The ESV me likee

The first Bible I ever bought as a believer was the New King James Version, and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for this wonderful translation. I treasured my battered leather-bound NKJV for over ten years until it started falling apart. I still have it, lovingly tucked away in a drawer.

Since that time I’ve bounced from version to version. I like the NIV. It’s readable, of course, but it somehow leaves me a bit flat. The NASB is a translation I respect greatly, but it can sometimes make for a hard read; I don’t always “grasp” what it’s trying to say. For devotional reading I’ve enjoyed my New Living Translation.

I recently discovered the English Standard Version. I love this translation! Something about the way it reads . . . I’m no scholar, but it seems very transparent, allowing the meaning of the passage to reach me relatively unhindered.

Peter over at Stronger Church has a great post [hat tip: Mr. Standfast for directing me to Peter’s blog] about why he’s begun using the ESV more and more in his services (side note: Peter is a Pastor who has evidently been at the same church for 25 years! Wow!). Peter writes:

The ESV – to me – is now the better choice for best of both worlds. I like the way it reads. It’s not as easy to read as the NIV, but not that far off. And it’s worlds better than the NASB, even from the 1995 NASB update. From charts that I have seen, it occupies a place of middle ground between those two translations.

What helped win me over was also the level of technical savvy among the people who promote the ESV. The passage of the day in the right sidebar is fed by an RSS feed from their site, they offer several great Bible reading plans. I’m currently following their One Year Bible plan, which is also an RSS that I download into my feedreader every day and read on the bus.

And did I mention they have a Blog?.

Most importantly, though, the ESV is just a great translation and they have done excellent work in making it accessible to as many people as possible. Check it out if you get a chance.

Yes, you can

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

– Philippians 4:11-13 (ESV)

Of all Paul’s letters, his letter to the Philippians seems the most joyous. I don’t know as much about its historical context as I’d like, although my understanding is that he wrote it while he was in prison. Paul goes hard (that’s Thinklings slang for “Paul is awesome”).

”I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content”

This is an amazing statement. Whatever situation? I think of my own level of contentment; it varies, unfortunately, with circumstances; it’s not unusual to have my contentment gauge pointing at an eighth of a tank or less. But Paul was content, and he lived and worked in conditions and circumstances that would have literally killed us, comfortable progeny that we are of our modern and convenient era.

Notice that with Paul contentment wasn’t something that just happened. He “learned” contentment. Just as joy isn’t so much a feeling or the result of circumstances (it’s actually a command), contentment is something that is learned. I find it interesting that he doesn’t just practice contentment in the low, hungry, and needy times. He had also learned the secret of contentment in times of abundance and plenty. Isn’t that wise? So many people, perhaps you and I, live lives of discontent amid the luxury of the 21st century West – a luxury that the ancient world would not have been able to comprehend. Think for a moment of your clean soft bed or hot indoor shower. A toothbrush. Refrigeration. These comforts were reserved in ancient times for the wealthiest kings, if even them, and most of us enjoy them (and take them for granted) every day.

And what is the secret Paul had learned? “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” As I (slowly) grow in my relationship with Christ the two words that increasingly make me grind my teeth, both when I say them and when those I love say them, are the words “I can’t”. It’s particularly galling because those words contain a seed of truth. There are many things God calls me to do that I “can’t” do, on my own. But He can. He can! Many things I continue to leave undone because I’ve allowed myself to rest, defeated, in the truth of my own inadequacy. But He can. He specifically promises to strengthen me in my weakness as I face life and the challenges, tasks, and struggles it presents.

I think care must be taken with this verse too. People justify all kinds of crazy ventures and activities outside of their giftings and callings by saying “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”. But the context must be understood. What Paul is speaking of are the hardships, triumphs, emptyings and fillings that he encountered, sometimes in tidal waves, while on the road of God’s mission and will. If we follow Jesus we will receive and live the abundant life He promised, a life with high peaks and low valleys, a life lived with a joy we could never have imagined but also with frequent hardship and trials. And, if we’re wise, as we follow our Lord we will learn contentment and peace, so that the world will marvel.

