Why I Chose the ESV

This blog post is pretty much inspired by Carson’s post on the NRSV, since he got me thinking about Bible translations, and why I’ve chosen the ESV. Although we have different preferences for our primary translation, I really appreciate the reasons he chooses the NRSV over the ESV, and in fact he’s the one that convinced me to buy an NRSV. It was my primary Bible for about six months, and I really enjoyed reading from it even though it didn’t “stick” for me. Without even really meaning to, I think I’ve kind of settled on the English Standard Verson for a while, and here’s why:

1) It’s familiar. I’ve been using the ESV since before it was cool. In 2002, it was one of the only freely available modern translations on the Internet—which made it my default in software like e-Sword or Xiphos. Second, the ESV retains traditional phrasing that just sounds right to me like “…the valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23, and “deliver us from evil” in Matthew 6, for example. Most of Scripture I’ve memorized at this point (and that’s not nearly enough) is in KJV (just from hearing it a million times) or the ESV (which, conveniently, retains much of the same rhythm and structure of the KJV).

2) Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher with a mission. This means that the license for using the ESV is extremely permissive. Like I noted above, it was one of the first modern translantions to be freely available on the internet, and Crossway still makes the digital version available free in a number of formats for smartphones, etc. I dig the open, missionary spirit, which seems quite contrary to how many other publishers approach their translations. Access to the ESV is ubiquitous and easy.

3) The ESV Study Bible is awesome. Yeah, yeah, I know it has a bit of a Reformed bias and doesn’t really give women’s ordination or Christian Pacifism a fair shake (heck, I’ve complained about those things publically) but it does a great job of representing the classical/traditional Christian view of many issues and argues lucidly for them. Although I disagree on some points in the study articles, the vast majority of the content in the ESV Study Bible is high quality and academically very sound as far as I can tell. The exegetical notes are especially helpful when considering the historical, cultural, and theological context for a passage. Now, a great study bible doesn’t a great translation make, however it’s just one more thing that keeps bringin’ me back.

4) There’s plenty(!) of editions to choose from. You’ve got evangelistic paperbacks, nice compacts, a beautiful online edition, and fantastic premium bindings as well. Pretty much every book Crossway puts out is solid quality—in general a step above comparable Bibles from Tyndale and Zondervan. The ESV is also going to be coming soon in a Cambridge Clarion format, which is pretty much a dream come true for me. Not very many other translations are there yet.

5) It really is understandable and reliable. I know the ESV has its issues. There are some pretty opaque renderings, to be sure…but certainly no more than in any other major translation. And after 10 years on the market, the ESV still has a great reputation overall for both accuracy and readibility. I feel that I can trust it almost as much as the NASB in terms of its fidelity to the original languages, yet I can also be decently confident that it will sound okay (like the NKJV) when I read it aloud at home or in church.

6) The ESV is standard in circles I run with. This one is pretty big for me, actually. My Anglican church preaches and teaches from the ESV. The friends I interact with on a daily basis mostly use the ESV as well. It’s nice to immediately be working with the same translation, whether that be at church or at work, or hanging out online. When I’m talking over a passage, I don’t have to bring up a different version on my phone or computer, although it’s nice to be able to do that pretty easily when I need to!

7) There’s a growing eccumenical spirit surounding the ESV. The translation certainly didn’t start out as an eccumenical effort, and it clearly is still associated strongly with the Neo-Reformed internet rockstars. Yet, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has officially adopted the ESV, and I’m seeing many Evangelical Anglicans embracing it as well. The fact is that thanks to the excellent marketing efforts by Crossway, the ESV is pervasive—I think that it can’t help but move beyond Piper, Discoll, and Co.

I realized a long time ago that there’s no perfect translation. They’re mostly all pretty good, and each has strengths and weaknesses. It’s really easy for a guy like me to sink way to much time into finding “the one” translation, and reading up on the nuances of the TNIV vs. the NLT vs. the NET vs. whatever the hot new translation is. The fact is, I now have on my hands a translation that is reliable, sounds decent, and has endured at least a decade. Plus it’s what my church uses and I’m now very familiar with it. Throw in my dream Bible, and it’s starting to make sense why I’m gravitating that direction.

Notes from India

It’s super late for me (10:17 pm on a weeknight!) and I should really be getting to bed, but it’s been over a week since we got back from India, and I want to make sure I write down some of my thoughts from that wonderful, exhausting, whirlwind of a trip.

First of all, everyone thought we were crazy for taking a toddler on a trip that had about 34 hours of transit time. Well, I have something to say to you guys: you were right :). It does take a little bit of insanity to take on a challenge like that, but I had two things going for me: 1) I am a little insane, and 2) my wife is even more insane. Between the two of us, we had enough crazy to cover it just fine. Amber did a fantastic job, and I can honestly say that while it wasn’t miserable like many predicted, it certainly was challenging and tiring.

India itself is beautiful, messy, disturbing, dirty, rich, scary country that reminds me a lot of my African home, yet it’s also completely different. The people are wonderful, the food is spicy, the clothing is colorful. The collision between the old and new is evident in explosions of culture that sometimes result in very real casualties.

I was shocked to hear of women committing suicide as result of arranged marriages by their parents. The new generation looks to the West and wants to marry for love—perhaps even across social class boundaries—and who can blame them? Yet this isn’t how it’s been done. It’s still not how it’s done for many, many people…and this idea brings so much conflict to families that some women decide it’s just better to leave their life all together.  Weddings in this developing country are also becoming more and more expensive due to influences from the west, and traditionally the bride’s family pays for the celebration. Because of the massive financial burden that this could bring, and the shame that would result in not being able to pay for the wedding, people are now killing their female babies! These are just some of life-and-death struggles this country is engaged in as it seeks to simultaneously join the global village and retain is unique cultural character and way of life.

There are anti-conversion laws there, so you’re not allowed to openly attempt to convince someone of the truth-claims of your religion. It’s difficult to be a missional Christian in India. I have been reminded once again that we enjoy liberties and comforts here in the United States are truly are rare worldwide. Yet, I live a shallow, ungrateful life—rarely exercising my freedom to share what Christ has done for me. I was reminded that the rest of the world has time for tea and spends time with family. I’d often rather work an extra hour than build a Lego tower with my one and half year old or relax for thirty minutes over coffee with my wife. I’d rather blog than take ten minutes to thank God for plenty to eat, relative security, and total access to Scripture and so many helpful resources to understand it.

I had forgotten what it means to see beggars on the corner. Elderly women, with no place to sleep except cement covered in cow crap. Chances are none of them have heard the Gospel. And it’s not just adults on the street, but children playing in filth, eating who knows what and with no clean water. I walked by a child in this condition, with a Diet Coke in my pack and homemade brownies in my stomach. I gave them a dollar. Didn’t even think to give them the bottle of water in my pocket or prayer from my heart. Sure didn’t mention the name of Jesus. The memory makes me want to weep. What kind of person am I? Not the kind that deserves what I have, that’s for sure.

My family is wonderful. It was absolutely worth the whole trip to see little Jensen enjoy his Ama, Apa, and Uncle (who he called Adoo), and to see them enjoy his antics, smiles, hugs.

God was good to us by providing the opportunity to make this journey. He surely spoke to me about being grateful, about loving my family, loving him, and loving everybody else.

I hope I take it to heart.

Intentionally Pursuing Discipleship Through Mentoring Relationships

Seeking wisdom from other members of the Body seems to be no easy affair in today’s church culture, regardless of denominational affiliation. Obviously, we can seek wisdom by asking questions of those we respect when in need, but I’d like to think that as Christians we can do better than this kind of consumeristic, reactionary grab for discernment. I want to aquire real wisdom, which I believe must take time and consistent effort. Mentoring relationship are avenues for developing relationships and connections, imparting tradition and knowledge, and supporting one another in trial of all kinds. A few things that come to mind as I ponder my own difficulty in finding these kind of relationships: 

1) I’ve had a lot more success when I approach this issue with humility, making a decision to understand that people like my priest, grandparents, and deacons not only know the Bible better than I do in some regards, but they’ve also generally had a lot more time to apply these principles and truths. As much I might like to think my angst is unique, chances are they might know something about whatever it is I’m going through.

2) We’ve got to carve out time to make this stuff happen. There are a few guys at my church that have been such sources of encouragement to me and have been great sources of wisdom as I’ve taken this difficult route of taking my family to a new denomination. Although we are not in a formal mentoring relationship, I’ve never regretting sacrificing a few chores around the house or my Facebook time to spend time with them in formal and informal settings. Taking the time on my lunch break at work to meet somebody for a bite, etc, can be difficult, but worth it in the long run for developing relationships and by God’s grace obtaining some wisdom in the process.

3) Mentoring relationships don’t usually happen by accident. I would say I have had a small number that have happened organically (my relationship with my own father, and one particularly influential high school teacher) however I think in general we have to pursue these things with a high degree of intentionality. 

4) All of this is easier said than done :) I know I don’t like to ask help, my schedule is pretty much packed out, and I feel a little weird going up somebody I don’t know too well (and as a new Phoenician, I don’t know anybody that well) and saying, “Hey, wanna be my mentor?” ;)

Have you ever been intentionally discipled in Christ? If so, how did you make that happen? If not, what’s gotten in the way, and how can help each other get out of this state of formational impoverishment?

How to begin hearing from God

When I was in college, I struggled through a pretty long spiritual dry-spell. Then I discovered something that drastically changed the trajectory of my spiritual journey.

This new way of reading the Bible and praying transformed my “prayer life” from one-way communication (me-to-God) into a two-way conversation.

I discovered Christian meditation in the form of lectio divina. I began to take my commitment to knowing God (not just knowing about God) more seriously.

I began to expect God speak to me through the Bible and practice discernment in my thoughts to see what was from me, and what might be from the Holy Spirit. I experienced a vibrant, refreshing, realness in my walk with God I had previously only caught glimpses of.

Divine Reading

The ancient practice of Lectio Divina (“Divine Reading”) most likely originated with monks of the Benedictine tradition, although it is now an integral part of the spirituality many different faith communities.

The driving idea behind Lectio Divina is that Bible study is and should be an expression of your relationship with the Triune God. It is a method that emphasizes a certain conversational aspect of meditating on the Scriptures by providing specific times during your Bible study to both hear from God and respond to His word.

