Finding the Lost (Luke 15:1-10)

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Jesus had a habit of upsetting the respectable, religious people of his day. We heard about one way he did is a couple of weeks ago when he healed a disabled woman on the Jewish day of rest. Here, in Luke 15:1-10, Jesus is doing it again. We read that he was welcoming tax collectors and sinners who came to hear what he had to say (v1). This upset the Pharisees and teachers of the law because they determined peoples’ value by how well they kept their religious rules. Jesus, however, used a completely different standard to measure people’s value.

We can see the way Jesus valued people in the stories about the lost sheep and coin in Luke 15:1-10, and the next story about the lost or prodigal son. Jesus didn’t determine people’s worth by what they did or how well they kept the rules. The point of the stories of the lost sheep and coin is that each and every one is valuable. The shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep because he values it, even though it is just one and he has another ninety-nine. In the same way, the woman swept her whole house and searched carefully for her one coin, and then celebrated when she found it with her friends and neighbours, because it was valuable to her.

In these stories, Jesus is teaching us that each and every person, no matter what their lives look like or how lost they might be, is so precious to God that he would enter into our world as one of us in Jesus to look for us, to seek for us, to search for us, to find us. And when he does, and when we turn back to God in faith, heaven parties like you wouldn’t believe!

Over the last couple of years, our congregation has been using Growing Young from the Fuller Youth Institute to help us in our ministry with our young people. Their research found that there are six core commitments which help churches in their ministry with young people. One of these is to take Jesus’ message seriously. This might sound obvious until we start thinking specifically about how we do that. With these stories about the lost sheep and coin, for example, what does it mean for us to take Jesus’ teaching about God valuing and searching for people who are lost seriously?

Firstly, we take this message of Jesus seriously when we identify as people who were lost but have been found. We might sometimes have a tendency to behave more like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law in the story and primarily see others as ‘lost.’ However, we can all identify as people who are lost because we all tend to want to go in our own directions, do things our own ways, and think that we can do life on our own. This leads us away from a relationship with our heavenly Father. We can also get a sense of being lost in the times of life when we feel like we don’t know where we are, how we got there or where we’re going.

However, God values each of us so much that he comes looking for us in Jesus the same way the shepherd searches for his sheep and the woman looks for her coin in Jesus’ story. When we identify as people who are lost, we also find a greater sense of value because Jesus came to look for the lost and return us into a loving relationship with God. We take this message of Jesus seriously when we recognise that we are lost so that we can find greater love, value and identity in Jesus as people whom he values enough to look and bring back to God. We take this message seriously when we admit that we can still get lost, and look to Jesus to lead us back into a renewed and deeper relationship with our God.

The second way we can take the message of the lost sheep and coin seriously is to trust that Jesus is still looking for people who are lost and have wandered from a trusting relationship with God through him. When we think about the people who have disconnected from our church, people in our own families who have walked away from a relationship with God, or the young people in our church who are in danger of leaving our community of faith, what are we willing to do in order to help to find them for the sake of Jesus? Do we run the risk of behaving more like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who criticise people who don’t do things the way we think they should be done, or who expect others to measure up to our standards? Or are we more like the shepherd who values the one sheep so much that he is willing to search until he finds it and brings it home? Are we like the woman who cleans the whole house and searches carefully until she finds what has been lost? What do we really value more – our own traditions, behaviours and expectations? Or the people that Jesus values enough to die for?

To take this message of Jesus seriously means recognizing that the way Jesus continues to look for people who are lost is through us. As the body of Christ in the world, he has commissioned and called us to search for and find those who have wandered away from a relationship with him or have got lost along the way of life. One of our most important roles as Jesus’ followers in the world is to be joining him in his search for those who are lost. The message of Jesus is good news for our world. The emphasis in Jesus’ teaching isn’t to tell people that they’re lost. Instead it’s to look for people who are already feeling lost and to help them find their way back to a loving relationship with God through Jesus. When people hear the good news of Jesus and turn to him as the one who leads them into a better life, there is such joy in heaven that it is hard to imagine.

Jesus welcomed the lost and brought them home through a new relationship with God. We take this message seriously when we recognise that we are among the lost, and when we join with Jesus in searching for others who are lost as well. Who is one person you know who might be feeling a little lost that you can connect with this week? Go looking for that person, sit with them and listen to them. In simple ways such as making the time for people who are lost, maybe Jesus will find them and bring them home, as the angels celebrate their return.

