Where Are We Looking?

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!)

Bach Looks at the Passion of Christ

Nothing surpasses Bach’s St. John Passion in weaving together biblical text and music about the suffering of our Lord out of His love for us. In this season when we look again in a special way at the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, this is an especially helpful musical meditation. Here is the English translation of what they are singing.

Lord, our ruler, whose glory
is magnificent everywhere!
Show us through your passion,
that you , the true son of God,
at all times
even in the most lowly state,
are glorified.

Children and Empathy

I fell the other day. The chair and I just didn’t connect somehow, and with a crash, I found myself on the floor with a sore elbow. Emmy came rushing over and touched my arm. “You OK? I’m sorry!” she said with concern all over her small face.

Looking at headlines on news sites can be a depressing and horrifying thing. Over and over again, we witness the terrible results when people fail to learn empathy and compassion. Where there is no compassion and no ability to connect with the humanness in others, people become bestial, and terrible consequences result.

Children learn empathy and compassion in the very air they breathe in the home.When babies are attended to promptly when they cry or are hungry or wet, they learn that they have value, and they learn to trust. On this trust hangs everything.

As children grow, we as parents and teachers and neighbors teach about compassion by example. Mothers attending to a hurt child inquire, “Are you OK?” That’s where Emmy learned to be concerned for her own mother. She had experienced parental concern many times before, and she knew that when someone is hurt, it’s a bad thing.

We had a wonderful neighbor when I was growing up. She had seven children herself and was matriarch of the neighborhood. One time when I was rushing to school in second grade, I tripped and fell directly into a muddy puddle. My mother was already gone when I ran back home sobbing with a torn up  knee and dirty socks. I didn’t know what to do. Mrs. S. saw me on the porch and brought me inside her house. A few minutes later, with a bandaged knee and a pair of her daughter’s clean socks, I was ready to go on to school. Yes, compassion can be learned from neighbors.

Children can also learn compassion by how we treat pets and wild animals. A bird feeder gives opportunity to talk about how birds get hungry in winter and that we can help. Daily feeding and caring for a pet provides valuable lessons for children on responsibility for others, including creatures of all sizes.

Our son Charlie had a parakeet that lived for 13 years. I think the reason the bird lived so long was that the 9-year-old new pet owner learned that careful handling, feeding, cage cleaning and nail trimming all made for a healthy and happy bird. Early on when I would catch a feeder empty or water tank depleted, I would make an issue of it. “Imagine yourself thirsty and hungry and there’s no way to tell anyone!” I would say. It made the children think. It made them empathize. That is something they will carry with them all their lives.

Our own pain makes us sensitive to the pain of others. If you’ve ever known chronic and severe pain or even a brief time of real agony physically or emotionally, it makes you keenly aware of suffering. And when someone else is in pain you will never be able to see it without understanding and sympathy springing up.

We may see more or less of this sympathy, empathy and compassion in our children’s personalities. Type A’s especially  need to be reminded continually of the need to imagine oneself in the shoes of others. Without that ability, that particular personality type risks becoming ruthless.

This world is a cold and bleak place without empathy. As we carefully study our children and their development, it’s important to ask God to help us instill in them the compassion of our Savior, and His love for others. The innate selfishness we as humans possess in our sinful hearts can only be replaced when our hearts are made right with God.

Our first example is found in Jesus himself. I love this line from Matthew, Chapter 9, verse 36.

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

He was moved with compassion. That says it all.

One Week Until Christmas

It’s hard to believe it’s only a week until Christmas. Will had his Christmas program at school last night. He played, “Ding Dong Merrily on High” on the piano. My nephew Jesse is playing his trumpet tomorrow night with the band at his school’s Christmas program, and I will be his proud aunt in the audience. Will is accompanying a children’s Christmas program this Sunday morning.

We had an early Christmas with Aunt Kris who always brings a lot of joy with her, as does Uncle Mike when he is able to come. Christmas Eve, I am accompanying Tom to a midnight service where he is playing. Emily will be tucked up in bed sound asleep and watched over by her guardian brothers. Once again, I will sit alone in a dark church, without distraction, listening to the beautiful words and music of the Christmas Eve vigil. It’s a deeply meaningful way of remembering the mystery of the Incarnation.

We are not having a big meal on Christmas Day. I made a turkey on Thanksgiving and wore myself out. The consensus is that everybody wants to take it easy this year. So I am going to make some hot ham and buy some rolls, and we will have a very easy Christmas dinner without all the clean-up time. The big meals are nice, but I think everybody would prefer to just spend our time together without a lot of fuss.

Tom’s long running music job comes to an end this weekend, and we will get him back again! This year, the show did not run all the way until Christmas so we are very pleased to have him back early. After weeks of being so busy, he is looking forward to a quiet Christmas Day.

What we need in all our lives is to see the power of that Savior who was born in Bethlehem. The Nativity becomes nothing more than a romantic story if it is stripped of its larger meaning. Bethlehem led to Calvary. It was on Calvary that the power of sin, death and hell were broken. We desperately need to see the power of our resurrected Jesus in our lives. Otherwise, it is just a fairy tale. We need more than a Christmas card Jesus. We need to see the power of the living Jesus to heal lives, restore relationships and reconcile us to each other in love and forgiveness. May God show His power this Christmas and every day of our lives.

O Come let us adore Him, Christ the LORD.

Give Me Jesus

The news stories today are filled with blood and terror, pain and sorrow. Families are torn apart, children abused, politicians and pastors alike fall from corruption. Good seems so weak sometimes in the face of evil.

This week in London, votive candles and offerings of vodka bottles were left at shrines to the latest god to fall, singer Amy Winehouse, who died in a drugged and drunken binge. She had all this world can offer, and she had nothing.

You can have the world’s fake promises. Give me Jesus.

All for Jesus

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!

In Temptation

“The mother never has such success in showing her affection to her child as when he is in distress, sick, poor, or imprisoned. So Christ shows His affection to His children when tempted, or when bested by temptation.

When His children lie in Satan’s prison, bleeding under the wounds of their consciences, this is the season He takes to give an example of His tender heart in pitying, His faithfulness in praying for them, His mindfulness in sending help to them, His dear love in visiting them by His comforting Spirit.

Thus Jesus Christ, whom Satan thought to bring out of the soul’s favor and liking, comes in the end to sit higher and surer in the saint’s affections than ever.”

—William Gurnall, Christian in Complete Armour

HT: Thoughts on the Way

The Happiness of Drawing Near to God by Thomas Watson

Psalm lxxiii. 28. But it is good for me to draw near to God

This psalm is no less elegant than sacred; it is calculated for the meridian of God’s church in all times; but it is especially fit for the godly to meditate upon in times of calamity. It is entitled a psalm of Asaplt. Asaph was a man divinely inspired, a prophet; as well as one of the masters of music. It is called a psalm of Asaph, either because he composed it, or because it was committed to him to sing. This holy man seems here to have a dialogue with himself concerning providence. He was ready to call God’s providences to the bar of reason, and enquire concerning the equity of them. How doth it be just, that they who are evil should enjoy so much good; and those who are good should endure so much evil? While Asaph was debating the case with himself, at last his faith got above his sense; he considered that the wicked were set in locis lubricis, in slippery places. And like such as go upon the ice, their feet would soon slide; or like such as walk on mines of powder, they would soon be blown up, verse 18. This did both resolve his doubt, and compose his spirit.

The proeamium, or entrance into the psalm is not to be forgotten, ‘Truly God is good to Israel:’ so the Hebrew renders it certainly. Without dispute, this is a golden maxim that must be held. In the Septuagint it is vox admirantis, it is set out by way of admiration, Oh, how good God is to Israel! What angel in Heaven can express it; the vulgate reads it, veruntanern, yet God is good; as if the Psalmist had said, though the candle of prosperity shines on the wicked, they have not only what their hearts can wish, but more than their hearts can wish,’ verse 7. And though the godly are sorely afflicted, mingling their drink with weeping; yet for all this, ‘God is good to Israel.’ Here is the fountain, the stream, the cistern: the fountain is God; the stream, goodness; the cistern into which it runs, Israel. Indeed, God is good ‘to all,’ Psalm clxv. 9. The sweet dew falls upon the thistle as well as the rose. But though God be good to all, yet not alike good to all. He is good to Israel in a special manner. The wicked have sparing mercy, but the godly have saving mercy. And if God be good to his people, then it is good for his people to draw near to him. So it is in the text, ‘It is good for me to draw near to God.’

