Heritage Baptist Fellowship

Worship Is Worth The Effort

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Last night our church had our quarterly church business meeting and as part of that meeting our Strategic Planning Team made its first report to the church. As the team started trying to figure out how to order our work, we wanted to start with things that had the most potential to make the BIGGEST impact in the shortest amount of time.

So we decided to start with the functions of our church that people just finding out about us would be most likely to engage first--Outreach and Worship. 

We’re defining outreach as everything we do to communicate who we are and what we do to both current members and the larger community. That means we’re looking at how we present ourselves on our website, in social media, in printed materials, in advertising, and even how we appear to people driving by our campus. And so far we’ve had some great discussions that are leading us in great directions. 

We haven’t made quite as much progress on worship yet, though. We’ve actually just barely started talking about it. Worship is central to the life of any church, and ours is no exception. 

We all have deep emotional ties to where we worship and how we worship.  Both the setting and content of worship--when experienced week after week--can powerfully impact our faith and the kind of people we become. So as we look at who we’ll be in the next chapter of our life together, a conversation about worship is one of the most important conversations we can have.

As our team begins to drill down on worship and worship space, I’ve noticed we’re not the only ones talking about it.

In a podcast conversation with Carey Nieuwhof, Joseph Barkley, pastor of Radius Church in Hollywood, CA tells the story of asking a friend to come to church with him on Easter Sunday. He had already invited his friend to church several times, but he invited him again on Easter thinking if there was any time he would agree to come it would be then.

Growing tired of the repeated requests, his friend finally said, “I get why you keep asking me to come to church, but I’m never gonna say yes because I already know what I’m going to experience—mediocrity and irrelevance.”

That’s the larger world’s expectation of worship; that’s why they’re not coming. Their learned experience of church and worship is that it’s not gonna be that great and that it's not gonna connect.

That’s the often heard critique from outside the church, and it can be an uncomfortable mirror to look into. But even more troubling is the critique from inside the church.

Bill Wilson, founder of The Center for Healthy Churches, published an article this week detailing ten reasons that church members attend church less frequently. Wilson’s list comes from actual surveys of actual church members from more than fifty congregations of all shapes and sizes. The respondents to Wilson’s survey said they attended church less frequently for all kinds of reasons, mostly variations on the trend toward more activities competing for less leisure time. 

But Wilson’s respondents also often gave another reason for less frequent church attendance. Wilson reports, “Many have told us that the depth of their commitment to weekly attendance is eroding. There are multiple reasons, but at the heart of the matter is a sense that what is offered on Sunday mornings is not meaningful or valuable enough to make the effort to attend.”

It stings when a non-church attender from way out in California paints with a broad brush to call the church mediocre and irrelevant, even if we can recognize some truth in what he says.

But it’s downright painful when our own members tell us they’re not coming as much anymore because their experiences at church lack meaning and value.

People should LOVE coming to church. Church members should be excited about inviting new people to worship. Church leaders should be proud of the creativity and energy and effort put into planning and preparing and executing worship in a way that honors a God whose excellence and relevance and meaning and value are beyond compare.

None of the above statements become—or remain—true by accident. It takes sustained effort and a continued willingness to improve and update the way we communicate the love and power of God on Sunday mornings.

So we’re starting a conversation about worship in our Strategic Planning Team. The process won’t be short and the work won’t be easy, but I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re not the only ones having this conversation and strengthened by the thought that you’ll be praying for us.

See you Sunday.

Unexpected Feasts And Christian Hospitality

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

Babette’s Feast is one of my favorite films. Based on the story by Isak Dinesen, the film illustrates the power of sacrificial giving, Christian hospitality, and fellowship around a shared meal.

In the story, a housekeeper to two elderly Danish sisters conceals her past so no one knows that in her previous life she was a world-renowned chef. One day, Babette, the former chef and now penniless housekeeper, wins the lottery and asks the Danish sisters if she can use her new-found fortune to prepare a traditional Parisian feast for them.

The sisters agree, and Babette spends weeks preparing the menu, gathering special ingredients, and having supplies shipped in to their little town. As the various exotic ingredients arrive in crates from faraway locales, anticipation about the meal builds to a fever pitch among the sisters and their friends.

When everything arrives, the meal date is set. All of the food is carefully prepared and expertly served so that the experience of the meal exceeds even the highest expectations of the guests. The skillful preparation, the balance of the ingredients, the careful pairing of the flavors, and the extravagance of the completed ensemble all overwhelm everyone fortunate enough to be at the table. The artistry, love and passion involved in crafting such a meal transform the meal and elevate it into a mystical experience of Christian fellowship.

