Sunday Prayers

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things to your beloved Son, whom you anointed priest forever and king of all creation: Grant that all the people of the earth, now divided by the power of sin, may be united under the glorious and gentle rule of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, pg. 30)

Keep your Church alert, Holy Spirit, ready to hear when you are calling, and when you challenge us. Keep us hopeful, Holy Spirit, knowing that Christ will come again. Rouse our spirits, Lord Jesus, that whenever you come to the door and knock you may find us awake, ready to admit and serve you. Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people that, richly bearing the fruit of good works, they may by you be richly rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (1989 A New Zealand Prayer Book, pg. 659)

Jesus is Lord, Christ is King! His kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus, we look to you as the king of the already not-yet in full kingdom of God. We confess that often we fail at living out your kingdom ethics and that often we are complacent in furthering your kingdom mission. Help us yield our lives to your rule and reign while loving you with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Fill our lives with your love that we may love others while being envoys of light and life. Amen. (My prayer)

A Friday Reflection: Because it’s Friday

Sometimes I write on Fridays, thus, I have several posts entitled, A Friday Reflection. More than any other day, Fridays are reflective days for me. With that said, I don’t claim that I do my best writing on Fridays:), just that the way my Fridays are structured, they are very important to my spiritual and contemplative life. This Friday, I want to share how my Friday routine that is structured around being with Jesus and striving to be like Jesus led to my experience of doing Jesus’ kingdom ministry. I want to share that as we journey with Jesus, he will work through us to minister to the hearts and lives of people.

I follow an ancient tradition of viewing every weekend as a “mini” Easter weekend. Basically, this is a practice that weekly reflects on the Friday through Sunday events of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Each day has a specific focus and related spiritual discipline. For example, Fridays are focused on Jesus as the suffering servant on the cross, and the related spiritual discipline is fasting. Saturdays are focused on the mysteries of the Friday events and the profound silence of the grave. The related spiritual discipline is spending time in silence and solitude while contemplating and learning. Sundays are focused on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the related spiritual discipline is gathering with others in celebration. This is a summary of the tradition; much more could be said. I simply want to set the background for my Fridays.

I begin my Fridays spending time with Jesus. I set my gaze upon him and reflect on his life and ministry. I read Philippians 2:5-11 and begin to focus my day and life on following his example. I pray cross centered prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (ACNA 2019)

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your son our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your name. Amen.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Throughout the day, I fast from food. There are many aspects to fasting and people have written lengthy books on the topic, so again there is much that could be said here. I fast to experience some minor physical suffering while reflecting on Jesus’ physical suffering on the cross. I fast to experience the pains of hunger so that during the hunger pains I may focus on hungering and thirsting for God and his righteousness. I fast to devote my body to God and depend on his life-giving sustenance. I fast to discipline my physical urges. I fast to stand in solidarity and pray for people who are starving throughout the world. I fast to give up something in order to make room for God to work in my life and to make room for joy as a result of God’s work. I fast because Jesus fasted, and he explained to his disciples that with prayer and fasting comes power to confront evil (Matt 17:14-21).

My Fridays are also marked by labyrinth walks. A labyrinth is an elaborately designed meditative or prayer path. I walk the path with God towards the center releasing to God all my concerns, fears, trials, desires and sins. I arrive at the center and focus on receiving God and receiving his blessings. I reflect on his provisions with gratefulness and thanksgiving. I listen for anything that God might want to say or show me. Then, I re-walk the path with God with renewal, restoration and rejoicing. I focus on re-entering my Christian life with all that I have received and experienced at the center. I re-imagine my life lived with God.  It is at the labyrinth where on this Friday, my Friday structure intertwined with a ministry experience.  

When I arrived to walk the labyrinth, there was a young man in the distance sitting with his back towards the labyrinth. Typically, I am the only person in this secluded area, so him being there was a unique situation. I began my walk and a few minutes into my practice, the young man’s parents arrived which immediately started a heated argument. I kept walking. They were having a conflict about the young man’s drug abuse that has been going on for years. He had been to treatment several times and his parents were demanding that he admit himself to a treatment program today. I kept walking and started praying for this family. There was a fast approaching time deadline for the young man to enter the prearranged treatment program. The family was in a power struggle. They argued back and forth in a circular pattern.

