Hurricane Florence

Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 2.46.12 PM.png

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of North and South Carolina and Virginia whose lives and homes have been affected by Hurricane Florence.  I have checked the CBF websites for both Global CBF and North Carolina CBF to see what options for response might be available for any of us at Heritage Fellowship who would like to assist.  Generally, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship waits to allow first responders to handle the immediate aftermath of a disaster until such time as CBF can determine a location that might have been overlooked in that initial effort.  

Here is the current advisory on the CBF Global website:

CBF Disaster Response continues to monitor the ongoing effects of Tropical Depression Florence in the Carolinas as well as Virginia. In consultation with CBF of North Carolina and local congregations, Alan Williams, CBF’s Disaster Response Specialist, will begin assessing damage and needs in various impacted communities. Williams will be joined by other team members and consultants over the next few days.

We will update this page when we have determined specific communities for CBF engagement and share opportunities for network and congregational involvement. Our priority is to assist neighborhoods that tend to be overlooked during disaster recovery.

As we prepare for response efforts, please be advised that CBF Disaster Response is not capable of handling donations of food, water, clothing and other material goods. However, we will be following up as quickly as possible regarding volunteer needs in specific communities.

CBF is accepting disaster response funds in preparation for the response efforts to Hurricane Florence. Churches and individuals wanting to contribute to Hurricane Florence Disaster Response can give online here. If you prefer, you may also give by mailing a check payable to “CBF” to:

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
PO Box 102972
Atlanta, GA 30368-2972

Here is a prayer that was offered by Rev. Amy McClure, Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, NC on this past Sunday morning and posted on the CBF North Carolina website:

Present and Holy God,

We come before you this morning knowing that you hear our prayers at all times, so we offer up to you the things on our hearts and in our minds. 

This morning our minds are flooded with thoughts for so many who have been affected by Hurricane Florence. Even as we join together to come to you this morning in prayer, there are so many who are stranded in shelters, many who are soaking wet trying to wade through the water to get help, many senior adults who were unable to evacuate and are waiting to hear from family, and many who are not quite sure where the money will come from to do the necessary repairs to their damaged homes. For all of those people, we pray.  

We pray for our sister churches on the coast who are working diligently to help their communities in this time of crisis. We pray you will keep them safe, give them strength and energy, and equip them with the resources needed to come alongside so many in their communities.  

We pray for the children who are scared and aren’t quite sure they still have their toys, their pets, and their sense of security. Put people in their path who can love them well and calm their anxiety and stress.  

For the first responders and emergency personnel both on the coast and here who are working tirelessly to make sure all are safe, we give thanks for their dedication and pray that you keep them safe. We pray for their families who spend those moments worrying about them while they are out and pray you will give them a peace that only you can provide… 

With all of who we are, we give you thanks for Jesus, the one who came so that we may all have life and have it abundantly and the one who taught us to pray saying….”Our Father…”  Amen.

Let us at Heritage Fellowship add our prayers to that of Rev. McClure and pray for our brothers and sisters.

Blessings,

Rob

Peace-mongers

 “Start with conviction, stay connected, stay calm and stay the course.” ~Tod Bolsinger,  Canoeing the Mountains

“Start with conviction, stay connected, stay calm and stay the course.” ~Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains

“When you’re more concerned with winning the person than winning the argument, you know you have arrived.”  I put the book down and marveled at the truth that was still echoing in my mind. Bill Self had been my pastor, and now, through his book Surviving the Stained Glass Jungle, he was continuing to shape my thinking.  I had been wrong. For years as a teacher I had sought to understand the teenage mind of the students in my class, and I had assumed that I could logically persuade them to believe in the importance of what I was trying to teach them.  For years I had failed. Mostly because they don’t think. They feel.  And if it doesn’t feel fun, then it’s not really worth their time.  I had been trying to win the argument, to lead them something instead of meeting them where they were.  Don’t get me wrong. I got through to many of them, but it was the ones who came and left unchanged after an entire year in my class that drove me insane.  I should have tried to win them instead of the argument.

It’s easy to look at a younger generation and think how “naive” they are.  But really they’re us. Really we are all shaped by the same emotional distractions as they are.  Some of us get better at processing it, but deep down we are all heavily emotional creatures. So what do we do?  We pick our battles. We calculate (consciously or not) which ones we can win, and we fight! And those battles deemed as too hard, we give up and bottle up.  We learn to keep our mouth shut. But the absence of a fight is not really peace. If we still harbor ill feelings and never express them, then we have chosen harmony over health.  We’ve become “peace-mongers” as Bolsinger says in Canoeing the Mountains.  

If we only learn to silence the complainers in our lives, we’ve created a “cheap” version of peace.  If we only learn to silence our own opinions for the sake of avoiding disagreement, we’ve created a “cheap” version of peace.  It’s a recipe for anxiety (we’ll always be worried about when the complainers will “blow up” at us again). It’s a path that leads to unhealthy self-denial (if you don’t stay true to yourself, eventually you sacrifice your integrity in the name of “peace,” or you forget who you are entirely).  

In order to create beloved community in our circles of influence, we must learn how to disagree without disengaging.  Too many people cut themselves off at the first sign of trouble, but real community is formed in facing challenges together, and any relationship involves a certain amount of sacrifice, a certain amount of give and take.  It seems like you can either be right all the time, or you can have a good relationship with people. We think of Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” but he didn’t get there by agreeing with everyone or by rigidly following the letter of the Law.  

So when you feel those emotions starting to trump your reason, don’t check out, don’t give up, and don’t blow up.  Instead, “start with conviction, stay connected, stay calm and stay the course” (Canoeing the Mountains).  You’ll be on your way to “winning the person instead of the argument.”  You’ll be cultivating beloved community. You’ll be more holy, healthy, and whole. You’ll be more like Christ.

~Justin

Canoeing the Mountains: Spiritual Reorientation

canoeing-in-the-shadow-of-the-mountains.jpg

“You don’t have a purpose in life.”  My students shifted in their seats. I could tell that a few weren’t paying attention because with them there had been no reaction.  I said it again, slowly, to let it sink in, putting more emphasis on the “a” before purpose.

“You don’t have A purpose in life.  You have purpose, and you bring it to life.”  

“Mr. Bishop, are you saying that life has no meaning?”  The furrow on the 9th grader’s brow was genuine.  

