My friend Josh decided to blog about my wife. Sweet.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Monday, September 25, 2006
Mutual communion is the soul of all true friendship and a familiar converse with a friend hath the greatest sweetness in it ... [so] besides the common tribute of daily worship you owe to [God], take occasionto come into his presence on purpose to have communion with him. This is truly friendly, for friendship is most maintained and kept up by visits; and these, the more free and less occasioned by urgent business ... they are, the more friendly they are. ... We use to check our friends with this upbraiding, You still [always] come when you have some business, but when will you come to see me? ... When thou comest into his presnce, be telling him still how well thou lovest him; labour to abound in expressions of that kind, than which ... there is nothing more taking with the heart of any friend.
As cited in JI Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 208.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 12:16 PM
Tim Challies recently posted some reasons why God will not answer our prayers. About the same time I was wondering about unanswered prayer and got to thinking that perhaps much of what we call unanswered prayer is really prayer that we simply don't see answered. The reasons for this could be legion, but here's one that stuck out to me: Many times we don't know what we're praying for, or what the answer will look like.
Our church recently held a 'week of prayer.' In one of the meetings we focused on prayers of contrition as a theme, emphasizing our absolute dependence on God for all things. In our last meeting we prayed prayers of dedication to God, committing our future plans and ministry hopes to him to do with as he sees fit. In both of these cases many prayers were offered to God, begging him to keep us humble and to demolish pride in all its subtle forms in our hearts.
That got me to thinking.
Those are wonderful and biblical things to pray! But how do we know when those prayers have been answered? Sometimes I think we expect God to answer those prayers by simply changing our hearts overnight so that we never are tempted to pride again. But that's not a biblical expectation.
What is a more likely answer to that prayer? It's more likely that God will bring hardships or persecution. He may allow me to fall into some sort of sin, or else have some secret sin in my heart exposed before others. It is in these types of ways that God strips us of our self-reliance and our sinful, blind desire for and pride in autonomy. Pride is too deeply ingrained in our personalities, thought processes, and decision-making capacities for us to deal with it any other way.
How can we put pride to death when we don't know where it is?
Looking back over my life I can see that many times God has answered my prayers in ways that I have not expected. More often than not when I sincerely pray for humility and for the Lord to destroy sin in my life, that prayer is answered with suffering or the exposure of sin in my heart. The trouble is that since I wasn't expecting this as an answer to prayer, I don't see it as one at the time, and then I get upset and cry out, 'Why would you let this happen to me, God?'
But it's all grace. He gives grace in the trial, he gives grace for increased faith, he gives grace as he humbles us so that we might increasingly depend on him in love.
This is just one example, but I think it illustrates the point well. From our end prayers often seem to go unanswered. I wonder if often we are just looking for the wrong type of answer.
Just for fun, here's an awesome hymn by John Newton that illustrates the same point:
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, his face.
‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once he’d answer my request;
And by his love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
LORD, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“‘Tis in this way, the LORD replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in me.”
Posted by Julian Freeman at 11:15 AM
Thursday, September 21, 2006
This morning, as my wife and I were making the commute in to the downtown area of Toronto (I drop her off at work before heading in to the seminary) we hit traffic. Now, for anyone who knows anything about Toronto, you'll know that hitting traffic in Toronto is like getting wet in the rain--this is not a big surprise.
What was surprising was where we hit the slow-down. Usually at this spot in our trip, the traffic is moving well, so I began to wonder what the deal was. Then we came around a bend in the road and I realized, 'ah, we're heading east, around sunrise' (can't wait for those clocks to shift...). I said to Stacey something to the effect of, 'rats, we've got the sun in our eyes.'
And then I stopped to take another look. I was overwhelmed for some reason this morning by the brightness of the sun (maybe the fact that it was rising directly in front of my eyes had something to do with it...). As 'chance' (i.e. providence) would have it, just as those words were out of my mouth the song 'Your Holy Majesty' by Mark Altrogge (who doesn't love Mark Altrogge?!) came on our stereo. Of course, the first verse has these words:
You are high above all thingsI had to chuckle out loud. God is so good!
The heavens can’t contain
Your radiance and Your beauty
You shine brighter than the sun
I’m ravished and undone
You’ve conquered me completely
Now I am longing for the time
When I will see Your (holy majesty)
Immediately my thoughts turned heaven-ward. The heavens are the largest possible expanse we can fathom, but they can't contain the radiance and the beauty of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus. He shines brighter than the sun!
