SIDE BY SIDE: 2 audacious lists

Two Lists Will Revolutionize Your Relationship with God

Praise the Lord, O my soul; and forget not all his benefits–   Psalm 103:2


In a busy life it is all too easy to miss God at work. We can become so wrapped up in our daily lives that the sometimes subtle moves of God all around us can fade into our surroundings and we walk right by.Some will not be noticed and missed forever. Others will be sensed at the amygdala level and later, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, will receive the full attention of the brain. We can call these ‘near misses’.

It’s certainly possible to proceed through life unaware of God at work. We can remain faithful and repentant to the best of our ability. We can just exist, naïve to what we are missing but this is a difficult position to maintain. Once the Christian has tasted the briefest experience of knowing the living, active God at this level, he is driven to experience more. This is by design in the relationship between God and human kind and it serves a purpose in the course of discipleship.To become cognizant of God at work begins to form our confidence. He has promised to be at work and we have seen him at work. Confidence builds faith. Our witness to the work of God trains us to place ever greater trust in His promises. Faith builds boldness. If God has been faithful in promise A He will be faithful in promise B despite appearances to the contrary. Greater trust, greater faith and audacious boldness lead to the fullness of life promised to the people of God.

Two sheets of paper can start the trust building exercise. On page one, list the experiences you have had that evidence God at work around you. This is an easy list to start since the first experience you have to record is your own salvation. Build from there recording moments in which you have seen God at work in your life or the lives of others. Make note of the transformation that occurred. Search the scriptures for promises that align with that experience. Write it all down and set it aside.

The second sheet of paper will contain a record of near misses, those times in which you walked past God at work only to realize it later. Perhaps it was an evangelistic opportunity or a moment in which you could have encouraged another person, brought correction for them, comforted them. We call these near misses because the Spirit reminds us after the fact that we passed by the Father without notice. This activates the Reticular nerves and we become more aware of our surroundings, seeing things that had not been noticed before.

When you have completed both lists place them side by side. Ask yourself, if God has been faithful and actively working in those instances on list A, won’t He also be faithful and active when you become more aware of the moments on list B? Of course! The witness of list A builds your confidence and your increasing confidence contributes to a deepening faith. That faith and your heightened spider-sense will transform you from being an observer to one actively seeking to be involved with the Father’s work. Now, you’re living.

image by Ana C.

Learning to Kneel – Three


So God created man in his own image, in the image God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27

The first two chapters of the Bible are a commanding call to worship. In these verses we experience the beginnings of God’s revelation of Himself to His creation, a revelation that drives us to our knees as we encounter it. The first words of revelation point us to recognizing the person, presence, power, plan and purpose of God. As our personal relationship with God intensifies, our instinctive response is to worship.

The person of God is revealed through the creation account. It reveals that God is a creator, fashioning something (everything) from nothing. He shows himself to be sustainer, life giver, lover and provider. God’s divinity is on display; no greater being commanded Him to create or what to create. He acts of His own volition. He reveals Himself to be desirous of relationship with another like Him, thus man.

The presence of God reveals that we were created in such a way that we might be aware of His constant presence. Dulled senses can allow us to avoid recognizing it but it grates against our created state. When we allow ourselves to notice the presence, our natural response is to worship.

The power of God is revealed in the magnificence of His creative process. He spoke, it happened. He created, He review and He blessed. All creation sings His worship. Have you ever seen a sunset, the waves against the coast or the intricate society of an ant hill and not seen creation bless its creator?

The plan of God is revealed in His creation. Time propels the plan forward. It demonstrates a God that is moving creation toward an objective. The Bible reveals the objective, a new creation of Heavens and earth. Worship is our part of this plan.

The purpose of God is revealed and that purpose is communion with humankind. He created us with balance as our natural state: labor/rest, worship of the creator/enjoyment of the creation. The purpose is to have companionship with His creation and to have it respond appropriately.

The person, presence, power, plan and purpose of God in creation call us to a single response, worship.

