Tag Archives: encouragement


If you are fan of the University of Alabama and/or the Atlanta Falcons, 2017 didn’t start off very well. A last second loss at the national championship game and the Super Bowl melt-down could wreck your day, mess with your mind, rip out your heart, force you to look for someone to blame, or cause you to say words your mom wouldn’t like.

Perhaps disappointment is too mild a word. AAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHH might be better. You can always try: “We’ll get ‘em next time” or “Wait til next year” or “We wuz robbed!”

The mild-mannered, sensible, “what’s the big deal?” crowd will say things like: “It’s only a game” or “grow up” or “why don’t you care about something really important?”


I get it. Disappointment isn’t fatal – it just seems that way. I know what ‘fan’ stands for – fanatic. We do get worked up about things that get more attention than they should … maybe.

Webster’s defines disappointment: “To leave unsatisfied; to fail to meet hopes or expectations.”

We all experience disappointment. It hurts. It hurts when our favorite team doesn’t win but it really hurts when a relationship goes south, or when we feel unwanted, abandoned, taken for granted, or when life becomes cruel and unjust.

Paul wrote to Christians in Rome when the heat was on. It was tough to live out your faith when there was so much at stake. The trophy he talked about was far more significant. Try these out:

“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

“Can anything separate us from the love of Christ?”

“We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Sometimes it helps to remember what team really matters.


The headlines are brutal:

Epic Fail

Historic Collapse

Spieth Splats

Worst Collapse in History

A Choke to Remember

Does it matter that he finished tied for second or that he won $888,000 for the tournament? Do we really need to feel sorry for a guy who plays golf for a living? It might also help to remember that he is only 22.

After all that, he failed. At the press conference, it was obvious that he was devastated by his failure to finish well. Unlike some other pro athletes, he handled his media grilling with humility and class. He had his moments when cameras were stuck in his face, but he didn’t try to hide from his poor performance when it mattered most.

How’s your Monday going? How do you think his is going?

All of us have failed. Very few of us have failed on that large a stage. How do you think you would have handled that moment? As crushing as the loss must have been, having  to hold the green jacket for Dan Willett must have been incredibly painful. Look at his face as he helped Willett put it on.

You failed. I failed. Now what?

Clichés are abundant:

“Don’t let a stumble on the road be the end of the journey.”

“Failure doesn’t come from falling down; failure comes from not getting up.”

“What defines us is how well we rise after falling.”

“There is no education like adversity.”

“If you have not experienced excruciating failure, you may never experience exhilarating success.”

Do you think Jordan Spieth wants to hear any of these right now? Probably not. What helps you most after you have failed? Consider what we could learn:

  • Don’t allow one failure to define you.
  • While you are accepting responsibility for yourself, don’t forget give yourself grace.
  • Don’t move on too quickly – we typically learn more from our misses than our makes.
  • We serve a God who specializes in new beginnings.

I was pulling for him to win. Now I’m pulling for him dust himself off and get back in the game. I hope he has more encouragers than detractors.


New Beginnings

Ah, the crack of the bat … swift feet chugging down to first … the pop of a 98 mph fastball in the catcher’s mitt … the dive for a fading line drive … the roar of the crowd when a slugger sends one over the wall … take me out to the ballgame. 162 of them. 3 plus hours in the stands watching pitchers shake off signs, hitters pulling on their batting gloves, 10 pitch at-bats, players digging and scratching, beer-soaked idiots right behind you willing to share their profanity and their spills, concession stand food that not only tastes great but costs as much as your first car, enjoying the traffic jams before and after the game … oh, yes, there is nothing like watching baseball at the stadium. At this time of year, every team has a chance … except the ones the experts have already determined have no chance at all.

Is that the way life is? Are there people who have no chance at all? To listen to voices:

  • “You’re no good.”
  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “Can’t you do anything right?”
  • “You’re a bum.”

You might hear that at a ball park from some of the bleacher bozos, the ones who could only catch a fly ball if it lands in their beer cup. But you should never hear that at home or school or church. Life is tough enough without the people who drag you down or crush your dreams.

I think these words would be more helpful.

  • “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”
  • “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He has planned for us long ago.”
  • “Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
  • “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Here’s the pitch. When you get the chance today, choose from the latter group of words, not the former. You might just keep a dream alive.

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Teenagers?

