religion

Athanasius, Daniel, and Proof of Christ?!?!

I have a most lousy copy of “On The Incarnation” by St. Athanasius.  If you see the Forgotten Books reprint of this for sale anywhere (www.forgottenbooks.org), forget it and get this book published by someone else.  It is digitally remastered from an older manuscript.  The letters are faded from light to dark making this an annoying read.  Fr. James Purdie was going to let me borrow a better version from his library.  But, I had already ordered this when I met with him last month.  Next time, I will ask to borrow from him before I waste my money and eyesight.  I will have to read this book again as I doubt I got half of what Athanasius was teaching.

From the dome at Sts. Constantine & Helen (© John Gresham)

Oh, but I did get one lesson from this great saint that threw me for a loop!  In the 39th section of the book, Athanasius refutes the Jews looking for a Messiah other than Jesus by referring to the prophet Daniel.  Daniel Chapter 9:20-27, the angel Gabriel reveals to the prophet the time of the Seventy Weeks between worship at the temple in Jerusalem until the temple is desecrated by the an abomination in the temple.  Notes in the Orthodox Study Bible interpret the Seventy weeks to mean 70 weeks of years (70 x 7), or  490 years.  Using the works of Hippolytus, a bishop of Rome 170-235 AD, the temple was commissioned to be rebuilt in 458 BC.  The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ happened in  30 AD.  This is in the time frame of the Seventy Weeks or 490 years (488 years to be exact).  Athanasius argues using Daniel 9:24- 25:

Seventy weeks are cut short upon thy people, upon the holy city, for a full end made to sin, and for sins to be sealed up, and to blot out iniquities, and to make atonement for iniquities, and to bring everlasting righteousness, and to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies; and thou shalt know and understand from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto Christ the Prince.

Of course, I knew of the other Messianic prophecies that are repeated such as Isaiah 7:14 and Micah 5:1 that are repeated in the Gospel of Matthew.  But, I have never had this Daniel prophecy explained like this.  And unlike our modern-day “end-of-the-world experts,” Athanasius, Hippolytus, and similar scholars are the fathers of Christian doctrine.  No wonder the Orthodox Bible ends the Old Testament with Daniel and then goes into the Gospels.  Jesus falls into the prophetic chronology with the angel Gabriel announcing Christ first to the prophet and then to Mary.

Of course, you Orthodox Christians can explain this far better than me.  I do not claim to be an expert.  I am not even a catechist (yet).  But, seeing this chronological, prophetic proof of Christ, I have some questions about my own Protestant faith:

  • Why did Martin Luther and other leaders change this chronological pattern between Daniel and the Gospels?
  • Why don’t we teach this prophecy of the Seventy Weeks as part of our defense of faith?
  • Why don’t we make our parishioners aware of this prophecy, at least during Advent?
  • Of what profit is it to ignore the writings of Athanasius ( who gave us our first creed and New Testament canon), Hippolytus, and other ancient writers in exchange for the likes of John Hagee, Jack van Impe, and other prophetic “scholars?”

I hope to see Fr. James this week while I am in Hampton on business.  I will re-read “On The Incarnation” again as soon as I get my hands on a better copy.  And I will continue to ask questions.

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Today’s Sermon: Cesar’s Coin or God’s Creation

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to Go the things that are God’s.”

Matthew 22:15-22

No matter what political view you may have, please go and exercise your right and duty to vote for the candidate of your choice.  Do not let victory go to your head nor loss to your heart.  Instead, focus on the real aim of our existence as Christians.  That is to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

A Full View (© John Gresham)

CAESAR’S COINS OR GOD’S CREATION

Matthew 22: 15-22

(introduction) In every election, we end up choosing between conservative or liberal

(antithesis) Too often, Christians try to put Jesus completely on one side or the other

(thesis) Scripture and early church tradition does not clearly state what side of the coin is wrong or right

(propositional statement)  Participate in the earthly governance.  But our focus is to live as people made in God’s image

(propositional question)  Why should we avoid tying our faith too much into our politics?

