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Aging in the Grace of God

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Study 1: Help, I’m growing old Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 2: in the potter’s hands Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 3: called by god Leader’s Guide —Participant’s Guide

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Study 4: becoming vulnerable Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 5: lessons from the wilderness Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 6: like the grass that withers Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 7: Heaven is God’s dwelling place Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 8: Forgive and reconcile Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 9: tell the story Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide

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Study 10: nearer my god to thee Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide 1

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Help, I’m Growing Old Th i s i s th e b egi n ning of a ne w adve nture.

This study will encourage us to attack aging head on. In a culture that considers aging a curse and denies it at every opportunity, Christians are encouraged to accept aging as a vital and positive stage of our spiritual journey—a time in which God continues to fit us for his kingdom and develops within us the character of his Son. This is not a time to merely exist, but a time to grow and bloom, aging in grace. Scripture: Psalm 71; Romans 8:28–29, 35–39

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©2009 Christianity Today International

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Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy. Ours is the first generation to live a significant number of years after our retirement from paid work. What are we to do with these added years? Our culture holds out two major avenues. The first is to spend our time in leisure pursuits—travel, shopping, golf, club activities, grandparenting, and “good works”—all at our own discretion. It tells us that we have worked hard and deserve to treat ourselves well. Even bumper stickers declare, “we are spending our children’s inheritance.” And the busier the calendar the more validated we feel. The second is the role of the patient. Our culture tells us that whatever physical complaints we suffer can and ought to be cured or prevented by diligent care of our bodies, visits to the doctor, and proper medication. At the first sign of discomfort, we rush to find the cause and cure. We spend hours and precious resources trying to maintain physical wellness. When we still feel the effects of aging, we feel cheated and defeated. When we undergo suffering or limitations hit us, we often feel we are on the downhill slide to nothingness—waiting out the days to an uncertain end. However, Scripture tells us that God knows the length of our days. And being a wonderfully creative God who wastes nothing, he has plans for each day of our lives. “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you, plans to give you a hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). He does not change his goal simply because we are “over the hill.” Each day is meant to be filled with growth and hope. Think of this illustration of aging: An artist was creating a bust of a famous person. First he made a plaster cast of the head. Carefully cutting the plaster cast in half, he lifted it off and glued the two halves together. He began to fill it with precious metal, allowing each ladleful to cool and set before adding the next. The plaster cast disintegrated little by little. Toward the end, it looked unbelievably shabby. The inner beauty was hidden, although random areas were visible to the outside. When finished, the plaster cast was roughly pulled away to show the awesome beauty of the artist’s creation. God is at work in each one of us. Often, if we have submitted to his careful work, our beauty shows through the rough spots, but he is not finished with us yet. In these elder years he continues to love, to teach, to fill, and to create. The adventure is in participating in the creation of his masterpiece. How do we do that? It takes work. It takes willingness to set aside time to process the past and carefully consider the future. It takes openness and times of contemplation to listen 3

©2009 Christianity Today International

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Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Leader ’s Guide

to God. Ask him what he wants to accomplish and find ways of being a coworker with him in his creation. It takes a willingness to be obedient to the things that he shows us about our lives and futures. The payoff for this is immense. We end up with a peace and quietness of spirit. We improve our relationships with God and others, and we find purpose for the last third of our lives. Admittedly, these lessons are not for sissies or the faint of heart. But God has promised to provide us with all that we need for the journey. God rewards those who diligently seek him.

Discussion Starters: [Q] When you hear the words “aging” or “growing old,” what do you think of? As a group, brainstorm a list of words that you associate with aging.

[Q] In what ways do the media discourage us from positively owning our aging? [Q] Think of the people you know who are aged 60–80. How do these people spend their time? What are their attitudes toward aging?

[Q] Do you think Scripture supports retirement? Why or why not? Optional Activity: Provide the group with a variety of pictures of people you believe have aged well. It may include family members, acquaintances, or celebrities. Ask the group why they think this person’s aging is to be admired. Be sure to include people who are well into the aging process, not just those who have maintained their youth.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: God is our refuge. Read Psalm 71, which was written by someone who knew of God from the cradle and experienced God’s faithfulness in hard times. He makes a statement of faith in God, praising him and acknowledging his splendor. He affirms that God has been his rock, his refuge in life. But now the writer is growing old. It appears that he has some insecurity about what will happen as he ages. Will God still be with him when he can no longer produce? When strength is gone? When his enemies, seeing his vulnerability, gather to mock and overcome (or ignore) him? We may not have armies outside our door waiting to overtake us, but many of us will encounter these “enemies”: loss, grief, diminishment, vulnerability, and disease. The writer of the Psalm (beginning in verse 14) reasserts his hope in God and promises to continue to sing his praises. He knows deep within that God is not just his hope, but his only hope. 4

©2009 Christianity Today International

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Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Leader ’s Guide

[Q] Briefly tell the group of your spiritual journey to date. Describe two events in your earlier life when God was there for you in a special way. Le a der ’s N ote: You m ay have to e ncourage t he discussion to move a l ong if one memb er is tak ing to o long, so that ever yone gets a c han ce to tel l th ei r stor y.

[Q] What are some of the things that are causing the psalmist concern? • What do you dread about growing old? • How has fear of what might happen caused you to be self-protective? • What might help you to live with more courage?

[Q] What are some of the things about God that the psalmist recalls? • How does remembering what God has done and affirming God’s greatness move us from fear to joy?

Teaching Point Two: God is fulfilling his purpose. Read Romans 8:28–29, 35–39. We often hear Roman 8:28 quoted as “All thing work together for good.” We would like to feel that this is an unconditional promise that applies to everything. But if we carefully read this Scripture, we realize that there is a condition placed on the promise. It is for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose. It is important as we age to realize that “all things working together for good” is based on our commitment to God, and to understand what it is that our loving God is trying to accomplish in us. If we start with the assumption that God’s purpose is to give us everything we want, or to make us happy according to our own desires, we are in trouble. As we read further, we see that God’s purpose is that we be conformed to the likeness of his Son. A real tug of war can occur if we think that God owes us certain things (good health, absence of loss, etc.) because we have been religious all our lives. God never stops working in our lives. He is preparing us for life in his kingdom. Some of his most important work is done in the aging process. The challenges of aging may help to shape our character. Many of the challenges help us to detach from worldly goods and goals, and draw us into a closer relationship with God. As the Spirit works through us, others see less of us and more of Christ. As a group, write a mission statement that describes God’s purpose for humanity. 5

©2009 Christianity Today International

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Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Leader ’s Guide

[Q] Using the mission statement you created as a group, discuss how his purpose is being worked out in your church, your family, and your own life. • Describe an incident when God used a life-experience to conform you to the “image of Christ.” • Describe someone who impresses you as being Christ-like. How did they get that way?

[Q] Why is it important to know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ? • What are some of the aspects of being frail and elderly that might give you concern about being connected to God’s love?

[Q] How does knowing that God is working out his purpose in your life make it easier to accept the indignities of aging? • How does his love cover the rough spots?

Teaching Point Three: God gives us work to do. Read Psalm 71:18. As we begin to deal with the challenges of aging, it’s easy to become self-focused—to be concerned with every little change in our bodies, every lack of attention given to us, everything we are losing. But our psalmist underscores that we have a hefty job to do, even if it may not involve physical exertion or worldwide impact. The psalmist reminds us that it is our job to declare the goodness of God to the next generation. We must faithfully model his work in our lives. We must tell our stories. We must shout out God’s goodness, especially in the most difficult of circumstances. Those who fail to do this will not only be miserable themselves, but will leave a negative impact on those who follow. If God is not sufficient for our old age, how can we believe that he is sufficient for any other time? A person of faith knows better. We know that God’s love never fails. We know that the discomforts of life are only temporary. We must shout out with joy, “God is good!”

[Q] Without using a name, describe someone you know who, while in the midst of difficulty, is saying with their words or behavior that God is good. What does that do for you?

[Q] What are the elements of faith that the next generation most needs to hear, in your opinion? • Who in your family could you make a special effort to connect with? 6

©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Leader ’s Guide

Part 3

Aging is a Wonderful Time of Spiritual Growth

To dismiss aging as being the “downhill time of life” is to overlook a period when God is completing us as his children. If we do not live lives that are aware and intentional, we could miss the opportunities he has in store for us. If we become self-focused and depressed, we fail to experience the joy of his presence and the hope of the future he has promised. If we fail to model how to age gracefully in Christ, we leave our families without an example of faithful aging. If we fail to tell our God stories, we miss the opportunity to strengthen our children’s faith. It is impossible to deny the challenges of aging, but our Romans passage tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus. Action Points: • During this next week, seek opportunities to model God’s goodness, tell your stories, and show appreciation to those who are modeling graceful aging for you. • Find an item or picture that is connected with a God-story in your life. Briefly write the story down in simple language and give it to a child, grandchild, or other child that you know. Maybe the child would like to illustrate and make his or her own book of your story for you to read together. • Think through what you can do to model and declare your faith to the next generation. • Write down your personal faith stories for future generations.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

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©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Leader ’s Guide

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¿ www.seniorlifestyle.org ¿ www.senioradultministry.com ¨ Aging as a Spiritual Journey, Eugene C. Bianchi (Crossroad Publishing Company,1982; ISBN: 978-0824506223) ¨ Winter Grace: Spirituality and Aging, Kathleen Fischer (Upper Room Books, 1998; ISBN: 978-0834808507) ¨ Passage through Midlife: A Spiritual Journey to Wholeness, Paul Robb (Ave Maria Press, 2005; ISBN: 978-1594710513) ¨ The Art of Growing Old, A Guide to Faithful Aging, Carroll Saussy (Augsburg Press, 1989; ISBN: 978-0806636177) ¨ Summoned at Every Age: Finding God in Our Later Years, Peter G. Van Breemen (Ave Maria Press, 2005; ISBN: 978-1594710360)

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©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Help, I’m Growing Old Th i s i s th e b egi n ning of a ne w adve nture.

This study will encourage us to attack aging head on. In a culture that considers aging a curse and denies it at every opportunity, Christians are encouraged to accept aging as a vital and positive stage of our spiritual journey—a time in which God continues to fit us for his kingdom and develops within us the character of his Son. This is not a time to merely exist, but a time to grow and bloom, aging in grace. Scripture: Psalm 71; Romans 8:28–29, 35–39

9

©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

Scripture tells us that God knows the length of our days. And being a wonderfully creative God who wastes nothing, he has plans for each day of our lives. “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you, plans to give you a hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). He does not change his goal simply because we are “over the hill.” Each day is meant to be filled with growth and hope.

Discussion Starters: [Q] When you hear the words “aging” or “growing old,” what do you think of? As a group, brainstorm a list of words that you associate with aging.

[Q] In what ways do the media discourage us from positively owning our aging? [Q] Think of the people you know who are aged 60–80. How do these people spend their time? What are their attitudes toward aging?

[Q] Do you think Scripture supports retirement? Why or why not?

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: God is our refuge. Teaching Point Two: God is fulfilling his purpose. Teaching Point Three: God gives us work to do.

Part 3

Aging is a Wonderful Time of Spiritual Growth

To dismiss aging as being the “downhill time of life” is to overlook a period when God is completing us as his children. If we do not live lives that are aware and intentional, we could miss the opportunities he has in store for us. If we become self-focused and depressed, we fail to experience the joy of his presence and the hope of the future he has promised. If we fail to model how to age gracefully in Christ, we leave our families without an example of faithful

10

©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

aging. If we fail to tell our God stories, we miss the opportunity to strengthen our children’s faith. It is impossible to deny the challenges of aging, but our Romans passage tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus. Action Points: • During this next week, seek opportunities to model God’s goodness, tell your stories, and show appreciation to those who are modeling graceful aging for you. • Find an item or picture that is connected with a God-story in your life. Briefly write the story down in simple language and give it to a child, grandchild, or other child that you know. Maybe the child would like to illustrate and make his or her own book of your story for you to read together. • Think through what you can do to model and declare your faith to the next generation. • Write down your personal faith stories for future generations.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¿ www.seniorlifestyle.org ¿ www.senioradultministry.com 11

©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Help, I’m Growing Old Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

¨ Aging as a Spiritual Journey, Eugene C. Bianchi (Crossroad Publishing Company,1982; ISBN: 978-0824506223) ¨ Winter Grace: Spirituality and Aging, Kathleen Fischer (Upper Room Books, 1998; ISBN: 978-0834808507) ¨ Passage through Midlife: A Spiritual Journey to Wholeness, Paul Robb (Ave Maria Press, 2005; ISBN: 978-1594710513) ¨ The Art of Growing Old, A Guide to Faithful Aging, Carroll Saussy (Augsburg Press, 1989; ISBN: 978-0806636177) ¨ Summoned at Every Age: Finding God in Our Later Years, Peter G. Van Breemen (Ave Maria Press, 2005; ISBN: 978-1594710360)

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©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

In the Potter’s Hands God uses people and experiences to shape us.

Aging requires that we look back and see what God has already done in our lives. Many churches baptize or dedicate babies to ask God to be present in their lives from the very start. Members of the congregation commit to help the child grow in the faith. We believe that God will answer our prayers, but seldom do we take the time to look back and assess how those prayers have been answered. How has God used our experiences with our parents, siblings, extended family, teachers, and friends? How has our church community shaped us? How have our emotional and physical experiences, good or bad, made us what we are? Each one of us is a unique child of God and to go forward requires an honest look at who we have become. Only then can we acknowledge and foster our unique place in God’s kingdom. Scripture: Genesis 37:3–4; 1 Samuel 1:21–28; 2:12–17; Psalm 139:13–16

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©2009 Christianity Today International

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Aging in the Grace of God

In the Potter’s Hands Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy. A teenager desires nothing more than to be exactly like his or her peers. To be different, outside of the group, a nerd, or weird brings emotional pain—and can have disastrous results. As we age, however, we come to recognize and appreciate our differences. We realize that we have experiences, gifts, talents, and unique character traits that make each of us an individual with a unique view of the world. How did we get that way? Psalm 139 says God has “knit me together in my mother’s womb,” so we were born with certain traits and abilities. But our experiences add to our uniqueness. Hardship, successes, our families, our racial or cultural heritage, and our siblings have turned us into the people we now are. It would be easy for us to think of these things as random or coincidence. However as Christians, we believe in a redemptive God who is active in our daily lives. In everything that has happened to us, God is working out his purposes to draw us to himself, to make us participants in his eternal kingdom. If we are unaware of God’s redemptive, shaping work in our lives, we can spend years trying to be someone we are not. We might wear a false mask to hide our “real selves” or try to be all things to all people. We might live with shame or anger. We might try to overachieve in order to feel accepted or hide in a corner, afraid of criticism. To see ourselves as God sees us—to know that he loves us thoroughly and has a purpose for the unique individuals we have become—is a wonderful gift. God has redeemed the rough spots and brought good out of them. And even the most painful experiences have taught you compassion or tenderness toward others. It is often the suffering we have experienced that has drawn us to our need for God and our trust in his faithfulness. Doing a life review sets us up for more intentional service to God and others. It can help us to understand what we should say yes to and what we should decline. We become more accepting toward others and serenely at peace with ourselves. Our hearts are filled with gratitude toward a loving heavenly Father who has been creatively active in our lives from the beginning.

Discussion Starters: [Q] What or who has had the greatest influence on your life to date? How might you be different if you had not had that person or event in your life? 14

©2009 Christianity Today International

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Aging in the Grace of God

In the Potter’s Hands Leader ’s Guide

[Q] Do you think that your life helps to shape other’s lives? Who? How? [Q] How have events such as The Depression, war, space travel, and inventions such as television, the computer, and air-conditioning shaped you?

[Q] Who do you think has had the greatest influence in our world in the last 50 years? Why?

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: God has formed you and sees a purpose for your life. Optional Activity: Ask everyone ahead of time to bring a baby picture to class. Mix them up and see if your class members can match the baby with the adult. Ask each of the members how they were already defined at birth (sexual identity, racial heritage, ethnic heritage, physical characteristics, etc.). Looking at the Old Testament Bible characters, it’s easy to see that God shaped many of their lives, even before they were old enough to have any say in the matter. Joseph was the favored child of an aging parent, causing his brothers to hate him and setting in motion a whole chain of events that saved the Israelites from starvation. Jeremiah was formed by God and called at a very young age to announce the exile to people who had rebelled from the ways of God. Samuel’s barren mother promised to dedicate her child to God’s service, preparing him to become the first prophet in the time of David.

