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A Year of STUPID COVID

That is what we call it in the office here at church. Stupid COVID.

Today (March 11) seems to be the day we as a nation are marking the one year awareness of C-19. As a caveat, I would like to say I distinctly remember being aware of it by late January and all through February. I think what we are remembering is when people recognized how serious it was with the cancellation of NBA games and the public announcement that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19.

I know when I took it seriously — it was March 4 when Sony MGM announced they were postponing the release of No Time To Die, the newest James Bond film and probably Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007. I remember my thought process very clearly — studios are designed to make money, and if they see the risk of releasing it in April then this must be quite the problem. The second real stand-up moment for me was March 13 when the NCAA announced it was cancelling the annual basketball tournament. March Madness is a huge money maker for these colleges. Cancelling it was serious. The best way to judge what people really think and feel is to follow the money. These two cancellations were demonstrable that people were afraid enough to throw money away.

At present, a year down the line, I am very optimistic about the future. It seems like the vaccines are working. Case numbers are down. People are rolling up their sleeves. I am very hopeful that by May or June we can be back to something like normal.

Since everyone else is dong it, let me make some observations about the past year.

  1. I am very impressed with the vast majority of Americans in general, people in my community in specific, and our church in the extreme. Most of us have gone above and beyond to help others, to take precautions, and to support the decisions that needed to be made.
  2. At the same time, the number of people who flippantly put other people’s health in jeopardy and show no concern for their neighbor disgusts me. COVID-19 has showed us who people really are and what they value.
  3. The pandemic has already changed us and how we interact. I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life when I fly or am in a crowded space, I will put on a mask. I know it has changed government and our expectations of it. It has also changed church. I don’t know if we will ever be completely comfortable in a potluck or really crowded classrooms ever again.
  4. Let me speak about that government business for a second. For a variety of reasons, the pandemic demonstrated we were not ready for it. It was humbling for our nation, which is okay. Pride is a sin, and recognizing weaknesses is an important part of growth. My fear is there will be an overreaction in the other direction which will be too much reliance upon government to solve every personal issue. Wisdom will find that sweet spot of competency and preparedness.
  5. Still on the government bit — I fully support the COVID relief bill which just passed through Congress. However, we need to start thinking right now of how we are going to pay for it. My recommendation is we tax hard and fast the tech industry, particularly digital communications. These were the platforms that made a killing during COVID-19 because we all had to use their products. While restaurants and airlines and cruise ships and cinemas and concerts were closed Amazon was making mad bank. We should tax them specifically for recovery. After that, something like a 1% added income tax for everyone until the national debt is paid. That’s my big idea.
  6. The most valuable workers in our nation are medical workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, childcare/education workers, and of course police officers. When the pandemic hit, these were the people we needed the most to keep us fed, supplied, and safe. How many parents now realize the work their school does for their children? All of us, I bet. I would like for our pay structures to reflect this. I’m not against athletes, entertainers, and CEO’s making as much money as they can negotiate for, but I am against the pathetic salary structure of people we so desperately need. We will have the money to do this, because pent up demand is going to set the worldwide economy on soaring heights. Soaring.
  7. Our church faired very well through this and I adamantly believe our church is the greatest church in the world. We took a super-cautious approach from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will freely admit it has been the hardest year of ministry I have ever experienced. It has taken a toll on my soul. Some of it is the amount of work we had to do to reinvent almost everything we did in order to maintain ministry, but most of it is the very negative, hateful, and personal attacks people have made. The number of people who have hurt me is very small, but the cuts are deep because they are relational.
  8. As to church in general, I think the church in American, at least, coming out of this will be smaller, poorer, but stronger. Some people who got out of the habit or who have filled the gap with other things, will never come back. Some folks who are angry at cautious protocols will stop giving. That’s okay, but the Lord is always using the ebb and flow of life to separate the wheat and the chaff.
  9. I am thankful for Zoom and Facebook Live because it has helped us stay in touch and connected. However, we have learned in the pandemic that remote learning and digital classrooms are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. This is true of schools and churches where learning is key. My perception is these technologies will be helpful in the business world because transformation and learning is not the goal, but information exchanges.
  10. Many people who learned to work from home will never return full-time to an office environment. Many people who used to travel for work will see their travel diminished as they’ve learned to do it from home via conference call. This will change the workplace and our culture, particularly parenting. What we have to do is remember that until the modern world, this was normal. Everyone worked from home before the Industrial Revolution.
  11. We are not out of this yet. In Texas, 202 people died yesterday from COVID-19 and 1,477 in the United States. We need to keep vigilance until we have the necessary 70-80% of the population vaccinated. That means masks, distance, hand sanitizer, and caution until at least mid-April. The weather here is getting better, so we are moving our worship services outside again in two weeks. Why? Because it is safer. Ignore the politicians and instead remember the words of Jesus and love your neighbor. Don’t be selfish and don’t give into the fatigue. Now is the time to stay vigilant. Don’t be afraid, but exercise love and self-control.