I had a similar experience last weekend while attending a wedding in Charleston, SC. One of my best friends from college, Jacob, has been working as a chef in Charleston for several years now. So last weekend several of us who were in town for the wedding ate dinner at his restaurant. The Macintosh is a very nice and very popular restaurant, so it didn’t take long for the anticipation of the meal to begin building in my mind. And my high hopes were not disappointed.

From the moment we walked through the door we were treated like royalty. It was obvious that we had been carefully prepared for. The hostesses and wait staff welcomed us like long-expected, honored guests. And once we were settled in around the table our every need was carefully and expertly attended to.

Then the food started appearing, more than we’d ordered and more than we could possibly eat—plate after plate of carefully prepared, exquisitely crafted, delicious food. Appetizers, salads, entrees, side items, vegetables, potatoes, meats and cheeses, there seemed to be no end to the food that kept arriving at our table, each dish seemingly more delicious than the one before. Everything about the meal was absolutely awesome.

The only thing that didn’t appear on our table that night was a bill. Last Friday’s meal was the most overwhelming display of generous hospitality I’ve ever experienced. As Jacob’s guests that evening, we were the recipients of the very best of who he was—not just his food, but his passion, his heart, his hard work, his practiced talent. And you can’t really put a price on that, can you? That’s kind of the point, right?

True hospitality is the offering of our very selves. Those most generous gifts of hospitality can never be repaid.

When Jesus talks about hosting a great banquet (Luke 14) he says we should invite people to our tables who would never be able to repay what we have to offer them.

Christian hospitality is about making people feel special, set apart, chosen and loved. It’s about modeling overwhelming generosity in the same way that Christ’s love is overwhelmingly generous. It’s about exceeding expectations in the same way that God’s grace exceeds our expectations. It’s about giving people more than they could ever repay. It’s about offering without expecting anything in return. It’s about sharing all of your very best with your guests. It is at its very heart, an expression of love.  

Something like that happened last Friday at The Macintosh in Charleston, SC. I was fortunate enough to be there, and it was AWESOME. Thanks be to God.

5 Biblical Steps From Success To Significance

Matt-Head Shot.jpeg

We know what success looks like. Successful people have steady careers, impressive incomes, stylish clothes, fancy cars, and accomplished children.  Successful people take extravagant vacations, enjoy expensive hobbies, and cultivate the right circle of influential friends.  We live in an age awash with opportunities to broadcast our successes, and many of us take every opportunity to do so.

Every good moment in our lives is faithfully, sometimes painstakingly, chronicled on Facebook, Twitter, Instragram, or even our own personal website. We invest tremendous time and energy carefully curating the best versions of our online selves. We don’t want to look like we’re boasting, though, so our postings are finely tuned to include just the right amount of self-deprecation.  The tendency to post only the best moments of our lives combined with our social inclination to not appear too self-centered has become so ubiquitous that we’ve coined a new word for the phenomenon; we call it humblebragging.

In the present age of social media we can fall into some dangerous comparison traps. We end up comparing our ordinary lives in all their messy detail to the polished, curated, shaped and well-presented lives of others and come to the conclusion that other people are happier, more adventurous, more successful and ultimately more significant than we are. But are they?  And should we equate success with significance as easily or as often as we do?  

Let’s start with a clear answer.  Accumulation and consumption do NOT equal significance. And when we say we want to be happy and satisfied in life, we are not ultimately looking for success, we are looking for significance. We want to know that our lives matter, that we’re living with real purpose and impact. No amount of treasures and toys can fill the emptiness of insignificance. Our significance is NOT measured by how much stuff we have or how many beach vacation selfies we can post online.

So what does real significance look like and how do we move toward it? Here are 5 biblical steps to help you move from success to significance.

1.     Embrace the mystery of God.

If we believe that God is alive and active in the world then we must be open to the times when God breaks into our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Isaiah’s road to significance began with his willingness to embrace a mystical experience (Isaiah 6).  So did Paul’s (Acts 22).  So did Jeremiah’s (Jeremiah 1). So did Abraham’s (Genesis 15).  So did Moses’ (Exodus 3). So did Peter’s (Acts 10).  You get the idea.  

Our roads to significance begin with holy experiences. Believe in a God that is bigger than your five senses, a God who transcends your ability to understand Him.

 2.     Listen and seek to understand God’s calling on your life.

Significance in this life is rooted in faithfulness to a larger reality. God calls specific people to specific tasks; God has a specific plan and purpose for you. Our biblical examples (listed above) felt God’s call and sought to understand it by questioning, and finding clarity in God's answers chose to follow God’s direction for their lives. Much of what God led them to wouldn’t make much sense--or any sense at all--if their only goal was worldly success, but in following God’s design they each achieved lasting significance.

 3.     Prepare for significance through purification.

Our biblical examples of significance all underwent some process of purification. From Isaiah’s unclean lips purified by fire to Paul’s baptism to humble confessions before God, we all must be willing to leave our past selves behind to become the significant selves God calls us to be.  God doesn’t need perfect people to accomplish significant work in the world—far from it—but God will not leave you as you are if you choose to partner in holy endeavors.  A season of purification is a necessary step toward eternal significance.

4.     Expect God to prepare you for your specific task.

God uses training, partnerships, abilities, and life experiences to prepare us for significant work. Often before we even realize it God is preparing us, creating connections and opportunities, and crafting vision and ambition that will be used—if we choose—for Kingdom purposes. Moses was raised by a princess so he would know how to speak to a king.  Even after we experience and understand God’s call, God continues to prepare us. Paul was more than a decade removed from the Damascus road before he wrote his first letter.  Be sensitive to how God is preparing you. And be sensitive to how God is preparing others.

5.     Be prepared for God’s repeated assurance as you embark on a significant life.

God does not leave us to wonder if we’re on the right track or force us to guess if God is with us in our work. One of the most repeated biblical phrases at the outset of significant journeys comes from the mouth of God, “I will be with you.” God will be with you, too. Significant work is accompanied by the repeated assurances of a partnering God.  

The ever-present assurance of a God who partners with me in my life and work?  If you ask me, that sounds an awful lot like success.

Three Ways To Make Fall The Best Season Of The Year

By Matt Sapp

By Matt Sapp

With Labor Day behind us, summer is officially over, and I for one will mourn its passing. The calendar says summer lasts through September 22nd, but when the calendar leaves August behind, there’s a change in the air that says fall is upon us. The heat and humidity begin to ease up (fingers crossed), schools get back in full swing and football begins to consume our weekends. Fall can be a FANTASTIC time of year, but it doesn’t quite match summer as far as I’m concerned.

My problem with fall is not the season itself. I enjoy football, cool evenings, mountain getaways and changing leaves almost as much as I enjoy pools, barbecues, lake trips and the 4th of July.  My problem with fall is that it signals the coming of winter. During summer, we can enjoy both the season itself AND the anticipation of the season to come. Fall, unfortunately, cannot serve the same kind of double duty. Every good moment that fall provides is tempered by the expectation of the cold, short, cruel days to come; every perfect October evening brings us one day closer to February.

Fall, however, does offer us some unique opportunities for personal renewal as we return to the more regular rhythms of our lives. To everything there is a season, and fall—if we choose—can be a great season of recommitment and new beginnings.

As we return to more regular routines, we can choose to do things just like we’ve always done them, or we can choose to see fall as an opportunity to renew our spirits, our souls, and our bodies. Here are a few ways we can do just that.

Renewing Our Spirits

Take a deep breath. Relax. Slow down. Enjoy a warm cup of coffee on a cool morning. Remember that the Christian life is a joyful life. Our spirits set the tone for all that we do. Your spirit determines how you face your day, how you interact with other people, how you treat your family, and whether you choose to dwell on the negative or focus on the positive in life. Remember that love is more powerful than fear; that joy, peace, patience and kindness are fruits of a healthy spirit; and that when we are gracious we reflect the image of God.

Renewing Our Souls

Let a return to order and routine be an opportunity to renew your soul by spending more time with God. Our souls are renewed when they are connected to our Creator. If we pursued God this fall with half the passion we invest in our favorite football teams, our cups would overflow—and so might our pews. Like a passion for football, healthy souls are contagious. Regular prayer and Bible study are essential to a healthy soul. Spend time with your Bible, find a few minutes each day to spend quiet time alone with God, and make church attendance a priority.

God has given us to each other to aid in our mutual renewal. Group Bible study, corporate prayer and community worship all aid in the renewing of our souls in ways that individual practices cannot. Be as intentional this fall about not missing church as some of you might be about not missing your favorite football team.

Renewing Our Bodies

Since we were children, we’ve heard that our bodies are the temple of God, and it’s true. Our physical bodies are the earthly home to our souls, and it is nothing less than the spirit of God that animates and breathes life into our flesh and bones. So treat your body well. The Holy Spirit works in us and through us so that we are the physical presence of Christ in the world today.

Regular exercise, a good diet, enough rest, and healthy stress management practices all allow God to use us as vital and vibrant witnesses to Christ’s presence in our world. So use this change of seasons to recommit yourself to practices that will ensure a clean, healthy, strong body ready to do the work of God’s kingdom.

Holy and Whole—Spirit, Soul And Body

Our physical, spiritual and emotional health are all tied together so that when one suffers, all suffer. So if you’re struggling in one area, recommit to renewal this fall.  Or if you’re like me, recognize that you could use a little boost in all three areas. If you do, fall can be the BEST season of your year.

May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23