(points)

Politics will kill the innocent to stay in power (v.15, 16  ch. 2)

True spirituality is unimpressed with political flattery (v.16-18)

Only the Lord’s wisdom is worthy of our wonder (v. 22)

(conclusion) Earthly ballots are good.  The heavenly book is best.

Communion Confusion

“My Priest” has assigned me to read On The Incarnation by St. Athanasius and Of Water and Spirit by Fr. Alexander Schmemman.  I have also decided to revisit Baptist doctrine in light of Orthodoxy.  Sooner or later, I may reach the tipping point where I either remain where I am or convert.  As of right now, I am remaining a Baptist pastor (I am still a novice in studying Orthodoxy and I have an ill wife to provide for.  Thus, I will not make any hasty decisions about something as important as this).

My First Orthodox Cross (© John Gresham)

There are times when we Baptist are clear as mud.  Take for example, communion.  I have found three opposing doctrines about how we are to approach this ordinance (sacrament).  In the Philadelphia Baptist Confession of Faith of 1707 (Revival Literature 2007), I found these words:

Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly, by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, by spiritually receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of His death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, by spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, ans the elements themselves are to their outward senses.  (Of the Lord’s Supper, pg. 68)

Strangely enough, the well-regarded A Baptist Manual of Polity and Practice (American Baptist Churches, Judson Press 1991) throws the 1701 confession out of the window:

It is not a sacred mystery in which some divine power is imparted by the very eating and drinking.  No attempt should be made to create an atmosphere of deep solemnity, which would invest this occasion with som dignity different from that of other worship services.  There should be quiet reverence in any meeting where a congregation gathers to worship the Lord, but no extra solemnity should characterize the Lord’s Supper.  (pg. 167)

Can the spiritual receiving of and feeding of Christ not be a sacred mystery?  And how is it that this day of worship not to be taken differently than other days as we only observe Communion Sunday once a month (or less)?  The National Baptist (in which I am a member of) used to include the Articles of Faith in our New National Baptist Hymnal where we find these words:

And to the Lord’s Supper, in which the members of the church, by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination. (article 14)

In other words; yes, it is a solemn event for us.  But, we still aren’t taking in anything special as it is just a commemoration.  We are somewhere between the manual and the 1707 confession.  With other Baptist bodies with their own doctrines and (thanks congregational rule combined with to “Soul Liberty” and Sola Scriptura) independent churches with the Baptist label, I am sure that my feeble review just scratches the surface of how many different explanations we have about Communion and how it should be practiced.

Maybe I am wrong.  But, I really don’t see the benefit of our denomination having a wide variety of interpretations of this significant practice of the Christian faith.  We frown up when our seminary trained pastors leave the Baptist Church and form their own independent ministries.  Yet, it was our Lord and Savior who told his opponents that a house divided against its self cannot stand.  It is my prayer that, at least, officials of the major Baptist conventions will get together and hammer out a more universal doctrine on Communion that we can set as the standard.  But, I fear that herding cats in a thunderstorm may be an easier and more likely task.

Today’s Sermon: Everyday as the Sabbath

Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he rested from all His works God began to make.

Genesis 2:3

Fr. James Purdie of St. Basil pointed out that the first full day after God made man, He rested.  I am sure, at least, one of the great church fathers or mothers pondered this and came up with something far more meaningful than what I am about to preach this morning.

Monarchs (© John Gresham)

EVERYDAY AS THE SABBATH

Genesis 2:1-3

(thesis)  We are all familiar with God resting on the seventh day of the creation story

(antithesis) Since God didn’t use a modern or ancient man-made calendar, who knows what that seventh day was

(propositional statement)  As the Lord is merciful to allow us to see another day, let us count each day as a Sabbath whether or not we attend church that day.

(relevant question)  How do we make each day a Sabbath?

(points)  no matter what day it is (v.2):

  • bless it
  • sanctify it
  • rest in God in it

(conclusion)  May God find us ready to join him on that day of Christ’s return on any day.

