Friday, January 31, 2020

Hymn of the Week: As I Rise Today

Within the hymnographic tradition, there's a set of old songs that were written not for congregational use, but for personal, devotional hymn-singing. One such type was the "rising hymn," a song that one would sing during morning devotions, to thank the Lord for his safe-keeping through the night and commit to him the day to come. This new hymn falls within that old tradition, and I've deliberately written it with a rather antiquated word choice for that reason. I've written it to the tune of "Break Thou the Bread of Life."

As I Rise Today

Lord, as I rise today, I offer praise
Unto the God who watches all my ways:
Giving me restful sleep beneath His care,
As shepherds in their arms their lambs will bear.

Lord, Thou hast carried me to this new day;
As Thou hast done before and will always,
Preserve me by Thy pow'r, grant me Thy peace,
That I may go where'er Thou callest me.

Lord, as I rise today, let my heart be
Lifted in wonder and in praise to Thee!
On this day's pilgrimage, I consecrate
Each of my steps to follow all Thy ways.

Be glorified in this, my morning psalm,
As Thou art glorified in each new dawn.
With all creation I offer my praise,
Before Thy throne, Thou Ancient of all Days!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Ignatius & Polycarp

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." - Luke 9:23-24

Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch (c.30-108 AD) was an early Christian church leader and one of the earliest major Christian writers, a member of the post-apostolic generation known as "the Apostolic Fathers" (others of whom included Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Papias, and Hermas). Ignatius was bishop of the city of Antioch, one of the major early Christian centers. He was arrested and brought to Rome for trial, where he suffered martyrdom in the arena. Along the course of his final journey, however, he left a lasting legacy for the faith: a series of letters written to the churches which he was passing by, which give us a unique window into the life and practice of the early post-apostolic church.

Quotes from Ignatius:

"Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God....It is good to be setting from the world to God in order that I
may rise to Him."  - Ignatius to the Romans 2:1-2

"Now at last I am beginning to be a disciple! Fire and cross and battles with wild beasts, mutilation, mangling, wrenching of bones, the hacking of limbs, the crushing of my body, cruel tortures of the devil—let these come upon me, only let me reach Jesus Christ!....Him I seek, who died on our behalf; Him I long for, who rose for our sake."  - Ignatius to the Romans 5:3-6:1

"Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God....Allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger, be gentle; in response to their boasts, be humble; in response to their slander, offer prayers; in response to their errors, be steadfast in the faith; in response to their cruelty, be civilized; do not be eager to imitate them. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers and sisters, and let us be eager imitators of the Lord."  - Ignatius to the Ephesians 10

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp (69-155 AD) was another member of the generation of Apostolic Fathers, one who had learned directly from the Apostle John (and his protege Papias) late in the disciple's life. He was the bishop of the city of Smyrna in Asia Minor, known as a beloved pastor and a great intercessor. He, like Ignatius, left some of his own letters as a part of his legacy, but he is most well known for the story of his martyrdom, which inspired generations of early Christians. At the age of 86, he was pursued out of the city, arrested while at prayer, and brought to trial in the arena, where he gave a winsome defense of the Christian faith before being burned to death.

Quotes from and about Polycarp:

"Let us become imitators of Christ's patient endurance, and if we should suffer for the sake of his name, let us glorify him. For this is the example he set for us in his own person, and this is what we have believed."  - Polycarp to the Philippians 8:2

"When Polycarp heard that his captors had arrived [to arrest him], he went down and talked with them, and those who were present marveled at his age and his composure.... Then he immediately ordered that a table be set for them to eat and drink as much as they wished, and he asked them to grant him an hour so that he might pray undisturbed. When they consented, he stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God that for several hours he was unable to stop speaking. Those who heard him were amazed, and many regretted that they had come after such a godly old man."  - The Martyrdom of Polycarp 7:2-3

(Polycarp's response when the magistrate asked him to renounce Christ:) "For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" - The Martyrdom of Polycarp 9:3

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Photo of the Week

One privilege my heart desires:
O grant me an abode
Among the churches of Thy saints,
The temples of my God!

