"But those who trust the LORD will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired." (Isaiah 40: 31 CEV)
George of Worthy News Ministries writes of a story he's heard in the devotional today……I've heard it before, but it is George who brought it back to mind today:
"While walking through the forest one day, a farmer found a young eagle that had apparently fallen out of his nest. He took it home and put it in his barnyard with his chickens and there it stayed for years. It wasn't long before the little eagle learned to eat and behave like the chickens. One day a naturalist passed by the farm and saw the eagle confined in the barnyard with the chickens. When he inquired about this strange sight, the farmer told the man his story. "Unfortunately," said the farmer, "the poor little guy just never learned to fly." "Still," the naturalist sighed, "he has the heart of an eagle and can surely be taught. Will you allow me to work with him?" The farmer agreed, but with much disbelief. The naturalist picked up the eagle and lifted him toward the sky and said, "You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly." The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again. The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, "You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly." But the eagle was afraid and jumped down once again to be with his chicken friends. Finally the naturalist took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, "You are an eagle. You belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly!" The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and then up to the sky. Slowly, he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry, he soared away into the heavens."
This part of Isaiah (27-31) shows Israel as God's people in a place of distress—"a source of dismay to herself and of mockery to others who ask where the God is in whom she trusted." (Interpreter's Commentary) God promises divine action for those who continue, even in spite of the consequences, to trust in God to deliver upon the promises He has made to His people. As a nation and individually, despite the contrary information…there are things God is doing throughout the world that will bring about His plan.
I have realized in the past week just how much it was not the vision or the call that has hampered me in the pursuit of what God would have me do for the Kingdom, but myself. Rather, the sinful image of myself that I've used as a crutch to hobble along in this journey…that eagle living in the dust of the chickens....comfortable in my suffering to the point where I dare not dream, for someone might call me out on that dream and expect me to 'go for it,' like that naturalist tried several times with the eagle. The proverbial image of a 'screw-up', a son that is flawed and will never achieve the perfection that is required from his father….and subsequently, the Heavenly Father, to pursue bold and mighty things. As I settled myself down for bed, I reflected on the many people who have suddenly come into my life, those who have been in my life who have spoken boldly to my sin and the matter-of-fact way some have challenged me to step out into fearful places that a screw-up son would not go for the surety of failure…..and an old wound came up…one that's added to the weight a father gave to a screw-up son who bore the image of his face and the sound of his voice…….
My brother Larry.
Granted, it wasn't Larry who created the wound or even acerbated it through participation, though for many long years of my life…culminating in the burial arrangements of my father ironically…I did unfairly and incorrectly place the blame at his feet. Larry, if you viewed him in my father's eyes, was the ideal child…smart (IQ very high), handsome to look at, and well behaved. Truly a firstborn that any parent would find themselves puffing in justified pride with the heredity that they could claim through him. My father, though, was sorely disappointed when he failed to repeat this coup with his second born son…and he never failed to acknowledge his disappointment. I was not good in school, had epilepsy (petite mal) and was 'damaged goods'. Larry would grace through school with ease, bringing home honors for Dean's list, honor roll and the like while I struggled to bring my grades from D's and E's to B's and C's. I will never forget one day, having fought all semester long with extended homework, repeating assignments and extra study time, when I brought home my report card (in those days, we brought them home…they weren't mailed). I was walking on air, surely the B- that I had pulled up in History would bring some delight and affirmation from my father…..my mom was ecstatic, showering me with praise and affirmation at my hard work…..and my Dad looked at my report card, a look of disgust clouding his face as he said the words that have stopped me in my tracks whenever something greater than I've ever tried has come across my path….."Your brother got an A+." Even my mother's defense, quickly uttered, fell hollow upon my heart…..I would never be good enough for my father's love.
I can see now; in this place where God has fallen into silence and the tentacles of service, of choice and of bold adventures creep back into my disrupted and challenged life, that wound still bleeds and hinders the full operation of my God-given gifts in use for the Kingdom. From that moment on, it was one after another failure because I focused not on developing myself for what was uniquely mine to do: write, speak and feel compassion in a world that has a low view of such people…who live in service to others, who desire not to 'fix' people but journey with them as God develops them into His people…No, it was trying to succeed where my brother often times would already be…and the specter of his influence would already be set against me by those who remembered his brilliance, his logic and his friendly personality. I could not succeed there, I would here my father speak, and I would fail, through my own hand or because it wasn't my place to find success.
