Monday, June 24, 2019


In a generation that has mostly had everything given to it free of charge there is little connection to this term 'without.'  There are few examples or concept that connect us to the idea of sacrifice ... doing without ... giving from either scarceness or even abundance.  Yet this little term is found throughout the faith we call Christianity.  We are forgiven because God's plan was the sacrifice of His one and only Son for the atonement/forgiveness/washing of our sins.  That truth is vital, foundational and wonderful!

There is a word used to describe the early Church in Acts 2 (specifically verse 46).  The people enjoyed fellowship with 'sincere hearts'.  What does that mean?  The Biblical idea of sincerity is rooted in a phrase John Riley has used and I will attempt to convey.  It is a very practical term flowing from the practice of selling marble and marble sculptures.  In the old days when a marble sculpture was sold it was to be sold 'without wax' (the root concept for sincerity). When marble was carved there were often imperfections.  If a sculpture had an imperfection it would bring less money and might even be too defaced to sell.  So dishonest merchants would melt wax and fill in the imperfections with wax.  When it got hot (maybe if the sculpture were placed in the sun) the wax would melt and the owner would realize he/she had been cheated.  So sincere means without (sin) wax (cera).  Hopefully you get the point!

A trait of the early Church was this sincerity.  They lived life openly.  They shared meals and shared hurts, victories, pain and pretty much everything.  They shared their possessions and were willing to pitch in when needs were identified.  I believe, in those early days, there was an honesty and sincerity.  And this is a trait we should strive for.  No scheming, undercurrents or hidden agendas for us!  Because we are to be those people who are the same on Sunday, Monday and every other day.

I sometimes struggle with this.  I rationalize ... "If they knew, they wouldn't like me!" ... "If they were aware of my plans they would be against me!"  ... "If they knew my doubts they wouldn't believe or follow me!"  All of these statements have 2 things in common.  Did you see the word 'they'?  As I scheme, cover up, obfuscate, inveigle, evade and generally cover my true self with wax, the purpose isn't noble.  It is totally self-centered.  That brings us to the 2nd word ... 'me.'  Insincerity is all about me and it divides me from the other people I call they.  It breeds divisiveness, hate, dishonesty and all manners of bad things.  It should not be in the lexicon of the Church!

The early Church couldn't be self-centered and Christ-centered.  Our country's founding couldn't have been self-centered and successful.  Many people had to debate, disagree, compromise and cooperate in a setting where there was trust and focused purpose.  No wax.  "Lord ... keep our hearts sincere, open, transparent and 'without wax.'  Thank you!"  AMEN

Monday, June 17, 2019

Front Porch

What do those words bring to mind?  Front porch.  Rocking chairs ... dialogue ... quiet ... laughter ... rest ... resetting ... you can add what you will.  Joy Williams of The Civil Wars (a singing group) has named her solo album Front Porch.  In an interview she reflects ... "looking at my life, I actually have begun enjoying the little things a lot more than I had in the past. I think I always used to be racing ahead to the next big thing and now I’m more interested in watching my daughter discover what her hand looks like in the shadow."  She continues ... "Oh yeah, my face is starting to change a little bit." But I remember my mom telling me that it’s good for your face to tell a story, and so my laugh lines are getting deeper and my forehead is starting to show more signs of how much I’m squinting and thinking and, you know, chasing after my kids or reading a book at night. Those are good signs of life. Vanity would say otherwise, but I think reality might be a little bit more important than my vanity."  Where do we stop ... rest ... listen ... interact ... and live on the front porch?

The Acts 2 Church had a front porch ... places and times where interaction takes place among the believers.  We have a front porch too.  Last night, as I waited in the sound booth in the Family Life Center, I heard front porch discussions among adults and children as they sat down to a nutritious hot dog dinner.  They all stopped ... ate ... enjoyed the real things in life.  They looked at each other differently.  Non-confrontive and non-judgmental was on the menu.  Laughter was frequent.  I listened to the sounds of life.  In Acts 2:42-47 the passage twice mentions eating together and 'sharing their meals with great joy.'  The Church is doing something that has value, meaning and worth by living life together.  What a concept!

For the early Church there were difficult challenges.  Shrill, angry voices came from the Jewish church leaders calling them heretical.  Mistrust and enmity came from the Romans who saw this group as a threat.  The People of the Way (the early Church) responded by doing life, focusing on the good and real things and being 'in the world' but not 'of the world.'  

