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Today we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although I have not endured the intense suffering of African Americans, I resonate deeply with King as a pastoral theologian. His vision for the human race, I am realizing, has shaped my vision for the church and world in significant ways. I realized his influence upon my life when several years ago I was invited to open the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Meeting with prayer. Here I was in the State Capitol building in Harrisburg, PA with the opportunity to offer a bipartisan prayer in the name of the bipartisan Christ. As you read below the prayer I offered at the Pennsylvania State Capitol, you will note the prominence of themes such as liberation and selfless service, themes that intersect the Gospel and the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

“Almighty and loving Lord, we thank you for the freedom we so thoroughly enjoy, the freedom that crosses party lines and is the foundation of this great country we live in.  We thank you for the pursuit of freedom that drove our mothers and fathers to this land, a pursuit that even hundreds of years later sustains us still.  We thank you for the ultimate liberation that you, according to your Word, offer to every person regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, and political party.  There, in Your word, we read that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” and “the one who the Son of God sets free is free indeed” and the words from Jesus that are written on the ceiling above us “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

Lord, from every mountainside let your freedom ring in our hearts; and may freedom ring in this place as these representatives seek to make decisions that will preserve and prolong the freedom we so deeply crave and appreciate.  Lord, would you ignite a fire in the hearts of these public servants so that they remember why they began to serve in the first place and so they continue to serve the public called the great state ofPennsylvania.  As our State Representatives meet would You give them the wisdom they need to discern your good, pleasing and perfect will and then would You give them the courage and fortitude to pursue your will with passionate persistence for the good of all the people who live in this keystone state.

Might our eyes see your glory today as these public servants follow the ultimate example of public service- Jesus Christ.  Christ is the epitome of selfless service for, in his own words, he came “not to be served but to serve” by laying down His life for all.  Lord, your son’s selfless service was fueled by his deep down desire to see people set free from the things in life that bind us.  May these servants of the people be driven by the same compassion that was in Christ, so that decisions about finances and policies today will enable people to be even more free tomorrow.  We know it’s a tall order, a sobering responsibility, but to borrow from the Battle Hymn we pray that “As Christ died to make people holy, let these [Representatives] live to make people free, while God is marching on. Glory, glory, hallelujah.” Amen.”

I was recently asked to respond to the following question by the folks at  Building Church Leaders website: “How can a church introduce young people to Jesus in a busy city where no one seems to have any time to spare?”   Here was my response.  Perhaps it will be helpful to some of you…

The fact is that the vast majority of people (young, as well as old) come to faith as a result of a relationship with a Christian friend or relative.  Jesus often modeled the process.  To the demon-possessed man (Mark 5:19) he said, “go home to your friends and tell them what wonderful things God has done for you…”  When Zacchaeus believed, Christ told him that salvation had also come to his friends and family (Luke 19:9).  After Jesus healed the son of a royal official we learn that the Centurion, and all of his family and friends, believed (Mark 2:14-15).  Jesus knew that the way the Gospel would travel around the world would be through relationships.

So, successful outreach builds on relationships. But many Christians today have few or no real relationships with non-believers.  How can such relationships get started?  C.S. Lewis gives us a wonderful insight:  “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’ ”[1]  To reach young people we must create “relationship greenhouses” where friendships can flourish.

How do friendships flourish?  It’s easy, really.  Just two ingredients are necessary:  1) spending time together,  2) with people who share important things in common.

But, the next part of the original question begs our attention: “…where no one seems to have any time to spare?”

I love the experience shared by the small groups pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Illinois.  Their church was offering group meeting after group meeting…but no takers.  The common excuse?  “We just don’t have any time.”  Finally, they solved their problem.  Rather than ask, “Would you attend our group?” they began asking, “What kind of a group would you change your schedule to attend?”[2]  They found the “hot buttons” of people, created groups around those topics, and solved their participation problems!

I have found that the groups people change their schedule to attend are one of two kinds:  Recreational or Developmental.  The first relates to how people like to spend their free time, and may be on anything from apple pies to zoology.  The second category relates to major life challenges, and usually centers around: health, or finances, or relationships, or employment.  If the felt need is strong enough…if the promise is appealing enough…if the risk low enough, people will change their schedules to attend.

