Doctrinal Musing on Eschatology (Last Things)

I believe death is the cessation of the physical life, but it also has a spiritual meaning of separation from God which transitions into eternal spiritual death meaning eternally separated from God. Everyone experiences physical death because of the Fall of Adam and Eve and the entrance of sin into the world (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12, 6:23; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Death is inescapable and irreversible (Ps 89:48; Heb 9:27; Job 16:22). Believers experience physical death, but they no longer experience spiritual death or eternal death. When believers die, their bodies return to dust, but their souls depart from the earthly life to be with God (Ecc 12:7; Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 5:8), “being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.”[1] Upon death, the bodies of unbelievers also return to dust, but they continue to experience spiritual and eternal death. Their souls go to Hades where they await the final bodily resurrection and subsequent eternity in Hell (Matt 10 :28, 25:30; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:22-24; Heb 10:27).

I believe in the “personal, glorious, and bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ with his holy angels,”[2] wherein he will establish his eternal kingdom (Matt 16:27, 24:30-31; Acts 1:11). I believe in a classic premillennial return of Christ, and so at Christ’s return, believers who have died will receive resurrected bodies and will join the other believers on the earth, and all will reign with Christ on the earth for a thousand years (Rev 20:1-6). During the thousand-year reign of Christ, many unbelievers will turn to Christ for salvation. At the end of the thousand years, Satan will receive his final defeat and will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur” where he will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20: 7-10). Then there will be a final bodily resurrection of unbelievers followed by a final judgement and assignment to the final state separated from God in Hell (Rev 20:11-16).

At this point, believers will be with God for eternity in his kingdom and in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev 21).[3] Jonathan Edwards comments on the final state of believers with God by writing,

There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love![4]

Moreover, Edwards explains that the saints will be perfected in love, holiness and peace. The heavenly community will be in harmony with God and with one another. He writes,

Every saint in heaven is as a flower in that garden of God, and holy love is the fragrance and sweet odor that they all send forth, and with which they fill the bowers of that paradise above. Every soul there, is as a note in some concert of delightful music, that sweetly harmonizes with every other note, and all together blend in the most rapturous strains in praising God and the Lamb forever. And so all help each other, to their utmost, to express the love of the whole society to its glorious Father and Head, and to pour back love into the great fountain of love whence they are supplied and filled with love, and blessedness, and glory.[5]

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Eschatology (Last Things)”

Doctrinal Musing on Ecclesiology (Church)

I believe the church is the people of God who are the one community called by God comprised of all faithful believers of all ages.[1] The church consists of people who are chosen (1 Pet 2:9), called (Rom 1:6), and loved (1 Pet 2:10) by the Father, and who are true believers in Jesus Christ and his redemptive work, and who are indwelt, sealed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.[2]

The universal church is invisible and consists of all people from all times and places who are united by their faith in Jesus Christ. The universal church is Jesus’ new humanity, “the first fruit of the new creation, the whole company of the redeemed through the ages.”[3] The universal church is the body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5; Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:24) of which Christ is the divine head (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22). The universal church is the flock of Christ (John 10:14-16; 1 Pet 5:2-4) and the bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-27; Rev 21:2). It is God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:5) and his household or family (Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19).

The universal church is manifest in local and temporal form (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 1:2; Acts 9:31) as the visible church which “is both embassy and parable of the kingdom of heaven, an earthly place where his will is done and he is now present, existing visibly everywhere two or three gather in his name to proclaim and spread the gospel in word and works of love, and by obeying the Lord’s command to baptize disciples (Matt. 28:19) and celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19).”[4]

Baptism is a washing with water, which symbolizes the cleansing of believers from the stain and dirt of sin through the grace of God (Acts 22:16). Baptism is associated with repenting of sin and believing in the gospel (Acts 2:38, 41, 18:8), and so it is a sign and declaration of one’s union with Christ and association with his death, burial and resurrection (Rom 6:3-4).

The Lord’s Supper is a sacramental sign and spiritual truth of the believer’s redemption by Christ’s death. I agree with John Calvin when he writes, “I hold then… that the sacred mystery of the Supper consists of two things—the corporeal signs, which, presented to the eye, represent invisible things in a manner adapted to our weak capacity, and the spiritual truth, which is at once figured and exhibited by the signs.”[5] Thus, when believers partake of the Lord’s Supper, they do so in a heavenly and spiritual manner. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the King of heaven and his people of earth meet in celebration of Christ’s accomplished redemptive work and in anticipation of the heavenly banquet. I believe Christians meet with Christ in the Lord’s Supper and participate in and benefit from the spiritual meaning of his atoning sacrifice. We receive “forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.”[6]

I believe in the unity and fellowship of the church. The church is one in essence and transcends all barriers because it is founded on one gospel, united to one Lord and indwelt by one Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom 12:5) and “[i]n Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Php 2:1-2), and “[m]ake every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). The unity of the church is expressed in fellowship by meeting together (Acts 2:46), by greeting one another (1 Cor 16:19-20), by extending hospitality (Rom 12:13), by sharing resources (Acts 2:44-45), and by suffering together (2 Cor 1:7).

