Awaken to the World

By Matt Sapp

During Lent at Central Baptist Church (the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter) we’re focusing on the humanity of Jesus and the ways that Christ’s teaching “awakens” us to what it means to be fully human.

This spring as we remember that God has a hand in all of creation as it awakens from its winter slumber, we’re praying each week that God will awaken us, too–and in these five ways.

Awakening to Scripture
Last Sunday we looked at two potential responses when faced with temptation. One approach to temptation is to buttress yourself with the word of God. Jesus literally quoted scripture to turn back temptation (Matt 4). Adam and Eve, though, were easily convinced that God’s word wasn’t true—or that it didn’t apply to them—when they rather easily gave in to temptation (Genesis 3).

Let me challenge you to use Lent this year as a time of awakening to scripture—as a time to reflect on the role the word of God plays in your life. How familiar are you with scripture? How often do you read the Bible? What habits can you develop to help you both embody and believe the word of God?

Awakening to Curiosity
This week in worship we’ll explore the value of honest questioning and of acknowledging intellectual uncertainty as we look at the story of Nicodemus (John 3). It’s okay to have questions for God. It’s even okay to have real, lasting uncertainty about the full nature of our faith.

Let me challenge you to use Lent this year as a time of awakening to curiosity—and as a time to enter into conversations with God and with one another about real questions that may not have easy answers—or ANY answers—but that allow us to explore our faith more fully.

Awakening to Guiding Narratives
We all carry unconscious stories that guide our thinking about our lives—internal narratives that we tell ourselves about who we are. Many of us have mostly good internal narratives. Some of us can be pretty hard on ourselves. But no matter what your internal narrative is, the story that God would tell about you is far greater than the stories you are telling about yourself.

We’ll explore this idea as we talk about the Samaritan woman at the well in a few weeks (John 4). Let me challenge you to use Lent this year as a time of awakening to the internal narratives that guide your understanding of who you are.

Awakening to New Vision
The thing about blind spots is we don’t know we have them until someone else calls it to our attention. When Jesus heals a man who was born blind (John 9) the whole community—and especially the Pharisees—were forced to acknowledge blind spots in their thinking.

You may have some blind spots, too. Blind spots in your relationships. Blind spots in your behavior. Blind spots to things you don’t know or properly understand.

When we acknowledge our blind spots, we have the chance to gain new vision. Let me challenge you to use this Lent as a time of awakening to your blind spots and as an opportunity to increase your vision.

Awakening to God as a New Creator
On Palm Sunday (Matthew 21), the crowds were cheering the arrival of a king. And Jesus IS a king. But Christ is not the kind of king the crowds were expecting.  Jesus is not someone who comes simply to upgrade the talent on our team. Christ is not the All-Star who swoops in to help us win the big game. He’s not just a good guy here to help us defeat the bad guys.

When Christ comes, he comes to introduce us to a whole new game, governed by a whole new set of rules, and aiming for a whole different set of outcomes. If we’re looking for someone to step into our game and play by our rules and become our champion, then we have a grave misconception about what God is doing in Jesus Christ.

God is coming to create something completely new! Our job is to understand the new rules, to play the new game, and to get on God’s team—rather than expecting Christ to join our team.  Let me challenge you to use this Lent as a time of awakening to the full scope of what God is aiming to accomplish in Jesus Christ.

And, one more challenge: Be in church as often as you’re able between now and Easter. These weeks of preparation really are worth it. They help us wake up to all that Easter means for our lives and for our world.

The Reverend Matt Sapp is pastor of Central Baptist Church, Newnan, Georgia. This article was reprinted with the author’s permission.

Holy Week: The Greatest Story ever told

christsfaceBy Matt Sapp

There’s great power in being able to tell a great story. For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to professional storyteller Donald Davis with some of my ministry friends.  You should watch him. He’s great.

He’s helped me think about the nature of story, specifically the idea that story is much more than objective narrative; it’s more than just the facts.

Story, Davis argues, is more than simply telling what happened.  Story is interpretive.  It’s the way we choose to frame what happened. so story becomes the way we choose to remember what happened.  If past is prologue, then story becomes the way we choose to introduce our futures.

The greatest story we will ever tell is our own, and there’s great power in how we choose to tell our stories. We tell our stories to let people know who we are, so each of our stories ends with an often unspoken, “…and that’s how I got to be who I am today.”

Within each of our stories is the source material for a first-class tragedy, a hope-filled comedy, or an inspiring, wonder-filled fairy tale.

So the question is, “What kind of stories are we telling about ourselves?” How are we choosing to frame the narratives of our pasts? Do we tell our life stories so that we get to happy endings?  Are we telling a tragic story of woe? Or are we whimsical enough to tell a story that’s so full of fantastical details and child-like wonder that it must be too good to be true?

Each of our lives provides material to tell all three with candor. The choice of which story we tell is ours., and the story we choose to tell about how we got to be who we are today has tremendous power to shape who we will be tomorrow.

