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“Have You Lost Your Bearings?”

1st Sunday of Advent (‘Hope’) - Nov.27/16

Is.2:1-5; Mt.24:36-44


Life in the postmodern world can be a bit like stumbling about in a dense fog. Without landmarks to find their way, people can feel life is maningless, without purpose, hopeless.

      An episode of The Crown about the life of Queen Elizabeth featured the Great Smog of London in December 1952. For 5 days a toxic pea soup hung over the city, trapping fumes from coal-burning fireplaces and industrial smokestacks due to an inversion layer, warm air 1000 feet above ground level that trapped smoke from rising. Cars were abandoned as motorists couldn’t see where they were going. Some pedestrians couldn’t even see their feet as they walked. Movie theatres closed because patrons couldn’t see the screen. It’s estimated some 4,000 people died due to the poisonous smog, perhaps up to 12,000 if you include premature deaths up to the following summer.

      Ironically, some of the problem may be blamed on governmental policy and pride: Prime Minister Churchill wanted to give the impression the post-war economy was booming along, so encouraged the burning of coal. The problem wasn’t really addressed until passing of the Clean Air Act in 1956 prompted people to switch to other forms of fuel.

      When there are no clear guidelines, confusion reigns. History.com notes, “Oxford and Cambridge carried on with their annual cross-country competition at Wimbledon Common with the help of track marshals who continually shouted, ‘This way, this way, Oxford and Cambridge’ as runners materialized out of the thick haze.” Can you imagine?!

      Isaiah’s prophecy reflects the conflict that results when there’s not agreement amongst people. Isaiah 2:4 “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Without regard for God’s laws, it’s hard for there to be peace or justice. It can make things pretty hopeless due to the warring factions.

      In Libya this past week, it’s reported three young men set loose a monkey on a schoolgirl; it pulled off her head covering. In retaliation, those from the rival tribe killed 3 people and the monkey. From there, things escalated over the next two days, involving tanks, mortars, and other heavy weapons. Eventually at least 16 people died and 50 were wounded!

      We may grimace at the Law of Moses in Exodus 21:24 stipulating revenge not surpass “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” – but such a regulation limits violence from escalating out of control. God’s laws do help make the world a safer place. Without them – we’re back to mob rule and gang warfare.

      The theme of ignorance or “not knowing” comes through in Matthew 24 – people being ‘lost in a fog’, without knowledge, apart from what God has revealed. V36 “No one knows about that day or hour...” Vv37-39 “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.”

      V42 “You do not know on what day your Lord will come.” V43 “If the owner of the house HAD KNOWN at what time the thief was coming, he would have kept watch...” V44 The Son of Man will come at an hour we do not know, “when you do not expect Him”. Many things spiritually we are “in the fog” about unless God reveals it.

      Canada has benefited from a tradition of “peace and good government”; the Americans prefer the phrase “law and order”. It is very concerning that lately there has been a rash of shootings of police officers south of the border. 60 police officers have been shot dead so far this year, compared to 41 in all of 2015, and there is an alarming spike in ambush-style attacks. When citizens lose respect for law enforcement officers, that brings us closer to the verge of chaos.

      The Apostle Paul warned the Thessalonians a day characterized by rebellion would come: 2Thess 2:3 “...that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed...” He predicted to Timothy a time would come, which he called “the last days”, when: 2Tim 3:2-4 “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ...without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God...” In short, sounds like a moral “fog”. Worshipping rebellion and autonomy makes the world a more dangerous and violent place.

      This is the first Sunday of Advent, traditionally associated with “Hope”! That doesn’t sound particularly ‘hopeful’, does it? Stay tuned!


The prophet Isaiah ministered just before the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel - Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC. There had been a succession of wicked kings, including Ahab. The apostasy of the northerners must have been heartbreaking to Isaiah. God gives him a vision that the Lord’s mountain will again be prominent at some future date. Is 2:2 “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” Foreign nations – non-Jews, that is, Gentiles – would be drawn to it in a stream. Why? Not because of its elevation or its “Jewishness”, but for other reasons: it will be INSTRUCTIVE. Is 2:3 “Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Did you catch those significant phrases? “Teach us His ways...walk in His paths...The law will go out...the word of the Lord...” God’s revealing to the prophet that, far down the road, Jerusalem will have a TEACHING role in the world. The Hebrew word “Torah” means “teaching, doctrine, instruction”. Lev 10:11 “...you must teach [yara - from a root associated with archery] the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses.”

