repentance

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.

 

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (First Friday): In & Walking

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1

Boat and Blade (© John Gresham)

There is a big difference between being in and out of a canoe.  In the boat, I am dry.  With my paddle, I am making progress to my destination.  Being out of the canoe means I am in the river soaking wet.  The paddle can do me little good until I get back in the boat.  There is a difference between walking on and off of the trail.  On the trail, I know my steps are secure.  Wild animals keep their distance knowing the regular human traffic.  When I am off of the trail, the ground is not as stable.  Venomous snakes build their homes where people don’t tread.  The canoeists who spends more time out of than in his boat cannot make an effective journey.  The hiker that spends more time off than on the trail puts herself at risk for getting lost and being bitten.  Anyone can capsize.  But, one must get back in the boat.  Anyone can stray from a trail.  But one must get back on it.

Here is where there is no condemnation; when we are in Christ Jesus and we walk according to the Spirit.  True faith is not “getting your praise on” for sporadic moments.  It is to constantly be mindful of the Lord who loves us so much that he gave his life for our salvation.  This is the boat that we progress in.  True faith is more than being a moral person.  It is to surrender one’s will to that of the Holy Spirit.  This is the trail we walk.  Be in and walk accordingly.

 

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.

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

“Many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”  Mark 10:31

I often believe that too many of my fellow preachers have slipped into stupid.  We have developed a culture of opulence seekers who constantly chase after the best seats, finest attire, most luxurious surroundings and we excuse this sad and pathetic pursuit as “seeking God’s favor.”  I can’t help but to wonder if we have paid any attention to the lives of the disciples and, more so, the one who taught them.

These men were not blessed by gaining anything of earthly material value.  Not Matthew, who may have been the wealthiest among them as a tax collector.  Not even the lowliest of the fishermen.  When Jesus said, “Follow Me,”  the pursuit of wealth and status for these men was thrown completely out of the window.  They all crashed in friends and relatives homes, ate whatever they could afford and made it stretch for thousands of unexpected guest, and had to borrow a donkey to go to Jerusalem.  Their lifestyle has little or nothing to do with Steve Harvey suits, chauffeur driven Bentleys, nor a fine hotel room at the conference (complete with cable TV to watch porno movies).  We have no right to criticize a secular world bent on greed when we who proclaim to be spiritual seek to wallow in status and wealth.

Dawn on the Pier (© John Gresham)

We are truly blessed and highly favored when we leave the things of this world behind.  If you mark your blessings and favor according to the stuff you get in this world, what does that say about what you will gain in the world to come?  Indeed, what does that say about your discipleship?  The disciples are to gain as much as a hundred times over for the earthly gain they had left behind.  The rich young man gained nothing as he was too attached to what he had to give it all up to become a disciple.

Every minister need not take a vow of poverty and live in a monastery.   But, we must reject the pursuit of opulence and be content with living simply.  Let us only take what is necessary for the journey.  For the reward God has for us in the eternal is greater than any “blessing” or “favor” we may receive in the temporal.

Your Brother in Christ

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

Ego is the Enemy of the Soul

 

I think we have seen too much fear and hatred recently.  In Afghanistan, Florida, and Kansas City people have died because of these things.  The disciples were no different.  Jesus shows us a better way.

Douthat Reflection (© John Gresham/Virginia DCR)

 

WHERE GROWN-UPS LACK GREATNESS

Mark 9:30-37

1.  introduction

  •  Twelve grown men gave up their livelihoods and lifestyles to follow Jesus.  This was noble and honorable
  • Their egos won’t let them be satisfied with being a part of the inner circle.  They discuss who is the inner of the inner circle

2.  Propositional Statement

  • We must adopt the characteristics of small children to truly serve Jesus and one another.

3.  Relevent Question

  • Why is the character of a small child superior to that of an adult in being a disciple?

4.  Points:

A).  Inquisitive

– grown-ups are often too fearful to ask God about the things they don’t understand (v.32)

– little kids are full of and never stop asking questions

B).  Trusting

– grown-ups resist the will of God when we find it upsetting (8:32)

– little kids trust those who love them

C).  Hopeful

– grown-ups can be timid about the will of God (10:32)

– little kids follow those who love them expecting something good at the end

5.  Conclusion

There can be no love and service as long as we are ignorant and  fearful.   Therefore, let us not stop being curious and joyful.

