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.

Casting Nets

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11 (NIV)

Most of us wish to relax after putting in a full day of work. We desire to come home, have some dinner and then engage in one of our favorite past times to unwind from the day. Some evenings we have home projects to complete or events to attend before we can begin our relaxation time. The last thing we wish to do is return to work activities.

In the passage from Luke today, we hear Jesus requesting Simon to return to the work he has been doing all night long. Jesus first asks Simon to let him borrow his boat to go out in the water so he can create some space from the growing crowd. Simon obliges Jesus and Jesus teaches a while from the boat to the people on the shore. After Jesus finished teaching, he told Simon to do something which we all would hate if we were Simon, to start working again. Simon politely explains to Jesus that they had been fishing all night but caught nothing. Simon clearly did not wish to work anymore, he wanted to finish cleaning the nets and rest. While he is not mentioned, we can assume that Simon’s brother, Andrew, is in the boat with them. Simon and Andrew cast their nets once again. This time instead of catching nothing, they caught so many fish that their partners, James and John, have to assist them in hauling all the fish into the boats. Simon realizes Jesus’s power and Simon’s unworthiness to even be near him. Jesus tells Simon and the others not to be afraid of him. He then explains that from now on they will not fish for fish but for the souls of humanity. All four begin to follow Jesus.

Most of us can imagine Simon’s thoughts when Jesus tells him to cast the nets one again. Simon was tired after a long night of work. Simon was frustrated because all the work of casting the heavy nets and pulling them back in over and over had produced nothing.Then comes this man who not only wants to be taken out in the boat, interrupting completion of the last chore of the day which would be followed by a meal and rest, but then says to throw the nets back in the water for nothing. We can relate to Simon because that is how we feel about our fishing for Jesus. Our attempts to invite people to worship, help on service projects, or hear about our faith can feel futile. We get to the point where we want to stop fishing, stop reaching out to others, and just enjoy practicing our faith in our own way. But Jesus says to cast our net one more time, we may be surprised with the results.

Life Purpose

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Titus 3:1-8 (NIV)

There comes a point in everyone’s life when we try to understand what is our purpose. For some, there may be more than one point in life when this question surfaces. Seeking an answer to this question requires introspection, sometimes counseling, and research. Each of us have a drive for discovering our purpose. This drive is due to our desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world. We desire to feel we have value in our work and actions.

The passage from Paul’s letter to Titus speaks of life purpose. Paul directs Titus to remind the people how they should interact with leaders and members of their community. Paul points toward a time when everyone’s behavior was unkind and destructive. Then God chose to introduce the Savior into the world. Through Jesus, a new way of living was made possible. This new way has provided the people with an opportunity to do what is good for everyone.

A purpose has been given to bring meaning into our lives. We have been saved from our destructive and self-centered ways of living. Christ has not only saved us from these behaviors but has presented us a pattern in which the purpose is doing good for the sake of others. We do good in response to being saved. Our life’s purpose is to do good. How we go about fulfilling that purpose is our true quest.

A Recognition

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

John 1:1-13 (NIV)

All of us enjoy when our work is acknowledged and we receive kudos because of that work. Receiving a pat on the back encourages us to continue in our efforts. If we are the supervisor or manager of people or volunteers, taking the time to stop and express our recognition of extra effort by one for whom we are responsible is vital. A person who feels unnoticed and underappreciated will only do the minimum amount of work which is required. There is no motivation to go beyond if the efforts are not acknowledged.

The Gospel of Mark opens with the introduction of John, the Baptist. John tells of one who is coming and this one will be greater than John. Jesus then arrives and seeks baptism just as so many others have. In the midst of this baptismal rite, Jesus sees the heavens appear to open, an image of a dove descend upon him, and then hears a voice. The voice affirms Jesus as the Son followed by an acknowledgment that Jesus has pleased God. This occurs before Jesus has even begun the work of his ministry. Jesus has received a pat on the back before entering the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for a large number of days. It appears that God knew how important it would be for Jesus to hear recognition prior to undertaking a very difficult challenge.

Imagine hearing the words recorded here from a heavenly voice, from God. Realizing how motivating recognition from a human is to us, receiving similar kudos from our Creator would have to build us up in tremendous ways. The truth is that we already have received such recognition. Scripture tells us that God knew us before we were even born. God has already affirmed us as God’s daughter or son. God’s demonstration of love and grace has already told us we please God solely by being who we are. So we respond and are motivated to daily make the effort to be who God already sees us to be.

Facing These Times

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:7-19 (NIV)

Life can be difficult at various times. There are times when a person can wonder if the effort is worth it. Many who are engaged in work which benefits others can easily become discouraged. Challenges can seem to abound and meaningful results can seem impossible to obtain. Health care workers, teachers, pastors, non-profit workers, emergency responders and other service workers can relate many stories of times when they have felt like throwing up their arms and walking away.

In Peter’s letter, he writes about the end and about the experiences of those working to live out the Gospel through their lives. First, Peter tells the followers that they should use prayer to prepare themselves for the coming end. The early Christians lived in great anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth. There was an urgency in their understanding of the timing. Since they were certain this fulfillment would occur in their lifetime, they were anxious about being prepared. Peter instructs there to use prayer to assist them in being prepared.

Peter then turns to the suffering which they have been experiencing while doing the work of the Gospel. The believers had been engaging in acts of compassion as a demonstration of the love encompassed in the Gospel. They had also been sharing the story of the Gospel and what it is about with others. While engaging in these actions, they experienced ridicule, condemnation, and even physical harm. Peter informs them that this suffering aligns them with the sufferings of Christ. Their suffering witnesses to their bearing of the name of Christ.

Peter’s words spoke to the early Christians who felt like foreigners in this world but they also speak to us today as well. We currently live in very turbulent times once again. Uncertainty quickly overcomes us due to events and conditions throughout the world. We, like those who Peter wrote to, can feel unprepared and anxious. Peter’s advice can benefit us, pray. Prayer can calm our souls and bring us comfort. Prayer can open to us ways to prepare for what is ahead, even if we have no idea what that is or when it might happen.

The other perspective which Peter presents, the concept of enduring suffering for bearing Christ’s name, provides guidance to us. Whenever we serve others or share our experience with the Gospel, we open ourselves to frustration, alienation, ridicule and judgment. Remembering that Christ understands suffering for God since he suffered for this reason, we can find strength to continue the work. Our purpose becomes higher than earthly benefits. By demonstrating the love found in the Gospel through our words, work, and actions, we can witness to others and build them up in life.