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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Why Are You Still Outside?

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There are so many that are outside our walls.  Those who are blinded and confused by the Church and the gospel.

People are for the most part not this blatant or obvious in their pain.  But it is what they are asking that tunes us in. “Where?”

Humans have been created with a special spot inside them.  This place is designed by our Creator for his use only.  Life just doesn’t make sense unless he is the center.  Christians are just people who are trying to be fueled by God’s Spirit.

Answers abound to questions unasked.  Confusion is rampant and it seems no one can get a unified direction for his companions.  This is precisely why the Bible brings a piercing and clear call to the children of man.  Its promises are not dated, they are not obsolete.

They are many who have gone before us, thousands of generations who have found light and solace for darkened and wounded hearts.  They testify to us of the spiritual reality that can be found in God and in his Word.  We are not called to perfection, but a real obedience of faith and love.

At this throbbing moment in history, Jesus is calling so many to “follow”. 

He is populating eternity with beggars, the sick, the poor the addicted.  He loves “sinners”.  He loves the mentally ill.  The Bible tells us, “that he ever lives to make intercession for them”.

You have a purpose, and life does have clear meaning.  Don’t lose hope and don’t try to fill yourself with foolish and empty pursuits.  Come to Jesus, ask for forgiveness.  Find the people that will help solidify and confirm your decision.  Feel free to contact me about your decision to follow Jesus.

“Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

 

For more info on becoming a believer please contact 1-888-NEED-HIM.

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Just a Father Looking For His Son

 

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“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.”

Luke 15:20, NLT

The actions of the prodigal are worth considering.  At a specific moment of time he stood up, looked around, and then decided to return home.  But he is no longer a ‘rich man’s son’, the pig-pen crushed that idea.  Truly, the devastated prodigal still has a small spark left– his set belief in his father, and it is that which gives him propulsion to go home.

The trip is a long one, lots of walking, and it’s hard, but then, he is seen! Please understand, the love of God is a searching/seeking kind of l,ove.  It simply will not shut down, or go away over time. It is never shut-off. It is a 24/7/365 kind of love.

Think of it like high intensity radar that sweeps over extreme distances, it is always seeking,  and it won’t be denied.  The Father is always seeking for His sons and daughters.  He intends to find them, at last. You can think of it in another way. It’s like having a warrant for your arrest, (in a good way.) It will never expire, and it will find you. You will always be a ‘wanted’ man, or woman. Always!

The compassion of the Father is an aggressive and reaching kind of mercy

He reaches out and penetrates through a whole lot of sin.  But as I read this, and think, there seems to be a lot momentum coming from the Father. He is far from passive, or ‘ho-hum’ toward His son. He is fully into reclaiming His lost sons and daughters.

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Sin disfigures

The Father recognizes His prodigal son.  Gross sin has a way that disfigures a person’s countenance. Look at the wino or meth addict on the street. The boy who abruptly left home is not the son who returns.  There has been damage done.  His face has changed.  The Father understands this, and yes, it has been terribly hard and brutal.

The Father shows a delightful compassion for His son.  We see Him running.  He drives Himself to chase down the Prodigal.  He could have easily step back and just waited for the Prodigal to prove himself.  But we see a ‘running love’.  He has a real ‘running love’ for His son, and that is worth considering.

Notice dear “broken believer,” that all the actions are the Fathers.  The Father is doing everything.  He runs at the Prodigal, He embraces him and He kisses him.  We see a Father that will do anything for His prodigal son.  On the other hand, the prodigal brings nothing but himself.  He simply receives from his Father.

This parable is the greatest of all.  It show’s the deep love the Father has for prodigals like us. It gives us the reality of the spiritual in the physical.

It very well could be that the Church will falter and be confused over the presence of the prodigal at the door.  When we see love like the Fathers, lavished on silly fools, we can grow skeptical.  If the Church can keep pace, and accept the actions of the Father toward ‘prodigals’ of all backgrounds, we will be doing His will in the world.

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Can You Say No? [Getting Negative]

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11 “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”

Titus 2:11-12

My life runs better when I learn to say “No”.

I can’t make it any simpler. We have become part of a culture that almost always says yes. To deny ourselves the fulfillment of our particular desires seems impossible– considering our track record. We pretty much seek out our particular pleasure, and then take our lumps and absorb all the consequences.

Things then, digress and “solidify” from this point. Deeply ingrained habits become almost impossible to break. We are now being held in a very certain bondage. And all because we can’t say “no”.

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Perhaps this will become a learning point, when we start to say “no” to our desires. We can’t let temptation have its way, we must stand and say “no!” It is no sin to be tempted, Jesus was tempted, and did not sin against His Father. In Psalm 40:8, we come to a certain understanding.

“I take joy in doing your will, my God,
    for your instructions are written on my heart.”

The deep and earnest passion of our Father is that we learn this. To joyfully each morning to find ourselves excited about being “will-doers.” And also “no-sayers.” When Satan tempts us, we must object. We may still get confused, and sin. But we will also taste victory.

Will you just say “no?”

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