Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Joy (page 1 of 2)

The Greatness of the God Who Withholds to Bless

The gods of the world display their greatness by blessing their people with the treasures of the world when they are properly obeyed. If the gods are treated just right, they dispense their blessings in the form of earthly wealth and comfort.

Only the God of the Bible is big enough, glorious enough, good enough, and full enough of deep enough love to display the depths of his wisdom and the power of his goodness by withholding the world’s treasures and comforts from his people. In love he withholds. In love he disciplines. In love he shows us through loss, through trial, through rejection — through a cross — that he alone is the true treasure worth possessing.

And his grace is not for those who have worshiped him rightly, nor for those who have blessed him by obedience. His grace is for the weak; his mercy for the rebel.

Among all the gods of the world, with all their wares, our God stands alone — he stands above. He offers himself: a treasure greater, more beautiful, more exquisite than anything we have ever tasted or seen.
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Three Reasons to Have Joy in Trials

The Apostle Peter

This past Sunday at GFC we began a new series in the book of 1 Peter called ‘A Holy People Living Wholly for God.’ One of the themes that’s immediately apparent in this letter is that of suffering. Peter is clearly writing to Christians whom he expects will undergo trials. The suffering for them, to this point, is not extreme or absolute. Rather, they are ‘grieved by various trials.’ Some are worse than others, all are different, none are fun.

Peter reminds them of their salvation (1 Pet 1.3-5) and tells them that in light of their salvation they can still rejoice despite undergoing hardship (1 Pet 1.6). Apart from their salvation itself (with a certain future hope of an inalienable, glorious inheritance), there are at least three reasons given by Peter why Christians can rejoice in their trials. Though many of our circumstances are different, all of his reasons still pertain to us today.

1. Whatever trials I have are necessary

These are Peter’s words: ‘In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved…’. In other words, you have not been grieved by anything that is not necessary. Peter began his letter by reminding them that they had become ‘elect exiles … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (1 Pet 1.1-2), indicating that all their sufferings in this life, like everything in their lives, had been ordained by their Father who loves them. Here the same holds true. Whatever a Christian suffers, it is necessary. God the Father does not discipline his children or call them to suffer on a whim. When he calls them to this it is necessary for their good, according to his wisdom.

So whatever you are suffering right now, here is one reason to have joy: God the Father, who loves you, deems it necessary. It is not meaningless, but full of purpose.

2. Whatever trials I have are for proving my faith

Sometimes we are tempted to think that my sufferings are intended to break us. Nothing could be further from the truth, though. Peter says your trials are ‘so that the tested genuineness of your faith’ may be seen (1 Pet 1.7). When God ordains trials in your life, they are not to break you, but to prove to you and to all onlookers that your faith is genuine. The trials are just the fire which refines your faith and makes it more pure. As your faith is purified it becomes even purer, more enduring, more precious.

So whatever you are suffering right now, you can remember this: even in the trials, God is proving and purifying your faith which is the very thing which guarantees your inheritance (1 Pet 1.4-5). Through trials our living hope grows stronger thus giving us even more joy.

3. Trials will result in praise, glory, and honour

The tested genuineness of our faith (while something to find joy in) is not an end in and of itself. Rather, our tested and proven faith has a result: praise, glory and honour (1 Pet 1.7).

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself to whom the praise and glory and honour go? Our gut instinct is obviously to respond that all praise and glory and honour go to God alone. But I think Peter is getting at something different here. Compare these other texts:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Rom 2.28-29)

Therefore do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor 4.5)

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1.12)

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Pet 5.4)

Isn’t that mind-blowing? Somehow in the wisdom of God it pleases him to crown us for our genuine faith, even though our faith is only upheld by his power (1 Pet 1.5).

So if there was ever a reason to rejoice in trials, here it is: When my faith is proven genuine it will result in praise and glory and honour from God! Can you imagine anything better than that? Can you imagine anything more joy-filled and humbling than that?

A joy greater than circumstances

Of course none of these things make suffering easy. The trials themselves are never joyful, nor are we specifically to find joy in the circumstances of the trial (as if we delight in pain). But we do have joy in this transcendent reality: the trials are necessary because our all-wise heavenly Father has ordained them for the proving of our faith, that we might receive praise and glory and honour from him. And of course, as we receive it, we will reflect all of it back to him as the one who upheld our faith by his power.

Our joy is not found in the trials, it is found in a hope and a future that is greater than our trials. God is working all things for our good.

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!

Joy Invites Others In

Chasing Fish

Maybe it’s just because I’m a very simple man, but I find it astounding how much there is to be learned just from watching children. Just today I overheard my four year old rejoicing with her mother that she had completed her writing assignment for her ‘reading lesson.’ Stacey was excited with her, but that wasn’t enough. I heard the overjoyed little voice: ‘Can I go show Daddy?’ She received approval from her mother and came bounding up the stairs to my office.

