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.

Heads up, Light Touch, and Keep Running!

person holding rectangular white photo frame standing on rock formation near body of waterBy Rev. Matt Sapp

A few years ago, I gave my wife Julie a hang-gliding trip as a birthday present. We spent the night in Chattanooga and got up early in the morning for a lesson at Lookout Mountain where she and two other students spent a few hours with an instructor to learn the basic skills of the sport.

They got comfortable with the weight of the glider, walking first on level ground and then jogging and even running with the glider on their shoulders.

Once they got comfortable on level ground, they started working with the glider on a slight slope and then on increasingly steeper hills. And as they started jogging and then running down these hills—with this huge glider wing above them—they actually started to take off!

The glider started to lift them up into the air, at least for a second. And then all of them did the exact same thing—a great big Superman belly flop into the grass.

When the glider starts to lift you up into the air, beginning hang-gliding students have three natural reactions.

First, they look down because they feel as if they are losing their footing. Second, they grip the metal bars of the hang glider as tight as they can, holding on for dear life. And third, they tend to stop running and try to leap into the air in an attempt to give the glider the final push it needs to really take flight.

And when you do those three things, you do a great big Superman belly flop into the grass.

So guess what the hang gliding instructor kept shouting—over and over again?

Head up! Light touch! Keep running! Head up!! Light touch!! Keep Running!!

Head up, light touch, keep running. That repeated mantra has stuck with me. It’s not just good advice for hang gliding students; it’s good advice for all of us in 2020 as we face what has the potential to be a pretty turbulent year.

Keep your head up in 2020. There’s a lot going on around us this year, and tensions seem to want to run unusually high. It can be easy to want to just hunker down and wait for calmer waters. But Christians shouldn’t feel bowed or beaten down by even the most challenging of seasons. The ultimate Good News of scripture is that God’s presence endures in wonderfully powerful ways, especially in challenging times. So count on God’s presence, be God’s presence, and keep your head up.

Handle things with a light touch in 2020, too. Don’t cling to issues or events too tightly or approach people with an overly heavy hand. We all have a lot on our plates, and most people just want what’s best for our community and world just like you do. So use a light touch.

And keep running in 2020. Don’t let the feeling of being overwhelmed or exhausted knock you off your feet or put you on the sidelines. Keep plowing ahead faithfully in the fields where God has placed you. Know that your presence, your work, and your Christian witness matter—and keep running.

The Reverend Matt Sapp is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia. This article first appeared on the church’s blog, and is reprinted with permission.

What makes Scripture inspired and authoritative?

The following piece was a presentation Dr. Joe LaGuardia gave at a recent interfaith dialogue with the Interfaith Network of the Treasure Coast. The topic of the dialogue was “Sacred Texts”..

What is it about the Bible — this text consisting of over 66 books, two testaments, and multiple genres — that makes it both the source of hope and faith for so many people across the ages and Ground Zero for conflicts that have divided communities of faith?

The Bible is a source of hope and faith. People claim that it is God’s word, infallible, inspired, and the living word of God. It has shaped people of faith and records God’s interaction with people of faith since the beginning of creation to the end of the first century AD.

But the Bible has also been a source of consternation and conflict. In my own, Baptist tradition, we have used the Bible to support slavery and oppose slavery, advocate for women in ministry and oppose women in ministry, argue that we ought to worship on the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, or the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week. The Bible has been at the heart of every church conflict and split for centuries.

The best way to show you how Christians see the book as authoritative is to show how people of faith believe that it has been inspired directly by God since its inception. This process of inspiration and its source for the formation of the Bible reveals why it holds this kind of power in making and fashioning communities of faith.

Christians believe that God inspired the Grand Divine Story in its oral form. Well before the written word, the story of God’s people passed on from generation to generation through oral storytelling inspired by God. God’s inspiration sustained the consistency and resiliency of this story down to the time of its writing.

Christians believe that God inspired the writing, recording, and editing of sacred scripture. Although the Bible is made up of various authors spanning hundreds of years, moving scripture from oral to written form, God’s inspiration was instrumental in the writing of the text. Some books, however, are a tapestry of God’s revelation from a variety of authors, so the editing of each text also contains within it God’s fingerprints of inspiration.

Christians believe that God inspired the formation of the Bible. From the first to the fourth century, both Jewish and Christian communities were defining which books were to be included in their respective canons. The word “canon” means “closed” and literally implies that the Testaments–both old and new–are “closed” off to new books of revelation. God inspired the formation of the canon, which involved drawing boundaries around what ended up being the authoritative Bible or “word of God.”

Christians believe that God inspires the reading community. We believe that inspiration does not end on the written page. The Holy Spirit inspires our reading of the text to shape and form communities, fashion and guide communities, and transform the hearts of those who read scripture. The Bible is, therefore, central in worship and liturgy and the source of belief and behavior.

The problems with inspiration arise when people confuse the authority of Scripture with authority they assert in their interpretation of Scripture. Scripture is inspired; our interpretation — set within a reading community — is not. Interpretation is contextual and stamped within a certain time and place. That’s why people can read the Bible to support slavery while their neighbors can read the same Bible to oppose slavery.

If we see our interpretations as authoritative, then it is not far-fetched to only read, interpret, and apply the parts of the Bible that we like. We begin to gerrymander our reading of the text, and we ignore parts with which we either disagree or dislike. That’s why the very people in my tradition can disagree whether women can preach while ignoring verses right next door that enforce head-coverings for women in houses of worship. We choose to historicize some verses while claiming that the very next set of verses is universal in its application and scope. It all gets very confusing.

Although there is division in our reading of scripture, we hold in common the ongoing work of discerning the Word of God in our liturgy, reading, and proclamation of the word. Preaching the Bible is our best attempt to apply and appropriate an ancient book to a specific time and place.

The fundamental conviction of most Christians is that the Bible is inspired and authoritative in living a life of faith with God. How we apply sacred scriptures depends on time, place, and the people reading the Bible–and the values and convictions that drive their interpretations of the text that shape communities beyond the written word.