Resurrection

Answers

A friend and sister in Christ gave surveys to the pastors of the Pamunkey Baptist Association.  Here are my answers.

On The Path (© John Gresham)

Pastor John Robert Gresham, Jr. – Trinity Baptist Church

Q:  What would you want your congregation to know about you?

A:  That I am a devout seeker of God’s will.  This seeking has led me to seriously study Orthodox Christianity.  I admire the history, spirituality, and tradition of the ancient faith and have incorporated many of its practices in my daily walk.  Orthodoxy has a lot to offer us and I share what I can in line with the Baptist faith.  Other than that, I love my congregation dearly and feel embarrassingly blessed to serve them on Sundays and everyday.

Why did you choose to be the pastor of the church?

I don’t think I had a choice.  God called me and Trinity’s pastoral search committee asked me not to go anywhere else.  I was hijacked (lol)!  But, I have always known of the faith and love at Trinity when Rev. James Carter was there.  I grew up in Baptist Liberty and often worshiped and worked with members of Trinity in PBA and BGC events.  So, I had a good idea of the congregation I would inherit (if it were God’s will).  When Rev. Carter retired, there was nothing negative about his legacy and service.  Good leadership was already  in place.  All I had (and still have) to do is serve and serve well to be accepted as the pastor.

What is one of the advantages of being the pastor?

“Ah-Ha” moments that result in changed lives.  When a person takes hold of something that I said in a sermon, lesson, or even a cook-out, and grows from it.  Sometimes they happen as soon the word is preached.  Sometimes they take longer.  But, to God’s glory, they happen.  In the meantime, I have to find joy in just planting and watering seeds.  The ultimate harvest belongs to God, not myself.

What is one of the disadvantages of being the pastor?

That’s an odd question.  As Christians on a whole, we are supposed to count all things as a joy.  I hate making mistakes.  I do struggle with procrastination.  It hurts to see the results of such failures.  But, with spiritual discipline, these things can be overcome as all things work out toward the glory of God.

Why is the Holy Spirit so important to the body of Christ?

Another odd question.  The Holy Spirit is, in the words of the early church fathers, “the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified” (Nicene Creed).  No Holy Spirit = no Trinity = no Christianity.  The Spirit comes to us from the Father to us and reminds us of the ways of the Son.

If you were the “PBA Preacher for the Month” and all churches gathered in your sanctuary –  what would you preach about?

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me”  (Matthew 16:24).  I fear that too many people today turn to Jesus to get stuff.  True discipleship means giving stuff up and taking up suffering for the sake of something better.  He is that something better.

How do you explain “The Trinity” to your congregation?

The baptism of Jesus is probably the best.  “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove alighting upon Him.  And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”  (Matthew 3:16, 17).

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life.”  How is this being done in your church?

Other than our regular Sunday School program, I give a very brief children’s sermon 3 out of 4 Sundays (I don’t do it youth (2nd) Sunday as I try to make the sermon oriented to them).  My children’s sermons are stories I make up based on the main sermon.  The kids feel included in the “grown up” service and it is a good prelude to the message.

Can you tell about an experience of God’s presence showing up in your congregation that was very powerful and overwhelming?

It shows up in all of our services in one form or another.  One time that truly moved me was a few years back when a friend of one of our members was shot in a hunting accident.  A few of the members called me and asked if we could have a special prayer service to ask God to heal him.  I don’t remember a lot of shouting and all.  But, the flow of compassion and concern for this young man who wasn’t a part of our flock was wonderful.  Days later, he was released from the hospital.  Our compassionate prayers were answered as we wished.  It was a bit foolish of me not to keep such prayer services going.

What is more important in your life than you?

The spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ on earth through love, truth, and spirit.

Write the word that comes to mind when you see these words.  (Feel free to answer as many as you like)

Pressure –  life in general                            Personal Sacrifice – self-discipline

Rejection –    preserver                                       Loneliness – maintain hope

Popularity –  fickle                                                Pride – dangerous

Disqualification – restoration                            Jealousy – unnecessary

Faithful –  discipleship                                         Inspirational –  Holy Spirit

Trustworthy –   truth                                           Approachable –  Jesus Christ

Forgiving –     merciful                                          Self-discipline – lifestyle

Decision Maker –  wise                                       Qualified – God decides

Successful Leader –   by who’s standard?        Motivator – self through love

Assuming Responsibility –   difficult but necessary      Follower – disciple

Are there any final words you would like to share with me?

Thomas gave a great description of what Christian discipleship is about in John 11:16, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  To follow Jesus means being willing to put a lot of things about us at risk.  No, it  means putting ourselves at risk.  Our dreams, goals, ideals, perceptions, preconceived ideas, traditions, and even our lives are to be placed as unimportant in comparison to being in the presence of God.  Sometimes this risk leads to an obvious happy ending (as in the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus).  Sometimes the happiness is indirect and leads to a greater glory (as in the case of the stoning of Stephen with Saul consenting in Acts 7:55-60).  Nevertheless, the risk must be taken.  I pray for the courage to take it.

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Friday): Reality Check

Then David took his staff in his hand, and chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook.  He put them in a shepherd’s bag to store away, and in his hand was his sling.  He then approached the Philistine.

I Kingdoms 17:20 (Orthodox Study Bible)

I Samuel  17:40 (Western Bibles)

Onward Wall (© John Gresham)

One of the great pitfalls of preaching is that we want to sound like someone else who is very popular.  In my recent e-mail exchanges with Archbishop Puhalo, I am reminded of lessons learned from the AME Bishop Adam Richardson about Prophetic Sermon Preparation.  I am called to preach with my own voice, the one God  gave me.  I have always admired the wisdom and sermonic pace of Gardner C. Taylor.  Other than him and perhaps one or two other “old school” preachers, I don’t try to follow anyone’s style.  Even with those giants of the pulpit, I am well aware of my limitations.  I lack all of their education.  I have tried from time to time, but, I cannot “whoop” (the expressive pattern of repetition and tone usually found in African-American preaching).  So, I tend to study the text that I am going to preach from for a couple of days, create an outline similar to the one described in my last post, and proceed to write a manuscript.

Call and Response worship is a hallmark of the Black American Church.  We preachers expect to hear some “Amens” during the sermon.  The problem is when we focus too much getting a response from the congregation and not enough on the content of our messages.  We wind up preaching stuff that is only meant to draw responses, or bury our good messages with an overabundance of response begging, especially toward the end of the sermon.  I confess, I like to hear some responses as much as the next preacher.  But, my task is to declare the Gospel without stroking the needs of my ego.

On Good Friday, seven ministers of the Pamunkey Baptist Association gave seven minute sermons on the seven final words of our Lord as he was being crucified.  My contribution to the service went over well enough.  It was brief (even shorter than my allotted time), insightful, and did get a response though not the loudest nor most enthusiastic.  But, this was a service and not a competition.  If I simply apply myself to crafting a good message under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I need not concern myself with time limits nor responses.  The advice I got from my former campus minister, Rev. Adrian Arnold, will be my guide for the pulpit, “Always be genuine in your faith.”

A Diary of the Apostle’s Fast (First Monday): Why?

Question:  Why does Christianity have such a bad name today?

Archbishop Puhalo:  The hypocrisy and bigotry of Christians.  The hypocrisy and bigotry we have is, first of all, to think that we have a special righteousness or holiness as Christians automatically simply because we are Christians without any real sincere work to transform our hearts and to transform our inner persons, to transform our being so that we come into accord with the moral imperatives of Jesus Christ rather than the moral laws that people have super-imposed on Christ.

From the documentary, “A Pilgrim’s Way” (0:32-1:10)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhQ98qolWTE

How sincere is the work we do to “transform our being?”  Do we simply look forward to baby Jesus on Christmas and observe the resurrection on Easter Sunday?  Or, does the Christian calendar have other special observances and practices to help guide us in our pursuit of God? The Apostle Paul taught that whether or not we observe particular days of worship is a matter of conscience and faith.  We Baptist observe the well-known holidays of Christmas and Holy Week.  Other than that, we feel the individual believer should be led by the Holy Spirit daily and that calendar observances are not required of anyone.