Our teenagers are at Queens College in Charlotte, NC for PASSPORT this week. You might think this week would come as a welcome breather, a respite from the chatter and energy of our most vibrant Wieucans. But I miss them.

Earlier this year I thought I might be able to join them, but it was not meant to be. Sitting comfortably in Atlanta, I’m not missing living in a dorm room, cafeteria eating, or keeping “teenager” hours–teenagers are exhausting! But I am missing our walks across campus together, volleyball tournaments, nightly devotions, and watching our students worship.

You can learn a lot from our students, and over the years I have. Here are three of the most important things I’ve learned.

1. There’s no substitute for enthusiasm. 
Enthusiasm is infectious. It makes heavy jobs light, boring tasks fun, and long days shorter–and teenagers have it in spades. Adults tend to meet new ideas with fear, doubt, and skepticism. Teenagers have a way of both offering and embracing new ideas with wonder, energy and enthusiasm.

Too often our teenagers have good ideas that we have to say no to because time or resources are lacking, but I wish we could say yes more often. We should say yes more often. For teenagers the default option is yes.  Sometimes that gets them into trouble, but more often than we do, we ought to channel their enthusiastic optimism toward building the kingdom of God. God–and our teenagers–might amaze us with their creativity.

2. Christian formation is a decisive element in the development of adolescents.
Our teenagers face challenges and pressures that few of us could have even imagined when we were their age. The culture they grow up in is increasingly secular, selfish, and jaded. Most of today’s teenagers operate without many of the safety nets of community and family that we wish were there for them. It only takes one bad mistake to slip between the ropes. Voices of love and encouragement, voices that provide safety and boundaries, are few and far between. Without safe places and clear boundaries the fragile innocence of youth doesn’t survive very long.

The church is one of the few places where the sacred continues to be celebrated. The church ought to be a place where Christ-like selflessness is taught and modeled. The church can be a place where innocence is preserved; not simple-minded naivete, but the dreaming innocence of creatures in union with their Creator. Many of our teenagers are lucky enough to have these Christian qualities modeled at home, but not all of them are. That makes the work of the church in the lives of teenagers ever more important.

Besides, if we’re intentional about providing safe and sacred places, setting clear Christian boundaries and expectations, and modeling Christian behavior for our teenagers, it might spill over into our adult populations, too!

3. Authenticity trumps everything. 
Teenagers have a special knack for sniffing out the fake, the contrived, and the outright fraudulent. You can’t “fake it” with teenagers, at least not for very long. More than any other age group, teenagers are bombarded with social interactions designed to get them to be or do or buy something. Teenagers live in a world of transactional relationships where every encounter is graded as a win or a loss. If you want to shock a teenager, be transparently honest and authentic, expecting nothing in return for your time and attention. In today’s world, authentic relationship is a truly radical idea.

Come to think of it, in an “everything old is new again” kind of way, authentic relationship has always been a radical idea. It was one of the most consistently radical elements of Jesus’ interactions with others in the New Testament. The unexpected way that Jesus entered into relationships with unexpected people in unexpected places consistently shocked the first-century crowds that followed him. So when we say that teenagers have sharp antennae for authenticity, what we’re really saying is that teenagers have a high aptitude for recognizing and celebrating Christ-like relationships.

Our teenagers come back from PASSPORT tomorrow. When they return, they’ll be expecting and craving a church that welcomes their enthusiasm, a church that is a safe place to explore and experience sacred subjects, and a people willing to enter into authentic relationships that model the relationship-building example of Christ.  If we can be that for them, they can lead us to partner with God to do amazing things.

I’m Proud To Be A CBF Baptist

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship held its General Assembly in Atlanta last week.  Wieucans participated in a number of ways. Several of our members volunteered their time at the registration desk. Choir members participated in Friday night’s worship service.  Our CBF staff members filled all kinds of roles to make the weekend a success. Your ministers participated in worship and workshops designed to help us do our jobs better. One of our teenagers even helped supervise children’s activities during the event.

Our partnerships with CBF and CBF-GA are vital to Wieuca’s future, and a strong, committed Wieuca has the chance to provide important vitality and life to these partner organizations.  Here are three big takeaways from last week’s assembly.

