Not Just a Label

bar code

I love the New Living Translation’s version of 1 Cor. 1:30. “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin.” The translators took some liberty to explain where other versions use more historically traditional phrases: Christ has become for us “righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” But come on, you need to sift through a lexicon and bible dictionary to unpack those words. The NLT has done a great job of that for the reader, helping us to gain a fuller view of what God has done for us in Christ. And I enjoy viewing this work through the lens of the self-check-out line at the grocery store: items with bar-codes on the label, swiped over a scanner (BLOOP!) and the screen tells you it is BBQ sauce.

Christ has made us right with God.

This is a legal verdict from heaven. We have been declared “not guilty” by reason of forgiveness. The sentence, the judgment is “righteous.” Like a bar-code on a bottle of BBQ sauce, no matter how many times you run that label over the scanner – BLOOP – it’ll say BBQ sauce. We’ve been stamped as righteous, as forgiven, as right with God. And I am thankful that no matter how many times I am scanned – BLOOP – it says “righteous, forgiven, and right with God.” There is no higher court; His verdict cannot be vacated. It is finished.

Christ has made us pure and holy

Here’s where the metaphor gets tricky. You see, I could switch the label on the BBQ sauce with the mayonnaise jar. And, if I run it over the scanner (BLOOP), it’ll claim to be mayonnaise. Nothing changed inside, but just the label. Too many believers live like all that’s occurred to them is that they’ve been stamped with a bar code. They’re forgiven; they’re right with God; they’re thankful. But from there they have to just kind of slug it out. They believe that they are stuck with the same old stuff inside the bottle. Unless, of course, they have the exceptional will-power and proper accountability groups to help them try harder to live right. Rest assured, they’re comforted, “someday you’ll be free from that mortal shell and then you’ll really be righteous.”

Wait, what? Are we serious? We’re forgiven for today, but stuck with the junk in our trunk until we die? How could we place more confidence in our casket than in Christ’s cross? Why should we put more hope in our death than his? Paul tells us that Christ has become for us sanctification, expressed by the NLT that Christ has “made us pure and holy.” Friends, that means far more than just forgiveness. If any person be in Christ they are a new creation—the old is gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). If you are in Christ, He has made you pure; He has made you holy. It was a passive experience. He did it; you became it. You see, it’s not just a bar-code. He didn’t just change your label. He changed you. He made you pure and holy. You aren’t living in a cosmic struggle between how you’re labeled and what you’re made of. You are made new. This is truth-in-labeling, friends.

It is imperative that we embrace and believe this, and do so deeply. It is impossible to consistently live in a manner inconsistent with what you believe. If you believe you’re an addict, a pervert, a scoundrel, a glutton, weak… if you genuinely believe that you’re a sinner then you will sin by faith (and view it as normal but still ask for forgiveness). You might protest the notion that you’ve been made pure and holy because, after all, you ain’t actin’ like it. You might have beat yourself up time and again. You may have made a host of pledges and promises to try harder. It probably hasn’t worked. His work, however, will work.  Believe that Christ has made you pure and holy. And never stop.  As you believe deeply, what you believe  will affect and influence your thoughts, your attitudes, and your actions. Even in failure, give thanks for His work in you. He has made you pure and holy. No action on your part will ever be superior to His action on the cross.

Christ has freed us from sin

Redemption. Christ has freed us. From what? From sin. From sin’s power, pollution and punishment. From any obligation to a sinful nature (Romans 8:12). We have been released and empowered, graced, to live freely under the influence and enabling of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 22, 25). This is the purpose of Christ’s work. It is for freedom that Christ has set you free (Gal. 5:1). You are free to love, to serve, to rejoice. You are free to enjoy partnership with Christ and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. You are free to do good works, to be filled with the Spirit, to give thanks, to carry hope and life to a world of hurt. You are free to dream, to become, and to create. You are free to live, really live. None of it in order to try to become righteous, all of it because you already are. This isn’t about a new label, it’s about a whole new life (BLOOP).