I’ve Been Reading History Again

I’ve been thinking lately about the fall of the Roman Empire.

Let the reader understand.

I am specific when I saw Roman Empire as opposed to “Fall of Rome” because one of my historical presuppositions is Rome, as an idea, never actually fell. The empire collapsed, but not the idea. In fact, collapse is probably not the best word for it. Disintegrate would be better. Governmental structures evaporated but people still continued to think of themselves as Roman and they passed these ideals along. They were so successful at maintaining the ideals that today we celebrate the American Senate, our civic architecture is decidedly Roman, garrisons man outposts in every corner of the empire, our legal code is rife with Latinisms, and the national symbol is an eagle.

I will not bore you with my analysis of the Roman Empire’s demise. Instead, I want to share an observation I found in one of my old history texts. As you know, the Empire in the west fell in 476 A.D. but the Empire in the east, Byzantium, continued on for centuries. The discussion in the history text was of the church — a specific interest of mine, for obvious reasons — and how it viewed itself in these two very different parts of the Roman experience. In the east, the church viewed itself as intertwined with the empire itself, like the priesthood in ancient Israel’s kingdom. Byzantine faith was comfortable blending and bending the decrees of emperors with the teachings of the church.

By contrast, the church in the west learned to view secular power with suspicion. It was not the Christian empire extending ecclesiastical power at will, but rather it was Noah’s Ark, seeking to save and rescue the faithful as the world drowned in a rising flood of chaos. To be sure, this is the snapshot of the church at the end of the Roman Empire in the west. Eventually, history teaches, the church would grab at secular power with both hands, clutching and clawing for as much control and wealth as possible.

But that was not the case at the end. At the end, it was the church that held order. It was bishops who negotiated with tribal chieftains to spare cities. It was the church that gathered up orphans and raised them. It was the church that held together legal systems. It was the church that brought organization — even borrowing the terms like diocese to describe things.

Allow me, please, to philosophize a moment from the historical situation about the present. These two views are powerful in today’s American ecclesiastical landscape. Some view the church as a partner with politics, both on the left and the right, to wield power. Others, both on the right and the left, think of the church as an instrument to rescue those who are perishing, those drowning in the chaos of change and the evaporation of civilization.

The current climate we are in, perhaps, is the most Roman we have ever experienced.

A Prayer For The First Day Of School In The Age Of COVID

Today, 19 August 2020, is the first day of school for our local school district. Ours is not alone, as public, private, and home schools are beginning. It feels to me like a trembling time for prayer. And so I pray:


Dear Lord God, I first make the normal prayers about our children and their educators. I pray they learn the lessons they need in order to be productive members of society who fulfill the best purposes and plans for life. I pray their curiosity will grow; their hunger for knowledge will burn, and they will master the principles of successfully navigating adulthood. I pray you protect them from those who would do harm: abusers, the violent, the emotionally debilitating, and bullies. Lord, please let us have a year without school shootings. Please.

I pray for teachers to experience fulfillment in their noble calling. I ask for relationships with parents to be edifying, partnership oriented, and beneficial for everyone. I pray for bus drivers, nutrition experts, nurses, counselors, and those who make sure the swings are safe and the toilets stay unclogged to be joyful in labor and appreciated, both in word and in reward, for all they do.

