When Emma and I were returning from Jacksonville on Monday after Christmas, we made a wrong turn. The GPS on my phone instructed us to stay to the left on I-95, but we couldn’t get to the left because there was a barrier preventing us from merging. This forced us to take a wrong turn as the GPS rerouted. The new route instructed us to take the next exit and travel down a back street for a couple of miles. Emma looked at me and said with confidence, “I don’t believe this GPS, we should’ve just gone straight.” This was really funny because neither Emma nor I had any idea where we were, and her suspicion was completely irrational because the GSP always get us to where we need to go, even when we misread the map and make a wrong turn. Sure enough, we made it back to I-95 and safely home to Cocoa Beach.
I sometimes think, “I don’t know how I ever traveled without GPS on my phone.” Back in the day, I would print maps from MapQuest, and then later I had a Garmin GPS that hung from my windshield. Do you remember those? You could change the voice giving directions to Austin Powers or Snoop Dogg. Now this technology is on our phones and will even warn us of road hazards up ahead. GPS has become so integrated into our lives and the apps on our phones that we don’t realize how much we rely on it.
Pilots, archaeologists, moving companies, farmers, loggers, civil engineers, surveyors, geologists, mining companies, and even Navy SEALs all use sophisticated navigation equipment, and all this advanced technology is grounded in a simple device called the compass. Do you remember the hand-held compass? There was one in the Red Ryder BB gun I got for Christmas as a kid. They were typically round and had a little needle under a glass cover bouncing around on a pin that could point you north. This is a magnetic compass, which you can build with a needle and a cork in a bowl of water.
Another type is a gyrocompass. This compass does not use the Earth’s magnetism to show direction. Instead, a spinning gyroscope works in conjunction with the Earth’s axis of rotation to point to true north. This type of compass is often used on ships and aircraft. We also have the solar compass that uses the sun as a navigational tool.
And then there is perhaps the most important compass of all when we are trying to navigate life, the moral compass. It’s a compass that points to our True North and keeps our steps on a good and trustworthy path. As we know, a good compass helps us travel with confidence in the right direction, and if it doesn’t, we need to throw it out and get a new one.
Today we start a new year. Many of us are hopeful, maybe even optimistic, about getting a fresh start, about recalibrating our habits and routines to become better people and experience more joy in life. But if this going to happen, we need a reliable moral compass, and there is no better time to check our navigational tools than at the beginning of a new journey.
As we know, there are four cardinal principal points on a compass (north, east, south, and west), and I think it will be helpful to return to our scripture reading this morning, taken from Ephesians, chapter 1, to see how it can help us understand the four cardinal points of a good moral compass.
Although there are many points on the Ephesian compass, the cardinal points help us understand our place in the world and our relationship with God. More precisely, they help us know who we are and who is directing our steps. The apostle Paul starts by providing the north and south points on our compass by saying that we are (1) chosen by God, and (2) we are children of God. Remember that the Earth’s axis is formed by the north and south poles. The planet rotates on this axis. So, metaphorically speaking, being chosen by God and being a child of God are pivotal points on our moral compass. If we get this wrong, the compass will not faithfully guide us.
First, we are chosen, and not just chosen but chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world” (v. 4). This means that before you were ever born, God destined you for good things like love, peace, and joy. God also destine you to be part of His great rescue plan for the world. This is part of your God-given purpose and identity, and if you don’t understand and claim this truth, then you will not be able to make good decisions that help you live into this destiny.
You have heard me say that the biggest problem with human beings these days is not that they think to highly of themselves but that they think too lowly of themselves. Indeed, modern psychology has taught us that most people who are full of pride are really overcompensating for insecurity. They worry that they are not good enough or smart enough, and that if people see this they will devalue, abandon, or reject them. So, they pretend that they are better than everyone else or smarter than everyone else to hide the fact that deep down inside they feel inferior. This deep-seated fear masked by projection has a way of breaking a person’s moral compass, and when they unwittingly follow this broken compass is leads them astray into thoughts and behaviors that hurt other people and keep them from experiencing true happiness. So, it is crucial that we get the north cardinal point right from the very beginning, that we know who we are and what destiny God has prepared for us.
As we start a new year and face an unknown future, we must remember that from the foundations of the world we were chosen by God, that it is God’s will that we live a good life and experience good things as we are trying to make the world a better place. And when we doubt our value or place in the world and start getting down on ourselves, we need to return to this constant north point—God has chosen me for good things.
More specially, God has chosen you “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (v. 4). Now don’t freak out at the sound of these words because they don’t mean what we often think they mean. Holy does not mean better than everyone else and blameless do not mean morally perfect. Holy means to be set apart to serve God’s purposes in the world. Before the planets were formed, God chose you to do your part in making the world more like He intends it to be, and to be holy means to accept this call, to allow God to set you apart for your specific role, and to serve this role as faithfully as you can. The role might be as simple as sharing the loving presence of God with your family or sharing the story of what God has done for you with a friend in crisis. Or it might be as challenging as becoming a foreign missionary or accepting a call to run for public office. But the important point here is that God has destined you to be part of his great rescue plan for this world, and to be holy means to be set apart in ways that will empower you to serve your unique role.