More to think about:

  • Have you ever lost something that was so important to you that you looked everywhere until you found it? What was it? Why was it so important to you?
  • What do you hear Jesus teaching us in the stories about the lost sheep and coin?
  • How might you take his teaching seriously in your own life?
  • Have you ever felt lost in your life? What happened?
  • What was it like for you to be found? If you’re still feeling lost, what might it mean to you that Jesus is looking for you & won’t stop until he finds you?
  • Do you know someone who is feeling lost for some reason? How might you be able to be the way that Jesus goes looking for that person?
  • How might your church be different if together you took seriously that Jesus wants to find people who are lost through you? What might need to change for you to do that faithfully & effectively?
  • Can you imagine what the celebration in heaven is like when someone who was lost finds their way back to God through Jesus? Describe what you think it might be like…
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Planted by the Waters (Psalm 1)

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When you travel through the Australian Outback, for hours all you see is desert or low, scrubby salt-bush. Every now and then you might find tall gum trees rising from the dry landscape. These trees are signs that there is water somewhere nearby. It might be a river or a waterhole or even an underground water source, but for trees to grow strong and tall, they need water to sustain them in the long, hot, dry Australian summers and droughts. Their presence tells us that there is water somewhere close for their roots to provide them with the goodness they need for life.

The ancient people of the Bible lived in a hot, dry climate like Australia. They knew how important water is for life. Plants or trees didn’t last long if they tried to grow a long way from a dependable water source like a river. For a tree to grow strong and produce the fruit that it was intended to, then it would have to be planted near water to give it what it needed to survive and thrive.

We can learn a lot from this image from Psalm 1 of a person who meditates on God’s word being like a tree planted along a riverbank. In lots of different ways, we can experience dry spells or droughts in life. When that happens, where do we go for strength, nourishment or hope? Where do we look for what we need to survive in this world and try to find what we need for life?

The promise of Psalm 1 is that when we are planted next to the life-giving water of God’s word, we will find everything we need to not just survive in life, but to thrive in even the driest times of life, and to produce the fruit that God wants to share with the world through us. When our roots go deep into God’s word and his promises to us through it, we will be like trees whose leaves never wither and are always fresh and green like a gum tree in the Outback. I know that the analogy is flawed because gum trees don’t produce fruit, so maybe it’s more appropriate to think about an apricot, apple or orange tree thriving in the middle of an Australian desert – can you imagine that? God’s promise to us in Psalm 1 is that no matter how things might try to suck the life out of us, when we are planted in God’s word with our roots going down deep into his love, grace and goodness, God will provide us with everything we need to have green leaves and produce delicious fruit in season.

At the heart of God’s word is the promise of his grace and love in Jesus. We can read God’s word as laws, rules and direction for our lives, but they are there to point us towards Jesus (Galatians 3:24). He is the source of a life which is stronger than the dry spells and droughts we go through, even stronger than death. When we read the Bible and hear the good that God promises to do for us and in us through Jesus, the Holy Spirit feeds and strengthens us, giving us everything we need for life in this world and the next (Romans 8:32). When we put our roots down deep into the good news of Jesus and draw on the grace and love of God for us in him, then the Bible gives us life to survive through and even thrive in every situation of life (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).

That’s why it is vital that we are meditating on God’s word daily. If I just water a plant every now and then it’s not going to be as healthy and the fruit won’t be as sweet as when I water it regularly. It’s the same with us. When we are planted near God’s word and it’s a part of our everyday life, it gives us what we need for life to the full (John 10:10). It also means that when the dry times come, when tragedy strikes or life gets really hard for any reason, we are already prepared. Trees which have roots that go deep into the soil have a much better chance of surviving a drought than those with shallow roots. When our roots are diving deeper into the goodness of God’s word every day, we are already drawing on its goodness and finding what we need to thrive and continue to produce the fruit of good works when the dry times of our lives come.

Psalm 1 says this comes through meditating on God’s word (v2). The word ‘meditation’ might make some people think of sitting cross-legged on a mat while we try to achieve inner peace. Meditation doesn’t have to look like that. We all meditate when we think about things, turning ideas and other thoughts over in our heads. We all think about things such as what we’re going to do, what we’re going to eat, what do other people might think about us, what people may have said to us or about us, and so on. The main question for us isn’t so much ‘Do we meditate?’ but ‘On what do we meditate?’

The art of Christian meditation is bringing what God says to us in his word into those thoughts, so that our focus is on what God says to us and about us. Being planted by God’s word might be carrying one word of God’s grace, love or peace from the Bible with us through our whole day. The way I do it is to read the verse of the day on a Bible app on my phone before I look at the weather or my email first thing in the morning. Or I’ll read a couple chapters of my Bible in my office before I turn on my computer. My goal is to find one piece of good news or one promise from God which I can carry with me. During the day, then, I go back to that verse, promise or piece of good news to give me God’s perspective on what’s going on, to filter what’s happening through God’s word or to find God’s goodness in Jesus through it. Meditation is about seeing the whole of our existence from God’s perspective, through the lens of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus.
Learning to meditate on God’s word isn’t just for professional ministers. It’s an art for all of Jesus’ followers to grow in so that we can be planted near God’s word like a tree by a billabong in the Outback, drawing on and finding life in the goodness of God in Jesus which we encounter through the Bible.

