Three Ways To Say Thank You

Matt-Head Shot-001
by Matt Sapp

We all know how to say thank you, but the harder part of gratitude is demonstrating thankfulness with our actions. So this November at Central we've let scripture help us discover different ways to demonstrate gratitude as we've prepared for Thanksgiving.  

We’ve talked about loyalty as an expression of gratitude (Joshua 24). We’ve said that we demonstrate gratitude when we make the most of the gifts we’ve been given (Matt 25). And we’ve said that telling the whole world about how others have supported us is another way to demonstrate gratitude (Psalm 100). 

So as we all pause for Thanksgiving, here are few questions we might think about:

  1. How can I be more loyal to family and friends? How can I be more loyal to God?
  2. How can I do more with the gifts entrusted to me?
  3. How can I be more generous with my praise?

DEMONSTRATING LOYALTY
Loyalty means sticking by someone even when it costs you something. It means being willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt when others don’t. And it can also mean being lovingly honest when others haven’t been. 

So, the next time a friend of yours makes a big mistake, make a special effort to let them know you’re standing by them. The next time sticking to your Christian principles is inconvenient, do it anyway. When you hear something less than charitable about someone you know, ask yourself if this is a chance to demonstrate loyalty. And when honest (and difficult) words to a friend are what loyalty requires, have the courage to speak them.

This Thanksgiving, demonstrate gratitude by committing to be more loyal to God and to those you love.

thanksgiving

MAKING THE MOST OF OUR GIFTS
We also demonstrate gratitude by making the most of what we’ve been given. So this weekend, take a few minutes to make sure you’re maximizing the gifts with which you’ve been blessed. How are you cultivating your talents and using them for others? Your talents and passions are gifts from God and are meant to be shared.

What about your material resources? Is your community better off because of how you choose to spend your wealth? Will the impact of your giftedness extend beyond your lifetime? Are you really making the most of what you have?

And even more, what about the things that God posesses uniquely—and uniquely entrusts to us? God is wealthy in justice and rich in righteousness and abounding in steadfast love. God entrusts us with peace and hope.

How are we using these gifts? Is justice growing while under our care? What about peace and love?  Are we standing up for righteousness?

Are we actively working to see these gifts grow in our communities? Or have we been too hesitant to take God’s gifts out into the world?

This Thanksgiving, commit to being bolder in sharing the gifts of justice and righteousness—and faith and hope and love and joy and peace--with the world around you.

BEING GENEROUS IN OUR PRAISE
Finally, it’s one thing to say thank you to those to whom you are endebted. It’s another thing to share your gratitude with the wider world. How often do you sing the praises of others? Would others describe you as generous with your words?

Sometimes critique and criticism flow too easily from our mouths, while praise gets stuck in our throats.

This Thanksgiving, commit to being more free in your expressions of gratitude so that everyone who knows you, knows how many people have helped you along the way.

So this Thanksgiving, remember:

  1. be loyal to God and to those closest to you,
  2. make the most of all that God has given you,
  3. and let praise flow freely from your heart and from your mouth so that your gratitude is evident to everyone.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

See you Sunday.

Beauty Will Save The World

Matt-Head Shot-001
By Matt Sapp

In his “Letter to Artists,” Pope John Paul II wrote, “People of today and tomorrow need [the] enthusiasm [of wonder] if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us…In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world.”

Beauty will save the world. This simple observation was first made by the title character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Idiot, and is more recently the title of a book by pastor Brian Zahnd about the overwhelming beauty of the gospel message and the transformative potential of reclaiming beauty as a Christian and American value.

Artists—painters, sculptors, film makers, authors, musicians, dancers, actors—are the presenters and interpreters of beauty in our world. Artists are blessed with the creative impulse and God-given ability to scrape away all that’s false to uncover the wonder and grace of our shared human experience in ways that are self-evidently true and undeniably beautiful.

Uncovered beauty is a gift to the world. It is by the entire community.  It remains undiminished as it is experienced in a way that defies the familiar law of supply and demand. Instead of being consumed as it is experienced, beauty is multiplied as it is experienced. 

True beauty, then, isn’t commodifiable. You can’t put a price tag on it. And it doesn’t belong to any particular person. Beauty, therefore, is too often undervalued in our capitalist, market-driven, consumer society. But beauty ought to be immensely valuable to Christians, as every glimpse of beauty is in and of itself a revelation of God, a disclosure of Christ.

