Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Best is Yet to Come

Two years ago, my church sat one last time in the gymnasium, its blue plush chairs lined in rigid rows before the altar. While we sat together in body, we were divided in spirit by a rift so wide, I wondered how long it had been silently growing. Where one church gathered, at night's end, two churches went their separate ways. My heart bowed with my head as I listened to sounds of feet shuffling away--my friends, sisters, brothers, mentors.

I grieved that most of those relationships would be permanently severed, even though I honestly just wanted healing and reconciliation. While I have been blessed to keep in loving contact with a few of those who left our fellowship and have even had the pleasure of catching up with a few others in Chick-Fil-A and Wal-Mart, I have felt real anger from others who have literally done a 180 upon seeing my face or, if flight were impossible, given a mumbled hello before coldly moving away.

There has been such heartache, such loss.

This past Thursday, an elderly lady I loved dearly went to be with the Father. She rocked my babies, was a spunky example of how passionately active for Jesus I want to be when I am her age. Every so often, she would call out of the blue just to ask how the children were doing or to talk crafts with me--how did I sew on the felt pieces to the Christmas tree skirt, how much poly-fill stuffing did it take, had I used this yarn before. After she left, though, the phone calls stopped.

I didn't call her either. It's not that I didn't think about her. I did. I prayed for her, thought about stopping each time I passed her house. I simply didn't know what to say, how to talk around the elephant in the room...or whether my friendship would still even be welcome.

Friday evening, I slipped into the wake early, wanting to pay my respects without making a scene. Her children were and still are beautiful, kind people. I caught up with many others, us both stumbling through the awkwardness with love. And yet, there was still the one whose hostility at my presence was exposed, unconcealable. When I turned to leave, I heard that one say, "She's one of the ones who..."

I kept walking, cursed my excellent hearing. Still...still...I was the enemy. Back in the van, it was all I could do to put the vehicle into gear and not burst into tears.

In times like these, it is so easy to think of the "good old days" before the split, when the church pews were mostly filled for worship services and our voices raised loudly as one in unity, when there was no one I was alienated from, when no one who was bitter at me over where I chose to worship.

It is ironic that my personal remembering coincides with this weekend's tenth anniversary of September 11. There's been a lot of us looking back over the past few days.

Remembering is good. We learn. We mature. We grieve. But in the past is not a place we can remain if we want to truly live. To daily compare the bad now to the good before the tragedy is to cultivate within our souls an attitude of ingratitude toward what God has given us in the present.

In the book of Ezra, when Israel returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon, rebuilding the temple was of great importance to restoring Israel's sacrificial system, their only way through the law to obtain forgiveness for sin. Once the temple's foundation was built, there was great celebration as those born in captivity celebrated this symbol of progress.

Yet, the ones who had seen the former temple wept: "Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people" (Ez. 3:12-13).

While some of the weeping was due to happiness over this restoration, many tears were shed because of how ordinary this temple foundation was in comparison to the luxurious original built by Solomon, because even when physically restored, God's presence was not residing within the holy of holies as He once had.

This concept of disappointment is confirmed when later at the temple's completion, God spoke through the prophet Haggai: "'Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it seem to you like nothing in comparison?'" (Hag. 2:3).

God then reminded the people to be courageous and not look only to the past and what was but to the future and what is to come: "I will fill this house with glory...The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former' says the LORD of hosts, 'and in this place I will give peace,'" (Hag. 2:7, 9). Here, God told them to not look backwards but forwards to the Messiah's coming, to what was to come for the millennial temple--a future where every nation would bow before Christ in His holy temple, its holy place illuminated by a Savior whose glory would be undimmed by wrappings of flesh.

The people obviously listened and understood because after the temple's completion, Scripture says, "And they observed the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the LORD had caused them to rejoice" (Ez. 6:22). This time, there is no reference to weeping. This time, only joy.

"In comparison," our today may seem "like nothing" when looked at through the rosy lens of the past. Yet, just as the Israelites chose to not focus on what was once great but on God's great blessings in the present, so should we, too.

Perhaps these are truly the last of the last days. Perhaps America may never return to her former "glory days." Perhaps our families will never be what they once were.

Even so, we must be thankful, give honor for whatever blessings He offers in the here and now, and as always, keep our eyes fixed on the Savior and His return.

We know how the book ends. The best is always yet to come.

"You think you've seen the sun, but you ain't seen it shine...Wait till you see that sunshine place ain't nothin' like it here"

Image: The Best Is Yet To Come Wall Decal @ Etsy

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