Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: James (page 1 of 2)

How to Love More

Last night in our small group we were talking about the ever-present problem in the Christian life of not being affected enough by the truth that we know. It’s the gap between knowing the gospel of grace and feeling the grace of the gospel. We want to be humbled by the gospel. We want to love God more. But how do we do that?

This got me thinking about a post I put up here about 4 years ago and so I decided to repost it.

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Wise Words from James

Even though we’ve moved on to chapter 5 in our study on James at GFC, I’m still marvelling at many of the things my Lord has been teaching me from his word.

Preaching big passages like I’ve had to do is great for seeing the big picture and covering more of God’s word, but it necessarily means that there are lots of stones left unturned in each passage. Particularly, I’ve been thinking through James’s promise in chapter 4: ‘Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.’

One thing that amazed me the other night as I sat and thought this through is the similarity between this saying and that declaration of Jesus that the one who is forgiven most loves most. On the surface, they don’t seem that connected, but I think there is a profound connection.

Our Desire is to Love

Every Christian wants to know how to love God more. The first and greatest commandment we have is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The reason why we still sin, why we become discouraged, or why we fall back into old patterns of living is because our love for God falls short of our love for ourselves.

Our Enemy Wants to Hinder Our Love

The devil is our enemy. His greatest goal is to stop us from achieving our greatest goal, which is love for God, resulting in joy in God. We want to love God, but he’ll do anything to stop that. Every Christian wants to love God more; but how do you practically increase your love for God?

James connects resisting the devil’s work with drawing near to God. In response to our drawing near to God, God draws near to us. What kind of drawing near does James have in mind? He clarifies for us in the next couple of sentences, where he describes radical repentance, open confession of sin and sinfulness, and proper humility. In other words, draw near to God in humility, repentance, and brokenness, acknowledging the greatness of your sin.

Connect the Dots

We can begin to connect the dots here a little with Jesus’ saying. We will love God more if we acknowledge more readily the reality of what we’ve been forgiven. But our enemy will have none of that–which is why we need to resist him. How do you resist Satan? By confessing your sins and drawing near to God.

It is the work of Satan to get you to think little of your sins. He desires that you not confess specific sins, that you not be heart-broken over the ways you’ve denied God. He wants you to just ignore sin in your life and not confess to brothers and sisters. The smaller you think your sin is, the less your love for God will grow, and the happier your enemy will be. ‘He who is forgiven little, loves little.’

If your love for God has grown cold, you can probably draw a straight line back to your lack of confession of sin in your own heart, to God, and to others. When you don’t realize what you’ve been forgiven, you don’t love.

How do you grow to love more? Draw near to God in repentance. Acknowledge how horrible and ugly your sin is, and be specific in your confession. What at the things you have rejected him for? What are the things you’ve loved more than him? What are the lies you’ve believed instead of his truth? Confess to him that you deserve death and hell. The more you draw near to him, the worse you’ll see your sin is, the more you’ll see how much you’ve been forgiven and the more you’ll love — which will overflow into a life of God-glorifying joy in obedience.

Are You Cheerful?

Today in the car I was listening to a message by CJ Mahaney on Luke 17. He made a comment just in passing about this phrase from  James 5.13: ‘Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.’

CJ pointed out that James doesn’t assume that just because we’re cheerful, we’ll allow our cheerfulness to show. What a shame! If we are cheerful, we are actually instructed here to ‘sing praise.’ That is, if you are cheerful, let others know! Let your outer demeanour match your inner joy.

As he went on to note, too often, like the lepers in Luke 17, we simply receive gifts, enjoy them, and move on like a spoiled child at a birthday party. I need to hear this. If God has given me gifts that make me happy, I need to let my happiness show. It will give him glory, and my joy will invite others to participate in my joy with me.

Has God been gracious to you today? Have you received from him better than you deserve? Has his grace cheered you today? Then sing! Let others know! Give him glory. Let your cheerfulness be seen!

