister began praying, too, except she somehow had the wherewithal to utter more than my simple, “Oh, Lord.” More sliding and then sudden traction, just a couple feet before colliding with the barrier. “Oh, Lord.”
I burst into tears immediately. I was terrified, relieved and thankful, but none of these were the reason I was crying.
Scripture had leapt into my mind instantaneously:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. –Psalm 20:7
I was so humbled by this Word of correction that I was utterly beside myself. I had, moments before, given voice to my previously unspoken trust in a thing. I wasn’t trusting in God; I was trusting – quite literally – in my chariot. I was relying on my worldly goods for my safety, well-being and comfort. I should no more count on guardrails for my safety than my car. I was not relying on God. And He is too good to let me continue in that sin.
In hindsight, I don’t think we were ever in danger. It was as if God had His mighty hands on either side of the road, hemming us in where the guardrails were missing, yet allowing me to see the gravity of my misplaced trust. It felt like a bumper-car bounce when we regained traction, though we didn’t hit anything.
I’m asking God to show me my other chariots. I must not trust in them.
I must rely on God and God alone.
Please be sure to check out the Thanksgiving Offerings Project.
Send me your thoughts!
As he enjoyed a bounty of raisins with his brother and my children around our table, an ‘incident’ occurred. Nothing major, mind you, but an infraction on his part that required correction. I was tempted to overlook it, desirous of preserving my rock star status in his eyes, but it was [sigh] necessary.
Due to the patient and dedicated teaching of his parents, my nephew’s conscience was already pricked over his wrongdoing. I knew because I saw it on his face: his head was cocked ever-so-slightly away from me, and his eyes squinted shut, the smallest crows’ feet wrinkling his perfect three-year-old skin. You see, he’d gone to his own special place. Away from me. His toddler rationale: if he couldn’t see me, then I couldn’t see him. And if I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t discipline him.
Nice try, slim.
It was as darling as it was absurd.
We’re not able to conceal ourselves and our wrongdoings from God any more than closing his eyes eclipsed him from my vision. Much as I wished to lovingly teach, correct and restore my nephew, so too the Lord invites our confessions:
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
— 1 John 1:9 NLT
People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy.
— Proverbs 28:13 NLT
Our Father spared nothing, not even His Son, to secure our forgiveness. The knowledge that forgiveness has already been extended should liberate us to freely, though not flippantly, seek Him for restoration.
As a parent (and Auntie), I pray my children find me merciful in hearing their admissions of guilt. I hope I demonstrate, in some small fashion, the loving instruction and grace so generously offered to me in Christ Jesus. As a child of God, I pray I will run to my God for His merciful forgiveness, trusting fully in the sacrifice made to secure it for me.
We needn’t hide. Nothing we do, no sin we commit, can separate us from God if we have trusted in Christ. Nothing. Not even eyelids.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38,39
It’s all good. Or, is it?
Culturally, we’re hung up on the concept of ‘good.’ Companies like Yoplait and Life is Good hinge their slogans and even their very name on the word. Our vernacular employs it to connote anything that is positive, pleasurable, or profitable. It’s become an arbitrary or generic term for anything we like.
In a world virally-infected with sin, where disease and depravity run rampant, can the simple phrase ‘it’s all good’ possibly bear truth? Children are abandoned or abused; families stagger under the weight of poverty the world over; natural disasters and accidents wreak havoc on life and livelihood. These can hardly be described as ‘good’, can they?
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
– Romans 8:28
This verse is the inspiration for the name of this website: Eight Twenty-Eight. As mentioned on my About page, I chose it because I routinely quote this verse to myself as an audible flash-card, to train myself in the mindset of knowing that God is both good and powerfully at work in the lives of His people.
According to Vines Expository Dictionary of the Bible, the Greek word for ‘good’ (agathos) as it’s used in Romans 8:28,
“describes that which, being “good” in its character or constitution, is beneficial in its effect.”
When the definite article ‘the’ precedes it, as it does in Romans 8:28, it
“signifies that which is “good,” lit., “the good,” as being morally honorable, pleasing to God, and therefore beneficial.”
Isn’t that a game-changer?
Beneficial in its effect. For our benefit. The benefit of becoming more like Christ.
My father died of a brain tumor when I was nine years old. I spent thirteen years not just grieving, but shaking my fist in rage at God for allowing it. Surrendering to my need for a Savior and trusting in the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ brought the healing I desperately needed. As a Christian, I reap the reward of this promise given to believers. I see how He has brought beauty out of those ashes: I have offered comfort to those with similar losses, I value my husband’s role in the lives of my children much more profoundly, I rejoice that I have a Father in heaven, and I responded to the plight of the fatherless in bringing home my sons from Russia.