[Q] Read Psalm 139:13–16. How do you react personally to these verses? [Q] As a group, brainstorm ways that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. • Obviously this verse doesn’t refer to only those who are perfect physical specimens. How can we apply it even to those whose bodies are less than perfect?

[Q] Are there ways in which you are perfectly suited and equipped for the work you do? Explain.

Teaching Point Two: God uses our families to continue our formation.

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Aging in the Grace of God

In the Potter’s Hands Leader ’s Guide

Optional Activity: Provide everyone with pen and paper. On the left side of the paper, write the word Mother. On the right side, write the word Father. List underneath each column the ways in which each parent shaped you, both positively and negatively. If you had siblings you may also list how each one of them influenced your growth. The Old Testament is filled with stories of families. Clearly nothing happens in families today that was not part of the Old Testament families. Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun. These stories are examples of everything that can go wrong and everything that can go right in families. We are given a window through which we can see how families have shaped individual members. There are evil and corrupt fathers and mothers. There are wonderfully committed parents. There are parents who demonstrate the same mixture of gift and stupidity that our own families exhibit. Individual “heroes” of the Bible have the same character flaws that have been passed down from parents to children throughout the ages. Yet throughout time, God has continued to work out his purposes in flawed human beings.

[Q] Read Genesis 37:3–4. How was Joseph shaped by his father? How did that affect the others in the family? [Q] Read 1 Samuel 1:21–28. How was Samuel shaped by his parents? [Q] Read 1 Samuel 2:12–17. How did Eli’s failure to train his sons affect what happened in his family?

[Q] Who shaped you in the following ways: • Your view of God • Your work ethic • Your worldview • Your ideas of how love is shown

[Q] How have you questioned or modified these formations? If you haven’t, do you think you need to?

[Q] If you know the story of Joseph, how did the different siblings in Joseph’s family fulfill different roles? How did Joseph influence his brothers’ behavior? How did their behavior shape him?

[Q] How did your place in the family shape you? Did each of the children in your family have a role to play? How was that role given? Do you still play that role today? Is it healthy to continue to play your role? [Q] If you were an only child, how did not having brothers or sisters shape you? 16

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Aging in the Grace of God

In the Potter’s Hands Leader ’s Guide

[Q] If you lost a sibling through death or divorce, how did that affect you? [Q] How did your extended family (grandparents, aunt, uncles, or cousins) help to shape you in your growing years?

Teaching Point Three: God uses our experiences in life to shape us. Every one of us can point to an experience after which we were never the same. For some it may be an accident, an illness, or death in the family. For others it may be a bad decision, a job taken or refused, a marriage or divorce, having a child, or being the recipient of a “lucky” break or windfall. Each of us has had many pivotal experiences in life. Have you wondered what it would have been like if those experiences had been different? Joseph, Hannah, Eli and Jeremiah all had pivotal decisions and experiences—times which irrevocably influenced the course of their lives and those around them.

Optional Activity: Pick a pivotal point in your life. Write a story about what your life might have been like if your life had taken a different turn. What might you have gained? What might have been lost? If you are comfortable in sharing, read your story to the others in your group.

[Q] Describe some of the pivotal experiences in the life of Joseph. What might or might not have happened if these experiences had been eliminated from his life? Le a der ’s N ote: S ome of the exp eriences you might discuss are: havi n g p rophetic dreams, getting a sp ecial coat, his mother dying when he was young, b eing sold into slaver y, b eing accused by Potiphar ’s wife a n d j ai l ed, an d b ecomi ng the se cond in command.

[Q] Think about the spiritual strength of Samuel as he served as prophet to the kings (Saul and David). What early experiences in his life might have helped to make him able to confront such dominant individuals with the Word of God?

[Q] How have the experiences of your life shaped you? • Have you been shaped more by the easy or the difficult experiences? • Do you think the things you have gained have been worth having the experiences? • What were you most pleasurable experiences? How have they been gifts from God? • Have the difficult ones also been a gift? Explain. 17

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Aging in the Grace of God

In the Potter’s Hands Leader ’s Guide

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

It is impossible to read Scripture and not be aware of God’s activity in the lives of our biblical heroes. What a comfort to know that even these unique men and women had flaws, yet God was able to use them as he fulfills his purposes for our world. However, it is vital to confirm that God is also active in our own lives. He has shaped us as a potter shapes a vessel. He has smoothed our rough edges and has given us places to use our gifts and talents. He has used our pleasurable and difficult times to help us become the people he made us to be. As we age and discover his action in our lives, we can participate more fully as his unique children. We can discover our own calling and seek ways to give to the world and to his kingdom. We can live lives filled with gratitude for all aspects of our lives while experiencing the love of the One who created us. Action Point: Take some time this week to recall the experiences that have shaped your life. Make a special point of thanking God for all these experiences, even the difficult ones. Share at least one of these experiences with someone close to you. If you have not already started one, begin to write a spiritual autobiography, documenting God’s activity in your life.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.)

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©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

In the Potter’s Hands Leader ’s Guide

¨ To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future, Dan P. Allender, Ph.D. (Waterbrook Press, 2005; ISBN: 1578569486) ¨ To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future Workbook, Dan P. Allender, Ph.D. (Waterbrook, 2005; ISBN: 1576569494) ¨ Remembering Your Story, Richard L. Morgan (Upper Room Books, 1996; ISBN: 0835807819) ¨ Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas (Zondervan Publishing, 2000; ISBN: 0310242827) ¨ Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas (Zondervan Publishing, 2004; ISBN: 0310247349)

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©2009 Christianity Today International

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

In the Potter’s Hands God uses people and experiences to shape us.

Aging requires that we look back and see what God has already done in our lives. Many churches baptize or dedicate babies to ask God to be present in their lives from the very start. Members of the congregation commit to help the child grow in the faith. We believe that God will answer our prayers, but seldom do we take the time to look back and assess how those prayers have been answered. How has God used our experiences with our parents, siblings, extended family, teachers, and friends? How has our church community shaped us? How have our emotional and physical experiences, good or bad, made us what we are? Each one of us is a unique child of God and to go forward requires an honest look at who we have become. Only then can we acknowledge and foster our unique place in God’s kingdom. Scripture: Genesis 37:3–4; 1 Samuel 1:21–28; 2:12–17; Psalm 139:13–16

20

©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

In the Potter’s Hands Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

Doing a life review sets us up for more intentional service to God and others. It can help us to understand what we should say yes to and what we should decline. We become more accepting toward others and serenely at peace with ourselves. Our hearts are filled with gratitude toward a loving heavenly Father who has been creatively active in our lives from the beginning.

In preparation for your meeting: • Read the Scriptures and chew on them as you go about your daily activities. • Recall the people and experiences that have shaped your life. • Think about how God might have been active in the process. • Find a baby picture of yourself to bring to class.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: God has formed you and sees a purpose for your life. Teaching Point Two: God uses our families to continue our formation. Teaching Point Three: God uses our experiences in life to shape us.

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

It is impossible to read Scripture and not be aware of God’s activity in the lives of our biblical heroes. What a comfort to know that even these unique men and women had flaws, yet God was able to use them as he fulfills his purposes for our world. However, it is vital to confirm that God is also active in our own lives. He has shaped us as a potter shapes a vessel. He has smoothed our rough edges and has given us places to use our gifts and talents. He has used our pleasurable and difficult times to help us become the people he made us to be. As we age and discover his action in our lives, we can participate more fully as his unique children. We 21

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can discover our own calling and seek ways to give to the world and to his kingdom. We can live lives filled with gratitude for all aspects of our lives while experiencing the love of the One who created us. Action Point: Take some time this week to recall the experiences that have shaped your life. Make a special point of thanking God for all these experiences, even the difficult ones. Share at least one of these experiences with someone close to you. If you have not already started one, begin to write a spiritual autobiography, documenting God’s activity in your life.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future, Dan P. Allender, Ph.D. (Waterbrook Press, 2005; ISBN: 1578569486) ¨ To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future Workbook, Dan P. Allender, Ph.D. (Waterbrook, 2005; ISBN: 1576569494) ¨ Remembering Your Story, Richard L. Morgan (Upper Room Books, 1996; ISBN: 0835807819)

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¨ Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas (Zondervan Publishing, 2000; ISBN: 0310242827) ¨ Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas (Zondervan Publishing, 2004; ISBN: 0310247349)

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Called by God Create a mission statement for the latter third of life.

After spending time looking back on the people and experiences that have shaped our lives, we can now define those elements that make us unique and consider how God might call us to use these gifts and experiences to further his kingdom on earth. Scripture: Exodus 4:1–17

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Aging in the Grace of God

Called by God Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy. Living in our culture means that life is usually busy, even hectic. Many things clamor for our attention. Often it is the most demanding or insistent call that receives our energy—the “tyranny of the urgent.” Or perhaps we give our time to please the people in our lives. Many of us do the easy things that bring us pleasure or comfort. However, as immediate as these things may seem, they may not always be the things to which God is calling us. If we are unaware of how God has shaped us, it is impossible for us to make wise choices. Paul states that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purposes. To be fully in accord with his purposes, we must understand the work that he has completed in each of us individually. As we see our uniqueness, gifts and talents, characteristics, and experiences, we can then become open to where and how he might be calling us to serve him. Some exceptional people have been dramatically called to a life beyond the ordinary. But for most of us, God works in the ordinary of our lives. He builds on what has gone before. He uses our heritage, gifts, and experiences in new and creative ways. If you have not already taken a gifts inventory, now would be a good time to take one. A simple one may be found at www.buildingchurch.net. As you consider this lesson, ask yourself what makes you unique. What do you most enjoy doing? When do you feel the most completely yourself? In what circumstances do you feel like a “fish out of water”? God does not expect us to be all things to all people. Instead he desires that we be fully the person that he created us to be, follow his call, and use all that we are to serve him and others.

Discussion Starters: [Q] Do you feel more complete if you have a day-timer filled with activities? If so, why? [Q] Do you often find yourself asking “how did I get pulled into doing this”? Do you find yourself wishing that you hadn’t agreed to do most of the things that you do? List some of those things which you have been doing grudgingly. List the things you do that seem to fit with God’s call on your life.

[Q] How much of what you do is in direct response to God’s call on your life? [Q] Describe someone you know who uses their gifts well. In what ways do you wish you were more like that person?

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Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: God often calls us to a new vision in later life. Optional Activities: • As a group, look at The Purpose Prize winners for 2007 and 2008 (www.purposeprize .org/video/videopage.cfm). These are people over 60 who are making a difference in their communities. Their projects are based on the experiences and influences of a lifetime. • Watch the movie Moses, starring Ben Kingsley, from the Bible Collection. God called many to do special tasks early in life (David, Jeremiah, Timothy). But God called Moses later in life. Moses was in his sixties when God called to him at the back side of the desert. He was comfortably ensconced in a new life with strong family connections. He thought all those experiences in Egypt were far behind him and that they had no bearing on his present life. His princely robes had been exchanged for sheepherder’s apparel. His arrogance had been exchanged for humility. His aggression had been exchanged for peace. He was ready to be left alone to live his ordinary life. God’s plan required all the experiences of Moses’ life to date. It was not until he reached maturity that Moses was ready for everything that God had in store for him. Instead of nearing its end, Moses’ mission was based on all that had gone before. There was no one who was more shocked than Moses. Why in the world would God call him? Moses could put forth many reasons why he wasn’t the man for the job. Yet God knew that there were also many reasons why he was the perfect man to lead the Exodus. Our culture teaches us that we have completed our work shortly after midlife, and are free to do what we want (and can afford) to do after that—travel, rest, become a couch potato, volunteer, treat ourselves, start a new vocation, visit family and friends, take classes or anything else we might think up. We are done with the “have-tos.” Few of us realize that we are simply entering a new stage of life that is built upon the foundation that has gone before, or that God might be calling us to something important in this new season. Often that call is an extension of what has gone before, but with new twists and turns. Being open to his call is crucial.

[Q] We often talk of God’s perfect timing. How is his timing seen in Moses’ call (paired with the children of Israel’s need)? Why do you think God called an older man rather than a younger man? • Do you believe that there are some jobs better suited to younger people rather than older people? Explain your answer. 26

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Called by God Leader ’s Guide

• Do you think paid employment has more value than volunteer service? Why or why not?

[Q] How do you think God views aging? Did he see an old man when he looked at Moses? How does God’s view of time enter into this?

Teaching Point Two: Moses was ideally equipped for the job. Optional Activities: • If the members of your group have known each other for a long time, place a separate post-it™ wall sheet with each person’s name on the wall. Have your group-members move around the room writing what they consider to be the gifts and contributions of each person in the room. Ask each person what they think about their evaluation. This is meant to be an affirming activity. • Have a gift assessment printed out and ask members of your group to take it. There are several excellent ones online (see Additional Resources); just be sure that you have one that can be scored without using a computer. At the time of his call, Moses was quite unaware that he had anything to offer God. He saw all the things that were wrong with him. He knew that he was not a good speaker, had a violent temper, and was hiding out from reprisals for a murder he had committed previously in Egypt. He spent days alone on the backside of the desert with only his sheep for company. He had finally found a place where he felt safe—he was in a comfort zone. Read Exodus 4:1–17.

[Q] Brainstorm a list of Moses’ assets and record them on a whiteboard or poster board. Mark with a “G” those that were natural gifts. Make with an “E” those that came from experience. • What did God tell Moses about his inability to speak publicly? • How did God accommodate him? • What finally made God angry at Moses (v. 13–14a)?

[Q] Discuss how the events of Moses’ life prior to his call were an important part of his call. Would he have been fit for the call if those parts were eliminated?

[Q] Describe Moses as he left Egypt and later as he was being called by God. How had God tempered him? What were the character traits that now made it possible for him to become a leader?

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Called by God Leader ’s Guide

• How have you been tempered? What character traits have you gained over the years?

Teaching Point Three: New vision involves risk, commitment, and love for God above self love. When God calls us in later life, he may drag us out of our personal comfort zones as he did Moses. He may challenge us to do something that we believe to be beyond our capabilities. He may ask us to let go of some of the things we hold dear. The parable of the talents speaks to those of us who play it safe. If we only hang on to the things that God has entrusted us with, his censure is strong. He expects us to use what he has given us to further his kingdom—five, even ten times what we started out with.

[Q] Describe Moses’ current “comfort zone.” How was God’s call going to change that? [Q] Refer to Exodus 3 to find a mission statement for God’s call to Moses. List the tasks that God outlined for Moses. What was God’s promise to Moses?

[Q] What might have been some of the difficulties of the transition time for Moses? • If you’ve ever made a drastic move, what were some of the adjustments you had to make? • Have you ever had to leave your extended family behind to take on a new job? What was it like to settle in a new place without that support system in place?

[Q] How important is it to you to be safe, comfortable, and financially set? Do you believe that these things are the perks of being older? Explain. • How might God’s view of your latter years compare with your own ideas? • Describe someone you know who has made a dramatic change late in life in response to God’s call, or describe someone that you believe is living within God’s call.

Optional Activity: Think outside the box. Make a list of all the things (no matter how crazy) that you might have the experience, character, talents, gifts, and passion to accomplish. Let others in the group throw out their ideas as well. Do not think about implementation at this point. Carefully consider the list to see if any of these possibilities strike a chord within you. Ask yourself if God might be challenging you to move in a new direction or to take a further step in the direction you are already heading. With openness of heart, commit yourself to his will for this stage of your life.

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Part 3

Apply Your Findings

As we have studied Moses, we have seen that while the call itself was unexpected for Moses, God had been leading both the people of Israel and Moses to this specific time in history. All of Moses’ previous experience had prepared him for this mission. Plan to spend some special time alone with God this week. Be open and attentive to his word to you. Action Points: 1) Prayerfully consider some of the things that were discussed during your group meeting. Is God calling you to a new use of your skills, time, and resources? Are you willing to leave your comfort zone? (This may be as simple as leaving the TV in order to spend more time in study and prayer.) If so, put your commitment in writing in the form of a mission statement for the coming year. Read this commitment to your group. 2) Become an encourager of those in your group who are sensing a new or renewed call from God. Support their goals and assist in their outworking whenever possible. Provide accountability. 3) Prayerfully consider the things on your calendar. Make a concerted effort to choose activities in keeping with God’s call on your life.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.)

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Called by God Leader ’s Guide

¿ www.workplaceministry.com has a bookstore specializing in book and articles on finding your call. ¿ www.purposeprize.org has stories on video of senior adults who have accomplished meaningful services for their communities after the age of sixty. ¿ http://buildingchurch.net/g2s-i.htm has a gifted to serve inventory that is easy to take and score. ¨ The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, Os Guinness (Thomas Nelson, 2003; ISBN: 9780849944376) ¨ Moses, A Man of Selfless Dedication, Charles Swindoll (Thomas Nelson, 1999; ISBN: 9780849913853)

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Called by God Create a mission statement for the latter third of life.