- from Isaac Watts' hymnographic rendering of Psalm 27

Monday, January 27, 2020

Quote of the Week

"Great and ineffable are the promises held out to Christians, so great, indeed, that all the glory and beauty of heaven and earth and all other attractions in such rich variety, the riches and comeliness, the delights of visible scenes, cannot measure up to the faith and riches of a single soul."

- from The Fifty Spiritual Homilies of Abba Macarius (4:17)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Rule over me this day, O God,
Leading me on the path of righteousness.
Put your word in my mind and your truth in my heart,
That this day I neither think nor feel
Anything except what is good and honest.
Protect me from all lies and falsehood,
Helping me to discern deception wherever I meet it.
Let my eyes always look straight ahead on the road you wish me to tread,
That I might not be tempted by any distraction.
And make my eyes pure,
That no false desires may be awakened within me.

- Jacob Boehme

Friday, January 24, 2020

Hymn of the Week: The Kingdom of God

This week's hymn is a reflection on the New Testament's teachings about the Kingdom of God, and the chorus is an exultant prayer for its reality to be made ever more manifest in us and in our world. I've written it to a version of the classic Shaker tune "Tis a Gift to Be Simple." 

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God was proclaimed by Christ,
And set in our midst by his incarnate life;
Its gates thrown open by his sacrifice
And his bursting from the grave alive.

     Lord, let your Kingdom come in pow'r!
     May this be the day, may this be the hour!
     As you pour out your Spirit and you send us forth,
     May all nations come to praise you, Lord!

As the Church was sent out, in the Spirit's grace,
They called for all mankind to follow the Way;
By teaching of Christ and proclaiming his reign,
The Kingdom of God marched on in his name.


Now the Kingdom of God is present today
Here in this Body and here in this place;
And we who are priests of that Kingdom pray
And go in its power, to seek and save.


The Kingdom is already here, but still
Not yet in its fullness, as one day it will;
And so we yearn for the trumpet call
When the God who reigns will be All in All.

     (Chorus x2)

(Photo above by PtrQs, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Minor New Testament Figures ("The Rest of the Story")

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” - John 15:15-16a

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” - Ephesians 2:10

The Woman at the Well
In John 4, Jesus has a long conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well in the town of Sychar. The Gospel doesn’t give us much information about the woman other than that she had had five husbands and that she became a believer in Christ and convinced most of her town to believe in him too. According to tradition, she took the Christian name Photini, and her many children also became Christians. Because of her active witness for the sake of Christ, she was given the high title of “equal to the apostles.” Her evangelization was so effective that it drew the attention of Emperor Nero, who had her tortured and then martyred by being thrown down the shaft of a dry well.

Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is a prominent character in the Gospels. She seems to have become a follower of Jesus after he cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9), and she was present for most of his ministry. She was one of the faithful women who stood at the foot of his cross and who brought spices to the tomb on Easter Sunday. According to John, Mary was the very first person to whom the resurrected Christ appeared (John 20:11-18). She is sometimes also identified as the “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus in an act of love and penitence, but neither the Gospels nor tradition is clear whether this is actually Mary Magdalene or someone else. (The Eastern churches have always thought that, far from being a sinful penitent, she was actually so pure and chaste that the devil suspected that she would be the one to bear the Messiah, and that’s why he had sent seven demons to afflict her.) After the story of the New Testament ends, the most reliable early traditions relate that she lived as a companion and helper to Mary, Jesus’ mother, and perhaps emigrated to Ephesus later in life.

The Boy that Jesus Called to Stand with the Disciples
In the Gospels, there’s a story in which the disciples are fighting over who is the greatest. In response, Jesus calls a little child over, has him stand among the disciples, and then takes him in his arms (Mark 9:36). According to tradition, that boy was Ignatius of Antioch, one of the greatest leaders of the early church. Ignatius served as bishop of the churches in Syria for many years; he left us a set of letters written to other churches that continue to instruct and inspire Christians to this day; and he died as a martyr in Rome.