      Isaiah continues in 2:5, “Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.” Pierce the darkness, the fog, the confusion of unbelief and ignorance.

      The contemporary of the prophet Isaiah, named Micah, shares a startlingly similar revelation in Micah 4:1f: “Many nations will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD...He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem...”

      Both prophets, then, are telling their countrymen they have a responsibility on the international stage, not to conquer other nations, but share the teaching with which God has entrusted them. Instruction that can be the basis for a just and fair legal system, providing a framework in which people can live together peacably.

      Did Jesus have something similar in mind for the church when He gave us our marching orders, to share among the nations about Him in Acts 1:8? “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Paul and Barnabas told those gathered at Pisidian Antioch, quoting Isaiah 49:6: Acts 13:47 – “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

      It’s hard to have hope where there is a moral fog, rebellion and violence, lack of purpose, there’s a lack of direction. Society crumbles into chaos when immorality reigns and people selfishly pursue their own pleasure. Hope is exchanged for passing momentary highs. For real hope, we need God’s sound instruction and principles for society. Isaiah 51:4f - “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations.My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.”

      When we’re lost in the fog, when the clouds of moral corruption envelope us, we need a better map to find our way. God means for His teaching to be that map.


At a summer camp back when I was in college, I had the privilege of teaching ORIENTEERING. That’s the art of finding your way around in the wilds with the help of a topographic map and a compass. It’s easy to get lost when you’re out in the wilds. But if you’ve got a clear line of sight – like at the top of a hill – and a map, you can find out where you are. WITHOUT requiring a smartphone with built-in GPS!

      It requires a couple of landmarks you can identify, at about right angles to you. Let’s use a road map by way of illustration. In a real situation you’d use landmarks that are much closer, but this will give you the idea. You’ll need to ORIENT your map north-south by means of the North Star, sunrise and sunset, or a compass if you have one.

      How can we get our bearings and find out where we are? Let’s suppose I can see Goderich over in that direction. I’ll put this business card along the line of sight to Goderich. Next, line the business card up with Wingham in the other direction. When both lines of sight are in the exact direction of their respective landmark, where the lines intersect – that’s where YOU are!

      One landmark is not enough. You could be anywhere along that line that points to Goderich, with the map in any direction. It requires that second landmark in order to pinpoint your location. (Or, if you prefer the smartphone approach – even GPS requires 3 satellites in order to work!)

      The point of my illustration is this. God has provided us with a MAP – His instructions, revealed in the Bible, inspired teaching through the Lord Jesus, clarified by the apostles with the leading of the Holy Spirit. That’s one point of reference. But to really get our bearings, we need a second point of reference: recognition of the authority of the Lord Jesus – that He is coming back as our Saviour and Judge. After all, what is the PRIMARY conviction of a Christian, in just 3 words? “Jesus is Lord.” Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” 1Cor 12:3 “1Co 12:3b “...No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

      You can know your Bible inside out, but if you’re not willing to obey God’s commands, it’s worthless to you, and you’ll be lost. Biblical doctrine is great and life-giving, holy and God-breathed, but unless it’s coupled with obedience – submission to Christ’s authority as Lord – you’re only heaping judgment on yourself by knowing what’s pleasing to God but not doing it. Without BOTH points of reference – God’s truth, AND conviction of Christ’s authority as evidenced in His coming triumph – you’re lost in the moral wilderness.

      According to Jesus’ statements in Luke 24, the people of Noah’s day were carrying on life as normal – eating (the word is like “chomping” or gnawing – consumers, like pigs with their heads in the trough, perhaps?) and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, reproducing, populating the countryside, punching the time-clock in a workaday world, pursuing life’s so-called necessities. But they were ignoring the most important thing: God’s purpose for their lives. They laughed at Noah and heaped scorn on him. But when the flood came and swept them all away, they realized – too late – they should have heeded the revelation God had given His spokesperson.