I ask that the administrators, those who make policy and decisions, will be wise and generationally motivated by their decisions.

These are our children, Oh Lord. These are the ones upon whom we heap up our hopes. Protect and nourish them in their intellect, in their body and care, and in their spiritual awareness. May kindergarteners color outside the lines, may junior high students dream of being astronauts and presidents, and may all high school seniors experience the fullness of youth and the desire for the future.

Great Almighty God, we do not live in normal times. You know this full well, and for reasons beyond our understanding, you have chosen us as the adults right now to make decisions in the middle of a pandemic. Help us to not be foolish.

I pray you keep our children, teachers, and all those who work through the school free of COVID-19. Let it not darken the door of our schools and homes. Let us be on the downside of this disease as it wanes never to return.

Even as I pray this, Oh Lord, I know you can do this, but I also know it is more likely we are challenged by a longer ordeal than we want. This seems to be the nature of growth and life. So in that context, I pray you give those making decisions insight in how to minimize the effects and spread to keep as many safe as possible. And I do ask that if the disease does continue to shrink we will be able to joyfully reopen all avenues of our life — football games, sold out musicals, and young love holding hands (only holding hands!) in the hallways.

Yet, it might turn worse. We acknowledge this. So we ask if it does, you lead those people we trust with so much of our future, the superintendents, the principals, the politicians, to make swift decisions to protect if we need to send kids home and shelter longer on-line and at home. Let us be wise and not sacrifice the future for the moment. Let no child die, let no teacher die, let no lunch lady die, Precious Lord, because we were too impatient about getting on with life and meetings and mammon.

We do not know how this will work. None of us do. We do know that you are the Lord and this is not the first time disease has played a heavy hand in humanity. Allow us grace toward one another. Remove the enemy’s divisive tone and hateful anger that has caused us to distrust one another. Please work in and through us to bring unity, and I pray you use those of us who call you Lord in such work that we may be a Balm of Gilead to a sick world, a world sick with more than C19, but sick with the sin of pettiness.

Jesus, my heart is heavy. I am hopeful and horrified at the same time. And I am not alone. We need you to heal us. Holy Spirit, we are desperate for illumination and guidance. Father, we plead for your strength. Amen.

Greenbean’s Translation of Colossians

For the past two months I’ve been translating Colossians from the Greek New Testament in devotions. I took the extra time and polished it up for you. If you’re interested, then read away! If you are really interested, check our me and some friends on the Under The Water Tower podcast (click here) where we have been discussing Colossians.

Colossians

Translated by Jamie Greening

Translators Notes

Many of these are unnecessarily long or run-on sentences. I have shortened many of them because English flows better with shorter sentences. However, that is nearly impossible for some as it changes the meaning. 

“Which” is a common way the verses begin, a feeling the writer is moving from one connected thought to another. I have kept some of this, but it makes for clunky reading and poor English. I have smoothed some of these out. Notable exceptions are found in 3:5-7, where the meaning is made clearer by the ‘which’. 

In this letter I have chosen to use the word “Messiah” instead of “Christ.” It is jarring to the American English eye to see it here because of the familiarity with ‘Christ Jesus’. This usage of the title Christ, a transliteration of the Greek ‘Christos’ which means ‘Messiah’, to me misses the historical and theological Hebrew meaning of Messiah. I choose to translate the translation here, but it must be noted one is not wrong to continue the usage “Christ”.  

The usage of the imperative flows throughout the letter. En toto, it doesn’t carry the feeling of being bossy or demanding, but rather urgency is implied. 

Content in [brackets] are textual variants which early witnesses do not agree upon as original to the letter.

Asterisks * are used to denote specific comment on particular verses or words at the conclusion of each chapter. 

Remember, errare humanum est – I do make mistakes. If you see an error, please notify the editor at once. 


Chapter One

1. Paul, an apostle of Messiah Jesus by the will of God, and brother Timothy,

2. to the saints, the faithful brothers and sisters in Messiah, in Colossae, grace and peace to you from God our father.

