The Letter of Joy (Chapter 3)

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.

In conclusion, here’s a helpful prayer and reflection based on this chapter, I encourage you to spend some quiet time going through it.

The good news therefore is this:
In Jesus Christ we are accepted,
we are loved, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!

The Letter of Joy (Introduction)

The Letter of Joy (Chapter 1)

The Letter of Joy (Chapter 2)

Stargazing with Matilda

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.

Reject Blue Monday

Today is the third Monday in January, a day designated as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year in the northern hemisphere.

Unfortunately, this trivial label actually damages our understanding of mental health, just for the sake of a superficial piece of clickbait. Yes, I guess my title is itself clickbait, but if this article helps you to understand actual depression better it will have achieved its purpose.

We all know that in a normal year January can be a difficult month for our mental health (for a variety of reasons) and 2021 is not a normal year. So, even though the concept of Blue Monday appears to make sense, I feel we should reject it even more this year. The very real challenges we face this January make my premise even stronger this year, Blue Monday just isn’t real.

You’ll hear people say that it’s been worked out using a ‘scientific formula’. In fact, it first appeared as part of an advertising campaign for a holiday company, hardly the rigorous, evidence-based approach we might expect. Even the person whose name was on the original press release has since distanced himself from Blue Monday, admitting he was paid to help sell holidays. He now campaigns against Blue Monday.

Having said all that, the date continues to surface every January, and is increasingly linked to mental health and depression. In fact, it’s simply a day when we’re all supposed to feel a bit down, but even that is far-fetched if you give it some thought and view it through the lens of common sense.

A few years ago, the charity Mind attempted to dispel the myth that Blue Monday had anything to do with depression.

Depression is NOT something that happens one day and disappears the next, as if it has trivial ’causes’. Blue Monday is mumbo jumbo, pseudoscience that only serves to add to damaging preconceptions about depression and trivialises a serious illness that can be life-threatening. Depression has nothing to do with the third Monday in January.

The idea that depression is basically the same as feeling low is very pervasive within society, as if it’s ’caused’ by trivial things with the ‘cure’ a matter of ‘pulling yourself together’. Facile responses to depression, such as ‘cheer up’, merely reinforce the preconception it can easily be shaken off with determination and effort. This is not the case, depression is NOT the same as having a bad day.

Depression is way more than simply feeling a bit low, and this is what’s difficult for some people to grasp. It’s about guilt, feelings of worthlessness, lack of motivation, and a sense of emptiness, with simple tasks seemingly impossible to achieve. But there’s also the physical symptoms; headaches, aches and pains, lack of appetite, and sleep disturbances. On top of this can come insidious suicidal thoughts.

It’s an insult to think that the mental and physical complexity of depression can be encapsulated in a catchy named day. The negative things in everyday life that get us down are NOT the things that cause depression, it’s NOT something ‘catch’ from our circumstances. Yes, they can affect our mental health adversely, but they don’t cause depression. Depression can happen in good times.

The ‘why’ of depression is a complex and multi-faceted question. Please don’t trivialise it by falling for a gimmick, reject Blue Monday!

Finally, here’s a Blue Monday we mustn’t reject, enjoy! Click here.

The Letter of Joy (Chapter 2)

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 2 contains one of the most profound passages in the New Testament (which may be an early Christian hymn). Paul’s purpose is to call the church to unity on the basis of the humility and servanthood of Jesus, and teach theology along the way. Take a few moments to read it through thoughtfully and prayerfully, maybe twice or more.

See below (or click on the link) Philippians 2:1-11

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This passage is central to Christian belief and practice. To be ‘united with Christ’ goes to the very heart of salvation and what it means to be a Christian. It’s a relationship with Christ as Saviour and Lord, one which places on us the joy of following and the responsibility of living like Jesus. Loving God and loving others in Jesus’ name, with no discrimination or favouritism.

We should be like-minded with Christ, and like-minded with each other. We will (of course) have our differing likes and views, but because we are ‘united with Christ’ there is an expectation that we will respect each other and seek to serve the common good.

Is there a relationship you need to mend? Is there a bridge you need to build towards others in your community? How can you reach out to groups you might consider ‘different’ from you in some way?

Heavenly Father, help us to live our lives with humble hearts, reaching out to our neighbours in love, and ready to serve suffering humanity. Amen.

