Take Hold: When Life Is More Than Living - Rev. Michael Bailey

Take Hold: When Life is More Than Living
1 Timothy 6:17-19
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
October 2, 2016
 

1 Timothy 6:17-19  As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are 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.

How often have you said, “I’m living the good life!” Or, “they’re living the good life.” Or even, “I wish I was living the good life.”

I’ve found myself saying it primarily on vacation. Lauralee and I have a dear friend from another church we served. Her late husband was a great Christian, a generous philanthropist, and a successful businessman. Through their years of marriage together, they enjoyed Carolina “shag dancing.” Now, just a note for you folks new to the Carolinas, please don’t make any assumptions about what “shag” dancing is! Find a Carolinian and ask them. Why, it’s even safe to ask them if they can demonstrate, even in front of children. The shag dance, you see, could be very generally described as a smooth, but very slower, jitterbug looking dance always accompanied by “beach music.” Here’s a hint from a Mississippian, don’t ever say “Beach music, you mean like the beach boys.” Carolinians, as kind and as humble a tribe that has ever been birthed, might have a sneer and a disdainful look if you should ever say such a thing. In their kindness however, they will cap their near look that kills, by saying sweetly to you, “Bless your heart.”  Here’s another hint, if you’re not from the Carolinas, don’t try and identify whether or not a song is their “beach music.” They have some gene which let’s them do so. Trust me; I can tell you from experience, you don’t have this gene.  

That Carolina cultural de-coding aside, this great family bought a luxury, ocean front condo in North Myrtle beach. The epicenter and capital to this day of shag dancing. The wonderful husband has passed away and because its almost always empty, the family has let us use it a few times.  More than once, sitting on that balcony, watching the sunrise over the ocean, I’ve said, “Now this is living the good life!”

So, how about you? Have you ever said, “I’m living the good life now.” Or, about someone else, “Now, that’s living the good life.” Or, I hope that, someday “I will live the good life.”

Our culture seems to promote something called the “good life” without really defining it, only attaching attributes to it. 

You know some of these. Most of them are somehow centered around seemingly perfect relationships, appearance, perfect health and acquisition of consumer goods and wealth. The message often is geared toward being discontent with what we have leading us to an “if only” quasi depression. “If only I had that job…that promotion…that income…that relationship…that house…that car…I’d have it made. I’d have the good life.” And what a robber of joy this kind of “stinking thinking is!” What pain this purported concept of the “good life” hoists on us!

The family of four living on 25k a year, which is the poverty level; the college graduate with a less-than-adequate job and student loan debt feeling cheated; the couple who has a fine income but at the end of the year, doing taxes and left wondering where it all went; the family with high interest revolving debt.

All that joy; all that blindness to the beauty of ordinary life sacrificed at the idol of the good life. Lauralee and I at some point in life have been at most of those places, and perhaps you have as well.

But here’s the good news! You can have the “good life,” the real, true “good life” and your income matters not a whit! God’s Word to us is that we can take take hold of life that is more than simply living; the Good News is that there is a real “good life” available to all. St. Paul in our passage alludes to the true “good life” when he invites us to take “hold of the life that really is life.” And “taking hold of the life that really is life” is the essence of our sermon series over the next few weeks. Indeed, it is the theme of our Stewardship Ministry emphasis.    

But first, a little about our passage. The Acts of the Apostles ends by letting us know Paul was in prison in Rome, around 60 A.D. After two years in prison, it seems he was free for a time and went to Macedonia. From there, Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy who he had appointed to lead the church in Ephesus. Timothy, you may remember, was the son of a Gentile father and a Jewish mother, Lois. His grandmother, Eunice, was also a Christian and they likely were all converted by Paul’s preaching in their home town of Lystra. Paul wrote our letter to Timothy to give advice about leading the Ephesian church, being a Christian and some personal advice to boot.      

So, in typical Pauline directness, Paul in our passage offered the Ephesian Christians and us the “marks” of the “true good life in Christ.” Such a life, in his words, consists of: not being haughty but setting our hopes on God instead of riches, trusting in God’s provision, being rich in good works and always generous, ready to share.    

For the next few Sundays we’ll delve into growing into each of these aspects of the real “good life.” Now, for those of you who are “church experienced,” this might sound like an unusual theme for our yearly emphasis on the stewardship of our finances! We usually expect a few weeks of the “sermon on the amount!” Well, we will have some of that. But really a series on being a disciple of Jesus is perfect because stewardship is all about being a disciple. Financial stewardship, faithfulness and generosity flow from our relationship with Christ. In Christ, we come to realize that God is the owner of all that is, and we’re merely caretakers during our time in this life. In Christ, we are overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s grace and want to joyfully respond through giving. In Christ, we desire to support the work of His Body, the church in order to meet the spiritual and physical needs of our community and the world. Being a disciple of Jesus brings with it being a generous steward; you can’t have one without the other. At its core, stewardship is about truly and totally giving ourselves over to Jesus. Remember the words of the old hymn, “Take My Life and Let it Be.” Take a hymnal for a moment, and let’s look at the words together. It’s number 399. (read through, Take my silver and my gold). That’s taking hold of the life that is the true good life, by really letting go of what the world says is the good life, and giving oneself totally to Christ. 

More, to take hold of the life that really is life, the true good life means being guided by the Bible, God’s word, even and maybe especially regarding our finances and possessions. California pastor, Greg Laurie notes: It was Martin Luther who said, "There are three conversions a person needs to experience: The conversion of the head, the conversion of the heart, and the conversion of the pocketbook." It is worth noting that money is such an important topic in the Bible that it is the main subject of nearly half of the parables Jesus told. In addition, one in every seven verses in the New Testament deals with this topic. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, and more than 2,000 verses on money. In fact, 15 percent of everything Jesus ever taught was on the topic of money and possessions — more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined. Why such an emphasis on money and possessions? There is a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money.”(http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/a-new-beginning/read/articles/money-and-motives-9220.html)

 

To experience the true “good life” by letting the Bible guide us is staying true to our tradition! In the class that lay leader Joe Grady and I are leading on welcome Wednesday, our reading reminded us again that Wesley said, he was a “man of one book” – the Bible. It is our primary guide for life; always viewed through tradition, reason and experience. 

 

Finally, to take hold of the life that really is life, we must be led by the Spirit through the holy conversation of prayer. I’ve learned a few things in nearly four decades of ministry and one is this: there is no preacher eloquent enough, charming enough, or even brow beating enough to remotely compare to the changes God can do through prayer, regarding the human heart and generosity. Toward that end, we have a practical, real take-away this morning and a challenge. Each household is invited to take home this devotional book. Take more than one if your home has devotions in different locations. Or, you may find a link on our church website. The challenge this: use this devotional guide for the next 30 days; let the Lord speak to you through it. Let God’s Word, the devotional writers, and prayer, guide you in seeking what God would have you do in all of your life, include your financial faithfulness to Christ and His Church. I hope that I see every household represented here today, leave the church with one of these devotional books and I hope we all will be committed and in unity, for the next 30 days, seeking God’s guidance in our lives. If we faithfully do so, God will lead us into a generosity that will allow Christ Church to thrive in shaping our community, nation and world after the Kingdom. 

Discussion Guide for October 2: When Life Is More Than Living

1. Share some different ideas in our society of what constitutes the good life.

2. Share your thoughts on what it means to live the good life.

3. Share your thoughts on what God sees as the good life.

4. Read 1 Timothy 6:6-19. What does this expanded look at this passage say about the good life?