healing

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Wednesday): The Mind

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Romans 8:6

My Icon Corner (© John Gresham)

How many clichés and quotes are there that teach that a man will wind up where his mind is?  My late grandfather-in-law and mentor, Rev. Carter Wicks, used to say that “A Man Is His Mind.”  If his and other similar words are true, I think it pays for us to do more than periodical reality checks.  We need daily monitoring and adjusting.  Because there are so many strong temptations to keep us thinking about the things of the world rather than the things of God.  This is not to say that we should all become strict monastics and leave everything we have to live in a cave the rest of our lives for the sake of prayer and contemplation.  But, unless prayer throughout the day becomes a part of our lives, we risk our faith eroding into spiritual uselessness.

I am not simply talking about the obvious sins that hold us down such as lust, anger, hate, greed, and the like.  Anything that separates us from the love of God and love for our fellow-man is carnal.  Take politics (and throw it in a cesspool where it belongs), conservatism and liberalism are two sides of the same coin of our need for earthly government.  We will all take a different stance from one another for various reasons.  But, in order for a coin to have any value, it has to have both a head and tail.  Both sides must work in cooperation with each other.  Due to the presence of wealth and winner-take-all power hyped up by the likes of Fox and MSNBC, we have harsher polarizing arguments than constructive agreements.

What saddens me is that Christianity is buying into this earthly coin and the argument that we must staunchly defend one side or the other.  As people of this nation, of course we will have opinions of which direction this nation should take.  But, we who have been given the Gospel of God’s redeeming love should never give into vilifying those whose political opinions do not match our own.  If anything, we should be a mediating force between (no, above) the right and left and seek Godly solutions to our national, state, and local problems.  As Martin Luther King Jr noted in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” rather than being a thermostat that controls the temperature in a house, the church has become a thermometer that only measures and reflects the temperature.  And when we spend more time reflecting our chosen sides rather than seek after something of far greater value, we make ourselves useless (and sometimes harmful) to the Gospel.

So, to my brothers and sisters to the left and right, I make this suggestion.  For every minute you spend watching Fox News or MSNBC, spend a minute and a half in honest and sincere contemplative prayer.  For every moment listening to Beck or Maddow, spend a moment and a half in self-reflection in light of the Lord who created and loves both equally.  Most of us who are in our 40’s have, perhaps, another 30 to 40 years to call ourselves Americans.  Where we go after that depends on where we have put our minds.  If we have set our minds on earthly divisiveness and strife based on one side or the other of a political coin that will eventually be destroyed, that is where we can expect to spend eternity.  If we have set our minds on seeking spiritual purity and loving others, we will be in that place of eternal wholeness.

 

Each One An Icon

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness, … .’   So God mad man. in the image of God He made him; male and female He made them.

Genesis 1:26, 27

How foolish I am!  How can I venerate and give honor to the saints on the wall and not show like love to the person on the street?  How dare I honor the Holy Theotokos and harbor lust for the girl I did not marry? 

What is a holy icon but a window and portrait of God’s greater glory?  Was it not by the hand of the painter that we have these windows?  Perhaps by the skill of a wood-carver and other craftsmen that we possess such items as reminders of the love of our Lord?

And yet God made the perfect icon when he made men and women.  In his image and likeness we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  With his breath of life we are all living souls.  Here is the icon I should honor and kiss in holiness.  Here is the image I should hold as evidence of God’s compassion and mercy.

Yet this is the icon that I hold in contempt.  I suspect it a thief and liar.  I condemn it for its flaws and imperfections.  I abuse it as a toy only fit for my pleasure and whims.  This icon which was not made by a man’s hands.  This image of God and made by God.  This likeness of which I am.  I am their brother and I have shown them fear, hate, and lust. 

Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!  I am the chief of all sinners! 

Forgive my calloused thoughts and harsh words toward my fellow-man.  May the power of the Holy Spirit cleanse my heart and mind of wicked desires.  Let me hold high the value of each man, woman, boy, and girl.  We are the icons that you made.  Let us honor and love one another as such.

Avoiding Adultery

Adulterers and adultresses!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

James 4:4

Perhaps one of the biggest misunderstandings we have in the Christian faith is that we look at our relationship with God too much in a legalistic way.  We tend to be, in the words of Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Old Testament Christians who are stuck on obeying commandments.  Yet, Jesus and the apostles taught that the relationship between God and the church was spousal  with Christ as the bridegroom and the church (and individual believers) as the bride.  Our responsibility then is not morality for the sake of legalism.  We are called to seek intimacy with the faithful and loving Christ who sacrificed himself so that we may draw closer to him.  Here in the text, James is not so much concerned about husbands and wives cheating on each other.  The issue is our cheating on God by linking our souls with worldly concerns instead of seeking the fullness of our marriage to him.