But real relationships do not begin and end with immediate interests or needs.  A good “relationship greenhouse” moves from Felt Needs —> Deeper Needs.  Deeper needs are such things as finding: a place to belong … a sense of balance … authentic relationships … help through transitions … and spiritual answers to life’s issues.

Ultimately, the “pilgrim’s progress” moves from Deeper Needs —> Eternal Needs, and a relationship with Jesus that fills the God-shaped vacuum inside every human being.  But, young people won’t make that jump “cold turkey” based on someone they neither know nor trust.  It takes time.  I recommend Bob Whitesel’s new book, Spiritual Waypoints, for a helpful discussion on facilitating people’s journey from ignorance to intimacy with Christ.

A marketing executive with Ford Motor Company once said to me: “I used to wonder what our ‘product’ would be if our church were a business.  I’ve decided our product is relationships.  First, a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Then, relationships with others in the body of Christ.  And finally, relationships with people in the world that Christ died for.”

I like that.

[1] C.S. Lewis.  The Four Loves. Harcourt, Brace, & Company,  Orlando, FL: 1988 p. 247.

[2] David Stark.  Growing People Through Small Groups.  Bethany Press, 2004, p. 94.


By Colleen Derr

This past fall I thought I had finally cured my lack of a green thumb – a palm tree was growing quite successfully in my home. Planted in rich brown soil, topped with moss, and watered weekly it grew to be a beautiful shade of green with new stocks shooting up, full and tall. People came to visit and commented on my lovely plant. It felt so good to have a live plant growing in my home, and I was quite proud of my apparent success.

One day, as I sat at my desk in my home office admiring my lovely plant, I glanced out my front window and noticed something on my white blind – a few small black spots that began to move.  Curious as to what they were and where they came from, I stood and looked at the windowsill. It was covered in these tiny black, moving spots.  Not only were my office windows covered but my front door’s side windows and my dining room windows were as well.  Further inspection of my house revealed that all of my first floor windows contained these tiny moving spots.  What could they be and where did they come from?

Convinced that those tiny black bugs were attempting to escape the Indiana cold weather, I sprayed all of my windows and doors with bug killer and then eliminated any trace of the unwanted visitors.  Confident to have fully eradicated the menace from my home, I sat down once again to work at my desk.  Within moments something caught my eye – more moving specks!  They were back with a vengeance and my entire front door and foyer floor were covered in them.  After watching their movement for a few moments, it dawned on me that they weren’t coming in to escape a changing climate they were trying to get out.  These unwanted houseguests were attempting to make a run for it out of my home!  Why was that more insulting? A brief investigation exposed the source of the creatures was none other than my beautiful success at indoor gardening – my lovely palm tree!  Removal of the decorative moss revealed thousands of, according to Google, fungus gnats.

My beautiful plant that was a testimony to my newfound gardening success was the source of my bug infestation.  How could that be?  What appeared to be flourishing and healthy on the outside was in fact quite sick below the surface.

Interesting how that can happen to plants and to people.  What may appear to be healthy on the outside might actually be something quite different below the surface.  With my plant I failed to offer care necessary to achieve long-term sustained growth, things like fresh soil, nutrients, and the proper environment.  My lack of sustained attention over the long haul resulted in decay and infestation from within.

As you begin this New Year and think through all the possible options for a New Year’s resolution, consider resolutions that move beyond the external – weight loss and getting in shape – and focus instead on what’s below the surface.   Things that will provide you long-term sustained spiritual growth like fresh soil, nutrients, and a proper environment.

We used to sing a song about resolutions that, while containing some “old fashioned” language, offered some great declarations for “below the surface” health. Palmer Hartsough and James Fillmore wrote “I Am Resolved” in 1896.  Perhaps the words will give you motivation for a resolution that goes below the surface.  Can you read it as a statement of commitment for 2012?