After spending time looking back on the people and experiences that have shaped our lives, we can now define those elements that make us unique and consider how God might call us to use these gifts and experiences to further his kingdom on earth. Scripture: Exodus 4:1–17

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Aging in the Grace of God

Called by God Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

Living in our culture means that life is usually busy, even hectic. Many things clamor for our attention. Often it is the most demanding or insistent call that receives our energy—the “tyranny of the urgent.” Or perhaps we give our time to please the people in our lives. Many of us do the easy things that bring us pleasure or comfort. However, as immediate as these things may seem, they may not always be the things to which God is calling us. If you have not already taken a gifts inventory, now would be a good time to take one. A simple one may be found at www.buildingchurch.net. As you consider this lesson, ask yourself what makes you unique. What do you most enjoy doing? When do you feel the most completely yourself? In what circumstances do you feel like a “fish out of water”? God does not expect us to be all things to all people. Instead he desires that we be fully the person that he created us to be, follow his call, and use all that we are to serve him and others.

Before you attend class: 1. Read the Scriptures and think about them in the context of your own life. 2. Recall people you know who have received a call from God to an extension of their work or a brand new endeavor when they thought they were “retired.” If possible, bring a picture of them to class. 3. Think about the things you have always dreamed of doing, things you seem to have a special talent or gift for, and how you are currently spending your time. Be prepared to explore new options.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: God often calls us to a new vision in later life. Teaching Point Two: Moses was ideally equipped for the job. Teaching Point Three: New vision involves risk, commitment, and love for God above self love.

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Called by God Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

As we have studied Moses, we have seen that while the call itself was unexpected for Moses, God had been leading both the people of Israel and Moses to this specific time in history. All of Moses’ previous experience had prepared him for this mission. Plan to spend some special time alone with God this week. Be open and attentive to his word to you. Action Points: 1) Prayerfully consider some of the things that were discussed during your group meeting. Is God calling you to a new use of your skills, time, and resources? Are you willing to leave your comfort zone? (This may be as simple as leaving the TV in order to spend more time in study and prayer.) If so, put your commitment in writing in the form of a mission statement for the coming year. Read this commitment to your group. 2) Become an encourager of those in your group who are sensing a new or renewed call from God. Support their goals and assist in their outworking whenever possible. Provide accountability. 3) Prayerfully consider the things on your calendar. Make a concerted effort to choose activities in keeping with God’s call on your life.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.)

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ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Called by God Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

¿ www.workplaceministry.com has a bookstore specializing in book and articles on finding your call. ¿ www.purposeprize.org has stories on video of senior adults who have accomplished meaningful services for their communities after the age of sixty. ¿ http://buildingchurch.net/g2s-i.htm has a gifted to serve inventory that is easy to take and score. ¨ The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, Os Guinness (Thomas Nelson, 2003; ISBN: 9780849944376) ¨ Moses, A Man of Selfless Dedication, Charles Swindoll (Thomas Nelson, 1999; ISBN: 9780849913853)

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Becoming Vulnerable Aging brings with it many changes that require emotional and mental adaptation—but our loving God is in control.

Most of us have felt that we have some kind of control over our lives. As we age, events seem to rush on ahead, leaving us trying to adapt. Science and technology have left many of us behind, afraid that we will no longer be in the mainstream. Sometimes our own minds and bodies can no long be counted on to provide us the correct information or do for us what we used to take for granted. During this third stage of life, though vulnerable, we must make transitions that will take us deeper into trusting and knowing God. Scripture: Esther 2:1–9; 4; Ruth 1:1–17

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Aging in the Grace of God

Becoming Vulnerable Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy. Growing old is not for sissies! Aging brings with it many challenges, and they arrive at a time when we feel least equipped to deal with them. First we are bombarded with new mindboggling medical advances and scientific technologies. It seems as though everything is being done by computers. For many of us, they might as well be speaking a foreign language from Mars. It is impossible to speak to people on the phone without going through a pushbutton dance. Everyone is text messaging with re-spelled words and abbreviations. Even if you function well without the new gadgets, you are well-aware that the world is moving in a direction that is mysterious and confusing. These feelings leave us alienated from our own environment, which used to seem so familiar. Economic systems that seemed to be sure things are endangered. Companies are going bankrupt, failing to honor their pension agreements. Social Security is overextended and in need of revamping. Our economy is fluctuating and prices of necessities are rising at alarming rates. Many on fixed incomes are making the choice between food and medicines. Our mental capacities may start to worry us. We can no longer access information that used to be automatic. Familiar names, locations of common utensils, recipes for old favorites, words to favorite hymns and Scripture passages, and many other things escape us. Our inability to count on our memories leaves us feeling open to mistakes or embarrassment. Our bodies are no longer able to do the things they used to do. We may no longer see well enough to cut our own toenails or be able to get up from the floor without holding on to something. Many start to experience breakdowns in physical systems—digestion, elimination, vision, hearing—and/or suffer disease. Moving into the third stage of life, we must begin the process of letting go. We learn that there are things we can no longer control. Much of our life becomes adapting and learning to accept what we cannot change. It is not that we never experienced lack of control in our younger years—it is that now it is a more constant fact of life. As we age, we must learn to let go and depend on the goodness of God in deeper ways than we have before. The reward for this is the recognition that his loving trustworthiness can be counted on—always, in every situation. Rest comes to the weary and we can walk (instead of run) and not faint. Every day becomes a day of praise for the lovingkindness of God and of gratitude for the many, many victories (both large and small) that come our way. Great is his faithfulness. 36

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Becoming Vulnerable Leader ’s Guide

Discussion Starters: [Q] In what ways do you feel vulnerable? [Q] What do you notice about yourself that indicates the aging process has begun in earnest? [Q] What things do you believe you can control? What is beyond your control? [Q] How do you plan to prepare for the process of letting go?

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Vulnerability is a part of everyone’s life. As we age, we become more aware of our inability to control our environment. Optional Activity: Break into groups of three or four. Provide magazines and newspapers, scissors, and poster boards to each group. Cut out pictures that demonstrate vulnerability. Make a collage and label the vulnerabilities. Esther and Naomi were two women, at different stages of their lives, who demonstrated vulnerability. Esther was a young woman who was at the mercy of her culture. She had very few personal choices. Many things were decided for her, and to act independently lead her to great risk. Naomi was made vulnerable by the circumstances of her life. Both her husband and sons died, and she was left without support in a culture where women had to have a male family member to provide for and protect them. The system that had been in place for her security was removed by their deaths, leaving her vulnerable in a foreign culture. Read Esther 2:1–9 and Ruth 1:1–5.

[Q] Name the ways in which Esther and Ruth were vulnerable. How were their situations the same? How were they different? • Can you identify with their vulnerability? • Is it still important in our culture for a woman to be connected to man for protection and provision? Explain your answer. • How does becoming a widow or widower make one vulnerable today?

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[Q] Esther and Naomi responded quite differently to their situations. In Esther we see faith in action, and in Naomi we find depression and bitterness. What do you think accounts for their differing responses? What is the difference between being courageous in a political situation and in a personal, grief-stricken situation? In which situation do you think it would be harder to display positive attitudes?

[Q] Do you believe that Naomi’s trip back to her homeland was an act of courage or defeat? [Q] How was God working in both women’s situations to complete his salvation? Teaching Point Two: Awareness of vulnerability prompts us to seek out community. Both Esther and Naomi realized their need to depend on others rather than function independently. One of the gifts of vulnerability is that it brings us into contact with others. We cannot do it all ourselves. God designed us to need each other. Read Esther 4 and Ruth 1:6–17.

[Q] Esther had Mordecai for support during her period of vulnerability. How did he help her? What was the result of their collaboration? • How does having a mentor help us through rough times? Who are your mentors? If you do not have a mentor, where might you look for one?

[Q] How was family important to Naomi? How did Ruth and later Boaz care for her? • Can government, community, church, and/or friends take the place of family? Explain your answer. • How might pride keep us from sharing in the joys of interdependence?

[Q] How did having a cultural identity (being Jewish) provide a support for both Esther and Naomi? • How does being a member of your church or denomination provide support for you in your vulnerable times? • What other communities are you connected with that provide you with support and practical help in times of vulnerability?

Optional Activity: It is important to realize that we are not alone in the world. Make a list of community and church organizations that you know of that are set up to help others deal with their areas of vulnerability. 38

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Becoming Vulnerable Leader ’s Guide

Teaching Point Three: Being vulnerable helps us to recognize our dependence on God and his faithfulness toward us. In both Esther’s and Naomi’s stories, we can see how God has protected and blessed. Even more, we have been able to see how the circumstances of Esther’s and Ruth’s lives were worked out to accomplish God’s plans for the salvation of his people.

[Q] Tell a story that affirms how God has been present and faithful during a vulnerable time in your life or the life of a family member. Is this story well-known to the others in your family? If not, make sure that they hear the story and that it becomes a part of their spiritual heritage.

[Q] Can you think of a time when you tried to go it alone instead of trusting God and counting on others to help and support you? What were the results? What did it cause you in emotional and physical pain to do it on your own?

[Q] How was God faithful to both Esther and Naomi? How does hearing these stories contribute to your confidence that God knows what he is doing in your life?

Optional Activity: Write a mission statement that describes how you would like to think and act during times of vulnerability. Post it in a prominent place along with verses of Scripture that will encourage you to be faithful to your mission statement.

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

It is vital for us to be aware of our own vulnerability. Many of us try to live as though nothing is ever going to “go wrong” for us. Difficulties are a part of living in a fallen world. In faith we know that Jesus will return to make all things right, but until then, death, disease, and hardships abound. Just ask the apostle Paul. As we accept our vulnerability, we are able to become strong in our own weakness and trust God to provide for us in creative ways. We are able to let go of our own need to control. As we are faithful to our present challenges, we grow in our belief that God can be counted on at all times and in all things.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Becoming Vulnerable Leader ’s Guide

Action Points: As you go through this next week, try to become more aware of the things that cause you concern or fear. Place these concerns before the Lord and ask him to relieve you of your fears. Listen for the Holy Spirit to guide you in the small acts that you can perform to make your own life, and the lives of others around you, less fear-based and more trust-based. Consider the following: • How might continuous news coverage contribute to your feelings of fear? Is it necessary to know every bad thing that is going on all over the world? Explain your answer. • What type of material do you read? Is it dark and brooding or uplifting? • Have you withdrawn from the support of community? Has pride kept you from accepting help? • Have you become self-focused? Has concern for yourself taken the place of encouragement and love toward others? After careful consideration of your present lifestyle, make the changes necessary to exhibit the positive lifestyle of Paul, who said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.)

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ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Becoming Vulnerable Leader ’s Guide

¿ www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnha/hamenu.html This website has numerous articles on various aspects of aging ¨ When God Interrupts: Finding New Life through Unwanted Change, Craig Barnes (InterVarsity Press, 1996; ISBN: 978-0830819799) ¨ Transitions Through Adult Life, Charles Sell (Zondervan, 1991; ISBN: 9780310536611) ¨ The Seasons of a Restless Heart, A Spiritual Companion for Living in Transition, Debra K. Farrington (John Wiley & Sons, 2005; ISBN: 9780787973926) ¨ Wine at the End of the Feast: Embracing Spiritual Changes as You Age, Kristen Johnson Ingram (Loyola Press, 2003; ISBN: 9780829419368) ¨ The Way of Embracing Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments, William Bridges (Da Capo Press, 2001; ISBN: 9780738205298)

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Becoming Vulnerable Aging brings with it many changes that require emotional and mental adaptation—but our loving God is in control.

Most of us have felt that we have some kind of control over our lives. As we age, events seem to rush on ahead, leaving us trying to adapt. Science and technology have left many of us behind, afraid that we will no longer be in the mainstream. Sometimes our own minds and bodies can no long be counted on to provide us the correct information or do for us what we used to take for granted. During this third stage of life, though vulnerable, we must make transitions that will take us deeper into trusting and knowing God. Scripture: Esther 2:1–9; 4; Ruth 1:1–17

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Aging in the Grace of God

Becoming Vulnerable Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

As we age, we must learn to let go and depend on the goodness of God in deeper ways than we have before. The reward for this is the recognition that his loving trustworthiness can be counted on—always, in every situation. Rest comes to the weary and we can walk (instead of run) and not faint. Every day becomes a day of praise for the lovingkindness of God and of gratitude for the many, many victories (both large and small) that come our way. Great is his faithfulness.

In preparation for your meeting: • Read the Scriptures and chew on them as you go about your daily activities. • Consider the ways in which you have become more aware of your vulnerability as you have aged. • Think about whether your daily activities nourish trust or fear. • Prepare to tell a family story of God’s faithfulness, his strength in weakness.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Vulnerability is a part of everyone’s life. As we age, we become more aware of our inability to control our environment. Teaching Point Two: Awareness of vulnerability prompts us to seek out community. Teaching Point Three: Being vulnerable helps us to recognize our dependence on God and his faithfulness toward us.

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

It is vital for us to be aware of our own vulnerability. Many of us try to live as though nothing is ever going to “go wrong” for us. Difficulties are a part of living in a fallen world. In faith we know that Jesus will return to make all things right, but until then, death, disease, and hardships abound. Just ask the apostle Paul. 43

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Aging in the Grace of God

Becoming Vulnerable Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

As we accept our vulnerability, we are able to become strong in our own weakness and trust God to provide for us in creative ways. We are able to let go of our own need to control. As we are faithful to our present challenges, we grow in our belief that God can be counted on at all times and in all things. Action Points: As you go through this next week, try to become more aware of the things that cause you concern or fear. Place these concerns before the Lord and ask him to relieve you of your fears. Listen for the Holy Spirit to guide you in the small acts that you can perform to make your own life, and the lives of others around you, less fear-based and more trustbased. Consider the following: • How might continuous news coverage contribute to your feelings of fear? Is it necessary to know every bad thing that is going on all over the world? Explain your answer. • What type of material do you read? Is it dark and brooding or uplifting? • Have you withdrawn from the support of community? Has pride kept you from accepting help? • Have you become self-focused? Has concern for yourself taken the place of encouragement and love toward others? After careful consideration of your present lifestyle, make the changes necessary to exhibit the positive lifestyle of Paul, who said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Becoming Vulnerable Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¿ www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnha/hamenu.html This website has numerous articles on various aspects of aging ¨ When God Interrupts: Finding New Life through Unwanted Change, Craig Barnes (InterVarsity Press, 1996; ISBN: 978-0830819799) ¨ Transitions Through Adult Life, Charles Sell (Zondervan, 1991; ISBN: 9780310536611) ¨ The Seasons of a Restless Heart, A Spiritual Companion for Living in Transition, Debra K. Farrington (John Wiley & Sons, 2005; ISBN: 9780787973926) ¨ Wine at the End of the Feast: Embracing Spiritual Changes as You Age, Kristen Johnson Ingram (Loyola Press, 2003; ISBN: 9780829419368) ¨ The Way of Embracing Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments, William Bridges (Da Capo Press, 2001; ISBN: 9780738205298)

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Lessons from the Wilderness We need to welcome change as from G o d’s h an d an d by h i s grace.

Change comes in many forms. Sometimes we ourselves seek the change. Moving into a retirement center or selecting a smaller house that is easier to care for are examples of willed changes. Moving in with grown children, using a walker or hearing aid, or no longer driving may all be examples of unwilled change. Whether willed or unwilled, change challenges our physical energy, deep emotions, and spiritual stability. Making changes in the grace of God means looking for unexpected benefits in the most unlikely places—blessings straight from the hand of God. Scripture: Exodus 16; 18; Numbers 13:1–2, 26–33; 14:20–24

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy.

