(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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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/
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.