Grace and peace to you.

image Lawrence OP

A Word for My Brother & Sister Pastors


Prophetical-Priestly Ministry by Darius Salter

It’s fascinating how things fall into your lap when you least expect them. Serendipity is the word often used to describe favorable circumstances like this when you discover something grand has come your way unexpectedly. Christian sagacity trends not towards luck though, but instead, toward an understanding of the work of the Father and Spirit in concert. Salter’s book landing in my hands was just such an event.

Prophetical-Priestly Ministry was published in 2002 to little fanfare. A quick search for reviews of the book comes up short; it is ignored on Amazon and the single entry at is a restatement of the title. The silence is understandable. The book is not about how to grow your church, new ways of reaching post-moderns, or new secrets of the life of Jesus. These books fly off the shelves into pastoral libraries. Books that serve as correctives such as this are often ignored. And I believe, ignored at the peril of the pastor and their church.

Salter’s message to pastors is simple: return to your core responsibilities. Speak the prophetic word of God into the lives of your congregation rather than feeding them messages about how to have their ‘best life now.’ Stand as the priest for God’s people rather than their cheerleader or worse, their manager. He says “Prophet-priests specialize in diseases of the soul; sin, despair, depression, loneliness, alienation, anger, hostility, pride, greed, avarice, addiction and fear. The list is almost endless. Of course, these sicknesses eventuate in the systemic evils of ethnocentricity, nationalism, exploitation, oppression, and racism.” The message in this thin volume calls us back to the service of the congregation and gets us away from parading around selling books or conducting seminars on how to fill more seats in the sanctuary.

The author critiques the current ‘worldly’ ministry that he sees all around the American landscape (in 2002 and worsening since). The Church has gotten entrapped in the self-fulfillment culture and, in some cases, has moved away her first love. God is a second thought in the worst of these environments. The ministry has become enablers. We promise spirituality while allowing our people to remain in their materialistic, pluralistic lifestyle. The gospel becomes a casualty of the latest charity initiative or small group study topic.

I didn’t go looking for this book. It appeared in a weekly-specials email and something moved me to purchase it. Initially, it arrived and made its way to the book shelves to be read later. I picked it up after a time and was immediately struck by the message that the Spirit brought to bear through Brother Salter’s words. I was stopped cold when the Spirit brought my feeble ministry efforts up against those of Francis Asbury,

For the elect’s sake, Asbury ceaselessly uttered the Word through Scripture reading, prayer, exhortation, teaching, and family worship. Every overnight stay would involve spiritual examination of the residents and subsequent catechism. There would be no idle words. “My mind was powerfully struck with a sense of the great duty of preaching in all companies, of always speaking boldly and freely for God as if in the pulpit.” This included calling “the family into the room and addressing this pointedly one by one concerning their souls.”

One by one; when was the last time you (or I) sat even our immediate families down and questioned them concerning their spiritual welfare? Have we gone home by home and addressed these concerns with our faith families? Why not? Because we have succumbed to the Western individuality of the culture and we respect the personal nature of a person’s faith more than we do the calling we have received to be a priest and prophet.

Brothers and sisters, now is the time for a new awakening within the Church. Not the watered down awakening of “spirituality” in its myriad forms but for us to stand upon the walls ahead of our flock, intervening for them with God and speaking His word into their lives not matter how difficult. Find this book, read it, absorb it, and let the Spirit work it all out in your ministry.

Psalm 50 Call Upon Me in the Day of Trouble


Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:

He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God. (vv 22-23)

We read this psalm as a bracing splash of cold water in the midst of our self-centered religious practice. The modern Church gives us countless opportunities to think that it exists for us and by us. As God speaks directly to the assembled worshippers, He not so gently reminds us that this is not the case. It is all about Him and in these verses He calls His people to account.

Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God your God.

I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.

If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (vv 7-15)

God needs nothing from us. We need everything from Him. Give Him alone the glory.