When Gifts, Then Quarrels

Kids love Christmas… and kids love Christmas presents. Just about the only thing that’s better than getting a great Christmas gift is getting a Christmas gift that’s better than any of the gifts your siblings or friends got. Nothing ruins a good gift quicker than realizing that someone else got a better gift.

Kids and earthly-minded churches aren’t all that different.

Apparently, the churches to which James wrote (Jas 4.1-3) weren’t the only ones who struggled with the presence of gifts (or lack thereof) and quarrels. It struck me the other day that the apostle Paul was keenly aware of the danger here.

The potential for gifts given by the Father to his spiritual children to become an issue over which to quarrel is quite strong. And yet, just as no human father would desire for his good gifts to be used as weapons of war between his children, so also the heavenly Father desires for gifts to be a blessing to all, not a source of division. Paul warns against this reality time and again. For example, take Romans 12.

Before the apostle lists some of the spiritual gifts given to the church in Romans 12.6-8, he begins by emphasizing humility:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Rom 12.3)

His next step is to argue that the church is one body in Christ, built by one Spirit. Even though the members of the body have different functions, they are still one (Rom 12.4-5). Once he has listed the gifts, he returns his focus immediately to maintaining peace in the church (Rom 12.9-21).

Why book-end a listing of gifts with admonitions to humility, love, honour, empathy, and grace? Because the opposite of all those virtues is fleshly reaction to seeing others blessed in ways we ourselves would like to be blessed. Without love, humility, etc., we would quickly become like a jealous boy or girl on Christmas morning, complaining that our gifts are not as good as another’s.

So what should we do? We seek the best gifts, but acknowledge that whatever comes is a gracious, undeserved gift from our sovereign Father who desires our good. Then, when our brothers and sisters are blessed beyond us, we rejoice with them as they rejoice! We celebrate that the body has been blessed and will be blessed through the gifting of that individual for ministry to the church-at-large. That is what our heavenly Father desires.

Samuel and Confronting Sin

In the Lord’s providence, we finished up our morning series in James and our evening series in Galatians on this past Sunday. It was quite interesting to me that both sermons finished with exhortations to Christians to be confronting sin in the lives of their brothers and sisters.

As I sat and listened to my friend Paul preach on Sunday evening on a topic very similar to how my message had ended on Sunday morning, I thought to myself, ‘What is the Lord teaching us? What is he preparing us for as a church?’

This morning I was reading from 1 Samuel 12, and came across a very relevant passage. Here Samuel, the outgoing judge, has just appointed Saul as the king of Israel. Samuel then addresses the people and confronts their sin. While this is not the main intention of the passage, I think there are some great truths to be gleaned here when it comes to addressing sin in the lives of others.

  1. Samuel spelled out their sin for them.
    Samuel didn’t allude vaguely to some things that they had done which might be considered wrong, but he had specific sin in mind when he addressed the people, and he was direct in letting them know what it was they had done wrong. He called sin sin. Where they had rejected God and preferred other things, he showed them. They were not left guessing as to what he was really getting at, or whether or not it was actually sin.
  2. Samuel let them feel the weight of their sin.
    Granted, Samuel had a pretty cool trick up his sleeve when he was able to make a thunderstorm appear (I don’t know how many of us will be able to use that one), but one thing he was sure to do was show them how serious their sin was. He didn’t let them get away with a merely intellectual acknowledgement of their sin. He made sure they felt it. When Samuel had showed them their sin and how it had angered God, ‘all the people greatly feared the Lord …. all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die…”.’ His conviction about their sin had resulted in their own conviction, confession, and repentance.
  3. Samuel offered the grace of God.
    When they had experienced genuine conviction for their sin, Samuel said, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.’ In other words, ‘Yeah, you’ve blown it pretty bad. But trust in the Lord and he will forgive you. Remember, he wants your whole heart.’
  4. Samuel assures them with the best reason to hope.
    Why should they trust him? Why should we trust God that we’ll be forgiven when we’re confronted with the reality of our sin? We should hope because of who God is: he will never change. Samuel offers this to his people: ‘For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.’ In other words, God won’t forsake you, because he’s put his own name on you. You’re his people, called by his name and it has been his good will to make you that way. To forsake you now would be to forsake the pursuit of his own glory and his own joy–something which could never, ever happen. God will be faithful to you, because he cannot and will not abandon his pursuit of his own glory and the display of his righteousness. What a comforting thought! Unless God changes, I can never be forsaken. We who are Christians–who live this side of the cross chronologically–can look back and see that faithfulness of God to his people and the committedness of God to his own people infinitely more than even Samuel could. What comfort in the face of conviction!

