About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Those First Church People!

Today's scripture is about the CHURCH helping the church.

Evergreen Presbyterian Church has a long history of helping your sister churches.

The Presbytery of South Alabama wouldn't be what it is without your membership, your generous giving, your hard work for carrying and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Your giving to the Presbytery isn't to support The Government, but to support and care for the other Churches and educators and pastors of the area. To build connection. 

I wouldn't be who I am without my connection to Evergreen Presbyterian Church.

When I was graduating seminary 30 years ago, I had never even HEARD of Dothan, Alabama.

But then, I saw Joe Johnson, sitting by himself in the lunch room, waiting for a friend. My heart always goes out to "that kid."

They flew me down and I met Bobby and Carolyn Hollis, who not only welcomed me into their home, but greatly en-couraged me to get off my butt and propose to Kristen. 

Can you say "butt" in church? The King James Version says the other word all the time.

I met Huntley and Elaine, and this nutty lady Annamarie and her family. Felton and Jean. Mary Lou and Jimmy. Pretty soon we were joined by Terry and Kaye and my baby brother, Seth. 

And I realized pretty quickly that even though I'd never been to Dothan before, it felt like coming home.

That's how it feels today. 

When you read the Book of Acts, you realize that from the very start, The Church -- from the first -- was always intended to feel very much like home. The FIRST place, with the FIRST people, the first place you want to go.

ACTS 2:42-47

2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 


2:43 AWE came upon everyone, because many WONDERS and SIGNS were being done by the apostles. 


2:44 All who believed were TOGETHER and had all things in COMMON; 


2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 


2:46 Day by day, as they spent MUCH time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 


2:47 praising God and having the GOODWILL of ALL the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Those First Church People

Everybody wants to be first. Everybody wants to be Number One.

I did MANY minutes of research on Google and found out there are a LOT of Evergreen Churches, of all flavors. However, according to our online Denominational database, there are but FIVE Evergreen Presbyterian Church USA's. 

There's one in Wheeling, Illinois. One in Cincinnati. Yada, yada.

But. And this is very important. Show them the slide. 

LOOK which Evergreen Presbyterian Church is NUMBER ONE! 

Let's zoom in, shall we?

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Y'all need some foam fingers. Woo!

On the other hand, ironically, there are First Presbyterian Churches, everywhere.

In this presbytery alone, there are 7 Firsts.

First Presbyterian, Andalusia.

First, Bay Minette. 

First, Citronelle. 

And on and on. So unimaginative. 

All of them claiming to be Number One.

I know it's not supposed to be a competition, but Evergreen is definitely first in MY heart.

Today's SCRIPTURE is about THE First Church. THE ORIGINAL Number one. THE first church EVER. 

I'D LIKE to think they were Presbyterians; they just didn't know it yet. 

The scripture today's about how THE church – the WHOLE Church – sprung up from the seeds of the FIRST Christians. EVER.

What do we have in common with THOSE "first people"? 

What did these First-ers do – FIRST? 

And where do WE rank in comparison?

Whether it's football rankings, or Presidential candidates, or school testing, Everybody wants to be Number ONE.

Everybody wants to be FIRST.

I saw a study on the INTERNET, so I know it's true. 

SCIENTISTS (and definitely NOT 14 year-old boys) ranked all 50 states by SINFULNESS

Who do you think's the Number One MOST sinful state? Who's FIRST in sin? 

Sorry, WASHINGTON D.C. You don't qualify. PROFESSIONALS can't compete with amateurs. 


Nevada's scores for GREED and LAZINESS broke the curve. 

My current home state, TENNESSEE, is the SEVENTH most sinful state. Not bad.

Behind TEXAS but ahead of Illinois

Just a few more nasty bumper stickers, we can move up. https://wallethub.com/edu/most-sinful-states/46852

Alabama, you'll be excited to know, came in at Number 14. 

Y'all are ANGELS compared to the Volunteers.

In the THE BOOK OF ACTS, The Apostle Luke tells us the first Christian church didn't "act" sinful at all. They were the BEST. Granted, they were the ONLY. It was a low bar.

Luke says they, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." He says "they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people."

Don't they sound "NICE"? 

The kind of people at the bottom of the sin standings. 

The kind you'd want your children to marry

TOP notch folks. 

Except that part about they didn't believe in private ownership of property, and, quote, "would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need." 

That sounds sweet, but obviously, if you keep selling off your possessions, pretty soon you won't have any left, and then your parents will always have to support you. 

Maybe this was a one-time thing. 

A "Going Out of Sin Sale." 

That's what rich young rulers always ask: "Is selling all your stuff and giving the money to the poor a requirement?"

A requirement for WHAT?

Getting into heaven? Being modest? Being NICE? What do we get out of all this generosity?

The thing is, the selling and sharing ISN'T about double-stuffed US and how good it makes us feel.

