Sunday Prayers

Lord, help me keep my thoughts on the things that are above. Even if I spend time and energy buying gifts for others during this season, help me to invest above all in the gifts of your kingdom and the treasures of your love, your grace, and your mercy. (Daniel G. Groody, Daily Reflections for Advent & Christmas 2019, pg. 7)

Jesus, you are the long-awaited messiah sent to set the captives free and to bring forth your kingdom of peace. As those of old anticipated your coming, help your church to yearn for your second coming. As your messenger prepared the way before you, may we prepare our hearts to receive you and your blessed gifts. As people of light, life and love, move us to joyously proclaim your name among the nations. (My prayer)

A Friday Reflection: Peace, Peace…But?

They have treated my people’s brokenness superficially, claiming, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Jer. 6:14

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. A day of commemoration of a meal in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag. It was a gathering of different cultures to celebrate and to give thanks for a successful harvest. It was a peace meal that would initiate fifty years of peace between the distinct people. However, eventually the peace faded and war broke out between the two groups. 

Fast forward to 1863 during the American Civil War where Abraham Lincoln, on the heels of his issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, pointed back to the 1621 peace meal as an example of the spirit that would heal the wounds of war, put an end to the civil strife and restore the nation. He declared the last Thursday of November as an offical annual holiday marked by thanksgiving, celebration and peace. Also, Lincoln stirred the people to humbly repent of “national perverseness and disobedience” and to provide tender care to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”[1]

Lincoln cast the vision for future Thanksgiving Day observance, and thus throughout the years on Thanksgiving Day most U.S. citizens have strived to gather together with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and strangers to give thanks, to celebrate, to pass the peace and to take care of one another. There has been many annual meals commemorating that first thanksgiving meal and Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day vision. The nation says peace, peace!

But we need to ask ourselves, is it superficial? Is it sincere? Will it last? In the United States, the day after Thanksgiving Day is referred to as “Black Friday” and throughout the years, Black Friday has been creeping in reverse into Thanksgiving evening and extending to “Cyber Monday” and into the Advent season. Black Friday is all about saving on material goods. People camp outside waiting for the stores to open so they can take advantage of all the deals. Every year there are people getting into fights over the hot deal items. On Thursday people offer a turkey wing to their neighbor while on Friday they elbow a stranger in the face. Seemingly peaceful on Thursday but a complete savage on Friday. We can celebrate and be grateful for the harvest but then get completely overrun with materialism, consumerism and discontentment. 

We can gather with family, friends and neighbors, and we can even put our differences aside for a few hours all in the name of Thanksgiving Day. We can feast and go around the table saying why we are thankful while neglecting to apologize or repent for the wrongs we have committed to one another. Thanksgiving Day can become a superficial treatment to the brokenness of our relationships. We can say “peace, peace when there is no peace.” 

How do we experience geniune and lasting thankfulness and peace? Well, I think Lincoln touches upon this with his emphasis on grace, mercy and providence of the Almighty God. Lincoln explains that even “in the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity” the nation has experienced bountiful blessings. He states, “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”[2]

Thus, we should sincerely and humbly look to God praising and thanking him. Not just with our lips but with our whole hearts, with our whole being, with our whole life. We should always be quick to confess our sins to God so that we might experience his grace, mercy and peace. We should always be quick to genuinely confess our wrong doings to one another so that we may experience forgiveness and reconciliation. We should always be quick to forgive so that we may experience God’s restoration.  

Moreover, we should resist the “Black Friday” culture. I think the team over at Advent Conspiracy has done great work at reversing the hijacking (which begins on Black Friday) of the Advent and Christmas seasons. They do a good job at explaining how materialism and consumerism have crowded out the meaning and purpose of Advent and Christmas.

If we celebrate on Thanksgiving Day to the glory of God and settle into the true meaning of the Advent and Christmas seasons, then we will more fully experience God’s goodness and greatness through the redemptive life and work of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus became incarnate and died for our sins and was resurrected, we also are resurrected and our resurrection hearts and lives will be filled with genuine and lasting thankfulness and peace. 

On the western church calendar, the Advent season starts on Sunday Dec. 1. Let’s forgo Black Friday (or cyber Monday if your already shopped today) and prepare to settle into Advent.  


[1] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

[2] http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

Eschatology of the Imperial Church Period (c. 306-500 C.E.)