I have a history of working with youth and families in crisis, so the longer the conflict went on, I started praying and thinking about intervening. I kept walking and started to sense that maybe this was a divine appointment for God to use me in this family conflict. I don’t typically interject myself into this type of scenario, and I considered minding my own business and just leaving after my labyrinth walk. However, I sensed that God was giving me the words to introduce myself to the family and giving me a strategic approach if they were willing to let me sit with them for a while. I felt I had to be obedient to God and trust that he might be up to something in this situation.  The setting, timing and issue along with my sense of preparation was extraordinary.

I stepped out in faith and obedience, and the family allowed me to speak and listen to them. The young man was attentive, and we had a productive conversation. I could tell that he was challenged, and that he was reflecting on the things we were discussing.  I was not going to solve all the family’s issues, but I was a different voice and perspective to change the dynamic of the interaction. The family still had work to do, and they still had to figure out the treatment program option and timeline. I encouraged the family and departed, trusting that God would somehow use my intervention to help the young man and his parents.

This was not a typical Friday. After reflecting on the day, I am amazed how everything works together. I believe that God used the structure of my Friday to prepare my heart and my mind to minister to this family. God leading me to focus on Jesus and on his example enabled me serve and support this family. God leading me in the spiritual discipline of fasting enabled me to be more dependent on him and to confront the undergirding evil that has gripped this young man. God leading me to practice walking with him enabled me to help this family with their journey.

This is a Friday reflection because it’s a unique Friday, but this type of scenario can happen on any day. May we remember that God is always at work and that he will use every aspect of our lives to work all things together for his good purposes.    

A Friday Reflection: Deliverance

Deliverance has been on my mind for several months now. I suppose my reflection started from a pastoral posture while thinking of the people I know and the people I support who are experiencing or have been through severe violence, turmoil, challenges, grief, illness, pain and suffering. I groan for their rescue, removal and escape from these things. My reflection also has focused on my own life and circumstances. I too need deliverance from troubles, disappointments, fears, dangers and sins. Moreover, I look out into society and see the unfathomable chaos, the rampant evil, the seething anger and the extreme division, and I am wobbled saying: “We need deliverance!”  “How will we escape this?” “Who will rescue us from our condition?” 

There are many voices trying to address, protest, change and solve personal and societal challenges. Deliverance is offered through various means. There is the overprescribing of and the overdependence on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications in place of real deliverance and profound transformation. There is the overindulgence in distractions and the shirking of the issues. There is the notion that a political party or a social justice group will lead us out of bondage and into the utopian plains. There is the riotous protesting that demands justice and reparations. There is the increase in gun sales for self-protection against violence. There is the prideful self-reliance by humans that they can lift themselves out of the slimy pit. 

These responses cannot deliver true deliverance because only God is the deliverer of true deliverance. Only through God and through the means of God does true deliverance happen. This was the experience of the Israelites when God delivered them out of Egypt and when God delivered them throughout history from danger, illness, trouble, fear, sin and death. God directly delivered and used people as deliverers (i.e. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the judges, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan and David). 

God’s deliverance was the song of David when he sang,

Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked. From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people (Ps 3:7-8)

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Ps 18:2)

God’s deliverance was the prophetic promise by Jeremiah and by Daniel when they declared,

The Lord said, “Surely I will deliver you for a good purpose; surely I will make your enemies plead with you in times of disaster and times of distress (Jer 15:11).

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book (Dan 12:1).

God’s ultimate deliverance is through the salvation deliverer, Jesus, the anointed one who came and preached good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind and freedom for the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). God-the Son became incarnate in order to suffer and die so that those who are in bondage to sin, evil and death would be set free and rescued from ‘the Devil,’ ‘the present evil age,’ ‘the domain of darkness’ (Heb 2:14-15, Gal 1:4, Col 1:13). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his deliverance ministry continues by God-the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of the Church being guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Triune God is still delivering people from all kinds of circumstances, conditions and perils. As 2 Peter 2:9 states, “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.” God has been delivering people for a long time.