Forty-Five Years of Marriage (© John Gresham

 

AVOIDING ADULTERY

James 4:1-9

Introduction

  • The wrong friends can poison a marriage
  • James addresses the poison in the church’s marriage to God

Propositional Statement

  • When we accept worldly ways of pursuing earthly power and pleasure, we become adulterers and adultresses as much as, if not worse than people who cheat on husbands and wives

Relevant Question

  • How do we avoid this form of adultery?

Points

  • 1.  Resist pride (v.6, 7)
  • 2.  Draw near to God (v.8)
  • 3.  Pursue Purity (v.8)

Conclusion

  • God the Father is Spirit and has given us his Holy Spirit.  Therefore we are enabled to have the fulfilling spousal relationship with him through the gift of Jesus Christ.  We must choose between adultery with the world or spiritual intimacy with him.

 

 

The Corruption of Prayer

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  …  humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.     – James 4:3, 10

The first and foremost function of prayer is to connect our hearts, minds, and souls to God.  We may intercede on behalf of others who are ill or in danger.  We can offer up our petitions of practical need.  We may even give God the praise and thanksgiving because He is who He is.  These other purposes for prayer are useful and are based on scripture and tradition.  There is nothing wrong with and we very well should speak to God of these things.

Of Moss, Stone, and Water (© John Gresham)

But, I have heard a bit of wisdom that stems from higher education.  One should not major in minors.  It is important that we seek the Lord to change a drug addicted friend, heal an illness, and give him the glory.  But compared to the first and foremost function of prayer, all other reasons we have for going to the throne of grace are not as significant.  To place one of these lesser purposes ahead of the true point is to corrupt the spiritual communication.  Such corruption can only lead to dangerous and deadly consequences.

In our most sincere prayers for the recovery of someone’s health, what if God does not allow the person to recover?  What if that person either lives for many years uncured or dies?  If one has a prayer life founded and rooted in being connected with the Lord, such suffering can not only be endured.  One can even find great spiritual meaning in the struggle. The Apostle Paul was denied relief of his thorn as the Lord revealed to him the greater truth of grace.  The faithful increase in faith because of a prayer life that majors in its true purpose.

Unfortunately, too many people do not have such a prayer life.  Prayer is treated only as an infrequent exercise to be done only as a need arises.  A quick mutter of thanks for a meal or getting through some task or another.  It is certainly to be done at church.  When the minor (yet important) prayers go (seemingly) unanswered, what becomes of those who are not founded and rooted in communication with God?  Hopefully, someone who is more spiritual will guide them in the direction of true faith and they will heal and become stronger.  But with the decline of church attendance, most become more skeptical of the existence of a compassionate and loving God.

To make matters worse, too many clergy sell prayer as a means for people to get what they want.  Gospel artist sing of such encouraging people to “believe it and receive it.”  Tele-evangelist market “breakthroughs” for a “seed offering” of $273.00 (yes, I heard one of these hucksters say this amount).  The person who majors a the minor purpose of prayer buy the sales pitch, often with great sincerity.  The minor purpose goes (seemingly) unfulfilled.  The unfortunate soul that does not find someone of sound spiritual practice will either continue to wander mindlessly through the marketplace of false doctrines, or become a greater atheist than Darwin’s theory of evolution could produce.

Do not major in the minors.  Offer up intercessions, petitions, and thanksgivings and scripture and tradition encourages us to do.  But, let us constantly seek a prayer life that keeps us in constant communion with God.  This is the first and essential purpose and goal of prayer.  Not sporatic mutterings, but a constant way of being for the soul.

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

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Sixth Friday)

“Call him here.”  Mark 10:49

Out of that great crowd, Bartimaeus received his sight.  A couple of things strike me about this text.  Firstly, is the mercy Jesus has for the man.  Others scold Bartimaeus for crying out to him.  “How would he know Jesus since he has never heard his voice and certainly hadn’t seen him before?”  “Bartimaeus is blind, but at least he gets a few coins begging on side of the road.”  “He should be quiet and accept his lot in life.”  Jesus listened past the critics and heard the faith of a man who wants restoration.  The will of God cannot be dictated by nay-sayers who wish to keep the status quo.  The mercy of our Lord looks past such callousness with great compassion.

New River State Park (© John Gresham/Virginia State Parks)

Also, Bartimaeus calls out in hope when hope makes no sense.  How would Jesus hear his voice over the crowd?  Why should such an important man pay him any attention?  People gave money to beggars on the side of the road.  So, why should he want to change his lot?  Bartimaeus had a real need that could only be solved by real faith.  A faith that goes beyond obstacles and opposition.  A faith that only ask for the root need.  He didn’t ask for wealth nor a wife.  Bartimaeus only asked for pity and his sight.

Let us have faith in a God who is able to restore us.  To bring us to a condition to live abundantly.  We have obstacles that would prevent us from this gift.  We have opponents that say we ought to be content with where we are.  But, let us have the faith that overcomes these.  If we do, some in the crowd will speak to us in a different tone.  “Courage.  Get up; he is calling you.”  Indeed, the compassion of Christ knows no boundaries and hears past those who try to set them.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

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

“… Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.”    Mark 9:49

If the truth is being taught, does it matter who is the teacher?  Isn’t falsehood a far greater problem than honest teachers who aren’t part of our clique?  And why be concerned about the good someone else is doing when one must seek good for themselves?  Again, the disciples were concerned about their petty positions of greatness.  Jesus is far more concerned about the purity of their message.

