Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Photo of the Week

The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

- Romans 8:19, 21

Monday, February 17, 2020

Quote of the Week

(On pastoral ministry):

"What is the distinct service of the pastor-theologian? We reply: for confessing, comprehending, celebrating, communicating, commending and conforming themselves and others to what is in Christ.... In sum: the real work of theology is the work of getting real--conforming people's speech, thoughts, and actions to the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, the source and standard of all truth, goodness, and beauty."

- Kevin Van Hoozer, from The Pastor as Public Theologian

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

(Frescoes, Vank Cathedral, Armenian church in Isfahan, Iran; photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA)

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that, as there is but one Body, and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may henceforth be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, that we may with one mind and one mouth glorify Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Accession Prayer for the reign of King George I

Friday, February 14, 2020

Hymn of the Week: I Lift My Heart to God Alone

One of the major sub-genres of Protestant hymnography is the hymn of conversion or repentance. I didn't really have one in my corpus that fit that category, so I wrote one this week. It's to the tune of the old English song "O Waly Waly," often used as an alternate tune for "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

I Lift My Heart to God Alone

I lift my heart to God alone:
No idol shall receive my praise.
To the true faith I'm coming home,
There to abide all of my days.

Long have I wandered in the night,
Pursuing sin to ease my pain;
But now I'm turning to the light,
And finding peace in Jesus' name.

Lord, I repent! I bow my heart
In sorrow deep for all I've done;
And you your grace to me impart,
All through the merit of your Son.

His righteousness has clothed my soul
In beauty of his holy love;
By Jesus' blood I am made whole,
All praises be to God above!

Now let the voice of his redeemed
Rise up before him evermore;
May every word and every deed
Proclaim the glory of the Lord!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Antony and the Desert Fathers

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  - 1 Cor. 9:24-27

Antony and the Desert Fathers and Mothers

- Antony lived from 251 to 356 AD in Egypt 

- Born into a wealthy family, he renounced his wealth and went alone into the desert to pursue a life of prayer and virtue.

- The verse that changed Antony’s life was Matthew 19:21--"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

- His biography, The Life of Antony, written in the 4th century by Athanasius, became one of the most influential books of all time and helped launch the Christian monastic movement worldwide.

- He is known as "The Father of All Monks," and was described as "a man of joy and of a settled state of soul."

- The Desert Fathers and Mothers include many men and women from the 3rd through the 5th centuries who renounced their former lives, fled into the wilderness, and lived lives of fasting, prayer, spiritual warfare, and the pursuit of holiness.

Quotes and Sayings

Abba Antony: "Let us not think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with the kingdom of heaven….Therefore let the desire for possessions take hold of no one, for what gain is it to acquire these things which we cannot take with us? Why not rather get those things which we can take away with us—things like prudence, justice, temperance, courage, understanding, love, kindness to the poor, faith in Christ, freedom from anger, and hospitality? If we possess these virtues, we shall find them preparing a welcome for us there in the land of the meek-hearted." (Life of Antony 1.17)

Abba Poemen: "A man will be always tripped up by that thing which he will not cut off from himself."

When Abba Macarius returned to his cell one day, he found a man stealing his belongings. He reacted calmly and helped the thief load his donkey with the objects from his cell. As the thief departed, Macarius recited the words of Job: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

Abba Agatho: "If an angry man raises the dead, God is still displeased with his anger."

A young man came to Abba Macarius and said, "I want to become a holy man by tomorrow’s end." Macarius smiled and said, "To be a holy man, what you must do is this: Spend the day at the cemetery, cursing the dead. Throw sticks and stones at them, call them names—whatever you can think of. Spend the whole day doing nothing but that." So the young man went and did as Abba Macarius had said. When he returned at the end of the day, Macarius asked him what the dead had said in response to his abuses. "Nothing," the young man replied. "They’re dead." So Macarius sent him back the next day and told him to spend the entire day doing nothing but praising the dead. "Call them righteous men and women, compliment them, say everything wonderful you can imagine." So the young man went out and spent the next day complimenting the dead. When he returned, Macarius asked him again how the dead had responded. "They didn’t say a word," said the young man. "Ah," Macarius replied. "They must be holy indeed. You insulted them, and they did not answer. You praised them, and they thought it of no account. Go and do likewise, my friend, taking no account either of the scorn of men or of their praises. And you too will be a holy man."