That led to the event that my brother told me a few years ago that would cause a separation for ten or more years, and still seems to have its hold upon our relationship despite the forgiveness asked and given ironically five and a half years ago….when I dedicated my life, my person and my will in a surrender to the true Father. The wound wasn't healed and the Call has been superseded by its bleeding. I have never taken God there and asked for healing. My ignoring the 'pink elephant' in the room that He was pointing to…..the 'screw-up son' that would never be fit for service to God. And I have gradually lost the voice of God speaking in my ear because He's been waiting for me to remember what He has told me and to begin to act like a beloved son. God has fallen silent, because He's waiting for me to absorb and adopt what He's already said.
I remember when I was first called to return home, the utter brokenness that came with the uttering of the words, "Don't you think it's time to stop running and come home?" The relationship that was instanteous formed, the bond that no man or man-made construct could break…that was limited only by my wounded self. I can remember the 'dare' of God, pointing to Gene Appel on stage at Willow Creek Community Church's A2 Conference and my eventual acceptance of it….and then the fears, failures and limitations that I accepted as a matter of fact. The decision of my Pastor at the time that I was too "unfocused" for discipleship, the continued rejection of the "leadership" staff even with the Associate Pastor's endorsement and edification of my calling….the rejection by church after church after church….doctrinal differences I was unwilling to compromise with, the mega-impersonal corporate mentality of another…..battles that did not have to be fought because the triumph of it wouldn't have honored God in the slightest but would have brought honor only to my own self, wounded as it was, and would have eventually hurt the very people I desired to serve. The real and perceived slights, the failure of the church to answer God's call…..born out of a woundedness that I realized I could trace to that dining room of the Hazelton house….when my father's rejection found its voice in that bulldog shaped man whom I bore an eerie resemblance to.
You see, my brother has been serving for over the last five years as a missionary with the Navigators in Germany….mentoring and developing Airmen for the grace of God's Kingdom. He's already been where I wanted to go…..and I set myself up for failure because I still very much give voice to the 'rejected' son, that boy who was defective and a screw-up; living in the shadow of a boy a year and six days older than me for no other reason than I was unworthy of the sunlight.
Not exactly what God tells me in the Bible, is it? Where we all are part of the same body, gifted according to the Holy Spirit to individual work within the context of the Kingdom….chosen, beloved and blessed by our Heavenly Father to be equipped, impassioned and capable within His strength, His work and His desire to do 'more than this' for the Kingdom. Jesus Christ has shown us the way to live as beloved sons..daughters….as children of the Most High God…..and we spend our time like I have; wounded and bleeding, scared of healing the very image of who we think we are because we don't want to let go of it in favor of the impossible image that God says we have; as image bearers of the Most High. Not exactly a reason why Jesus Christ, the ONLY begotten Son of God, to come down to earth as a baby, suspending His rights of godliness to become a man, all to die at the hands of the very people He loves so much to die for….and to ask for forgiveness even as the fragility of His human body was racked with the cruelest of pain we could inflict upon another….even as His triumph was declared by His voice, "It is FINISHED!"
All things were made new……
All that did happen, was happening or would happen was brought under the sacrifice of Christ; and the ability to do great things once again for our Father was there for the asking…even some 1,900 and some odd years later, when a father would kill a beloved son because of his own wounds….and set brother against brother both knowingly and unknowingly through the years of their lives. Can we say that we haven't continued to sin if we perpetuate the broken and sinful image that our fathers bestow upon us? I think we continue to grieve the Spirit when we do, and sin is its root.
A ministry wants to follow in God's direction…..and calls upon its men whom are being discipled to renew their commitment to God's work that's being done….A church, a plant from another church, still very much in its infancy attracts me to its desire to be a mosaic of God's love, power, mercy, grace and mission…..A brother, who has journeyed some heavy rockslides with me in this race towards home, speaks the very fears my heart hides….that the image of a 'worthless, rejected son' is my safety blanket (I can do the 'pageantry' of the faith verbally but not relationally), for no one would ever expect anything worthwhile from a screw-up……A young sister in Christ emulating the passion I once had for God's work…..commonalities of honor, service and American pride that bridge the generational years and bind us together in the family……and my Barnabas, speaking to me for over an hour on the phone because I asked him to call; speaking of the gifts and calling that he has seen in me: all of these things combining for that final push….towards God and the gaping wound of a rejected son.
As my sister-in-arms/Christ said….."I would rather die for something I believe in that to live for something I do not."