Optional Activity: Plan a group activity that focuses on change. Meet at a place where none of your group members have been before. Bring food dishes made from recipes that you have never tried previously. Invite people that you do not usually connect with (another denomination, ethnic group, or different age group). All of these things are very minor risks. Pray that God will bless your activity and help you to realize that change can be exciting and invigorating as well as necessary. During the third stage of life, many inner changes are taking place. But, as if that were not enough, we confront many difficult outer changes as well. For many this involves a move to a new location. Some find it necessary to move in with grown children and no longer have a place to call their own. Others need to find affordable senior housing. Of necessity, the new neighborhood may be less secure than the one left behind. Others move into elegant retirement centers, where nonetheless personal space is limited and community guidelines are more rigid. In each of these situations, individuals must downsize and adapt. This means giving away, throwing away, and deciding what is necessary for the next stage of life. Do we have the room for something that holds great memories but has no practical use? Can we take the piano that sits mostly unused but is played by our talented daughter on her very special visits? Downsizing also means that we can no longer consume goods at the rate we have previously. New purchases must be questioned: “Do I really need it? Do I have room for it? What will happen to it when I am gone? Can I afford it now that I am on a fixed income?” With downsizing come the questions of who will now host the family Christmas dinner, where the guests will stay when they come for a visit, and how do I exchange gifts on a fixed or limited income. As celebrations shift to the younger generation and become located in their homes, elders who used to be the center of the preparations now become the guests. For some, there is a huge temptation to wish for the past, when things were different or “better.” One of the major changes that comes for many is the issue of whether or not we are still able to drive. Not whether or not we can still renew the license that permits us to drive, but asking ourselves: Are our reflexes still good? Can we hear the honking of horns? Can we properly judge distances? Can we remember and follow directions? Can we see well enough to drive after dark? Can we afford the gas, maintenance, and insurance?

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

With the inability to drive come many questions about our independence: Are there people we can comfortably ask for rides to church, doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and family events? And even more important is the question of how we deal with the need to be interdependent or possible dependent on our family and community. These are just a few of the changes that occur. The question is not whether or not we will have change (that goes without saying), but how we will adapt to change. Our study will help us to take a good look at change through the eyes of the Israelites as they made the change from slavery to freedom, from captivity to a promised land provided by the hand of God. We will find that even positive changes have their challenges and that if we are not careful, we may forget the goodness of God, bemoan what we have lost, resist the process needed for transition, and fail to express gratitude for God’s generosity. Just like the Israelites, we are on a journey to the promised land. In order to progress, we must release our hold on this world. Doing this involves change upon change. In each and every change God encourages us with his presence, giving us a foretaste of what is to come—if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear!

Discussion Starters: [Q] Describe a life change that was especially difficult for you. [Q] What are some changes you anticipate as you age? [Q] Tell a story of someone you know who has made a major change with grace and success.

[Q] Give some examples of willed and unwilled changes. Which is harder? Why?

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: During periods of change God provides for our needs, but often in new and unusual ways. Clinging to the old risks the blessings of the new. Have you looked back with longing upon a job, a home, a relationship, or a church you left for a “better” opportunity? The past now has a certain glow. You have forgotten the negatives that caused the change in the first place.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

The Israelites forgot their slavery and remembered only the richness of the Egyptian culture—a culture that they may not have even enjoyed. They remembered the richness of the fabrics, the brightness of the gold, the sumptuousness of the food. They grumbled and complained bitterly that God had called them to leave Egypt. They hated the wilderness and let God know about it. Whenever change occurs, there is a period of transition. Things are not as they were, nor are they as they will be. God listens to our complaints (which is absolutely amazing), and often answers in unexpected and unusual ways. However, God would prefer us to have—and we would benefit from having—trust and patience as he works to bring about his will and blessing in our lives. Read Exodus 16.

[Q] What do you think it was like for Moses and Aaron to lead such a disgruntled people? • How do you react when you are unhappy with your circumstances? • How does it affect others around you when you show your dissatisfaction with circumstances by grumbling or complaining? • What are some of the things of the past that you long for? How might you see them more realistically? How might you let go of them and look for God’s provision in the present?

[Q] How did the unusual provision of manna meet the Israelites’ needs? What were its benefits? What were its drawbacks? • Has God ever provided for you in an unusual or unexpected way? How was his way of provision above and beyond what you would have expected or done for yourself? • What did the method of God’s provision teach you about God and how we should relate to him?

[Q] The Israelites had been promised a homeland of their own. How might their faith in God’s promise have helped them to deal with the difficulties present in the period of transition? • How does your faith in the promise of God regarding eternal life and a future kingdom help you to deal with your own “wilderness”? • How do you find a balance that allows you to live positively and faithfully in the present while longing for our future life with God in his kingdom? 49

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

Teaching Point Two: Change means training and delegating others to share the load. Optional Activity: Train someone to do one of your group activities (refreshments, hosting the group, providing rides, leading the discussion, closing or opening in prayer, etc.). Delegate the responsibility, allowing the new leader to be creative and innovative as they seek to continue your work. Point out what you learned by releasing this responsibility to someone else. Moses had aged; as we often say, he was “not as young as he used to be.” The number of people had increased, as had their conflicts with each other. They needed “sorting out” on a regular basis, and there was only so much time in a day. Moses was exhausted and burned out, but he continued to try to do it all. Jethro, his very wise father-in-law, came for a visit. Coming from outside, he was able to see things that Moses was too close to see. Jethro encouraged Moses to get some help—to let go and delegate some of his work to others. As we age, our families grow. While we used to plan a celebratory dinner for eight or ten, our families now number in the twenties, with grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. As the numbers increase, so do the conflicts and problems experienced by family members. Our homes seem larger and the work that it takes to care for them seems oppressive. Often, like Moses, we are so close to the situation that we are unable to see the need to let go and encourage others to pick up the slack. Jethro’s advice, if applied to our own circumstances, may bring rest for the weary, renewed energy for our current needs, and a sense of empowerment for those who are taking over the reins of responsibility. Read Exodus 18.

[Q] As in most family visits, Moses and Jethro caught up on all the news. What did they talk about? How did this set the tone for Jethro’s tour as he followed Moses during his work day? • When out-of-town company comes to visit you, what do you show them about your present life? On your “tour” are there things that show God’s faithfulness in your life? Le a der ’s N ote: Your group may mention things such as a medical p ro cedure th at brough t b e t te r he alth and re le ase from pain, or t hat t h e c hurc h provi des a supp or t ive and lov ing communit y, and so on. • How can you use this opportunity of recounting your blessings to praise and appreciate God’s goodness?

[Q] How did the fact that Jethro was from outside the Israelite community help him to better assess what was happening in Moses’ life? 50

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

• What “outsiders” do you listen to? • Do you believe they might have a perspective lacking in people who are consistently a part of your life? How might you be more receptive to another view? • Do you consistently include others in your discernment process? Whose wisdom do you trust beside your own? Do you honestly and fully give them all the information necessary to help you with the process of discernment?

[Q] What did Jethro see in Moses’ life that needed attention? What was his suggestion? How did Moses’ accept his wisdom? • How might you need to change the activities you have done “all your life”? • How might you delegate some of your responsibilities to others? • How might this delegation benefit not only you but the ones taking on the new responsibilities? Are you flexible enough to accept that they might change the way things are done?

Teaching Point Three: New lands require us to see the good God is offering us rather than the giants that await. Seeing giants is a hobby for many elderly people. Each new thing scares them with “what might happen.” Things loom and threaten. What if they cancel social security? What if my savings become less secure? What if I get ill? And on and on. For many this brings about a run for safe corners. They won’t try anything new. They avoid going out for fear of falling. They won’t let anyone in the house. Everything poses a risk that seems too large to take, and more and more they pull in on themselves. The Israelites thought they would be better off staying in the wilderness rather than pursuing a land flowing with milk and honey. While it is true that we need to be reasonably careful, we do not need to live in fear of life itself. Behind and within many of our “giants,” God has good things waiting to bless us richly. Read Numbers 13:1–2, 26–33.

[Q] Was there any question that God was giving them this particular land? What were the spies to look for in the land? How had the land been described to them? What did they find? • What promises has God given you for your future? How do these promises sustain you?

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

• What do you look for in your future? Do you expect good things or fear the worst? What are the giants? The fruits? Explain your answer.

[Q] How did the Israelites respond to the report of the spies (Numbers 14:1)? • Describe a time in your life when you complained about or doubted the direction that God seemed to be leading you. How did things work out in the end? • Why do you believe that we desire the familiar, rather than the new? How might we change the fear of risk into a sense of adventure and excitement about new directions?

[Q] Read Numbers 14:20–24. How did God respond to the complainers and doubters? • How does God deal with doubters and complainers today? How is his grace evident? What consequences are there to our complaints and unwillingness to obey? • How might we intercede for the cranky doubters and complainers in our midst?

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

How we view change has a lot to do with the quality of our life as we age. If fear and regret are our dominant emotions, we will make ourselves and those around us miserable. If on the other hand, we exhibit trust in the promises of God and face life with a sense of anticipation, we will be joyful and demonstrate faith to those we love. To do this well, we must be open to God’s unexpected and unusual gifts. Things will not be as they have always been. Our resources may come from the least likely places and people. God is faithful and keeps his promises to his children. His benefits are new every morning! As you go through this next week, month, or year, get used to change by varying your routines, meeting new people, reading uplifting books that encourage positive change, and letting others share your load. When you are unable to control the change, accept it with the knowledge that God has hidden fruit among the giants and he wants you to have it. Action Point: This week: • Look for God’s unusual provision. • Delegate a responsibility. • Slay a giant by refusing to give it credence, looking instead to the promises of God. 52

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

Optional Activity: Ask the group to list a minimum of 50 good gifts that God is giving them in the process of aging. During the week, make a copy suitable for framing for each group member. Make extra copies to hand out to your aging friends and relatives.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Moses, A Man of Selfless Dedication, Charles Swindoll (Thomas Nelson, 1999; ISBN: 9780849913853) ¨ Living Simply, Joanne Heim (Multnomah Press, 2006; ISBN: 1590527283) ¨ When God Interrupts: Finding New Life through Unwanted Change, Craig Barnes (InterVarsity Press, 1996; ISBN: 9780830819799) ¨ The Seasons of a Restless Heart: A Spiritual Companion for Living in Transition, Debra K. Farrington (John Wiley & Sons, 2005; ISBN: 9780787973926) ¨ Wine at the End of the Feast: Embracing Spiritual Changes as You Age, Kristen Johnson Ingram (Loyola Press, 2003; ISBN: 9780829419368) ¨ The Way of Embracing Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments, William Bridges (Da Capo Press, 2001; ISBN: 9780738205298)

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Leader ’s Guide

¨ Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges (Da Capo Press, 2004; ISBN: 0201000822) 8 DVD: The Brides of Christ, Episode 3, produced by Australian television and recipient of four Australian film awards. It chronicles the difficulty of change for the nuns teaching at a Catholic school for girls in the sixties. While it is overtly Catholic, the difficulties of change are poignantly depicted, so that one can only empathize with the pain and challenge Vatican II brought to these faithful servants of God. Well worth seeing even by those who have differences with the Catholic Church. 8 DVD: Moses, starring Ben Kingsley, from The Bible Collection

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Lessons from the Wilderness We need to welcome change as from G o d’s h an d an d by h i s grace.

Change comes in many forms. Sometimes we ourselves seek the change. Moving into a retirement center or selecting a smaller house that is easier to care for are examples of willed changes. Moving in with grown children, using a walker or hearing aid, or no longer driving may all be examples of unwilled change. Whether willed or unwilled, change challenges our physical energy, deep emotions, and spiritual stability. Making changes in the grace of God means looking for unexpected benefits in the most unlikely places—blessings straight from the hand of God. Scripture: Exodus 16; 18; Numbers 13:1–2, 26–33; 14:20–24

55

©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

During the third stage of life, many inner changes are taking place. But, as if that were not enough, we confront many difficult outer changes as well. For many this involves a move to a new location. Some find it necessary to move in with grown children and no longer have a place to call their own. Others need to find affordable senior housing. Of necessity, the new neighborhood may be less secure than the one left behind. Others move into elegant retirement centers, where nonetheless personal space is limited and community guidelines are more rigid. In each of these situations, individuals must downsize and adapt. This means giving away, throwing away, and deciding what is necessary for the next stage of life. Do we have the room for something that holds great memories but has no practical use? Can we take the piano that sits mostly unused but is played by our talented daughter on her very special visits? Our study will help us to take a good look at change through the eyes of the Israelites as they made the change from slavery to freedom, from captivity to a promised land provided by the hand of God. We will find that even positive changes have their challenges and that if we are not careful, we may forget the goodness of God, bemoan what we have lost, resist the process needed for transition, and fail to express gratitude for God’s generosity. Just like the Israelites, we are on a journey to the promised land. In order to progress, we must release our hold on this world. Doing this involves change upon change. In each and every change God encourages us with his presence, giving us a foretaste of what is to come—if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear!

In preparation for your meeting: • Read the Scriptures and “chew” on them as you go about your daily activities. • Remember some of the changes that have occurred in your life, both willed and unwilled. How did they affect you? • Be ready to tell a story of someone you know who has faced a difficult transition in the grace of God and successfully maneuvered the terrain of change.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: During periods of change God provides for our needs, but often in new and unusual ways. Clinging to the old risks the blessings of the new. Teaching Point Two: Change means training and delegating others to share the load. Teaching Point Three: New lands require us to see the good God is offering us rather than the giants that await.

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

How we view change has a lot to do with the quality of our life as we age. If fear and regret are our dominant emotions, we will make ourselves and those around us miserable. If on the other hand, we exhibit trust in the promises of God and face life with a sense of anticipation, we will be joyful and demonstrate faith to those we love. To do this well, we must be open to God’s unexpected and unusual gifts. Things will not be as they have always been. Our resources may come from the least likely places and people. God is faithful and keeps his promises to his children. His benefits are new every morning! As you go through this next week, month, or year, get used to change by varying your routines, meeting new people, reading uplifting books that encourage positive change, and letting others share your load. When you are unable to control the change, accept it with the knowledge that God has hidden fruit among the giants and he wants you to have it. Action Point: This week: • Look for God’s unusual provision. • Delegate a responsibility. • Slay a giant by refusing to give it credence, looking instead to the promises of God.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups. 57

©2009 Christianity Today International

ChristianBibleStudies.com


Aging in the Grace of God

Lessons from the Wilderness Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Moses, A Man of Selfless Dedication, Charles Swindoll (Thomas Nelson, 1999; ISBN: 9780849913853) ¨ Living Simply, Joanne Heim (Multnomah Press, 2006; ISBN: 1590527283) ¨ When God Interrupts: Finding New Life through Unwanted Change, Craig Barnes (InterVarsity Press, 1996; ISBN: 9780830819799) ¨ The Seasons of a Restless Heart: A Spiritual Companion for Living in Transition, Debra K. Farrington (John Wiley & Sons, 2005; ISBN: 9780787973926) ¨ Wine at the End of the Feast: Embracing Spiritual Changes as You Age, Kristen Johnson Ingram (Loyola Press, 2003; ISBN: 9780829419368) ¨ The Way of Embracing Transition: Embracing Life’s Most Difficult Moments, William Bridges (Da Capo Press, 2001; ISBN: 9780738205298) ¨ Transitions, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, William Bridges (Da Capo Press, 2004; ISBN: 0201000822) 8 DVD: The Brides of Christ, Episode 3, produced by Australian television and recipient of four Australian film awards. It chronicles the difficulty of change for the nuns teaching at a Catholic school for girls in the sixties. While it is overtly Catholic, the difficulties of change are poignantly depicted, so that one can only empathize with the pain and challenge Vatican II brought to these faithful servants of God. Well worth seeing even by those who have differences with the Catholic Church. 8 DVD: Moses, starring Ben Kingsley, from The Bible Collection 58

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Like the Grass that Withers How can we live fearless lives that are committed to the gospel right up until the end?

Our society has a fear of death. Oh sure, we also have a love of deadly violence in our films and novels, but we like adventures in which the heroes jump up and live to fight another day. In real life, many of us are highly uncomfortable with any discussion of our mortality. Even mentioning it is considered morbid. We are much more likely to send a card or flowers than actually sit with the dying. And signs of our own mortality are put off with wrinkle creams, face lifts, and hair dyes. But for Christians, death should hold no fear. Christians live in the confidence of resurrection—both Christ’s and our own. Scripture: Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 15

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Aging in the Grace of God

Like the Grass that Withers Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy. “Where does the time go?” “It seems like just yesterday that we were opening our Christmas gifts.” “My, how time flies!” “Is it time to do that again already? It seems as though I was just there.” As children, it seemed as though we had all the time in the world. Days passed slowly. It took forever for summer vacation to make its appearance. Now, however, time seems to be slipping away. The aches and pains from simple yard work, the exhaustion from activities that used to be a breeze, the numerous pairs of reading glasses spread throughout the house (since we can’t remember where we put them), the need for people to speak louder or clearer, all remind us that we are mortal. Many try to ignore or disguise these symptoms, or blame the other person or the circumstances. Others push harder, go more, and fill their calendars with as many activities as they will hold and loudly proclaim how busy they are (why, they are busier than they have ever been in their lives!). While these things do happen to even the best of us, it is important to note that most senior adults have a good quality of life with a few minor inconveniences. But the hints of our mortality are everywhere, if we are alert to them. We find ourselves attending funerals frequently. While many are for our more senior friends, every now and then one of our contemporaries dies and we find ourselves saying, “But he was so young.” It’s common in our society to refuse to think about dying. Dying is for other people—people who are really old, people for whom dying is a gift, people who have nothing to live for. Many think that if they can just hold on, science will come up with a treatment so they need never experience Alzheimer’s, cancer, or other “killers.” Maybe they will even find a way to preserve us so that we can peacefully await the medical miracle that will give us immortality. One even hears reports that soon the normal lifespan will be 150 years. One hundred years is now a common goal easily reached; why not 150? As Christians, how do we live with our deaths always before us? Is it morbid to think or talk about nearing the end of our lives? How might we make these years the very best? How do we hold it all in balance—not too morbid, but not too casual? There are many passages of Scripture that remind us that we are mere mortals. However, there are other Scriptures that affirm our hope in Christ, proclaiming our resurrection bodies and assuring us of life after death. Lord, help us to find that balance where we live intentionally in the remainder of this life, while, along with Paul, we eagerly await being with you!

