Headphones And Homiletics
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
It Happened Again
Looking at my current circumstances, I found myself taking a trip down memory lane to a day when life was better—things were easier, less stressful, more fulfilling. Lost in thought, I found myself glamorizing a season of life that I once lamented. My thoughts bounced like a pinball as they shifted from, "I had it so good back then..." to "...If only I could only get back to that, I'd be happy again." This wasn't my first nostalgic trip down memory lane in the past few years. More often than not, my mind slips into nostalgia—a word which used to be defined as homesickness.
The Importance Of Remembering
Thinking about the past is a worthwhile endeavor. In fact, it is commanded by God in placed like Deuteronomy 6 where remembering God's good deeds is of utmost importance for parenting and preparing the next generation. Forgetting God's Word and work is fatal, as in the case of Judges 2:10 in which "there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel." The evil and faithlessness of Israel was due to the fact that they failed to remember God's powerful working in the lives of their forefathers.
Ungratefulness is a sin which brings pain to everyone involved. Imagine the frustration of parents whose children begged for thousands of dollars worth of Christmas gifts only to be bored and asking for more by March. The Israelites did this and far more in the Wilderness of Sin. After God answered their prayers and rescued them from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 2:24), he brought them through a wilderness of suffering on their way to the promised land.
The Israelites looked back with sickening nostalgia and cried out, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Ex. 16:3). In this display of supreme grumbling against God, they desired to be back in their slavery and killed because they had meat and bread to eat there. Their cries to God in Exodus 2 turned into to cries of discontentment and anger toward God in Exodus 16.
It is often stated that hindsight is 20/20 and this is very true. Hindsight can also be deceptive if viewed through the wrong lens. Just as the Israelites deceived themselves into thinking their past was better than their current circumstances, we too deceive ourselves when we get lost on a journey in the “good ol’ days”. We petition God to bring us a new job, a decent home, more children, a ministry position, a godly spouse, and much more. Yet, the new car smell wears off, the pipes burst, bills go up, the church gets challenging, and it seems that everything that could go wrong does go wrong.
Then it happens again, we zone out and go into our 5-star nostalgia resort for a weekend stay. We plot how to get back and never return to this old place. We’re convinced that we made a mistake leaving that old place and if we can get back to our roots, all of today’s problems will be solved. It’s subtle, too. If only we sang the old songs again. If only our former pastor were here. If only our small group looked like it used to. If only, if only, if only…
Where Is Our Wisdom?
Ecclesiastes 7:10 has a word for us in our nostalgia. As we subconsciously (or perhaps even consciously) doubt God’s goodness and providence in our lives, we are told “it is not from wisdom that you do this.” It is unwise for us to ask “why were the good ol’ days so much better?”. It is foolish for us to stay focused on days long gone. But why? Because God has made our days of prosperity as well as our days of adversity (Ecc. 7:14). When we despise today, we despise God and His wisdom. When we idolize yesterday, we treat God as if He knew what He was doing then but not now. We rob ourselves of joy and contentment today because we are stuck in the blessings of yesterday. We are called daily to “draw near to God” so that He will draw near to us (James 4:8).
A Better Today
The gospel is our cure when we get trapped in nostalgia. Looking back is only good if it points us back to God and His glorious work. Is there good in our past to look back on? Of course! Thank God for being gracious in those seasons! Is there trouble today that wasn’t with us in the past? Definitely. Seek Christ today for your strength to endure. Will today look better than some day in the future? Probably. Ask the Spirit to prepare you for the adversity that is to come. The greatest days of the past are when grace appeared. In these days Christ paid for sin and then rose from the dead with power. These great days make way for the greatest day in our future, when Christ returns to rescue His people and bring them into His presence for eternity.
When our nostalgic vacations last too long, we lose sight of those glorious days. The days of slavery to sin and wickedness can seem like a beach house in the Caribbean compared to the seemingly dreary days of walking with Christ. This is not wisdom, and it steals our joy. Let us choose the greater path each day we walk on this earth. As God commanded through the apostle Paul, “set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just , whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Look back to the past, but don’t live there. Consider for the future, but trust God. Enjoy God and glorify today, wherever you may be.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
-1 Corinthians 10:12
This morning I was met with a shocking punch to the gut. Another prominent pastor fell. Another herald of God's word followed the forbidden woman whose feet go down to death. Her lips dripped sweet honey, her words were smoother than oil, but in the end she was bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword (Proverbs 5:1-6). Yet another church was writing an open letter describing the fall of their beloved pastor. Again.
Typically, when I hear of such men falling I think of words like "charlatan", "false teacher", "hypocrite", etc. because it doesn't seem like the real Bible teachers have such intense moral lapses of judgment. They have strong devotional lives, right? They study the word all the time, right? They preach the truth faithfully and powerfully, right? How could they possibly have time for such sin to occur when they're spending 30+ hours in their study and then the rest of their time with their families? This time it hurt, though. Instead of being one of those megachurch prosperity teachers or doctrinally-weak, topical preachers, this guy was solid. His book on preaching has powerfully impacted the way I preach. His guest appearances on podcasts have greatly benefited my sermon prep. His Spirit-empowered preaching and exegetical precision benefited my soul tremendously over the years. His vivid illustrations and passionate delivery was featured on some of the most impactful Christian hip-hop albums I've ever heard. This was a much-needed gut punch for me.
This morning, with a heavy heart, I sat down to meditate on 1 Corinthians 10:12 in light of the shocking news. As I read the passage and jotted down some notes in my journaling Bible, I noticed a word in the passage that never stood out to me before. It's a simple word that could be easily missed in a cursory reading of the passage. The word was "thinks". This word hit with the force of an NFL linebacker hitting a running back head on as he crosses the line of scrimmage. Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
The point Paul, through the Spirit made with this precise, punchy word is that standing in our own strength during temptation is an illusion. I remember as a child watching the street magician, David Blaine, "levitate" on television for the world to see. I believed every second of it because it looked so realistic. A few years later, though, a masked magician revealed the secrets of the greatest "magicians" and proved that the "levitation" was nothing more than some eye tricks and theatrics.
If we are the Bible readers we should be, we know that the Old Testament is filled with examples of folly, sin, and idolatry. Paul calls us not to be unaware that these were written for our example so that "we might not desire evil as they did" (1 Cor 10:1-11). We must not read of the sins of the Israelites and think that we are any less fallen than they are. We must not look at the sins of Noah, Abraham, Aaron, David, or Solomon and think we are any less capable of committing the very same sin. If we do, we think we stand when really we are about to fall.
The command isn't complicated, but it must be something we actually do. God, through Paul, calls us to "take heed, lest we fall." To take heed means to listen carefully to the warnings of scripture and guard our hearts from the very sin we think we are incapable of. Taking heed means remembering our sinfulness and relying on God who will not let us be tempted beyond our ability but will "provide the way of escape" (1 Cor 10:13). Ultimately, we must remember that God is faithful to us in our temptation if we will but seek Him in faith rather than following Adam and Eve into hiding behind silly fig leaves. The Holy Spirit will be our assistance during times of temptation and weakness.
If we look at this pastor and our first response is to go to social media or the blogosphere to lambaste him for his sin, we need to first make sure we have taken heed, lest we fall. If we don't use this as an opportunity to repent of our prideful responses to other prominent pastors who have fallen, we need to take heed. If we think we are beyond such a gross and ridiculous sin, we need to take heed, lest we fall. If we automatically assume that our devotional lives must be better than this former pastor's, we need to take heed, lest we fall. If we minimize this man's sin because he is a reformed expository preacher who frequently spoke at our favorite conferences, we need to take heed lest we fall. His sin is evil and it must be taken seriously. Your sin is just as evil and must be taken seriously. We all need the blood of Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to cover and help us overcome our wickedness.
From what I know, this fallen pastor is a godly brother in Christ who will submit to church discipline and be brought to restoration according to Galatians 6:1-5 and James 5:19-20. He has lost his pastorate. He may lose his vocation as a seminary professor. He may lose his marriage. He has lost credibility in the eyes of many of his readers, church members, friends, family, children and maybe even his spouse. However, as a child of God, he hasn't lost his sonship and adoption. Before we write him off as an unbeliever and a fool, we must remember that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ if we are truly in Him. We must remember that passages like Psalm 51 apply not only to David's sin or our "little sins" but also to this man's grievous sin as well.
Perhaps you have fallen. If you're in Christ, you will be picked up now and raised to life at the coming of Christ. Don't run from the Savior. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
Perhaps you've played with sin and are on the brink of falling. Take heed. Don't dabble in "little sins" any longer. If you keep trifling with sin, you will fall. Run to the throne of grace. Don't let the deceitfulness of sin harden your heart. As my mentor said, "It takes very little to fall. It's subtle. It's insidious. It's seductive." Take heed, lest you fall.
Chrys Jones is a Christian, husband, father of three, pastor, and teacher. He is also a recording artist and producer for Christcentric Records and a book briefer for Accelerate Books. In his free time, Chrys loves to spend time with his family, roast coffee, read good books, and listen to beat tapes and jazz.