Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Covenant Life Church

Why I’m Looking Forward to WorshipGod ’11!

I’m about 24 hours away from setting off on the day-long drive to the Washington, DC area (Gaithersburg, MD, to be exact) for the Worship God Conference. I’m really looking forward to it! Here are a few reasons why…

1. My Wife is Coming With Me!

As a side bonus (a sweet one!) this year, for the first time, Stacey will be able to join me on a trip to Covenant Life Church for a conference. I’m always so blessed by the conferences put on there by the folks at Sovereign Grace Ministries, I’m eager for her to be blessed too. And having her there without the kids for a few days? I’m stoked.

2. The Travelling Fellowship

Two other couples will be joining Stacey and me on our trip: Nick & Alicia and Josh & Amy. For all four of them it’ll be their first time down to an SGM conference as well, so I’m happy to bring them along. But what I’m really looking forward to about having them come is the sweet fellowship I know we’ll enjoy in the car both ways and during our time at the conference. Events like this are always more meaningful when experienced in groups.

3. The Preaching & the Seminars

Will the preaching be good? I have no doubt. I look forward to hearing Thabiti Anyabwile, Craig Cabaniss, and Bob Kauflin again and Bryan Chapell and Ray Ortlund for the first time. And the seminars should be great too: Pat Sczebel, Mark Altrogge, Don Whitney, Shai Linne, Steve & Vikki Cook… It will rock!

4. Engaging in Worship of the Living God

I know, I can do this anywhere. And I do it regularly where God intends for me to do it — in my local church, which I love. But there’s always something special about gathering thousands of worship leaders together to sing in one place. This will be a special time, a focused few days of doing not much apart from corporate worship and engaging our brains in knowing God better.

5. The Theme

The Gathering. I love it. Back in 2008 I wrote Stephen Altrogge an e-mail telling him that we should have more songs and more focus in corporate worship on the church as a whole rather than just individuals. He agreed with me. I like to think that Stephen and I are really the brains behind this whole thing. Bob just stole our idea.

6. Mark Altrogge

I hope he does some ridiculous antics. I just like it when he does that.

7. I Hope I’m an Encouragement

I know that they are having this conference to encourage us, but I hope that somehow our presence at the conference will be a small encouragement to Bob Kauflin and the rest of the leaders of Sovereign Grace Ministries. It’s been a rough season for them, but I want them to know we love them and appreciate them and are thankful for all their labours for the gospel. My prayer is that for these few days ‘The Gathering’ of all these saints from all around North America would help us to fix our eyes on the one who never changes and never fails, so that in light of his unending love for his people at the cross, all are strengthened and encouraged.

8. There Are Lots More…

There are lots more reasons, but I’ll stop here. Anyone else out there going? What are you looking forward to?

Reducing to One Practice

I am so thankful for churches like Covenant Life Church who are faithfully teaching the gospel, not only as the way to be saved, but also as the foundation for living in the world here and now. They do not only teach by words, but by the actions of the leaders, what it means to continually be challenged and changed by the Spirit of God as he works through the word of God to bring the gospel to bear on our lives in this fallen world.

At a recent members’ meeting, Josh Harris, the lead pastor, shared some areas with the church where God has been calling the leaders to repentance and to change — and to lead in the changing of the church culture. Josh walks a fine line of appreciating God’s grace and faithfulness to them through their history, but also acknowledging where patterns have emerged that have become counter-productive to gospel-living and gospel-fellowship.

You can read the whole statement he made to the church here.

In particular, I found this section compelling, because it puts into words what I’ve seen in so many churches (not just Covenant Life), but haven’t been able to express nearly so well. Here is their confession, with an explanation of how they’re striving to ‘reduce to practice’ without ‘reducing to one practice.’

———

Reducing To One Practice

For several years now C.J. Mahaney, who was one of the founding pastors of Covenant Life and now serves as president of Sovereign Grace Ministries, has been leading the pastors of Sovereign Grace to recognize the difference between principle and practice. A principle is a clear teaching or imperative from God’s Word. A practice is a specific action or decision that seeks to apply a principle.

So for example, Scripture clearly teaches that husbands should love and cherish their wives (Eph. 5).

But how two Christian husbands put this same principle into practice can differ. One Christian can apply this principle by taking his wife out to dinner every Wednesday. But another husband might find time to communicate with and express affection for his wife with a walk around the neighborhood each night. They’re both honoring a biblical principle, but their practice is different.

One of the historic strengths of Covenant Life has been in putting principles into practice. We want to be, as James 1:22 says, not just hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word. May this never change! May we be a church community that takes God’s Word seriously and applies it to our lives.

Having said this, a strength in application can also be a weakness if we’re not careful. Here’s what I mean: if we elevate a single practice and invest it with the authority of biblical principle, we can place a rule or burden on people that isn’t actually commanded in God’s Word. For example, it wouldn’t be helpful if we said that the Bible teaches that couples need to go on a date every Wednesday. It’s a fine idea, but it’s not a scriptural command.

C.J. shared something with me recently that turned the light on for me. He quoted J.I. Packer who wrote that the Puritans were known for their ability to “reduce to practice”—in other words, they took biblical principles and reduced them to specific choices and decisions in their lives. This is a good thing. God’s Word, handled rightly, leads to humble and skillful application.

But C.J. pointed out that there can be a problem when we “reduce to only one practice”—and give the impression that there is only one godly way to honor a given principle.

Here are a few categories that members of the church have shared with us where they felt a single practice was over-emphasized in an unhelpful way:

  • Dating and courtship
  • Going away to college
  • Girls and college
  • Women’s Bible studies
  • Women working outside the home

In each of these areas Christians can have differing practices and yet honor biblical principles. But in various ways I think we “reduced to only one practice,” and at times that brought the unintended consequence of people feeling the pressure that there was only one truly godly way to do things.

So for example, to honor biblical principles of purity, you had to practice courtship according to ideas in my books. Or to love the local church you shouldn’t go away to college but stay local. Or to value the leadership and teaching of the pastors, you shouldn’t attend outside Bible studies. Or to practice biblical femininity, you shouldn’t pursue higher education or work outside the home.

All this is a disservice to you for several reasons. First, because it doesn’t teach you to grapple with God’s Word for yourself. We want you to study God’s Word yourself, see the biblical principles clearly, and put them into practice based on a clear conviction, not the conviction of someone else.

This is also a problem because it can lead to a legalistic environment where some people are more concerned with what other people practice than with the sufficiency of God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Reducing to only one practice has also resulted in people feeling judged by others for not having the same practice.

One of the realizations we’re coming to as pastors is that we can do a better job in teaching the principle of Christian liberty taught in passages like Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8-9. The principle of Christian liberty is that as followers of Christ we have freedom to make decisions about matters that are not revealed or mandated in Scripture without fear of sinning against God.

We can do a better job of teaching that one person’s or one pastor’s practice of wisdom is not God’s law and shouldn’t bind another person’s conscience.

We all need to wrestle with questions of wisdom. We all need to humbly seek to practice biblical principles and then discuss our differences with each other charitably and humbly. But we cannot as a church make everyone adopt the same practice. No matter how wise we think our practice might be, we can’t invest it with the authority of God’s Word.

We want to do a better job of teaching the principles of God’s Word and encouraging you as individuals and families to apply the Word as you see fit before the Lord. We still want to encourage each other to put God’s truth into practice. But we also want to emphasize the freedom we have as individuals and families to have different practices of the very same principle. We want to cultivate an even greater culture of grace even as we strive for holiness.

———

Amen! And may God make Grace Fellowship Church such a church, which seeks to be practical, but not legalistic, led by leaders who are humble enough to admit their mistakes and strive to do better for the sake of the kingdom!

Thinking and Feeling with God

It seems that the Psalms are the centre of much attention in evangelicalism in North America these days. The Psalms is one of my favourite books, so this is exciting to me.

It has saddened me over the years to see how many Christians are somewhat unable to understand, identify with, and apply the Psalms to their own spiritual walk. This just makes me even more glad that great preachers are spending time there these days!

