Of Woodpeckers and Brokenness
We literally heard screams coming from behind the cabins. Joni and I had just finished cleaning the lodge down at the retreat center and as we walked outside, we heard the strangest screams coming from up in the woods behind the cabins. It was bone chilling. We had to find out what was going on. We walked up the hill and I cautiously ventured around the corner of the girls cabin as the screams got louder. As I approached, I saw large, black crows dive bombing something on the ground. That “something” was screaming the most painful sounds and couldn’t seem to escape.
As I rushed over, the crows took flight and vanished. Looking down, I saw their victim - a large Pileated Woodpecker. It was the largest woodpecker I’d seen and had a bright red Mohawk atop its head. It also had a badly broken wing – likely broken by one of the large crows that had ambushed it. Making matters worse, it had somehow become ensnared in a thorn bush and couldn’t get loose. It had literally been a sitting target for the angry crows.
Dodging its frantic attempts to peck my hands, I unwrapped the thorns from around the woodpecker’s wounded body and carried it out. Joni and I were both struck with a deep sense of sadness at what we had just witnessed. We had to do something. We got on the phone immediately and finally found “The Bird Lady,” a bird rehabilitation specialist who lived about 30 minutes away in Newton.
Kudos to my wife that day who conquered her fear of birds and actually let a large Woodpecker ride in the back of her car on the way to Newton while our 2 boys asked a bazillion questions about the bird, those “mean ol’ crows,” and what was going to happen to it. For time’s sake, you’ll have to ask my wife for the full story which includes being invited into a bird sanctuary that afternoon and watching with horror as “The Bird Lady” placed Morning Doves on each of my boys heads (much to their sheer delight). We handed the Woodpecker into her expert care and then drove back home.
A Lit Fuse
Why share this story? After all, we aren’t even “bird people.” And yet, the memories of that morning have burned in my heart for a few weeks now and probably will for a long time. I believe this encounter has been etched on my heart because it’s a vivid picture of Jesus’ tender love for the broken. Who are the broken? Me. You. Each of us. Some of us are painfully aware of it, while others of us perform emotional gymnastics to avoid it. The human race took a knee to Satan thousands of years ago. The result is that humanity now lives in a fallen world, with a fallen nature (sin), and we have an adversary who seeks to exploit both to alienate us permanently from the affections of our Father. Our reality is one of brokenness and that brokenness can be seen in anything that exposures the fracture lines that underlie our humanity.
The good news, however, is that our God burns white hot with a passion for restoration. And since He IS God, after all, that’s really good news. Thus, God embraced all of our weaknesses and became a human, offered Himself up as the only perfect substitute for the same ones that rejected Him, and died in sacrificial love to redeem and restore us from that which would have otherwise destroyed us. He who was WHOLE became BROKEN for the BROKEN so that they might become WHOLE IN HIM. It was deep, gut-wrenching, mind blowing affection that led the Creator of the universe to step in and provide a means of redemption and restoration for His children. He is more passionate about restoration than we could ever dare imagine.
The Gospel, then, is the good news that Jesus lit the fuse on the greatest restoration masterplan in time and space. Through a simple trust in Jesus and the sufficiency of His sacrifice for us, we are given access back into all of the Father’s affections and his approval. It is this approval (righteousness) and affection that heals our broken souls. As we journey through this life it is the sin-disarming and wound-healing love and approval of our Father that initiates this process of restoration in our lives.
Our Thorns and Crows
Like the woodpecker, we can become ensnared in the thorns of sin. This is the flesh. And while we (those who’ve trusted Christ and His substitutionary death for us) are new creations in Christ, the entirety of the New Testament bears witness to the fact that we still wrestle against that old sinful nature (the flesh). And we will until we come face to face with Him. Sin in our lives, at the root, is the result of us having substituted something other than the love and approval of God (which we have in Christ) with anything else. In theological terms, sin is the result of trusting anything other than Christ as our righteousness. It’s idolatry. It leads to bondage. It often puts those around us in bondage. The collateral damage of sin cannot be underestimated. One individual’s sin can impact generations, cultures, families, friendships and communities. Thus, we are surrounded by brokenness… that which has resulted from our own sin or from the sin of others who walk this earth with us. It’s an epidemic.
Like the woodpecker, we too, get ambushed by the crows of this broken world and the schemes of Satan. The world and its systems are broken as well and awaiting restoration (Romans 8:18-25). In the meantime, we see that sin has actually invaded the systems of the world around us. And often these broken systems lead to personal brokenness. For example, why is the LOVE of money a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10)? Money offers to quench the thirst of the soul for approval and validation. But it’s never enough. It’s a craving that only grows with time. To quench that ever growing thirst, we are often willing to compromise the well-being of others. Love of money can breed workaholism, which in turn can leave a neglected child with a nagging sense of inadequacy, woundedness, and brokenness – the result of never being as important as the almighty dollar. Love of money can lead us to willingly and negligently cut corners in an effort to save time and increase financial margin. Consider the company that dumps waste into a river. The contamination of that river can lead to the sickness of an entire community… physical brokenness as the result of a world system that was corrupted by sin. These, like the crows that ambushed the unsuspecting woodpecker, leave many broken physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that there is a dark spiritual reality directly or indirectly behind much of the pain and suffering in this world. He says that our current battle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). Yes, Satan has been defeated. He’s lost the battle because of the sacrificial Savior who stood in our place to give us authority over him, his tactics, and his accusations. But there’s still a war being fought that won’t end until Christ our King returns and throws Satan and the forces of darkness into a place of eternal judgment (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime we see immense brokenness around us. This broken world, it’s broken and corrupted systems and the evil behind it leave many feeling grounded and ambushed much like the woodpecker did from those “mean ol’ crows.” …But the fuse has been lit.
