Second Life

Journey Into Great Lent (Day Eight): Reliance on God

Forgive me for not writing every day.  There are times when it is best to keep quiet.  Drinking a couple of glasses of “SHUT UP AND LISTEN” tends to help me stay out of trouble.  I am an African-American Baptist Pastor and serious inquirer of Orthodox Christianity.  I am in enough trouble as it is :)!

We Protestants do make attempts at fasting during Lent such as giving up one or two food items during the week.  For us, it is a form of self-discipline in honor of the fact that Jesus gave his life on the cross for our salvation.  Thus, we should give up something as well to show our loyalty and devotion to him.  It isn’t uncommon for older denominations to hold special Lenten services as well.  For my denomination, giving up something for 40 weekdays before Easter is a new practice that is not shared by everyone.  Some of us piously state that we are fasting from fasting.  Such an attitude shows ignorance of the scriptures, Christian history, and an unwillingness to walk with God in humility.  Those who fast only from caviar, lobster, too much salt, or too many sweets are merely mocking true faith as they can’t afford these things economic and healthwise.  But, for those of us who do put aside meats (and other items) as part of increasing attention on Christ in prayer and almsgiving to celebrate our Lord’s Resurrection, sincere steps are greatly rewarded.  Those who by medical restrictions can do only a limited fast can still increase their prayers and works of love to others.

Cyprian Bluemood.  My Seond Life avitar.

Cyprian Bluemood. My Second Life avatar.

One of the key purposes of keeping the Great Lenten Fast (and every other fast in the Orthodox cycle) is to remind us of our reliance on God.  It is easy to forget about His divine providence when we are bombarded with super-sized fast food offerings, all you can eat buffets, and cooking shows (aka “food porn”).  Food, especially when well prepared, is a good thing and necessary for our survival.  Our problem is that we indulge in the stuff, frequently the most unhealthy forms of it.  We use it as a status symbol as we boast about what restaurant we went to, what we ordered, and what we cooked on the grill (OUCH!!!!!  That was my right foot).  We tend to eat for reasons of comfort or to hide from issues that are better solved by prayer and wise counsel.  So, eating is both a basic need and a gateway that brings out our arrogance, selfishness, and self-reliance.  It is no wonder why the fall of man was brought about in this ungodly fashion:

So when the woman saw the tree was good for food, was pleasant to the eyes, and the tree beautiful to contemplate, she took its fruit and ate.  She also gave it to her husband with her and he ate.  (Genesis 3:6)

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ succeeded where Adam & Eve failed.  He was reliant on the Father to see him through his period of total self-denial (at least Adam & Eve could have indulged in everything else).  As He replied to the greatest of serpents:

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”  (Matthew 4:4)

With the reliance on God rather than his ability to satisfy his belly, Jesus was able to walk in humility (“Do not tempt the Lord your God.”), complete obedience (“You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.”), properly use the scriptures to His faith (“It is written …” ), and rebuke the tempter (“Away with you, Satan!”).  Fasting is a vital key in imitating Christ. 

This is why the early church fathers gave directions on keeping the fast.  Firstly that it is not a legalistic requirement for salvation, but a wise practice in spiritual growth.  The very young and old, ill, and pregnant and nursing women need not fast.  If in a strange land and someone shows hospitality, eat what is given to you.  Eat grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables (since shellfish were considered trash at the time, they are permitted) for the sake of basic health.  But, do not indulge with even these simple foods.  Avoid all meats, dairy products, fish with a backbone, olive oil, and wine.  On a feast day in the midst of a fast, the latter three are permitted.  With the dietary directions, increase the time spent in prayer.  With money that would have been spent on expensive food, give to those in need.  Jesus destroyed the power of death by his death.  By His resurrection, we have hope to be children of the heavenly Father.  As He prepared for His earthly ministry, let us likewise show our reliance on God by keeping the fast.

To my fellow Protestant believers, our Easter celebration is right around the corner.  We have a right to be joyous and eat well.  There is no need for us to all the sudden try to keep Great Lent this year.  But, read and learn about Orthodoxy and what the church says about fasting throughout the year.  Meet and make friends with a priest or devout believer (bishops are cool too) and let them explain how keeping the fast helps them in their walk with the Lord and is a part of their overall journey.

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Third Tuesday): Cyprian and Nicodemus

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, …

John 3:1, 2

The Path (© John Gresham)

Before I began to seriously consider Orthodoxy, I was drawn to St. Cyprian of Carthage.  First of all, I thought the name sounded cool and I was proud of the fact that he was an African.  I have an icon of him (I printed from an online image) beside the computer in my study at home as a reminder to avoid pornography websites.  I began to watch websites that talked about how horribly the women are treated in the industry and have no desire to indulge in it again.  I never prayed to the icon (as Orthodox and Catholics are falsely accused of).  Nor did I even think to venerate him, unless naming my Second Life avatar after him and living as an Orthodox monk was a way of paying him deep respect and admiration.  The icon was there when the Holy Spirit freed me from that sinful desire.  Thus, I consider Cyprian as one in the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1, 2) that interceded for me.

As I have become increasingly diligent about the ancient faith, I am seeing myself in the light of another in that cloud whose walk with Jesus is a forerunner of mine.  Nicodemus was a well-trained religious authority.  He had status and clout among the Jewish hierarchy and as long as he towed the party line, all would be well with him.  But, he met this man who had kicked over the money tables, did a number of signs, gave a strange answer of his authority, and didn’t set up a clique to rival the Jews right then and there.  Instead of dismissing the rabble-rouser, this Pharisee and Priest saw that he must have been sent by God, asked questions, and listened.  He would later be rebuked by his colleagues for suggesting that the Galilean be fairly investigated before being completely denounced.  At the burial of the Crucified One, he brought one hundred pounds of aloes and myrrh.  In some Christian and Jewish traditions, Nicodemus was martyred for accepting Jesus as the Messiah.

I am a Baptist among Baptist.  My certification of studies comes from one of the most respected African-American seminaries.  I have pastored for 15 years and serve as a Moderator of a local association.  I now serve on a state-wide commission for evangelism.  If I play by the rules and work my contacts in high places (and finish my M.Div.), my star could rise in the Baptist faith.

But, I saw this faith that gave the world the first confession of Jesus and compiled the Bible.  This faith that never considered skin color to be a badge of racial supremacy nor inferiority from the time they were first called Christians.  This faith that gives guidelines in pursuing a spiritual life and becomes a way of life.  I am observing Orthodoxy the same way Nicodemus observed Jesus.  The more I see, listen, and understand; the more I accept it.  Because of my position, I cannot follow the faith right now.  There will come a time of conversion.  I pray that when that day comes, that I will have the courage to do it, even if it means martyrdom.

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

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

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”    Mark 12:14

Standing on the Seat (© John Gresham)

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  A scribe listened carefully before putting his question to Jesus.  His question was sincere with no ulterior motives.  He asked for the true source and not trivial matters.  And when he heard truth as the answer, he confirmed it from what he knew.

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  When we stop assigning Jesus to a particular human line and accept him as the Savior.  If the anointed King of Israel is subject to one greater than himself, we must not limit the Christ to any border or boundary.

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  When we who lead refuse to do so for the sake of honors and power positions.  We are called to reject gain from the powerless.  No amount of prayer can hide such exploitation.  Such self-serving hypocrisy decisively separates us from the presence of God.

What puts us close to the kingdom of God?  When we give all we have out of poverty.  To give out of luxury is no great feat.  To sacrifice when poor shows great faith.

Lent is coming to a close.  Easter and Pascha are approaching.  But, the kingdom of God is near.  Let us always draw near to it.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

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

… “Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar-and God what belongs to God.”  … Mark 12:17

… “Surely the reason why you are wrong is that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”  Mark 12:24

Two forces tend to assault our walk with the Lord as much as any sin.  Those who wish to dominate faith by conspiring with a political establishment and those who hold to a an earthly standard of the heavenly existence.  The trap the Pharisees and Herodians set for Jesus was especially odious.  But, it shows the weakness of religious legalism.  It can and will attach its self to whatever earthly authority to gain an advantage.  Just as Jesus did not bow down to Satan for the glory of any kingdom in this world, so we are not to live by a faith of earthly legalism.  We are to live spiritually and seek entrance in the kingdom of God.  We must stand on the true objective of the Spirit and not fall into the traps to the left and right of us.  The Sadducees were no better.  They believed that God’s kingdom was built on human tradition and contracts.  No, says Jesus.  The word of God is life.  No genealogy can give such a gift.  Only faith in the Son whom the scriptures and the Spirit speaks of gives life abundant and eternal.

Cleat and Beyond (© John Gresham)

Avoid the earthly interpretations of human arrangements in the walk with Christ.  Political, religious, and social authority do not enhance our souls.  Instead, they enslave them to ideologies and stereotypes.  Such souls are no better, and perhaps worse, than crack-heads and junkies.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simo of Cyrene

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

“He will come and make an end of the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”  Mark 12:9

Shame on those who are righteous in their own eyes!  God has done so much for his people.  Giving us his compassion, mercy, spirit and vision.  Our only requirement is to produce the fruit that he has planted inside of us for his glory.  We are to share in his glory.  But, we cruelly reject those who God sends calling us to show the good fruit we have produced.  And to add final insult, we even kill his own son for the sake of our glory.

