A few of you may have heard of John Baillie. His most popular book is called A Diary of Private Prayer. I have been using it since 1993, almost every morning. It’s a very rich devotional tool that, no matter how often I use it, still draws me closer to the Lord.
I have not read many things by Baillie, but a few years ago I stumbled upon a collection of various sermons he had given throughout the years. They made up a little book entitled, Christian Devotion. I enjoyed reading it, but the best part of the book, for me, was a short biographical chapter written by his cousin. She did a wonderful job revealing the man behind the devotional that I have been using for years.
My favorite part of the chapter was the following description of his study – not just a few facts about what it looked like – but the life that took place in that study. I know coveting is a sin, so let me say in the most sanctified way I can, that I wouldn’t resist the opportunity, should God provide it, to have a similar study (as well as a similar ministry that took place in it!). Here’s his cousin’s description of his study…
But for those who knew him in his own home in Edinburgh, the most vivid memories of John are set in his study there, that grave book-lined room, with windows shadowed in summer by the trees of the big garden. It was a quiet room, with the noises of our modern world kept outside - no telephone, no radio, no typewriter. And it was a room with three clear focal points. There was the big uncluttered desk by the window where John sat for many hours of the day writing, in his clear beautiful handwriting, sermons, lectures, and articles, and dealing
punctiliously and courteously with the endless steam of letters which came, asking him to preach, to lecture, to advise…
And there was, as another focal point, the big leather chair, where he often sat far into the night reading – the innumerable reports and periodicals which came to him from many quarters, the most recent books of theology and philosophy, novels, poetry, biography, all seasoned (like the reading of many theologians) with a reasonable sprinkling of good “detectives.”
From chair or desk he would leap to his feet to welcome his visitors, with the outstretched hand and quick look of real pleasure which tempted them to forget how busy a man he was…. [after a long list of people came to chat with him, she writes...] Missionaries, and church leaders and theologians of many communions came to talk through their problems with him. And old friends and new came just to be warmed by his friendship.
To welcome these many visitors he would start from desk or chair. But there was a third focal point in that quiet room – the prayer desk by the window with its little pile of well-worn versions of the Scriptures and of devotional books. There, at the times when he was sure to be alone, John Baillie read and thought and worshipped. And through that daily, faithful discipline of will and mind and soul, it became true that the great theologian and Church statesman was first and foremost a man holy and humble of heart.
Amen and amen.
Grace and Truth,
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
Much has been made over the last few years about the emergence of militant atheism’s evangelistic crusade to rid the world of ignorance. Specifically, these crusaders want to enlighten the minds of the masses who still believe that God exists. For these spokesmen for atheism, belief in God is intellectually unsustainable and should by all means be abandoned. Not only that, these atheistic evangelists believe that a person’s commitment to belief in God is actually harmful to children as well as to civilization as a whole.
Thankfully, their charges have been more than sufficiently answered at every turn by faithful Christian apologists. The atheists are getting all the press, but their arguments are unable to stand up to the Light of Truth.
Yet there is a more prevalent form of atheism that lurks in our land. Indeed, it can even be found in the church. It is what Cornelius Van Til called, “practical atheism.” A practical atheist is a person who professes to believe in God, and yet the God whose existence is professed does not seem to make any meaningful difference in that person’s daily life. His beliefs, values, morals, actions, etc., are not prioritized by his supposed belief in the existence of God. Put another way: If this person was to wake up one day and decide that he no longer believed in the existence of God, his life would change very little. This is practical atheism.
In Romans 1:21, Paul describes the person who has suppressed the truth he knows about God. Paul says that in truth, all people know God exists. In fact, they even know things about his power and majesty. Yet, in order to maintain a certain way of living, they alter their belief system to accommodate their lifestyle. Like the hard atheist who formally declares that there is no God, the practical atheist denies God by the way in which he leads his life. Paul teaches us that “although they know God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”
We glorify God when we seek to live purposefully and intentionally for him each day. We glorify God when we live to please him, honor him, obey him, love him, seek to be like him, represent him, and tell others about him. That’s what a God-glorifying life looks like. It’s also a life that is grateful to God for his goodness. However, this is more than tossing out a “thank you” every now and then at the beginning of a meal. Instead, it’s more of an all-encompassing attitude of gratitude. It becomes pervasive in one’s personality. This attitude glorifies God because it exalts God as the One who is worthy of such affection and appreciation.
How are you doing with this? Are you seeking to glorify God and be thankful to him in all things? Of course, none of us is perfect at this. We can all get fairly self-absorbed and self-centered in the goings on of our lives. We all, from time to time, become too preoccupied with lesser interests.
Yet the One who should be our greatest interest has told us that we are to have no other gods before him. We are called to seek him first and foremost. We are instructed and encouraged to be holy because God is holy. His existence, in other words, should play a profound role in the lives of those who profess to believe in and follow him. He should be our ultimate Influence and his influence should saturate every sphere of our lives…for his glory and for our good.
