Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Pride

How Big Are Your Phylacteries?

What are phylacteries? They’re the Greek word used for Tefillin. Not helping? They are boxes with straps that the Jewish people have made for millennia. They contain pieces of Torah and are worn on the arms or foreheads.

Where would they get an idea like this? Try looking up Exodus 13.9, 16; Deuteronomy 6.8; 11.18.

Each verse on its own, isolated from its context, could be taken in such a way that these Tefillin could be defended. More fitting, however, is the idea that the Lord is calling his people to preach to themselves and their children. His word is to be so central to their thoughts, meditations, and conversation that it would be as if they have the word bound to their foreheads–you can’t help but notice it! To run into one of these people is to come face-to-face with the Law.

As I’ve said before, what excites you is what you pass on. God is calling his people to show their passion for his righteous Law.

When it comes to phylacteries, one could make the case that they are legitimate, even as physical things. But they were to be peripheral things, not central.

What did Jesus think of phylacteries? Well, he mentions them in Matthew 23.5, in condemning the religious leaders of his day. In that case, Jesus was condemning their actions because they had taken a peripheral, non-necessary element of their faith and made it central. They had made it a show. It wasn’t enough to rejoice in the Law like all the rest of God’s people–they had to figure out something extra that they could do to make themselves stand out from the crowd. They wanted to show themselves as different and better in some regard.

The temptations to do this in the Christian life are legion. As Don Carson is wont to say, ‘It is easy to sound prophetic from the margins; what is desperately needed is to be prophetic from the centre.’ What he means is simple. It is easy to make yourself seem more spiritual, more noble, more informed, more mature than you are by dealing with side issues. It makes you look like you’re further advanced. If you’re forever preaching about things that others hear and say, ‘wow, I hadn’t even thought about that…’, then it makes you seem like a prophet. You are exalted.

What I want to suggest is that in the Christian life, our pet issues will often become our phylacteries; the extra things we add on to the centre of the Christian faith to make ourselves seem further advanced in Christian living than we are. They make us stand out in a crowd of ‘normal Christians.’

As Christians who know the gospel, it is always a temptation to assume the gospel. When that happens we exalt secondary (or even tertiary) issues to levels of primary importance, and determine levels of standing within the church based on our pet issues (our phylacteries), rather than our faithful love for and proclamation of the gospel.

What kinds of things do Christians make into phylacteries? How about new books that you’ve read / are reading? Understanding all issues of deep theology, or being the first to discover some hip ‘new’ theology that no one at church understands yet. For many in our day it is social justice or ‘ministering to the community at large.’ For some it is on-demand breast-feeding, while for others it could be scheduled feeding. Many Christians get caught up with new diets or types of food that they swear will make all the difference. Some Christians make a career out of arguing for home schooling, Christian schooling, or public schooling. The list could go on and on! All this is not to say that these are bad causes, but it is to say that we need to fight with everything in us to make sure we’re known first and foremost for loving the gospel (like we wear it on our foreheads!), not for being some social justice advocate, or some home-school promoter.

What Carson has said is true, that it is easy to sound prophetic from the margins. What is most concerning about this, however, is that Jesus says pride is living in these attitudes and working through them. Pride destroys opportunities to be workers for the kingdom, since Jesus himself says ‘Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.’ God opposes the proud. You’re not working for the kingdom if you’re promoting another cause more than the gospel.

The second part of Carson’s quote is equally true: ‘What is most needed is to be prophetic from the centre.’ You can’t do that when you’re shouting from the peripheries. The gospel gets drowned out. If we’re always known for being passionate about secondary issues, how will we ever be able to express that we’re more passionate about the gospel?

So how about you? What are you known for? What do people see on your forehead and arms? Is it obvious to those who know you that the gospel is your first love and primary passion?

It is my prayer that my phylacteries would shrink; that I would speak boldly and passionately about the gospel, and never be more passionate about anything else than Christ and his love for me. I want to be slow to express my opinions on secondary matters. I want to be known for loving what all Christians are called to love: the gospel. Never some other cause.

Why we don’t see answers to prayer

Tim Challies recently posted some reasons why God will not answer our prayers. About the same time I was wondering about unanswered prayer and got to thinking that perhaps much of what we call unanswered prayer is really prayer that we simply don’t see answered. The reasons for this could be legion, but here’s one that stuck out to me: Many times we don’t know what we’re praying for, or what the answer will look like.

