There’s an old Alabama football joke that went around in the 90’s.
Q: What do a maggot and an Alabama football fan have in common?
A: Both can live on a dead Bear for 20 years.
I first heard that little Diddy in the “days of the Mike’s” - if you’re a Tide fan you know what I mean. Even an Alabama fan has to appreciate that good joke.
Sadly, what people joked about Alabama fans in the 90’s could be said of some congregations I’ve seen. I am thankful beyond words for a godly heritage, for parents and grandparents back four generations who loved the Lord, followed the Word, and respected the Church. I do not believe the doctrine of God has to be reinvented with each generation. I also do not buy the propaganda from the agenda driven individuals who say the church is dying (It’s not, it won’t, and it can’t).
But far too many of our congregations are living on past glory. And it can happen with ease at most any time.
It says something rich that we actually have a past recently enough to remember it and celebrate it. And, I don’t see where it is bad or wrong to be thankful for and rejoice in the blessings of the past. Throughout Scripture a vibrant remembrance is portrayed as a healthy emotion.
But today I want to call out any of us who are so reveling in the past that we cannot move forward. Any who have so revered the faith of those of the past that they have not developed their own muscles of faith. Any who are so fearful of the future and taking risks that they belie the faith they proclaim.
Let me share with you three probable’s concerning the glories of the past:
1. It’s probably not true: Preachers of past generations could not quote the whole Bible, they did not walk on water (well, two did), they did not convert whole neighborhoods or preach perfect sermons in perfect congregations. They too were human. One church I preached at had large picture depicting a packed auditorium. I was led to believe that is how it was every Sunday. The truth was, that was a special dedication day for the new auditorium. It is a little trick our mind plays on us that we tend to bunch years of positive memories into one lump sum to which the present can never match.
2. It’s exaggerated: The good old days, probably weren’t that good. I have a friend who wears a favorite T-Shirt that says: “The Older I Get, The Better I Was.” I know that’s true when I talk about my days at defensive end or small forward. If I was as good as I talk that I was, I’d be retired from a few years in the NBA and preaching for free. Sometimes in the church we exaggerate the past. At my age, I’ve been “the previous preacher” who could do no wrong (sure proof that people can be delusional :)). Funny thing is, when I was there, it certainly didn’t seem that way.
3. It’s unbiblical to boast about the past: Paul admonished : “Forgetting those things that are behind, and pressing on…” An unhealthy myopia concerning the past paralyzes us, stifles our creativity, and saps our energy in the present.
WORST of all, it belies our faith, enshrines things that should not be enshrined, and ties our hands from creating efforts that might reach this generation, At some point someone came up with the idea of an extended time of Bible study (we now call them Bible classes). Someone thought a boost in the middle of the week would be effective (we now call it mid-week Bible study). Someone conceived using media (print, radio, the newspaper, tv and now internet) to broadcast the Gospel further, faster. Someone thought of a week long camp like the boy-scouts only in this camp the Bible would be studied by Christian young people each day. Someone thought of a weekly bulletin to keep people informed. If we lionize the past we become enslaved to it and its programs. We suck the energy out of the room and kill creativity. If we anchor in a fear of the future we end up destroying our faith.
So, how about you? What is there that shows evidence in your life that you are a person of faith? What are you doing, handling, dreaming, launching in to that shows you have faith? If we can see the end of everything we do, how we can do it and make it through it, do we have faith at all? Are you a Christian or a Diest? If we can accomplish everything we dream without God, why do we even need Him?
The opportunities to do more, to reach more have never been greater. The world has never been larger. The ability to connect with others has never been easier. The ability to remain true to God, yet be effective ambassadors to more people has never been as available. Let us never let little thinking, jealousy, our love for our ideas and ways, or traditions of the past handicap us. I love one of our dad’s favorite quotes: “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” By the way, He’s already there. He knows our full potential. And, ultimately, our faith is about a Glorious Future with Him! Go forth, go forth!