Transformational Lessons of Autumn

By Matt Sapp

Six years ago Harvey Cox wrote a book called The Future of FaithIn it he argues that we are going through a great religious transition from the Age of Belief to the Age of the Spirit.  Generally, he says, contemporary culture is moving from a religiosity governed by particular beliefs about God toward a religiosity that’s more at home embracing religious mystery. “The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it,” he writes.

Cox quotes Albert Einstein as saying,

The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle.

I think Harvey Cox is right about a great religious transition, and there are no transitions quite as grand as the earth-sweeping shifts from one season to the next.

As summer gives way to fall, it’s an appropriate time to stand “rapt in awe” and wonder at the mystery of the seasons and the God who governs them.

We know how the seasons work, of course.  It is not entirely a mystery.  We know why the days get shorter and the air gets colder in the fall.   Scientists can explain how temperature and light interact with trees to make the leaves change colors.

These explanations, however, do not take the mystery or the awe from the scale of these grand transitions. It does not take the wonder out of delicate processes that repeat themselves with such precision and regularity.

The changing of the seasons inspires a certain delight in me, and I know I’m not alone. Those of you pining for pumpkin spice lattes, warm sweaters, and the smell of roaring fires drifting up through neighborhood chimneys know what I’m talking about.

As much as I dislike winter (is hate too strong a word?), the first day when the air turns from crisp to biting and the warming rays of fall have lost their last vestiges of heat inspires a sense of awe in me, even as I hunker down and wait for spring.

So as summer gives way to fall, here are a few things we can learn from the changing of the seasons.

Seasons remind us that change isn’t bad, especially when we’re prepared for it. Seasons are the epitome of predictable change. We know what kind of change to expect with seasons. Seasons remind us that there are rhythms to life, cycles of existence, and that we’re intimately connected to them.

The changing seasons bring new opportunities and new experiences, even as they may bring some new challenges. But the challenges of change usually come when change catches us off guard—like a winter storm without a snow shovel or a cold night before the wood has been brought in.

When we’re well prepared change is something to look forward to. When the wood is gathered and the snow shovel is ready, the challenge of winter fades. It can even be fun if the sled is ready too.

Seasons remind us that change is impossible to avoid. Change comes whether we like it or not.

Change comes to our bodies and our families—and to our churches—as time goes by.  Seasons remind us of the inevitable and steady passage of time. Every season gives us a chance to change with it. It’s silly to leave our beach towels packed away and our winter coats on when summer comes.

Seasons remind us of the presence of powerful forces beyond our control. There is both mystery and order to the way the world works.  As mentioned, some of it we understand and some of it will always be too big for us.  The order and predictability of the seasons is reassuring in a world that doesn’t always make sense. And the mystery and grandeur of seasonal change inspires a sense of awe and wonder that keeps us from becoming what Einstein might call snuffed out candles.

Here’s to candles that continue to burn brightly. Happy fall.

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Five qualities of a church with Vision

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This article is curated from EthicsDaily.com. 

By Matt Sapp

I attended a few weeks ago Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit at Wieuca Road Baptist Church, a satellite host site for the summit in Atlanta. The unofficial motto of the summit is Bill Hybel’s repeated reminder that “everyone wins when a leader gets better.”

That’s the goal of the summit: to make leaders – and particularly Christian leaders – better at what they do. This year’s theme was “A Grander Vision.” As the challenges we face get bigger and as the rate of change around us continues to accelerate, it takes big vision and big courage to keep up.

One of the things I wrestle with almost daily is how the church can adapt to rapidly changing cultural and social contexts.

What I sometimes forget, though, is that it’s not just the church that’s having to adapt. Everyone – every institution and every individual from every walk of life – is having to adapt to the pace of change, too. – Read more at EthicsDaily.com

Change is difficult, but a part of Christian conversion

hymnsI am not a fan of change.  I like my routine, and I like the predictable, boring, and mundane.  My feathers get ruffled easily if things are out of order.

Just ask my church: I’ve been pastor of Trinity for quite some time now, and the only thing I’ve changed in worship in the past three years is where the pastoral prayer takes place in our liturgy.  When an influential deacon in my church once recommended that we change the seating configuration in the sanctuary, I gasped as if he told me we declared nuclear war.

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d venture that most folks in our community are not prone to change.  Here in the southern part of Rockdale County, I am used to meeting neighbors and churchgoers who’ve lived in their homes long enough to remember when most roads were made of dirt.  Many remember when the Honey Creek country club was among the newer subdivisions and Deer Run only had a few homes.

I would also guess that we suburban and rural folk also like a God who doesn’t change either.  We like God to be predictable, consistent, and, yes, boring and mundane at times.  Why else would we have liturgies at church that don’t change other than the fact that we assume that God is like us and likes things just how they are?

Unfortunately, things do change.  Eventually, some folks will join the worship committee and recommend that the Doxology not be included in every worship service.  Someone will come along and move our cheese; others will replace the pulpit with a plexiglass podium or move the pulpit altogether and get themselves fired.

Since change happens, however, I also know that God changes too.  Now, don’t rush off so quickly and send me emails; I know that the Bible says, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6).

Sure, we know that God does not change the overarching goal of redeeming all humanity and inaugurating a “new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1).  That is not the change I am talking about.

I am talking about the type of change that happens when we pray and see God differently in our lives because we get to know Him better and have an ever-deeper relationship that matures over time.  You see, it is not God who changes when we pray and grow closer to him so much that it is we who change.

Sometimes the only way to grow in our faith is to change, even when change is chaotic and unpredictable. Gasp.

Yes, God changes when our perspectives of God change.  For example, years ago people assumed God preferred segregated schools only to find out that God probably did not intend that way of life after all.  It was not God who had a change of heart about race relations, it was us.

Other perspectives about God change also.  When we get on our knees and “pray unceasingly,” we realize that God is just as much a loving, compassionate and gracious God as He is one who will eventually “judge the living and the dead.”

When we grow closer to God through an intentional and consistent life of discipleship, God goes from being an aloof “grandpa” figure to a compassionate Abba who loves with us.

Jesus goes from being an ancient figure in history to a brother who “walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own” (from the hymn, “In the Garden”).

We change and realize that we need to break some bad habits for healthy ones, to be compassionate and take risks rather than cower in fear from supposed threats to our well-being.  Change is scary indeed.

Jesus calls us to follow him; but, I’ll be honest: I’d rather sit on my couch and eat potato chips because that’s my routine.  It’s inconvenient to get out of my comfort zone.  However, if I really want to follow Jesus, I will have to replace my cup of Coke for the cup of God’s will, get up and follow Him.