Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Faith (page 2 of 2)

The Tenses of Faith

The Tenses of Psalm 63

Present Tense

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Past Tense

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and your glory.

Present Tense

Because your steadfast love is better than life…

Future Tense

… my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you (when I remember you in the future!) upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
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Nagging the Judge

Try picturing yourself in a situation where you’re likely to nag. What situation is it for you?

Many wives nag their husbands about conversations they have to have, jobs that need to be done around the house, and decisions that need to be made. Many husbands nag their wives for more physical affection. Fathers are often quick to nag their children about all those ‘annoying habits’ they have.

What’s the thing that seems to make you nag, even when you’ve sworn you won’t? Why is it so hard to not nag in that situation?

Let me suggest a reason. I think it’s hard to not nag in that situation because of three things.

  1. You are experiencing some measure of discomfort in that given moment
  2. You see a way that your discomfort could be alleviated
  3. The power to alleviate your discomfort lies with another person

So the logic seemingly demands that we nag. We need to convince that other person to act so that our problems are resolved. But you know what’s fascinating about that? If we really believed God’s words the way we say we do we would be impulsively and compulsively nagging God in prayer.

And you know what? I think he’d like it.

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Self-Delusion and Blindness

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

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Studying the gospel of Mark has been (pardon the pun) eye-opening for me in many, many ways. One of the things that I have continually been amazed to see is that despite their initial display of faith in leaving everything to follow Jesus (Mark 1.16-28) and their brief success in ministry (Mark 6.7-13), the disciples remain ‘blind’ to who Jesus really is and all the he is calling them to.

They are the ones, we’re told in Mark 4, who are to receive the secrets of the kingdom of God, while the outsiders will receive only parables. They are the constant companions of Jesus watching his every miracle, hearing his every word. They travel with him and live with him and eat with him and pray with him night and day for about three years. And yet, when Mark writes his ‘discipleship’ section (Mark 8-10), nothing is clearer than the fact that the disciples don’t see the real Jesus. In fact, Mark even goes so far as to bracket that whole section with two healings of blind people to unite the themes from that section (Mark 8.22-26; Mark 10.46-52).

Three times in that section Jesus clearly prophesies his rejection and death. And each time the disciples just flat out miss the point and think about themselves first and their own standing with other people, or their own comfort, or whatever their own concerns are in the moment. They are completely oblivious to the fact that the Daniel’s Son of Man and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant is leading the way to Jerusalem, where they will witness the climax of history as Jesus is murdered on a Roman cross, dying to ransom his people.

They were so caught up in their own views, their own concerns, their own vision of reality that they were staring God himself in the face, but couldn’t see clearly. Boy, it’s easy to preach against those dumb disciples. We could rail on against them all day. Unless of course you have come to see, as I have, that I’m no better than them. In fact, I’m probably worse.

Sure, they had Jesus walking with them. But we’ve got the apostolic interpretations of Jesus and 2000 years’ worth of Christian reflections on Jesus to inform us. For them it was all happening in a moment; for us we’ve had years to consider who this Jesus really is. For me, I study the Bible every week for my job. And so often I still feel like a blind dunce, failing to make the connections between what my Saviour came to accomplish and what it means for me and my life.

I still think like the disciples. I still think I need to be made much of. I still think I know better than the plans of God. I’m still deluded enough to believe that I can somehow become great by demanding other people serve me. I still don’t feel the reality of my slavery and my desperate need of redemption. And I still think that even what I don’t know, I can figure out. I definitely don’t feel my need like Blind Bartimaeus, crying out for the help of Jesus as my only hope.

My life–my Christian life–has been a very slow process of growing in my perception of myself and my Saviour. As I look back over 30 years I can’t believe how little I really understand of Jesus and I can’t believe how much of my life I have lived and continue to live as if I’m self-sufficient. The disciples may have been slow on the uptake, but at least once they got it, they were owned by it and willing to lay down their lives for it. If God gives me another 30 years, I pray that I will experience even more grace to clearly see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, that as I gaze I might be transformed more and more from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3.16-4.6), increasingly conformed to and dependent on my Saviour.

The Answer to Everything

I’ve been preparing lately to begin preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at GFC. Any time you begin a new book, there is always a lot of background reading that you have to do to set the stage for where the book is going to take you. Most of what you read never makes it into the sermons, but it helps you understand what are the main themes of the book, what’s the historical context, what’s the background of the people being talked about, and things like that.

