Living Faith in a Flip Flop World

If you have ever done any navigating by the use of map and compass, you know that magnetic north isn't true north.
I suppose most of us know that magnetic north is slowly moving.
I wonder how many know that earth's magnetic poles actually flip every million years or so.
Apparently we are about due for another flip.
While the poles are reversing themselves there may be a time when there is more than one north or south pole.
How is that for confusing!

The good news is that it is that there is not expected to be any life ending catastrophe. In some cities where the aurora borealis is not now visible, it may become a common and spectacular nightly event.
At least we have warning and can be prepared if it begins in our lifetimes.
But if you were counting on your compass when that happens...well have a nice voyage, and I hope you take extra socks and underwear. Don't leave home without them.

Don't lose your moral compass
Having your moral and spiritual compass reverse itself can be terribly disorienting.
At the end of W.W.II, Japan had to adjust to the news their emperor was not divine.
At the end of the cold war, communist ideologues had to get used to the idea their version of utopia was up in smoke.
At the end of a marriage, partners have to get used to the reality that a dream will not come true.

This is disorienting, at least for a time.
Humans are resourceful and will find something or someone new for direction again. Most will. Some do not.

The community of Colossae was one of three towns along the Lycus valley in what is modern Turkey.
The people in the church had not found their moral compass yet.
Paul had not founded the church himself, but has heard of their faith and writes to them from prison.

He commends their faith, but has also heard  of problems in the church.
They have become followers of Jesus, but in some ways still had not gained their new bearings.
They had not yet identified Jesus totally as their new fixed reference point.
He addresses these with the words, "take care that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy."
He says, keep your bearings. Don't lose your compass.

That compass is the person and teachings of Jesus, who is far superior to any philosophy he replaces.
Their temptation is the same as ours: They appreciated what they had learned of Jesus, but had not completely shifted their faith away from what held them in the past.
Their poles had not completely shifted and their compass was faulty.

Jesus is not just another fine teacher. Jesus is the fullness of God the creator in human form.
He reminds them Jesus is above all and over all.

Alongside their mistaken understanding, they had not yet totally let go of past lifestyles. The Greco-Roman world of Paul's time was filled with immorality of all kinds, but particularly sexual impurity.
So Paul writes to them.
You are new people in Jesus, and he has given you a new life.

Therefore since you are new people in Jesus, live like it!
It's a familiar tune.
A few years ago I read a survey done with young adults at a Christian college.
There was virtually no difference between their attitudes and behavior concerning issues of morality and those of  the general population.
Even a casual flip through the channels brings us into contact with every kind of immorality. Most are portrayed sympathetically.
Followers of Jesus need the same reminding. "Don't be taken captive by seductive temptations."

Are we to live holier-than-thou lives?
"OK", you might think, "are you saying that being a Christian is about being holier than thou?"
In attitude, no.
In behavior, absolutely!

You see when we become followers of Jesus, he gives us a whole new life.
That new life is not just a dusting off of the old life.
It is a whole new path along with a whole new life.
That path involves a committed and ethical lifestyle. We bring shame on God when we live any other way.

The problem is that we live between worlds, but only one world is visible to us.
The new world to which Jesus gives us access is not visible, except for momentary glimpses we see here and now.
We are called to live by faith in a life and world we cannot see; to act as travelers to a better place.

A recent movie called "The Terminal" starred Tom Hanks as a man stranded in an airplane terminal.
He had lost his ticket and means to buy a new one and ended up living in an air terminal.
That movie is based on a real life incident:

For eleven years a man named Merhan Karimi Nasseri was a man without a country. For eleven years he lived in a Paris airport. He had no passport. He had no citizenship. He had no papers that enabled him to leave the airport or fly to another country. He had been expelled from his native country of Iran. Then he was sent away from Paris, France, because he lacked documentation. He said his Belgian issued refugee document had been stolen. He flew to England but was denied entry and sent back to Paris. When he was returned to the Paris airport in 1988, airport authorities allowed him to live in Terminal 1, and there he stayed for eleven years, writing in a diary, living off of handouts from airport employees, cleaning up in the airport bathroom.

Then in September 1999 the situation reversed. French authorities presented Nasseri with an international travel card and a French residency permit. Suddenly he was free to go anywhere he wanted. But when airport officials handed him his walking papers, to everyone's surprise, he simply smiled, tucked the documents in his folder, and resumed writing in his diary. They found he was afraid to leave the bench and table that had been his home for eleven years.1.

That was like the people in Colossae. They were stuck between homes and unable to move on.

Choose which world you want to live in.
God calls us to move on.
One of the ways we do that is by showing our faith in what God has promised.
We show our faith in part by living as if we belonged under a new administration.
We away all immoral and even questionable activities. We belong to the king, so let our life show it.
Yes there is more to the kingdom of God than ethics, but the kingdom of God expects no less of us. These are basic requirements.

Do we try to mix our faith in Jesus with questionable lifestyles here and now?
Do we have a response to God's love that is willing to make the necessary changes?

I have been reading a lot about hedge funds in the business section of the newspaper. Now I can't say I really understand them well, but my take is they are a way of not putting all your eggs in one basket.
As an investment strategy that may be smart.
With God it is not.

God expects you to sell out totally.
Faith is not just a hedge against future uncertainty.
I can imagine someone saying "well you never know about this after-life business so you better cover that base just in case."
But that level of faith doesn't commit itself and is never fruitful.

What God wants from us is to say "I'm in for the whole deal."
And in this flip-flop world, the uncertainty is all on this side of the divide.
We live with present uncertainty and strike our course for what we believe in and what God has promised.

When Christopher Columbus sailed the Atlantic he made excellent time by sail even for today's standards.
Records tell that he would not shorten his sail and would brook no calls to head back. They were off to find a new world. Some thought they might drop off the edge of this world, but that did not matter. He had enough faith to let out the sails and head full speed for their unseen destination.

Are you in for the whole deal?
What's the point of even signing up for the cruise if you aren't willing to make the whole trip?
God asks us for a total commitment.
God gave us a total commitment.
Nothing less is worthy.

Paul lists some of the issues the people in Colossae faced: sexual impurity, lust, evil desires, greed among others.
Those sound pretty contemporary
I don not know what is your issue.
But you do.
And God does.

And you can't hold on to those and to God at the same time.
Which pole on the compass are you going to follow?
It's not too late to make a change.
Everything depends on your choice.

Preached  August 1, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia

1.Ray Moseley, "At Last, Airport 'Prisoner' Gets His Walking Papers," Chicago Tribune (9-21-99); Suzanne Daley, "11 Years Caged in an Airport; Now He Fears to Fly," N.Y. Times , 9-27-99.

Return to Main Sermon Page
Email Harold McNabb