“Precisely.  Each of us has meaning, and we bring it to life.  All your life, people have acted like you have exactly one way, one chance to get your life right, and if you miss that calling, purpose, or meaning, then your life ceases to have value, ceases to matter.  I’m here to tell you that you have calling, meaning, purpose. You matter. You have value. And if you look at life the right way, you have thousands of chances to bring it to life wherever you are, whoever you’re with, whatever job you’re doing.  You just have to have the right perspective because if you ‘change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.’” (quote from Wayne Dyer’s Blog)

The bell rang, and they hurried off to whatever Spanish quiz or math test was stressing them out that day.  But I bowed and prayed that something from that discussion had sunk in.

I hate Charles Dickens.  Probably more than my students did.  But sometimes, on a trip down the path you fear to trod, you find a treasure.  I found truth. And I’m not sure I was looking for it. It was my first year teaching A Tale of Two Cities, and I wasn’t doing a very good job.  I had never read it, and I was keeping up with the homework at the same pace as the class.  Sometimes I had more questions than they did, and I definitely did not have any answers. But somehow we made it through, and somehow I came up with a good final exam question:  Is meaning in life possible without sacrifice? I’m not sure what I expected in their essays, but there it was in the first one I graded, a truth I’m still trying to live by:

“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” ~Joseph Campbell

I had read Joseph Campbell in seminary.  I had taught his model of the hero’s journey. But I had never seen this truth blazing off the page at me before.  And here it was, quoted in a 9th grade final exam essay.

I wonder if we fall into this same trap in our spiritual lives.  Do we get stuck? When it comes to our faith, have you ever wondered:  Where did I go wrong? Is this all there is? There’s got to be more!

When Lewis and Clark got to the headwaters of the Missouri River and the water stopped, they stood on top of a ridge where they expected to find another stream on the other side that would carry them all the way to the Pacific.  What they found was the Rocky Mountains. Miles of them. They had to change plans. What had worked to this point, what got them to where they were--it wasn’t going to work any more. After all, you can’t canoe the mountains. They had to reorient themselves.  They had to adapt.  

Sometimes we think we’re not making progress because we’re not trying hard enough.  But in reality we need an entirely new approach, a new way of looking at things before we can take the next step.  We need a spiritual reorientation. We all need allies and mentors to help us along the way. We all need healthy habits to transform us into the best version of ourselves.  Faith is a journey. Are you ready to cross the threshold of adventure?

~Justin

Don't Build a Church - Be the Church

 Church happens outside the walls too.

Church happens outside the walls too.

I once lead a deacons’ retreat at a church.  The theme was a simple one:  “What Does It Mean To Be the Church?”  I asked the group to imagine that no church existed at all in their town and that they had been sent as missionaries from some far off place to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the folks there who had no idea about the Christian faith.  I wondered together with them about how they would start.  What sort of “strategy” would they identify as a means to share their faith?

At first they were puzzled by the assignment.  I had to clarify a bit.  “You mean, our whole town is following another religion?” one deacon asked.

I answered in the affirmative. 

“Or perhaps no religion at all,” I added.

“And we are supposed to plant a church here?” he continued.

“That certainly is one thing you might do,” I responded.  “But you also might decide to do something else as well.”

They divided into groups and started working.  Eventually we all came back together as a larger group.  And they reported on their conversations.

One group had a great idea.  They looked around the group and identified the various occupations that sat at the table—a couple of teachers, a lawyer, a hardware store owner, a landscape designer.  They determined that they could make a living in their occupations while working through those occupations to share the gospel with others in the community, to meet human need, to try to make the community a better place.

We tossed that one around for a while.  One guy just couldn’t quite get it.  He couldn’t wrap his head around the idea that the goal of the group was to engage in mission in the world and not to “build a church.”  He kept trying to argue the others down and to insist that they needed a church building first before they did anything else.

Then someone said it.  “Isn’t this exactly what we are to be doing as church now?  Using our occupations and our lives beyond the walls of the church to be the presence of Christ in the world?”

The man who was having difficulty grasping it all suddenly slapped his hand to his forehead and said, “Wait a minute!  Do you mean to tell me that my construction work during the week actually connects to what I do at church on Sunday?”

I nodded yes.  Somehow through all the Sunday School classes and worship services over the years, he had missed this simple truth.

And I suppose this is what I carry away from the mission conversations we have had at church over these past Wednesday nights.  Our goal is the same as the goal of those who have shared with us.  To see ourselves as God’s people in the world as much as we see ourselves as God’s people in the church.  To move outside the walls.  To change and transform our community in the same ways that they have transformed theirs.  This truly is what it means to be church.  We just sometimes have to be reminded.

~Rob

Global Missions: The World Race

Screen Shot 2018-08-21 at 11.55.03 AM.png

Noel and Rosalie's Grandson, Joshua Schulz, is about to embark on an 11 country, 11 month mission trip called The World Race which will take him across Europe, Asia, and South America.  Since August is Global Missions Month at Heritage, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share his story.  And I can share it in his own words!

"As I entered my senior year of college, I contemplated what I wanted to do post graduation.  During spring breaks in high school, I went on four one-week mission trips with my church.  These trips were life-changing, and I loved them.  I knew I wanted to go on another mission trip at some point, and now that I am graduating, I have felt God telling me that it's time.  My hope for this mission is simple, to love and serve the people of the world just as God through Christ loved and served me.  By doing this, I hope to see disciples made, just as God asked us to do in what many know as the Great Commission

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (NIV, Matthew 28:1820)

I know that this is what I have seen God's constant faithfulness throughout college in a multitude of ways. We all hear stories about how so many people lose their faith when they get to college. So one thing I prayed for was a godly community that would encourage me in my relationship with Jesus and keep me true to who I am and whom I belong to.

Looking back I can see God has been by my side the entire time and is still there to this day. God has taught me to put my trust in Him time and time again as He has proven Himself faithful and worthy of being trusted. 

In high school I had been on four mission trips through my church, Johnson Ferry Baptist, where I grew up going. Each were one week long, spanning the course of spring break. I had the privilege of going to the Dominican Republic three times and once to Peru.

These trips were life changing and I absolutely loved them. I knew I wanted to go on another trip similar once I graduated college. However, when God started putting a yearlong mission trip on my heart I was hesitant at first. Then, remembering how faithful He is I knew this is what I had to do.