In particular, I’ve been reading today all kinds of speculation about what the doctrinal problems were that faced Timothy and Titus in their local churches. Since Paul doesn’t specify in any of the three letters exactly what the heresy is that they’re dealing with, we’re left to fill in the gaps by putting together hints and drawing inferences — not ideal exegesis.

Anyway, this thought struck me as I was reading: ‘Isn’t it interesting that God never details for us what the doctrinal problem was; I guess he didn’t want us to know. I wonder why that is…?’

Then I got to a particularly helpful section of Mounce’s commentary where he says, basically, it doesn’t matter on one level what the issue was; Paul’s answer to everything is the gospel.

Ding! The bulb above my head flicked on.

The very fact that the individual errors aren’t highlighted serves to draw those problems to the background and highlight the one great thing that’s the answer to everything: the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s the point. No matter what the problem is in your local church, the answer is always found in a right understanding of what God has done for a fallen people in his Son Jesus Christ, by the power of his Holy Spirit.

And here’s how Mounce concisely summarizes that glorious gospel, the answer to everything:

God has acted in grace and mercy through the death of Christ with an offer of forgiveness, to which people must respond in faith, turning from evil, receiving empowerment through God’s Spirit, and looking forward to eternal life. (William D. Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, WBC v.46, lxxvi.)

So if you want to be a part of the answer instead of a part of the problem in your church, ask yourself this: Am I focusing on the gospel? Is the gospel part of my conversation? Do I speak it with others? Is it an essential part of my ministry in my local church?

The gospel is glorious truth, and one that we can never major on enough. That’s what Timothy and Titus had to be reminded of and that’s what we must remember.

Justifying God

Abraham banishes Hagar

Abraham banishes Hagar

Genesis gives an interesting picture of Abraham. There were times when he was faithful and times when he was not, but overall the NT looks back on him as the prototypical ‘man of faith’ who will inherit the promises of God. The highest goal we can strive for is to be like Abraham–in fact, to have faith, in order that we may become one of his children.

But Abraham’s faith wavered. God had made tremendous promises to Abraham about his ‘seed’ and ‘blessing all nations’ and things like that. But when Abraham gave his situation an honest evaluation, it was tough for him to see how this could come about. The circumstances just didn’t look like God was going to fulfil his promises.

Abraham loved God, and believed God’s word. But he doubted that God had the power to bring about his purposes, because of the circumstances of Abraham’s life. Abraham knew that God had promised children, but knew that the chances of that in the later stages of his (and Sarah’s!) life were slim to nil. 

Abraham was concerned that God be justified. He desired for God’s promise to be fulfilled, for God’s word to come true. 

Many of us find ourselves from time-to-time in situations like Abraham. We know God’s commands, God’s promises, God’s declarations regarding the future. But when we look at the world the way it is–and in particular, our world the way it is–we start to wonder how (or if) God will actually pull it off.

But we want him to! We want God to be shown right! We want God to be justified in the words he has spoken and in the declarations he has made. We just aren’t really convinced that, given these circumstances, there is any way he can show himself to be true.

So what did Abraham do? He found his own way to bring about (what he thought) were God’s purposes. In his eagerness for God to be justified, he thought he would help God out, by adjusting the rules a little bit. Abraham took Hagar, his wife’s servant, and had a child by her, thinking that this would be the means by which God would be justified.

But God said no. His promises were bigger, and his power is bigger than Abraham could have imagined. Abraham may have had the right intention, in trying to show God to be just, but his problem started when he felt like God needed to be justified by us. He spent too much time looking at his own circumstances (and wondering what could possibly be done), and not enough time gazing at the God who had made the promise.

This applies on so many levels. Theologians, for example, may wonder how God could be good, fair, righteous, etc., but still demand that only men hold certain positions in the church. They think, ‘Our society is more advanced than the church of Christ!’ We wonder how God could be the things he says he is, and still insist on something so backward. So we seek to justify God by bending his rules. 

My hope for myself (and for you) is that I would spend more time gazing at God and thinking about his omniscience and omnipotence, and less time thinking about my circumstances. The more I’m convinced of his infinite ability to deliver on his word, the less I’ll be tempted to justify him by compromising in my own life.

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