How I Rely On the Holy Spirit

flying dove

I was considering entitling this note “How to rely on the Spirit” – but I just can’t bring myself to suggest that I have the answer or know the way that everyone should rely on Him. I just know what has been effective in my own life and what has enlarged my joy and confidence. I know how I rely on Him, and how I intend to do so more. So, here’s how…

My use of the word “rely” comes from the NLT’s wording in 1 Cor. 2:4 where Paul writes, “…I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.” I like the use of “rely” here because its definition expresses precisely what I think is Paul’s position. It means 1.) depend on with full trust or confidence 2.) be dependent on. Paul relied on the Spirit. Paul enjoins the same sentiment for his audience that he does for himself in Galatians 5:25, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”. In Corinthians Paul speaks of spirit-enabled ministry, in Galatians he speaks of spirit-enabled ethics. Both testimonies invite us, urge us, to look to and lean upon the Holy Spirit for every aspect of Christian living.

For me, relying on the Spirit means that I trust Him deeply, so much so that my trust expresses itself in my attitudes and actions. I rely on Him. The more deeply I trust Him, the more readily I rely on Him. What do I specifically mean by “trust”? What do I trust Him to be and do? What do I trust about Him?

I trust that He is fully present:

I believe that the Holy Spirit is here, now, fully-in-this-moment. I do not believe that I need to rub a lamp or conjure Him up. I do not believe that He is aloof or elusive. Jesus promised that because He was going to the Father, that we could live in the immediate presence of the Holy Spirit, and that He would be present in our lives in every Helpful way (John 14-16). In Acts, Luke describes the Spirit in a believer’s life as “full” or “filled.” He gives no hint of partial presence. I trust that He is fully present, in this moment, in me and with me. I thank Him, honor Him, welcome Him, adore Him and yield to His fullness.

I trust that He is working:

I believe that His presence is active, not passive. He is not with me as an observer, but a Helper. He is not a silent partner; He is the Senior Partner. He is powerful; He is totally sufficient. He is present to influence, to form, to encourage, to strengthen, to enable. I completely depend on Him. Just as certain as I am that He is present, regardless of what I feel or do not feel, I believe—I trust—that He is working.

I trust that his work is working.

I believe that His work in and through me is effectual. I anticipate results.  I believe He is producing fruit in me (Gal. 5:22). I believe He is supplying the grace and power for any need and opportunity (Acts 1:8, 1 Cor. 12:7). I am confident that He is applying in my life all that Jesus accomplished on the Cross. He is working, and I believe His work is working.

I rely on the Holy Spirit by trusting Him.  In witness and worship, in service and ethics, I believe He is present, powerful, and producing.


What Difference Does Prayer Make?


What difference does prayer make? Scripture testifies that prayer touches and influences three places. Prayer affects heaven and earth and us.

Prayer affects heaven:

Heaven acts because we ask. By that I do not mean to suggest that prayer changes God’s mind or modifies His mood. Rather we ask because The Father has ordained prayer to be the means by which He acts. He has chosen to respond to prayer. We ask because we can – because Christ has opened the way, drawn us near, and has become the “yes” to every promise of God (Heb. 4:16, 2 Cor. 1:20).

Prayer affects earth:

We pray so that heaven’s realities will prevail upon the circumstances on earth. In prayer I partner with God, in Christ’s name, calling for His Kingdom to prevail on earth as it is in heaven. In prayer we contend against evil, injustice, oppression, lack, suffering and all that is contrary to Heaven on Earth (Matthew 6:10).  In prayer we wrestle against rulers and authorities and powers and spiritual forces in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). We do so from Christ’s victory (Eph. 1:20-23), with joy and boldness and gratitude. Jesus has the receipt for the planet. He’s given us the keys (Matt. 16:18-19). We pray accordingly. We keep praying until the purposes of God prevail.