I remembered my friend briefly mentioning the World Race, so I began doing some research. It did not take long for me to decide that this is what I was going to do.

I leave in August and could not be more excited. I know as a result of this trip God is going to change lives, mine included.

My name, Joshua, in Hebrew actually means 'Jehovah saves.' I hope this message will be spread to the ends of the Earth. Please pray for me and my team as we prepare for this journey."

The Worship Service Industry

 Would we be patient without the sign?

Would we be patient without the sign?

“I’ll be there between 2 and 5.”  How many times have we heard those words in a time of need?  The AC, refrigerator, cable tv, plumbing, etc. is broken, and so are our patience.  The repair technician is on the way, but suddenly all kinds of ungodly things go through our minds.  And look out if he shows up at 5:05! We know what we want, and we want it fixed now! We have a “normal” we desperately want to return to.  We have an idea of what is “supposed” to happen. We have expectations.

I wonder--do we sometimes bring this same mindset, these same “expectations” into worship? Do we expect God to show up promptly between 11 and 12? Do we expect everything that’s wrong to be fixed quickly and at a reasonable price?  What happens when we have to wait?

And what of our expectations of our fellow church members?  We’re here waiting on God, and someone does the wrong thing, says the wrong thing, or doesn’t do/say the right thing.  What happens to our attitudes toward our Christian brothers and sisters?

It’s a wonder we’re ever able to worship with all that’s going through our minds.  But somehow we find a way to wait on God. Somehow we find a way to forgive. But I know I can do better.  

It doesn’t often happen, but something spoke to me on Facebook this week as I was fighting insomnia late one night:

It made think of a book I used to teach:  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.  It seems like empathy and the service industry don’t mix, but I certainly hope that empathy goes hand-in-hand with worship, and that we can “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, ESV), and “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32, ESV).

~Justin

Heritage on Mission

17,291 Lunches + 400-500 Children + 38 Drivers and Riders + 26 Checkers/Packers =  1 Mission: Building the Kingdom of God. The MUST Ministries Summer Lunch Program wrapped up it’s 9th year at Heritage on Tuesday, July 31st thanks to your generous donations of time, money, and food.  Here are a few things that I’ve learned:

  1. Collective Efforts = Exponential Return on Time - You would think that two people doing the same job would make it get done twice as fast.  But it’s more than that. Every weekday we would pack over 400 lunches in a little more than 15 minutes, and even on the days we would make the sandwiches and set up bags, it still only took 45 minutes to an hour. There is power when people work together. Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NIV) says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken,” meaning when we work together, we can accomplish so much more.  I like how The Message puts it:  “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.”  I wonder what would happen if we carried this collective effort idea into other areas of our lives? What would the world look like if everyone lived that way?

  2. $1 Goes a Long Way -  What would you think it would cost for a brown bag filled with a sandwich, a drink, a bag of chips, and a fruit cup?  Would you believe it’s less than $1? “Extreme Poverty” is defined as anyone who lives on less than 1 US dollar per day, and current numbers show that around 1 billion people around the world live this way.  $1 goes a long way.

  3. Smiles and Barriers - Many of the children who receive our donated lunches are the children of immigrants.  For most of us, we’ve lived a sheltered life in relative safety, so there’s often more than just a language barrier between the “insiders” of American culture and those who are newly arrived.  For a long time in my life, an “immigrant” was more of an idea than a living, breathing, struggling human being because I had never met one (or at least I had never had an in-depth conversation with one in a language that both of us could understand).  That all changed during my college years when I made a close friend from Venezuela and heard his personal stories. Once you’ve made an authentic human connection with someone, it’s hard to still maintain “idea” version. Once you’ve connected with their story, it changes your perspective.  I don’t know where you are in this journey, but I know that for me this summer stepping out of my car into these communities and seeing where these children live and seeing the smiles on their faces as I gave them a lunchbag--all of this had a profound effect on my perspective as a human being in this world.  I pray for more smiles shared and for more barriers broken in what lies ahead.

I am grateful and humbled by our community of people who care so deeply about their neighbors.  It is such a blessing to work alongside you, truly building the Kingdom of God.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve!

~Justin

From the Cathedral to the Fair

Cathedral Fair.jpg

Have you noticed that reality just isn’t what it used to be?  Some sixty years ago or so, we Christians in the United States occupied a very privileged space.  Most everyone around us accepted the very same reality that we championed. The Judeo-Christian worldview and perspective dominated the landscape.  In fact, the sociologist Will Herberg wrote a book in 1960 entitled Protestant, Catholic, Jew in which he concluded that, if you weren’t Protestant, Catholic or Jewish in America then you just weren’t really an American.   The ceiling over us was the Judeo-Christian ceiling. Most everyone accepted it, lived their lives by it, and anticipated that what it said about this life and the next life was quite accurate.

To put it succinctly, we lived in a massive Cathedral.  Perhaps you’ve visited one before. You enter the front doors and look up at an expansive ceiling that pulls your gaze ever upward toward the soaring gothic spires with its beautiful paintings and arches.  At the front is a massive altar and along the sides are various chapels. For US society in the 1950s and 1960s, those chapels represented all of the various denominations—Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Pentecostals and, yes, even the Jewish faith.

Most everyone went to church (or to their particular chapel) or was expected to even if they didn’t.  We all pulled out of our driveways together on Sunday morning, went to Sunday School and enjoyed Sunday dinner after church.

Then, suddenly and somewhat without warning, the Cathedral ceiling crumbled.  We entered the tumultuous decade of the 1960s that challenged so much about that old Judeo-Christian reality.  The Civil Rights movement shook us to the core as it became clear that many churches in the United States had turned blind eyes toward the oppression and injustice that our black brothers and sisters were experiencing.  The Vietnam War caused us to question our global responsibility as a nation and to realize that our political leaders were not as trustworthy as we once assumed. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy lead to intense and collective introspection about the violence in our culture.  The Immigration Act of 1964 opened our borders up to the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America for the first time since the 1920s.

We woke up one day and the Cathedral was gone!  We found ourselves in an entirely different reality, one in which the sky was our ceiling and the dirt was our floor.  We were living at the Fair instead of at the Cathedral. No single reality dominated the culture. People suddenly could find meaning and purpose in a variety of religions or outside religious institutions completely.  Suddenly, to live inside the Judeo-Christian worldview was to live in a different reality than the rest of the culture embraced. A different sort of spiritual vitality was demanded of us that needed to be much more vital and meaningful than the spirituality that characterized us in the Cathedral.