Maybe we can learn something from this.  I have heard shrill/angry voices and mistrust/enmity from people I know in the North Carolina church.  They are upset about how sexual offenders are being treated.  Other people in Atlanta are upset over the abortion debate, worried that actors and performers will boycott their state or local area.  As I read that God added to the Acts 2 church 'every day,' I see my friends in Atlanta and the Research Triangle (Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill) in North Carolina on a list of the top 100 Post-Christian cities in America.  I wonder ... is the 'cause' of Christ, the nurture of our souls, the reality of the spiritual and life in the Spirit important in our reactionary world?  Are we willing to sit on the front porch and dialogue with each other?  Are we more worried about our vanity, our swag, our devices, our stuff and our outward appearance than we are about living life 'in Christ?'  Can we recapture the joy of children eating the best food ever at Vacation Bible School, sitting on their 'front porch' and gathering to praise a God who has overcome this world?  Do we love Jesus more than our causes?  When we 'go everywhere' do we go to the front porch with our neighbor and share our meals with 'great joy?'

Monday, June 10, 2019

Acting Like The Church

Our Vacation Bible School (VBS) begins next weekend (June 16, 17, 18 from 5:30 pm till 8:30 pm).  As we pray with each other about how God will show up to help us teach, lead, sing, praise and love, I can't help think about the Bible book I read from Sunday.  The book is Acts.  It is all about how God continues, after Jesus' life, to move into this neighborhood called 'the world.'  For God said, in John 3:16 (one of our VBS Scriptures), that He loved the world (people) so much that He gave His son so that whoever (that's all of the folks in that world) believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.  Those people who choose to believe in Jesus are called something we fail to perceive as sacred ... but it IS sacred.  It is called THE Church.  And that book (Acts) is all about the early Church.  It describes how we should act.  It gives us some examples of things not to do.  And offers us a picture of the flawed, broken Church somehow, with the Holy Spirit, moves into the known world with the message of the Gospel.  Pretty cool!

Over the remainder of the Summer that is where we will journey.  I hope you will jump into the boat with all of the messed-up Church folks who are friends, fellow travelers, companions and Christians.  Acts will be our source material.  Let's see what we can learn and how we can become more like the Church God envisioned when he told the disciples "You will be My witnesses everywhere" (another VBS Scripture from Acts 1:8).

Our first step in the journey through Acts will look at the pattern of the early Church.  It is expressed in Acts 2:42-47.  Here are the 10 things we see as the early Church starts the ministry led by the Holy Spirit.  1) devotion to being taught, 2) communion/sacraments, 3) wonders/signs, 4) shared stuff, 5) generosity, 6) meeting in the temple, 7) eating together, 8) sincerity, 9) praise of God, 10) the encouragement of shared favor.  That's a lot ... it may take us a few weeks just to get through these, so bear with me as I try to unpack this beautiful and challenging passage.  But that is what happens when we journey together and are led by a God of mystery and grace ... we just don't know where God will send us.  I hope you will join the journey and find joy in our journey together.  Thanks ... Randy

Monday, June 3, 2019


For all of the football fans in my midst there is a term you might know.  It can be applied when a turnover (fumble, interception) happens.  It can be applied when one team punts and drives the other team backwards.  It is called "flipping the field."

As we enter Acts 2 and Pentecost Sunday I want us to think about flipping the field.  When the disciples wait for the realization of God's promise of the Holy Spirit they look out on a broken society, a broken church and lots of broken people.  Add to this the chaos of many people from many nations in Jerusalem for the Pentecost holiday.  Then it happened ... the field got flipped.

As I thought about this event, which signifies for many the birth of the Church as we read about in the book of Acts, I can't help but reflect on what this flipping represents.

From the perspective of the Jewish leaders and the 'church' institution, they might have felt that their world was turned upside down.  These upstarts actually believed that the Messiah had come and had proclaimed release to the captives, sight to the blind, healing for the sick and light to those living in darkness.  But from the standpoint of God and for those who were lost, the field was flipped right side up.  In the midst of turmoil and chaos Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit, turned everything right.

From the perspective of the Christians, they 'flipped' from waiting to going.  These uneducated fishermen, hated tax collectors and ne'er-do-wells barged out of that upper room and began to preach, proclaim and boldly become missionaries in a world where the 'church' said all was just fine.  That day the Church began a spread that continues today.

Don't believe these things still happen?  At Annual Conference we heard from a Tanzanian missionary who professed that they had started a church 'accidentally.'  The began a children's worship in an orphanage and the people from the town were curious and started to come.  The people began to ask how to join this group and before a few months had passed 45 people were baptized.  No training ... no plan ... no intentionality ... no direction from the institutional church.  Just people meeting and telling the Good News of the gospel to children.  I believe the Holy Spirit flipped the field.

On June 16th Vacation Bible School will begin.  We have lots of good people and even have some plans.  But I, for one, feel ill-equipped for this task that hasn't happened at AUMC in many years.  But, when I heard this story from Tanzania, I became encouraged.  What if God's Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire upon us at VBS?  What if the mighty river of God's power rushed out and took our inadequacies, our fears, our brokenness and our failings and infused His power into them?  What if God flips the field in Abbeville through the many ways we leave our upper rooms and stop waiting and start going?  What if Acts 2 becomes real in our time and in our presence?  Come, Holy Spirit, come ... we invite your presence and power!  Randy