 

 

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

Elijah appeared to them with Moses and they were talking to Jesus.    Mark 9:4

Law and prophecy are important elements of any established religion.  One to set guidelines for moral behavior.  The other to give us the current and active voice of God.  The Jewish religion was firmly founded on these separate concepts.

Glory in Growth (© John Gresham)

After a few days from Peter’s correct definition and failed attempt of rebuking his mission, Jesus reveals the glorious supremacy of his divinity.  The Christ is the embodiment of law and prophecy.  He is the standard of righteousness and the current voice of holiness.  True faith must never separate the two.  A standard uninformed by a God who speaks at the present is stagnant and dying.  A constantly moving voice without a standard is easily misled to death.  Jesus is the foundation of Moses and the voice of Elijah.  He is complete.  The transfiguration confirms that he is purity, spirit, and the Son of God.  His very being is too great for us to bear.  His compassion allows us to draw near and follow him.  So much for Peter’s attempted subversion.  Alas for anyone who is ashamed of him.

If one’s walk with Jesus can be co-opted by human ideas or cast aside by worldly fear, the walk is false.  No, true faith sees the fullness of the mysterious power of God.  With reverent fear we are to embrace and follow Jesus as he is so much more than we can imagine.  His synthesis of law and prophecy is the reason we carry the cross.  His love and compassion gives us the strength to do so.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

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

“Get behind me, Satan!  You are thinking not as God thinks, but as human beings do.”  Mark 8:33

At this point, we Jesus not afraid of death.  He speaks about what he will go through openly with his disciples (perhaps not just the twelve).  In mentioning his death, he also makes it clear he will be revived.  So, even though his ordeal will be dreadful, he will rise victorious.

View of a Cliff (© John Gresham)

The same disciple who proclaimed him the Christ now seem bent on subverting his mission.  Consider that Peter doesn’t speak openly with Jesus, but pulls him aside to attempt to rebuke him.  It is hard to imagine one so great and holy to have to suffer rejection and execution.  Peter thought it nonsense that the Son of God should have to go through such trauma before triumph.

The hard rebuke Jesus gave to Peter was public for a purpose.  No one should assume to know better than God what his will is or should be.  Following Christ means a willingness to suffer.  It is a call to listen to the complete story that victory is the end for those who faithfully go through tragedy.

“And you say, brother preacher, that you want great power to move among men’s heart-strings.  You cannot have that without great sorrow.”

Gardner C. Taylor

Continue through your struggle in faith.  Where there is a cross, there is a crown.

Your Brother in Christ,

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 (Third Tuesday)

“Nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out of someone that makes that person unclean.  Anyone who has ears for listening should listen!” Mark 7:15, 16

There is a great concern among many about the outward appearance of religion.  That the rituals we perform in public are of an utmost importance.  Lent is a traditional time of fasting.  Those of us who observe it certainly don’t want to be seen with a barbecue sandwich in our hands or something else we are restricted from eating.  Strict observance of such dietary rules do not make us  any more worthy of salvation than those who don’t.  The discipline of fasting is a tradition we are free to accept and reject.  We walk by faith and not sight.  We all see food in front of us.

Higher Ground above fog (© John Gresham)

Vigilance against the things within us is not optional.  We all have capacity to think and act out evil.  Fasting from our unclean ambitions and urges is far more critical to our walk in the spirit than eating red meat after Mardi Gras.  If I were to eat a hamburger today, it will leave my system soon enough.  If I don’t indulge in such eating and exercise, there are no consequences to either my physical or spiritual health.  Lust is different.  It is not excreted from the bowels.  It leaves an imprint on our personhood that affects the way we respond to others.  By its very nature, lust demands more of who we are.  Relationships are broken, responsibility is cast aside, growth as a creature of spirit is stunted.  If left unchecked, it is acted upon in the worst ways.

Take upon whatever tradition you wish and do so in faith.  But, don’t let such things become more important that what we all must fast from.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene