Christianity 201

June 11, 2011

Remixing Our Image of God

Today’s post is by James Rubart the author of two popular Christian fiction novels, Rooms and The Book of Days. This is the first of nine short vignettes — and one longer short story — that are yours for the reading at his website. To read the eight others, click here.  Both of these links open .pdf files; to learn more about James’ books, click the link at the end of this article.

If you can do it, think of God unedited by how you’re supposed to see Him. Not what religion or your mind tells you-oh, God is love—but your heart. What images come to mind?




The image I fight is of Him standing in front of me with folded arms saying, ―Well, you’ve sure screwed up a lot but I have to let you in anyway.

It’s probably why I cry every time I read Luke 15. You know the passage. Whole books have been written on it, music videos done, modernizations have tried to convey the message in a more compelling way. And there’s good reason for all the focus. It is the entire gospel in twenty-two verses. With it, Jesus encapsulates the core of the Father’s heart towards us.

The part that reduces me to tears? The first part of verse 20:

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (NASB)

My Bible has little notations down the middle of the page sometimes showing the literal translation of a word, and in this case it puts a whole new spin on the verse. Before I dug into the literal translation of ran, embraced and kissed I pictured the Father jogging up to the son, giving him a swift hug, a pat on the back and a quick kiss on the cheek. A kind of Jewish-Italian-Mafia/Marlon Brando thing. ―Welcome back to the family kid!‖


This is how I’d write the translation based on the literal meaning of the words:

Luke 15:20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and raced toward his son like an Olympic sprinter. When he reached him the father nearly knocked him to the ground with his passion and joy. Seizing him with all his strength, the father wrapped his son up in his arms, and squeezed him tighter and tighter into his chest as tears flowed down the Father’s cheeks onto his beard. The father kissed his son feverously over and over and over again.

That’s how God feels about you.

Notice two more things before you go. When did the Father do the things above? Before the son confessed or after? And what was the Father’s reaction after the son did confess?

He ignored the confession.

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.


He doesn’t even address the sin.

Don’t get me wrong. God abhors sin. Cannot abide it. But that’s why He sent Jesus; to abolish it forever.

But there are no folded arms, no cruel scolding, no tyrant or dictator to be found. Only unbridled passionate love.

Ask Him. Ask Him now to rewire your thinking about who He is.

And run into his violent embrace.

~James Rubart,

October 19, 2010

Prodigal Son: Seeing Yourself in the Story

It seems lately, every time I turn on the computer or pick up a book or magazine, I’m reading someone’s take on the story of the wayward son.   This simple narrative is multi-dimensional; a richness and depth bubbles under the surface awaiting discovery.

Here’s blogger Michael Krahn‘s take on it which he titled:

8 Traits Of An Older Brother

In our haste to name things, we often call the parable found in Luke 15 “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” but the parable is as much about the older brother as it is the younger. In fact some (like Tim Keller) would argue that it is actually MORE about the older brother.

If you grew up in the church – like I did – you are probably more like the older brother. Here is a list of traits that I can certainly identify with.

1. We think highly of ourselves

We think so highly of ourselves that we expect God to think like us instead of the other way around. Grace doesn’t work according to our logic. It doesn’t make sense to us that it does two things simultaneously:

1.     It overlooks wrong
2.    While it transforms repentant sinners

“It can’t do both – it’s not fair!  Prodigals can come back but we should never forget what they’ve done. If we do they’ll think they can do it again without consequence!”

2. We have a “good reputation”

We’re thought of (by others and ourselves) as “good”… not having major faults… not really struggling with sin. The reality is that we’re just better at hiding these things.

3. We take pride in our consistency

We’ve been here the whole time, going to church! We’ve had to sit through all the poorly performed worship songs, all the badly delivered sermons. Those prodigals need to do the same before we can see them as equals!

4. We save our freedom for future reward

Prodigals use their freedom to experience and consume. This is the path of self-discovery. Their thinking is that unused freedom is wasted freedom.

Older brothers resist using their freedom.  Instead we save it up, thinking of it as an investment that will compound like money saved inside a mutual fund, doubling in size every 10 years or so. Our thinking is that freedom used NOW is freedom wasted and that by saving and sacrificing now we’ll have more and will be able to get more later than we ever could now. Self-denial now in exchange for lavish self-indulgence later.

5. We need prodigals to make us look better

Older brothers need prodigals because they provide us with an easy comparison to rise above. “Your extravagant sin makes me look better – it takes the attention off my minor faults. Thank you!”

When the father says, “He was dead but now he’s alive!” we mutter, “I wish he was still dead. It was better for me that way.”

6. We harbor unacknowledged envy

When the prodigal returns, his life is turned upside-down because he discovers that his father loves by different rules than he does. He has been out doing all the things that the older brother, in truth, would also love to be doing but doesn’t because he believes he is storing up extra grace for himself.

Is this perhaps one reason why we too react badly when a prodigal returns? Do we harbor some envy at the life of wine, women, and song (or “wine coolers, firemen, and dance music” for the ladies) they’ve experienced?

It causes us to question: What has all my self-denial been good for?!?!

7. We think God owes us

Because of this we sometimes see grace as a bit of a rip-off. Partly because we don’t think we need very much of it, but also because grace dictates that obedience can never be a way to obtain rights.

If your perception of your relationship with God is that you think you’ve earned something or that you’ve done so much good that God owes you something, you are in danger. This is typical older brother thinking.

8. We are likely to be punitive

We take a punitive position on prodigals. We say that they need to pay for what they’ve done – in essence to pay their way up to our status level. But that’s not the way grace works. If it did it wouldn’t be grace.

On the rare occasion that a prodigal returns, do they see in you a father waiting with open arms or the scowling face of an older brother?

by Michael Krahn.

June 13, 2010

My Viritual Church Service

I keep forgetting to tune in to NorthPoint Ministries Online version of the morning service from the church in Atlanta pastored by Andy Stanley.   The service streams online at 11:00 AM and 6:00 PM EST Sundays and those are the only times you can catch the full service including the worship.

Tonight I missed everything but the last four bars of the last song, but decided to kick back and enjoy the sermon, a passionate study of the “Prodigal Son” story from Luke  (I think I got the name right.)

At the end of the online broadcast, they do something really cool, which I’m still part of even as I’m typing this.    You switch over to a “chat” mode and instantly, you’re in a group of people who are debriefing their responses to the sermon you’ve all just listened to.

I don’t normally do the chat thing online at all, but we’re not in a small group right now, and the two times I’ve caught the sermon, I’ve joined the chat after, and I think that, without doubt, the effectiveness of this particular medium is really big.

This is a church that is like a magnet for people who are spiritually seeking, and on this chat medium people are totally open and honest about their hurts and needs.   Tonight’s sermon was about the classic “Prodigal Son” parable, and afterwards people shared about the difficulty they have with the story because of the troubled relationships they have had or are having with their earthly father.

So tonight, instead of a devotional post here I’m going to ask you to pray for Larry and pray for ‘Joyful.’   And pray for North Point and all that they are doing, and that more churches will consider the creative possibilities available with online media.

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