I am resolved no longer to linger, 
Charmed by the world’s delight, 
Things that are higher, things that are nobler, 
These have allured my sight.

I will hasten to Him, 
 Hasten so glad and free; 
Jesus, greatest, highest, 
I will come to Thee.

I am resolved to go to the Savior, 
 Leaving my sin and strife; 
He is the true One, He is the just One, 
He hath the words of life.

I am resolved to follow the Savior, 
 Faithful and true each day; 
Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth, 
He is the living Way.

I am resolved to enter the kingdom, 
 leaving the paths of sin; 
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me, 
Still will I enter in.

I am resolved, and who will go with me? 
 Come, friends, without delay; 
Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit, 
We’ll walk the heav’nly way.

My beautiful palm tree looked healthy and lush but below the surface was plagued by decay.  Do you desire more than a healthy looking outside?  Do you want to be healthy  and thriving spiritually below the surface?  Consider adding to your resolution list to “no longer linger” but rather “go to the Savior”, follow Him by being “faithful and true each day”, and embrace Kingdom living as you are “taught by the Bible and led by the Spirit”.

I am resolved – are you?






by Wayne Schmidt

My dad died at the all-too-early age of 60.  His life of integrity and his commitment to ministry (as a very-involved lay leader) remain an inspiration to me.  A few years later my mom remarried and Rev. Delos Tanner entered my life as my step-dad…and what a blessing he has been to our family over the past 15 years.

Delos served a number of churches over many years, and in his late 80’s remains active in ministry.  He just retired (again – after he delivered a Christmas Day message) from being chaplain at Sentinel Pointe Retirement Community.  Many things impress me about him, but near the top of the list is his inquisitive nature that keeps him learning and energetically discussing matters of spiritual formation and ministry practice.

You’ve heard “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  I wonder sometimes if there are a lot of “old dogs” in ministry.  Some are only in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s.  It’s sad when someone hits their learning lid long before their ministry concludes…sad for them, and sad for those they lead.

But it’s also true that there are many lasting learners.  And while we as a Seminary exist to primarily serve the students who enroll with us (who are in their 20, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s) we also offer courses that can be “audited” for a nominal fee by learners who’ve completed their Bachelors’ degrees but want to keep stretching their minds and hearts.

We’ve just published the course descriptions for our electives offered in 2012.  Might this be the year for you to audit a course as part of your commitment to continuing education?  You can check out the brochure HERE.  A few questions might help you focus on the elective that would best suit your ministry development and personal growth:

  • Want to become more effective in drawing people in to the full life of your church?

Check out – Newcomer Integration

  • Curious to learn principles and practices of church planting to move your local church towards becoming a planting church?

Check out – Missional Church Multiplication

  • Want to develop your understanding of suffering in a way that makes you a more effective servant to others?

Check out – Biblical Perspectives on Disabilities and Suffering

  • Want to dig a bit deeper into the original language of the New Testament?

Check out – Greek for Ministry

  • Interested in developing an effective ministry of reconciliation with others?

Check out – Studies in Reconciliation

  • Curious about how ministries like the Salvation Army impact urban areas?

Check out – Learning from Missional Innovators

  • Want to discover first-hand how one healthy and growing congregation is participating in the mission of God?

Check out – Church Laboratory at 12Stone

  • Desiring to stretch your thinking theologically and historically by studying one of history’s most intriguing figures?

Check out – Life and Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  • Want to learn more about building a healthy church?

Check out – Diagnosis and Prescription for a Healthy Church

These courses are designed to fit your budget and schedule, whether you learn best in a week-long onsite intensive or a multi-week online class.

That reminds me of another saying you’ve likely heard – “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink…”  Now you’re not a horse (or an old dog), but it’s the privilege of Wesley Seminary at IWU to serve the church and its’ ministers (pastoral and lay) by leading them to meaningful learning opportunities.

May 2012 be a year of life-giving learning for you!

**Next step: if you are interested in and want more information, email Tenley Horner at for more information.

We have dedicated this series to the memory of those who waited on the Lord. We considered Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon, each of whom entered a time of waiting. Some waited better than others, but they all waited for the right thing: God himself. Let us take this fourth and final Sunday in Advent to consider one more waiter: Anna.