This all calls for balance and wisdom. I pray that God will give me grace to be able to pursue my brothers and sisters, to confront them on specific sins, to let them feel the weight of those sins which cost Christ his life, but then to offer the grace of God and the comfort of his promised faithfulness.

The Purpose of Pain

The other day Stacey returned home with a special purchase for Susannah. It was a bottle of bright-coloured, foaming hand soap. Susannah has reached an age where we want her to be able to do more things (like washing her hands) on her own.

Susannah took to this task with joy! She stood at the sink (on a stool) like a big girl. She got her hands all soaped up, and then her daddy said, ‘Put your hands under the water and rinse them off.’ So she put her hands under the water… only to quickly pull them out and yelp, ‘Hot!’

I had accidentally left the tap turned a little too far too the left. She wasn’t badly hurt at all, but looked at me as if to say, ‘I’m not doing that again!’

That got me thinking about pain. I thank God that Susannah is able to feel pain. Not because I like the thought of my daughter hurting, but because I know God’s purposes in pain are good.

Medically speaking, it seems that the purposes of pain are generally straightforward: Pain alerts you to the fact that something is wrong in your body and needs attention. Something must be done now to avoid greater consequences later. Pain is a warning.

In James 5, James is alerting his audience–people who are undergoing suffering–that they must be patient to endure hardship and pain. He gives them several reasons. He argues that those who persecute them will be finally judged, and that the Judge stands at the door. He also refers to the prophets, and then to Job.

When he gets to Job, James becomes more specific and says,

you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The Lord’s purpose in Job’s suffering was compassionate and merciful. At the end of Job’s turmoil, not only did he receive back more than he ever lost, he said these words:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. … I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust ashes.

The Lord’s purpose in Job’s suffering was to reveal more of himself to Job–and then ultimately to us, thousands of years later. God was revealing himself as one who is compassionate and merciful, even in suffering.

There are things which are eternal and there are things which are temporal; things which will matter when the Judge appears, and other things that won’t. At least a part of the purpose in our pain in this life is to warn us of a bigger problem: that this world and everything in it is cursed because of sin, and already under condemnation. We suffer pain, things fall apart, tragedy happens, all to warn us of a potentially greater tragedy to come: eternal condemnation and wrath against sinners for sin.

If Susannah didn’t feel pain at the little bit of hot water, she might leave her hands there until they were scalded and then permanently damaged. The pain was uncomfortable, but it let her know that if she didn’t act, worse would result. The Lord’s purpose in pain is–like his purpose in everything else–compassionate and merciful. He desires to show us that there is no ultimate life, no hope, no safety in this world. Those things can and must be found in him alone. He wants to ween us off our selfish joy-seeking in the creation so that we might pursue true joy-seeking in the Creator.

7 Reasons to Say ‘God Willing…’

These are some notes taken from the sermon I preached this past Sunday at GFC. I was preaching from James 4:13-17 and the necessity of realizing our absolute dependence on God before we do any planning–even mundane, day-to-day planning. You can listen to the whole sermon here to get the context for the notes that follow.