Today’s Sermon: A Lifestyle That Can Proclaim Redemption

And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem

Luke 2:38

I won’t be playing “hooky” from my denomination for a while.  As we don’t have a regular morning worship at Trinity on fifth Sundays (the Pamunkey Baptist Association Sunday School & Literary Union meets on those days), I attended the Divine Liturgy at Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Newport News (Greek Festival October 25th thru 27th).  I will keep up my rule of prayer, keep in contact with Fr. James from St. Basil and Fr. David from St. Cyprian and other Orthodox believers during my drought until I can make another Liturgy on Dec. 30th.  I have heard rumors that St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Williamsburg will open for services in January 2013.  Hopefully, they will have some mid-week services that I can attend.

A Moment at Sandbridge (© John Gresham)

A LIFESTYLE THAT CAN PROCLAIM REDEMPTION

Luke 2:36-38

(introduction) We all have strikes against us

(antithesis)  Anna was of the wrong sex, tribe, age, and social position to serve as a priest

(thesis) Yet God pours out the spirit of prophecy on sons and daughters and revealed His Son and his true purpose to her

(propositional statement) No matter our calling, we all have the Holy Spirit in us.  By a correct lifestyle, Jesus is revealed to us so that we can proclaim redemption to others

(relevant question)  What are the elements of Anna’s lifestyle that led to her revelation and proclamation?

(points [all v.37])

  • Patience
  • Stay in the house
  • Put some things aside
  • Pray ceaselessly

(conclusion)  Christ will cross out the strikes for those who humbly seek the kingdom of heaven

Campaign 2012: A New Low for the American Christ

(JC)  “My kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I would not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here.”

(PP)  “Are You a king then?”

(JC)  You say rightly that I am a king.  For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

John 18:36, 37

Why am I on the journey toward the Orthodox Christian faith?  One reason is prayer.  In the ancient tradition, prayer is our means to not only communicate with God, but to become more like him.  The practice is to become a part of who we are.  This is evident in our Lord who prayed early in the morning, late in the evening, often alone, even in times of agony.  The Apostle Paul exhorted early believers to pray without ceasing.  From these and other examples, the early fathers from Anthony, Gregory Palamas, and even the American Seraphim Rose urged believers to have a daily discipline of prayer.  The Jesus Prayer, Hours, and various monastic rules were developed to instruct Orthodox Christians in this vital exercise of working out our faith in fear and trembling.  The church has a 2,000 year library of written prayers that anyone can use to help them with their own.

Western Christendom, in this nation in particular, has nothing to match Orthodoxy in prayer.  Too often, we just say a few sentences referring to our wants and needs and those of whom we care about.  With the Baptist concept of “Soul Liberty,” we and other Protestant churches do not have denominational-wide established rules nor collections of prayers.  While local pastors may teach about the importance of being in communion with God, we are free to “talk to God” as we wish any way that feels good to us.  As a result, we too often cheapen the practice.

Today, I saw how the 700 Club has cheapened the Savior to an awful low.  Pat Robertson and his host announced that the will be engaged in a special “America for Jesus 2012” drive from now until election day.  And let me quickly say that there are many believers in a liberal form of the Gospel who will, no doubt, have prayer vigils from Sunday, November 4th to Tuesday, November 6th.  I can’t help but to ask if this nation still needs prayer after the election is over, if not more so.  Christians on the left and right have decided to drag our Lord and Savior on their side rather than submit to the fact that He and His kingdom is above all of us.

How pathetic!  You aren’t praying for “Thy will be done.”  You are praying for your own will and choice in elected officials.  James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem warned us against such prayers:

You lust and do not have.  You murder and covet and cannot obtain.  You fight and war.  Yet you do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask amis, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  Adulterers and adulteresses!  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Whoever therefore wants to be a friend to the world makes himself an enemy of God.  (James 4:2-5)

By pinning inordinate prayers on Barack Obama (who rejects Orthodox teaching on marriage) or Mitt Romney (who practices the heresy of Mormonism) you have chosen your politics over the Savior of our souls.  Shame on you!  It is one thing to have a political opinion.  It is another to make a crusade of prayer supporting it.  May God forgive you for such an awful perception of prayer.