There are are four stages to the Lectio Divina process: Reading, Meditation, Response, and Contemplation.

Before you begin, take a moment to pray and ask for the direction of the Holy Spirit as you move through various stages of Lectio Divina. As with any method for Bible study and prayer, it will probably be beneficial to find a place that is quiet and free of distractions.

Getting started with Lectio Divina

Reading. In this first stage of prayer, choose a passage of Scripture to read slowly and carefully. Don’t read too much…you want to really be able to focus on just a few aspects of the text that might resonate. On the other hand, it’s important to not just take one verse out of context, either. I generally try to go methodically through a book of the Bible, using either the pre-marked sections or chapter markers as my guide for each session. I’ve also found it to be helpful to write down verses that stand out or thoughts that come to mind while reading. If you keep these notes, they can become a valuable record of your spiritual journey over time.

Meditation. After carefully reading through your scripture passage, take some time to ponder the text. Go back over your notes, and perhaps adding clarifying thoughts and ideas as they come. Think about what this passage meant to the writer, to the original audience, and what it might mean for you. You might re-read the passage in order to glean further meaning and gain greater understanding.

Response. During this portion of the prayer, allow yourself to respond to the text. Think about how the text might change you. Does the text alter how you view the world, yourself, or God? What attitudes in yourself does the passage bring to light? Offer your response to the Father in humble submission to his will.

Contemplation. Simply focus lovingly on God. Words are not necessary in this part of the prayer, because you are resting in His presence. Don’t resist thoughts as they come to your mind…simply deal with them. If they are relevant to your conversation with God, then offer them back to him and pray for guidance. If they are not, dismiss them, and return your full attention to the One who gives you peace, rest, and understanding.

As with all disciplines, Lectio Divina takes practice and time. If you stick with it, though, it can be a life-changing way to pray the Scriptures and practice the presence of God.

Belief & doubt & and a new song

Belief is a funny thing. At least in the biblical sense, it’s more than mere intellectual assent, but rather a trust, confidence, acceptance of something. Sometimes I feel like I have a lot of trouble believing—doubt has been an pretty consistent companion for me on my faith journey over the years, popping up at the worst possible times. Often I can’t believe I’d even ever consider not believing.

I’ve witnessed an interesting phenomenon regarding my belief—sometimes I can believe, but also not-believe, at the same time. Even when I have intellectual doubts, there seems to be some sort of core inside of me that clings to Truth with an unexpected intensity, a surprising confidence. The sad thing is that sometimes, I even doubt that inner stronghold. Why is that even there? I ask myself. It could be that I’ve been a Christian so long that it’s just permanent ingrained on my psyche. Or—and I’m no theologian, but this seems likely to me—it could be the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, pointing to Jesus, reminding me of his faithfulness and trustworthiness.

I wonder if this the kind of doubt and counter-witness that the Psalmist was sensing when he wrote Psalm 13. I mean, he’s asking if God has actually forgotten him! I often relate to the desparate trust of the man had who asked Jesus for a miracle for his son. “Help my unbelief!” Jesus was his last, best, only hope for wholeness.

I paraphrased these passages and put them to some standard folk chords—here is the result. If you don’t care to listen, here are the lyrics:

How long O Lord, O Lord have you
forgotten me down here?

How long O Lord, O Lord will you
hide from me forever?

How long O Lord, how long will I
seek rest for my soul?

How long O Lord, how long will I
be immersed in the sorrows of this world?

Consider me…

Answer me, please.

I believe in your steadfast love
I believe, help my unbelief.

I believe there is joy in your salvation
I believe, help my unbelief.

Help me O Lord to sing to you
For you have been faithful to me

Love I Do Not Understand

Today is Good Friday, the day our Lord was crucified for us.

Last night, my local church (Desert Mission Anglican Church in Phoenix, Arizona) had a Maundy Thursday service that included Holy Communion and Tenebrae. We gathered in a basement lit only by a few Christmas lights and candles. In the darkness, we read the Scriptural account of the events leading to the crucifixion. In traditional Tenebrae fashion, one of eight candles was extinguished after each reading, slowly engulfing us all in that deep kind of darkness only found in church basements.

Holy Communion was especially meaningful, of course, and the songs our worship leader chose could’t have fit the occasion better. What a privilege to be able to join in and play guitar for a service like this. The part that really got to me was the Stripping of the Altar.

After all the candles except for the center Christ-candle had been snuffed out, the worship team and clergy gathered around the altar (communion table, for you non-sacramental folks :), and stripped it of all decorative items. The candlesticks were taken away and the table cloth was pulled off in one motion by our pastor. The simple, plain wooden table stood completely bare, with only the single, small flame of the Christ-candle left. It alone kept the blackness from swallowing the room.

By the light of the Christ-candle, a deacon read Psalm 22.

…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots….

We exited the building in silence, contemplating what we had just participated in, what we had just witnessed. In Holy Communion, we received the true body and blood of of our Savior and the forgiveness of sins, and immediately afterward, we were thrust into the narrative of what happened so that we could come to that table. The God of the Universe became a man, lived among us, healed us, loved us, cared for us. He fed us and gave us words of life. We turned on him, stripped him of his clothes, beat him while was naked, spit in his face, nailed him to a tree, and left him on splinters to die.

