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There is a wonderful Swedish song called, “I Look Not Back.” I learned it from a recording at a Lutheran college some years ago. Here are the words:
I look not back; God knows the fruitless efforts,
The wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets.
I leave them all with Him who blots the record,
And graciously forgives, and then forgets.
I look not forward; God sees all the future,
The road that, short or long, will lead me home,
And He will face with me its ev’ry trial,
And bear for me the burdens that may come.
I look not round me; then would fears assail me.
So wild the tumult of earth’s restless seas,
So dark the world, so filled with woe and evil,
So vain the hope of comfort and of ease.
I look not inward; that would make me wretched;
For I have naught on which to stay my trust.
Nothing I see save failures and shortcomings,
And weak endeavors, crumbling into dust.
But I look up–into the face of Jesus,
For there my heart can rest, my fears are stilled;
And there is joy, and love, and light for darkness,
And perfect peace, and ev’ry hope fulfilled.
The author of these lyrics is listed as that famous person, “Anonymous”, but the lovely tune is by Oskar Ahnfeld. I wish I could share a recording of it, but sadly, I couldn’t find a link.
The words underscore the importance of watching our view in life. Where we look can make the difference between despair and discouragement and having joy and hope.
Austin Sparks, an old path preacher from the last century, wrote a wonderful message on this theme, “Looking Unto Jesus.” The full message in print is at this link, but here is an excerpt:
“…Now this word is – adjust everything to the end, have all your affairs in life brought into line with God’s end. When you are considering a relationship, have God’s end in view. When you are considering the next step in your life, have God’s end in view. When you are deciding where you are going to live and do your work, have God’s end in view. When you are deciding what your business is going to be, have God’s end in view. Everything brought into line – that is the meaning of this “Make level the path of thy feet” or “Weigh carefully the path of thy feet”. We have to say to ourselves, ‘Now then, this is an opportunity, a prospect, that seems to hold a lot of good; but first of all, what is this going to mean for the Lord, how does this relate to the full end of God?’ Nothing less than that must weigh with us. “Let thine eyes look right on” – not just at this thing, not even at what it seems to promise, but right on. How does it relate to the end? In all things, look beyond; see what is the relation to the full end of God; and adjust accordingly. Get the vision, and adjust life as far as possible in relation to it. “Weigh carefully the paths of thy feet and order them aright. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left”. “Let thine eyes look right on”.
As things worsen in our culture and in the visible church, we need to make sure our eyes are firmly on Jesus. The enemy will try endless ways to distract us from the One who matters. Thousands of hours are filled on America’s airwaves each week documenting the collapse of everything that once stood firm in our society. As Christians, we work for what is right and do all we can to be lights in our culture, but whatever we do, we have to ultimately have our eyes on Jesus and His glory. This world is temporal. As Kipling put it, “Lo, all our pomp of yesterday is one with Nineveh and Tyre!”
God is eternal. Our souls are forever. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus.
(I wrote another post here 2 years ago on the same theme!)
My grandmother told me once that a relative of hers would go to prayer when there was an insurmountable obstacle in her life—something important that was lost, some need that emerged, a situation that could not be humanly resolved. Then, after praying, she would look up and say, “Now we’ll see what God can do!”
In Scripture we are told that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are his ways our ways. He sees the big picture, but we only see what is directly in front of us. We ask for something to be fixed, and he does something altogether unexpected and different. Not what we ask for always, but something that takes us further on the journey God has intended for us.
Relinquishing our own vision of what needs to happen is key. Otherwise you can completely miss the hand of God, or even shun it. I am seeing this so clearly in my life these days. We can rattle door handles at times, yearning for an answer to our pleas, looking around for that open door or the next step, maybe even take off in a direction, only to learn that God had something else entirely.
More than anything else, I have found freedom in relinquishing human goals in exchange for what God has for that moment, however humble. Chafing and casting around constantly is not peaceful, and it isn’t productive. That’s because it’s too much of us, and not enough of Christ. As we take on whatever tasks God brings before us, however different from our human ideas, we can stop wasting energy, time and emotion. It’s called contentment.
The work we often vest with so much importance in our thinking can not only be the least important for our souls, but can serve as an obstacle to the deeper heart work God has for us. There’s a time to charge ahead with something, and there’s a time to step back. Failure to do this results in a great poverty of the soul that manifests in bad fruit in our lives. We can become brittle, impatient, prideful and defensive.