Indeed, reality isn’t what it used to be!  And I’m wondering if that isn’t something that we should embrace rather than fear.  It is good, after all, that our faith, the Story that gives meaning and purpose to our lives, should be a faith that we choose for ourselves and that is powerful enough and meaningful enough to help us make sense of every decision that we make and every experience of our lives.  

We now live at the Fair.  We now live together with others who embrace the Story that we have embraced and seek to live life out of that Story.  It truly is a good place to be—a place in which our faith is our own and not something that is simply handed down to us or contained within the culture that surrounds us.  It is our faith. Each day demands of us an individual decision to enter into the Story we ourselves have chosen to embrace and to allow that Story to determine everything about who we are, what we do, and why we do it.  And, of course, to embrace it in such a way that it makes enough difference in our lives to compel our friends and neighbors into it as well and to find the same meaning that we have found.

~Rob

The "With God" Life

With God Life.jpg

Sometimes “goodbye” isn’t goodbye.  It’s more than that. This may come as a shock to some of you, but I’m a nerd.  A big nerd. I own exactly 7 Star Wars t-shirts.  Anyway, as part of being a nerd, I am fascinated by language.  And sometimes a phrase doesn’t literally translate from one language to the next.  For example, “goodbye” in Spanish is “¡Adiós!”...or more literally “to God.” In more formal situations if someone is leaving for a long, dangerous journey, you would say “Vaya con dios,” which is “go with God.”  In fact, the linguists say that even our word “goodbye” is the result of hundreds of years of shortening the phrase “God be with thee.” I say all that to say this: embedded in our ordinary, everyday life is the notion of going, being, and living WITH GOD.  

In fact, the “With God” Life can be traced through the heart of the entire Bible (as outlined here in this article by the Renovaré Team).  Professing faith in Christ is the beginning of your faith journey, but hopefully it’s not the end.  Everything that comes after takes a focused, determined effort to learn and ultimately live a life “With God.”  The fancier name we give to this concept is “Spiritual Formation.”

Now, there are all kinds of things you can do to foster spiritual growth, but today I just want to talk about reading the Bible.  As pervasive as the Bible is in American culture, it’s a bit of a conundrum. People everywhere seem to have tremendous faith in the Bible without actually knowing what is in the Bible, let alone how to understand it.  Many people read out of a sense of something missing in their lives, or they go looking for facts in an effort to prove someone else wrong.  While some of these efforts might wind up successful, they often miss the point. Reading the Bible that way can result in us “trying to control what comes out of the Bible rather than a means of entering the process of transforming our whole person and our whole life into Christlikeness” (Richard Foster’s Life with God Bible, page xxvi).

When I used to teach the 6th grade Bible class, my intro lesson was this:  If you read for knowledge and/or need, you can get off track, confused by the details.  So what’s the purpose of scripture? It’s about the WHO and NEW - the WHO is a revelation of who God is and how God moves in history and the NEW is about your own personal renewal, or how to find new life with God, ultimately to transform you to be more like Christ.

Rob speaks of “moving the equator.”  Well, when it comes to scripture, sometimes you have to change the way you look at scripture to find a way to let scripture change you.

So sometime this week (today even!) dust off one those Bibles you have on the shelf, and look at it with fresh eyes.  Ask yourself: “What does this tell me about who God is?” and “How can this help me become more like Christ?” If you do, you’ll be one step closer to the “With God” Life.

~Justin

The Prophetic Imagination

moses-2715485_640.jpg

“You’ll shoot your eye out kid!” Everyone seems to remember the iconic line from A Christmas Story (a movie I can’t stand, by the way...I know...feel free to judge me!). The words ring in the boy’s ears, an ominous foreboding of what might happen.  

This is what most people think of when they hear the word prophet:  some cranky guy in the street delivering bad news about all the bad things about to happen.  But the biblical reality is not quite so simple. The prophet represents God to the people (whereas the priest represents the people to God), and as such a representative, prophets often find themselves at odds with the culture around them.  Take Elijah for example. He called out the prophets of Ba’al in a dramatic display calling down fire from God, but as a result, he had to run away and take refuge in a mountain cave. Jesus himself said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home” (NIV, Mark 6:4).  It seems that, where prophets are concerned, familiarity breeds contempt, setting up the paradigm of prophet vs. society (or at least the culture which they are calling out).

Prophets might not have been well-liked, but they were agents of change.  It wasn’t so much that they were at odds with the people, but rather, they were at odds with the status quo.  They weren’t ok with the way things were, with the way things have always been. And people don’t like change.

If one prophet can be such a powerful agent of change, what would an entire community look like?  In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann describes an “alternative community of Moses” which stands out against the backdrop of the culture around it. But this doesn’t happen by accident.  It takes an acute level of self-awareness on the part of every community member. In other words, a prophetic community takes an alternative perception to succeed.

To be an agent of change, you have to see the world differently than the culture around you.  In case you haven’t noticed, Heritage is different! We already see things differently. We naturally exemplify some of the marks of a prophetic community.  But what would it look like if we were more self-aware? More perceptive? More attuned to the needs of the world around us?

We live in a culture of consumerism, and we’re buried so deep in it, it’s hard even to see it.  But there’s hope! There’s a way to break free. There’s a way to become a prophetic community who is not ok with the way things are but instead chooses to “fight the giants” (as Rob said Sunday).  There is a way to imagine not what is but what could be, what should be.  So who’s with me?

~Justin

God's Umbrella and Baptist Identity

14856077_10154673888427708_1659304708270017776_o.png

In an ironic twist of fate, both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative
Baptist Fellowship are meeting in Dallas, Texas this week! Somewhere God must be having a good laugh!

I’ve been keeping up with both meetings, though I wasn’t able to attend CBF this year.
My friends who are there say that it is rather strange to be encountering each other on
elevators as people from both camps are staying at the same hotels.

For those of you who don’t know the history, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship was
formed in 1991 as the result of schism within the Southern Baptist Convention. Over a period of years, the SBC took a decidedly sharp turn to the right in terms of theology and biblical interpretation. Taking a literal approach to scripture, SBC leadership determined that women could not be pastors of local congregations. Seminary professors were charged with heresy simply for teaching a different interpretation from those that held power. Soon the idea of the priesthood of every follower of Jesus Christ was threatened as the authority of pastors was elevated.

