Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Christian Life

What Is the Will of the Lord?

‘Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is’ (Ephesians 5.17)

Paul is not messing around when he speaks to the Ephesians. They are to know that ‘the days are evil’; in other words, time is short. Once they realize that, there is only one appropriate response: Figure out what really matters.

That’s why Paul says, ‘Understand what the will of the Lord is.’ Because, really, there’s not a lot of time to mess around with things that don’t matter.

But can we talk about ‘the will of the Lord’ for a minute? Because typically in North American evangelical contexts, we refer to ‘the will of God’ like it’s some existential, mystical path for our lives that we need to discover. It’s behind door number three… or two… whichever I choose, I just hope I get to ‘live in God’s will.’

We think it has something to do with what job we take, where we buy a house, whom we marry; this determines if we’re ‘in God’s will.’ Sometimes we talk about it like it’s a secret for unlocking the good life where there is nothing but ease and blessing, as if it’s some kind of fortune-cookie sweet-spot with the Divine.

But do you know what Paul is getting at by the phrase ‘the will of the Lord’ here? He’s talked about it earlier in the letter. In the working of his plan to forgive sinners, through the redemption of Christ, he has made ‘known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth‘ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

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Is Anxiety Really Sin?

“Stress” is not a biblical word. “Worry” and “anxiety” are. And they are sins.

That’s the thought that started a conversation the other day. Can we actually say that something like anxiety is sin? What makes it a sin? Isn’t it just a weakness to be delivered from? Or, rather, shouldn’t we conceive of it as a mental illness?

There are a few different ways that we could go about answering. Let’s try beginning with the commands of Jesus himself.

It’s a Command

The command “Do not be anxious” is repeated several times by Jesus in Matthew 6 (Matt 6.25, 27, 31, 34) and it is repeated again in Matt 10.19.

While those commands deal with specific situations, the underlying reality at play is that if Jesus commands people to “not be anxious” we know that (1) it’s not just a chemical imbalance or a mental disorder, and, (2) there are at least some ways in which anxiety is a sin, simply because Jesus commands against it.

Jesus’s Theology of Anxiety & Trust

When Jesus commands people to not be anxious in Matthew 6 and 10, he is charging them not to be anxious about specific things: food, clothes, length of life, what happens tomorrow, and giving a defence for yourself when suffering because of the gospel. I think it’s safe to say, those are some of our most basic needs. By arguing from the most basic and elemental things, he is making the case that we ought not to worry in general.

In other words, if you shouldn’t worry about the most elemental things necessary for life, then what should you worry for? Nothing.

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Some Practical Tips for Fighting Temptation

 Learning from Those Who’ve Failed

The first few chapters of the Bible give us good insight into the ways that sin & temptation work. Adam and Eve fail. Their children and their grandchildren after them fail. How was it that sin worked to bring them down and what can we learn?

Here are just a couple practical suggestions for fighting temptation as gleaned from Genesis 3-4.

1. Get Outside Perspective

The power of temptation is bound up in the moment. In the rush of debate, Eve didn’t pause to consider the ramifications of questioning God’s words. She didn’t ask Adam, ‘Hey what did God actually say anyway?’ Still less did she think to herself, ‘Maybe we should ask God for some clarity on why we can’t have the fruit from this tree.’ But part of the lure of the temptation to sin is the seductive voice that says, ‘You determine right & wrong for yourself. You make your own laws.’

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Who Dieth Thus Dies Well

Last night as I was singing to the girls before bed, I decided to sing some older hymns we haven’t done in a while. I sang More Love to Thee and My Jesus I Love Thee and O Sacred Head Now Wounded. As always, it’s a time of worship and contemplation for me as I pray for my girls and hope that the songs will help communicate the gospel to them in meaningful ways as they grow older. It’s just one way I try to speak the gospel to my kids in all of life.

Anyway, as I sang those three hymns, something stuck out to me. All three hymns seamlessly move from the reality of Christ’s finished work to the hope that we have in the face of our own death. These songs sing freely of the unavoidable nature of death, but glory in the hope that we have in the Saviour who has already overcome death.

This is why I love singing hymns: they speak with the freedom of past generations. Our generation doesn’t like to think about death. The church has largely handed over death to doctors and funeral directors and cemeteries. There once was a time when death was an integral part of church life and worship, hence the cemeteries on church property. (Just imagine for a second what it would be like to come to church every week and walk past the grave of family members and church members who had died through the years. That’s a totally different experience than walking into a trendy café type lounge after having your car valet parked. But I digress.)

In any case, death being a part of the cycle of church life and something that people had to face and talk about brought greater freedom and natural impulse to sing about death. It also calls on the worshipper to cling to Christ, feeling the desperation of this life which will inevitably slip away. This is a far cry from singing ‘Yes Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord…’. I’m so thankful to God for preserving these hymns for our generation. These hymns and those like them provide us with guidance on how to ‘die well’ — a concept almost entirely lost in our day.

More Love to Thee, Elizabeth Prentiss, 1856

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Then shall my latest breath whisper Thy praise;
This be the parting cry my heart shall raise;
This still its prayer shall be: More love, O Christ to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(Two of four verses. Prentiss wrote this when she was ill and suffering as part of her private devotions. It wasn’t until 13 years later her husband encouraged her to have these words published. Thank God!)

My Jesus, I Love Thee, William Featherston, 1864

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

(One of four verses. Amazingly, Featherston was 16 at the time he wrote this.)

O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Bernard de Clairvaux, 1153

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

(These are just three of the original 11 verses. Click here to hear Fernando Ortega’s rendition of the hymn.)

Patience Compels Patience

A baby me

Writing this series and looking back over many of the things I’ve learned has made me realize something: I am a slow learner. I simply, truly, honestly cannot believe that even knowing the grace of God, it has taken me so long to know such small growth.

When I speak of being a slow learner, I don’t mean that I’m unintelligent, I mean that even what I do know I often have yet to learn in the sense of applying truth and being changed by it.

That, it seems, is impossible to rush. Yet this questions plagues me: How could it be that I still live the way I do when I know the things I know?

How long will God be patient with me? Will his patience eventually, finally, just give out?

As always, the gospel speaks comfort. The gospel takes this truth and gives me positive direction moving forward so that I am not left in despair. CJ Mahaney, in a message to pastors, recently quoted JI Packer:

Appreciate the patience of God. Think how he has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him and you have so richly deserved his rejection. Learn to marvel at his patience, and seek grace to imitate it in your dealings with others; and try not to try his patience any more.

To this, CJ adds:

“Think how has borne with you, and still bears with you, when so much in your life is unworthy of him.” When you’re 56, you appreciate a statement like this more than when you were 25. I appreciated God’s patience then; I just appreciate it more now. He has patiently borne with me for 31 more years. My wife, my children, and the men I serve with in ministry know how true it is: there is so much of my life that is unworthy of him.

That rings true for me. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen the patience of God. I’ve gloried in it. My life, literally, depends on it. Now, heaven forbid, that I would ever be impatient with others. I need to hear what CJ says:

When I am impatient with others, I have temporarily lost sight of God’s patience with me. At the root of my impatience is self-righteousness and pride. Daily remembering God’s patience with me protects my soul from sinful impatience with others.

Having had this season to reflect on God’s grace in my life and his patience with me in protecting me and keeping me and bearing with me these 30 years, I pray that I would be patient with others. I pray that I would never for a moment be impatient at the slow growth of those around me. I pray that I would never be frustrated with them more than I’m frustrated at myself. I pray that I would love with a longsuffering love that hopes all things and patiently waits for God’s power to bring change.

But I know I’ll fail. I’m a slow learner. I’ll forget his patience with me and I’ll get impatient with you. And when I do I’ll need to experience his patience with me again. I’m so thankful for his gospel-patience. It’s my only hope.

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** This concludes the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday. Thanks for joining on the journey! **

The Omnipresence of God

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

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There is nothing that changes lives like doctrine. Right doctrine leads to right living. Always. Paul puts it in no uncertain terms when he reminds Timothy why he was left at Ephesus:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim 1.3-5)

If life change is the goal, then right doctrine is a must. What can happen sometimes, though, when it comes to doctrine, is that we think we need new, bigger, better, deeper theology. We think we need to see something we’ve never seen before. We think we need something more impressive than the Sunday School stuff we learned so long ago.

In reality, however, the one doctrine that I have neglected that has most affected my life these past 30 years is not something fancy-schmancy (like, say, supralapsarianism), but is in fact something quite simple. It’s a truth that even the smallest child in church knows. But it’s a truth that I astoundingly almost never consider: God is omnipresent.

Here’s what blows my mind: The fact that God is everywhere means that God is here with me now, and present in the room every moment of every day and every night of my life.

We see the power in this thought when we hear the question: ‘Would you do / say / think that if God were here?’ And of course, we immediately feel guilt and stop what we were doing. But the question is wrong. God is here. Our acting / saying / thinking in an ungodly manner was simply exposing the fact that we don’t really believe in the omnipresence of God–just in the potential omnipresence of God (thinking that he could show up at any moment).

Honestly, how would you work if you saw God sitting behind you? What movie would you watch if Jesus came over to your house? Or would you even watch a movie? What types of conversations would you engage in if you could see the Holy Spirit’s presence?

After growing up in a home where I learned the Bible from a young age, and after being a Christian all these years, I am consistently astounded at how often I fail to live like God is omnipresent. I shudder to think of all the things he has seen me do ‘in secret’ and all the thoughts he has heard me whisper when ‘no one will hear.’ I weep to think of all the time I’ve spent in my life in his presence without even speaking to him.

But, as with every doctrine that is true of God, it helps me to grow in my appreciation of his grace to me in Jesus. Even though he has seen what he has seen, he loves me. He is patient with me. He endures living in my presence, even though I ignore him more often than not. He is gracious and kind, patient and loving. His longsuffering mercy is simply astonishing. The grace that he shows me everyday by continuing to be present with me (and at the same time not destroying me!), humbles me. That kind of amazing grace compels me to obedience–I just need to remember it more!

If God will give me 30 more years of life, I pray that they will be lived with an ever-increasing sense of the reality of his presence. I want to live all of my life just as if God were in the room with me–because he is.

Consistency

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

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As I look back over my Christian life thus far, one of the few elements that I consistently observe is my own inconsistency. Ironic, isn’t it?

And yet, there are few things that are more troubling to me in my own walk than this: I persist in inconsistency. What troubles me is not that I don’t read my Bible, or love my wife, or pray, or put sin to death, or try to address my kids’ hearts, or try to be a good friend, or work hard to shepherd the sheep of GFC… because I actually do all of those things.

What troubles me is that I don’t do them consistently.

I romance my wife well for a time… but then grow tired. I am regular in my devotions for a time… but then get busy. I spend wonderful seasons in extended prayer and meditation and fellowship with God… but then the tyranny of the urgent breaks in. I work hard to put one sin to death… but then another sin pops up, and I’m distracted from my initial pursuit.

Now, it must be acknowledged that seasons have always been a part of the believer’s life. You simply cannot read passages like Psalms 42-43 and 77 without realizing there are always highs and lows. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t long for the perfect consistency which God desires of us.

As I survey my first 30 years, I’m amazed at how inconsistent I still am. The Scriptures remind me that this disqualifies me for heaven, for dwelling in the presence of God. Psalm 15 says the one who dwells on God’s holy hill is one ‘who swears to his own hurt and does not change’ (Ps 15.4). But that hasn’t been me. I’ve set goals and patterns and trajectories, and then failed–changed–time and time again.

It makes me so thankful for Jesus who was ultimately faithful. He said all that he was sent to say. He accomplished all his mission. He was faithful to make the good confession before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, swearing to his hurt for inconsistent and failing hypocrites like me.

If God doesn’t bring about the end in the next 30 years, I pray that by the power and the working of his Spirit, he conforms me to the image of Jesus in this way: That I would be able to reflect Jesus in all his faithful and consistent performance of the will of God for his life. No matter how hard, no matter the cost.

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