Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Stacey (page 1 of 5)

An Elbow-Scratching Parable of Prayer

Strange Conversations

“Can you scratch my elbow?”

“Pardon me?”

“Scratch. Right here.”

“Scratch your elbow? Seriously? You can reach it yourself; why do you want me to do it?”

“It just feels better when you do it.”

“Um. Okay.”

Conversations like this one happen between me and my wife. Frequently.

Why? Because of a relational principle that Stacey gets, but I am slow to pick up on: Sometimes what you ask people for, what you feel free to really ask for, even though you don’t need it actually says something about your relationship and how each of you perceive it.

For example, just imagine how the conversation would have gone differently if I was sitting beside a stranger on the bus who asked me the same question. I’m not sure if I’d reply or move straight to pushing the bus’ panic button.
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Eight Years of God’s Goodness

Today Stacey and I are celebrating our 8th wedding anniversary. It is a great day for me to reflect on God’s goodness and kindness to us as a couple and as a family over these past several years.

In God’s Mercy I Got a Wife

I have frequently quoted Don Carson’s distinction between mercy and grace: ‘Grace is a loving response when love is undeserved, and mercy is a loving response prompted by the misery and helplessness of the one on whom the love is to be showered. Grace answers the undeserving; mercy answers the miserable’ (from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Confrontation with the World, 24-25).

God clearly gave me a wife in mercy. I was miserable, pitiable, and helpless. I was eating A&W far too often to survive past the age of 30 till she came along. I was so reclusive that I probably would have made a better mortician (and I had thought about it!) than a pastor, but now our house is a happening place. Her strengths clearly complement my weaknesses.

God, in his mercy gave me not just any wife, but my wife in particular.

By God’s Grace I Still Have a Wife

Since our wedding day I have shown myself again and again to be undeserving of Stacey’s kindness and favour. And that’s not just humble-talk. I mean honestly and truly, I have sinned against her in horrible acts and words of selfishness that I had never envisioned saying to my wife (or to anyone!). But time and again she has embodied God’s grace and forgiven me.

Some time ago, when I was younger, I heard from someone that it would be foolish to marry a girl / guy whose parents are divorced. History repeats, as the logic goes. Well, happily, Stacey and I both ignored that advice and married each other. God’s grace overcomes such foolish human notions. The fact that we, as children from divorced families, can live together faithfully and happily is a testimony to God’s grace.

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Back from Vacation… And Thankful

Looking at this portrait makes me think Attlee wasn’t the only one with something to be modest about…

It is said that Winston Churchill once quipped of Clement Attlee, ‘He is a modest man, but then, he has so much to be modest about.’ I can’t help but chuckle when I read that. But when I reflect on it, I think that perhaps, this isn’t a bad thing. If indeed you have much to be modest about (and who doesn’t?) why wouldn’t you want to be known as a modest man?

Returning from vacation, I’m a very thankful man. To adapt the Churchill quote, ‘I’m a thankful man, with so much to be thankful about.’

I am thankful for so many things that God has given me and my family. Here are a few that come to mind at the end of my first day back on the job.

I’m thankful for…
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Something I’m Happy About

I happen to think my wife is a great writer. And I think she has a lot of good things to say. So I was very happy to have her invited to join some of her friends on a team blog. Stacey has joined Maja, Amy, Dina, and Georgie in writing for the blog, ‘This Passing Life.’ I think it will be great!

Her first post was yesterday, introducing herself. I’m very happy for her to be using her writing gift again and I can’t wait to see what she has to say in coming weeks. I just wanted to pass along the link in case you are interested in following along.

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.

An Honest Look Into Our Family Devotions

An example of what our family devotions do NOT look like.

Okay, men. Let’s talk family devotions. Feel guilty yet?

There are few ways to make Christian men feel guilty more easily or quickly than to talk about family devotions. We all know we should be doing it. We see the importance of being the spiritual leaders in our home. We all know that as fathers we bear the primary responsibility for bringing our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. And we know that family devotions is the most practical way most of us can regularly and deliberately do this.

We know that. But most of us fail. And those of you who don’t fail, just know that you’re despised by the rest of us, okay?

One of the reasons why we fail, I think, is because we experience the typical male disease of thinking we have to have everything planned out and that we have to carry out all the details of our plans to perfection. I know sometimes my desire to have all my “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed has paralyzed me from taking any action — which is pretty much the worst case scenario. What I’ve found over the past little while to be most helpful and most effective is this: Just do something! Profound, right? Do something and don’t worry if it’s not perfect.

Here’s an honest look at our family devotions from tonight (and yes, this is a verbatim transcription):

Me: (Reading Proverbs 10) A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.