Image by Lawrence OP

The Penal Substitution View of Atonement


The dominant view of the Atonement among modern Evangelicals is the Penal Substitution view. Simply defined, this view says that God the Father, because of His immeasurable love for humanity, sent His Son to die to satisfy the demands of his justice. In doing so, Jesus Christ took the place of sinful humanity and once and for all was the atonement for all our sins. There are several key elements that support this theory but at its core is the notion that sin results in the just penalty of death (Rom 6:23) and that, in love, Christ died in our place (Rom 5:8). His death took the penalty for our sin (Rom 3:25-26) satisfying the demands of the Father’s justice.

Historical Development of the View

Early church fathers such as Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Athtanasius included the idea of vicarious sacrifice in their understanding of the atonement but it was Augustine who synthesized the various themes into a comprehensive view of the Atonement. The penal substitution view became fully developed with the Protestant Reformers starting with Luther and then Calvin who formalized the ideas of Augustine into a cohesive whole.

We can use Calvin’s structure to understand the different aspects of vicarious sacrifice as he organized the idea through the use of three key theological concepts. Propitiation portrays Christ’s work in its Godward aspect. Through His sacrifice as our substitute Christ satisfied the demands of a just God: “The meaning, therefore, is, that God, to whom we were hateful through sin, was appeased by the death of his Son, and made propitious to us.” (Ref Rom 5:11 Calvin, Institutes II, xvii, 3). The idea of redemption encapsulates the humanward focus of Christ’s work on the Cross. (“Death held us under its yoke, but he in our place delivered himself into its power, that he might exempt us from it. This the Apostle means when he says, “that he tasted death for every man,”” (Heb. 2:9) ibid, II, xvi, 7). Lastly, to speak of reconciliation is to bring into view both the Godward and humanward aspects of Christ’s work. His death and resurrection serves to reconcile those who were previously separated by enmity and unholiness. (“These words (1 John 4:10) clearly demonstrate that God, in order to remove any obstacle to his love towards us, appointed the method of reconciliation in Christ.”, ibid II, xvii, 2).

Calvin also made a significant contribution to the understanding of atonement through his exegesis of Christ’s mediatorial work in the three offices of prophet, king, and priest. (cf. Institutes II 15:1-6) As prophet, Jesus proclaimed the grace of God and He assists the Church in her proclamation of the gospel message. Jesus the King rules over, guides, and protects the Church and as Priest, He expiated her sins by His sacrifice and even now intercedes on her behalf. We must remember that Calvin’s use of Church represents the New Testament view of the Church as the whole body of redeemed believers and not the organization itself. To those outside of the Church, he represents these three offices in name only.

The Necessity of Sacrifice

The violence of this view of atonement has been a challenge to theologians through the centuries and many, especially in modern times, have tried to posit alternative theories that move away from the theory. Why sacrifice was needed by God is necessary to understand in order to grasp penal substitution and this section will outline the conditions that form the answer. First, one must accept the sinfulness of humanity and how seriously God considers that sin. All humanity is sinful and in rebellion toward God (Rom 3:23). How seriously does God view our repeated failures, regardless of severity? Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden for one sin because His standard is perfection. James 2:11 reminds us that we are evaluated in the same light; a single sin brands us as a lawbreaker (cf Gal 3:10). Humanity requires atonement because of our sin and the fact that it makes us the enemies of God.

Cannot God simply forget about sin? To answer this question requires that we view sin correctly, as an affront to the very character of God. Our sin is not impersonal. The requirements of holiness are not externally imposed. Rather, the norms of the law express God’s character, the beauty and holiness of His person. Because sin violates God’s law (1 John 3:4) it is so heinous because it is personal rebellion against the person of God. To restate this idea, your sin is a personal attack against the person of God, not just an infraction against an arbitrary set of rules that He composed. The personal nature of sin defiles the holiness of God and it requires retribution. His judgment of sin represents His personal anger at sin (Jer 2:13) and human rejection of His lordship.