Great Blue Heron (© John Gresham)

We must be disciplined to avoid the things and situations that lead us into temptation.  Yes, the Holy Spirit does lead us to a place of testing from time to time.  Angels are there to minister to us when we are there.  But, when we put ourselves in such places and times, we leave ourselves without an aide except for sincere repentance.  God forgives.  But, we are not to put him to the test.  If others see us testing God with our undisciplined lifestyles and are led astray by it, we are no better than the willing deceivers who seek whomever they can destroy.

Salt is the character of the Spirit that prevents rotting and prepares for healing.  Fire is used to test and separate pure precious metal from dross.  If we careful to spend time seeking self purification rather than trying to silence brothers and sisters who are doing a good work, the good of the Gospel can be seen by all.  Seen because of direct evidence of good works and miracles.  Seen because of indirect evidence of Godly lifestyles.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Monastic Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Fifth Thursday)

… “I have faith.  Help my lack of faith!”   Mark 9:24

The boy’s father is so much like most of us today.  Our distress seems incurable.  Our ailments are traumatic and have lasted for years.  The best representatives of God fail us.  Thus, when we are in his presence, we don’t expect much.  We believe in Christ.  But, we have been accustomed not to expect much.  Marriages fail, addicts relapse, friendships remain broken, goals are unfulfilled, and hope is dashed to pieces because we have been accustomed not to expect much.

Cleat on the Creek (© John Gresham)

Jesus gives rebuke and retort with restoration in this case.  He bemoans faithlessness.  Not just the father, disciples, and scribes.  The entire generation is criticized for lack of faith.  A blind man believed with no doubt.  So did a lame man who may or may not have been seeking a physical healing.  Yes, Jesus was merciful and healed the son.  But, mercy should not be taken for granted.  We must come to the presence of God believing in him for who he is and that he is able.

Along with faith, let us also be dedicated to the power granted to us through prayer and fasting.  A disciple must be disciplined to grow in communion with God and be disattached from the things of this world.  Faith alone may be enough for some peace in mind.  But, without strong communion with God and disattatchment from the world, adverse spirits will confound us.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

Don’t Blame the Serpent

Why do we sin?  Why is Paul right in saying that when I want to do good, wickedness is always present?  We used to say, “the devil made me do it.”  Truth is that the real blame lies more in who we are as humans.  We are images, flawed imitations of the original.  Fortunately,  the Original has blessed us with a means to make up for our deficiencies and to seek a more complete way of life.

Pier Beyond (© John Gresham)

 

STOP BLAMING SNAKES

Genesis 3:6

1.  Introduction:  Don’t blame the snake

The snake is only subtle, not forceful (3:1)

It could only spit game, not force anyone to play

We may have bad influences, but it is our choice to act

2.  Propositional Statement:  Because we are created only in the image of

God, we are subject to make wrong choices.

3.  Relevant Question:  What is it about human nature that leads us into

making wrong choices?

4.  Points:

A)  Want of sustenance

– she wasn’t hungry, she just wanted

– control what you want like Jesus did

B)  Sensual delight

– she relied on a sense without sense

– good sense gives protection

C)  Ambition for betterment

– desire without divine direction

– always seek divine destination

5.  Conclusion:

Human nature is a life that leads to death.

– flawed communion with each other

– broken relationship with God

Spiritual nature is a life that leads to eternal life

– Jesus was human enough to live among us

– Jesus was divine enough to live beyond us

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Fourth Thursday)

And Jesus ordered them to tell no one about it, …  Now there had been about four thousand people.  He sent them away and at once, getting into the boat with his disciples, …  Mark 7:36, 8:9, 10

Dr. Alix B. James used to teach seminarians at Virginia Union University to wear simple colored suits and ties when preaching.  The only jewelry we should have on us include a class ring, wedding band for the married, and cuff links if needed.  His point was that we should not draw attention to ourselves, but put the attention on God.

Rev. Evans C. White (@ John Gresham)

Jesus does not seek the praises and attention of the crowds nor the people he heals.  He could have easily made a disciple out of the former deaf-mute and created a small army of the thousands he fed with what could feed only two or three men.  By his very power though compassion he was going to draw crowds anyway.  Speaking truth through love gained him audiences.  But his only role was to do the will of the Father who sent him.  He moves with those who believe in and diligently follow him.

We who preach the Gospel are sometimes tempted to become spectacles rather than servants.  Popularity among people means as much, if not more, than fulfilling the unique calling God has given us.  Let Jesus be our standard.  When our lessons, miracles, sacrifices, and victories surpass his; we should present ourselves as we wish.  Until that time, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us to draw attention to the one who deserves all of it.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene