I am coming to the end of the toughest part of every year. Not with work, or busyness, or ministry, or the incessantly long winter… but with a personal pall of sadness that runs for two months as I remember the passing of both of my parents. To add to that, I just learned that one of my old, dear friends is entering into yet another season of medical hardship. My heart is heavy these days… so I am banking on experience as my right to speak to things which plague the way we as followers of Christ look at life in Christ. I am speaking to these things because today I have to make the conscious decision to think in a new way.
Last night I sat up praying for my friend, trying to figure out what it is that causes the sadness in my life every year at this time. I know the joy that is ahead, the joy of restoration, of resurrection… but what is it that draws my mind and heart to gaze backward and not forward?
I think I have at least part of the answer. Could it be that what “was” and what “could have been” captures our imagination more than what is “promised to be?”
Memories are a two-edged sword. They bring tears of joy and sorrow. As I think about what was, I remember laughing while playing games, trying to get my Dad to throw his napkin at us at the dinner table so he would have to do the dishes, sitting around the Christmas tree while the kids listened to the story of the birth of Christ, soccer games with Mom screaming, crazy Crissman Christmases. Those memories bring an instant smile to my face. If I could, I would do everything possible to hold on to those memories. But the rub is… those memories are not REALITY. Therein lies the problem… no matter what people say… memories are not reality. I also have to remember the fact that after about 4 hours of being together the arguments would usually start, I constantly disappointed my parents with attitude and actions, frustration often loomed large over our relationships. Memories can bring great joy… but what “was” is just really a figment of our imagination.
What “Could Have Been”
Having my parents at Chesed and Charisa’s high school graduations, college graduations, weddings. What “could have been.” Family growing and growing as we celebrate around the Christmas tree, grandkids and great-grandkids listening to the story of the birth of Christ. If things could have just stayed the same… the possibilities were endless. My imagination runs wild, thinking of the possible great scenarios of family and fun. What if…? But these are not real. Reality is, they are not here. Things HAVE changed, even if I don’t want to deal with it. What “could have been” ISN’T.
The Dangers of “Was” and “Could Have Been”
Getting entangled in the imaginary world of “was” and “could have been” brings with it several dangers that I have observed and experienced.
- Protection over Progress. One of the greatest dangers of always looking backward is we never move forward. We will be driven to protect what we have. We can think of the “good old days” and forget that the promise is that better days are coming. I fall victim to this. I don’t want progress… I want to protect what I perceive to be the “best.” Whether it’s the way things “were” or the way I wish things were, I protect those things and ideals that are valuable to me. I imagine that things will only get worse if they change. And so I value things that are less valuable than the REAL best.
- Past over Promise. I will say this plainly. The promise of our future with Christ is so much more glorious than our perception of the past. Transformation and progress are happening in you and to you. And the future is bright for those of us who are in Christ. The danger here is, we can fall prey to trusting our preferences over placing our faith in God’s redemptive plan. When life is lived in love with some perceived “golden days of yesteryear” then the glorious days of eternity will not be the hope of our hearts.
- Remembering over Rejoicing. Circumstances should not dictate our joy. Paul found contentment and rejoicing in every situation. Why can’t I do that? The simple answer… I can. A reality check is in order. Joy is not found in what “was” or “could have been.” It is found in what IS and what WILL BE… if our IS and WILL BE are IN CHRIST. Have you looked at the promise of being with Him, in Him, loved by Him, rejoicing in Him, resting in Him, living in Him? This is better than any memory. It is worth rejoicing over.
Danger for the Church
How does all of this tie into transforming the way we look at life and ministry as a church? The dangers of living in “memory lane” are many… let me name a few quickly.
- We are not called to reach the past with the Gospel… we are called to reach the present and the future. Living on “memory lane” will hinder our ability to reach the people we are called to reach today and in the future.
- Memories are not “real.” People who need Jesus are real. Unreached people groups are real. Co-workers who need Christ are real. Family members who need to hear the good news of the Gospel are real. The more time we spend on “memory lane,” the less time we spend in reality.
- Our minds need to be captivated with a new vision of Christ and His glory. Set your minds on things above… not things behind. This is the only way transformation happens.
- Mission DEMANDS going… in the here and now. And the fields are white unto harvest… in the here and now…
What decade do we want the Church to dwell in? Because God has called us to dwell in THIS decade, in THIS time… looking forward to the promise of a NEW DAY.
A Resolution For Today (And Every Day)
- Resolved… to seek the things above today, not the things below or behind.
- Resolved… to rejoice in the present because of the promise of the future, not wishfully remembering the way things “were” or “could have been.”
- Resolved… to trust the sovereign plan of God in Christ Jesus… he made yesterday, today and tomorrow.
- Resolved… to engage the present and the future on Christ’s terms, with His Gospel, as Good News, as an agent of reconciliation.
- Resolved… to trust Christ over my preferences, politics or personal agendas.
- Resolved… to patiently proclaim the Gospel to family and friends, prayerfully longing for the GREAT work of awakening and sanctification in my life and theirs.
- Resolved… to boast only in the cross of Jesus Christ.
- Resolved… to pursue Christ and the power of His resurrection.
- Resolved… to press on to knowing Christ… putting aside ANYTHING that hinders… including what “was” and what “could have been.”
- Resolved… to spend more time imagining the unimaginable riches of glory with Christ… instead of trying to recapture a former, fading, fatal glory of the past.
That’s my new today… will you join me?