December 2011


TOO OLD TO LEARN?

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 tenley.horner@indwes.edu 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.