Covid-19: Confession, Commitment, and Capacity

Perhaps, so far, I’m among the lucky ones. My work has continued, my travel schedule has been wiped clean, some commitments have been postponed, and I have had a chance to catch my breath a bit—and it came at a time I needed it. But Covid-19 has been a disrupter; my taken-for-granted activities of movement and gathering, like yours, have become gridlocked. The repetitive cycle between office and bed, with intermittent random TV, attempts to creep into the vacuum left by those other things I use to do. I’m grateful to our Creator for that patch of creation I call the “yard”—which is getting more attention than it has in years.

Sporting my Covid non-haircut

In the “in-between,” you know, the space between the normal and the hoped-for new normal, I live with a tension. The “experts” on Facebook and other social media caution with forked-tongue: “use this time to rest, to recalibrate” vs. “use this time to catch-up, to prepare for when Covid-19 is over.” I wonder if this might be something of a both/and rather than an either/or option.

“…now is possibly the time to let them go.”

What if we do a bit of both? On the one hand, let’s not fill in the vacuum so quickly. Chances are you were, like me, too busy before the crisis came. Before you take on another task, think carefully about how it fits in the journey God has you on. If it does not fit, let it pass. Having those things taken off your plate, now might be a good time to reassess, and keep them off your plate indefinitely, instead of recommitting to them in the new normal. If you found in the old normal that certain commitments created much stress as the deadlines approached, and that you wondered whether you should have done them in the first place—now is possibly the time to let them go.

“Now is a good time to explore…”

NOW is a good time to explore what God has for you. If you have that sense, move in that direction, and fight that “need to be needed” that drives our over-commitments. If you have a sense of your calling, use this time to drill deeper into it. If this is a down time for you, work on building your capacity. If you are among those unemployed because of the crisis, use this time to become better at what you are passionate about. Read that pivotal book in your field that you have put off because of the demands of work. Learn something new that will invest in your future and bless those near you.

“…have the courage to make the move that aligns you with God’s calling.”

If you have not been doing what you have been made to do—and you sense it deep down—have the courage to make the move that aligns you with God’s calling. Finally, in your relationship with God and his people, take the rest—God is getting us ready for the next. But also drill deeper into the divine life while you might have some time because the world will be working hard to get back to normal soon and it will want to drag you along with it.

Shared from https://abccampus.ca/abc-news/now-is-a-good-time/

Fellowship is more than Eating Together

By this point, you are probably a bit weary of self-isolation. You now long for fellowship, that sense of being together. And while “fellowship” has often been reduced to the church potluck, we know that it is deeper than that.

One of the challenges of getting a biblical view of fellowship is that word has become a “church” word and we don’t generally think of fellowship as a way of living. It is this broader since of the word fellowship (κοινωνέω (koinoneo) and related words in the New Testament). This word group is about being co-participants in something, like being partners, and is close to the idea of sharing with one another. For examples, James and John were said to be partners with Simon (Luke 5:10). The earliest church was devoted to living life together (Acts 2:42). Paul called on the Roman Christians to contribute to the needs of God’s people (Rom 12:13). He also knew that the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were happy to share their resources with the poor believers in Jerusalem (Rom 15:26). Our life together means that we share in each other’s sufferings and consolations (2 Cor 1:7).

In seeking to gather gifts to take back to Jerusalem from the Gentile churches, Paul spoke of the ministry of giving as fellowship. In 2 Cor 8:4, he calls it the privilege (Greek here is grace) of sharing in this ministry to God’s people and commended their generosity of sharing with others (2 Cor 9:13). He also commended the Philippians for their participation in supporting his ministry (Phil 4:5). When we give to our church, we are in fellowship with each other in living out the mission of God.

This word group is also used to describe our intimate life with God. For example, God’s faithfulness has called us into the fellowship of God’s son (1 Cor 1:9). Paul later framed the Lord’s Supper as a sharing or communion in Jesus’s blood and body (1 Cor 10:16). Paul’s closing benediction in 2 Cor includes that the communion of the Holy Spirit would be with God’s people (cf. Phil 2:1). Paul sought to know Christ and the power of the resurrection and the sharing in his suffering that would make us like Christ in his death (Phil 3:10). This type of sharing goes deeper than just sharing our stuff. It is sharing the life of Jesus within and among us.

There are more scriptures that could illustrate the use of fellowship in the New Testament, but these are plenty so that it went far beyond the church potluck. John in his first letter has a particularly unique way of talking of fellowship. John is seeking a fellowship relationship with his readers (1 John 1:3) that is joined to a kind of fellowship with the Father and the Son. This fellowship with the Son cannot be joined to “walking in the darkness” (1 John 1:6); however, if we walk in the light as Jesus is in the light, then “we have fellowship with one another the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

Don’t reduce John to saying that we have fellowship because we walk in the light. John makes it clear that we all sin. John is more dynamic than that. He invites us into a relationship that involves participation with God and when that is in full swing we have the basis for having a fellowship with each other. In Christian thinking, these two go together. We love God; we love our neighbours. Another way to say this is that we largely express our participation in God by the way we partner with other people.

