Spiritual Darkness – and Light

1 John 1

Saturday, October 15, 2022

It is impossible for me to read this opening statement in 1 John 1:1 without immediately thinking of its strong parallel to John 1:1. John 1:1 says in the beginning was the word and 1 John 1:1 says that all they have seen and heard and touched – that was from the beginning (what beginning?) concerning the word of life. John was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry, so he may be referring to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. There is a lot to unpack here, so I will leave that for another day, but you can think about some of these correlations.

John says that they are proclaiming the word so that his readers may have fellowship with John and his community, as well as fellowship with God and Jesus through the ministry of the word (that is an implication of having true fellowship with John et. al.). Also, John emphasizes that he is writing these things so that joy may be made complete. True joy, that transcends all circumstances, is a direct result of having fellowship with God and Jesus in a life of faith (see also James 1 for insight into the relationship between authentic faith and joy).

John then gets into a dichotomy between light and darkness. God is light and in him there is no darkness, therefore if we are walking in darkness (not in the midst of darkness but having elements of darkness ingrained into our life) we do not have fellowship with God. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that we can live a dualistic life embracing both God’s will and abiding in the ways of the world. Purity of heart precludes us from walking in darkness. If we’re doing this (walking in darkness), the implication is that we are liars and live a life that is antithetical to the truth.

Conversely, if we walk in the light (i.e., the truth, abide in the word), we have true fellowship with one another and we have our sins cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Walking in light does not mean that we have no sin, that would be a ridiculous assertion, but it means that we do not live lives defined by sin. We all stumble, but there is a difference between falling short and living in sinful pursuit. Our self-deception can come from being double-minded, or from a false notion that being forgiven makes us sinless. We are free from the bondage of sin through Christ, but we still fall short of perfection. In confessing our sin (and repenting of it), we are cleansed and through our faith are counted as righteous. If we don’t acknowledge our sinfulness, how can we confess (we can’t!)? Worse than deceiving ourselves, if we deny that we sin, we make God out to be a liar!

It’s not a good look to make God out to be a liar, so I would strongly encourage each of us to take into consideration our behaviors and not try to explain them in a way that denies the authority of scripture to call out wicked behavior and attempt to justify our (sinful) behavior as acceptable. Sin is offensive to God, so we should not attempt to explain it away as inoffensive. Confession is a powerful tool, and we should be quick to utilize this, rather than explain away or double down on any sinful elements that encroach on our lives. It is better to suffer for doing what is right now (deny our sinful desires) than to embrace sin and deception now and miss out on the amazing Kingdom of God (which will trump all imaginable satisfaction in this life).

-J.J. Fletcher

Reflection:

1. Do I regularly confess my sin to God? Do I confess my sin to other believers (1 or 2 people who you can trust) and reap the benefits of having accountability in brothers or sisters (who likely have had similar struggles) that can speak truth into my life?

2. What am I doing that could constitute self-deception? How might you assess and address this?

3. What relationships do I have that allow people to speak truth into my life? Do I surround myself with yes men? Do I live in an echo chamber? What changes can I make in my life that can help me more effectively eliminate sinful habits?

The Long Game

James 1

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The letter of James has some of the most immediately practical wisdom you can find in the Bible. Some have called it the “Proverbs of the New Testament.” If you are looking for guidelines about how a Christian should live, James is a great place to start.

The only problem is that some of James’ advice is hard to take: 

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but when I’m going through difficult things in life, I’m not feeling joy. Isn’t joy supposed to be reserved for things that are… joyful? Isn’t joy for when people get married, or when babies are born, or when a new season of your favorite show is available to stream, or when you are going to have tacos? Yes, joy is for the good things in life.

So why does it sound like James is telling us to enjoy suffering? Is he insane?

Well, no. In order to understand what he is saying, we have to think of the long game. We’re not to be joyful because of the difficult times we are facing, but because of the growth potential they provide for us. Going through things teaches us to endure, and being able to endure makes us more mature and complete. Pressures shape us into stronger people. Recall that if you subject carbon to intense heat and pressure, you get diamonds!

Consider any elite athlete. They didn’t get where they are by accident, but through years of difficult and intense training. Do you think they truly enjoyed all of that training? Of course not, but I bet they did enjoy knowing that through their training, they were going to be the GOAT at their sport.

If you want your muscles to become stronger, you have to progressively challenge them. Likewise, when our faith is challenged, it also becomes stronger. James is asking us to take on the right attitude of joy during our times of discomfort, because we know that through those challenges, we are deepening and growing our faith.

In thinking about all these things, I’m reminded of the time Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, under unimaginable distress because he knew he would soon lose his life. Imminent death is the kind of thing that would test anyone’s faith, even Jesus. He didn’t want to go through with it any more than you’d want to drive a stake into your own eye socket. In his situation, I would have been tempted to just run away and wash my hands of the whole thing. I’d say to myself, “This whole messiah business has taken quite a turn and I just want a quiet life somewhere.” I can imagine he had that same temptation. Surely he didn’t enjoy being betrayed, put on trial, scourged, and nailed to a piece of wood to die in total humiliation.

Jesus didn’t have to do what he did, but he was thinking of the long game. Yes, he knew he would face a horrible death, but deep in his heart he had something resembling joy. Not joy because of the circumstances he was enduring, but because of what was just over the horizon. It was this joy and hope that allowed him to muster the strength to say with his dying breath, “It is finished.” He knew that his dying would mean, paradoxically, conquering over the powers of sin and death, and leading us on a mass exodus out of their clutches. He knew that his resurrection would unleash a new reign of God on the earth and again put us at one with God.

Jesus did what he did because he was thinking of us.

-Jay Laurent

A couple questions to reflect on:

1. What are some trials or difficult times that you have had to endure?

2. Can you think of any ways you grew as a result of these times?

Rejoice Always

1 Thessalonians 5

Thursday, September 1, 2022

I have always loved 1 Thessalonians 5:16.  It is a very short verse.  In fact, in Greek, it is the shortest verse with only 2 words that combined have a total of 14 characters, whereas John 11:35 is 3 words with a combined total of 16 characters.  However, this verse has a big message behind those two words.
1 Thessalonians 5:16 is all about joy.  It commands you to have joy and to express it all the time.  This is a command that is repeated throughout many other passages in the Bible, including Philippians 4:4 and Psalm 32:11.  But, how many of us are constantly showing joy?  We all have times in our lives when it is hard to show joy.  For some people it may be the morning when they just woke up.  For others it might be right after finding out bad news.  Whatever it may be, you have had it try to stop you from feeling joy.  But, we need to each make the choice to choose joy.  In choosing joy, you are choosing to focus not on the problems you are momentarily facing, but on the gifts that God has given you.  We need to not choose joy sometimes, but all the time.


However, having joy all the time only partially fulfills what you are being commanded to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16.  You are supposed to be rejoicing!  Rejoicing is more than just having the feeling of joy.  It is expressing that feeling of joy.  When I think of showing joy, I think of the song “I’ve Got Joy,” which says,


“I’ve got joy down in my heart,
Deep, deep down in my heart!
J-O-Y down in my heart,
Deep deep down in my heart!
Jesus put it there
And nothing can destroy it!
I’ve got joy down in my heart,
Deep, deep down in my heart!”


I love singing this song and it always brings a smile to my face when everyone is doing the motions for it.  But what makes this song even better are the little changes my family has made to the song, which were inspired by our friend Jeff.  Instead of singing the lyrics, “joy down in my heart, deep, deep down in my heart,” we sing, “joy exploding out of his head, deep, deep out of his head.”  We should all have such evident joy that the only way to describe it to others is to say that it is exploding out of your head.  Not only should it be exploding out of our heads sometimes, but it should be exploding out of our heads all the time, as we obey the command to rejoice always.


However, that is not the end to the slight changes my family has made to this song.  Instead of singing the lyrics, “And nothing can destroy it,” we sing, “And nothing can contain it.”  Our joy should not only always be exploding out of our heads, but we shouldn’t let anything stop it from exploding.  Nothing should be allowed to contain our joy inside our heads!  Our joy should always be exploding out!

-Kaitlyn Hamilton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. On a scale of 1-10 how well do you choose joy? On the same scale, how well do you express that joy? One more time, on the same scale, how well do you express that joy all of the time?
  2. What do you sometimes allow to steal, destroy or contain your joy?
  3. We know life can be hard. We also know God is good. What blessings from God can you choose to focus on today? (Visit yesterday’s devotion if you need a blessing to start your list.)

Standing Firm in the Lord

1 Thessalonians 3

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

When reading this chapter, the joy Paul had stood out to me.  Paul faced challenge after challenge, obstacle after obstacle as he worked to spread the gospel, yet he is still full of joy.


