Franklin United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Week 4 - Giving From the Heart Bible Study

Week 4 - Monday -  "There is Always A Way"   Scripture:  One poor widow came up and put in two small coins...Jesus...said,...."All the others gave what they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford - she gave her all."  (Mark 12:42-44 - The Message)

     For hundreds of generations, the practice of tithing has sustained growth in personal generosity. To tithe means to give a tenth, and involves returning to God ten percent of income. It's simple, concise, and consistent. Write down your income or the month, move the decimal point over one place, and write a check to the church for the amount you see. Do it first thing when you are paid, and you discover that the practice dials down appetites, reshapes priorities, and that all other expenses, needs and savings will readjust. What could be easier?

     A friend told me that the first time he wrote a tithe check, it felt like he' swallowed an avocado pit! For most people, tithing is not easy. It takes time to learn and adapt and grow into the practice.

     Some people perceive the tithe to be nothing more than a left-over from an Old Testament law-based theology. They think it is an arbitrary rule with little relevance today.

     And yet Jesus commended the practice, even among the Pharisees whom he criticized for making a show of their self righteousness. The early church practiced the tithe, and so have Christians in every generation since. John Wesley tithed and expected early Methodists to give regularly and generously at every class meeting and chapel service. Their gifts were meticulously recorded so that people could hold themselves accountable to the practice of giving.

     The people whom we admire and respect for their generous spirits, spiritual wisdom, and deep=heartiness invariably have practiced giving in such an extravagant manner that it has reshaped them. God has used their long-term patterns of giving to form in them the spiritual qualities that cause them to be our mentors. They give extravagantly according to their means, and many beyond their means, and more practice or exceed the tithe.

     Name one person you admire and respect because of all they keep for themselves. Name someone you consider generous and spiritually mature who constantly complains about giving, or who always seeks to give the least amount required. Largeness of spirit leads to an eagerness to give our utmost and highest.

     Despite the outward challenges and inner struggles, and the counter cultural nature of generosity, where there is a desire to give, there is a way. The two coins dropped in the treasury from the hands of the poor widow, noticed by Jesus and recorded for all time as a model of Extravagant Generosity, forever reminds us that there is always a way. Giving helps us become what God wants us to be.

     1.     What kind of person do you want to become over the next ten years?  What kind of person do you believe God desires you to become?

     2.     How are your current practices of living taking you there? How is your generosity helping you become who God wants you to be?

Week 4 - Tuesday  "Teaching The Tithe"  Scripture: "Make an offering of ten percent, a tithe, of all the produce which grows in your fields year after year. Bring this into the Presence of God, your God, at the place he designates for worship."   (Deuteronomy 14:22 - The Message)

     Tithing helps the followers of Jesus understand that all things belong to God and that, during their days on earth, followers are entrusted as stewards to use all they have and all they are in ways that glorify God. What Christians earn belongs to God, and they should earn it honestly and in ways that serve purposes consistent with being followers of Christ. What Christians spend belongs to God, and they should use it wisely, not foolishly, on things that enhance life and do not diminish it. What they save belongs to God, and they should invest in ways that strength society. What Christians give belongs to God, and they need to give generously, extravagantly, and conscientiously in ways that strengthen the body of Christ and serve the mission of Christ.

     One hundred and fifty years ago, if your great-grandparents were active in the faith, they tithed. Why were they able to tithe one hundred and fifty years ago, but yet we have trouble doing it today? Because they were so much wealthier than we are? The truth is precisely the opposite! We struggle with tithing because our hearts and minds are more powerfully shaped by our affluence. We find it harder to give extravagantly because our society's values shape our perceptions more than our faith's values do.

     Those ho are new to the faith may find the practice of tithing extremely challenging. Take it one step at a time and grow into it over a few years. If you are so overwhelmed with debt that you struggle under an oppressive anxiety, first make the changes in spending and lifestyle that grant you freedom from excessive debt. When you can breathe again, begin to give proportionally, and grow in the grace of giving toward the tithe.

     On the other hand, those who have been active in the faith for twenty, thirty, or forty years and have attended worship faithfully and studied Scripture in classes and felt sustained by the fellowship of the church and offered themselves in service to others in Christ's name, but who do not tithe...I would simply challenge you to think seriously and prayerfully about why this is. Why are the other faith practices relevant and helpful, but the discipline of tithing is not? Is the avoidance of tithing a fruit of faithfulness, or the result of submission to the values of a consumerist culture?

     Practice the tithe. Teach children to spend wisely, to save consistently, and to give generously. Let them learn from their parents and grandparents so that they will be generous and not greedy, giving and not self-indulgent, charitable and not self-absorbed. Extravagant Generosity changes the life and spirit of the giver.

     1.     How did you first learn about tithing? Have you seen others practice the tithe? How does it shape their lives?

     2.     Do you tithe? If so, why? If not, why not? What causes you to resist growing in generosity?

     3.     How do you teach and model generosity for the next generation?


Week 4 - Wednesday   "Through God's Eyes"   Scripture:  "Don't become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit in without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out."    (Romans 12:1-2  The Message)

     Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations thrive because of the extraordinary sharing, willing sacrifice, and joyous giving of their members out of love for God and neighbor. Such churches teach and practice giving that focuses on the abundance of God's grace and that emphasizes the Christian's need to give rather than on the church's need for money. In the spirit and manner of Christ, congregations that practice Extravagant Generosity explicitly talk about the place of money in the Christian's walk of faith. They view giving as a gift from God and are driven to be generous by a hight sense of mission and a keen desire to please God by making a positive difference in the world.

     The notion that giving rightly focuses on our need to give rather than on the church's need to receive is not a money-raising strategy, but a spiritually powerful truth. The practice of tithing benefits the give as much as it strengthens the mission and ministry of the church.

     Americans live in an extraordinarily materialist and consumerist society. We are immersed in a culture that feeds acquisitiveness, the appetite for more and bigger, and that fosters the myth that self-worth is found in material wealth and that happiness comes by possessing. Thirty-year-olds feel like failures because they don't already have the kind of house that their parents own. Couples struggle under oppressive levels of debt that strain marriages, destroy happiness, and intensify conflict and anxiety. As one radio show host says, "We buy things we don't even need with money we don't even have to impress people we don't even know!"  (The Dave Ramsey Show)

     At root, these are spiritual problems, not merely financial planning issues. They reveal belief systems that are spiritually corrosive and that lead to continuing discontent, discouragement, and unhappiness. We can never earn enough to be happily when we believe satisfaction, self-definition, and meaning derive principally from our possessions, an we can never trust our sense of self-worth when it rests on treasures that are material and temporal. A philosophy based principally upon materialism, acquisition, and possessions is not sufficient to live by, or to die by. At some point, followers of Jesus must decide whether they will listen to the wisdom of the world or to the wisdom of God.

     1.     How does living generously help you see the world through God's eyes?

     2.     How is your own philosophy of life shaped by materialism, acquisition, and the desire to possess? How is it shaped by the wisdom of God? How do you resolve the tensions?