Choosing Faith, even on a Roller Coaster

My son loves roller coasters. LOVES them. When he was younger, he kept a three-ring binder full of facts about roller coasters found in amusement parks all over the country — some of which he has never ridden. He is 14 now, and summertime still is basically measured by amusement parks visited.

You know those brochure racks that they have at rest stops and in hotel lobbies? Even today, I still find myself looking at them to see if there is a new brochure for a thrill park, one I can grab and take home to my son.

About to go over the hill on another coaster (2009)
About to go over the hill on a coaster at Six Flags in Maryland (2009)

See, here’s the thing about roller coasters. No matter how scary they look, my son gets on with hardly a thought — because he just assumes that the coaster designers, and the maintainers, and the testers have all done their job. He just figures that they have built it right, kept it running right, and tested it right before he got there — and everything is good to go. So, he gets right on.

Now, you may not like to ride coasters. The truth is, I don’t either. But every one of us does hundreds of similar things, everyday — that is, we decide to trust someone, something, somewhere. With every bite you put in your mouth, or drink you swallow, you are trusting that all along the food chain, people did their job to make sure that what you are now ingesting will provide life to your body, and not death. In either case, the point is: you live a life of faith. One that never has all the answers, but one that knows enough to trust what you do know.

I wonder: how many people have failed to trust their lives to God because of what they don’t know? How many see faith as too uncertain, too hard to pin down in this science-y age we now live in? But the truth is, faith isn’t optional. It’s essential. Life itself is an act of faith.

The question: is what I am putting my faith in, worthy of my faith? If you are going to live a life of faith (and you are, right now), then make sure the object of your faith is worth it. Is worth everything.

At Fern Creek Christian where I serve, this Sunday I am going to challenge folks to make a decision. To choose a life of faith in the One who, as 1 John 4.7 puts it, came so that we might live through him. For some, that means it is time to surrender to Jesus in baptism. For others, it is time to say: this is my church family. I am fully on-board to grow with, serve with, and love through this family.

There comes a time in all of our lives when we don’t simply passively live a life of faith — where we don’t simply assume that life will work out, but where we choose to trust something, Someone, who is worthy of ALL of our faith.

So, how about you? Have you put all your faith in Jesus? And are you fully on-board with His family, the Church?

#forferncreek

Last Thursday, I stood on the platform in our church sanctuary and welcomed about 300 people to our church. Of that number, I knew maybe only 15 of them. The rest had probably never been in our building before — and most would probably not be again. And yet, it was one of the coolest things we do as a church. What was it?

Senior Honors Night for Fern Creek High School. This was the second year we have hosted them, and what a thrill it was to have students, parents, and staff from our neighboring high school join us for their special night.

Before the night started, the principal came up and said thank you, commenting that our auditorium is more comfortable and functional than the space they would have used. And while I know his gratitude is sincere, and I appreciate him saying so, the truth is: we are the ones who are grateful. What a privilege to be able to bless FCHS and their families in such a tangible way.

Next month, our church celebrates its 50th anniversary. And I look forward to celebrating that (more on this next week). But 50 years is not a reason to sit back and simply celebrate; instead, it is a reminder of why we are here. To be a blessing. To show the love of God in tangible ways. And to be not simply a church in our community, but for our community.

Packing blessing bags for Fern Creek High School
Packing blessing bags for Fern Creek High School

FCHS senior night was a great start to a week of serving that we have challenged our church to undertake. Yesterday afternoon, our church folks gave out free lemonade and balloons around Fern Creek. Tomorrow, a couple of our life groups will feed some local police officers. And last night, a bunch of people were in the same sanctuary where the FCHS staff gathered to honor their seniors — and we packed bags of goodies to say thank you to them, and all they do for the students at FCHS.

20150520_185737And all that we are giving away is going out with a simple label: #forferncreek. It says who we are, who we have been for 50 years — and who we want to be for as many more years as God gives us: a church that doesn’t simply carry the name of Fern Creek, or happen to meet in Fern Creek — but is a church that is FOR Fern Creek.

Of Babies, Grads … and Cardinals

Babies are a great way to start people.

I don’t know who first said that, but it’s a great line. And it’s so true. You have to be a pretty hardened and self-centered person not to notice a baby, and at least for a moment, be reminded of the joy of life.

But it’s not just babies that remind us of the many ways life involves joy and celebration. All throughout life, if we are paying attention, there are times to stop and simply be grateful for life, and those we share life with. Birthdays. Weddings. New jobs. First homes. Graduations. Retirements.