Here’s the thing: I am tremendously invested in how you choose to tell your story.

In part, I am invested because I care about you, and I have a selfish motive as well.  I care about how you choose to tell your story because none of our stories is entirely our own. We are connected, you and I.

The details of your story might be your own, but the narrative arc is ours. In the largest sense there is no your story and my story. At least I don’t think so.

I believe very firmly that we are all part of God’s story, which makes this week a fantastic time to talk about story because God’s story (and ours) will unfold before our very eyes next week.

The story of Holy Week is one of the greatest stories ever told.  It is a story of great celebration, of epic betrayal, of inexpressible sorrow and unspeakable joy, of brazen power struggles filled with great suspense and unexpected twists—and a surprise ending that NO ONE expected.

Yet, it is OUR story: the story of the Christian faith is a story in which each of us are invited to play our parts.

That, first, makes us characters in God’s story.  More importantly, it makes God the author and director of our stories.  Although we might be people who have the power to choose how we interpret the narrative of our pasts, God has the power to shape the way our stories end—and it’s fantastic!

Holy Week is all about story.  It is a story from our past that tells the story of our future, one in which our stories turn a corner.  My story, your story, every story hinges on the events of Holy Week.

As Frederick Buechner describes it, next week the tragedy of our lives meets the comedy—the good news—of the gospel, and they intermingle to form a fairy tale that’s too good NOT to be true!

So sometime on Easter, this Sunday afternoon, when you’re home from church and Easter dinner is fading into memory, do me a favor: Make God’s story your story by remembering the message from church that morning.  Smile, and say under your breath, “…and that’s how I got to be who I am today.”

The Truth of Epiphany and the Human Christ

394By Joe LaGuardia

Some of our Christmas carols make bold claims about Christ.  Some remind us of Jesus’ miraculous birth, while others recall the revelation of God’s Messiah to angels and sages.  Perhaps the greatest claim is made in the classic hymn, Away in a Manger, which states that when it came to baby Jesus, “No crying he made.”

Now that is a miracle.  I can only imagine  what it might be like to have a baby that never cries, whines, wets the bed, and learns the word “No.”

This baby is miraculous indeed.  He probably also knew intuitively how to share his toys, avoid back-talking his parents, and eat his vegetables. No wonder most of the artwork depicting the Christ child throughout history shows him as a miniature man in saintly repose.

Was Jesus really like that?  Did Jesus rest in a manger that heavenly and grow up without any need for training, correction, or parental guidance?

We know that Jesus had growin’ up days like the rest of us, a fact we recognize during the season of Epiphany.  Twice in Luke 2 (vs. 40 and 52), scripture tells us that Jesus “grew in wisdom and in stature.”  What about the rest of Jesus’ maturation and growth?

As far as one blogger is concerned, Jesus did do all the things that babies and infants do, including cry.  But Jesus “never cried in a sinful way.”  That’s a stretch, and when I think back to when my children were infants, I don’t recall them crying in a sinful way either.  Babies cry; that’s how they communicate.

Our thoughts about baby Jesus, no matter how far-fetched they are, reveal something about our theology of Christ, which I would guess is not as developed as it should be.

Let me remind you, dear reader, that the orthodox view of Jesus’ personhood is that he is fully God and fully human.  Jesus was 100% of both.  He is, of course, without sin although even that theological premise rests on a single thread of scripture from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (5:21).

The argument surrounding Jesus’ divinity and humanity was settled long ago in the fourth century.  At that time, priests, bishops, and other church leaders debated Jesus’ Christology and the incarnation.

One priest, Arius of the Church of Bancalis in Egypt, claimed that Jesus was fully human and therefore not the same “substance” (as a bishop, Alexander of Alexandria, claimed) as God.  This became known as the Arian Controversy.

Bishops across the empire settled the disagreement in the famous Council of Nicaea in 326 CE, when nearly 300 bishops argued that Jesus was both divine and human, not just like God, but God in the flesh.

The second verse of the classic Christmas hymn, O Come, All Ye Faithful, recites some of the theological statements that came out of the Council:

“True God of true God, Light from Light Eternal . . . Son of the Father, begotten, not created.”

In my own experience, I find it important to highlight both aspects of Jesus’ personhood.  He was fully divine, and Jesus, who was “one with the Father” (John 10:30) embodied God’s reign and bridged the gap between heaven and earth.  God chose to live among us in a particular place and time, a great admission of the value that God places on us humans.

Yet, Jesus is fully human and, therefore, did what most babies and children do.  At the same time, Jesus also suffered, felt the pain of grief, and faced hardship.  This is good news: When I face the same, Jesus–and, in turn, God–knows exactly how I feel.  In Jesus Christ, God has become an intimate sojourner with humanity.

I don’t think any of us like to think of Jesus as a baby who spit up, made messes, and threw his food to see if it stuck to the wall; but, he likely did.  It’s Jesus’ very humanity, however, that makes the Gospel for what it is.  If Jesus showed us the way, then we can follow in faith, hope, and love with the same confidence.