Month: December 2012

Trinity Baptist Church, West Point

And when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.

Luke 2:15

From my favorite sermon from the renown Gardner C. Taylor, I know the value and challenge of going down into one’s own Gethsemane and climbing one’s own Calvary. In the words of this dean of African-American preachers, it is only when we have experienced the wound that only God can heal that we can truly know his power. Because of the bitterness, stress, and anguish associated with these places; not too many Christians are in a rush to go to a Gethsemane or Calvary. But, thank God, many of us come to our senses, deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow our Lord Jesus Christ and obey God the Father…

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Trinity Baptist Church, West Point

And It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.

Luke 2:1

In order to have his name mentioned in the pages of history, Caesar Augustus had to reform a tax system, establish laws for citizens and non citizens, create police and fire fighting departments in his capital city, win a civil war, expand territory, make peace with border nations, keep client states in check, and lead one of the world’s great empires into a great period of peace and prosperity.  All Joseph did was stood by the woman he loved. 

Today’s Sermon Topic: Under The Nose Of Human Glory

Luke 2:1-7

(Thesis) Cesar Augustus was very aware of the things going on in the Roman Empire and addressed nearly every situation.

(Antithesis) Yet, the Nativity of one greater than himself happened right under his nose.

(Propositional Statement) As…

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Trinity Baptist Church, West Point

As with 9/11 and the Virginia Tech shootings, we will remember where we were and what we were doing on Friday morning of December 14th, 2012.  We will remember how and what we felt.  Especially since this season focuses so much on children and families, the tragedy in the Connecticut elementary school is especially painful.  On behalf of the Trinity Baptist Church Family, I offer my deepest sympathies and devout prayers to all who have lost friends and loved ones.  Also remembering those who have been affected by other senseless losses in this time that is supposed to be for comfort and joy.  Through Christ, we can still have these great gifts.

Giving Reasons for Rejoicing

Luke 1:39-45

(introduction) Mary and her role in Christianity is debated by different churches

(antithesis) All three Christian perspectives agree that she had an extraordinary pregnancy (angelic announcement  vv.28-38, reaction of the unborn vv. …

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Guidelines For Witnessing To Your Baptist Friends

Guidelines for Witnessing to Your Orthodox Friends

1. Remember that salvation does not depend on works or on your association with a church. It depends on a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This relationship comes through faith (see Eph. 2:8-9).
2. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to reach the hearts and minds of those who are lost with the gospel message.
3. Share your testimony. Many Orthodox have never experienced a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Your testimony of what Jesus has accomplished in your life could have a great impact on them. Keep your testimony short. Avoid using terms that are unfamiliar to Orthodox, such as: “walked the aisle,” “got saved,” and “born again.”
4. Explain that you are certain of your salvation because of God’s grace. Make sure that you communicate that your assurance is derived from God’s grace and not from good works or your ability to remain faithful (see 1 John 5:13).
5. Give them a copy of the New Testament. Lead them to texts that explain salvation.
6. Avoid issues that are not central to salvation.
7. Keep the gospel presentation Christ-centered.

Taken from “4Truth.net” http://www.4truth.net/Eastern_Orthodox/

I have to thank my friend Sabrina Messenger for alerting me to yet another reason why I am considering converting to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Arrogance has to be one of the worst traits of the Baptist denomination (Q:  How do you tell a Baptist?  A:  You can’t tell a Baptist much).  While not all of us are narrow-minded toward other faiths, there is a tendency among our leaders to act as if everyone else is wrong without entertaining the idea that we could be wrong.  I find this attitude very disturbing when it comes to Orthodoxy.  How do we have a nerve to try to teach the Gospel to the church who put the books together and canonized them for us?  Are we to correct the likes of Ignatius and Polycarp about church doctrine when they were trained by the 12 Apostles?  Which Southern Baptist Convention president or National Baptist Convention USA Inc. (?) preacher gave the opening address at any of the Seven Ecumenical Councils?  We Baptist are products of the radical reformation, rebels against the first rebels (the classical reformers), against the most successful rebel (the bishop of Rome).  Having been so far removed from the foundation of the church, us criticizing Orthodoxy is like a junior high school basketball team playing against the Miami Heat.  So please, my Orthodox friends, be patient with us.  We have little exposure to you and too many of us already “know” that we are right.

Guidelines for Witnessing to Your Baptist Friends

  1. Remember that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).  Jesus requires disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24-27, Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:22-26), which clearly calls for disciplined effort. 
  2. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit will guide you to people who are sincere about learning Christian history and spirituality and will listen (Acts 8:26-39, John 6:66-68).  Have confidence in God when some people reject the truth (Matthew 13:14, 15, Mark 4:10-12, Luke 8:9, 10, Isaiah 6:9, 10)
  3. Let them see you work out your salvation in the model of Christ (Philippians 2:1-16).  Many Baptist have never befriended someone who prays The Hours, fast, and venerates icons.  The example of your lifestyle will have a major impact on them.  Don’t force them to kiss a large icon of the Theotokos.  Share with them basic examples of prayer that do not conflict with Baptist doctrine and practice.
  4. Explain to them that salvation is not to be taken for granted and that we must be mindful of how we live (Matthew 25:1-46) and that God can reject even those who have been called if they try to come into the kingdom on their terms instead of his (Matthew 22:1-14).  This is why Orthodox Christians observe the traditions of the church fathers handed down orally and written from the apostles as well as the Bible (2 Thessalonians 2:15, I Corinthians 11:2). 
  5. Explain to them that the church existed 300 years before the Bible came into being and that it was the Orthodox fathers that finalized the canon.  Ask them to compare your Orthodox Bible’s Old Testament to theirs (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
  6. Be humble toward them (Matthew 20:24-27).
  7. Remember, God alone judges a person’s confession (Luke 23:39-43).

 

Trinity Baptist Church, West Point

For with God, nothing will be impossible

Luke 1:38

Christmas (Holy Nativity) is a little over two weeks away.  This is a unique time for us to reflect on what it means to grow in God’s grace.  It is too easy to get caught up in the decorating, feasting, shopping, and other preparations.  But, I encourage all of us to set time aside to think about how mercy and redemption are not one time gifts that get broken or go out of style.  No, these are lasting gifts that are everlasting and bring us into unity with God and each other. 

Announcing the Birth of Perfection

Luke 1:26-38

(Introduction)  A virgin birth, once impossible in the ancient world, can now be done through modern medical science

(Antithesis) What man continues to fail to do is to make perfect people

(Thesis) Spiritual perfection is a process that can only come from God

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Dear Santa, please grow up and become St. Nicholas!

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

I Corinthians 13:11 (emphasis mine)

Not Santa Claus.  St. Nicholas

Not Santa Claus. St. Nicholas

Don’t get me wrong.  I think it is cool for toddlers and pre-school kids to learn about Santa Claus.  It is neat to have them write up their Christmas list and expect to see flying reindeer and all that.  The legend is useful to encourage good behavior (if not but temporary) and can be a stepping stone to teach children about virtues such as kindness, humility, charity, and hope.  Consider Santa, Rudolph, and others as training wheels on a bike.  Every child needs training wheels on a bike as they learn to ride.

Now, imagine how foolish a healthy teenager looks on a top class mountain bike with training wheels.  Or, how about an adult athlete high tech racing bicycle with such supports.  Except for those who have severe problems with balance or some other health issues, it is foolish older people to rely on training wheels.  And this is the problem with teens an adults who continue with a Santa Claus spirituality with no desire to grow up to one of St. Nicholas.

http://www.piousfabrications.com/2010/12/st-nicholas-of-myra.html

http://oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=103484

Who was St. Nicholas?  Read and listen to the links.  He was a Bishop (who could trace his ordination back to the Twelve Apostles) who served at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.   Here are a few highlights of lessons we can all learn from this great saint:

  • protect the honor of women
  • aid the poor
  • humbly avoid recognition for good deeds
  • do not act violently, even against falsehood
  • Christ and the Theotokos restores those who are faithful

Now, perhaps three and four year olds are better off not hearing about how a kind bishop kept three daughters of a poor man from becoming prostitutes.  But, why shouldn’t our 13 and 14 year olds hear this story?  Why is there a problem to recognize that the first “Secret Santa” helped to form Christian doctrine?  Is it that embarrassing to admit that even kind people have occasional anger management issues?  And why is it ungodly to talk about his story of redemp… .  Oh yeah.  We Protestants can’t quite seem to accept that “mother of God” thing.

We get upset when our little kids act like spoiled brats as their minds are so stuck on Santa Claus.  But, they will grow out of it.  Or will they?  Not if they aren’t taught to have a St. Nicholas spiritual outlook.  By constantly recycling an immature fantasy image of this good man that really did exist, we are producing 15 to 95 year old spoiled brats who still want stuff from an elf who lives in the North Pole.  “Keep Christ in Christmas?”  How can we when we make a mockery of one of his devout early followers and refuse to grow up in faith?

Let your kid send a letter to the fat guy in the red suit.  Be sure to leave some cookies and eggnog on a little table near the tree.  But, we who are of age need to ditch the training wheels of childhood fantasy.  This season (feast day is Thursday, December 6th), it would be a good idea for those of us of age to measure our lives to that of the real man of God.

 

Bringing Orthodoxy to the African-American Community: Some thoughts

I had a long conversation with my priest last week and he asked me if I had any ideas about how the Church might become more attractive to the African American community. Since I have never been “black enough” and have always had a tendency to go my own way, it was a question I really do not have an answer to.
My journey to Orthodoxy was partially engendered by my disgust with the name-it-claim-it, hyper-emotional, sometimes straight up heresy I was drowning in, among other things. I know that it was an intellectual pursuit for me that became a spiritual one as time and life went on. Most of my friends aren’t as bookish and inclined to research as I am. They also think the Orthodox Church is “boring” because there isn’t such an emphasis on the emotional showmanship. Others have issues wi…

th anything that might be remotely “Catholic” (although there is less of that these days because they know me).
One thing I said was that many of my friends have issues with the ethnic emphasis (or even the label on the sign) in many of the churches. They wonder if they will be welcome in a “Greek” or “Russian” church, and if they will speak English there. In the US Antiochian Patriarchate, Fr Nicholas said, Met. Philip has asked that signs downplay the  patriarchy name on signs in order to de-emphasize the “foreignness” for some seekers.
So…Anyone have any ideas? I would like to continue this conversation with Fr N and have something to bring to him.
Elizabeth Gatling from the Black Orthodox Facebook Page
A Russian Orthodox Icon (© John Gresham/ This icon is Blessed from the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad HIS EMINENCE HILARION Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York