When viewing present circumstances, it requires lenses of faith to believe that what we endure now will benefit us later. Our vision is limited; we think only in terms of this life, and often merely of our comfort in it. Yet all that befalls us has passed first before the Throne of God, and He has allowed it (though He cannot cause evil). He is fitting us for heaven with every experience, shaping our characters into the likeness of Christ, ones that can trust and praise Him in all circumstances.
The horrible injustices we observe or experience aren’t ‘good’ in and of themselves, but rather ‘good’ in the effect they produce, even if we don’t see that fruit on this side of eternity. That which another intends for evil, God repurposes – redeems, if you will – for good. (Genesis 50:20) For the believer, all things can be used by God to render us into greater likeness to Christ. From this eternal perspective all things are, therefore, good.
This knowledge doesn’t make our earthly sufferings easy to endure; they are not simply overcome with those words. In the darkest hours, I return to the first part of Romans 8:28: “And we know…” When I don’t feel that anything good can come of whatever I’m enduring, I have to lean on my knowledge of who God is and what His Word says.
And His Word says that He will. Someday… somehow.
In this world ravaged by depravity, my human eyes observe very little to be ‘good’ – much less all. And so, I yield. I yield to the knowledge that God is indeed sovereign, trusting that He can and will work all things together for the good of those who love Him. And thus I will trust that, “It will all be good.”
Dedicated to KP:
Thank you for your living testimony to this truth in your life.
Muffled whimpers escaped the closed bathroom door. It was past the time when she was due downstairs for the morning, so I’d gone upstairs to check on Boo. This darling daughter o’ mine is a basketful of surprises: I had no idea what I’d find when I opened the door. Perhaps frustration over getting earrings into her recently-pierced ears? Sadness over one escaping down the sink drain?
I found her dripping wet from her shower, trying to extricate a comb wound so tightly with hair that I feared removal would require surgical intervention. She was pulling and twisting, ratcheting the hair tighter with every failed attempt to free it, like a Chinese finger trap.
“Why didn’t you ask me for help?” She was afraid I’d laugh. Laughter was a generous assumption of my response, given the dictates of the over-filled morning that lay ahead. I tabulated the number of minutes remaining until we needed to leave for the bus stop, knowing breakfast hadn’t been consumed nor backpacks loaded. I silently asked God to help me put those concerns aside to meet her needs, physically and emotionally. She didn’t want my help, but she needed it. If she didn’t trust me to do right by her, we weren’t going anywhere – literally or figuratively.
I cajoled her into getting dressed and coming downstairs. (Or did I threaten?) She finally appeared in the kitchen in a school-appropriate outfit and a terry cloth wimple she’d constructed from her towel to conceal her ‘issue.’
The best strategy I could devise to salvage as much hair as possible was to pour oil on her head, hoping it would lube the locks. I massaged it into the gnarled comb-hair mass. I tugged. It hurt. She cried. I fetched wire cutters from the garage and snipped teeth off the comb, in hopes of freeing still more hair. It was tedious work with dismaying results, sometimes loosing merely a few strands at a time. It pushed the limits of my patience. And hers. Still, she needed my help. Eventually, it was clear that scissors were warranted. I snipped carefully and finally liberated my daughter from her encumbrance.
As I washed the oil from her hair in the sink, I gently inquired what caused her predicament. She couldn’t offer much explanation for motive, except that she wanted to see what would happen, and really thought she’d be able to get it out. She lay outstretched on the counter, her head cupped in my hands over the sink, and she looked up at me, her Disney Princess eyes finally free of tears and embarrassment. The vulnerability of her gaze and position were striking to me. There was closeness, intimacy, in being trusted to help, and proving faithful to it.
How often I’ve found myself in a tangled situation, facing an outcome I hadn’t predicted. I retreat into my misery, whimpering as I tug on the strands of error, lack of forethought, and sin. I hide my face from the Lord, covering myself with other competencies and busyness to conceal the glaring problem-that-can’t-be-hidden. Ultimately, though, there are messes in my life that I cannot unravel; I need Another’s help. Though I may not want to feel so exposed, I need His help. Sometimes His tools are fragrant oils that wash easily away, other times wire cutters and scissors are necessary, with more painful and enduring effects. In either case, I must lay myself out on the counter – the altar, place myself into His cupped hands, and in trust look up. In that vulnerability there is Holy intimacy. And He is faithful to help, never forsaking me.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
— Philippians 1:6 NLT
Recommended reading (or listening!): Psalm 40
Story told with permission from the hair ‘stylist,’ who felt blessed to know that her story taught me something, and was then willing to have it shared with you.