      Jesus says it’s going to be a similar scenario right before he comes back: two women grinding with a hand mill, two men out in the field – but one of each pair is not going to make it. Have you oriented your map to the reality of His Lordship? Do you accept His authority, are you serving Him daily – or are you just busy doing your own thing?

      Luke 24:42-44 “Therefore KEEP WATCH...If the owner of the house HAD KNOWN what time of night the thief was coming, he would have KEPT WATCH...So you also must BE READY.” Lest the Son of Man come and find you IGNORANT, not knowing, not expecting Him.

      Do you have your bearings? Do you have your eyes on both Goderich (God’s Word, in your mind) AND Wingham (Jesus your coming Lord and Judge, in your heart and soul)? Too many churchgoers are half-asleep in the “comfortable pew”, familiar (somewhat) with Biblical teaching but NOT carrying it out. James 1:22,25 “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.Do what it says...The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it— he will be blessed in what he does.”

      Or in the terms of the prophet Isaiah, it’s not just a matter of being taught God’s ways, but also walking in them. Is 2:3,5 “He will teach us His ways, SO THAT we may WALK IN HIS PATHS...Come,...let us WALK IN the light of the Lord.”


This Isaiah 2 passage has an interesting connection to the history of L’Abri. L’Abri (French for ‘shelter’) was started by Francis and Edith Schaeffer in 1955 as a place where students could come to find satisfying answers to their questions and practical demonstration of Christian care. Over the decades, branches have sprung up in over 7 other countries besides Switzerland, and the Schaeffers’ influence has been widespread through their writings and other media.

      But Edith struggled with starting it up, because there was no assurance it would “fly”. She worried about things like funding and strength and privacy. In one period in the summer of 1956, they averaged 31 visitors per week! She later recalled...

      “I was sitting at my typewriter, feeling the heaviness that went with the uncertainties ahead. I propped my Bible up on the typewriter, and asked God to give me help and comfort. My reading took me to the Book of Isaiah.Now I believe the Bible is, to the spiritual life of a Christian, what warm fresh wheat bread is to the physical life – both nourishing and appetizing! There are also times when God speaks to some of His children in the very words of the Bible, written hundreds of years ago, yet seemingly written as a message for the situation of the moment.

      “Let me tell you what happened that day. (As I read Isaiah 2:2-3) I reached for my pencil and wrote in the margin: ‘Jan ‘55 promise...Yes, L’Abri.’ For I had the tremendous surge of assurance that although this had another basic meaning, it was being used by God to tell me something. I did not feel that ‘all nations’ were literally going to come to our home for help, but I did feel that it spoke of people from many different nations coming to a house that God would establish for the purpose of making His ways known to them.It seemed to me that God was putting His hand on my shoulder in a very real way and saying that there would be a work which would be His work, not ours. I felt that this work was going to be L’Abri.”

      God used the obedience and willing servanthood of Edith & Francis Schaeffer mightily. What about you? Do you have a home you could open up to others? Granted, we don’t live in the Swiss Alps – but Blyth is not exactly entirely off the tourist track! (We’ve even got a Tim Horton’s now – we’re really on the map!) And what about your neighbours – might they not welcome an invitation to share a simple meal and some friendly companionship? Isaiah suggests people will be drawn to “the mountain of the Lord” to be taught God’s ways. If people today are really lost in a moral fog, drifting toward chaos, experiencing conflict in their families and their workplace – might they not be drawn towards a home where God’s truths are being lived out moment by moment, providing steadfast guidance and direction; where Jesus’ way is applied diligently in the day-to-day nitty gritty of everyday life?

      People are looking for direction, looking for satisfying answers. The fog makes one uneasy. It’s dangerous, toxic, deadly. Let’s be keeping watch for the Lord’s coming, revering Him in our hearts, walking in His paths – and let’s dare to share the hope we find in Him with others who are searching. Shall we pray?