What an awesome thought!
I started thinking about what an incredible sensation it will be to be completely surrounded, engulfed, warmed--totally and truly delighted--in the glory and splendour of the one who loved my soul enough to die for me.
Of course, this isn't Mark's own original concept. He's building off of some large biblical images, not the least of which is Rev 21.23-25:
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.Some Christians these days say we need to not think about heaven so much and to start thinking about this world more, since that's where we live now. I agree that as Christians we need to be salt & light in this world, but never, ever, not even for a second, will I agree that we need to think less about death and the realities of heaven and hell. There is nothing that delights my heart more in all the world than the reality of the hope of one day seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ--finally being able to be with him. He is all my glory and all my delight.
For now we know in part... then we shall see him, the lover of our souls. I only regret that I am so slow to turn my own heart and my thoughts to him and the realities of heaven and it often requires great acts of providence such as this to get me there.
Here are all the words for the Altrogge song, 'Your Holy Majesty.' You can hear a clip of it here:
The heavens can’t contain
Your radiance and Your beauty
You shine brighter than the sun
I’m ravished and undone
You’ve conquered me completely
Now I am longing for the time
When I will see Your
Holy Holy Majesty
Your glory and Your splendor
Holy Holy Majesty
You fill my soul with wonder
And unspeakable delight
At just the sight
Of Your Holy Majesty
Why would You shed Your own blood
For those who spurned Your love
And so many times refused Your grace
Why would You take up our curse
Why did You love us first?
Oh You deserve eternal praise
Now I am longing for the time
When I will see Your
Mark Altrogge (c) 2001 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)
All rights reserved. Use only by permission.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 2:39 PM
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Here's something I wrote a few years back when the preacher was in Colossians (I think). I just came across it on my computer and so I thought I'd throw it up here in hopes that it might encourage some.
"... strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might,
for the attaining of all steadfastness..." - Col. 1:11
It is not with any human power that the Christian overcomes sin. In iniquity we are conceived and in iniquity we dwell from the womb to the grave, except by the grace of God. We were all dead in transgressions and sins, and we all served the prince of this world. The Lord looks into our hearts and sees they are desperately wicked and deceitful above all else. He sees that every intention of every thought is only evil continually. He sees that the carnal mind is at enmity with Him and cannot submit itself to Him—nor would it. We were slaves to sin, and without the grace of God at this very moment, you, Christian, are still a slave to your passions. It is only through the strengthening that He provides that we have power. And what power! Were you to live a thousand lives in a thousand lands, you could never behold the great power of our God. When my God appears and demands of man, "Gird up your loins ... I will ask you and you will instruct Me", who is he that can stand? No man can stand before my God.
God has brought us to Christ Jesus and preserved us so that neither tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, life, angels, principalities, things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any created thing can separate us from Him! He is the Creator and in Him all things hold together and have their being. Behold the power of your God!
So what is this power to you and to me? It is the power available for the mortifying of sin—the power to make us steadfast. Do you long for integrity? Do you long to see victory in the darkest corners of your heart? Then call on God to give you this power! When temptation comes to despair, remember that when God is for us—though all the world may strive against us—we are more than conquerors through His power!
Are you afraid to ask? Remember Christ's promise that "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." And as Paul encouraged Timothy, we have not been given a spirit of timidity, but one of power! Take hold of this power and destroy the idols in your heart, Christian!
Are you afraid your request will fall on deaf ears? "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Christian, take heart, and go forth this day and be steadfast—for the Lord Himself strengthens you.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 1:04 PM
Friday, September 15, 2006
Good old C.H. Spurgeon had these words to share as he commented on Ps 119.15:
We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: if we would have wine from it, we must bruise it; we must press and squeeze it many times. The bruiser’s feet must come down joyfully upon the bunches, or else the juice will not flow; and they must well tread the grapes, or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. So we must, by meditation, tread the clusters of truth, if we would get the wine of consolation therefrom. Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process which really supplies the muscle, and the nerve, and the sinew, and the bone, is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with the inner life. Our souls are not nourished merely by listening awhile to this, and then to that, and then to the other part of divine truth. Hearing, reading, marking, and learning, all require inwardly digesting to complete their usefulness, and the inward digesting of the truth lies for the most part in meditating upon it. Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord, and be this our resolve this morning, “I will meditate in thy precepts.”In our day it is trendy to be busy. We think we're important if we're the busiest person in any crowd, always in a rush to get on to the next thing. May God give his people grace to make the time to meditate on his word, making it always our priority.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 2:00 PM
Thursday, September 14, 2006
In my own devotions I've just finished reading through the book of Isaiah. I must say that I think one of the reasons why our churches today are so weak and shallow, and have such a small view of God is that we don't read our whole Bible. I know so many Christians who just simply don't want to read the Old Testament for one reason or another. What a tragedy!