Two things happened this week to make me think about the power of beauty: the massacre in Las Vegas and the death of Tom Petty. Beauty was entirely absent for a few hours in Las Vegas Sunday night and it was horrid. If ugliness is the absence of beauty, Sunday night was the definition of ugly.

The repetition of violence in our culture, and it's normalization, leaves us increasingly unable to celebrate and value beauty--and unable to recognize the presence of Christ in our world. And for that I mourn.

And then Tom Petty died. Music lives close to my soul. There’s something about a live band with a couple of guitars that resonates inside my bones. And Tom Petty was one of the artists who connected with me best. Generally spare, stripped down, and direct, his music is the truth with most everything else stripped away.

Not so long ago, Eminem encouraged us to lose ourselves in his music. And sometimes that’s just what we need. But as friend and fellow minister Aimee Yeager wrote, Tom Petty allowed us to find ourselves in his.

Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” might be my favorite album of all time. The only way to describe it is as beautiful. The guitar riff on “Honey Bee” is the definition of groovy. The melody to the title track couldn’t more aptly lead the listener to recall a favorite flower-filled meadow if it tried.

 

 

The whole album is scattered with lyrics and lines that stick in your mind, that demand to be sung or shouted with a knowing smile, that evoke a particular feeling of youthfulness and freedom, of heartache mixed with hopefulness, of lightness and beauty.

As you listen to the album, the music remains undiminished. It defies being consumed.

Also, in the last week, I had the chance to see a documentary about the Newnan, GA art community called “Artists are Welcomed Here.” It was directed and produced by Central Baptist church member Jonathan Hickman. It featured Central Baptist church members David Boyd, Sr. and David Boyd, Jr. Several other Central Baptist members were involved in and closely connected to the film’s production as well.

The film is a magnificent portrayal of the way that artists add to, uncover and reflect the beauty of our community. I’m proud that our church has so many artists and musicians among our ranks. And in this last week, as I have mourned the ugliness of violence and celebrated the beauty of a favorite musician, I have been reminded of the value of the artist—and particularly of our artists at Central—whose work of uncovering beauty is the work of disclosing Christ. And I am very grateful for their work.

As Pope John Paul II reminds us, we DO need people who can evoke in us the shared enthusiasm of wonder if we are to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Beauty WILL save the world.

ENERGY. EXCELLENCE. EXPECTATION.

Matt-Head Shot-001
By Matt Sapp

Simon Sinek  made a big splash in management and organizational leadership  a decade or so ago with his book and related TED Talk called Start With Why.  Sinek’s basic idea was that shared purpose—the "why" behind what we do--is what ultimately motivates people to align with your organizational culture or brand.

Too often, he argues, organizations communicate “what” they do, when people really buy into the “why” behind the “what.” Sinek’s principle has led to a bit of a revolution in how organizations, including churches, communicate who they are.

Rick Warren applies a similar idea to individuals in his best-selling Christian book A Purpose Driven Life. There’s great truth behind this idea, and it’s an important principle to remember.

But what I’ve also discovered over the years, is that when we represent God, HOW we do what we do is just as important as the WHY behind it.

So I’ve been guided by three core values since my first year as a youth minister to help me get the HOW right. While I don’t always live up to them, these core values have served me well so far, so I thought I’d share them with you.

I try to approach each day, each task, and each opportunity with ENERGY, with EXCELLENCE, and with EXPECTATION.  I wonder if you might try to do the same thing.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, do it with ENERGY, confident that God will renew your strength, because scripture teaches that God will (Isaiah 40:31).

ENERGY requires focus and priority. If we say yes to everything, then nothing will get the ENERGY it deserves. That means that committing to ENERGY as a value requires that we guard against being stretched too thin; that we be willing to say no to some things so that we can energetically say yes to the things most important to us; and that we give 100% to those most important things, knowing that our tanks will be replenished by a God of endurance and strength.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, do it with EXCELLENCE, as if you were doing it directly for God, because I believe you are. (Colossians 3:23)

If ENERGY requires that we choose the right things to do, EXCELLENCE requires that we choose to do them the right way. EXCELLENCE in what we do takes time, practice, and repetition. EXCELLENCE requires planning and the ability to learn. And EXCELLENCE requires diligence, patience and the willingness to be bad at something before we’re good at it. But in all that we do, God deserves nothing less than our very best.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, do it with the EXPECTATION that God will meet you in your work to encourage and uphold you, because I believe God will. (John 14:15-18)

Scripture promises that God will never leave us to face life’s challenges alone. In all the important work that you engage, remember that God is with you and prepared to help you. It’s amazing what can happen when we expect God to be present in all that we do.