In 1990, Dr. Daniel Vestal called for a meeting of Baptists who were concerned about
this increasing conservative control of the denomination. About 3500 people showed up in
Atlanta for that meeting. Within a year, CBF formed and some 2000 churches would soon
affiliate with it. Some churches, like Heritage for example, emerged as new churches and made CBF their sole denominational affiliation. We are one of the few congregations with
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on our sign! CBF churches champion some wonderful things,
including the right of women to serve as pastors of local churches and the right of each believer to pursue truth wherever it might lead.

Someone asked me the other day if there was much tension between all of the various
denominations—Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans and so forth. It
occurred to me as I answered his question that there was far more tension within
denominations than between them. We Baptists are proof positive of this observation.
But the truth of the matter is that we do need to take a stand for what we believe to be
true as best we can know it. This is what the priesthood of believers is all about. We have the
right, under the leadership of the Spirit, to seek God’s truth. And we have the responsibility,
particularly when it comes to matters of justice, to stand up for what we believe to be right.
We can still love those with whom we differ and we can still do ministry together with them.
Our school summer lunch program is one example of shared ministry together despite
differences in theology and practice.

So, while I can’t be at CBF this week, I’m still glad that Southern Baptists and Cooperative Baptists are at least bumping into each other on the elevator. God’s umbrella is a big umbrella. God has a sense of humor that sometimes brings us together despite ourselves.

~Rob

Learning to Listen - Lessons from Summer Lunch

IMG_0613.jpg

“Can I please have an extra lunch for my brother?” His face was desperate, worried, concerned.  But the rules said only one lunch per person. And another young man had just run away shouting to his friends, “Look!  I got an extra one!” My heart was locked in a moral dilemma: the rules said one thing, but the boy’s face said another.  

“Can you go get your brother?  I have to see him before I can give you extra.”  I had chosen the rules. He walked away crestfallen, taking with him my confidence in having made the right decision.  The crowd was pressing in, twenty or thirty other children excitedly reaching for the small brown bags containing a simple free lunch.  With all the happy faces around me now, I tried to forget about the one I had just made sad. But then I heard something different.

“See!  Here he is!”  The boy had returned, and in his arms he carried a younger boy around one year old.  My heart did a backflip. I was so glad that he was now able to feed his brother, but I was so ashamed at having chosen the rules over his need.

Don’t get me wrong.  The rules are there for a reason.  But I wonder how often our choice to follow the “right thing” causes us to ignore the need standing right in front of our eyes.  I wonder how often our commitment to the “letter of the law” causes us to deny the “spirit of the law,” the reason the rules were made in the first place.  

I think I unknowingly became a Pharisee in that moment.  And the words of Jesus echoed in my head.

The Pharisees loved the Law.  In their mind, it was the way to God, and the truth is, that was its original intent:  an instruction manual to live a Godly life. But sometimes they seemed to miss the point.  When they saw Jesus sitting with “tax collectors and sinners” at dinner, when they saw his disciples not following the rules of fasting, when they saw the disciples gathering leftover food from a field on the sabbath,

“The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?  He entered the house of God...and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any buth the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions...The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath’” (NRSV, Mark 2:23-28).

I pray that next time I’ll listen more.  I pray that I’ll learn to see the need and not need so much to follow the rules.  Summer Lunch was made for the hungry, not the hungry for me to feel better about myself because I followed procedure.  

~Justin

"The eye can only see what the mind knows."

eye-92898_1920.jpg

"The eye can only see what the mind knows," said the young Indian doctor.  She was preparing us for a visit to a rural village not far from Aligarh where we were going to visit in homes together with residents from the  Aligarh Muslim University School of Medicine.  Her point was that it was sometimes difficult to convince poor people in the rural areas to take their medications or to practice good hygiene.

She encouraged us to make our visit and to ask whatever questions we wanted to ask. Destiny was my partner for the morning and our resident took us into a concrete block home with a floor made from packed cow manure.  Flies buzzed around our heads as we settled into some plastic chairs.  Our hosts were a woman and her three daughters together with a couple of neighbors who had stopped by.

I assumed we would learn in the conversation about how much their lives were different from ours . . . but I was wrong.  We discovered that the family enjoys life in the small village they live in.  The community is close and folks take care of each other.  Our host mentioned that one of her daughters had passed away recently and it was clear she was still grieving the loss.  We learned they go to the Hindu temple in the village twice a day (imagine if we had church that often!) and that she intended to arrange the marriage of her three daughters.  She had very strong opinions that her future sons-in-law should be moral people who treated her daughters well.  I certainly could identify with her concern having just given my daughter away to be married!

In the end, we spoke out of our common humanity and not out of our differences.  The differences exist, yes, but we all experience joy and grief in life.  We all yearn for the same things.

Where I had expected differences, I found similarity.  My eyes had been opened and I had learned something I didn't expect to learn.

Indeed "the eye can only see what the mind knows" . . . . at least until we sit down together and listen to each other and find that we are far more the same than we are different.

From Aligarh,

Rob

Isn't the Taj Beautiful, Sir!?

taj-mahal-3212516_1920.jpg

We were standing at one of the most beautiful spots in the world yesterday, the grand gate to the Taj Mahal, through which was perfectly framed the gorgeous mausoleum itself.  Construction began in 1631 just shortly after the death of empress Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, as she was giving birth to their fourteenth child.  Grief-stricken, the emperor was determined to build a fitting memorial to his wife.  He somehow managed to build one of the seven wonders of the world.

Our Mercer group was there with about 30 children from the Ahmadi School for the Visually Challenged so that, as Principal Firdaus Rahman put it, they could see the Taj through our eyes.

Kaif was standing beside me. He is a big strapping and handsome young man who recently had surgery to partially repair one eye.  Earlier, on our walk from the parking lot, I had asked him if he could see well out of that one eye.  "Sir, I see better than before," he said optimistically and he went on to speak of his hope that one day he would be able to see out of both eyes.

I turned my gaze again toward the Taj but I noticed that Kaif kept his eyes fixed on me.  Without ever looking at the mausoleum at all, he said with excitement and joy,  "Isn't the Taj beautiful, sir?"