I know the difference being planted near a river can make to a gum tree in the Outback. Being planted near God’s word can make the same difference to our lives.

More to think about:

  • Why is it important for trees and plants to have a constant source or water? What happens if they don’t get regular water, especially during hot, dry summers or droughts?
  • What are some things that can cause people to experience ‘dry periods’ in life? What are some of the ‘dry spells’ you’ve experienced in your life?
  • Where did you go or what did you do to try to get through those dry spells? Did they help?
  • What do you think of God’s promise in Psalm 1 that we will find life when we are planted near & meditating on God’s word? Is that a difficult promise to believe? What do you like about that promise?
  • How do you go with reading your Bible? What might help you read your Bible more regularly?
  • How do you think you would go if you committed to reading your Bible every day, found one piece of good news or promise from God in your Bible, and then carried it with you through your day? Would that be easy or difficult for you? How might it help you find God’s goodness in your life during the day?
  • What are some other ways you might be able to be planted near God’s word to draw goodness from it to help you in your life?

Jesus’ Guest List (Luke 14:1,7-14)

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If you were throwing a party or having a dinner to celebrate a special occasion, who would you invite?

I’m guessing that there are a few different ways we might decide on a guest list. We might think about people who have invited us to their homes or special events, or people with whom we have a close relationship, or people from whom we might hope to get a return invitation. But would you ever consider inviting people who could never invite you back?

It is natural for us to want to invite people for dinner or to a party that we like, are close to or might hope for a return invitation. The same was true in Jesus’ day. As Jesus sat at a dinner with a leader of the Pharisees on a Sabbath day in Luke 14:1-14, he watched people turn an opportunity for generosity and community into an exercise in social status. Some guests tried to sit in the most prestigious positions. It seems like they were using the dinner as an opportunity to make themselves look more important and climb the social ladder in their community. It might even be possible that the Pharisee, by inviting Jesus, was trying to make himself look good in others people’s eyes by inviting the Teacher into his home.

However, Jesus used this as an opportunity to show that the Kingdom of God doesn’t work in the same way we do. Whatever the Pharisee leader’s reasons were for inviting him, Jesus turned the human desire to look good in front of others on its head by teaching that God will reward people who don’t invite friends, relatives or rich neighbours to a dinner. Instead, God will reward those who invite ‘the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind’ (v13), in other words the people in society who are most destitute and in the greatest need. Instead of inviting people with the hope or expectation of receiving a return invitation, Jesus teaches us to invite people who have no hope of repaying us with a return invitation. In other words, Jesus is teaching us to make the act of giving generously without any thought of what we might get back in return our priority.

Can you imagine doing that? If you were going to invite someone over for dinner this week, who would be someone you normally wouldn’t invite? It might be someone you don’t get along with, someone from a different cultural background, someone with a disability, or someone who is socially isolated and lonely. There might be a range of reasons why we can find it difficult inviting people over for a meal. But if we are going to take Jesus’ message seriously, would we consider inviting someone with whom we would find it hard to share a meal, someone in need, or someone who couldn’t invite us back?

To be honest, I’m feeling a pretty uncomfortable as I write these words. In our home, with the number of evenings I’m out visiting people or going to meetings, we find it hard to invite people over at all. To then consider inviting people who we normally wouldn’t invite, then, is very challenging. But maybe that’s Jesus’ point.

One the one hand, like with all of Jesus’ teachings, we can hear these words as something we should be doing. Jesus’ teachings challenge our priorities and values as he shows us something deeper about ourselves through them. Jesus might be showing us that we naturally prefer to invite people we like or people who we hope will invite us back. To give an invitation to someone who might be hard to share a meal with is difficult and can go against our natural inclinations. We can’t ignore that and we need to take responsibility for that. The path to a better way of living begins with acknowledging that Jesus’ teachings confront our natural inclinations while at the same time pointing us to something better.

In this case, Jesus is pointing us to a better reality in God’s Kingdom.

When we gather in God’s house in worship, he is effectively inviting us into his presence to share a meal with us. We might like to think about ourselves as good people who somehow have right to share in the meal God invites us to. When we take Jesus’ teaching seriously, however, in all of its confronting brilliance, we can see that we can be the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind that Jesus is talking about. We can be poor in good deeds because we would rather share a meal with people we like or people we hope would invite us back. We can be crippled because we still tend to be tied up in our own self-interest rather than live in the freedom of faith and love. We can be lame because we find it difficult to walk in the way of life that Jesus teaches. We can be blind because we often can’t see others how God sees them, as valued and loved because of the presence of God in them and Jesus’ death and resurrection for them.