Paul starts the chapter by talking about how he feared that the Thessalonians would be led astray by the temptations and afflictions they would face.  He says that for this reason, he asked someone to report on their faith, hoping that all his work there wouldn’t have been in vain.  But when Timothy returned with a report about the Thessalonians, it became clear that they had stood firm in their faith through all the persecution they faced.


In verse 7, Paul writes that he and his companions were comforted by the news that Timothy brought.  The good news about the Thessalonians was so great that it provided comfort in the midst of affliction!  Paul states that they now really live if the Thessalonians stand firm in their faith.  The Thessalonians provided so much joy to the lives of Paul and his companions that it feels like they just started to really live!  In verse 9, Paul asks what thanks they can give to God for all the joy he has about the Thessalonians.  There is so much joy that he doesn’t even know how to put it into words to thank God.  This joy is so overwhelming that he can’t even start to understand how much thanks he needs to give God.


Are you filling others with as much joy as Paul is full of from the Thessalonians?  Are those who taught you the Bible filled with joy from the way it has changed your life?  Paul’s joy came from seeing that he was able to make this impact on the Thessalonians and that they were able to continue standing firm.  We each need to be like the Thessalonians, providing joy to our teachers and others as we continue to walk in the way of the Lord.


Are you filled with joy like Paul?  God has provided each of us with much more than we ever deserved.  None of us deserve salvation, but God offered it to each one of us.  Our lives should be full of joy because of this great gift.  I can’t even begin to thank God enough for everything that He has given me!


Paul’s response to this joy is shown in verse 10.  He says that he and his companions are earnestly praying that they may see the Thessalonians again and continue to strengthen their faith.  He doesn’t claim that his job is now done, as the Thessalonians were able to stand up to opposition.  Instead, he says that he wants to visit to teach them even more, to make them even stronger, lacking nothing in their faith.


What is your response to being filled with joy?  We need to be constantly giving thanks for all that we have been given, night and day praising God.  Are you asking God that you can continue to do the work which He has prepared for you or are you saying that your job is done?  This joy should cause you to want to do even more, spreading the good news to all those around you so that they too might experience this joy.

-Kaitlyn Hamilton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What is the biggest challenge you face in standing firm in the Lord? How can you ask for help from your brothers and sisters in Christ? (If you don’t have a church family yet – make it your first priority to find one!)
  2. Are there brothers and sisters or children in the faith that give you great joy when you see how they are standing firm in the faith even in the midst of trials? Let them know.
  3. Spend an extra ten minutes in prayer today thanking God.

Filled with JOY

Psalm 126-128

Today, we will be reading from Psalm 126, 127, and 128. Wow, what an incredibly rich set of scriptures. As a worship leader at my local church in Nashville, I am always convicted to meet God in a deeper place when I read Psalms. These authors understood the honor and glory that worship brings to the LORD. 

I am in awe of the authenticity and vulnerability of these authors. I have always wanted to be able to worship like David — I hope to worship with him in the Kingdom. 

These specific Psalms are short in nature but packed for exaltation and prayer to God. I was specifically drawn to Psalm 126. 

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

    we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

    and our tongue with shouts of joy;”  -Psalm 126: 1-2 

Have you ever been filled with so much joy that you can’t help but laugh? It’s the feeling where in that moment nothing else matters. All of the anxieties, worries, and struggles vanish in that brief time. I would like to think of this as a taste of the kingdom– where joy will be at home every morning. 

Today, my message is simple and short. Be a dreamer in God. Pray that he draws you closer to him. Pray for his plans for you to be made evident! And when he shows up (He is never late afterall), remember to give him the glory he is owed. 

Our God is a doer of great things. He has done so much for you. From raising his Son from the dead to bringing breath into your lungs, God has worked in your life. And he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Today’s song is “Great Things” by Phil Whikham. Is it theologically perfect? No. However, I believe it expresses the heart and mind of the author of Psalms who was brought to laughter from God’s providence. Yes and amen.

-Leslie Jones

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Ezekiel 39-40 and Psalm 126-128

How-To-Do-It Manual

James 1

We begin a new book of the Bible today—James.  James is one of my favorite Bible books.  I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN.  More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.   

James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews.  He is blunt and forthright in his writing.

The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus.  Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.

In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.    

 “He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21

The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5

However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed.  He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.

The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches.  He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.”  This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution.  They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood. 

Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.”  Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out.  (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.)  Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.”  James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials.  It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive. 

Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

This is the joy we should have when trials confront us.  And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom.  (verse 4)

James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching.  I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers. 

If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it.  One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  (verses 5-8)

Blunt and to the point!  No commentary by me needed! 

Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12

“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out.  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom.  A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world.  Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers.  (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.)  Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”

James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.

“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver.  His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day.  God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes.  How blessed we are.  And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”

James continues with his direct approach in verse 19.  He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!)  Obviously!

Quick, Slow, Slow.  In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation.  Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice.  “When angry, count to 10 before you speak.  If very angry, a hundred.” 

Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it!  The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration. 

  • Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
  • Receive the word”
  • Prove yourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”

Don’t hold back, James! 

Here comes the explanation/story.  “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.”  (verses 23-25)

A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like.  This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God. 

However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life.  Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4.  Where do you start? 

James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27.  “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 

Simple love in action.  The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual.  We can’t just read it and not follow through.  James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation. 

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1

Joy Forevermore

Make Yourself Ready!

Over the last week we have focused on Philippians, and especially the theme of joy. Joy is a state of happiness and contentment in the midst of any and every circumstance because of our response to the gospel and our connection to God through Christ. When we live like Christ, we experience deep levels of joy. Joy is found also in overcoming those who try to turn us away from the gospel message, and those tendencies within ourselves. Finally, we are reminded, even commanded, to rejoice in the Lord always. Joy is available to us in every situation, not just good ones, but in suffering and pain, because of who we are and whose we are. (We are brothers of Christ, which makes God our Father!) We are able to have joy at all times; what great news!

In the Christian tradition there have been some documents that have really helped Christians explain their faith or aspects of their faith well. The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Chronicles of Narnia. Even if we don’t agree with everything in these works, they have made quite an impact on the Christian faith. (Especially the Chronicles of Narnia.) One other document is the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a document used to teach the Christian faith that has been around from the 1640s. The first question it asks and answers is :

What is the chief end of man?

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever. 

To explain, this is saying “the greatest goal of every person is to give God glory and praise, and to be in joyous relationship with him forever.” It’s not scripture exactly, but that sounds about right to me. The last state of the believer is joy with God.

In Revelation Chapter 19, there are three times that a great multitude exalts God and praises his name for casting down wickedness in the world. Revelation 19:6-8 say. “6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure…” In this picture of the great multitude, which are those who have been saved by the Messiah, they are saying that what they will do is to exalt and glorify God, but also to REJOICE in him. They are finding joy in God. 

That is the final state of those who have followed Jesus. When we think of the eternal life of the saved, it is not just living for a really long time, it is a fulfilled, joy, content life. It is life to the fullest. Yes, it will last forever but it will not be dull, boring and monochromatic, and it won’t be sorrow, struggle filled, and just like this life. 

We will feast with Jesus at his wedding to his bride, the Church. (Rev. 19:9) We will be exalted to live and reign with Christ, whatever that looks like. (Rev. 20:6) My favorite promise is that we will look into the face of God, and he will wipe away our tears. (Rev. 21:4) That is what it means to enjoy God forever. We will have EVERY REASON to find joy, because “God will dwell with us, and we will be God’s people, and God himself will be with us as our God.” (Rev. 21:3, in the first person) 

My brothers and sisters may Jesus be your savior and lord so you may feast and rejoice at his wedding supper.

May you be raised again so that death will have no power over you. 

May your tears be wiped away, and may you enjoy God forever. 

“Rejoice in the Lord, always” and forevermore!

-Jake Ballard

——————————

Jake Ballard is pastor at Timberland Bible Church. If you’d like to hear more from him, you can find Timberland on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TimberlandBibleChurch/ ) and on Instagram (https://instagram.com/timberlandbiblechurch?igshid=t52xoq9esc7e). The church streams the Worship Gathering every Sunday at 10:30. Besides studying and teaching God’s word, he is raising three beautiful children with the love of his life, plays Dungeons and Dragons and is really excited about going to a Renaissance Fair this Fall. If you’d like to reach out to talk Bible, talk faith, or talk about your favorite D&D monster, look Jacob Ballard up on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jacob.ballard.336 )or email him at jakea.ballard@yahoo.com
God bl
ess you all!

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 17-18 and Colossians 2

Rejoice in the Lord, Always

Philippians 4 – Friday 

“TGIF”. Most people in our culture seem to only be happy when they are NOT working, when their weekend has started, or it is their day off. They long for the precious moments where they are not bound to the clock. It’s in our pop culture. Whether it is some teen-idol that is singing about what happened last Friday or whether we are all working for the weekend, many people think happiness is a 3-day-a-week affair. As Christians, maybe we think life is pretty dull until Sunday rolls around. That is the day where I get to be happy. 

However, that’s not what Paul wants for the Philippians. He says “Rejoice in the Lord, always!” It is a command. “REJOICE!” Maybe we think it’s a little strange for Paul to give a command to rejoice. “You better rejoice or else!” But that is not his point at all. Paul knows that if we truly understand the gospel we would see it for what it is… good news! 

Look at what is said in the following verses. 

The Lord is near.(4:5) Christ is coming soon to reward those whom he has saved. That is cause to rejoice!

God hears your prayers and supplications. (4:6) God is near and cares for our needs. That is cause to rejoice!

God will give us peace to protect our hearts and mind in the middle of trouble. (4:7) That is cause to rejoice!

The peace of God will be with us because the God of peace will be with us (4:9). That is cause to rejoice!

When you focus on the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, reputably good, excellent, and praiseworthy, you are dwelling on good things that come from a good God. Every one of them is a cause to rejoice!

God is not a God of sorrow and somberness at all times. It is true he is a serious God. We should never take him flippantly or lightly, and he calls sins out when and where he sees them. But he is a God of joy, gladness, drinking deeply in the good things of this world. He rests in a world that he called very good. (Genesis 1). Therefore, God wants his creatures to rejoice to the praise of his glory. 

May this shorter devotion push you to praise God today, my brothers and sisters. 

May you focus on the true and good things, and may they cause you to rejoice. 

May you rejoice in the God of peace. 

May you rejoice that the Lord is near. 

May you rejoice, always. Again I will say it, rejoice!

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 15-16 and Colossians 1 (Devotions are focusing on joy/Philippians this week, but charge on with your reading.)

The Joy of Overcoming

Philippians 3

Paul is one of the few people who can write “Finally” and continue on writing for the same length that he had just written! He writes two chapters, puts “finally” and writes two more. Inspired as he is, obviously Paul thinks of most of what he writes from Philippians 3:1-4:7 as all one idea. To be fair, as you are reading today, he uses “finally” in chapter 4 as well. It reminds me of a “midwestern goodbye;” he keeps trying to end his conversation but doesn’t want to say goodbye just yet.

While Paul starts his writing in verse one on the happy note of “rejoice” in the Lord, he quickly moves to talk of things that we need to beware of and, I think, overcome. That means we need to live differently, have victory over, and to not be defeated by. 

Overcoming Others

In two places in this chapter, Paul discusses two kinds of unfaithful people and the way they live. First, there are those whom he calls “dogs” and “evil workers”. These are both the Jews and the Judaizing Christians who believe they follow God because they are circumcised on the outside and think all must follow them. However, their pride and focus on the law is actually showing that they have a false circumcision (3:2). Paul says that we are the ones who truly follow God, who follow him with a “circumcised” (or pure) heart. 

Secondly, there are those who have never come to faith of any kind. Instead of even trying to honor God through false rules and regulations, they focus on fulfilling their own desires, whether that is food, drink, or sex. They worship those desires as their god. Even, (maybe especially) in our world there are those who glorify their appetites that they indulge as “healthy”, “not-repressed”, and “liberating”. However, Paul weeps knowing that their end is not life, not joy, but destruction. (3:18-19)

Overcoming Ourselves

We need to not be like either of those groups, but that means overcoming ourselves. True, we need to overcome the teachings of those who say following God is keeping a bunch of rules and regulations, but it is easy to feel good about ourselves because we did keep God’s word. It would be easy for Paul, for example, to glory in who he is. (3:4-6) He fulfilled all the credentials of what a successful Jew would be. But he considers it “dung” (skubala) if he might instead have Christ. He would count all these things rubbish in order to have the far greater, far surpassing righteousness of Christ. (3:7-9)

Once we know that our best attributes are only dung in comparison to Christ, we may say we might as well live terribly because we can never measure up. But Paul encourages us to strive to live rightly. Ever upward into the call of God in Christ. He says, though we will never be perfect, let us keep living by the same standard to which Christ has raised us. (3:12-16)

How to Hupernikao (Overcome)

How are we to overcome? How are we to not fall into the traps of being legalistic or being completely wild with our living? We need to live LIKE CHRIST! That should sound familiar! If we live like Christ, forgetting what lies behind and pressing on ahead (12-16) then we will be conformed to him. We will suffer the way he suffered, being mistreated on both sides. We will sound to0 gracious to the “judgmental” and too judgmental to the “gracious”. We won’t look like those who are legalistic and believe that rule following will save them. But we also won’t look like those who believe that everything is OK and permissible.

But this is the way Jesus lived. He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners and yet told them they needed to stop sinning. If we live like him, we will face the suffering he faced, we may even be conformed to him in death. (3:10) But the GLORIOUS news is that if we are connected to him, believe in him, and live like him, we will ALSO be raised with him. If we die with him, we will also live with him. (3:11, cf. 2 Tim. 2:11-13)

It is because we have a savior who will raise us up, and glorify us as he rules over all things that Paul can say, in Philippians 4:1 “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Because we have a savior who will redeem us, we can rejoice in the Lord and we can be the joy of those who have trained us in the way we should go. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, overcome those who tell you to be more strictly following all the right rules that only they seem to know. 

May you overcome those who say live with abandon and do whatever it is that makes you happy and fulfills you. 

May you overcome the desires in yourself that push in you in those directions. 

May you instead be conformed to the life, suffering, death, and ultimately resurrection of Christ, as you seek to live like him. 

May you forget what lies behind, press on ahead, and retain the standard, while only trusting in Christ’s sacrifice to save you. 

Amen

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 13-14 and Philippians 4

The Joy of Christlikeness

Philippians

In response to yesterday’s definition of joy, you may be asking, “how do I get joy?” As the example definition says, it comes from hearing the gospel message, responding in faith, and receiving the Holy Spirit. There is a truth to the fact that salvation is a one time event, being transferred from the domain of darkness to his Kingdom of marvelous light. (Col. 1:13, 1 Peter 2:9) But there is also the truth that we are called to continue to grow in faith. We bring joy to ourselves and others as we pursue faith and Christlikeness.  

Philippians 2 is known primarily for the “Christ Hymn” in verses 5-11. These verses contain a powerful, beautiful, early Christian hymn sung to the glory of God in honor of Christ. We could spend a long time discussing the theology, christology and soteriology, but that would miss the MAIN POINT for why Paul wrote this section. He is trying to teach the Philippians to “live like Jesus.” Jesus, who had every right to think of himself as great and wonderful, instead lowered himself and followed God’s will. Because Jesus did this, we should not be selfish, vain, or arrogant, but should regard others more important than ourselves. (2:3) 

Paul tells the Philippians that being like Christ is going to fill them with joy. Verse one shows that if we seek Christlikeness, we can have encouragement in Christ, the consolation of love, fellowship of the Spirit, affection and compassion. If we seek any of those things, we need to maintain love, be united, and intently serving God (2:2). Maintaining love, being united and intently serving are all descriptions of how Christ lived. If we want the joy that Christ had, the connection to God that allowed him to be joyful in the midst of what, by all accounts, was a tough life, then we need to live as Christ lived, obedient and following God. 

Which is why in verses 12-13, we are told to obey and work our salvation directly after the Christ hymn. Obedience leads to joy! So often we think rebellion, independence, being novel will lead to joy. But that may only be true if we are rebelling against wicked things and unjust systems. Rebelling against good and loving commands of God will only bring heart ache. God is working for our salvation, and we are to work alongside him. Along with the old hymn, we sing “trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!”

One final note, I said in the first paragraph that we bring joy to ourselves and others when we pursue faith and Christlikeness. When we obey the commands of God like honoring others over ourselves and taking care of their needs, he will bless us with joy. But how does that bring joy to others. Of course, we can and should expect it to bring happiness, which is a fine emotion in itself, but it isn’t the lasting joy we are talking about. But it’s not often the recipients of our blessings that are filled with joy. When we live like Christ, those who led and taught us the faith see and rejoice that we are more like the one they love. Paul asks the Philippians to “make my joy complete” in 2:2 by living like Christ. If the Philippians lived blameless and innocent lives, which they could do by the power of the Holy Spirit, then Paul could rejoice in their faith. In like manner, as we live in faith by the power of Spirit, our parents, grandparents, or spiritual ancestors will react in joy, knowing that we are going to be rejoicing together one day in the Kingdom with Christ. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, live like Christ through the power of the spirit, and by living with that humility, focus on others, and blameless innocence, that you bring joy to yourself and others. 

-Jake Ballard

(I know the days are off, but I needed to define joy yesterday. I am gonna focus mainly on joy and that will take over the first couple days of Colossians, too.)

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 11-12 and Philippians 3

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