We punctured his side and ripped his skin; he now offers us his body and blood freely as a gift. All the world’s life was created through him; we repayed him with torture and a slow death. Yet, he ransoms us from the powers of darkness, forgives us, and injects us with new life.

I do not understand that kind of love.

So I'm a vegetarian...

One day I was thinking about the food that I eat and I realized that meat had ceased to be a once-living thing to me. I had totally forced the concept of “animal” out of the idea of “meat” so that it was just another food substance. This disturbed me because I was reading about how the ancient Jews viewed animal food, and how it was strongly emphasized to them through ritual that a very real life was sacrificed for them. The total draining of the blood, the strict requirement on what kind of meat to eat, meant that animal flesh was something valuable, a meaningful symbol, even a symbolic spiritual pointer. This carries over even into Christian life in the New Testament. I realized that when I ate meat, I had no appreciation of a life lost. It meant nothing to me. I was taking a costly gift for granted.

I did not and do not consider eating meat a sin. Clearly, God allows and even sanctions eating meat throughout the Old Testament, beginning with Noah1. In the New Testament, Jesus ate fish and participated in the Passover meal, so he ate meat. I think when we try to outdo Jesus on the holiness front we typically get ourselves into lots of trouble. No one is weird for eating meat. Pretty sure God is cool with it.

No, eating meat itself is not a sin. The way I was eating meat however, was.

At first, my vegetarianism was a kind a fast to remind myself to not take any life (even that of an animal) for granted. Later, I discovered some pretty disturbing things about how mass-market meat is produced, and quite frankly it just stopped being appealing. I realized that what many of us eat is prone to disease, full of chemicals and “filler,” and is produced by treating people and animals with little respect and decency. After reading up on the meat industry and watching some documentaries (yup, Food, Inc. was one of them) I found that I rarely craved ground beef or any poultry or pork—although sometimes an organic steak still sounds good to me.

So far the benefits of remaining a vegetarian have been:

  • Opportunities to discuss animal cruelty, the human rights involved in the meat industry, and the health risks of the current mass-meat production system with many people who are genuinely curious.
  • The willingness to try many new foods—a totally new diet means totally new dishes. There are some absolutely AWESOME vegetarian foods out there and my wife has become quite the vegetarian chef herself.
  • A connection with the global community and my roots in African culture. In Africa (and most of the rest of the world) meat is considered a delicacy and a special treat. It may be part of your meal, but it is never the bulk of it. From what I can tell, this is both healthier in general and seems more consistent with the general attitude of respect toward meat I am trying to cultivate.
  • I generally eat healthier. It’s rare for a day to go by that I don’t get my full servings of fruit and vegetables. I get protein from nuts, beans, cheese, and eggs.
Which leads me to the fact that I am not vegan. I still do dairy and eggs. Also, to be totally honest—and this might come as shock, so prepare yourself—I’m actually not really, truly a vegetarian. I eat fish often (about once every week or two weeks) so technically I’m a pescatarian. Moreover, I’m really not that strict about meat either. I strive for my vegetarianism/pescatarianism to be a general lifestyle and attitude, not some strict form of self denial. So if I come over to your house and you make me a meat dish, I will still eat it out of respect for the time, effort, and care you put into preparing it for me. I ate turkey this last Thanksgiving, and I sure had some ham on Christmas day too.

The point is that it is about being aware of what I eat and drink, and making healthy, God-honoring, life-valuing, socially-conscious choices regarding the fuel I put in my body.

  1. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. (Genesis 9:3-4 ESV) 

Tension is a passing note

I have what seems to be an unquenchable thirst for peace through knowledge. What I mean by this is that I like  to have things figured out. Who wouldn’t, right? I spend lots of time thinking and studying and seeking after solutions to problems. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, except that like I said, sometimes I’m seeking to find peace through knowledge alone, and ultimately that can never really happen, especially in matters of faith.

When you really figure out Eucharistic theology, what you find is that no theology accurately describes what happens in the sacrament, and you sure can’t articulate it either. You read everything on the internet about predestination, and you find that a fully biblical doctrine election somehow incorporates free-will. You try to find a body of believers to identify with, and you find none of them exemplify their oh-so-elegant confessional statements. You start looking at yourself and your heart drops because the depth of your sin is overwhelming, but somehow the light of grace keeps you from sinking all the way down.  You come to grips with the fact you are a sinner and saint and that somehow life is both sacred and so, so profane that your heart aches. Violence seems like the culmination of the corruption of the universe, but then it is the only way we can think of to end the steady march of evil toward our loved ones.  For every piece of knowledge you gain, something you don’t know is revealed. Paradox is par for the course in authentic Christianity.

Where is the peace? I think it’s in the difficult, simple act of trusting Jesus. In the midst of rushing rivers of tension that threaten to sweep us away each day, there’s a spot of calm in the storm, and it’s the empty tomb of a resurrected Lord that we can rely on to be our prophet, priest, and king.