God will deliver people spiritually, emotionally and physically in this life and in the life to come. Thus, we should pray for deliverance as Jesus taught us to pray (…lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. Matt 6:13). We should cry for help and trust in him and wait patiently for him to lift us up out of the mud and the mire (Ps 40:1-3). We should rely upon him to heal our suffering, to calm our fears, to transform our lives. We should be careful not to look to other gods (means) for deliverance. Rather, we should delight in God’s deliverance and give thanks and praise to him (1 Sam 2:1, Ps 30:11-12, Acts 3:8). 

May we look to God for deliverance. Open our hearts to him. Receive him and receive from him. Come to Jesus. Be delivered. No matter how much suffering. No matter how much guilt. No matter how much anger. No matter how much rioting.  

A Friday Reflection: Playing with Words

In her book, entitled Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McIntyre writes about stewardship strategies for using words in various forms of communication. Her #10 strategy involves the concept of play in the communication process. She encourages a ‘free play of the mind’ as a precursor to the ‘process of playing around with words’ in communication. According to McIntyre, creative wordplay is often overlooked by communicators, which is unfortunate “[b]ecause to play with words is to love them, delight in them, honor their possibilities, and take them seriously.” McIntyre gives examples of playing with words and how wordplay may be used to inspire, encourage and entertain, which initiated my own ideas on examples and experiences with wordplay.

I thought of a few wonderful examples of wordplay in Holy Scripture. The first chapter of Jeremiah describes God’s call of Jeremiah to prophetic ministry, and v.11 states, “[a]nd the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

Lost in the English translation of this text is a Hebrew play on words. God gives Jeremiah a vision of an almond branch which in the Hebrew text is rendered שָׁקֵ֖ד, shāqēd, almond branch. Then, God responds using the Hebrew word שֹׁקֵ֥ד, shōqēd, I am watching over. In Hebrew these words look and sound alike and have similar meanings. The vision of an almond tree is significant because it was the first tree to bloom in the spring. It was used in the watching for the spring. Thus, as people watch the almond tree for the realization of spring, God watches over his word for the fulfillment of his promises.

I like to imagine that in this interaction Jeremiah may have smiled and said something like, “God, I see what you did there with the wordplay.”  Or maybe Jeremiah collapsed to the floor with amazement at the profoundness of the wordplay. Whatever Jeremiah’s response, I think God was playful with words to address the challenging reality of Jeremiah’s call to preach the message of judgement and of hope and renewal, “to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10). The people needed to know that past prophetic declarations of judgement and renewal would come true. God would watch for the spring-like moment, the first opportunity to carry out his word. The people needed to be reminded that like their watching the almond tree, God was watching them, and they needed to watch for God as he fulfilled his word.

A New Testament example of wordplay is in Matthew 16:18 which reads, “[a]nd I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In the English text, the name Peter is derived from the Greek name Πέτρος, Petros which also carries the meaning of a stone or a rock. Moreover, in the Greek text the word πέτρᾳ, petra, stone or rock is used. Here we see similar looking and sounding words with similar meanings. With this knowledge, the reader may smile and say, “Aha, I see what you did there Matthew!” Or if one believes in the divine inspiration of Matthew, “Aha, I see what you did there God through Matthew!”

I acknowledge this is a notoriously debated passage between Roman Catholics and Protestants, specifically regarding the topic of the Pope. Sorry, I won’t be commenting on or resolving this debate, and I wish I could come up with some playful words to transition, but I got nothing. This is a strategy that I am just starting to learn, but I digress.

Regardless of how readers interpret this passage, I think we should recognize and appreciate the personal and powerful play on words within the broader textual context that also has a personal and powerful message for those confessing that Jesus is the Christ. Amid this profound and mysterious passage, God deemed it fitting to be playful with words to encourage and inspire and maybe even bring a smile to our faces. There are many other examples of wordplay in the Bible, and I think we should explore them, learn from them, enjoy them and share them with others. By doing this, I believe that we will develop God-like wordplay fruitfulness in our communications with others.

Personally, I have little experience or examples of being playful with words, so I will close with the example of a past colleague and friend named Bridget. I worked with Bridget in a homeless youth program where she is the founder and executive director. She has decades of experience serving youth experiencing challenging circumstances, but she always finds a way to make them smile. One way is by using wordplay. When I worked alongside her, she often used catchy limericks or a playful use of words that would stop youth (and me) in their tracks and jolt them into a positive and happy mood. I thought this was just something she did. Just a funny characteristic. Now, I think there is more to it. I think it is a gift that she has and a skillful strategy that she has developed. I think she knew something that I did not know at the time, that is, the power of the playful use of words. She has impacted hundreds of young people through wordplay, and so I think she stands among the great users of logopoeia (word creation). Bridget is an inspiration and an example of McIntyre’s strategy on the playful use of words which instigated this blog post.

Thus, with the examples in McIntyre’s chapter, the examples in the Bible and the example of Bridget, I am confident that I too (and others) can develop the strategy of wordplay in my communications with others.  This will no doubt take practice. As McIntyre states regarding wordplay, “Try it out. Spin it out. Play it out. See how it feels.” Now that’s grandandioadvice!  

Sunday Prayers

Help my fear, Lord, and my unbelief. Help me to learn your goodness by heart. Help me, Lord, in the midst of my doubts and worries, to begin to see what you see when you look at my world. Imprint that vision somewhere deep within where it can stay, and speak and live. Amen (Help, me Lord from Celtic Daily Prayer: Book Two, 1041)

Lord Jesus, you taught us to pray. Now help us pray for our daily bread while laboring with love for those who hunger. Show us how to hallow your name while striving for justice in our relationships and in society. May our whole lives become a prayer, ever to your glory. Amen (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, 441)

God, I walk with you, yielding my life to your will. Deliver us from the things that distract us from you. Free us from the chaos that so easily enters this world. Heal our pain, sadness and disappointment. Help us set our gaze upon you and to receive your grace, mercy and peace. May we reflect your goodness in the world and live as people of light, life and love. Amen (My Prayer)

Caring for Words

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak.- James 1:19

It was said about Abba Agathon that for three years he carried a pebble around in his mouth until he learned to be silent. – From Desert Wisdom: Sayings From the Desert Fathers

A word with power is a word that comes out of silence. A word that bears fruit is a word that emerges from the silence and returns to it. -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

In the age of social media there are a lot of words being used, sometimes for good and sometimes to the detriment of a whole nation. Words are important, and we should learn to care for words. However, we should first reflect on silence and listening before strategizing about loving and using words. I think active and attentive listening is a primary language of loving others well and of effective communication. We listen by first being silent, and we learn to be silent in the silence and solitude with God. How do we care for words? By entering the silence. By learning to be silent. By speaking and writing out of the silence on what we have heard, experienced and learned in the silence.

A Tribute to My Parents (50th Anniversary)

This is a theological essay on marriage as a tribute to my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Christians believe in one God in three persons. A Trinity in unity. God is a being. God is personal. God is loving. Thus, God is a relational being and from this nature, God created human beings in his own image. The image of God in humans includes various aspects while primarily corresponding to the loving, relational life of God-the Father, God-the son and God-the Holy Spirit. Humans were created to participate in this divine relationship. They were created to lean into the Trinity’s loving embrace, to experience the magnificent glory of the Godhead and to enjoy and to be completely satisfied in the Triune goodness. 

In the Genesis creation narrative, Adam begins his life journey without a suitable relational companion and helper. Then, God declares the relational truth about humanity, that it is not good for the human to be alone. God recognized Adam’s capacity for relationship as an image bearer and his detrimental isolation among the animals. Adam needed companionship with a distinct-yet-corresponding other. He needed belonging and togetherness within a peer community. God responds to Adam’s situation by creating another human (Eve) to relate with and to experience life’s journeys with. When Adam encounters another human, he responds with joy and relief uttering, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman, for she was made from Man” (Gen 2:23). Eve fulfilled Adam’s capacity for human relationship and vice versa Adam for Eve.

