Discispleship in the Wesleyan Way ~ New Small Group Lessons from Wesleyan Accent

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Wesleyan Accent is excited about 2014! Early in the new year we will be launching a new section of the WA site – Discipleship in the Wesleyan Way (DWW) – a subscription-based resource providing an extensive array of downloadable lessons for use in small group or individual study. Created by numerous writers, lessons will focus on a range of theological issues, as well as spiritual disciplines, distinctively Wesleyan concepts and a wide variety of other topics.

Two exciting elements of DWW are its adaptability and its interactive opportunities. Each lesson stands alone and has both a facilitator and participant component. This allows lessons to be used singly or grouped in a series, making it very easy for small group facilitators or individuals to shape their own unique discipleship plan. Lessons include an opening Plain Truth (core idea), introductory material, key Scripture references, prayers and teaching tips. The body of the lesson includes both teaching material and discussion questions.

Because DWW is a secure site, groups will have a unique portal through which to interact with other members as they study together. Private discussion forums, meeting announcements, additional links and other options will be available through this personal portal. The interactive design augments face to face study, but we are especially excited about this aspect because it will allow groups to form without the limitations of geography.

Begin watching for announcements about DWW as more details emerge in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we’ve included a portion of a lesson on generosity, by Maxie Dunnam (this is a facilitator lesson, grouped with several others in a section on spiritual disciplines). We hope this will whet your appetite for Discipleship in the Wesleyan Way.

 

Generosity

Plain Truth

Jesus dealt with possessions in a radical way because he knew that our possessions too often possess us. It is a sign of our “original sin” that we are possessive. The unconverted self – the ego (by nature it seems) is in bondage to things, slavishly persistent in acquiring and keeping. So the discipline of generosity is essential for spiritual growth.

Introduction

Because the acquiring and holding aspects of our being are so tenacious, generosity must begin with the giving of ourselves. Paul captured this succinctly in 2 Corinthians 8:5, which is the heartbeat of generosity: “They gave themselves first to the Lord.”

In this session we will discuss:

  • The generosity of money
  • Tithing and a standard of generosity
  • The perspectives tithing gives us

Because the discipline of generosity is far more expansive than money, in an additional study session, succeeding this one, we will focus on:

  • The generosity of time
  • The generosity of attention

Key Scripture Passages

  • Genesis 4:3-7
  • Genesis 14:17-24
  • Genesis 28:10-22
  • Malachi 3:6-10

Prayer

Pray that you will be able to present this lesson in a way that those with whom you share will not focus on just one area of generosity, and miss the message of “the generosity of life.”

Teaching and Discussion

As we indicated in our first lesson in this series on Discipleship and Discipline, and particularly when we considered submission, every discipline has its accompanying freedom. Generosity frees us from a raw possessive ego and also from our bondage to security in material things.

Albert Day in his book Discipline and Discovery gives a kind of catalog of the characteristics of the ego when left to itself. It

is persistent in acquiring and in keeping
has to be taught to give
is possessive

“Mine” is its dearest adjective. “Keep” is its most beloved verb!

Because of this possessiveness of the ego, the practice of generosity is very significant. It is a denial, a repudiation of the ego. Faithfully practiced, generosity weakens the ego’s authority. Every departure from the pattern the ego sets, makes the next variation easier. We are made that way. (Albert Day, Workbook ed., adapted by Danny E. Morris, Nashville: Upper Room, 1977, p.80)

So we practice generosity to free us from our raw possessive egos and from our bondage to material security.

Teaching Tip: Invite those with whom you are sharing to spend 5-10 minutes discussing how possessive we are by nature, and in what way, and to what degree they see themselves in bondage to material  security.

Money and Tithing

Since money is integral to our lives, how we give money usually reflects our overall pattern of generosity.

In most Christian Churches, when the stewardship of our money is considered, the principle of tithing comes to the fore.  It is the biblical pattern set for practicing generosity in the use of our money.

The principle, which became a law in Judaism, began not in a focus on money but on all we possess: land, flocks, crops, even “bounty” out of war. Tracing the biblical witness on tithing will give us the perspective we need to consider this principle as a discipline of generosity.

The story of the first offering in history is found in Genesis 4:3-7. This is the story of Cain and Abel making their offerings to God. The big issue in the story is that Abel’s offering was acceptable to God but Cain’s was not. Why? It had to do with the quality of the offering. Abel gave the firstlings of his flock, while Cain’s offering seems to have been an indiscriminate collection of the fruit of the ground.

The story in Genesis seems a bit confused as to the reason one offering was acceptable and the other not, but in the Epistle to the Hebrews there is this word: By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s (Hebrews 11 :4).

In the original story the meaning is difficult to comprehend. There is no indication why God preferred the gift of Abel to the gift of Cain. On the surface it seems that the whole business is unjust. Yet, when you live with it,  for a while at least, this much comes clear: God requires the best we have to offer.

We move from that story of the first offering to the first mention of tithing in the Bible. This is in Genesis 14:18-20. It’s the story of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, who was a king of Salem as well as a priest of God. It was after Abraham had won a great battle. Melchizedek blessed him. After receiving this blessing Abraham gave the priest a tenth of everything.

