From time to time, I like to listen to recordings of the Scriptures.  I recently discovered a free Audio New Testament that presents the English Standard Version.  This is an awesome translation, and I think you might want to look into downloading it for you own use.  Here is the link to it — http://www.faithcomesbyhearing.com/ambassador/free-audio-bible-download

This is a HUGE FILE, but worth the effort.  “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

I just did the funeral for one of the old faithful “pillars” of our congregation.  It was a great celebration of the life of a saint.  While I was visiting with the family, making plans for the service, one of the daughters handed me a Bible her dad had given her and asked me to read the note in the flyleaf.  It truly blessed me.  With her permission, I share the content of that note with you here.

Dear Jan, Scott, & Derek,
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.  I urge you to use this One Year Bible to study the Word to know the way of the Lord in your life.  To fear God is true wisdom and to forsake evil is real understanding (Job 28:28).
Everyone needs to work out their own salvation but remember faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

I have gathered a few thoughts that I believe will help you as you travel life’s highway:
1. Use you mind for creative ideas.
2. Surround yourself with creative Christian people.
3. Use your time wisely.
4. Study money.  Learn how you can make it work for you.
5. Realize that God owns everything.
6. God is the source of everything.  God loves a cheerful giver and a good steward.
7. Sow a seed to meet your need.
8. Trust God and obey Him.  Remember Jesus is Lord and He is our great interceder
9. Combat stress by reading the Word.  Examine your heart to see where your treasure is.  Rebuke the devil and spend time in prayer daily.
10. The Joy of the Lord is your strength. Through it all God loves you and cares about you and your family.  Household salvation is of the Lord.
My wish for you and your family is that God will bless you with a long, full life filled with good health, happiness, and prosperity.  Give God your best and ask Him for His best for you.  I am grateful to God for His many blessings.  Among them is the privilege of living in the greatest country in the all the earth where opportunity abounds.  To have a very full life with two wonderful wives each quite different and a large loving family.  Isn’t it great when we can all get
together and reminisce the good times we have had.  My hope and prayer is that when life on this earth is over we will all be a part of the great family of God and joint heirs with Jesus.  Thank you for all your love, support, and kindness.
Love, Dad.
PS. Claim the power of the blood of Jesus Christ through faith.

Wouldn’t our world be a better place if there were more dads like this one?

I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of input about the new ESV Study Bible from Crossway, and it all sounds pretty convincing.  I began to look for a copy at all my usual sources, but this thing is EXPENSIVE! A couple weeks ago, I got a mid-week sale e-mail from CBD, which offered a leather-bound edition for $37.99, which is close to half of what it usually goes for, and I bit.  I just got it here yesterday, and I AM IMPRESSED! The content and layout of this Study Bible is great, and the scholarship of the supporting material is outstanding.

I have been exposed to the ESV in varying degrees since it was first introduced several years ago, but I’m not one to switch Bible Translations very easily.  I’ve been using NASB for many years, and most of my study materials are compatible with that translation.  I’ll be reading this new translation through before I decide to make it my preaching Bible (if Idecide to make it my preaching Bible), but my initial impression is very favorable.  After all, it’s always good to have multiple translations available for comparison when studying God’s Word.  I’ll try to keep you posted on the progress of this enterprise.

Just a word of friendly, pastorly advice here on the use of “Study Bibles.”  The most important aspect of any Bible is the biblical text itself.  I personally own and use a few different Study Bibles, but when it all comes down to studying the Word of God, it must come down to the study of the Word of God itself.   Remember, only the actual Bible is inspired, and the rest is simply (potentially) helpful information.  As far as the study helps, footnotes, maps, charts, and comments go, it’s always helpful to consider who has contributed to that material and their personal theological convictions as you choose a Study Bible.  Some good examples include The NASB Study Bible, The ESV Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Life Application Study Bible, The MacArthur Study Bible, and a classic, The Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible. With these later ones, be sure to select a translation that is fitting.  I would avoid The Liviing Bible, for example, because it is not a translation but a paraphrase.  Someone has said that the best translation is the one you will actually read, so choose wisely.  