And when we’re at the end of our strength and our mind is reeling; when we’re gasping out the words “I can’t do this,” God reminds us, gently but persistently, “Of course you can’t, child. I never expected you to do this on your own.”

“But through Me, you can!”

A good weekend

Some random updates, as posting has been sparse these last few days.

It was a good weekend. Friday night was a good night to relax, as all but one of our kids was out of the house (the girls spent the night at the grandparents, Andrew was at a guys retreat with friends). I crashed in bed – it was awesome to get some sleep.

Saturday opened with a sweet victory by the Giants over our flag-football rival The Texans (7-8 year old league). They are the only team that had beaten us – we had each beaten the other once. We won by a touchdown and we are still savoring the victory and our secured position as the best team in the league. It was my better-half’s idea to treat this game like a homecoming game; the kids all had their hair painted, we had those tough-guy black bars under their eyes, streamers on our cars, slogans on our windows, signs and spirit! That was our edge. Blake played the entire game and did a great job. Who dat say gonna beat dem Giants? Heh.

This morning the 249N band led worship with the following songs in our junior high service:

Failure to Excommunicate (Relient K)

Almighty God (Parachute Band)

Knees to the Earth (Watermark)

Into Your Presence (Canadian Vineyard)

Change Me (Sanctus Real)

The Watermark and Vineyard songs were particularly good – the worship was great! I’m blessed to get to work with this group.

We had a wonderful Mother’s Day and Jill enjoyed her new Brighton watch and Old Navy blouse (she, um, helped me pick them out so I knew she’d like them :-). The day was very rainy so after a great lunch at Pappasitos we came home and watched Phantom of the Opera. Great flick.

I leave you with links to Mr. Standfast’s Christian Identity series. It’s a great series and well worth reading:

Christian, You Are a Child of God

Christian, You Are a Branch of the True Vine

Christian, You Are a Friend of Jesus

Christian, You Are the Light of the World

Hope your weekend was great, and that your week is even better!

The Word

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

– John 1:14 (ESV)

I don’t think I’ll be able to do justice to this passage, because the majesty of this truth is something that I can only grasp for short periods of time, if at all. I still look through a glass darkly. And even what I can grasp of this passage is too large for me, too breathtaking.

The Gospel of John starts with the following famous sentence, stated so simply, and already we are in waters that are too deep:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

This remarkable statement is followed closely by

“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

The Word that was with God and was God. Through Him all things were created, and (with the characteristic Hebrew rephrasing of important truths) “without him was not any thing made that was made.”

How mysterious, how awesome is this Word that John refers to. The Word of God – the great Logos through which He created the universe. The Word that was with God in the beginning, and was God. In here we begin to glimpse the amazing eternal relationship of Father and Son, of the One who speaks all things into existence and the One who is the very Word of God, through which

all things were made.

These are deep waters and high heavenly spaces which we are attempting to navigate. These words, written in the straightforward style of John the beloved disciple, contain a mystery, one that believers will have all eternity to enjoy. Because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

To have received the very words of God in revelation, as the Hebrews did from the beginnings of their history, was in itself an awesome thing. But who would have expected the Word of God to actually come and live with us? What an audacious act our Lord committed! No wonder Jesus was such an enigma to the religious leaders of His day. No wonder He confounded their preset ideas of how God would fulfill the prophecies of the Old Testament.

But much wonder when we think of His revolutionary act of love, humility, and sacrifice. The grace and truth of God, embodied in a tabernacle of flesh, able to touch, to heal, to laugh and cry with His followers. Able to kneel and pray, to be tired, to be hungry. Able to suffer, beyond anything we can imagine.

This is the glory of God. I’m learning more and more that, when you break the universe down to its basic truth, the glory of God is all that matters, and it is what all things point to. And we have beheld His glory.

In Jesus.

Barren no longer

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. And his wife was barren and had no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.

