Let’s Get Loud. It’s Christmas!

“Today your Savior was born in the town of David. He is Christ, the Lord.12 This is how you will know him:

You will find a baby wrapped in pieces of cloth and lying in a feeding box.”

 13 Then a very large group of angels from heaven joined the first angel, praising God and saying:
 14 “Give glory to God in heaven,
       and on earth let there be peace among the people who please God.”

Luke 2:11-14, NCV

How very busy things get.  Think of it, shepherds are meeting singing angels who are meeting people.  It must of been a bit crazy!  It’s verse 13 that, ‘a very large group of angels’ made their entrance that night.  Human history is being made now, the world has now been changed.

these are not quiet or stoic angels. they are large, and musical and filled with so much joy.

And as happy as this ‘angel-crowd’ gets,  it doesn’t phase them that God in heaven is now wrapped in human flesh and has been born in a manger.  Every angel, and almost every person understands– this is’t the place to have babies!  (Angels being angels, I think they were not thrilled with this dark hospitality being shown to God.  They probably said some ‘un-angelical’ things under their breath).

But this doesn’t matter, you see this swarm of angels descend on the stinky stable. 

And they are ecstatic, belting out at the top of their lungs songs of worship and praise.  The squalid environment isn’t a problem for them at all.  The cow manure, sheep feces, filthy straw can all be smelled, but that means nothing at this moment.

Friends, I must confess–my heart is very much like this dirty stable. 

Everything is so filthy, and the smell makes my eye’s water, and the flies are thick and intrusive.  It is all so sad, and pathetic.  There are many others with clean, white hearts, why should He choose my heart to abide?

The choir is singing now, and all of them are in deep, wonderous worship.  They belt it out with the enthusiasm of rabid fans at a NFL game.  But I examine my heart, I see so many issues, some things that are actually destroying me. I’m glad He’s all powerful and all loving–all the time and forever and ever.

But the angels, well, they just keep singing.

Christmas is just a couple of days away. Yet this is the time to prepare for a special holiday in your heart. May this year be the most meaningful time you’ve ever had.

“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

Charles Dickens

 

Running the Good Race, [Endurance]

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23 “The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

Psalm 37:23-24, NLT

We are each on a journey, and when we start to get serious about our following, we feel His pleasure. In the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” a line is spoken by Eric Liddell: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” The film resonated deep inside the bones of many who saw it.

Part of it I suppose was this runner had something called passion–  it is something we hardly hear about these days. (Perhaps we need some of that “fervor.”) There is also a point to made that we can really make God happy. And many of us don’t completely understand this. Or don’t believe it! What they end up living is a substandard life, and that is tragic.

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

Hebrews 12:1

The pleasure we bring God is our profound purpose in life.

When we start moving out into that heart-intensity, we will discover that it is what we crave. All the pleasures of sin will never satisfy us. You might as well sort that out as soon as you can. You will only find satisfaction in running the spiritual race. Oh to grab hold of life with two hands and make it your own!

V. 24, paints a picture of a stumbling runner. Perhaps your feet slipped, or you tripped over a root or rock. Nobody goes out to race with the idea of falling on their hinder parts. The key idea though isn’t my falling, but by His proximity. He is holding your hand! To suggest otherwise is foolish and bad theology. He finds us— follows us—and holds us steady.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”

2 Timothy 4:7

As a mentally ill believer, my race is different than many.

I run with constant pain and clinical depression. I remember in boot camp a recruit had to carry around a thirty pound rock in his ruck sack for 48 hours. He ran with it, ate with it, showered with it.  He even had to sleep with it. Perhaps that rock made that recruit a future Command Sargeant Major?!

I still must run, and I’m not disqualified by my ‘rock.’. I still am a disciple and still must run my own particular race.  I think deep-down you know this; you see, everyone you meet today is running a challenging race, a profoundly hard race– so be kinder than you have to be. Grit your teeth and be kind.

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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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Empty, Broken, Here I Stand [Kyrie Eleison]


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Quite a few years ago, I journeyed from off the beaten path in Alaska to Cambridge, England. It was there I somehow found myself on the streets talking to myself; alone, disoriented and quite lost. It was June of 2002 and I had just been released from a mental hospital in Alaska, and was under the care of a psychiatrist, I headed out without his approval. But here I was now all alone in a country I had never visited before. My confusion was profound. I was desperately, mentally ill.

I noticed the stares and the whispers as wandered the streets. Or maybe it was just my raging paranoia. But yet there’s more. Much more.  On just a mildly benign occasion I wandered into the English version of a Wal-mart. I was in a dreary daze, but I thought I ‘heard’ a 5 foot bush call out  as I walked by. I just knew my calling was a prophet. I was Moses. Who also heard God from a bush! 😇 (Exodus 3:2).

My chosen, eternal destiny was to save it. I grabbed and scootched it toward the check-out line. After a few minutes the bush was insanely heavy and I saw that the line was very long. After some time I finally abandoned the tree in the middle of the check-out line. It seems I did have some moments of clarity, even at my strangest. It was a weird experience. (What can I say, I’m a sucker for talking bushes.) 

I was told later that over hundred people were praying for me.

Finally, at my worst, I reached into my pack and there was this CD. I began to listen to it, and imperceptibly began to be restored to some semblance of sanity. My thinking was clearer and I would finally find my way back to where I was staying. One song on the CD in particular ministered to me. It’s called “Kyrie Eleison,” which is Latin for “Lord Have Mercy.” (The link below will take you there.)

Celtic-worship

THere it is on YouTube, https://youtube.com/watch?v=u4gCZc6CzLQ

Kyrie Eleison Lyrics

Verse 1
Empty broken here I stand,
Kyrie eleison,
Touch me with Your healing hand,
Kyrie eleison,
Take my arrogance and pride,
Kyrie eleison,
wash me in Your mercy’s tide,
Kyrie eleison.

Chorus–
Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison,

Verse 2
When my faith is all but gone,
Kyrie eleison,
Give me strength to carry on,
Kyrie eleison,
when my dreams have turned to dust,
Kyrie eleison,
In You O Lord I put my trust,
Kyrie eleison.

Chorus:
Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison,

Verse 3
When my heart is cold as ice,
Kyrie eleison,
Your love speaks of sacrifice,
Kyrie eleison,
Love that sets the captives free,
Kyrie eleison,
O pour compassion down on me,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus

Verse 4
You’re the voice that calms my fears,
Kyrie eleison,
You’re the laughter dries my tears,
Kyrie eleison,
You’re the music, my refrain,
Kyrie eleison,
Help me sing my song again,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus

Verse 5
Humble heart of holiness,
Kyrie eleison,
Kiss me with Your tenderness,
Kyrie eleison,
Jesus, faithful Friend and true,
Kyrie eleison,
All I am I give to You,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus 

THere it is on YouTube, https://youtube.com/watch?v=u4gCZc6CzLQ

 

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