Real Soaring

Isaiah 40:28-31

The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
    Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
   but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

I’ve read this passage many times and often found it very encouraging. But as I struggled and pushed myself through Christmas program directing, shopping, baking, wrapping, and entertaining in spite of pain, weakness and extreme fatigue, I read it again. I wasn’t encouraged. In fact, it really bothered me.

This is what I was thinking to myself: I trust God and think I do an okay job of waiting on Him. Yet I’m weary all the time. And I certainly can’t run. Sometimes I can’t even walk.

So I was annoyed at God’s words and having this little tantrum in my mind. Even though I know I am blessed to be able to walk at all. And see. And hear. And use my hands. And breathe. Yet, in my human weakness, I was still having a momentary meltdown.

Until God opened my eyes. You see, He is very good at handling tantrums. He speaks softly and gently to our hearts. If we repent of our pride and selfishness, we are able to hear the truth. And, well, for me, the truth is this: I know from experience with my three boys that children interpret things very literally. And I was reading this like a kindergartner.

God is referring to sustaining the human spirit, which could manifest in physical strength but is definitely not limited to that. When we trust in God and not ourselves, He is promising to give us a spirit of tenacity, endurance and increased faith. We are able to spiritually “soar like eagles” because we believe we are loved unimaginably and that there is purpose to our lives and everything that happens. We may feel extremely physically or emotionally tired and incapable. But deeper trust, rising hope and renewed perseverance will come to us from the Lord if we would only wait a minute instead of charging ahead in our own limited spiritual strength.

If this interpretation seemed so totally obvious to you as you read the above passage, I give you full permission to have a chuckle over my elementary moment. I don’t mind admitting that any wisdom I might possess comes entirely from God.

But, for me, I’m lying here recovering from too much “pushing myself” through the holiday. And it is wonderful to realize that I can still “soar like an eagle” even though I’m having difficulty getting myself a glass of water.

What was your hardship this past Christmas? What is it that made you feel physically or emotionally exhausted? Perhaps you also struggle with chronic pain or disease. Maybe it was your first Christmas after the loss of a loved one. Or maybe you spent the holiday apart from family because of divorce, death, broken relationships or mere distance. I cannot claim to relate to all of these incredibly difficult circumstances. But I know someone who can.

Jesus traveled around spreading the Good News and was often rejected. Because he was God in the flesh, He experienced hunger, thirst, pain and fatigue. Jesus was betrayed by His disciple, Judas, and the people whom He came to save and heal. Jesus was denied and abandoned by His disciples as He went to the cross. As He took on the sin of the entire world and endured the excruciating pain and shame of Roman crucifixion, He experienced physical and emotional stress that we cannot truly comprehend. His own Father looked away as His Son became sin and received the penalty of death.

Jesus did all of that for me. Someone who admits annoyance, albeit temporary, at the words of the God of the universe! Because after all He’s done for me, I still want my own way at times. And because feeling sorry for myself clouded my ability to understand and believe truth. But remembering all He did and all that He is and believing it was for me, well, that is better than walking. Better than running. And that is real soaring.

He also did it for you. Grace be with you, my friends.

 

Indignation and Compassion

 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. Mark 1:40-41

Sunday, I taught a lesson to my New Life Kids’ class about this passage of scripture. We are studying the miracles of Jesus, and in this particular instance, He heals a man of a debilitating skin disease. The focus of the lesson, according to the curriculum, was that just as He had cleansed this man from a physical disease,  Jesus can, and does, also cleanse us spiritually from our personal offenses, or sins, of pride, greed, and so on. This spiritual cleansing requires a response on our part to God’s grace. Not good works, as they alone cannot save us. This response is faith in the truth that Jesus died for us and there is no other way to God, but through belief in Him. (John 14:6)

I taught all of this with fervor, as I firmly believe this is the truth of the Gospel. The beautiful truth. But some interesting details jumped out at me as I studied and planned my lesson about the healing of the leper.

This story was recorded in three of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. However, I thought the account in Mark really captured the heart of Jesus when confronted by the leper. When we take time to meditate on and study the life of Jesus, we can more deeply understand the character of our Savior.

“Jesus was indignant.”

It is important not to misunderstand the text. I don’t feel that this is conveying that Jesus was simply “annoyed” with yet another person approaching him for healing. Or even aggravated that a contagious leper came near Him.

On the contrary, I think these three words speak volumes about how Jesus feels about physical disease. The text says that Jesus was indignant and I believe that, indeed, He was. Jesus, being God Himself, looked upon a person made in His own image whom He loves, and saw the ugly, disfigured, painful, rotten effects of a terrible disease. Jesus knew that physical disease is a result of a world broken by evil, a world that He entered in order to offer hope. I daresay Jesus was struck with anger and His heart was grieved for what had become of this man, His creation. Jesus wasn’t angry at the leper. I think Jesus was angry at the disease.

It is important to clarify that I am NOT saying the leper had done something bad and that is why he had a disease. Rather, that the effect of sin entering the world is, in part, physical disease. When God created the world, it was GOOD. He did not create illness or even mean for us to die. Death and disease came into the world as a result of evil entering it. (Genesis 1-3, Roman 5:12-21)

So why do I take time to pontificate the true meaning of Jesus’s anger in this story of the leper? Because we have a God who identifies with our anger, frustrations and sorrow. He took on skin and walked the earth, feeling every human emotion. I may feel anger, at times, toward my own painful disease, muscular dystrophy. But I actually take comfort in the fact that God may be angry about it, too! Why? Mainly because I know He also has the power to heal me. But, if He chooses not to, then I MUST conclude that He has a VERY GOOD reason.

Jesus was Compassionate

I love what happens next with Jesus and the leper. Jesus is angry and full of mercy  in the span of a mere moment. I also must point out that Jesus could have healed this man by speaking words or just thinking or any way He wished. But think about what Jesus chose to do! He touched him. A leper, whom NO ONE would dare touch for fear of infection. At this time and in this culture, lepers were forced to live alone outside the community away from their families. Because they were so highly contagious, they had to cover their mouths and call out, “unclean!” if they came near another person. (Leviticus 13:43-46) How lonely and humiliating!

I also have to laugh when I think about what Jesus did. At times, Jesus could be such a “rule-breaker!” No one was supposed to touch a leper. But Jesus did it anyway.

The compassion of Jesus is very evident in His decision to heal this man with a tender touch. A man who had probably not felt the touch of another person in a very long time. Our God is personal and lovingly attentive to detail.

Conclusion

God feels anger toward injustice just as we do. (God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. Psalm 7:11) There will be a day when He will judge the world, and put an end to evil and its painful effects. Although God feels anger towards evil, the Bible says that it’s a different story when it comes to those who are in Christ. (The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 103:8)

I believe that the way Jesus reacted and responded to the leper demonstrates that Jesus is angry at what hurts us and tenderly attentive to our personal needs. I hope my attempt to dig deeper into the character of Jesus has filled you with a desire for Him.

Grace be with you, my friends.