How to Deal With the Nostalgic Naysayers

How to Deal With the Nostalgic Naysayers

Ever met people who glorify the past? Listen to how they glory in the good old days, saying that nothing now or in the future will ever compare to how it used to be. I call them the nostalgic naysayers. They are bound to the success of the past, blinded to change, and pretty discouraging to be around.

 

This post retells one of my favorite Biblical stories that has lessons on precisely this: how to deal with nostalgic naysayers. It may be an old story, but its lessons are contemporary. It’s about a leader, who headed a big project, faced oppositions, stopped working, and found his strength again. If you would, come along for the story.

 

How the Story Began

 

The name is Zerubbabel. We meet him first in the postexilic—telling the history of the Jewish people after their captivity in Babylon—book of Ezra. The story began when Cyrus, king of Persia, had a spiritual epiphany. God impressed upon Him a desire to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

 

At this point, the Jews had been in captivity for over seven decades. Jerusalem was plundered by King Nebuchadnezzar, its temple destroyed, and the vessels in the temple were taken to Babylon about seventy years earlier. They lived as captives in Babylon, strangers, displaced people whose home was taken away from them. The Medes and the Persians eventually overtook Babylon, and it was after this change of power that the Jews had the opportunity to return to their home.

 

Cyrus sent hundreds of thousands of the Jews to return to Jerusalem to build the temple, along with resources and the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken. Zerubbabel was the leader of this group. Imagine the rejoicing of this homecoming.

 

The Nostalgic Naysayers

 

The rebuilding of the temple then began in earnest. In Ezra 3, we find that they finished the foundation of the temple, and this was a cause for a great celebration.

 

But amongst the cheer, there were dissenting voices. It says in Ezra 3:12,

 

“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off.”

 

I read this in the 21st century, and it sounds completely contemporary to me. I’m talking about the old men who wept, the nostalgic naysayers.

 

What’s their problem? These men had the honor of seeing the first temple; the one Solomon built many years before. Solomon went all out for this temple, with lots of gold and majestic things. This was the temple that Nebuchadnezzar plundered.

 

They had seen the glory of the past and were imprisoned by it. Past success limiting future dreams much? They wept because they knew that this new temple that was about to be built would never be like the old temple. It would be so inferior, so tragic.

 

The image of the first temple blinded them that they could not even see the possibilities of a better future. I mean, the temple had not been built yet at this point! They had just laid the foundation. But these men had boxed their vision. “It will never be like the good old days.”

 

As a young person, I’ve heard these familiar voices a few times. Often, they come from older, more experienced people. It will never work. Things are just not what they used to be anymore. Sometimes they mean well, trying to protect me from disappointments. Sometimes, it’s just to flaunt their experience. No big deal.

 

But the fallacy in nostalgia lies in the fact that our memories are faulty. The way our brain treats the past is that it will always grow more golden the more we cling to them. In reality, those times might not be as good as it sounds in real time.

 

Our memories are whatever we want them to be. It depends on the narrative we tell ourselves. And the worst part is if that narrative binds us to the past and limits our capacity to imagine possibilities.

 

But you what’s worse? I’ve also said things like this!

 

As a not-super-young-anymore person, I too am complicit in nostalgic naysaying. We’ve tried that before, it didn’t work. Or, yea, I knew that already. Nothing new or special in this. The implication is that I don’t allow the possibility for change, that things that didn’t work in the past may now work, or vice versa, simply because time has changed.

 

Ever discouraged someone from trying something new?

 

The worst part is if you succeeded.

 

Well, in the case of Zerubbabel, the naysayers succeeded, partly. The neighboring regions also rallied against the building of the temple and pulled political stints to halt the process. They succeeded. At the end of Ezra 4, the building ceased. Only the foundation was laid.

 

 

God’s Affirmation

 

But then God intervened. Haggai and Zechariah, two prophets sent to deliver messages from God came to the scene. They got the builders to start working again after a few years of dormancy. What did they say?