– Judges 13:2-3 (ESV)

Have you ever noticed how many times the scenario above has played out in Scripture? The Lord visits the barren and declares ”Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive”. Thus spoke the angel to the parents of Sampson, and to the parents of Isaac, and to the parents of John the Baptist. And to how many others?

God could accomplish His purposes through people with the equipment and qualifications to get the job done. But instead he chooses people like Manoah and his wife. Isn’t that His way? That’s what our God does. That’s who He is and one reason I love Him. He is the bringer of life to the barren. That’s why I was, as a young man, drawn to Him. What other god of this world – money, power, sex, human accomplishment, music, sports, fame — cares at all for the barren? None of them do. The gods that men gather to themselves don’t care for the brokenhearted, for the losers, for those whose last thread of hope has just snapped.

A little later in the Judges 13 passage, we witness this marvelous scene:

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “Please let us detain you and prepare a young goat for you.” And the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “If you detain me, I will not eat of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the Lord.” (For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the Lord.) And Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering, and offered it on the rock to the Lord, to the one who works wonders, and Manoah and his wife were watching. And when the flame went up toward heaven from the altar, the angel of the Lord went up in the flame of the altar. Now Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell on their faces to the ground.

Judges 13:15-20 (ESV)

“Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” Do you wonder if the angel of the Lord was smiling as He said that? The word translated here “wonderful” can also be translated “incomprehensible” or “beyond understanding”. What an apt description of our Lord: wonderful and beyond understanding. The Creator of all things, perfect in all His ways, comes with grace to the imperfect, barren ones and says “you are barren no longer!” He comes to the dead and raises us to life. He declares the poor to be rich, the weak to be strong. He declares those foolish in the world’s eyes to be wise, and He welcomes the lonely outcast to a place of deep friendship and a seat at the family table of the royal wedding feast. He is “the one who works wonders”.

He came to a world barren of hope, sending His angels on ahead to announce, once again, the birth of a Child to one for whom childbirth was impossible. She wondered “How will this be, since I am a virgin”? The answer to that question is the same answer that the hopeless heart receives when visited with the salvation of God; “the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” The Most High has the power to make possible our impossibilities, to answer all of our “How will this be?” questions. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And His name is Wonderful.

This is Jesus, who breathes life into dry bones, opens deaf ears, makes blind eyes see the beautiful lights and colors of creation again, and restores strength and usefulness to atrophied limbs. There is nothing too hard for Him. He plants hope that grows in the impossible soil of our circumstances.

And He visits the barren ones and declares them barren no longer. Praise His name forever!

If I could be . . .

Donna has tagged me for a meme that is making the rounds of the blogosphere these days. (Note: turns out this meme originated a year ago with the excellent Marla Swoffer.)

Here’s how it works. If tagged, you pick out five occupations from the list below and finish the sentence on each. You can add more occupations of your own if you like.

If I could be a scientist I would . . .

If I could be a farmer I would . . .

If I could be a musician I would . . .

If I could be a doctor I would . . .

If I could be a painter I would . . .

If I could be a gardener I would . . .

If I could be a missionary I would . . .

If I could be a chef I would . . .

If I could be an architect I would . . .

If I could be a linguist I would . . .

If I could be a psychologist I would . . .

If I could be a librarian I would . . .

If I could be an athlete I would . . .

If I could be a lawyer I would . . .

If I could be an innkeeper I would . . .

If I could be a professor I would . . .

If I could be a writer I would . . .

If I could be a llama-rider I would . . .

If I could be a bonnie pirate I would . . . (what the heck’s a “bonnie pirate” I wonder?)

If I could be a service member I would . . .

If I could be a photographer I would . . .

If I could be a philanthropist I would . . .

If I could be a rap artist I would . . .

If I could be a child actor I would . . .

If I could be a secret agent I would . . .

If I could be a comedian/comedienne I would . . .

If I could be a priest I would . . .

If I could be a radio announcer I would . . .

If I could be a phlebotomist I would . . .

If I could be a pet store owner I would . . .

If I could be a computer programmer I would . . .

If I could be a police officer I would . . .

