Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: Worldview (page 1 of 2)

Why the Bible Doesn’t Make Sense

It can be both startling and surprising when I meet Christians (or engage with Christians online) who, for all their talk of Christianity, can’t seem to make sense of the Bible. How could this be?

How could it be that we would become so disoriented in our own worldview that our own book wouldn’t make sense to us?

JI Packer describes one prominent reason one reason why the Bible doesn’t make sense to people: they don’t understand sin.

iSINThe subject of sin is vital knowledge. To say that our first need in life is to learn about sin may sound strange, but in the sense intended it is profoundly true. If you have not learned about sin, you cannot understand yourself, or your fellowmen, or the world you live in, or the Christian faith. And you will not be able to make head or tail of the Bible. For the Bible is an exposition God’s answer to the problem of human sin, and unless you have that problem clearly before you, you will keep missing the point of what it says. Apart from the first two chapters of Genesis, which set the stage, the real subject of every chapter of the Bible is what God does about our sins. Lose sight of this theme, and you lose your way in the Bible at once. With that, the love of God, the meaning of salvation, and the message of the gospel will all become closed books to you; you may still these talk of things, but you will no longer know what you are talking about. It is clear, therefore, that we need to fix in our minds what our ancestors would have called “clear views of sin.” 1

‘The subject of sin is vital knowledge’ indeed. May God make us faithful to study it, know it, read the Bible, and relate to our God in light of all that he has shown us about our sin.

Notes:

  1. JI Packer, God’s Words, 70.

What if God Blessed You?

One of the many questions Christians face (especially young Christians) is, ‘What career path should I take?’ Or, ‘What kind of work should I get into?’

There are lots of good ways to think about that and lots has already been written. One of the more helpful thoughts is an old one from St Augustine: ‘Love God and do as you please.’ Surely, if true love for God is the root, he argues, whatever comes as fruit cannot be evil.

There is one more consideration, however, that I think should be a part of the conversation. And it is this: What if God really blessed your work?

I mean, what if God actually did abundantly beyond what you could ask or imagine and your work prospered wildly? If everything you started finished well and everything attempted was successful, what would it look like?

If God blessed your labour beyond your wildest dreams with fruit a hundredfold, what would be the benefit to the world? What would the blessing be? Would the world be better off? How so?

As God’s children, we’re called to be his agents of blessing. We’re called to be salt and light. We should be leaving the world a better place than we found it. So why not let that be part of the conversation when we’re considering our career choice?

If we are going to be doing something five days a week (or more!) for the rest of our lives, why not at least ask if the end result we’re labouring for actually blesses God’s world?

Photo Credits.

The Danger is in Here

The view from the path near our house

The other night I was out trying to get some exercise after a long day of sitting and studying. I was roller-blading down a path near our house, along Lake Ontario. I came to a place where there is a clearing and a couple of benches over-looking a cliff down to the beach and out to the lake.

It was a hot, still night. There were no people, no boats, no noise, just some birds out in the lake and some gnats clouding over my head.

As I sat and looked out, all was peaceful — even serene. I thought to myself, ‘You know, from here, right now, the world doesn’t look so fallen.’ The troubles of life and the strife of nations seemed very far away. ‘Maybe this old world isn’t so bad after all,’ I thought.

But then it happened; out of nowhere everything changed. My utopian vision of the world came crashing down in an instant. How? My mind drifted — just for a moment — and I had a covetous thought. Sin. Disorder. Every vile practice. All of a sudden, the world was evil again.

But where did that evil come from? Was it ‘the world?’ Was it Satan? It was me. It was in my heart. I went to that place, all by myself, not another soul around, and in a matter of moments I had corrupted it. Me: a Christian! A pastor, no less!

And that got me thinking. Sometimes we can think of the world in suspicious categories. We can assume that all is evil in the world; that we need to be protected from the world at all costs. We can treat our children like that, too. We think that if we just protect them, if we just protect ourselves, from what’s ‘out there’ then all will be okay. But that line of thinking is dangerous.