Lazarus, Mary, and Martha
These three siblings from Bethany were some of Jesus’ closest friends and often appear in Gospel stories. Tradition tells us that they were among the Christians who were scattered by the first persecution, organized by Saul (later Paul) after Stephen’s death in Jerusalem (Acts 7:59-8:4). They spent some time traveling and spreading the Gospel before eventually going to the island of Cyprus, where they settled, and Lazarus became the bishop of the city of Kition.

In the first chapter of Acts, the disciples decide to select a new apostle to fill the vacant role left behind by Judas. Matthias, who had been a follower of Jesus during his ministry, was chosen. Like the other apostles, he was given a commission as a missionary, and he traveled to the regions of northern Turkey and the Caucasus mountains, spreading the Gospel in what is now the modern country of Georgia (and Georgia is still a majority-Christian country to this day). He was martyred by being stoned to death.

Philip the Evangelist
This Philip (distinct from Philip the disciple) was one of the seven original deacons chosen by the Jerusalem church. He is recorded in the book of Acts as being a powerful evangelist, and he was the first to preach the Gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8) and along the coast of Palestine, where he settled for awhile in Caesarea (Acts 21:8). Tradition tells us that later on, he moved further north and became the bishop of the church in Tralles (in modern Turkey).

The Ethiopian Eunuch
Acts 8 tells the story of Philip’s most famous convert, the Ethiopian eunuch who was riding home in a chariot, reading the Scriptures, when he came across Philip, who led him to the faith. Reliable early traditions tell us that this eunuch, Simeon Bachos by name, stayed in Palestine a bit longer to learn more about Christ and the church, and he is often thought to be Simeon Niger (Niger means “the Black”), who is mentioned as part of the church of Antioch in Acts 13:1. Eventually he returned home to Ethiopia, where he preached the Gospel and helped to found one of the most ancient traditions of Christianity—the Ethiopian Orthodox Tawahedo Church—which is still the largest religious affiliation in Ethiopia today.

In Acts 10, the Lord leads Peter to a Roman centurion named Cornelius, a devout man who immediately converts upon hearing the Gospel. He is considered to be the first Gentile convert to Christianity (since the Ethiopian eunuch had been a convert to Judaism before becoming a Christian), and this leads the Jerusalem church to realize that the Gospel is not just for Jews. Tradition tells us that Cornelius, upon retiring from the Roman military, entered pastoral ministry and became the bishop of a church.

Acts tells us that Barnabas was Paul’s first missionary partner, highly respected by the leaders of the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch. Together they evangelized throughout Cyprus and southern Turkey before splitting up to continue their missions separately, each now with junior partners. Mark accompanied Barnabas on his subsequent evangelism tours, and was a witness to Barnabas’ martyrdom, when an angry mob of Jews dragged him out of the synagogue and stoned him to death.

According to tradition, Luke was a doctor who accompanied Paul on some of his later missionary journeys, and he became the author of the books of Luke and Acts. Although tradition relates that he was also a martyr, he seems to have been one of the few major Christian leaders who managed to live to an old age—he died at 84 years old, in Boeotia, Greece. Another early tradition tells us that Luke was also the first Christian artist, and that he began the long and venerable tradition of sacred artwork by painting an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child.

We first see Timothy as a young protégé of Paul’s, added to his mission team during a tour through the interior of Turkey. Timothy becomes one of the core members of Paul’s team throughout the remainder of the great missionary’s ministry. Near the end of Paul’s life, Timothy is entrusted with leading the church of Ephesus, one of Paul’s most treasured congregations, and it was there that he received the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy. He served as bishop of that city for the rest of his life until, in the year 97, he attempted to stop a pagan festival procession honoring the goddess Artemis by preaching the Gospel in the middle of the street; he was beaten to death.