Abba Antony: "Don’t be afraid to hear about virtue….The Greeks travel all over the earth and cross the seas in their quest for knowledge. But we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue….For it is not far from us, nor is it outside of ourselves, but the quest for virtue is within us, and is easy if only we are willing." (Life of Antony 1.20)

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Evangeliad (13:44-14:1)

Section 13:44-14:1 (corresponding to Luke 7:24-28; Matt. 11:7-11)

After John's followers turned and were gone,
Christ spoke to the gathered crowds about John:
"What did you go to the desert to see?
A wind-shaken reed? No? What did you see?

A man arrayed in the softest of clothes?
I'll tell you where you would find some of those--
The king's palaces hold such finery,
Herodian courts stuffed with luxury.

You went not to see such things. What then?
A prophet, the lowest and highest of men?
Indeed, and more than a prophet, I say,
For John is the one the Scriptures proclaimed:

'I'm sending my messenger before you appear,
To prepare the way for you to draw near.'
Believe what I say, for truly I speak:
None born of women is greater than he.

Yet now God does something new in my name,
Something of which John could only proclaim;
So the least of all in the kingdom of God
Shall be greater than all the greatness of John."

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Photo of the Week

Do not be in a greater hurry than the Most High.

- 2 Esdras 4:34 (Old Testament Apocrypha)

Monday, February 10, 2020

Quote of the Week

"This and this alone is Christianity--a universal holiness in every part of life."

- William Law, 17th-century Anglican divine

(Photo: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Heiligengrabe, Kloster Stift zum Heiligengrabe, Stiftskirche -- 2017 -- 7197-203” / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Write upon our hearts, O Lord God, 
The lessons of your holy word, 
And grant that we may all be doers of the same, 
And not forgetful hearers only; 
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

- Alexander Campbell Fraser

Friday, February 07, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Strong and Courageous

This week's composition is based on the biblical scene of Joshua and the children of Israel making ready to enter the Promised Land after forty years of rebellions and wanderings in the desert. In that context, God tells Joshua over and over again to "be strong and courageous" (Josh. 1:6-9). The refrain for this hymn takes that line and combines it with Paul's sentiment in Romans 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" The verses then apply the sentiment of that scene to the challenge laid down before the individual Christian: assisted by God's grace, to press on into the Promised Land of abundant life by working to conquer sin and by accepting the victory of the holiness God has granted us as our birthright in Christ. I've set it to the tune of the well-known hymn "Showers of Blessing."

Strong and Courageous

I stand on the banks of the Jordan,
Facing the challenge ahead,
All my rebellions behind me,
Ready to press on instead.

     Strong and courageous,
     Strong and courageous I'll be;
     For if my God will be with me,
     Who then can stand against me?

God in his grace and his power
Bids me to enter the land,
Trusting that there in my battles
Strength I'll receive from his hand.


With my God's help I march onward,
Practicing all he imparts,
Planting the flag of his kingdom
Deep in the fields of my heart.


Sin's fortresses will all crumble;
I will be holy indeed;
For God has already conquered
And claimed the vict'ry for me!


Thursday, February 06, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Justin Martyr

In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  - 1 Peter 3:15-16

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  - Jeremiah 29:13

Justin Martyr

- Justin Martyr (c.100-165 AD) was one of the most prominent theologians and defenders of the faith in the early church.

- Justin was born to a Greek family living in Palestine, but did not encounter Christianity while he was growing up. Instead, he became a student of philosophy and followed a personal search for truth by exploring the dominant Greek philosophies of his day: Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism. Still finding himself unsatisfied, he was converted to Christianity through the personal witness of a random stranger who convinced him that Christianity was the only true philosophy.

- Justin became a wandering philosophy teacher, setting up schools in Ephesus and in Rome. His teaching influenced several major Christian figures, including Tatian and Irenaeus. He wrote a number of books, including two “Apologies” addressed to the Roman Emperor and the Senate, as well as a philosophical dialogue with an Ephesian Jew.

The Problem with Christianity (from the Roman Perspective)

1.) Christians refused to sacrifice to the gods, and they would even deny their existence. Thus they were known as “atheists” and were seen as a public danger, because the gods’ wrath might fall on their cities because of their impiety. Christians also refused to sacrifice to the cult of the Emperor, which made them seem like traitors and a danger to the very structure of Roman society.