Sin, by its personal nature, must be atoned for by sacrifice. Therefore, if humanity is to be redeemed there must be a penal substitute if we are to avoid the punishment our sin invites. Into this world, God sent Jesus Christ to be the sacrifice that would take on our sins (Isa 53, cf. Lev 16:21-22 to view the substitution in practice.) Only the appropriate sacrifice is acceptable to the Holy demands of justice and Christ alone fulfills that requirement (Rom 3:25-26) and removes the curse of sin (Gal 3:10-14). Through His sacrifice believers are redeemed (Mk 10:45).


Penal substitution does not represent all that needs to be said about atonement but it is often seen as the foundation of all other theories of atonement because it focuses its attention Godward. It seeks to explain how human beings are reconciled to God and the reasons for the initial discord. God is holy and righteous and must judge the rebellion of those who sin against His Lordship. His love desires to redeem them but his justice requires payment of the appropriate penalty. Christ is the only appropriate substitute unless we are to stand for judgment on our own merits.

Soul Work


“Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Tolstoy

The modern Church, by and large, has cast aside an emphasis on individual transformation in favor of the consumer model that tries to be everything to everyone. Deep relationship with God and the wrenching change that results are replaced with the busyness of classes, small groups, and activities. As a result, the people of God lack a substantial foundation on which to stand when challenges arise or the cross that the Christian is asked to bear becomes too heavy. It’s time for some serious soul work.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

The life in full that the Bible speaks of is not about stuff, money, having it easy, or being free from struggle. The life that the Bible describes is one of change; internal change as directed by the Spirit and external change as you become a cooperative friend of God in His work in the world. Our primary calling is to be lifelong disciples, sitting at the feet of our Teacher and freeing up our souls to his transformation. Sometimes it will be easy and other times painful and difficult but we will always be different people as a result. We will be people more in tune with God’s mission, better dialed in to walk into the darkness, and committed to completing the race laid out for us to run.

The spiritual disciplines are the means by which we become more attendant to God and our relationship with Him. They are methods of intentionally bringing ourselves to the feet of the master. Hearing the pastor read a passage once per week or even just reading the Bible once per day are not going to transform us. It takes work – Soul Work – and dedication to muscle through the pain and to push aside the fear to become what God intends for us to be. Anything less than that and we’re just trying to do it on our own. How’s that working out for you?

Deep calls to deep… (Psalm 42:7)


Image by Christ Bartnik

The Unexpected Adventure by Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg

imageAs we follow our particular paths through life we’re all going to encounter people like Jack, people laying tile nearby another conversation, and spend moments with our neighbors and friends. We may find ourselves in the company of a young Hindu farmer or even a Billy Moore. In every one of these interactions there is an opportunity for God to call us into the adventure of a lifetime, opening the door for a spiritual conversation that may be the turning point in someone’s life. In The Unexpected Adventure, authors Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg draw us into the excitement of recognizing these moments without the pressure that sometimes accompanies a programmed evangelism process.

Adventure is about opportunity. Strobel and Mittelberg speak do not set out a program as we might find in Mark’s earlier effort ‘Becoming a Contagious Christian’ and the training program of the same name. Thousands of churches have participated in these types of programs and trained numerous people in how to have the most important conversation that can be had. You learn your spiritual style and how to find those interactions where this can be utilized to the greatest advantage. In many cases, men and women have been successful in implementing the lessons and have gone on to important evangelistic efforts. Many others have found themselves watching and waiting for their opportunities to put the steps into practice but have been too shy or hesitant to move. What sets Adventure apart is its singular focus on the moments of spiritual opportunity that surround us every day. Strobel and Mittelberg serve up vignettes of personal contacts in which they recognized an opening to tell the gospel story, both directly and obliquely.

Written as a collection of 42 devotion-style entries, each of the chapters serves up a different example of the myriad ways in which God arranges spiritually needy lives to intersect with His evangelistic partners, you and me. From an overheard conversation with someone else, through a misunderstood Buenos Dias, or to a close friend who confides her darkest secrets to you; each is a possible invitation to introduce the hope that you know to someone keenly in need of that hope. The variety of encounters that the authors recall is so broad that you will be able to easily locate yourself in more than one. When you have tuned your spiritual antennae to be alert to these invitations you will find that it becomes the most natural thing in life to share what you know without the pressure of thinking about the ‘E’ word or worrying that it must be done in a specific way.