Apollos was one of the most gifted preachers and Bible teachers in the early church. Acts 18 tells us that he had learned the Gospel in Alexandria, Egypt, and then came to Ephesus to preach. While there, Paul’s friends Priscilla and Aquila mentored him and taught him some of the finer points of doctrine. Then he was sent off to Greece, where his ministry blossomed powerfully. However, he was such a charismatic teacher that some people in the church of Corinth, dissatisfied with Paul, decided to claim that they were followers of Apollos alone (1 Cor. 1:12). Tradition tells us that Apollos was so disgusted by this state of affairs that he left Corinth for awhile and went to preach on the island of Crete. A few years later, after Paul’s letters to Corinth had set that church back in order, Apollos returned and became its bishop. Though tradition doesn’t tell us the name of the author of Hebrews, many later scholars speculated that Apollos, of all the New Testament characters we know, is probably the best fit.

In the book of Philemon, we hear about a young slave named Onesimus, a Christian, who has fled from his master and taken refuge with Paul. Paul decides to send Onesimus back to Philemon his master (who is also a Christian), with firm instructions that he is to be treated as a brother and not as a slave. We know from other sources that this same Onesimus was freed from slavery by Philemon, was appointed for ministry by the apostles, and that he served as the bishop of Ephesus, one of the leading Christian cities in the world, after Timothy died. Ignatius of Antioch, in fact, mentions Onesimus by name as the bishop of Ephesus in his letter to that church. Onesimus continued serving in that ministry for at least a decade before being imprisoned and martyred.

Jude the Brother of Jesus
We know very little about Jude from the New Testament, other than that he was one of those considered to be a brother (or other close relation) of Jesus, along with James the Just. He was the author of the book of Jude. But we do have an interesting little story about Jude’s children, who were also Christians. In the 90s AD, the Emperor Domitian was engaged in a series of persecutions against Christians. He was wary of Jewish messianic movements to begin with, and he had heard rumors about Christ establishing “the kingdom of God.” So he had some of his officials round up a few of the living descendants of David still in Palestine, and they happened to be the children and grandchildren of Jude. Emperor Domitian asked them about their wealth and power and examined their hands, all of which proved that they were no more than simple farmers and peasants. Then he questioned them about the nature of Christ’s kingdom, and they explained to him that it was a spiritual kingdom at this stage of history, and would only become an earthly kingdom at the end of the world. Their courageous honesty convinced Domitian to put a halt to the persecution of Christians, because he no longer saw them as a danger. For this, the family of Jude was honored throughout the church, and many went into ministry leadership in the congregations of Palestine.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Photo of the Week

Jesus, Savior, here we bless Thee,
All Thy goodness we adore;
And with humble songs address Thee,
God of mercy's boundless store!
Blessed with Thy divine protection,
May we run in holy ways;
Love Thee with supreme affection,
Give Thee never-ceasing praise.

- from verses 1 & 3 of hymn #405 in the Augustine Hymn Book, 19th century

Monday, January 20, 2020

Quote of the Week

"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."

- Abba Anthony, early church desert father

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton

Friday, January 17, 2020

Hymn of the Week: We Delight in Our Maker

This week's offering was an experiment, and the results are, while interesting and fun, not the most user-friendly of hymn lyrics. I tried to set words to the famously beautiful run of notes that serve as the transitions in Bach's wonderful "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," and it came out well enough, at least if you don't mind run-on sentences and don't require any space to breathe while you sing. I've written a little bridge to fit in the notes that are traditionally used for verse-lyrics in the middle of the song; but if one wanted, one could choose instead to insert portions of the traditional hymn-lyrics here (Jesus, joy of our desiring, / holy wisdom, love most bright; / drawn by thee, our souls aspiring / soar to uncreated light).

We Delight in Our Maker

We delight in our Maker, Redeemer, and Savior,
And we offer all of our praises to our King,
Who ransomed us, called us his daughters and sons
And bestowed all his favor upon us,
Who by grace are lavished with love
And with unmeasured peace in his care.

     Lord, be glorified in us,
     As we seek to do your will.

Lord, we thank you, we love you, we praise you
For all that you've done in our hearts and our lives
And for saving, redeeming us, blessing and keeping us
By the great mercies that you have poured out
Through your Son Jesus Christ,
Who is Lord over all, now enthroned in our hearts.

     Lord, be glorified in us,
     As we seek to do your will.