I’m not saying that we trust with no basis in knowledge. Part of the reason we trust is that we really can know that Jesus is lord. But trust extends beyond knowledge, past the tensions of life and sin and doctrine and feeble attempts to reconcile them all, and into an anchor of covenant relationship.

Maybe all the tension exists so we don’t have anywhere else to look but to our Lord.

Tension is to be loved when it is a like a passing note, to a beautiful, beautiful chord.
“Tension is a Passing Note” by Sixpence None The Richer

Photo Some rights reserved by Radio Saigón

The Myth of Religionless Christianity

What is religion, really?

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

(James 1:27, ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

(James 2:14-18, ESV).

I have been meditating on the popular idea that Christianity is “not a religion, it’s a relationship!”

I think this has become popular because the word “religion” is associated with human, man-made customs and traditions—and to many a “works righteousness” outlook where I am made right with God by what I do.

I am a huge grace guy when it comes to the doctrine of justification, practically Lutheran in that regard, actually. There is no doubt, however, that the real, life-giving faith thrust on us by God’s grace creates some sort of change in behavior, even if it is as “small” as “just” a humble attitude of repentance.

Our salvation is by a faith (given in grace) that, perhaps paradoxically, demands to be practiced. I don’t think the thought stops there, though. In the “traditional” view, “religion” is defined as my work for God. In the truly Christian sense, however, I think that the religion that we practice is not our work, but through the Holy Spirit becomes God’s work through and for us. Think about that.

Our religion is caring for the broken and helpless, becoming instruments of God’s love and grace and light. Our practice is prayer, preaching, Eucharist, Baptism, and fellowship. God graciously works in and through us in all these things, for our benefit and his glory! It’s not about what we have done or will do. It’s what He is doing.

It’s not that true Christianity is “a relationship, not a religion,” but rather a religion soaked in a relationship. True Christianity can’t exist without a relationship with Jesus, to be sure, but that relationship can’t help but be made manifest in our lives.

I’m beginning to see religion not as fundamentally separate from spirituality, but rather, as God’s work in and through me, symbiotically entangled. I don’t want to avoid God’s Christian religion any more. I want breathe it in and out, drink it up, absorb it, become married to it, have it permeate my life. Because God’s religion is nothing less than his Spirit overwhelming every aspect of my life.

If that doesn’t turn the world’s concept of spirituality and faith upside down, I don’t know what would.

How I Became An Anglican

Since we moved to Phoenix in August of 2010, more that a few people have asked me about our church situation–where are we going to church, how did we decide to visit, and perhaps most of all, what lead us to join an Anglican church?

In order to really understand how this decision made sense for me and my family, I am going to have to have to give you just a bit of background on how I got to be where I am theologically and how that has impacted where our family has chosen to worship. Lest this digress into a complete personal theological genealogy, I’m going to try really hard to keep it brief :)

I grew up overseas as the child of Southern Baptist missionaries. Although I was thoroughly acquainted with traditional Baptist theology and thought, the worship style I became accustomed to in West Africa was a bit more–for lack of a better term, enthusiastic–than what you might typically see in most traditional Baptist churches on the North American continent. I also went to a boarding school for missionary kids of all denominations, and there I found out that not only is Christianity much bigger than just my particular flavor, but that I have much to learn from every tradition. I was also highly influenced by my grandparents’ Charismatic views, and to a lesser extent their history as Methodists as well. In college I met some wonderful Roman Catholics that taught me a lot about what it means to be a Jesus follower, and they were perhaps my first real exposure to the ancient liturgy (order of worship) of Word and Sacrament. While I was finishing up my undergraduate and graduate degree, I also had the distinct privilege of serving as the minister of music at a wonderful, traditional Baptist Church in Abilene, TX.

So I am something of a melting pot for Christian traditions.

I was in the midst of serving as minister of music for that small Baptist church, and my wife had just completed her degree in Church Music. One of her required textbooks was Robert Webber’s Worship Old & New which I picked up for self-study. That book convinced me of the centrality of the Lord’s Supper for Christian worship, and caused me to seriously reevaluate the “evangelical liturgy,” and consequently its core values and some doctrines. The old adage “lex orandi, lex credenti” (the law of prayer is the law of belief) holds true, I think. How we worship has direct impact on what we believe. As I delved into the theology behind liturgy centered on the Lord’s Supper, I was exposed to the historic Christian traditions, the writings of the Fathers, and my own prejudices and cultural baggage.

When I accepted my current job in Phoenix, AZ, I knew it was time to do a bit of exploring into some other branches of Christianity. Although I absolutely loved the Baptist church where I served (they loved God, and loved people!) It did seem that I was pulling further and further away from the Baptist norm–both theologically and culturally. On the cultural level, I found that the issues that seemed to really concern national and regional leadership were not where my heart was. Examples include moderate alcohol consumption as a sin, legislation in lieu of spiritual formation, and evangelistic campaigns that seemed to be more about numbers than disciples. Theologically, I found myself, through careful Bible study and prayer, adopting a more sacramental1 position on the Lord’s Supper, and more covenant-focused interpretation of Baptism2.