That made me think. Why did she want to come show me? What did she stand to gain by showing me her lines of k’s, f’s, h’s, and m’s repeated over and over? She came to me because she was full of joy and wanted me share in it and to rejoice with her. There is something intuitive about joy that even a four year old understands: joy is never more wonderful than when shared. There’s something overflowing about true joy that compels us to invite others to join with us in our joy.

Which again made me think. Why am I so slow to evangelize? Why does it seem so forced? Why does corporate worship sometimes seem like a chore? Biblically speaking, I think it’s because I am not consistently finding my fullest joy in my God. If I was, my natural impulse would be to speak of it and to invite others to join in my joy.

Isn’t this what we see in Psalm 34?

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Do you see it? He calls on others to join in his joy! Then he testifies to how he found his joy:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

There it is! I sought the Lord, I cried to him, and he has heard me, answered me, protected me, kept me! He is good! And then again is a call to participate:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!

And then the pattern repeats through the Psalm. What David is getting at there is the principle my four year old daughter showed me this morning. When we find true delight for our souls in something, we impulsively call on others to join in our joy.

So if I’m finding that evangelism seems a burden and worship seems a chore, perhaps I don’t need to think first about technique. Perhaps my first question should be, ‘Am I delighting in God? Is my joy really in him?’ Then I need to read the word, preach the gospel to my own heart, remind myself of how he has heard this poor man when I have cried to him.

If I am faithful to find my joy in him, I will speak to others, because joy invites others in. And do you know what? That kind of authentic overflow might just be the most effective technique out there for stirring the hearts of others.

The Birth of Longing

There was a time when I used to think, ‘I hope Jesus comes back… but not until…’ and then I’d fill in the blank with something I really hoped to do in this life. That seems like a long time ago now. Somewhere along the way over these 30 years I have realized that the joys of this life (even the pure and the good ones) are mere shadows of the reality for which we were created.

Everything here is a shadow, a testimony, a teaser, pointing us to the greater reality of unfettered freedom and unadulterated pleasure in uncompromisingly personal relationship with the one who created us for himself. We were not created for this broken world. Everything here that gives joy points us forward to the fulfilment of that longing on the day when we will fully know, even as we are fully known.

Mountains, oceans, valleys, magnificent animals, music, poetry, the climax of a narrative, the unfolding of a mystery, the moment of learning, relationships, husbandry, fatherhood, church membership, passing seasons of beautiful intimacy with brothers and sisters in Christ, intangible and inexpressible moments of close communion with the Triune God; all of it has functioned to one end: to create in me the birth of longing. Longing for the day when it will not end. Longing for the day when the feeling won’t pass the very moment you realize it’s there. Longing for the uninterrupted gaze and the unending contemplation of the One who is Beauty and Wisdom and Joy and Life.

“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
— C.S. Lewis (Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold)

Cottage Sunset

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

The Joy of the Lord

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

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Around the time we were about to begin the church plant, two separate individuals pulled me aside to give me a word of encouragement and exhortation. Both of these individuals (one man and one woman) were unconnected with each other, both tremendously godly, both of whom have been in the faith longer than me, both of whom I love, and yet neither one of them has typically pulled me aside for such conversations. And so when they did, I took notice. Especially when, independent of each other, they both called my attention to the same verse from Nehemiah 8, reminding me that ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength.’

I received that as being from God, and took great encouragement from it. I believe that God, knowing my heart’s tendency to emotionalism, was reminding me of that verse to prepare me to be steady, strong, and full of joy as I lead GFC Don Mills, regardless of how things look from a worldly perspective.

Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill once quipped about a political opponent (Clement Atlee) that ‘He is a modest man, who has much to be modest about.’ Harsh, maybe, but he evaluated his opponent from his perspective and spoke realistically about him. Sadly, in Nehemiah’s day, he could have spoken of Jerusalem as a ‘modest city, with much to be modest about,’ and the statement would have been accurate.

Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians about 70 years previous. The walls, the temple, the palace, the houses, everything that was glorious about the city had been utterly ruined, and the people who lived there had been taken captive in a foreign land. Now they had come back. They were intent on rebuilding the city which had once been the dwelling place of God on earth.

But the numbers were small (see the census in Nehemiah 7). The opposition was strong. There were many discouragements and disappointments. Even once the walls were built, it still wasn’t that great of a sight: ‘The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt’ (Neh 7.4). And then there was the Law. In Nehemiah 8, the leaders gathered all the men and women (‘those who could understand’) and read the Law of God which had been completely forgotten, to the extent that the leaders had to offer running commentary on what the words meant (Neh 8.7-8).