Although Jesus Christ alone is the head of the church (Col 1:18) and the Holy Spirit directs the church (Acts 13:2), God calls and equips individuals to lead and to oversee the church (Eph 4:11; 1 Tim 3:1, 8). I believe in a congregational church government model with plural local elders which includes the lead pastor as one of the elders (Acts 15:22, 20:17, 28).  I believe the church exists to worship (Eph 5:16-19; Col 3:16) and glorify God (Rom 15:6; 2 Thess 1:12; Eph 3:21), to edify believers (1 Cor 14:26; Eph 4:12-13; Col 1:28), to show mercy by caring for the poor and needy (Acts 11:29; 2 Cor 8:4; 1 John 3:17) and to evangelize lost people of all nations (Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8). “The Church is at the very centre of God’s cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel. But a church which preaches the cross must itself be marked by the cross”[7] which demonstrates Jesus’ sacrificial love and service towards others. 

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Ecclesiology (Church)”

Doctrinal Musing on the Holy Spirit

I believe in God-the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor 3:17-18; Heb 9:14), the third person of the Holy Trinity (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; 1 Peter 1:1-2). The Holy Spirit has both unity and distinction within the Godhead and “is of one substance, majesty and glory with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God,”1 “and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified”2 (Gen 1:2; Rom 1:4; Rom 8:2; 1 Cor 2:10-11; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 Pet 4:14).  The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son (John 15:26; John 16:7) as “the unseen yet active personal presence of God in the world”3 (Psa 139:7; John 3:8) in order to bear witness to Jesus4 (John 15:26; 1 John 4:2-3), continue Jesus’ redemptive ministry (John 14:12-17; Acts 1:8), and unite believers to Jesus5 (Titus 3:5). 

The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin and its consequences (John 16:8-11; 1 Cor 14:24-25) and “by his powerful and mysterious work regenerates spiritually dead sinners, awakening them to repentance and faith”6 (Ezek 36:26-27; John 3:5-8; 6:63; Eph 2:1-5). The Holy Spirit indwells believers (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Tim 1:14) and seals them, marking them out as belonging to God (2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14). He “guides, instructs, equips, revives, and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service”7 (Rom 8:14; 1 John 2:27; 1 Cor 12:3-7; 2 Cor 4:16; 2 Cor 3:18). He sanctifies believers enabling them to live holy lives dedicated to the service of God (Matt 3:11; Rom 8:13; Rom 15:16; 2 Thes 2:13).

The Holy Spirit wisely and sovereignly distributes gifts to the church for the edification and benefit of the body of Christ and for the witness in the world  (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:4-11; Eph 4:11; 1 Pet 4:11). The Holy Spirit unifies the body of Christ (Acts 2:44-47; Eph 2:18-22; Eph 4:3). The Holy Spirit inspires prophecy, gives knowledge and inspired the writers of Scripture (Num 24:2-3; 2 Pet 1:21; 1 Cor 12:8; 2 Tim 3:16). The Holy Spirit assures believers of their final victory in Christ and assures their inheritance in the age to come in the eternal kingdom of God (2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:13-14).  

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on the Holy Spirit”

Doctrinal Musing on Soteriology (Salvation)

I believe in the necessity of salvation due to the universal rule of sin in human nature (Isa 64:6; Rom 3:19-23) which separates humanity from God (Isa 59:1-2; Eph 4:18), causes spiritual death (Rom 5:15-16; Col 2:13) and enslaves humanity to evil (Hos 5:4; Rom 7:14-20; 2 Pet 2:13-19). 

“From all eternity God determined in [love and] grace to save a great multitude of guilty sinners from every tribe and language and people and nation, and to this end foreknew them and chose them”[1] (Eph 2:4-5; Rom 3:22-24). God accomplished his salvific plan through the life and work of Jesus (John 3:16; 1 Tim 1:15; 1 John 4:9,14). 

God made “provision for human wrongdoing, corruption, and guilt, provisionally and typologically through Israel’s Temple and sin offerings, then definitively and gloriously in the gift of Jesus’ once-for-all sufficient and perfect sacrificial death on the cross (Rom. 6:10; 1 Pet. 3:18) in the temple of his human flesh (Heb. 10:11-12).”[2] Thus, the death of Jesus was an atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity (John 10:11; 1 Cor 15:3; Gal 1:4; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 3:16). Jesus bore the punishment for the sins of humanity satisfying God’s justice and removing humanity’s guilt and oppression and reconciling humanity to God (Isa. 53:4-6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:14-15).