If I could be a politician I would . . .

If I could be a mom I would . . .

If I could be an underwater basket weaver I would . . .

If I could be a reality tv host I would . . .

If I could be a forensic pathologist I would . . .

If I could be a key grip on the next Star Wars film I would . . .

If I could be a fairy god parent I would . . .

If I could be a cast member on “Smallville” I would . . .

If I could be an Airbus pilot I would . . .

If I could be U2’s equipment manager I would . . .

If I could be a computer nerd I would . . .

Man, this is hard . . .

OK, here goes:

If I could be a phlebotomist I would practice phlebotomy to the best of my ability.

If I could be a linguist I would learn Greek and Hebrew, and would also translate Homer’s The Odyssey from ancient Greek into English just like C.S. Lewis did when he was a kid.

If I could be a key grip on the next Star Wars film I’d beg George Lucas to swallow his pride and let Peter Jackson direct the film.

If I could be a writer I’d write a redemptive novel that inspired people to seek redemption.

If I could be a computer nerd I’d . . . hey, wait a minute, I am a computer nerd!

Those I have decided to tag:

1. Andy at GodVerbs.

2. Eric at The Fireant GazetteUpdate: Eric has already done this meme, so the lovely and talented Molly has graciously taken up the challenge.

3. And the elusive, ethereal (and possibly mythological) Blo over at The Thinklings.

The unsatisfied runner

I’ve been thinking recently about satisfaction. Is it something that can be attained in this life for the follower of Christ?

I would conjecture that many, if not most, lost people are at some level aware of and distressed by the gap in their lives that can only be bridged by God. And I think many people spend a great deal of time and energy trying to fill that gap. They strive to find satisfaction by any means possible and to no avail, thus fulfilling the gloomy observation of the preacher in Ecclesiastes 6: “All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied”.

However, I also believe that there are a number of well-integrated lost people who do feel a great deal of satisfaction with their lives. How a person finds any satisfaction at all outside of a relationship to Christ boggles my mind. But I believe some lost people attain a form of temporal satisfaction.

So what do we make of the unsatisfied Christian? Is being unsatisfied a bad thing? Because I have a confession to make: I feel unsatisfied much of the time. Now, let me explain what I mean: by “unsatisfied” I do not mean “ungrateful”, or even “unhappy”. I have been blessed beyond blessing, and this I know well. Anyone looking at my life circumstances would agree with that. Regardless of the winds of trouble that blow on my life from time to time, God has been very, very good to me. So, with my lot in life I am far from unsatisfied.

And yet there is an uneasiness, a longing for joy in my core that sometimes speaks with a very loud voice. As David wrote:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;

my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you,

as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1 (ESV)

My understanding is that David wrote those words while physically in the desert, and his surroundings served as physical representation of the soul-thirst that he felt for his God. That being said, I believe David would agree: sometimes being in the desert is not such a bad thing. What growth he experienced in the hot sands! I’ve found in my own desert times that I cling to God more tightly, that I seek Him more earnestly than ever, that I do thirst and faint for His presence. And His presence and comfort become very real.

Yet for all that, here on earth we are kept (and for good reason, I believe) from experiencing God in His fullness. We are broken and bent, and even when redeemed and cleansed we are still too frail to endure His glory. While our victory was won for us on the cross and confirmed in the resurrection, there are reasons why we still have to practice faith, hope, and love. Faith, because we trust in what we cannot see. Hope, because what we will be still dwells in the future.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2 (ESV)

And love, because God is love, and we are God’s expression of Himself to a lost world, and to each other. And then back to Him as well. And Love will endure when there is no longer need for either faith or hope, because all shall be seen, all shall be known, and we will finally have become what He created us to be, unbroken, unbent, glorified and standing joyfully in His presence.

For all my talk of satisfaction and the desire to earnestly seek after Christ, I know that much of it is just that, talk. The world calls me, comfort calls me, compromise calls me. I wonder why I’m not satisfied and the uncomfortable answer is that, while no follower of Christ can be completely satisfied until he is home, I have, in so many ways, made the world my home and become comfortable here in this far land. Therefore the trudge toward my real country has become wearisome. There’s something about running with weights tangling your legs that makes for an unsatisfactory journey.

But my desire, hopefully to be coupled with action, is to set my sights more fully on the finish line ahead, and on the One who completes my faith. To cast off these weights. For joy and satisfaction for the Christian can be felt – even if only in snatches here on earth – when we are running unencumbered. When, smiling and with our head thrown back, we speed on our swift course with the landscape surging past us as we press on toward the goal.

. . . that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:10-14 (ESV)

New to the bloogroll

Welcome Semicolon to the Bloogroll!

I noticed this site based on a recommendation from Mr. Standfast, and I can see why he blogrolled it too. The site is run by a homeschooling mother of 8 who’s husband works at NASA. Interesting stuff.

Two items of interest tipped the scale for bloogrollage. The first was a post on poetry called Creating Silences, in which she quotes Stephen Mallarme:

“It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things.”

The second is her list of The 105 Best Movies of All Time. So many of the movies I treasure are on this list.

Good reading.

Orphans and slaves no longer

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Romans 8:15 (ESV)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God

I John 3:1 (ESV)

I was raised by two loving, biological parents and I’ve never known, physically, the special loneliness of the orphan. And another condition is also foreign to me: I’ve never been a slave and I’ve never, physically speaking, known someone who was a slave, although I do know that slavery still exists in certain dark corners of the earth.

Still, the act of reading these two passages brings with it a spark of recognition. Orphan and slave; I can’t say I don’t know these conditions, because, in truth, I’ve been both.

Sometimes I forget how precious salvation really is. Yet I was once an orphan, alone in this world. I was also a slave to sin. The portrait the world paints of the well-integrated lost person is one of “freedom” – freedom to do what you want, to say what you want, to live a life dedicated to the stimulation of the nerve endings and to the feeding of that most insatiable entity, the human ego. Yet this portrait of freedom is precisely opposite to reality.

The reality is that a life without Christ is one of slavery. Again, slavery is a concept that is thankfully beyond the physical experience of most of us, but citizens of the first century would have been very familiar with it. From the palaces of rulers to the wharfs and marketplaces to the dreaded mines, slaves were everywhere in the Roman Empire. A slave was marked by who owned him, and he had to do his master’s bidding, always. He was not free to live as he chose. Often at the mercy of the whims of a disinterested master, a slave’s life was one of fear.

In the same way, any freedom without Christ is an illusion. Without Christ we are orphans and slaves; in slavery to sin and unable to break its cruel bonds. We are orphans, alone in this world and without an inheritance, without a name, without hope. Alone and afraid in the cold.

Yes, I forget how precious salvation really is. My Father has redeemed me; He has paid the astronomical price to buy me back from slavery and set me free. He has adopted me into His family and given me the rights of sonship.

Those who think becoming a follower of Christ is a form of bondage have bought a lie. Life with Christ is a life of freedom! It is the unspeakable joy of the orphan, disfigured, dirty, long abandoned and without hope in this world, who is singled out in the throng and who hears a loving voice say “This one. This is the one I want. Yes, this is my son.” This one was born in Zion.

It is the speechless joy of the slave, without prospect of release, who hears the words long hoped for but for which he dared not hope, “You are free”, and finds himself standing, unshackled, in the warm sun, blinking back astonished tears and feeling the winds of freedom on his face.

It is the freedom of a beloved child, a child free to laugh and run and play without shame, a child who runs to the door to welcome, with joy and a tight embrace, her Daddy. This is a child who has a name, who has a heritage, an inheritance, security, hope.

It is the freedom that only comes from Jesus, our Savior in every sense of the word. Orphans and slaves look to Him and are adopted and set free.

As one who has worn the rags of slavery and known the loneliness and desperation of the orphan, I can only bow in worship and thankfulness before my Redeemer. I really do forget how precious salvation is sometimes. Thank you Father, for your indescribable gift!

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God!