Time magazine recently profiled Dr. Francis Collins, a scientist who believes in God and science in that order. Collins heads the National Institute of Health. He is and has been in the middle of our nation’s struggle with the pandemic. (He is Dr. Fauci’s boss.) More important, Dr. Collins is a Christian.
In his The Language of God Collins described moving from atheism to agnosticism. Finally, he describes an experience when, as he put it, “I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.” That decision became the cornerstone to Collins’ holding biblical truth and science together.
Holding biblical truth and science together is important for you and me. The world seems to have crowned science as king. Many believe science is the way to discover true knowledge; that science is the only real hope for the future. Some believe human beings, even the human race itself, can be “engineered” to move us toward perfection. They claim death is simply a hurdle that science will help us leap. In short, there is a naïve optimism that counts on technology (applying science) to solve the world’s problems.
As Christians we cannot ignore the increase of knowledge and ability exploding around us. God gave us minds and these minds are to be used for His glory. He called us to season and to illuminate the world, not simply complain about circumstances. If we are to have any influence on today and tomorrow, we need to think about bringing together science and biblical truth. Here are some points to think about:
- Seek to establish a firm biblical foundation of truth in our own hearts and minds. When we explain or defend biblical truth, we should not simply be trying to justify our own opinions or what we’ve always heard.
- Recognize the importance of humankind. We are not “top of the evolutionary heap” animals. People are God’s representatives in the world. We are important. We have a history and a purpose.
- Accept that humankind and the world with it is fallen. Sin is a fact of life in each of us and in whatever setting we find ourselves. Broken from the beginning, our ultimate hope is in God, not in ourselves.
- Affirm the value of science and technology as tools which God may use in His way. These tools, when used with such biases as rejection of the supernatural, disregard for God (no God or no need for God), self-exaltation to the point of neglecting others folks, however, may be more harmful than helpful.
- Reject the view that human knowledge and ability is the final measure. God alone is omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful).
Finally, as C. S. Lewis wrote regarding our commitment to God’s unchanging standards, “We must at all costs not move with the times.” Even when the latest scientific evidence or national poll stands against biblical truth, God’s Word is sure.
Francis Collins, The Language of God, (New York: Free Press, 2006), 225.
How long do you think the apostle Paul’s prayer list was? He prayed for churches by name. He prayed for the Jewish people. He must have prayed for his co-workers, his enemies, the emperor, and on and on. No wonder he wrote that we should pray without ceasing. Paul prayed and asked for prayer because he knew the importance of something called intercession.
Intercession is praying with a purpose and with some passion for others. (This blog focuses on praying for people as opposed to entities such as a nation or a church or a school system.) Intercession is a privilege and an opportunity. More, it builds that community which is so important in the kingdom of God.
OK, if you and I already believe in and practice prayer for others, why this blog? Could it be that we can get into a habit of simply praying, “Lord, bless so and so today”?
Imagine for a moment how you would answer God if, when we asked Him to bless somebody, He answered, “What do you want Me to do? What do they need?” Would we be able to answer? Would we take the easy way out and ask God to act according to His will? That sounds good, but it often reflects an ignorance on our part—an ignorance of what the person needs, what she or he is going through, feeling, or even how the person is praying for himself or herself.
Certainly God knows what folks need, but intercession is privilege of praying for them. It encourages us to consider what the person wants and how God might want to work in his or her life. When we ask, “How may I pray for you?” we aren’t being nosy. People may be reluctant to talk about their situation and we want to respect their privacy, but we need some guidance only they can give. For instance, when someone asks us to pray that God would heal their family, what do they want from God? What person, relationship, or need in the family needs God’s touch?
Besides praying with knowledge and godly wisdom, sometimes the Spirit may show us how to be part of the answer to prayer. We may have resources we can use to help. We may have had experiences God leads us to share. For instance, when we discover a person needs a job, we may have contacts that will let us be part of God’s answer. Or, we may know very well what it feels like to be unemployed and so are able to pray for the discouragement, even fear, that rises in the heart.
We are not automatically the answer to another person’s prayer. Often, despite conversations with others, we still don’t know exactly how to pray in a given situation. We are able, though, to pray more deeply, more lovingly for and with the person. We are able to lay out before God our desire and theirs in specific terms, always leaving open the option that God may have a different goal and method. God’s way and purposes are always better—that’s the reason we pray for God’s will to be done—after we have shared our best thoughts and desires with Him. For example, while we want to pray for physical healing when a friend is ill, the experience of illness can bring them to a level of humility that everyday life does not teach.