I am convinced that when we embrace contentedness and quiet, even in the face of what appears to be insurmountable difficulties, God will act. What He does in our lives may surprise us. I’ve learned that some of God’s richest gifts often come in strange-looking packages (tied up with string, as the song goes), but if He is truly sovereign, as His Word unmistakably declares, we can accept and even embrace those packages delivered to our door.
Today I am faced with a couple of exciting new packages in life! As my forebear said it so well years ago, “Now we’ll see what God can do!“
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
- Isaiah 55:8-9
Now to him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
- Ephesians 3:20-21
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. – Romans 8:33-34
No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, said the LORD. - Isaiah 54:17
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” - Revelation 12:10-12
By the blood of the Lamb we overcome Satan as the accuser of the brethren. The chapter (Revelation 12) expressly tells us that he accuses the brethren day and night; and there is an instructive tradition among the Jews that Satan accuses the elect of God all day and all night long, except on the day of atonement, and then he is quiet. Glory be to the dying Lamb, the atonement shuts the mouth of the lion continually, for the atonement lasts all the year round. Neither in the court of Heaven, nor in the court of conscience, can the enemy’s accusations harm us, for the blood of our Substitute is a bar to all suits against us.
If we by faith are assured that Jesus has put away our sin, what cause have we for alarm? If the punishment due to our sin, and the sin itself have both been carried away by our great Surety, so that sin is plunged into the depths of the sea, and cast behind God’s back, then who is he that shall harm us? Brethren, do but grasp the doctrine of the atonement, and know your own interest in it, and the accuser of the brethren will be silenced by the voice of the blood.
We overcome Satan by the same means as to his craft. He has seven heads, but we tell him Jesus died, and that breaks all the seven heads, and destroys the sevenfold ingenuity of his snares. He would, if it were possible, deceive even the very elect, but the secret of the sprinkled blood is that which prevents the elect from ever being deluded by him. Who shall separate them from the love of Christ? Does not redemption by blood hold them fast to their Redeemer? You cannot be right anywhere if you are wrong upon the atonement, but if you are sound upon the substitutionary sacrifice there is little fear of your falling into any serious error.
As the needle once magnetized continues to seek the pole, so they who are once touched with the love of their dying Surety are sure to remember it and cannot long be turned in any other direction. As for the dragon’s horns of power; the power of the blood is far greater. Since we have been redeemed by Christ from under the power of Satan he cannot regain his hold of us. His power is broken. As to the crowns which he wears, what care we for them? We are delivered from under his power by being redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, and Satan can never again have the rule over us.
As for the energetic influence which is figured by his tail, he may quench the very stars of heaven, and pull down the most brilliant professors and make them fall to the earth as apostates, but he cannot harm us, for because of the blood of Jesus we are latest by the power of God through faith unto salvation. Cling to the cross, dear brethren, for there you are out of the reach of the old serpent’s venom; he may hiss, but he can do no more. No wave can ever wash a poor sinner off from the rock of ages, no storm can drive a penitent out of the clefts of the rock. Within the wounds of Jesus we are secure from all the rage of Satan. In our battles with Satan we need no other artillery but the atoning blood, it meets and conquers him at all points.
–Charles H. Spurgeon
So we will laugh and be happy, knowing that joy comes from knowing Jesus who defeated that enemy.
The enemy hates it when families forgive each other, so we will reach out to those we have hurt or who have hurt us and forgive them even if they reject us, knowing that we can do this in the power of Jesus Christ who forgave us.
The enemy hates it when those in pain refuse to curse God and instead trust Him in the dark of suffering. So we will trust God in the dark of suffering and hold tight to the hand of the One who never will leave us or forsake us.
The enemy hates when God turns what he meant for evil into good that praises and exalts the Lord’s holy name. So we will watch expectantly for God to take what is consummately evil and turn even that to accomplish His perfect purposes.
The enemy hates joyful, loving, healthy families, so we will be joyful, love each other and reject anything that is not healthy in relationships. We will praise God that He destroys strongholds of the enemy and vanquishes Apollyon.
God is not the author of confusion, of conflict, of hatred, of vengefulness and of fear. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is peace and life and sound minds.
Wherever there is conflict, hatred, slander, dishonesty, paranoia, fear and betrayal, there is Satan. Reject him in your life. Look to Jesus and sing joyfully like Miriam did on the other side of the Red Sea. Pharaoh had sent out his chariots to destroy God’s people. But God stopped them, and his people were brought to safety on dry land on the other side.
“Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously! The horse and his rider, hath He thrown into the sea. The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
Following the theme of Holy Week when we remember afresh the sacrifice of our Savior on the cross, I want to post something each day to cause reflection on the awesome price Christ paid to buy us back from destruction.
This is from John Stainer’s oratorio, The Crucifixion, largely forgotten now except for two pieces that are still in use, God So Loved the World and this hymn, All for Jesus. Here are the words followed by the music.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
This our song shall ever be,
For we have no hope, nor Saviour,
If we have not hope in Thee!
All for Jesus Thou wilt give us
Strength to serve Thee, hour by hour;
None can move us from Thy presence,
While we trust Thy love and power.
All for Jesus! at thine altar
Thou dost give us sweet content;
There, dear Saviour, we receive thee
In the solemn sacrament.
All for Jesus! Thou hast loved us;
All for Jesus! Thou hast died;
All for Jesus! Thou art with us;
All for Jesus Crucified.
All for Jesus! All for Jesus!
This the Church’s song must be
till, at last, her sons are gathered
one in love and one in Thee!
On the morning of June 3, 1996, I awoke with ringing in my ears and my eyes didn’t seem to be quite right. I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with two other children to care for, so I lumbered out of bed and began the day. My fingers and my feet were swollen beyond recognition, my weight which had been 112 before baby was now 150 and climbing, and when I looked in the mirror, I hardly recognized myself. I had had to have my wedding rings cut off because of sudden swelling in my hands. My young doctor seemed unconcerned. That morning I remembered I had a doctor’s appointment at 3pm, and I sat down at the kitchen table trying to draft a grocery list to take along with me to my son’s 2pm piano lesson. I thought I might be able to get to the grocery store while he was with the piano teacher.
But as I dropped Sammy off for piano, the ringing in my ears became a growing buzzing sound, and my eyes didn’t seem to be focusing correctly. I decided to skip the grocery store after all. The doctor told me later that it probably saved my life. I drove directly to the doctor appointment after piano with the two boys in the back seat. I knew they could wait for me during the appointment. By the time I got to the doctor’s office, my eyes seemed to be worsening. I picked up a magazine in the waiting room and was alarmed that I could no longer read anything. The doctor walked in, took one look at me and did not smile a hello. He took my blood pressure and said, “you’re going to the hospital, now”. I became really frightened at that point and called my husband at work and told him to meet me at the hospital. I also called my mother to come and get the boys.
On the way to the hospital I remember wondering what was going on and asking the Lord for peace. Nobody had told me anything up until this point. What I didn’t know was that lab reports from a week earlier had come back showing that my liver and kidneys were failing. At the hospital, a very worried Tom met me, and I was taken to the labor and delivery section. “What are they doing with me?” I asked him. He didn’t know either. Finally, after what seemed a very long time, a nurse explained that the doctor was on his way in and that the baby would have to be induced immediately. It was too early, but it couldn’t be helped because our lives were in danger. They put me on an IV drip and hooked me up to monitors of every kind, one of which took my blood pressure every five minutes. A special IV was put in with anti-seizure medication. “It will make you feel like your burning up from the inside,” the nurse announced cheerfully. “And by the way, no water, period.” What a combination, I thought. Fire and no water.
By evening the labor was progressing and so was my blindness. The hallucinations I was having visually (like the face of Margaret Thatcher in the ceiling, ha! I’m a Reagan-era conservative, can you tell?) were replaced with a gray kind of mist. I asked the nurse about it and she airily dismissed me. “That’s just the medication you’re on,” she said. I was relieved but puzzled as to why my vision was going even before the IV started.
William was born in the 11th hour, and the Lord saved both our lives at the 11th hour. He was over 5 pounds (an amazing size for one so early!) and turning blue the nurse said, so I couldn’t hold him. His lungs just weren’t ready to be born so they whisked him away to the NICU. Meanwhile, everything got progressively dark. I was left hooked up to monitors all night in that room and repeatedly, I told the nurses that I couldn’t see. Not one of them believed me, I think. The next morning the doctor came by to see me, and I told him. He believed me. He shined a light into my eyes and told me, “something doesn’t look right”. All day, I waited to hear news of tiny William. The intensive care unit said he was very sick, and the only thing I could think of is that if he didn’t make it, I really wouldn’t have gotten to see him. Tom kept going between hospital floors to bring me updates. My pastor came but I couldn’t see him. He assured me that everyone was praying.
That evening, an eye specialist came in to see me and they started doing tests. “It’s the strangest thing,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Your retinas apparently were being bowed out by the fluid pressing on them from behind. You’re a lucky woman to be alive, did you know that?”
Not luck, sir. Just blessed. “Your retinas are damaged but I can’t tell you if it’s permanent or if it’s temporary,” he said.
After researching it further, the doctor told me that there was not much medical literature on such cases as they were so rare. To shorten the long saga, William began to grow stronger. Despite his early arrival, he was one plucky little boy. He was fed through a gavage tube for a week, and then moved on to tiny bottles that looked like they were made for little rabbits or something. He wasn’t jaundiced and his lungs were developing just beautifully because of Surfactant, the wonder drug. It is so wonderful what they can do with these little preemies now. I praise the Lord for that. After 15 days in the NICU, William came home.
My full vision had come back just about the same time. It came back little by little. The darkness started lifting and then one day I stepped outside and millions of little diamond-like specs appeared from the sun. The doctor said that was the light being picked up by the eye again. What a beautiful thing it was to see that light. Post Tenebras Lux.
I was told that if I had chosen the Wednesday appointment instead of the Monday appointment, I would have died because the fluid build-up was so far advanced causing the kidney/liver failure, and the blood pressure was so high that I could have gone into seizures from the pressure on the brain. The young doctor later admitted to me (when he found out I wasn’t going to be litigious about it) that he had never had a situation like mine emerge. He should have discovered the pre-eclampsia early on. It’s one of the basic things doctors are supposed to look for. The tests all pointed to it early on, I learned, but he missed it. But like the saying goes, all’s well that ends well. The Lord for some reason had a plan for both William and me, and it wasn’t our time to go yet. The experience was a sobering reminder of just how frail life is, and how gracious the Lord is, again and again.
Today, William is 12 years old. He is playing a Bach prelude downstairs that I wish you could hear. He loves football, Super Soaker battles with his dad, pipe organs and pianos, and he wants to be a military historian some day, (after hours from his organist job). He’s also studying for his amateur radio license. Best of all, he loves the Lord Jesus who rescued him 12 years ago tonight. We pray that he will be a man of godly courage and integrity and a strong witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is a living example of God’s grace. Soli Deo Gloria.
(This is Will’s 12-year-old portrait, courtesy of Babboni Photography Studios.)
I watched a short video today on the life of German pastor and poet, Paul Gerhardt. He lived in the 17th Century and his beautiful legacy of hymns remains today. This year marked the 400th anniversary of his birth. I came across this Gerhardt hymn today, and at this Advent season I was reminded again of just what the Son of God in the manger really meant.
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord, doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forthshineth.
He Whom the sea and wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God’s own Son, with us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.
Thy light and grace our guilt efface,
Thy heavenly riches all our loss retrieving.
Immanuel, Thy birth doth quell
The power of hell and Satan’s bold deceiving.
Thou Christian heart, whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee!
For God’s own Child, in mercy mild,
Joins thee to Him—how greatly God must love thee!
Remember thou what glory now
The Lord prepared thee for all earthly sadness.
The angel host can never boast
Of greater glory, greater bliss or gladness.
The world may hold her wealth and gold;
But thou, my heart, keep Christ as thy true Treasure.
To Him hold fast until at last
A crown be thine and honor in full measure.
Today on Crosstalk my guest will be my dear friend in the Lord, Sherry Goodwin. She will be telling the amazing true story of a young girl named Mary Jones. What this Welsh girl did because of her love for the Scriptures ended up impacting a world for the Lord. This is a Crosstalk that is highly recommended for children as well as adults. We will be offering a little book entitled, Mary Jones and Her Bible. This is a perfect gift for children because the Bible is our perfect gift from the Lord. Today Bibles often collect dust in Christian homes. I hope the story of little Mary Jones will inspire us to love God’s Word more than we do. The program airs at 2pm Central Time. You can listen to the show live at our website or listen to the podcast later.