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“It’s All About The Relationship!”

In the 15th chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus seeks to impress upon his disciples the importance of relationships.  In this instance, Jesus is referring to the importance of His relationship with them and with their relationship with one another.  It seems to me this is a reality of which we need to be reminded every now and then.

            Dr. George Boyd, a pastor and former theological professor mentions his favorite T-shirt in his book, The Myth of a Christian Religion:  Losing Your Religion for the Beauty of a Revolution.  He says that the slogan on the front of the T-shirt reads: “My relationship prevents me from having a religion”.  It is obvious to me that when he says  “my relationship”, he is referring to his relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

            I do wonder from time to time if we are not so busy being religious that we neglect to pay attention to our relationship with the God to whom our religion points.  After all without a relationship with God, whatever religion we may think we may have is null and void.  So I do wonder if we are so busy making certain that we do the right thing that we give little or no thought to the spirit in which we do it.  I wonder if we are so busy making certain that what we believe is correct that the One in whom believe becomes secondary.  I do wonder if we have become so determined to defeat and destroy those who may be our enemies that w lose sight of the alternative approach offered by Jesus that recommends that we love our enemies.

            It seems to me quite interesting that when Mark describes the calling or appointing of the disciples he says, “He (Jesus) appointed twelve…that they might be with him.” (Mark 3:12 NIV)  The way I understand it, being with is about being in relationship with another.  And it is in this being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, that we not only discover eternal life but we also discover the way, that path that leads us and others to eternal life.  I would however be remiss if I did not add that I have discovered that it is easier to practice religion than it is to be in a close and intimate relationship with Christ Jesus.

            But, this does not have to be a question of having the religion or being in the relationship.  It seems to be that the relationship with Jesus will give shape and form and content to the religion; but it does not necessary follow that practicing religion will necessary lead to a close and intimate relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  There is no doubt that the religious authorities who lived in the time of Jesus were faithful to their religious practices, but their relationship with Jesus was anything but close and intimate.  To my way of thinking, it is all about the relationship.         

           

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The Blessedness of Need

At midnight on Sunday, January 23, 2011, I stood at the American Airlines gate anxiously awaiting the return of my wife, Pat from Kingston, Jamaica. She, along with 9 other seminary students from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, had just spent a week teaching and training clergy and laypersons who are a part of the 16th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
As we talked, both while she was away and after she returned, there was one thing that stood out above all else about the persons who attended the sessions. They were excited, enthusiastic and completely committed to the training, particularly the youth and young people. Here she was among a people who were for the most part living either very near the poverty line or in poverty. Most of them, if not all of them did not have the $3.00 necessary to pay for their lunches while attending the week-long seminar so the teachers paid for them out of their pockets. Two young ladies in their early 20’s had to leave home in the dark, early morning hours in order to travel for 3 hours, changing from one carrier to another 3 times in order to arrive at the seminar sight for the first session which began each morning at 8:00 a.m. And according to Pat, they never missed a session and they were always on time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins his teaching with a series of nine beatitudes. The fourth beatitude in that series declares, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled”. (Matthew 5:6-NIV). As I listened to Pat talk about her experience, I found myself thinking those who have so little tend to take God more seriously than those who appear to have so much. I have already indicated that most of those attending the seminar are living very near or in poverty. But they were driven, even compelled by a hunger and thirst that had to do with more than food and/or water. They were possessed by a passion to know God. They were driven by the desire to be connected with the Almighty. They had what someone called an irresistible urge for a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the God who is the Creator, the Sustainer and the Keeper of all life. And because of this hunger and thirst, they moved with an unrelenting passion to be present at this seminar where their souls could be fed, where the thirst of their spirits could be quenched, and where they could find deeper meaning and greater abundance in their lives.

It is rather strange to think that there is something blessed about hunger and thirst. However, it is not so such the hunger and thirst that is blessed; it is simply that hunger and thirst drive us to have our need fulfilled. Maybe this is one of the lessons we can learn from losing the things we think are important and necessary in our lives but in reality may not be. In his book, Searching for God in Godforsaken Times and Places, Hubert G. Locke writes, “Groping for God is what we find we must do, after we have discovered that nothing else in this world is worth the effort”. While we who have much spend much of our time trying to get more, maybe it is in the loss of some of what we have that we discover what those who have so little seem to already know: that our real longing and our real yearning is for God.

 

 

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Living Life In God’s Love

 

In his book He Loves Me, Wayne Jacobsen talks about the possibility of living our lives outside of the fullness of God’s love for us.  He suggest that the reason we do so is that we are either unaware of the degree of God’s love for us or that we have failed to accept how much God loves us.  Jacobsen refers to this as living lives less loved.

