Yesterday I went to Napa Valley. I enjoyed my day running from vineyard to vineyard, enjoying the California weather and the company that I traveled with. Along the way though we were able to see the wine-tasting snobs of legend and it reminded me of a sermon I heard recently.
He was talking about faith and beliefs. He compared faith to wine. He talked about the reasons that we come to faith, and that is because we are thirsty for something deeper in life. We thirst for something that only living water can quench. So we come to faith in Christ.
Over-time however, once we are quenched we begin discussing this water like we discuss wine. We start delving deeper into the nuances of religion. We learn there are different kinds of wine. There is red wine and white wine, and you are supposed to serve one wine a certain way and another wine a different way. You begin to learn that there are even different kinds of white wine and red wine.
You also learn about different kinds of grapes and different locals for growing these grapes: Italy, Napa, Chile, Greece, Australia. You learn there are different techniques in distilling, different years they were produced etc.
In all of this you begin to develop a vocabulary to describe different aspects of wine: smoky, fruity, nutty, dirty, etc. You begin to smell the wines to detect these things. Whereas before you were drinking water for thirst you are smelling wine for flavors, and obscure nuances in the creation.
Is any of this bad? No.
There is nothing wrong with thinking about the things that make our faith unique. There is nothing wrong with really studying and becoming in-tune with ideas about our faith. And there is nothing wrong with declaring a favorite wine or aspect of faith. “I prefer red wine from northern Italy.” “I prefer Armenian theology.”
You can have a preference, you can even state a preference.
Where we mess up is when we bind others to our preferences of wine, when they come just needing water because they are dying of thirst. When we often do is find people wondering in the desert, dying of thirst, bring them into the church, and offer them water. When they reach for that water, we pull it away and begin to tell them about the flavors, colors, country of origin, types of grapes, smells and flavors of wine. If we give them the water, we often insist that as soon as they are full of water that they also convert to our flavor of wine.
Often we look at people’s spiritual preferences and judge them as saved of not saved based on their preferences. Can you imagine saying that someone who prefers white wine is wrong? Or if someone prefers Sprite over 7-Up is wrong? No, they aren’t wrong, they just have a different preference than you do. But often we condemn people to hell based on their preferences of wine (so to speak).
Recently I sat down with a friend that I haven’t seen in a long time. We went over the typical “What have you been doing” “Here’s what I have been doing” business and had a really great time catching up. I love her very much and missed her greatly. At one point in the conversation I asked her how she was doing spiritually. She told me that she was doing well and that she had been in a bad spot for a while but felt like she was coming out of it. She reciprocated the question asking me how I was.
“Good,” I answered, not having really thought through my own question lately. “I have spent a lot of time at my Christian College where I learned a lot of things were important. I am thinking now that those things might not have been as important as I was told.” And my next thought is really what I am getting at in this whole post. “I am really trying to spend time reading on, thinking on, meditating on the things that are actually important.”
And that is true. I have spent years of my life learning about all this junk that I don’t really feel like I ever understood the bottom line. I was reading theology books and spiritual books before I ever became a Christian. So, even before I was baptized I had a set of ideas on how it all worked, almost skipping the “just thirsty” part.
I am working hard to forget what I know about the wine of religion and get back to the water of faith. I am trying to reconnect with the basics. So I delight in things like
Pure Religion is…
This is all God wants from you …
Unless you become like a child…
And the list grows longer in my quest and I pray it is a quest worth while.