I’d like to emphasize that I did not come to these conclusions lightly. It was with no small amount of heartache, soul-searching, and tears that I finally decided that God was leading me away from the Baptist tradition that had been my spiritual home for so long. I will forever treasure my brothers, sisters, pastors, friends and mentors in Baptist circles, as well as the Godly wisdom and Christian encouragement they have shared with me3.

I really love the Lutheran theology of grace and its staunch refusal to intellectualize the the doctrine of election, yet Amber and I did not feel called together to any of the local Lutheran churches we visited. This is partially because conservative Lutheran theology is very systematic and specific (much like Baptist theology in that way) and didn’t seem to provide a whole lot of wiggle-room on some issues where Amber and I–as a married couple with somewhat differing theological views–needed some flexibility.

Almost on a whim, we decided to visit a local Anglican Mission in America4 church–mainly because it was one of the only non-Lutheran liturgical churches in our area. Almost as soon as we stepped into the Sunny Slope High School Multipurpose room (where our church then met) we knew Desert Mission Anglican Church was something different. We experienced an expressive, charismatic worship, ordered by a theologically solid liturgy and supported with an evangelical focus on Scripture and missions. We even discovered that our church and denomination has a connection to Africa! What we found at Desert Mission was a church that shared our values as a family.

We officially joined with Desert Mission Anglican Church and AMiA on December 12, 2010 for mission and community, and continue to be blessed there each week through Word, Sacrament, and fellowship of the saints.

Edited February 14, 2012 to include the paragraph on the importance of Webber’s work, and footnote #3.

  1. From the 39 Articles, a definitive confession for orthodox Anglicans along with the eccumnical creeds: Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him. 
  2. From the 39 Articles, a definitive confession for orthodox Anglicans along with the eccumnical creeds: Baptism is not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christian men are discerned from other that be not christened, but is also a sign of regeneration or new birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God, by the Holy Ghost are visibly signed and sealed; faith is confirmed, and grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ. 
  3. Although I was ultimately led to move away from my dear Baptist home and into the orthodox Anglican tradition, the journey I am on remains difficult. Yet, I am sustained by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
  4. TheAM core values and beliefs 

Grace abounding

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
In high school I was going through a particularly difficult time, wondering if I could continue to do the right thing. While speaking to my Dad over the phone (I was at boarding school at the time), he encouraged me by sharing this Scripture passage with me. It has continued to be a source of strength when I feel I just can’t take another step. Over the years, I have shared it with many others, and recently it came across my radar again in an email. Lately, I’ve been pondering the whole concept of biblical grace, and what it means for humanity—for Christians and others. What I believe this passage is saying is that God desires and gracefully equips us to sacrificially give our resources and selves for the Body of Christ. When we do this, when we love each other in a radical way—the world takes note. Check out verse 9 in the NLT:
As the Scriptures say, They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.
We love each other, and then our witness starts to mean something. Do you love your Christian family? Do you love your Catholic brothers and sisters, your Baptist neighbors, your Charismatic relatives? Do you treat your local church as a treasured family, or an exclusive club?We are called to share the Good News and make disciples of all nations. The first step is to tell the world who we belong to, and the Scripture is clear.

They will know we are Christians by our love.

3 reasons you should be observing the Christian Calendar

As a kid, my family participated in Advent through a liturgy that I assume my father created, drawing from various sources and scripture. Each Sunday night in Advent, we would turn off the fluorescent bulbs in our dining room, light a candle on the Advent Wreath, and pray together through Scripture. As we did this we traced the biblical prophecies of the coming Messiah, culminating in their fulfillment in the birth of Christ. From the first time we did this on, something about the liturgy—and especially the Church Year—stuck with me.

There are a multitude of reasons that all Christians would benefit from engaging with the Christian calendar, but here are the Big Three for me:

1) The Christian Calendar brings us into the drama of God’s redemptive story.

As we recall the longing for Messiah in Advent, the joy of Christmas, the penitential Lent, the victory of Easter, the thankfulness at Pentecost, etc., we re-enact God’s True Story. Each year we join together as a church, players for an audience of One, literally ordering our lives by the Gospel narrative. As we do this we proclaim the Good News to the world that watches and to each other in a way that places Christ at the center of our lives.

2) The Christian Calendar provides a time-tested spiritual formation strategy that works.

Just as an actor or actress can’t help but be affected at least in some way by the character he or she plays, we too are shaped by our actions and thoughts when we pattern our lives after Christ’s. It is simple enough to be understood by children, but flexible enough that there are endless avenues for creativity. And no matter what, by holding to the outline of the liturgical calendar, you’ll hit all the major discipleship points: repentance, faith, belief, redemption, walking in the Holy Spirit, waiting for the Lord, rejoicing in God’s majesty, grieving in sin, everything in the Nicene Creed. At the very least, the Church Year is a proven tool for teaching the Gospel story in a very participatory, immersive way over time. At its best, the Christian Calendar provides a way for us to order our lives around Christ, instead of secular holidays and the American academic year.

3) The Christian Calendar connects all of us to the Church Universal across time and space.

Some form of the liturgical calendar has been in use for at least 1,600 years, and possibly even more. All our Christian ancestors practiced the Church Year, most of today’s Christians across the world will participate, and many Christians in the future will also join the the rhythm of Holy Feasts and Ordinary Time. It reminds us that our faith is one that is about God calling a people out for himself, and that his plans are much, much bigger than any one person—yet each of us is loved, known, and called individually by God to be a part of Christ’s Body on Earth.