"Oh, yes, it is beautiful, Kaif!"  I responded.

And then I remembered that he was supposed to be seeing it through my eyes and not me through his . . . .

From Aligarh,

The Art of Determination

20180516_155013.jpg

Aligarh, India. May 18th. 8,021 Miles from Atlanta:

Bru and I are buddies now as a result of our various challenges, he with sight and me with sewing skill. As you know, we have been working at Bru's school this week. Yesterday, I attempted to teach him how to sew a flower out of beautiful cloth even as I was trying to learn the skill myself from one of our McAfee students. Together Bru and I managed to thread a needle. Fearlessly he plunged ahead pushing needle through cloth with no apparent regard for the possibility that he might prick a finger.

We were to sew six folded circles together to create petals and then we were to sew a button in the middle to create the flower. I quickly figured out that Bru and I were never going to make it. Around us, other students were creating flowers with some assistance from teachers who could actually sew. Bru's challenge was a poor teacher, not a lack of vision.

Then, there it was! A rose appeared out of nowhere, a combination of Bru's determination to stick that needle through cloth and my pitiful effort to guide his hand to the right place to stick it.

I quickly slipped the needle out and he and I started tying off the bottom of the flower. It was a proper rose, one of the prettiest I had ever seen.

He took it around and showed it off. And I asked him for a picture of the three of us. 

Rob


Aligarh Muslim University - May 16th:

Good morning from India! I was awakened this morning about 4:30 a.m. by the call to prayer that emanated from the minarets of this predominately Muslim city in the north central part of the country. It truly is a powerful expression of the central role that prayer plays in the lives of Muslims everywhere.

We are staying on the campus of Aligarh Muslim University in a very nice guesthouse and have been enjoying some good Indian food and hospitality. After arriving at 2 am at the airport in Delhi, we climbed on a bus and took a two hour trip to the University. After some breakfast and a nap, we went over to the Ahmadi School for Visually Challenged children where we were welcomed warmly, gave gifts of braille books to the children and planned our work together with the teachers for the rest of this week. I can't describe the emotions I felt as the children proudly stood and, one after another, read from their new books. 

Later, believe it or not, we were treated to a cricket match between two of the school's teams! You might wonder how children who are blind or who can barely see can play cricket. Well, the ball contains metal balls in it that rattle when the ball is thrown, and the kids listen for the sound and somehow manage to put bat to ball! It is an impressive sight!

We start our provram today with them as our twelve students lead a curriculum of English, music and craft classes. I will keep you posted on how it all goes!

Thanks for your prayers for a safe journey and for the time we will spend here!

One final note . . . they announced on the flight over that, for safety sake, all passengers should stay in their seats while praying. This was meant to ensure that Muslim faithful would not block the aisles at prayer time by kneeling.

It made me reflect that perhaps we miss something sometimes when we stay in our seats and not on our knees in prayer . . . .

Rob

32384120_2334793079868022_8411147314059542528_n.jpg

It Takes A Village To Raise A Minister

 By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

It takes a village to raise a minister. Transitions are natural times for reflection, so as I’ve packed up books and files this week to get ready to move from one church to another, I’ve been reminded of how fortunate I am to be surrounded by the people who support me. I have a pretty great village.

Books on my shelves, now in boxes, remind me of college professors whose classroom lectures changed my life--people who were passionate about the things I was passionate about and who awakened new passions within me.

I've packed away papers that remind me of seminary professors whose critique and editing of my writing showed careful attention to my work and encouraged me in my thinking and study.  

I ran across a file from Professor Peter Rhea Jones who offered this advice on my first day of seminary: When someone offers you any chance, however small, to preach or teach, say yes if you can. I took his advice to heart and it has been invaluable.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

This week, I packed up a ministerial robe that was given to me by minister and mentor George McCune. I met him at Wieuca Road Baptist Church. He's passed away now, but he used to take me to lunch, write me notes, and call me on the phone just to say how much he appreciated me and that he was praying for me.

Later, when I moved to Canton and doctor’s appointments brought him my way, he would call to let me know he would be in town and come by just to say hello. During my first few months at HERITAGE he and I stood alone one morning in the sanctuary and he prayed over me and for my ministry. It was holy moment.

His profound faith and deep spirituality left a mark on me. I’m proud to wear his robe.

The robe still hangs from a Muse’s hanger, which lets me know that it was ordered and altered by George Henry. I never knew Mr. Henry, but his children and grandchildren continue to be important parts of my village, and I remember them, too, every time I put my robe on.

Before Rev. McCune offered me his robe I was fortunate enough to wear the robe of Oliver Wilbanks, the late father of my mentor and former boss, Mark Wilbanks. As the associate pastor at Wieuca Road Baptist Church, Rev. Wilbanks wore that robe to marry half of Buckhead, GA in the 1970s.   

To have worn the robes of great men and ministers like Rev. Wilbanks and Rev. McCune makes me feel ten feet tall and very lucky.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

It takes a village.png

As I've packed up my office I’ve seen gifts and notes from long-time family friends who in different ways and at different times have been great encouragers to me.

I’ve been reminded of friends from childhood, high school and college whose continued interest in my work and ministry provides a steady drip of encouragement that keeps me going.

I've remembered those who regularly encourage my writing and preaching by reading and listening—family members, friends, partners in ministry and fellow travelers now scattered across the globe.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

I've thought of all the people who have been patient with me as I found my way, who nurtured and taught me, and whose examples of leadership continue to make me a better minister.

I've paused to be grateful for my peers in ministry who invest in me by taking the time to listen, encourage, support and advise—and who provide a necessary outlet for laughter and commiseration!

And, I've thought, of course, of family. My wife and her family. My parents, my brother, my sister-in-law. Cousins and aunts and uncles.

It takes a village to raise a minster.

The one group of people I haven’t mentioned so far is my current church. There is no single group of people more important to my formation as a pastor than the people of HERITAGE Fellowship. In a thousand ways, large and small, the care and love of HERITAGE has formed me.

I can say without exaggeration that each member at HERITAGE has shaped me in a unique and specific way--so much so that to mention even one person by name would force me to mention them all.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

As I reflect on my village, I have a question for you: Who is in your village and when have you last paused to be thankful for them?

And even more importantly, how can you be a part of someone else’s village?