Under the final point, I suggested the following seven reasons why Christians should be intentional and deliberate to refer to future plans with the caveat, ‘God willing’ (or ‘if the Lord wills,’ or some other variant).

  1. It Will Humble You.
  2. Every time you say ‘If the Lord wills, I’ll live, and then I’ll…’ or something like that, you’ll be reminded of your own essential contingency. In other words, you’re not necessary, and there’s no reason to presume that you’ll live. You’ll be reminded by your own voice that you don’t have the power to bring about what you plan any more than you have the power to determine if you’ll keep living or not.

     

  3. It Will Give You Opportunities to Witness.
  4. People will figure out pretty quickly that you’re not normal if you’re using this kind of language. Eventually, someone will ask why you’re always mentioning God’s will. When they do, you’ll already be on the topics of the Creatorship and providence of God, and the fact that life is a mist and death is imminent–your life hangs on his will. Here is an open door for the gospel!

     

  5. It Will Give You Opportunities to be Ridiculed / Persecuted.
  6. Christ himself pronounced blessing on all those who are reviled and persecuted for the sake of his name and for the sake of righteousness. Why would we expect the world to look at the future the same way we do, when all through James he has insisted that we have different perspectives and different kinds of wisdom? Being persecuted and reviled, then, becomes another opportunity to grow in the humility of obedience in submitting ourselves to God.

     

  7. It Will Change the Way You Think.
  8. The way we speak is of utmost importance (as James always insists). As Lloyd-Jones has so famously said, we need to spend more time talking to ourselves than listening to ourselves. The way that we speak will effect ourselves more profoundly than anyone else. By being deliberate in the type of language that we use, we’re training ourselves to think in biblical categories. When we change our words, it will change our thoughts, which will change our feelings, which changes us over time.

     

  9. It Will Reveal Idols.
  10. If there is something that you’re planning, or something that you desire for the future, and you’re not willing to attach the thought, ‘God willing’ to it, then you’re clinging to it too tightly. That fact alone reveals that you are looking to that future possibility to bring life, hope, joy, or peace–things we must find in God alone. Whatever you’re not willing to give up for God (to hand over to his control to determine whether it will come to pass or not) that is an idol to you. It is a false god and needs to be put to death.

     

  11. It Will Force You to Think in Ethical Categories.
  12. Sometimes we can think through future plans or situations without any reference to moral / ethical categories. Saying ‘God willing’ makes us ask, ‘Would God be willing?’ Once God–the standard of righteousness–is brought into the equation, we’re forced to think in standards of righteousness. You can say ‘I’m going to go to the party this Saturday night and not think anything of it. But you can’t say ‘God willing, I’ll go to the party’ without thinking about whether or not God would be willing for you to go. All of a sudden we’re forced to reckon with God’s thoughts on drunkenness, revelry, debauchery, etc., and that may inform our plans to go or not go.

     

  13. Silence Can be Sin.
  14. James 4.17 is a verse that most of us have heard and know well, but have never applied to its context. James warns that to not take seriously the notion of God’s will when considering our future is to sin. Simply saying these words is one way we can flee sin and pursue righteousness by acknowledging God, his providence, his will, his plan. Not saying it can be sin; but saying it can help safeguard our hearts from neglecting to consider God’s will before our own.

     

I Don’t Get It

The further along in the book of James we go, the more points there are when I think, ‘…Huh?’

It’s a bizarre experience to look ahead in the book, know that there are only a few weeks left to finish the last chapter and a half, and realize that you don’t really understand what they mean. It’s humbling and exciting.

I pray that our Lord would use these last few weeks to teach the saints at GFC through me… as he has taught me! Because if he doesn’t teach me, I’ll be in trouble.

My prayer now is that he’ll keep me back from trying to force my assumed interpretations on the text in a panic to say something. I know that ‘those who teach will be subject to stricter judgement,’ so I pray that he’ll show me how to ‘rightly divide the word’ in the coming works. If you get a chance, please remember to pray for me.

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