It is fitting that we conclude with Anna, for of all these waiters she is the one who waited the longest. According to Luke, she was “very old” (2:36). She spent between fifty and sixty years as a widow, waiting on God in the temple. Anna’s was a life spent waiting.

Consider this life spent waiting. She could easily feel spent, useless, forgotten. She was surely tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?

Many of us spend our lives waiting. Waiting for the next thing: to succeed, to graduate, to get a job, to mature, to have children, etc. And it is easy to feel spent, useless, forgotten–tempted to become bitter, angry, or simply paralyzed. Is a life spent waiting a life well spent?

Others of us spend our lives hurrying. We believe that spending a life waiting is not a life well spent, and so we rush through life. It is the same struggle as those who wait: the fear of being spent, useless, forgotten. It’s just a different coping strategy. Is a life spent hurrying any better spent than a life spent waiting?

But consider again Anna. In her we see and hear the good news that a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.

Note well: not just any waiting, but waiting on God. Some of us wait because injustice blocks our way. Not all waiting is right. Some of us need to hear the good news that now is our moment for action–that God is calling us to resist those who make us wait for their gain. But all of us are called to wait on God. Only then, when the time is right, will we know we are acting in good faith.

Not only did Anna wait on the right thing (i.e., God); she also waited on God well. In fact, she waited on God the best of all our characters in this series. Consider how well she waited on God.

First of all, she waited on God the longest. The text goes out of its way to indicate her age. There may be some symbolic significance to these numbers, but at the very least they highlight the length of time she spent waiting. Hers was a life spent waiting. And since she was waiting on God, her life was well spent.

Second, she worshipped while she waited. She “never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” (v. 37). She knew that waiting well does not mean simply going about her business till God does his thing. No! Waiting well is an active practice of hastening the Lord’s coming by seeking him worship. Worship is not only thanking God for what he has done but also anticipating God for what he is about to do. Waiting and worship belong together. A life spent waiting in a posture of worship is a life well spent.

Finally, she testified to what she saw. She waited a long time, and so when the fulfillment came she burst forth with thanksgiving to God and proclamation to others: “Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38). Unlike Mary, who “cherished these things in her heart” (waiting to tell Luke many years later), Anna joined the Shepherds in proclaiming the good news of the coming the Lord immediately. She waited till the time was right. But when it was, boy did she let loose. Her testimony was greater because she waited for it. She understood fulfillment because she understand the waiting that necessarily precedes it. These words of testimony at the close of her life render the whole of her life as a testimony to the faithfulness of God. A life spent waiting for an opportunity to testify is a life well spent.

More could be said about Anna. And much more could be said about the theme of waiting. More Christmas characters could be added to the mix. And many more characters from the whole of Scripture could be considered. But my hope is that you might this season embrace the occasions of waiting in your life as opportunities to answer to call to wait on the Lord. May these lives spent waiting inspire you to wait well, to find a manner of waiting that brings joy both to you and the Lord. At the very least, may you join Israel and the Church in the great act of waiting on the Messiah’s coming. For a life spent waiting on God is a life well spent.

This advent series has focused on the act of waiting. I have been asking what it means to wait well. The most important thing about waiting is the one for whom we wait. If we wait for God, then we are waiting for the right thing. Just simply waiting does not necessarily have any inherent value.

But how we wait matters too. In the first installment of this series, we saw that Zechariah waited for the right thing (i.e., God), but did not wait well. Last week, we saw how Mary not only waited for the right thing, but also waited in the right way.

However, one might wonder if Mary waited well because she did not have to wait long. How hard is it for a young girl to consent to the Lord. She has not waited long enough to have tasted disappointment. Zechariah had been waiting a long time. No wonder he demanded assurance. He didn’t want to get his hopes up, just for the to be dashed like they have so many times before.

Is waiting well simply something the young and naive can do? Must the old and mature merely wait for the Lord with begrudging obedience?