May the glory, the honor, the praise of the ages
Be always and evermore rising before you
As we worship, bowing and praising your name
While we join with the angels and saints
In their chorus of unending joy
Pouring forth from the courts of our King.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: James the Just

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. - James 1:2-3

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man, just as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. - James 5:16b-18

James the Just

James the Just is one of at least three men by the same name in the apostolic generation (the others are James the son of Zebedee, who was an early martyr, and James the son of Alphaeus—both among Jesus’ 12 disciples). Of the three, James the Just is the most prominent in church history. The New Testament refers to him as a brother of Jesus. Although he didn’t believe in Jesus at first, tradition holds that he converted to the faith after having the resurrected Christ appear to him personally. James became the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem after Peter began his missionary journeys, and he presided over the first major church council (Acts 15). He was the author of the letter of James, and had a reputation among both Christians and Jews as a man of great holiness and prayer.

The Life of James

James the Just

- The dispute over James’ relationship to Jesus has less to do with the New Testament references to him than to various denominations’ views of Mary. If a denomination holds to the doctrine of the “perpetual virginity” of Mary, they consider James an older half-brother or a cousin of Jesus; if a denomination does not hold this doctrine, then James is often assumed to be a younger brother, born of Mary. The Bible isn’t specific enough on this point to decide the issue (James is referred to as Jesus’ adelphos, usually translated “brother,” but broad enough to include cousins). 

- Jesus’ brothers are clearly not convinced by his Messianic claims during his ministry. In Mark 6:2-4, Jesus is rejected by his hometown neighbors, who refer to their personal knowledge of his siblings (including James). Jesus replies by saying, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” In John 7:1-4, Jesus’ brothers urge him to leave Galilee to promote his public career in Judea, and then v.5 adds: “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.” In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus is told that his mother and brothers are nearby, waiting to speak to him. He responds in a way that seems almost dismissive: “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”

- According to tradition, James is convinced of Jesus’ messiahship and divinity when Jesus appears to him personally after his resurrection from the dead. This isn’t one of the resurrection-appearance stories preserved in the Gospels, but Paul mentions it in one of his letters: “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also…” (1 Cor. 15:7-8a). In the book of Acts, it’s clear that James is now a part of the Christian community, and he quickly emerges as a leader (1:14; 12:17; 15:13-21; 21:17-18). Paul, in the letter of Galatians (probably the first book of the NT to be written) refers to James as one of three “pillar apostles” in the early church at Jerusalem (2:9); and he quickly becomes the sole leader of that church, so much so that he presides as the definitive voice at the first great church council.

- James emerges from the New Testament as the leading voice of “Jewish Christianity,” the early Christians who wanted to continue giving the Old Testament Law a place of honor within Christian practice. Though some tensions emerge between Paul and James on this point (see Gal. 2:12; 3:1-10; James 2:14-26), the New Testament is clear that a “middle ground” is reached between the Jewish Christians of James and the Gentile Christians of Paul (see Acts 15).

- James continued to serve as the bishop of Jerusalem until his death in AD 62. He was highly regarded in both the Jewish and Christian communities, continuing to hold to most of the Law-keeping practices of the Pharisees while also preaching Jesus as the Messiah. He lived a life of extreme holiness, so much so that some early records indicate that the priests even allowed him to enter the holiest parts of the Temple to offer prayers. He was known to be such a great man of prayer that his knees were remembered as being “like the knees of a camel” because of the time he spent kneeling.

- During a vacancy in the office of Roman procurator, the high priest in Jerusalem convened the Sanhedrin to condemn James for his support of Jesus as the Messiah. But because of their respect for James, they gave him one last chance: they took him to the roof of the Temple so that he could preach to the crowds below about the supremacy of the Law and disavow Christ. Instead, James proclaimed to the crowd that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and Messiah, and the Pharisees pushed him off the edge of the roof. The fall didn’t kill him, though, so they stoned him to death, even while he prayed for their salvation.


