Unfinished Work

Read Philippians 1:3-11

My mother was one who taught her children that once you begin something you stick with it until it is completed. There might be times when I wanted to quit because it became too difficult or I did not like it for some reason but neither were reasons enough for mom. This lesson of carrying something through to completion has served me well in my personal and professional lives. The satisfaction when you finish something is very rewarding.

At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we read of his gratitude for the support and sense of satisfaction which he has experienced through the people. He also tells them that he has been praying for them and the joy they bring him. His prayers include the desire for their continued growth in the Lord. In the midst of all of this, Paul declares, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:6)

The declaration which Paul makes to the Philippians applies to us. God is definitely not one to quit or give up. This is evidenced in the continual times God made a covenant with the Hebrew people only to have them break it and a new one have to be started. The Lord began in each of us a work which the Lord declared to be good. From the beginning of our lives, God has continued to shape and guide us toward the person we were intended to be. Each day, the Lord works with us as we learn, grow and struggle. Never will God give up on a single one of us or walk away, leaving us unfinished and incomplete.

What a true comfort to have the knowledge of God’s continued work in us. We never have to fear abandonment. We also do not have to be seen as perfect because we are the Lord’s work in progress. Our failures and mistakes are to be viewed as part of the process not as the point of ruin. God is faithful to the work begun in each of us. God is not a quitter.

Abide

Read Revelation 3:20 

One of my favorite older hymns is Abide With Me. I was not introduced to this hymn in church but instead in my high school marching band. Our band director chose an arrangement of this hymn to be one of the songs in our show one fall. The melody was always soothing to me. Later I would locate the hymn in my church’s hymnal and would gain a deeper love of it when I read the words of the lyrics.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away

Change and decay in all around I see

O Thou who changest not, abide with me

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness

Where is death’s sting?

Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee

In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me

Abide with me, abide with me

Abide With Me, Audrey Assad

The verse from Revelation listed above speaks of abiding with Christ. The verse comes in the midst of John’s vision at the point that letters are being shared with the seven churches. Toward the end of the letter to the Church in Laodicea we locate this verse. The invitation for us to abide, or spend time, with the Lord is put forward here. We are told that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to open the door so he can join us, break bread with us, and sit with us.

There is comfort and calm when one considers the possibility of abiding with Christ. The words of the hymn affirm this assurance and comfort. The promise shared in the verse from Revelation makes this a real possibility. Unlocking the possibility is in our hands. The Lord stands and waits after knocking on our heart’s door. We must hear his knock and voice. Then we must open the door and take the time to sit with the Lord.

Proper Focus

Read Philippians 2:3-4

Have you ever taken pictures with a manual 33mm camera? When I was in high school I was taught how to take and develop pictures using a manual 35mm camera. I was a member of the yearbook and student newspaper staffs which each needed all types of pictures taken for the publications. This became a very enjoyable assignment for me. I had to learn how and on what to focus for each shot as I turned the dial on the lense which I chose to attach to the camera. Often the subject in the center of the picture became the element which I would focus upon. The focus had to be  precise or the picture was worthless. I still own my own 35mm manual camera even though I have not used it in years since now my cellular phone’s camera is easier and readily at hand.

As we read from Paul’s letter, the conversation involves who is receiving the focus. These verses are part of a discussion Paul is having in regard to how to live together as Christ followers. He is telling the readers to not be arrogant and self-centered. After these verses, Paul will lift Jesus up as an example of how to be humble and take the interests of others to heart alongside our own interests.

The trap of focusing just on one’s self is an easy one to fall into for us. There are many demands and expectations placed upon our time, energy, and money. Temptations of wanting more and better surround us. Threats of losing what we have seem to be endless as we watch the news and hear the stories of neighbors, friends and family. A person can reach the point of accepting the idea that it is a “dog eat dog world” which demands us to focus solely on our wants, needs and desires.

Paul tells us that this is not the attitude to have as a follower of Christ. We are not to place ourselves ahead of others. Our wants, needs and desires must be placed alongside the interests of others. As Jesus was willing to humble himself to the point of sacrificing all, we must be willing to do the same. A self-centered Christian is not demonstrating the way to live as Christ.

Receiving the Signal

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever becau1 se of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God,[a] and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:1-21 (NIV)

In the day when transistor radios were common, the familiar sound of trying to precisely locate a station on the radio dial included a lot of static and distorted sounds. Car radios of today can still provide a similar experience if you do not use the automatic search feature on them. Anyone who has manually adjusted the dial of a radio knows that often you  have to fine tune the radio in order to receive a clear signal which produces the best sound quality. If the signal is not on the exact frequency, the message or music will be garbled or mixed with annoying static. Getting and understanding a clear signal is important to the listener.

