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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

Bible Doing Groups

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Imagine that a church of 100 people meets once a week for one hour of Bible study.  That’s 100 person/hours per week devoted to study.

Say those groups meet 50 weeks/year—very dedicated groups, I know, but most Sunday school classes are.

That’s 5000 person/hours per year devoted to study.

Now imagine if they did that for 20 years?

That’s 100,000 person/hours devoted to study.  I know to some of you this will sound crazy, but there are A LOT of people in our churches who have been meeting 50 times a year for 20 years or more for Bible study.

Studying the Bible is good. Regular attention to scripture and group discussion about how to apply scripture’s lessons to our daily lives is incredibly important.

But what if we stopped just talking about what the Bible teaches—what scripture means and how to apply it—and started doing what it says? What if we moved from Bible study groups to Bible doing groups?

As a church, we already devote countless hours to local missions projects that allow us to live out the gospel in our community.  What if we saw our HERITAGE Home Groups as a chance to expand our reach?

That’s what we’re going to attempt at HERITAGE this fall. After a successful first year of HERITAGE Home Groups, we’re going to see if we can mobilize our home groups as communities of action to move beyond our classrooms and living rooms and out into the community as witnesses for Christ.

In January, you identified specific issues about which you are passionate and that you said you would like to see your church address. The issues you identified include:

  • Opioid Crisis/Drug Abuse
  • Childhood Hunger
  • Education
  • Poverty
  • Elder Care
  • Animal Cruelty
  • Refugees/Immigration
  • Health Care
  • Racism
  • Pay Day Lending Abuses
  • Prison/Industrial Complex

We are blessed to have church members with strong community ties and professional expertise that will help us as we seek to address some of these issues. And we won’t have to do it alone. As a Cooperative Baptist church, we have access to the resources of CBF Advocacy, an arm of CBF Global that is specifically designed to support local congregations as they seek to make a difference in their communities.

In our HERITAGE Home Groups this fall, we will say even more clearly than we ever have that we expect that what we learn in scripture will lead to action in our world. And our action this fall will be guided by four basic questions for each issue we engage.

1.       What is the extent of the problem in our community?
2.       What does the Bible teach about the people affected and our responsibility to them?
3.       What can we DO to alleviate immediate suffering related to the problem right now?
4.       What can we DO to support systemic change to eliminate the problem in the future?

We’ll begin to preview these new opportunities for our HERITAGE Home Groups at our August 2nd FEAST night. You’ll have the chance to begin your work together in September. But you can start now by praying for these groups, the work they’ll do, and the communities they’ll seek to serve and influence.  

As e move from Bible study to Bible doing, we take our cue from scripture. Here’s what James says about putting our faith into practice:

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
-James 1:22-25

See you Sunday.

Four Things We've Known From The Very Beginning

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

There are some things God has yet to reveal to us, like why God would allow the Falcons to blow a 25-point Super Bowl lead. Some things God is in the process of revealing to us, like the all-encompassing greatness of Freddie Freeman. And some things God has revealed to us from the very beginning.

This Sunday we’ll wrap up our “In The Beginning” worship series. We’ve been looking at scenes from Genesis to understand a few things that were important enough for God to teach us right off the bat—lessons about creativity, covenant, commitment and community.

Before we let this series go, I want to make sure we remember these first lessons of scripture.

Creativity (Genesis 1)
Our God is a creative God. The first way we know God is as creator. In fact, the first chapter of Genesis makes clear that creating good, new things is God’s work. That means that every time we engage in the work of creating, we are partnering with God to do God’s work.

Sometimes new things—new technology, new relationships, new environments, new ideas, new expectations, new ways of being the church—can be intimidating. When we remember that God is in the business of creating new things, it can help us move beyond our fear.

Covenant (Genesis 17)
God is a God of covenant. From the very beginning we have known that God desires a relationship with us. God’s covenant with Abraham is a promise that God will be for us and with us forever.  

After creating, entering into covenant with us is one of the first things God does in scripture.  We learn very early that the God of all creation is on our side to encourage and uphold us!

Our part of the covenant? It is to be blameless and faithful. We don’t always keep our part of the covenant, but God does. The gap between God's faithfulness and our failure is called grace.

From the beginning, God has wanted us to know that God’s promises are sure even when we fall short, and God’s promises last forever.

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Commitment (Genesis 22)
From the beginning, particularly through the story of Abraham and Issac, we have understood that God has high expectations of us. And we learn that both the high expectations and the challenge of living up to them are a blessing.

It’s clear in Genesis that God is to be first in our lives. Family, friends, money, influence, patriotism—it doesn’t matter what the competing interest is—God comes first.

We learn very early in scripture that God is worthy of our devotion because of who God is, not just because of what God can provide. When we remember that and keep God at the center of who we are, all the other pieces of our lives seem to fall into place.

From the very beginning, God reveals how important it is to put God first.

Community (Genesis 33)
God is a God who facilitates reconciliation because God values community. Relationships are tough, so reconciliation is necessary. From the very beginning rivalry, jealousy, deceitfulness, and betrayal have been part of human relationships.

And there are no relationships more fraught with peril than family relationships. The story of Jacob and Esau reminds us that our own family sagas and challenges are nothing new.

Broken relationships can leave deep wounds, shatter trust, and fracture community.

But God shows us from the very beginning how important the work of reconciliation is—and how important the work of building and repairing community is.

Creativity, Covenant, Commitment, Community
We can all work to emphasize and be open to creativity, covenant, commitment and community in our individual lives.

Remember, creating new things has always been part of God’s plan. From the very beginning, God has desired a covenantal relationship with you. Good things happen when we put God first in our lives. And reconciliation is a central process through which God has worked in our relationships from the very first pages of scripture.

What can you do this week to bolster creativity, covenant, commitment and community in your life? Whatever it is, I pray you'll do it.

See you Sunday.

Four Things Adults Can Learn From Youth Camp

by Matt Sapp

by Matt Sapp

I spent last week with our students at PASSPORT youth camp in Danville, VA. It’s one of my favorite things to do each year—and one of the most tiring. Kids have A LOT of energy!