Here are some valuable resources:

  • John Piper has just finished up a six week study in the Psalms at Bethlehem Baptist. You can download those messages for free here. I recommend beginning with the first one because Dr Piper gives some insight into the Psalms in general before jumping into the text of Psalm 1.
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  • At Covenant Life Church, they’ve taken a team approach to teaching a series on the Psalms. Stacey and I were blessed by Greg Somerville’s message when we visited the church back in May. You can see a listing of the sermons available for free download or for streaming here.
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  • Bob Kauflin‘s ‘Worship God ’08’ conference that is coming up will focus on the Psalms as well. Perhaps the most fantastic thing about this is that they’ll be releasing a new CD in conjunction with this conference.

I’m hoping to post some more of my own thoughts on how the Psalms ought to be interpreted and applied to the hearts and lives of Christians in the next few days.

Rich Man’s Vacation

Well this afternoon I’m back in the office, sorting through e-mails and trying to figure how to begin catching up after two weeks of vacation. The highlights were (among other things) a trip to DC to visit Covenant Life Church, and a trip to the cottage this past weekend.

More than just doing stuff though, this vacation was great because I got to spend time with my family. In a song called ‘Home‘, Paul Brandt says ‘Time just flies no matter what you do.’ That’s true. Especially when your kids are as young as ours are. I can’t believe how quickly they change. What a blessing to be able to have this time with them!

And then there’s my amazing wife. Stacey is so patient to put up with me and my schedule. Without a doubt one of the things in life that never ceases to amaze me is how my wife can just keep going, doing job after job (though it’s more like job-during-job, piled on top of job) around the house, and with the kids, yet she always seems to be able to do it well and do it with grace. She ministers to me in amazing ways, even though our schedule doesn’t allow me to be able to spend as much alone time with her as we’d like. So this vacation was a blessing in that regard as well.

I’ll post a few pictures from the vacation below, after the words of one of my favourite Paul Brandt songs. While our house is not ‘run down’ and our bills have yet to ‘pile up’, I can totally identify with what he’s saying.

Rich Man
I look in the mirror, don’t see much
Fashion sense a little out of touch
The house is run down as the bills pile up
But I’m a rich man

Breakfast table, morning rush
Sometimes it seems we barely have enough
But if it’s true that all you need is love
Then I’m a rich man

When she smiles or they call me Daddy
All the worries of the world just seem to fade away
I’m alive and I know what matters
If this is all I ever have
Well, that’s ok
‘Cause I’m a rich man

So every morning, and brand new day
With each and every single breath I take
I’m blessed and I’m thankful, yeah I’ve got it made
Oh, I’m so glad life turned out this way

I’ve loved, I’ve been loved,
Show me someone else with as much as me

Yeah, I’m a rich, rich man
Yeah, I’m a rich man
Oh, I’m a rich man
I’ve got it made
What matters, what matters
I know what matters
Oh, I’m alive








It’s Better to Be Christian

Life is better as a Christian… for so many reasons.

The other night, when Stace and I got back from our trip to Washington DC and our visit at Covenant Life Church, I had the pleasure of putting my girls to bed.

Susannah and Caitlyn have both had special songs that I sing to them when I’m putting them to bed since the time they were born. As I sing to them I pray for them while they fall asleep. These are precious, spiritual times that I know I’ll always remember.

Here’s what non-Christians have to sing:

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all. 

Compare that with what I get to sing to Susannah:

I will praise You all my life
I will sing to You with my whole heart
I will trust in You
My hope and my help
My Maker and my faithful God 

O faithful God
My faithful God
You lift me up
And you uphold my cause
You give me life
You dry my eyes
You’re always near
You’re a faithful God

And here’s what I get to sing to Caitlyn:

O great God of highest heaven
Occupy my lowly heart
Own it all and reign supreme
Conquer every rebel power
Let no vice or sin remain
That resists Your holy war
You have loved and purchased me
Make me Yours forevermore 

I was blinded by my sin
Had no ears to hear Your voice
Did not know Your love within
Had no taste for heaven’s joys
Then Your Spirit gave me life
Opened up Your Word to me
Through the gospel of Your Son
Gave me endless hope and peace

Help me now to live a life
That’s dependent on Your grace
Keep my heart and guard my soul
From the evils that I face
You are worthy to be praised
With my every thought and deed
O great God of highest heaven
Glorify Your Name through me

Need I say more? Life is definitely better as a Christian.

‘O Faithful God’ by Mark Altrogge © 1987 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)/Dayspring Music (a division of Word Music).

‘O Great God’ by Bob Kauflin © 2006 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI).

Random Thoughts on the Sign Gifts

Attending WorshipGod06 (run by Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Grace Ministries) with Tim has given me lots to think about. Ever since Tim and I got back I’ve been mulling over the issues with regards to the ‘sign’ or ‘miraculous’ gifts. Here are some random thoughts I’ve been chewing on…

1. 1 Corinthians 13.8-13. This is not profound, but merely an acknowledgement of what the majority of evangelicalism has already said: these verses are not referring to the closing of the canon. Without this text, the intratextual evidence for any strong cessationist position is incredibly weak. To my knowledge this is the only text cessationists use to argue their position that Paul knew of the gifts coming to an end. Further, even if we could allow that this text is speaking of these gifts (tongues, prophecies, and knowledge), then why do we include things like the gift of healing in the list of gifts which have ceased?

2. Where do we draw the line? It seems to me that the categories of ‘miraculous’ or ‘sign’ gifts are somewhat artificially imposed on the New Testament text (like imposing the ‘moral / civil / ceremonial’ categories on the OT Law). Nowhere does it seem evident that such a distinction is made. Quite the contrary, in places like Romans 12.4-8 Paul lumps prophecy in with faith, service, teaching, exhortation, contributing, leading, acts of mercy, etc. What justification is there for picking and choosing which cease and which continue?

3. We need to know. The going line in our circles is that these are matters of secondary or tertiary importance to the gospel, and so we are united in our differences and able to fellowship with each other since we agree on the central issues. I agree with this. But I can’t help but wonder how consistent it is. If there are people prophesying by the Spirit and we are saying that they’re not, aren’t we closing our ears to God’s words to us? Aren’t we guilty of denying a genuine work of God? Or if the opposite is the case and they’re not really prophesying, but are saying they are, are they not false prophets? If they are putting false words in God’s mouth is that something we can afford to call ‘secondary’? I don’t see how. I’ve been reading through Jeremiah lately and finding that God has some very harsh declarations against those who prophesy falsely in his name…

4. ‘But they’re not the New Testament gifts…’. This was one of Tim’s (and mine as well) biggest complaints against the practising of the gifts that we saw at WorshipGod06. Simply put, what we saw did not line up with what we read in the New Testament. Now, as one who believes strongly in Sola Scriptura, I want to phrase very carefully what I say next, because I realize that variations of this thinking can be used to all kinds of nefarious ends. But as I think about the practising of the gifts described in Acts and then think about the gifts that I see today at Bible-centred places like Covenant Life Church, I have to ask, ‘so what if they’re different?’ Again, I don’t want to dismiss any biblical command or restrictions which are ongoing, but don’t we often argue that the book of Acts is more ‘descriptive’ rather than ‘prescriptive’? And if we’re honest with ourselves, how much of what takes place on a Sunday morning in our church buildings actually resembles what the first believers did as they met ‘day by day’ anyway? So why is it such a big deal with the gifts? It seems that the more important (if one can speak in such terms) place to look for guidance on the practice of the gifts would be the epistles written to post-Acts churches. These epistles contain many instructions on how to practice the gifts in an ongoing sense and nowhere seem to indicate that they will cease. Places like Covenant Life Church, leaders like Bob Kauflin, and organizations like Sovereign Grace Ministries do seem to follow those instructions quite well. Everything is done decently and in order (more ordered, in fact, than many cessationist churches I’ve been in where no one even has an order of service written up).

Again, these are all just random thoughts not leading to any conclusions. They’re just things I’m contemplating in the spare moments my brain manages to come across.

Any thoughts are more than welcome!

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