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Wanting It The Way Things USE TO BE

Have you ever felt nostalgic for the good old days?  Have you ever experienced a longing and yearning for the way things use to be?

I remember once visiting in a home of a family with a young child.  The parents of this young boy had just converted his room from being that of a toddler to that of a young child.  Everything had changed.  Old toys furnishings were removed to make room for the new.  The crib had been dismantled and replaced by a child’s bed.  The walls were painted a new color and new curtains had been hung by the window.

“What do you think of your new room?”  I asked.  With a tone of dismay in his voice, the young boy said firmly, “I liked the way my room use to be.”

Weall  knowexactlyh how this young guyfelt.  In the fast paced, every changing world in which we live, we often find ourselves saying and feeling the same kind of thing.

“I liked the way society USE TO BE, before the advent of cable television and satellite TV.”

“I liked the way my country USE TO BE, when political debate had a more polite and  civil tone.”

“I like the way it USE TO BE, when the Red Sox lost & the Yankees played in the World Series.”

Yes, those were the good old days!   What makes you feel nostalgic?

The 90’s – Stamps $0.28; Bread $1.42; Milk $2.30; Gas $1.11
Events:  Soviet Union Collapse; Waco Disaster, OJ, Cloned Sheep, Coumbine
Top Movies:  Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, Independence Day, Titantic, Saving Private Ryan, Stars Wars – The Phantom Menace
Top Music: November Rain, No Rain, Ice Ice Baby

The 80’s – Stamps $0.22; Bread $0.60; Milk $1.70; Gas $1.19
Events:  The Challenger Explodes, Iran-Contra Scandel, The CD, Berlin Wall
Top Movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET, Star Wars – Return of Jedi, Ghost Busters, Batman, Indiana Jones & the Lat Crusade (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Top Songs:  Take on Me, Every Breath You Take, Tainted Love
The 70’s – Stamps $0.13; Bread $0.25; Milk $1.40; Gas $0.60
Events: Nixon Resigns; Bicentennial; Jonestown Massacre, Iran Hostage Crisis
Top Movies:  Jaws, Star Wars, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Grease, Rocky
Top Songs:  Stairway To Heaven, Hotel California, Bohemian Rhapsody,

I know that some of you would like to go back even further – but I don’t go back much further, so we will have to stop with the 70’s.

Those were the good old days.  That is the way things USE TO BE.

We have those feelings of nostalgia about many things: politics, social norms, entertainment, and the economy.  We get homesick for places, people, and times.  We all carry with us some sentimental and romanticized notions about the way things USE TO BE.

We have those notions about the church, too.

The church’s place in society today certainly makes many of us feel a bit nostalgic.  Many of us remember a day when CHURCH counted for something in this country.  Its sanctuaries and meeting halls were filled to capacity each week.  Its buildings dominated every urban view.  Its preachers were among the most noted figures in the populace – even the New York Times featured reviews of sermons from great pulpits.  The missions of mercy in many congregations were known throughout the world.  Its ethics guided societal customs and norms.  Its youth ministries had a formative impact on the lives of entire generations.  That is the way things USE TO BE.

This is not a big news flash, but times have changed.  There are certainly many reasons to be disappointed with the church these days.  The glory of the church often seems a thing of the past.  Too often, the church appears (even in our own eyes) to be insignificant and helpless.  Its membership is melting away.  Controversy and dissent have torn it to pieces.  It has moved from bold missions to simple maintenance; from advancing the kingdom to struggling to just get by; from holding out a message of hope for the world to simply holding on for dear life in the world.

It is not that we are not trying, we are.  It is not that the hearts of many in the church are not in the right place, they are.  The problem is that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, we just cannot seem to recapture the glory of the good old days.

Maybe that is the problem.  Maybe we are trying to recapture something of the past, rather than following God’s boldly into a brand new day.

What we are facing is not unlike that which confronted the people of Israel during the days of the Prophet Haggai as the temple was being rebuilt.  (Read Haggai 2:1-9 – actually, read the whole book of Haggai)

The date for the writing of this text is given exactly: October 17, 520 B.C.  The people have returned from their exile in Babylonia with permission from Darius I, King of Persia.  They were allowed to select their own governor, Zerubabbel.  They were also allowed to select their own high priest, Joshua the son of Zehozadak.  Still, there were struggling to get by as they were desperately poor.  Drought has stunted their crops and brought widespread hunger.  Inflation has eaten into their meager earnings.  The city of Jerusalem lay mostly in ruins.  It all seemed so hopeless.  Why bother?  They should just lie down next to the ruins of the temple and wait for the end to come.

Haggai would have nothing to do with such despair.  He urged the people to rebuild the temple.  They did.  They had meager resources, but they brought what they had.  They had little passion, but what they had they offered.  It seemed like an exercise in futility, but they still did what needed to be done and they finished the temple.

The result were pitiful, to say the least.  A literal translation from the Hebrew declared the results as “much more than nothing.”  What they ended up with was an insignificant little structure, especially when compared to the great temple of Solomon that once stood on that very site.

When the old folks saw what the new temple was going to look like, they wept.  They remembered so well the glorious structure that went before.  The first temple was built of the finest cedar and cypress.  It was accented with extravagant carving and the purest gold available anywhere in the world.  In its inner sanctum sat the Ark of the Covenant with its mercy seat and cherubim.  The rod of Aaron and Moses had been preserved in its place and an eternal fire burned on the altar.

The new temple building had none of this splendor.  Babylon’s destructive armies had carried it all away.  The dim eyes of the old timers present filled with tears as the sight of the dismal replacement of what they had once known.

The people in Haggai’s time could empathize with our disappointments about the church.  They remembered the good old days, the ways things USE TO BE.

Now listen to Haggai.  He speaks to his contemporaries and he speaks to us today.  He reminds us all that the glory of the church is not the magnificence of the building, no in the wonders of the ritual, nor the powerful influence of the congregation in society.  The glory of the temple and of the glory of the church is that the presence of the Lord in their midst.

Sometimes we are so tied up dreaming about the past that we cannot see God’s vision for the future.

Sometimes we are so focused on recapturing the glory of the good old days and we cannot see the promise and potential of the brand new days that lay before us.

Our solution is not in the good old days, but in being faithful followers in the days that still are in front of us.

The glory is God’s to bring – and God will bring it in God’s own time.

With that message flowing from his lips, Haggai comes to his disheartened people and urges us to be courageous.

TAKE COURAGE – “Be strong as you work for I am with you!”

TAKE COURAGE – “Fear not, for my spirit abides with you!”

God is with Judah.  God has not abandoned her, despite her sin and desperate situations.  God is with His church, despite all it has done to disrupt God’s purposes.  God is with us.  God’s glory is in the midst of the church.  God’s glory is in the midst of THIS CHURCH.

Listen to the words of God.

“I will shake the nations.”

“I will open the desires of people everywhere and draw them to my house.”

“I will restore my glory to my house.”

What a wonderful message of hope, but there is more.  Listen to God!

“The silver is mine!”

“The gold is mine!”

All the resources we need to do all God has called us to do is available from God right now.  The wealth is His.  The power is His.

The God who ignited the sun and flung the stars across millions of galaxies is with us.

The Lord who defeated all the powers of evil and death on Easter morn and who still reigns as Ruler of heaven and earth is with us.

The Good Shepherd who first gave us the breath of life and who has watched over us and guided us through all our sufferings and joys; that God is with us.

The God who has been with this church since the start is still with us today.

This same God will lead us by His Spirit to rebuild the witness of His church.  He will grant us a new vision of His glory.  That vision will not be found in days of former glory, but in the days that are ahead of us as we advance God’s Kingdom.

God is with us, so let us take courage.

God is with us, so let us be strong.

God is with us and has given us all we need to do He calls us to do.

Listen again to God’s message through the prophet.  “In a little while I will shake the heavens and the earth and fill the new temple with treasures and with abundant life.”  On that brand new day, people will see an expression of God’s Kingdom present on earth even as it is in heaven.

We have the same hope and dream for this church, don’t we?

If your answer is yes, then understand that it will never be fulfilled by holding on or longing for the “good old days.”  God has a new expression of His glory to reveal.  There is a brand new day on the horizon for this church.

What lies ahead is better than either the present or the past.

We lies ahead is all wrapped up in the power and presence of God, not in our meager resources.

The entire witness of scripture constantly points us upward, outward, and forward.  God is not finished with us.  God’s purpose will continue to god forward until that day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to God’s glory.

Along the way is will not always be easy.  There will be disappointments, despair, conflict, suffering, and sorrow.  But God’s purpose will not be thwarted.

So take courage, good people of faith, take courage.

Almighty God is in our midst, and His Spirit abides among us.

 

 

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