This was a pretty bleak scene. The people knew it. They had much to be modest about. They had broken God’s Law, and even now their attempts at rebuilding what had been lost fell pathetically short. They felt their failure and their weakness. Even though they worshipped (Neh 8.6), still they mourned (Neh 8.9). And that was appropriate given their circumstances and what they saw and felt. It was in this context that Nehemiah spoke these words to the people of Israel:

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8.10)

The people of God, when faced with their weakness and their failure and the bleakness of their circumstances, were right to mourn. Just like Jesus blessed those who mourn (Matt 5.4). Having an accurate view of yourself means being poor in spirit. But the people of God who mourned, were comforted. They were told they that have a strength not their own; a strength that they couldn’t account for and one that would not let them down: ‘the joy of the Lord.’ The people of God were being called to preach truth to their hearts. They were being called to consider that God was for them and not against them; that despite what circumstances look like on any realistic view, they could have joy in remembering that God would complete the work he had begun. He would be faithful to his covenant promises to deliver his people.

I offer this all to you because it’s something I’ve been thinking about over the past few months as I consider the work that God has called me to, pastoring a small church in a really big city. Realistically, there are all kinds of reasons why I could be discouraged from looking around our city. In Toronto there are churches being turned into condos and lofts; the churches that do grow seem to all be led by health & wealth charlatans; and the big, beautiful new religious buildings that are being built are Mosques and Sikh temples and the like. Where do we fit in all of this? What difference could we possibly make, as small as we are?

But we are called to remember the joy of the Lord. Our strength is not in the prospect of us doing much but rather in the remembrance that God is for us. He has shown us that definitely and conclusively in the cross.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Rom 8.31-32)

So we remember that we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, regardless of what the circumstances appear to be. And when we remember that God loves us, and is for us, we are filled with joy. An indestructible joy anchored in an indestructible hope. And that gives strength.

I pray that God gives me grace to heed this word. To remember that he is for me. To live with the joy that this knowledge brings. I believe that if I cling to this word, remembering the covenant of the cross and the resurrection, it will give me joy that will empower me to endure for another 30 years… or however long my Lord gives me life. Not because I’m strong, but because his joy gives strength.

My Disordered Heart

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

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Something funny is going to happen tonight. The Vancouver Canucks will play the Boston Bruins in game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. From the time the national anthems play, right before the drop of the puck, I’ll be on the edge of my seat. My mind will be focused, my eyes locked on, my whole body ready to cheer, jeer, or boo, as events unfold. My heart will be engaged. I will yell and holler and make a fool of myself by getting so upset about a game. But it will grip me, engage me, affect me.

Why in the world would this be? I’m not even a Canucks fan (and goodness knows, like any Christian, I’m definitely NOT a Bruins fan!). So why would it grip me? Maybe we could chalk it up to the sport of hockey. Except that’s not right either. Last night I was overjoyed to see the Mavericks demolish the Heat and their thugs team. But I’m not a basketball fan, or a Mavs fan. So why would my heart be engaged by such irrelevant foolishness?

The short answer is that I don’t know; I just simply don’t understand my heart and why it reacts the way it does. The long answer has to do with Eve and Adam eating a piece of fruit, and plunging the world and all their children into the disordered chaos that we know as life.

One of the things I came to see early on in my pursuit of theology was the Noetic effects of sin. That’s the doctrine which says that our minds don’t work like they should–our thoughts are corrupted–because of the fall. What came much later, but I now see with even more clarity, is the emotional equivalent (although I don’t know if it has a name). What I have observed in myself is that my heart–the centre and source of my affections and desires–is fundamentally disordered.

The classic contrast illustrating this is the Saturday night hockey game to Sunday morning church. On Saturday night I’m engaged and excited, jumping up and down, raising my arms, calling out spontaneously, enjoying every moment. On Sunday morning I struggle to stay focused and I’m embarrassed to lift a hand or make a noise that isn’t ‘pre-approved.’ How sad that my heart finds more to delight in in a useless game than the glorious gospel of God become man, crucified for sinners, risen to given us joy and life!

There are many more examples. Why am I quicker to cry because of a movie than because of my sin? Why do problems with our house make me sadder than problems with our marriage? Why, when I talk about Jesus, do I care more about what people think of me than I care what they think of Jesus? Why am I so often driven to despair by the smallest of problems? The list goes on and on… The things that I know matter most don’t affect me most and the things that affect me most often don’t matter at all. My heart is disordered.

Of course, the only remedy for this is the gospel. My heart is just like everything else in creation. Though it was created to be ordered, because of the fall it is subject to futility, corruption, and disorder. But the gospel makes all things new. The gospel promises the Spirit of God ‘circumcising our hearts’ and making us new creations in Christ. The whole of our life now is a process, a growth, becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ. Not just in the ways I think or in the ways that I act–but also in the ways that I feel. I want my heart to be like his heart. I want to be moved to love and compassion and anger by the things that move his heart to love and compassion and anger.

I pray that if God gives me more time on this earth, it would be a journey towards Christlikeness of life, thought, and emotion; that my disordered heart would be increasingly ordered after his own.

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