Month: April 2012

The Value of Relentless Prayer

Rev. Dr. Darrell K. White gave a mantra to Baptist Liberty Church decades ago that serves as a guide for my journey:

MUCH PRAYER, MUCH POWER

SOME PRAYER, SOME POWER

LITTLE PRAYER, LITTLE POWER

NO PRAYER, NO POWER

It is true that we can pray all we want to and some things will not change.  The prophet Habakkuk rejoiced in the midst of  his nation’s wicked society.  Paul preached with a thorn in his flesh.  Yes, there are moments when God does not alter situations based on our wishes.  So, what good is it for us to be ceaseless in prayer?

Of Waves and Stones (© John Gresham)

Prayer is our means of being in communion with God.  Prayer is not our means to make him a flunky beholden to our wishes and whims no matter how significant they may be.  This is a tragic mistake many people make when they pray.  A presumption that the Lord is supposed to do their bidding.  No, it is He that made us and not we ourselves.  Thus we come to God with humble hearts and souls seeking his overall will and not simply our own petitions.

With this communion established, our spirits are aligned with the Holy Spirit.  This is the portion of the Trinity that reminds us that we are children of the Father and have been saved through the Son.  Our value is re-affirmed and cleansing through repentance is confirmed.  An arrogant, or even lazy, heart and soul cannot have such a communion.  But, to the one who is humble, the Father elevates.  To the one who knocks, Jesus opens the door.  This process of divine elevation and revelation is the power we receive in prayer.

According to God’s will, prayer enables us to either change the situation or change for the situation.  In our complex and complicated lives, aren’t we in need of such power?  And if we need something, are we to slothfully expect someone to drop this power in our laps with little effort? Or are we to make the pursuit of this power a part of who we are?

The monastics of Orthodoxy hold to a practice of praying even under their breath, “Lord have mercy.”  Catholic monks and nuns do similar, if not the same.  We modern Protestants who can’t afford to abandon all to move to Mt. Athos or St. Catherine’s can still be relentless in prayer.  Just as we are passionate about a favorite television program, musician, or sports team; we must be as passionate about having communion with God.  Indeed, even more so as these other pursuits are temporal.  God is Spirit and eternal.  Let us be in relentless pursuit of Spirit so that we will have the power to live in the fullness of God’s will.    Make time for prayer as if all depends on it.

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How To Respond To Atheism

It is no secret that atheism and unbelief is growing in our country.  I read an article in the Guardian where church membership may very well be less than the 40% mark that most of us took for granted.  With the ongoing hypocritical scandals and false doctrine in many denominations and congregations, I suspect things will only get worse.  But, just because Atheism is growing means that the faithful should do nothing.  This morning, I will preach our response.

Reflective Dawn (© John Gresham)

 

BECAUSE HE IS, WE MUST GO

Matthew 28:16-20

Thesis:  Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to declare his resurrection from the grave

Antithesis:  Like the time of the first disciples, there are forces in society that oppose this message

Propositional Statement:  We are called to spread the Gospel of Jesus despite the obstacles before us

Points:

  • We can overcome our own doubts (17)
  • We can go beyond our comfort zones (19)
  • When we go, Jesus will be with us (20)

A Eulogy for Troy Washington: A Reason Not To Grieve

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, to make sure that you do not grieve for them, as others do who have no hope.  

1 Thessalonians 4:13

 

First Light (© John Gresham)

This morning as I was shooting photos at Hughlett’s Point, my sister-in-law called me to give me some bad news.  My young cousin, Troy Washington, died late last night.  This news hurt me.  Troy was only a couple of months from graduating from King & Queen Central High School.  He took college courses at Rappahannock Community College and was preparing to go the University of Virginia.  His talents on the football field and basketball court were almost as good as his academic record.  Troy was a devout Christian young man attending First Baptist Church of Hockley.  He knew how to hang with his peers, respect his elders, stay away from trouble, and make the most of the opportunities that came his way.

Immediately, I wanted to grieve about his life being cut short.  He had so much to live for.  Education, career, most likely marriage and family.  His parents shouldn’t have to bury a son.  His brother shouldn’t have to attend his only sibling’s funeral before his commencement from high school.  I couldn’t wait to see him when I visited my in-laws in Charlottesville.  I didn’t get a chance to congratulate and tell him how proud I am of him.  So, despite what was in the text, I really wanted to grieve about this.

Breakfast Ripples (© John Gresham)

But, then I thought about it.  Those who have died in Christ will arise first, and only after that shall we who remain alive be taken up in the clouds together with them.  I considered myself waiting in line to get in to a great resaurant.  There are people standing there before me and some behind me and all of us have been waiting for a long time to get in.  An usher from the restaurant comes out and walks by those ahead of me, myself, and most behind me and speaks to someone who hasn’t been in line as long as most of us.  “Sir, the owner of the restaurant has a table prepared for you now.  You don’t have to wait in this line.  Follow me, come inside, and be seated.”  Here it is, members of our family have been striving for heaven for years.  We are in our 40’s and 50’s up to our 70’s and 80’s.  And God sent and angel to a teen-ager to go ahead of us.  Troy made it to the great feast of our Lord and Savior before we did.  The rest of us have waited for a long time and God gave him the break instead of us.   Grief for a life cut short?  No, I feel glad for him.  I feel a touch of envy for him.  Instead of crying aloud in sorrow, I want to tell him, “Troy, save me a seat!  Put in a good word for me!  Look out for your cousin, boy!”

Many times I have heard preachers and others say these words at a funeral, “He has been called from labor to rest.”  Ninety, eighty, and seventy year old saints have labored long in the world.  Sixty, fifty, and forty-year old believers may have lived  abundant, spirit filled lives.  Troy wasn’t even 20.  Labor?  I don’t think he had anything more than a summer job if he had that.  He never worked at the mill in West Point as did three generations of his family.  His only labor was pursuing knowledge, playing games, striving for excellence in his activities, loving people and the Lord.  And is there a labor more important than this?  No.  Troy did the labor of a child and did it well.  Unless we make ourselves like children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.  Troy didn’t have to make himself one.  He was one.  He was without the adult angers, anxieties, pains, stresses, and strains.  In his life, Troy showed us what good labor as a child was all about.  How can I grieve when God used his death to teach us a great lesson of life.

Wave on Barnacles (© John Gresham)

I do grieve because I miss him.  I didn’t see Troy often.  But when I did, I always smiled knowing that he was doing something positive.  Troy was a kid we could brag about.  And because we believe in eternal life, I can still brag about Troy.  He won’t have a cap and gown.  But he has a white robe and golden crown.  He has already moved into the Pearly Gated community.  His mansion is of a building not made by man’s hands but founded on the Word of the Lord.  I don’t have to hope and pray Troy makes something good of his life because he has made it into the life eternal.

Good-bye my dear young cousin.  You got a break ahead of me.  You can rest from your labor.  Save me a seat.  I will also be ushered in one day.

Rest In Peace Troy

Selling Out Jesus

Happy Easter to all Orthodox Christians.

This weekend is the celebration of 40 years of Pastoral Service of Rev. Wilbert D. Talley at Third Union Baptist Church.  He has been a mentor to me since I was a child. Dr. Talley held high positions at Virginia Union University and other statewide organizations.  A man of his caliber and education could have easily sought the pulpit of the most lucrative churches in the nation.  And yet, for four decades he remained the pastor of a little country church.  His work has included major improvements on the building and aiding people in building their lives.  It is an honor to celebrate such a man and wish him many more years of service to God.

Dr. Wilbert D. Talley (© John Gresham)

SELLING OUT JESUS

Matthew 26:14-16

(Introduction) Now that we know him as the resurrected savior, no Christian would sell Jesus out the way Judas did.

(Antithesis) In Matthew’s Gospel, Judas is no more wicked than any other disciple.  But, he made a most horrible choice.

(Thesis) We must be on guard not to sell Jesus out the same way Judas did because we face the same temptations.

(Relevant Question) How do we sell Jesus out

(Points)

1.  We hold on to our preconceived ideas of what is right (v. 6-14)

2.  We go to those who truly seek to kill him (v. 14)

3.  We accept a cheap payment (v. 15)

(Conclusion)  True discipleship is too costly for us to sell out at any price.

A Most Corrupt Force

The chief priest and elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.  Matthew 27:20

During my morning worship, I couldn’t help but to be struck by this verse.  The jealousy of the religious leadership would rather preserve a criminal element that does not threaten their status than an innocent (indeed divine) presence that would upset their positions.  It is this corrupt force that is able to do two things that kill the truth.  First, it stirs up a large crowd of the ill-informed.  Jesus is not tried before a jury of his peers with any sort of fair representation with the crowd kept away from propaganda that would prejudice their thinking.  No, it is the self-centered religious leadership that persuades the crowd to call for the release of Barabbas and execution of Jesus.  “If the chief priest and scribes want him killed, it must be for our good.  After all, they are the guardians of the faith.”

Taskinas Valley Sunset (© John Gresham)

With the ill-informed masses brainwashed, this corrupt force then forces the hand of government to do its will.  Government does not stay in power on might alone.  It also appeases popular opinion no matter how uniformed it may be.  If the innocent is insignificant in wealth or power, it can be thrown to the will of the masses so that government can have peace.

Capitalism vs Socialism?  That argument is a sideshow compared to the struggle between the indulgent vs. the innocent.  The corrupt force of the selfish religious leadership brings true death to a nation as the people blindly follow their chief priest and scribes and government follows the popular opinion.

Questions About My Journey

It is written in Proverbs that one should seek advice before taking on a project.  So, I selected four friends who hold Masters of Divinity Degrees (one has a D.Min) to give their input on the questions I have concerning the African-American church and Orthodox Christianity.  My questions are:

  • What have you learned about the church (Orthodox) in seminary?
  • Is there something about it that is dangerous or a threat to our protestant tradition (besides the fact that they don’t allow women in their clergy)?
  • What are the elements of their faith that we must absolutely reject?
  • Does their church have any relevance to the African-American community?

One thing about asking questions to the wise is that they will throw questions back at you.  So, this morning I will answer what has been put before me.

Footbridge at Sunset

What do I think is distinctively different between Orthodox Christianity and Christianity?  History is a glaring difference between the ancient church and the churches I see around me.  The history of my church only goes back to 1889 and my denomination to the colonial period of America.  Orthodoxy can trace its physical roots all the way back to the 12 apostles and the day of Pentecost.  Of course, true salvation depends upon faith and only God decides who will and won’t be granted into his eternal kingdom.  But, in a world of a new denomination (or non-denomination) being founded almost every other weekend (it seems), I think it is important that people know the original body of Christ still exist some 2,000 years since they were first called Christians in Antioch.  No preacher filled with his own sense of importance can just put on a collar and call himself “bishop.”  He must meet the standards and rise to the office.  Scripture is not interpreted by the opinions of popular theologians that lean to a political bias.  There is the long-standing tradition of interpretation from the colleagues and disciples of the New Testament writers and the writers themselves.  We tend to say what “my Bible says.”  But, had it not been for their church, we wouldn’t have a Bible since they were the ones who put it together over 300 years after they got started.  Yes, black American Christianity in particular and American Christianity as a whole has developed an authentic voice without the Orthodox Church among us.  But, the fact that the ancient church still exist and has this deep historic perspective should not be ignored.

What is appealing to me about the Orthodox tradition?  History is one thing.  Another would be monasticism.  The monastic tradition is honored in Orthodoxy, invisible in much of Protestantism, and doesn’t exist in the black church.  Too many of us Negro preachers are way off the chain when it comes to materialism and behavior.  Back in the day, Dr. Alix James used to tell seminarians to wear simple suits and little jewelry.  I have seen stuff in conferences and pulpits that make some pimps jealous.  Vow of celibacy?  Yeah, right.  Marital infidelity among American Protestant clergy is no secret.  According to the reports I have read on the subjects, the only difference between sexual abuse cases among Protestants and Catholics is that we prefer women over the age of 16.  I am sure the Orthodox Church has a few bad apples as well.  But, celibacy is a choice among its priesthood.  Giving up one’s earthly possessions is a time-honored lifestyle of faith that goes back to the second chapter of Acts.

Let me get personal.  My wife has bipolar disorder and muscular sclerosis.  Needless to say, I have been a celibate for the past seven years.  The reaction I get from Protestantism is more of gloom and despair as if my life depends on having a normal married sex life.  But, in the eyes of Orthodoxy, I am a blessed man.  I still have a wife to love and care for (which I do).  But, I am blessed because I have the challenge to overcome my natural desires (sometimes I wish he would bless someone else instead).  To a degree, I get to live the life of Paul, Saint Anthony (the father of monasticism), and other great leaders of the church.  As for a vow of poverty, I left a job at Dominion Virginia Power that gave me a very good salary and benefits package to substitute teach in King and Queen and West Point because the Holy Spirit told me to.  And though I am working year-round as a ranger at York River State Park, what I earn now is still a far cry from what I had and I don’t count it as a loss.