It's about providing for the POOR, as any have need. 

Their BELLIES' fuel gauge is more IMPORTANT than our sin ranking.

If the hungry have no food, if the naked aren't clothed, if the sick are visited, if the kids sitting by themselves at lunch aren't welcomed, we are big fat zeroes.

Which reminds me, do you know which state came in last, the LEAST-sinful? 


I'm guessing it's because they have to drive so far to find anyone to be sinful WITH. 

When life's just buffalo roaming where the deer and antelope play, it's EASIER to stay undefiled.


The First Christians were NOT people of means. 

NONE of them owned an extra donkey for the weekend. None had recreational watercraft. 

So when THEY sold everything they had, it might have bought a #1 Combo at Chick-fil-a. 

This makes me wonder about the HISTORICAL ACCURACY of Luke's memory.

In terms of diabolically bursting your faith bubble, ATHEISTS rank way down LOW

Up near the top have to be SEMINARY PROFESSORS

My New Testament professor was a stern man, who wrote a lot of books and avoided sins of the flesh, like SMILING

He took glee in proving to us that our Sunday School teachers didn't know JACK, or at least didn't know LUKE.

He told us that this passage was PROBABLY more "aspirational" than AUTHENTIC reporting.

In other words, Luke knew how to lay it on thick in order to make a GOOD story BETTER

After all, Luke WAS a PREACHER, and you know how THEY are. 

The Prof said that historically, the early church was not much of a "Kum By Yah" kind of place. 

And -- if you read the rest of ACTS, as well as Paul's letters, this is UNDENIABLE

These FIRST CHURCH PEOPLE had NO problem fighting with each other, NO problem splitting into factions, NO problem keeping whatever stuff they had for THEMSELVES

The Bible ITSELF (and Luke, himself) proves they weren't NEARLY as altruistic as this brief passage makes them sound.

So is Luke lying

Think about how many times someone has asked, "How are you?" and you answer, "FINE," even though your SCORECARD of things that add up to "fine" is pretty EMPTY

Think about how much better everyone sounds at their funeral.

You may say, "Evergreen Presbyterian is the BEST church ever!" 

But have you really visited ALL the others? 

Maybe The First Church selling their possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor was the DREAM, the GOAL, the VISION STATEMENT they kept in the filing cabinet.

What we DO know FOR sure is that these first church people were REAL church people. 

They may have been SAINTS, but not ONE of them was SINLESS

Some were better Christians than we are. 

Others, not so much. 

If you compared ALL the churches by the SINFUL SCALE, ranking THIS Church against THAT Church, or any OTHER First, Second, or Third Church, the LAW OF AVERAGES says in the end we'd ALL come out near the MIDDLE

Why? Because, we're PEOPLE. People are SINFUL. That's our normal. Average.

But SOMETIMES average people surprise you. 

Sometimes ordinary people can be extra-ordinary.

Surprising things happen when people "devote themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers, and selling possessions to care for those in need."

But if we don't work at it, day after day, week after week, year after year, if we don't make that our FIRST thing, we'll never know where we stand, will we?

Evergreen Presbyterian Church isn't as BIG and fancy as a lot of huge mega-churches.

But so what?

The First, the Original Christian Church didn't even have a building, didn't have an operating budget, didn't have a website. They didn't have an Administrative Manual of Operations. They didn't have a Youth Department, a nursery, a swimming pool, or tennis courts, or a jet.

And they turned out OK.

You don't have to have 1000 members.

But you DO have to devote yourselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, and to the Number One Church kinda things -- in the name of Jesus Christ.

If Evergreen Presbyterian Church, or any church does that -- well, look how good it turned out for the First Church ever.

If they hadn't been there, doing what they did, we wouldn't be here.

If y'all do those things, faithfully, congratulations.

You're as good as #1.

THAT'S the first church way.

And the older I get and the more churches I see, the more I am convinced, it's the one and only church way.


So, back to the ORIGINAL question, 

"What DO we, what does Evergreen Presbyterian Church (Dothan, Alabama) have in common with those FIRST church people?" 

The answer is, on average, A LOT

Being AVERAGE disciples is NORMAL

Not even those First Christians were number one.

None of those self-named First Presbyterian Churches is number one.

And even though Evergreen Presbyterian is one of a kind, it's NOT Number One, either. 

Not the BEST. 

But certainly not the WORST. 

Probably, truthfully, AVERAGE. Just like the FIRST first church. And that's OK.

We're all sinners. But we can be saintly when we want to. 

There's hope for you and hope for me. 

All churches are the same in that regard. We're all average.

But AVERAGE Presbyterian Church doesn't look good on a sign.

We seek to be unique.

People being people, we WILL compare ourselves to others. 

But even then, when we get all wrapped up over the rankings, we can be comforted in knowing that no matter what, at least, we're better than NEVADA.