Oct 21, 2016 | Faith, Thinking Better
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.
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.
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
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.
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Jan 17, 2014 | Books, Faith
Leading up to GYC: Before Men and Angels, it seemed more than fitting to embark on a year-long project to read the Conflict of the Ages (COTA) series. Hence, back in January 2013, the time when all resolutions were made, I began reading Patriarchs and Prophets with others who made the same commitment. And as group efforts usually go in the 21st century, a Facebook group was born.
The COTA series is a treasure chest of truth and wisdom. Here are the few gems that I personally gleaned from reading the series this year:
1. God’s Concern for Man
Unlike the Hellenistic gods of mythology, the God of the Bible does not dwell in the lonely splendor of heaven aloof from our history. He is deeply concerned with humanity and is affected by our acts, our prayers. Our predicament is His predicament. Our sin grieves Him and our faith gladdens Him. His thoughts are about the world. In fact, it’s a wonder that God has time for the unfallen worlds given His preoccupation with humanity. God’s divine pathos towards humanity is a Biblical fact.
For thus says the high and lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
And also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
To revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15
2. The True Witness of History
“The Bible is not man’s theology but God’s anthropology.” – A. J. Heschel
God is the true witness of human history, thus His Word testifies most truthfully about the plight of men and nations. The Bible records the fall of its celebrated heroes. The wisest man in Israel and all the super stars of the Bible, save Jesus Christ, fell. The evil kings in Judah and Israel outnumbered the righteous ones, and the righteous ones were faulty. Yet one thing remained constant through the passing kings and kingdoms: God’s law. His Word survived periods of history when it seemed like no one abided by its precepts. The trend of the time never changed God’s testimony about His people. To this day, we hold the testimony that they “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Evil does not become good when everyone does evil, because God holds the standard of justice and righteousness. God’s law never changed and it never will. God’s Word is infinitely more trustworthy than the most trusted man.
3. The Way God Sees Things
“The apostasy of Israel was an evil more dreadful than all the multiplied horrors of famine. God was seeking to free the people from their delusion and lead them to understand their accountability to the One to whom they owed their life and all things. He was trying to help them to recover their lost faith, and He must needs brings upon them great affliction.” Prophets and Kings, p. 127.
This is one of the most shocking quotes to me. The horrors of famine in the Old Testament were horrendous, to say the least. Yet in God’s estimation, infidelity to Him was even more horrendous. We are callous to apostasy, injustice, and cruelty of man. Infidelity to God’s Word is society’s norm, and we think it a light thing to disobey God. Yet in God’s eyes, sin is exceedingly sinful, and He would rather sacrifice something physical to achieve something eternal.
4. The Education of the Universe
“God could employ only such means as were consistent with truth and righteousness. Satan could use what God could not—flattery and deceit. He had sought to falsify the word of God and had misrepresented His plan of government, claiming that God was not just in imposing laws upon the angels; that in requiring submission and obedience from His creatures, He was seeking merely the exaltation of Himself.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 42.
Satan accuses God of injustice and self-exaltation, and the apparatus of evil is more diverse than the apparatus of goodness. Satan makes claims that falsify God’s word. He makes statements that contradict what God says. As a result:
“It was therefore necessary to demonstrate before the inhabitants of heaven, and of all the worlds, that God’s government is just, His law perfect. Satan had made it appear that he himself was seeking to promote the good of the universe. The true character of the usurper and his real object must be understood by all. He must have time to manifest himself by his wicked works.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 42.
In the face of Satan’s accusations, God takes it upon Himself to demonstrate, by words and action, over a long period of time, the falsity of His opponent. Out of all the options to handle rebellion (e.g., ignoring it, quieting it, taking a hands-off approach and letting everyone figure out who’s right), God chose the one option where He ultimately paid for Satan’s rebellion and the sin of mankind. In fact, God is wooing His own creation to believe Him, convincing men and angels that His government is just, His law perfect.
Such is the humility of God. Who is before men and angels? God is.