Matthew was one of Jesus’ 12 original disciples (also called "Levi" in some sources), called out of a life as a tax collector. According to early traditions, he preached the Gospel in Judea before departing for other nearby countries. He is traditionally believed to be the author of the Gospel of Matthew, which most modern scholars think was probably produced in a Jewish-Christian church community in Syria. Like James, Matthew’s ministry seems to have been among Jewish believers who still loved the Old Testament Law and wanted to practice it as a way of honoring their faith in Christ. Like most of the disciples, he is said to have died as a martyr.

James, son of Alphaeus

James the Less
Also called “James the Less,” he was one of Jesus’ 12 original disciples, but one about whom very little is known (by contrast, "James the Great" refers to James son of Zebedee, the first of the disciples to be martyred). He appears to be the brother of Matthew/Levi, since Mark 2:14 also calls the latter a son of Alphaeus. Almost nothing is said directly about James in the New Testament, which has led to some confusion as to the identities of the various Jameses. As best as we can tell, James the son of Alphaeus, like the other disciples, received a commission for missionary work after Pentecost. He is said to have traveled south to preach the Gospel in the Nile delta area of Egypt, ministering to the many Jews and pagans who lived there. He was martyred by being crucified, just as Peter, Andrew, and Philip also were.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Photo of the Week

From age to age exalt his Name,
God and his grace are still the same;
He fills the hungry soul with food,
And feeds the poor with every good.

- Isaac Watts, from his hymnographic rendering of Psalm 107

Monday, January 13, 2020

Quote of the Week

I praised the earth, in beauty seen
With garlands gay of various green;
I praised the sea, whose ample field
Shone glorious as a silver shield;
And earth and ocean seemed to say
'Our beauties are but for a day!'

O God! O good beyond compare!
If thus thy meaner works are fair;
If thus thy bounties gild the span
Of ruined earth and sinful man;
How glorious must the mansion be
Where thy redeemed shall dwell with thee!

- Reginald Heber, Anglican bishop of Calcutta in the early 19th century

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Saturday Synaxis

Lord, grant that I may always allow myself to be guided by you,
Always follow your plans,
And perfectly accomplish your holy will.
Grant that in all things, great and small,
Today and all the days of my life,
I may do whatever you require of me.
Help me respond to the slightest prompting of your grace,
So that I may be your trustworthy instrument for your honor.
May your will be done,
In time and in eternity,
By me, in me, and through me. 

- Teresa of Avila

Friday, January 10, 2020

Hymn of the Week: Speak, Lord

I wrote this as a hymn of response to God's call in our lives. Each verse takes its inspiration from one of the Bible's stories about God calling out to a particular person: verse 1, Samuel; verse 2, Elijah; verse 3, Mary; and verse 4, Paul. The tune is taken from the old hymn "I Am Resolved."

Speak, Lord

Lord, in the night I've heard your voice calling,
As you reach out to me;
Give me a heart that's willing to listen,
And all your words receive.
     Speak, Lord, to your servant, as I attend your will;
     I am ready to serve in any way you call.

Amid my journeys of desolation,
Your voice calls out to me:
Not in the windstorm, earthquake, or fire,
But in your gentle peace.
     Speak, Lord, to your servant, as I attend your will;
     Give me strength to follow your voice, so small and still.

My soul will magnify my Creator,
For he has done great things!
May all his words in me be fulfilled,
My Master, my God and King!
     Speak, Lord, to your servant, as I attend your will;
     May it be unto me as you have said it will.

In my rebellions, in all my failures,
Still you have called to me:
Saved and redeemed me, sent me and sealed me
Your blessed Word to preach.
     Speak, Lord, to your servant, as I attend your will;
     Send me by your power and with your Spirit filled.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Heroes of the Faith: Thomas and the Eastern Apostles

[After Jesus tells the disciples he is going back to the Jerusalem area:] Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” – John 11:16

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it; you islands, and all who live in them. Let the desert and its towns raise their voices…let them shout from the mountaintops. Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands. The Lord will march out like a mighty man, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies. – Isaiah 42:10-13