If you’re already familiar with the Church Year, there’s a possibility that it’s become old habit. I’d like to encourage you to take a step back, pause, and reflect on the timeless majesty and usefulness of this great Christian tradition. If you’ve never really given the Christian Year a thought past Christmas and Easter, consider observing the major feasts this year, starting in Advent. You don’t have to go to special services or anything (although these rhythms are designed to be observed in community)—just make yourself aware of what’s happening on the liturgical calendar, and pause each week to meditate on the Scripture that the season is based on.

I believe you’ll be blessed.

Further reading:

Notes on Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Although the Internet Monk went to be with the Lord just a few months ago, he continues to be a spiritual mentor to me. Michael Spencer’s book Mere Churchianity (published posthumously) is a gem that aptly confronts the need for evangelical Christianity to stop with the nonsense and get back to what he calls “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” This book is for those tired of church, those wondering where Jesus is in the landscape of contemporary evangelicalism, and those that just want a better understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. I loved this book, and I plan to re-read it many times—I hope I can give some copies to those that would benefit from it. Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

Behind the Jesus Is Here sign is a health, wealth, and prosperity “gospel” that removes God from the status of sovereign Lord and turns him into a convenient vending machine…I wonder if Jesus mentioned promises of earthly goodies to the repentant criminal hanging on the cross next to him. (p. 23)
The Christian life isn’t a denial of the prodigal son parable, with the prodigal suddenly becoming a good boy and making his father proud. It is lived at the point where the empty-handed, thoroughly humbled son kneels before his father and has nothing to offer. (p. 126)
I’m looking for a spiritual experience that looks like, feels like, sounds like, lives like, loves like, and acts like Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that simple. (p. 69)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Becoming a Minimalist

Many of you (even those that know me pretty well) wouldn’t characterize me as a minimalist. I don’t have a modern-style home, my desk is sometimes pretty cluttered, and I tend to buy more stuff than I really need. Yet, I am becoming a minimalist. Minimalism as a philosophy has really stuck with me lately, and I am genuinely trying to apply it many areas of my life. A few things that I’ve been keeping in mind:

  • Minimalism isn’t necessarily about a chic decor or ridiculous extremes that limit you from living life to fullest. It’s about appreciating what you have and learning to identify what you really need.
  • Minimalism is a process. No one can just a flip a switch and become something they’re not. Minimalism is another part of life’s journey that I’m embarking on. I’m not the perfect minimalist, and I’ll never be the perfect minimalist, but I’m getting better at it, and I’m looking forward to where it takes me.
  • Minimalism has a spiritual component that is highly compatible with Christianity. In fact, my decision to intentionally pursue a simpler, more minimal life flows directly from my Christianity. I don’t want to be defined by materialism. I want to make time to sit in silence before God. I want to never lose sight of the “mere” basics: That we are saved by grace through faith in the resurrected Jesus, and that we are called to love God and love people. I want to make Proverbs 30:7-9 my prayer.
My current favorite places to learn about minimalism:

Everyone Has a Calling

I’ve struggled a lot over the years with the idea of calling…that very specific sense from God as to what you’re supposed to do with your life. I’ve never had a “light from heaven” moment where my grand purpose in life was revealed to me. Rather, I feel like God teaches me slowly and methodically as I strive for a life of daily obedience.

Although I think God has been faithful to communicate his will for me in this way, it is sometimes discouraging when you hear all of the talk in evangelical circles regarding everybody else’s “call”…especially when you’re in vocational ministry. You start wondering if there’s something wrong with you, because you didn’t have a dramatic, ecstatic experience of divine communication.

Because of these struggles, I’ve become fairly recently interested in doctrines of vocation. Who knew Christendom even had such a thing? But as I learn about the historical Christian perspective on calling and vocation, I’m deeply encouraged, and I feel confirmed in my sense of how God is revealing my vocation to me.

One Sunday, my pastor preached on this idea, and his statements really resonated with what I’ve already been thinking. He said that in general, your calling from God probably exists at the intersection of your greatest passion, your gifts and abilities, the world’s need, and God’s glory. What a great way to think about vocational purpose.

How have you discerned God’s calling on your life?

Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller's seminal work: a review

This book is getting old now, but I just read it for the first time. I’m glad I waited, so I could separate it a bit from the hype that surrounded it on its first release. I found it to be a remarkably easy to read, beautifully written collection of essays on what Christianity is all about. Miller has a way of disarming you with his gentleness and wit, and then stabbing you with the cold, hard truth when you recognize yourself in his portraits of those that have missed the real and simple message of Jesus regarding sin, grace, and redemption. I  alternately laughed (like, out loud) and became very serious.

So much of this book is worth reading and re-reading…and I can’t even begin to talk about all of it here. The part that hit me like a freight train was the section on how we talk about love, beginning on page 218 in the paperback edition. Miller notes the economic language with which we discuss our human relationships: we invest in people, our relationships can become bankrupt, and people are priceless. He says,

“The problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money….This was the thing that had smelled so rotten all these years. I used love like money. The church used love like money. With love, we withheld affirmation from the people who did not agree with us, but we lavishly financed the ones who did.”