God created humans, male and female. He blessed them and commissioned them to “[b]e fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). Within the blessing and the commissioning of humans, God instituted marriage between a man and a woman for future generations. The aside statement of Genesis 2:24, “[t]herefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh,” describes the man’s new primary loyalty to and loving embrace of his wife and the profound ‘one-flesh-ness’ unity of marriage. The ‘one flesh’ meaning of marriage involves one man and one woman in one fully shared life whereby the two become a new God-designed, God-purposed, God-supported and God-guided ‘one life.’ It is a committed, exclusive and lifelong partnership. This ‘one flesh’ union becomes the most profound bond that exists between two human beings.

The marriage relationship reflects the image of the triune God. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are intimately relating equal and distinct persons of the same nature and essence with different roles in the pursuit of a glorious common purpose. The Father loves and leads; the Son submits and redeems; the Holy Spirit proceeds and sanctifies. Likewise, husbands and wives are of the same nature and essence while being equal and distinct with unique roles for a common purpose. The husband loves and leads, the wife yields to and supports her husband’s leadership and together they go out into the world as a sanctifying presence.

Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is used to describe the relationship between God and Israel. God is described as a husband declaring his marriage vows to his wife Israel. God speaking through the prophet Ezekiel states, “I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine” (Eze 16:8 MSG). The prophet Isaiah states, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name” (Isa 54:5). Jeremiah 2:2 describes Israel’s early faithfulness by using the marriage metaphor, “Thus says the Lord: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” While celebrating the intimacy between a married couple, the Song of Solomon is also a marriage metaphor about God and his people. The people of God are the beloved of God, and God’s desire is for them. 

The Old Testament prophets also describe Israel’s unfaithfulness as a broken marriage covenant, which led to a form of divorce between God and his people. Jeremiah 3:20 states, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,” declares the Lord.” Hosea 2:2 states, “But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband. Let her remove the adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.” However, speaking through the prophets, God calls Israel to return as his bride (Jer 3:12-14) and promises to restore the marriage relationship (Isa 62:4-5).

The metaphor of the marriage relationship between God and his people extends to the New Testament. In John 3:29, John the Baptist describes himself as the best man who eagerly waits and listens for the arrival of the bridegroom, knowing that upon hearing the voice of the bridegroom there is great joy. John the Baptist explains that he experiences such joy because Jesus has arrived as the bridegroom. Jesus also refers to himself as the bridegroom throughout his ministry (Matt 9:15 pp Mark 2:19-20 pp Luke 5:34-35; Matt 22:2; 25:1-13).

While teaching on marriage, the Apostle Paul identifies marriage as a ‘profound mystery’ revealing Christ’s marriage relationship with the church. Paul points to parallels between the marriage of a man and a woman and the ultimate marriage of Christ and his church. As a husband and a wife are ‘one flesh’ in marriage, Christians are members of Christ’s body. According to Paul, Human marriage is the earthly type, pointing towards the spiritual reality. Earthly marriages should reflect the heavenly marriage with Christ. Thus, husbands should love their wives with the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church, and wives should submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Together a husband and wife have the sacred privilege of declaring through their union the greater profound union with Christ (Eph 5:22-33).

Human marriage is a good thing, but all human allegiance ultimately belongs to Christ. There is no human marriage in heaven. The heavenly kingdom with Christ is the marriage. The Apostle John writes, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”(Rev 21:2). The heavenly multitude shouts, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear”(Rev 19:6-8). 

In view of the theological aspects of marriage, here are some practical points about marriage. First, marriage cultivates spiritual formation. Marriage is one way in which the Holy Spirit transforms people into the image of Christ. Through marriage, the Holy Spirit sanctifies, heals, challenges and blesses people. Second, because of sin entering the world and its effect on the human condition, no marriage is perfect. Every marriage involves work and the giving and receiving of grace and mercy. Couples must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and grow their marriages. Third, marriage is the intended context for raising children. Marriage is the nucleus of the family. Children need a mother and a father in the home. They need the commitment, exclusivity and stability that a marriage relationship provides. Fourth, marriage is the most basic and instrumental social relationship for the welfare of society. Without marriages, society will collapse. Thus, marriage as God has designed and purposed must be upheld. 