3. When we pray, we always give thanks to God the Father of our Lord Jesus Messiah for you,

4. since hearing about your faith in Messiah Jesus and the love you have for all the saints

5. because you heard in the word of truth, the gospel, about the hope reserved for you in heaven beforehand.

6. It has come to you in the same way it has the whole world, bearing fruit and growing, as it has in you from the day you heard and came to know the truth of the grace of God.

7. You learned it from our fellow bondservant, the beloved Epaphras. He is a faithful minister of Messiah on your behalf.  

8. He showed us your love in the spirit.

9. Because of this, we have not stopped praying, and asking, that you might be filled in the knowledge of his will and all wisdom and spiritual insight,

10. so as to walk worthy of the Lord, desiring to please him in all things, growing and bearing fruit in all good work in the knowledge of God. 

11. Be strengthened in every power according to his mighty glory, persevere in all things with patience and joy.

12. Giving thanks to the Father, who made you fit to take part in the inheritance of the saints in light. 

13. He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transformed us into the kingdom of his beloved son.

14. In whom we have liberation, the forgiveness of sins. 

15. He is the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation.

16. Because all things – in the heavens, upon the earth, the seen, the unseen, thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities – were created in him. It has all been created by him and in him. 

17. What’s more, he himself is before all things. All things have held together because of him.  

18. He, who is the source, the firstborn of the dead, who became preeminent in everything, he himself is the head of the body of the church. **

19. Because it seems pleasing for all the fullness to abide in him***

20. and to reconcile all things through him who [by himself] made peace by the blood of the cross for those upon the earth and those in the heavens. 

21. Even you, who once were alienated, being enemies of the mind in your works of evil,

22. but now he reconciled you in the body of his flesh, by his death, to present you holy, unblemished, and irreproachable before him. 

23. That is, if you indeed remain in the faith, being grounded and stable, immovable from the hope of the gospel you heard, the one presented in all creation under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

24. I rejoice in suffering for you, finishing the remaining affliction of the Messiah in my flesh on behalf of his body – the church. 

25. I became a minister according to the design of God, given to me to fulfill the word of God among you.****

26. The mystery has been kept hidden through the ages and from the previous generations – but now it has been revealed to his saints. 

27. To whom he desired to make known the rich glory of this mystery among the nations, which is Messiah in you, the hope of glory. 

28. This is what we preached, admonishing and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so we might stand alongside everyone completely in Messiah.

29. I labor at this, striving with all the energy he is energizing within me. 

*I have chosen to use the term ‘minister’ here for ‘diakonos’ although ‘servant’ would serve, linguistically, just as fine. However, Paul uses another word-set for servant, ‘doulos’ in the exact same verse, so I think he is intentionally using the word ‘diakonos’ in an official way. To this point, I use it as minister throughout. 

**It strikes me there are twin dangers here. We could over philosophize it and thus strip these lines of the clear ecclesiastical power or we can underwhelm it with only an emphasis upon church language. Maybe here ‘ekklesia’ doesn’t mean church – perhaps it means congregations of created things as in verse sixteen.

***There is no ‘of God’ in the text. Many English renderings include “of God” but this is a gloss. 

****Design = ‘oikonomia’ – a word that is connected to the English word economy, and usually means household or might mean work. In this context, no one word does justice as the meaning seems to be something akin to ‘according to the efficient worldwide cosmic masterplan God is working with’. In my mind I wonder if Paul doesn’t have something like an architect’s schematics in mind. 


Chapter Two

1. I want you to know that I have a great struggle for you, the people in Laodicea, and all those who have never seen my face.

2. It is that our heart might be encouraged, united in love with abundant conviction of, understanding of, in the knowledge of, the mystery of, God in Messiah. 

3. In whom, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden away. 

4. I tell you this so no one might deceive you with swaying words.

5. Even though I am absent in the flesh, I am with you in spirit, where I rejoice seeing your discipline and steadfastness of faith in Messiah. 

6. Therefore, as you received Jesus Messiah, the Lord, you must walk in him.

7. And now, after having been rooted and built in him, having been established in the faith just as you were together in abundant thanksgiving,

8. see to it you will not be carried off by the philosophy and hollow deceit of human tradition or the elements of the world rather than by Messiah,

9. because all the embodied fullness of the Godhead dwells in him. 

10. You have been filled by him who is the head of all rulers and authorities. 

11. In whom, you were circumcised without human hands by leaving behind the body of flesh with the circumcision of Messiah

12. when you were buried together with him in baptism.  You, who will be raised up by faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. *

13. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumsion of your flesh, were made alive with him who forgave you all those trespasses 

14. by erasing the handwritten itemized indictment against us, removing it once for all from our midst. He nailed it to the cross. **

15. He himself disarmed the rulers and authorities. He led them around, exposing them publicly. 

16. So do not let anyone judge you on issues of eating and drinking, festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. 

17. These things are but a shadow of what is to come for the body of Messiah. 

18. Do not let anyone disqualify you by making you be initiated into service and devotion to angels, having been made arrogant by the vanity of a fleshly mind ***

19.  by not holding onto the head, from which the whole body is nourished and unified with ligaments and sinew. Its growth is from the Lord.

20. If you died to the elements of this world with Messiah, why then do you live according to the world’s dictates?

21. “Do not hold. Do not taste. Do not touch.”**** 

22. Everything rots; it expires along with the commands and teachings of human beings.

23. These things have wisdom – wisdom in self-esteem, self-service, and self-abuse. None of it has any value in actually caring for physical needs. *****

*note “power” here is the same word group as 1:29 and is a cognate of ‘energy’. It is not power in the sense of authority or fiat, but rather the idea of power as something energizing, making active, propelling. 

** “handwritten” is like the word ‘decree’. It has a legal implication like directive or indictment. The odd part is the emphasis upon ‘hand’ in Paul’s use of words. The best feeling is something like “the accumulation of accusations which we have written ourselves with our own hand by our own actions over time and have turned into a list to be used against us.”

*** The words ‘service’ and ‘devotion’ are slippery here. These are fine words when applied to faith in Messiah, but the context here betrays that Messiah is not the focus. Instead, Paul is using these terms to describe or refer to an initiation ritual or process into a kind of mystery religion where the ‘secret’ is conveyed. 

****This seems to me as a quotation of sorts. Paul is referencing some kind of known dictum that reflects some system of behavior being imposed upon the Colossian Christ-followers. 

***** I have taken Paul’s use of ‘self’ in the compound word ‘self-worship’ and applied it to the following words “service” and “abuse” because that is what I feel he is emphasizing. He is contrasting the focus on Messiah as the center, the head, with putting ourselves and our own twisted kind of ‘wisdom’ at the center which is a service to self, idealization of self, and ultimately a misappropriation and misuse of the physical body God gave to each of us. 


Chapter Three

1. If you, therefore, have been raised up with Messiah, then you must seek things above where Messiah will be sitting at the right hand of God.

2. You must* think about things above and not things upon the earth. 

3. You died. Your life has been hidden in God with Messiah. 

4. Whenever the Messiah might be revealed in your life, then you will be revealed with him in glory. 

5. Therefore put to death those parts of you formed on the earth: fornication, uncleanliness, sensual passions, evil desires, and greediness, which is idolatry, 

6. which is why the wrath of God comes [upon disobedient children],  

7. which you yourselves walked in back when you lived for these things. 

8. But now you must get rid of these kinds of things – wrath, rage, hateful feelings, blasphemy, and foul language out of your mouth. 

9. Do not lie to one another. You have shed the old person along with his or her behavior.

10. Rather, put on the new person, the one being renewed in knowledge, in the image of the one who created you. 

11. Where there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, illiterate heathen or barbarian Scythian, slave or free. Instead, all are in Messiah and Messiah is in all. 

12. As the chosen, holy, and beloved people of God, therefore, display** gut feelings of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and longsuffering patience as if they were clothes wrapped around your body. 