By now the whole world knows of the landmark decision handed down on Friday by the Iowa Supreme Court, throwing out the 1998 state law that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.  I have already begun exhorting my congregation to make their voices heard in the halls of state government.  The battle for an amendment to the Constitution will be long and hard, but we must fight it.

As I write this, I am listening to Dr. Al Mohler talking about the trend in America toward a post-Christian society.  This reality is playing out right before our eyes.  I am still very much in shock over this whole thing.  Friday’s ruling makes its argument by equating same-sex marriage with civil rights.  I suppose we should not be surprized by this downward trend, but that doesn’t mean we should not also be enraged and deeply grieved by it.

I have contacted my state legislators and reminded them that they should serve the will of the people and not cave in to the pressures of politics.  The liberal speaker of the house has already said there will be no action towards amending the Constitution in the current legislative session.  I call upon the voters of Iowa to take note of the progression of this matter as your representatives in Des Moines deal with (or refuse to deal with) this issue.  We cannot do much to put the justices of the Supreme Court out, but we can, and we must hold those whom we have elected to account when the next election day arrives.

In regard to the justices, I hope their mothers are proud of them.  I, along with most of the rest of Iowa, am not.

Please take the time to read this article by Bob Kauflin about musical taste.

Thanks to Eric Shumacher for posting it on his blog, An Infant In A Cradle.

Yesterday, the local news reported the following:

Dozens Protest New Pro-life Clinic”

IOWA CITY (KWWL) – Choices Medical Clinic is opening its doors next month on South Gilbert Street in Iowa City, just a mile from the Emma Goldman Clinic.

Two clinics offering care for pregnant women. Two clinics with missions that are miles apart. And the newest is already opening its doors to controversy.

“What we do is just provide an alternative of compassionate care for women,” said clinic Executive Director Rachel Owen.

It’s an alternative that brought out dozens from the University of Iowa Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance — protesting at an open house for Choices Medical Clinic.

“We see it as a fake medical clinic,” said protestor Laura Kacere.

“They’re intentionally misleading women to promote an anti-choice political agenda,” agreed protestor Megan Felt.

Protestors like Kacere say they’ve seen crisis pregnancy centers like the one opening in Iowa City before. Her concern: the clinic will provide false information to its patients.

“These women are in a vulnerable position and that’s when they need to be educated comprehensively about their rights, about their options,” said Kacere.

Owen admits one of the clinic’s goals is to eliminate the need for abortion. But she says that won’t come at the cost of integrity.

“We will not be manipulating them into any decision,” said Owen. “We again, give the facts.”

Similar centers have faced this criticism. But many of those are federally funded. Owen says this will be a non-profit clinic, supported entirely by donors. But she realizes that along with supporters, there will also be detractors.

“The more I’m talking to you the more excited I am to have protestors out there, I guess because it’s going to be an opportunity for us to show our compassion and our love because we are really not here to deceive people,” said Owen.

“We don’t necessarily want to shut this place down or anything, I mean they do have a right to be here,” said Kacere. “We just don’t want any women to come here with the idea that they’re getting a full comprehensive education about their rights.”

One of the board members said the clinic will be staffed with registered medical personnel.  He described the protest simply as good publicity.

Choices Medical Clinic’s tentative opening date is April 20th.

Online Reporter: Bryan Goettel

When I saw this headline, I just about fell out of my chair.  I guess it’s just another example of how far we as a people have drifted from our traditional Jude0-Christian values.  The prevailing worldview that would oppose a pro-life clinic is growing in our midst, and we need to be faithful to uphold the Truth of God’s Word.  As I write this, my grandchildren are playing in the adjacent room, and I wonder what kind of world we are preparing for them.  God have mercy on us, for we have sinned most terribly.

I just found out that a former classmate of mine has died on the mission field.  While looking at The Towers, the school paper of Southern Seminary, I ran across this article.

Former SBTS student dies in Thailand
March 24, 2009
By Jeff Robinson

Staff members at Resource Development International of Cambodia are mourning the recent death of the organization’s founder Mickey Sampson, a former student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Sampson, 43, died on March 19 of a heart attack, while seeking medical treatment in Bangkok, Thailand. According to the RDIC website, Sampson had been experiencing medical problems and had traveled to Bangkok to seek evaluation by a specialist.

A Louisville native, Sampson had worked in Cambodia with his family since 1998 after founding RDIC, an non-profit agency that labored to improve drinking water and sanitation for the people of Cambodia. One in five children in Cambodia dies before age 5, largely from diseases communicated through contaminated water.

Under Sampson’s leadership, RDIC established a ceramic water filter manufacture and distribution system (manufacturing 25,000 filters in 2006); produced a Cambodian television series for children to promote literacy and healthy living; and worked extensively to alert Cambodians to the risks of drinking arsenic-laden groundwater. RDIC also has developed and implemented agricultural, water, health and educational programs in villages throughout Cambodia.

Funeral services will be held in Cambodia. Sampson is survived by his wife, Wendi, and their four children, Michal 13, Madelyn 11, Isaiah and Zach, both 9, along with his parents, James and Diane Sampson and one brother, James Sampson.

Sampson received a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Louisville and taught as an assistant professor of chemistry in the University of Kentucky college system. He had taken some classes at Southern Seminary.

I took a class with Mickey Sampson and even had him to visit the church I pastored at the time.  I have a photo of him and his family on my refrigerator and have been praying for them for several years.  I am deeply upset by this loss, not only because of the death of a friend, and a family’s loss of husband and father, but also because a great witness for the gospel in a very dark place has been silenced.

Wendy and family, my prayers are with you.  Mickey will be sorely missed.  I now look forward to seeing him in glory.

As I scanned my usual Internet news sites, I ran across a compelling article on World Net Daily dot com, titled, “Christians, listen to your rabbi!”  The article laments the fact that “we the people” have lost control of our own country.  Columnist Dave Welch observes,

“By so yielding, we have become illustrations of Proverbs 25:26: “Like a trampled spring and a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.”

If we accept the premise that in our constitutional republic the government is a reflection of the people who participate, we should stop complaining about Obama and take a long, hard look in the mirror. More specifically, we should take a long, hard look at our pulpits and at our men.”

He offers a quote, “We have a weak nation because we have weak churches; we have weak churches because we have weak homes; we have weak homes because we have weak fathers.”

Then he adds,

“I would add weak pulpits to that list because the point is that weakness flows from the bottom up, and so must national spiritual, moral, cultural and political redemption. While we certainly must fight the radical socialism being force-fed us by President Obama and the Reid/Pelosi squad in Congress, if we do not look at the failure of the church to influence the hearts and minds of people with biblical truths, we will fail – again.”

As one who stands in the pulpit to proclaim the Word of God every Sunday, I am keenly aware of my solemn duty to “rightly divide the Word of truth.”  However, I am also painfully aware that not every pastor shares my passion for remaining true to Scripture.  I attended a Baptist Church with some family some time back and was appalled at the lack Scriptural integrity of the day’s sermon.  It isn’t popular or comfortable to proclaim the unvarnished truth of the Bible, but it’s necessar “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  I am listening to Dr. Al Mohler’s radio program as I write this, and he is decrying the departure from the necessity of blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins that many liberal Christians are teaching.  It only underscores the point I am trying to make.

Welch’s article also states,

“Most importantly, we must disciple men to be godly followers of Christ, husbands and fathers and to – and I would shout this in text if I could! – begin taking responsibility for raising, training and discipling our own families. We must stop letting schools, children’s church, the youth group and Hollywood do what God has charged fathers the duty and joy of doing.”

He concludes,

“We should stop apologizing for believing that Jesus Christ came to redeem God’s creation because of His eternal, immeasurable love for us and for it – and put that transforming love to work in our homes, churches, all the way to Washington D.C. – and beyond.”

There is so much at stake here.  When the preachers of this country shirk on our responsibility to proclaim the whole counsel of God, it makes for weak followers of Christ, who capitulate to the pressures of society, and we eventually end up with a weak, powerless, bloodless faith — and that kind of faith is no faith at all.

