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Rembrandt’s Meditation on the Younger Son

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Painting by Renbrandt, 1606-1669
“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to  one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Three hundred and twenty-nine words– these describe the life of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. These 329 words reveal to us a God who forgives much, and loves easily; the Father loves far too much, way too easy— and far too extravagantly for human beings to understand. Perhaps we sort of expect that he will ‘appropriately’ punish his son— at least put him on probation at least. It only makes sense.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Many of us have lived in prodigality, some  of us for a very long time. We have spent our inheritance like ‘drunken sailors’ and have nothing at all to show for it. The prodigal, completely destitute, takes the only work he can find. (Imagine a good Jewish boy feeding hogs.) He is so far gone that he starts inspecting the slop pails for something to eat.

Many of us will understand his despair. But there comes this crystalline moment of amazing clarity. The prodigal—filthy and impoverished, has  a memory of the Father’s house. The servants there had far more than him. Sometimes in our captivity we instinctively want to go home, if only to be a slave.

The Father has dreamed of this moment. The parable says, “He saw him–felt compassion–ran out to him–embraced him–and kissed him.” In moments we see a swirl of servants who completely overwhelm an already overwhelmed son. I’ve read the Parable of the Prodigal Son a hundred times or more . It never loses its punch. I simply want to bring you for just a few moments back into its light. I expect that the Holy Spirit may have business with you. rembrandt-prodigal3 (1)

We see that his father receives him with a tender gesture. His hands seem to suggest mothering and fathering at once; the left appears larger and more masculine, set on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture. His head is downy, almost like a newborn’s. Standing at the right is the prodigal son’s older brother, who crosses his hands in stoic judgment; we read in the parable that he objects to the father’s compassion for the sinful son.

Rembrandt had painted the Prodigal once before, when he was considerable younger. And it is a very good painting. The prodigal is happy and gay; there is absolutely no indication of the consequences of sin. He is charming young man at a happy party. But Rembrandt chooses at the end of his life to re-paint it to reflect reality. This is one of the last paintings he will do, and it is the Prodigal Son–destitute and repenting. I can only imagine; the years have taken a toll and he doesn’t really feel his first painting is enough. He wants to paint what is true. He is painting us.

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Dancing With Bruises

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Bruises seem to be part of life’s package to us. Some will be serious, most minor. But each are noted, and some will just have to be endured.

Dancers are some of the most wonderful people I know. Their gracefulness can be seen both on and off the stage. A dancer’s training is far from easy. By choosing to become dancers they have made a decision to absorb pain. Their toes and feet are blistered and bruised; they take constant abuse. Some must live with chronic tendinitis. Their feet bleed sometimes, and pain is their constant companion. Two things to consider.

  • They choose to dance. Dancers have an iron-will and a elegant grace. I suppose that is why they can dance.
  • The scars and bruises often become “badges of honor.” And they wouldn’t have it any other way. They would rather dance in pain, than not to dance at all.

Someone once compared depression as a “mental bruise.” I understand this. As depressed people, we must choose to walk out our lives from this pain. I know what it is like to bury myself in my bed for several weeks. My own mental bruise was simply more than I could take. There was a sensation of sinking into blackness, a sense of total and complete despair. I felt completely lost, and completely alone.

I prayed. I groaned, and I prayed. My sense of being totally lost was beyond comprehension. Dear reader, this was something quite real, and you must become aware of these things. Some of your friends are suffering. And it is a hellish and desperate depression.dancer-feet

To my Christian friends. Yes, I believe Jesus died for all my sins. He has forgiven me of much evil, I know that will live for eternity (with you). But mental illness is real, and like other illnesses it seldom is caused by evil or Satan. We would never say that diabetics are that way because of the enemy. Now the dark one will surely exploit it, but I think you give him far too much credit if you suggest he was able to initiate it. Satan just doesn’t have the spiritual “voltage.”

So, inspired by my dancing friends, and the Holy Spirit– I will make the choice to dance again. I’m pretty bruised, but I will try to ignore the pain. I would exult in my God, walk in His love, “leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture” (Malachi 4:2.)

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

Isaiah 42:3

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Tightrope Theology

As a person with a mental illness, it seems my issues are a matter of extremes.  Life seems uncontrollable; the wheels seem to always ready to come off of the wagon.  It strikes me as a semi-crazed place to be.  I look at the “norms” with envy, as their lives are crisp, healthy, and strong.

I once met a man that had a prophetic ministry who was speaking at a local church here in Alaska.  When I met with him, he looked at me intently.  He said many things, but the most significant was this. “You are an unstable man; you are like water.”  This was almost 30 years ago.  It has been an accurate prophecy and assessment since I heard it.  At first it stung, I hated it; but now, all these years later, I find a certain comfort in it.  God knows me; He understands.  I haven’t found any reason to be condemned for being Bipolar.

Those of us who walk the tightrope of sanity and insanity have One in heaven who not only knows us, but is on our side.  Hebrews 7:25 declares:

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

I must realize that I am not the “bad apple in the barrel,” nor am I cursed.  Rather the opposite is true.  I am the richest of all men, because of His radical grace that gets extended to the weakest. Those who “touch” my life are blessed by their contact with me, and since I have been so unnaturally “graced,” they become blessed by His presence through me. WOW! I simply need to be me, and they are drawn to you.

The issues that a mentally ill person (and those who are often a struggler and a rascal) faces are formidable.  But without His promises they are impossible.  The secular view is just to create a “zero sum” game.  It is to bring a person to some stupefied place of stasis.  Not exactly up–but not down either.  Stable, sort of.

It is very good to be stable.  But my goal can not be stability, but an obedience to a supernatural God who loves me supernaturally.  I simply can’t live without knowing that.  However, when I know it, I can handle the tightrope.  I will start to walk a “supernatural” walk.

You could say that God has a hobby, or a specialty.  It is weak and handicapped people.

He loves working with us and in us.  And I have become very much convinced that He pours out special favor on those of us who struggle so difficulty, those of us who will never fit in or be ‘normal.’

We need to come to that real and authentically holy place where we see God. But also in that place, and at the same time, we need to see ourselves as well.  And actually, both are most critical.  They are done imperfectly— but both must happen, nevertheless.

I exhort you to take on your tightrope.  You will only stay upright and cross it if you are aware of His grand love and presence.  It is an amazing thing to balance and walk, and if we fall?  Well, we drop into His net.  Get back up, and get in line again.  Secure your heart into the love of God for your soul.

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God’s Authentic Artisans

photo: aalmarkllc.com

Sculpture is 3-D art. It can be made with marble, glass, metal, wood, plastics. It can be carved or cast, welded or painted. There can be sculpture using light, sound, water, kinetic (moving), land art, and environmental enhancements. It’s just one way to be creative, with many applications.

Sometimes we can define and confine sculpture far too simply or narrowly, but there are so many ways to communicate visual art. There are so many ‘cutting edge’ efforts, showing the creativity of people who are themselves created in the image of God. When we create, we emulate the Creator. It’s something worth pondering: God creates beautiful snowflakes, and we make ‘Styrofoam’ cups. (Hardly creative.)

There are over thirty uses of “skillful” people in the Old Testament alone. The Hebrew word used is carries with it the idea of “excelling at a task– an artisan.” When both the tabernacle and the temple were constructed, the Holy Spirit directly commanded the selection of artists and artisans to design beauty right into their work. There was nothing that was prefab or shoddy. The work done was meticulous and took patience.

13 And King Solomon sent and brought Hiram from Tyre. 14 He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in bronze. And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and did all his work.

1 Kings 7:13-14, ESV

I’ve come to the place where I see talented people, with enhanced skills in many places: they are mothers, fathers, mechanics, plumbers. They are teachers and nurses, lawyers and accountants. They all excel at what they do, and it’s great when they are acknowledged and honored. They are creative in their work, “and full of understanding.”

When they go to work, they will carry out their duties with a flair. Some will have an awareness of God’s presence– some may not be aware. I was hospitalized a few years ago, I remember quite clearly a lady who came in and mopped my floor. She was skilled at her task, thorough and even artful. Tears came as I thought about her working. I felt humbled by her kindness. She was truly a minister of God’s grace on that day.

There is a line from Bernandos novel, “A Diary of a Country Priest.” It’s at the very end of the book, and the protagonist is dying. His attendant was disturbed by his inability to get a priest to come and minister the Sacrament of Last Rites. The dying man, looked at his friend, “What does it matter? Grace is everywhere.” Looking at the housekeeper, that same line came to my mind– grace is everywhere!


The man who carved the flourish above is a master carver. He is also a pastor and lives in Florida. His website is at http://www.aalmarkllc.com/ and he has posted a short video on YouTube,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTIuxKz5joc&w=640&h=360. He is a true example of a great woodworker.

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Apples of Gold

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“The right word spoken at the right time
       is as beautiful as gold apples in a silver bowl.”

Prov. 25:11, New Century Version

I’ve been thinking about this particular verse for years.  I had an older translation and I couldn’t decipher it.  It is really good to understand what you have just read.

This verse tells us that there is a certain cadence– a timeliness for just the right word.  There is a proper sense, a beautiful art in making the situation perfect. The wisdom comes in a conversation, and suddenly everything makes sense.  There is a elegance that’s shared by everyone, and a dignity that the Holy Spirit bestows on our words. We only have to ask Him to bless what we say (or write.)