2.) Christians celebrated a secret rite with one another in which they claimed to eat the flesh and drink the blood of their founder. Rumors abounded about what was really going on in Communion, and many people suspected the Christians to be cannibals or morally depraved in other ways.

3.) Christianity was a new religion and a new philosophy, only 100 years old in Justin’s day. By contrast, the religions of Greece and Rome had been in place for a millennium at least, and all the major philosophies had been around for four centuries or more. For a culture that venerated antiquity as a mark of truth, Christianity’s newness made it seem suspicious.

Justin Martyr addressed these and other concerns in his two “Apologies” (a Latin word for a “defense” of the faith). He argued (1) that Christians are not atheists, because they honor the one true God; and instead of sacrificing to the Emperor, they offered prayers on his behalf to God Almighty. (2) Justin gives a lengthy explanation of Communion, in which he shows us that 2nd-century Christians did believe that the elements were indeed “transmuted” into the flesh and blood of Christ. But far from being cannibals or morally depraved, Christians are marked by the pursuit of virtue and the common good, going so far as to even pray for their enemies. He also noted that Christian ethics tended to teach the same things, or even better things, than the most revered Greek philosophies did. (3) And he made a case for Christianity’s antiquity, rooting it in the fulfilled promises made to Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets of the Old Testament.

The Theory of the Logos

Justin takes the way that Jesus is described in John 1 as “the Word” (“logos” in Greek) and uses the idea to make a case for the goodness of philosophy. Logos was understood in Greek philosophy to mean the wisdom, the order, the logic of God—the principle of divine Reason that lay behind all things, held all things together, and revealed truth to all people, to whatever extent they were open to it. By making this case, Justin was able to claim for Christianity all the treasured wisdom of the Greek tradition:

“Whatever all men have uttered aright, then, belongs to us Christians.”

“He is the Word of whom every race of men partakes; and those who lived by their reason were Christians, even though they did not know it—such men among the Greeks were Socrates and Heraclitus.”

More Quotes from Justin:

[Relating the story of his conversion:] “Straightaway a flame was kindled in my soul, and a desire came over me to know the prophets, and the men who were friends of Christ. And as I revolved [the old man’s] words in my mind, I decided that this was the only philosophy safe and serviceable. Thus, and for these reasons, I am a philosopher….If then you have any care for yourself and are seriously searching for salvation and believe in God, you may…learn to know the Christ of God and live a life of happiness.”

“We who once enjoyed the pleasures of lust now embrace chastity. We who once resorted to magical arts, now dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God. We who prized above all else the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have into the common stock, and share with everyone in need. We who hated and destroyed one another, and, because their manners were strange, would not live with men of a different race, now since Christ has come, live familiarly with them and pray for our enemies. And our endeavor is to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live themselves by the good precepts of Christ, that they too may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of reward from God, the ruler of us all.”

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

The Evangeliad (13:36-43)

Section 13:36-43 (Mark 6:12-13Matt. 11:2-6Luke 7:18-23)

The disciples went out, preaching good news
Among the cities and towns of the Jews;
They cast demons out, anointed to heal,
And then for repentance made their appeal.

Word of these things reached the ears of John's friends,
Those who had watched him go baptizing when
He had been free; but as he sat now in jail,
They came and of Jesus' work told the tale.

Then hearing these things, John sent them back out,
Out to find Jesus and ask him about
The things Messiah would do and would be,
And then to confirm it truly was he.

The disciples of John asked this of Christ
After beholding him heal and work signs:
"Are you the one who is coming, asks John,
Or should we expect still another one?"

So Christ answered them, "Go back and tell John
Of what you have heard, what you've seen been done:
The blind are receiving their sight, the lame walk,
The deaf, they can hear, the mute, they can talk--

The lepers are cleansed, the dead live again,
And the poor have good news preached unto them.
The kingdom the prophets foretold, it is come:
Blessed are those who don't turn from the Son!"

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Photo of the Week

How rich the depths of love divine,
Of bliss a boundless store!
Blest Savior, let me call Thee mine,
I cannot wish for more.

- Verse 4 of the hymn "Come, Holy Spirit, Guide My Song"

Monday, February 03, 2020

Quote of the Week

"There is only one really startling thing to be done with the ideal, and that is to do it."

- G. K. Chesterton, early 20th century Christian writer

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lord, my chief desire is to be rooted and grounded in you—
God-centered and God-absorbed, 
God-enthused and God-loved. 
How eager my soul is to know you and be still!

- Oswald Chambers