Whether working through the global missions and church support functions of CBF proper or connecting with partner organizations like the Baptist Joint Committee  and the New Baptist Covenant, CBF provides opportunities to learn from and partner with excellent individuals, organizations and churches. We can learn a lot from other CBF churches in our city and all over the country. Through CBF we are connected to ethicists, theologians, activists, missionaries, ministers, professors and lay people with more experience and expertise than we could ever absorb. We ought to take better advantage of those connections. And let’s not sell ourselves short. We have experience and expertise worth sharing with our partners, too.

New Global Missions Coordinator Steven Porter challenged CBF churches to be forward thinking in their approaches to missions, evangelism and partnership. Acknowledging that old methods of outreach and evangelism have produced diminishing returns for some time now, Porter encouraged us to be open to more modern evangelistic approaches as we seek to reach our communities.  He also reminded us that “evangelical” should not be a dirty word in moderate Baptist circles.  And people like CBF theologian-in-residence David Gushee–and others–will continue to push us to more fully embrace progressive, biblical approaches to scriptural interpretation, justice and peace issues, and the relationship between believing Christians and our governments.

If CBF is anything, it is a missions sending body. As we partner with CBF, we support people committed to carrying the message of Christ all over the world. From Atlanta and Miami, to India and China, to South Africa and Uganda, to Japan and Indonesia, to Belize and Brazil, the gospel of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed by people we support and train and pray for and host and even visit from time to time. I’m one who thinks we should do everything in our power to more generously support all of the missions initiatives of CBF.

Every time I attend the General Assembly I’m reminded that I–and we–should do more to take advantage of everything our association with CBF has to offer. And I’m reminded of how important it is that we make sacrificial efforts to cooperate with and support the work of like-minded Baptists. CBF is large enough to have a national and global impact; large enough to be heard in the Oval Office, the halls of Congress, and at the United Nations. But it’s not so large that your voice won’t be heard; not so large that our voices can’t help shape its direction.

We should cooperate and contribute, support and encourage, listen and guide as CBF continues to grow.  I’m proud to be a CBF Baptist.

Shakespeare, Scripture And Blankets In The Park

Two weeks ago Julie and I celebrated our wedding anniversary by attending a performance of As You Like It in Piedmont Park. The experience reminded me of a few things that might be applied to the church. Here are three.

1. When insight into human nature is combined with humor, the impact can be profound. Some say Shakespeare is inaccessible because the language is unfamiliar to modern ears. They complain that it’s hard to understand and boring. I”ll be the first to admit that until we get familiar with Shakespeare’s vocabulary and rhythms of language, it can be difficult to read the words on the page. But when those words are skillfully acted out on stage, it’s a completely different story. Even then, the unfamiliar language could leave the stories inaccessible if the stories and characters didn’t connect with us on a fundamental level; but they do!

Shakespeare In The Park

Shakespeare had a genius gift for portraying characters with depth and true to life emotions, fears, temptations, jealousies, and hopes.  While watching As You Like It, I was struck by how closely the humanity of the characters on the stage resembled my own. Equally intriguing was the sharp wit of the characters. Humor and a keen insight into what makes us tick can make a lasting impression on an audience.

At church we tell stories that many people argue are inaccessible. People say they don’t read the Bible because it’s hard to understand or boring. And that might be true if the stories and characters didn’t connect with us on a fundamental level: but they do!

The good thing about the Bible is we have characters with depth and true to life emotions to work with.  And we have the chance every Sunday, through skillful storytelling, humor and insight to connect the humanity of Holy Scripture with our own humanity–the chance to leave a lasting impression for Christ.  As Christians that is both our obligation and our privilege.

2. The more things change, the more they stay the same. A lot has changed in the last 400 years. But what was funny in 1600 is funny now. What was true then is true now. What was beautiful and gallant and charming then is beautiful and gallant and charming now. What was evil and duplicitous and wrong then is still wrong now.

Technology changes. Language changes. Customs change. Clothing changes. Professions change. Economies change. Governments change. Family systems change. But Shakespeare’s stories remind us that right and wrong don’t change. Love and lust; pride and greed; valor and selfishness; sin,forgiveness and redemption all continue to rule our affairs in more or less consistent measures.

The outer identifiers of life change all the time. But the human heart remains the same. Jesus’ words continue to be as relevant and challenging today as they were when he first spoke them because we continue to be as torn between selfishness and selflessness, justice and grace, as we’ve always been.