As he explained how this is played out on both the church and personal level, I felt my heart sink. This was me. For the past 2, 3, 4 years, I’ve withdrawn from many human relationships—with Christians and non-Christians, family members and friends—because I didn’t think it was worth the effort. I didn’t think it worth the effort because I believed no one would really put in the same kind of work in the relationship as I would…and if they’re not going to be equally as “invested” in the relationship, why even have one?

As I pondered this part of the book out loud with my wife after reading, I had to struggle to keep my emotions in check as the full weight of my own selfishness hit me. Even if my grossly unfair assumptions about other people were true, this is no reason to withhold Christ’s love and grace and commitment to them. After all, it’s not my love to withhold. Any love I can give comes by grace through Christ anyway. The more I thought about it, the more I found this mindset of love and commitment as a trade good to be deeply ingrained in my worldview. I am honestly ashamed, because I can look back now and see why many of my relationships have failed, how I could have been a better husband, and the impact it had on all sorts of personal ministry. To make matters worse, all I had to do was take my cue from the clear example of our Savior, who loves us so much—despite anything we have done—that he died for us, so that we would be redeemed and have life.  I believe this is the kind of unconditional love I should be sharing with all people.

I’m uncertain as to the specifics of what this means going forward—all this happened about 9 a.m. this morning. I know I need to stop withholding friendship and commitment based on a perceived level of reciprocity, and I really need to mediate anew on Ephesians 5, which begins this way:

…walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God...”

Thoughts on The New Living Translation of the Bible, 2nd Edition

Based on some things I’ve been reading online, as well some recommendations from friends, I decided to pick up a copy of the 2007 revision of the New Living Translation, 2nd edition. I understand that original Living Bible was a paraphrase (sort of The Message before The Message) and that the first edition of the New Living Translation was not without its problems…but word on the street (er, ‘net) is that the NLT 2nd edition, and especially the 2007 revision, is pretty top-notch—undoubtedly one of the best “dyanimic equivenlce” (thought for thought) translations available.

So far I have yet to convinced that it’s the best of its breed, but I have to say I’ve really enjoyed reading from it. My understanding is that the goal of the NLT was to keep things simple, clear, and very easy to read. So you won’t find lots of big words, and you’ll find it a pleasure to read aloud. Unlike essentially literal” (word-for-word, as much as possible) translations, Paul’s letters are modified to that the sentence structure makes a bit more sense to English speakers…and it makes a world of difference. While reading my ESV and NLT together, I immediately felt like I had a better grasp on what Paul was saying from the NLT. Part of that is because the NLT adds implied words, where as the ESV, being essentially literal, doesn’t. This is especially helpful in certain sections of Romans, where Paul is talking specifically to/about certain people groups. The NLT provides helpful headings and modifies some sentences with things like, “So, for the Israelites…” or “Remember, Gentiles…” This keeps things straight in your head…with an essentially literal translation, it can be easy to get confused by Paul’s giant run-on sentences and think that he is either speaking in a global sense to or to different group of people.

That being said, there are tradeoffs. After years of study with the NASB and ESV, the Pauline epistiles—while easier to understand—don’t sound like Paul to me. Many of his strongly phrased arguments and rhetorical devices get reworded in a way that seems softened. For example, the repeated exclamation “By no means!” (ESV) throughout Romans is translated “Of course not!” in the NLT. In Romans 9:20, the ESV states,

“….who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ “

The NLT renders the same verse like this:

No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ “

While the essence of this verse is certainly intact, we also lose the sense of admonishon from the ESV and  the word-picture of God as potter or “molder” of our lives. I’ve noticed this about a few passages throughout the Old and New Testaments in NLT; the essence of the meaning is there, but some of the symbolism/word meanings are lost. This robs the scripture of some of its original and intended literary richness.

See how the venerable 23rd Psalm loses a bit of its grandeur…. Here’s the NLT rendering of  Psalms 23:1-4:

 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valleys I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

And the ESV:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The more formal language of the ESV is both more familiar and more meaningful to me. Phrases like “…paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” and “the valley of shadow of death” just seem more like the way Holy Scripture should be. Naturally, I recognize that in this specific case, my thoughts are highly subjective and based mostly on a certain set of aesthetic preferences.

One thing I really appreciate about the NLT is how it makes certain culturally awkward (or even incrompehsible) verses accesible to the English speaking crowd. Take Ps. 147:10 in the ESV, for example:

“His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man…”

Okay, that’s awkward ;). Here it is in the NLT:

“He takes no pleasure in the strength of a horse or in human might.”

That makes a little more sense, doesn’t it?

Obviously, neither the ESV as an essentially literal translation, nor the NLT as a dynamically equivalent translation are  perfect. But, from what I can gather, they are both great translations each in their own right, and accomplish each of their very different goals well. So I’m very glad I picked up my NLT…I anticipate many blessings by using it alongside my trusty ESV, and I’m now more convinced than ever that both essentially literal and dynamically equvialent translations are needed and should be studied by all Christians.

Further reading: