Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Augustine (page 1 of 3)

What if God Blessed You?

One of the many questions Christians face (especially young Christians) is, ‘What career path should I take?’ Or, ‘What kind of work should I get into?’

There are lots of good ways to think about that and lots has already been written. One of the more helpful thoughts is an old one from St Augustine: ‘Love God and do as you please.’ Surely, if true love for God is the root, he argues, whatever comes as fruit cannot be evil.

There is one more consideration, however, that I think should be a part of the conversation. And it is this: What if God really blessed your work?

I mean, what if God actually did abundantly beyond what you could ask or imagine and your work prospered wildly? If everything you started finished well and everything attempted was successful, what would it look like?

If God blessed your labour beyond your wildest dreams with fruit a hundredfold, what would be the benefit to the world? What would the blessing be? Would the world be better off? How so?

As God’s children, we’re called to be his agents of blessing. We’re called to be salt and light. We should be leaving the world a better place than we found it. So why not let that be part of the conversation when we’re considering our career choice?

If we are going to be doing something five days a week (or more!) for the rest of our lives, why not at least ask if the end result we’re labouring for actually blesses God’s world?

Photo Credits.

The Cesspit and the Perfume

You don’t have to spend too much time with me before you’ll find out that one of my heroes in the faith is Aurelius Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo. He is a brilliant thinker, a captivating writer, and a theologian who stirs souls as well as minds.

A couple of weeks ago he would have celebrated his 1658th birthday (he lived 354-430AD). In other words, he lived a long time ago. A lot has changed in the world, but his writings continue to remain both relevant and helpful. Recently I’ve been reading his City of God.

Here are some of his thoughts on the good & evil that befalls both righteous and unrighteous people.

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Why Does Grace Amaze Christians?

One amazing thing about Christians is that we don’t sing because we like to sing, but because the grace that we have received from God makes us sing. It’s not that we’re commanded to sing, but that we’re compelled to sing.

Grace, rightly beheld, always moves the heart to thankfulness and worship that must be shared. And so we sing.

But what is it that is so amazing to us about grace? Why does it make us sing? Consider these lines from some of the songs we sing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

Alas! And did my Saviour bleed, and did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?
Was it for sins that I had done he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!

He left His Father’s throne above—So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love, and bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!

Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology defines grace as God’s ‘goodness toward those who deserve only punishment.’ That’s why it’s amazing to us. Before a holy God, with our sinful hearts and deeds exposed we are wretched and helpless — as lowly as a worm. And yet, God has been infinitely good to us.

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Delighting in God in People

People

Two things have helped me begin to overcome my tendency towards being an anti-social introvert. One is circumstantial, the other is scriptural.

The circumstantial factor is the wife I married. I love my wife. Dearly. With all my heart. But when it comes to relating to people, in some respects, our natural tendencies couldn’t be any more different. She is energized by being with people. I am drained. She is never happier than when surrounded by people. My natural tendency is to thrive when completely alone.

When I read church history I have to fight the temptation to be jealous of the monks who’ve lived in complete isolation. Although I do worry about how I would eat — I’m pretty useless when it comes to food preparation. In any case, living with Stacey has changed me. Because she loves people, I’ve had to become accustomed to having people around. But honestly, God has used that to overcome much of the sinful tendencies towards isolation and self-protection in my life. So I’m thankful.

But that’s the circumstantial reason. The scriptural one is more important.

Back to the Beginning

The beginning is a good place to start. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but for much of my life I never considered relationships with other people in light of Gen 1-3. What a foolish mistake! Gen 1.26-27 says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Too Easy to Forget

Too often I simply forget these verses. I forget that humans are created in the image of God. They reflect him.  As an introvert, I like to get away from people to experience God — but nothing could be more unhelpful. While ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’, people are actually stamped with his image and likeness. God doesn’t say that about anything else — not mountains or meadows, oceans or starry skies. If you want to see God, look at people.

Now obviously we know the rest of the story: humans sin and the image of God is marred. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In my neighbour who drives me bananas and in my wife whom I love dearly, God’s image is there. The more we’re able to see that, the more we desire to see that, the more natural it will become to love people. Inasmuch as we already love our God, we’ll love people because they show us our God! The trick is getting to know people with this question in mind: ‘What do I see of my God in them?’

Essentially Communal

Notice also that when God (who, as Trinity, is an essentially communal being) wants to create mankind in his image he doesn’t create one person, but multiple people (‘Let us … in our image’ … ‘he created them‘). That’s important. We cannot reflect God as he desires to be reflected if we are alone. Each of us reflects to each other and each of us receives the blessing of seeing God as we live in community as see each other. We simply cannot delight in God if we are not living communal, relational lives, full of other people.

God is in the Differences

Both of our first parents were created in the image of God. And Adam was created to be different than Eve. And just like them, every person since reflects the image of God in a unique and different way.

I never used to think about that. I used to think that it was annoying when people were different than me. But by God’s grace, through this text, I’ve begun to see in recent years that what God was doing with Adam and Eve affects my relationships now. Just like Adam was to reflect something of God to Eve in the ways that he was different from her (and vice versa), so the people God has put in my life are different than me for a reason. They are different than me for this precise reason: God wants to show me something about himself by way of contrast.

The Greatest Commandment

Therefore, love. All the previous thoughts have helped me these past few years make more sense of Jesus’s understanding of the greatest commandment. Haven’t you ever wondered why, when he was asked for one greatest commandment, he gave two?

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt 22:36-39)

Of course he gave two. Because if you love God, you’ll love your neighbour. Because as you delight in God you see him everywhere — especially in other people. And as you love other people, you see God in them. And as you see God in them, you love God more, and you love them for showing you God. The two are one. You cannot love God without loving people who are made in his image. And you cannot truly delight in people without seeing God in them.

So I Need Grace

I pray that God will give me grace to continue to see him in people — especially in our differences — so that I would delight in them and love them so that I might delight in him and love him. I pray for this grace in increasing measure for many years to come.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Some More Thoughts on Delight, Part 2

This, of course, is following up on yeterday’s post, and continues where it left off.

Delight Drives Obedience

The heart which is converted is a heart that God has changed, so that is enabled to see that supreme delight is found only in God. This is why Jesus could say in John 14.15, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ He is not speaking of love as a feeling of guilt that compels us to obey when we really don’t want to; rather, he’s speaking of love as the will-directing affection of the converted heart, whose desires conform to the desires of Christ himself.

In other words, I obey because my delight is in God. Therefore, my obedience is my joy, because the commandments he gives are the very things I want to do. Of course, we must not discount the battle of the affections spoken of in places like Romans 7 and Galatians 5, but nevertheless, the inclination of the Christian’s heart is to obey, because we acknowledge that the commands are good, life-giving, and delight-giving (Ps 19.7-10)!

The heart that delights in God is the heart that obeys God’s commands.

Delight Displays God’s Love

Augustine, again, reflected on this great truth. He put it in the form of a question:

‘Why do I mean so much to you, that you should command me to love you? And if I fail to love you, you are angry and threaten me with great sorrow, as if not to love you were not sorrow enough in itself.’

To not love God is to have sorrow. It is to be ever pursuing joy in what can never give it. You are the proverbial hamster, endlessly running in your little wheel hoping that someday, somehow, you’ll finally get where you want to be. But you won’t. That is a great sorrow!

But here is a marvellous thought: The greatest command of God is to love him. To love him is to have delight in him. To have delight in him is to have the very thing we’ve been looking for our whole lives! God commands what we already desire–even though we didn’t know how to get it!

God’s love is displayed in his command to delight in him (cf. Ps 37.4), because this alone is where we will find true joy. What love! He could have demanded anything at all of us, but he commands this: Get great delight in me.

Some More Thoughts on Delight

Over the next couple of days, I’m hoping to toss out some snippets of thoughts that I’ve been reflecting on lately. I’d been hoping to develop each of them more, but time has not allowed. If any of them seem interesting to you, you can develop them on your own a little more.

Our pastor has been preaching on delight as a core value of our church these past two weeks. Last night at TAG I heard from several of our people again, just how revolutionary this has been to them, to think about delighting in God–and how important that it be a core value for us! 

Here are some of the things that stuck out to me as I’ve reflected on the sermons these past few weeks. I’ll give the first two today and then hopefully follow up with some more tomorrow.

 

Delight is Central to Conversion
Here’s how Augustine described his conversion experience:

During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke? … How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! … You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honour, though not in the eyes of men who see all honour in themselves…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation’ (Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin, 181; emphasis my own).

For Augustine, delight was the essence of God’s converting grace. Which means, then, that…

 

Delight Displays Grace
Augustine wrote: ‘Without exception we all long for happiness. … All agree that they want to be happy, just as, if they were asked, they would all agree that they desired joy.’ Augustine knew that the will was free–but free only insofar as it would pursue what would bring it joy. In other words, the will is bound only by this rule: it will always seek its pleasure. We all desire true happiness (which is found only in God), but our wills are unable to choose to delight in God, because that would require a change of nature; that is, a change in the object of our heart’s affections.

How can any man’s heart change? Only by God’s grace, changing his nature. Hence, ‘[s]aving grace, converting grace, in Augustine’s view, is God’s giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all other joys and therefore sways the will’ (John Piper, Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 59; emphasis original). Grace, then, is God’s active changing of our heart’s desires so that we can truly desire him above all else, freely choose him, and as we love him, find in him our true soul’s joy. Our wills are always free to choose to do those things in which we delight, but they are never free to choose what our wills will delight in. That is why we need God’s grace; and that is why delighting in God displays God’s grace. 

The heart that delights in God is not a natural heart–it is a heart that has been supernaturally transformed.

Augustine and Delighting in the Love of God

I was away from GFC this week, preaching at another church. That meant that I had to wait till this afternoon to hear Paul’s sermon on delight in God. It caused me to think hard again about the presence and / or absence of delight in God in my heart and in my life. I highly recommend it to you.

As I was listening, my thoughts went back to Augustine (as they just about always do). Here’s a passage from Augustine, where he thinks about the delight in God that is ours in Christ. Imagine: God commands us to delight in him, because he knows that’s where we will find the greatest delight! That’s amazing!

Who will grant me to rest content in you? To whom shall I turn for the gift of your coming into my heart and filling it to the brim, so that I may forget all the wrong I have done and embrace you alone, my only source of good?

Why do you mean so much to me? Help me to find words to ex­plain. Why do I mean so much to you, that you should command me to love you? And if I fail to love you, you are angry and threaten me with great sorrow, as if not to love you were not sorrow enough in itself. Have pity on me and help me, O Lord my God. Tell me why you mean so much to me. Whisper in my heart, I am here to save you (Ps 35.3). Speak so that I may hear your words. My heart has ears ready to listen to you, Lord. Open them wide and whisper in my heart, I am here to save you. I shall hear your voice and make haste to clasp you to myself. Do not hide your face away from me, for I would gladly meet my death to see it, since not to see it would be death indeed. 

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Taken from Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Penguin Classics ed.), 24.

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