Formed by Five Practices Practice #1: Grow

Teacher’s Guide Highlight In the United Methodist Church we believe that our greatest opportunity to go deep in life is to go beyond the idea that you come to Christ and that’s it. We don’t merely accept Jesus and remain the same or stay in the same spiritual place where we’ve always been. Even when we accept another person into our lives – a parent, child, or spouse – it is no longer business as usual. Giving our lives to Christ begins a fundamentally new life. In fact, the possibilities are so profound that scripture describes it as being born anew! We are born into an entirely new way of thinking, being and living. The thing is, we’re babies when we are born anew. If we’re serious about our faith, we choose to grow up. Like a child practices a new skill, we practice faith until it takes! As apprentices of Jesus, we don’t just say “Yes” to his invitation to believe. We say yes to his invitation to follow. Our yes commits us to the adventurous journey of GROWing in Love. Not a fluffy, cotton-candy kind of feeling but a determined, courageous policy of acting. Love is not just a noun. It is a verb. As apprentices of Jesus Christ, growing in love is our primary task. Ask the full class the following questions: • Scott Peck defines love as caring about a person’s spiritual well-being. How would you describe Christian love (agape)? • Think about how Jesus felt about the people nailing him to the cross. His feelings could not have been “sweet” toward them. Do you think nice feelings are necessary to love? Why or why not? Can you think of examples? If you have time… Ask someone to read Micah 6:8: What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 Laurence Hull Stookey writes “the most famous words from Micah at first seem to read like a list of three things: (1) Act justly. (2) Love mercy. (3) Walk humbly with God. But it is not so. “Justice and mercy cannot be separated, at least as God defines them. Justice without mercy is harshly legalistic, even cruel. Mercy without justice sacrifices fairness on the altar of sentimentality. To the question “Is God just or is God kind?” the only proper answer is “Both.” Furthermore, humility before God consists of imitating this justice-mercy of God. Humility is our response to divine love toward us and our witness to the power God’s love can release in others. “Therefore what Micah sets forth is one thing, not three. We would probably be happier with three; then we could keep our little lists and check off each item in turn. But it cannot be. Hence we are constrained to ask: (continued…)

“If I seek justice for myself, can I understand when others extend mercy to those who have hurt me? “Can I myself show mercy? “If I am merciful to others, can I understand why those who have been hurt think I have no concern for fairness? “Since God alone knows in what proportions justice and mercy must be mixed in any given instance, can I learn that walking humbly with God not only means that I seek to emulate God? It also means I cannot fully do so since God alone is the righteous Judge. “How do I, with my noble aspirations, strive to emulate God and yet confront my imitations of understanding and action? “How does all of this relate to Christian teaching about forgiving others in love, as a loving God has forgiven us?”* *Selected from This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer by Laurence Hull Stookey. Copyright 2004 by Abingdon Press. Used by permission.
Ask the class to discuss the following:

• Much Scripture instructs in what love looks like – what we are growing into. In the Old Testament we are taught to act justly and to love mercy. In the New Testament we are taught to speak the truth in love. Can justice and mercy – or love and truth – ever be separated when we are growing as apprentices of Jesus? What are the challenges? What are the benefits? If you have time… Our lives are full of instances that need us to balance love and truth – in our families, our jobs, our church! Take a few moments to silently identify someone with whom you feel led to do better at either the love/mercy part or the truth/justice part. (You may want to discuss it later with a trusted friend in faith who will help hold you accountable.) Ask someone to read aloud the following scripture, inviting the class to follow along: • John 21:1, 7-17

If you have time… Read I John 4:9, 11-12 Ask the full class the following question: • Sometimes we feel we ought to grow in love because we have to rack up “righteousness points” or pass the bar of being “good enough.” Why do apprentices want to love? • Why do you think God wants us to love?

Ask the full class to think about the following questions, giving them time to consider their answers: • In “normal” human terms some people frankly do not deserve our love for any variety of reasons, big to small. Or we are so upset with them that it is hard to want to love them in the Christian sense of the word. Are there any people (or groups of people) you do not honestly want to love? Let’s take a few moments to think. There was someone in Grayson’s life who was a thorn in her side. She talked to God about him all the time. “Fix him, Lord!” she’d pray. She was praying one day and said, “God, help me. I want to love him; I just can’t seem to do it.” A thought hit her strongly. She felt it was from God. The thought was this: “Do you really want to love him?” That hit her like a ton of bricks. She hadn’t even thought about it but suddenly realized that, no, she really didn’t want to love this guy. She wanted to hurt him. Now she knew she had to change her prayer to “Lord, help me to want to want to love him.” Would you like to love the person(s) in your life – or do your emotions make you cringe from the thought? Look deep and be honest with yourself. • Are you willing to ask God to help you “want to want to love” him/her/them?