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Aging in the Grace of God

Like the Grass that Withers Leader ’s Guide

Discussion Starters: [Q] What hints of mortality are you experiencing? Have you made peace with growing old? Why or why not? [Q] Discuss the last sermon, outside of a memorial service or funeral, that you heard on dying, heaven, or eternal life. Did it scare you or fill you with hope?

[Q] How do your contemporaries deal with death and dying? [Q] In what ways do you place your hope in science and medical technology? How is your hope placed in Christ? Which is stronger?

Optional Activity: For the week prior to this lesson, make a log of the times, places, and circumstances where death is mentioned. Is it mentioned in the “black” humor of the sitcoms, with fear or avoidance, in the context of violence, or as a normal passage from life? Share your findings with your group.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Life on earth is fleeting, but God’s love is eternal. In order to live fully intentional Christian lives, it is necessary to recognize both our own frailty and the eternal, loving nature of God. To dwell only on our frailty leads to fear and fatalism. Holding on to the character of God keeps us in hopeful balance. We know that we must be intentional in the way we live out these short lives on Earth, yet we need not live greedily or obsessively for fear that this is all there is. Read Psalm 103:15–16.

[Q] How does Psalm 103 describe our life on this earth? • How does this description of life make you feel? • If you resist this description, what about it makes you uncomfortable? • In the big scheme of things, how important does your life seem? How does God view your life? What Scriptures can you provide to support your conclusion?

[Q] Read all of Psalm 103. How does this psalm describe the character of God? • Which of these characteristics hold the most meaning for you? Why? 61

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Like the Grass that Withers Leader ’s Guide

• According to this psalm, how does God feel about the mistakes you have made and the sins you’ve committed?

[Q] How does the eternal quality of God’s love impact how you feel about your short life on Earth? • According to the psalm, what are the requirements for being an eternal recipient of God’s love? • How does the gospel of Jesus Christ add to our understanding of what it requires to experience God’s eternal love?

Teaching Point Two: Death has no sting. Read 1 Corinthians 15:50–58. Paul is not particularly concerned that his life on Earth may end at any time. In fact, it is his hope to die soon and go to be with the Lord. This holy indifference allows him to live his life courageously, taking risks for the sake of the gospel and bearing up under harsh circumstances that he knows to be temporary. He knows that his life will not end with his earthly death. He knows that to be with Christ is a promise he can trust because of Christ’s own resurrection, the first of many.

[Q] Read 1 Corinthians 15:1–19. How does Paul affirm the resurrection of Christ? • Why is it important to Paul that Christ’s resurrection be verified? • Is it important for us to believe in the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus rather than simply the idea that his spirit is alive somewhere? Why or why not? • How does Paul describe our situation if we fail to believe in the actual resurrection of the body?

[Q] Why is the belief in the resurrection of the body so central to Paul’s faith? What was happening to Paul’s own body and to those of his contemporary Christians? • Contrast the world’s view of preserving our bodies with Paul’s view of losing them for the sake of the gospel.

[Q] Describe the resurrected body according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. • How might the hope of a new, resurrected and glorified body help you during times of physical impairment or decline?

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• What would you most like to do in your new, glorified body? • In addition to Jesus, who would you most like to meet and talk with in resurrection life?

Optional Activity: Show a picture or magazine photo of someone whose body is frail. Discuss specifically what this person’s resurrected body might be like.

Teaching Point Three: Paul’s “holy indifference” permitted him to live a courageous life, trusting in Christ for his direction. Optional Activity: Stage a debate: Have each side show how the gospel might be furthered by health/sickness, wealth/poverty, freedom/imprisonment, etc. This may be a difficult exercise because we are not used to thinking about how God can work through what we consider the negatives of life. Discuss how we might express some of Paul’s holy indifference in our own lives. Sandy Escontrias says: My elderly mother is 96 and has lost her ability to do most things. She is frustrated by her inability to see and hear and believes that she is “good for nothing.” All her life has been based on doing, not being. Because of her condition, she is unaware how much her still being here means to us. In her senility, she has become more openly affectionate and affirming. When I go to see her she pats my arm and strokes my face. She tells us how fortunate she is to have such wonderful daughters. Her face lights up the minute she sees us and says how glad she is that we have come to visit her. When I think of Paul’s statement, “I know that I will remain and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,” I think of Mother. This time of her life has had such a healing affect on my own life. Paul’s willingness to endure hardship for the sake of the new believers, even when he would rather “go home to be with the Lord,” is a lesson to us all. Holding life in this tension is a challenge for believers as we move into this stage of our lives. Trusting that God’s timing is impeccable, and a willingness to believe that he can see what we cannot, is vital. Often what we suffer is for the sake of others, some of whom we may never be able to see or even know about. Paul’s “holy indifference” (the willingness to move in either direction, to go or to stay) is an example for us all.

[Q] What was Paul suffering? • How did he believe that what he was suffering would turn out for the best? • Why was he able to believe this?

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• While most of us will not be imprisoned for preaching or living out the gospel life, how might we suffer for the sake of Christ?

[Q] Pretend that you are one of Paul’s converts, located in another place. How might you be affected by Paul’s example? • How has observing elders enduring the hardships of aging with grace affected your own attitudes toward aging? • Do you feel a responsibility to model faithful aging to those who are younger than you? What might that look like?

[Q] It has been said that you may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control how you react and respond to them. How important do you think attitude is? Explain. • What makes it possible for someone to have a good attitude? • How might you develop an attitude of holy indifference? Do you believe that you can trust God with your circumstances? Why or why not? Dean Brackley says in The Call to Discernment: “Indifference” means inner freedom. It is the capacity to sense and then embrace what is best, even when that goes against our inclinations. Indifference is neither stoic impassiveness nor the extinction of desire that some currents of Eastern religions advocate. It means being so passionately and single-mindedly committed, so completely in love, that we are willing to sacrifice anything, including our lives, for the ultimate goal. It means magnanimous generosity, abandonment into God’s hands, availability. It is not so much detachment from things as “detachability.” It means being like a good shortstop, ready to move in any direction at the crack of the bat.1

1

Crossroads Publishing Company, 2004, p. 12.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Like the Grass that Withers Leader ’s Guide

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

It is not easy to confront our own mortality. However, if we face our mortality with courage, holding fast to the eternal love and faithfulness of God, holding on to the hope of the resurrection, and understanding that God is lovingly active in things that we may not understand, we can live these years furthering God’s kingdom with deep inner peace and joy. Rather than frittering away time on things that help us avoid acknowledging the passage of time, we can be intentional in how we live each day. We can have a healthy, positive response to even the difficult things that enter our lives. As you go through this week, ask God to help you let go of excessive self-protection. Risk doing something outside your comfort zone for the sake of the gospel. Use each day wisely. Be confident that God has promised a future that is greater than you can ever imagine. Be willing to seek God in all circumstances. When you look in the mirror, see not the wrinkles and other signs of aging, but see with your heart the wonderful new body that God has for you. Be confident, hopeful, joyful, and at peace. “The best is yet to be.” Action Point: • This week, let go of some measure of control that you are used to clinging to. Use the phrase, “Whatever you would like” when choosing a restaurant or movie, a time to meet, what you want for dinner, etc. Do so not with inner resentment, but with a gracious letting go. • Make two columns in a journal. In the first column, make an entry when things do not go your way. In the second column, list something positive about the experience. (I did not enjoy the restaurant, but it gave my wife a great deal of pleasure, it was less expensive, it was closer to home, we saw friends we had not seen in a long while, etc.) • As you observe those who are physically impaired, thank God for the promise of new bodies for them and ask for God’s grace in their lives as they await the resurrection. Close with the following prayer: When the signs of age begin to mark my body (and still more when they touch my mind); when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me; when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old; and above all at that last moment when I feel I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands

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Like the Grass that Withers Leader ’s Guide

of the great unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you (provided only my faith is strong enough) who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself. 2

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Things Unseen: Living in the Light of Forever, Mark Buchanan (Multnomah, 2002; ISBN: 9781576738894) ¨ Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, Eugene Peterson (NavPress, 2006; ISBN: 978-1576839294) ¨ “Children of Grief ” in Who Killed Stutz Bearcat? [While this whole book is worth reading, this chapter is especially good.] (Resource Publications, 1993; ISBN: 9780893902643) 8 DVD: Finding Treasure in the Darkness, available from RBC Ministries, Discovery House Publishers.

2

Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 89-90.

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Like the Grass that Withers How can we live fearless lives that are committed to the gospel right up until the end?

Our society has a fear of death. Oh sure, we also have a love of deadly violence in our films and novels, but we like adventures in which the heroes jump up and live to fight another day. In real life, many of us are highly uncomfortable with any discussion of our mortality. Even mentioning it is considered morbid. We are much more likely to send a card or flowers than actually sit with the dying. And signs of our own mortality are put off with wrinkle creams, face lifts, and hair dyes. But for Christians, death should hold no fear. Christians live in the confidence of resurrection—both Christ’s and our own. Scripture: Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 15

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Aging in the Grace of God

Like the Grass that Withers Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

As Christians, how do we live with our deaths always before us? Is it morbid to think or talk about nearing the end of our lives? How might we make these years the very best? How do we hold it all in balance—not too morbid, but not too casual? There are many passages of Scripture that remind us that we are mere mortals. However, there are other Scriptures that affirm our hope in Christ, proclaiming our resurrection bodies and assuring us of life after death. Lord, help us to find that balance where we live intentionally in the remainder of this life, while, along with Paul, we eagerly await being with you!

In preparation for your meeting: • Read all the Scriptures and “chew” on them as you go about your daily activities. • Allow yourself to be aware of the fleetingness of life. What would you like to have happen before you die? How comfortable are you with your mortality? • Think about having a glorified body. • For one week, make a log of the times, places, and circumstances where death is mentioned. Is it mentioned in the “black” humor of the sitcoms, with fear or avoidance, in the context of violence, or as a normal passage from life? Share your findings with the rest of your group.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Life on earth is fleeting, but God’s love is eternal. Teaching Point Two: Death has no sting. Teaching Point Three: Paul’s “holy indifference” permitted him to live a courageous life, trusting in Christ for his direction.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Like the Grass that Withers Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

It is not easy to confront our own mortality. However, if we face our mortality with courage, holding fast to the eternal love and faithfulness of God, holding on to the hope of the resurrection, and understanding that God is lovingly active in things that we may not understand, we can live these years furthering God’s kingdom with deep inner peace and joy. Rather than frittering away time on things that help us avoid acknowledging the passage of time, we can be intentional in how we live each day. We can have a healthy, positive response to even the difficult things that enter our lives. As you go through this week, ask God to help you let go of excessive self-protection. Risk doing something outside your comfort zone for the sake of the gospel. Use each day wisely. Be confident that God has promised a future that is greater than you can ever imagine. Be willing to seek God in all circumstances. When you look in the mirror, see not the wrinkles and other signs of aging, but see with your heart the wonderful new body that God has for you. Be confident, hopeful, joyful, and at peace. “The best is yet to be.” Action Point: • This week, let go of some measure of control that you are used to clinging to. Use the phrase, “Whatever you would like” when choosing a restaurant or movie, a time to meet, what you want for dinner, etc. Do so not with inner resentment, but with a gracious letting go. • Make two columns in a journal. In the first column, make an entry when things do not go your way. In the second column, list something positive about the experience. (I did not enjoy the restaurant, but it gave my wife a great deal of pleasure, it was less expensive, it was closer to home, we saw friends we had not seen in a long while, etc.) • As you observe those who are physically impaired, thank God for the promise of new bodies for them and ask for God’s grace in their lives as they await the resurrection. Close with the following prayer: When the signs of age begin to mark my body (and still more when they touch my mind); when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me; when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old; and above all at that last moment when I feel I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands

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Aging in the Grace of God

Like the Grass that Withers Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

of the great unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you (provided only my faith is strong enough) who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself. 3

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Things Unseen: Living in the Light of Forever, Mark Buchanan (Multnomah, 2002; ISBN: 9781576738894) ¨ Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, Eugene Peterson (NavPress, 2006; ISBN: 978-1576839294) ¨ “Children of Grief ” in Who Killed Stutz Bearcat? [While this whole book is worth reading, this chapter is especially good.] (Resource Publications, 1993; ISBN: 9780893902643) 8 DVD: Finding Treasure in the Darkness, available from RBC Ministries, Discovery House Publishers.

2

Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), 89-90.

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place “I am going there to prepare a place for you …” (John 14:2–3)

By its very nature, aging detaches us from earthly connections—our friends and spouses die, we downsize, our health becomes compromised, and the world that we are familiar with becomes strange and confusing. If these losses are not balanced by a keen awareness and wellfounded hope in an eternity spent with God, then depression, anger, frustration, and fear can result. Keeping eternity in view helps us to accept these transitions with serenity. We understand that the losses are temporary, make the most of our remaining time on earth, and joyfully anticipate our future in the dwelling place of God. Scripture: Isaiah 65:17–25; John 14:1–7; 2 Peter 1:3–11; Revelation 21–22:6

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Aging in the Grace of God

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy. A typical U.S. teenager today can hardly wait to grow up and grasp the privileges of adulthood. We might feel like we want them to slow down and not grow up so fast, yet none of us really want them to remain children forever. We respect and appreciate adulthood, and we want them to have the experience of a well-lived adult life as well. Moving into the third stage of adulthood (65–85 yrs.) is in many ways the same kind of a transition. We, too, are leaving many things behind and moving forward toward things unknown. But unlike the excitement and anticipation of the teen years, many moving into this third stage are not eager for it and instead wish to remain in the second stage of adulthood as long as possible. We have already discussed the many attempts to remain “young,” or at least to appear young: no gray hair, facelifts, and having the right accessories (the little red sports car) are important to those holding onto their image of youth. However, as Christians it is important that we model with anticipation and joy this third stage of adulthood. In order to do this, we must hold before us the promises of a future life with God. It is only in light of eternity that any of the things we go through make sense. When we understand that much of what is happening is a detachment from this world and preparation for the next, then all of the changes can be accepted as a part of the process. We can see their temporariness and look with hope to a kingdom that is the dwelling place of God, where Jesus has prepared a place for us unlike any that we could hope for or dream of. While we are not given a detailed blueprint of heaven, we are given hints and glints that pull us forward with anticipation. The transition may have some difficult aspects, but our increasing dependence on God increases our love for him and our awareness of his love for us, making our final journey one of going home to a loving Father.

Discussion Starters: [Q] Describe the teenagers in your family as they are journeying into adulthood. What are some of the challenges and decisions they face? [Q] What are some of the challenges and decisions that you face in the third stage of adulthood? How might they bear a resemblance to those of the teens?

[Q] Describe some of the ways that people you know are resisting the third stage of adulthood. What are the things that they want to hold on to?

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Aging in the Grace of God

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place Leader ’s Guide

[Q] Would you say that you spend more time trying to remain in the second stage of adulthood—with its emphasis on doing, achieving, and amassing—or making adjustments to the third stage of adulthood, with its emphasis on being, detaching, leaving a spiritual legacy, and preparing for an eternity in the dwelling place of God?