This time through Isaiah has been my favourite so far. Isaiah's God is so wonderfully transcendent, yet so amazingly concerned for the poor; so profoundly righteous, so awesomely just; forever concerned with making the whole world to know that he--YHWH--is God, and there is no other.
One of the other things that really struck me this time is how much the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah. It's amazing! I don't know how I never noticed it before. And not just Paul, either--the New Testament authors seem to love the book of Isaiah. The cool thing is that so many times when an NT author quotes Isaiah it is to say some pretty remarkable things about our Lord Jesus. Here are just a few examples that stuck out to me the past couple of days.
1. Isaiah 60.1-2, quoted in Ephesians 5.14. This passage in Ephesians 5 is cool because Paul takes a saying of Isaiah about YHWH and then directly applies it to the New Covenant believers in Ephesus, saying that all the truth of the person and holiness of God is found in the man Christ Jesus, who is none other than God himself.
2. Isaiah 60.19-20, quoted in Rev 21.23 and 22.5. Make sure you read both of those references. In Isaiah the promise is given that in the New Jerusalem there will be no need of sun or moon YHWH (his specific, personal name) will be the light in that place for his people. In Revelation, John says that the glory of God--which is paralleled with the lamb of God (i.e., Jesus) will be the light. In other words, Jesus and YHWH are One. Now this is an obvious theme throughout Revelation, but it's that much cooler when you read it in the context of Isaiah and all that you've heard over the past 60 chapters about the glory of God.
Too often we either don't want to read our Old Testament or else we read it as quickly and superficially as possible because we think it has nothing to say to us. In reality, all its truth speaks of Jesus, who has everything to do with us if we claim to be Christians.
So get in the Word! Remember that every word is God-breathed and useful to us, so that we can be equipped to do the work of God that he has called us to.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 5:47 PM
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
I've been blogging infrequently since I've been back in town lately. 'Why,' you ask? Thanks for your concern. For one thing, it's our 'Autumn Week of Prayer' at church, which has kept me out at prayer meetings every day. For another thing, I've started back into classes this week. Normally that's pretty manageable... unfortunately, this year I've started Hebrew. Oi.
For those of you who'd be interesting in seeing something a little bit fun, check this site out. Our Hebrew Prof recommended it.
Back to the grindstone for now...
Posted by Julian Freeman at 12:44 PM
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Well, another year is getting underway at TBS. As a result, I'll be away for the next few days at a staff / student retreat up north-east of here. Kirk Wellum (or "kwellum" as the preacher likes to call him) will be preaching several messages to us from the word. I hope to post some reflections on my return.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 9:21 AM
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
I guess, technically, my last post on 'poverty of spirit' was here, but I've since posted on humility here and here as well.
As we've seen in the other posts, there are many things which can cause us to lose our poverty of spirit and to become proud. Sometimes we lose sight of who God really is, which means that we lose our absolute standard by which we are judged, and therefore, humbled. We begin to compare ourselves against other men (Rom 2.1-5), rather than against the holy law (Rom 3.19-20) of God and the glory of God (Rom 3.21-23)--God's standards of judgment.
So what else causes Christians to lose this one characteristic which is the entrance-way to the kingdom of Christ (Mt 5.3)?
I would suggest that as North American evangelicals we don't spend enough time considering our sin. When we don't consider it, we don't recognize its seriousness. When we don't recognize how serious it is, or how evil our hearts which produce such sin are, we don't confess our sin. When we don't confess our sin and beg for mercy we quickly become proud.
We would do well to take our cues from David. Few followers of God have been as passionate and had their lives and hearts exposed quite as much as David. Many of us have fallen into sin, but few of us have had it exposed in public and written down for all generations to remember like David.
You'll remember that in 2 Sam 11 David sins, and then in the next chapter, is exposed and rebuked by Nathan. When Nathan comes to speak to David about his sin, he tells David there will be consequences for his sin. Here's the part we sometimes forget, though: Nathan says, 'The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.' In other words, God has already shown mercy to David; his sin is forgiven and he will not be judged because of it.
This is important because it happens before the confession of sin that we read in Psalm 51. David, having heard from the prophet that his sins have been 'put away', now prays a prayer of confession and repentence, begging and pleading with God for mercy. He begins his prayer this way:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love,Sometimes we read this and on account of our familiarity we don't stop to think about it. David, as king, would be familiar with the process of begging one in authority for mercy--people would come to him often for that very reason. When one came to a king to beg for mercy, what would their posture be? How would they present themselves to the king? What would be their general demeanour? To be sure, it would be one of brokenness and utter dependence. They would fall prostrate before the one who held their lives in his hands. They recognized that whether they lived or died, were forgiven or condemned was entirely up to him--their life was not under their control any longer.
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
How often do we come to God in confession and brokenness like this? Why don't we? One reason why we don't is that too often we presume on God's grace. We think that because we are told in Scripture that our sins are forgiven in Christ, there is no longer any need for us to come to God in this sort of contrition--we forget that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God who is a consuming fire! We forget that David, who had specifically been told he sins had been put away, still took the time to come to God in brokenness and contrition and recognize his shortcomings.
Another reason we don't come to God in confession like this is that we forget our sins are against God. We, like David, commit sins against other people, and so we think we should confess and apologize to them, giving little thought to the fact that our sin has been offence to the very person and dignity of God.
Ps 51.4 says, 'Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.' Has that verse ever puzzled you? David had been unsatisfied with all his other wives, committed adultery against Bathsheba and made her to commit adultery, stolen the wife of Uriah, and then murdered Uriah, forcing Joab to become an accomplice; this is all to say nothing of the whole nation of Israel that David was letting down as he was the supposed leader of God's people. The list of people that David had sinned against are endless here. Where would David get this crazy idea that he had sinned against God and God alone?
He got the idea from God himself.
Back in 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan originally confronts David about his sin, he speaks the word of God to David, saying, 'Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' And just in case David didn't catch it the first time, Nathan repeats it a few verses later: 'Because, by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.' The point that God is stressing through his prophet is that ultimately when we sin we choose to reject God.
God has promised us pure pleasure and ultimate joy in him, but we reject him and his offer when we choose the fleeting pleasures of sin. We distrust him. We belittle his promises of great grace and everlasting, soul-satisfying joy in fellowship with him. David had heard the promises of God, but instead chose a few days of pleasure with a woman who was forbidden to him. The whole lie of sin is that the joy we find in it is better than the joy that can be found in God.
But that is a lie. It is a lie from Satan who is the father of all lies. When we sin we outright reject God and by our actions say to him that we prefer whatever pleasure we can find in sin to anything good we see in him.
David understood this, but I think we have in large part forgotten it today. We forget that sin is an offence against God. It is an insult to him. We mock him. No wonder David was so quick to confess. No wonder he fell on his face before his God and begged with him for mercy and grace.
We ought to do the same. Ultimately, recognizing who our sin is against--and refusing to presume on his grace--will lead to great recognition of the seriousness of our sin, which will lead to more confession of sin. Confession of sin leads to brokenness of heart. Brokenness of heart and recognition of guilt are essential to maintaining a poverty of spirit that God blesses.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 8:51 AM
Monday, September 04, 2006
Friendship is a wonderful thing. Christian friendship is infinitely better. In fact, I think it would be correct to say that only Christians can experience true friendship.
From a biblical standpoint, one's will and affections are ultimately rooted in his heart. If the heart of an individual is unregenerate, his only love is self-love; he only seeks his pleasure, his heart is proud, and he delights in evil. His will and affections, then, from whence friendship must flow are perverted.
But the heart of a Christian is different. The heart of a Christian is primarily oriented towards the worship and enjoyment of God. From this type of heart, friendship will simply be a partnership in achieving this goal. In other words, a friend is one who loves God by displaying God to me, that in our friendship I might see more of God and thus love God more. In our friendship, I will enjoy God to greater degrees than I had previously known, because I experience the life of God and the mercy and love of God in my friendship with another Christian.
It is at this point in particular (the theocentricity of friendship) where Augustine departed from philosophers who had come before him and had attempted to define true friendship. “While friendship by classical writers is described as a search together for beauty, truth, and wisdom, in Christian friendship, the search ultimately leads friends to the source who is Beauty, Wisdom, Truth, and Love.” God being the ultimate object of all human desire is not a new theme to Augustine in the Confessions, but here it is introduced as the very basis of all Christian friendship: Helping one another pursue our Sovereign Joy.