Fellowship is more than eating together; fellowship is living together.

 

 

Those Missing Verses Again

Perhaps you have seen posts warning of the missing verses in the New International Version (NIV) or the English Standard Version (ESV) of the New Testaments. One such post looks like this:

KJV-NIV Missing VersesWarning NIV:ESV Missing Verses

Sounds fairly ominous, don’t you think? However, notice these telltale signs that whoever composed this did not know what they were doing. At the end of the piece, one is warned to get earlier versions of the NIV and ESV. Only thing, an earlier version of either of these translations will not get your missing verses back because they essentially depend on the same ancient Greek manuscripts (MSS). The reader is further warned to keep a hard copy because a digital version like one might find in the a Bible app, like the OliveTree Bible Study app, might be changed on you. I do find it odd that the author of this slander chose only one app–there are so many good ones to choose from.

64,575 words have been removed! Really? I’d like to see that list. These words, so the warning screams, include Jehovah, Calvary, Holy Ghost, and omnipotent. Let’s test this point.

Jehovah only occurs in the KJV 4 times (Exod 6:3; Ps 83:18; Isa 12:2; 26:4) and 3 other times Jehovah is part of place names (Jehovahjireh, Gen22:14; Jehovahnissi, Exod 17:5; and Jehovahshalom, Judges 6:24). I expected a lot more. Jehovah is an ugly transliteration of the divine name of God in Hebrew (YHWH; יהוה). No one know exactly how it was pronounced but the Jews—so as not to use the Lord’s name in vain—always replaced it with the Hebrew word adonai meaning “lord or sir.” Jehovah is the result of blending the consonants of the divine name with the vowels of adonai. Scholars of Hebrew suggest that Yahweh is closer to the original pronunciation but many use YHWH when writing the name. Nonetheless, the KJV regularly translates the divine name as LORD–all capital letters so readers can see when the name of God is used in the original Hebrew. In modern English translations, one will find LORD as the translation of God’s divine name. So no words lost here.

Next. Calvary. The Greek in Luke 23:33 is Κρανίον (Kranion) or “skull.” The Latin is “Calvariae” and means—wait for it—”skull.” And now you know where English translators got “Calvary.”

The Holy “Ghost” of previous translations become the Holy “Spirit,” as ghost now denotes a phantom, i.e, the spirit of dead people. The 1611 KJV had originally used Holy Spirit in the following places: Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10–11; Luke 11:13; Eph 1:13; 4:30; 1 Thess 4:8. Nothing lost here, again.

The KJV used the word omnipotent of God in only one place, and that is, Rev 19:6. The NIV translated the word here as “Almighty,” as in “Lord God Almighty” which is a good translation of the word παντοκράτωρ which means “all-mighty.” Nothing amiss here, either.

Ok, nothing to see here, folks. No missing words among these examples.

But what about those missing verses? Imagine with me. What if the reverse were true and that the older version, such as the KJV of 1611, included “added” verses and words?

And, actually, this is closer to the truth. When the KJV was translated, the translators had access to very few manuscripts of the New Testament and the readings from these manuscripts were the basis of the available three printed texts of the New Testament. There was Erasmus’s 1516 Greek New Testament (based on 7 Greek MSS of the NT, dating from the 12th to the 15th century). Then, there was Robertus Stephanus’s Greek NT (the 1550 edition being the most important). And lastly the KJV translators had Theodore Beza’s 1598 edition of the Greek NT. These printed editions formed the texts on which the King James Version of the New Testament was based.

They also had access to earlier English translations of the Bible, including Coverdale’s (1535), Matthew’s (1537), The Great Bible (1539), the Taverner’s Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560) and the Bishops’ Bible (1568)–a fairly long tradition of English Bible translations. And, of course, the translators had access to the Latin Vulgate.

What they did not have is the oldest manuscripts of the New Testament that have been discovered since 1611. It is the discovery of these older manuscripts that change the textual base for translation. And these older MSS did not have the text that newer translations supposedly “removed.”

Let use Matthew 18:11 as an example.

For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

ἦλθε γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός.

A similar text occurs in Luke 19:10 and there is no doubt that it belongs here since all MSS have it.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

ἦλθεν γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ζητῆσαι καὶ σῶσαι τὸ ἀπολωλός.

So if there were some clandestine plan to remove Matt 18:11, why would translators leave in Luke 19:10? The answer is that what we have labeled Matt 18:11 (remember verse numbers were added later) was not originally in the Gospel of Matthew. Later scribes added it because they knew the text from Luke. How do I know this?