The Letter of Joy (Introduction)

The Letter of Joy (Chapter 1)

Honey For Wounds (Ego Ella May)

As the title suggests, this album is one to soothe troubled spirits in a challenging world, even when addressing tough issues in today’s society. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Ego Ella May is a British songwriter and vocalist from South London. She has an all-encompassing love of music, which she channels into her own neo-soul and contemporary jazz compositions. She boasts a rich, mature sound, one that belies her years.

You can find the album on Bandcamp (and other streaming services) and an excellent review here.

The Letter of Joy (Chapter 1)

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.

Happiness is fleeting, it depends on circumstances. Joy is something far deeper, it’s not subject to our changing circumstances, it’s rooted in a quiet confidence in God. This is central to Paul’s letter to the Philippians, along with humility, unity and self-sacrificial Christian living.

Chapter 1 begins with a warm greeting to the Philippian church: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:1-6

Verses 12-14 are key verses in the chapter, and relate to the overall theme of joy in all circumstances. Paul relates how his suffering became an opportunity to share the message of Jesus: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

There are so many things that can cause us to become bitter or give up, Paul saw his circumstances as an opportunity. His circumstances weren’t important, how he used them was. He turned a bad situation into a good one, reaching out to those around him.

What are the circumstances causing to concern right now? They may be personal challenges, or ones facing all of us in the world today. Whatever they are, they can be opportunities: to share your faith and to serve others in humility, following the example of Jesus.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Philippians 1:27a

The Letter of Joy (Introduction)

Myopia (Agnes Obel)

The Independent has described this wonderful album by Agnes Obel as one “to experience alone, and there’s a comfort to being pulled into Myopia’s contemplative, isolating territory”. Snuggle up with your favourite earphones/headphones (with drink of choice) and allow this album to embrace you for forty minutes. It’s one of my favourites of 2020, and one which could have easily taken the top spot had I not gone for more upbeat albums.

Obel explained the meaning of Myopia: “For me Myopia is an album about trust and doubt. Can you trust yourself or not? Can you trust your own judgments? Can you trust that you will do the right thing? Can you trust your instincts and what you are feeling? Or are your feelings skewed?” Obel puts a feeling of quiet and gentleness in her music, […] which was the guiding concept of her previous album. The album contains a new sense of solitude instrumentalism and vocals, as well as departing from her upbeat early albums. Obel stated the album was sparked by a struggle to escape her “own tunnel vision”. Wikipedia.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Coast (Cousin Silas)

This is another new release by my friend Cousin Silas (not his real name) on his Bandcamp label to become an instant favourite album of mine in 2020. The previous one is Electric Portraits.

It’s a delightfully relaxing collection of ‘aural snapshots’ inspired by the coast. As he writes: I have always had an affinity for the coast. Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of my weekends and holidays, as a kid, on the East coast. Whatever the reason, it has often ‘inspired’ me, usually for the reflective and lonely places they can be … I hope you enjoy them as much I did making them.

This album is a perfect tonic for the struggles of 2020. The artwork is again by my friend Thomas Mathie, who also has a Bandcamp label that features music by Cousin Silas and others.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Eine Phase des Übergangs

I marked this album by Martin Neuhold as a favourite on its release in March 2020. My initial view has been confirmed on repeated listens, the latest being today (Thursday 22 October 2020).

The title means A Period of Transition, a title that’s very apt for me this year, one in which I’ve retired and moved to a new house. With the coronavirus pandemic having affected us all since March 2020 (and likely to for the foreseeable future), I guess we’re all in our own period of transition.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.

Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple)

Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Fiona Apple. It’s one of my favourite albums of 2020. The album was recorded between 2015 and 2020, and released during the coronavirus pandemic.

The album is rooted in experimentation and improvisation. It’s a highly percussive album which resists categorization, it could be described as genre-straddling.

While conventional instruments, such as pianos and drum sets, do appear, the album also features prominent use of non-musical found objects as percussion. Apple described the result as “percussion orchestras”. These industrial-like rhythms are contrasted against traditional melodies, and the upbeat songs often subvert traditional pop structures. (Wikipedia)

The album explores freedom from oppression, and its title comes from a line in the TV drama series The Fall. Apple has identified its core message as: “Fetch the f***ing bolt cutters and get yourself out of the situation you’re in”.

The album also discusses Apple’s complex relationships with other women and other personal experiences, including bullying and sexual assault. It has nevertheless been referred to as Apple’s most humorous album. (Wikipedia)

Many have found its exploration of confinement timely. It’s also been described as an instant classic and her best work to date. I’ve certainly enjoyed listening to it, mainly while walking our dog Toby.

You can see all my favourite 2020 albums by clicking here.