Which Will You Be?

Isaiah 21-22 and Colossians 4

Today we are going to look at two different groups of God’s people: those in Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah’s writing and those in Colosse at the time of Paul’s writing. Which will you be?

In many of the previous chapters of the book of Isaiah we read about God’s coming judgments on Israel and Judah’s neighbors and sometimes her enemies. It’s not all bad reading what disasters are coming to your wicked neighbors. Yay, God! Go get em! Show em who’s boss! But, it gets downright personal in chapter 22 as the prophecies of judgment and doom now center on Jerusalem, God’s Holy City. What did they do to deserve this? Well, much. Other scriptures tell of Jerusalem’s idol worship and shedding of innocent blood and even sacrificing their own children. But specifically in Isaiah 22 we are told of their pride and arrogance, their celebrations and their disregard for God. When they saw danger on the horizon they did everything in their own power to protect themselves, including tearing down houses to strengthen the wall and building reservoirs. “But, you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11 NIV). What would have changed if they had only called out to God for help?

God was waiting for His people to seek Him, to turn to Him, to cry out to Him, to confess and mourn and repent. But, instead, they were too busy. Busy with their preparations to save themselves. Busy with their sins. Busy with their celebrations and feasting and misplaced joy. Busy in their “town full of commotion…city of tumult and revelry.” (Isaiah 22:2 NIV).

They had abandoned God first. He was still calling out to them on that day (Isaiah 22:12). But, they were busy. They drowned out the sound of God’s voice with their sinful busy-ness and celebrations. So, His holy and righteous judgement was coming.

Contrast this tragic picture with what we read in Colossians 4 as Paul is closing out his letter to the church in Colosse with his final instructions and greetings. He urges the church, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2 NIV). And, while he’s got the people praying – he says pray for me, too. Paul requests prayers for open doors (not to physically get out of house arrests, but open doors to reach more people), for opportunities to proclaim Christ and for clear communication in his ministry. And further on, I love his description of Epaphras, “a servant of Jesus Christ…He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12 NIV). These people are busy, too – in prayer – in seeking God and in ministry . They are praying for their spiritual leaders and churches and those who will hear God’s message, and asking for prayer. Rather than ignoring God and drowning out His voice, they are seeking God regularly and whole-heartedly, coming to Him in prayer, always desiring to do more for Him and His Son.

Which group are you more like today?

Do you have see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Jerusalem? Are you surrounded with so much commotion that you miss God’s voice calling out to you? Is he asking you to mourn when you are busy celebrating and feasting? Are you so caught up in your self-preservation preparations that you have neglected to call out to God? Do you rely on yourself instead of on God? When you see trouble coming do you invest time in creating a longer to-do list, throw a party, or fall to your knees before God? What would be different in your life and in your community if you called on Him in prayer instead of trying to do it your own way?

Do you see any similarities between yourself and God’s people in Colosse? Are you devoted to prayer, being watchful and thankful? Are you praying for open doors – not to get ahead or out of a jam – but to advance God’s gospel message? Are you busy praying for your Christian brothers and sisters and leaders and missionaries? Are you asking others to pray for your ministry? What would it look like if you spent time today wrestling in prayer?

Praying for you today – to Stand Firm in God’s Will, mature and fully assured

-Marcia Railton

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 21-22 and Colossians 4

What Would You Do For God?

Isaiah 19-20 and Colossians 3

I really just wanted to talk about Colossians today. But, I couldn’t. I try to avoid embarrassing discussions of nakedness. But, today I can’t.

Isaiah 20 is an incredibly short though (at least for me) difficult chapter to read. And it is one I definitely don’t remember learning in Sunday School class growing up. We learned about Isaiah, the faithful servant of God who had a powerful calling from God. When he saw a vision of God’s majesty he crumbled in unworthiness and guilt, but then God cleansed him with a burning coal to his lips and Isaiah boldly declared, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). We knew Isaiah wrote lots of chapters with many warnings and some beautiful passages of the promised Messiah. But, we didn’t know about the humiliation of chapter 20.