As we read on in Luke, we encounter two more people who waited on the Lord, both of whom were old: Simeon and Anna. And each one waited well. They demonstrate that a life spent waiting well is a life well sent.

Let’s take a look at Simeon this week, saving Anna for next week.

In the brief story of Simeon, we catch a glimpse of one who waited well. Again, the crucial factor is the object of his waiting: “He was waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). Note that he was waiting for the saving action of God, not merely for himself, but for all of Israel. Simeon waiting for the right thing.

But Simeon also waited well. The text goes on to say that “the Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 26). Waiting was not an empty activity. He was filled with the Spirit even as he waited for the fulfillment of the promise. Even in his waiting, God was present to him. Simeon not only waited for God; he waited with God.

Such a manner of waiting makes all the difference. For one who waited on the Lord without waiting with the Lord can so easily become confused, anxious, bitter, and/or afraid, so that even when the promise is fulfilled they might miss it. We see in the story of Simeon how waiting in the Spirit makes all the difference. A life spent waiting for God with God is a life well sent

First, we see that Simeon is open to the Spirit’s revelation. “It has been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah” (v. 26). One must wait on God to hear from him. One who waits for God with God is open to hear the Word of God.

Second, we see that Simeon is sensitive to the Spirit’s movement. “Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts” just in time to see Mary and Joseph bring in the child Jesus (v. 27). To see the promise he had to be in the right place in the right time. The Spirit guided him there, and he was apparently waiting calmly enough to sense the Spirit’s movement. One who waits for God with God is sensitive to the Spirit’s movement.

Third, we see that Simeon is ready to praise God. “Simeon took [Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying… you now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation!” (v. 28-30). By his long anticipation of the saving work of God, Simeon stored up his praise. He knew what he was looking for, and so knew what to do once he saw it. One who waits for God with God is ready to praise God.

Fourth, we see that Simeon is ready to bless others. “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother…” (v. 34). He does not get to directly participate in the great events to come. But he indirectly serves God’s larger purpose by speaking a word of blessing to the right person and the right time. He spent his life waiting, and so has nothing left to give but his blessing. But that is enough, for his purpose was to deliver this Spirit-inspired blessing. One who waits for God with God is ready to bless others.

If you in a hurry, running from your past and rushing to create your own future, then see in Simeon the promise that a life spent waiting is a life well spent. And if you find yourself already in a state of waiting, embrace it as a calling from God. Either way, be sure it is in fact God you are waiting for. And seek to wait well, like Simeon, who waited for God with God, i.e., in the power of the Holy Spirit. Let your moments of waiting be an opportunity to hear God’s voice, be moved by his Spirit, to ready yourself to praise God and bless others. For a life spent waiting well is a life well spent.

The call of Advent is to wait. This is a call we all need to hear. For those of us who do not wait on God must repent of our attempts to create our own future. Those of us who already wait on God must learn how to wait well, i.e., in joyful obedience rather than angry bitterness. And we all must learn to wait not just for ourselves but truly to wait on God.

The question of this series as introduced Click last week is What does it mean to wait on God? This question has two aspects: (1) for whom we are waiting and (2) how can we wait well. Last week we considered Zechariah, who waited for the right thing (i.e., God) but did not wait well (i.e., in his doubt he demanded assurances). This week we consider Mary, who not only waiting on God but seems to wait well. Let’s take a look at Luke 1 and consider how Mary waited.

As I read this passage with the theme of waiting in mind, three things jump out at me. The first is that while we wait it is okay to be troubled and confused. When God sends Gabriel to her, Mary is greatly troubled by his words. Interestingly, his words are of divine favor and presence. Though in hindsight these are obviously positive words, Mary was surprised by them. She did not know what they meant. Gabriel lets her know that she will be with child, and she is further confused: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Recall the contrast with Zechariah: they both have their doubts, but whereas he asked for gurantees, Mary simply asked to see the plans. It seems to me that there is nothing wrong with Mary (or Zechariah’s) confusion and fear. They are surmountable obstacles to the work of God, not sins against God. When we wait on God, it is okay to be troubled and confused. Waiting can be troubling and confusing. Share your troubles with the Lord. Ask him questions in your confusion. Just don’t stop waiting.

