Monthly Archives: September 2013

9.29.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

A Holy Interruption

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.

MONDAY

Mark 5:21-43

A large crowd gathered around Jesus as his boat landed on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jairus, a local leader, desperately pressed through, begging Jesus to heal his dying daughter. As Jesus moved through the unwieldy crowd to respond, he sensed that another desperate person had touched him in a way that tapped his healing power. He confirmed for her that her faith had made her whole. Then he restored Jairus’ daughter to life. Two interruptions—and both gave Jesus a chance to exercise his healing, redemptive power.

 

TUESDAY

Luke 7:11-17

“A little later Jesus went to a city called Nain. His disciples and a great crowd traveled with him,” Luke wrote. But any original reason for going to Nain was forgotten when another large crowd came through the city gates, not to greet Jesus but to support a grieving widow and mother whose only son had died. Jesus’ compassion led him to promptly lay aside any other agenda until he brought the woman’s son back to life, and restored him to his mother.

 

WEDNESDAY

Luke 13:10-17

Jesus met a woman bound by a disability for 18 years, and acted decisively to set her free. The synagogue leader objected— tradition bound him, and he saw only a broken rule, not a healed person. Jesus firmly challenged the man’s rule-bound point of view. Although “those in the crowd” rejoiced at what he was doing, the story leaves us to wonder what it might have taken to set the synagogue leader free.

 

THURSDAY

James 1:2-5

Every life has challenges—sometimes minor, other times trials that test the very fiber of our being. James urged Christians to meet life’s tests as “occasions for joy.” He didn’t mean the tests were pleasant, but rather that times that test us, in small or large ways, are chances to grow our endurance. God will use that endurance, James went on, to “complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.”

 

FRIDAY

James 4:13-17

Even in a world without smart phones or tablet computers, James was aware that many people believed their own plans and schedules meant that they were fully in control of their own lives. Often it takes interruptions, illnesses or other kinds of life challenges to puncture that illusion of control, and remind us that God, not us, ultimately is the king of our world and our lives.

 

SATURDAY

Romans 5:1-5

Every life runs into obstacles and challenges. Jesus met those challenges, not with despair or frustration, but with hopeful anticipation of the holy moments they might lead to. The apostle Paul sketched the spiritual growth process through which every Christ-follower can develop a character filled with that kind of hope. Rooted in God’s grace (“Therefore”—verse 1), and saturated with God’s love poured into our hearts (verse 5), all of us can walk the road from trouble to endurance, from endurance to character, and from character to hope.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord God, replace the darkness of our weakness with the light of your love, joy, peace, faith and hope. While we diligently plan, let us trust our future to your wisdom and will. Help us to grow in endurance and trust. Grant us courage and fortitude to stay the course even when alone we might stumble. Guide our lives and interrupt our lives with your heavenly intervention. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

This week, an airline pilot died in mid-flight. If the situation was worse while you were on a leisurely airline flight and it was announced that the plane was going to have to make a crash landing, what thoughts would go through your mind? How much effect would your faith have on those crisis moment thoughts?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Mark 5:21-43. What was it that made the woman approach Jesus in such a timid way? What do you suppose she felt when Jesus asked who had touched him? Have you ever approached God in a timid way? Did God reject you upon your approach, or did you sense a different reaction from God? Why did Jesus say to Jarius, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting”? When have you had to keep trusting God after a prayer of yours was not answered in the way you had hoped?

 Read Luke 7:11-17. How would you react if you went to a hospital, saw someone touch a dead person and that person sat up and climbed out of their bed? Can you imagine this scene? What need drove Jesus to do what he did? What effect do you suppose Jesus’ power had on the life of the grieving widow? Can the power of God have effects beyond the immediate and the obvious? Can we always anticipate the extent of the effect of Christ on our lives? What do you think the people were thinking when they said, “A great prophet has appeared among us…God has come to help his people”?

 Read Luke 13:10-17. This woman was set free from her infirmities. Was the synagogue leader set free from his thoughtless rules? How did the woman react to her healing? Has God ever freed you from something that had bound you for a long time? Has God ever given you the privilege of being part of the process of freeing someone else from a long-standing burden? Are there any customs, traditions or social barriers that you’d be angry about if God ignored them? Are you open and flexible enough to be free of similar “sin definitions” and the burdens those attitudes place on others?

 Read James 1:2-5. How have the trials you have faced in life produced perseverance in you? Is your perseverance contributing to your becoming “fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing”? What should our attitude be when we face the trials of life? How can our faith shape the way we view these trials? What have you learned from facing a hard trial in your life? James says that God will freely give wisdom to anyone who asks. To you, what is wisdom? Has God ever given you wisdom to face a tough challenge?

 Read James 4:13-17. How far ahead do most of us try to plan our lives? Is James’ message here that none of us should do any planning? How many of us consider, daily, what God’s plan might be for our lives? How many of us consider that we might have precious little time to complete our Godly missions in life? Do you know anyone who, facing illness or impending death has, as a result, completely turned their life around? Why does this sometimes happen? We all enjoy free will, but to what extent are any of us really in charge of our lives? What role does humility play in James’ message?

 Read Romans 5:1-5. What does “justified through faith” mean to you? Discuss the logic and meaning of “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” What does it mean for us to have character? What makes hope such an important attitude to have? How do we go about opening ourselves to God’s power to change the core of our being so that we can develop perseverance, character and hope?

From last week: Did you review the article on dying well and consider the reality of your own death with the goal of having a healthy attitude about the process of living and dying in calm assurance for God’s glory? Please share with the group whatever you discovered.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT 

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, September 29, 2013:

One of my favorite interruptions actually happens in Mark 5…

In Mark 5, Jesus is on his way to Nazareth, to visit his hometown. As he makes his way, a very large crowd gathered around him and emerging from this anxious group was one of the leaders of the synagogue named, Jairus. Jairus came forward and when he saw Jesus, Jairus stood in his way, fell at his feet and begged him, He cried, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Her life is hanging in the balance. Won’t you come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live?”

Jesus is once again on this mission…he’s going to Nazareth to preach and teach and once more he’s interrupted. This time it’s a high ranking official. It’s an important person and he needs help. His twelve year old daughter is dying. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”

Sensing Jairus’ desperation…Jesus chooses again to change directions. This, of course, sends his GPS into a tizzy of recalibration…as Jesus starts off toward Jairus’ house, his GPS starts crying…recalculating, recalculating…

Jesus begins walking with Jairus to save his daughter, and together they take off on this life saving mission…however, as He goes, an even bigger crowd sets in behind him and as they surround him and press in on him, another interruption emerges. This time it’s a woman who has been suffering for 12 long years. Mark 5: 26-29: “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”

For 12 years this woman had been suffering. She had been bleeding. She had been to the doctor, she had changed her diet, she had done everything in her power to get better, but she wasn’t getting any better. In fact she was getting worse. She was out of options and didn’t have any hope left…you almost get the sense that she viewed Jesus as her only chance at getting better. So this bleeding woman sees Jesus walking with the masses in the distance, and with everything she has and all that she has left, she gets close to this man. She reaches out and touches his clothes. Maybe that’s all it will take? Maybe all I need to do is touch him? Maybe he won’t even notice?

As the crowds pressed in on Jesus, Jesus feels something tugging at him, in fact what he feels is so powerful that it causes him to stop in his tracks, turn around, and then ask a question. Mark writes: “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’” (Mark 5:30)

In the middle of this life saving mission, Jesus stopped, turns around and asks…”who touched me?” The disciples heard Jesus and said, “Are you serious…with all these people here, the crowds pressing in and with a dying girl waiting our arrival, you’re going to stop and ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Mark writes: “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman knowing what had happened to her came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:31-34)

Can you picture the chaos of what’s going on here? Can you imagine how you would feel? If you were Jesus? If you were Jairus? If you were the hemorrhaging woman who was just healed?

At what cost did all of these interruptions come? What would you do in these kinds of situations?…

William Willimon says that these stories are intended to shake us loose from our own story, our own path, our own preferred ‘point b’s.’ These holy interruptions are supposed to loosen physicians pressured by specialization and overwork, parents harried by the demands of neighborhood children or even their own, professors distracted by students with problems, and preachers interrupted in the middle of sermon prep.

Henri Nouwen tells the story of a teacher who once remarked, “You know … my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

When I think about what the life of discipleship requires, I immediately think that the life of discipleship, following Christ, requires an openness to viewing interruptions as holy opportunities to do your best work. The life of discipleship requires a mindset that allows us to push past the predictable and reliable formulas that speak to efficiency and timeliness and instead focus on the circuitous and paradoxical rhythm of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

It is not that Mark the gospel writer wanted to tell a coherent, orderly, sequential account of Jesus’ life and kept getting sidetracked. It’s that Jesus rarely ever traveled directly from point A to the expected point B. Jesus had this uncanny ability to see the holy interruptions, insertions, surprises, the people whom we did not expect to meet, the lessons we had not planned to learn and he lived into them with everything he had, maybe even with reckless abandon. In fact, I think it might be fair to say that Jesus himself is the greatest, most unexpected interruption of all…

A lowly carpenter’s son, born in a manger who through death gave us life, through love conquered hate, and in his life revealed that it is only in losing it that we can find it.

 

C.S. Lewis on Life’s Interruptions

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.”

(from a 1943 letter from C.S. Lewis, included in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis)

Note: C.S. Lewis was the author of the books, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and numerous other faith-based books. To learn more about this still-popular author, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis

 

Interruptions and the Stuff of “Real Life”

Like to be “in control’ of your life? To give this attitude the best spin, we could say it’s because we’re “disciplined” and like to map out our time. But that’s not the reality. Truth is, we like to be in control because it makes us feel powerful and secure. The heart issue is that we’re looking for security in something other than God. So, it’s idolatry, not discipline.

If you like to be in control of your circumstances, then you know what interruptions are like. They’re frustrating. They get in the way of your plan. They need to be avoided or discarded or dealt with as soon as possible so you can get back to being in control, right?

Wrong.

Those of us who follow Jesus shouldn’t act this way when interrupted. We shouldn’t see interruptions as obstacles to our plan but opportunities to embrace God’s plan.

Many of us think interruptions get in the way of “real life.” That’s why we don’t like them. They remind us we’re not in control.

• Traffic is heavier than usual, and you miss an appointment.

• Unforeseen circumstances cause you to miss a deadline.

• Your kid comes down with the flu at the very time you’re supposed to be going on vacation.

Interruptions are not obstacles to our plan; they are opportunities for us to embrace God’s plan.

So, the next time real life comes crashing into your idea that you are “in control,” look for the opportunity to show Christ’s compassion. Instead of being frustrated at the presence of other people, look for the opportunity to reflect the compassion of our Savior.

As edited from the source: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/01/07/lifes-interruptions-are-divine-opportunities/

 

Final application:

This week, make notes on the occasions when your plans are interrupted. Big interruptions or small, write each occasion down and also note how you react to the interruption and the effect that the interruption had on your life. Next week, share with the group whatever you discover.

 

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9.22.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

The Latter Years

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.

MONDAY

2 Chronicles 6:19-21, 40-42

75-year-old John Wesley led in building City Road Chapel in London in 1778. Wesley wrote about the day when the Chapel opened in his Journal: “I preached on part of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple [today’s Scripture reading]; and both in the morning and afternoon…God was eminently present in the midst of the congregation.”

 

TUESDAY

Romans 13:8-14, 1 John 4:11-16

The City Road Chapel, like any building, was important, not as a monument to John Wesley or the early Methodists, but as a tool God could use to awaken and revive hearts. When they laid the Chapel’s foundation, Wesley urged those present, “Let our hearts be joined herein; let us unite our wishes and prayers; let our whole soul pant after a general revival of pure religion and undefiled, the restoration of the image of God, pure love, in every child of man! …let us, with all diligence, diffuse the religion of love among all we [interact] with.”

 

WEDNESDAY

Luke 9:23-26

The early Methodists’ faith tended to lead them to work harder, be more trustworthy and honest and less inclined to squander their money on drink, gambling or other things. Their growing wealth concerned Wesley. In one sermon, he said, “Having first gained all you can, and secondly saved all you can, then give all you can.” In another, he urged, “Touching this point of denying ourselves, and taking up our cross daily….sit as loose to all things here below, as if you were a poor beggar. Be a good steward of the manifold gifts of God.”

 

THURSDAY

Matthew 25:19-23

John Wesley himself remained a “good and faithful servant.” He made one of the most remarkable entries in his Journal when he was 81. He wrote, “On this and the four following days I walked through the town and begged two hundred pounds in order to clothe them that needed it most. But it was hard work as most of the streets were filled with melting snow…so that my feet were steeped in snow water nearly from morning till evening.”

 

FRIDAY

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

The apostle Paul reminded Christians in Corinth that when Jesus rose from the grave, he conquered death. Death has been “swallowed up by a victory.” In John Wesley’s sermon “On the Resurrection of the Dead,” he drew on Paul’s words, and said, “Let this especially fortify us against the fear of death: It is now disarmed, and can do us no hurt.” He taught Methodists to die “a good death,” free from fear and facing life’s end “in calm assurance.”

 

SATURDAY

Psalm 146:1-2, 5-10

John Wesley died on March 2, 1791, three months short of his 88th birthday. As his long life ebbed away, Wesley spoke the oft-quoted words of faith: “The best of all is, God is with us.” With his final breaths, he tried to sing Isaac Watts’ hymn, based on Psalm 146: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath, and when my voice is lost in death, praise shall employ my nobler powers. My days of praise shall ne’er be past, while life, and thought, and being last, or immortality endures.” He modeled the “good death” that he had preached and taught.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Dear Lord, you have touched our lives through the work of people like John and Charles Wesley. You were victorious over death and we have received the benefits. Teach us to live and die in calm assurance, guiding us in our daily choices, giving generously, loving fully, and praying incessantly. In your holy name we pray. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

This last week, we all experienced another mass shooting. What drives people to such madness? Are each of us, somewhat, even distantly responsible for these tragic events?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read 2 Chronicles 6:19-21, 40-42. Do you have fond memories of some of the church buildings that have been important to your spiritual journey? How did they help shape your faith? Were you able to feel God’s presence there? Have you also felt God’s presence in other settings? How would you describe the physical nature of churches that seem to be most supportive of worship for you? Why might others prefer a different kind of setting?

 Read Romans 13:8-14, 1 John 4:11-16. A consistent message of the New Testament is for us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” How will this command mean a change of life and living for most people? What does it mean to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ…”? To make this change in our lives, how might we start and/or end our days to remind ourselves of our commitment? In what ways has following Christ made you and your relationships more loving?

 Read Luke 9:23-26. Verse 25 reads, “What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives?” How would you define “materialism”? How could continuing materialism affect your spiritual life? How can we “take up our cross daily” to combat materialism? Wesley urged each of us to “Be a good steward of the manifold gifts of God.” How do we go about doing that? Have you found that your faith has altered your materialistic tendencies?

 Read Matthew 25:19-23. What does it mean to be seen by Jesus as “a good and faithful servant”? Why was the second servant (who brought less back to his master) seen as an equally good and faithful servant? What kinds of “gold” are we given from which God is expecting a return? How do we discern God’s will in providing the kind of return he desires? How important is it for us to maintain our awareness of our responsibilities as Christ’s followers?

 Read 1 Corinthians 15:51-58. As Christians, why won’t our mortal death mean that we have been defeated and “lost the battle”? Does the thought of death cause you fear and anxiety? What about the way you die? Wesley urged us to “die a ‛good death’, free from fear and facing life’s end ‛in calm assurance.’” How great is that challenge to you? What makes you confident in your eventual immortality?

 Read Psalm 146:1-2, 5-10. We Christians worship Israel’s God as expressed in these Psalms. In what ways is it true of you that your hopes rely, not on your own aptitudes, accomplishments or possessions, but on Israel’s God? If you have enjoyed these weeks of focus on John Wesley and his legacy, can you explain why? In what ways can we praise our maker constantly, as long as we have breath?

From last week: Did you consider making your service more “comprehensive” by serving in one way you never have before? Did you start by asking yourself what you already were doing, then prayerfully seek insight into other things you might also do? Did you try at least one new activity? Please share with the group whatever you discovered.

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, September 15, 2013:

We’ve been using the term “revival” to describe what the Wesleys were leading—a revival of Christianity in the 18th and 19th century. They themselves often used a different term: they were seeking to awaken people from their spiritual sleep. Wesley frequently used the term “awakened” for those who had responded to his preaching and had put their trust in Christ, had accepted God’s grace and love, and whose hearts, desires and actions were now turned towards pleasing God. In our natural state we are asleep to the things of God. Even within the church there were many who were asleep in the light—sleep-walking, going through the motions of being Christians yet lacking either the conviction or the serious pursuit of a life lived for Christ.

Charles Wesley, John’s brother, preached a sermon on this topic that John considered so important he included it in his own collection of sermons. It was called, “Awake Thou That Sleepest.” The text was from Ephesians 5:14: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” In our passage today, Paul uses this same metaphor where he says: “It is now the moment for you to wake up from sleep! Let us lay aside the works of darkness!” The Wesleys saw their task as awakening people, helping them see the light, and walk in the light. Hence the movement they led in England, like the one led by Jonathan Edwards in America, was called the Great Awakening….

Priests and laity offended by his preaching were often the same folks who hired thugs and rabble rousers to disturb the preaching. Wesley kept a journal and you can read about hundreds of these occurrences….For 19 years this was Wesley’s weekly, sometimes daily experience. He was dragged before the magistrates, beaten with fists, pummeled with rocks, the homes he was staying in were set afire. How discouraging this must have been. How easily he could have given up. But he refused to do so and this perseverance in the face of opposition made all the difference….The great revival of Christianity that happened under Wesley’s leadership happened because despite 19 years of sometimes violent opposition he refused to give up….He remembered the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad!”

Beginning in his late 60’s Wesley began to speak against the slave trade. Many of the slave traders were British. The ships often sailed from Bristol, one of the hubs of Methodism. Wesley published a much-read pamphlet on the evil of slavery and the slave trade. Once more there were those who were angered by Wesley’s preaching. In 1788, when Wesley was 85, he preached a sermon against slavery in the New Room at Bristol. He describes in his journal what happened in the midst of his sermon: “The people rushed upon each other with the utmost violence; the benches were broke in pieces, and nine-tenths of the congregation appeared to be struck with the same panic.” As an 85-year-old man he was still not afraid of offending others in proclaiming the gospel. Here’s the point I want you to hear: if you are going to challenge the status quo, to call people to change, to be a true leader, you’ll have opposition. Most people quit at the first sign of opposition. Wesley refused to give up….

In 1776….Wesley raised money to build a new chapel as the center of Methodism in London. He would build the chapel directly across the street from where his mother, Susanna, had been buried. The chapel was finished in 1778 and Wesley lived in a house next door for the last 13 years of his life—when he was in London and not out preaching. This is considered Methodism’s mother church. 235 years after it was built, it still houses an active congregation and is a hub of Methodist activity….

I mention this because at each of our campuses we will be embarking on building expansions in the next couple of years. Wesley believed in caring for the poor, and supporting missions, but he also believed that buildings were important as tools for drawing people to Christ and equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry. When he built a building he hoped it would serve the needs of people until the time Christ returned. For 235 years the City Road Chapel has been a place where lives were changed and people were equipped to go live their faith in the world. Church buildings are places where disciples were formed….

As Wesley grew older and the Methodist movement grew larger, Wesley became increasingly concerned about Methodists’ prosperity. Many early Methodists were from the lower ranks in society. But often, as God changed people’s lives, their work reflected this. Their integrity and trustworthiness led to their being promoted. Wesley feared that this prosperity might lead some to fall away. He increasingly warned against this. One of the texts he often preached from was I Timothy 6:9: “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.”

In his sermon, “The Use of Money,” Wesley offered three rules for a Christian use of money: Gain all you can. He clarified that we are to earn all that we can provided we are not hurting others or hurting ourselves. Second, we are to: Save all you can. This meant saving before spending frivolously, and saving before spending on non-essentials. In this he said to spend nothing simply to gain the admiration of others. He also noted that the more we indulge our desires, the more they increase—how true. Finally Wesley noted that, after providing for the essential needs for your family, you should: Give all that you can….

Wesley had routinely taught about holy dying, and what constituted a good death. He had seen many saints die, and told of how those who trusted in Christ faced death with hope. He encouraged people to think about their own death, and how, even in their dying, they might bear witness to their faith….At 87 he breathed his last. More than 10,000 people filed past his casket in the City Road Chapel, and then he was carried to the graveyard behind the church where he was laid to rest….

I want to ask you, as Wesley asked hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions who heard him preach: Are you asleep, or awake? Are you aware of your brokenness and sin and your need for a Savior? Is Christianity merely believing in God and trying to be not as bad as others? Or do you know the depth of love God has for you and are you seeking to live in love with him, to glorify him, and to love your neighbor? Revival begins when we recognize we need it, and not before. It begins with our faith and yearning to be wholly God’s. It continues as we open ourselves to the work of God’s Spirit, and as we seek to live our lives in grateful response to his love, following the commands of Jesus. Christianity is about restoring the image of God in us, and then the Spirit using us to restore this broken world. Don’t settle for less than this!

 

Dying Well According to John Wesley

The ars moriendi (or “art of dying”) was a body of literature that helped Christians prepare for death. Wesley discovered the riches of the tradition by reading Jeremy Taylor’s book, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. Wesley’s mediation of the art of dying was so successful that the early Methodists were known for their “good deaths.” A physician who treated several Methodists made the claim to Charles Wesley, “Most people die for fear of dying; but, I never met with such people as yours. They are none of them afraid of death, but [are] calm, and patient, and resigned to the last.”

What did John Wesley and the early Methodists know that allowed them to die with such grace and assurance? First, Wesley faced the reality of death. We live in a death-denying culture. Not only does death tend to be a taboo subject, but we isolate ourselves from the sick and dying. Most of us find it relatively easy to ignore our own mortality until tragedy strikes close to home. Wesley, however, sought out the dying because he desired not only to help them in their final days, but he wanted to learn from those who were going through the dying process. In his journal, Wesley recorded, “Here I found E- R- weaker and happier than ever. Her life seemed spun out to the last thread. I spent half an hour with her, to teach her, at once, and learn of her, to die.”

Furthermore, Wesley realized that ignoring death cheats us of the opportunity to examine the condition of our soul and to attain peace with God. “Do you never think about [death]?” he asked in his address titled, “A Word to an Unhappy Woman.” “Why do you not? Are you never to die? Nay, it is appointed for all men to die. And what comes after? Only heaven or hell. Will the not thinking of death, put it farther off? No; not a day; not one hour.” Contemplating the end of our earthly existence allows us time to examine our standing with God in a focused and honest way. To leave such matters until the very end of life unnecessarily burdens the dying process with uncertainty and anxiety.