The oldest MSS we have that contains these words at Matt 18:11 is the 5th century MSS known as Codex Bezae and next a 7th century MSS known has Codex Basiliensis.

The oldest manuscripts that we that do not have these words at Matt 18:11 are the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus and the 4th century Codex Vaticanus. While the evidence is much more complicated than these four examples, it is enough to show that scholars must decide, when the text is different, which one is more likely original. Important to note here again is that the KJV translator did not have access to these earlier MSS . Thus, newer translations are now based on our oldest and more reliable MSS and the verses that are declared “missing” were not there in the first place. This is true of all of the supposed “missing” verses.

So, in the end, it is still true that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but among the lost is not any of the verses mentioned here.

On Church Assemblies Not Meeting

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, more affectionally known as Pliny the Younger, lived from AD 61 to around 113. In his letter (10.96) to Emperor Trajan, Pliny sought guidance in handling the Christians to which Trajan offered his counsel (10.97).

When Pliny first encountered Christians in his role as proconsul (legatus Augusti) of the province of Bithynia, he was uncertain about how to deal with them. He asked the Emperor a variety of questions. Should Christians be punished just because they are Christians? Should they be punished if the recanted of being a Christian? Should Christians be punished only because they have been caught doing something illegal?

Pliny stated

… this is the course that I have adopted in the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians. If they admit it I repeat the question a second and third time, threatening capital punishment; if they persist I sentence them to death. For I do not doubt that, whatever kind of crime it may be to which they have con­fessed, their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy should certainly be punished. There were others who displayed a like madness and whom I reserve to be sent to Rome, since they were Romans citizens.

From those who renounced their allegiance to Jesus, Pliny learned their guilt or error was basically this

that on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally (Lat. carmen … dicere secum invicem) to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath (Lat. sacramentum), not for the commission of any crime but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery and breach of faith, and not to deny a deposit when it was claimed. After the con­clusion of this ceremony it was their custom to depart and meet again to take food; but it was ordinary and harmless food

But, Pliny continued, they had ceased the practice of meeting after he had issued an edict forbidding the meeting of “secret societies.” Wanting to know more, Pliny tortured two female ministers (Lat. ministrae) but found only a “depraved and extravagant superstition.”

Noting the impact that Christianity had had on the culture, Pliny closes his letter with this last paragraph:

The matter seemed to me to justify my consulting you, especially on account of the number of those imperiled; for many persons of all ages and classes and of both sexes are being put in peril by accusation, and this will go on. The contagion of this superstition has spread not only in the cities, but in the villages and rural districts as well; yet it seems ca­pable of being checked and set right. There is no shadow of doubt that the temples, which have been almost deserted are beginning to be frequented once more, that the sacred rites which have been long neglected are being renewed, and that sacrificial victims are for sale everywhere, whereas, till recently, a buyer was rarely to be found. From this it is easy to imagine what a host of men could be set right, were they given a chance of recantation.

Pliny’s letter to Trajan is a fascinating window into the world of the earliest Christians. I encourage you to the read the letter in full for yourself. Also, because we have Trajan’s letter reply to Pliny, we get to see how the Romans viewed Christians before AD 117:

You have taken the right line, my dear Pliny, in examining the cases of those de­nounced to you as Christians, for no hard and fast rule can be laid down, of universal ap­plication. They are not to be sought out; if they are informed against, and the charge is proved, they are to be punished, with this reservation—that if any one denies that he is a Christian, and actually proves it, that is by worshipping our gods, he shall be pardoned as a result of his recantation, however, suspect he may have been with respect to the past. Pamphlets published anonymously should carry no weight in any charge whatsoever. They constitute a very bad precedent, and are also out of keeping with this age.

Here we see that the earliest Christians were willing to give up public gatherings to play their role as exemplary citizens. What the faithful would not do is denounce their allegiance to Jesus or bow their allegiance to Caesar.

Oh, and for the record, these Christians were really being persecuted by the government.

 

_______________

The excerpts above are from Henry Bettenson, ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1963).

 

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Recently I was reminded of a Charlie-ism, a saying of the late Charles Siburt, who had a knack of compressing a great amount of wisdom in a few pithy aphorisms. Since I did my Doctor of Ministry work under his leadership, I heard many of his sayings first-hand. One was “Most wounds are self-inflicted.” And how true that is for leaders–at least, I can give testimony of this piece of wisdom.

I wondered if this might also be true of congregations. As I have coach and counselled churches and their leaders through the years, I have come to realized that getting churches to quit doing the counter-productive things was nearly as important as helping them do the right things. For example, if a church is not collecting basic information on visitors, then there can be no follow-up. Or if a church is not tracking individual attendance, then, they cannot be proactive in caring for people who are thinking about leaving.

While pondering the meaning of Charlie’s statement, it occurred to me that Peter Wagner in his book The Healthy Church (Regal, 1996) gave a list of what he called “Church Diseases” and, as I noticed, most of them were self-inflicted. Here is Wagner’s list with a quick explanation:

Ethnikitis happens when a church finds itself in an changing neighbourhood and refuses to adapt to serve the people who now actually live in their community.

 

People Blindness occurs when we look past the different kinds of people around us. The people are there but we, for various reasons, seem not to be able to see them.

 

Hypercooperation happens when a church works harder to get along with other believers rather than focusing on God’s mission .

 

Koinonitis is the disease we experience when our local fellowship is too tight to let new people in.

 

We suffer from Sociological Strangulation when the potential of growth is there but we can’t keep up with leadership and structural development to support growth.

 

Arrested Spiritual Development is the condition where long-time “disciples” of Jesus have not progressively grown into becoming like Jesus..

 

Saint John’s Syndrome is apathy, or “lukewarmness.”

Wagner was being somewhat playful in naming his “diseases,” but his goal was to help us do critical self-reflection and assessment in our work as congregational leaders. My point in sharing is that it’s possible in congregational life for most wounds also to be self-inflicted. And this leads me to another Charlie-ism, “If you can name it, you can manage it.”

 

How Should We Then Live

One of my favourite readings from early Christianity is this excerpt from an unknown writer offering a defence of what it means to be a Christian to a certain (also unknown) Diognetus. Writing about the end of the second century, the author seeks to show that Christians have a certain relationship to the countries and governments under which they find themselves living. Given the present politicized environment, it might be good medicine to help the church get back to being the church.

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. 2 For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life. 3 This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious people, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. 4 But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. 

5 They live in their own countries, but only as nonresidents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. 

6 They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. 7 They share their food but not their wives. 

8 They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh.  9 They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. 10 They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. 

11 They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted. 12 They are unknown, yet they are condemned; they are put to death, yet they are brought to life. 13 They are poor, yet they make many rich; they are in need of everything, yet they abound in everything. 14 They are dishonoured, yet they are glorified in their dishonour; they are slandered, yet they are vindicated. 15 They are cursed, yet they bless; they are insulted, yet they offer respect. 16 When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when they are punished, they rejoice as though brought to life. 

17 By the Jews they are assaulted as foreigners, and by the Greeks they are persecuted, yet those who hate them are unable to give a reason for their hostility. 6:1 In a word, what the soul is to the body, Christians are to the world.

Epistle to Diognetus 5:1–6:1

[Paragraphing added to aid reading]

“The Truth is Your Friend”

I’m not sure when I first heard this aphorism, but I’m fairly certain it came from the late Charlie Siburt, who was over the DMin program at Abilene Christian University. Charlie, a mentor of many a preacher, became well known for his pithy quips he used to help leaders think more deeply about their leadership.

One such quip, “The Truth is Your Friend” has been a quite useful, and sometimes painful, reminder that all of us sometimes have difficulty telling it like it is—and most often we don’t even tell ourselves the truth. Honestly, it takes discipline and resolution to face the truth in the eyes.

In the context of leadership, truth refers to seeking reality as it really is—to the best of our abilities. This discipline requires us neither to maximize nor minimize the actual state of things. But it also requires us to face our own propensity to deny reality. For example, I may know that my organization is not doing well financially and month after month I avoid looking at the books and getting a real dollar amount for what the organization really owes.  This situation will only get worse until I do the hard evaluation to gather the facts, or the truth. Then I must do something to change the course that has been laid. Obvious, right? But we all have practiced some form of avoidance, perhaps, in our finances but certainly in other areas of our lives.

We do this every time we hope something will get better by doing nothing about it. Perhaps doing nothing is the right thing to do, but only if nothing is done intentionally. And we should alway remember that even doing nothing, whether consciously or through avoidance, is a decision to “do” nothing.

There are several things we need to become more truthful about—and doing this will increase our pain at first but will produce positive fruit in the end. Here are some that I find painfully helpful.

  1. How is it with my soul, really? Our internal life is what we will play out in the various arenas of our lives. In short, if we are not good people we will not be good leaders.
  2. How well am I taking care of me? Leaders need to remember that their primary “tool” of effectiveness is how they manage themselves.
  3. Why am I avoiding painful, but necessary conversations? We all need to have these painful conversations. But when we find ourselves avoiding one we know we must have, then . . . the truth is our friend. The first truth, however, might be that we lack courage.
  4. What tasks am I putting off? We all favour tasks we like but sometime the ones we do not like so much are important for our and our organization’s success.
  5. What are things I really can not change now? The truth may be that while something needs attention, it does not necessary need to be now.

Perhaps you can think of some other questions or situations where “the truth is your friend.”