Every day, my goal is to get up and approach the work I do personally with ENERGY, EXCELLENCE and EXPECTATION. As we start to serve together at Central my goal will be for everyone on our church staff—and all of our ministry volunteers and lay leaders—to approach their work with ENERGY, EXCELLENCE, and EXPECTATION, too.

I want our worship services to be characterized by ENERGY, EXCELLENCE, and EXPECTATION. I want our Bible study groups and missions projects to be marked by those qualities. And, I want our church members’ lives to be infused with ENERGY, EXCELLENCE and EXPECTATION away from church as well.

At church and at home, at work and at play, I want God to be so present in all of our lives that we can’t help but approach each day with God-inspired ENERGY, God-honoring EXCELLENCE and the EXPECTATION that God will be with us in all that we do.

We won’t always hit those marks, but we can always aspire to them. So write them on your daily calendar, put them on your bathroom mirror or stick them on the dashboard of your car. Live with them for a while and see if they help you, too.

When we bear Christ's name, HOW we do things is nearly as important to our Christian witness as WHY we do them.

See you Sunday.

Time, Encouraging Friends, and the Importance of Relationships

Matt-Head Shot-001
by Matt Sapp

Last Sunday at Central we talked about the importance of having encouraging friends around us and of being encouraging friends ourselves. Most of us, I think, have an innate understanding of how valuable good friends can be. Too often, though, we stop short of telling our friends how important they are to us.

I wonder why that is? True expressions of friendship or even love can make us feel vulnerable. It’s easy to worry that our feelings won’t be reciprocated—that we’re more invested in the relationship than our friend is.

It’s a shame, really, that we aren’t more forthright with one another about how we feel.

Two weeks ago I had the chance to attend my 20-year high school reunion. I went to high school in Virginia so I don’t have many opportunities to see the friends I grew up with. In fact, I only see some of the people that I consider my very best friends every five years or so.  

I’m discovering something, though, as I get older. Old friends—even if you rarely see them—are the best friends. Time provides a depth to relationships that nothing else can. And it’s more than nostalgia or memory that connects old friends. Shared experiences from when we were younger gain significance as the years go by because the same experiences that initially formed us continue to shape us as we get older.

Through shared experiences, we form, at least in part, a shared identity. But long-lived friendships forged through shared experience are an increasingly rare commodity.  As we become a more mobile society, distance separates and friendships fade. I wonder if we fully realize what we’ve lost as 20-year or 50-year relationships become less common? 

As a pastor, I wonder how our growing transience affects our churches, particularly as people become less identified with the congregations they grew up in and instead seem constantly to be on the search for something new.

I wonder if we would all be better off if we valued the inherent depth and strength of our lasting relationships more.
 

friends_cartoon


The Bible speaks to the value of long-term relationships.

Scripture reminds us that God has known us our whole lives—even since before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5). The depth of God’s relationship with us goes beyond even that of our nearest and dearest friends—even beyond that of our families.

The moments and experiences we share with God go back to the very beginning. And our earliest experiences with God gain significance as the years go by because those early experiences continue to shape us even now.

The Bible also reminds us that God is always with us. We have no closer friend, no stronger ally. God has shared in every experience that forms our identity, so God knows how to be for us better than anyone.

Some compelling strains of Christian theology even argue that God not only participates in our relationships, but that God is actually formed by God’s participation in our relationships. That God’s ultimate identity of love incarnate is in the process of being formed and set through God’s shared experience with us—through the work of the cross that is not yet finished. That the God who was and is and is to come is in the “process of becoming” just as we are in the process of becoming and just as God is in the process of becoming fully known.

God, of course, is more than a friend. But God is never less than a friend—a partner, a helper, someone who knows us deeply in a way that only a lifetime of relationship can account for.

Sometimes I wonder if we would all be better off if we valued the inherent depth and strength of our lasting relationships with God more.

See you Sunday.

Empowered by Extend, a church software solution from