Prayer affects us:

Prayer touches me – influences me. It should anyway. Prayer should affect what and how I feel, my attitudes, my affections, and even my behavior. When I come to my Father and ask Him to bless or heal or help a friend or neighbor, if my heart is in it, then my heart should begin to feel toward that friend like God’s heart does. If I am interceding for my church, my city, or my in-laws, then it follows that I should begin to share in God’s heart toward them as well. In prayer, I should begin to feel how my father feels, and become as committed to the outcome as He is (Matt 9:36-38).

It is in this arena, how prayer affect us, that I offer some further thoughts. I get very weary of hearing people cajole believers to “cry out to God” – as though our volume and intensity will somehow sway God into hearing and responding. Further, I feel uncomfortable hearing people default to praying in beggarly groans. Heaven is not moved by our fervor, but by our faith in Christ.

However, it is possible that “crying out to God” affects me, awakens me, and stirs me. It is also possible, even probable, that Holy Spirit will move deeply upon us in prayer and as we feel what he feels we may weep (or laugh, or dance, or feel angry). I deeply desire His Spirit to fill and form my feelings, attitudes and behaviors.

What is important is that we let, even expect, feelings be a response to the Spirit’s partnership in prayer, and not assume them a prerequisite to effective prayer. James does NOT say that the emotionally worked up prayer is powerful (James 5:16), but the prayer of the righteous is powerful as it is working. It is the righteousness of Christ that makes prayer powerful. Pray with confidence in the full force of the finished work.

Prayer matters. It makes a difference. It affects heaven. It influences earth. It changes us. I bet that if you let yourself believe this, believe it deeply, it might have a significant effect on your prayer life. Your prayer will make a difference.

Believing deeply; praying boldly

man in praise         

  Oh good – another article that lectures me about my prayer life. Wait! Don’t click away just yet. I know you know you’re “supposed” to pray. I also know that regardless of how important prayer is, it is not necessarily popular. I don’t know any honest believer that wouldn’t like to improve their prayer lives. And for some – any improvement would be… an improvement.

How can we improve our prayer lives? Perhaps we should pray “more”? Or more “correctly”? Perhaps better models, methods, routines, times of the day… volume levels, background music? No. Any emphasis on performance or perfection will pollute our prayer life. Our goal is neither condemnation nor complication here.

To change how we behave, we must change what we believe. Therefore, let us endeavor to believe differently about prayer. Let us improve what we believe. Belief isn’t necessarily binary – not either/or and not pass or fail. Belief can be a matter of depth. The more deeply we believe something the more influence it has over our thoughts and affections and actions. Let us believe more deeply that we might pray more boldly.

Three things to believe about prayer

1.)  Believe the Holy Spirit is Present as you pray (fully present, participating, literally partnering)

Paul describes and prescribes an awareness of the Holy Spirit in prayer. In Romans 8:26 he says that the Spirit literally prays with us and for us. In Ephesians 6:18 he urges believes to pray in the Spirit always. This may include spiritual language – but not exclusively. Wayne Grudem tells us that “in the Spirit” means “to pray with conscious awareness of God’s presence surrounding us.” And even when Paul prayed for people – he was confidently aware of and depending on the work of the Spirit (Eph. 1:17, 3:16)

How would pray if you believed that the Holy Spirit is fully present as you pray?

2.)  Believe you are praying FROM, and not FOR.

Prayer is not my effort to secure a relationship with God. I am not attempting to do enough, say enough, or try hard enough in order to be heard. A great deal of negative things have resulted from people thinking that they need to work themselves up or do “enough” for God to pay attention. It breeds pride. It leads to discouragement. It sets a trap for condemnation if you feel you didn’t do enough or fell short.

Instead we must believe that we are praying FROM favor and not FOR it, from relationship and not for, from acceptance and not for, from nearness and not for.

Jesus taught, in Matthew 6:7-8 that your confidence is not in your efforts or volume or methods – that’s paganism. Your confidence is in Your Father. The Holy Spirit is crying out “Abba Father” within us (Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6).

