Saturday, November 23, 2013

Onward Pursue

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended:
but this one thing I do,
forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Philippians 3:13,14
(KJV)

I've been taking a walk down memory lane....


remembering someone....
a lady from long ago.
We never met.
I never saw her.
She lived years before my time,
yet I have heard and read about her so much through the years...
I feel like I knew her.
Somehow, I relate to her...and what she did one infamous day.

She has been the subject of countless sermons I have heard.
I don't know her name.
I have no idea what she looked like.
Was she short or tall?
Thin or plump?
Beautiful or not so much?

I know her husband's name.
I know she had two daughters.
And I know she and her family were forced to leave their home, much against their will,
escorted by angels and more than likely escaping with only the clothes on their backs
and whatever they could carry in their arms..


On their way out of town, they were told,
"Escape for thy life;
look not behind thee,
neither stay thou in all the plain;
 escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed."
Genesis 19:17

In my words,"Run for your life.
Don't look back.
 Don't linger.
Head for the mountain,
it's your only hope."

Her husband and daughters obeyed.
They followed the orders they were given.
But, the lady made a different choice.
After all, this was her home...the place she had birthed her babies,
cooked meals for her family,
fallen in love with and married her husband,
decorated her home,
lived life.

Women are sentimental creatures...especially Mamas.
Perhaps her daughters hadn't yet developed the love for hearth and home that she had.

She seemed to have been lingering in back of the others....
lagging behind her husband and the angels who pulled him by the hand,
because we read in Genesis 19:26,
"But his wife looked back from behind him..."
Leaving seemed to go harder on her than the others.


How long did she look back?
Probably only for the briefest moment.

I completely understand why she felt the need to take a backward glance.
Wouldn't you?
If you were in her shoes?
Would you feel even the slightest temptation to turn around...just once...for a moment?

I know I would.
The heartstrings would be pulling me back.

I have a tendency to do that.
Especially, when we are leaving home for an extended trip
or when I am leaving a place where great memories were made.

I tend to turn around and look back...just for a moment...and cast a wistful, grateful eye backwards....
before we leave.
Even though the river of time has run its course,
the water has flowed under the bridge,
and we have crossed to the other side of the moment...


I feel the urge to look back....and linger...remembering.
Does anyone else do that?

That's what she did.
She turned around...took a glance at her home...
now burning to the ground, along with the rest of the city.


What was it that eventually persuaded her to look?
Was it the exploding sounds of raining sulfur behind her that caught her attention?
Was it the putrid smell of smoke from burning bodies?
Could it have been a scream from a familiar voice...off in the distance
that tore her heart and overpowered the urgency to obey?
Was there pity in her heart for the ones being punished?
Or was it the yearning...knowing she would never see her home again?

What convinced her we will never know.
We only know she was somehow persuaded to disregard the order,
and she turned around.

When she did, the repercussions were instantaneous...and severe.
She died....instantly, and without mercy.
No time to repent.
No chance to beg forgiveness.
No opportunity to reconsider.

That was it.
Right there in front of the very eyes of her husband and daughters,
the penalty for disobedience was handed out and inflicted...
in a most dramatic and horrifying way.
Immediately.
The payment of the penalty for most sin is not demanded instantaneously,
as soon as the sin is committed.
Usually there is no immediate outward lightning bolt of retribution...
just an inward, very real spiritual death and separation from Almighty God.
Most of the time, God allows time and space to repent of committed sin.
In the case of this lady, there was no chance to repent.
No time was allotted for a guilty conscience,
 and no opportunity was given for her to make peace with God


I once read a wise quote that went something like this,
"Sin would be less attractive,
and there would be a great reduction in its indulgence,
if the wages were paid immediately."
Author Unknown

When you measure her disobedience against other crimes and sins of rebellion,
hers seems like a minor misdemeanor.
Would it hurt to just turn around and take one, tiny peek at what they were leaving behind?

God said "Don't look back."
God says what He means.
God means what He says.
God is all-wise.

Her death came in the most unusual of ways.
Never, in the history of time before her,
nor in the future ahead of her,
has there been such a strange, peculiar, or unusual cause of death.

Her life was instantly snuffed out,
and she was immediately transformed...
into a pillar of salt.

Can you imagine?
A second before, she was a healthy, living, breathing soul;
a second after, she was a dead, hardened, crystallized pillar of salt.

Lingering too far back, when God has told us to move forward,
puts us closer to the place He is pulling us from 
and makes it easier to be drawn back in...
to a place we are no longer supposed to be.

God, through the holy angels and His infinite wisdom, told them not to look back.
Under no circumstances were they to turn around or linger.
His Divine will was to save their lives and deliver them from the severe wrath
being poured upon the city.
To turn around was dangerous.
Hence, the command to not look back.

For whatever reason, she made the choice to disobey.
Could she have even comprehended the consequences?

Fast forward to several centuries later,
and we find her being spoken of...
by the lips of none other than our dear Lord.
In the 17th chapter of Luke,
Jesus was speaking of what it would be like during the last days of time.
In the 32nd verse, we find a three word, easy-to-understand, simple-to-follow command,
spoken by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
"Remember Lot's wife."

All those years later, Jesus admonished us to remember
the woman who became a pillar of salt all because she clung a little too closely to what was behind her and looked back.

Of all of the people He could have told us to remember,
He chose to mention her.

If Jesus specifically called out a particular person
and told us to remember her...
don't you think it is pretty important?

Lately, I've been remembering her....
as I've been tempted to turn around...
to look back....
to linger too long...
where God has told me not to be.

Lot's wife has crossed my mind.
And more than I ever noticed it before,
I have been thinking of how Jesus told us to remember her.

We shouldn't forget.


How many times on our Christian journey are we tempted to cast a yearning, furtive look behind us?
We see others who seem to be enjoying "the pleasures of sin for a season." (Hebrews 11:25)
We buy into the deception that life was easier back there...
in our cocoons of complacency...
before we wholeheartedly sold out to God.

Looking back can be dangerous.

Looking back has the propensity to impede forward progress.

Looking back fosters regret.

Looking back has a tendency to pull a cloud over today's sunshine.

Looking back opens the door to temptation,
discouragement,
despair,
and full-blown depression.

Because things are not like they used to be.
God has brought us to this place.
He has delivered us from places and areas of destructive bondage.
He has carved and winnowed our path to places of spiritual safety.
To look back and long for what used to be is unwise.

Sometimes, in order to stay focused on what is ahead of us, not what is behind us,
there are things and even relationships of which we must let go.
The ultimate goal is to make Heaven our home,
and letting go of whatever and/or whomever is pulling us away from our goal
is sometimes difficult, even painful, but entirely necessary.
Continuing to surround ourselves with those who are intent on staying
in a place God has moved us away from leaves the door wide open to backward glances.
It makes looking back more appealing...and more tempting....and easier to do.

Sometimes, it is best to follow Christian's example.
Remember him?
In The Pilgrim's Progress?
When friends and well-meaning loved ones tried their utmost to dissuade him
from pursuing the path that led to the Celestial City,
he stuck his fingers in his ears,
and ran with all this might, crying "Life, Life, Eternal life!"

There is a strong backward pull with which we all must contend.
Voices calling us backwards.
Yearnings for the way things used to be tugging at our heartstrings.
Wishes to return to where life was more comfortable.

No matter how strong the pull,
we must keep pressing on.
Going forward.
Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Focusing on the goal.
Ignoring what is behind us.
Forgetting it, as the Apostle Paul did.

Jesus said,
"No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
Luke 9:62
(Emphasis mine.)


He told us to remember Lot's wife.
Her sad plight serves as an example to us now.
"And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow,
making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly..."
2 Peter 2:6

Perhaps it is time to jog our memory...
ponder her and consider.

Looking back is not a viable option, my friend.
No matter how rough and stormy the path ahead of us,
we must press on.
Heaven is waiting,
along with all of the loved ones and saints who have gone on before us.

One of Mom's favorite songs was
"Heaven Will Surely Be Worth It All".
She spoke of it not long before she died,
and we requested it to be sung at her graveside.

The words continue to comfort me and spur me onward, as I think of them from time to time.
Knowing she and Dad wait for me there,
 makes Heaven all the more worth whatever it takes to get there.