1. We may look upon the words in Hypothesi. Here is something implied, viz. that by nature we are far from God.– Drawing near implies a strangeness and distance. In our lapsed estate we lost two things, the image of God, and communion with God, Psalm lviii.3. ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb’ Every step a sinner takes, is going further from God.– The prodigal’s going into a ‘far country.’ Luke xv. 14. was an emblem of the sinner’s going afar off from God. How far are they distant from God, who have been travelling forty or fifty years from their father’s house! and what is worse, sinners are not only far from God, but they do not desire to be near him, Jer. iv. 10. ‘They have loved to wander.’ Sin doth not care to be near holiness. The wicked get as far as they can from God, like Cain, who ‘went out from the presence of the Lord,’ Gen. iv. 16. — That is, the church of God, where were the visible signs of God’s presence: he estranged himself from God as much as he could: he fell to building, thereby thinking to drown the noise of his conscience, as the Italians of old were wont to drown the noise of thunder by ringing their bells. Sinners think God’s company may be best spared, Isaiah xxx.11. ‘Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.’ Let us shut God out of our company; let him be no more named among us. A bad eye loves not to be near the sun.

Let us be deeply humbled for our fall in Adam, which hath set us at such a distance from the blessed God. Heaven and earth are not so far asunder as God and the sinner. The further we are from God, the nearer we are to hell. The farther a man sails from the east, the nearer he is to the west. Let us of returning to God by repentance. Say as the church, Hosea ii. 7. ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now.’

2. Let us consider the text in Thesi; ‘It is good for me to draw near to God.’

The text falls into these parts. 1. The person, me. 2. The act, draw near. 3. The object, God. 4. The excellency of the act, it is good.

The proposition is this: That it is a great duty incumbent upon Christians to draw near to God, Heb. x. 22. ‘Let us draw near with a true heart.’ For the illustration of the proposition, four things are to be inquired into.

1. How we are capable of drawing near to God.

2. Where we draw near to God.

3. The manner of our drawing near to God.

4. Why we must draw near to God. Continue reading

From God Can Nothing Move Me

I wanted to share this hymn we sang this morning in worship. It was written during the heart of the Reformation, but its message is timeless truth.

From God can nothing move me; He will not step aside
But gently will reprove me And be my constant guide.
He stretches out His hand in evening and in morning,
My life with grace adorning wherever I may stand.

When those whom I regarded as trustworthy and sure
Have long from me departed, God’s grace shall still endure,
He rescues me from sin and breaks the chains that bind me.
I leave death’s fear behind me; His peace I have within.

The Lord my life arranges; Who can His work destroy?
In His good time He changes all sorrow into joy.
So let me then be still: My body, soul, and spirit
His tender care inherit according to His will.

Each day at Hhis good pleasure God’s gracious will is done.
He sent His greatest treasure in Jesus Christ, His Son.
He every gift imparts. The bread of earth and heaven
Are by His kindness given.  Praise Him with thankful hearts!

Praise God with acclamation and in His gifts rejoice.
Each day finds its vocation responding to His voice.
Soon years on earth are past; but time we spend expressing
The love of God brings blessing that will forever last!

Yet even thou I suffer the world’s unpleasantness,
And though the days grow rougher and bring me great distress,
That day of bliss divine, which knows no end or measure,
And Christ, who is my pleasure, forever shall be mine.

For thus the Father willed it, who fashioned us from clay;
And His own Son fulfilled it and brought eternal day.
The Spirit now has come, to us true faith has given;
He leads us home to heaven. O praise the Three in One!

Amen

Text: Ludwig Helmbold, 1532-98