Leaping Faith

Faithfulness requires a strong charismatic streak. The fact is, our God knows our story, and our relationship with him is personal. When he conjures up a path for you to take, you may not always be able to cite chapter and verse or point to some universal principle that requires all Christians to take that path. But at that moment, in that place, directed at you, that opportunity has the strength almost of a command.

I say this because I want to get at a particular point- that the Lord calls us to jump, and trust he’ll catch us. If a path is truly laid out by the Lord, then when you set off down it, he will bless you. So faith means setting off down that road even when you aren’t sure where it goes. It means taking the plunge, the leap of faith, and trusting the Lord that there are no sharp rocks at the bottom.

The Lord will provide. A man I respect once gave me some advice about whether I should make a particular life choice. He said, if it was God’s plan, don’t worry about where the money will come from or how I’ll end up there. If he really wanted me there, he would make sure I got there.

The corresponding bit of advice is this: make sure it really is God’s plan. Don’t go leaping willy nilly, don’t put your faith on a slippery stepping stone. The leap of faith is for moments when you are called to have faith, that is, to trust. It’s not for moments when you want something really bad, or you have this weird feeling in your gut that may or may not have something to do with the expiration date on the baloney you ate earlier in the day.

As always, wisdom is necessary. And wisdom is something you have to learn. A large part of that should come from Scriptures and those wiser than you, but it also comes with experience. And experience means trial and error, which means sometimes you leap and you fall, and you have to get back up. Faith means knowing God has also prepared you for your failures and given you a way to come out stronger.

So when God tells you to leap, do it. It may be scary, it may be dangerous, but that’s what faith is all about.

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The Rhythm of the Lord’s Supper

This morning I ran into an article by Dr. Peter Leithart, a pastor from Moscow, Idaho, which put forth the idea that the greatest threat to Evangelicalism is from within. With a cursory glance at all of the other problems we face, he places the central difficulty in how we address the Lord’s Supper. While he picked at a number of things, and there’s plenty to pick at, I want to target one specific aspect of the problem: frequency.

To begin with, in American Evangelicalism there is often a hesitancy when it comes to making the Supper important, since it smacks of Catholic excesses. But, whatever the nitty-gritty of your theology, it has to be admitted that in some sense, “this is my body, broken for you,” and “this is the new covenant in my blood.” The Lord’s Supper is holy. So we can’t just relegate it to some neglected corner of our mind, trotting it out once or twice every year or so, to the great confusion of kids too young to remember when we did it last. We are told to do this in remembrance of Christ.

Now, there is another reason Evangelicals like to reduce the frequency of the Lord’s Supper, and that’s to increase its holiness. The reasoning is that if you do it less, it’s a bigger deal the few times you actually do it. That may be the case, but let me ask this: is the point to recognize that a particular ritual (a living, righteous ritual) is holy, or to shape a way of life?

Let me expand on that. When we sit down at the Lord’s table, it is just that: a table. At its head is our Father, and we are brought to it by our Elder Brother by the power of the Spirit. It’s a family table, and like all family tables, it brings those around it closer together. It also forms habits, teaching us how to relate to one another, and teaching us table manners. In the same way Communion, and it is a form of communion, teaches us how we relate to God and to each other.

So when we come to the Lord’s Table on a weekly basis, as a congregation, we begin to form a rhythm that teaches us about our Lord, the Father, and the Christ who is the Bread of Life. We also learn about the Spirit that drew us there, that draws us closer with every common meal. In weekly communion we see the rhythm of sanctification, a rhythm which gets the whole Church dancing in step together. That rhythm is far more important than one mildly effective way of setting apart something which is already set apart.

I think Pastor Leithart is right. In modern Evangelicalism, we have set aside a practice which plays out the Gospel before our very eyes, and on our own tongues. We’ve severed a form of communion which unites individuals and congregations to each other and their Lord. And we’ve set aside a form of fellowship with God that has a powerful effect on self-conscious sanctification. After all, it’s hard to be at odds with someone who shares His table with you. If we can get this back, I have a feeling many other things will fall into place.

The Story

The way I look at the world, there are two fundamental truths: God is sovereign, and he is our Father. Life is at once a story being told and relationship being acted out.

On the one hand, we are characters in an epic spanning from the moment we are born to the day they throw the dirt on our coffin. It goes beyond that, but those are the years we leave behind us, a parable for our friends and a legacy left to our children. That’s our story until the Lord comes and the graves are emptied.

Everything in that story was written by God, and written intentionally. He has a plan for each of us, a calling. This story arc may be about our family or our life’s work or some complex mixture of everything that makes us who we are. But whatever it’s about, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. No matter what, we are where we came from, we will endure what we must, and we will get where we’re going.

The flip side of the coin is that the Lord is our Father. We do truly have a relationship with him, and with his Son, our Savior. When we pray, we are talking to him. When we come to the communion table, we are sitting down to dinner with him. Our baptism is a promise he has given us, and a promise we return to him. Some days we are faithful, others we are not, and in the end it’s that faith that will determine what sort of relationship we have had with him.

These two things flow smoothly into one another. God is telling a story with our lives, and that story is a part of our relationship. We pray, and his answer, whether yes or no, is just that—an answer. Like any good storyteller, he brings certain themes and motifs to the forefront, and we’re called to pay attention.

Part of maturing in our relationship with God is learning how to read that story. Sometimes a character is recurring, and we ought to ask ourselves why. Sometimes a chapter we thought was closed is reopened. Sometimes the chapter we are in, the chapter we thought was coming to a grand finale, has a twist ending. Our hopes are dashed, our dreams postponed, and we are forced to ask “Why?”