The second thing that jumps out at me is that Mary consents to waiting out her identity. At the end of her conversation with Gabriel, she declares, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” A lot is made of her consent in the second clause, and rightly so. But it is easy to miss the first clause: “I am the Lord’s servant.” Her consent to the Lord’s will is rooted in her identity as the Lord’s servant. What is a servant? One who waits on another. Hence the term “waiter” for one who serves you dinner. To be the Lord’s servant is to be one who waits on the Lord. Mary consents to the Lord’s promised action because she is one who waits on Lord. When we are called to wait, let us wait because it is who we are. Waiting need not be a burden–one more moralistic duty. Waiting can be simply an expression of who we are, or at least who we are becoming. When the Lord asks you to wait on him, to wait for him to do something he plans to do through you, you may wait with joy because you are already a servant of the Lord. He is just giving you a chance to do your thing. While you wait for an opportunity to consent, say: “I am a servant of the Lord. May it be to me whatever he may say.”

The third and last thing that jumps out at me is that Mary waits with others who wait well. Immediately after hearing this news, Mary hurries down to Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. There is much that goes on in this famous scene. But there is a little fact that is easy to miss, on which I want to dwell. At the end of this scene, it says that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. Now this might seem a random fact, except that earlier the text notes that Gabriel spoke to Mary about six months after he prophesied the birth of John the Baptist. In other words, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for the duration of her pregnancy! Now this is not particularly out of the ordinary. It is the sort of thing family members do. And Mary had her own reasons for slipping away for a bit, given what was happening in her life. But I think it worth noting that Mary immediately began to wait with others who wait well. Waiting can be very lonely. But Mary knew she was not the only one who was waiting on the Lord. She joined another who waiter, one who had waited a much longer time than her. Mary had a lot to learn about waiting on the Lord. She may have declared that she was the Lord’s servant, but that doesn’t mean she knows what that looks like. So she waited with others who wait well. Let this be both a promise and a command to us. When we are called to wait, we are free to wait with others; we needn’t wait alone. When we are called to wait, we are called to join others who wait on the Lord–especially those who we know wait well.

I hate waiting. I especially don’t like waiting in lines. That’s why I avoid Black Friday. I don’t care how great the deals are–they aren’t worth the lines.

Perhaps you feel the same way. You might not mind lines, but you probably can’t stand some sort of waiting. Our modern culture forms us for immediacy, and so waiting is perceived as aberrant. Waiting is out of step, out of date, out of touch. Waiting is so last year.

I suppose this is why the modern church’s experimentation with Advent is so awkward. Advent is a time to celebrate waiting. During Advent we are called to remember what it meant for Israel to await the first coming of Christ, and learn from Israel how to wait for Christ’s second coming. But is waiting really something worth remembering, let alone celebrating? Is it not a condition to be avoided, a problem to be solved? We don’t really wait during Advent. We rush, we hurry, we eat, we plan. But we don’t wait. Or at least we don’t wait well.

This Advent I invite you to wait with me. This is the first in a series of four Advent posts, each of which will explore what it means to wait. I am going to try to overcome my distaste for waiting. I am going to try to identify what makes waiting good and explore how to wait well. Please join me in searching the Scriptures for guidance on what to wait for and how to wait well.

Let us begin with the story of a man who was waiting for the right thing, but who did not wait well.

The man’s name was Zechariah. He was a priest. He and his wife were very old. But they were also infertile. So they had been waiting a long, long time for a child.

At this point in the story they were both waiting well. The Scripture says they were upright in God’s sight and that they followed all of God’s commandments. They were waiting for the blessing of God, but they were not waiting to obey God. They knew that while we wait, we can still obey. The Scriptures also say that they had been praying to God, asking for a son. They knew that the best thing to do while waiting is praying. So while they waited, the obeyed God and prayed to God.

So, at the beginning of the story, Zechariah was waiting for God, and he was waiting well.