The more we focus (and teach our kids to focus) on the dangers ‘out there’ the less we see what I saw that night, that the danger is actually a much closer enemy — the enemy within. I simply cannot run away from my sin nature. No matter how much I hide from the world, no matter how ascetic I hope to become, whether I hide in sound churches, home-school conferences, or a cave in the wilderness, the ever-present sin nature in my heart is still my number one problem.

That’s important for me to consider, I think. Here’s one reason why: The more I think of the problem out there, the more I think of myself as being a victim of ‘the world.’ That leads to pride and self-righteousness which invite the opposition of God, and the wrath of God, which leads to more sin (which I subsequently blame on the world, and around and around we go). But the more I see that the problem is actually in here (in my heart), the more I see that ‘the world’ is the way it is because it is made up of people like me. That humbles me. It shows me that I need grace, wherever I go, however much I’m involved or not involved with the world. It shows me that ‘the big bad world’ is actually made up of real people, like me, in need of grace to be rescued from themselves.

It’s not that the world is out to get me, but rather, that the world is made up of people who are themselves enslaved to sin.

There is an evil to ‘the world’ and its systems, of which Christians are to be wary. We must be in the world but not of it. We must avoid worldliness, and the love of the world and the things of the world. The church as a whole, as the kingdom of God, must look entirely unlike the world.

But that doesn’t mean we hate the world or see all the problems as out there. It means I need to see that the reason I’m so drawn to the sins and the values out there is because of the danger in here, in my own heart.

Ants in the Kitchen

This morning I saw ants in the kitchen. I won’t say where… but it wasn’t it my home (thankfully!). My first thought, naturally, was disgust and repulsion. I saw them crawling all over a little section near the back of the counter and shuddered. I can’t stand when ants get inside.

Since there appeared to be no Raid around, I decided to ignore them. Besides, they weren’t near the coffee mug I had brought in to wash in the sink, so they shouldn’t really bother me. But then, when I started to wash my mug, I looked down and there was one of those little pests, crawling around in the sink! Without a second thought I filled my mug with water and sent that ant a-swimming down the drain.

About 10 seconds later another thought hit me. Proverbs 6.6-8 says this:

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

I remembered that and began to think this: How hard must it have been for those ants to get in here? I’m sure they’ve worked really hard for a long time to get where they are! And who told them to? No one, of course. They have no leader, no boss, but they are wise and work hard as long as they can, for the sake of the cause. 

But here’s the thing: What is it really worth? If an ant is found in the wrong place at the wrong time he gets trapped, sprayed, poisoned, or washed down a sink. He loses everything… for the sake of gaining pretty much nothing. But for his cause, he was willing to work–and to work hard, at that!

That was a good reminder for me this morning to get going with the day’s work. How much more do I have to work for! I actually have a Master who will call me to account. And unlike the ant kingdom, the kingdom of Christ really is worth dying for.

How much more shameful, then, if one of those little ants out-works me today…

How Simple and Shrewd Viewed Sage

I wrote this a few years ago for a different forum. I thought I might as well post it here as well. Hope you enjoy!

——–

In a place far from here three men, each on a pilgrimage met each other as they were travelling down a forlorn path. Conversation quickly revealed that the three were all desirous of reaching the same destination. One was an old man named Sage who said he had himself carved these paths many years ago. The second man was Simple, a smithy by trade, who often seemed quite pliable. The third man, a young noble named Shrewd, was wise in his own eyes and often desired to forge new paths, even as he imagined Sage had done when he was young.

As the three travelled on for some days, Sage offered direction time and again as he led them through grounds neither of the younger men had seen before. Every time he provided direction, no matter how unlikely it seemed, his word proved to be true and they found themselves to always be headed in the right direction.

Eventually, when the two young men awoke one morning, they found Sage already dressed for travel. He informed them that he had to depart for some time, but that if they followed his directions, he would meet them at the end of their journey. After some days on the path, he said, they would come to a cave. Despite what they saw, no matter how difficult the path through the cave would become, they were to keep going and not give up. This was the only route, he warned, that would take them to the land they desired.

Sure enough, after two days of walking, Simple and Shrewd found themselves at the mouth of a cave. Shrewd took a good long look at the cave, examining it from various perspectives. He warned Simple that caves such as this had been found to be perilous traps before for clueless pilgrims. Simple, however, was convinced that this was the cave he had been told they would find. Seeing that Simple would not be swayed, Sage reluctantly said he too would enter, but that Simple must go first.

As they entered the cave, they found that it travelled only down. Further and further it went, and the air got increasingly frigid. Soon it was totally black and both Simple and Shrewd were in despair for their lives. Looking ahead as far as he could, evaluating the little of the contours of the cave his eyes could discern, Shrewd began to speak:

‘Simple, this is all wrong. Anyone with a half a brain knows that a cave which leads to open land lets in light from both ends. If it is day time outside, and there is a way out of this cave, then we would be able to see light. It makes sense. To follow this path any longer is illogical. We can see that with our eyes. If you insist on staying here anymore, you will have to go it alone, because wisdom advises me to turn around.’

Simple reasoned, ‘The man Sage has never lied to me. He has led me safe this far, and even his words about this cave proved true; the way is difficult. Would it not be more foolish now to turn back, having seen that his counsel has been good thus far?’ And so he spoke to Shrewd, ‘I cannot see the light we both know we should see. But I know the man Sage, and I trust him. I will not turn back.’

So Shrewd and Simple parted ways.

Shrewd quickly, since he was moving towards the light, found his way out. Once out into the forest again, he surveyed the land, checked his compass, and headed off to forge his own path; to take the road less travelled and make his own mark. Not a mile from the cave, as he was looking at his compass, thinking hard about which way made the most sense to him, he happened to walk in between a family of bears, separating a mother from her cubs without even knowing it. He was mawled, and there he died, compass in hand, never having reached his desired land and never having carved the paths he had wanted.

After Shrewd left, Simple continued slowly through the cave. Shortly he had to feel his way along with only his hands as his sight completely failed him in the dark. Several times he hit his head or stubbed his toe, and many times he even began to question whether or not Sage’s words had been correctly spoken–or perhaps they had been misunderstood on his own part? He was, after all, an unlearned man.

But after some time of following the dark, damp, cool walls of the cave, Simple noticed that the wall on his right side disappeared and he realized that he was at a corner. Turning the corner, he caught a glimpse–could it be?–just a glimpse of light ahead. The more he walked toward it, the brighter it got, until he was finally able to walk with ease.

Coming out the other side of the cave he found his old friend, Sage to guide him the rest of the way home to the land of rest he had always desired.

How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 2

In the previous post we saw that the ancient church’s view of a historical phenomenon (namely, the Roman Empire) shifted dramatically within the space of a few generations, on account of their particular experiences with that empire.

I would suggest that we have seen something somewhat similar take place over the past few generations up until our day–though not with an empire, per se.

I think it is particularly interesting to see how many Christians lament over the end of modernism the way Jerome mourned the fall of Rome. So many of us weep over modernism as if it was a Christian creation, designed for the spread of the gospel–God’s chosen means for reaching the world.

In reality, there is little that is further from the truth. In and of itself modernism was never a friend to the gospel. Secular modernist philosophers and scientists have always used modernism as a means of attacking and discrediting the claims of the Christian faith.

For all the ways that modernism has provided a platform for displaying the truthfulness of Christianity (text criticism, archaeological studies of ancient cities, much of creation science, etc.), it was never a ‘Christian’ view.

The trustworthiness of Christianity in a modern mindset boils down to little more than making a ‘case for Christ’ logically. The trouble is that Christianity, by its very nature, will not fit in these categories.

All that we are as Christians is based on the claim that Jesus Christ was entirely God and entirely man, lived a perfect life fulfilling God’s law, suffered and died to take on the curse of the law for us who receive his righteousness, and that God really did physically and literally raise him from the dead.

But here’s the deal: I can’t prove that to you in a scientific way. I can point to evidences, but that’s all. There is something necessarily personal and experiential (existential?) about the Christian faith. What we believe is not relativism, because our believing does not determine whether something is true or false, but our faith is what saves us.

In other words, it’s something personal, internal, ‘unprovable’ that makes all the difference in the world. That’s what our religion is based on. This is the kind of thing that modernists can’t grasp. They want something to touch, to examine, to test, to prove.

So what then? Do we rejoice over the fall of Rome? Do we rush off to align ourselves with the newest invaders who have come to expose Rome’s weaknesses? Do we embrace all that is postmodernism with open arms?

I suggest that we do what Augustine did. We use this opportunity to look around and evaluate from the perspective of eternity. What about modernism was evil and passing? What was good? What reflected God? How was modernism used for the spread of the kingdom?

And then, we ought to begin asking some careful questions about the ’empire’ that is coming upon us. How can we use its strengths and its weaknesses to further the cause of the kingdom? How does postmodernism provide ways for the gospel to go forth that modernism never would?

In the end we must remember that neither modernism nor postmodernism is ‘God’s perspective.’ These philosophical mindsets are of man, and they will pass. We need to examine the world around us closely so that we can see how to better hope in, trust in, and point to the world that is to come.

How to React to the Fall of Rome – Part 1

Looking over my notes today from my early church history course, I noticed something interesting. It’s nothing new or profound, but it caught my attention anyway. The church’s response to the fall of Rome was weird, in many ways.

I think it’s necessary to lay some background before we move on.

From the founding of Christianity (Pentecost somewhere around 33AD) to 64AD the Christian church enjoyed religious protection, since it was seen by Rome as a Jewish sect. When Rome burnt in 64AD, however, Nero needed someone to blame and so he blamed the Christians.

Nero’s actions set the precedent for persecution of Christians that would last the next few hundred years. Rome was ruled by pagans who hated Christians. From the heart of Rome all the way up to places like Gaul (southern France) Christians were persecuted.

It is important to note that throughout this time period, Christians saw the hand of Satan at work in the Roman Empire, as both he and they sought to destroy Christ’s church.

Skipping ahead a few centuries, we find that in 312AD a Roman Emperor (Constantine) becomes a Christian. This is part of a monumental shift for the way Christianity and Rome came to relate. Though (contrary to popular belief) Constantine did not legislate Christianity, he did legally protect Christians from persecution.

As Christianity gained favour with the upper segments of society (it’s popular to like what the emperor likes), Rome grew in favour with the Christians as well.

Within a few generations, it seems, Christians had forgotten that Rome had for so long killed and persecuted their forefathers in the faith. Now Rome was a friend to them, and they could see it as nothing else.

This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Jerome’s reaction to the fall of Rome. In his writings, he laments the fall of the Roman empire, citing Scriptures originally speaking of Jerusalem, and now using them in reference to Rome! Christians like him wept and lamented that this ‘Christian’ empire could fall.

This is a far cry from the view of Christians who had lived only a few generations before him, who saw Satan at work through the Roman empire.

How could this shift have happened?

It happened because Christians like Jerome were so consumed with what they could see in their own time, that they lost sight of what the scriptures truly do say about kingdoms, empires, and earthly regimes.

Just as a side note, in closing, it must be noted that my personal hero, Augustine, did not fall prey to such a short view. In response to Jerome, Augustine would write letters to him, admonishing him to look past Rome to the City that will never fall. Likewise, against the pagans who said that the fall of Rome meant the fall (and failure!) of Christianity, Augustine wrote the City of God which functions as a theodicy and an apologetic to the philosophers of his day.

What does all this have to do with us and how we view history today, as it unfolds? That’s for another post.

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