Pastor Mark’s Devotions #117

“Looking Back”

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:13-14


John was dead for 20 minutes! Last week, I stumbled upon a YouTube video, and watched a man give his testimony about heaven. John was involved in a skiing accident, in Utah. His thumb was injured and after a day of skiing, found his right- thumb dangling from his hand. He needed surgery. It was to be a fairly routine procedure. Something in surgery went terribly wrong. It became a life-threatening situation. Before long, John found himself hovering above the surgical team. Outside of his physical body and in his spiritual body, he watched as the doctors sowed and stitched on his thumb. He realized that he was not alone. He didn’t directly look at the presence beside him, but he knew that a messenger was with him. The time came when they left the surgery room and began to ascend together. He heard the words, “Don’t look back”. He suddenly reached a place where a hand reached out to receive him. He was told that it was not his time, and that he had more to accomplish on earth. John did not want to return to earth, but suddenly he found himself back in his earthly body. He was back in the hospital. He came to find out that he had been dead for 20 minutes. He kept his spiritual experience to himself for a long time.

Why do you think John was told to “not look back”?

It made me think of Lot’s wife, in the book of Genesis. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was visited by two messengers who were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. They were sent because the outcry to the LORD was so great. The angels urged Lot and his family to flee as quickly as possible. They said, “Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

Lot’s wife looked back. She turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19)

The Apostle Paul, makes reference to “looking back” in Philippians, chapter 3. He describes himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, and as far as legalistic righteousness is concerned, faultless. He had placed complete confidence in his ability to follow the Law. Yet he states that he was no longer looking back. He says, “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” He continues, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:7-8) He goes on, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Finally, listen to Paul’s laser focus; “Brothers (and sisters), I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. BUT ONE THING I DO: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul had much to look back upon. He could have focused upon his misguided zeal toward the Law. He could have felt shame regarding his rigid focus upon physical disciplines. He could have carried paralyzing guilt regarding his actions, arrests and persecutions of the first Christians, especially Stephen. Yet Paul acknowledges that he is “not looking back”. He is moving on from is past. He is not ignoring his past. He is not minimizing his past. But he’s also not being controlled by his past. Paul is giving his full attention to Christ Jesus and his pursuit to KNOW him in all depth, power, AND in his suffering.

Paul experienced a transformation on the road to Damascus. He encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ, and it changed the entire trajectory of his life. He was a man, no longer living in chains due to the prison of legalism. Paul was a man set free by the grace of God, saved by the work of Jesus Christ, discovering more about salvation in Christ and his past was simply no longer relevant.

After listening to John’s, Near Death Experience, caterpillars and butterflies came to mind. If butterflies could think, would they have any reason to look back upon their life as a caterpillar? Why would they? The caterpillar has been completely transformed into a new being and is a completely new creation. Butterflies and caterpillars have been used to explain the transformation from our earthly bodies to our spiritual bodies. Butterflies represent resurrection. In thinking about our human bodies, yes, while there may be a resemblance to our past life, in heaven, we will become completely new creations. We will be set free to experience a whole new world, a whole new existence within the glory of God.

While on earth, we might concern ourselves with getting to heaven and getting God’s attention to ask Him those unanswerable earthly questions. We might wonder whether we can look back on earth, or whether our loved ones are looking down on us. These questions and considerations are worthy of our pondering. But when we get to heaven, transformed into our new spiritual bodies, as new spiritual “butterflies”, do you think we will be interested in looking back at our “caterpillar” life? Anyone who has experienced a glimpse of heaven has said, unequivocally, “No”. It’s not that our earthly life is not important. It is this earthly life that has brought us to this spiritual life. Jesus enters into a spiritual conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. He acknowledges that flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to Spirit. But Jesus states, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter into the Kingdom of God unless he/she is born again. Born of water and the Spirit. We are born again, on earth, and become children of God. Then we are born a second time when we are transformed into our spiritual bodies and enter into the Kingdom of heaven. And as that transformation takes place, our attention, will be focused upon this new existence, and in the glory and presence of God. Every other earthly concern will fade in “insect” importance. Which begs the question, why do we worry so much about our short time on this earth.

Consider how often you “look back” and think about your use of rotary phones. Wait, what do rotary phones have to do with anything? Exactly! Do we have any real need to look back at “dialing up”? How about your use of a flip phone? Perhaps there is a bit of nostalgia looking back, but your current smart phone has transformed communication. Perhaps many of you are thinking, “Yeah, but I don’t really like it.” I. too, am tired of constant technological change. But then again, how would it feel to go back to the time before the telephone; or to the time before the telegraph machine, or to the time before the printing press for that matter? Martin Luther could certainly talk about the advantages of that transformational change.

The Bible tells us that our life in Christ here on earth is a foretaste of the feast to come. As the Spirit continues to transform us from glory to glory, looking back has less and less significance. If you are living life, constantly looking in the rearview mirror, that is a red flag warning. You are in need of the Holy Spirit to shift your focus. The Holy Spirit is to give us eyes to see – spiritually! If you need, right now, invite the Holy Spirit to move in you and through you to open your eyes and heart to his presence and where He wants you to look. The more the Spirit moves in our hearts, the more our eyes will be drawn forward, looking and longing to see the presence of God in our every day, ordinary lives. And the more our hearts will experience transformation. This process is catching a glimpse of heaven on earth.

We can be tempted to think, “If we could only return to the good ‘ol days”. Our eyes want to romantically look back at the beautiful times gone by. Certainly, there have been good days. Yes, there have been “glory days”. And there have also been “gory days”. It is not wrong to look back, unless God directly tells us not to(i.e. Lot’s wife or John). But by looking back, we can get stuck on the “glory” or the “gory” and not move on. We can do this as individuals, as couples, as congregations and as communities. It is critically important to look back in order to give thanks, to heal, to forgive, to rejoice and honor the important people and history that has brought us to this present moment. But in looking back, it cannot get in the way of our looking forward. For God is moving His entire creation forward. Looking back cannot control our future forward move. Looking back ought to empower us to live with greater purpose in the present. And ultimately, bring greater glory to God!

So, where do you find yourself looking today?  

May we follow the words of Paul. Let us “press on” toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

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