When Jesus throws the eternal banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven, he doesn’t invite the people the world would naturally tend to invite – the wealthy, the successful, the beautiful, the popular and the good. Instead, Jesus invites people who are in need of what he offers even though we can’t repay him for his generosity. Jesus invites those of us who are poor, crippled, lame and blind in body, mind or spirit. Jesus invites us to his table, to share his meal with him as he gives himself to us in self-sacrificing love, not because we deserve it or because he wants something from us, but because we need what he has to offer and because he wants to bless us with his gifts. He invites us as an act of complete and total grace because, not matter how poor or crippled or lame or blind we might be, Jesus reckons we’re worth it.

It would be easy at this point to throw out the challenge to think about who might be the least likely people you’d invite for dinner and then ask them over this week. I’d feel bad, though, if anyone in our church who has heard this message received that invitation and thought of themselves as ‘needy’ in our eyes. So I’m not going to do that, but instead ask you to consider a broader guest list than you have in the past next time you throw a party or hold a dinner.

I want to remind you, though, about who Jesus invites to his meal in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus doesn’t invite us to his table because we deserve it or because he wants something from us. Jesus invites us because he has something good to offer us – his own self as his act of self-giving, self-sacrificing love for us. As we join Jesus at his table, let’s remember that we come purely because of God’s grace for us in Jesus. And then let’s show that some grace to the people around us.

More to think about:

  • If you were going to have a dinner or party, who are the 3 most likely people that you would invite? Why would you want to invite them?
  • Who are the 3 least likely people you’d invite? Why would you not want to invite them? (you don’t need to share publicly if it will embarrass someone)
  • How is Jesus’ teaching about inviting people who are in need or who can’t invite you back sitting with you? Are you feeling comfortable with his words? Or are they making you uncomfortable? Can you explain why?
  • What do Jesus’ words tell us about the Kingdom of God?
  • When Jesus invites people to his table at Holy Communion (or the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, etc) do you think he invites them because they deserve it or he wants a return invitation? Or does Jesus invite those who need his grace? Maybe talk more about your understanding of the Lord’s Supper and what you believe happens in Jesus’ meal of bread and wine…
  • In what ways might you be physically, emotionally or spiritually ‘poor, crippled, lame or blind’? If this is who Jesus invites to his meal, how can sharing in his meal help to shape your understanding of God’s grace for you in Jesus?
  • How might you be able to show that same grace to someone else this week?

Standing Straight (Luke 13:10-17)

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The account of Jesus releasing a crippled woman on a Sabbath in Luke 13:10-17 might look like just another healing story when we first read it. However, when we listen carefully to the language Luke uses to describe the event we can find that there is more going on under the surface.

The Synagogue leader got upset with Jesus because he broke the Sabbath rules. About fifteen hundred years earlier, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God gifted his people with a day off each week. This day of rest, known as the Sabbath, was so important that God enshrined it as one of the Ten Commandments – ‘Remember to observe the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy’ (Deuteronomy 20:8 NLT). In order to protect this gift, subsequent generations of Israelites began defining what they regarded as ‘work’ so they knew how not to break this commandment. By the time of Jesus, the gift of the rest day had become an expectation, lost under a complicated system of rules about what a person could and could not do on that day.

The synagogue leader got upset with Jesus because he viewed releasing the woman from her illness as work and so Jesus had broken this commandment in his eyes. Jesus challenged the leader’s understanding of God’s purpose for the Sabbath by pointing to the way he would untie his donkey or ox in order to lead it out for a drink of water. This action was also ‘work’ according to the synagogue leader’s Sabbath regulations.

This is where the language of the story becomes very significant. In verse 12, where the New Living Translation has Jesus saying, ‘you are healed of your sickness,’ the Greek text uses a verb which means more like ‘released’ or ‘let go’. In the same way, the word Jesus uses in verse 16 which is translated as ‘released’ is the same word he uses in verse 15 when he talks about ‘untying’ a donkey or an ox to lead it out for a drink of water. Luke used this language is to tell us that Jesus came to untie or release us from the effects of sin which tie us up, weight us down and prevent us from living in the ways God originally intended for us.

The Synagogue leader was effectively tying people up with rules, traditions and expectations around the Sabbath-day of rest. In contrast, Jesus saw an opportunity on this particular Sabbath to untie the woman, set her free and release her to live the life God intended for her.

When we gather together on our day of rest, I wonder who we more closely resemble? Are we living in the freedom that Jesus gives us through faith to find release from the things in life that tie us up, weigh us down and keep our eyes looking towards the ground? Or are we tied up with rules, traditions and expectations, passing those things that tie us up on to others? As people join us in worship, do they encounter rules that bind them or the grace of Jesus which sets us free?

We all have things that bind us. For some, like the woman in the story, it might be a physical disability which ties us up and prevents us from living the life God intends for us. If that’s the case, the good news of this story is that Jesus has the power to release us from our physical weaknesses and infirmities. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has the power to make all things new, including our bodies. Some miraculously experience this healing and release in this life. Others wait their whole lives for it in faith and hope. Either way, Jesus asks us to trust him because ‘faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us the assurance about things we cannot see’ (Hebrews 11:1 NLT).

This woman’s physical disability also signifies something deeper that can happen within all of us. We can easily get tied up in things like guilt, fear, shame, anxiety, loneliness, other people’s expectations, the need to please others, and the list can go on and on. They bind us in ways that are very similar to the woman in the story because they restrict us and prevent us from living the ‘life to the full’ which Jesus promises us (John 10:10) in the love, joy, peace and hope that God intends for us. The things that tie us up keep us looking at the ground in front of our feet, making us stumble our way through life instead of having eyes that are lifted up to see Jesus in faith and others in Christ-like love. For us to live the life that God promises us, we need to be set free from the things that tie us up so we can stand straight and strong in the love and grace of Jesus.

That’s what Christian community it meant to be about. Our purpose is not to keep people tied up in expectations, human traditions or rules. That was what the synagogue leader was doing. Jesus’ purpose was to release people, to set us free, to give us life in all of its fullness. As a community of faith which carries the name of Christ, our purpose is to be finding and living in the love of God through Jesus which releases us, and then extending that same liberating love and grace to others. For a lot of people who grew up in churches which emphasised the importance of certain behaviours, customs, human traditions and expectations, this is a significantly different way of thinking about church.

But what might our community of faith look like if we understood our purpose as helping people find freedom from what binds them in life through a living and growing faith in Jesus?

There is a lot more going on in this story that just another healing miracle. Through the words of this story, Jesus gives us the promise that he can untie us from whatever binds us in life so we can stand straight, seeing his love and grace and seeing others around us who also need his love and grace. This story also challenges us to think about our own community of faith. How can we be a community where people can encounter the love of Jesus which releases us from what ties us up, so they can find the freedom which comes through faith too?

More to think about:

  • What questions or thoughts do you have about the story in Luke 13:10-17?
  • What are some of the things that can tie people up in life?
  • Has your experience of ‘church’ been more about being tied up with rules or expectations, or being set free through grace and love? Maybe share some examples.
  • What ties you up in your life?
  • Do you think it is possible for Jesus to untie you from the things that tie you up like he did for the woman in the story? Discuss your answers…
  • How might your view of ‘Christian discipleship’ be similar or different if you thought about Jesus calling you to follow him means that he wants to lead you into greater freedom from the things that tie you up in life?
  • How might your view of Christian community or church be different if you saw it more as followers of Jesus walking together into greater freedom through a growing faith in Jesus?
  • You might like to talk with Jesus in prayer, giving him whatever might be tying you up in life and asking him to untie you from it…

By Faith (Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16)

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One of the toys our kids are currently collecting are small plastic pencil-top figures called Ooshies. There are two main ways to buy Ooshies. One way is in a multi-pack where you can see what characters you’re buying, except for a mystery Ooshie which is included. You can also buy single packs called ‘blind bags’ where you don’t know what you’re getting. In either case, buying Ooshies can be thought of as an act of faith because we are hoping for something good even though we can’t see exactly what we’re getting.

In some ways, this is the kind of faith the Letter to the Hebrews talks about in chapter 11. The author looks back at Old Testament heroes and shows how their faith meant that they lived their whole lives trusting in God’s promises to them even though they couldn’t see what they were hoping for.

Hebrews 11 teaches us some important things about the nature of Christian faith:

1. Faith is grounded and grows in God’s promises
The faith of the Old Testament people in Hebrews 11 was directed towards God’s promises to them. For example, God promised Abraham a land that his descendants would inherit. To Sarah, God promised a child. As Hebrews 11 looks back at the other Old Testament heroes, in every case their faith was connected a promise God gave them. It’s the same with us. Saving faith is always grounded in and grows from God’s promises to us in Jesus. As Paul writes in Romans 10:17, ‘faith comes from hearing … the Good News about Christ’ (NLT). For us and for our faith, then, hearing God’s promises in the Bible becomes vital to a living, active and saving faith.