 

To Zerubbabel, the leader of this project, God spoke specific encouragements. In Zechariah 4:6-10, God said,

 

“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts.
‘Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’”

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying:

“The hands of Zerubbabel
Have laid the foundation of this temple;
His hands shall also finish it.
Then you will know
That the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.
For who has despised the day of small things?
For these seven rejoice to see
The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,
Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”

 

 

God said, Your work, Zerubbabel, is not going to be about might or power, but about the Spirit. Something else will get it done. All the challenges before you will disappear. The path will open. You have laid the foundation; you also will finish the temple.

 

Imagine, while all those naysayers despised this as a small thing, God was rejoicing. His eyes roamed throughout the earth, and He was happy to see that plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hands.

 

How do you stay discouraged with those kinds of affirmations? And for the nostalgic naysayers, how did they weep when the Spirit of God was rejoicing?

 

God was not done with his affirmations. In Haggai 2,

 

In the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying: ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’

 

Here, a direct rebuke was given to the nostalgic naysayers. The rebuke was that they were ignored. God only spoke to His workers, to be strong, assuring that He will be with them.

 

And then He gave them a promise.

 

“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”

 

In a while, this temple that looked inferior to the first would be filled in glory. And its glory would far surpass the first temple’s! The Desire of All Nations, a prophetic reference to Jesus, would fill the temple. It would be a place of peace.

 

While some people looked back to the glory of the past, God was planning a greater glory in the future.

 

To a discouraged leader, what affirmations these words brought. So Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the rest of the people built and finished the temple, in spite of oppositions and political barriers. God moved those barriers away. And their work was completed.

 

The Postlude

 

In Matthew 1, we see Zerubbabel’s name again. Apparently, 11 generations after, he was to be part of Jesus’ lineage. The Desire of All Nations had come, and He filled the temple that Zerubbabel built with glory.

 

One day, Zerubbabel will rejoice to see the fulfillment of God’s promise, the full affirmations of God for his work.

 

So, What to do with Nostalgic Naysayers

 

Ignore them.

 

The important thing is to be sure of our calling, to be determined to our purpose.

 

There will always be naysayers, especially when you try new things. But don’t let them limit your capacity to dream.

 

Most of all, please, don’t be one of them.

 

GYC 2012: What I Could Give

I’ve been an attendee. I’ve been a volunteer. Now I reflect on another role: a seminar presenter.

But before that, some other highlights from GYC:

Star struck… by Dr. Hasel | Adam Ramdin’s Sabbath sermon – simply awesome | David Shin’s last evening devotion – de-romanticizing revolution | Sam Bonello’s plenary session – Sam and Katie have got to live one of the most interesting lives in present-day Adventism | Team Revolution’s 5k | Networking with Adventist engineers.

1. Size Matters

I had never in my life felt so short as when I stood in front of a long and full room for my first seminar. Some 230+ people came, most likely because of Adam Ramdin’s—with whom I co-presented the seminar—fantastic sermon earlier that day (but they saw me instead, ha!). Perhaps also, the topic of the seminar—Knowing and Living God’s Will for My Life—simply scratched where it itched, especially for this teenagers-to-young-adults age group.

I felt a little overwhelmed during the first session, since I imagined there would only be a few rows of people. I prepared materials for that audience size, which was what I was used to with ANEW or other ministry events. It ended up being more serious than I thought it would be, and upon reflection that day, I had to change certain things for the 2nd and 3rd seminars to make them more conversational.

I couldn’t really articulate why, but basically with the size of the audience and the layout of the room, I, as a speaker, needed to adjust the content of my presentation, delivery, posture, and voice, to engage the audience effectively (measured somewhat by gut feeling). I don’t think I could’ve realized that had I not been in this situation. Lesson learned.

offering

2. A Piece of Me

I was debating whether or not to include a personal life experience for the last seminar to illustrate a point. I did, and I think it helped make the point. I learned that as a speaker, it wasn’t enough to present materials; I had to give something of myself to the presentation.