It is good to know where you are (© John Gresham)

As an avid hiker, I know the value of a good guide and well-marked trail.  Sure, GPS coordinates accurately give starting and destination points.  But, most units don’t include maps.  Maps point out scenic views, switchbacks, stream crossings, and other features on the trail.  Well written guides give info about wildlife, seasonal conditions, photos, and advice from those who have hiked the trail before.  Trail markers let you know that you are still on the right path.  Some indicate distance and if there are any other paths nearby.  Combine the guide and markers and the hiker has a better sense of where he is, what to expect, how to deal with it, and is better prepared to handle the unexpected.

I am using the prayers, feast, and fast of Orthodox Christianity with the Holy Spirit as my guide and trail markers.  I am not abandoning the church I was brought up in and serve as a pastor.  But, I recognize my need for clearer directions in my life’s journey.  The Orthodox calendar gives me greater indication of the value of the days and weeks of the year.  Fast are like those gruelling switchbacks along a mountain.  We’d rather not deal with them.  But, they help keep us from the risk of steep slopes of gluttony and over-indulgence.  Feast are like those wonderful summit views or valley streams to rejoice in the God that leads us in the journey of life.  Yes, I do lift up my own prayers.  It is also good to read those of saints who have successfully made the same journey.  It is also good to read the shared prayers of those who are also walking the same path.

I am embracing the Apostle’s Fast remembering the faith they spread throughout the world despite the horrific persecution and death that they suffered.  While God does give blessings, we should keep in mind that there can be no crown of glory without a cross of great suffering.  We should also note that the Gospel of our Lord is to be spread beyond our own communities and comfort zones.  The Holy Ghost empowers us to speak “someone else’s language.”  I pray that my fellow non-Orthodox Christians will join our brothers and sisters of the ancient faith and ether give follow the fast or pray for us who are on this leg of the journey as we all seek the same waters and summit.

No Greater Hell

… and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 24:51

But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.’

Matthew 25:11

And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:30

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. …”

Matthew 25:41

Crossing (© John Gresham)

Is there a worse version of hell than the descriptions Jesus gave to his disciples during the eschatological discourse?  Can the reasons for going to such a hell be more frightening?  Note, if you would, the ten virgins who were locked outside of the banquet hall being told by the bride groom, “Assuredly I say to you I do not know you.”  These women are left disowned and vulnerable.  The wicked servant fares no better being counted among the hypocrites for abusing his fellows and carousing with drunkards.  He and the virgins did not live in expectation for something greater.  They mistakenly believed they had plenty of time before being in the full presence of the bridegroom and master.  The unprofitable servant made no effort to increase the wealth the master gave him, not even to give the gift to those who could make some sort of profit.  He too goes to the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In these three examples, the graphic punishment is not some demon in a red suit armed with a pitchfork.  To be disowned by the Lord Jesus Christ and left vulnerable in great tears and agony goes beyond any sort of vengeful torture.  This is why the martyrs endured the wild beast, burning pitch, and other horrors of earthly cruelty.  They chose to die brutally rather than be separated from the source of life and life eternal.  And the source of life is to do well to one’s neighbor, practice self-control, increase love and spirit, and to anticipate a glory beyond what this world can give.

Indeed, to ignore the plight of the least of humanity is the apex of being separate from Jesus Christ.  The Lord identifies himself with the “least of these.”  The cursed are to suffer the same total separation as the ultimate rebels against God not because they committed some act of immorality.  They are punished for their lack of compassion and mercy.  Morality is good.  But, it is no substitute for the love that gave it’s self to our unworthy humanity for our salvation.  If we do not love likewise, we have missed the whole point of the crucifixion and resurrection.  If we miss the point, we will miss his return.   There can be no greater hell than that.

Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect

Matthew 24:44

Let us live in his presence believing that his greater glory will come.

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.

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