Most importantly, Wesley knew the secret to dying well was living well. Keeping our end in view reminds us that life is a precious gift from God and should not be squandered on penultimate pursuits.

The Spirit of God was so clearly evident in the deaths of the Methodists that Wesley regularly published various accounts of deathbed scenes to encourage believers in the faith. A common theme among these accounts was this: the manner in which the Methodists died was simply a continuation of the way they had conducted their lives. Reflecting on the death of William Green, a steadfast believer who trusted God through the storms of life, Wesley mused, “He died, as he lived, in the full assurance of faith, praising God with his latest breath.” Of another believer Wesley penned, “She was a woman of faith and prayer; in life and death adorning the doctrine of God her Saviour.”

Just as learning the “art” of any worthwhile craft takes time and effort, so the art of dying well requires our full attention. This does not mean we become fatalistic or develop an unhealthy fixation on death. Rather, as believers, we abide in the knowledge that a good death is a culmination of a life lived for the glory of God – no matter what the length of that life may be.

More at the source: http://seedbed.com/feed/dying-well-according-to-john-wesley/

 

Final application:

This week, review the article above on dying well. Consider the reality of your own death with the goal of having a healthy attitude about the process of living and dying in calm assurance for God’s glory. Next week, share with the group whatever you discover.

 

9.15.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Sanctification: Perfected in Love

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.

MONDAY

Matthew 5:13-16

John Wesley, following the teaching of Jesus, said, “Christianity is essentially a social religion.” Jesus did not retreat and live on an isolated island, and he does not call Christians to vacate their cultures for an exclusively Christian environment. God’s followers are to be “salt and light” in the world. God empowers us to “preserve” what is good and live lives that shine light into the darkness of our world.

 

TUESDAY

Ephesians 2:4-10

Paul, as passionate a preacher of God’s saving grace as ever lived, wrote that when we accept that grace, we live as people “created in Christ Jesus to do good things.” To people who argued that grace made Christian actions unnecessary, Wesley said, “Surely there are works of mercy…which are real means of grace. They are more especially such to those that perform them with a single eye. And those that neglect them, do not receive the grace which otherwise they might.”

 

WEDNESDAY

1 John 3:14-18

The apostle John said no one filled with God’s love could see a brother or sister in need and not try to help. John Wesley wrote of a time when he lived this out: “At Hannam, four miles from Bristol….I made a collection in our congregation for the relief of the poor, [outside] Lawford’s gate; who, having no work…and no assistance from the parish wherein they lived, were reduced to the last extremity. I made another collection on Thursday and a third on Sunday, by which we were enabled to feed a hundred, sometimes a hundred and fifty, a day, of those whom we found to need it most.”

 

THURSDAY

Isaiah 1:11-18, 42:1-7

The prophet Isaiah pointed out, on God’s behalf, the injustices rampant in ancient Israel. Then, three times in four verses, Isaiah 42 said God’s servant would bring justice. John Wesley visited one “poor prisoner,” falsely charged with a large offense instead of the petty crime he’d committed. He wrote indignantly, “2) Where is the justice of swelling four pounds into five hundred and seventy-seven? 3) Where is the common sense of taking up fourteen sheets to tell a story that may be told in ten lines? 4) Where is the mercy of thus grinding the face of the poor? thus sucking the blood of a poor, beggared prisoner?”

 

FRIDAY

James 2:14-26

Wesley had learned firsthand the folly of trying to earn God’s favor through good works. But he found, as James had, that some other Christians thought “salvation by faith” meant good works are optional. In his sermon “The Mystery of Iniquity,” he said, “When St. James wrote his Epistle….that grand pest of Christianity, a faith without works, was spread far and wide; filling the Church with a ‘wisdom from beneath,’ which was ‘earthly, sensual, devilish.’” Like James, Wesley knew that true faith produces actions that honor God and bless others.

 

SATURDAY

Matthew 25:31-46

Looking back, it’s easy to see that John Wesley and his followers made a big impact for good, first in Britain and then in America. Studying Wesley’s life reminds us that it didn’t happen with one big sermon or campaign. Many, many (often small) acts of grace and caring in the end changed the world. In his sermon “The Reward of the Righteous,” Wesley urged his hearers, “While you are promoting this comprehensive charity, which contains feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, lodging the stranger; indeed all good works in one; let those animating words be written on your hearts, and sounding in your ears: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto ME.’”

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

O God, keep our eyes and hearts open to see your face in the faces of hurting people around us who need to feel your touch through us. Continue your work in our lives, that we may always bring you glory. Help us to embrace true justice and nurture a giving heart so that we might be your shining lights of love in the world. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Do you think that God primarily sees our world as occupied by a group of nations with political and geographic boundaries, by a collection of ethnic groups, by one gigantic human race, or by billions of individuals? What leads you to believe that?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Matthew 5:13-16. Who was speaking in these verses, and to whom? In what ways are some people the “salt and light” of the world? How well are the Christians today fulfilling this mission? Jesus’ imagery clearly pointed to a darkness and blandness in the world. What was he referring to? Are some Christians “good for nothing,” like flavorless salt? How can we avoid becoming flavorless, or hiding our light under a basket?

 Read Ephesians 2:4-10. How does the thought that we were “created in Christ Jesus to do good things” spark your imagination? What are one or two “sorts” of goodness you didn’t used to practice, but now do as a follower of Christ? What is your life’s purpose? Does your answer change if the question is what is your life’s purpose as a Christian? Is our life and the way we live it steered by our conscious thoughts, or by some inner, unheard voice? What value might lie in spending some time thinking intentionally about your purpose (or rather, God’s purpose for you) in life?

 Read 1 John 3:14-18. How do you react to the apostle John saying that those who didn’t help people in need were “murderers”? What is “compassion fatigue” and how do we avoid it? Are you, as an individual, expected to cure the plight of the needy? If not then, what would John say Christ does expect of you as his follower? How can a ‘drop in the bucket” be turned into a clear, running stream? (Note: To help with clean water, visit iThirst.org, founded by Resurrection member Grant Arends.)

 Read Isaiah 1:11-18, 42:1-7. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). Do you think those were just symbolic words about spiritual captivity, or did Jesus, like Wesley, want to help actual “poor, beggared prisoners”? What are some practical ways you, as an individual and as a group, can live out God’s concern for justice today? Is service to others a function of your group? What might be some of the “strategic directions” of your group’s service?

 Read James 2:14-26. Is it necessary that we “do something” as an expression of our faith? Is it true that “faith without works is dead”? Has anyone in your life served as an example for you of performing good works in service to God and others? Is it necessary for others to witness our good works? What risks are there if we perform good works so that others will proclaim our strong faith? What should trigger our good works? What good works are you doing now that you might not have done without your faith in Christ, and your gratitude for God’s love toward you?

 Read Matthew 25:31-46. In these verses, Jesus spoke of what we broadly call “the last judgment.” Does the idea of judgment make you nervous and frightened, pleased that God will finally set everything that is wrong right, or just confused? What did Jesus say would be the basis for judgment? Do you think he meant that acts of service to “the least of these” earn God’s love, or that they express our response to the love God has already showed us? What are the main ways you are involved in honoring God by serving others?

From last week: Did you reflect upon the poor coal miners of Wesley’s time and similar people today? Did you consider in what ways, direct or indirect, you could be involved in Wesley’s work of sharing God’s grace with areas with no schools or churches? Did you consider whether God was calling you in any way to get more involved in sharing “beyond the walls” of the church? This week, share with the group any ideas or learnings you had in this reflection.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

 

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, September 15, 2013:

Wesley’s faith and that of the early Methodists differed in some ways from modern evangelical Christianity. Often in modern evangelicalism the goal and the gauge of the Christian life is to have a deep and profound “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” That is the chief end of the Christian life.

Wesley called people to a deeply personal faith in Christ, to accept God’s love them, and to reciprocate God’s love. He taught and preached that we must trust in Christ for our salvation and be born anew. But Wesley was also clear that this was not the end of faith, but only its beginning and foundation. Wesley taught that growing in Christ, moving to sanctification, also involved loving our neighbor as we love ourselves….

Many evangelical Christians today have only half a gospel, as do many mainline Christians. I came to faith in a wonderful congregation but one where I never remember hearing a word about justice, or serving alongside the poor, or working to meet the needs of those outside the church, or seeking to make the community more like the Kingdom of God. Our mission was to bring people to Jesus and to be more personally pious–“don’t smoke, drink or chew or hang around with those who do”….

Rich Stearns, the head of World Vision and an evangelical, wrote a terrific book, a critique of modern evangelicalism, called The Hole In Our Gospel. One of the quotes I love from it says, “We must move beyond an anemic view of our faith as something only personal and private, with no public dimension, and instead see it as the source of power that can change the world.”

But I’ve also known mainline churches that never emphasized or taught the need for a personal conversion, for trusting in Christ or a personal relationship with him. One key to the revival Wesley and the early Methodists led was that they held both sides of the gospel together. They preached a personal faith, a desire for holiness of heart, and the pursuit of spiritual disciplines by which God’s Spirit would restore the image of God in us. But they also believed that if God were restoring us into his image then he would be restoring us to be more loving to our neighbors, giving us a heart of compassion, charity and mercy so that we would look at the world and see the brokenness, hurts and needs, and we would seek to address these needs as God’s instruments. This dual emphasis on both sides of the gospel is very, very important to understanding Methodism. While it is not unique to Wesley and the Methodists, it is a defining mark of the Methodist revival. This two sided gospel is just basic biblical Christianity….

Wesley ultimately developed what became known as the General Rules of the Methodist people–three simple rules that were meant to be memorized and to remind Methodists of a pattern of life that would help us love God and neighbor. The rules can be summarized as: 1) Do what helps you grow in love for God. 2) Do no harm and avoid evil. 3) Do all the good you can. Avoid evil, do all the good you can as often as you can to everyone that you can, and pursue spiritual practices or means of grace that help us grow in love with God–prayer, scripture reading, public worship, meeting in small groups, receiving the Eucharist, talking about your faith with others, serving others. This was what it meant to be Methodist–trusting in Christ, then consciously, daily, seeking to live for God by Avoiding Evil, Doing Good, and Pursuing the Spiritual Disciplines. Are you a Methodist?…

Which is why one of the requirements for membership, if you choose to join as 150 people did here at Leawood last weekend, is that you serve somewhere outside the walls of the church every year to help our community look more like the kingdom of God…We have so many opportunities to serve, not just on mission teams, but in Silver Link with Senior Adults and a host of others. In addition, we ask you to go on a mission trip once every five years. Next year I’m going to Africa. Where are you going? This is what it means to be real Christians and it is part of the goal of the Christian life–that you might be restored to the image of God, and used by him. In each of our partner churches, and in each of our campuses, and in every one of our services, we’re all called to help heal the world. What role will you play? What calling will you fulfill?…

Salvation is about God saving us from ourselves, from complacency, and heartlessness, and self-centeredness. He is saving us not simply for heaven, but to be his instruments here on earth. He created us to love him, but also to love one another.

 

 

From “The Character of a Methodist,” by John Wesley

1. THE distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another, are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion, is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally. We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think. So that whatsoever they are, whether right or wrong, they are no distinguishing marks of a Methodist.

2. Neither are words or phrases of any sort. We do not place our religion, or any part of it, in being attached to any peculiar mode of speaking, any quaint or uncommon set of expressions. The most obvious, easy, common words, wherein our meaning can be conveyed, we prefer before others, both on ordinary occasions, and when we speak of the things of God. We never, therefore, willingly or designedly, deviate from the most usual way of speaking; unless when we express scripture truths in scripture words, which, we presume, no Christian will condemn. Neither do we affect to use any particular expressions of Scripture more frequently than others, unless they are such as are more frequently used by the inspired writers themselves. So that it is as gross an error, to place the marks of a Methodist in his words, as in opinions of any sort.

3. Nor do we desire to be distinguished by actions, customs, or usages, of an indifferent nature. Our religion does not lie in doing what God has not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden. It does not lie in the form of our apparel, in the posture of our body, or the covering of our heads; nor yet in abstaining from marriage, or from meats and drinks, which are all good if received with thanksgiving. Therefore, neither will any man, who knows whereof he affirms, fix the mark of a Methodist here, — in any actions or customs purely indifferent, undetermined by the word of God.

4. Nor, lastly, is he distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it. If you say, “Yes, he is; for he thinks ‘we are saved by faith alone:'” I answer, You do not understand the terms. By salvation he means holiness of heart and life. And this he affirms to spring from true faith alone. Can even a nominal Christian deny it? Is this placing a part of religion for the whole? “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.” We do not place the whole of religion (as too many do, God knoweth) either in doing no harm, or in doing good, or in using the ordinances of God. No, not in all of them together; wherein we know by experience a man may labour many years, and at the end have no religion at all, no more than he had at the beginning. Much less in any one of these; or, it may be, in a scrap of one of them: Like her who fancies herself a virtuous woman, only because she is not a prostitute; or him who dreams he is an honest man, merely because he does not rob or steal. May the Lord God of my fathers preserve me from such a poor, starved religion as this! Were this the mark of a Methodist, I would sooner choose to be a sincere Jew, Turk, or Pagan.

5. “What then is the mark? Who is a Methodist, according to your own account?” I answer: A Methodist is one who has “the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost given unto him;” one who “loves the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. God is the joy of his heart, and the desire of his soul; which is constantly crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee! My God and my all! Thou art the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever!”

(Mr. Wesley went on for another 13 paragraphs adding detail about Methodists attitudes and actions. The entire text is at http://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/The-Wesleys-and-Their-Times/The-Character-of-a-Methodist)

 

Final application:

This week, consider making your service more “comprehensive” by serving in one way you never have before. If you need ideas, you’ll find many at http://www.cor.org/missions. Start by asking yourself what you already are doing, then prayerfully seek insight into other things you might also do. Try at least one new activity. Next week, share with the group whatever you discovered.

9.8.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Preaching and Pursuing Grace

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.

MONDAY

John 16:1-4, Matthew 5:10-12

When John Wesley went to Epworth, his hometown, he drily noted that the curate “did not care to accept of my assistance.” Then, he wrote, “After sermon John Taylor stood in the churchyard and gave notice as the people were coming out, ‘Mr. Wesley, not being permitted to preach in the church, designs to preach here at six o’clock’…at six I came and found such a congregation as I believe Epworth never saw before. I stood…upon my father’s tombstone, and cried, ‘The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost’ [Rom. 14:17].”

 

TUESDAY

2 Corinthians 5:11-15

John Wesley concluded, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, that Christ “died for the sake of all,” not just for “the elect.” His faith that God’s all-inclusive love and grace gives us the freedom to choose our eternal fate was not a mere theological technicality, but the basis for his powerful, urgent preaching of salvation. That belief in God’s free grace and our moral freedom (called “Arminian,” after a Dutch preacher, Jacobus Arminius) became a defining part of Methodism.