2. Faith makes a difference to our lives
In every example that Hebrews gives, people’s lives were changed because of their faith in God’s promises. For Abraham the change was leaving his home and living in tents in the land God had promised him. The difference to Sarah’s life was having a child and becoming a mother at the age of 99. For the rest of the people in Hebrews 11, faith in God’s promises led to some sort of action. This is very different from an understanding of faith I come across sometimes which is more about intellectually agreeing with a church’s teachings or doctrines. Good teaching and doctrine are important in a church, but their purpose is always to point us to faith in God’s promises in the gospel which changes our lives.

3. Faith generates hope
The big difference faith in God’s promises made to all the people mentioned in Hebrews was that it gave them hope. Using the examples of Abraham and Sarah, both of them found hope when they believed what God had promised them. For Abraham, the hope was that his descendants would have a homeland. Sarah’s hope was that her shame would be removed through the birth of a child. For us, too, faith creates and sustains hope in our lives. When so many people in our society are struggling for something to hope in, when we trust in God’s promises and bring that good news to others, faith in those promises will lead to a greater hope in our lives and in the lives of the people around us.

4. Faith means trusting in what we can’t see
None of the people of faith in Hebrews 11 actually received what God had promised them. In verse 13 we read, ‘they did not receive what was promised,’ and again verse 39 states, ‘none of them received all that God had promised’ (NLT). This is the most difficult thing about faith – it’s trusting that something is real and living like it’s true even though we can’t see it and don’t fully experience it. This is especially hard in a culture which teaches that ‘seeing is believing’ and that if you can’t prove or have empirical evidence of something, then it doesn’t really exist. The very nature of Christian faith is that we hope for something and live like it’s true even though we can’t see it or prove it. The best we can do is look back at the ways in which God has kept his promises in the past. Based on that evidence, we can continue to hope that God will keep his promises to us in the same way that God kept his promises to all the people of the Old Testament. This is the purpose of Hebrews 11, and in fact all of the stories in the Bible: to encourage us in our faith. As we hear how God kept his promises to the people of the past, we can trust that God will keep his promises to us in the same way.

I have known people who say that living in the way of faith is easy because there are no absolute moral standards to reach and no rules that we have to follow. I disagree. Living by faith is much harder than a rule-based or self-help life because it asks us to trust God’s promises and live like they’re true, even though our experiences in life might indicate something different. Faith means hoping for what God promises, even though we can’t see it.

When I buy an Ooshie for my kids it’s an act of faith. We are hoping for something good, even though we can’t see what we’re getting. God makes us amazing, life-giving promises in Jesus. He asks us to trust him enough to live like what he promises is true, even though we might not be able to see what he promises us. As we read Hebrews 11 and look back at the heroes of faith from the Old Testament, God is showing us that he can be trusted so our faith can grow and we can bring the hope he gives to the people of the world, even when we can’t see it.

More to think about:

  • I’ve heard it said that everyone has faith – what’s important is in what you have faith. Would you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  • What do you have faith in? Why do you have faith in it? What does it promise you? Can it actually deliver what it promises?
  • As you read Hebrews 11, which is your favourite Old Testament character? Why is that person your favourite?
  • I’m suggesting there are four things we can learn about faith from Hebrews 11. What was the promise your favourite character received from God? What difference did it make to his/her life? How did s/he find hope through faith in the promise? Why did s/he never see what was promised?
  • What are some promises God makes you in Jesus?
  • What difference might having faith in those promises make in your life?
  • How might those promises give you a greater sense of hope?
  • How might you be able to live like those promises are true, even if you can’t see them?
  • Who is someone you know whose life might change for the better through faith in God’s promises to them? How might you be able to share a promise form God with them this week?

What’s the point? (Ecclesiastes 1:2,12-14 2:18-23)

Ecclesiastes 07

For about six or seven years when I was younger I collected comics. Every fortnight I would go into the comic shop, buy a few regular titles, read each of them a couple of times, put them in plastic bags and place them in specially-bought comic book boxes. Then, after a couple of weeks, I’d go back into the comic store, buy some more comics and do it all again.

After a few years, I began asking myself ‘Why?’ I had a growing number of comics, but the publishers kept producing more and more which meant that I would never have a complete collection. I began wondering why I was investing so much money in something that didn’t really benefit anyone and was potentially endless.

I started asking myself, what’s the point?

We can get so caught up in the things we do that it can be hard for us to step back and ask ourselves whether they actually have any real purpose. Asking if what we do has any real point can lead us to question the purpose and value of our lives because often we look for meaning in what we do. When we question the meaning of our actions or behaviours, it can lead us to ask if there’s any meaning to our existence. That can be a very hard question for us to ask.