The most remarkable thing about the influence that so many important people have had on my life is how meaningful seemingly small gestures of encouragement have been to me.

There is no such thing as an insignificant act of kindness.

Never underestimate your ability to change a life. Today I’m grateful for the village of people who have changed mine.

It takes a village to raise a minister.

See you Sunday.

On the Power of Words

 By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." FALSE. Words can hurt.

"The pen is mightier than the sword." TRUE. Words are mighty and powerful.

Words, spoken and written, have a unique power, so we should choose them carefully. Music and art have power, too. The move us deeply and touch us intimately. They stir and inspire. I do not mean to give them short shrift here.

But words convey meaning more specifically and thus have a distinct ability to influence and persuade--and hold a unique place in our day-to-day communications.

Words connect with us intellectually. Words touch our souls. Words encourage our minds to soar, and they cut deep into our hearts. Words evoke laughter and provoke tears.

Words are the building blocks of ideas and theories, of story and myth, of government and laws, of dreams and imagination, of relationship and love. They are the fundamental form of human communication. So how we choose to use words is extremely important.

Some of you know I’ve been writing a few words on my daily calendar for years now. I started with four—Modern. Progressive. Evangelical. Balanced. Mine is a work calendar and those are the four words I dream of for the church.

  • I dream of a church with a modern sensibility—one that makes an effort to feel familiar and even comfortable to new generations.
  • I dream of a church that is progressive enough to be open to new ideas, new approaches to ministry, and even new expressions of theology.
  • I dream of a church that is grounded enough to stay true to our evangelical roots—one that isn’t too hip to still believe in the active power and presence of God in our world.
  • I dream of a church that takes a balanced approach to life and ministry—a church that understands the hurry and stress of modern living and seeks to serve as a haven of rest—a church whose pendulums of faith and practice don’t swing wildly and unpredictably in pursuit of every new fad.
I-Heritage-Icons.jpg

More recently we’ve adopted three words at HERITAGE that guide our life together—Holy. Healthy. Whole. Over the last two years I’ve grown rather fond of these words, too. We’ve dreamed at HERITAGE about being a place where HOLY individuals form HEALTHY relationships to build WHOLE communities together, and I’ve added those words to my daily routine so I’ll remember that they are important goals toward which I’m striving.

These seven words—Modern. Progressive. Evangelical. Balanced. Holy. Healthy. Whole—have served me well. Every time I think of jettisoning one of them to make room for a new one, something draws me back to the originals. So I’ve stuck with them.

What words guide you? What words guide your vision for your classroom, your business, or your role in your home or workplace? What words guide your life as a Christian? If you don't have any, I'd encourage you to give it some thought.

As important as private words of personal guidance can be, public words of communication are even more important.

Over the last few weeks, as my family has been preparing for a move, we have been blessed by wonderfully generous words of affirmation and farewell from people we love in Canton and beautifully thoughtful words of welcome from those we are just beginning to know in Newnan.

During this time of transition, I’m especially aware that there’s nothing quite as uplifting well-chosen and well-timed words--and nothing quite as harmful as poorly-chosen ones.

So choose your words wisely. Be generous with them. Be generous in affirmation, support, encouragement and love. Use words to be generous in your relationships and with your emotions.

Do not leave your kindest words unspoken. If what you mean to say is, “I love you,” come right out and say it. If someone else's gesture or comment has touched you, say so. Use your words to build the spiritual and emotional world you'd like to see around you. 

Words have a unique power in our world. Choose them well. And use them wisely.

See you Sunday.

“Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush your spirit.”
Proverbs 15:4

A Response to the Response to Charlottesville

 By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Some events demand an immediate response. They demand swift and clear condemnation. They even demand our outrage. When white supremacists proudly march under Nazi banners and Confederate flags as they did in Charlottesville last weekend, that certainly qualifies as such an event.

After last Saturday, my social media feeds were filled with requests—demands even—from well-meaning Christians that pastors speak forcefully from their pulpits to condemn the actions of racists in Charlottesville, and many pastors courageously did just that last Sunday.

An immediate response was necessary. Our collective outrage was appropriate. But they are not enough.

There’s a quote currently making the rounds on the internet. It’s attributed as a Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” To those who are demanding a strong response to Charlottesville, remember that what you’re demanding is second-best.

The best time to stand firmly for justice, inclusion, love, peace, unity and equality is BEFORE the pot boils over—not after.

If you didn’t know how strongly I stand as a Christian minister against hatred, racism, prejudice and violence until AFTER Charlottesville, I’ve failed you as a pastor.

And if our community wasn’t aware that HERITAGE is a place for all people and that we stand specifically in opposition to discrimination, segregation, and white supremacy until AFTER Charlottesville, then we have failed our community as a church.

Peace-Dove-Sign.png

The world deserves more than Christian outrage. The world deserves our proactive engagement week in and week out to make our communities look more like God’s kingdom.

So if well-meaning Christians have the right to demand outrage from their pulpits on Sunday mornings, then pastors have the right to demand action from their members on Monday morning.

Action to end workplace and employment discrimination. Actions to protect and enforce fair housing standards. Action to ensure that schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods receive the same level of funding that schools in affluent communities do--and that students in predominantly African-American and Latino communities receive the same high-quality educations that students in majority white communities do.

We have to be willing to hold our elected officials and corporate and civic leaders accountable to Christian standards of equality and decency regardless of party. And, when necessary, we have to be willing to toss aside long-held political allegiances to demonstrate that we are Christians first, Americans second, and partisan political loyalists last.

It’s not enough to condemn racism in response to the outrage of the week. We have to work against it—and all forms of prejudice—daily.

If we choose, we can live in a state of perpetually shocked outrage, responding with our hair on fire to every injustice, large and small. Or, we can get up each morning and do the hard work of racial reconciliation and actively support Christian standards of social justice with the prayerful hope that we will find no cause for outrage twenty years from now.

So be outraged. But move on quickly. Our outrage, while necessary, will by itself only serve to fan the flames of hatred, even giving some the cover to draw a false equivalency between our outrage and the hatred of those who sparked it.

Outrage must be paired with action. Not the Facebook kind of action. Not the courageous words from the pulpit kind of action. Not even the prayer vigil in the town square kind of action. But the Monday morning kind of action of the more than 200 million Christians in America.

You ought to expect to hear from your pastor on Sunday mornings about pressing issues that require strong moral leadership. But you should be more concerned with what your pastor and your fellow church members do on Monday and Tuesday.

See you Sunday.

What will you do on Monday?

Whom God Has Called

 By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

In last Sunday’s sermon, I mentioned several CBF field personnel as we began our August emphasis on the CBF Offering for Global Missions. CBF has written some wonderful ministry profiles for our field personnel that describe the work to which God has called them, and I borrowed from those profiles in worship.

It made me wonder what our ministry profiles might look like if we were to write brief descriptions about our own Christian service.

For example, we have a member at HERITAGE who faithfully serves in our summer lunch program. Over eight weeks this summer she was always the first one to arrive, and she hardly missed a day.

Here’s what her profile might look like:

Myra Jones lives in Cherokee County, GA. God has called her to partner with her church and MUST Ministries to minister to families with children in need, many of them Spanish-speaking immigrant families, through a ministry called the Summer Lunch program. For eight weeks during the summer she meets at her church each weekday morning to receive food donations, sort them, assemble them into individual lunches and then to organize those lunches for distribution. She helps provide more than 400 lunches a day to needy children in her community for 40 days each summer. Through her service, she reminds us that God has a special concern for the most vulnerable people in our community.

Or try this one:

Linda Collett and Trish Fowler live right across the street from HERITAGE Fellowship: a Cooperative Baptist Church. God has called them to partner with their local congregation to care for the lonely and the grieving. They visit ailing members of that congregation and care for aging members who find getting to church difficult. They make calls and write notes. And when someone in their community passes away, they work to make sure that the family is cared for and fed during the funeral process. They quietly go around sharing God’s love when people need it most. When people are experiencing some of the toughest moments and chapters in their lives, Linda and Trish demonstrate that God is compassionate and caring.

Here’s one more:

Mark and Earlene Shadburn live in Waleska, GA. God has called them to do most of their work behind the scenes. When HERITAGE hosts a special event, Earlene comes the day before to decorate. Each time the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, Mark and Earlene come early to prepare the communion table and stay to clean up after the service. Mark runs the sound board in worship and takes care of the building, doing minor repairs and maintenance and working with a team of volunteers to keep up the grounds. Earlene uses her embroidery skills to create special blankets for baby dedications. With diligence and devotion, Mark and Earlene make sure that their church is always ready to put its best foot forward so that people can experience God’s love when they arrive.

What would your ministry profile look like? Consider asking these four questions to construct your profile:

1. Where are you serving?
2. How are serving?
3. Who are you impacting?
4. How does it fit into God’s larger story?

Where do you live? What organizations do you partner with? What do you do? Who do you do it with/for? How are people being introduced to God through your work?

Are you a Sunday school teacher, a VBS volunteer, a member of the choir, a greeter, an usher, or a member of your church’s grounds crew? Do you serve on a committee or ministry team?

Do you volunteer at your local food pantry or non-profit organization? Are you active in your children’s schools? The point is, don’t overlook or undervalue the important work you are doing for God’s kingdom in your community.

If you have trouble identifying places where you’re serving, consider writing your profile as you’d like it to look a year from now. God calls all of us to serve. At HERITAGE, we say that in service to others we find wholeness in Christ. Being a disciple isn’t primarily about believing; it’s primarily about doing. We can’t be complete Christians until we make doing as Jesus did a priority.

So start writing your ministry profile today. I can see them forming now.

Susan is a stay-at-home mom whom God has called to partner with her church to teach 3-year-olds…

David is an auto mechanic whom God has called to work with teenagers on Wednesday nights…

In the Baptist church, we value the priesthood of all believers very highly. That means that every member has a responsibility to be a minister.

Each of us is one whom God has called.

See you Sunday.

Learning To Laugh

 By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

When we’re born, we cry. It’s one of the first signs of a healthy baby.

No one has to teach us to cry. We just do. We cry to voice a need, discomfort or hurt. And we’ll continue to cry for those same reasons until the day we die.

Babies don’t laugh, though, until they are at least three or four months old. We laugh to voice pleasure, amusement, fondness, surprise, and connection.  But laughter isn’t something we’re born knowing how to do. It’s something we have to learn.

Crying is a survival instinct. Crying keeps us from dying. But laughter helps us live.

In fact, learning to laugh is one of the best things we can do with our time here on earth.

When Abraham and Sarah learn that they’ll have a son in their old age, surprise and joy lead them to laugh (Genesis 21).

The psalmist reminds us of the importance of laughter, delight and joyful living (Psalm 37, Psalm 126).

Paul reminds us to rejoice always (Philippians 4).

Laughter and delight, though, seem to be in short supply these days. In their place, we find stress, restlessness and anxiety. And some think an overuse of technology is to blame. A recent study connects rising levels of depression with increases in “screen time,” particularly among adolescents.

If laughter is something we learn—and if delight is something God desires to cultivate in us—then the technology-driven anxiety experienced by so many of us isn’t just a physical and mental problem, it’s a spiritual problem, too.

Christian author Philip Yancey calls the invasive presence of technology a threat to the soul. Technology has robbed us of our leisure time and it’s threatening our collective well-being.

For millions of Americans, "technology time" has replaced true leisure time. Instead of reading books or daydreaming or exercising or getting outside or talking with friends—all things that can lead to true laughter and delight—we find ourselves mindlessly scrolling, refreshing, re-checking, clicking and reflexively grabbing at our phones.

So much so that Master of None creator and comedian Aziz Ansari has deleted the internet, email and all social media from his phone and lap top.

Funny videos may amuse, but they fail to provide the real pleasure, fondness or connection we crave. A constant stream of new information may satisfy in the moment, but without time to reflect and process that information, we remain perpetually uninformed.

Technology entertains, but it doesn’t nourish. It can be amusing, but it’s rarely joyful. It’s empty calories. We need to learn to laugh again.

So unplug and read a book—made of paper. Or a magazine—with actual glossy pages.

Turn on some music. Go for a walk. Browse the stalls at a farmer’s market. Go to a baseball game. Engage an artistic passion.

Meet a friend for coffee or dinner. Or (gasp) use your phone to actually call someone for a chat just to see how they’re doing. Connect with people. Touch them. Hear them. See them. IRL. In real life.

Laughter isn’t something that comes naturally to us. We have to practice it. It’s time we learned to laugh again.

See you Sunday.