A priceless, tasty faith

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By Nancy Kennedy

The first thing I asked Sean Gebhard was, "Do people think you're crazy?"

Sean runs the Upper Room Café in Mount Dora, a cute little town about 40 miles east of where I live in central Florida.

I had heard about his "Holy Spirit-filled café" upstairs in the historic Renaissance Building, and the last time we were in Mount Dora I stopped in to see it for myself.

Other than the Bibles scattered throughout, it looks like any quaint café. The menu, too, is typical - salads and wraps, fresh-baked quiches, soups, sandwiches, omelets and a list of cheesecake choices.

But there are no prices.

I've seen menus without printed prices. That usually means, "Don't bother ordering because you can't afford it."

At the Upper Room Café, however, you pay what you can and what you want - or not at all for those who can't pay. It's not a not-for-profit organization or ministry, but a business. A business that relies on donations.

Do people think he's crazy? Other business people are skeptical, Sean said.

The café opened in 2006 with prices on the menu. Shortly after, the original owner, Gary Hagen, decided that if he claimed to have faith and trust God, then he'd trust him 100 percent and he took the prices away.

He got 6,000 customers in nine weeks, the bills got paid and they're still in business.

Sean came to work with Gary a few months after the café opened.

The day I visited, Sean was in the kitchen and Natalie Spear was waiting tables. Natalie showed me around, pointing out the prayer room, the main dining area where people write their prayer requests on the walls.

"When I see some of the names, I still remember the people we prayed for," Natalie said. She said they've given away lots of food to hungry people, but most people leave money - and they always have enough.

Logically, what they do makes no business sense, especially in tough economic times. Logically, they should probably go back to having prices on their menu and charge $10 for a Monte Cristo sandwich, $8 or so for a slice of white chocolate turtle cheesecake or the Maui Waui salad.

But living by faith isn't logical. It's scary and strange and unnatural.

Of those who dare to live by faith, I've noticed that the more they give away or give of themselves, the more they get in return. Sean gives away the security of set menu prices, but he gets to be surprised at how God always provides more than enough.

As businesses close at an alarming rate, this little café that operates on faith continues and the faith of the ones who work there flourishes.

The way I see it, faith is like a muscle. Those who exercise it regularly see their faith grow stronger and more defined. And those who don't?

Well, if I don't go to the gym regularly, I get fat and flabby and weak. If I hold back from taking leaps of faith, or even small steps, I shrink. I become afraid, and I miss out on seeing God work on my behalf.

That doesn't mean that all businesses should be donations only. But I think it does mean taking risks, and with risks come the possibility of failing, although no one ultimately fails when they trust God. The Bible says he rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

So, maybe it means not reducing the amount you put in the offering plate even when your expenses rise. Maybe it means not jumping in to fix a situation but trusting God to fix it for you. Maybe it means continuing to do what God has called you to do despite opposition or biting criticism.

Maybe it means being still and allowing God to be God. That's the bottom line of faith anyway - God is God and you (and I) are not.

On the front of the Upper Room's menu it reads, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

It's a lot like the cheesecake they serve. Unless you taste, it you'll never know how good it is. Unless you taste and test God, which is another way of saying to have faith, you'll never know how good he is either.