13. Tolerate one another and freely give*** of yourselves to anyone who might have a complaint. 

14. Over all these, like a coat, there is the bond of love that completes everything.   

15. The Messiah’s peace must preside in your hearts, making you thankful you were called into one body.

16. The word of Messiah must dwell abundantly among you, as you teach and warn one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of grace to God in your hearts. 

17. Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, you should do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

18. Wives must be submissive to husbands as is proper in the Lord.

19. Husbands must love wives and not be mean to them.

20. Children must obey parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.

21. Parents**** must not provoke their children or else it might break their spirit.  

22. Slaves must obey human masters not only when watched, like a do-gooder, but in a sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.

23. In whatever you do, you must work from the center of your being ***** as if for the Lord and not for people. 

24. You must serve as unto the Lord Messiah knowing that you will receive from the Lord the reward of the inheritance.

25. The one who does wrong will get back the wrong he or she did. There is no favoritism. 

* the imperative is found throughout this chapter. There are various ways to render that, but for the most part I have stuck to the word ‘must’ (see v. 18ff). 

** “wear like clothes . . . wrapped around your body” is “put on” – a common Pauline phrase. So common, in fact, the power of the metaphor is often lost. In verse 14 I have inserted “like a coat” to fulfill the phrase and the image Paul is describing – love as an outer garment that pulls everything together. 

***I have translated the knotty little word as ‘freely give’ whereas many other English renderings use the more generic term ‘forgive’. It can mean forgive, but in this context ‘freely give’ makes more sense and, if Paul had intended the technical word forgive, there are better words. I think he has something more nuanced in mind. 

**** “Parents” here is ‘fathers’, but as is the case with “sons” and “brothers”, the masculine plural often denotes groups and my reading of the text is Paul means both mothers and fathers, therefore, “parents”. 

***** Word here is ‘psyche’ and is often translated as ‘whole heart.’ It is a complicated Greek word, which is also complicated in English. Without going into the metaphysics of human composition here it is best to emphasize Paul is speaking about intention and motive that leads to a thoroughness and integrity in work. 


Chapter Four

1. Masters must give justice and equity to slaves because you know you have a master in heaven. 

2. You must remain constant in prayer, being alert to it with thanksgiving. 

3. At the same time, keep praying for us, that God might open a door for us to speak the word about the mystery of Messiah, the one to whom I am bound.

4. So that when it is necessary to speak, I might make it clear.

5. You must walk in wisdom as it pertains to outsiders. Exploit the time. 

6. The things you say should always be pleasant, as if something seasoned with salt. It is vital each one of you know how to answer someone. 

7. Tychicus, the beloved brother, truthful minister, and fellow servant in the Lord will inform you how things are going for me. 

8. This is why I sent him to you, so that you might know everything about us, and he might encourage your hearts,

9. Along with the faithful and dearly loved brother, Onesimus, who is one of you, they will make known to you everything about here.

10. Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you as does Mark, the relative of Barnabas. You received instructions about how if he comes to you, you must welcome him.

11. And so does Jesus – who is called Justus – he is one of those from the circumcision party. These people are the only ones working with me in the kingdom of God. They became a comfort to me. *

12. The servant of Messiah, Epaphras, who is one of you, greets you. He always struggles for you in his prayers that you might stand complete and assured in the total will of God. 

13. I bear witness for him, how he worked very hard on your behalf and for Laodicea and Hierapolis.

14. The dear doctor, Luke, greets you as does Demas. 

15. Greet the brothers and sisters in Laodicea as well as Nympha, and the church in her house.

16. When this letter is read among you, make sure it can be read to the Laodicean church and that the Laodicean one could be read to you.

17. And you must say to Archippus, “see to it that you complete the ministry you received from the Lord.”  

18. This greeting is in my own hand, Paul. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

*I wrestled with this verse a great deal. I never satisfied in my own mind whether Paul was saying “Justus, Aristarchus, and Mark are the only one from the circumcision party who was a comfort to me” or if he is saying “Justus, who is from the circumcision party, along with Aristarchus and Mark, are the only ones who were a comfort to me.” Either take is defensible, in my view.