I’ve been attending PASSPORT as a minister and chaperone for seven years now, and PASSPORT does a wonderful job of incorporating worship, Bible study, service and prayer into a meaningful and fun-filled week for teenagers.

But as I’ve attended camp over the years, I’ve noticed there’s a lot adults can learn from PASSPORT, too, and it goes far beyond religious instruction.

Here are four things adults can learn from the PASSPORT experience.

PASSPORT offers our teenagers a break. Everyone needs a break every once in a while. PASSPORT is a focused retreat for teenagers that intentionally removes them from the cares of their worlds. They disconnect from TV and social media. They leave family and wider circles of friends at home.

Camp is a chance for kids to hit reset—or at least the pause button. And as much as kids need a break from the cares and stresses of their lives—and they do—adults might need breaks like this even more.

PASSPORT is not a vacation, it’s a retreat. In a way that vacations are not, PASSPORT is constructed as an intentional, healthy retreat from our everyday realities. Kids need that. Healthy adults need occasional retreats from reality, too!

PASSPORT offers our teenagers a time to let loose and be themselves in a safe, non-judgmental environment. Whether it’s at a rec party, a themed dance night, a variety show, a volleyball tournament, or it’s a chance to do a silly dance together, kids are constantly encouraged to express themselves in creative ways and just have fun.

It can be hard for us to find times and places where we feel fully comfortable being ourselves—when we can just let loose and have fun.

PASSPORT provides time and space for teenagers to do just that. Adults need time and space for that, too.

The HERITAGE crew at PASSPORT in Danville, VA.

The HERITAGE crew at PASSPORT in Danville, VA.

PASSPORT puts teenagers in new environments and encourages them to try new things and meet new friends. I’ve noticed over the years that kids are remarkably comfortable and excited about doing this. Kids try new things and experience new environments all the time. Adults don’t.

I’m not sure exactly when and how it happens, but I know at some point, to one degree or another, we all stop being as open to the new, exciting and different as we once were. We can even become fearful of it.

PASSPORT is a reminder that we should actively work against our tendency to become closed off to new ideas, new people and new experiences.

And PASSPORT provides a dedicated time to focus on God. At PASSPORT kids ask questions about their faith. They reflect on past experiences. They focus on the future. They take stock of their spiritual lives and their relationships with God.

When did you last take the time to do those things? When’s the last time you took a few days to figure out what you’re doing, where you’re going, even who you are—a few days to dream about the future and make decisions about how you’ll get there—a few days to take those dreams and plans and give them faithfully to God?

Our kids get to do that at PASSPORT each year. Adults need time for that, too.

At HERITAGE we talk about becoming more holy, healthy and whole—and about building holy, healthy and whole communities together. If that’s our goal, then these aren’t optional things.

Healthy living and healthy spiritual development require regular breaks from routine; safe places for fun, creative self-expression; an openness to new environments, people and ideas; and intentional spaces to assess, plan and dream with God.

Each year, PASSPORT reminds me to make time in my own life to do these things. I hope you will, too.

See you Sunday.

A Strange and Unsettling Time

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

“It’s a strange and unsettling time.” So ended the Twitter thread of reporter Kyle Cheney after five people, including Congressman Steve Scalise, were shot in Arlington, VA Wednesday morning.

It is a strange and unsettling time.

Congressional hearings. Fired FBI directors. Special prosecutors. Russian election meddling.

Congressmen being shot at on suburban playgrounds. Secret health care bills. Contentious elections all over the world. Divisive, heated and hateful rhetoric. Fake news.

Ongoing terrorist threats from ISIS and other extremists. Bombs in Manchester. Rampages in London. Escaped convicts—cop killers—on the loose in Georgia. Mass shootings so frequent that we’ve quit counting and barely notice.

Death by prescription drug is now the leading cause of death in people under 50 in America. More people are now dying from drug overdoses than ever died from car accidents, AIDS, or gun violence. Overdose deaths have more than doubled since 2005. 

It’s a strange and unsettling time.

The current trajectory seems less than encouraging, and it can make me fearful of what the future holds. But what I’m feeling is more than fear and uncertainty.   

I’m feeling something else, too. It’s grief. Grief is what we feel when we’ve lost something (or someone) important to us.

I’m not sure what exactly we’ve lost yet, but I know we’ve lost—and are losing—something important. Civility. Community. Compassion. Faith. Hope. Love. Democracy. I don’t know, but I know we’re losing something.

It’s like I’m grieving something I know we’ve already lost, but I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly it is yet—or how deep the wound is—or how much this loss will change me—or how permanent the damage will be.

These are strange and unsettling times. As I was thinking about our current situation, I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about times like these.

I’ll admit I was tempted at first to start scouring the end times prophecies! But I finally, and fortunately, settled on the equanimity of Job.

Job lived through an unbelievable experience of loss, grief, and fear for the future.

Job asks, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” Job reminds us that God can be present even in strange and unsettling times.

Job says, “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” When I look at the world around me and wonder how it will all shake out, I feel the same way.

Job cries, “If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales, it would surely outweigh the sand of the seas.” Job does not bear these disquieting times without lament, and neither should we.

Job complains, “The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison; God’s terrors are marshaled against me.” Job openly wonders if God has a hand in the grief he is experiencing.

Few of us are experiencing personal trials even remotely approaching the trials of Job, but still we ask, “Where is God in all of this? Why has God abandoned us to poisonous forces? Why are dangerous and destructive things happening one after the other? How will this all end?”

Here’s the answer. We don’t know. Job didn’t either. The struggle is real, but it isn’t new.

Job’s questions—and now ours--are as old as our faith.  

It’s a strange and unsettling time.

We have no peace, no quietness, no rest—only turmoil. We are burdened by the uncertainty and tension that surround us.

The times seem dangerous. The heavy atmosphere is at best a distraction in our hearts and at worst a looming disaster for our world.