The Apostle Thomas


Thomas has one of the most interesting and exciting stories of all the disciples. Within the New Testament, he is most notable as the apostle who had both the courage to want to die with Jesus (Jn. 11:16) and the skepticism to doubt his resurrection until he came face to face with the risen Christ (Jn. 20:24-28). Early tradition then tells us his story after the events of Pentecost. Like the rest of the disciples, he was assigned a mission field: in his case, India. Unlike the others, however, he dragged his feet about going—India was on the extreme edge of the known world, and he simply didn’t want to go. Eventually circumstances forced him to go, having been sold under contract as a skilled craftsman to help the Indian king Gundaphar build a new palace (in the region of Pakistan). Later, Thomas sailed down the western coast of India to Kerala, where he preached the Gospel and won 17,000 converts. There are still “Saint Thomas Christians” (the Mar Thoma Churches) in that region today. Thomas then crossed India by land to the eastern coast, where he evangelized again before being killed by a spear and buried in the city of Mylapore. The historical record of Thomas’ story is surprisingly strong.

The Story of Thomas and King Gundaphar

Having been sold as a bondservant to King Gundaphar (a real historical figure known for his building projects), Thomas was given a commission to build the king a great palace. Thomas quickly got to work, not in building anything, but in preaching the Gospel and dispensing the construction funds to the poor. After awhile, the king sent a messenger to ask Thomas how the work on the palace was proceeding. Thomas replied that the work was going well, but that more could be added to it. So Gundaphar sent even more money, which Thomas again distributed to the poor instead of using it for construction. Finally, King Gundaphar came in person and was told by some friends that no palace had been built. So he confronted Thomas: “Did you build me the palace I asked for?” “Yes,” Thomas answered, “I have built it.” Then the king demanded that Thomas bring him to the spot and let him see it. “You cannot see it now,” Thomas replied. “But when you depart this life, you shall see it.” Gundaphar is enraged and prepares to execute Thomas, but before he can do so his brother suffers a near-death experience in which he actually sees the heavenly palace that Thomas built for the king by giving alms with his money. His brother’s testimony convinces the king, and he forgives Thomas and becomes a Christian.



Bartholomew (usually also identified with “Nathaniel” of John’s Gospel), does not appear as part of the New Testament story after Pentecost. According to early tradition, this is because he, along with many other apostles, soon left the Jerusalem church to begin their missionary journeys. He had been assigned the regions to the east, in the direction of the Parthian Empire (modern Iran). So he evangelized through Mesopotamia and Parthia. One early tradition states that he even left a copy of the Gospel of Matthew, translated into Hebrew, with a group of Jewish Christians near the border of India. Like Thomas, he may have made it as far as India itself before circling back. His final mission field was the mountainous little country of Armenia (east of Turkey), which he undertook with his fellow disciple Jude Thaddeus. Like most of the disciples, he ended his life as a martyr. The most famous account says that he was arrested, held down, and then skinned alive. He is considered an apostolic founder of the Armenian church. Armenia is still largely Christian even though being in a Muslim region.

Jude Thaddeus


Jude Thaddeus (the disciple of Jesus, often simply called “Jude” or “Thaddeus,” but not the same as the Jude who wrote the book by that name in the New Testament), received as his mission field the regions immediately around Judea. Tradition tells us that he evangelized in the areas that are now Syria and Lebanon, as well as joining with Bartholomew for the mission to Armenia. After Bartholomew’s martyrdom, Jude partnered with another disciple, Simon the Zealot, for a final evangelistic tour. Jude was also martyred, killed with an axe in the city of Beirut. In later traditions, he was known as a man of powerful prayer, and many Orthodox and Catholic devotees respect him as “the patron saint of hopeless causes” for this very reason.

Simon the Zealot

Although almost nothing is known about him from the New Testament, one early tradition claims that he was the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana (Jn. 2), and that he and his bride both became followers of Jesus after that miracle. After Pentecost, he became a missionary to Egypt and Libya before partnering with Jude Thaddeus in Lebanon, where he too was martyred, by being sawed to death.

The Martyrdom of Simon the Zealot