So, I see Orthodoxy as a rebellion against the excesses of Protestant America and those of the black church in particular.  But, I desire rebellion not for its own sake.  I have no heart to throw out the baby with the bath water.  There are elements about the church I was raised in that are well worth keeping.  Our story of faith in the midst of struggle as slaves and second class citizens, the spirituality of our hymns and praises, the form of our preaching; no, I am not prepared to put these things aside.  I am prepared to seek the truth from the ancient fathers and hold on the truth from my fathers.  That is why I am on the journey.

Two Paths: African-American Christianity and the Orthodox Church

Forgive me for not coming up with a better title for this.  But, I have an interest in both of these expressions of faith.  I am a product of the old slave religion that grew into the preaching power of Gardner Taylor and the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.  Yet, I can’t escape the fact that there is an unbroken line of the Apostle’s faith and teaching that still exist today.  Is there a dialogue between these two paths?  Surely there are differences as well as some similarities.  What does my church have to teach the ancient ones?  What can their fathers teach this son?  This is a topic I will work with for a few years, if not a lifetime.

http://orthodoxhistory.org/2011/06/22/abp-iakovos-opposed-civil-rights-demonstrations-in-1963/

I ran across this article earlier this morning concerning the Greek Archbishop Iakovos and why he earlier opposed public Civil Rights demonstrations.  In no way did he support the bigotry and segregation in America (not just the South).  But, he was opposed to the empty participation in marches without people making a true change of heart and mind.

 “Too often the demonstrators go home and say, ‘I did my part,’ but refuse to carry through. How many of them are willing to live with Negroes as neighbors, or give them a job or train them for a skill? In those areas lie the long-range benefits.”

I found the archbishop’s point not much different from that of Malcolm X as he also noted that people would march for the sake of grand performance rather than having the guts to search within themselves to make equality and justice a reality.  Both Iakovos and Malcolm would be in Selma, Alabama to give their support to the demonstration there.  Perhaps both men realized what was written in Ecclesiastes 3:1, There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.  The 1960’s were the time to march.  Iakovos did.  Malcolm perhaps would have been in a later march had his life not been cut short.

But, it is still time for us to have true racial harmony in this nation.  This is where Archbishop Iakovos’s words underscore the real problem with public demonstrations.  King made some similar observations in his works as well.  Participating in a public demonstration is too easily used as a cover for one not changing their hearts and minds.  Take the horrible events in Sanford, Florida for example.  How many people who are expressing sympathy for the cause and yet look on black youth with suspicion?  Indeed, how many blacks look at black youth with suspicion?

Black Protestantism and Orthodoxy have this point of agreement.  True change cannot be made by mass demonstrations, no matter how righteous the cause.  Such protest may be useful for a time.  But, unless people are willing to live as spiritual creatures that truly accept the value of one another, racism will be with us even when the “Whites Only” signs are taken down.

John Gresham

The Stones We Expect

… “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”  Mark 16:10

A Happy Easter to those of us in Western Christendom!  A Blessed Palm Sunday to all Orthodox Christians.  I will write more when I get back from Sunrise Service.  But, here is the sermon in a nutshell.

Deadfall Sunrise (© John Gresham)

Mark 16:3

THE STONES WE EXPECT

(Introduction) In his life’s ministry, we see Jesus having awesome power.

(Antithesis) Seeing him die on the cross, the women had faith enough to see where his powerless body was entombed.

(Thesis) The power of salvation goes beyond the stones we expect will block us from it.

(Relevant Question) What are these stones and why are they such a huge barriers between us and Jesus?

(Points)     1.  Our weakness

2.  Our low expectations

3.  Our lack of understanding

(Conclusion)  Those who are faithful to seek Jesus will witness the power of salvation over the stones.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Holy Saturday)

… “You see these great buildings?  Not a single stone will be left on another; everything will be pulled down.”  Mark 13:2

We are often awestruck by the things we make.  The disciples, some poor Galileans perhaps, couldn’t help but to note the enormity of Jerusalem’s skyline.  There is no crime in noting good craftsmanship or recognizing feats of labor and skill.  Yet, they tried to get someone greater than the city to be as awestruck as they were by it.  The “stone the builders refused” proclaimed an end to the ones that had been erected.