[Q] How does a belief in heaven help you make the necessary transitions? Optional Activity: Gather some film clips showing what Hollywood has to say about heaven and discuss the validity of their offerings. Possible films might include: Defending Your Life, What Dreams May Come, or City of Angels. Discuss how it’s important to be knowledgeable about heaven and not be duped by entertaining films that present half-truths or downright falsehood.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Heaven is a real place, not just a state of mind. Optional Activity: Have a mini-hymn-sing, singing only hymns about heaven, such as: “We’re Marching to Zion,” “ Beulah Land,” “ When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” etc. Other than a memorial service, when was the last time you heard anyone discuss life after death—heaven, judgment, eternal life? Many years ago these subjects were the meat of many a discussion and sermon. So why bring this whole issue up now, when many have been successfully avoiding the topic for years? What difference does it make whether or not we believe in immortality? Why should we worry about what heaven is like? Because what we believe about these things determines how we live our lives today. Are we working hard to make this life work because we believe this is all there is: “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”? Do we really believe that we will have to give an account for our choices and actions? Are we able to put our sufferings in the proper perspective? Are we putting our efforts into things that count for eternity? Do we believe we are being shaped for a future life? Do we live with excitement and hope for a new home that is designed especially for us by the Lord’s own hand? Do we live as strangers and aliens in this world because we are designed for an eternal home? Do we realize that who we are and what we do here are only the beginning? Are we longing for our real home? Indeed, heaven is a wonderful place. It is real. It is promised. It is ours. Read John 14:1–7. 73

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Aging in the Grace of God

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place Leader ’s Guide

[Q] What were the setting and occasion of Jesus’ comments in this passage? What do you think was the disciples’ state of mind? What had happened previously on the night of Jesus’ comments? What was to follow?

[Q] What did Jesus say about the location and nature of the place he’s preparing, according to John 14:2? • How might these comments have assured and comforted the disciples? • What does this promise mean to you? • What about being with Christ do you look forward to the most?

[Q] Jesus said that the disciples knew the way to the house with many rooms, but Thomas seems confused. How did Jesus explain the way? • What do you think is the significance of the many rooms?

Teaching Point Two: Heaven is more than fluffy clouds and angels with harps! Isaiah described the New Jerusalem (another name for heaven). While some of the things described were applicable to the Jews who returned to Jerusalem after their captivity, most of them have yet to be fulfilled in the gospel church triumphant. Read Isaiah 65:17–25.

[Q] According to this passage, how does God feel about his new creation? • How does this passage comfort you about people you know whose lifespan seemed too short (a child who died) or too long (an elder who suffered unendingly)? • What does Isaiah prophecy about homes and work? What kind of work do you think there might be? Do you think that “dwelling” refers to your new body or to a house that you might live in? In either case, what would your personal dwelling be like? (Remember that we are very limited in our imaginations and that God’s design will be more than we can possibly imagine!) • What examples of peaceful co-existence does Isaiah give us? What does that tell us about the nature of the new heavens and new earth?

[Q] Read Revelation 21–22:6. What similarities are there between the Isaiah passage and the Revelation passage? • What particular descriptions might encourage those whose bodies and minds are failing them? 74

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• How do you feel about meeting Jesus in heaven? What do you imagine that meeting might be like? • What might it be like to dwell with God and to have God make his dwelling with his people?

[Q] What do you think are the most beautiful images John gives us of heaven? Why? Teaching Point Three: Live with eternity in view. As our awareness, appreciation, and hope for the future increase, this should affect the way we live our lives in the interim. Peter pointed out that we have been given everything we need to live a spiritually mature, godly life. Because of this, we are able to participate in the divine nature and escape corruption. He encouraged us to make our calling and election sure. Read 2 Peter 1:3–11.

[Q] What does Peter tells us we need in order to become mature spiritual adults? Note the progression in the items listed. • How does knowledge help us to have self-control? • How does self-control help us to persevere? • How does perseverance lead to godliness, and godliness to brotherly kindness? • How is love the capstone of it all?

[Q] How are these qualities shaped through the experiences of later life? How can senior adults use this time and these challenges to evaluate their spiritual maturity and seriously dedicate effort to becoming “workmen who need not be ashamed” (2 Tim. 2:15)? • Give examples of how the death of a spouse, moving in with adult children, or chronic illness could help you to become spiritually mature in light of Peter’s description? Peter stresses that it’s important to be ready for the Lord’s return. We seem to have lost some of our sense of urgency and preparedness. Just as we do not know the timing of the return of the Lord, we also do not know the timing of our last day on earth. As we age, we can only assume that the time of our home going is nearer. Procrastination becomes a habit we cannot afford.

[Q] Peter says that we should make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with the Lord (2 Pet. 3:14). How do you measure up? Are there areas of your life you need to “clean up”? What does it mean to be at peace with the Lord?

[Q] How does being at peace with the Lord affect your anticipation of heaven? 75

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Aging in the Grace of God

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place Leader ’s Guide

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

To prepare for a good death doesn’t mean that you live for death. It is not a death wish—a longing for or fascination with morbidity. Rather, it means to live life so that death comes as a completion, not merely an ending. Such a death-style is, actually, a vigorous yearning for life, for life to the full. Those who sit cross-legged before their own tombstone are free to savor earth’s goodness and bind its wounds. They have been lastingly disabused of the ideal that this world is their home. They are often of much earthly good. In the shadow of the tombstone, the sky shimmers bright.4 Action Point: Instead of avoiding all thoughts of death or using black humor to dispel our fears, Christians are able to live comfortably with the awareness of death. We are able to commit to this life, while longing to be free of suffering and at home in the dwelling place of God. Throughout it all we can be confident that God’s timing is perfect. As you go through this next week, try to be especially conscious of time. Ask yourself what you would want to accomplish if this were to be your last day. Don’t put it off. Think consciously of what you want your completion of this life to look like. Do you need to write some letters, show affirmation, express gratitude? Make a point of thinking about heaven. Allow yourself to become filled with anticipation and excitement. As you look at the “scars” on our earth, remind yourself that there will be a place free of all sin and its consequences. And as you await the coming of Christ, model goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love along with joy and hope. Whew! There’s a lot to do; better get going!

4

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Mark Buchanan, Things Unseen, Living in the Light of Forever (Multnomah Publishers, 2002), p. 203.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place Leader ’s Guide

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Things Unseen: Living in the Light of Forever, Mark Buchanan (Multnomah, 2002; ISBN: 9781576738894) ¨ Death and the Life After, Billy Graham (W Publishing Company, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994; ISBN: 0849935206) ¨ The Glory of Heaven: the Truth about Heaven, Angels and Eternal Life, John MacArthur (Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998; ISBN 1581340346) ¨ My Dream of Heaven, Rebecca Springer (Harrison House Publishers, 2005; ISBN: 1577944704) ¨ Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls, M. Craig Barnes (Brazos Press, 2003; ISBN: 1587431521) ¨ “Heaven, One Minute after You Die,” Day of Discovery (may be ordered at http://rbc.org)

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place “I am going there to prepare a place for you …” (John 14:2–3)

By its very nature, aging detaches us from earthly connections—our friends and spouses die, we downsize, our health becomes compromised, and the world that we are familiar with becomes strange and confusing. If these losses are not balanced by a keen awareness and wellfounded hope in an eternity spent with God, then depression, anger, frustration, and fear can result. Keeping eternity in view helps us to accept these transitions with serenity. We understand that the losses are temporary, make the most of our remaining time on earth, and joyfully anticipate our future in the dwelling place of God. Scripture: Isaiah 65:17–25; John 14:1–7; 2 Peter 1:3–11; Revelation 21–22:6

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Aging in the Grace of God

Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

As Christians it is important that we model with anticipation and joy this third stage of adulthood. In order to do this, we must hold before us the promises of a future life with God. It is only in light of eternity that any of the things we go through make sense. When we understand that much of what is happening is a detachment from this world and preparation for the next, then all of the changes can be accepted as a part of the process. We can see their temporariness and look with hope to a kingdom that is the dwelling place of God, where Jesus has prepared a place for us unlike any that we could hope for or dream of. While we are not given a detailed blueprint of heaven, we are given hints and glints that pull us forward with anticipation. The transition may have some difficult aspects, but our increasing dependence on God increases our love for him and our awareness of his love for us, making our final journey one of going home to a loving Father.

In preparation for your meeting: • Read all the Scriptures and “chew” on them as you go about your daily activities. • Think about what you have heard about heaven. If you have time, look through a magazine and clip pictures that make you think, That would be heaven! • Think of someone you would like to converse with in heaven. What questions would you like to ask him or her?

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Heaven is a real place, not just a state of mind. Teaching Point Two: Heaven is more than fluffy clouds and angels with harps! Teaching Point Three: Live with eternity in view.

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Heaven is God’s Dwelling Place Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

Action Point: Instead of avoiding all thoughts of death or using black humor to dispel our fears, Christians are able to live comfortably with the awareness of death. We are able to commit to this life, while longing to be free of suffering and at home in the dwelling place of God. Throughout it all we can be confident that God’s timing is perfect. As you go through this next week, try to be especially conscious of time. Ask yourself what you would want to accomplish if this were to be your last day. Don’t put it off. Think consciously of what you want your completion of this life to look like. Do you need to write some letters, show affirmation, express gratitude? Make a point of thinking about heaven. Allow yourself to become filled with anticipation and excitement. As you look at the “scars” on our earth, remind yourself that there will be a place free of all sin and its consequences. And as you await the coming of Christ, model goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love along with joy and hope. Whew! There’s a lot to do; better get going!

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Things Unseen: Living in the Light of Forever, Mark Buchanan (Multnomah, 2002; ISBN: 9781576738894)

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¨ Death and the Life After, Billy Graham (W Publishing Company, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994; ISBN: 0849935206) ¨ The Glory of Heaven: the Truth about Heaven, Angels and Eternal Life, John MacArthur (Illinois: Crossway Books, 1998; ISBN 1581340346) ¨ My Dream of Heaven, Rebecca Springer (Harrison House Publishers, 2005; ISBN: 1577944704) ¨ Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls, M. Craig Barnes (Brazos Press, 2003; ISBN: 1587431521) ¨ “Heaven, One Minute after You Die,” Day of Discovery (may be ordered at http://rbc.org)

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Forgive and Reconcile “Forgi ve on e an othe r as I have forgive n you.”

One of the benefits of confronting our mortality is that we are able to set things in order. We can let go of those incidents and people who have harmed us, ask forgiveness of those we have harmed, and make a genuine attempt to reestablish relationships. When we attend to these tasks, we have peace, and much of the pain of dying is taken away. Scripture: 2 Samuel 13:1–22, 36–39; 14:13–14; Luke 15:11–32; John 21:1–17

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Aging in the Grace of God

Forgive and Reconcile Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ti c i pan t ’s Gui de i n c l ude d at t he e nd of this st udy. Many of us did not have a close relationship with our parents. We have high expectations of them, and they of us. This leaves a great deal of room for disappointment, resentment, and anger. These difficult relationships may also include siblings, former teachers, church officials, extended family members, former friends or lovers, ex-husbands/wives, school mates who bullied us, and on and on. Most of us have learned to bury our feelings and, when it becomes necessary, continue to interact with those who have hurt us. We feel no love for these people, but we keep the bounds of civil deportment. Often we use distance, both emotional and physical, as a way of dealing with our hurts. We don’t talk. We withhold the good stuff (touch and affirmation) and sneak in the bad stuff (stale candy, faint praise). It is amazing how the elder years force families to deal with situations that have remained beneath the surface. Siblings need to come together to determine how best to care for parents or divide the household goods as parents downsize. Issues that are ages old rise to the top like the richest cream that has soured. “You always got the best of everything.” “You never did your share of the work.” “Who made you the boss?” “Don’t trust Johnny with the good things, you know he broke Mother’s 100-year-old vase when he was two!” One of the wonderful aspects of the hospice program is how they help families sort through their emotional history and bring healing before death occurs. But even before hospice is called in, it is possible to begin to deal with old hurts and painful relationships. Scripture has given us wonderful examples of both unhealthy and healthy ways of reconciliation. We can learn from the examples given how to let go, heal, and move forward, making death a thing of beauty rather than a tortured rupture that puts things beyond healing. As you work through the study, begin to list the areas of your life that need to be brought to healing and reconciliation. Make a firm commitment to begin the process.

Discussion Starters: [Q] Without giving identifying information, share an example of a family you know who has been torn apart by old hurts. What kinds of things rupture a family?

[Q] Many families assign “roles” to their children—the bright one, the clown, the baby of the family. How might these assigned roles hinder healthy adult relationships? • What role were you assigned as a child? How has that affected you?

[Q] How do individuals in our society deal with deep hurts? Give examples. 83

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Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Hurts not dealt with may become emotionally and physically destructive. It might not be too extreme to say that all families have some level of dysfunction. There are no perfect families. What a comfort to know that God is not put off by such families. David, a man after God’s own heart, had a family that would make most of our families rate a familyof-the-year award. After reading about his family, we’ll feel more comfortable looking at the problems in our own. We should not lay blame, but we should recognize that because we are all sinful human beings, negative things happen. Our job is to take those negative things and, with God’s help, move from unhealthy and hurtful to healthy and healing. David had more than one wife and, as a result, half-brothers and sisters lived together. David himself was away from home most of the time. There were disagreements among wives and children and the situation was very stressful. As the children grew, serious problems occurred. Read 2 Samuel 13:1–22 about the event that led to one of David’s sons eventually killing another of his sons.

[Q] How did the rape affect the various family members? Amnon, Tamar, Absalom, David? • How did David deal with the “elephant” in the family room?

[Q] Read 2 Samuel 13:36–39. Describe David’s response to Amnon’s death. • In what ways had he lost both of his sons and Tamar? • Why did David fail to reach out to Absalom when he longed to (2 Sam. 13:39)?

[Q] The wise woman from Tekoa tells David a story and applies it to David’s relationship with Absalom, urging him to reconcile with him. Read 2 Samuel 14:13–14. Does David fully comply with the moral of the story (see 14:21–24)? • How did David’s failure to fully reconcile with Absalom lead to greater harm? Le a der ’s N ote: I t l ead to A bsalom attack ing D av id’s k ingdom and to A b sal om’s death .

[Q] How important do you believe conflict resolution to be in your own family? What has happened or might happen if conflicts are allowed to fester? How might you begin the process of healing? 84

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Forgive and Reconcile Leader ’s Guide

Teaching Point Two: You can choose to forgive or seek forgiveness. Optional Activity: Ask for two volunteers to role play the two sons in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). Appoint one to be the younger son and one the older son. Ask each of them to prepare a defense for their behavior. The younger son might say, “I had a right to go and see the world; I just made a few bad decisions.” The older son might say, “I have a perfect right to hate my brother for leaving me with all the work.” When they are done, ask the group to discuss how being defensive hinders reconciliation. Failure to resolve family conflicts leads to greater conflicts and family disruption. Read Luke 15:11–32.

[Q] What were some of the choices the younger son made? Which had the most negative impact, and which had the most positive impact? • What do you think motivated his choice to leave home? What motivated his choice to return home? • What choices did the older son have? What motivated him? • What choices did the father have? What motivated him?

[Q] What does it tell us about the father that he ran to meet his son? • Did the father know what his son had been up to? Did he care what he had been up to? Was he concerned about the inheritance? Explain.

[Q] How do you feel about the elder son’s attitude? Do you understand his jealousy? • Explain the sibling rivalry that might exist between these two brothers. • What do you think happened after all the guests had gone home and life returned to “normal”? How might the brothers have interacted? How might the younger son have fit back into family life?

Teaching Point Three: Reconciliation takes two. You can choose to forgive someone, even if that person knows nothing about it. Forgiveness means that we acknowledge the extent of the hurt, but make a decision not to hold it against the offender. We also resolve not to dwell on the hurt or let it influence our future behavior. In contrast, reconciliation and restoration are not possible without both parties’ participation. Both must acknowledge the break in relationship, both must want to make things right, and both must work toward establishing a new and vital relationship that 85

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Forgive and Reconcile Leader ’s Guide

is stronger than the one that went before. An example of this is the relationship between Jesus and Peter. Peter was devastated after denying that he even knew Jesus on the eve of the Crucifixion. After Jesus rose from the dead, Peter jumped out of the boat to run to him. Jesus prepared a special breakfast, forgave him, and restored him to leadership in the kingdom— complete reconciliation and restoration. Read about this restoration in John 21:1–17.

[Q] What might have caused Peter to return to his fishing? • Can you think of a time when, having failed, you reverted or regressed to a previous way of life? Has failure ever made you give up? • When have you seen Jesus in unexpected places? Describe a time when you have failed to recognize him.

[Q] How did Jesus demonstrate hospitality to the disciples, and how is showing hospitality a symbol of acceptance and forgiveness? • How might your own reconciliations begin with hospitality? What kinds of things would you do to make sure everyone felt included and loved? • How did Peter respond when he realized that it was the Lord? How did this demonstrate his desire to be reinstated?