 

WEDNESDAY

Psalm 119:1-16

It was ironic that his critics called Wesley an unruly agitator. He did reach people in atypical ways that shocked some staid British clergymen, but he was in fact a very disciplined man. It’s no surprise to find that, in the same spirit as the writer of Psalm 119, he wrote in his journal, “About fifty of us being met, the Rules of the Society were read over and carefully considered one by one; but we did not find any that could be spared. So we all agreed to abide by them all and to recommend them with our might.”

 

THURSDAY

John 15:9-17

After visiting a Methodist “band” (i.e. small group) of coal miners, John Wesley described their commitment in his journal: “No person ever misses his band or class; they have no jar of any kind among them but with one heart and one mind ‘provoke one another to love and to good works.’” This group of plain working people, Wesley said, could be “a pattern” for all Methodists. Love leads to commitment and obedience, as Jesus said in today’s passage. Jesus’ love for God the Father led him to commit, obey, and share God’s love with others, and he calls us to that same kind of commitment, obedience, and love.

 

FRIDAY

Psalm 149:1-5

Charles Wesley was the family’s hymn writer—probably the most prolific ever, with over 6,000 hymns to his name. John cared about worship music, too, and published “Directions for Singing” for the use of his Methodist societies. Like the Psalms, they urged everyone to join in singing praises to God.

 

SATURDAY

Ephesians 5:15-21

Wesley’s “Directions for Singing” included some specific musical tips that may make us smile (or applaud). “Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength,” he advised. He followed with a caution: “Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation…but strive to unite your voices together.” “Sing in time,” he urged, and in particular “take care not to sing too slow.” But the most important idea came last: “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature.”

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord Jesus, send us into every week filled with your Spirit of love, joy, purpose and life. We praise you today and sing to your glory. We offer our lives to you and pray that our lives might please you and bring you honor. Help us to be mindful of your rules obedient in our love, and always grateful for your grace which keeps us steadfast in your mission. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

We think it’s wonderful that God is so gracious. In your experience of work, school, home, neighborhood or other familiar settings, how gracious are we to one another? If there’s a difference, what makes us like God’s grace more than we like being gracious?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read John 16:1-4, Matthew 5:10-12. In what ways, if any, have you ever heard, felt or sensed the derision of others as a result of your faith and commitment to Christ? How did you handle it? Despite their derision, do you think that the evidence of your faith might have had some positive effect upon them? Could their negative response be, not to your faith, but to the way you expressed it? How could we adjust, alter or reinvent our ways of expressing our faith to make it more appealing and acceptable to others? Are you open to such adjustments?

 Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-15. As Pastor Hamilton explained in this week’s sermon, some believe that only those who are “predestined” by God can be saved by Christ, yet in this passage Paul said Christ “died for the sake of all,” not just for “the elect.” What do you believe? Does everyone have the same free choice to accept or reject Christ’s salvation? Does Christ welcome everyone to the faith? Which is more important—having the “right” answers to complex issues of the faith or our love for one another? If we disagree about unclear issues of the faith, how can we still love one another?

 Read Psalm 119:1-16. How “in touch” are most Christians with God’s basic rules? Do you get a sense that the psalmist was trying to earn God’s love through obedience (legalism), or that the psalm expresses a love response to God’s love? Why does the Psalmist believe we are happier when we strive to follow God’s rules? Why would we “rejoice in the content of (God’s) laws as if (we) were rejoicing over great wealth”? How can we not forget these rules, keeping them in a prominent place during our daily lives? How would social and international relations be changed if everyone sought to live the kind of life the psalmist described? How would your personal life and work be different?

 Read John 15:9-17. How do you understand Christ’s commandment to “love each other just as I have loved you”? Do you believe Jesus wanted us to place the well-being of others ahead of your own? In what kinds of situations might that be the case? Is that self-destructive? In verse 16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you…” Do you think this means we had no choice, or does it refer to what John Wesley called “prevenient grace”—God’s grace drawing us before we even knew God? How does love for another person lead to commitment? Do you find that obedience comes more readily for you if it means pleasing someone you love, or is it still difficult?

 Read Psalm 149:1-5. What might it mean for us today to “celebrate (our) maker”? How do we “praise God’s name” or “sing God’s praise”? Do you tend to sing out loud in worship services, or are you reluctant to sing? Do you believe how “good” your voice is should determine if you sing? Are there other ways for us to express our love and praise of God?

 Read Ephesians 5:15-21. Paul called his days “evil times.” Was that specifically true of his times, or is it a general description of this broken world? Why do you think so? Do you agree with Paul when he said, “Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity”? In what ways did Paul suggest that being filled with the Spirit was a more satisfying experience? Have you found that to be so? In the spirit of today’s verses, how can we better prepare ourselves before we enter worship services every weekend?

From last week: Did you prayerfully consider whether you have fully accepted God’s acceptance of you? Did you ask yourself if God is calling you to do anything more or different as his ambassador? Did you recommit yourself to your faith and God’s work and seek opportunities to take part in that work? Please share with the group anything significant you discovered.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, September 8, 2013:

Today’s scripture reading, Ephesians 2:8-9, was the source of no less than 40 of Wesley’s sermons, so important was this message that salvation was not earned, but was a free gift of God. Listen again: “By grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works so that no one may boast.” This is a text every Christian should memorize. It is a reminder of a central gospel truth: God is a god of grace, and salvation is a result of God’s grace….

There are two senses of the word grace in Paul’s use of the term that are important for you to know, that were critical in Wesley’s teaching and theology. The first is grace as a quality of God’s character whereby he loves, blesses and is willing to forgive humanity despite our sin. It is this attribute of God’s character that leads God to take the initiative to send Jesus, who he knows will die, in order to redeem and to save the human race.

This is really important, for some picture God as an angry judge, a judgmental father, someone we can never please no matter how hard we try. And unfortunately that picture can be found in parts of the Bible. But Jesus painted a very different picture of God. God is a shepherd who searches for lost sheep. He is a father who runs to meet his prodigal children, he is a Savior who is friend of drunkards, prostitutes and every other kind of sinner.

There is a second sense in which the word is used, particularly in Paul’s letters, and that is grace as an active influence of God in our lives—a force working on us and in us to draw us to God, to put us right, and to restore us into what he made us to be. The agent of this grace is the Holy Spirit….

Wesley often spoke of three forms this grace takes. The first is PREVENIENT GRACE, God’s work in us before we even know to reach out to him. It is this work of God in our lives that enables us to respond to God’s gift of salvation. Infant baptism is a picture of this—that God is working in the lives of infants even before they know to reach out to him.

When we finally say “yes” to God and trust in Christ we experience JUSTIFYING GRACE. This grace is both God’s declaration that we are delivered from sin and death, and also the power of God working in our hearts to change us. Jesus spoke of being “born again of water and the Spirit.” It is the Spirit’s work to make us new. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

We aren’t made perfect when we are justified. I like the imagery of being born anew—being born is just the beginning! Then you’ve got to grow up. That process of perfecting you, of restoring you, is called sanctification. Wesley spoke of God’s SANCTIFYING GRACE as the means of the restoration. It is the Holy Spirit, working in you and through others, that begins to chip away at the old paint and rust, frees up the frozen cylinders, and begins to perfect you.

Wesley was committed to offer the grace of God to the coal miners, the merchants, the farmers to Christ and all other non-religious and nominally religious people. This leads to another point about grace, a point that was the center of one of the great theological divisions of the time, which still lingers to our own.

Those who followed John Calvin, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, believed, based largely upon certain passages in Paul, in predestination. They believed that God had foreordained that some would be the Elect, predestined for heaven. But all others were predestined for hell. This is sometimes called “double predestination.” Calvin’s followers said Christ died only for the “Elect.” The damned could not accept salvation, and the Elect could not resist it. God’s choice was sealed before anyone was born.

