September 11 – Why the Bible is not a GPS Device, And Why the Confirmation Students are Going to Get Lost

Screenshot 2015-09-11 09.11.14Confirmation Kick-off is Sunday. We’re expecting ten students, and Joe Franzi, Carol Casten, Ed White, and I will be along for the journey. I like the image of a journey in thinking about what lies before us as we begin forty Sundays together. It will be a quest, a pilgrimage, an “errand into the wilderness,” to borrow the old Puritan phrase.

Confirmation has no place in the modern world; no more than a quest, a pilgrimage, an errand into the wilderness, has a place in the modern world. I am so glad we insist on continuing this outdated practice at LPC.

We call the class and the journey Confirmation because at the end of it the church will confirm the baptismal faith of parents now as the owned faith of the students. Of course, some of the students may receive the waters of baptism for the first time and, who knows, one of them may decide that this faith and this membership in the community of brother and sister pilgrims is not something they want to own.

Twenty-first Century confirmation may have some differences with confirmation as practiced in the Scottish Highlands in the Seventeenth Century, but it has more similarities. It is a good thing to do.

On Sunday, and on behalf of the whole church, we are going to give each of the students a new Bible, an ESV Student Bible. It is a really nice Bible, and the students will not have much of an idea of what to do with the thing. That’s fine. Forty Sundays from now they will.

If we are embarking on a journey of faith, then our Bibles are what? A map to show the way? A compass that points to true north? (Yeah, I remember adjust 14 degrees west.) Maybe. One thing I know for sure: our Bibles are not GPS devices. A GPS device tells you where you are all the time and exactly what turns and detours to take to get where you want to go. The Bible has no such ability. It is primitive. Until you learn how to use it, you’re bound to get lost.

On the journey of faith, having a Bible is like having a good topographical map as you’re setting off on a trek through the wilderness. It takes training and lots of practice be able to use a topographical map, to see your place among the squiggly brown lines, and to see in those brown lines the soaring peak or the deep valley before you. The Bible is like that. We read the stories and poetry of ancient Israel, the parables and chapters in the life of Jesus, the encouragement and the exhortations of the Apostles. In time, and with practice, we begin get a sense of our place and, yes, of the soaring peaks and deep valleys that are before us.

A group of us once hiked to the top of Mount Goddard in the Sierra Nevada. 13,558 feet, the highest place I’ve ever been. You can see a portion of the topographical map we used in the header of this post. Frankly, it was easy. The map reading part, that is. You can see what we were seeing before us in the photo in the footer of this post. There’s a lake and there are no trees. Just the soaring peak before us. And there’s that shoulder on the southwest side. You can see it in the squiggly brown lines. Yes, that’s the way up.

I’ve been lost with a topographical map in my pack. It happens when you’re in a deep valley or a thick forest and there’s little on which you can take a bearing. But with practice – and a good compass (your topographical map tells you how much to adjust the inclination to true north) – you can learn to see what the map is telling you to see.

The Bible is kind of like that. At first that Old Testament law or that New Testament parable seems to have nothing to do with the deep valley or the thick forest in which we seem to be lost. But with practice and with time – and with the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit – we learn to see how those ancient words tell us exactly where we are and point to best way beyond.

Sunday at Confirmation we will strap on our packs and hand out those topographical maps. From time to time, we’ll probably get lost on the way, but what an adventure lies ahead. By God’s grace and providence we are going to make it all the way to 13,558 feet. Maybe higher.

See You Sunday