Mad River (© John Gresham)

Have you ignored, trashed, or even killed a prophet?  Someone who has told you time and time again to do what is right, to love loyalty and to walk humbly with your God?*  Still worse, are you among the crowd shouting, “Crucify him,” toward the one who came not to be served, but to serve?”**  God wants from us what is rightfully his.  To deny him our lives committed to love, truth, and spirit and to reject those who remind us to do so makes us no different from the accusers, mockers, and the ones who nailed him to the cross.  We should not be surprised on the day of judgement that as we suffer outside of the gates that those whom we mock and despise will dwell eternally in the presence of the one we claim to serve.

Let us welcome the prophets.  Let us welcome Christ.  Let us show God the fruit of Holy Spirit filled lives.

Your Brother in Christ

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

*Micah 6:8

**Mark 10:45

 

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

“And when you stand in prayer, forgive what you have against anybody, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your failures too.”    Mark 11:25

The second and third entrances in Jerusalem had no parades nor fanfare.  We instead see a somewhat cruel use of power (the cursing of the fig tree), defiant rabble-rousing (the expulsion of the traders from the temple), and a logical defeat of the opposition (the authority of Jesus questioned).  Coupled with the concept of having a personal relationship with Jesus, some Christians act as if we are thus granted to act as he had during the Jerusalem ministry.  No doubt that we must speak of holy displeasure and speak truth to power.  But, Jesus gives us a caveat to our no doubt in his hear, but believing that what he says will happen, and believe you have it already and it will be yours. 

Rev. Sylvester Bullock (© John Gresham)

The fig tree was a sign that the Jews should have had fruit of the Spirit ready for the Messiah at his very presence.  Cursed to all who are beholden to such law and tradition.  The point was made further as the worship was corrupted by money-changers in the temple and a clerical leadership that failed to acknowledge the Spirit of God among them.  These are the mountains that we must pray, in faith, will be cast into the sea.  But, we must also pray in forgiveness.  If we make such prayers with this element of mercy, mercy will be shown to us who also stand in need of it.  For we all fail to bear the fruit of the Spirit as we should in the presence of Christ.  We are all corrupted by the things of this world.  We all become complacent in faith and are dull to the movement of God even when we are faced with him.  If we command the mountain to throw its self without these considerations, it can and will fall on us!

There is great and divine power in prayer.  The heart of forgiveness prevents us from using the power foolishly.

Yours in Christ

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

 

He Was Only Borrowing the Colt

Today is Palm Sunday.  The first Sunday in April is also my anniversary as Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church.  If I had to write a list of people who helped me along the way, I must include Louise Kersey.  As a boy, I knew her as “Aunt Oppielee.”  She was known for her beauty and kind heart.  Her wisdom and devotion to the word of God was also well-known.  She attended many Christian Education seminars and was one of the most well-respected Sunday School teachers in King William and neighboring counties.  Under the leadership of our young pastor from Louisiana, Rev. Darrell K. White, Oppielee was ordained as the first female deacon in the county in 1986.  She never served for the sake of making statements or breaking barriers.  She only served because she loved the Lord and her neighbor.  Praise God that she still does.

Deacon Louise Kersey with Sister Ernestine Kersey (© John Gresham)

HE WAS ONLY BORROWING THE COLT

Mark 11:2,3

1.  Introduction

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a valuable animal,  a young donkey that had years of service ahead of it.

Rather than keep the colt, Jesus returns it to the owner.  There are practical reasons as to why he did so (Christ was going to be crucified,The Lord keeps his promises, The owner needed to make a living, Jesus couldn’t keep the donkey with him).

2.  Propositional Statement

WE MUST NOT LEAVE THE HEART OF OUR FAITH ON THE VALUABLE THINGS OF THIS WORLD

3.  relevent Question

What are the colts we leave Jesus on?

4.  Points:

a) Human Praise (v. 9,10)

– The crowd of disciples cheering him on

Sunday abandoned him on Friday

– Jesus kept moving to do the work of God

– Praise is good (Psalm 147:1), Don’t let

the rocks do your job (Luke 19:40).

– Praise is a valuable colt. But

don’t let your faith stay on praise.

There is something greater.

b) Human Lineage (v.10)

– His family members, also of the house

of David thought he lost his mind

(Mark 3:21)

– His real family consist of all who do

the will of God (Mark 3:35)

– A good family is a valuable colt.  But,

don’t let your faith stay on relatives or

friends.  There is something greater.

c) Human Nations (v.10)

– Jesus did not restore Davidic/Solomonic

Israel as many had hoped

– He has rejected ruling over any nation in

this world (Matt 4:8-10, Luke 4:5-8).  To

do so would be selling his mission to the

devil.

– Yes, love your country and support

whomever you feel is best.  We have

valuable colts.  But, don’t let your

faith stay on your country nor candidate.

there is something greater.

5.  Conclusion

Sit on a colt for a while.  But, you still have

to walk up Calvary and hang on a cross in order

to sit on a throne forever.