Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Joy in the Hard Places

Devotion: Philippians 2:17-18

Jesus demonstrated what it means to be joyful in the midst of the hardest places and situations in the world. In Hebrews 12:2 we read, "...Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." What Hebrews is telling us (and the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:18) and what Jesus demonstrated is that the present suffering and struggles in this world are not to be compared to the glory and joy to come. It is this precise notion that led the Apostle to write the following to the Philippians:
"Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me." -Philippians 2:17-18 ESV
The Apostle views his life as only valuable if it is used in the service of the Christ. Jesus who himself poured out his life for the sake of others is the role model the Apostle looks to as well as the Lord who empowers him through faith to live and, if called upon, to die for the glory of God. The Apostle views this as a cause of joy and invites the Philippians to rejoice with him even though at present he was facing almost certain death for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Far from weeping and wailing at his possible death at the hands of the Romans, he invites celebration.
Our place in this is to learn from the example of the Apostle and of Jesus himself. We spend much of our lives avoiding pain, suffering and struggles in a vain attempt to live the good life. Jesus himself is the demonstration of the good life lived in a world lost, hurt and broken by sin. To be God's man or God's woman in this world will invite the mistreatment of the world. For a while the Church was in a culturally advantage position and so the pain associated with the Christian life was minimized if not eliminated. Now, however, the Church has fallen out of favor in the Western world and the anger, misunderstanding, and mistreatment that characterized much of the early church's history seems to have returned. As neo-pagan values are on the rise (power, greed, lust) in all ideological viewpoints the values of love, mercy and grace are seen not only as unnecessary, but dangerous unless redefined through a non-biblical lens. Love, for instance, ceases to be the self-sacrificial variety described in our passage this week and becomes instead the self-gratifying variety that only returns love when it provides personal benefit. Mercy and grace are meted out in this neo-pagan sense only to those deemed worthy by one's own standards of morality and never for those regarded as enemies. In my own short lifetime the country I live in has become a harsher, darker and crueler place. Despite the overcoming of some true injustice in the mid-twentieth century, this land has slipped into self-centered madness lifting up identity politics and its reductionist scheme (in which we all are divided into a series of labels) on the one hand and the sovereign self (in which power and control by the self, even or perhaps especially at the expense of others) on the other hand. Hard places are easy to find in life these days as a result.
So what is the Christian to do? The Apostle's answer is surprising. Find joy in the hard places as we pour out our lives for the sake of others. We are to practice true Christian virtue enabled and empowered by the constant application of Christ's saving work by the Holy Spirit that makes us newly and truly human. We love, we forgive, we practice kindness, mercy, grace, peace, gentleness, faith, goodness, self-control and, in the midst of the hard places, even joy. For our Savior lives and will yet stand upon the earth. On that day everything will be put to rights and the tears will stop. In the meantime, we are on a mission to live under his gracious reign in the world today, sharing the Good News and the joy we have in him.

Shout Outs:

A big thank you to all those who helped put up the decorations in anticipation of Christmas. The Sanctuary and all the church are looking quite festive.


  • The Winter Wonderland Youth Gala will be held this Saturday, December 3 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 and dessert auction will be held. All proceeds go to support our annual youth camp. Come out for a good meal, good fellowship and a good cause.
  • Throughout the month of December we will be collecting canned goods (and donations) to help the needy in our community. Bring something to share a little bit of love this Advent season. 

Opportunity to Serve:

Sign ups are under way for our next two shelter weeks (December 4-10 and December 25-31). Please contact the church office if you can spend a night giving folks a warm, safe place to sleep. Both men and women are needed!

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