The Letter of Paul to the Philippians in the Bible is characterised by joy, it contains the word (in its various forms) some 16 times within its four chapters. I’m featuring it in my Sunday devotionals through January 2021. You can read my introduction here with other links.
Chapter 3 (click on the link to read) is about joy in believing and having no confidence in rituals for salvation or living the Christian life. Rituals are important in our worship, but they point to something else. They are symbols of deeper truths, and can be very powerful, but it’s the spiritual experience they represent that’s vitally important.
The ritual that Paul refers to is circumcision, because Christianity is rooted in Judaism. He’s countering the argument of those who suggested that Gentile Christians needed to submit to the Old Testament Jewish laws to obtain salvation.
He powerfully reminds his readers that our salvation is based on the work of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Put no confidence in the flesh he says. It’s not the ritual that’s important, it’s the experience in the heart that matters.
He goes on to point out that, because of his background in Judaism, he has more reason that most to boast in the ritual – but he counts it as loss for what he has gained.
I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Having said that though, he’s quick to point out that he hasn’t fully achieved it yet, he presses on. There’s no place for arrogance in the Christian experience. We humbly accept our nature as imperfect Christians striving towards a goal – in God’s strength, not ours. He’s effectively echoing his own words in Chapter 2 about the humility of Jesus.
I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.
You may not have seen one of the ubiquitous Bernie Sanders’ memes on the internet. [Thinks] Is the remotely possible? Well, if not, let me explain. Bernie Sanders, who (given different circumstances) could have been President of the USA now, appeared at President Joe Biden’s Inauguration sitting on a folding chair with a thick coat and distinctive mittens. This instantly iconic image has now appeared in countless memes, one of my favourite is by the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós on Instagram. He even came to our house!
Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of Norton, Stockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.
I took the above photo of the church on a recent walk. Like most churches, it’s very photogenic, and a beautiful building inside and out. You can find out more on the church website where there are some excellent Christian resources.
The church was built as a place of worship and protection in about 1020 CE and so is just over 1,000 years old.
St Mary the Virgin, the ancient parish church that stands on the village green, is the only cruciform Anglo-Saxon church in northern England. Its crossing tower with eight triangular head windows has a battlemented top of later date, and there is a 14th-century effigy of a knight in chainmail.
Residing under the church floor there is claimed to be an escape tunnel used by the Saxons and priests when in danger, though it may be a drainage culvert. The tunnel leads under the church floor and Norton Green, eventually surfacing in the Albany housing estate. The church floor was recently renovated and Saxon remains and artefacts were discovered in the tunnel entrance. Wikipedia
Home schooling is a very real and present challenge (understatement) for millions of parents and families in the coronavirus lockdown, but Matilda and I had an enjoyable adventure at the end of what has been a tough day. There was a homework task in her school app inbox from before Christmas, to explore the night sky. So off we went in the car (including Chippy the Elf, don’t ask) to a quiet country lane a few miles from home.
Winter is the best time to explore the night sky in the northern hemisphere, because it’s darker than the summer (obviously) and because there are more distinctive constellations, with Orion dominating.
It was muddy and windy (my flat cap blew off) and a little scary for Matilda, but we had a great time and saw some wonderful objects in the night sky once our eyes had adjusted.
The most obvious object in the sky was the Moon with Mars and Uranus appearing close in the sky, although the latter is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark. We saw the dramatic constellation of Orion and used his belt (three stars in a line) to point down to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) and upwards to the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. We spotted the distinctive W (or M) shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, and the plough shape of Ursa Major.
It was a very short lesson as Matilda soon wanted to get back into the car, but we could still see quite a lot inside the car and on the way home. A positive experience of home schooling at the end of the day.
This wonderful album became one of my favourites of 2020 on first hearing, especially as the opening track is a superb instrumental cover of a Radiohead song.
The unexpected opening track, a wordless cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” offers a sort of formal thesis statement. Owens’ interpretation emphasizes the Steve Reich-like qualities of Jonny Greenwood’s guitar line, stretching it into an undulating synthesizer pattern. Forgoing vocals, she distills the song’s harmonic essence, stripping it down to emphasize a single part of the whole, evoking a state of trance-like contemplation until a jittery breakbeat crashes through.Pitchfork
Kelly Lee Owens is a Welsh electronic musician and producer, who skilfully combines multiple genres in one perfectly formed album. This is a beautiful piece of work, and ideal for evening listening.
One track features vocals from John Cale in both English and Welsh, this collaboration and the inclusion of the Welsh language was a means to connect with her Welsh heritage.
You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.
For shame deny that thou bear’st love to any, Who for thyself art so unprovident. Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many, But that thou none lovest is most evident; For thou art so possess’d with murderous hate That ‘gainst thyself thou stick’st not to conspire. Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate Which to repair should be thy chief desire. O, change thy thought, that I may change my mind! Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love? Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind, Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove: Make thee another self, for love of me, That beauty still may live in thine or thee.
This week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January), often abbreviated as WPCU. It involves Christian communities from across the world and from almost every denomination.
There are many different Christian churches and denominations, but all have the same basic calling – to worship God, to share the good news about Jesus Christ, and to work for the good of all people. So they often need to work together, as well as co-ordinate the work they each do separately. When they do, they are acting as Churches Together. But being Churches Together means more than that. It means commitment by each church and denomination to deepen its fellowship with the others and, without losing what makes each interestingly different, to work with them towards a greater visible unity.
To help the churches live as Churches Together, a number of small organisations have been created to ease their way. There is one in almost every town or community to help them to work together locally. There are others in the regions and for each of the four nations of Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England. There is also an umbrella organisation in the UK, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), from which I have obtained the above information. Additionally, there is the World Council of Churches.
You can find helpful resources on the CTBI website, including for WPCU below: