(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
Money and the Meaning of Life
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
In a final talk to church leaders in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul summed up his generous, upright quality of life. His words show in clear (and challenging) ways how he saw life’s meaning, how he defined “success.” In support of his view, he quoted Jesus (verse 35)—the only direct quote from Jesus that is not in the four gospels. That’s a tangible sign that early Christians prized and shared memories of Jesus well before they had the written gospels.
Jesus taught that there can only be one “most important” focus, one main goal, in any life. He said if the pursuit of wealth becomes the center of your life, you begin serving wealth, which inevitably conflicts with loyalty to God. He taught the clear principle that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” and then pointedly added, “You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Three servants—two of them “good and faithful,” the third fired. In Jesus’ story, the difference was NOT how much they had. The one with two coins (literally “talents”—a lot of money, up to 20 years of a typical worker’s wages) was as faithful as the one with five. Jesus said our faithfulness to God shows in our willingness to use whatever energy, time, money or other assets we have to bless others and build God’s kingdom.
1 Timothy 6:5-11, 17-19
The apostle Paul saw people lose faith and suffer “a lot of pain” when money was their life’s goal. He urged Timothy to “run away” from that damaging view of life’s purpose. Instead, he said, actively pursue the higher purposes of “righteousness, holy living, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.” Living that way, he said, is a key choice for taking hold of “what is truly life.”
Jesus pursued life goals that were at odds with much of his (and our) culture, and did so with strength, dignity and resolve. That did not mean that Jesus, as eyewitnesses described him to the four gospel writers, was self-destructive or weak-willed. Instead, it showed that the values that he taught and lived are values that will endure, values that give us a clearer sense of life’s true meaning.
Paul wrote (or probably dictated) today’s reading from a Roman prison (cf. Philippians 1:12-14). He clearly did not view his life as a failure, but seemed confident that he was in tune with life’s true meaning. He identified trusting prayer in place of worry, an intentional focus on what is good and worthy, and a contented spirit in all situations as keys to his world-changing life. He had learned to live out of a bone-deep confidence in God’s love and care.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, we want to turn our worries into prayers and focus on the good and beautiful in your world. We offer you all that we are and all that we have. We open our hearts to your gifts of peace and contentment and commend ourselves to your care. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Who are the most successful people in the world today? Do you know any “successful” people almost no one has ever heard of?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read Acts 20:31-38. How would you describe the typical view of “success” in America today? How would you describe Paul’s view of success? How successful was Paul? Why was Paul so beloved by Christians in his own time? How cherished is Paul today? Which view of “success” do you believe is more accurate: today’s society’s or Paul’s? What can we do to come closer to Paul’s vision of success? In what ways has your perspective on your “needs” and “wants” changed since you’ve opened your life to Jesus Christ?
Read Matthew 6:19-24. In what ways do we tend to “store up treasures on earth”? How can we go about “storing up treasures in heaven”? What did Jesus mean when he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”? How can we tell if we are running the risk of allowing money and material things to become our “masters” and controlling our lives? What can we do if we see this happening?
Read Matthew 25:14-30. How would you describe the central message of these verses? What resources has God placed in your life? How are you using these resources to serve God? Can you think of examples where you or others have “buried” their God-given resources? How are lives affected when this happens? How do you feel about the expression, “from those who have much, much is expected”? What if we try to use our resources properly, but feel like, at least at times, we fail?
Read 1 Timothy 6:5-11, 17-19. What are the main drivers of the way you live your life? What kind of outcome to your life are you “running away from” (verse 11)? What life goal are you pursuing with all your might? How is the first part of verse 10 often misquoted? What’s the difference? In what ways are we being enticed to “love money”? Given all the “stuff” we are tempted by, how can we be content with what we have?
Read Philippians 2:1-11. How do Christ’s values differ from those we hear through most media today? Is there one biggest difference? Realistically, can we as individuals actually live lives built on Christ’s values? Is it important for us to try? If so, is it important to ourselves, others or both? In this competitive world, how can we adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus if we find our own positions, prestige or comfort challenged?
Read Philippians 4:6-13. As you read these verses, does Paul seem super-human or at least super-Christian to you? Can any of us hope to live up to his guidance? Did Paul, a single human being, change the world? Paul had learned to live out of a bone-deep confidence in God’s love and care. Have you come closer to Paul’s ideal as you have grown in the faith? Do you continue to change? How can we nurture that change? Are there people today who have gained your respect and admiration for their Christ-like approach to living? What have you learned from them?
From last week: Did you pray daily to overcome your fears and qualms about generous giving? Did you ask God for his direction regarding your efforts to offer yourself and your possessions to him? Did you decide what your commitment is to be? Can you share with the group any insight you might have been provided?
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, October 20, 2013:
In today’s message I’d like to think together with you about the “money and the meaning of life.” I’d suggest that if you are unclear about the meaning of life, money and the acquisition of wealth and possessions will, by default, become the meaning of your life. And when the acquisition of wealth becomes the meaning, or aim, of your life, you’ll find yourself emotionally, spiritually, existentially bankrupt. You’ll get to the end of your life and find it was meaningless.
The Bible’s greatest illustration of this was King Solomon. He began his life well, but somewhere he got off track. As a young man Solomon became king, and God was pleased with him. He did not pray for wealth or power, but wisdom. Solomon led the building of the temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to build a place to honor God, where people would come for generations to meet God. He built it to look like a palace, recognizing God as Israel’s king.
His wisdom and his faithfulness to God brought blessings in his life, but a sad thing happened to Solomon that happens to many people today. As his blessings increased he gradually forgot the meaning of life. The more he had, the more his life became caught up in having more. You see hints of the problem in I Kings where, at the end of chapter six we read: “Solomon built the LORD’s temple in seven years. Now as for Solomon’s palace, it took thirteen years for him to complete its construction.” Did you notice the subtle hint that something was wrong? Solomon spent the first seven years as king building the temple, but then the next 13 years building his own even grander palace.
I Kings chapters 10-11 describe Solomon’s insatiable desire for more. He had 14,000 chariots, 12,000 horses, 700 wives and 300 concubines. His cups were made of gold, rather than the silver, because silver was not good enough for the king. I Kings 11 makes plain what the list of his riches implied, “As Solomon grew old he wasn’t committed to the LORD his God with all his heart.”
No one knows for sure who wrote Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, but it seems to capture Solomon’s story and is meant to represent his perspective near the end of his life. Listen again to the words we heard in our Scripture reading: “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure…Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
When money is the meaning of life for you, in the end you find it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind….
I stepped into our Leawood campus narthex this week to see 45 4th, 5th and 6th graders from Wendell Phillips Elementary School eating pizza. These kids, from one inner city school we partner with, had come to Leawood for a field trip. They were here to pack backpacks for other children who need nutritious snacks on the weekends because they don’t have enough food at home. As you know, we give away 1,400 backpacks to low-income kids each Friday so they don’t go hungry over the weekend.
These children were excited to be here helping to bless others. I talked with them at each table for a few minutes. At one table I was speaking with 6th grade teacher Annette Vertrice. She said, “We love Church of the Resurrection. You bless us in so many ways. Pastor, your church has been blessed because you never forgot that you were called to be a blessing. God blesses those who bless others. What has happened here is because this congregation never forgot you were blessed to be a blessing”….
Paul writes some tough words in I Timothy 6: “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” But then he goes on to write that Timothy was to instruct the people he was shepherding: “To do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.”
“To do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share”; this is how we are meant to live. Yesterday was the funeral service for Houston Hale. Houston was a regional vice president for a large company, but on weekends he wore a yellow jacket and directed traffic in our parking lot ministry. He’d done this for 9 years. Even after his first battle with cancer, when he wasn’t feeling well, he was out in the parking lot. Why? He wanted to help people feel welcome and to serve in the humblest of ways with no recognition. Houston’s cancer returned this year. I went to see him at Hospice, and his wife Kay told me that as Houston was sleeping the night before, under sedation, she noticed his arms moving, his hands going this way and that. He was directing traffic in our parking lot in his sleep. Houston was usually at the location between the east and west parking lots. Houston passed away a week ago and last weekend his team mates erected a memorial to him some of you may have seen in the parking lot.