Intercession is not new or complicated. It is a privilege you and I have enjoyed as we have prayed for others and as we have asked folks to pray for us. That privilege is part of the community God intends for us to enjoy here and on into eternity. What could bring us together more now as brothers and sisters in Christ than coming before the Lord together in prayer?
Confession of sin—specifically, one person confessing to another person may be one of the most misunderstood and yet one of the most helpful spiritual disciplines believers can use. The Bible rarely refers to this practice. James 5:16 “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed“ (NASB) seems to be a special case. Still, Christians throughout the centuries have used this practice to grow closer to the Lord and to overcome the power of sin in their lives.
This one-to-one confession is different from asking a person to forgive us for something we may have done to them. It’s different, also, from the Roman Catholic practice of confession to a priest. Moreover, it is different from Christian counseling. Sin can disrupt our lives in such a way that we would benefit from Christian counseling. This confession is different.
Person-to-person confession is a discipline of inviting another believer into our life, asking them to listen as we confess some sin and to respond as the Lord leads them. Most often that response will be to pray for you in that moment or to speak encouraging words or to remind you of God’s love and patience however the Spirit leads.
We know God forgives us as we confess sin. (Think of such verses as 1 John 1:9.) So why have another person help us? It’s because too often we pray “blanket prayers” (“forgive me of my sins”), without thinking deeply about those sins that haunt us day after day, year after year.
Most of us have sins that recur despite our best efforts. We try to change. We try harder. We pray for strength. We even ask people to pray for us (without getting too specific if the sin is too personal). But victory over those “strongholds” eludes us. So what is it that makes person-to-person confession of sin a discipline that gives us traction in moving toward victory?
When we confess our long-standing sins to another person at least two things occur. The first thing is that we get specific about the sin that has its hold on us. The other person isn’t a mind-reader. We have to identify the sin we’re struggling with; identify it by name, out loud (or in writing). We name those sinful thoughts and deeds and attitudes that haunt us and cause us to condemn ourselves silently. We name and describe if necessary the sins we are ashamed to admit. We admit the sin just won’t go away. After confessing the same sin to the same person repeatedly, the second thing occurs. We become embarrassed having to admit our sin repeatedly. The embarrassment will lead us either to give up this practice of confession or to face our sin specifically, consciously and intentionally, and let the Lord heal us.
This confession is not some kind of spiritual or psychological exhibitionism. Neither is it a one-on-one game of “you tell me your secrets and I will tell you mine.” It is the Lord using human interaction to do what we, by ourselves, cannot (or will not) do in the recesses of our mind and heart: identify, confess, accept His healing.
When the Lord leads us to this confessional practice, we need to note some guidelines.
- We ask the Lord to help us find that person who will listen to us, our “confessor.”
- Confession leads to a closeness that must not be misunderstood, so our listener needs to be of the same sex. Often the person will be older, but that is not necessary.
- Consider the maturity of the listener. The spiritual maturity of the listener may be even more important than our maturity. We are trusting that person to receive our words and to receive the Lord’s leading, not to impose her or his opinions or advice.
Think of a child confessing to a parent or a teacher something the child did wrong. The way the parent or teacher responds can create a healthy awareness of the wrong, help the confessing child understand what is so wrong with what he or she has done, and encourage proper behavior. Ignoring, excusing, or punishing in a way that “does not fit the crime” in a sense can be confusing to the child and block any future confessions. So, too, our listener can bless our life or sour us toward this opportunity to grow in the Lord.
Treating sin seriously is important for the people of God, especially sins that persist such as sins of attitude, disposition, omission, habit. God has given us ways to deal with these strongholds and confession to our brother or sister in Christ is one of them.
Can you imagine apologizing for your Christian faith or behavior? I don’t mean saying “I’m sorry” when you speak or act as a Christian should. I mean did you ever have a chance to defend or explain your lifestyle as a Christian or your way of thinking?
Defending or explaining Christian thinking and acting is referred to as Christian Apologetics. It’s what Paul did in Athens and elsewhere. It’s what Peter had in mind when he urged us to be ready to give a gentle and respectful answer when folks ask us about our faith and practice as believers (1 Peter 3:15).
