by: Allen Domelle
The older you get, the more nostalgic you become. Nostalgia is an amazing thing in that time has stopped, and in that person’s mind nothing has changed. What is sad is watching a person go back to revisit the old places they fondly remembered only to be greatly disappointed because nothing stayed the same.
I recently had the opportunity to go back to the old church where I had spent several years as a youth. I knew that things had changed, but I wanted to see what had become of the old building and property where I cut my teeth preaching as a teenage boy. It was an amazing visit returning back to that property and seeing what the LORD was doing in that church. No, the buildings were not the same; they were improved. There were more buildings on the property, and the church auditorium had been expanded to hold the crowd that attended church every week. The old pulpit from which I preached my first sermon was still there, and I stood behind it remembering that first time I opened the Scriptures to preach the Word of God. It was truly time well spent talking to the pastor and reminiscing about the past.
Everything definitely was not the same. As I drove to the church, I almost got lost because so much had changed. The city had grown, and two-lane roads had become four lane roads. Where there once used to be a country road with a short onramp to the freeway, it had now become a major overpass. It took me several minutes trying to figure out where I was and how to get around my hometown.
Things had definitely changed since I had left. The old country roads where I used to ride my bike were no longer country roads. Where strawberry fields once used to be, neighborhoods had been built and were filled with families. How I remembered the old town had definitely changed. Time stopped in my mind, but the city didn’t stop in time. It moved on. It had developed land and built up its infrastructure which totally ruined the image of what my hometown was all about.
I was reminded of a valuable lesson on that trip. That lesson was that how I remembered a place or person to be was no longer the case. Time didn’t stop when I moved on. People got older and children grew up and got married. The town I remembered as a child no longer existed as it did in my mind. Time had moved on and the little town had changed.
What happened on this trip was that I wanted to remember my hometown as Mayberry, a make-believe city on film that never changes. I wanted to go back to Mayberry, but Mayberry no longer existed. The reality is that Mayberry has changed for everyone. What we remember as Mayberry is no longer the same. How you see everything from the past is not reality. Places, people and institutions change. Humans tend to judge people and places by how they remember them in the past.
I was recently reacquainted with a friend from several years ago. We talked about the past and relived some of the memories of those whom God had placed in our lives. We talked about how the LORD blessed the institution where we both worked together with delight. It was truly a wonderful time of fellowship I had with my friend.
During the conversation he brought up the name of someone who I knew had changed. They no longer stood positionally where they once used to stand. Yet, this person told me that they knew this individual was a good person because they had worked with them on a personal basis. My friend based his whole perception of this person’s position upon the past without any consideration for the fact that they could have changed over the years.
It was only a couple months later when I was talking to someone else who brought up the name of this same person who had changed. They said almost the exact same thing my friend had said about this person. They said they used to sit and listen to this person teach, and they “knew” that they were positionally sound. I asked this person when was the last time they had any conversation with that individual. To my surprise they said the last time they talked to them was about twenty years ago. I then asked this person if they had considered that someone could change in twenty years. When I said this, it was like the light came on in their mind because they were trusting that an individual had stayed the same all of these years.
What happened to these two people happens to most of us and that is we tend to go back to Mayberry with people, churches and institutions and think that they haven’t changed. Their whole trust on a person’s individual stance was based off where they stood twenty years ago. NEWS FLASH! People change! Why do we foolishly think people and institutions won’t change? We remember the hallways we used to walk down when we were younger and think that the people we associated with during those times are still walking down the same hallways. Please don’t take this as an attack against any place I used to minister. It is just reality that places and people do change over the years.
God commands us in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” The word “try” means to test or approve that they are still of God. In other words, God commands us to continually test that something or someone is positionally and spiritually right.
Moreover, God says that we are to be sure “whether they are of God.” “They are” is a present tense phrase. In other words, God is commanding us not to rely upon the past, but to see where they are in the present. Just because they were right in the past doesn’t mean they are right in the present. Just because someone was right in the past doesn’t mean they are right today. We are to try them to see if they are still standing where they are supposed to stand. Just because an institution stood for the old paths in the past doesn’t mean it is still standing for the same old paths today.