Asking why is nothing new. Everyone does it, Christian or not. But for the Christian, we know there is an answer. God has a plan. He is doing something with our lives. If your past reaches forward unexpectedly, the Lord might be telling you that chapter was more important than you realized. If you are thwarted at every turn, it might be God saying “try harder,” but it could also be him saying “not yet.” We are called to learn the difference, and act on it.

Whatever the path of the story, we are all asked to do one thing: be faithful with it. Sometimes we are meant to be faithful with crucial, life-changing decisions. Most of the time we are called to be faithful with smaller, day-to-day stuff. In that there may be less glory, but that small stuff is what writers call “character development.” It shows who you are and foreshadows how you will play out your part. So, whether in big things or small, we are called to faithfulness.

And this is faith: trusting God with your story. When he calls you somewhere, go there. When he gives you an unexpected opportunity, take it. When he closes a door, ask yourself if there’s a window, or if you should be looking at the next house. But whatever you do, thank him for all the characters involved, every twist and turn in the plot, every scene and setting. And pray to him continually, asking for guidance. That’s the separates the heroes from the villains.

And with that, I leave you Kenny Rogers. God Bless.

A Face

This afternoon when I sat down at my computer I was presented with a news story you have probably not read. It is a story the mainstream won’t cover, because it is a story that strikes at the heart of our nation’s version of the holocaust: abortion. A few years ago the Colorado House was voting on whether to pass a resolution celebrating the anniversary of Planned Parenthood’s establishment in that state. One of the congressmen, Ted Harvey, was dismayed by this choice to rejoice in the state-sanctioned murder of unborn children. A while later, before the day came when they voted on that motion, he ran into abortion survivor Gianna Jessen, and made use of a golden opportunity. The full story can be found here.

If you’re on the Palouse, Ms. Jessen will be speaking in two local events next week. You can sign up on Facebook to attend in either Moscow on the 26th, or Pullman on the 27th. Please do.

“Evangellyfish” – A Solid Satire

Sometimes the best books make you squirm. Evangellyfish is one of those books. A story by a pastor, about pastors, it centers on a scandal concerning megachurch minister Chad Lester. Chad is a serial adulterer, but the accusations surrounding the liaison which endangers his career are false, a fact which makes him quite indignant. In contrast is the small-time Reformed Baptist pastor John Mitchell, who, while still a sinner, does his best to nip his sins in the bud and confess them when he doesn’t.

While the tangled web of deceit and self-interest that surrounds Chad certainly makes for a wild and wondrous plot, it is the characters themselves that catch the eye. Doug Wilson, the author, has a keen insight into the workings of the human heart. He paints a picture of evangelical hypocrisy that often grates against my own party loyalty. But after even a cursory examination of the motives and excuses of the various personalities, I am left with an uneasy twinge of guilt. Wilson’s caricatures are not only true of the church generally, they cut at the heart of the individual Christian.

It’s a good read, and convicting, so I highly recommend it, especially for evangelicals. The author also has a mind for metaphors, and wit when it comes to a turn of phrase. While it can run away from him sometimes, the overall flow is nice and there are plenty of gems worth quoting. A must for the library of the self-critical Christian.

Bottle Shock

When I set out to watch Bottle Shock, I thought it might be a mildly entertaining way to pass the time, and little more. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bottle Shock is the story of how California wines came to compete with the classier wines of France. Its cast includes such personalities as Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, and Bill Pullman. From start to finish it is an underdog story that packs a punch and overflows with humor and heart.

Alan Rickman is an English wine merchant in Paris, seeking to draw people into his business. At the recommendation of his American friend, he decides to hold a blind tasting, a competition between the wines of refined French winemakers and California’s “boys from the sticks.”

Meanwhile, in Napa, Chateau Montelena is being run by Bill Pullman with the aid of Chris Pine, who plays his do-nothing hippie son. They pick up Samantha, an intern, and a love triangle gets started between her, Chris Pine, and a farm hand named Gustavo Brambila, who is trying to start a vineyard of his own. This trio embarks on a series of hilarious adventures, from confronting a racist redneck with awkward results, to hustling a bar full of patrons in a bet to see if Gustavo can identify wines by taste alone.

The tensions between father and son are also important to the story, as the young man played by Chris Pine is confronted with his failures in life even as Bill Pullman is teetering dangerously close to losing the vineyard.

The moment Alan Rickman shows up, these ingredients mix to form much more than a simple story about wine. The flaws of every character are unearthed, and each is threatened with losing his dream. Tensions between them flare, alleviated from time to time with riotously humorous moments. In the end, it’s a story of grace and forgiveness, as they all learn to look past each others’ sins and slights and are rewarded in ways none of them deserve.

Behind all the actors, the dialogue, the excellent plot, looms another element: the wine itself. In every scene we are shown the deep love these people have for their craft, the care with which they approach it. Like a teacher whose passion is for his subject, Bottle Shock passes that love of wine onto the viewer. It’s enough to make you want to start your own vineyard.

Now, I must offer caveats. This is not a family friendly movie. There is some rather strong swearing, though not usually tossed around in a cavalier or pointless manner. There is also a fair amount of adult material. Nothing happens on screen, but plenty is implied and discussed. While I would highly recommend this movie for adults and maybe older teens, don’t let the little ones watch it.

That said, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. It’s free on Netflix, but shelling out the extra money for the DVD would be totally worth it. So go forth and watch. And, if you have the distinct advantage of being over 21, find yourself a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chardonnay. It will, I trust, be worth it.