One day, while it was his group’s turn to serve in the temple, the lot fell to him to burn incense. While waiting for the incense to burn, the angel of the Lord appeared. It turns out Zechariah was waiting in the right place at the right time! The angel told Zechariah that his prayer had been heard: Elizabeth will bear a child! And not only that: he will be great, for he will bring many people back to God, preparing the way of the Lord!

But here is where Zechariah’s waiting went awry…

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in year.”

It is clear from the text that this was not a good question. The angel strikes him mute because of it. But what’s wrong with this question? It seems a perfectly reasonable point to highlight the fact that his age is a significant obstacle to the fulfillment of this prophecy. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but Mary points out a similar obstacle (namely, her virginity) to a similar prophecy to the same angel, yet she is favored by God and blessed by all generations. What gives?

I think it helps to contrast their two questions — a contrast which the text invites with its juxtaposition of two similar stories. Both identify an obstacle to the angelic promise. But the questions differ ever so slightly. Mary asks, “How can this be?” whereas Zechariah asks, “How can I be sure of this?” Mary believes the promise; she just wonders how it will happen. Zechariah wants to believe the promise, but he asks for a sign to shore up his faith. He asks for some assurances, so that he doesn’t get his hopes up. Mary asks how God will work. Zechariah asks whether God will work.

This is our constant temptation when waiting on God. We ask for a sign. We ask God to make waiting easier by giving us assurances that we do not wait in vain. We are willing to wait, but we want the waiting to be a little easier. Now God gives signs from time to time. In fact, Gabriel offers the case of Elizabeth as a sign to Mary that nothing is impossible for God. But demanding a sign from God is a different matter. When we demand signs and assurances while we wait, we are not waiting well. We may be waiting for the right thing but we are not waiting in the right way. Zechariah waited on God, but he did not wait well.

Moralizing moment: don’t demand signs! It just makes this worse! He looses his voice and so is barred from sharing the prophetic promise with others. Zechariah is a warning to us of the consequences of not waiting well: when we try to make waiting easier, it just gets harder.

The grace in this story, however, is that Zechariah still received the promise. God did not take it away from him — for to do so would be to take something away from Israel. God had a bigger plan in place. But Zechariah was kept from sharing the prophecy with others. Unlike Mary, who signs her song before her promise is fulfilled, Zechariah has to wait to sign his song. But he still got to sing!

If you have demanded a sign, if your waiting has gotten worse not better, God still has something for you. The most important thing about waiting is for whom we wait. We wait for God, for his will and his blessing. When we wait for God, waiting is worthwhile. What makes waiting good is when its object is God. Zechariah got this most important thing right.

Of all the many things we await this Advent, be sure you are waiting for God above all else. We will explore in the next few posts how to wait well. We will see some other figures in Scripture who waited better than Zechariah. But at the very least we can join Zechariah in waiting for the right thing. When we wait for God, our waiting is worthwhile.

“The greatest of these is love…” (I Cor. 13:13)

Why do so many of us fail to love as well, or as often, as we could?  One reason is because we have developed attitudes and/or actions which inhibit our ability to love.  Like plaque that builds up in the arteries and inhibits the flow of blood through our system, “plaque” can build up in our lives and inhibit the flow of God’s love to those around us.

What are these obstacles that keep us from loving?  We can find many of them hidden in the Apostle Paul’s classic treatise on love. Here we can find both the qualities of love and the obstacles:

Love’s Ideal: “Love is patient
Love’s Obstacle — Impatience

Impatience describes a person whose own agenda is more important than anyone else’s.  He/she has little time or concern for other’s concerns. An impatient person must constantly be entertained, and quickly loses interest in people if they are not filling a need in his/her own life. The Greek word Paul uses for “patience” describes a person who has been wronged and has the power to avenge himself, but chooses not to. Impatience seeks revenge. Patience does not.

