Some years back, a team of archaeologists were granted permission to open the inner sanctum of one of Egypt’s pyramids. Armed with flashlights and notepads they time traveled into a world of antiquity and intrigue. But of all the mysteries that would confront them, and of all the secrets they would uncover, none was as surprising as the one found in a chamber that looked more like a family library than a morgue.
Scrolls, artwork and artifacts covered ornate tables and elaborate shelves. Chairs, lampstands and footstools were perfectly placed in conversation style. Alabaster goblets and eating utensils sat neatly on silver trays. It had all the appearance of a tea party at the Pharaoh’s.
But even more impressive was a perfectly preserved line of hieroglyphics stretched across the entire main wall.
Linguistic experts were quickly summoned to decipher the mysteries of the ancient writings. “What hidden truth will history reveal to us?” they wondered. “What secrets will the past unearth?”
When finally decoded, a press conference was held to reveal the mysterious words of the departed Pharaoh. Loosely translated, the preserved wall-writings simply read, “Oh, for the good old days!”
Nostalgic sentiment loiters in the mental cobwebs of us all.
But were “the good old days” really that good?
Roll back the clock and see if our modern world can live up to the same hype. Was America’s former way of life something to reminisce just, say, 100 years ago? Let’s take a look:
In the year 1900:
- Only one in seven homes had a bathtub.
- Only one in 13 homes had a telephone.
- Infant mortality was 140 per 1,000, as compared to 5.9 per 1,000 today.
- Life expectancy was a youthful 47 years, compared to today’s 78.7.
- Only 6% of the populace had a high school diploma.
- Colleges were graduating only 1.5% of the students they do today.
- The average workweek was 52 hours.
- Only 8,000 automobiles were registered in the entire country.
- Washing machines cost $5 … but they were not electric.
- There were no planes, cars or movies.
- …and “Old Glory” only had 45 stars.
The good old days? Nostalgia, it appears, has a short memory.
This same nostalgic nonsense popped up during the Exodus. For 400 years the Jews had known only opposition and bondage in Egypt. For 400 years their prayers had been a single sentence, “Lord, deliver us…please!” And finally, after 400 years, God went into action. “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters. I have come to deliver them.”
Yet, within the first month of their newfound freedom, the emancipated Israelites longed for the good old days. At least a dozen times these wandering ingrates reminded Moses of the pleasures they left behind—how, in Egypt, they “had more food than they could eat,” and how they “used to eat for free.” “Forget Canaan!” they argued, “Egypt is the land flowing with milk and honey.”
Israel, the world’s largest focus group, yearned for the good old days.
In the same way, today’s churches flash back to the good old days too.
Congregations love to reminisce about things that weren’t necessarily so. They remember how former pastors preached with the passion of Paul and the tears of Jeremiah, spoke with the wit of Moody and the humility of Graham. Board members recall your predecessors as having Moses’ leadership, Solomon’s wisdom and Elijah’s work ethic.
Weekly, you’re reminded of the heydays before you arrived.
But the truth is, God has never been overly impressed by the way things were. His message for the church was always given in future tense. Other than our redemption, the rest of our instructions are filled with signposts pointing forward, onward and upward.
The finish line is still in front of us. To “finish the course” is our goal. The commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” is our reward.
In other words, the good old days aren’t behind us, they’re still to come.
Ron Walters is Vice President of Church Relations for Salem Communications. Subscribe to his devotional The Pastor's Corner here.