The word blameless points to the importance of leading a moral life. More specially, it’s a judicial term that stresses the importance of living a life committed to justice and fairness for all people. So being blameless means acting in ways that make the world more just and fair. But even followers of Jesus sometimes fall short, and the only way we can be restored to blamelessness is by asking God for forgiveness. So, we are blameless not in every action but insofar as we live under the cover of God’s grace in Jesus and seek forgiveness.
When we put all of this together regarding the north cardinal point, we start to get a clear idea of our identity in Christ: we are destined by God to be set apart so we can live moral lives that make the world more loving and justice, and when we mess-up, we are the kind of people that own our mistakes, ask for forgiveness and, with God’s help, get back on track. This identity is our true north as Christians.
Second, we are not only chosen by God, but we are also children of God, which is a little more personal. As it says in scripture, we are not children by nature, but by adoption, which dovetails nicely with the concept of being chosen. All children are special, but an adopted child is even more special because they are freely chosen. Knowing that we are a child of God is the south point of our moral compass, an axiomatic belief that is require for our compass to work.
Now think about what this means. Do children with loving parents worry about their future? Do they wonder how they will survive? Do they even bother themselves with these types of adult concerns? No! Unless they have been seriously abused, they have confidence that their parents will provide for their needs. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount: “ . . . do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32). Our faith that God is real, that he is closer to us than our own breathing, that he is for us and not against us, that he is working in and through all things to accomplish our good, and that we can trust his protection and provision, all of this is crucial as we seek direction in life. Together, these faith claims, claims that we must come back to over and over again, are the south point of our compass and together with our north point form the moral axis on which everything turns.
The east point on our moral compass is the rock-solid conviction that we are redeemed. Although we sell ourselves into various kinds of slavery that rob us of our God-given destiny and put us on the path to destruction, God does not abandon us. Rather, God find us on the auctioning block and buys back our freedom. In Jesus, God pays our debt, sets us free, and brings us home so we can reclaim our destiny and get back to a joyful existence in which we are serving God’s loving purposes in the world. Knowing and believing that we have been redeemed and that God can make us useful again is an essential element in our identity and the east point on our moral compass.
Finally, the west point of our compass is the certainty that in Jesus we are forgiven. Everything ugly, shameful, dark, and destructive has been blotted out. We don’t need to carry it around anymore like a noose around our neck. We can let it go, give it God, and walk in newness of life. Many people are suspicious Sigmund Freud, but he got at least one thing right, that most of our bad behavior is driven by guilt and shame. So, if you do not truly believe that you have been forgiven then your moral compass will be broken, and all that guilt will destroy you behind your back. You’ve got to let it go and claim your identity as someone who has been forgiven.
When we put the east and west cardinal points together, that we are redeemed and forgiven, it helps us to understand the famous verse of scripture in Psalm 103:12: “ . . . as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
To review, the four cardinal points of the Ephesian compass are the north-south vectors of being chosen by God and claimed as children of God, and the east-west vectors that we are redeemed by God and forgiven by God. Taken together, all four establish our identity in Christ; all four guide our steps so we can be joyful and useful; all four are axiomatic faith claims from which everything good proceeds.
I want to end this morning by posing a couple of questions.
First, do you have a good compass? Do you possess the rock-solid belief that you have been chosen by God for good things? That you are a child of God and therefore a person of worth? That you don’t have to be or do anything different for God to love you, because God’s love is unconditional and nothing you could ever do would make God stop loving you or stop pursing you? Do you know in your heart of hearts that you are redeemed and forgiven? Do these convictions shape how you think about yourself and make decisions in your everyday life? If all four of these things are not in place, you don’t have a good compass. But the good news is that God can give you one that works great, and the only thing you have to do to receive this gift is to sincerely confession your sins and ask God to give you a fresh start. Before we move on, I want to give everyone here a chance to do that by offering a prayer . . . . .
If you prayed this prayer with me and meant it in your heart, then you can claim a new identity in Christ: that you are a chosen child of God that has been forgiven and redeemed.
Now that you have this new compass, the second question is, will you trust it? Will you trust this moral compass. Trusting the compass means coming back to the four axiomatic faith claims over and over again so you can remember who you are and who directs your steps. This is especially important when the world tells you different, when the world says that your life is meaningless and without purpose, that you can’t trust anyone, that you are irredeemable and unforgiven, that you are beyond repair and will never be free from your guilt. When these things are spoken over you or crop-up in your thinking, trusting you compass means counteracting these lies with the truth of the four cardinal points. Trusting your compass also means that when you are making decisions you ask yourself what would a person do who truly believes that he is chosen, redeemed, and forgiven by God, a person who is destined for good things and has the protection and provision of God? And then letting your faith guide your steps. If God has given you a good compass, then you can always trust it, even when your instincts, fears, or preferences tempt you to another path. So, trust your compass and consult it frequently.