Christmas, for me, is a time when I am pulled to the past, more and more these days. Digging out the holiday décor in the attic, I found a box full of family picture albums. I pulled one out and paged through it. It was a sweet and painful thing to do. They stir up such memories, such longing for the happy moments when my kids were running through the house. Those images help me to remember Bev who went to Heaven 2 years ago. Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing drawing us into the past so that we miss out on the joy that today offers! I do not want to be one of those who are trying to navigate life while staring into the rear-view mirror! I know that my memory is selective.
We rewrite history to fit our perceptions, our needs. Getting misty about the ‘good old days,’ colors our perceptions. The hardships magnify and the joys amplify. Think back just 20 years ago. Do you remember the ordinary moments? Not likely. Mostly our conscious recall is formed around selected events and experiences – birthday celebrations, Christmas, family vacations, deaths, and tragedies. The stuff of daily life disappears into the haze of time and can only be recalled only with focus and effort! Even then, the recall is suspect as to complete accuracy.
A by-product of time’s passing is the increasing draw of nostalgia. Spiritually this can be toxic. Know any Christians who are stuck in the ‘glory days’ of another era? Have you heard them bemoan the state of the church, criticize the youth program, or long for the preaching of some pastor they knew years ago? “Well, it’s not the way it used to be.” they say with sorrow. And, they are at least partially right. Change is inevitable!
Growing Christians and healthy churches build on past experience, learning from it, celebrating victories, but they are like any living thing – always adapting and changing. A church or Christian who enshrines an experience and tries to hold onto it – and many do – becomes less and less effective in doing God’s work.
Should we discard all tradition becoming slaves of the new, the trendy? No, we love the ancient paths, are strengthened by slowly evolving patterns of worship. Novelty can lead to some places just as marginal as nostalgia. The Bible assures us that “Jesus Christ is the same; yesterday, today, and forever.” He is not hip, nor must His Gospel be made ‘relevant’ whatever that means. The celebrations of Communion, baptism, Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter are valuable ways of preserving continuity in the Christian community from generation to generation.
So what’s my point today? Ask God what He desires for you TODAY! Be very careful about trying to recreate the spiritual experiences of another time, no matter how wonderful it to you back then. When you remember a place or time when God was near, when you lived close to His Presence, rejoice and give thanks.
Those memories that are stirred when I page through a family album are the foundation of my love for my family. But, if I attempt to relate to my kids who are now adults like I did when they were pre-adolescents, I’ll alienate them from me. So it is with the Lord. What He did for you yesterday is the foundation for your walk with Him today, but those things are past. Ask God to help you to see and appreciate what He’s doing today.
(There is this. If you think the Church has gone a little ‘off the rails,’ do not let that become a source of bitterness or a critical spirit. Instead, pray earnestly for those who lead. As one of entrusted with leadership I can assure you that your prayer support is vital to the work.)
Here is a word from the Word. They are a parable Jesus told – “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be torn, and the patch wouldn’t even match the old garment. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. The new wine would burst the old skins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins.” (Luke 5:36-37, NLT) And then live this – “Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done wonderful deeds. He has won a mighty victory by his power and holiness.” (Psalm 98:1, NLT)
Father, today I am pulled to remember,
Tempted to try to turn back the clock.
Come near and, with the voice of the Spirit,
Call me to what You are doing here and now.
Renew vision and hope.
I thank you for the victories past,
The lessons of yesterday that form me today.
Give wisdom to use those moments in a way
That makes me an effective ambassador you in the world where I live,
In Jesus’ Name, Amen