Rate yourself on the scales following each of love’s obstacles:

“Most of the time, I am…”

Impatient |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Patient

Love’s Ideal: “Love is kind
Love’s Obstacle — Unkindness

Some people think kindness is synonymous with weakness. Therefore, these people reason, strength and power cannot be obtained through kindness. Those who constantly see themselves in competition with others tend to be unkind. A latent sense of inferiority is another cause for unkindness.  In contrast, love is the readiness to enhance the life of another person.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Unkind |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Kind

Love’s Ideal: “Love is trusting
Love’s Obstacle — Jealousy

Love naturally means concern. As love grows, concern for the person also grows. But often, without one realizing it, this concern can become possessive. Jealousy is normal concern that has grown out of control, just as a cancer cell is only a normal cell grown out of control. Jealousy requires total possession—it must have exclusive rights to another person. This emotion has the power to overwhelm and destroy the most seemingly sound and secure relationship, and the most rational person.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Jealous |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Trusting

Love’s Ideal: “Love is humble
Love’s Obstacle — Arrogance

Various Bible translations use different words for this love-obstacle: “boastful,” “rudeness,” “proud,” “anxious to impress,” “braggart,” “cherishes the idea of its own importance.” Arrogant people give their “love” away as though it were a tremendous favor. Their real purpose, however, is to put others down while trying to lift themselves up.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Arrogant |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Humble

Love’s Ideal: “Love is generous
Love’s Obstacle — Selfishness

If there is one quality that creates an insurmountable barrier to love, it is selfishness. Actions motivated by selfishness are exactly the opposite to actions motivated by love. Christ knew about the problem of selfishness when he said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to into the ground and dies, it remains only a single-seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24). Selfishness seeks its own way, and in the process loses it. Love seeks the way of others, and in the process finds its own.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Selfish |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Generous

Love’s Ideal: “Love is slow to anger
Love’s Obstacle — Irritability/touchiness

Christ had strong words for those who are quick to anger: “But now I tell you: whoever is angry with his brother will be brought before the judge; whoever calls his brother ‘you good-for-nothing’ will be brought before the Council; and whoever calls his brother a worthless fool will be in danger of going to the fire of hell” (Mt. 5:22). “Wherefore, my beloved brethren,” said James, “let everyman be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (Ja. 1:19).

“Most of the time, I am…”

Irritable/touchy |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Slow to anger

Love’s Ideal: “Love is forgiving
Love’s Obstacle — Resentfulness

Resentfulness is the accumulation of irritations suffered in the past, recalled in the present. The word Paul used for resentfulness was an accountant’s word for entering an item in a ledger so it would not be forgotten. This is exactly what many people do…and it is a great obstacle to love. “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget” mocks the true meaning of forgiveness. Resentfulness looks to the past rather than the future. Love releases memory’s grip on a wrong suffered or a hurt inflicted.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Resentful |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Forgiving

Love’s Ideal: “Love hates evil
Love’s Obstacle — Loving evil

What did Paul mean when he said, “love hates evil”? Lewis Smedes (Love Within Limits) says that loving evil is not so much finding pleasure in doing wrong, as it is the spiteful satisfaction in hearing or saying something derogatory about another. Surprisingly, people who work the hardest at their high moral standards often love evil the most! As they struggle to live a life of abstinence from worldly things, they condemn those who do not. They gloat at the stumbling of those who “compromise with the world,” and look forward to the judgment when these hypocrites will get their dues. Their message of the Gospel begins with condemnation. It centers on judgment. It ends in separation. Love seems nowhere to be found.

“Most of the time, I…”

Love evil |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Hate evil

Love’s Ideal: “Love is always there
Love’s Obstacle — Inconsistency

False love has limits on its endurance. It doesn’t last when things get tough. Inconsistency is like a faulty bond of a poorly made dam that begins to lose strength at its weakest point. A few drops of water begin to seep through the crack. The inconsistency grows to a stream, and then a torrent, and soon the entire dam gives way. Real love never fails. It is like the strong dam standing against the tremendous pressure of the water behind it. Love will bear any insult, any injury and disappointment…and still stand strong.

“Most of the time, I am…”

Inconsistent |———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|———-|Consistent

When we identify our personal obstacles to love, we have taken a giant step toward dealing with them and becoming the loving person God wants us to be. “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does.” (I Cor. 14:1 Message)