Susie (my 4 year old): Daddy, I know something!

Me: (Excited! She is interacting with the Word!) What is it, Sue?

Susie: Carrots are vegetables!

Me: *Audible sigh…* (Thinking: Man, you’re good at this Bible teaching thing… are you a professional?)

So, as you can see, we are a wonderful example of not doing things perfectly. I don’t always have anything good to say. Our kids don’t always listen. Sometimes I wonder if they’re even getting anything out of it.

But here’s the thing. Whether or not they get anything out of that particular night, I hope that they are blessed by the cumulative effect. I hope that win, lose, or die trying, my kids will see that their parents love them enough to open up the word to them consistently, deliberately, intentionally, and lovingly. I hope that they see that because we treasure them so much we must take them to the truth we treasure most — and we must do it consistently. I hope that as they age the composite image of their parents that they are left with is Christians who love them and who love the word of God. I hope that they see our life is found in this book, which tells us of him who is True Life.

So, men, how about some family devotions? You don’t have to do them perfectly or even perfectly consistently. But are you at least doing something?

Delighting in God in People

People

Two things have helped me begin to overcome my tendency towards being an anti-social introvert. One is circumstantial, the other is scriptural.

The circumstantial factor is the wife I married. I love my wife. Dearly. With all my heart. But when it comes to relating to people, in some respects, our natural tendencies couldn’t be any more different. She is energized by being with people. I am drained. She is never happier than when surrounded by people. My natural tendency is to thrive when completely alone.

When I read church history I have to fight the temptation to be jealous of the monks who’ve lived in complete isolation. Although I do worry about how I would eat — I’m pretty useless when it comes to food preparation. In any case, living with Stacey has changed me. Because she loves people, I’ve had to become accustomed to having people around. But honestly, God has used that to overcome much of the sinful tendencies towards isolation and self-protection in my life. So I’m thankful.

But that’s the circumstantial reason. The scriptural one is more important.

Back to the Beginning

The beginning is a good place to start. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but for much of my life I never considered relationships with other people in light of Gen 1-3. What a foolish mistake! Gen 1.26-27 says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Too Easy to Forget

Too often I simply forget these verses. I forget that humans are created in the image of God. They reflect him.  As an introvert, I like to get away from people to experience God — but nothing could be more unhelpful. While ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’, people are actually stamped with his image and likeness. God doesn’t say that about anything else — not mountains or meadows, oceans or starry skies. If you want to see God, look at people.

Now obviously we know the rest of the story: humans sin and the image of God is marred. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In my neighbour who drives me bananas and in my wife whom I love dearly, God’s image is there. The more we’re able to see that, the more we desire to see that, the more natural it will become to love people. Inasmuch as we already love our God, we’ll love people because they show us our God! The trick is getting to know people with this question in mind: ‘What do I see of my God in them?’

Essentially Communal

Notice also that when God (who, as Trinity, is an essentially communal being) wants to create mankind in his image he doesn’t create one person, but multiple people (‘Let us … in our image’ … ‘he created them‘). That’s important. We cannot reflect God as he desires to be reflected if we are alone. Each of us reflects to each other and each of us receives the blessing of seeing God as we live in community as see each other. We simply cannot delight in God if we are not living communal, relational lives, full of other people.

God is in the Differences

Both of our first parents were created in the image of God. And Adam was created to be different than Eve. And just like them, every person since reflects the image of God in a unique and different way.

I never used to think about that. I used to think that it was annoying when people were different than me. But by God’s grace, through this text, I’ve begun to see in recent years that what God was doing with Adam and Eve affects my relationships now. Just like Adam was to reflect something of God to Eve in the ways that he was different from her (and vice versa), so the people God has put in my life are different than me for a reason. They are different than me for this precise reason: God wants to show me something about himself by way of contrast.

The Greatest Commandment

Therefore, love. All the previous thoughts have helped me these past few years make more sense of Jesus’s understanding of the greatest commandment. Haven’t you ever wondered why, when he was asked for one greatest commandment, he gave two?

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt 22:36-39)

Of course he gave two. Because if you love God, you’ll love your neighbour. Because as you delight in God you see him everywhere — especially in other people. And as you love other people, you see God in them. And as you see God in them, you love God more, and you love them for showing you God. The two are one. You cannot love God without loving people who are made in his image. And you cannot truly delight in people without seeing God in them.

So I Need Grace

I pray that God will give me grace to continue to see him in people — especially in our differences — so that I would delight in them and love them so that I might delight in him and love him. I pray for this grace in increasing measure for many years to come.

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

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