People speak wrong words as well.  Rather then edifying, they tear down.  Thirty years ago a Christian girl I was working with would always try to counsel me.  Soon, I had enough of it.  I walked up to her desk and said, “Becky (name changed), God has given me a word for you!”  She looked up at me and smiled. ‘It’s Judges 16:16’, she got out her Bible to read the verse I just had given her. Tears welled up in her eyes.

“With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.”

I absolutely crushed her spirit.  I had used the Word to assault her like a blunt instrument.  Tears welled up in her eyes.  It would be a time before I sought her forgiveness.  I was hard and brutally used the Bible to purposefully hurt her.  I do not suggest that you do this.  I will never forget what I did. Oh man, did I ever learn.

That day I would learn the awesome power of my words— for good, or for evil.

Let us also decide that our words will bring life to those who we meet today– wise and encouraging words!

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Should I Take Medication? by John Piper

What’s Your Take on Christians Using Antidepressants?

by John Piper

Pastor John Piper

In the end I’m going to say that there are times when I think it is appropriate, but I want to go there cautiously and slowly, with warnings.

Depression is a very complex thing. It’s got many layers. I think we all would agree that there are conditions in which nobody would deny that certain people are depressed in a pathological way, because they’re immobile. They’re not even able to function.

And then there’s a continuum of discouragements and wrestlings with having an ‘Eeyore-type’ personality, which may or many not be depressed.

So that means that I want to be so careful not to have a knee-jerk reaction. When you come into my office and describe to me your discouragements, I don’t want my first response to be, “See a doctor and get a prescription.”

I fear that is way too quick today. The number of people on antidepressants as a first course rather than a last course is large.

And the assumption is that you can’t make any progress in counseling unless you get yourself stabilized or something.

So I just want to be very cautious.

As a Christian who believes that Christ is given by the Holy Spirit to deliver us from discouragements and from unbelief and from sorrow and to help us live a life of usefulness, what makes me able to allow for antidepressants is the fact that medicine corresponds to physical realities.

And the physical realities are that we get headaches that make us almost unable to think. Migraine headaches can put a man out. And we are pretty much OK if the doctor can help us find some medicine that would not let us get these immobilizing headaches.

And the headaches clearly have a spiritual impact, because they’re making me unable to read my Bible and function in relation to people that I want to love and serve. And so medicine becomes spiritually effective in that way.

So we apply this principle that we all use to depression, and then the fact that the body is included in depression. Whether we should use the terms “chemical imbalances”—I’ve read both sides on that. Some people say that there is no scientific evidence for such a thing and others say that it is a given. Whatever. Everybody knows that there are physical dimensions to depression.

If that physical dimension could be helped by medicine—in the short run especially, sometimes long term—then I think, in God’s grace and mercy, we should take it as a gift from his hand.


© Desiring God, desiringGod.org

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, where he first sensed God’s call to enter the ministry. He went on to earn degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.) and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren.
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/AskPastorJohn
/ByTopic/81/4233_Whats_your_take_on_Christians_
using_antidepressants/
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When Others are More Gifted Than You

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“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.”

1 Corinthians 12:4, NLT

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.”

1 Peter 4:10

Several years ago, the Holy Spirit completely turned my understanding of the Church– upside down. It took some time. I found that over many years I had made the Body of Christ into a competitive sport. And although I wouldn’t of phrased it exactly that way, it was how I approached the Christian brothers/sisters in my life.

I guess a great deal of effort was generated to receive the proper recognition. I had completely misunderstood the very of nature of being a ‘gifted’ person. As I look back, I was very much like James and John, in Matt. 20:20. It wasn’t so much that I was exalting myself, as I only felt (?) that I needed to push for all that Jesus had for me.

(I could go much deeper, but I feel I should be brief.)

We must learn to respect the giftedness of others. Often, this is easy. When we encounter a special ability, it can be fairly easy to do. A teacher or preacher, a worship leader or an amazing writer who has a tremendous gift is a real blessing and are simple to recognize.

However, we are probably more inclined to operate out of our own bitterness or frustration. Rather than accepting others, we look for any reason at all to invalidate and disparage. We scour and search for anything to minimize or reject our “competitor.” To bolster our efforts, we label it as “discernment.” This justifies us, as we think that it is “protecting” the Church.

The Spirit, out of His infinite inventory, distributes the gifts to the Church. And we honor and respect Him when we acknowledge that. We don’t elevate the person, but we do accept them. We don’t ignore any sin, but we recognize the treasure that is hidden in a clay pot.

A necessary thought. What about when a gift is seen in someone 30 years younger than you? Paul wrote young Timothy precise instructions on his youth.

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”

1 Timothy 4:12

We need to honor the Spirit. We should respect the giftedness that others have. Humility often varies with the person, the gift and the maturity. And it would be the nadir  of foolishness for us to think we have settled this issue, once and for all. There are no cookie cutters. One last thought, which is a wise course I think–

“Be desirous, my son, to do the will of another rather than thine own.”

–Thomas a Kempis
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