[Q] How was the Lord’s reinstatement of Peter a perfect complement to Peter’s denial? How did Jesus’ questions help Peter focus on his love for Jesus? • Do you think Peter might have been questioning his commitment to Jesus? What are the things that show his wavering?

[Q] Often, in our own families, love is not the issue. We love, but we fail to express it in ways that others can accept. Using Jesus’ example of mercy and confidence in Peter, even when Peter had previously failed, think about how you might show mercy to and confidence in those to whom you need to be reconciled. • How does being given an active, responsible task to perform help a “black sheep” be reinstated into a loving family circle? • Describe how you would have felt after this encounter with Jesus had you been Peter. In what ways did this encounter change Peter’s life?

Optional Activity: Think of someone you would like to be reconciled with. After prayerful consideration, map out a plan for reaching out to that person. Ask others to be in prayer with you as you make your approach and follow through.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Forgive and Reconcile Leader ’s Guide

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

During the third stage of adulthood, we may fill our time with activities that keep us busy and fulfill our desire for pleasure, social contact, or service. Sometimes it’s easy to become so engaged that we have little time left for the spiritual aspects of aging—to “redeem the time” as Scripture encourages us to do. One of the ways that we can redeem the time is to make every effort to forgive those who have hurt us, ask forgiveness of those we have harmed, and re-establish relationships that have turned sour or cold. This is not easy work. It takes honesty, courage, and humility. It is never easy to admit we might have been wrong. Often we have stewed in anger for so long that it has become a way of life, making it hard let go of our grudges and feelings of self-righteousness. Yet the peace that passes understanding is ours when we take the necessary steps to bring healing through the love of Christ to those around us. Action Point: First, make a list of all those who have harmed you. Choose in your heart to forgive them. Prayerfully consider how you might reestablish contact. If a person has died or is unavailable, write a letter anyway that describes your hurt and expresses your forgiveness. Of course, you won’t need to mail it, but it will give you peace of mind. Second, think of those who might have hard feelings toward you. If appropriate, reach out to them, asking forgiveness. Third, think of those relationships that are characterized by cold civility rather than brotherly love, and make an effort to turn them from tolerance to real love. Obviously these are not overnight activities, but make a beginning. Each step moves us deeper into the peace of God. In doing this, we are mirroring the actions of our Lord as he ministered to us through love, sacrifice, and reconciliation. Go and do likewise.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

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Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¿ www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnha/hamenu.html This website has numerous articles on various aspects of aging ¨ The Art of Forgiving, Lewis B. Smedes (Random House, 1997; ISBN: 034541344X) ¨ Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope, Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (InterVarsity Press, 2003; ISBN 0830832440) ¨ Forgiving Your Family, Kathleen Fischer (Upper Room Books, 2005; ISBN: 0835898024) ¨ The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness, John F. MacArthur (Crossway Books, 1998; ISBN: 0891079793) ¨ How to Forgive Yourself and Others, Father Eamon Tobin (Liguori Press; ISBN: 0764815326) ¨ Hunger for Healing, J. Keith Miller (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991; ISBN: 0060657162) ¨ Dare to Forgive, Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. (A Human Moments Book, Health Communications, Inc., 2004; ISBN: 0757300103) ¨ Forgiveness Is a Choice, Robert D. Enright, Ph.D. (APA Life Tools, 2002; ISBN: 1557987572)

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Forgive and Reconcile “Forgi ve on e an othe r as I have forgive n you.”

One of the benefits of confronting our mortality is that we are able to set things in order. We can let go of those incidents and people who have harmed us, ask forgiveness of those we have harmed, and make a genuine attempt to reestablish relationships. When we attend to these tasks, we have peace, and much of the pain of dying is taken away. Scripture: 2 Samuel 13:1–22, 36–39; 14:13–14; Luke 15:11–32; John 21:1–17

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Aging in the Grace of God

Forgive and Reconcile Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

One of the wonderful aspects of the hospice program is how they help families sort through their emotional history and bring healing before death occurs. But even before hospice is called in, it is possible to begin to deal with old hurts and painful relationships. Scripture has given us wonderful examples of both unhealthy and healthy ways of reconciliation. We can learn from the examples given how to let go, heal, and move forward, making death a thing of beauty rather than a tortured rupture that puts things beyond healing. As you work through the study, begin to list the areas of your life that need to be brought to healing and reconciliation. Make a firm commitment to begin the process.

In preparation for your meeting: • Read all Scriptures and “chew” on them as you go about your daily activities. • Recall examples of forgiveness/reconciliation and lack of forgiveness/reconciliation that have shaped your family throughout the years. • Begin making a list of those you would like to forgive, those from whom you need to ask forgiveness, and ways to bring about healing and reconciliation in your family and community.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Hurts not dealt with may become emotionally and physically destructive. Teaching Point Two: You can choose to forgive or seek forgiveness. Teaching Point Three: Reconciliation takes two.

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Part 3

Apply Your Findings

Action Point: This week, first make a list of all those who you feel have harmed you and whom you have yet to forgive. Choose in your heart to forgive them. Prayerfully consider how you might reach out and reestablish contact. If a person has died or is unavailable, write a letter that describes your hurt and releases the person, thus freeing yourself. Secondly, think of those who might bear hard feelings toward you. If appropriate, reach each out to them, asking forgiveness. Thirdly, think of those relationships that are characterized by cold civility rather than brotherly love, and make an effort to turn them from tolerance to real love. Obviously these are not overnight activities, but make a beginning. Each step moves us deeper into the peace of God. In doing this, we are mirroring the actions of our Lord as he ministered to us through love, sacrifice and reconciliation. Go and do likewise.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¿ www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columnha/hamenu.html This website has numerous articles on various aspects of aging ¨ The Art of Forgiving, Lewis B. Smedes (Random House, 1997; ISBN: 034541344X)

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¨ Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope, Everett L. Worthington, Jr. (InterVarsity Press, 2003; ISBN 0830832440) ¨ Forgiving Your Family, Kathleen Fischer (Upper Room Books, 2005; ISBN: 0835898024) ¨ The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness, John F. MacArthur (Crossway Books, 1998; ISBN: 0891079793) ¨ How to Forgive Yourself and Others, Father Eamon Tobin (Liguori Press; ISBN: 0764815326) ¨ Hunger for Healing, J. Keith Miller (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991; ISBN: 0060657162) ¨ Dare to Forgive, Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. (A Human Moments Book, Health Communications, Inc., 2004; ISBN: 0757300103) ¨ Forgiveness Is a Choice, Robert D. Enright, Ph.D. (APA Life Tools, 2002; ISBN: 1557987572)

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Tell the Story Moses commanded Israel to make sure that their c h i l dren k n ew th e stor y of the ir jour ne y of faith.

Everyone has a story to tell. Not one of us has lived a life that is exactly the same as another. While the same God has been present to all of us, he has met each of us through unique experiences, situations, and individuals. In sharing our own personal faith stories with others, we encourage others (especially our own children, grandchildren, and extended family) to live lives that remain committed to the one true God, who has richly blessed his people with grace. Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4–25; Titus 2:1–8

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Aging in the Grace of God

Tell the Story Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Prior to the class, provide for each p erson the Par ticipant ’s Guide included at the end of this study. Also, star t the s essi on wi th on e of your ow n faith stor ie s. I f you have not alre ady p repared a spiritual autobio graphy, now would b e a go o d time to w rite one. B y doing so, you will b e able to fully share your stor y with t h e group. Fol l owi n g i s an e xample of a faith stor y : Sandy Escontrias says, When I was a freshman in high school, our family was living in a rented house that was too small to accommodate a mom and dad with four children and a grandmother. Times were hard, and Mom and Dad had no money to use for a down payment on a house. However, they decided to trust God that the answer to our dilemma would become apparent. Within days Mother received word that her father had left her a small inheritance, just enough for a down payment on a house. Within a week’s time, our family moved into an old, slightly run-down Victorian house, formerly used as a boarding house. The owner was a member of our church, anxious to sell, and willing to wait for the probate on the will to actually receive the down payment. Thirty years later my parents were able to sell the house for a good price. Rehabbing vintage Victorian houses with oak flooring and stained glass windows had become all the rage. Its beautiful elegance even made it into a Southern Living book on outstanding examples of Victorian homes in the Midwest. The abundant return on their investment gave them a comfortable retirement and provided savings that took care of Mother until she was ninety-six. The week she died, we were about to run out of her monies. God’s timing and provision were evident in every aspect of this adventure in their/our lives. I have often recalled the story when I have come against the challenges of life. It is a story that establishes that God not only does amazing things for Israelites crossing the Red Sea, but that he does amazing things for people like us! Faith stories move us from the general to the particular. They illustrate in personal ways how faith works. They provide a touchstone for generation upon generation. But what happens if we fail to share those stories? Without stories it’s easy for people to lose touch and begin to think that faith is just “pie in the sky” and has no relevance to them. As we age, we are commanded to share our faith with the upcoming generations. It is one of our fundamental tasks.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Tell the Story Leader ’s Guide

Discussion Starters: [Q] Tell a faith story that has been passed down to you from your parents or grandparents, or one from your own life. [Q] What are some ways your church can help members to share their faith stories? Testimony meetings? Church newsletters? Brainstorm some ways.

[Q] How has our society’s addiction to noisy entertainment hampered our communication of family stories? How might you provide a special time for this in your own family?

[Q] What is your favorite Bible story? How has it impacted your life?

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Telling the story of God’s work in your life is not an option—it is a commandment. Read Deuteronomy 6:4–25. Moses is giving some last words of advice to the people of Israel, cautioning them about some dangers. These concerns are relevant to those of us who may be too comfortable. These last words place heavy responsibility on the elders to share their faith with the young.

[Q] What specific concerns did Moses expresses? • The older generation had died off; what are some of the things that were real to them that might be forgotten by new generations of Israelites? • How might comfort and ease lead to forsaking God? Why or how is it easy to be absorbed by the prevailing culture?

[Q] Why was Moses so adamant about the need to remind the young? What was he afraid of? • Why do the faith lessons you learned from the Depression, the World Wars, the civil rights movement, September 11, and so on need to be passed on to the young? How might you do this? • Do you fear for the younger generations in your family? What is it you fear for them? How might you counteract what you fear? 95

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[Q] Think of faith as a garden. If the reseeding, pruning, and weeding are not done, what will happen to the garden? How is sharing faith stories like tending a garden? • How might a failure to “tend the garden” be a part of the problems that we are experiencing in our culture today? • How might you be more intentional about sharing your faith in your own family?

Teaching Point Two: Use every means possible to pass tenets of faith to the next generations. Look again at Deuteronomy 6:4–9. Moses gave specific ideas, both visual and auditory, of how the elders might pass the message of faith on to their youngsters. These messages were to be placed where they could not be missed—they were not casual or subtle. They were in-yourface kinds of things.

[Q] Moses gave specific suggestions for passing on the faith. How might you bind the message to your hand? Do you think he meant you should wear WWJD bracelets on your wrist, or put bumper stickers and fish on your car? Why or why not? How might your hand, by its actions, declare the message of faith? • How might putting something on the forehead pass the message? Who would see it? What might this symbolize? • How might you pass the message on at bedtime or upon rising?

[Q] As New Testament Christians, how might our message differ from the message of the Israelites? What guidelines does the New Testament give us about sharing our faith?

[Q] What are some ways available to us for sharing faith with the younger generations that were not available even 50 years ago? How might you update your attempts to share the faith with younger people? Give examples.

Optional Activity: Take time to think about your house. List the messages or signs of faith that a casual visitor would notice there. Would someone just coming in be able to detect your faith? How might you be more intentional? Make an effort to add one or more things that would proclaim your faith.

Teaching Point Three: Passing on the faith advances the kingdom of God on Earth. Moses seemed afraid that the people of Israel would forget the wonder of God’s action in their lives. He feared they would adopt a heathen lifestyle and ignore God’s plan for his people. 96

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Tell the Story Leader ’s Guide

[Q] What did Moses tell the people that God would do if they failed to pass on the faith? • What were the benefits of being true to the faith? • Do you believe that what he says is relevant for our times? Why or why not?

[Q] How do people who are living a vital life of faith contribute to a better life for all people? • How does lack of faith hurt everyone? • How do the following qualities make a difference if they are passed on? -peacemaking

-compassion

-joy

-love

-humor

-beauty

-order

-stewardship of the earth

-other

[Q] Read Titus 2:1–8. How are the older men and women to model behavior that benefits the kingdom of God and bears witness to younger men and women?

Optional Activity: Using current magazines that contain a lot of photos, create a collage of pictures that represent what is happening in our world in places where faith in God is forgotten or misguided. Use this as a basis for discussion.

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

Young families today are so busy that it is often hard to make time for faith sharing. For many, having dinner together with time for family devotions is but a pipe dream. By deciding to intentionally become involved with the young people of the family, grandparents and older relatives can help to augment the faith development of these young people. Many grandparents bring their grandchildren to church and actively cultivate their faith development. Moses implied that there was nothing more important—a priority command. Children must be taught the faith and have it modeled. Grandparents and older members of the church often have the time, if they are willing to make the commitment. It is not easy. Children today live in a world that is filled with new technology, styles of behavior, and wide97

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Tell the Story Leader ’s Guide

ranging education that is unfamiliar to us. Often we feel inadequate or inept around them. However, it must be remembered that everyone longs for attention and intimacy. Children love those who will lovingly accept them, interact with them, listen to them, care for them, and pray for them. We may not do it perfectly, but they won’t mind. First, however, our own faith must be active and relevant to us. We cannot share what we do not have. We must be aware of our own spiritual autobiography. We must know how God has been active in our lives. We must have stories to share and be comfortable sharing them. We must know Scripture, Bible stories, and the faith stories of others. We must be knowledgeable about and comfortable with the spiritual disciplines—especially prayer. Second, we must be willing to sacrifice our peace and quiet, our time, our comfort zones, our energy, our convenience, and probably many other things to make room for children as they are, not as we wish they would be. We must love boldly, consistently, and unconditionally. All of this sounds difficult, and sometimes it is. But for we who lament that we have no purpose and nothing to do in retirement, it is a call that enriches not only the lives of our young ones but our own lives as well. Jesus himself called us to bring the children to him. We can have no higher calling and life has prepared us for it! Action Point: This week, make a list and carefully pray for the young people in your life and for those in our country as well. Ask God how you might connect with them in a way that will be a faith encounter—an opportunity to share faith and support the faith that is already active in them. If you have not already done so, write or videotape a spiritual autobiography to share with others. Describe how God has been active in your life. Relive the times when God “wrote straight with crooked lines.” If you do not have young family members, use the newspaper and copy down the names of teens who have been in trouble with the law. Pray for them, asking God to link them to faith-filled caseworkers, judges, neighbors, or churches in their communities. Pray for the children of your neighbors and church youth groups. Volunteer to make meals or cookies for youth group. Send cards to congratulate the teens in your church on their accomplishments. Forgive and encourage them when they make mistakes. Welcome them, even when they are messy or noisy. As you become more intentionally aware of the children in your own community, God will open up ways to share your faith. Take the command to pass on your faith as a serious call to action in your own life. It will make a difference, and you will find new meaning and purpose.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups. 98

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Aging in the Grace of God

Tell the Story Leader ’s Guide

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¿ http://www.congregationalresources.com/Seekers/Strategy.Autobiography.asp ¨ Spiritual Autobiography: Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story, Richard Peace (NavPress Publishing Group, 1999; ISBN: 9781576831106) ¨ Writing the Sacred Journey, Elizabeth J. Andrew (Skinner House Books, 2005; ISBN: 1558964703) ¨ Memoirs of the Soul, Nan Phifer (Walking Stick Press, 2002; ISBN: 1582970807) ¨ Telling the Stories of Life through Autobiography Groups, James Birren and Kathryn N. Cochran (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001; ISBN: 9780801866340) ¨ The Story of Your Life, Dan Wakefield (Beacon Press, 1990; ISBN: 9780807027097)

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Tell the Story Moses commanded Israel to make sure that their c h i l dren k n ew th e stor y of the ir jour ne y of faith.

Everyone has a story to tell. Not one of us has lived a life that is exactly the same as another. While the same God has been present to all of us, he has met each of us through unique experiences, situations, and individuals. In sharing our own personal faith stories with others, we encourage others (especially our own children, grandchildren, and extended family) to live lives that remain committed to the one true God, who has richly blessed his people with grace. Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:4–25; Titus 2:1–8

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Aging in the Grace of God

Tell the Story Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

Faith stories move us from the general to the particular. They illustrate in personal ways how faith works. They provide a touchstone for generation upon generation. But what happens if we fail to share those stories? Without stories it’s easy for people to lose touch and begin to think that faith is just “pie in the sky” and has no relevance to them. As we age, we are commanded to share our faith with the upcoming generations. It is one of our fundamental tasks.