It seems as if a poisonous spirit has been marshaled to infect us. And everywhere we turn, it seems, more poison to drink.

I admit I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t know what to do.

Neither did Job. So do you know what Job did? Nothing.

Job waited. Job didn’t try to fill the void. Instead, Job waited for God to speak.

And, after a while, God spoke.

We can learn from Job that eventually God speaks into strange and unsettling times.

Today, many are not patient enough to wait on God and are filling the void with their own “wisdom.” Job experienced other voices that claimed to know what to do, too.

Job was not swayed by them, though, and neither should we be.

Instead, Job waited.

These are strange and unsettling times.

It is a strange and unsettling time to be an American.

It is a strange and unsettling time to be a Christian.

It is a strange and unsettling time to be a pastor.

It is a strange and unsettling time to be the church.

So I’m waiting. I hope God speaks soon.

See you Sunday.

You Are What You Create

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Who am I? That’s a good question, right? It’s a question people have been struggling with since the beginning of time. But I get the sense that it’s one that’s particularly vexing today.

We have traditionally found our identities in all sorts of places, most often in family, work or culture.

Today, though, that's becoming less true. Our identities aren't as rooted in family, culture or work anymore because family, culture and work aren’t as rooted as they used to be.

Careers no longer last a lifetime. Families aren’t as stable. Home very rarely remains the town you grew up in. And abrupt and ever-accelerating cultural shifts leave us wary of tethering our identities too tightly to culture.

We can spend our whole lives trying to figure out who we are. 

The world tries to identify us and appeal to us based on race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic class, education or faith—i.e. college-educated whites, working-class men, soccer moms, evangelical Christians, disaffected Southerners.

And we identify ourselves in certain ways, too. Publicly we might be proud to be identified as a faithful Baptist or a school teacher or a college graduate or a community leader.

Privately we might be less generous in our definitions. We tend to privately identify ourselves by our weaknesses or perceived shortcomings, using words like under-achiever, overweight, unattractive, addict, failure, weak, or unaccomplished. We can really beat ourselves up.

But the Bible identifies us differently.

As much as we struggle with fundamental questions of identity, it’s the first question the Bible answers in the Book of Genesis.

So who are you?

-You are God’s good creation (Genesis 1:31).
-You are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
-You have a particular place and purpose in the world (Genesis 1:28-29).

And Genesis doesn’t just teach us about our identity. It teaches us about God’s identity, too. It teaches us about our relationships with one another and with God. It teaches us about our individual freedom and the limits on it.

We’re starting a new series at HERITAGE during which we’ll explore a series of truths that God has revealed to us from the very beginning—truths about identity and relationships, faithfulness and forgiveness, community and reconciliation.

We start this Sunday by talking about creation. Sometimes we are warned against finding our identity in our work. In Genesis chapter 1, though, God’s identity is clearly tied to God’s work—what Genesis 1 calls “the work of creating.”

The first way God is revealed to us is as Creator. That means that because you are God’s creation, God’s identity is wrapped up in and revealed in you.

I think that’s where our identities lie, too—in what we create.

So what are you creating?

Some people create fear and instability. Some people are great at creating negativity and suspicion. Some people intentionally appeal to the worst in us, manipulating our basest motivations. Some people create division and dissension with whisper and rumor and gossip.

We’ve all experienced people like that in our lives. We may be guilty of creating some of those things ourselves. That’s a particularly dangerous way to live when we begin to understand that we are what we create.

So what are you creating? Or what do you want to create?  A better family? A stronger community? An more encouraging atmosphere? A more forgiving society? A more welcoming church? A more beautiful world? A stronger network to support the vulnerable?

And how will you create it? Creating isn’t imagining or hoping or studying or dreaming. In Genesis, for God, creating is working. Creating will be work for us, too.

So deliver the casserole, write the letter, call the mayor’s office, show up for the PTA meeting, volunteer at the food bank, lead at church, coach the little league team. Do the work of creating.

When God rested from God's work, God looked back on what God had done and saw that it was very good. One day, when we look back on what we’ve created, I pray we’ll see the same thing.

See you Sunday.

5 Truths After 5 Years of Marriage

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Today Julie and I are celebrating five years of marriage. It’s been a wonderful five years. Here are five things I’ve learned along the way.

Time Flies
Sometimes if I don’t catch myself, I still think it’s 2007-or 1997!! Five years have gone by like the blink of an eye. Encapsulated, though, in that whoosh of time are shared moments that will last forever—trips, conversations, quiet moments, meals, laughter, tears, successes, failures—the things that make us, us.  

And because you can’t get special moments in time back, I’ve learned to prioritize being present for those I love. I don’t regret being at a single birthday party or wedding or special event with family and friends. I do regret missing some, though. Be present for the important moments in life, big and small. Once you miss them, you can never get them back.

You Never Grow Up
Sometime in my mid-twenties, I thought I finally realized that you never grow up. But today I realize that I’m still waiting for it to happen. There is no switch to flip that magically gives you the confidence, wisdom, authority and purpose of adulthood.

If I ever appear to have any of those things, I’m just pretending!

Even after five years of marriage I often feel like I’m just practicing “adulting” in preparation for the day when I finally grow up.

So don’t take yourself so seriously. If you never really grow up, then you never have to lose the light-hearted enthusiasm of childhood. Right? You don’t, do you!?!?

Live In The Moment
If you want to do it, do it now. If you want to see it, plan to go this year. Don’t neglect to plan for the future, but live life in the present. That “someday” you’re waiting for will always be a few years off in the future.

As the saying goes, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So go skiing next year. Plan that trip to Europe. Swim with the dolphins. Eat at the fancy restaurant. Go to the concert. See the play. Climb to the top and take in the view. Stop to see the big ball of twine. Whatever. Knowing how way leads on to way, you may never have the chance again. So do it now.

Enjoy Simple Pleasures
You don’t have to go to Paris to enjoy a glass of wine in the long shadows of evening. You can do that on your back porch.  

You don’t have to shell out big money to go to the concert and dance the night away. You can dance to the Temptations in your living room tonight.