Do I want to live as a 'rejected' son, a screw-up that forever will be found lacking in capability and intelligence to do even the mendacity of life? The rejected boy that knows of God would say, "NO!" and then go right back into its comfortable robes….custom-fitted for my humanity and comfortable in the pageantry of my faith. But if truly I have been saved, if I have been restored to my place as an image-bearer of God's masculinity, then there is no other answer than to say, "I am no longer that boy….He has been raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit and beloved by his Creator God to do more than this." Just like the father of the possessed son……
"And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, "What are you arguing about with them?" And someone from the crowd answered him, "Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able." And he answered them, "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me." And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." And Jesus said to him, "'If you can'! All things are possible for one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!"" (Mark 9:14-24 ESV)
We have all been equipped and purposed for that portion of the work that God wants us to join Him in…..all of us, from the youngest Christian to the eldest…from the newest to the oldest. And God has grown hoarse telling us time and time again of the work that He has given us to do, the greater things than Christ did that we, as co-heirs, have yet to do…..God's silence is like Christ's exasperation "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?.........If you can! All things are possible for one who believes." Can I be something other than a screw-up? God says that I am, the beloved son of the Heavenly Father, in which all things are possible. But only as a beloved son, an image-bearer who believes in the image of the Father he bears.
For all of us, whether we do the same work at different levels or different work at equal levels. The work has always been there…..some have been working their whole lives in the purpose of God's enticement and others have come later into the realization of the full harvest yet to be gathered. But we all work towards the same goal; to be approved and unashamed as we stand before our Creator God and are held to account for the work we've done, not the length of service. Be it as the Christian co-worker working under the leadership of God in a secular job or a pastor charged and purposed to speak the Gospel, teach the things that God has taught them to disciple others to do the same……we are all under the mandate of God to "go out into all the world and every nation to speak the Good News and teach them what I have taught you." We should only have one desire, as Paul told his protégé Timothy…..
"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)
Our hearts have been changed when we have accepted the gift of our Savior's salvation……but we still live as an eagle in the chicken coop because we don't believe we can fly. God keeps on trying to get us to believe in what He has done.
I shouldn't, as a beloved son, live under the perceived shadow of a gifted brother but under the shadow of the same cross that he does. Conscious of a God that I am growing to know, bound in the relationship of His love, grace and mercy and wrapped in the image of who He has designed me to be: a beloved son. To do otherwise is to grieve the Spirit in the sinfulness of self-protection and the dirty image of a humanistic view of who we are. A beloved child of God works hard at those grades; extra credit homework, study, repeating the homework lessons and with the grip on their report card approach home…..not with the intimidating feeling of failure but with the assured step of a child who has done their best and find the Father standing outside the house…looking towards them with a smile on His face and His arms wide open in celebration….for He knows we are ready for the next step because we have heard the voice of His instruction.
God has brought me to the mountaintop and told me what He has made me to be: an eagle soaring in the highest parts of the sky…
It is time that I let go of that failure….that sinful image of a child purposed and equipped by his Heavenly Father to do great things in His name, for His glory and His purpose. And stride confident with my report card in my hand, the work that I have applied myself to fully and completely in the school of this world marked upon its lined surface….confident of my Father's love and approval for the things I have done right and His forgiveness for the things I have failed in.
Randy Travis' song seems to speak to me of how a beloved son would live…….with a heart unhindered, fear a word and not a feeling and the assurance of a Father's embrace:
"I remember how it used to feel….riding down old two mile hill……Tennis shoes up on the handle bars, paying no mind to the passing cars. No doubts, no fears, just like when you are here. No chains, no strings, no fences, no wall, no net, just you…..to catch me when I fall. Look heart, no hands. It took a little time to get up to speed, to find the confidence and strength I need to just let go and reach for the sky….You know sometimes it felt I could fly. No doubts, no fears, just like when you are here. No chains, no strings, no fences, no wall, no net, just you…..to catch me when I fall. Look heart, no hands. It doesn't take much, just a smile or a touch and I'm a kid again……I can almost feel that wind. No chains, no strings, no fences, no wall, no net, just you…..to catch me when I fall. Look heart, no hands. Look heart, no hands." (Look Heart, No Hands).
No limitations…willing to believe in that which I cannot see…feeling the wind of His love as I live in the assurance of being made in His image….
As a beloved son with no mind to the dangers of living for Him in this broken, sinful world. Why did it take me so long to realize that I was living with the wrong image of who I was because of WHO's I am……
"Look, Poppa…..Look at me, NO HANDS!!!!!!!!"