3.  Excellence and artistry need not be inaccessible to the masses. In fact, when creative work can’t be widely understood and isn’t widely appreciated it usually signals a shortcoming in excellence, artistry, or both. What does it take to connect with the wider world? Shakespeare reminds us that we don’t need to dumb down our message or appeal to the lowest common denominator to reach the masses.

Shakespeare wrote for princes and paupers, for servants and kings.  One way to find broad appeal is to aim for popularity. That can work. But there’s another way–aiming for excellence. Excellence is a language common to us all, universally recognized and appreciated. Excellence has a lasting appeal that the purely popular does not.

At church we have the most excellent message to share. In Christ we are given the key to a most excellent adventure.  That message–and our Savior–deserve excellence in worship and Bible study and fellowship and community and preparation and prayer. God is excellent, so when we are excellent, people will see God in us.  And, I promise you, God in us has broad appeal. Excellence will always be popular.

So that’s what I was thinking about while reclining on a blanket on a perfect Friday night in Piedmont Park.  Great thoughts for an anniversary celebration–I’m a hopeless romantic, I know. But that’s not all I was thinking.

I was also thinking how lucky I am to be married to the most wonderful girl in the world. God is good. Very good. Excellent, even. Happy anniversary, Julie!


An Ode To Summer 2014

I’ll admit it. Summer snuck up on me again. Like every year, I spent all fall and winter waiting on summer to get here. And like every year, it’s here faster than I expected. In the dark days of February I thought summer would never come. In March, I got my hopes up too soon. In April I put my sweaters away too early. And I’m not sure what happened to May. But Memorial Day is behind us. Summer is here. School is out. Pools are open. And the days are about as long as they’re going to get.

“The Summer of George” is one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes because I share George’s unbridled enthusiasm for the possibilities of summer…and his aversion to all stinging insects. So like most years, I wonder what I can do to make this summer the Summer of Sapp. No, I won’t get three months of paid time off from the New York Yankees like George. I wouldn’t take a paycheck from the Yankees if my life depended on it–Go Braves–but maybe I will be able to make the most of my favorite time of year.

So now that summer’s here–and before it sneaks by me–I need to remember what exactly I was longing for back in February.

I’m grateful for warmer weather. For the smell of honeysuckle in the air. For green grass, rocking chairs, covered porches and the chance to watch my dog chase tennis balls across an open field.

In the winter, I try to keep to an exercise routine by running inside on a treadmill. Running outside is a lot more fun. I’m grateful for that. If you ever hear me complaining about it being too hot—and you might—just remind me of February and I’ll quickly change my tune.

I’m grateful for summer because I enjoy stretching out on a lounge chair by the pool. For my money, there’s not much that beats putting my earbuds in, setting Pandora to the Spin Doctors channel, and reading Rolling Stone in the sunshine. I don’t need teak deck chairs and palm trees in the Caribbean to enjoy summer, although that’s nice. A pine straw dusted plastic lounge chair suits me just fine.

I’m thankful for longer days. Longer days mean you don’t usually have to drive home from work in the dark. They mean you can watch the sun set over Turner Field on a Tuesday night if you want to. They mean the possibility of evenings spent outside by the grill or on the jogging trail or at the tennis courts. And sometimes longer days mean after dinner trips for ice cream to the Frosty Caboose. Try the chocolate-peanut butter.

For many of us summer means time away at the lake or the beach or in the mountains—fried seafood enjoyed in the ocean air or the gentle lapping of water against a dock. For others of us it might mean buttery popcorn at a summer blockbuster or a blanket on the lawn at an outdoor concert. All pleasures afforded by July that January just can’t offer.

Summer also brings with it a more relaxed pace. It doesn’t always feel more relaxed, but summer is a time to catch my breath. Traffic’s not as bad, so my commute is shorter. I’m not always sitting in my car feeling like I’m running late for something. I can roll the windows down if I want to and turn the radio up when my favorite song comes on. I can wash my car in the driveway. I can eat on the patio at my favorite restaurants. Summer’s a time to get lost in a good book and a time to enjoy family and catch up with old friends.

If you want to ruin summer for me, just remind me how close we are to the days getting shorter (June 21st). That’s the most torturous paradox of God’s creation—that the best and longest day of the year also signals the beginning of the long, slow march to the shortest day. But for the next few weeks, the days will just keep getting longer until they seem to stretch on forever. Or at least until nine o’clock.

A nine o’clock sunset? If you ask me, we don’t need any more proof that God exists and that God loves us very much.

Happy summer.