The Bible passage presented today involves a signal and understanding that signal. God had told Eli that because his sons were corrupt and Eli did not put an end to their corruption, Eli’s family would be stripped of their priestly duties. God also said that both of Eli’s sons would die on the same day. Time passed and the boy, Samuel, was living with and ministering alongside Eli. Samuel had been given by his parents to serve the Lord when he was an infant. One night Samuel heard a voice call to him while he was sleeping. Samuel assumed that it was Eli so he went to Eli. Eli told Samuel that he had not called and the boy should go back to sleep. This occurred three times. On the third time Eli figured out that the Lord was calling Samuel. So he gave Samuel a response for the next time the voice was heard. When God called again and Samuel responded as Eli instructed, God told Samuel of the fall of Eli’s family. The next morning when Eli asked Samuel what he had been told, Samuel did not want to give the message but Eli pushed the boy until he shared God’s words. This began the path which would lead to Samuel being seen as one of God’s great prophets.

Have you received a message which you would rather not share? Maybe you have been prompted by God to take a stance or an action which you wish to avoid. God’s calling of people did not end with Samuel. The Lord continues to call out to people each and every day. Some are called to speak at specific times about difficult topics. Others are called to respond or take actions which may place them in an unfavorable light. Like Samuel we may struggle to understand the source of the signal or what it means. We may need a mentor such as Eli to help us understand and know how to respond. We may also feel the fear which Samuel felt so we need to be prodded to follow through. Some fine tuning may be needed for clarity to exist. Whatever our situation, we must always be ready to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Give It All

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:36-38 (NIV)

This is the day of the year when we pause to remember those women and men who have died while serving their nation. Memorial Day has changed a lot since it first began. There have been various dates and times which nations have set aside to honor the deceased military. Our current holiday came out of some local practices within communities. The former confederate states set aside a day to honor those who had died during the Civil War. Northern states soon followed suit. In 1868, General John A Logan, leader of the Grand Army of the Republic which was a northern Civil War Veterans organization, issued a general order setting May 30 as Decoration Day which was “for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.” This became the starting seed of what was declared a national holiday in 1971. Today the holiday has been moved to the last Monday of May and has become a day when all who have died are remembered and graves decorated. However, the original purpose of setting aside such a date must be remembered. This day is meant to recall those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863) by giving their lives for their country.

Our passage from John comes in the midst of whatwereferto as the Last Supper. Jesus is sitting at a meal with his disciples. The ones who are closest to Jesus are beside him at the table. Judas has just left after Jesus identified him as soon becoming the betrayer. Jesus tells the disciples that he is to leave soon. Simon Peter asks Jesus where he is going and Jesus tells him that Peter cannot follow him now but will later. Peter wants to know why he cannot follow now and declares his willingness to lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus questions Peter’s true willingness since he knows Peter will soon deny knowing him.

It is easy for us to identify with Peter. Peter’s love for Jesus is strong, so strong that he declares his willingness to give his very life for Jesus. He is eager to give his all. However, Jesus knows the weakness in Peter. When the time came for Peter to risk his own life by acknowledging being a follower of Jesus, Peter was unable to follow through. Few of us have ever been put in such a situation so we are unable to say if we would choose as Peter did or not.

In the brave men and women who we honor on this day, we are given an example to follow and a challenge to accept. These military women and men loved their country and its ideals so much that they were not only willing but did give their lives in defense of them. This is an example for us to admire and emulate in our lives. The challenge set before it is to not only be willing to do this for our nation but also for our Lord. Are you willing to physically and/or metaphorically give your life because of your love for the Lord and the ideals which the Kingdom of God sets forth?

Being Known

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139:1-18 (NIV)

For eleven seasons from 1982 until 1993, the familiar theme song from the sitcom Cheers played in many homes where the television was tuned to NBC. This theme song captured the desire of almost every human, “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name.” Humans are created with a desire to be known. The sitcom demonstrated this desire. We became close to the characters as they became close to one another. As they experienced challenges, heartbreaks, triumphs and the ebb and flow of relationships, we experienced along with them because we could easily relate. Sam, Coach, Diane, Cliff, Norm, Carla, Lilith, Frazier, Woody and Rebecca each had a part of our life experience in them. We laughed and cried with them because we felt they knew us as much as we knew them.

The psalmist writes about being known in Psalm 139. The words recall for us the promise that God fully knows each and every one of us. God knows where we are and what we are doing at all times. We were known by the Lord even before being given life. Nothing about us is ever hidden from our Creator. We are completely known.

The idea of being so completely and intimately known can be comforting and unnerving at the same time. The comfort comes from a deep need being met. The unnerving aspect is that not only our good parts but our flawed and troublesome parts are fully exposed. There is no place or means of being hidden from God. Yet even while this is true, we are still loved fully by the Lord. The Almighty knows as by name and the welcome never ends. “(God) is always glad you came.”

Come and See

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!
    Sing the glory of his name;
    make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power
    that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
    they sing praise to you,
    they sing the praises of your name.”

Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for mankind!

Psalm 66:1-5 (NIV)

Hiking can be an activity filled with many wonderful benefits. Being outside along trails allows one to exercise which helps to reduce weight, improve heart and lung health, and benefit sleep. This form of exercise can also reduce stress and improve mental health. Hiking also offers beautiful views of nature, including experiencing wildlife. Viewing nature can create feelings of wonderment and awe.

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise. The psalm begins with a call for all creation to express joy. Singing of God’s glory and offering of praise sets the tone for this psalm. The fifth verse in the psalm invites all people to come and see. The psalmist seems to indicate that by seeing what the Lord has done it is almost inevitable that one would shout for joy and sing praises to the Lord.

Experiencing God’s marvelous work in creation is one of those come and see moments. How the Lord has created the brilliant colors, the amazing effects of sunlight on rippling water, and the interaction of creatures, communicates the awesome deeds of the Lord. The key for us in hearing the invitation. Most people benefit from first-hand experiences. We are surrounded by the awesome deeds of the Lord but we must take the time and open our eyes to see.  Our praise will follow. 

Positive Focus

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 (NIV)

There is a lot of negativity in our world. Some sociologists state that since the 1970s the population of the United States tends to view institutions such as the government and the church, as well as life in general, in a more negative way than the generations prior to the 1970s. The same sociologists view the 1960s as the turning point leading us to the negative turn. Events and experiences of the 1970s, and each decade since, have caused people to lose confidence and hope in ever receiving many beneficial influences from anything or anyone outside themselves.

Paul writes a letter to the believers of Jesus Christ in the area of Philippi. Toward the end of his letter, he gives them some final instructions to follow. Our passage today contains those instructions. He tells them to rejoice in all situations. Show their gentleness. Do not be anxious but let prayer be the manner in which they present their requests to God. God’s peace will guard each heart and mind. Their thoughts should focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. Paul is directing the people to focus on the positive aspects of life with trust in the Lord.

The advice Paul gives to the Philippians can be solid advice for us today. We are quick to identify all the problems and negative aspects of life. Our ability to identify and articulate everything which is  wrong in the world around us overshadows our attempts to find the good aspects. A recommendation for all of us might be that we reread these verses every Monday morning before we start a new week as our way to help us accentuate the positive in our lives. Some of us may see a need to do this daily instead of weekly.  Whichever method you choose, the message here is to focus on life’s positives.

No Shame

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

There are numerous aspects of life which can cause people to feel ashamed. Mistakes which we make can bring a sense of shame into our lives. The actions of a relative or friend can bring shame to us. Our perceptions of ourselves can lead us to feel ashamed. In specific situations this shame may be warranted. Often the shame is more embarrassment than actualized shame. No matter the cause or legitimacy of our being ashamed, the feeling is real. We may choose to avoid people and/or situations due to our sense of shame.

In today’s reading, we hear Paul make the statement that he is not ashamed of the gospel, or good news. Others have stated that the good news of Jesus’s death on a cross and resurrection was foolish and nonsense. Those who indicated they believed in the salvation found in these events were often labeled as ignorant, idiots, and even blasphemers. So Paul indicating he was not ashamed and saw the message of the good news as a sign of God’s power is a bold statement. Paul sees the gospel as a revelation of God’s righteousness being displayed and imparted upon those who believe in it.

Are you ashamed of the gospel? After all, there is sketchy logic to support the claims of the good news. Individuals today still reject this news and take a dim view of those who believe in it. Do you attempt to excuse away your belief in Jesus’s death and resurrection when others question you or do you make a bold statement as Paul does here? Some say that religion or faith should not be discussed in public settings, maybe not even in private ones. How often is this used to avoid having to declare belief in God and God’s saving actions? Like Paul, we need to stand and boldly proclaim our belief in the gospel without any sense of shame.

Amazing Grace

Music has a powerful way of communicating a message. Today I invite you to take a moment to watch this YouTube video. The song is Amazing Grace (MyChains are Gone) by Chris Tomlin. Toumlin has blended the message of the old hymn, Amazing Grace, with lyrics he has written to remind us how the Lord has broken the chains of sin by God’s amazing grace.

After watching the video, consider these questions:

  • What is so amazing about God’s grace?
  • What chains have bound you?
  • How has the Lord’s mercy impacted your life?
  • Is there anything from which you still need the Lord to set you free?

God’s grace is truly amazing. The Lord wishes to set you free from anything which prevents you from fully experiencing the love and life God continually gives you.