Furthermore, God’s Word is the measuring stick by which right is measured. Notice, it is not your memory of someone or some place, but God. God is the final authority by which everything is to be measured. Society, conscience or one’s memories are never to be used to see if they are of God, but God’s Word is the only measurement of whether something is right.
There are several thoughts we need to take away from this truth.
1. Every person or place is capable of changing.
Nobody or no place is above changing. Because every person is a sinner, they are capable of changing. Romans 3:10 reminds us, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:” Because sinners are used to run institutions, institutions are capable of changing. I know there are some people who admire me, but I caution those who fall into this category not to think that I could never change. I have seen people who were far better Christians than myself change. Always remember that every person or place is only as strong as their last act or positional stance.
2. How we remember someone or some place in the past doesn’t make that reality.
Your memory of Mayberry doesn’t make Mayberry a reality. How I remembered my hometown didn’t reflect what it was truly like. It had changed! I’m glad that you have fond memories of a person or place, but memories are how we package the past and our memory isn’t always honest. Israel remembered Egypt wrongly in Numbers 11:5, “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick:” How they remembered Egypt was not reality. Reality is where a person is presently standing. Reality is the positions an institution is presently taking. The Southern Baptists used to preach the Word of God boldly, but reality is that today they have gone the way of Balaam. The reality is that a person’s alma mater has most likely made some changes. Some changes may be for the better, as long as they stand for the Word of God. How you remember a church from your past, a person you used to admire or be close to, or an institution to which you have loyalties doesn’t make their present positions right. You must separate the past from reality before you decide whether to associate, endorse or support a person, church or institution.
3. Do your homework before you validate.
God commands, “…try the spirits whether they are of God…” Let me prod you to never give total trust to any person, church or institution. Just because a conference was good in the past doesn’t mean it is good today. Just because a preacher stood for the old paths in the past doesn’t mean they are still standing for them today. Just because a college turned out old paths preachers in the past doesn’t mean they are still turning them out today. Tennessee Temple College/University is a classic example. Before they closed their doors, they had gone back into the Southern Baptist Convention. Yes, they had turned out hundreds if not thousands of old paths preachers in the past, but when doing your homework you would have found that they changed.
Before you start endorsing a preacher, let me encourage you to see where he stands. Be sure that the books he promotes are books that won’t turn people away from the old paths. Be sure that the people with whom he preaches are the type of people you would not be afraid to promote. Be sure the people they have in their conferences are the type of people who are strongly standing for the old paths.
Please do your homework before you endorse any college, youth conference or camp. I have watched many people promote colleges, conferences and camps that have changed only to regret that later when their children or youth follow an emerging church philosophy. You should not promote colleges, conferences or camps that are progressive in their beliefs or positions, but you should only send your youth to the types of places that strongly and unashamedly stand for the old paths. Do your homework! Check and see who that college has preach in their chapel services. Be sure the college doesn’t just have rules, but they enforce their rules. Be sure that college dresses according to the Scriptures and not according to trends. Always remember that where you send your youth to college, camp or youth conference will dictate the preachers they admire and lift up as great men in the future. Many young preachers today have been poisoned by progressive teachers who don’t believe in the King James Bible and have criticized old paths methods as out-of-date. Size doesn’t make something right, position does.
4. When places or people change, be friendly but don’t be close.
Always be a friend to your friends, but when they change you need to learn to be friendly at a distance. All it took for Amnon to change was one wrong friend. They may criticize you for not being as close as you used to be, but they are the ones who have moved. When you happen to be around someone who has changed, talk about what you do have in common which is your past. The past is a great conversation piece that you can use to be friendly without getting into a debate about who is right today.
One of the greatest concerns I have today is the mentality that everything is the same because that is how we remember it. Memories are great, but be careful about being so nostalgic that you reminisce yourself into compromise. Always “try” each person, place or institution by where they presently stand and not by where they used to stand. By making this your principle for association and endorsement, you will keep yourself and those who follow you from being exposed to something that will lead to compromise later on.