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

Bearing Fruit

A few years ago, my friend from church, Terri Tschaenn, gave me a single piece of a cactus that was broken off from her huge cactus plant. I put it in a small pot not knowing what to expect, and I have to say that thing has grown so many shoots and sprouts and whatever new chunks of cactus might be called…..I am now onto a third pot myself and it has been pretty cool to see that thing grow and spread! While I am still learning to be careful with the nasty little prickers, I can tell I am going to have cactus to share! So, if I gave one chunk of cactus to 12 friends, and in a few years they gave one piece to 12 more friends, imagine how fast Terri’s cactus could spread. In fact, she told me that several other people she knows have cacti started from her plant.

As Christians, we are called to remain in the vine and produce fruit. One way we see the evidence of fruit is in disciples. John 15:8  tells us:

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Bearing fruit to God’s glory is not found in the number of likes on a post that happens to have a Bible verse in it, not in the number of people who show up at our “church” event or the people who follow us/like us/or think we are really “nice”. Fruit isn’t measured the way society measures it at all. In fact, probably most numbers society uses for a gauge of success would demonstrate the exact opposite in the sense of bearing fruit that Jesus asks of us.

Jesus had his disciples. Paul had his team. Scripture speaks of a called-out body of people loving one another, teaching, edifying, building up, holding accountable, sharing, confessing sins, forgiving sins. We all have a circle of influence and relationships, and those relationships with followers of Jesus are the ones prioritized above all else in no uncertain terms.

Matthew 12:48-50

New International Version

48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

If we are to call ourselves a Christian or follower of Christ, we had better seriously consider those we yoke ourselves with and recognize that our church family is our family. We all benefit from being discipled and from discipling and we have a responsibility to seek those with spiritual maturity and a shared relationship with God to grow alongside as brothers/sisters.

-Jennifer Hall

For those following along with the yearly Bible reading plan, you can read or listen to today’s Bible passages at BibleGateway here – Job 19-20 and 2 Corinthians 11

All Connected

Judges 1-2 and John 4

This year our Bible reading plan has included one Old Testament reading and one New Testament, Psalms or Proverbs reading every day. I’ve enjoyed the daily variety and I think rather than feeling disjointed, like I had feared, it actually helps me see the Bible more as a whole. There have been several times when one reading would refer to something in the other, if not from that same day then something recently read.

On Sunday our devotion was on Psalm 69, one of the most quoted and referenced Psalms in the New Testament. It portrays a zealous suffering servant of God who is surrounded by the enemy. And just 2 days later we read John 2 which included Jesus entering the temple and being shocked to see the disrespect and greed of the moneychangers and those wanting to make a quick buck selling animals for sacrifice rather than revering the house of the Lord and the holy God they should have been focused on. Jesus forcefully clears the temple, and John records, “His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ ” (John 2:17 NIV – quoting Psalm 69:9). Those disciples knew and loved the same book we just read! They saw connections and how Jesus fulfilled and carried out the Scriptures they were devoted to and knew well. That’s just one example of the many times it’s been exciting to see overlap and referencing reminding me of how precious this book is and how it all works together to show us God: His character, story, plan, majesty, and His Son and ultimately, what will our response be? As Joshua said (just yesterday), “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15 NIV)

As we see it all work together, woven together as one, it’s sometimes hard to decide which passage to write about. It’s exciting that God gave us SO much in His Word, we couldn’t possibly discuss it all thoroughly in one year of devotions. But every day we can increase our knowledge and understanding just a little, find a new thought or reference we hadn’t seen before, learning to love it and the God it reveals and putting His word to use to become more and more what He wants us to be and do.

And, today we read of the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well in the land given to Joseph. This well is not specifically mentioned elsewhere in Scripture – but we did just read a lot about the land of Jacob’s sons’ families and we read of the tribes of Joseph’s sons (Ephraim and Manassah) receiving their inheritance and burying the bones of Joseph in his land. The Samaritan woman knew these stories and these families – and now she was going to meet the Messiah, the Christ, she has been waiting for!

That was a much longer introduction than I expected. No wonder we don’t have time to look closely at every passage every day. But, today I want to try something different. Instead of having you read any more of me than you already have, I want to give you some questions to consider for both the Old Testament and New Testament scripture – two excellent passages God wants us to consider. You could pick some of your favorite questions to think about today and even discuss with your family and circle of influence. Enjoy digging into God’s Word and considering what God wants you to see!

JUDGES 1-2

Judges 2 tells of the cycle of obedience and disobedience that Israel will fall into after the death of Joshua. Can you see in your own life, family, church, community, nation any similar cycles?

Have there been times when you have slipped away further from God? Any ideas what prompted that? What turned things around again?

How would you describe the difference between a life of obedience to God and one of disobedience? The results? (Use personal experience anytime you can)

Have there been times you have benefitted from having a strong Godly leader (like Joshua or one of the judges)? How so? What did they provide? What dangers do we need to avoid in regards to having (or losing) a strong leader?

How/when can you help others who are in a time of disobedience and trouble?

JOHN 4

What do we learn about Jesus in this passage? (especially verse 6, 9, 10, 13, 18, 26, 29, 34, 42, 53).

What did the Samaritan woman already know before meeting Jesus? What did she learn that day?

How would you describe Jesus as the Living Water? Would you say you have experienced him as living water, or will experience it, or have just heard about it? What does Jesus want to offer to the Samaritan Woman? To You?

What was the result of the Samaritan woman’s talk with Jesus?

Jesus said his “food” was “to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (vs 34) and then he asked the disciples to see the harvest work around them. What fills you up or have you been feeling a little starved lately? What can you do today to help you feel full and satisfied? What harvest work around you does Jesus want you to see and act on?

-Marcia Railton

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Judges 1-2 and John 4