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 4:3a – It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…
Today’s devotion will no doubt disappoint you if you came to it with the hope and expectation of learning how to decide what job to take, whom to marry, or where to move. (**Read to the end for some hope on that score.**) Those often seem to be the leading candidates when people want God’s will unveiled in their own lives. I am no different.
But quite often those desires turn to despair when it is discovered that God doesn’t say in Paul’s letter to the Romans or the Gospel of Matthew that you should indeed take that job, marry that person, or move to that place. And because it doesn’t give such specifics, folks sometimes end up frustrated over the apparent “inaccessibility” of knowing God’s will for their lives.
My usual counsel to such troubled souls is to encourage them by letting them know that God’s will can be found on virtually every page of the Bible. Today’s text gives us an example of what I’m talking about. Paul tells us in our verse:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified.
“Sanctified” is a fancy word which simply means “to be set apart.” But what does that mean? Set apart from what? Set apart for what? Well first, it means to be set apart from something – specifically, from the world, the flesh, and the devil. It means that the fallen, rebellious, autonomous, sinful patterns to which we once belonged, and which we once practiced, are to be put off, died to, and left behind.
“Sanctified” also means that we are set apart for God. In Christ God has made us his own. He is recreating us into the image of his Son. Thus, he now calls us to love him, trust him, obey him, walk with him daily, and be like him. Peter, in his first epistle – and quoting Leviticus – reminds us that God says to us, “Be holy, as I am holy.” Just a few verses from today’s text, in verse 7, Paul reminds us “…God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
When we hear Christ’s redeeming call and are born anew by the power of the Holy Spirit, we immediately (though imperfectly) begin the process of becoming what God says we already are. God, in a manner of speaking, says to us:
You are holy. Now go and be holy. Go be who you are.
To die to self, pick up your cross, and follow Christ is what it means to live a sanctified life – one that jettisons the old, fallen self, and instead, puts on Christ as of first importance and immediately seeks his righteousness.
This is God’s will for you. And I believe that the more you know God, and know of God – his person, work, ways, and word – and the more you pursue them daily and whole-heartedly in your life, the better you will be able to discern his particular will for your life – that job to take, that person to marry, that place to move.
Seek first God and his righteousness, and all those other things will be revealed to you as well (Matt. 6:33). In the mean time,
Grace and Truth,
Joshua 1:8 - May I not let Your word depart from my mouth, but meditate on it day and night, so that I may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then I will make my way prosperous, and I will act wisely. (Ken Boa paraphrase)
This verse from the first chapter of Joshua has been paraphrased in the first person to remind us that God’s Word has application in our lives. It is, in a manner of speaking, addressed to us.
That’s quite relevant in light of the fact that this single verse is exhorting and instructing us to saturate ourselves in God’s Word. Why? Because that’s where we meet God…hear God…are confronted and instructed by God. In short, it is where we learn to act wisely.
I pray for wisdom on a daily basis, All of Scripture encourages me to do so. James puts it bluntly in the first chapter of the book that bears his name. Verse five reads,
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
It doesn’t get any plainer than that. Ask for wisdom and God will give it…generously. That seems simple enough. Yet what I have learned over the years of my spiritual pilgrimage is that this “formula” does not work like a magic genie in a lamp. You don’t rub the lamp and make a wish. It doesn’t operate like taking an aspirin for a headache. You don’t take two tablets and get wisdom in the morning.
Instead, our text from Joshua gives us a pretty good understanding about how to attain wisdom. If the wisdom we want is God’s wisdom, and God has revealed his wisdom to us in and through his Word, then it would behoove us to read, study, mediate upon, pray over, and apply – SATURATE ourselves – with that source of wisdom. If we want God’s wisdom to rub off on us and really get into our spiritual bloodstreams – into our hearts and minds – then we have to do the hard work of “not letting it depart from us.” We will want to “meditate on it day and night.” We will want to be “careful to do according to all that is written in it.” Only then will we become prosperous and begin to act wisely.
That’s the cost to this component of faithful discipleship. It’s not easy and it certainly does not come instantly. This is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. But it is a pearl of great price that is worth more than we can possibly imagine. It’s worth the cost and then some.
One last thought: I’m not sure when I will know that “I’ve arrived” and received the wisdom that I’ve been desperately praying and striving for. Do we “arrive” when it comes to wisdom? What does that even mean? Does a wise person think that he or she is wise? That doesn’t seem to fit with my understanding of wisdom. I think I’ll just pursue it, with God’s grace, all the days of my life and leave it to my heavenly Father, if he so chooses, to one day let me know how I did.
Grace and Truth,
Assorted Texts from Luke 12
Time spent in the gospels has been time well spent. As I have listened to my Lord’s words I have been able to discern themes that run near and dear to his heart. I guess these themes are fairly obvious and would be hard to miss even to the casual reader. What impresses me, I suppose, is the sheer frequency of certain teachings from our Lord. There’s a sense of urgency about them. Today’s reading in Luke 12 is an example.