Today we read, “At that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, ‘Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.’ And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.” (Isaiah 20:2 NIV). No, argument is recorded. Just obedience. “And he did so.” And, it wouldn’t just be for the day or even a week – but for three years! Commentaries kindly mention he would still have had a loin cloth (a.k.a – underwear). But that’s not too reassuring to Isaiah, his family, or his readers today.

It is natural to ask WHY, God? There has to be a reason why a loving God would ask His faithful servant to go through this embarrassing and painful object lesson for three long years. In this case I believe God was having Isaiah dramatically get the people’s attention to remind them just how degrading and dehumanizing their lives would be as prisoners of war (who were often marched around in such fashion). And, that is what they will become if they choose to forsake the Lord and put their trust instead in foreign ungodly allies like Egypt and Cush.

It makes me wonder – what am I willing to do for God? What amount of personal pain, sorrow, and humiliation am I willing to endure in order to be doing what God has asked of me? Am I more concerned about what men will think of my service to God, or what God would say? Certainly Isaiah would have never lasted for three nearly naked years if he held in greater regard the approval, understanding or encouragement of his peers over pleasing God.

Could I have done what Isaiah did? I think when faced with God’s awesome majesty I could say, “Here am I. Send me!”. After all, it sounds like pretty good resume material to be a messenger for God – I bet it’s a job that comes with some great benefits, too. I would even name my baby boy Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (meaning quick to the plunder, swift to the spoils) just as Isaiah did for God. That is an object lesson I feel I would willingly participate in, even though others might laugh and ridicule my choice. But, is there a cut off line where my loyalty and devotion to God would end? Is there a job He could ask of me that I would say ‘no’ to? I hope not.

Too often when we sign on for a position working for the Almighty, we try to choose what it will look like. “I will go here for God and do this for God.” And everyone will be amazed. But, sometimes, God has different plans. Bigger plans. Sometimes, more confusing plans. Sometimes, plans that will take you far out of your comfort zone and even into the midst of personal pain, loss, turmoil, and ridicule.

While the apostle Paul never faced the exact same jobs Isaiah endured, he also gained a lot of experience facing trials and difficulties, misunderstanding and persecution while following God, and His Son Jesus. He wrote in Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” We can learn a thing or two from both Paul and Isaiah about serving the Lord.

What would you do for God?

-Marcia Railton

Maybe, you are interested in writing a day of devotions? This week was going to be covered by a young pastor from Indiana, but instead…he is anticipating a slightly early arrival of his first son – so if anyone would like to write for a day -contact Marcia at mjmjmrailton@gmail.com. And, remember the growing Paul family in your prayers.

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway.com here Isaiah 19-20 and Colossians 3

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

On Doohickeys and Defining Joy

Philippians 2

I love etymology, or the study of the origin of words. How do words come to mean what we say they mean? It’s a fascinating subject for a nerd like me. And words sometimes, or maybe often, don’t mean what they sound like. One word that is used commonly in North America, and especially in my experience, in the South, is “doohickey”. For those unfamiliar, when someone says “hand me the doohickey”, they are saying “give me the item to which I am gesturing that you should see I obviously need.” Context, as they say, is key. You need to be in the moment to know what they mean, and you need to be paying attention to understand how you should behave, e.g. giving them the tool, instrument, or whatever they are asking for. 

When reading Scripture, we see that certain ways of being, believing, and living are better than others. These better ways should be the standard for those who are redeemed by God. However, we need to always remember that the words we read in scripture weren’t written down by some guy last week in USA-English, but were written down 2000 years ago by men (and women?) who were writing in a different time to a different context and translated to our language today. We CAN understand a lot about scripture; it is clear there is only one God, not 100, and that Jesus is his Son and our Savior. However, studying helps us understand ideas, concepts, and words more clearly. The more clearly we understand Scripture, the better we can live it out and the better our lives will be by living it out. 

Today, we are looking at the word “joy”. If we can understand how joy is used in the New Testament, that should shed some light on how joy is used in Philippians. 

First, joy (in Greek : charas) is the reaction of those who hear the gospel of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus. When Jesus is born, the angels proclaimed it was good news of great joy (Luke 2:10). When the magi find the home of Jesus, they are overwhelmed with joy. (Matt. 2:10) As Jesus is raised, the disciples respond in joy. (Matt. 28:8)

Next, joy is the response of the early church in Acts. The disciples not only receive the Holy Spirit but also joy! (13:52) The people had joy due to miracles being performed. (8:8) Joy came upon all the believers when Gentiles came to the truth of faith in Christ. (15:3)

Finally, Paul has his own way of speaking about joy. Paul looks to those he leads as those who bring him joy. Paul calls the Thessalonians his “glory and joy” because of their steadfastness in faith and proof that God is working through him. (1 Thess. 2:19-20) Paul sees his sufferings and persecutions as a cause for joy because of the work it may do for the message of Christ (Col. 1:24). Finally, over and over, Paul tell his readers that joy is the reality of Kingdom living, a gift of God, a gift God gives through connection to His Holy Spirit. (Rom 14:17, Gal 5:22-23, 1 Thess. 1:6)

That’s a lot of verses to meditate on through today or tonight, but a bunch of verses does not a definition make. So we need to say what joy seems to be in the New Testament. 

Here is an example definition. I would encourage you, as you study the verses above, and others, to write your own definition, but this may be a helpful definition for you as we walk in joy this week. 

Joy is the state of happiness and contentment as we hear the gospel message and respond in faith. In that response, we are given God’s Holy Spirit, that will allow us to ground our joy in the truth that God is our loving Father and we are his saved children. Then we are able to see the difficult and painful circumstances of life as opportunities for God’s glory rather than as cause for us to lose our happiness. Joy is, therefore, not an emotion like happiness and sadness, but a way of living in response to the work of God and Jesus where we are continually hopeful and peaceful in every situation. 

May you, my brothers and sisters, find THAT joy today. May it fill your hearts and minds, and may it pour from the spirit of God into your spirit.

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway.com here – Isaiah 9-10 and Philippians 2

Introduction to Joy

Philippians 1

I’m not gonna lie to you : it’s been a bit rough. Since March of 2020 until now, we have seen a pandemic that caused suffering and panic across the globe, racial and political division across the US, an even greater erosion of trust in our institutions of power, particularly of the media, and financial and political instability the world over, as well as claims from some that some or all of these issues don’t even exist! 

We need to know how to respond to these situations. The Bible doesn’t have a “read this passage in case of global pandemic and division” section, but there are multiple places that describe the appropriate attitude to take in the midst of suffering.

In the book of Philippians, we see Paul in the midst of suffering. In 1:12-13, we learn of Paul’s predicament. He is imprisoned, probably in Rome or Ephesus. (You can read more about Paul’s imprisonment for the Gospel in Acts 25-28.) He seems to believe that he may be going to his death, though he would love to both visit the Philippians again, and to go on to Spain. He wants to continue to do God’s will, but he recognizes that death may be a better alternative, as he would finally rest and have peace in Christ. (1:21)

“To die is gain” is a strange statement from the same man who said “the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:26) Is death a gain or an enemy? As we said before, Paul is suffering. Being in prison isn’t a cakewalk. But he is not only experiencing suffering for the sake of Christ, but telling the Philippians they will suffer for the sake of Christ as well. (1:29-30) If all this is true, then what should our response be? Gloom? Doom? Wailing and mourning?

ABSOLUTELY NOT! The letter of Philippians is drenched in a word : Joy, or rejoice. This is the theme that pervades the thought of Paul in Philippians, using the word 16 times and talking about joy throughout the letter. He says that he offers his prayers with joy because of the Philippians and what they have done for him (1:4). Paul rejoices over the fact that Christ is preached and that the Philippians will bear Paul up in their prayers. (1:18-19) 

How can Paul have joy in the midst of suffering? What is the joy that Paul talks about? Answering these questions and more like them is the goal of this week. Over the next few days we will be walking with joy. Tomorrow we will see how joy is used in the rest of the New Testament to know what Paul means by joy. Then we will see the joy of being like Christ and the joy of overcoming sin. We will discuss what it means to rejoice always. Finally, we will look to the end of the age and try and rejoice in the joy that we will experience forever. 

Today, my brothers and sisters, may you begin to be excited about the joy that Christ brings. May you taste the joy on this beautiful day, and may it carry you through this week.