Further, we pray with confidence in the finished work of Christ. The blood of Jesus has brought me near, called me close, and welcomed me to the Throne of God (Eph. 2:13, Hebrews 4:16).

Most specifically, Christ has enjoined us to pray in His name (John 16:24). To do something in someone’s name means to do so as if it were them doing it. When Jesus prayed, he was not struggling for acceptance; he prayed from the love and pleasure of His Father (Luke 3:21). To pray in His name fully implies that I am praying… as Christ. Imagine.

How would you pray if you believed, deeply, that you prayed “from” and not “for”?

3.)  Believe that prayer matters.

Here’s probably the rub – do we really believe that prayer matters? That it can and will make a difference? I suppose we hope it does; especially in moments of our most urgent concerns. But I can’t help but think that too many have lost confidence in the currency of prayer. Too few pray from a joyful hope that it makes a difference. Jesus did. He prayed like it mattered (Luke 6:12). He talked and taught about prayer like it mattered (Luke 11:1-13). Paul certainly prayed like it mattered and urged his readers to feel the same (1 Thess. 5:17).  Prayer does matter. Prayer touches heaven, changes earth, and affects us in the process*. Few things matter, in fact, more than prayer.

How would you pray if you believed that prayer really matters?

To change how we behave, we must change what we believe. Therefore, let us believe more deeply that we pray in the presence and partnership of the Holy Spirit, that we pray from the favor of God and not for it, and that prayer really, really matters. Believing this deeply, we might pray more boldly, more enthusiastically, more joyfully, and yes – even more often.

*See “Why Prayer Matters”

Three Reasons for a Blended Worship Experience



Hey – I like new songs. I like fast songs. I like happy-clappy songs. I like songs that make me wanna move-what-momma-gave-me. I love the contemplative and prophetic songs that rise from fresh experience and heart-rending revelation. I also thoroughly enjoy songs that are older than I am, birthed from the passions of my predecessors.

I thoroughly believe that worship lists should be designed to include songs that are fresh and songs that are familiar. Specifically, I suggest that worship leaders include older songs in their worship sets. Here are three reasons why:

1.)    To awaken great faith.  

When you include a song that connects meaningfully with someone who has walked with Jesus for many seasons, even for a life-time, you provide an outlet for that person’s faith and love to be awakened and expressed. People generally are fond of certain songs because they sang them as a result of or in the midst of powerful moments or special seasons in their lives. And when they sing those songs, the testimony that song stirs, and the grace that has been deposited in their lives is stirred. Hot coals are fanned into bright flame. Deep waters spring up from the wells that landscape their journey of faith. This, by the way, is a terrific reason to include songs like this early – so that great faith might be awakened and carried into the rest of the meeting

2.)    To Honor Generations

And on that note, if you introduce an older song at the early (even at first) part of a worship gathering, you send a message to older generations that they are welcome here, that they matter, that their faith is important and their testimony is valuable. You present a stepping stone or a bridge (whatever metaphor you like) to them that enables them to join the room, to participate, to share. Hey – they might not even mind the dark room, loud subwoofers, wrinkled shirts and bonus-body-paint. They may feel like they belong– if someone would just honor them at the outset.

3.)    To Benefit from Testimony

Many of the tried-and-true classic songs (be they public domain hymns or choruses from the Jesus Movement) were forged in the fire of deep personal experience, or devout theological reflection. Their words carry boldness, glory, and often an intimacy that are rare and wonderful. The content – the actual lyrics – of these songs are too valuable to set aside simply because they were introduced in an era long gone, or by someone wearing an outfit we’d only see at a costume party.


Jack Hayford has said that the songs we sing build the constitution of our congregations. They make us strong; they make us grateful; they make us yielded; they make us joyful. They fill our minds with noble, pure, and powerful thoughts of God. They fire our souls with melodies of His grace and love. These songs come from the wealth of Christian experience and testimony through the ages. Our worship experience can – and should – include treasures old and new.