Life is full of difficulties and challenges, sure. But it is also full of times of celebration and shared joy. And shame on us when we miss those times, for they are gifts to be cherished and remembered. May happens to be a great month to do that, and so this Sunday at Fern Creek Christian we are going to celebrate new children, new graduates, and one guy who is anything but new — but has a powerful story. If Fern Creek is your church family, I hope you’ll join us to celebrate some important moments in the lives of folks within our church family.

But make sure you are also taking time to notice the moments of joy that happen around you each day. Don’t be so caught up in the now that you miss the new — for we serve a God who is continually up to new things.

The other day, I looked out my living room window and noticed a cardinal hopping around my front yard. Cardinals are everywhere — after all, I live in Louisville. This particular bird didn’t see me, so I was able to watch him for a couple of minutes. I made note of how black it is around his eyes — something I hadn’t taken the time to notice before. I watched as he pecked at the ground. I enjoyed seeing him continually bob his head, scanning the the space around him for danger.

Normally, I don’t give a cardinal more than a few moments. But stopping and seeing one the other day, I was able to remember the beauty of Cardinal,_Northern_male_Ash_2012our world, the wonder of God’s creation. I do that far less than I should.

Then, this past Sunday, I pulled into the church parking lot, and before I got out of my car, another cardinal came and landed on my driver-side mirror. But he must have noticed me right away, because no sooner had he landed — he took off again.

So close! And so close to another “cardinal” moment.

The truth is: all moments and seasons of celebration end far too quickly. But whether they last for a year, a month, a day, or a second, they are reminders of just how quickly life passes us by. And how good God is, during all seasons of life.

So, let me encourage you not to miss those “cardinal” moments — no matter how long they last. For they are gifts of God.

Faith: Not Certainty, but Humility

In his book, The Bible Jesus Read, Philip Yancey points out that the influential church reformer John Calvin preached 700 sermons. Of that total, 159 were based on the book of Job. In other words, John Calvin preached the equivalent of 3 years of Sundays on one of the most difficult books in the Bible.

In comparison, it makes the four sermons I’ve preached on Job seem puny in comparison. That’s true, but even four messages on Job can feel kind of, well, heavy. So much pain and agony and questions and doubts. Even so, the book of Job reminds us of the importance of honesty and transparency in our faith. And humility.

For at the end of the day, faith never brings certainty. It can’t; that’s why it’s called faith. The whole purpose of faith — the reason we need faith — is because we can’t see everything; we can’t know everything. Faith is about choosing something — Someone — to trust, precisely because a choice has to be made. If we waited until all the evidence was in before making a choice for the direction and purpose of our lives, we wouldn’t be able to move.

The preacher & writer John Ortberg puts it this way: “Faith is not a matter of certainty but humility.”

Job has to learn that lesson. Where he wants answers, he has to settle for wisdom. Where Job rails against God’s silence, eventually Job himself goes quiet. Where he wants to go toe-to-toe with God, he has to settle for falling on his knees.

Because ultimately, faith isn’t a matter of getting the answers we think we need, but getting a glimpse of God that we do need — a glimpse that won’t erase all our questions, but does erase our need for all our questions to have answers.

In light of Job and his life, let me suggest that what our world needs is not an answer to every question they ask. What those who are outside of faith need is to see people of faith doing just that — being people of faith. People who trust even when they cannot see.

The great 20th century writer C.S. Lewis wrote a book that imagined an ongoing dialogue between a senior demon (Screwtape) and his junior demon understudy (Wormwood). In the book, Screwtape writes letters describing how Wormwood must try to keep the human he is working on, John, from living out his newfound faith.

At one point, Screwtape, in response to difficulties John is facing, writes to Wormwood: “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s (God’s) will, looks round a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

In other words, we most powerfully live out our faith when we can’t see where our faith is taking us — or if it even makes sense. Faith lived out when it doesn’t make sense is a faith that shakes the foundation of the world.

I don’t plan to do 159 sermons on Job, or 59, or, frankly, even 9. But the message of that book has reverberated through humanity, and will continue to do so, because it is a call to faith when life is fuzzy and unclear. And life will remain fuzzy and unclear, at least in part, until the day when we no longer see as through a glass darkly.

Until that day, hold on to faith. And to the Author of Faith. For faith believes that He is there, no matter what I can see. Or can’t.