Saturday, July 27, 2019

Old Photographs

“But one thing I do: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Memory can be a tricky thing. Case in point: family reunions which include reminiscing together about childhood memories.

Have you ever recounted a story which you “remember like it was just yesterday,” only to have another relative give you a funny look before correcting your recollection—based on their pristine memory of the story?

And, depending on how competitive your family may be, a vigorous argument about whose version of the childhood story is “right” could ensue.
Pretty much spoiling the nostalgia vibe.
Church memories, like family reunions, are no different. Especially if those memories include—oh, how shall I put it?—“difficult” transitions.

The further we get from ground zero,” the less trustworthy our memories are. That’s an undeniable reality, and it’s no less true because it’s uncomfortable.

It’s also why re-hashing old church wounds is spiritually counter-productive, to put it mildly.

Hence the wisdom in St. Paul’s words at the top of this post: forgetting the past and pressing on.

In the original context of this passage, Paul is talking about the good things in his spiritual pilgrimage so far. He’s not lamenting his sinful past/present nor the difficulties he’s experiencing—he’s forgetting even his great, mountaintop experiences in order to reach for something better, something yet unattained.
Something on the road ahead, not the road behind.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that if Paul was willing—eager, even—to forget the great things God had already done in his life in exchange for something better, it would be even more appropriate for Christ-followers today to forget negative church experiences.

Yes, I know. I’ve been there. You can’t just flip a switch in your head/heart. Recovery takes time, nurture, and wise counsel.

But years later, like the family reunion example, you can’t afford to trust your memories of the event(s). Which means a practice of continuing to re-hash everything (think: ripping off a bandage over and over) is not only unproductive, but a form of spiritually-dulling bondage.
  1. St. Paul’s point: Don’t rest on your spiritual laurels—press on.
  2. Robby’s addendum: Don’t let your past become a ball and chain on your spirit—press on.
As the book of Hebrews encourages—inspires—us: “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down. . . and let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

What is yet ahead—the undiscovered country—is well worth it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Campfire Ghost Stories

The crackling fire provided a calming soundtrack to their yearly gathering.

A log shifted, and a swirl of sparks gusted heavenward, the sizzling sound accented by a choir of crickets in the darkness and the occasional blip of unseen fish breaking the surface of the tranquil lake.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” The Scholar quoted perhaps the most oft-repeated phrase from his area of expertise. “What we are experiencing today was known to the ancients just as well.”

The Historian nodded solemnly, his every mannerism soaked in the aura of musty books and tweed. “Same as it ever was,” he agreed.

The Younger spoke up, brows knit together as he carefully rotated the marshmallow he was attempting to brown without burning.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s a normal spiritual rhythm,” he mused. “My friends’ attitudes feel more like they’ve given up on their faith. And they don’t want to hear anything from me about it—they’ve made that clear. I feel handcuffed. Our faith used to be one of the things that bonded us, but now it’s become That Which Must Not Be Named.”

The Elder sipped his coffee—‘black, the way God drinks it’—and said nothing, content to allow his circle of friends to answer.

“The human heart has a rather predictable tendency to wander.” The Scholar puffed on his pipe, smoke wreathing around his long face. “The ancient Israelites, followers of Yahweh, forgot their covenant and fell into idolatry with alarming frequency.”

He paused for a moment, his thoughtful countenance illuminated by the flickering firelight. “Yet Yahweh was faithful even when they were not, sending prophets and leaders to turn them back to their faith. Nehemiah reading the Law to the people after rebuilding Jerusalem, for example. Or perhaps King Josiah’s discovery of the Torah in the ruins of the Temple and his subsequent reforms.”

“Church history is a record of the same pattern.” The Historian took up the narrative, shifting on the log he sat upon, searching for a more comfortable position. “The post-Nicean priesthood was no stranger to corruption, and there were many ‘reforming’ movements within the Catholic Church, long before the Reformation.”

“Isn’t that why there’s so many Protestant denominations?” The Younger came close to interrupting in his eagerness. “A new movement seeking to recapture the life of the New Testament church?”

The Historian smiled faintly. “Yes, but also many aberrant movements ended in heresy, even as they advertised themselves as returning to ‘biblical’ Christianity. One must be discerning.”

He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, staring into the campfire. “But it’s also quite true that the Holy Ghost was faithful to bring ‘revival’—if I may use the term—to rejuvenate a passion for Jesus even in a cold-hearted, corrupted church or denomination. If there was ecclesiastical resistance . . . Well, those whose hearts had been ‘revived’ were often given little recourse but to break away.”

“That reminds me of King Saul being replaced by David—the ‘man after God’s own heart’.” The Scholar knocked his pipe against his knee, dislodging the dead embers. Whether or not he intended his action as a metaphor was impossible to tell.

The Elder refilled his metal camping mug from his thermos. The steam from his hot coffee rose in a miniature counterpoint to the smoky campfire.

He spoke for the first time, with a nod of appreciation to his colleagues. “The lesson we can take from both biblical and church history is God’s faithfulness to rekindle the embers of a dying faith.”

He sipped his coffee cautiously. “The Holy Ghost can be trusted to re-ignite a passion for Jesus. Your friends may resemble what some Plymouth Brethren theologians call the ‘great falling away’—I won’t debate that.
”But the health of the Church universal is in the hands of Someone else. And I believe the Holy Ghost will do the work Jesus promised would be done.”
“Revival.” The Younger uttered the single word in a neutral monotone. He reached out and stirred the fire with his marshmallow stick, watching as sparks flared upward in response. “Let’s hope so.”

The Elder raised his coffee mug in salute, a knowing twinkle in his eyes. “Let us pray so.”