Strobel and Mittelberg have made a fantastic contribution to the Church and her commandment. This book stands up with Rebecca Pippert’s Out of the Shaker, Paul Little’s Know books and Joe Aldrich’s Lifestyle Evangelism in making sharing your hope a natural outpouring of your transformed life. What sets Adventure apart is page after page of recognizable moments in life that we all have. After reading each chapter, you will fold the pages over your finger and think back to similar times in your own life, perhaps recognizing them for divine appointments and hungry for another chance. With no steps to remember, telling your story of hope or simply answering a question will become a response as easy as breathing. Sign up now for The Unexpected Adventure, you won’t regret it.

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Psalm 29 ~ The Lord Thunders Over the Mighty Waters


Recite the first two verses of this psalm out loud, the first time in a whisper and the second time in full voice using the full power of your diaphragm.

Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty one, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness. (vv 1-2)

This psalm, in its structure and prose, demands to be fully voiced. The call to worship and praise found in these introductory verses practically rings the kind of praise that we feel in our hearts but rarely have the courage to voice. Compare it to the tepid “Good morning, how’s everybody doin’” that serves as the call to worship in so many churches and it leads you to wonder what would happen if someone got up and belted this out.

In fact, continue to read and you’ll find your blood rising and heart beating harder as the volume and power rise in your head.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders.

The Lord Thunders over the mighty waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. (vv 3-4)

Why not also close the service with the closing affirmation:

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (vv 10 – 11)


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The Year of Immanuel

The name Immanuel is familiar to almost all Christians, though it appears infrequently in the Bible. We first encounter the name in Isaiah 7:14, most recently heard as a part of the Advent readings:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isa 7:14)

Here we are generally provided with an explanatory note that the name given is actually a combination of words, important ideas, that spell out God is With Us. The fact that the young women will name her child so is either an expression of faith in the face of adversity or a prayer for mercy and help (God Be With Us). Of the coming of our savior satisfies this sign as Jesus becomes one of us and is with us. Is this ideal just a sentiment of is it a theological fact that remains true today?  Theologically, God is with us as believers in the Holy Spirit but in a greater sense, God the Father is present with us intimately every moment of every day. Our response to this promise and its reality to large numbers of people is often quite different.

Many times we are guilty of living as though the Father was distant in heaven, tabulating our behavior from afar, listening to our prayers but not present. We do not consider His immediacy when we sin and we fail to acknowledge his presence surrounding those we do not minister too. Would we bypass the homeless man sprawled out on the sidewalk if the Father appeared as a specter, beckoning us to polish the imago dei for a fellow person? Would we casually continue our bigotry, divisive theological wars, oppression of gifted women, et. al. if we sensed that truly God was with us?

God with us is a profound theological truth that has many implications for our lives and ministry in our current day. It is our call to make it clear to the world at large that not only is God alongside and around us, but as Christian believers, He is in us! We live without condemnation for our past sins and we are empowered to turn from our daily temptation. We can walk into any situation as the Spirit leads without fear — God Is With Us. Why then, don’t we live this truth out in such a meaningful way that we change the world radically so that it nearly shimmers with kingdom values?

God with us has implications for our personal piety as well. Often we see the walls around us as come kind of shield between the God who is with us but not near us. If we truly sensed the presence of God, how would our pursuit of personal holiness be affected? Would we take sin more seriously? Would our devotion to personal and constant worship increase? Would we know in the depths our hearts that God is Truly With Us?

This can be our year of Immanuel, a year of radical change in ministry and a monumental transformation in holiness. I, for one, will be aligning my ministry with the burdens that God has placed on my heart. My pursuit of holiness will be an increased priority. God is With Me is going to be the most profound theological truth that I will pursue this year.

Join me.