The personal touch, the personal signature, is something that makes a presentation different because it is person A who gives it instead of person B. It’s not a matter of originality or of the vanity of being different, but it’s a matter of God’s individualized calling: there’s a reason why God calls A for a specific task.

The giving of oneself is a hard thing to do. It takes vulnerability, a little courage, and lots of prayer. But ministry is about being vulnerable, and I love this quote:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it… Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p. 190.

3. Give What You Can Give

I’m not a seasoned speaker. I didn’t have much material that I could pull out from to talk about following God’s will. In fact I had never spoken on the subject before. Preparing a 3-part seminar was already a stretch, and I recycled some materials too.

It’s hard to answer the question, How did the seminars go? I honestly don’t know. I hope they helped some. I hope that the seminars provided a venue where the Holy Spirit could speak to people. It was not so much what I said, but how the Holy Spirit made application to the hearts.

Coming out of the last seminar, I had this thought: I gave what I could give. It’s up to God what He would do with it, but I offered these presentations as my offering to Him.

How To Have the Most Fun at GYC

Or at least, my take on it.

When I first started coming to GYC, I would remember every message, every speaker, and every conviction felt during each session. I would even remember who sang which special music for which evening. I learned so many new things, heard so many fresh thoughts that I had never heard before. My hungry and ignorant soul needed those sermons.

volunteers

But if you’re like me and will be attending your n-th GYC conference this year, you may have more difficulty in remembering the messages you heard in previous GYCs. It takes me a few minutes now to distinguish between GYC 2008 and 2009, and I honestly can’t remember what happened in 2010. The conferences, plenary sessions, and workshops blend together in this one big blob of memory where I picture multitudes of people entering and exiting the auditorium.

If that is so, I want to suggest that listening to 7 sermons straight each day may not be your greatest need in coming to GYC. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t come, though. I’d like to submit that your greatest need may be to serve others at the conference and volunteer.

Early this year I wrote about my volunteering experience at GYC 2011, about how much fun it was. As a result, I couldn’t attend most of the sessions and seminars, and I remember almost nothing from last year. But I assure you, I was spiritually fed and refreshed.

If you have never volunteered at GYC, here’s my attempt to canvass you to do it this year.

First, you get to work with people who are like-minded and passionately determined to give the best for God. The resonance in thought, feeling, and mission is at a level you will rarely see elsewhere (and if you’re in a secular environment – never). As a result, the kind of synergy in teamwork that takes place is simply invigorating.

Second, you get to be involved in a short-term project that will very likely end well, and with low chance of interpersonal conflicts because everyone is so nice. Even if there’s conflict, the prevailing custom is to be Christ-like. Basically, a happy ending is guaranteed and you will gain that rewarding feeling from a job well done.

Third, you get to appreciate the complicated orchestra that is GYC. The details that go into actualizing an event for 7000 people are simply astounding, and not one person involved in the project has superpowers. Have you thought about what goes into moving 7000 people from the auditorium to the dining hall without confusion? GYC happens because of individual contributions from young men and women whose lives have been touched by the Gospel. And THAT is simply amazing.

Fourth, you get to see how God covers glitches. Because there are so many pieces that need to come together, mistakes happen. And you get to practice that Christian love and humility you hear about in the seminars, because it may be that God covers some of the glitches through you. What about practicing patience during complaints when registration is down? These things do happen, because we’re imperfect human beings in an imperfect world.

The machinery that makes the conference happen is not faultless, but it so happens that God’s grace is enough to cover our–yes, all 7000 of us–shortcomings and weaknesses.

You may get sore leg muscles from running back and forth delivering water bottles. Or you may get blisters from rushing to print handouts for speakers. But there’s a storehouse of blessings that will not be unlocked until you are engaged in service.

“in our life here, earthly, sin-restricted though it is, the greatest joy and the highest education are in service” (Education, p. 309)

So, volunteer! Just remember to do stretches each night and that blisters heal. But that joy of service will do something more lasting to your soul. See you in Seattle!

Email volunteers@gycweb.org

GYC 2011: Volunteerism!

GYC 2011: Volunteerism!

GYC 2011 in Houston, Texas was my eighth GYC, and I think it was the one at which I had the most fun. What made this GYC drastically different than any of its predecessors? This time around, instead of attending the conference, I was volunteering. I’ve volunteered in the past, but not to the extent that I would miss most of the meetings and seminars. This time, I really volunteered. And I don’t remember ever being so refreshed returning from a GYC conference.

My favorite part about volunteering at GYC was the part where I could work together with like-minded young people, with my favorite people in the world. I’d do any project with these ones. And not only I could work together with them, I could work together with them physically in one place. There’s nothing that can replace the synergy of a team other than being together. And the team that made up the Presidential Hospitality Department (PHD) at GYC 2011 was top notch! I’ve never seen such seamless and efficient execution of both planned and unplanned tasks.

Since I’m located in a place far away from most of my spiritual peers, this ability of working in a team is something I highly crave. It boosts my mood and quality of my work when I can do them with people. It is even a source of spiritual struggle when this doesn’t happen. In fact, this was the case the last few months of 2011. I was simply tired, not of working, but of working alone.

With that background, volunteering for PHD fulfilled perfectly my spiritual need. I needed to work more than I needed to sit in sermons or seminars. Being involved in service is the practical aspect of spirituality and it is equally (if not more) important than the theoretical. In fact, this practicality suited my day-to-day existence. Being in a working cycle, where I cannot rely on protracted amount of vacation time anymore, I can’t rely on breaks to get spiritually charged. I need to learn to find spiritual refreshments during the intense demands at work.

Most times, at least for me, when I think of spiritual needs, I think of the need to be fed through prayer, Bible studies, sitting in seminars or sermons, or being spiritually nursed by older and wiser mentors. And when I think of service, I think of it as a less important and optional aspect of my spiritual life, because in this case I am on the giving end instead of the receiving end.

I’d like to submit that service is a spiritual need. Working, getting physically tired from running around doing errands, taking care of other people – all of these are spiritual feedings. I experienced it first hand this GYC – gaining more refreshment by giving.

So, for all GYC attendees out there, I highly recommend volunteering at GYC, or anywhere, as a matter of fact. Volunteer at church, in the local communities, and engage in service. You need it!

It’s Finally Moving

The events that took place leading up to the ANEW Fall Conference 2011, the planning, the expected and unexpected happenings, the anticipation for the number of attendees, the novel program format and content, gave the team a sense that this conference was going to be epic in more ways than one. And it was.

For the first time, after years of claiming that I’m a part of a campus ministry movement, I can finally say that I came home from an event having witnessed a true movement. Why?

Because now, it has become evident that the students are moving. Finally, after saying it over and over again in many conferences, the attendees understand that ANEW is them. ANEW is not just the leaders and not just the conference; it’s everyone in the network. Finally, students are taking up projects and running with it. The network is finally moving.

Perhaps it was just so obvious that based on the number of projects we set out to the network and the ridiculous goals we set ourselves to do, people just knew there was no way these things will get done by 8 people. And so what did they do? They jumped on to the bandwagon.

You know you have a movement coming along when at the end of the conference, people crowd around the leaders to get involved with the different projects.

You know you have a movement, when after saying “Canvassing will change your life… getting doors slammed in your face,” you have students crowding Eunice to sign up for the summer canvassing program.

You know you have a movement, when after Juan appealed that we need to know very intimately the message that we are to carry on campus – the Three Angels Message – the 3AM Project doubled in size.

You know you have a movement, when after pretty much saying “We’re broke, but we’re not going to stop doing things,” people raised up their hands to come up with ideas, and rushed to David and Erica to join the fund raising team.

The newsletter project, high school and young professionals project, caregroup initiations … This thing is more than a full time job.

Accomplishments? That word is the least fitted word to what has happened so far with ANEW. Our work has only just begun, because the movement has only started.

It’s time for a deeper dedication. It’s time to really sacrifice and weed out unnecessary things in life. It’s time to move.

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