When we live our lives less loved, we believe that in order to be loved we must either earn that love, merit that love or be found worthy of that love.  When we live our lives less loved, we are never completely certain of who we are or of why we are here.  When we live our lives less loved, we deny ourselves the possibility of living abundant and eternal lives.  When we live our lives less loved, we never seem to be able to rid ourselves of a haunting sense of anxiety, doubt and fear.  And all of us at one time or another have found ourselves living our lives less loved because were not aware of  just how much we are loved by God.

  The real truth is that we are so very deeply loved by the God who is our Creator.  We are so loved by this God that we cannot begin to imagine the depths of that love nor can be begin to understand the magnitude of that love.  We all have had those moments when it appeared to us that God has either forgotten about us or that our circumstances or our situation has somehow completely escaped God’s notice.  As a result, we begin to seriously wonder if God really cares for us the way we claim that He does.  I have discovered however, that more often than not, what we may perceive as God’s lack of love for us is more just that:  our perception in light of the existing circumstances.

The love of God for us is a free gift; a gift that is freely given that comes without conditions, without strings being attached, without attending requirements or stipulations.  It is offered to us out of the profound and unlimited generosity of the God who is our God.  That is what Jesus was implying when he declared, “Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”. (Luke 12:32) 

            Simply put the love of God is freely offered to us and is ours simply to receive.      

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Will The Real You Please Stand Up!

During the 1950’s the game show “To Tell The Truth” aired on national television. Three persons, all of whom claimed to be the same person, are presented to a panel of guest stars. After a brief sketch of the person’s life and occupation is presented and the panel questions each one of them, the panel votes on who they believe to be the actual person described in the sketch. The host then ask, “Will the real Grady Yeargin, please stand up?” After a few moments hesitation, the person described in the sketch stands up.
Recently, I came across a new insight about what it means to be free. It grows out of a statement made by Jesus in response to a challenge from the Pharisees. Jesus says to them, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:35-NIV)
To be free in this context means to experience life as God intends it for us to experience it by being the persons He has created us to be. It suggest that when God created each of us, He gave us our own peculiar gifts, talents and abilities as well as our own peculiar personality, spirit and way of being in this world. The words of Jesus indicate that there is no greater freedom, no greater joy, and no greater fulfillment in this life than that which comes from being our authentic selves. The Master’s words also suggest that we become our most authentic selves when we are in a close and personal relationship with God our Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves. It may be that one of the greatest sins in this life is to live as an imposture, as someone other than our real selves. We may do it in order to impress others, to be accepted by others, or to hide from others because we do not think that much of the person we believe ourselves to be. Whatever may be our reasons for doing so keeps us from living with the sense of well-being that we so desperately crave.
Before Jesus makes that statement about being free indeed, he says to the same Pharisees, “…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The truth about all of us is that we are children of God made in His image and likeness; that we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14-NIV); that each one of us is loved by God in God’s own peculiar and particular way. Therefore, the greatest gift we can ever offer to God, the greatest glory we can ever give to God is being the persons God has created us to be.

So when life raises the question, and life will surely find a way to raise that question; when life does ask, “Will the real (your name), please stand up”, who will rise to his/her feet and stand? Will it be the real you or will it be some imposture posing as you? In the vernacular of street corner wisdom: “Be who you is, and not who you ain’t, ’cause if you is who you ain’t, you ain’t who you is!”

 

 

 

 

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Church Announcement

WEBSITE ANNOUNCEMENT

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Due to the heavy snowstorm we experienced this weekend, services at City Temple have been canceled. We will be having baptism and observing the Lord’s Supper on next Sunday, February 14, 2010 at the regular worship hour. We will also be making our anniversary pledge during that same worship service. All of the meetings, including the Leadership Prayer Service, that were scheduled for Saturday, February 6. 2010, will be held on Saturday, February 13, 2010 at there appointed time.

The books, which we will be using for our congregational study beginning the first Sunday in Lent, have arrived. They will be available for purchase and pick-up during the week whenever we are able to open the office between the hours of 9:00 am and 3:00 pm as well as on Sunday morning following the morning worship.

Prayer service will not be held this week again due to the snow conditions. We will pick up with our study on next Tuesday.

Lastly, our annual church meeting that was scheduled for this week has been postponed until Tuesday, February 23rd at 7:00 pm. This will allow us to have addition information about the direction of the church’s ministry for 2010.

I hope that all of us will take the time while we are snowed in to share with our families and to spend some of that time with God, listening to God and seeking His will for our lives. After Pat and I spent some time outside shoveling snow, Pat spoke of the beauty of the snow, of the unusual silence that fills the earth as the snow falls and of the awesome nature of God that he designs a different snowflake for every one that falls. It is reassuring to know that if God gives that kind of attention to a simple snowflake, surely that attention that He gives to us is beyond anything we might be able to imagine.

Enjoy this time that God has given to us to be still. As the poet has said in Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God.”

 

Pastor Yeargin

 

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“Love God and Do As You Please!!”

 

 

            St. Augustine of Hippo is regarded as one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity.  In a statement that to my way of thinking summarizes his understanding of how Christians are to live out their faith, he says, “Love God and do as you please.”

            At first glance, his words appear disturbing and irresponsible.  It is as if he is suggesting that anything goes; that everything is permissible; that we have neither limits nor boundaries; and that we are free to do whatever we believe we are big and bad enough to do.  And that is a terribly frightening prospect.  But when we take a deeper look at his words, they reveal that what St. Augustine is saying is a far cry from the kind of absolute freedom that has neither limits nor boundaries.  Quite the contrary, freedom is having the right and the ability to choose the limits and the boundaries by which we shall live.

            In the case of those of us who are a part of the community of faith that was called “the people of the way” in the first century, St. Augustine is affirming that we chose to live out our faith based on the limits and boundaries determined by our love of and for God.  That means that because of our love for God, there are things that we should do and things that we should not do.  Because we love God, we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves; because we love God we should not hate our enemies; because we love God, we should be just in our dealings with all humanity; because we love God, we should not allow any injustice to stand; because we love God, we should forgive any offense committed against us; because we love God, we should not hold any grudge or seek revenge against anyone who has offended us.

            While the examples listed are relatively clear, the matter is not that easily resolved.  The issue becomes how we work out that love of God in the midst of the controversial issues that face us in our society.  Is capital punishment a reflection of our love for God?  How best do we express our love for God when it comes to the questions of abortion and homosexuality?  Is there such a reality as a just war that can be based on our love for God?  Given our highly advanced, technological society and our ability to do things that our parents never dreamed of, does our love of God compel us to raise the question should we do what we have the knowledge to do simply because we have the ability to do it?

            When the question of the greatest commandment was raised with Jesus, without so much as a moment’s hesitation, he responded by answering, “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  I think that maybe St. Augustine was simply saying what Jesus had already said in a different way.  I believe our greatest challenge as Christians is to make every possible effort, deliberately and intentionally, to deepen and grow our love for God and allow that love to determine the limits and boundaries by which we live.     

                         

 

 

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When God Disappoints

            Disappointment can be a heart-breaking, soul-troubling, gut-wrenching reality.  It happens when our hopes are not fulfilled, our dreams do not come to pass, and our desires are not satisfied.  When it comes in the form of a trust that is broken, a friendship that is betrayed, or the lack of a response from someone upon whom we thought we could rely, the disappointment can be utterly devastating.  In response, we tend to put distance between ourselves and those who disappoint us in order to minimize the possibility of experiencing this kind of pain in the future.

            Recently, my wife reminded me of a question I raised about God and disappointment:  What do we do when God disappoints us?  I dare say that if our relationship with God is something more than just mere acquaintance, the chances are very good that we have been disappointed by God.  The answer to our prayer is not what we hoped for; the intervention by God that we so desperately want never comes to pass; the burden that is becoming unbearable is neither lifted nor lightened; or the healing we seek never happens the way we expect it to happen, if it happens at all.  So what do we do when God disappoints us?

            The answer came for me after wrestling with the death of my 21 year-old daughter, Kimberly.  She died on July 13, 2001 of a viral infection that attacked her heart.  It happened just two weeks after she preached her initial sermon.  That experience taught me that when God disappoints us, our best response is to keep trusting Him and keep following Him.

            Brennan Meaning in his book, Ruthless Trust says “Trust in God does not presume that God will intervene”.  And it may be that we are most disappointed by God when He does not intervene.

            I learned while traveling through the “valley of the shadow of death” created by Kimberly’s death that God is free to be God.  Who God is, is not determined by whether or not God responds to our needs, our prayers or our desires in the way that we want Him to respond.  God is not bound by the limits we impose upon Him nor are His answers confined to responding positively to our expressed wishes and desires.  God is only bound by the limits He imposes upon Himself and what He, in His infinite wisdom, knows to be the best possible response in any given situation; even if that response results in our present disappointment with Him.  I have learned that because we are disappointed with how God responds to our petitions, it does not mean that God does not care about us or about our plight.  It is God Himself, who speaks through the prophet Isaiah and says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways…” (Isaiah 55:8-NIV)  Maybe it is in the depth of God’s caring that He is aware that the present disappointment can lead to greater blessings on the other side of that disappointment.  And, I have discovered that in the depths of our disappointment with God, God remains with us.  After Kimberly’s death, it was painful being in the presence of the God who “allowed” her to die.  So the distance between me and God appeared to grow.  But at some point, in the midst of that distance and pain, I discovered that as much as I wanted Kimberly to live, I needed God to be very present with me even more; even at those times when I did not want Him to be there.  It is possible for our disappointment with God to be transformed into a much closer relationship with the very God whom we feel has disappointed us.                      

 

 

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