We make such fuss and fanfare over the things we build.  Skyscrapers to shopping malls are our landmarks.  Our homes are our castles.  Churches are being constructed as grandiose “worship centers” with every amenity we can think of.  Those who shepherd in such places can expect to be well housed themselves even as the one in whose name they preach had no place to lay his head.

Path to a Great Stone (© John Gresham)

We need buildings for everything.  Mega-churches are not inherently bad.  And pastors should receive compensation according to the church budget.  But, let us not be distracted by what we have made because it will all come down.  Even, dare I say especially, the things that we make for the sake of holy worship.  The disciples were raving about buildings while their master was about to be put in a grave.  So if Jesus was to be brought down, what is a temple?  The Hagia Sophia and Notre Dame are tourist attractions.  Other great churches of the east and west have fallen into rubble.  Likewise, our storefronts will be stores again while our “praise tabernacles” will one day meet the wrecking ball.

Only one that had been brought low was resurrected and done so with even more power than before the fall.  Only one was the temple that is the temple that makes us temples.  Only one can bring us to a city that can never be ruined by the will of man.  That city is built on the word of God.

Your Brother In Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

Seeking Thirst (Good Friday)

“I am thirsty.”  John 19:28

It would seem more reasonable that we seek refreshment than thirst.  Any trip to a convenience store or grocer will provide us with a wide range of beverages from upscale fine wines to bottled water.  Our consumption of high calorie sodas and juices is responsible for much of our diabetic and obesity issues.  In fact, often what we seek is not refreshment.  Rather we indulge in our taste which results in problematic consequences.

Living Water (© John Gresham)

Here we have hanging on a cross an innocent man who without proper clothing cannot enter 7-11 or Food Lion to buy a drink.  He has been unjustly condemned, brutally beaten, and assaulted with insults.  And now, after showing mercy to the woman who bore him, Jesus gives this one complaint of torment in John’s account of the Gospel.  “I am thirsty.”  I offer you tonight that the thirst of our Lord has nothing to do with not having change for a vending machine.  No, this thirst comes from completing the task God had for him and a desire to fulfill the word.  I challenge you that our true calling is not to over-indulge in this worlds offerings.  But, to seek Thirst.

Jesus knew that everything had now been completed.  He said all and done all he was called to do as the Messiah on earth.  He humbled himself to be baptized by one he could have baptized himself and kept wine at a wedding party.  His compassion went to a Pharisee and Samaritan woman who were willing to listen and learn.  Where there were ill and infirmed people, He gave healing.  Where some built walls with legalism, he tore them down with the word of love.  He proved that God gives life in resurrecting Lazarus, gave his disciples the example of faithful service, and has combined all of the lessons, love, and power into one simple sentence.  Jesus was thirsty.

The prophets declared his way would be made straight  by a voice crying out in the desert.  He offered living water so that no one would thirst again.  His food was to do the will of the one who sent him.  His very flesh became bread and blood became wine so that anyone who ate and drank of him would have eternal life.  Where as the religious authorities taught only from a handed down tradition, Jesus taught as he was the word, the word was with him, and the word was him.  And now the embodiment of the law, prophecy, and the pre-existing truth makes one last claim on the world that knew and received him not.  “I am Thirsty.

Thirst is the condition of completion and fulfillment of God’s will in our lives.  Too often we settle for foretaste of God’s glory in worship on Sundays, Wednesdays, or special conferences and concerts.  And yes, the foretaste is divine.  But, if we are to claim his name, we must aim for the same.  The true pursuit of Christ has nothing to do with our sporadic moments of “getting a praise on.”  We are called to complete his will in our lives.  That is to be done with the utmost diligence and persistence.  We are called to fulfill the word of God in how we live.  Not being moral fearing God’s wrath.  But, living in the Spirit because He is Spirit and gives his Spirit to dwell in us.

The point of thirst cannot be reached easily.  It requires us to be pierced with thorns and climb a difficult hill.  In spite of what we endure, we must still have compassion and seek the preservation of humanity even as ours has been shamefully mistreated.  And even still, the best the world can give us is sour wine.  Let us seek this thirst.  Those who are thirsty shall have a refreshment and restoration that the world cannot give and never take away.

John Robert Gresham, Jr.

Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church

Moderator, Pamunkey Baptist Association

PBA Division of Clergy Good Friday Service 2012

Rock Spring Baptist Church in Manquin, Virginia