Wesley found this to be a repulsive idea and completely inconsistent with God’s nature. He believed that God’s prevenient grace was at work in all people, thus making it possible for all human beings to choose to accept Christ, or reject him. He believed and taught that God wanted all people to be saved. He believed that Christ died for all people and that his atoning work was unlimited. How could God be said to be a God of grace and love, much less justice, and yet create most of humanity for the sole purpose of sending them to be eternally tormented in hell with no opportunity to even respond to his grace?!!!

Calvinists were preaching the gospel hoping the Elect would respond. Wesley was preaching the gospel hoping everyone would respond. The impulse that drove Wesley to preach to the coal miners in Kingswood was his belief that God loves sinners, and longs for non-religious and nominally religious people to come to faith.

What others have said about disciplined living

• God will not make you do something you don’t want to do – He will just make you wish you had. – Wayman Mitchell

• Today, we are overboard on ‘belief’ but bankrupt on obedience. – unknown

• The steady discipline of intimate friendship with Jesus results in men becoming like Him. – Harry Emerson Fosdick

• Music is a discipline, and a mistress of order and good manners, she makes the people milder and gentler, more moral and more reasonable. – Martin Luther

• The reason that most major goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second things first. – Robert J. McKain

• Obedience will yield for us a great peace. – Hank Houghton

• The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer. The morning prayer determines the day. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

• The humblest occupation has in it materials of discipline for the highest heaven. – Frederick W. Robertson

• No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No stream or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined. – Harry Emerson Fosdick

• It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action and discipline that enabled us to follow through. – Zig Ziglar

• If ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk. And yet my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’ The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more I daily found it more uncertain, weaker, and more troubled. – Martin Luther

• The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

• Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work. – Peter Marshall

• We must face the fact that many today are notoriously careless in their living. This attitude finds its way into the church. We have liberty, we have money, we live in comparative luxury. As a result, discipline practically has disappeared. What would a violin solo sound like if the strings on the musician’s instrument were all hanging loose, not stretched tight, not “disciplined”? – A.W. Tozer – Source: Christianity Today, November 20, 1987.

• Discipline, for the Christian, begins with the body. We have only one. It is this body that is the primary material given to us for sacrifice. We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies for ourselves. – Elisabeth Elliot

• No voluntary act of spiritual discipline is ever to become an occasion for self-promotion. Otherwise, any value to the act is utterly vitiated.- D.A. Carson

 

Final application:

This week, reflect on John Wesley preaching in a region called Kingswood. It was a coal mining area in Wesley’s day. The coal miners, called colliers, were folks who worked hard and died young. Their children were often poor and undeducated. The miners were a rough group, and, at this time, there wasn’t a single church in the area of the mines where they lived. Where, in Kansas City or the larger world, are there regions today that might be the equivalent of Kingswood? In what ways, direct or indirect, can you be involved in Wesley’s work of sharing God’s grace with the colliers? Is God calling you in any way to get more involved in sharing “beyond the walls” of the church? Next week, share with the group any ideas or learnings you have in this reflection.

 

9.1.13 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

A Crisis of Faith

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.

MONDAY

Galatians 2:16-21

John Wesley tried hard to be holy—and outwardly did quite well. Yet sailing back to England after two hard years in the colony of Georgia, he wrote in his journal, “I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me?….I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well….But in a storm I think, ‘What if the gospel be not true?….I left my native country to teach the Georgian Indians….But what have I learned myself in the meantime? Why (what I the least of all suspected), that I who went to America to convert others was never myself converted to God.” He’d found, as the apostle Paul did, that “trying harder” to earn God’s love doesn’t work.

 

TUESDAY

Romans 3:9-28

Wesley’s inner struggle opened his spirit to hear and trust the good news that God accepts us by grace, not based on our work. Here’s how he described the moment in his journal: “I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation.”

 

WEDNESDAY

1 John 5:10-13

As John Wesley accepted that God saves us solely by grace, he was able to quit “hoping” or “wishing” to be saved. He recorded the change in these words: “An assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart.”

 

THURSDAY

1 Timothy 2:2-6, Luke 24:44-49

The gospel of God’s grace, planted in John Wesley’s heart, fueled him to lead an explosive revival of Christian faith in Britain, and then America. Despite having grown up in a restrained church that seldom touched ordinary people’s lives, Wesley couldn’t imagine not sharing the good news that had changed his life. Of preaching outdoors to those who wouldn’t darken the door of a church, he wrote, “Field-preaching is a cross to me. But I know my commission and see no other way of ‘preaching the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).’”

 

FRIDAY

Titus 2:11-15

In Wesley’s class-conscious England, many people thought the Christian faith was only for the “proper” people. But Wesley knew, like Paul before him, that the good news was for all people. More than that, they both knew that God’s people were encouraged to share their Christian hope with others. Wesley once wrote in his journal about a group he’d preached to, “I am apt to think many of the hearers scarcely ever heard a Methodist before, or perhaps any other preacher….Are not their souls also precious in the sight of God?”

 

SATURDAY

Luke 14:12-24

Jesus lived among many religious people who recoiled at the idea of sharing God’s kingdom with “sinners” (a term they defined roughly as “not as good as I am”). To some of them, Jesus told a shocking story about a king who invited even the town’s street people to a royal banquet. In that spirit, John Wesley and the early Methodists preached faith to people of all social classes. In 1739, Wesley wrote ironically in his journal about his own inner struggle with his “upright” background: “At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people.”

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord God, we thank you for calling us to be your servants, working to invite others to fill your banquet table. We thank you for your gift of salvation and for the help of your Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts with the assurance of your love and forgiveness, and with hope and love for all humanity. Remove our guilt and free us in spirit and truth. Be with us every day. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Without discussing specific actions: How hard do you find it personally to determine what is right and wrong for you (not to assess the actions or attitudes of others)? What factors tend to cloud the issues in your own mind? Can you, for yourself only, tend to “feel” the rightness or wrongness of the daily choices you have to make, or is that often unclear and confusing?

 

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY

 Read Galatians 2:16-21. Do you tend to see yourself as a “good, holy Christian” because of your good deeds, or because of your deep and abiding faith in Christ’s grace and forgiveness? Should we as Christians rigidly follow “the rules” of how we should behave, or should we follow Christ’s leading through the Holy Spirit in our hearts?

 Read Romans 3:9-28. Do you find it hard to accept that, no matter how hard you try to do right, you are a “sinner”? How can your sin be erased and forgotten? When you realize you have done wrong, do you tend to feel like a failure before God? What can you do then? One preacher said the moral law is like a sheet of glass. If it’s broken anywhere, it’s broken. So as a community of believers, what is our shared need? Can that shared need (for forgiveness through faith; for mercy and grace) free us from shame? Can meeting together help us encourage one another to throw off our shackles of guilt?

 Read 1 John 5:10-13. The Message captured verse 13 this way: “My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life.” Do feel as confident in your path to heaven as this verse promises? What makes some of us doubt our own salvation? How can we overcome this doubt? When does “eternal life” begin–now, or after our earthly death? How can your answer affect the way you live your life and how you approach each new day?

 Read 1 Timothy 2:2-6, Luke 24:44-49. Do you think the gospel has been preached to everyone, even in America? What are some of the things that make it harder to spread of the gospel in America? Do you have personal acquaintances who you really wish could hear the gospel message? What could we do differently in this electronic age to spread the gospel? What would be some equivalents in our world of being a “field preacher”? Are you, like many Christians, embarrassed to overtly share the gospel? How do you feel, for example, about putting Bible verses at the bottom of your personal emails?