God calls people out of a state of sin and death to grace and salvation by Christ[3] (1 Cor 1:9; Eph 1:8; 2 Pet 1:10). This call leads to conversion which involves turning to God with repentance and with faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross (Luke 24:46-47; John 1:12; Acts 10:43, 20:21). Closely related to conversion is regeneration which involves the Holy Spirit renewing a person’s inner being, creating new life and transformation (John 3:5-8; 2 Cor 5:17; Php 1:6; 1 John 5:1).

Through faith in Jesus, believers are declared righteous before God (Rom 1:17, 3:28, 5:1). The righteousness of Jesus is imputed to believers (Php 3:9). On account of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the demands of the law of God are fulfilled (Rom 8:3-4) and believers are shielded from God’s wrath (Rom 5:9). Believers are adopted into God’s family (Gal 4:4-5; Eph 1:5) where they have access to the Father (Eph 2:18), to the inheritance of Christ (Rom 8:17; 1 Pet 1:4), to the provisions and protection from the Father (Matt 6:31-33), and to the loving discipline from the Father (Heb 12:6). 

God continues the work of salvation through the process of sanctification. This process of sanctification is the divine act of making Christians holy (Rom 12:1-3). It brings people’s moral condition into conformity with God’s holiness (Matt 5:48; 1 Pet 1:15-16) and with the legal status started in justification (1 Cor 6:11). Sanctification is accomplished by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Rom 8:13; Rom 15:16; 2 Thes 2:13), but Christians also must strive to work and grow in sanctification (Rom 8:13; Php 2:12-13).

Genuine believers “can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved”[4] (John 10:28-29; 1 Pet 1:5,9). All true believers will be glorified. Glorification is the final step in the salvation process. It involves the completion of sanctification, the removal of spiritual defects and the ultimate transformation of the body into a new glorified eternal body (1 Cor 15:38-52; Php 3:20-21; Jude 24; Rev 21:1-2).

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Soteriology (Salvation)”

Doctrinal Musing on Christology

I believe in God-the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity (Matt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14) and the co-equal and co-eternal Son of God-the Father (John 1:2, 10:30, 14:9; Col 1:17). The Son is the “very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father.”[1] The Son is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made.”[2]

The Son became incarnate as the man Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14; Rom 8:3; Col 1:15). When the Son became human, having been conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary (Isa 7:14; Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35; Gal 4:4), he did not cease to be God (Col 2:9; Heb 1:3; 1 John 5:20). Rather, Jesus, the Christ, was the God-man, “fully God and fully human, one person in two natures”[3] (John 1:14; Gal 4:4; 1 Tim 3:16). In other words, “two whole and perfect Natures…the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man.”[4]

Jesus, in all respects, lived a common human life with all the essential human characteristics and frailties, yet he lived without sin[5] (Luke 2:40, 52; Heb 2:14-17, 4:15; 1 John 1:1). Also, Jesus was holy (Mark 1:24; Luke 1:35; John 6:69) and righteous (Luke 23:47; Acts 22:14; Heb 1:8-9) and perfectly obedient to the Father (Matt 26:39; John 4:34; Rom 5:18-19; Heb 10:9). Through the incarnation, Jesus revealed deity and “in his words, deeds, attitude and suffering embodied the free and loving communication of God’s own light (truth) and life (salvation).”[6] Jesus fulfilled the roles of prophet (Matt 12:41; John 3:34; Luke 24:19; Acts 3:20-23), priest (Heb 2:17-18, 5:5-6, 10:19-22), and king (Matt 21:1-9; Luke 1:33; John 18:36-37; Rev 1:5, 11:15), and he is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim 2:5).

Jesus accomplished human redemption (Rom 3:24-25; Eph 1:7; Heb 9:12) and reconciliation with God (Rom 5:6; 2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20) through his death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate (Matt 27:11-56; Mark 15:1-41; Luke 23:1-49) and through his bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day (Matt 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20; Acts 1:3; 4:33; 1 Cor 15:4) and through his ascension into heaven being exalted and glorified at the the right hand of the Father (Luke 24:51; Acts 2:33; Eph 1:20; 1 Pet 3:22).

The exalted Jesus continues to work as savior (Acts 5:31; Heb 7:25), high priest and advocate (Rom 8:34; Heb 4:14; 1 Jn 2:1). Jesus will physically return to the earth with glory (Matt 24:30; Acts 1:11; 2 Thes 1:7; Php 3:20; Rev 1:7), and he will establish the fulness of the eternal Kingdom of God (Luke 22:18; 1 Cor 15:24; 2 Tim 4:1; Rev 11:15).

Footnotes: Continue reading “Doctrinal Musing on Christology”

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)