During the time of the Imperial Church, changes in eschatological views began to shift, specifically on the millennium. The Alexandrian allegorical interpretation espoused by Origen and others had a lasting impact in the area of eschatology. Tyconius wrote Book of Rules where he presented his interpretive method for the scriptures. He taught that the prophecies of scripture will be fulfilled spiritually, not literally as the Early Church had imagined. According to his interpretation of Revelation 20:1-6, the one thousand years is a spiritual reign with Christ and corresponds to the current church age. Thus, due to the rejection of a literal millennium, Tyconius’ view has been called “amillennialism.”[1]   

Tyconius influenced Augustine who further explained the amillennial view by linking the bondage of Satan for a thousand years in Revelation 20:2-3 with Jesus’ casting out demons as a result Satan being bound (Mark 3:27) and by referring to Luke 10:18 where Jesus states, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” According to Augustine, when the church began to extend throughout the nations, this revealed that Satan’s power had been restrained and crippled. It is only when Satan is subdued that people experience the “first resurrection” spiritually, and then reign with Christ spiritually until he comes a second time at the end of the world.[2] While Augustine taught that there was no literal future millennium, he did posit that there was a future eternal millennium that symbolically rounded out “the seven millenniums from Adam which he held comprised the history of man.”[3]

On a more superficial level, Augustine may have avoided the literal interpretation of the millennium due to a popular view that the millennium emphasized “luxurious material blessings”[4] or that it was “a time of carnal enjoyment.”[5] This view may have formed within the context of the new changes between church and state under Constantine’s prioritizing of Christianity.[6] Regardless of Augustine’s exact reasoning for his rejection of the literal millennium, his “amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20 superseded the premillennial understanding so prevalent in the early church. With this development, amillennialism became the dominant eschatological belief for well over the next millennium.”[7]

Beyond his amillennial views, Augustine developed his eschatology into a philosophy of history in his treatise entitled City of God. In this work, he describes two cities—the city of God and the city of the world. These two cities battle throughout the ages, but God and His city prevail in the end.[8] The story of these two cities presents a strong Christian eschatology where the church is exiled in the present secular world during the time between Christ’s incarnation and his glorious return. There is an eschatological tension experienced by those of the city of God as they live out the Christian faith surrounded by unbelief while at the same time looking to the future hope where they will finally be delivered and be with God in his glory for eternity.[9]       

In the City of God, Augustine presents his views on final judgement and eternal punishment. He followed the NT writers and the Early Church Fathers on these views in the face of several opponents. There was the continued influence of Origen’s allegorical theology that posited that God would ultimately restore and save every fallen being, and so punishment was viewed as rehabilitative and not eternal. Some argued that eternal punishment was impossible seeing that continued punishment would eventually destroy embodied human beings. Others suggested that there were no sins that one could commit which would warrant eternal punishment or that God, due to his compassionate character, would eventually cease punishment.[10] In response to these arguments, Augustine, referring to Matthew 25:46, wrote,

If both destinies are “eternal,” then we must either understand both as long continued but at last terminating, or both endless. For they are correlated: On the one hand, punishment eternal; on the other hand, life eternal. And to say in one and the same sense ”life eternal will be endless, punishment eternal will come to an end,” is the height of absurdity. Therefore, as the eternal life of the saints will be endless, so too the eternal punishment of those who are doomed to it will have no end.[11]


[1] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [2] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [3] John F. Walvoord, “Amillennialism From Augustine to Modern Times” Bibliotheca Sacra 106, no. 424 (1949), 423. [4] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [5] Walvoord, “Amillennialism From Augustine to Modern Times,” 423. [6] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [7] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [8] Noble, “Eschatology,” in NDT, EPUB edition. [9] McGrath, Christian Theology, EPUB edition, pt.3, ch. 18, “Augustine: the two cities.” [10] Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.” [11] Augustine, City of God, 21.3, in NPNF, 2:453-54 quoted by Allison, Historical Theology, EPUB edition, pt.7, ch. 31, “Eschatological Beliefs in the Early Church.”

John Calvin: Christian Scholar and Reluctant, yet Faithful, Pastor

John Calvin recognized early on in his Christian life that his gifts and skills were that of a scholar and author rather than an active reformation leader or pastor. Thus, one of the most significant aspects about his life was his ability to systematize protestant theology through writing. His Institutes of the Christian Religion played a major role in the furtherance of protestant theology during the reformation.

Another significant aspect of Calvin’s life was his availability for kingdom ministry. Calvin knew that he was more equipped to be a scholar and author and was reluctant to take on any ministerial roles. In fact, he declined such roles on numerous occasions, but when he experienced the Holy Spirit’s call to certain ministerial work, he submitted and served the church as a pastor. On one such occasion he was on his way to a comfortable life as a writer in Strasbourg, but he was detoured on his trip and landed in Geneva. He had planned on staying in Geneva for a day and then continue on to Strasbourg; however, after he had an encounter with a leader named Farel, who challenged Calvin to stay and pastor those in Geneva, Calvin had a change of heart and decided to stay in Geneva and help the protestant movement. Eventually he left Geneva and made it Strasbourg where he planned on fulfilling his original intentions to settle as a writer, but once again, a leader, named Bucer, recruited Calvin to the pastorate, and Calvin agreed and became the pastor in Strasbourg.[1]

This aspect of Calvin’s life should be emphasized because Calvin could have stuck his heels in the ground and refused to do anything other than scholarly writing, but he had an available heart before the Lord when things were coming together for him to step into pastoral ministry. It was not easy for Calvin to detour from his plan of a quiet life as a writer, but I imagine that he recognized that God was leading him in different directions, and so he needed to follow God rather than pursue his own ambitious plans.  


