In Love with a Lion

 

“I will not leave you alone. You are mine.  I know each of my sheep by name.  You belong to Me.  If you think I am finished with you, if you think I am a small god, that you can keep at a safe distance, I will pounce on you like a roaring lion, tear you to pieces, rip you to shreds, and break every bone in your body.  Then I will mend you, cradle you in my arms, and kiss you tenderly.”

Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb

God stalks us.  He never lets up.  We can never, never out run Him.  A popular 182 line poem, from a generation ago, was called “The Hound of Heaven“.  It described a person being pursued by God. This is part of it.

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears
I hid from him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated.

                                        –by Francis Thompson

The very remarkable thing is not our prodigal hearts; rather it is the amazing love the Father has by chasing us.  Jesus is consistently reckless about capturing us, and making us his own.  His love is like a homing mechanism in a missile shot at us that defies our escape.  We can weave and dodge all we want, but we have been targeted, and He is coming for us.

The way we talk and posture, it as if it is us that does the choosing.  I’m not saying we don’t to a degree.  But the Bible paints God in a different light.  He initiates, and He chooses.  He superintends our life, choreographing our movements.  If you remember the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis it will support this reasoning.

My Bipolar depression and epilepsy issues can never thwart or nullify Jesus’ love for me.  I can’t point at them as reasons not to be his follower.  He is not intimidated by my medical condition. My brain tumor and the death of my daughter didn’t phase Him. They are merely physical footnotes to the story of my life.

We opened with a Brennan Manning quote. He observes that life with Jesus will involve being torn to pieces and such.  He will not complacently love us, He just isn’t fond of you because you’re sort of a likable person.  His love is rough, and savage and furious.  He is quite tempestuous and intractable.  He won’t let go.  Your issues are probably not as significant as you think.

If you’re depressed, manic, paranoid or delusional you can still surrender to Jesus.  These are not your identity, they are not permanent. Yes, I get depressed and have incredible issues with anxiety.  I have a hand tremor almost all the time.  And I can get really paranoid.  But, I am his follower–first and foremost.

Let Him love you today.  His kind of love will heal you completely.

He will seize you and draw you close. You will find the rest you seek leaning on Him.

“Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, NLT

“Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.”

 J.I. Packer

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The complete text of the “Hound of Heaven” can be found at:  http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-hound-of-heaven/

Coming Home to Father

Rembrandt’s, “Parable of the Prodigal’s Son”

“He was yet a great way off, his father saw him.”

Luke 15:20

The boy had, in the far-away country, a vision of his old home. As he sat there and thought of his dishonor and his ruin, there flashed before him a picture which made him very home-sick. The vision brought back the old home in all its beauty and blessedness. There was plenty there, while here the once happy, favored son was now starving to death.

It was a blessed moment for the prodigal. It was God’s message to him, inviting him to return home. When a child is stolen away from a lovely and tender household, it may be kept among wandering gypsies or savage Indians even to old age, but there are always broken fragments of sweet memories that hang over the soul like trailing clouds in the sky — dim, shadowy memories of something very lovely, very pure, reminiscences of that long-lost, long-forgotten past, when the child lay on the mother’s arms, and was surrounded by beauty and tenderness.

So there is something in the heart of every one who has wandered from God that ever floats about him, even in sin’s revels — a fair, ethereal vision, dim and far away perhaps, but splendid as the drapery of the sunset. It is the memory of lost innocence, of the Father’s love, the vision of a heavenly beauty possible of restoration to the worst.

When the prodigal reached home he found his vision realized. His father was watching for him — had long been watching for him. It is a picture of the heavenly Father’s loving welcome of every lost child of His that comes back home. Thus He receives the worst who comes penitently. Our sweetest dreams of God’s love are a thousand times too poor and dim for the reality. A great way off God sees the returning prodigal, and runs to meet him. No matter how far we have wandered, there is a welcome waiting for us at home.

JR Miller

 


I have had to edit Pastor Miller’s comments a bit, but absolutely nothing to its original content or integrity. Whatever he has written carries the content he was realizing. I posted this on BB because of his sincere message and burden.

–Pastor Bryan 

 

 

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When Sin Brutalizes You

Detail of Painting by Rembrandt, “Return of the Prodigal Son”

There are three things for certain.

#1 You will never forget your sins.

#2 God has forgotten them.

#3 The Devil will try very hard to condemn you for your past.

 

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There are some days that are harder then others.  You see, I have lived profligately, harmed many, and influenced others to do evil.  I have wounded and hurt people very deeply.  There are days when I have this mental image of myself– I’m a ‘Fountain of Feces’ spewing and polluting my filth to anyone passing by.

But I am also the Prodigal.  I’ve squandered everything.  It’s gone.  I’ve been to the pig pen.  Filthy and starving.  Coming to my senses, I decide to return home, and sell myself to the employ of Him I once called “Father.”

But the most outrageous thing has happened.  It is so wildly fantastic that it defies any reason.    (I hardly dare to think it real).  The man who I once called “Father” refuses to listen to my list of sins.  He has embraced me, dressed me, established me as a son.  I have new shoes, and a signet ring.