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 7-8 and Philippians 1

Identity in Christ: A Well-Dressed Knight

Ephesians 6

Last week, we talked about our identity in Christ, grounded and rooted in him and made new in his grace and mercy. Today, we have one last look at this identity, and I think it’s important to read Ephesians 5 and 6. In response to this new identity, we are called to a new and better way. 

First, husbands and wives are called to love and to submit to one another in reverence for Christ. (5:21-33) Children are called to honor their father and mother. (6:1-3) Fathers are called to train and instruct their children. (6:4) Relationships between slaves and masters were expressed to show a better way to treat common social relationships in that day, and that Christ makes slave and master equal. (6:5-9) Praise God that as we have expanded on the promises of Scripture, slavery has been eradicated in the US and is fought against around the world. 

BUT, what I really want us to look at is how we are called to dress. I really enjoy renaissance fairs. It’s great; enjoying nature, seeing people dressed in amazing costumes, laughing at jokes and enjoying fair food! Who doesn’t love gnawing on a GIANT turkey leg or getting ye olde bratwurst? But my favorite part is the jousting tournaments. Knights dressed in armor, charming on horseback. In most jousts, the joust is real : they don’t plan who will hit the other, who will unseat the other, and who will win. How cool is that?!

I know Paul was thinking about Roman armor, but when I think about the armor of God, I imagine a medieval knight. A shining breastplate, a broad and defensive shield, a powerful sword! But is God really calling us to dress with armor, Roman or medieval? He is using the armor as a metaphor. We are in a war, but we protect our heart with righteousness and our head with salvation. We run in peace and wrap ourselves up with truth. When it finally comes time to battle, we pull out the sword of the spirit, the word of God. This means both Scripture and the gospel message, the written and living word of God! 

God is calling you to live in response to your identity in Christ. In how you treat your family and friends, in how you fight your battles, your identity in Christ should define everything about you. 

May you allow your identity in Christ to better your relationships. 

May you fight your battles against Satan, evil, and sin in the power and grace of God. 

May you be more like Jesus, this day and every day. 

-Jake Ballard

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 5-6 and Ephesians 6

Identity: From Death to Life

If I’m honest, today left me feeling weary, burdened, and frustrated along with bit of grief. I know we all have days like that from time to time as it’s just part of living in a broken world. As easy as it is to fall into a pattern of lamenting about how awful our day was and wondering if it’ll ever get better, God wants us to respond by giving Him our burdens, worries, grief and concerns. It’s much easier said than done, but if we have faith that God has created us in His image, instilled purpose in us and loves us to the point of adopting us as His children, then can’t we trust Him with our day-to-day struggles, too? Not only that, but as children of God, we believe in the hope of eternal life in the Kingdom where there will be no more trials, pain or obstacles because Jesus overcame them all!

Matthew 6: 31-34

So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. 34 Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (CSB)

This passage is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Jesus, God’s son, is telling us that God knows exactly what we need and will provide accordingly. This isn’t limited to just physical needs such as food and drink; rather God will always take care of us in all aspects.

John 3: 1-6

There was a man from the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to him at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform these signs you do unless God were with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 “How can anyone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked him. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit. (CSB)

Once we accept Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior and submit to God’s authority over our lives, the Holy Spirit starts to work within us and we then become a child of God. If we are a child of God, Galatians 4:7 tells us, “So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.” (CSB)

The word “slave” is referring to being a slave to sin. We are no longer bound by sin’s punishment of death, but instead we are redeemed through Jesus and therefore able to inherit the gift of the Kingdom! (Romans 6:23)

God’s redeeming grace brings us from death to life. How incredible is that? I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on what has been weighing you down lately. What burdens have you been carrying that you need to surrender? Maybe a circumstance where you don’t have all the answers and don’t know how you’ll make it through? Maybe a strained relationship? Maybe a pattern of sin that you need God’s help to break? Whatever the situation may be, we know that the same God who fulfills His promises (Joshua 21:45; Numbers 23:19) is the God who made us. And because He never fails, we can rest in Him until the end of the age when we inherit the gift of the Kingdom.

-Caitie Wood

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at BibleGateway here – Isaiah 3-4 and Ephesians 5