By David Faust
When I was a Bible college professor, one day a ministry student told the class about a problem in the small urban church where he served as the preacher. “Our congregation constantly talks about the ‘good old days’ when the church was large,” he explained. “A picture taken years ago hangs on the wall in our building’s main lobby, and it shows an overflow crowd. Older folks point to the picture and wonder, ‘Why can’t we be like that again?’”
The young man paused thoughtfully and asked, “Should I take that picture down?”
I offered him the only suggestion that came to mind. “No, don’t take the picture down,” I advised. “Instead, add two more frames on the wall. Get your current congregation together and take a picture of them. Then get a third frame and write in it Paul’s words from Philippians 3 about pressing on toward the upward call of God. Put all three of those frames on the wall side by side and celebrate your church’s past, present, and future.”
I never heard whether the student took my advice.
Remember the Glory of the Past
The book of Ezra tells how a group of Jewish priests and pioneers returned after years of exile to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. Construction began on the temple site where past generations worshiped God before the Babylonians swept in and destroyed the city. The Jews erupted in thanksgiving when the rebuilding began. “And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid” (Ezra 3:11).
However, it was a time of mixed emotions. “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy” (v. 12). Everyone was happy to see the Lord’s house rise up from the rubble, but some members of the older generation wept aloud because they recalled the size and splendor of King Solomon’s temple. Compared to the glories of the past, this new rebuilt model looked small and insignificant.
On that day “no one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away” (v. 13).
Recognize the Potential of the Future
It’s common to feel mixed emotions as we grow older. Laughter mingles with tears, mirth with melancholy. It’s tempting to idealize the past, demonize the present, and fear the future.
In the good old days, somehow the food tasted better. Church buildings were fuller. People were friendlier—more patriotic, neighborly, and generous. Music was more melodious. Professional athletes played for the love of the game, and politicians served for the love of their country. To be honest, some of those perceptions ring true. Let’s be careful, though. Selective, rosy memories about how things used to be can keep us from celebrating what God is doing today and what he wants to do tomorrow. “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
When we remember the past and consider what’s happening around us today, should we rejoice or should we cry? Maybe both. But through it all, we should trust in the eternal God who was and is and is to come.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for August 2, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Thessalonians 3:14-18
2 Chronicles 34–36
1 Timothy 1:1-11
Ezra 1, 2
1 Timothy 1:12-20
1 Timothy 2
Ezra 4, 5
1 Timothy 3:1-10