I am a wonder to behold. A feast of unparalleled joy is waiting.  I pinch myself– is this really happening to me?  Those days in the pig pen, what a stupid waste.  I want to weep and shout for joy– all at the same time!  It doesn’t seem real.

The subject of my grossness and sin has been forgotten.  I have not been interrogated or punished.  (Since then, I’ve learned that Someone else took this on.)  But my perversity and my iniquity has never, ever been discussed.  Their is no list of my sin, no cataloging has taken place.  The promises tell me that my past sin has been put on a big barge, and shipped to the deepest part of the ocean– and dumped!

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Micah 7:19

As critical-thinking believers, with just a modicum of divine truth, what we do with our personal sin is huge.  It determines much about our walk.  We function out of our past.  The plant is rooted in something.  But our Father has turned our prodigal past into our personal future of total redemption.

Look at your greatest pain.  The Holy Spirit will very likely take that deep, deep bruise and turn it into your greatest ministry.  And He does it without resorting to a list of your ugly, ugly sin.  You see, He has already forgotten it.

“The question is who are we going to side with? God says our sins are past, cleansed, and gone. You cannot go on with God until you stand on His Word as cleansed with the heart made pure.”  

Smith Wigglesworth

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Bryan (the Prodigal)

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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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Discipleship is Intimacy

Intimacy with Jesus

There is so much good about any emphasis the Church puts on discipleship.  We pray, fast, and study the Bible better than any other generation.  We have as our pastors and teachers men and women equipped in our seminaries in Greek and Hebrew, educated in counseling and Church growth.  We are doing missions with the best of them.

But there is something amiss.  I believe we have misplaced intimacy.  Our worship services seem mechanical.  We are no longer in a wild love affair with the One who really matters.  We no longer just spontaneously think of Him, crying out for His mercy and love.

It could be that the evangelical Church in America has passed its expiration date.  We have grown confused, and have struggled with an emptiness that is at the core of a legalistic and a works dominated life.  We do not cry out with a passionate love for Him who desperately wants to hold us close.

The Book of Song of Solomon is the love story between a shepherdess and her beloved.  This love is a love that envelops and controls a person’s entire being.  Her love is intense as well as thirsty.  She needs her shepherd.  There is an element of being ‘lovesick’ and never settling for a second best relationship with her beloved.

Biblical discipleship must always be intimacy with Jesus.

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul writes about his deep concern for that particular Church,

2 “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent.”

There is jealousy involved here (which is suspect by us) and a foolishness (which is embarrassing) and is emotional.  This passage suggests a higher and purer following of Jesus that Satan wants to corrupt.  Paul was concerned that these Corinthians would not be a pure bride.  He got jealous over their vulnerability. He believed that they would miss the bridal love that they possessed.

I want to challenge you to keep the innocence of your relationship with Jesus. Guard it and refuse to be led away from its simple devotion.  Love with a white hot love.  Learn the language of romance again and remember that your discipleship is not an end in itself.  Biblical discipleship is intimacy with Jesus. We must settle on this in our hearts. The true foundation of discipleship can only be a kind of ‘first love’.

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”

Revelation 2:4

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Quarantined, for His Purposes

 

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Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus  are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principal of Usefulness

20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.

Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.

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A Finder’s Fee of Joy

New Testament 3 Production Still Photography Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (Luke 15:1)

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? ” (v. 4)

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one.” (v. 8)

“For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.” (v. 24)

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The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the ‘lost son’ tell us that this is a time for recovery. This is a unique period for the Church. It is a season of special grace that allows us to seek and find things that are valuable to us. It is a time of finding out things about ourselves as well.

What is precious to you? With the woman, it was a lost coin (probably a part of her dowry) and she made a substantial effort to get it back. With the shepherd, what was valuable was a lost sheep, and he would take a calculated risk to find it, and rejoin the flock. And the father lost his son, and he had to wait for him to return to his senses.

These three parables were directed to the different issues that effected the “notorious sinners.” But they also spoke to the pharisees who were present. Both groups understood and there were plenty of implications for everyone.

It’s a funny thing, Jesus never minced words. No one could be neutral around him. That is still the case today. I think God is seeking His lost children. This is what He is up to, this is His passion. Understanding this salient fact should enlighten us,

  1. to His will,
  2. to know His passion and love, (His pleasure in finding what was lost)
  3. and the true purpose of His Church.

As the Parable of the Prodigal Son develops, we see the pharisees equated to the ‘grouchy’ older brother. He begrudges his newly returned brother, and he really can’t see what is happening all around him. The idea of grace eludes him. Perhaps that is far more common than we think. Whenever ‘religion’ exerts control over a person or group, duty is almost always elevated over joy.

The Church is only as relevant as when it’s seeking out the lost.

The Church is meant to extend to the lost ‘sons’ of Adam, and the ‘daughters’ of Eve. This is God’s passion, and we must find out what He wants us to do to share His heart. It’s almost as if He wants to give us a chance to taste His joy.

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