First-century Christians had many opportunities to explain their Christian behavior—what they did (or didn’t do) or believed. Do you think that this coming year you and I may have some similar opportunities? Do you think we might want and need to give gentle and respectful answers for our faith as we talk with family members, other Christians, neighbors, and folks the Spirit brings to us? We may have the opportunity to answer folks like these:
- Folks turned off by the church, seeing themselves as spiritual but not religious.
- People who are intolerant of Christian standards and ethics and think Christians are bigots.
- Those whose life-style is at cross-purposes with scripture.
- Hopeless, desperate, floundering people searching for a purpose in life.
- Christian friends and family members who need encouragement and help in being faithful and growing in the Lord.
How do we answer these folks? Will we gently and respectfully answer anger-filled accusations? Will we represent God’s love and mercy as well as His moral standards and justice? Will we serve others instead of demanding our own way?
Here are some thoughts on how to defend gently and respectfully.
- We begin by listening. We respect others by hearing them out. We listen as they tell us about their life experiences. This is more than a casual conversation. We give friends, co-workers, family members as much time as possible, listening to sorrows, questions, joys.
- When we have earned the right to speak by our listening, we refuse to use our words as clubs. Words can inflame, enrage or calm. We listen to and answer individuals, not members of this “tribe” or that, folks who do this or that. Respectful answers do not abuse the hearer or force them into a corner.
- Are our answers faithful to scripture’s revelation of God’s character, His authority and willingness to forgive the unforgiveable through Jesus’ sacrifice? Too many of us have our own set of Ten Commandments (or twenty or fifty “thou shalt not” demands).
- Are we encouraging “apologetic” conversations by our behavior as well as our words? Are we willing to let the hearers into our lives, to drive with us, to watch us in times of stress?
Many confusing spiritualities are whirling around us. Pagan, humanistic, Christian, atheistic, African, Asian, Islamic, Jewish spiritualities and more claim to be the best answer to humankind’s need for more than we see, more than we are. We are called to answer that need with the message of Christ, to answer gently and respectfully.
Grace is NOT a Blue-eyed Blonde is the title of a book by a Christian counselor. But we knew that already. Indeed, many of us have heard grace defined as either God’s unmerited favor or, using the acronym GRACE, as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”
“Grace” is a familiar word in Christian circles and beyond. The great hymn “Amazing Grace” is well-known to both church folks and many who are not church folks. To many without any relationship to God, the hymn expresses a longing for something more, something this world cannot provide. To those in Christ, the hymn celebrates God’s kindness and mercy throughout life and beyond, a kindness that declares us innocent before God. By grace and because of grace we are saved through faith, gifted by God with that salvation.
Is there, though, a side of grace that goes beyond that moment when we come to faith and God pronounces us “not guilty”?
Toward the end of his second letter, Peter urged his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NASB). Unpacking that a little, Peter is urging us to “grow in the grace given by our Lord and Savior and grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” I understand the idea of growing in knowledge of Christ by our experience of Him. But, what does Peter mean by growing in grace?
If we ask Paul to help us understand Peter, we can begin to see two sides of grace. In Romans 5:2, Paul referred to “the grace in which we stand.” Paul was writing about believers position before God. We are justified. We don’t ever become more justified or less. We are innocent in Christ because of His sacrifice and we will always be.
Paul referred to another side of grace when he quoted Jesus’ words to him, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Paul had prayed three times that his “thorn in the flesh” would leave him. Jesus’ answer was that His grace would be enough for Paul to endure. In fact, the greatness of Jesus’ power would be seen through Paul’s weakness. In a sense, then, Paul would grow in his experience of the Lord’s grace as the Apostle carried out his tasks despite his difficulties.
Paul understood this truth already, that God extends more grace when believers are stepping forward. Earlier when Paul assured his readers that as they gave more, even out of their relative poverty, God would make His grace abound. God’s grace would be sufficient in all things (2 Cor. 9:8).
Now back to Peter’s urging, that we grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How do we grow in that active, powerful, dynamic grace? We grow as we learn by experience to trust God more. The more we trust Him, the more room there is in our lives for God to “grace” us. The less we depend on Him, the less room we have in our lives for God to work. In practical terms, if we are able to live relying upon our reasoning power, our abilities, our resources, or the gifts God has given in the past, where is there room for God to “grace” us?
R. Lofton Hudson, Grace is not a Blue -eyed Blond, Word Books, 1972.