Compassion!

“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.”

(Luke 15:20)

How can you doubt His mercy and compassion for you?

“No matter how low down you are; no matter what your disposition has been; you may be low in your thoughts, words, and actions; you may be selfish; your heart may be overflowing with corruption and wickedness; yet Jesus will have compassion upon you.”

“He will speak comforting words to you; not treat you coldly or spurn you, as perhaps those of earth would, but will speak tender words, and words of love and affection and kindness. Just come at once. He is a faithful friend – a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”

-D.L. Moody

With love from your prodigal brother,

Bryan

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Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son

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Rembrandt, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” c. 1661

“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

Two hundred and eighty-nine words– these describe the life of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. These 289 words reveal to us a God who loves far too much, way too easy— and maybe 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. But we find that is legalism talking.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Many of us have lived in prodigality, and 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 filthy slop buckets for something to eat.

Many of us will understand his despair. Often there comes to us a crystalline moment of broken wisdom. The prodigal, sin-crusted and impoverished, still has a lingering memory of the Father’s house. The servants there had far more than him right now. Sometimes I wonder if in our captivity, we instinctively want to go home, if only in our minds, to be a servant there.

The Father has dreamed of this precise moment. The parable says, “He saw him–felt compassion–ran out to him–embraced him–and kissed him.” The Father is a whirlwind of agape love. 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 some observations: 
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  • 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.
  • The son’s head is downy, almost like a newborn’s. We must enter the kingdom like little children. 
  • The Prodigal Son seems to be protected by his father. He snuggles near the Father’s breast. It’s love that holds him there.
  • Consider his sandals. It has taken a long time for him to come home. 
  • 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 his brother.
  • We see his mother in the background in the painting, and a seated steward or counselor. One stands in profound joy, the other in sits in stunned perplexity.

Rembrandt had painted the Prodigal once before, when he was considerably 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 a charming young man at the height of his popularity, and we see him at a happy party. He is spending the inheritance of his father.

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 now the spiritual condition.

We are given a work that some critics call as the greatest painting ever completed. The painting is now in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is seldom seen by visitors. It is a clear echo of the grace of God for fallen men and women. Like the father in the painting, He’s ready to forgive every sin saturated son and daughter.

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A Sheltered Spot for You

Tree by a Stream

“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”

Isaiah 26:3

All we need to do in time of sorrow and loneliness is to stay our minds upon God, to trust Him, to rest in Him, to nestle in His love. We remember where John was found the night of the Lord’s last supper with His disciples, – the darkest night the world ever saw, in the deepest sorrow men ever knew, – he was leaning on Jesus’ breast. He crept into that holy shelter to find quiet.

John was kept in perfect peace during all those terrible hours. Everything appeared to have slipped away and there was nothing that seemed abiding. But John crept into the shelter of love and simply trusted, and was kept in holy peace.

A beautiful story is told of Rudyard Kipling during a serious illness a few years since. The trained nurse was sitting at his bedside on one of the anxious nights when the sick man’s condition was most critical. She was watching him intently and noticed that his lips began to move. She bent over him, and heard him whisper the words of the old familiar prayer of childhood, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” The nurse, realizing that her patient did not require her services, and that he was praying, said in apology for having intruded upon him, “I beg your pardon, Mr. Kipling; I thought you wanted something.” “I do,” faintly replied the sick man: “I want my heavenly Father. He only can care for me now.

In his great weakness there was nothing that human help could do, and he turned to God and crept into His bosom, seeking the blessing and the care which none but God can give. That is what we need to do in every time of trial, of sorrow, – when the gentlest human love can do nothing, – creep into our heavenly Father’s bosom, saying, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” That is the way to peace. Earth has no shelter in which it can be found, but in God the feeblest may find it.  —JR Miller

Riding the Underground, [with Jesus]

“And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.’

Mark 6:31, ESV

Our Savior would never drive us to do things with a whip.  He is not a taskmaster, and he will not insist or impose his will over us.  Nothing about him is brutal or demanding. (He could, really– if he wanted to.)  But no, we learn how to serve him from our loving hearts.

It is interesting that it was Jesus that was very careful, and aware of his disciples needs.  No one suggested a break from the work, but Jesus initiated the break from the massive press of the crowds. He knew intensely what his disciples needed.

 “Crowds of people were coming and going so that Jesus and his followers did not even have time to eat. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves, and we will go to a lonely place to get some rest.”

Mark 6:31, NCV

Underground-SymbolThe presence of so many people had put the disciples in a very hard place.  The NCV describes the crowds, as “coming and going.”  If you have ever been on the London Underground you will understand just the sheer number.  Everyday, 2.93 million people ride the trains.  I remember travelling from the backwoods of  Alaska, with just a backpack, and hitting the crowds on “the tube” in London, UK.

The intense masses were way beyond anything I ever imagined.  Talk about a “culture shock!  I saw more people in just 3 minutes than in an entire year of living in Alaska.  It was like an amazing giant ant-hill; I would stop, and just stare. Nothing prepared me for this. But I knew His presence was with me.

Jesus is more concerned about the living freshness of his disciples.  He shuts things down in order to rest with his followers.  Often the tendency will be the opposite, especially when the leader is weak and immature.  “Work harder, and even more hours!”  Jesus did not have the need to be available 24/7.  And he certainly didn’t expect his disciples to.  His heart is committed to his followers.

He “orders” his disciples, come apart and let’s rest!

“But so many people were coming and going that Jesus and the apostles did not even have a chance to eat. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go to a place where we can be alone and get some rest.”

Mark 6:31, CEV

I don’t know if you can grasp the sensitivity, or see the nuances of Jesus shepherding his disciples.  He has a deep awareness of them; he doesn’t get lost by people pressing in from every side.  He loves the world of men and women, but his followers are his “specialty.”

He tunes in on their frequency, and knows our spiritual capacity.

What gives his followers strength, is to be close with Jesus, and to separate from the needs that were densely surrounding them.  We can be flattered by being needed, but that can be very corrosive or destructive.  I’m guessing but I believe that a few of the disciples may have been annoyed by this break in the action. They found it hard to remove themselves from the action.  Some may have been frustrated, perhaps maybe even slightly irritated by “Jesus’ retreat.”

When you are pouring out, you will find there is only a certain capacity before you run dry.  You may think this is “noble and praiseworthy” but it is nothing of the sort.  It is a form of arrogance and pride.  In order to really mature as a believer, we must shake this off and not to entertain our seeming indispensability to the cause.

We must keep on following Jesus into the quiet places.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28, MSG

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