You don’t have to buy a plane ticket to go on a grand adventure. Lose yourself in a great book. Or create adventures in your own neighborhood. Explore a new park, head to the lake or just take an evening stroll through town.

Or, best of all, take time to dream as a family. Imagine what life could be like one year, five years or ten years from now—where you might be and what you might accomplish. Explore far-flung possibilities. Place no limits on the creativity of your ambitions. See where you end up. Thirty minutes spent in that kind of conversation is far better than any episode of the Big Bang Theory.

Pace Yourself
There are moments and seasons of life that require great intensity. But you can’t sprint all the way through life, so pace yourself.

I know a lot of people, young and old, who are racing through life right now, pedal to the metal. You can only attack life that way for so long before you crash. So slow down. Breathe. Relax. Rest up. Check your oil, fill your tank and rotate your tires so you’ll be ready to win the next race.

After five years of marriage, I’ve learned that there are few things life can throw at me that I can’t handle together with Julie—things that I could never imagine doing or facing alone.

On our fifth wedding anniversary, Julie is all the proof I need that God loves me and wants me to be happy. I lead a very charmed life.

See you Sunday.

Pastoral Meanderings: A Reflection for Memorial Day

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

On Sunday morning, Mark and Earlene Shadburn got to work with mops and towels and shop vacs to clean up a small flood in our Sunday School rooms after Saturday night’s heavy rain.

It was the kind of thing that could have been a HUGE crisis. But Mark and Earlene knew just what to do. You can imagine how grateful I was that they were there.

In twenty years, the church has never flooded. We have our fingers crossed that this was a one-time event that won’t happen again. As of Thursday—and after more rain—we’re still dry.

On Monday, Judy Brandon and Virginia Land met with a new intern who will help lead our summer lunch program. She’s a college student who is donating her summer to us, and she’s going to be great!

On Tuesday, I traveled back and forth to Macon for a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) of Georgia meeting. I got to see my brother while I was there. He met me in the parking lot of the CBF offices during a break. As I turned around from his truck to head back inside, I saw Ben’s pastor, Scott, also at the meeting, peering through the window at us, making faces. We all laughed.

On Wednesday, Kay and Davis Byrd stopped by the church to pick up the flowers they had provided for worship last Sunday. I, however, had already taken the flowers to a nursing home on Monday to give to one of our members who was supposed to have been transferred there from the hospital.

When I got to the nursing center, though, I couldn’t find her. So I just walked around in circles, feeling a bit like an idiot with this big arrangement of flowers in my hand and no one to give them to. I joked with the nurses that I’d been stood up for the prom.

I never found Cathy there. In fact, as I write this I’m still not sure which care facility she’s in. I’ve been telling people she’s gone missing. This is what you would call a pastoral failure!

I’m sure she’s safe or I wouldn’t joke about it. But I would like to know where she is.

Not finding Cathy, I got back in the car and took the flowers to a home-bound member whom I hadn’t seen in far too long. Her middle-aged son was out front cleaning up the yard in a light drizzle when I got there. Our eyes met as I walked to the door. He shrugged and said, “You gotta do it when you can find the time.”

I went inside and put the flowers on the kitchen table. Sue was most grateful.

On Wednesday when I told Kay what I’d done with the flowers, she gasped. I smiled. “I didn’t take your vase,” I said. “It’s in the kitchen.” She let out a deep breath and laughed. It’s a pretty fancy vase.

Also on Wednesday, our lunchtime Bible study group met for the last time before our summer break. On Wednesdays, four faithful ladies and I—along with some others who come and go—eat lunches together that we bring from home. As we sit around a table in fellowship hall eating our sandwiches and chips, we talk about our families and share concerns about our friends. And then we talk about the Bible.

It’s so simple, it’s refreshing. It might be the best part of my week.

This Wednesday, we wrapped up a survey of the New Testament by giving the book of Revelation our best shot—at least the best we could do in thirty minutes or so. I’d say we didn’t do half bad.

On Thursday morning, Karen was there when I got to church.  She was just finishing cleaning up the office. Did you know she’s the best church custodian anyone could ask for? It was the last day of school, so I asked her if her family was ready for summer. “Yes,” she said. “We’ve just survived the first year of middle school.”

“That’s no small feat,” I responded. And it’s not.

I spent Thursday evening eating barbecue on Joan Denney’s back porch with her HERITAGE Home Group. Then we had banana pudding before going inside to talk about a book the group’s been studying together.

As we talked, Harry Johnston made a joke that had all of us roaring with laughter. One day I’ll share it with you. The whole evening was wonderful.

We can choose to look back on our weeks (or years) and remember the stress and uncertainty—maybe an argument we had or plans that fell through or a project that didn’t get executed as well as we'd hoped. We can remember sleepless nights, overwhelming responsibilities and unexpected bills.

Or, we can remember the moments that give meaning and joy to life. As you pause this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you’ll do the latter.  

Remember the short interactions with co-workers, passers-by, family members and friends. An exchange at the grocery store. A phone call. A chance encounter at the restaurant. An evening with your Bible study group. A kind word. An act of service. A smile. A moment of shared laughter.

Each individual encounter may seem small at the time, but collectively, they make up the story of our lives. We have much for which to be grateful.

See you Sunday.

To The Class of 2017: Life Lessons From Albert Einstein

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

I’ve always been fascinated by Albert Einstein, so when the National Geographic channel announced they were producing a mini-series about him (Genius), it immediately became must-see TV in the Sapp household.

Einstein is fascinating for his once-in-a-generation kind of intellect. But my interest in the man extends far beyond his facility with physics equations. Einstein holds a unique place among scientists and continues to inspire people from all walks of life because of the playfulness with which he viewed the world and the joy he ascribed to the human experience.

He understood science as an art form and approached his life with a contagious sense of child-like wonder that continues to inspire his students and admirers today.

So, to the class of 2017, be more like Albert Einstein.

