You have perhaps heard people say, “I’m not a bad person. I don’t need to be saved. I don’t need religion.” No need of grace, or faith, or church. But it’s not where you are that’s important; it’s where you’re heading! Said Oliver Wendell Holmes, "The great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving."
So many people in our society today, as long as they're getting along alright, as long as life is good, don't stop to think about where they're going. As long as they can keep the party going, they don't have to think about the future. Remember the “Prodigal Son” Jesus told about. As long as he had the money, and the friends that money brought, it was pretty difficult to convince him that he was going the wrong way. But sooner or later the party comes to an end.
Being a member of a church doesn't mean that you're better than anyone else. It means that you've set yourself in a certain direction -- to seek and to find the "Kingdom of God," God's will and rule in your life and for all creation. And you enter into a certain relationship with God and with the people of God who call themselves "Christian."
That's what the New Testament means when it talks about "salvation." It's not a matter of whether you're a good person or a bad person. It's the direction your life is going, and how you maintain the right direction.
The word used most commonly in the New Testament for sin means literally "to miss the mark." It's not where you are that's important. It's where you're heading.
Faith is not a mechanical thing. It is a relationship, our relationship with God – daily walking with a sense of God’s presence and in the knowledge of God’s love, the love we know in Jesus Christ.
And "repent" means a turning, a change of direction -- a re-turning to the relationship with God. If you are walking with God, there is little doubt that you are heading in the right direction, to the Holy City, the Peaceable Kingdom. By seeking to live our lives in God’s presence and love, we will tend to seek the right direction for our lives and return to that relationship when we have strayed from it.
It’s a frightening thing to be lost. Remember, perhaps, that time as a child when your mother or father took you to the fair, or the circus, or the park, or even a big downtown department store. You wandered off and for a minute or two they didn’t notice. And then you noticed. You didn’t know where they were. You didn’t know where you were. Remember the fright you got.
Or have you ever been lost in the woods? I remember a friend telling me of his experience – starting out in what he thought was the right direction, and after tramping for a couple of hours, ending us back at the same tree. Doing that four or five times, with night coming on, and the cold; and he was all alone.
Faith is like a compass. It gives you a point of reference, something outside yourself that keeps you in the direction you should be going.
A few years ago, while on vacation, my son Peter and I went fishing for a few days off the south coast of Vancouver Island. Twice we were caught in a dense fog. Fortunately we did have a compass.
The first time, it was a beautiful, clear morning. Peter noticed the fogbank in the distance. We thought it would burn off in the morning sun. It didn't. It settled in around us so thick that you couldn't see another boat fifty feet away. It was our first experience out on the saltwater in a thick fog. We decided we better "head in."
It was an interesting experience.
We knew that we should follow the compass, keeping the boat in a certain direction, but we had an urge to veer a bit to the north so that we would be closer to the land. It was almost irresistible, and we kept running onto the shore or into kelp beds which were stretching out from the shore. It was eerie. We couldn't see or hear a thing. There was only the rolling sea, and the fog completely encompassing us. We soon realized we had to steer strictly by the compass or we'd be in trouble.
It’s bad to be lost in the woods, or in a fog, but in a sense, it’s worse to be lost in a city, in the middle of thousands of people who don’t know you and don’t care. For when you’re lost in the city, it’s usually because you’re not just physically lost, but spiritually lost. It’s bad to be lost physically, but it’s worse, much worse, to be lost spiritually.
When you're lost, you don't know where you're going or how to get where you want to go. Or perhaps you don't even know where you are. But that's where we are now as a culture, in many ways. There was a time when we believed we were the children of the Creator, who looked down on us and cared for us. Now commonly we see ourselves as sitting on this microscopic planet, swirling through empty space, in an illimitable and expanding universe devoid of life or meaning.
Way back, a hundred years ago, people of our culture had a great confidence in our human ability to conquer all of humanity's problems. Science and reason would be our deliverers. Swinburne could sing, "Glory to man in the highest, for man is the master of things."
Two world wars, a world-wide depression, the ensuing Cold War, and problems of population and international injustice, with the economy and the environment, have robbed us of our self-assurance. We’re not sure who we are, or where we are going.
What kind of person do you want to be in twenty years time? What kind of person do you want to be as you grow into your senior years? Do you know how to get there? Are you heading in the right direction?
The most important thing in life is not where you are, but where you're heading.
What direction are you going in and where is it going to take you?