Here the amount of the separated portion is designated for the first time. It is the tenth. It was a common practice among ancient warriors to tithe the spoils of war. Abraham, no doubt, was familiar with this custom. Yet there was something different about this act of Abraham. It was an act of genuine devotion. He was worshiping the one true God and was giving to God the tenth of all he received. Therefore, it set the precedent of tithing.

The concept grows in the Old Testament, and Jacob is the first person on record to enter into a tithing covenant with God. (See Genesis 28:10-22)

Now to be sure, there is something far less than Christian about such praying and such a relationship with God. God is not one to be bargained with. We don’t make deals with God! God is not one from whom we can buy favors. Still the story of Jacob and what Jacob is doing, though primitive and certainly not yet Christian, is something to reckon with.

Jacob had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder between earth and heaven, and the Lord spoke to him, with a great promise. When, in reflection, Jacob prays again and enters into that tithing covenant with God, it is on the basis of having received the promise from God. It is as though he is testing that promise and seeking to offer a response to it. That is certainly only the beginning of the development of the tithe in the history of the Hebrew people and in the Christian church, but it symbolizes the fact that our relationship with God always involves giving to God a portion of that which God has already given us.

It is this principle – returning to God a portion of that with which God has blessed us – that must be at the heart of our understanding of the tithe.

After that final law, the book of Leviticus closes with this word: These are the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai (Leviticus 27:34). So the precedent was set firmly in the fabric of Jewish life.

The classic and most dramatic warning about tithing came from Malachi. In language that is strong and unmistakable, this prophet painted out that disobedience to the law of the tithe was the cause of Israel’s apostasy in his day and that reformation in this regard was the sure and only way to the restoration of the divine favor and blessing. Those words from Malachi are enough to cause us to know what the witness of the Old Testament is concerning the tithe. Consider it:

Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, How are we robbing you? In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me – the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. (Malachi 3:8-10)

Tithing Gives Perspective

For many Christians the scriptural precedent set for tithing is enough to lead them to a commitment to tithe. It should be so for all Christians if we are going to be people of “the book.” However, other reasons merit consideration.

One, tithing gives me perspective. Giving my tithe to the Lord is an ongoing reminder of what money can and cannot do. It would be wrong to idealize poverty. And it would be equally wrong to caricature riches as though they were innately wrong. Having money can make an enormous positive difference in our lifestyles. But it is crucial to maintain perspective about the fact that there are certain things money cannot buy.

Money can’t buy friendship, nor can money buy love.

Teaching Tip: Tell a personal story of someone you know, or a recent story that may have been on television or in the press, about someone seeking to buy love and friendship.

Money won’t buy respect. We may get some of our selfish wants with money. We may use it to gain loyalty and deference from others. But this loyalty and deference are a charade for respect and usually turn into contempt.

Perhaps the most significant perspective we need to own is that money won’t buy exemption from the problems that are common to everyone. Money or the lack of it doesn’t keep children from breaking their parents’ hearts. Money or the lack of it doesn’t prevent incurable diseases from ravaging our lives. Money or the lack of it is no key for holding marriages together. Money cannot shield us against the early death of a marriage partner and the loneliness that follows.

We don’t buy character, meaning, and direction in life. We can’t put peace of mind on our Visa cards. Money can’t purchase eternal life, but how we spend our money may rob us of eternal life. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Tithing Enhances my Performance in the Cause of God’s kingdom.

Though it sounds lofty, it’s the most down-to-earth, practical thing I know: tithing enhances my performance in the cause of God’s Kingdom.

There are things that you and I can never do for Christ and the kingdom by ourselves. We have to be a part of a body, a community. This is especially true in the use of our money. This is the primary reason that we are to bring our tithes into the storehouse – into the church. The church can use that cumulative money to accomplish far greater things than we could ever accomplish on our own.

Teaching Tip: Share a story of some accomplishment in which you shared that could not have been possible without the pooling of financial resources of a group. Invite others in the group to do the same.

Close your session by urging participants to look at their practice of giving money, and what blessings they have received. Also, ask them to examine whether the way they are practicing financial generosity is providing perspective on other issues. In what way?

We hope this gives you an idea of things to come at Wesleyan Accent. Be on the look out for additional details in the coming weeks as we move toward our early 2014 launch of Discipleship in the Wesleyan Way.

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Kimberly Reisman is an author, pastor, teacher and theologian serving as Executive Director of World Methodist Evangelism of the World Methodist Council. Prior to beginning at WME, Kim served in local churches, as Executive Director of Next Step Evangelism and General Editor for WesleyanAccent.com. She is a frequent speaker, focusing on evangelism, spiritual formation, women’s ministries, leadership development and the intersection between faith and culture. Kim is an elder in the United Methodist Church and has written numerous books, most recently, The Christ-Centered Woman: Finding Balance in a World of Extremes (2013, Abingdon Press). Kim is also an Adjunct Professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and The School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle, Washington.

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