For 50 years, my parents have emulated many of the theological and practical aspects of marriage. They are a testimony of God’s intention for marriage and of God’s faithfulness to married couples who set their gaze upon and follow Christ.

Sunday Prayers

Jesus, when you rode into Jerusalem, the people waved palms with shouts of acclamation. Grant that when the shouting dies, we may still walk beside you even to a cross. Amen (A New Zealand Prayer Book, Collect for Palm Sunday)

Let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord, we bless you. The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs [branches] in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise you; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Amen (Psalms 118:24b-29 NIV)

Lord Jesus Christ, blessed are you, the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel. We wave before you like palm branches the words of the written charge placed above your head on the cross, “THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Help us to honor you, not with branches, but with loving and merciful acts of service towards one another. Jesus we lay our thoughts and desires under you, so that you may draw the whole of our being to yourself and that we would experience the whole of your being in our lives. O Lord, lest the rocks cry out in our place, we lift our whole lives in praise to you. Amen (My Prayer, inspired by Andrew of Crete, an eighth century martyr)

Modern Eschatology (1800-Present)

During the early nineteenth century, a group of conservative and non-conformist Christians gathered in Dublin, Ireland and later formed a church congregation in Plymouth, England. Thus, they became known as the Plymouth Brethren and were a reactionary movement against the established Church of England. They emphasized the authority of Scripture, preaching of the gospel to unbelievers, sacrificial devotion, simple and unstructured worship, and non-ordained clergy.[1] John Nelson Darby was the founder and the most influential teacher of the movement, and his views regarding dispensationalism and dispensational premillennialism challenged the historical premillennialism view.

According to Darby, God interacts with humanity through a series of dispensations (or well-defined time periods), and he reveals a specific purpose to be achieved during each period.[2] With this view of dispensations, Darby made a strong distinction between the Church and Israel. Each are located in their distinct dispensation with their own history and future, and so he posited that the Church has not replaced Israel and that God interacts separately with the Church and Israel.[3]

When his dispensational views were applied to the end of the age, Darby believed that the Old Testament prophesied that a Jewish remnant will go through a time of great tribulation before experiencing the blessings of the promised land, but since the Church was not present in the Old Testament and since the Church is separate from Israel, the Church will experience the rapture or removal from the world before the great tribulation. Also, Darby referred to Revelation 3:10 and 12:10-12 to support his view of the Church’s exemption from the great tribulation.[4] Revelation 3:10 states, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” Revelation 12:10-12 describes the devil being hurled down to earth to cause fury on the earth, and then it states, “Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!”

Therefore, Darby believed that the Church will only experience heavenly blessings which will come through the rapture, and for rapture support, he referred to 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which states, “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” From this perspective, Christ’s second return will come in two stages. The first stage consists of his pretribulation return to meet raptured believers in the air, and the second stage consists of his full return to the earth, after the seven-year tribulation, where he will begin his literal thousand year reign. This pretribulation premillennialism (or dispensational premillennialism) view is different than the historic premillennialism view which posits only one final premillennial return of Christ.

The dispensational movement and its implications on eschatology became popular in the United States through the works of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921 CE). His creation of the Scofield Reference Bible includesseveral study notes from a dispensational perspective, and his book entitled, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, expounds on the seven dispensations of history. These seven dispensations (or time periods) include: 1) Innocence-from the time of creation to the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden. 2) Conscience-from the expulsion from Eden to the flood. 3) Human government-from the flood to Abraham and his call. 4) Promise-from the promises to Abraham to the bondage in Egypt. 5) Law-from Moses and the law to the coming of Christ and his death. 6) The Church-from the resurrection of Christ to the present. 7) The millennium-consisting of the last battle, final judgment and the new heaven and new earth.[5]

The Scofield Reference Bible was very influential in forming the dispensational theology and eschatology in the United States because it taught many American Evangelicals to read the Scriptures with a dispensational mindset which informed their dispensational premillennialism eschatology. Thus, throughout the twentieth century, dispensational theology and eschatology was commonplace among many American Evangelical scholars and church laity.

Furthermore, dispensationalism was advanced through the founding of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) by dispensationalist Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1924, and his multi-volume Systematic Theology became the standard theological text at DTS. Also, beginning in the 1970s, dispensationalism and pretribulation premillennialism was promoted through popular literature specifically in the book entitled The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey and the Left Behind series of novels by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins.[6] These writings set out to present eschatological prophecies in relation to current events from a pretribulation premillennialism perspective. The Late Great Planet Earth gives a thorough systematic account of perceived eschatological current events and then predicts that the rapture would occur during the 1980s. The Left Behind series tells a contemporary fictional story based on end times prophecies. The story tells of the pretribulation rapture of Christians which leaves the rest of the world seeking answers and stability. Both works were developed into movies which introduced dispensational premillennialism to an even larger American audience.

Another aspect of eschatology that was emphasized during the late nineteenth and twentieth century was the apocalyptic character of Jesus’ teaching especially in his proclamation of the “imminent coming of the eschatological kingdom of God.”[7] This was the view of Johannes Weiss who argued that Jesus was a “wild apocalyptic visionary proclaiming the end of the world.”[8] Albert Schweitzer argued that Jesus “was a deluded fanatic who futilely threw his life away in blind devotion to a mad apocalyptic dream which was never realized and…never could be realized.”[9] Thus, according to Schweitzer, Jesus sacrificed his life due to a misunderstanding that God would deliver him from the cross while ushering in the new age of the divine kingdom.[10] 

In response to Weiss and Schweitzer, Charles H. Dodd posited a “realized” eschatological view of Jesus’ preaching meaning that the kingdom of God had already been realized or happened through the coming of Jesus. Dodd argued that the future last days events prophesied by the Old Testament prophets have been fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. Dodd submits that Jesus declared that the “kingdom of God was at hand” (Mark 1:15) and that it had already come upon the people (Matthew 12:28), and so it was not something that was to come in the future.

Dodd’s ‘realized eschatology’ was challenged by several New Testament scholars including W.G. Kümmel, Oscar Cullmann and George Eldon Ladd. They argued that the eschatology of Jesus and the New Testament was paradoxical meaning that “[i]n one sense the kingdom of God had already arrived with the presence of Jesus, but in another sense it had not yet come.”[11] This paradoxical view has been called ‘inaugurated eschatology’ which emphasizes that the “kingdom of God has begun to exercise its influence within human history, although its full realization and fulfillment lie in the future.”[12] Inaugurated eschatology became the most widely accepted view by New Testament scholars during the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century.


[1] H.H. Rowdon, “Darby, John Nelson (1800-82)” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT): Historical and Systematic, edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [2] H.H. Rowdon, “Dispensational Theology,” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT): Historical and Systematic, edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [3] Gregg R. Allison, Historical Theology : An Introduction to Christian Doctrine : A Companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011) EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period.” [4] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period.” [5] This paragraph is indebted to both Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period” and Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011),EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Dispensationalism: The Structures of Eschatology.” [6] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt. 7, ch.31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Modern Period Period” [7] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “The Twentieth Century: The Rediscovery of Eschatology.” [8] Noble, “Eschatology” in NDT, EPUB edition.[9] George Eldon Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Pub., 1974), 5. [10] Noble, “Eschatology” in NDT, EPUB edition. [11] Noble, “Eschatology” in NDT, EPUB edition. [12] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “The Twentieth Century: The Rediscovery of Eschatology.”

Sunday Prayers

Holy and everliving God, by your power we are created and by your love we are redeemed; guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, that we may give ourselves to your service and live this day in love to one another and to you; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen. (A New Zealand Prayer Book)

Lord God, when the hungry are fed, the sick healed, the lonely made family, the outcast brought in, the sinner forgiven, the tyrant transformed, and the enemy reconciled, we know your work by the fruit it produces. May our lives bear fruit worthy of your name. Amen. (Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)

Thank you God that we are never alone because you are always immanent. We praise you for your loving presence that gives us peace and transforms our hearts and minds. Help us to practice the ministry of loving presence to whomever we meet and to show sympathy and empathy to those experiencing trials of various kinds. Amen. (My Sunday Prayer)