The Thursday evening worship began with energetic praise and worship led by the gifted Praise team from Fuquay-Varina UMC. The gathering music by the Praise Band stirred the youth to dance through the convention hall.
Jaye White, Outreach Ministry Team Coordinator and Project AGAPE missionary in Armenia, Nara Melkonyan, engaged in a conversation about how Project AGAPE is assisting thousands of Syrian refugees who are fleeing war and strife to Armenia. Project Agape has been able to provide food, clothing, and shelter. Project Agape is fully supported by the North Carolina Conference and the Western North Carolina Conference.
The guest preacher for the evening was Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the Ohio West Episcopal Area, who spoke powerfully about how relevant the writings of Paul and his letters to New Testament churches are to the struggles within the Church today. These texts speak so eloquently about how the people of God are to live together despite controversy and disagreements.
Grounding his message in the text, “What do you have that you have not received?” (1 Corinthians 4:7), Palmer reminded worshipers that “there is no such thing as a “self made person. Even the breath we breathe is God’s.” What do we have that we have not received?
The wreckage of history demonstrates that humans cannot fix this world. Humans take the gifts of God and mold them into items for war and conflict. Through grace and mercy, God narrated a different story; through God’s Son, Jesus Christ, comes hope, love and peace. “God, in Christ, saw fit that our past didn’t need to define our future.”
It is vital to remember that Paul was writing to “church people” who were arguing about “apostleship” and their giftedness; they were clamoring for recognition and authority rather than serving selflessly. They had forgotten that all they had was a gift from God. Could this very well describe churches today, expecting to be rewarded for every action; expecting “credit” for all actions and offerings; expecting a certificate for every little accomplishment?
“Don’t get too enamored with your goodness. The playing field is level at the foot of the cross. The goody-two-shoes have got to stand with the reprobate.”
Whether laity or clergy, whether a big church or small – God has already given everything needed to take the next step in obedience and faith. Churches need fewer certificates and more missionaries; fewer committee members and more apostles.
“If we are going to be generous people . . . we must begin to see everything as a gift. We don’t have a money deficit. We’ve got a gratitude deficit. What do we have that we have not received?”