KEEP YOUR EYES FORWARD
t would be one of those stories almost too bizarre to be believed had I not seen it reported at least a dozen times in major news papers over the last three weeks. A Scandinavian tourist trying to capture the perfect picture of his new bride took one step too many and backed off a cliff colloquially referred to by natives in Sri Lanka as The World’s End. There is nothing ironic at all about this name in fact he would have fallen nearly 4000 feet had a small clump of tree canopy not broken his fall 130 foot below the cliff. The only reason I feel comfortable sharing this with you is because he lived to tell the tale. In fact by sheer luck or providence he walked out of the hospital after his rescue with only minor injuries. Mr. Lendas has the dubious distinction of being the only person to date that has walked off the end of the world and survived. Notice I said the only person to date. He is not the first person to have accidentally made the 4000 ft. journey, and he will likely not be the last. That is surely a honeymoon story that few will be able to top.
Somehow I doubt Mr. Lendas would have thought the vantage point for the picture quite so ideal had he looked even for a moment in the direction of his travel. I doubt his intention was to step out over the abyss for only the moment necessary to take the picture. In fact there was likely a certain realization in the moment that he had gone further than he intended and was now going much further in a very short amount of time. That was likely for him a terrifying moment. It would not surprise me in the least if he had at some point thought it his last.
This is actually a common occurrence in many parts of the world and the phenomenon has become known as death by selfie. As people back themselves closer and closer to the edge of canyons, cliffs, even tall buildings in an endeavor to capture the perfect monument to their vanity some inevitably go too far. It really is a game of numbers. Eventually it just happens. But like so many things in life it doesn’t have to. In fact it is completely and totally avoidable.
This is not about safety conscious photography but something of deeper significance spiritually. In fact I would say it’s almost the perfect simile for most spiritual ailments today. An oversized sense of self importance coupled with a careless ambivalence about our chosen path is the tried and true recipe for disaster. Consider this passage if you will.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “ Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good- bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “ No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57-62 NASB)
In particular it’s the third man that I want you to pay attention to. I will follow you but. If memory serves it was my sophomore english teacher who first said to me “but is a tiny word that portends things greater and more terrible than its size should allow.” I don’t know where he got the quote but the word portends tells me he was likely paraphrasing someone else.
I don’t know why Jesus so strongly rebukes the last of the tree men. His response seems more stern than with the other two. Maybe He had some insight into the man’s character that we are not privy to. Or maybe He knew that third man would always be divided in his allegiance because his thought would always be drifting back to that which was left behind. But aren’t we just like that. Our exceptions to service are always close at hand right along side our good intentions and well meanings. That’s why the rebuke in verse 62 is so fitting. Your labor will not be approved if your affections and concentrations are on those things behind you. To be fit in our service our eyes need to be in the direction of our travel.
Paul makes the same assertion to the brethren at Philippi
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)
One cannot press toward the goal of Christ while hanging on to those things that hinder him in his journey or laurels too easily rested upon. Nor can he please the Lord when the goal of the upward is not his chief ambition.
Perhaps that’s why the Hebrew writer says in chapter 12
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB)
Once again we see the leaving behind of baggage and sin, running with endurance, focusing on Jesus. It’s the same pattern that we saw in the Philippian letter.
Once we have taken on the identity of a Christian (hand to the plow) our only direction must be forward and are eyes must be fixed. Our attention must not be divided. With that in mind there are three things that I’d like us to consider that compete for our attention and hinder us in service.
Past glories—Nostalgia for how things were does not serve the cause of Christ today press toward the goal (Philippians 3)
Old scars, grudges, and baggage—Nothing stops the growth of a body of God’s people like old wounds that are never allowed to heal. We will not be acceptable to God if we do not forgive wrongs and transgressions (Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 6:14;15)
Temporary Affections—We cannot walk circumspect and redeem our time until we recognize that the days are evil. This world is not our home. (Ephesians 5:15-18; Philippians 4:8-11;Colossians 3: 1-11)
Look where you’re going, because you’re going where you look