Luke 12:1 – “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…”
Luke 12:15 – “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed…”
Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Whether we are talking about false teachings and practices of religious leaders, temptation and sin in our own lives, or the consummation of all things at the return of the King, we are commanded to be on guard, to watch out, to be ready.
This theme of preparation appears and reappears much in Jesus’ teaching. As repetition for rabbis in the first century was a didactic tool or technique – to ensure a vital point was made and received – we do well to pay careful attention here. It would be akin to a school teacher in our day writing a point on a chalkboard and saying, “If I’m taking the time to write this out, you can bet it will appear on your exam.” We ignore such warnings to our peril. (feel free to insert whatever present-day technological version of this illustration is apt.)
What strikes me about this is the call on our part for disciplined intentionality. For you cannot casually or lazily “be on guard,” or “watch out,” or “be ready.” We could endlessly cite analogies from the world of sports or the military to show just how essential such intense, intentional, and disciplined preparation is. Without it, the game is lost, the city taken, the soul forfeited.
If I let my guard down today, it is true that Jesus may not return… this day. But I don’t think that’s the main point of our Lord. Instead, we must consider what the accumulation of days with a lowered guard will do to a person. The spiritual atrophy that would set in would be catastrophic to an individual. The dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil would enlarge in that person’s life with one of two results. The first is that the person would possibly wake up, only too late to put up any real fight, and thus lose the battle. The second possibility would be that the person would never awaken from their slumber and thus become an occupied territory unaware. In either case, without a work of divine grace, the battle is lost, and perhaps even the war.
We do well to heed our Master’s words today – to be on guard continually, to always be ready, and to constantly watch out. For our foes are nearer to us and subtler that we can imagine. Only an intentional and disciplined watchman on the high wall of the citadel of the soul can and will be properly prepared.
Let us, therefore, be ready. For I can think of nothing worse than to fall in battle, knowing that I could have easily seen the attack coming and prevented it…if only I had listened to and obeyed my King.
Grace and Truth,
Selected verses from Deuteronomy 11
“Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.”
With these words of the first verse of Deuteronomy 11, God, through Moses, gave Israel a purpose. Her purpose was to “keep his requirements.” Keep “his decrees, his laws and his commands…always.” That’s a pretty clear purpose.
But there’s more to it. It also included a “what that looks like” portion. If the Israelites would be obedient to God, they would take the land – the Promised Land – which God had set before them. Obedience would be tough, but God also let them know that it would be well worth their efforts. In verses 11-12 we read:
But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.
The blessing of obedience to the covenant is that Israel would get all this and more. The curse of disobedience of the covenant was that she wouldn’t…and more.
Obedience is an essential part of purpose. What would be the point of knowing your purpose – what you were created for – if you didn’t pursue it? It’s only as we obey God, follow Christ, die to self, count others better than ourselves by serving them, extend God’s Kingdom into every sphere of life, etc., that we discover God’s blessing for our lives – which may take on different manifestations in our lives as we travel down the path... the right path.
But can any of us hope for more than the knowledge that the eyes of the Lord our God are continually on it [our purpose] from the beginning to the end?
Grace and Truth,
A couple of years ago one of the men of our church shared with me a little about his Kairos Prison Ministry retreat that he had just been a part of. One of the things he told me was that since the prisoners don’t often get to eat any sweets in prison, many of them attend the Kairos weekend “for the cookies.” In other words, they want a less stressful weekend… some cookies and other good food… but not necessarily Jesus. Jesus just happens to be there with the cookies.
My friend then commented about how wonderful it is for the men who run the retreat to watch the transformation of these same prisoners over the course of the weekend. On the first day of the retreat the prisoners almost boastfully declare that they are there for the cookies. However, over the course of the weekend, as the Spirit moves in and through the men, the Word, prayer, fellowship, testimonies, etc., those same “cookie-seeking” men (at least many of them) really do encounter Christ and are truly changed by his Spirit.
For those who “come to Christ” and his church for dubious reasons, God often “stoops to conquer.” That is, God will often show up and lavish his grace upon a person, regardless of why that person “thinks” he or she is there. When a person, even unwittingly, puts himself or herself in the way of grace, Spirit-led change takes place.
Just think of these examples…
It’s easy to judge such people. We think we know what’s going on in their hearts. And it is true that some folks might do all of this and more, and then leave... only having eaten a few cookies. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we are too easily pleased. A holiday at the shore is offered us, but we’re content making mud pies in a mud puddle. Yet, instead of judging such folks, let our hope be that they brush up against God’s grace and that God’s grace will be filed away in that person’s heart for God to use at a later time. That should be our prayer.
So let folks come for the cookies. And let us pray that they genuinely meet our Lord and come to know, love, and follow him… and stay for the feast.
Grace and Truth,