Perhaps the most profound element of friendship in Augustine’s thought is the idea that in friendship, one will fulfil the twofold commandment. Augustine here adapts Cicero’s definition of friendship, which involved simply doing what is best for the other person, in a reciprocal relationship. “If God is seen as the highest good towards which everything must be directed and if all love must focus on God before all else for it to be truly Christian, friendship among Christians gains a new perspective.” For Augustine then, you are loving God and loving another as yourself by helping him to love God, which is his greatest good, which in turn he will do for you, as this is your greatest wish for yourself as well. Friendship for friendship’s sake—even friendship for the other person’s sake—is no longer in view at all in Augustine’s thought.
This friendship which is centred entirely on God and his goodness benefits all involved by helping them to gain a clearer vision of him. “Sage has observed that the anima una ‘est pour S.Augustin, à partir de 407, l’énigme et le miroir par excellence où il nous est donné dès ici-bas à comprendre, comme nous le pouvons, le mystère de Dieu’.” To Augustine, the most valuable friend in the world is the one who can best reveal God to him and push him to pursue God. In short, “Augustine thinks of friendship as beginning, continuing and ending in God—friendship is participation in the life of God.”
Augustine never reached the goal of friendship he desired in this life, because what he desired was none other than God himself, and the pure unadulterated fellowship with fellow humans which flowed out of that. “His ideal was no earthly society but a heavenly community of mutually loving members of the City of God (described as ‘a perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God and a mutual fellowship in God’) and only here would men be able to know one another completely and to form a perfect intimacy, as friends aimed to do.” But that day has now come for Augustine, and will soon come for us. The lesson for us in the meantime is to pursue God and to pursue friendships in which we can push others in their pursuit of God and find ourselves encouraged as well—and to do so with all the strength and vigour that Augustine did.
For more on this, see here.
 Carolinne White, Christian Friendship in the Fourth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 197.
 As quoted in White, Christian Friendship, 210.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 12:00 PM
Friday, September 01, 2006
It never ceases to amaze me how God works themes into our lives so that we keep learning the same lessons in various places and ways. This past Sunday the preacher was preaching from Romans 13 and the Christian obligation to submit to authority, since authority is established by God. One of the obvious points of application was obeying the speed limit.
While this may or may not prick your conscience, it sure got me thinking. I've always just thought of the speed limit as one of those things that no one really intends for you to follow. This Sunday, however, got me thinking about the type of heart that speeds and drives as aggressively as I have been known to from time to time. It's not just a matter of obeying the letter of the law--it is a heart of rebellion. It's a heart that wants to control its own destiny. It's a heart that thinks where I need to go and when I need to be there is more important than where anyone else is going, or anyone else's safety. That's not a heart of submission at all--to God or to eathly authority.
Somehow this seems, in my mind anyway, to tie in to this next thought that a brother challenged me with a couple of days ago. Here is a quote from an article by Henri Nouwen:
But in the spiritual life, the word discipline means "the effort to create some space in which God can act." Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create space in which something can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on.I've been working really hard lately at trying to be more disciplined in some little areas of my life, in hopes of reeping fruit in some larger battles within my heart. I've been working on a regular bedtime and waketime, developing a few spiritual disciplines that I have let slip, working harder, staying focused, etc. To me that seemed like good discipline; making everything rigid and scheduled, always planning ahead.
But then I read this quote and it got me thinking. What I tend to value is busy-ness and accomplishing tasks, rather than the pursuit and enjoyment of godliness. Often I get so caught up in my Christian chores (devotions, seminary work, church work, etc.) that I forget I'm supposed to be serving and enjoying God. It becomes more about the task than the experience of God, or the glorification of God that the task was intended to accomplish. That's not discipline. That's just being a task-driven person.
I suppose these things relate because in both areas I've seen God challenging me to slow down. But how do you slow down and not do less? The things that I do are not things that I would like to stop doing (nor is it God-glorifying to quit a course part way through).
Maybe it means I need to take on less. Or maybe it means I need to learn to manage my time better. Maybe it means I need to prioritize more. Whatever it means, I'm grateful that God is patient with me and my painstakingly slow sanctification and my slowness to learn what he desires to teach me.
Posted by Julian Freeman at 10:23 PM