 

 

 

Thoughts on Today’s Gospel Reading: Luke 5:12-16

So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed

Luke 5:16

I am gearing my sermons and lessons to the command Jesus gave to the first disciples, “Follow Me.”  It was very easy for me to use the Gospel readings for the past two Sundays to preach from that theme.  For today’s Bible Study, we neither see a Master Teacher giving lessons from a borrowed boat nor telling a confessing sinful fisherman that he will catch men from now on.  In fact, we don’t see Jesus wanting attention at all.

Our Lord is in a certain city, perhaps on his way to a synagogue to teach a lesson, when a man full of leprosy comes to him seeking a cleansing.  Jesus is full of compassion and willingly heals the man.  But after it happens, Christ tells the man not to anyone but to the priest and make the prescribed Mosaic sacrifice.  The miraculous act of our Lord’s compassion was directed to be met with sobriety and order.  Human nature, either by the healed man’s disobedience or the observation of others who told of what happened, makes such a directive almost impossible.  In the words of the African-American music tradition:

I couldn’t keep it to myself what the Lord has done for me

Of course, Jesus does not retaliate against him and bring the leprosy back on him.  But, now Christ is unable to move about as freely as he would like.  Masses of people are now coming to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.  More than likely, the Lord healed those who came to him.  With the added stress of expectations and hopes of so many others weighing on him, Jesus needs to do something to handle the situation.

In the text of the Orthodox Study Bible, the word often is italicized to highlight the point of how important prayer is.  Except for medical professionals, we aren’t expected to heal people.  But, we all deal with more stress than we would like.  And at any moment, someone can spill our secrets, misuse our kindness, and demand more of us.  Stress can keep us from being effective.  It has been proven that it can kill us.  Frequent prayer is the means Jesus used to continue in wisdom and compassion.

To follow Jesus, we should follow his rule of prayer in the text.  Go somewhere to be to yourself as much as you can and pray.  Union with God enables us to handle the normal expectations of life and the added stress of the unexpected.  Being in crowds may feed the ego.  But, it starves the soul.  Find your wilderness, closet, mountain top, or somewhere else where you can be alone.  Pray often.  The morning mumble and mutterings while eating a doughnut is not enough to sustain faith.  One should take advantage of break times and lunch during the work or school day.  Even if long, audible prayers are not possible, concentrated and concise prayers are just as effective.  Either must be done in sincerity.  If we seek solitude and prayer often, we will also be able to live in wisdom and compassion.

 

Today’s Sermon: Confession and Discipleship

… “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”  … “Do not be afraid.  From now on you will catch men.”

Luke 5:8, 10

Farewell Friend (© John Gresham)

Saturday was the funeral for my colleague, Dr. Leo Wagner.  Before his death, I shared with him my interest in Orthodox Christianity.  He was enthusiastic about my pursuit as we African-Americans have little exposure to the ancient faith.  He was aware of the role Africans played in helping to form the church’s doctrine and told me that he looked forward to hearing how or what Orthodoxy could contribute to our churches.  I pray that he is watching my journey with Athanasius, Cyprian, Mary of Egypt, and all of the other saints from all corners of the faith.

Praying birthday blessings to my wife.  In her illnesses, Brenda has taught me more about life than perhaps if she were well.  I would like the thorns of MS and bipolar disorder be miraculously removed from her.  But, the grace of God is sufficient.

CONFESSION & DISCIPLESHIP

Luke 5:1-11

(Introduction)  Peter showed great faith in letting Jesus teach from his boat and then go out and fish after an unsuccessful night (vv. 5-7)

(antithesis)  The miracle and simply following Jesus afterward is not what made Peter a disciple

(thesis)  Peter’s confession was the pivotal point that endeared him to Jesus (and the astonishment of his companions vv. 8-10)

(propositional statement)  There can be no true discipleship without true confession

(relevant question)  What makes true confession so crucial to following Jesus?