What leads a successful regional vice president to stand in the cold, rain, and snow to volunteer to direct traffic at the church? It is a servant’s heart, and a desire to do good works. It is a sense of purpose to serve the Lord by serving people, and a generous spirit. In doing this Houston was storing up a good foundation for the future, and now he has taken hold of the life that really is life.
And that’s the point of today’s message: Money is not the meaning of life. Acquiring wealth and possessions is not the meaning of life. The meaning of life is in giving and serving and blessing. It is in loving God and loving one’s neighbor.
One young man who figured this out at an early age is Clay Kavlick, who just turned 10 on October 2. Each year he tells the kids he invites to his birthday not to bring him presents, but instead to bring food to share with people who are hungry. This year for his party he asked kids to bring breakfast cereal to share with kids in Kansas City who may need some help. His friends brought 103 boxes of breakfast cereal—breakfast for 103 children for two or three weeks. Clay learned a long time ago that it is more blessed to give than to receive. How cool is that? But here’s what I’m wondering: Have you learned this lesson yet?…
So, here’s my invitation to you: First, to own that money and possessions are means to another end. The meaning of life is found in loving God, and loving your neighbor. Second, to make it your goal to be defined by generosity, first to God and then towards others, in your time, talent and resources. And finally, if this is your church family, to fill out your commitment card today. As you do, to allow your commitment to be a reflection of your faith, your commitment to Christ and your investment in God’s work.
NOTE: If you want to fill out a commitment card online, you can do so at http://www.cor.org/annualgiving.
Stuff-onomics: Hidden Side of What We Own
I’m starting a new job and we are planning to move to another country later this year. Sitting here amongst all my things packed in 50 boxes retrieved from storage, it feels as if someone had pressed the “restart” button on my life.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how little we actually need; how little we need in order to be happy. After traveling for several months in one bag: two pairs of pants, a few shirts, a jacket, several books, and my iPod (which I used once)…. Coming home to 50 boxes full of Stuff, it felt like my world was once again being weighed down by things I didn’t need. It felt as if the things will consume more of me than I will ever consume of it. Thus, my new project: to simplify my life… starting with Stuff.
It is the stuff in our lives which we become attached to, because it gives us a sense of self, a sense of identity. And by removing it, despite the clutter it causes in our inner space, it will feel as if someone is taking away our identity. It hurts the ego on a subconscious level.
Why do we collect stuff to begin with? I collected stuff because I wanted my life story to fit a certain persona and I collected stuff that would back up that story. For example, I wanted to be viewed as an artistic person, so I collected art books, photography collectables, and art works. Similarly, when I was heavily into technology, I wanted to be viewed as a highly technical person. I bought tech books and studied them so that I too could speak the lingo and fit in with my colleagues. These were my stories—perhaps you can relate?
I have played the parts of an artist, an engineer, a fashion diva, a music collector, a dancer, a snowboarder, and an intellectual book worm. All these personas left me with more stuff than I need or even want. The physical stuff clutters my living space and the sense of peace I feel in my inner space. This echoes a quote I heard: “Your outer world is a reflection of your inner world.”
Often times, I’ve kept stuff I’ve never used, simply because I’ve spent good money on it and felt bad for tossing it. As a result, the stuff ends up owning me instead of me owning it.
Ask Questions Before Buying – Most stuff accumulation are the result of impulse buys. I am guilty of this and have found it helpful to ask some simple questions when I feel the urge to buy. Do I need it? How many similar items do I already own? How often do I use them?
Waiting Period Before Buying – When you feel the urge to buy something unessential, try giving yourself a waiting period of a few days or weeks before buying it. Often times, you’ll find that you no longer need the item as you had initially felt.
This week, pray daily for God’s guidance and strength as you reorder your priorities in life. Look around your house and see what it says about who you are and what tends to direct your life. Commit to taking the first steps toward changes that will put you closer to the mark God has set for you. Next week, share with the group any insight you might have been provided.