Our church recently held a ‘week of prayer.’ In one of the meetings we focused on prayers of contrition as a theme, emphasizing our absolute dependence on God for all things. In our last meeting we prayed prayers of dedication to God, committing our future plans and ministry hopes to him to do with as he sees fit. In both of these cases many prayers were offered to God, begging him to keep us humble and to demolish pride in all its subtle forms in our hearts.

That got me to thinking.

Those are wonderful and biblical things to pray! But how do we know when those prayers have been answered? Sometimes I think we expect God to answer those prayers by simply changing our hearts overnight so that we never are tempted to pride again. But that’s not a biblical expectation.

What is a more likely answer to that prayer? It’s more likely that God will bring hardships or persecution. He may allow me to fall into some sort of sin, or else have some secret sin in my heart exposed before others. It is in these types of ways that God strips us of our self-reliance and our sinful, blind desire for and pride in autonomy. Pride is too deeply ingrained in our personalities, thought processes, and decision-making capacities for us to deal with it any other way.

How can we put pride to death when we don’t know where it is?

Looking back over my life I can see that many times God has answered my prayers in ways that I have not expected. More often than not when I sincerely pray for humility and for the Lord to destroy sin in my life, that prayer is answered with suffering or the exposure of sin in my heart. The trouble is that since I wasn’t expecting this as an answer to prayer, I don’t see it as one at the time, and then I get upset and cry out, ‘Why would you let this happen to me, God?’

But it’s all grace. He gives grace in the trial, he gives grace for increased faith, he gives grace as he humbles us so that we might increasingly depend on him in love.

This is just one example, but I think it illustrates the point well. From our end prayers often seem to go unanswered. I wonder if often we are just looking for the wrong type of answer.

Just for fun, here’s an awesome hymn by John Newton that illustrates the same point:

I asked the LORD that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once he’d answer my request;
And by his love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

LORD, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the LORD replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in me.”

A Sad Sort of Irony

Here’s a post that a few of you may remember. I posted it a while back on my old blog. I read it today though, and thought it might be worth revisiting. So here it is, with a few minor revisions.

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Isn’t it interesting how God weaves themes together in the things we’re learning at given points in our life? At church my pastor has been preaching through Romans. In my biblical counselling course at school we’ve had to take a pretty in-depth look at Romans as well, along with Genesis 1-3.

Examining the ways of the heart of man and the origin of sin from those two books has been a fascinating study. Today I was reflecting on all that the Word of God has been teaching me and I couldn’t help but take notice of the wisdom of God together with the depravity of man in a sad sort of irony.

God created man noble and ‘very good.’ The world was created for his enjoyment, and enjoy it he did! Moreover, he treasured the wife of his youth–the woman God created from him, to be for him–flesh of his own flesh. They were naked–completely exposed, vulnerable, shown for all that they truly were–and they felt no shame.

But you know the story… along comes that crafty old serpent to mess everything up. He tempts the humans by saying that what they were wasn’t enough… they could be more. They should strive to know more and to be more. Though they had no sin or shame, he tempted them with pride, and they bought it.

They wanted to be what God was, to know what God knew… they had the commands of God, but thought, “We know better.” That was pride, and it did them in.

But where did pride lead?

No sooner had they become sinners then they sought coverings for shame. Pride had led to shame. And when God came looking for them, they were hidden. Why? They had become sinners, and had become what they were never meant to be. Their pride had led to a fall, and the fall meant shame.

Ever since then humans have been shame-driven creatures. Ever wonder what stops us from really getting close to other humans? We’re afraid they might get to know us. What stops us from confessing that we’re sinners? We don’t even want to admit to ourselves that we’re as sinful as we are, nevermind confessing it to someone else, or to God.

So we help each other out in this journey of deception by telling each other that what we really need is ‘self-confidence,’ which is in reality a justified pride. ‘Think good thoughts about yourself everyday,’ we say. The ‘little engine that could’ is somehow seen as a positive role model. The basic premise of course, is that there is something good inside of me that I should believe in… but there’s not. But we continually tell ourselves and each other that there is so that we can feel better about ourselves; we minimize the pain of our shame through pride.

Shame moves us to distract people from our real selves. We become someone we were never meant to be: we put on facades, we pretend we like things we don’t, we hang out with people we don’t like and we do things we never would, all so that no one will judge us for being who we really are, because we’re ashamed of who we really are.

Shame moves us to ambition. We pursue things we don’t want at costs higher than what we would like to pay just so we don’t look worse than anyone else… we cover our shame with pride. ‘Don’t fall behind or someone may figure out that you don’t measure up,’ we tell ourselves.