[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity: Vol.2 Reformation to the Present Day, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt. 1, ch. 7, “The Reformer of Geneva.” 

Luther and His Confessor

A significant element in Martin Luther’s life was his relationship with his confessor and priestly superior. As a spiritual advisor, Luther’s confessor had helped him during his spiritual and theological struggles by suggesting that Luther read the writings of the medieval mystics. Through the reading of the mystics, Luther experienced some liberation by adopting the mystic ethos of loving God. This enabled Luther to focus less on his internal struggles with sin and more on experiencing and reciprocating God’s love.

When Luther’s experience with the writings of the mystics had ran its course due to the re-emergence of his internal struggles with his past and with sin, his confessor did not give up on him but gave him further counsel. The confessor boldly and wisely ordered Luther to begin teaching the Scriptures at University of Wittenberg. The purpose of such an order was attached to the hope that if Luther began teaching and pastoring others, then he would be able to break away from his internal struggles. Thus, Luther began to teach the scriptures which eventually led him to lecture on the Epistle of Romans. At this point, the Holy Spirit pressed upon Luther Romans 1:17 which changed his perspective and life. He was set free by the truth of the redeeming gospel that “justification by faith” is a free gift from God to sinners. With his new perspective on the gospel and his new experience of God, Luther subtly began his new reforming mission.

This part of Luther’s life should be reflected on because it is an incredible picture of the drama of redemption and the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s storied people. God has acted through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit ministers and leads people to enter into the redemptive drama where people are liberated from sin, torment and death. The Holy Spirit opens people’s hearts and minds in order to understand God’s salvation. As the Holy Spirit leads the body of Christ in their performance of the drama of redemption through loving and ministering to one another, people will experience the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus Christ.

Sovereignty of God and Free Will of Humans

I want to preface this post by suggesting that the conundrum of the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans that has been debated for centuries is one of the inherent problems of systematic theology and of using a proof texting method. Trying to solve this conundrum by using systematic and proof texting methods often distracts from the theo-drama.

As dramatis personae in the drama of redemption, God and humans perform their parts in the unfolding aesthetic grandeur of the greatest possible love story. Being overly focused on resolving the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans is to dedramatize these performances and the Scriptures. Rather than trying to solve this conundrum we should focus on telling the grand ole drama. Nevertheless, I will briefly discuss the conundrum because as a theologian, I just can’t help from being pulled into the fray. Here goes.

God’s sovereignty is challenged by the problem of evil. Human free will is challenged by the view of the sovereignty of God. With that said, both have limitations. God is possibly limited in actualizing certain possible worlds, and a world with morally free creatures who always do good is one of those worlds.[1] Moreover, humans are limited in their free will because they do not have maximal autonomy.[2] So where do we go from here?

Part of the theo-drama is that God creates the best possible world which includes the best achievable good in any possible world—the incarnation and the atonement[3]—the pinnacle of the theo-drama. In order for the incarnation and the atonement to be the best possible drama in the best possible world, then humans, evil and sin would need to exist. Thus, God creating the best possible world involves creating humans who are significantly free to do what is morally right or what is morally wrong.[4]God determined that it was better to create a world with humans having free will, than a world with humans having no free will.[5]

Now the Bible presents the sovereignty of God, so how does that square with human free will? Because God is omniscient, he knows all propositional truth about the future and he knows all counterfactuals of freedom. He has middle knowledge. In other words, God knows what any free creature would do in any given set of circumstances. Thus, God determines what circumstances to acquiesce with or not to acquiesce with, what circumstances to actualize or not to actualize based on his divine purposes. Moreover, he knows how to involve himself while preserving human free will throughout the process.[6]

This is not a perfect solution, but it is a possible solution that harmonizes the sovereignty of God and the free will of humans.


[1] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), 30. [2] Alvin Plantinga, Bait and Switch: Sam Harris on Free Will. https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/janfeb/bait-and-switch.html?start=2 [3] Michael W. Hickson, “A Brief History of Problems of Evil” in The Blackwell Companion to The Problem of Evil, ed. Justin P. McBrayer and Daniel Howard-Snyder (Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 187-188. [4] Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. [5] Plantinga, God, 30. [6] W.J. Wood, “Molinism,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell. Third ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).

Today’s Hymn: Jesu nostra redemptio

Jesus, redemption all divine,
Whom here we love, for whom we pine,
God, working out creation’s plan,
and in the latter time made man;

What love of thine was that, which led
To take our woes upon thy head,
And pangs and cruel death to bear
To ransom us from death’s despair.

Let very mercy force thee still
To spare us, conquering all our ill;
And, granting that we ask on high
With thine own face to satisfy.