Embrace the Beauty of Simplicity

When ideas are complex, it means we don’t understand them well enough yet. In a profession that fills chalkboards with complex calculations, Einstein described the previously unrecognized relationship between matter and energy using the simplest of equations—e=mc2. And he described complex ideas about relativity and the properties of time using everyday language that even the average person could begin to grasp.

When our lives are complex, it means we don’t understand our purpose well enough yet. Discover who you are, embrace who God created you to be, and live into that singular truth.

Trust your unique relationship with God. Then trust yourself. And your life will become powerfully simple—so simple, in fact, that even the average person will be able to grasp the beauty of who you are.

Genius airs on the National Geographic channel on Tuesdays at 9 PM.

Genius airs on the National Geographic channel on Tuesdays at 9 PM.

Harness the Power of Your Individuality
Your education has sought to form you as an individual, but it has also worked to fit you into a reproducible mold. Your employers will seek to do the same. Your ability to fit into and work within a system will be invaluable to you as you make important contributions within the organizational structures that compose our modern-day society.

But never forget that you are more than a cog in a machine. Conformity will help you get along; your individuality will help you get ahead.

Einstein struggled with authority and institutional hierarchy. He refused to conform in ways that would have doomed the prospects of people less gifted than he was.  

But his giftedness was more than intellectual. His giftedness included an innate and enduring sense of self-confidence that allowed him to more fully harness the power of his individuality.

We can learn the value of conformity from Einstein’s struggles—and the value of individuality from his successes.

Cultivate a Continuing Sense of Curiosity
Engage the world as a child would—with an active sense of imagination. Never become so grown-up that the myriad mysteries of life become less than wonderful to you. Einstein maintained a curious interest in all kinds of things as an adult--playing the violin, sailing, and hiking among them--and he always enjoyed playing with children.

So embrace a broad range of interests. You need not master them all. You need only let them master you—music, art, literature, baseball, history, fashion, architecture, technology, design. Develop the interests that spark your imagination and pursue them with determined curiosity. 

Be Persistently Resilient
Einstein demonstrated the courage to confidently pursue a dream or an idea even if no one else gave him much of a chance at success. And he didn’t give up even when the importance of his work went unnoticed. 

Although his colleagues were always aware of his potential, the genius of Einstein's initial work went largely unrecognized, in part because he didn’t have the right credentials or academic standing to be taken seriously.

But his persistence as he worked outside the normal structures of his profession—without a professorship or university position—paid off. Don’t be afraid to keep trying. And don’t be afraid to hold onto the big idea of your life, even if no one else gives you much of a chance.

Persistence and resilience may be the two most important predictors of life satisfaction and accomplishment.

And, finally, if all of this seems like too much to remember, remember this:  the world you’re entering is serious enough already. So don’t take yourself too seriously. Smile. Laugh. Goof off. Sleep in. Binge watch. Play.

And, remember that life is a gift, that God is love, and that you were created to be a uniquely powerful force for good in the world.

See you Sunday.

The Johnson Amendment and the Christian Voice in the Public Square

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
-Isaiah 10:1-2

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the role of the church in the public square, particularly with respect to the Johnson Amendment, a piece of legislation that prohibits churches (as 501(c)3 organizations) from publicly endorsing or specifically campaigning against candidates for public office.

A recent executive order instructed the IRS to overlook the Johnson Amendment when reviewing the 501(c)3 status of non-profit organizations—in effect saying that churches and pastors should feel free to endorse political candidates without fear of IRS reprisal—and many American Christians cheered.

I wasn’t one of them. During last year’s presidential election, I wrote that I objected to pastors publicly endorsing political candidates and gave my reasons why.

But a larger question remains: What is the appropriate way for churches and religious leaders to engage the political process? What’s the mission of the church when it comes to engaging and influencing government and public policy?

My answer: We are to be prophetic witnesses to what a world governed by Kingdom principles looks like.

The prophetic mission of the church is to call the world to a new and higher standard of justice—a standard not of fairness, but of generosity.

The prophetic mission of God’s people extends back thousands of years. Isaiah's challenge to lawmakers (see above) is 2700 years old. It has been the mission of God’s people to sound the call to justice at least since then.

2000 years ago, Jesus sounded the call, too, in Matthew chapter 5:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus teaches that we live in a world that celebrates an ethic of fairness—an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, love for love, and hate for hate.

But Jesus clearly states that the prevailing ethic of fairness, while it might be sufficient for tax collectors and pagans, is insufficient for Christians.

Christians are called not to uphold standards of fairness, but to be prophetic examples of what a new standard of justice might look like—a standard of generosity that offers more than is expected, more than is reciprocal, and more, even, than is fair.  

Jesus is saying, “You have heard it said of old, be fair. But I say, be generous.”

As the church engages the issues that dominate today’s public square—issues like health care, taxes, civil rights, education, poverty, and immigration—we must consciously be aware that the Christian standard of justice isn’t fairness, it’s generosity.

We have to stop asking, “What’s the fairest thing we could do in this situation?” 

The question the Christian must ask instead is, "What’s the most generous thing we could do in this situation"?

And, as Isaiah reminds us: What’s the most generous policy we could advocate for on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, the widow and the fatherless--categories of people in whom and toward whom the God of scripture consistently exhibits an interest and a bias.

  • What’s the most generous policy we could support with respect to the poor and health care?
  • What’s the most generous thing we could do to alleviate poverty among the oppressed in our society?
  • What’s the most generous way to structure the tax code so that it supports widows and single mothers?
  • What’s the most generous proposal we could imagine to improve education systems and outcomes for the most vulnerable children in our communities?

That’s what the Bible teaches about how the Christian should engage the world for Christ. We need not be guided in our public witness by the Johnson Amendment or a presidential executive order. We need not fret over whether to endorse this candidate for office or oppose that one.

Instead, we should speak the words of Isaiah boldly. We should advocate on behalf of those Isaiah spoke up for often. And we should speak with prophetic clarity as Jesus did, bravely articulating a new standard of justice—one guided not by fairness, but by generosity.

