There’s No Place Like Home

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”  –  Robert Frost 

“There’s no place like home.” This iconic line was spoken by Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, in the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. Most people have a fond memory of  home as a safe, warm, comforting place that we can always return to for unconditional love. Quotes like “there’s no place like home” or “home is where the heart is” reinforce this notion. There is a Bible story that illustrates why there is no place like home. 

Jesus was surrounded by people. The news that Jesus was coming by generated large crowds. People were talking about how Jesus had healed people, making life possible for them again. It made people believe that things could be different, that life could be different, that one could have hope of a better tomorrow. Jesus regularly dealt with people no one else wanted to deal with. Zacchaeus was one of those people. Zacchaeus was a tax collector; he was hated because  he collaborated with the hated Romans, and got rich by taking advantage of his fellow countrymen. No one wanted anything to do with a tax collector.

That day, people lined the streets of Jericho. Jesus was coming. Zacchaeus had heard the stories about Jesus and wondered if the stories were true. He wondered if Jesus is the one person in his city/country who will accept him as he is. But finding that out was problematic. There was little hope of standing out in the crowd. Zacchaeus was too short to see over the heads of the people and trying to maneuver through the crowd to the front of the line as a tax collector was ill-advised and probably impossible anyway. But Zacchaeus is determined, so he climbs a tree. The noise in the crowd gets louder as Jesus approaches.  Jesus makes his way over to the tree and says, “Zacchaeus!…Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” (Luke 19:5)  

Imagine for a second that you are the person up in the tree. It is you looking down the road, hoping that what you’ve heard about Jesus is true. That whatever it is in your life that sets you apart, that makes you unwanted by your family and friends, that Jesus can change the course of your life for the better.  You hope there is a place where you belong, a place where people accept you as you are. Imagine that Jesus would come to your house.  

The transformation of Zacchaeus began when Jesus came to his house. Zacchaeus became a very generous person and a person of integrity. Jesus put it this way: “Salvation has come to this home today…” (Luke 19:9)

Zacchaeus’ story reminds us of a stark reality. His story reminds us that someone is always in the sycamore tree, hoping and praying not to be an outsider anymore, hoping to find meaning and purpose in life. Zacchaeus’ story reminds us to look for those individuals. As followers of Jesus, we are called to invite them down from the tree, to travel to their home as Christ’s representative, and to invite them to find a home as a follower of Jesus and as a brother and sister in Christ.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some of the first things you would do if you knew Jesus was coming to your house? Would you take more time preparing your heart or house?
  2. What can we do this week to better come home to God? 

Love Without Boundaries

“David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard. Finally, King Achish said to his men, “Must you bring me a madman? We already have enough of them around here! Why should I let someone like this be my guest?”” – 1 Samuel 21:12-15. 

After a rocky first attempt at drawing crowds to his museum of oddities and a little inspiration from his daughters, P.T. Barnum starts posting ads calling for “unique persons” who would audition to become a part of a live variety show. Among the unique persons to join Barnum’s team of performers: a bearded lady, an abnormally tall man, trapeze artists, and many others.  What they all had in common: these were people who were not accepted or valued by the society they were in. They were different. And because they were different they were hidden from society.  

P.T. Barnum brought them into a family.  He saw the gifts in them overlooked by others.  He gave them a platform for purposeful service that brought meaning not just to their own lives but to the lives of others as well.  He challenged the norm that said you can’t value or have meaningful relationships with people who are different from you.

 Isn’t that just like what Jesus does?  And what’s more, isn’t that what he asks us to do: “…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.” (Romans 13: 9-10) When society viewed women as inferior and as property, Jesus fought for them and included them.  He welcomed them into His community of disciples and made them participants in the work of His Kingdom. (Luke 8:1-3; John 8:1-11) When the culture saw children as a distraction, Jesus brought them near and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16) When society built barriers of relational conflict between ethnic groups, genders, and socio-economic classes, Jesus broke down those barriers and made them one family through faith in Him. “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Jesus loves without boundaries and so should we.  Jesus takes the “you’re not like me, therefore we have to be divided” mentality of our flawed human nature and shows us a better way to live and love. We are called and empowered by Him to genuinely love, value, and befriend people who are different from us.  Christ-like love brings people together and welcomes people in, even if they’re different. Christ-like love loves across barriers, not within them. Christ-like love loves people into the fullness of life that God has for them.

Romans 17:6-7 says, “Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Your devotion to God is illustrated, demonstrated, and authenticated by your love for others. Do you agree with that statement? Why or why not?
  2. What is one group of people that is different from you and that you find it difficult to love? Consider the words of Matthew 25:31–40 in light of that group. What are some obstacles you would have to overcome to love that group of people?

Never Enough For Me

“You, Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are! I praise the Lord, because he guides me, and in the night my conscience warns me. I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me.”– Psalm 16:5-8 (GNT). 

Through one show-stopping number after another, we watch P.T. Barnum go from a child living in poverty to a successful ringmaster of a circus. And along the way, the movie addresses several themes. But there’s one theme that really drives a lot of the story – the lure of wealth and success. One of the songs in the movie captures that period in his life: Towers of gold are still too little…These hands could hold the world but it’ll….Never be enough

And that’s the lure of wealth and success. It’s never enough. You want more. You want it all. Unfortunately, Barnum didn’t learn that until he had lost almost everything. He could have saved himself learning things the hard way if he consulted his Bible. The Bible has a lot to say about the lure of wealth and success. King Solomon had everything a human being could wish for, yet he gave a warning in Proverbs 23:4-5: “Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle.” 

King Solomon was striving to experience “life to the full.” But he retained some wisdom and perspective in examining what he was investing his time and resources in. “Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10–11). His possessions and pleasure amounted to nothing, because they produced nothing of lasting value. Some look for success in status, power and position, rather than in wealth. The mother of James and John—two of Jesus’ disciples—came to Him with a request: “…In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking!’” (Matthew 20:21–22).  

Jesus then shared a great key to true success, in contrast to pursuit of power and wealth; the desire to have it all.“…Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26–28). True success comes from a servant mentality.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do we invest so much time and energy in pursuing wealth and power? 
  2. What can we focus on for a Christ-centered life rather than things of this earth?  

The Great And The Not So Great

“Men suffer more from imagining too little than too much.” – P.T. Barnum

The Greatest Showman is based on the story of legendary circus creator, P.T. Barnum.  Even as a young boy, P.T. Barnum had visions and dreams about his future. He had this longing, this drive, to make something more for himself and family. And that’s the theme that drives a lot of the story – the lure of wealth and success. Eventually he found some success with a troupe of performers. But he really hit it big when he launched a tour of one of the best singers in Europe, and that’s when everything started to change. He was making millions. He was hobnobbing with the upper class. He had finally made it. But then he learns the hard way that you can’t have it all and sometimes what you think you want is not what you need.   

If we are being honest, we are not all that different. Many of us have learned from painful experiences that we were looking for love, joy and fulfillment in all the wrong places. We have all spent time searching for a sense of significance and security. Whether we find it or not depends where we are looking. We need to look no further than Jesus Christ. 

The problem is sometimes we treat Jesus like an app on our phone. When we’re not getting what we think we need from Him, we close Him down. We look for fulfillment in another app. But there is no alternative app. Jesus is the operating system to a fulfilled life. He needs to be at the center of your life, directing everything. That’s how your focus shifts from you and what you want, to God and His incredible plan for your life.  

When we follow His plan, we will fulfill the purpose for which we were made. Nothing can bring more joy, peace, and satisfaction tthan this. The reason so many people are plagued with problems, addictions, and regrets is because they were created for one purpose, but are attempting to live for another purpose as the Greatest Showman illustrates.  

No matter what else we do with our lives – even good things – if we miss knowing, loving, fearing, and obeying God, we will have missed His plan and our purpose. It is an amazing thing to discover your purpose and live a fulfilled life in Jesus Christ 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you define a fulfilled life? 
  2. What obstacles are keeping you from living a fulfilled life in Jesus Christ?

The Lost Son

“You never depart from us, but yet, only with difficulties do we return to You.” ― Saint Augustine, Confessions. 

The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin prepare us for the parable of the prodigal son. In this parable, again, something is lost, but not by accident. The prodigal son chose his course of action. He wanted his family’s assets without his father’s supervision. He wanted to make his own decisions and have unfettered control of his portion of the wealth. To get that he decided on a bold power play, a flagrant defiance of community standards, a declaration of complete independence. He demanded his share of the inheritance early. This was very unorthodox because an inheritance is given at death, not during life. The younger son was basically saying, “I wish you were dead. I want my share now. I’m leaving.” Surprisingly, the father gave it to him.

That was not an easy decision. The father’s wealth was wrapped up in land. To give the son what he demanded meant he would have to sell a portion of his land.  Who knows how long it took him to gain it. It could have been in the family for centuries. It would not be easy to part with it. The prodigal son did not care. He wanted the big city and all that it offered. He wanted to spend his inheritance living large. So he did. And it was a disaster. He went through the money relatively quickly and found himself in a pigsty longing for the kind of food the pigs have. His way of living didn’t pan out the way he hoped. Eventually, the younger brother comes to himself. He decides to go home and is welcomed by the father. 

These three parables show us one overarching truth: God loves sinners. And because He does, He sends his Son into the world to seek out and find the lost. Without God’s initiating love, we have no hope. We will either run from Him in rebellion or stick close to Him in self-righteousness, but we will never have salvation on our own. We may live within His walls but unless God comes to us in love and changes our heart we will never truly be home.

We are all in the story. If, like the younger son, you’ve been journeying through life seeking fulfillment, but you’ve been coming to the conclusion, “No matter what I get or experience it never feels like enough. This pursuit of pleasure is empty, and there’s just got to be more than this.” The good news is that there is more. You have a Heavenly Father who loves you, no matter how far you have wandered away. You have a Heavenly Father who says, “Stop worrying that you’ve lost my approval. You can’t lose it. Just accept my unconditional love. Come home. Feel my embrace. I want a relationship with you.” Perhaps you’ve been ignoring or rejecting God’s love, trying to fill that empty space inside you with something other than God’s love. It’s time to come home.

I love what the Bible says in 1 John 3:1, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think about the Father giving his son his inheritance when he knew that he would mostly misuse it? How does this relate to God’s relationship with us? 
  2. With the father being our model of love, what barriers stand in our way to being like the father? 
  3. What action could you take this week, based on this week’s message? 

Lost Sheep, Lost Coin

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’  — Luke 15:8-9.

Sometimes I wonder if the Jesus’ teachings on the gospel could be summed up in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin found in Luke 15. To refresh your memory, there was a shepherd who had one hundred sheep. One went missing. He left the ninety-nine behind to go and find the missing one. Upon finding it, he picked it up, carried it back to town, and celebrated with his friends. Likewise, there was a woman who had ten silver coins. When she realized that one was missing, she did all that she could to find it. And when she did, she called her friends and neighbors over for a celebratory feast because what was once lost was found. 

Both parables illustrate the fundamental truth that throughout my life, God has pursued me relentlessly. So great is God’s desire for restored relationship with you that the One, true God, the King of kings and Lord of lords came down off His throne to die an unjustified and sacrificial death. We don’t deserve it, nor can we fathom His grace and love, but as both parables clearly indicate, God willingly comes down to meet and help us wherever we are.  

I hope the reality of that truth has sunk in fully. Do you fully grasp the depth of God’s love that He is pursuing us? You were the helpless and lost sheep. You were the coin that was so valuable God worked and searched until he had it back in His possession. You are of such value to the only One who truly decides the the worth of things that He pursued you. Don’t let that truth pass you by today. Instead, make it the foundation for every decision, thought, and action in your life.

Pursuing goes both ways. We need to pursue God in the same way he pursues us. No part of our lives should be off-limits to God. In Psalm 27:8 David says, “My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” God is calling out to you, saying, “come talk to me.”  Psalm 34:10 promises us that “those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.” God will always respond to your pursuit because He wants a relationship with you.  He’s already promised that to you. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”  

Discussion Questions:

  1. If we are going to pursue God, it’s an act of trusting and following. Agree or disagree and why?
  2. What can we do this week to better pursue God? 

Down But Not Out

“We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” – 2 Corinthians 4:9.

I hope you have seen the touching film Lion that tells the true story of a five-year-old boy from a desperately poor village in central India, who through a tragic series of mishaps, gets lost and separated from his family. Surviving life on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of miles away from home. You may wonder how this could happen? How could circumstances and the system let him down? How could things be this bad. 

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. It shows us in the life of Saroo the will power to keep on keeping on when you would rather resign. One can find examples of endurance portrayed in almost every walk of life. They are compelling stories of grit and determination. One example is the apostle Paul. Paul had been imprisoned, flogged five times, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, gone without sleep and food, and been in danger from various elements. Yet he remained firm in his pursuits. It is hard to come up with anybody who contributed more to the advancement of the gospel and the kingdom of God. 

The goal of God for every believer is to make us into the image of Christ.  But change or transformation is not without pain. It is a part of the process of becoming more Christlike. Problems are a fact of life; we must expect them. They may be like Saroo’s but problems nevertheless. Life is not a joy ride. It is not like riding Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” where we float through the water on little boats, watching from a distance the cannon fire and the splashing water. Life is real with real pain, real problems, and real frustrations. People get sick, they experience disappointment, they shed tears, and they are touched by death.  

We have a secret weapon in facing the difficulties and pressures of life. “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.” (2 Corinthians  4:7). We are like clay pots – fragile and easily broken – but we have an anchor that prevents us from cracking under the pressures and attacks of life.  

There is no doubt that what happened to Saroo gave him a different perspective. The challenges we face in life often do give us a new way of looking at the situation.  Life may knock us down, but it has not knocked us out.

In his writing of this text, the Apostle Paul reminds us that quitting is not an option for the people of God, regardless of what is thrown at us or what we might have to endure or suffer for the sake of Christ. Jesus reminds us that in this world we will have trouble, but be of good cheer for He has overcome the world. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-9. Because of God’s power demonstrated in Paul’s life he was able to confidently say he can be: pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not despaired, persecuted but not abandoned, and struck down but not destroyed. Discuss a time in your life when you felt God’s power carrying you through a difficult situation. 
  2. How has your endurance through difficult or suffering helped enhance your witness for Christ? 

Home Is Where The Heart Is

“For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands.”– 2 Corinthians 5:1. 

Many say home is where the heart is, and an apartment, house, or dorm room does not necessarily make a place a home. A home is a place where you can feel comfortable and safe. Home is where you and your family can be secure, have all you need, and share your sadness and happiness. A place you belong. Home family, belonging…these are the subjects explored in the movie Lion. Home is more than a place. It is people, and Saroo has lost all that home is. Lost in Calcutta, Saroo is a thousand miles from home, from family. He is in a foreign place with people that are completely foreign to him. 

Life is portrayed in scripture as a mist, a fast runner, a breath, and wisp of smoke. Very much in the same vein, the Bible compares life on earth to temporarily living in a foreign country. This is not your permanent home or final destination. You are just passing through, visitors on earth. The Bible uses terms like sojourner (Psalm 39:12 KJV)  alien and stranger (1 Peter 2:11-12  NASB), visitor ( 1 Chronicles 29:15) and traveler (Jeremiah 14:8)  to describe our brief stay on earth. 1 Peter 1:17 says, “And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.”

Life is looking very bleak for Saroo and he worries if he’ll ever see his family again. He is homeless living on the streets. He is in a strange place. He needs to learn a new language and adapt to a different culture. Not a good situation for anybody let alone a 5-year-old. But are we all that different? There are a lot of people worried about the future these days. People are concerned about terrorist attacks, not having enough money for the future, financial collapse, and health issues to name a few.  Fortunately, Christians are promised a future that depends on something far better than economics or politics.  As the disciples were getting their last glimpses of Jesus, they were not sure what life would be like after He left them. Matthew tells us that “some of them doubted!” (Matthew 28:17

Jesus put their doubts about Him and the future to rest by assuring His followers that through faith in Him, their future would be secure. He said, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)  Until then, we are just travelers on our way home. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. The earth is not our home. Since we know everything on earth is temporary, why is it still so difficult to allow God to be in control? For you personally, what has been the hardest to give control of to God? 
  2. While we are on earth, what do you feel is the specific mission God has called you to do with your life here on earth? What are some things you are doing this year to further equip you for that mission?  