In preparation for your meeting: • Read all Scriptures and “chew on them” throughout the week. • Think of one or two faith stories to share with the group. • Bring pictures of the children in your family (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc). Share your desires and concerns for their faith development.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Telling the story of God’s work in your life is not an option—it is a commandment. Teaching Point Two: Use every means possible to pass tenets of faith to the next generations. Teaching Point Three: Passing on the faith advances the kingdom of God on Earth.

[Q] How do the following qualities make a difference if they are passed on? -peacemaking

-compassion

-joy

-love

-humor

-beauty

-order

-stewardship of the earth

-other

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Aging in the Grace of God

Tell the Story Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

Action Point: This week, make a list and carefully pray for the young people in your life and for those in our country as well. Ask God how you might connect with them in a way that will be a faith encounter—an opportunity to share faith and support the faith that is already active in them. If you have not already done so, write or videotape a spiritual autobiography to share with others. Describe how God has been active in your life. Relive the times when God “wrote straight with crooked lines.” If you do not have young family members, use the newspaper and copy down the names of teens who have been in trouble with the law. Pray for them, asking God to link them to faith-filled caseworkers, judges, neighbors, or churches in their communities. Pray for the children of your neighbors and church youth groups. Volunteer to make meals or cookies for youth group. Send cards to congratulate the teens in your church on their accomplishments. Forgive and encourage them when they make mistakes. Welcome them, even when they are messy or noisy. As you become more intentionally aware of the children in your own community, God will open up ways to share your faith. Take the command to pass on your faith as a serious call to action in your own life. It will make a difference, and you will find new meaning and purpose.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¿ http://www.congregationalresources.com/Seekers/Strategy.Autobiography.asp 102

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Aging in the Grace of God

Tell the Story Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

¨ Spiritual Autobiography: Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story, Richard Peace (NavPress Publishing Group, 1999; ISBN: 9781576831106) ¨ Writing the Sacred Journey, Elizabeth J. Andrew (Skinner House Books, 2005; ISBN: 1558964703) ¨ Memoirs of the Soul, Nan Phifer (Walking Stick Press, 2002; ISBN: 1582970807) ¨ Telling the Stories of Life through Autobiography Groups, James Birren and Kathryn N. Cochran (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001; ISBN: 9780801866340) ¨ The Story of Your Life, Dan Wakefield (Beacon Press, 1990; ISBN: 9780807027097)

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Aging in the Grace of God L e a d e r ’s G u i d e

Nearer My God to Thee The third stage of adulthood loosens our grip on ear thly attachments, moving us into a deeper friendship with God.

The third stage of adulthood holds riches beyond telling! As we do all this downsizing and letting go, accepting, and going from doing to being, we can be drawn into a deepening relationship—a rare friendship with God. This is the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the ground that is worth everything we have. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14–15). It is in this time of letting go, experiencing a slower pace of life, and deepening quiet and contemplation that we become freer to hear God’s word to us in a special way, and to feel his closeness and love as never before! Scripture: 1 Kings 19:11–18; Psalm 4; 27; 92; Matthew 6:1–21; Luke 10:38–42

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Leader ’s Guide

Part 1

Identify the Issue

N ote to Lea der : Star t with an exp eriment. Have p eople b ow their h eads an d b e qui et. D o not give t he m any inst r uc tions othe r t han a sk ing to them b ow quietly. D o not pray, just wait. Using your watch o r a stopwatch make a note of how long it is b efore p eople b ecome re stless. S ee whether or not anyone asks what is going on. D iscuss w i th th em wh at th e exp e r ie nce was like. In today’s culture, busyness has doubled and tripled. Time is completely filled, and the whole idea of quiet and solitude has become not only nearly extinct, but for some fearful. Many elders have bought into this busyness. Retired people often brag about how they never have any free time. It is as if having busy calendars validates them in some way. “See, I am still young.” “I am still needed.” “I can still pull it off!” In attempting to extend the busyness of life, elders are missing the opportunity to grab on to a whole new way of living. Most people in their later 60s, 70s, and 80s have a great deal of discretionary time. Often that time is filled with things that have no eternal value (especially TV), that are simply time wasters. Many of these things lead to depression and a sense of isolation. In recent years, the problem of addiction among the elderly has increased tremendously. Men between the ages of 70 and 80 have the highest rate of suicide. Rethinking the use of time and opening up to the deeper things of God can add a deep richness to one’s life. Time is now available to ask all those questions, to spend time in Scripture, to pray for our loved ones. Instead of using quiet time as “spiritual gas” to give us energy for the day’s busyness, we can revision our time. It becomes an investment in the eternal. It makes possible an intimate relationship with God who loves us deeply, and whom we learn to love with ever greater depth. We are never left lonely or without a sense of purpose. As we commit this period of our lives to the eternal, we move deeper into our relationship with God, so that death becomes a small step through a veiled curtain into a warmly lighted room. Let’s not miss this rare opportunity.

Discussion Starters: [Q] Describe the change in the noise level of daily life since the time you were a child. How has the increasing noise of our culture affected you?

[Q] Share a picture of your best friend. Talk about the qualities that make that friendship so special. • How is God a friend to you?

[Q] How has your use of time changed since retirement? Do you find time hard to fill? Describe the things you have chosen to fill your time. 105

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Leader ’s Guide

[Q] What are some of your observations about depression in the young elderly? How is that depression connected with use of time, comfort with silence and solitude, and friendship with God?

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Deepening friendship with God requires letting go of busyness and the center stage. Read Luke 10:38–42. The story of Mary and Martha is a message to spend time with Jesus. As we age and enter the third stage (65 and older), the story has an even deeper meaning. The second stage of our adult lives was all about doing. Our identities were tied to jobs and recognizable accomplishments. As we become older, of necessity our doing becomes modified or curtailed, and our accomplishments may be more subtle, and unacknowledged by society at large. Even if we maintain our health, work out, and eat right, eventually we simply are not able to do the things we used to do. For those whose self-esteem has been tied to those accomplishments, this may be a very hard transition. Through Mary, Jesus tells us that time spent learning of and being with him has the greatest value. It is vital that we not try to hold on to that which we are bound to lose anyway, and forsake the richness that is available in a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ.

[Q] What was Martha doing that was important? • What are some of the Martha activities that have filled your life? How will you modify them as you age? • Describe some of those activities that you could turn over to others. In what ways is that hard to do?

[Q] What was unusual about Mary’s behavior? In what ways was she countercultural? • How do you respond to Mary? Do you feel that she is a slacker? Impractical? An exception to the rule? A role model? What did Jesus think about her? • How would being a Mary in our day and age be countercultural? Do you think more highly of the “doers” in your faith community? Why or why not? • Would you find it hard to defend a life spent in study, prayer, and contemplation? How would this type of life overflow to the lives around you? 106

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Leader ’s Guide

[Q] How do you exhibit a Martha attitude (“Make her help me!”) to those who pursue a more contemplative style of life?

[Q] Read Matthew 6:1–21. What does this passage tell us regarding doing vs. being? Teaching Point Two: Hearing God requires silence and solitude. Deepening your friendship with God requires that you make choices—choosing solitude over sociability, choosing silence over noise, choosing commitment to spiritual discipline over passive entertainment, choosing awareness of the needs of those around you over narcissistic self-interest, choosing to listen to others rather than requiring them to listen to you, and choosing to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit who directs all our steps. Read Psalm 4.

[Q] Psalm 4 suggests that when we are distressed, we are to search our hearts and be silent. What are some of the things that distress you about the world we live in? • How might you become more intentional in your awareness of what is going on in the world? How would this then translate into prayer? • Do you really believe that prayer makes a difference in the condition of the world? Why or why not? If you really believe that prayer makes a difference, how can you find more time for prayer? • How might you use the newspaper or TV news as a basis for prayer?

[Q] Read Psalm 27. How does this psalm build our confidence in God’s ability to act? List all the ways that the psalm talks about connecting with God. How might these things be exhibited in your expanded time with God? Le a der ’s N ote: S eek a f ter, b e hold the b e aut y, offe r sacr ifice s, sing a nd make melo dy, cr y aloud, teach me, lead me, wait for the Lord, b e s t ron g, take courage.

[Q] Read 1 Kings 19:11–18. Elijah was experiencing burnout. He felt alone and abandoned. How did God come to him? • How did God show him that he was not alone? How does knowing that there is a community of fellow believers and prayers increase your sense of solidarity? • How might you increase your sense of a network of prayers when you are living in solitude? How does this help you to feel a part of something greater? • How does silence help us to hear God more fully?

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Leader ’s Guide

Teaching Point Three: Friendship with God fills our deepest needs and desires, and gives us hope when all else is falling apart. Read Psalm 92. David wrote a song in praise of the Sabbath worship and the privilege of being in God’s house. The imagery is equally applicable to those who know that the kingdom of God is within, as Jesus taught. The deepened awareness of the presence of God during times set aside for worship, study, prayer, and contemplation give us the same rewards that David spoke of.

[Q] David speaks of gladness and joy. How does our friendship with God make us joyful? Give examples.

[Q] In Psalm 92:14, David particularly mentions that the aged will still produce fruit. In light of our discussion, what might that fruit be? • How does it make you feel to be compared to a palm tree in the desert or a cedar of Lebanon? Are you still green and full of sap? In what ways? • Describe someone you know (without using a name) who seems to be all dried up. What is making him or her that way?

[Q] In Psalm 27:13, David says that he believes he will see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” How does living as a friend of God help us to see the goodness of the Lord right now, in the place and situation where we are?

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

As they pass into the third stage of adulthood, many expend great time and energy to hold on to the same busy lifestyle they have always had. In doing this, it’s possible to miss an opportunity to change how we do life. Our fear, anger, or resistance can mar the beauty of this time in life. While it is true that there is often great loss as we make these changes, there is also great gain. Letting go of earthly things makes room for a closer relationship with God, if we choose to intentionally make a commitment to this. Instead of using “quiet time” in the morning as a quick jumpstart to help us make it through the day, our time may be used to rest in God, get to know him better, ask him the questions we’ve always wondered about, intercede for those we care about, and lift up a world that seems filled with chaos and distress. As we do this, time flies by rather than dragging. We are filled with a sense of purpose and joy at feeling useful. Never lonely, we are in the company of God and share solidarity of purpose with his other saints. 108

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Leader ’s Guide

Make your elderhood a gift to God and others. This journey of aging is not a depressing journey “downhill,” but a joy-filled movement toward God. May you be filled with gratitude. May you see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. May you use every last breath to further his kingdom on earth, and may you look forward with hope to the eternal life he has prepared for you! Go and age in the grace of God! Action Point: For one week, keep a diary of your ordinary activities. Include everything. Carefully and prayerfully go over the week and evaluate your use of time. Are there activities that could be replaced with more time for God? Are there ways you could focus on others rather than yourself (sending cards, making phone calls, etc.)? Share your insights with someone in the group, and commit to one change that would open you more to God’s work in your life.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Joanna Weaver (WaterBrook Press, 2000; ISBN: 1578562589) ¨ Having a Mary Spirit, Joanna Weaver (WaterBrook Press, 2006; ISBN: 9781400072477) ¨ Hearing with the Heart, Debra K. Farrington (John Wiley & Sons, 2003; ISBN: 0787959596) 109

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Leader ’s Guide

¨ Living Prayer, Maxie Dunnam (Upper Room, 1994; ISBN: 0835807185) ¨ Lost in Wonder, Love, & Praise, John Killinger (Abingdon Press, 2002; ISBN: 0687046009) ¨ Monk Habits for Everyday People, Dennis Okholm (Brazos Press, 2007; ISBN: 9781587431852) ¨ Sacred Thirst, Meeting God in the Desert of Our Longings, M. Craig Barnes (Zondervan Publishing House, 2001; ISBN: 0-310-21955-8) ¨ Close to the Heart: A Practical Approach to Personal Prayer, Margaret Silf (Loyola Press, 1999; ISBN: 0-8294-1452-5)

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Aging in the Grace of God P a r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Nearer My God to Thee The third stage of adulthood loosens our grip on ear thly attachments, moving us into a deeper friendship with God.

The third stage of adulthood holds riches beyond telling! As we do all this downsizing and letting go, accepting, and going from doing to being, we can be drawn into a deepening relationship—a rare friendship with God. This is the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the ground that is worth everything we have. Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14–15). It is in this time of letting go, experiencing a slower pace of life, and deepening quiet and contemplation that we become freer to hear God’s word to us in a special way, and to feel his closeness and love as never before! Scripture: 1 Kings 19:11–18; Psalm 4; 27; 92; Matthew 6:1–21; Luke 10:38–42

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 1

Identify the Issue

In attempting to extend the busyness of life, elders are missing the opportunity to grab on to a whole new way of living. Most people in their later 60s, 70s, and 80s have a great deal of discretionary time. Often that time is filled with things that have no eternal value (especially TV), that are simply time wasters. Many of these things lead to depression and a sense of isolation. In recent years, the problem of addiction among the elderly has increased tremendously. Men between the ages of 70 and 80 have the highest rate of suicide. Rethinking the use of time and opening up to the deeper things of God can add a deep richness to one’s life. Time is now available to ask all those questions, to spend time in Scripture, to pray for our loved ones. Instead of using quiet time as “spiritual gas” to give us energy for the day’s busyness, we can revision our time. It becomes an investment in the eternal. It makes possible an intimate relationship with God who loves us deeply, and whom we learn to love with ever greater depth. We are never left lonely or without a sense of purpose. As we commit this period of our lives to the eternal, we move deeper into our relationship with God, so that death becomes a small step through a veiled curtain into a warmly lighted room. Let’s not miss this rare opportunity.

In preparation for your meeting: • Read all Scriptures and “chew on them” throughout the week. • Keep a diary of all your activities for the week. Prayerfully consider if you might make some changes that would allow you to spend more time with God. • Bring a picture of your best friend to class and be prepared to tell what makes him or her such a good friend.

Part 2

Discover the Eternal Principles

Teaching Point One: Deepening friendship with God requires letting go of busyness and the center stage. Teaching Point Two: Hearing God requires silence and solitude. Teaching Point Three: Friendship with God fills our deepest needs and desires, and gives us hope when all else is falling apart.

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

Part 3

Apply Your Findings

Action Point: For one week, keep a diary of your ordinary activities. Include everything. Carefully and prayerfully go over the week and evaluate your use of time. Are there activities that could be replaced with more time for God? Are there ways you could focus on others rather than yourself (sending cards, making phone calls, etc.)? Share your insights with someone in the group, and commit to one change that would open you more to God’s work in your life.

—Sandy Escontrias is the director of Autumn Saints, a Christ-centered organization whose mission is to provide written and web-based resources on later-life spirituality. These Bible-based materials are designed for use in safe and supportive small groups.

Recommended Resources ¿ Check out the following Bible studies at: ChristianBibleStudies.com • Making Retirement Meaningful • The Joys and Trials of Grandparenting

¿ www.autumnsaints.com (This website provides a copyright free newsletter, Saints Alive!, that may be downloaded and used in your small group or given to the senior adults in your church.) ¨ Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Joanna Weaver (WaterBrook Press, 2000; ISBN: 1578562589) ¨ Having a Mary Spirit, Joanna Weaver (WaterBrook Press, 2006; ISBN: 9781400072477) ¨ Hearing with the Heart, Debra K. Farrington (John Wiley & Sons, 2003; ISBN: 0787959596) ¨ Living Prayer, Maxie Dunnam (Upper Room, 1994; ISBN: 0835807185)

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Aging in the Grace of God

Nearer My God to Thee Pa r t i c i p a n t ’s G u i d e

¨ Lost in Wonder, Love, & Praise, John Killinger (Abingdon Press, 2002; ISBN: 0687046009) ¨ Monk Habits for Everyday People, Dennis Okholm (Brazos Press, 2007; ISBN: 9781587431852) ¨ Sacred Thirst, Meeting God in the Desert of Our Longings, M. Craig Barnes (Zondervan Publishing House, 2001; ISBN: 0-310-21955-8) ¨ Close to the Heart: A Practical Approach to Personal Prayer, Margaret Silf (Loyola Press, 1999; ISBN: 0-8294-1452-5)

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Study 6: lIke tHe grass tHat wItHers Leader’s Guide — Participant’s Guide Study 3: called by god Leader’s Guide —Participant’s Guide Study 9...

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