Written by W. Oliver Cooper & Minzo C. Jones, here are some of the lyrics:

"Often I'm hindered on my way,
Burdens so heavy I almost fall;
Then I hear Jesus sweetly say,
Heaven will surely be worth it all.

Heaven will surely be worth it all,
worth all the sorrows that here befall,
After this life, with all its strife,
Heaven will surely be worth it all."

And, another favorite....
"Ever Keep Heaven In View"
Written by H. R. Jeffrey

"Pilgrim of Jesus, o'er life's troubled sea,
Courage, and onward pursue;
A crown of rejoicing is waiting for thee,
Ever keep Heaven in view.

Chorus
Ever keep Heaven in view,
Ever keep Heaven in view,
Courage, my brother, right onward pursue,
Ever keep Heaven in view.

Pilgrim of Jesus, what saddens thy brow,
Are not His promises true?
How needless thy sorrow, He's bidding thee now,
Ever keep Heaven in view.

Pilgrim of Jesus, oh, lift up thy head,
Ask and thy strength He'll renew;
And, while in the footprints of Jesus you tread,
Ever keep Heaven in view.

Pilgrim of Jesus, that Eden above,
Long has been waiting for you;
And soon thou shalt reach thy fair mansion of love,
Ever keep Heaven in view."

Looking back cost Lot's wife her physical life.
Looking back will cost us our soul.
It is just that plain...and important.

As Mom used to say there is Hell to shun, and a Heaven to gain.
Moving forward is the one and only direction that will ensure we shun the first and gain the second.

I'll never forget the day Kevin and I were traveling down the interstate
when Zach was only about 4 or 5 years old.
He was in the back, in his car seat, and Kevin and I were talking about old times in the front seat,
not really realizing how much he was capable of absorbing.
We were reminiscing about some years in our marriage in which
we were less involved in ministry and life was just overall easier on the flesh.
I mentioned a certain situation, and I guess my voice had a little too much yearning for those days in it.
It didn't escape Little Man's ears or scope of understanding.

All at once, my reverie over the past was broken by a sweet, little voice piping up from the back seat.
"Mama, you better keep your hand on the plow, and don't look back!"
Zach was as serious as he could be.

Our mouths dropped open in amazement, as we realized
we had just been admonished by the mouth of a babe!
As soon as our astonishment passed, it was all either one of us could do to keep from laughing hysterically.

We stifled our laughing...
he was so solemn and so sincere, we didn't dare mar the seriousness of the moment.
His words were true, and oh, so timely!
And I sorely needed the nudge to press forward
and stop looking back.

Two verses came to mind...
the Old Testament one in Psalms....
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies,
that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
Psalm 8:2

and the New Testament one where Jesus repeated it....

"And Jesus saith unto them, 

"Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?
Matthew 21:16


Hearing that sweet, little voice of our precious boy prompting us to do what was right,
made me realize more than ever that his soul...his spiritual life...
depended largely upon US and what we decided to do about our own.

I have often said that nothing has ever helped me spiritually
more than having a child.
Knowing I am responsible for the spiritual training and upbringing of Zachary
has persuaded me to do the right thing more times than I can remember.
The weight of my desire to instill a genuine love for Jesus into him
is continually present with me.
It is front and center in literally every decision I make.
As his parents, we are the examples he sees...living life...day in and day out.
Sure, he is going to see me fail, he has seen it more times than I care to mention.
I am not saying he will ever see perfection personified in me,
because to tell you the truth,
I am about as far away from the mark of perfection as anyone alive...
presently or in the past.
And that's the open, honest, transparent truth.

But, the one thing I think he needs to see the most,
is that when I fail and falter, I don't stay down.
That I refuse to quit.
That I don't allow looking back to be on the radar screen of options.
That no matter how low I fall,
I force the effort required to pull myself up by the bootstraps
and keep pressing forward.

We must keep putting one foot in front of the other.
That's how it is done.

One day...one step at a time.
A continual, consistent, perpetual pursuit of God's holiness...
and the mark for the prize.

An onward pursuit will get us exactly where we most long to be,
and we have come way too far to turn around and look back now.

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