Ask the full class for ideas on the following question: • What are some ways we can help God open our minds and hearts so we will want to act toward that person with Christian love – that is, with his or her spiritual wellbeing at heart? If there is time… Small groups of 3-5 persons (preferably married persons not together) can discuss the questions listed above without identifying the person/people. They can wind up by telling the small group one thing they will do to cooperate with God in opening themself to loving that person with his/her well-being at heart. Highlight John Wesley, the most influential founder of Methodism, came to realize that salvation is much deeper in meaning that getting a ticket punched to heaven. Salvation starts here on earth. “Salvation” comes from the same root word as “salve” and includes the idea of healing and wholeness in our relationships – first and foremost, of course, with God. But it doesn’t stop there. Flowing out of that love, salvation implies that we are also GROWING in the way we actively love ourselves and others. Mark 12:28-31 tells us the main task of an apprentice is to learn to love self as actively and healthily as we learn to love others. Why? First because everyone is a beloved, valued child of God and is to be treated as such – and that includes us! Secondly we don’t judge or batter ourselves and others into wholeness. We love ourselves and others into wholeness, even when the love has to be tough. Another reason to love ourselves healthily, as opposed to selfishly, is that we are unable to love others in healthy, strong ways unless we love ourselves that way. Growing in the three loves really is a journey. Did you notice the verb tense? Salvation is a holy and glorious process.

Select the section below that best fits your class. A. Ask someone to read Acts 2:46-47. • • Look at the verb in the last sentence (“were being saved”). In the total group, discuss what that term means.

John Wesley’s General Rules
1. Do no harm. 2. Do all the good you can in all the ways you can in all the places you can at all the times you can however you can. 3. Observe all the “ordinances” (means of grace) of God – like worship, prayer, Holy Communion, Bible study, Christian conferencing, etc.

For those early followers who had come to Christ, it doesn’t seem the process “of being saved” was driven by guilt or negatives. What is the class’s impression of what drove the process for them? B. In groups of 3-5, discuss and then report back on the following question: What are some ways we actively love ourselves Possible answers could be to eat healthy, exercise, learn about healthy boundaries and practice them, learn to talk positively to self, Twelve Step programs, therapy, Bible Study, small group, play, sleep, meditate, “space,” say no, practice thinking more positively. Highlight If in its deepest sense apprenticeship is about growing in love, the obvious question is “How do we grow in love?” Once we decide to move from “admiring” Jesus to being his apprentice, we take growing in love as seriously as we take making enough money. Making the decision is the first major tool in our toolkit. John Wesley realized that love GROWS in the trenches of life – in marriage and family and community and work. Right where we live. (It would be a lot easier if it dropped into our hearts at the altar – but we wouldn’t grow nearly as strong!) In small group settings called “class meetings,” early Methodists supported each other in practicing love. They knew that if they practiced love long enough, it would become “habituated” in them. They used Three General Rules to guide them in their practice (see sidebar). These rules can guide us as we practice love too.

We Grow and Are Used through Practice!!!

John Wesley said we practice love when we feel it and we practice love when we don’t. Early Methodists practiced love for God, others and self as God transformed and used them.

Ask the entire group the following question: What are some ways we can learn how to love God, others and self? Ask 2-3 people to read aloud the following: • Psalm 1:1-2 Look back at John 21:12-13 for a symbolic rendering of what we need before we can “feed others.” In other words, we need to be fed before we can feed others.

Highlight In order to GROW in love, we GROW in knowledge. Some people use knowledge in order to score brownie points or beat people over the head with it. We all know people like that. Apprentices of Jesus grow in knowledge … so we can grow in understanding and wisdom… so we can grow in love. We are informed so we can be transformed! We read… we listen to tapes … we take classes … we think … we self-evaluate … we get therapy… we talk with other apprentices… and we PRACTICE! Think of two metaphors. You may want to draw them on the board or tablet: 1. The process of growing in love is a circle. It begins with accepting God’s love… which drives us to learn more… which helps us to love better… and then brings us back full circle to feast on the nourishment of God’s love again. 2. Think of a bowtie. God’s love is the knot in the middle; it is central. When we accept it for ourselves, it drives us outward in two directions – on the one side, to love others and on the other side to love our self.

Ask the full class to take one of the GROW practice sheets and decide if they decide to practice growing in love and/or learning this week. Invite them to write their intentions on their sheets before the end of the day.