When Solomon, also known as ‘the Teacher’ in the Book of Ecclesiastes, wrote that everything is meaningless, he knew what he was talking about. When he became Israel’s third king after his father David, God had offered to give him anything. Solomon asked for wisdom so he could rule the nation of Israel well (1 Kings 3:3-15). God was so pleased with Solomon’s request that he also promised to give him what he didn’t ask for – ‘riches and fame’ (v13 NLT). Over the course of his life, Solomon accumulated massive amounts of riches, power and wisdom, including 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 2:8, he had everything a man could desire!

When he looked at everything he possessed or accomplished, Solomon came to the conclusion that it was meaningless. He had searched for meaning to his life in wisdom and learning, in pursuing pleasures of every kind, in huge building projects, and in hard work. In all of this, though, he failed to find any meaning because he knew that when his life in this world ended that he would leave everything behind. Solomon had no way of knowing if the people who would inherit everything he’d worked so hard for would be foolish or wise, if they would use it well or squander it. So what was the point of it all?

We can look for meaning in life in exactly the same ways he did – through learning and wisdom, through pleasure and relationships, through our work, the things that we build and the things that we own – but the end result is still the same. If we look for meaning in the things we do or have, then our lives will ultimately be meaningless. Secular philosophers have come to the same conclusion and call it nihilism – that in the end nothing really matters. Maybe that’s why so many people in our society live for the present and to have fun. As long as we look for meaning in the things of this world, everything is meaningless because nothing in this world lasts for ever.

Two other Bible readings from last Sunday point us towards looking for meaning in life in a different direction. The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) ends with Jesus teaching us to ‘have a rich relationship with God’ (v21 NLT). In the same way, Paul tells us to ‘set our sights on the realities of heaven’ where ‘your real life is hidden with God’ (Colossians 3:1-3 NLT). When we look for meaning to life in our relationship with God through Jesus instead of the things of this world, we can find meaning which is stronger than death, which goes beyond the grave and which will last for all of eternity. It is a sense of meaning which doesn’t rely on what we have or what we do but remains standing through all our flaws, failures and storms of life when everything else is falling apart.

Jesus knew the meaninglessness of human existence. In particular, his crucifixion seems like a meaningless death. For three years Jesus had taught the crowds that followed him, healed the sick, set people free from guilt and fear, and even raised the dead. After all the good he had done, for Jesus to die a criminal’s death on a cross makes his life look meaningless. However, the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection shows that God can bring meaning out of something that looks meaningless. When Jesus was raised to new life, he showed that meaning in life is not found in the things of this world, but in a rich and solid relationship with God through him.

When we look for and find meaning in our lives through Jesus, then we have a new perspective though which we can see everything we have as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:19) and enjoy them without relying on them to provide meaning for us. When we don’t rely on wisdom or learning, fun and pleasure, work or building things, or money and possessions for our sense of meaning, but find it in Jesus, then we can enjoy all the good things God gives us because he loves us and wants the best for us.

One of the reasons I stopped collecting comics was because it was ultimately meaningless. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong or bad. The problem comes when we look for meaning in life in them or other things like them. That’s when life can appear meaningless. In Jesus, though, we can find meaning that goes beyond everything else in this world.

More to think about:

  • What is the most pointless thing you do in your life? Why do you keep doing it?
  • What do you think about what Solomon’s opinion that everything is meaningless (Ecclesiastes 1:2 etc)? Would you agree or disagree with him? Can you explain why you think that way…?
  • What do you look to for meaning in your life – learning and knowledge? fun and pleasure? work or making things? money and possessions? something else?
  • What would happen if you lost them or if they were taken away? How would that change your sense of meaning in life?
  • I know people who tell me that following Jesus is just as meaningless as everything else in life. Would you agree with them? Can you explain why?
  • How might the meaning Jesus gives to our lives be different from the meaning we look for in other things? How can Jesus’ death and resurrection give us a deeper, more lasting sense of meaning?
  • As people who find our meaning in Jesus, how can that shape the way we see the other things in our lives? If we find our meaning in Jesus instead of the things of this world, how might that help us view them differently?

Complete in Christ (Colossians 2:6-15)

Col 2v10 complete in Christ 01

Every now and then I sit down to do a jigsaw puzzle with my kids. A lot of the time, these puzzles are pictures of their favourite cartoon characters, animated heroes or movie princesses. There have been times when we have been doing a puzzle and some pieces have been missing. Even though we’d done as much of the puzzle as we could, the image of the person in the picture was left incomplete.

To complete the picture, we could try to use other things to fill the gaps. We could attempt to make our own pieces and substitute them. Or we could use pieces from other puzzles to try to complete the image. In the end, only pieces that really fit will be able to complete the picture.

