Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Susannah (page 1 of 3)

He Spoke

Last night at the dinner table, we were discussing our Fighter Verse for this week at church (Exodus 34.6-7). When God speaks about himself, the first thing he says is, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression…’. I asked the two older girls which of those things about God was their favourite.

One of our girls thought that ‘merciful’ might be her favourite, but she wasn’t sure what mercy was. So we tried helping her understand the difference between mercy and grace. DA Carson talks about the difference between mercy and grace in this way:

The two terms are frequently synonymous; but where there is a distinction between the two, it appears that 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. (Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Confrontation with the World, 24-25)

Now, of course I didn’t cite Carson to my four year-old. But we did try to show her that grace and mercy are both expressions of God’s goodness to those (like us) who don’t deserve to know his goodness and couldn’t help ourselves. I think they got it.

So I asked them, ‘What are some ways that God has been merciful to us?’ I expected the usual Sunday School answers (‘Jesus!’) and not much more. What one of my daughters said, though, really gave me cause to pause and consider. She simply said ‘He spoke.’

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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?

My Kids

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

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I love my children. I absolutely delight in them. There are so many reasons why; I thought I’d list just a few.

1. They Reflect Me

Okay, this sounds really bad. But I see myself in my kids, and that makes me love them. That’s natural. That’s what all parents love to see. To be honest, I think that’s why parents often think their own kids are the cutest… because they look like the parents! I’ve always thought to myself, ‘How narcissistic is that!

But then I got to thinking about that. Why do parents take so much delight in having children who look like them? Because our heavenly Father delights in having children who look like him. And because we bear his image (even now in a distorted way) we have his heart-impulses. When I see myself in my kids or my wife in my kids and my heart warms toward them, now it doesn’t make me think I’m narcissistic so much as it turns my mind to my God who created me in his image and who finds delight in me resembling him (really, this is at the heart of the gospel!). And it makes me hope I can train my kids to reflect their heavenly Father… not just their earthly one.

2. They Don’t Reflect Me

Here’s the funny thing about kids. Even though they’re fallen and depraved, there is still a sense of innocence and purity about them; they are willing to receive and believe what they hear with all their hearts. They trust. They forgive. They are willing to be comforted by words of truth. They believe the best about people and love with all their unbroken hearts. That doesn’t reflect me. I’m stubborn and heart-hearted, slow to forgive, slow to believe, slow to respond to truth. I’m jaded when it comes to people; it is easier to look at other people as ‘sinners’ than it is ‘image-bearers.’ Jesus commended children as those to whom we should look to know how to receive his kingdom. It’s not hard to see why. My kids are not perfect — far from it. But they do show me how I should love and trust my God and love and trust others.

3. They Give Me An Excuse to Be a Kid

I often ‘joke’ about this, but it’s true. I love being a kid. Playing, running, climbing trees, telling crazy imaginary stories… I love it! But if I did that on my own, people would think I’m weird — even more so than they already do! So I’m glad my kids give me an excuse to still be a kid. I love playing with them.

4. They Show Me My Weaknesses

Inasmuch as God calls me to father like he is a father to me, my children provide me with ample opportunities to show the world that I am not my heavenly Father. I fall so far short. He is so patient with me; my impulse is to chastise right away. He is so loving with me; my impulse is to be harsh with them. He is so wise in the dispensations of his providence, leading me in ways that I will grow; I give so little foresight to the ways I lead my children. He sacrificed his most treasured possession for me; I ask my four year-old when she’ll get a job and start helping to pay some bills. He is endlessly kind; I get grouchy at the drop of a hat when my kids won’t eat, sleep, or jump right when I say. He is always available; I’m so often distracted. There is no doubt about it: my kids show me my need for grace every single day.

5. They Are Ever-Present Accountability

And not just because they’ll point out every single thing you do that they’re not allowed to do (‘Daddy, “stupid” is a bad word!’; ‘Daddy, how come you are having two bowls of ice cream?’ ‘Daddy, we’re not allowed to climb up there like that!’). They’re also a source of accountability because everything I do and say now is filtered through the grid of, ‘What example am I setting for them?’ and ‘Is this the kind of husband I want my girls to look for?’ That little check keeps me on the straight-and-narrow many times.

6. They Make Me Laugh Like Crazy

People have actually commented to me that being in my house is like living in a sitcom. A lot of days I can’t disagree. I laugh pretty hard in my home. It is full of joy and I have my children to thank for that.

7. They Help Me Understand Women

I had no sisters growing up. As a young man I clearly had no idea how to understand the first thing about women. So God made me live with four of them. One of the things I’ve learned about girls is that they’re definitely female from the time they’re born on up. I’ve had to grow in my understanding of how the fairer sex thinks, learns, interacts, expresses love, receives love, hears correction, processes reality, experiences the world… the list goes on and on. My girls have (I think) helped me to understand women better. I love them for that.

8. They Bring Me to My Knees

They make me pray. My heart is immediately broken before my God when I think of those three tender little souls. I am quickly moved to pray, casting all my cares on my Father, casting all my hope for their protection, for their future, for their little hearts on him. They make me desperate, which makes me pray, which makes me love them more.

9. They Make Me Love More

I could go on all day, but I’ll end here. They make me love my them: their smiles, their joys, the way they look to me for care and guidance, their little quirks. They make me love my wife: as I watch her care for them and treasure them and bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, I grow in my love for her. They make me love my God: Who am I that I should be blessed with such wonderful little blessings as them? I am a man too blessed for words. They increase my love a hundredfold.

The Gospel at Breakfast

Our effort to live out Deut 6.4-8 includes many conversations at the breakfast / lunch / dinner table. Here’s a little home video of one that I thought was pretty fun. 🙂

We spent breakfast this morning talking about the gospel. Thanks to Paul for the memorable little thing with the hand!

In case you can’t understand what the girls are saying, it’s ‘Christ died for our sins and was RAISED!’ (1 Corinthians 15:1-7)

A Blessing

It’s been one of my habits for some time now to give my children each a blessing before they go to sleep each night. As their father and spiritual head, I view it as my responsibility to teach, to discipline, to pray for, and to bless my kids. I want all of God’s blessing for them. First I sing them an old hymn or two, then I pray for them, with them, and then I bless them.

Pronouncing a benediction over them is a means of teaching them the word (I try to memorize biblical benedictions and use those), and invoking God’s blessing on them. It’s a joy to see how my girls have come to love it and expect it. Tonight I thought Caitie (my two year old) was asleep so I said her blessing silently–but then as I went to walk away, she sat up and asked me in her sleepy voice, ‘Daddy, do my blessing!’ How precious! I love how Susannah (my three year old) will regularly say the blessing along with me as well. Simply by the repetition, she has now learned a Bible verse that contains precious truths about who God is and what he does for his people.

While there are tremendous benefits of using the biblical benedictions, I’ve enjoyed modifying them to fit my growing understanding of who God is and what he says he’ll do. For example, when John Piper blesses his daughter, he says the Numbers 6 benediction (‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace’) he adds ‘… and someday, a godly husband.’ I love that! It reflects an understanding of God, his blessing, and what a father earnestly desires for his daughter.

When I do that same blessing, I’ll often fill out the blessing with some of the most glorious elements of the New Covenant that I’ve personally been overwhelmed to discover. So for me, it will often be, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace and life, and hope, and joy.’

Recently, however, as I’ve been greatly encouraged by reading through the opening books of the Bible I’ve been freshly reminded of the faithfulness and covenant-keeping nature of God. I’ve found my heart warmed by thinking about the fact that we are children of the promise to Abraham. I’ve been challenged by the faithfulness of God through all generations; he never changes!

I was also challenged recently by the testimony of William Kiffin who wrote a memoir not for publication (though he could have easily had it published) but simply as a testimony of God’s grace in his life for his children and grandchildren. He wanted them to know who his God was and what he’d done for him.

With those truths in mind, I created a new benediction for my children based on God’s self-revelation in Genesis and Exodus, Psalm 103 (which we’ve been memorizing at church), and the example of Kiffin. I’m still trying to work it exactly as I would like it, but here it is so far:

May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God of your father
be merciful and gracious to you
and bless you with abounding steadfast love and faithfulness
so that by the power of his Spirit
you might know peace and life and hope and joy.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

How about you? Are benedictions a part of your family worship? How do you use them? What are your favourites?

Things That Never Get Old

I took the morning off today. I took my girls for a long, long walk in their stroller, then we went to the park and played with the swings and the slide, ran around like crazy people, and played in the sand.

As we were playing, I was filled with joy and delight in all that God has given me in this life. I am overwhelmed with blessing in my life.

At the exact same time, however, I felt twinges of sadness. Why, you ask? Because I can’t remember the last time I took time and just played with my girls like that.

Life has been so busy lately. We bought a house, began renovating, and found the work that needed to be done was a lot more than we had anticipated. That, combined with the usual September busy-ness at church, has made for a long stretch of working every waking moment.

I don’t like that. Busy is not what I was created for. It robs me of joy and peace and makes me frantic and tired. It brings constant temptation to stress and anxiety (a.k.a. pride and disbelief).

Busy is not what life is for. Being busy causes me to miss out on good things. Important things. The best things.

Lately, after our day of prayer, I thought to myself, ‘I never get tired of praying. I never pray and then think that it was a waste of time. It never gets old. It’s always worth it.’ Today I had that same thought while I was playing with my girls.

That got me to thinking, what are the things in life that are always worth making time for? What are the things that never get old? What are the things you can do with your time that are always worth the investment? Here’s my first attempt at a list.

  1. Prayer — private, family, corporate prayer with brothers and sisters from church
  2. Time in the word — reading on my own, studying for preaching, sitting under preaching
  3. Going on dates with my wife — we generally just get away somewhere where we can sit and talk… I can never get enough of that
  4. Playing with my girls — especially when I haven’t wasted all my energy on everything else so that I’m too tired to enjoy them
  5. Eating meals with my family — time sitting, talking, learning fighter verses, hearing the funny things that kids think to say…
  6. Time at ‘my’ Starbucks — not that Starbucks is worth the time, but when I’m there I have a good book or just my Bible, sometimes my list of people to pray for… I sit, enjoy coffee, the change of scenery, meet with God and seek opportunities to share the gospel with the people I know there. It’s always refreshing.
  7. Preaching — I’ve found that even when I preach and feel like it was a ‘bad sermon’, I hear reports from people of how the Spirit is working in their heart. His word will not return to him void, so it’s never a waste of time to preach.
  8. Being with people — one of the saddest things that can happen in my job and in life in general is when I get so busy with ‘stuff’ that I don’t have time to be with people and open up my heart to them and have them do the same with me. The more time I have to just be with people, the more I’m amazed at how I see God in that person and the more I’m blessed by them.

These are the things that I love. I’ll never get to the end of my life and think, ‘Man, I wish I had spent less time doing those things.’ Would you have the same things on your list? What would you add / change / delete from your list?

The question I suppose I should ask is, ‘What are the things in my life that detract from these things?’ And then, is that necessary? Is it what is best?

I’m praying tonight that my God gives me grace to prioritize and wisdom to know how to find better balance so that I don’t miss out on the very things I’m put on this earth to enjoy.

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