Sunday, May 25, 2008


I fear that our generation is like a ship of sailors lost at sea who stare at the water day after day to try and get their bearings. Looking out from their boat in all four directions, they see water. They don’t lack water. But the endless fields of water cannot show them where they are or where they are headed. Without some orientation, they cannot navigate through this ocean of chaos.

Our generation enjoys news twenty-four hours a day both on television and on the web. We can know virtually anything about anything with a click on the computer. We can download sermons in every style and flavor. We can hear music, watch movies, see college courses and learn almost anything through our computers and TVs, and yet we grow more foolish, more blind, and more deaf.

We are stumbling in the dark and we cannot see what makes us stumble. We are a dis-oriented and we live among dis-oriented people. So how do we regain proper orientation? I thought I’d look up that word to try and understand what it really means.

The root of the word orientation is orient (meaning east, rising sun), which comes from the Latin oriri (meaning to rise, rising sun, to be born, to appear). The root of the word makes me think about my beginning, my birth. I had a starting point. I haven’t always been here. As Bruce Cockburn says, I’ve “never seen everything.”

The Scripture reveals that I’ve been created in the image of God; that he formed me in my inmost parts; that he knows me inside and out; that he created for His good pleasure and glory; that in Him I live and move and have my being. So this root of orientation makes me consider properly my beginning.

Orientation comes from orient and it is an architectural term that originally indicated the way churches were built facing East (Jerusalem, Rising Son). The medieval world looked to Jerusalem as the center of the world and the east provided proper orientation. Their maps reflect this believe as east not north is the top of the map (and Jerusalem is in the center of the map).

Medieval churches were built so that the altars faced the east. Thus every time the people of God gathered to hear the Word of God and break the bread and drink the wine, they faced east toward Jerusalem.

Eating the bread and drinking the wine was remembering the covenant of God with His people made in the body of Jesus Christ. The Lord’s table was a way of looking back to His death on the cross and looking forward to a meal that was to come: the marriage supper of the lamb when all God’s people from across the ages would be gathered together in a city of love. Their worship physically pointed them toward the end of all things: New Jerusalem.

As I consider the rich history of this word orientation, I come to realize that proper orientation requires us to understand our beginning from our end. John the Apostle reveals this orientation point only in Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

In his gospel, John also writes, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” So we look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. Only then can we discover an orienting point.

So when we try to make sense of our lives and make decisions about the future or even try to understand the past, we cannot ignore Jesus as the center point. To ignore Him is to misunderstand. To ignore Him is to stumble in the dark.

I realize that this must sound insane to those who reject Him. Paul suggested that it is foolishness to the world. So I will be a fool in this world by orienting my life according to the fixed point, the person of Jesus Christ.

It is not the newspaper or the web or even the latest Christian book that will give me bearings in this ocean of chaos but the slow, intentional turning of my mind and heart to Jesus. By His Spirit, the Bible becomes an ever fuller unveiling of Jesus. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I am gradually learning to see and hear my Savior.

And just as the sailor who uses longitude and latitude to move through the sea, I turn my eyes to Him in His Word, His commands, His people. Most of my steps forward still appear unclear like walking across choppy waves as far as the eye can see. But I rest that He is leading the way, and I will arrive at the New Jerusalem in time for the feast.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Taking the Name in Vain

Israel is under attack yet again from the daring and fierce Philistines. Crushed by terrorizing force of this battle ready tribe, the Israelites decide that it's time to use the awesome force of YHWH against these invaders. They call upon the ungodly guardians of the doorway (Eli's unpriestly sons) to extract YHWH from the tabernacle and bring His presence onto the battlefield.

As the Philistines spy the ark entering the camp and hear the shouts and frenzied joy of the Israelites, they feel a terror deep in the bowels. Should we proceed or run from this god who struck down the mighty Egypt? Choosing to be strong and courageous (much like Joshua's army of old), the Philistines mount attack on the camp of YHWH and are victorious.

There is no victory shout among God's people. There's is not terror like the terror of God's warriors overcoming Jericho. Instead, the wicked priests fall dead and the fallen people shrink in absolute defeat. Eli dies hearing the news and Eli's daughter-in-law names the desolate birth of her dying womb Ichabod: the glory has been taken away.

God's glory falls into captivity and made to serve before the great god Dagon. Or is He? The God who brought an end to Eli's rule; the God who killed Hophni and Phineas for their mockery of His holy name strikes out at the breathless image, breaking the head and hands and forcing obeisances even to the image of this false god.

Soon the captive YHWH reigns plagues upon these oppressors, and the Philistines fall before the terror of a holy God. Just like the soon to be destroyed Pharaoh sent Israel out from the land, the Philistines send out the ark with gold and treasure upon an ox cart.

YHWH is not captive to the rule of the wicked or the false worship of the chosen. He is not captive to the wisdom of the men whether among the counsels of the wicked or the courts of the godly. All fall down before his glory, his word, his holy reign.

Forgetting their high and holy calling, the Levites of Kirjath Jearim assume they have a right to handle the holy. And terror destroys the people. Instead of crying out for mercy, they send YHWH on his way.

In the midst of YHWH's travel, Samuel calls upon the people of God to humble themselves before Him, to forsake their false gods and to return to His covenantal rule. Israel falls before the holy call and responds in the only proper way to the Holy God: "Lord, we have sinned against you. Have mercy!"

As the people humble themselves, the holy power of God arises. Not limited to a mere box, God rests upon his servant Samuel and the enemies of the people of God are crushed. The Philistines fall before the Lord who remembers His people.

As we plan and plot our crusades, our towering temples, and glorious growth plans, may we fall down before the holy God. His name will be Holy among His people. And those who are not broken before our covenantal King, will be crushed. Lord have mercy on your people. Forgive the mockery of your commandments, the sin that runs rampant at the gate of the house of the Lord and the presumption that you must do our bidding. Lord have mercy. May your glory be raised high as a banner before your people.