Search And Rescue

“Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.”” — Psalm 50:15.

The movie Lion is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, a young boy born in an impoverished village in India. Saroo and his older brother Guddu often searched for food and coins on trains to help their struggling mother and sibling survive. Searching for his missing brother Guddu, Saroo falls asleep on a train while waiting for his brother to hopefully return. When he wakes up hours later he is hundreds and hundreds of miles away from home with no idea where home is. He is scared, alone and calls for his brother and mother. 

Psalm 69:3 (TLB) says, “I’m hoarse from calling for help, Bleary-eyed from searching the sky for God.” In other words, I’m getting tired of the search. I’ve been searching for healing for my marriage, but we’re still at odds. I searched to get ahead in life, but I feel like I’m falling more behind. And no matter how hard I search, I still can’t find what I want.

Some of you are on a spiritual search. You’ve called out to God, and even God seems hard to find. I think there are scores of people who are realizing that there must be more to life. I think there may be some of you today who have said “Surely there must be a God, but how do I know what to believe?  If there is a God, how do I even find Him?”

The good news is when you seek God, you will find God. Saroo kept on searching and didn’t give up. While on a desperate search for his family, thankfully Saroo was adopted by an amazing couple in Australia. And while he was loved, he also had a deep desire to find the home where he came from. He estimates that he spent close to 10,000 hours searching for the family that he had lost.

Each of us has something we are searching for. We want peace, healing, a new job, a relationship, restoration and there is a longing in our hearts. The key is to not give up. Do not let anything discourage you to quit. One of the sweetest parts of the movie is that Saroo’s mother never gave up hope. The God you are searching for is actually searching for you. God is searching for you today.

Whether you have known the Lord for many years or you are just beginning your new life in Him, you can be that person who will passionately seek God and listen to the Holy Spirit. You can be that person who can actively make a difference in the lives of hurting people. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. The characters in the movie exhibited compassion, gratitude and perseverance. How have you seen those characteristics benefit you in your journey towards/with Jesus?

Life Reboot

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” ― 2 Peter 1:3  

A reset button is a useful feature whenever things go wrong — like when our television screen goes haywire or our computer freezes up. Most computers need to be restarted at least every few days. Very few are designed to run continuously.  A simple push of the reset button, the system reboots, and things are back to normal. Ask technical support on how to fix a problem you’ve having with yourcomputer and the first question they’ll likely ask is  “Have you tried rebooting it?” This happens so many times that after awhile you reboot first and then trouble shoot afterwards.  Actually, we need a reboot button for life itself, because we invariably find ourselves needing a reset and a restart.  

Our lives can become cluttered with finances, careers, family, relationships, and other things we spend time doing. These things can spoil our relationship with God and hinder our spiritual growth. At times like this, we need to reboot and refresh our relationship with God. The Lord’s Supper is a good way to clear our minds and get them working on how God designed them to work. We dump the clutter that’s accumulated during the week(s) when we focus on all that God has done for us. The early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper once per week: “On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper….” (Acts 20:6-7). 

So how can we do a restart at the Lord’s Supper? When the Corinthians were treating each other poorly by discriminating amongst themselves and not respecting each other, Paul told them how to put things right before they took part in the Lord’s Supper. (1 Corinthians 11:17-34). In particular, he said “So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup.” The Bible says that they were to “examine” themselves before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. We are to be honest about sin in our lives in order to maintain a dynamic fellowship with the Lord. 

Confession is God’s reboot button for our guilt. The Bible says, “if we confess our sins to Him (God), He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). It’s turning around to follow God: “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.” (Acts 3:19). It involves action by reversing our direction and going opposite to the way of sin. Confession and repentance help us to sustain our loving relationship with God.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does the Lord’s Supper mean to you? Why do you or don’t you take it?
  2. What are we proclaiming by taking the Lord’s Supper?