(points)

  • Confession identifies the mercy of Christ as the source of our blessings (v. 8)
  • Confession puts us in a state of humility (v. 8)
  • Christ confirms confessors (v. 10)

(conclusion)  If we short-change God on our confessions, we short-change ourselves from the fullness of walking with him

Of Struggles and Saints

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God

Hebrews 12:1, 2

Dr. Leo C. Wagner (© John Gresham)

I bid a fond “farewell” to a wise pastor, skilled preacher, excellent instructor, and good friend.  Rev. Dr. Leo C. Wagner died yesterday morning.  Here was a man who could have remained in Chicago, perhaps finding a congregation that would have paid him handsomely.  But, the Lord led him to the small town of West Point, VA to pastor Mt. Nebo Baptist Church.  Rather than seek to make his own ministry shine individually, Dr. Wagner engaged himself to work with and lead the Pamunkey Baptist Association as Moderator for a term.  He knew how to joke with people and to give Godly advice at the right moment.  His compassion was felt by public school students in town as well as seminarians at Virginia Union University.  We lost a giant in the Baptist church and a friend to all who knew him.  Lord have mercy and bless his widow.

Today is Monday.  Gosh, how we bemoan the beginning of the work and school week.  As if we are facing some sort of torture.  I confess that I sometimes look at my bills and how they crush my meager paychecks and wish I had the salary I was once earning.  I look at my wife’s illnesses and wish I could enjoy the times when she was mentally and physically healthy.  Yeah, I write stuff that is very spiritual.  But, I am a man with the same wishes and desires as anyone else.  I struggle with the same temptations and anguish over my failures and sins.

But, each morning, I consider the saint that is commemorated  for the day.  Today, the martyrs Sophia and her daughters, Faith, Hope, and Love are remembered for their faithfulness to death.  A mother was forced to watch her teen and pre-teen girls be subject to extremely cruel tortures and beheadings and then bury them.  Then she died at their grave 3 days later of a broken heart as she didn’t leave their side.  With the loss of Dr. Wagner, I am even more mindful that others have struggled and run the race of life before me and endured far greater hardship.  Who am I to whine about my difficulties?  What right do I have to hold on to bad habits?  No, this great cloud of witnesses surround me as an example to keep fighting, running and struggling.

And above all, there is Christ.  He went from a heavenly home to a womb and manger.  His own people rejected him.  Crowds misunderstood him and wanted only magic tricks and miracles.  Where there were once cries of honor, he heard shouts for his crucifixion.  There is no crown without a crucifixion nor sainthood without struggle.

HAIL JESUS!

 

Today’s Sermon: The Demand of Self-Denial

I am back in the pulpit this morning.  I thank God for my friends, Rev. Randolph Graham and  Rev. Keith Lewis, who preached in my place and for my college buddy Dr. Wayne Weathers, for his stirring Homecoming message.  We were blessed to have the word of God delivered by Dr. Vincent Smith, Dr. Reginald Davis, Min. Marlene Fuller, and Pastor Willie Barnes for our revival services.

Again, I am most grateful to Fr. David Arnold and the St. Cyprian of Carthage Orthodox Church (OCA) and Fr. James Purdie and the St. Basil the Great (Antiochian) Orthodox Church for the wonderful Divine Liturgy, hospitality, and friendship.  Had I not known Christ or had been a nominal Christian, I would have asked to be a catechumen.  But, I must remain where I am until the Lord calls me to do otherwise (besides, gas cost too much for me to drive all the way out to Powhatan or Poquoson).

Yes, we had a great revival at Trinity Baptist Church.  Now that we have been revived, let us follow Jesus more closely!

Outward (© John Gresham)

 

THE DEMAND OF SELF-DENIAL

Mark 8:34 – 9:1

(introduction) We African-Americans have suffered external denial

(thesis) In the midst of that time, we cultivated lessons of (internal) self-denial to survive

(antithesis) With our liberation, we no longer consider self-denial important to our faith

(propositional statement)  Without self-denial, it is impossible to follow Jesus

(relevant question)  What makes self-denial so crucial?

(points)

  • self-denial puts ego aside (v.35)
  • self-denial holds the soul higher than earthly gain (v.35, 36)
  • self-denial gives us the strength to bear the cross (v.34)

(conclusion)  Shun the shallow theology of Gospel “catch phrases” and let the mind of Christ be in us (Philippians 2:5 – 8)