If we really want to influence the political landscape and be heard in the public square, we should be endorsing Christ and Christian standards of justice to our politicians--not endorsing polticians to our Christians.

"Woe to those who make unjust laws. Who issue oppressive decrees to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless."

See you Sunday.

The Ministry of Mindfulness

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

We hosted our final REST service of the year last Wednesday.

We started REST at HERITAGE last September as part of an intentional effort to engage our church in a season of prayer. REST is a mid-week prayer and communion service designed to provide a few moments of quiet reflection in the middle of a busy week. 

We met weekly through the fall. And in the new year, we’ve met monthly on the first Wednesday of each month.

As we wind up REST for the year and break for summer, I thought I’d tell you how I’ve experienced it.

At first, REST was jarring. The interruption of quiet and stillness with no phones, no conversation, no motion, and no activity was jarring.

As I sat down to REST each Wednesday with the lights dimmed, our prayer guide in front of me and our musicians playing softly in the background, I would take a few deep breaths and even close my eyes. Conditions should have been perfect for prayer and meditation.

But at first, despite the setting, it was hard to get my mind to be quiet. To slow down. To really REST.

Somewhere along the way, though, in the middle of the jarringness, REST became deeply meaningful to me. The quiet moments of reflection that I longed for finally appeared. The comforting assurance of God’s presence finally broke through.

But what became most meaningful to me was the way I came to feel the presence of my fellow church members around me.

The idea that REST was something we were doing together—the same faithful Christians gathering in holy rhythm each Wednesday—became profoundly meaningful to me as the weeks went by.

When we seek the same silence together; listen for the same God together; approach the same table together; partake of the same bread together; and drink from the same cup together, week after week, month after month, season after season—these things start to form us—together—into the body of Christ, the church.

We say we’re a church that embraces being holy, healthy and whole. When we sit together on Wednesday evenings, our hearts and minds seeking some sort of synchronicity, seeking a shared experience of God’s presence in the moment, it doesn’t get much more holy, healthy and whole than that.

I’ll admit, too, that we’ve gathered for REST some Wednesdays when I would rather have been somewhere else—when I was antsy and distracted, or tired, or bored, or disinterested, or worried, or angry, or sad—when I’ve let whatever else was going on inside me get in the way of really resting.

But even on those Wednesdays, I’m glad I was there. If I didn’t REST, at least I acknowledged my distractedness or tiredness or antsyness.

As it turns out, we’re not the only ones seeking REST. Mindfulness and meditation have become important cultural touchstones as people from corporate boardrooms to inner-city schools embrace the need to slow down, focus, and be present to our feelings and emotions.

And, as one of our church members reminded me, there’s always an app for that. Insight Timer and 10 Percent Happier both let people use their phones to set aside a few minutes in the day to slow down.

Maybe you could try one of them. As we take a break from REST, you don’t have to take a break from intentionally seeking to connect with God’s presence within you.

I’ve enjoyed the routine of REST, and this season of intentional prayer has been important for our church. REST, though, will probably look different in the fall.

As we look forward to what REST will become, I’m grateful for what it’s been. One of Jesus’ most memorable invitations is one we continue to be in desperate need of—

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST.”

See you Sunday.

Running With The Wind

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Sometimes you’re running with the wind. Sometimes the wind is against you.

I spent last week at the beach, and a few mornings while I was there I got up and went for a run. My goal each day was to run over a bridge a few miles down the beach road and back.

The first day, as I started out, I felt great. I got over the bridge and I still felt great. I’d kept a pretty good pace, I was a few miles in, and I wasn’t tired or winded at all. I felt like I could keep going forever. It was incredible.

I thought to myself, “Man, this vacation is really doing wonders for me. I’m relaxed and energized. This is wonderful!”

And then I turned around to run back.

As soon as I turned around, I felt the wind in my face. I thought for sure the strength of the breeze would subside once I got over the bridge and back down on the road again.

But when I got back on the road, the breeze was even stronger, and it never let up. Eventually, I had to stop and walk the rest of the way home.

And then I realized why the run out to the bridge had been so easy. I’d had the wind at my back.

On the way out, the wind was helping me every step of the way, but I couldn’t feel it. When I was moving with the wind, I didn’t notice it at all. But when I had to run against it, I felt like I was running into a hurricane.

Later in the week, Julie and I went kayaking. The paddle out was easy. We were moving with the tide. The paddle in was a different story, though. I can still feel my muscles from the challenge of paddling against the tide.  

Those watching from shore as we paddled—or those watching runners go by on the beach road—wouldn’t naturally know that the wind or the tide was helping or hurting. It isn’t something that’s immediately noticeable.

The same is true in life.

We never feel the strength of the wind until we’re forced to work against it. When embedded cultural norms and societal factors are helping us, we don’t even notice that they're there. Instead, we think that all the progress we make is due to our diligence, hard work and strength.

And when we see others struggling to make progress, we think, “If only they were only as strong as I am, as diligent as I am, as conscientious as I am, they wouldn’t struggle so much.”

But we never imagine that the same wind that helps us may be hindering someone else.  

In fact, the only way to know for sure what headwinds people might be struggling against is to turn around and run with them—to walk a mile in their shoes.

So when life seems particularly easy, don’t forget the helping wind at your back. And don’t imagine that you’re flying ahead on your own. Remember, instead, to thank God for the unseen helpers propelling you forward.

And when you see others struggling to make progress, remember that many of your neighbor’s challenges are often unseen, too. Remember what it feels like to run against the wind yourself. You might even offer a helping hand.

Maybe our tendency to underestimate what helps us, while at the same time underestimating what holds others back, is the reason Jesus warned us about being too judgmental (Matt 7:1-3).

If you’re in a season of life where the wind is at your back, enjoy it. And if the wind is in your face, remember that it won’t last forever. An easier leg of your journey is just over the bridge.

See you Sunday.

Earth Day, Glacier National Park, and Psalm 148

This post originally appeared in Ethics Daily as part of a series of articles for Earth Day. You can read the whole series HERE. Earth Day is celebrated every year on April 22.

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Glacier National Park is one of my favorite places on earth. I’ve never been anywhere where God’s majesty is so clearly on display. And there’s one spot in the park that stands out in my mind—Apgar Lookout.

The only time I’ve been there, I was hiking with my brother. After hiking more than three miles through a wooded mountainside and climbing nearly 2000 feet, my brother and I came around a bend and into an open plateau, and there for the first time we saw the grandeur of God’s Montana handiwork stretched out in front of us.

The view from Apgar Lookout in nearly indescribable.

It took me a second to realize what I was looking at. It was as if my brain had to adjust to the scope of the scene to properly comprehend just how big the view was. When it did, what my eyes saw literally took my breath away. My heartbeat quickened and so did my steps as I hurried further out into the open to take in the whole view.

Lake McDonald, a pristine glacial lake, was stretched out thousands of feet below me, serenely reflecting the clouds in the sky thousands of feet above me. Forests rose from the lake’s edge to snow-covered Rocky Mountain peaks that appeared to stretch on forever. It was almost other-worldly.

Apgar Lookout gets its name from an old ranger station/fire tower that precariously sits just where the land begins to steeply fall away toward the lake below.

I climbed up onto the fire tower and sat on the edge of the railed walkway with my feet dangling over the edge of the world and stared slack-jawed out into the clear Montana sky as I ate a sandwich I’d brought with me.

It reminded me so much of a Dave Matthews Band lyric that I played “Lie In Our Graves” on my iPod before I moved another inch. “Would you not like to be/sitting on top of the world with your legs hanging free?” Matthews sings.

After lunch, I explored the rest of the plateau, drinking in the view from every conceivable angle. I felt like I was in a dream. The sun was shining warmly, birds were chirping as if on cue, the wind was rustling through the trees, and the air was legitimately sweet with the smells of spring.

I’ve never experienced a moment like it before or since. It was perfect as I imagine God to be perfect.

Psalm 148 is one of the “Hallelujah” psalms--so named because each psalm in the group begins and ends with the word, “Hallelujah,” or praise the Lord. Psalm 148 imagines that all of creation gathers together to praise God as if with one voice.  

The psalmist writes that the sun, moon and stars praise the Lord. The ocean depths and the highest heavens praise the Lord. Lightning, hail, snow and wind praise the Lord. Mountains, hills, fruit trees and cedars praise the Lord. Wild animals, woodland creatures and songbirds praise the Lord.

Kings and princes, men and women, young and old all join in the psalmist’s chorus, too, saying, “praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (Psalm 148:13).

I never read Psalm 148 without remembering my afternoon at Apgar Lookout. I imagine the trees, the birds, the clouds in the sky and everything else from the depths of Lake McDonald to the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountains singing “Hallelujah” together. And I imagine my little voice as part of the chorus, too.

On Earth Day, we remember that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). The earth is to be treasured, celebrated, and preserved. As the psalmist reminds us, the majesty of the earth both reflects and announces the majesty of its Creator.

We have a responsibility to nurture and care for all that God has created. We should actively seek to maximize our positive impact and minimize our negative impact on the natural world, always remembering that the only appropriate response to God’s creative initiative is unending praise.

So, this Earth Day, go outside. Take a few minutes to read Psalm 148. Imagine your place in the chorus. And sing, “Hallelujah.”

Happy Earth Day.

See you Sunday.

The False Finality of Friday

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

When Jesus is crucified on Good Friday, it feels final. I know Good Friday isn’t the end of the story. That doesn't stop Jesus' death from feeling like the end, though. 

Death is always final. We've never experienced death any other way.

Even more, Good Friday plays into something we already believe. In the back of our minds, even the most optimistic of us are at least partially expecting everything to fall apart at any minute. And on Good Friday it does. 

We’re constantly preparing ourselves for our hopes to be dashed. For our fears to be realized. For our nightmares to come true.

So when Good Friday happens, we say, “Yep. Knew that was coming. That’s how it always ends.”

We’ve seen things fall apart too many times before not to expect them to fall apart again.

And when they do, it always feels so final.

Friday isn't final. Spend Easter at HERITAGE. Click for more info.

Friday isn't final. Spend Easter at HERITAGE. Click for more info.

When your family moves away and you leave your childhood friends behind, it feels final.

When you look at the roster taped to the wall and see you didn’t make the team, it feels final.

When you ask her to the prom and she says no, it feels final.

When your grades come back and you didn’t pass the class, it feels final.

When the job you were hoping for doesn't come through, it feels final.

When addiction drags you back in one more time, it feels final.

When your boss tells you to clean out your desk, it feels final.

When your spouse asks you to move out of the house, it feels final.

When the bank issues a foreclosure notice, it feels final.

When the doctor says she has some bad news, it feels final.

When another prayer goes unanswered, it feels final.

When they nail your Savior to a cross, it feels final.

Jesus DIES on Good Friday. Hope DIES on Good Friday. Love, too.

Our dreams. Our identity. Our purpose. Our destiny. They all die on Good Friday.

And it feels SO final.

But it isn’t.

See you Sunday.

Chemical Weapons, Holy Week, and a Revolution of Values

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Last Tuesday marked fifty years since Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a “revolution of values” and an end to the Vietnam War at Riverside Church in New York City. Calling for an end to war was controversial then. It’s still controversial today.

On the same day that we remembered King’s speech, more than 80 civilians were killed by chemical weapons in Syria as part of the ongoing civil war there. Many of them were children. It’s not the first time Syria has used this tool of terror against its own people.

Nerve agents like the ones used this week in Syria kill indiscriminately, dooming those who breathe them in to cruel and torturous deaths. The use of these weapons is barbaric and banned by international law—as is the targeting of civilians.

In response, the United States launched more than 50 missiles into Syria last night.

Also, last week, a US-led airstrike killed 200 civilians in Mosul, Iraq—again, many of them children. By some estimates, US-led airstrikes in Syria and Iraq killed more than 1000 civilians in March alone.

War is hell. It always has been. It always will be. There is no way to make it easier or nicer or cleaner or less cruel.

But war is not inevitable. To the extent that military action is ever necessary, it represents a prior failure to achieve peace. War is ALWAYS failure. And, too often, war is the easy way out.

War is easier than peace. War allows us to dehumanize and devalue our enemies. Peace requires us to see all people as equally loved by our Creator. Peace demands that we see that all people—especially our enemies—are created in the image of God.

43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matt 5:38-43)

Peace-Dove-Sign.png

War is easier than peace. War allows us to give in to the excesses of our selfishness—to greedily claim that our physical and material well-being is more important than the well-being of others.  

Peace, though, requires that we be willing to put ourselves in the shoes of our adversary and at times even to consider the needs of others ahead of our own.

3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

War is easier than peace. War allows us to continue to hold the priorities of the marketplace alongside the priorities of God’s kingdom—and to pretend that they never conflict.  Peace requires that we choose to clearly place the teachings of Jesus ahead of the gospel of capitalism.

24 No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be loyal to the one and have contempt for the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matt 6:24)

Fifty years ago, King warned of the dangers of “power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.” Fifty years later we would do well to heed King’s warning.

King went on to encourage a movement from a “thing-oriented society” to a “person-oriented society,” a movement that would prioritize the human dignity of all people over profit and possessions.

The world stage looks different today than it did fifty years ago. But King’s words still ring true to me.

Next week is Holy Week--a week when Christians everywhere will worship a man whose power to transform the world is unrivaled in human history. He was not, though, the God of War. He is the Prince of Peace.

Christ demonstrated the transformational power of peace so completely on the cross that a former instrument of torture and death—one often used indiscriminately as a tool of terror against Rome’s own subjects—is now a universal symbol of healing and safety.  

Christ’s peaceful victory 2000 years ago turned Rome’s equivalent of Syria’s sarin gas canisters into a symbol of hope and new life.   

The kingdoms of this world shout that the ultimate way to demonstrate strength is to flex one’s muscles. Christ’s example during Holy Week demonstrates that the exact opposite is true.   

The world stage looks different today that it did 2000 years ago. But Christ’s example still rings true to me.

In fact, I’ve staked my life on it.

That Christ was not a military hero was a great disappointment to many who followed him into Jerusalem that first Holy Week. That we worship a sacrificial lamb rather than a mighty warrior continues to surprise and will be a great disappointment to many who will follow him into this Holy Week, too.

That is both the scandal and miracle of the cross. Why would someone so powerful voluntarily choose to be so weak and vulnerable?? It doesn’t make sense—until you see the cross as the most abrupt and effective break in the self-reinforcing cycle of violence the world has ever seen.

We’ve been told that war is a necessary precursor to a just and lasting peace. But war is never a precursor to peace; violence leads to more violence. Peace is the only precursor to peace.  

Our nation’s leaders have a responsibility to protect and defend our nation’s interests. I would not want to be in their shoes.

My responsibility is different. Christian leaders have a responsibility to promote and enact an ethic consistent with the teaching and example of Jesus. We act in service of a different kingdom.

And in service of God’s kingdom, we need more people committed to peace.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said so presciently fifty years ago, “A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just…We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace.”

Holy Week begins on Sunday. Until then...

Peace.

Do These Six Things Now To Be Ready For Easter

by Matt Sapp

by Matt Sapp

Holy Week is sneaking up on us. It begins a week from Sunday. If you want to get the most out of Holy Week, now is the time to start preparing.

Once we get to Palm Sunday things will start moving quickly, and it will be too late to get ready. So if you want to REALLY "get" Easter this year—if you REALLY want to experience Holy Week for the earth-shattering set of events that it is—now is the time to start thinking about it. 

So what can you do to prepare for Easter?  Here are few suggestions for the next week. 

SLOW DOWN
Slow down. Create blank space in your life this week. Let this week be a reminder that nothing is more important than your relationship with your Creator. Leave room this week for God, for family, for prayer, for silence. Start preparing yourself—and your calendar--to experience the holy.

At HERITAGE, we’ll even help you slow down. Just join us for REST on Wednesday evening.

FOCUS 
What should we focus on this week? Part of the story of Holy Week is the story of suffering and death. It's the hardest part to face, so it will require our focused attention. 

If we’ve been faithful during Lent, then we’ve prepared ourselves for Holy Week by acknowledging our sin. As we get closer to Good Friday, though, we should become increasingly aware that our sin is not painless or harmless—it has its cost.

Easter loses much of its meaning if we avoid Good Friday's cross. It's tempting to drive around, though, so we'll need to focus and steel ourselves to drive straight through.

Click on the picture to learn more about Easter at HERITAGE.

Click on the picture to learn more about Easter at HERITAGE.

BE AWARE 
When we read the biblical accounts of Holy Week, we learn that the Jerusalem of the first Holy Week was a place of energy—of almost supernaturally tangible electricity.

So be quiet. Be still. Start to feel the Infinite break into our world. Listen as the Eternal crackles to life. Begin to sense the Ground of Being rumbling deep inside you.

Don’t let anything crowd out time to listen for—and begin to feel—God’s presence next week.

READ
Read scripture. Read the prophets (Amos 5Micah 6Hosea 6Isaiah 61). Hear strong words of justice and mercy and salvation. Hear powerful voices proclaim a future that is better than our present or our past.

Read the words of Jesus. Read the parables in Luke and Christ’s teaching in John and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.

Hear in the words of the prophets a vision that challenges the current order of things. Hear in the words of Jesus a radical and revolutionary message that consistently calls us to side with the weak and the forgotten over the powerful and the well-connected.

Marvel at the courage to speak so boldly, and realize just how powerful words and ideas can be.

PRAY
This is a week to pray. Pray for forgiveness. Pray for God’s mercy. Pray for justice and righteousness. Pray for courage. Pray for a new vision that allows you to see our world as God sees it. Pray for the coming of God’s kingdom. Just pray.

WORSHIP
And finally, this is a week to be in church. We worship each Sunday at 11.

See you then.