Our Four Options
Each of us finds ourselves in the situation that my wife and I did that day. The difference is that the screams and the sounds of suffering come from those around us. The earth is filled with the broken, the wounded, the bruised, the weary, and the battered. Their brokenness is the result of the thorns of sin and the viciousness of a broken world and its illegitimate prince. Those screams manifest in multiple ways: anger, depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, addictions and so on… How will we respond? The way I see it, we have at least 4 primary modes of response.
I was really busy the day that woodpecker was screaming. I honestly had many things that were high on my priority list at the moment. In the same way, there are many of us who are legitimately busy and choose to ignore the cries of the broken around us. We hop in our car, crank the radio up and head on. But what if those who are wounded are actually at the top of God’s priority list? What if we heard the cries of the broken, reflected on our own journey and need for restoration at many points? What if the most exciting journey of life was joining Christ in His great restoration movement across the earth?
Putting It Out of Its Misery:
Don’t think it didn’t cross my mind. Helping this woodpecker was going to be messy. It was going to be time consuming. And there were no guarantees. Many would probably roll their eyes and consider me foolish for wasting my time on this bird. In the same way, the threat of being judged by others for helping the weak and broken is real. We may be labeled or judged. Jesus was. There is a chilling scene in the movie The Revenant (spoiler alert ahead). A tracker named Glass (Leonardo Dicaprio) is leading a band of survivors across a barren land when he is attacked by a bear and mauled. He is fighting to survive, but he’s badly wounded. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is left behind and charged with ensuring that he recovers or giving him a proper burial if he cannot. Fitzgerald, however, has no patience for this weakness. To him, caring for the weak is a sign of weakness. He also has no hope for Glass’ recovery and restoration. And so in a moment of great selfishness, he literally drags Glass into a grave and piles dirt upon him, leaving him there to die. We, like Fitzgerald, are often tempted to write off the broken. We say, “they’re too far gone.” When we do so, we ignore the spiritual and historical precedent that every restored daughter or son of God in Christ has always started off “too far gone” to be restored. And yet, in this place of great brokenness… this sacred place…the Healer and Restorer moves in incomprehensible ways to restore the broken and set them aflame with His own passions for restoration.
Joining the Crows:
Moment of honesty here… We’re all broken. And we hate it. Sometimes, instead of leaning into the embrace of Jesus the Restorer to heal our wounds, we’d rather dive bomb those who are more broken than we are in an attempt to make us feel better about our own woundedness. We judge. We gossip and slander. We reject. We isolate. We form cliques of more “acceptable” broken people and keep out those whose brokenness is more culturally and societally reprehensible than our own. It takes the attention off of our own wounds and brokenness. We insulate ourselves from seeing our own needs and we cast those who need the tender love and restoration of our Father further down into the pit. It’s cruel. It’s awful. And it’s a common human temptation. It’s joining the crows in their ambush of the weak and defenseless.
Choosing the Way of Restoration:
But there’s another option. We can join Jesus, who lit the fuse on the most powerful masterplan of restoration one could have ever imagined. In John’s Gospel, He describes Jesus’ mission this way: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Now this is deep. There’s much to say about this verse as it is building upon the book of Exodus and saying many things about the uniqueness of Jesus and His mission. For simplicity sake, I’d offer this as a paraphrase of this verse: “Jesus (Who is God) became a man… He came from upon high and got down in the ditch with us… He showed us the clearest picture of the true nature and heart of God as He walked this earth and died in our stead… He came to us full of grace and truth (the Gospel).” Why? Restoration. It was the only way to restore the Kingdom and bring His children back into His arms.
Did you catch that? Jesus didn’t come with a formula so that we could follow a ten step process to restoration. He came as Restoration. He is the Restorer. He didn’t just shout answers from above the ditch. He got down in it and loved immensely and passionately. His journey through the ditch ultimately led Him to a Cross. He died with all of the brokenness and grime of our ditches upon Himself. And as He cried out “It is Finished,” His broken body became the way back to the Father. The way of Restoration was finally open to us, the broken.
So how do we join Jesus in His passion for restoration? We can begin by loving the broken… entering into their situations and their ditches… and offering them the hope of restoration that is only found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This hope is rooted in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and has the power to unite us to the love and approval of our true Father. For His love and approval alone can restore our brokenness.
I'm married to an incredible woman, Joni. We have two little treasures, Zach (4) and Jon (2). We moved out to Valley Haven Camp and Retreat Center in Hickory, NC in April of 2015 and are excited to see Jesus cultivate a relational context for restoration and renewal in His Gospel and grace out here under these beautiful mountains.