 Read Titus 2:11-15. Is the Christian message really for everyone (even for, say, terrorists who threaten our country?) What about people of non-Christian faiths, atheists, drug dealers, prostitutes, thieves, addicts, etc.? Do we tend to see some people as “respectable sinners,” while others are “really bad sinners”? What’s the danger in doing that? How do we classify ourselves? Why would a “respectable sinner” need God’s grace as much as any “really bad sinner”? Can you think of any “really bad sinners” in the Bible saved by their faith in God? What about any “respectable” sinners?

 Read Luke 14:12-24. How do you interpret this story? What invitation is Christ referring to? Being honest, how open are you to inviting and welcoming into God’s kingdom the “ragamuffins” of all kinds who live around you, even if at first you might feel uncomfortable in their company? Don’t condemn yourself if you are uncomfortable with the idea of reaching into the “highways and back alleys” with the gospel. How can we all stretch at least a little beyond our comfort zone?

From last week: Did you prayerfully consider the list of spiritual disciplines, and ask yourself which disciplines needed your greater attention? Did you, each day, try to incorporate those disciplines into your life? Please share with the group how you did.

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, September 1, 2013:

Last week we left Wesley with the desire to be an altogether Christian. He hoped to glorify God in everything he did, to be holy in his thoughts, words and deeds. He got up early to pray. He fasted two days a week. He studied the Bible each day. He received the Eucharist weekly and sometimes daily. He was regularly visiting the prisons, the sick, the elderly. He refused to cut his hair but instead gave the money he would have paid a barber to the poor.

All of these were good things in and of themselves. And Wesley was clear that salvation was not the result of doing all of these things, but a gift from God. Yet while he knew this with his head, he did not know it in his heart. So Wesley noted that “I have been charged with being too strict…with carrying things too far in religion and laying burdens on myself, if not on others, which were neither necessary nor possible to be borne.” Wesley dismisses the charge, but there was truth to it….

As long as our spiritual life is about guilt, rules, and the obsessive compulsion that we’ve never done enough, we’ll miss the point of the gospel and lack the joy our faith is meant to have. Today we come to the moment when Wesley experienced the key to a healthy, passionate, authentic Christian faith—the match that struck the fuse to an explosive revival that could not be stopped….

[After many rejections and failures in the colony of Georgia,] Wesley was arrested but released without bail until the date of the trial. Soon church attendance plummeted. His ministry was compromised. The trial date was postponed, but the magistrate issued orders forbidding Wesley to leave. Finally, on December 22nd, having snuck out of Georgia, he boarded a ship back to England, a complete failure. Jilted, humiliated, and rejected he arrived back in England in January of 1738. His hopes and dreams for ministry in America, for missions among the Native Americans were lost.

Wesley did not know it at the time, but his rejection, his spiritual and pastoral failures, would have a vast impact on his world and ours. His fear in the face of death during the storms at sea led him to search for something more than simply knowing the truth and doing all he could to be holy. His failure in America would pave the way for him to launch a movement in England that would eventually spread across America with, at its peak, more than 40,000 churches in every town and county across the country.

My experience watching you over the last 23 years is that our failures, placed in God’s hands, lead to our greatest successes. Our most painful experiences become our defining moments by the grace of God, provided that we learn from them. Which is what Paul was teaching in Romans 8:28, a passage many of you know by heart: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

The challenge for many of us is that we spend so much time blaming others for our failures, and maybe a great deal of time expressing disappointment in God, that we fail to be teachable, to learn from the experience….

Remember, the faith Wesley had been pursuing was built around rules and an obsessive quest for holiness. In many ways the Apostle Paul, when he was a Pharisee, had struggled with the same thing until he heard the gospel of Jesus. Martin Luther had struggled with the same obsessive, guilt and rules-based faith when he was a Catholic monk until he heard Paul’s words in Romans. Wesley had rules. He had plenty of guilt. He had a head knowledge of the gospel, but it hadn’t sunk into his heart….

This led to Wesley’s crisis of faith. It was as he was most discouraged—we might say when he had hit bottom—realizing that all of his attempts to please God had failed, and he was a miserable failure, that he attended a society meeting on Aldersgate Street. Let’s listen to his own words about what happened the night of May 24th, 1738: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”…

This is hugely important. Pursuing holiness is a good thing. Seeking to do everything for the glory of God is wonderful, IF these are not seen as efforts at winning God’s approval, but instead as a response to an acceptance and love for us that’s already been given. Paul found freedom from a guilt-ridden, rule-based faith. He found, as he saw that Christ died for our sins, that he gives us God’s righteousness, that he has bought us with a price, and that we are his dearly loved children, a deeply different relationship with God which changed his relationship to everyone and everything else.

One of my favorite passages captures the idea of what happened to Wesley on Aldersgate Street, which would propel him to passionately proclaim the gospel across the British Isles. I want you to listen carefully to what 20th-century theologian Paul Tillich wrote. He begins by describing the state that guilt and rule-based faith creates: “Year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear…the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, [and] despair destroys all joy and courage. At that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’ If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement.”

Here’s the key to the life God intends for us—not that we work as slaves with salvation as the appropriate wage for us, but that we live in relationship as children to a Father who has already said, “I accept you! I accept you! You are accepted!” Have you accepted God’s acceptance of you? This simple trust changed Wesley’s life, and it could change your life too.

Trust God with your failures. Don’t give up! Placed in God’s hands they can become our greatest defining moments, or lead to outcomes we never expected but are profoundly grateful for. God makes all things work together for our good.

And trust God’s love. You are accepted already. You are loved. Your sins have been forgiven. When you rest in that, your life is no longer about guilt, shame and obsessively trying to get God to like you, but instead living in grateful response to “a love that will not let you go.”

 

What others have said about Christian struggles

• A wise and good man will turn examples of all sorts to his own advantage. The good he will make his patterns, and strive to equal or excel them. The bad he will by all means avoid. – Thomas a Kempis

• The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is. – Robert H. Schuller

• Press forward. Do not stop, do not linger in your journey, but strive for the mark set before you. – George Whitefield

• Our first problem is that our attitude towards sin is more self-centered than God-centered. We are more concerned about our own “Victory” over sin than we are about the fact that our sins grieve the heart of God. We cannot tolerate failure in our struggle with sin chiefly because we are success oriented, not because we know it is offensive to God. – Jerry Bridges

• Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

• Though there is nothing more dangerous, yet there is nothing more ordinary, than for weak saints to make their sense and feeling the judge of their condition. We must strive to walk by faith. – Thomas Brooks

• Give up the struggle and the fight; relax in the omnipotence of the Lord Jesus; look up into His lovely face and as you behold Him, He will transform you into His likeness. You do the beholding—He does the transforming. There is no short-cut to holiness. – Alan Redpath

• The truest help we can render an afflicted man is not to take his burden from him, but to call out his best energy, that he may be able to bear the burden. – Phillips Brooks

• There are some fires you can’t get out of–you’ve got to go through the fire–you’ve got to go through the flood–you’ve got to go through the test–you’ve got to go through the struggle that you might decrease and he might increase. – T.D. Jakes

• No matter what storm you face, you need to know that God loves you. He has not abandoned you. – Franklin Graham

• The next time you find yourself alone in a dark alley facing the undeniables of life, don’t cover them with a blanket, or ignore them with a nervous grin. Don’t turn up the TV and pretend they aren’t there. Instead, stand still, whisper his name, and listen. He is nearer than you think. – Max Lucado

 

Final application:

This week, prayerfully consider whether you have fully accepted God’s acceptance of you. When you are confident that your heart, too, has been “strangely warmed” by the gospel, ask yourself if God is calling you to do anything more or different as his ambassador. Recommit yourself to your faith and God’s work and seek opportunities to take part in that work. Next week, share with the group anything significant you discovered.