A Russian Orthodox Icon (© John Gresham/ This icon is Blessed from the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad HIS EMINENCE HILARION Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York

This is a heck of a topic to address.  It is almost embarrassing as it seems that a faith that has had brown skinned bishops, priest, and saints since day one ought to be the most popular expression among those who celebrate Black History Month.  I can honestly say that, other than a couple of Ethiopian immigrants, I have never met a black Orthodox Christian.  Yet, our community is heavily religious.  So, the question of how do we make the faith more appealing to the African-American community is one that is bound to arise and should be addressed.  I have no silver bullet answers.  But, it will take effort from the church and blacks to bridge the gap with each other.
For the Orthodox, a little active evangelism to us would help.  And it isn’t that you must immediately try to shove the Divine Liturgy down our throats either.  But, making us aware of the Africans who helped develop Christianity is a great place to start.  In a lot of cities, there are major festivals and get-togethers where vendors can sell art and books.  Sell some icons of St. Moses, Cyprian, Athanasius, Mary, and the like.  Develop some brochures about the black saints that you honor on your calendar.  Books about the Desert Fathers would sell.  A homecoming at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) would be an evangelistic gold mine for Orthodoxy.  Our folk will spend (Lord knows we spend) money on anything for the sake of “cultural awareness.”  Get the material in our hands and let the Lord take things from there.
And since I brought up the topic of HBCUs, it wouldn’t hurt to send a priest or deacon to one of our campuses on a weekly basis to develop a ministry among the students.  I have seen a lot of students get up in charismatic ministries and get ruined by them.  I was almost a victim as well.  Thankfully, the Southern Baptist Convention invested in a campus ministry intern that gave me good guidance.  College students tend to be more open minded and will accept nearly anything that is Afrocentric, or different than the falsehood they see around them.  Some wouldn’t mind the disciplines of prayer and fasting if they know it is for their spiritual benefit.  Various Islamic sects found converts on campus during my years at Virginia State University (1985-89) and I was accosted by 5%ers at Virginia Union University (a Baptist school) once.  Just show up and someone will come to you and listen.
Hosting events that celebrate African-American culture would help as well.  How about a concert of traditional Negro Spirituals after the Divine Liturgy during Black History Month?  While I would never advocate putting “Mary, Mary’s” latest single into the Divine Liturgy, our music tradition is not that distant from Orthodox doctrine (you had the period of martyrdom, we had slavery).  Get a couple of your bishops and best choir directors to meet with some of our knowledgeable musicians and put together a quality function.  There are some of us who are willing to take a serious look at Orthodoxy.  Just bring it to where we are.
Now for my folk, drinking two or three full glasses of OPEN YOUR MIND will help.  St. Cyprian Orthodox Church (I think they were ROCOR before they became OCA) was in Northside Richmond (VA) for many years in a house before they built their new building in Powhatan County (which does have a rural black population).  Black families should have done more than just peek in the door  and leave (I ain’t seen none of us in there, so I didn’t think we were welcome).  Negroes Please!  Look at the icons.  Read who their saints are.  Greeks, Russians, Serbs, etc.,  they may not be NAACP members.  But, their ancestors weren’t in the KKK either.  Even converts (the ones I’ve met) put their traditional American racial stereotypes behind them.  Orthodoxy may not be perfect.  But, neither are we!
And don’t give me that excuse about worship style either.  For every verse in the Bible (you know, that book that the Orthodox was nice enough to put together for us) about praising God with loud voices, there is another about being silent and meditative in his presence as well.  Perhaps it would do our community some justice to become liturgical worshipers rather than spend Mega-money on Mega-conferences so that Mega-celebrity preachers with Mega-titles can live in Mega luxury.   The fact that so many of us believe in these shisters  when we ought to know better is turning many in my generation and younger away from organized Christianity all together.  I am not saying we all ought to convert to Orthodoxy the first time we attend a Divine Liturgy.  But, if the church is making the effort to seek us, we ought to return the favor by attending for a few weeks to a month and see the history and spirituality of this ancient faith that our African ancestors helped to organize and die for.
“So Rev., when will YOU convert?”  As a member of the St. Philip’s Prayer Discipline, I am under the guidance of an Antiochian priest.  Fr. James Purdie has told me that I don’t need to rush.  My Baptist congregants and colleagues have not put me under interrogation despite the fact that I have not hidden my journey from them.  I do expect that I will reach the “tipping point” sooner or later.  In the mean time, I am just making sure that my steps are firm.  I pray that I will make the right steps at the right time.  The only thing as bad as making a move too soon is moving too late.  My only prayer is that the Lord makes a way for me to provide for my wife.