In the creation story from Genesis 1, we read that God created humanity in his image (verses 26,27). There are a number of ways in which people understand what is meant by the ‘image of God.’ For example, it could mean having a spirituality unlike anything else in creation, being created for a special relationship with God, having the ability to think rationally, or even being able to make things. One thing it doesn’t mean is that God physically looks like us with a head, body, two arms and two legs. The image of God in us is much deeper than our physical appearance. Humanity carries something in us which resembles the nature and character of God.

However, when sin entered the world, the image of God within us became distorted and corrupted. We still have it, but it isn’t the way God originally intended it to be. One way in which people describe this distorted image of God in us is like looking at ourselves in a broken mirror – we can still see ourselves but not as we really are. Another way we can think of this distorted image is like a jigsaw puzzle of a portrait which is missing some key pieces. We can still work out who it is, but we can’t see the person’s image in the way they really are. Because of sin in the world and in us, we can be aware of God’s image in us and in each other, but that image isn’t what it was meant to be.

There’s something in us that realises that something is missing in our lives, just like in my jigsaw puzzle, so we try lots of different things to fill those holes. We can try things like relationships, paid or unpaid work, sport, family, school, all sorts of things. Especially in our consumer culture, we are taught that buying more stuff can fill the gaps in our lives. There was an ad om TV a while ago which showed people with holes in them that matched products they could buy. The message of the ad, and the idea behind a lot of what happens in our society, is that we can fill in the gaps of our lives and find a sense of being ‘complete’ through the things we buy.

The way in which God fills our emptiness and makes us complete is through the person of Jesus. Paul shows us how God does that in Colossians 2:6-15. He writes that ‘in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body’ (v9 NLT). Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God. When we look at Jesus, we see the clearest picture we can of who God is and what God is like. Jesus shows us what humanity created in the image of God should look like. Jesus is exactly how God intended humanity to be from the beginning of creation. When we look at Jesus and get to know him, we can see and discover who God wants us to be as people who carry his image in us.

Jesus isn’t just an example of how God wants us to be. Paul says God actually makes us complete by filling us with the fullness of Jesus, who is himself the fullness of God in bodily form, when we are united with Christ through faith. It would be like placing my incomplete puzzle on the picture on the box, and then the two becoming one as the complete picture fills the missing pieces and completes it. This is what Jesus does for us as we are united with him through faith – Jesus fills our gaps, makes us complete and restores the original image of God in us so we can be the way God intended us from the beginning of creation.

Paul explains that the way to be made complete in Jesus is by living as his disciples. He writes about ‘accepting Jesus Christ as … Lord’, which means embracing Jesus and the gospel through faith, trusting it as good news for us. This faith leads us to follow Jesus as we learn to live in the way of faith and love from him. This new life in Christ involves ‘putting our roots down into him’ so that the good news of Jesus becomes the source of goodness for our lives and what keeps us strong when the storms of life come our way. God completes us as his new creation when we build or lives on him through faith and love, just like someone builds a house on solid foundations (Matthew 7:24-27). We can find our complete selves in Jesus when we live as his disciples, following him, drawing strength and life from him, and building our lives on his grace and love.

We can then bring this completeness into every aspect of our lives. Instead of looking to be made complete through our relationships or family, work or school, possessions or anything else, we can embrace them and go into them as people who have been made complete through Jesus, and be part of God’s plan to make all of creation complete in him. This new perspective on life begins with finding who we are as people who have been made complete in Christ through faith in him and living as his disciples.

I get frustrated when I’m putting a jigsaw puzzle together and there are missing pieces. It feels like something’s missing when I can’t complete it. When we realise that we’re incomplete and there are pieces missing in our lives, we don’t have to try to fill the gaps with things that don’t really fit. We can go to Jesus, who makes us complete by filling us with the fullness of God.

More to think about:

  • Do you know what it’s like to start a jigsaw puzzle but not complete it, either because you don’t have the time or there are missing pieces? What is that like for you?
  • Do you every feel like there’s something missing in your life? If you do, can you put your finger on what it might be?
  • How do you try to fill any holes that might exist in your life? How do you try to find a sense of being complete or fulfilled?
  • Is that working for you? Or are you still looking? Explain why…
  • What do you think of what Paul says about Jesus completing us? Do you think it’s possible to find a sense of being complete or fulfilled in Jesus?
  • The good news of Jesus can speak into every aspect of our lives, no matter what we feel might be missing. How might Jesus be able to complete you and what you feel might be missing in your life? (if you don’t know how to answer that, I’m happy to try to help if I can; just let me know…)
  • How might you be able to see different aspects of your life in a new way as a person who is complete in Christ? How might going into them as a complete person instead of looking for them to make you complete change our approach to them for the better?