Please do me, and every other preacher out there, a favor.  Hold us to the standard of Scripture, literally, earnestly, and honestly.  Ultimately, the one who benefits will be yourself and your loved ones.

Well, another year has come and gone, and it’s time to consider what the year ahead might bring.  This morning our men’s group considered Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD determines his steps.” (HCSB)  I was reminded of the folly of how we usually make our plans — we decide what we want to do, make plans to do it, then we ask God to bless it.  I’ve never been very big on New Year’s resolutions, but there is wisdom in planning and setting goals for our lives, under the Lordship and leadership of Christ.

On December 31, Baptist Press ran an article by Kelly Boggs that I found both interesting and helpful. Boggs quotes Steven Covey (whose words I usually approach with caution) regarding “4 assumptions” for making the New Year more meaningful and fruitful.

1. “For the body, assume you have had a heart attack; now live accordingly.”

I found the first assumption sobering, because if I don’t change certain aspects of my life, I could well be a candidate for a coronary. So by assuming, or pretending, I have had one, I simply need to ask, “Will this help or hurt my health?

2. “For the mind, assume the half-life of your profession is two years; now prepare accordingly.”

Being an editor of what currently is primarily a print publication, this is not a difficult assumption for me. As a result, I must constantly be looking to the future to not only seek to retool my publication, but also my own knowledge base and skill set.

3. “For the heart, assume everything you say about another, they can overhear; now speak accordingly.”

The third assumption also is a sobering one and reminiscent of Jesus’ words, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Enough said.

4. “For the spirit, assume you have a one-on-one visit with your Creator every quarter; now live accordingly.”

As a believer, I don’t have to wait three months to visit with God. I can, and should meet with Him constantly. However, the thought of scheduling a regular “performance review” with the Lord could and should have an impact on my daily decisions and thus my life.

Boggs is correct here, of course.  We need to have a “one-on-one visit with your Creator” daily, not quarterly.  Nevertheless, these are good guidelines for approaching the New Year.

As always, I encourage you to read the entire article.  Here is the link.

I pray that we all would be found faithful to obey and glorify the One, True, Living God in the coming year.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.  (2 Cor. 13:13)

Today’s issue of USAToday has a very interesting article, written by CathyGrossman.  She describes the current emphasis within Christianity which encourages believers to remember Christ above all the commercialism and materialism that seems to be taking over our celebration of the Incarnation of Christ.  She writes,

“A lot of the Christmas celebration is a nostalgic veneer that doesn’t really connect very deeply theologically,” says Mary Helene Rosenbaum, head of Dovetail Institute for Interfaith Family Resources, based in Boston, Ky.

When she advises religiously mixed families, she finds what works best is pragmatic: Elevate the holiday trappings over doctrine.

“We really are becoming a secular society,” she says. “When you ask people their religious identity, they’re really talking about their sense of community and belonging,” not wrestling with ideas about God.

Even some who lament the rise of a less religious Christmas reluctantly agree with her.

Unfortunately, I must agree with the reality behind the statement that states, “Elevate the holiday trappings over doctrine.”  If we could come to grips with true reality, all of our experience of fait must be informed by doctrine, otherwise we just have a weak, emotional, sentimental version of moralism.  Moralism is not the same as saving faith.  The writer quotes Ed Stetzer of LifeWay,

“The focus on peace and giving gifts allows you to safely focus on nice things instead of the idea that God sent his son Jesus to be Christ, who dies on a cross. It’s human nature to want to take the ‘nice’ without the ‘truth,’ “

If you care enough to read this entry, then I beg you to stop and evaluate your celebration of Christmas in light of biblical doctrine while we ponder the statement of the angel, “Peace on earth, good will to men.”  Christmas without the cross is no more meaningful than the evening news. Let’s all be sure to keep CHRIST in Christmas in a deliberate, sincere way.

By the way, you can read the entire article here. Have truly blessed and sacred Christmas celebration.