5. The Humility of Christ/Why Jonah was Angry
Jesus commissioned the disciples to begin their work in Jerusalem. We’ve commonly spiritualized Jerusalem as our homes, the place directly surrounding us. But the reason why Jerusalem became the disciples’ first work was not necessarily geographical or by convenience. It was tilled ground. It was also the home of those who just killed the Son of God.
“You have been witnesses of My life of sacrifice in behalf of the world, He said to them. You have seen My labors for Israel. And although My people would not come to Me that they might have life, although priests and rulers have done unto Me as they listed, although they have rejected Me, they shall have still another opportunity of accepting the Son of God. You have seen that all who come to Me confessing their sins, I freely receive. Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. To you, My disciples, I commit this message of mercy. It is to be given to both Jews and Gentiles—to Israel, first, and then to all nations, tongues, and peoples.” Acts of the Apostles, p. 27.
How can you reject God more than killing Jesus? Yet to these people the first Gospel mercies were shown. Jesus gave them another opportunity to repent, and if they did, regardless of what they did, He would accept them gladly. What humility was Christ’s. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” – that prayer was real and God really answered it.
God’s goodness and longsuffering is beyond comprehension. But He also demanded this same compassion from His disciples, those who would work for Him, even if they could not comprehend it. Jonah was angry because God was good, but the disciples, transformed by the Spirit, obeyed. Jerusalem then, who just rejected Christ in the most visible way, became the home of the first Christian church.
“There are in our world many who are nearer the kingdom of God than we suppose.” Acts of the Apostles, p.140.
6. Beware of Prosperity
The godliest kings of Israel and Judah fell not during adversity, but during times of prosperity.
“Affliction and adversity may cause sorrow, but it is prosperity that is most dangerous to spiritual life. Unless the human subject is in constant submission to the will of God, unless he is sanctified by the truth, prosperity will surely arouse the natural inclination to presumption.” Prophets and Kings, p. 60.
It’s time to rearrange our prayers.
7. Finishing Is Harder Than Starting
Reading the series was an object lesson in itself. The second half of the year was much harder than the first half, when there was much excitement in the novelty of the commitment. Even now as I am writing this post, I’m still catching up on my reading. What a striking object lesson for last-day living.
(I’m done now. This was written last month =] )
Reflections from others in the Conflict of the Ages in One Year Facebook group.
My favorite so far is the “Desire of Ages.” Christ truly lived a selfless life. All Christ had: His royalty, authority, power – He gave up, so to be the “Emmanuel” with mankind. And being with us, Jesus took up, poverty, ridicule, and snares. He did it all for us. From the beginning to the end of His life on earth was not of self, but the subjects He came to save.
One of my favorite quotations is from the chapter entitled “Calvary” (p. 751):
“Men may exercise power over His human body. They may pierce the holy temples with the crown of thorns. They may strip from Him His raiment, and quarrel over its division. But they cannot rob Him of His power to forgive sins. In dying He bears testimony to His own divinity and to the glory of the Father. His ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, neither His arm shortened that it cannot save. It is His royal right to save unto the uttermost all who come unto Go by Him.” – Johnny Loi
My favorite is also “Desire of Ages”. Christ’s perfect character was revealed to me and beholding Him has been sweet. My prayer life has been changed – instead of seeking His hands, I’m reminded to seek His face and see who He really is. I’ve been reading Isaiah 53 along with DA and I can say that I am more in awe of Him now than ever.
“It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones” (DA p. 83)
“When we see Jesus, a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, working to save the lost, slighted, scorned, derided, driven from city to city till His mission was accomplished; when we behold Him in Gethsemane, sweating great drops of blood, and on the cross dying in agony,—when we see this, self will no longer clamor to be recognized. Looking unto Jesus, we shall be ashamed of our coldness, our lethargy, our self-seeking. We shall be willing to be anything or nothing, so that we may do heart service for the Master. We shall rejoice to bear the cross after Jesus, to endure trial, shame, or persecution for His dear sake” (DA p. 439-440) – Katherine Elia
Jan 4, 2013 | Faith
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.
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.