Shame moves us to religion. All the world religions continue to insist that if we work hard to do good, and if we just live like the good people we really are, whatever creator-being there is will be good to us as well. That’s pride… it’s not an honest evaluation of what’s in my heart. But that’s the wisdom of this world; the ‘wisdom’ God saw, when he said ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

How is it that Adam’s sin of pride led to shame for all mankind, only to have that shame end up resulting in pride? It pushes us further and further away from the God who said that he ‘opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

In other words, acknowledge your shame. Say, ‘Yeah, when I look inside my heart I see that I don’t desire what God desires, I only want what I want.’ Humble yourself before God and say, ‘God, I’m not all you’ve made me to be and I need your grace to change my heart.’ But that takes humility.

Remarkably, however, in the wisdom of God, that humility (the undoing of pride) is the first thing required for entrance into God’s eternal kingdom. That’s definitely not the ‘wisdom’ of man.

When I don’t want to obey…

Believe it or not, it happens quite often. From childhood up, I’ve been a rebel. I don’t want to listen to those over me. The things that people ask or tell me to do are oppressive… they’re not what I want to do, and so–more often than not–I don’t do them.

When it comes to obeying biblical commands (and thus, obeying the God of the Bible), I’ve been becoming increasingly aware that when I try to shirk my obligations to obedience, I’m displaying my own pride.

Throughout the OT, when God gives commands to the nation of Israel, he generally reminds them, immediately following the command, that it is he–the LORD, their God–who demands it of them. So one reason for obedience, then, is the person giving the command.

In relation to this, I noticed today that God demands obedience not only because of who he is, but also because of who I am. In Deuteronomy 16, our God reminds his people why they should obey his commands: “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.” So we obey not only because he is God, but also because we were slaves, and he redeemed us. Or in NT terms, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.” 

 

When I am reluctant to obey, it is pride. I’m thinking better of myself than I ought. I forget that was in bondage in Egypt, without hope or God in this world. But the Lord chose me, not because of anything good in me–not because I was stronger or better than any other person, but because I am weaker and worse–so that he might display in me the great glories of his grace and the triumphs of his mercy and love.

He bought me at a price: his own Son’s blood. He bought me for a purpose: the display of his glory in all the world. When I refuse to obey, I’m like a lazy ant or a burnt out bulb; completely useless. I’m missing the whole point of why I’m here.

But it all has to start with humility. I need to remember who God is and who I am, and what he has done for me. Why is that so hard? Why is my foolish heart so quick to revert back to “looking out for #1?” I am forever in need of deep, true heart change.

Meditation on Christ

Yet he opened not his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7

When God said “Let there be light,” there was light. When God spoke, he created the world out of nothing. When God speaks, the whole earth trembles; mountains melt like wax and the seas roar. All of creation is as nothing before the might and power of our Lord and God. When he speaks, all power is exercised. When he speaks, all of nature is at his command. He is the Lord who calls from the east the bird of prey; the man of his own purpose, to accomplish his will. Opening his mouth, he declares, “I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me.” Again, he asks, “Who is like the Lord your God, and to whom will you liken me?” The Lord declares his own righteousness, his own power, glory and sovereignty, because we have collectively shut our mouths. We deny the truth of the God’s glory as he has revealed it. We shut our mouths when we should rightfully praise.

Christ—in whom dwelt the absolute fullness of deity—came to earth and humbled himself to obedience. In a world that we had corrupted, surrounded by his creation, which we have oppressed, he alone lived and existed as that which was innocent and pure. He alone was beautiful in a world marred with sin and the ugliness of evil. Yet Christ, the one and only who did not deserve death bore our sin. He, who alone deserved to live, was made to die. He, who alone was beautiful, was made to take on all the perverted image of sinful man. What a travesty of all that is good and pure! What violation of that which is right! And yet love prevailed. At that moment, when in all righteousness, he who alone was righteous could have called all creation to account, shut his mouth. He, while suffering, chose to remain silent before those who brought lies, slander, and curses upon him.

Though we may, at times, claim to be falsely accused, yet we do not know—nor have we ever known—what it means to actually be innocent. Yet here stands innocence and purity incarnate as all evil assaults and assails. If ever there was a just cause for crying out, here it is! If ever there was reason for opening one’s mouth in defence, here it is! Yet the very one who existed before creation, the very one in whom all things—including his accusers—hold together shuts his mouth.

Christian, behold your Saviour. Like a lamb being led to slaughter, he shuts his mouth. Though he could speak and all the world would come crashing down; Though he could speak and hosts of angels would descend, yet he remains quiet, head bowed in humility and submission to the Father. Sinner, behold the love of God. He opened not his mouth. He took on my sin. O my soul, may I never forget the love of God I have seen this day.

Inadequacy


Ever feel like you don’t quite measure up? Recently, in Dr. Haykin’s lectures at school, I’ve been overwhelmed by the reality of the nature of the trinity. It is incredible to me how a doctrine like this could be so incredibly central to everything that we believe, and yet, the average Christian knows so little about it.

Perhaps it’s partially because of the cultural mindset that says, “I like the spiritual thoughts and ideas that I come up with.” Or the other attitude, “I can’t understand it, so I don’t want to deal with it.”

But we’re talking about the very nature of God here… this is not something that you can take or leave and it has no consequence. We must (in Luther’s words) “beat importunately upon” the Bible at all places where it speaks of God, so that we might better understand him.

To that end, Dr. Haykin will be coming to preach at our church in the evening on Nov. 27, on the trinity. No matter how much we want to say “I’m not a theologian, just an everyday Christian,” these are things we need to stretch ourselves to understand.

In the end, however, we recognize that “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” and that we must be content with that. We seek to understand the revelation that we have, but in humility, we never to speculate. As someone (I forget who) has said, with regard to the trinity, “Try to explain it, and you’ll lose your mind; But try to deny it, and you’ll lose your soul.”

Perhaps most appropriately, Spurgeon himself said (of the phrase “today I have begotten thee,” from Psalm 2), “If this
refers to the Godhead of our Lord, let us not attempt to fathom it, for it is a great truth, a truth reverently to be received, but not irreverently to be scanned. It may be added, that if this relates to the Begotten One in his human nature, we must here also rejoice in the mystery, but not attempt to violate its sanctity by intrusive prying into the secrets of the Eternal God. The things which are revealed are enough, without venturing into vain speculations. In attempting to define the Trinity, or unveil the essence of Divinity, many men have lost themselves: here great ships have foundered. What have we to do in such a sea with our frail skiffs?”

What in the World is Wrong with the West? — Part 2

Part 1 of this “mini-series” is here.

It’s almost laughable, really. In a world where so many ethnicities have come together to prove like never before that no two people or cultures are the same, you’d think that we’d be looking for commonalities.

Isn’t it easier to talk to people about things you have in common? Mutual friends, similar experiences, places you’ve both visited?

But what do I have in common with my Muslim neighbour who moved here from Turkey a year ago and is just learning english? Very little. But some things stretch beyond culture, place of birth and age. And there is one thing more certain than taxes.

And yet it’s the greatest taboo of our society. We just cannot find a way to come to terms with our own mortality. If one person starts to talk about death, people give it a little awkward chuckle and then change the subject or say something like, “c’mon, you’re not going to die.” Even in my own house, when my mom starts to talk about her life insurance policy and what will happen if she dies, I get uncomfortable and think: “Stop talking about that… you’ve got a ton of time left.”

Of course, she doesn’t. Neither do I. Nowhere in the Bible or anywhere else are we promised another year, month, week, day, or breath. But we assume. We assume that we’ll be here till we’re 80. And even then people will cry at our funerals and wonder how this tragedy could’ve happened.

One thing I must make clear is that death is a tragedy and was never a part of the original creation. It is the ultimate consequence for sin and one day we will all be resurrected from death to die no more.

That being said, we’re not there yet. One day I will die. You will die. And between now and then you and I will both probably experience great pain. We will both probably get very sick. We’ll probably even get wrinkles and start to shrink. Pain and sickness are both reminders that this life is not it. We will die — that much is unavoidable.

But in a culture where looking fit, healthy and youthful (the denial of the onset and imminence of death?), people don’t want to think about — much less talk about — death and dying. And pain before death becomes in reality a fate worse than death itself.

Why can’t we talk about death? Why do we act like modern science has somehow failed us everytime an 80+ year old great-grandparent “passes away”? Why are we forced to use euphemisms like “passed away” to say that someone died?

Maybe it’s kind of the same reason why we can’t talk about spiritual things? Maybe it’s because it inevitably brings up the topic of the afterlife and the real point of this life. Personally, I feel like the church has really dropped the ball here and become like the rest of our culture.

We need to be people who are open and honest about dying. A people who talk-straight to others about their own mortality and who are honest with them about what they can expect if they are outside Christ when they do finally die.

It used to be (or so I hear) that Christians were the ones who knew how to die well… it made us stand out. Now, we’re just as into the euphemisms as anyone else. We even cling to vain hopes that “maybe all good people will still go to heaven one day” just like the rest of the world. If Christians can’t talk about death with unwavering hope and faith, why should anyone else?

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