“Come behold the works of God.”
I thank God that He saw fit to cause the formation of this nation. America has and continues to stand unique among the nations in the history of the world. No nation before America succeeded in providing religious and personal liberty to the general population. While the history of America is far from perfect, as a nation we have done many things right. Most nobly we have given freely of our resources and our own lives to purchase freedom around the world. We were not content to have freedom for ourselves, but were willing to venture our own lives and wealth for the freedom of others. These noble sacrifices have aided the spread of liberty and have hindered the spread of tyranny, slavery and genocide. Our founding fathers recognized true liberty as something worth dying for. Generations of Americans have shared that view as time and again they journeyed to foreign lands to offer their lives on the altar of freedom. We have held the rights of the individual to be as great as the rights of the state. We have held the protection of the innocent to be a great privilege and duty. We have sought after equal opportunity and held to equal responsibility for all. Though we have at times failed in those endeavors and though we have drifted from those ideals, America is strengthened because of her efforts. We have many reasons to give thanks to God for America. The book of James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift cometh down from above.” All the good things we have in this nation are from God. We do well to remember this week the health, wealth, comfort and ability that we have in America. We do well to remember to give thanks to God, honoring Him for His gracious gifts to us. So with that in mind I want to share a few reasons why I thank God for America.
I thank God because:
- The public preaching of God’s Word in America has been almost universally protected.
- The gospel has gone back and forth across this nation, leaving very few areas without knowledge of salvation
- America’s freedom has allowed churches and missionaries to send the gospel all across the world
- America’s freedom has allowed the increase of Biblical education and the ability for Godly men and women to delve deeper and deeper into Biblical truth
- America has been involved in printing and distributing millions of copies of the Bible around the world
- In America I am able to obey the commands of God without fear of imprisonment or violent persecution.
- Though no Christian denomination has ever been the official religion of America, Christianity has had a profound impact on the morals and philosophy of much of America.
- In America I can live a quiet and peacable life in Godliness and honesty proclaiming the gospel to all who will listen
After many months in Gentile lands Jesus returned to Jewish territories and was quickly confronted by a group of unbelieving Pharisees. Jesus did not stay in that area long. He hurried the disciples into a boat and they began a journey northwards up the Sea of Galilee towards the regions around Capernaum. The disciples did not bring with them any provisions and once in the ship found they only had one loaf of bread. Jesus seized the moment to give them another warning against false teachers and others that would seek to influence them to reject Jesus. He told them, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod.” Instead of understanding His words, the disciples were clueless. They thought He was rebuking them because they did not bring enough bread for the journey.
Jesus heard their conversation and asked them a series of rapid fire questions. He asked nine questions in all to open their eyes and help them understand the truth. Question one, why do you think I said this because you have no bread? Questions two and three, Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? Question four, is your heart still dull to understand? Jesus was drawing their eyes from the problem they perceived to Himself so they could understand the real problem. They thought Jesus was upset about the bread because they still did not understand who Jesus is. To show the disciples the error of their understanding He asked them a few more questions. Question five, you have eyes, do you not see? Question six, you have ears, do you not hear? Question seven, don’t you remember what you have seen and heard? He prods them to think back. Think back just a few days ago. Think back just a few months ago. Don’t you remember? With the eighth and ninth questions Jesus drove home His point. Question eight, how many baskets of leftovers did you collect after I fed the five thousand with only five loaves? Question nine, how many baskets of leftovers did you collect after I fed the four thousand with only seven loaves? If five loaves in Jesus’ hands is more than sufficient to feed five thousand, and seven loaves in Jesus hands is more than sufficient to feed four thousand, then a single loaf in Jesus hands is enough to feed the twelve and have enough leftovers to sink the boat. Jesus then repeats question three because that’s the big one. Don’t you understand?
When they reached the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee they went into the town of Bethsaida where Jesus is confronted with a blind man. Jesus spit and touched the man’s eyes with the spittle. Jesus then asked the man if he could see anything. The blind man declared his vision had been partially restored. He could now see the blurry outlines and vague ideas, but not with any clarity. The only difference in his eyes between men and trees were that the men were moving. Jesus touched his eyes again and gave the blind man full, clear sight.
Why such a remarkable way of doing a miracle? No other miracle in the gospels is like this one. No other miracle required two steps. Jesus’ power did not miscarry. He was not hindered in His working. Jesus did exactly what He intended. His manner of healing this blind man was a graphic object lesson of the Pharisees blindness, the disciples confusion and the source of true understanding. Jesus was showing His disciples He is the only source of light. Without the intervention of Jesus, the blind remain sightless and the unclear remain confused.
The lesson for those who are like the disciples, those who have believed and followed Jesus, is to pay attention to Him. Remember the testimony of Jesus, remember the Word of God, remember the work of salvation, remember the commands to obedience, remember the hope of heaven. Even after salvation, we can quickly become dull in hearing, thick in understanding, insensitive in affections and insensible to the things of God. Give care to be attentive to God’s working in your life. The week of Thanksgiving is a great time to remember God’s working. Look back through the Word. See how God has worked in Biblical history. Read the stories of the church age. See how God has worked in church history. Think back through your own life and the life of those closest to you. See how God has worked in your own personal history. Consider how God’s mighty hand has moved in the past. Remember and consider those things so when you find yourself in a boat, hungry and with only one loaf of bread you will not despair, worry or fear. Remember and consider God’s power so you will not be distraught by any physical necessity but will rejoice in the glorious working of the Son of God.
There are times when the better part of wisdom is to sit back and let someone else speak. Though I have much I would like to say in summary of Sunday’s message, Charles Spurgeon has grasped the principle and thrust the point home with a stroke far more brilliant than my own feeble slashes. So, to summarize and further apply my Sunday sermon, here is Mr. Spurgeon.
But what I want you to think of is, that this wonderful Man can feed this people with bread this day—and in this wilderness. I hope to make you believe it by the power of the Spirit of God. Therefore I ask you, first, to listen to what this Man says. I read to you just now this narrative as we find it in the 15th of Matthew. Turn again to the 32nd verse—“Jesus called His disciples unto Him, and said—“Stop a moment. Prepare your ears for music”? No, He said, “I have compassion on the multitude.” Oh, the sweetness of that word! When you are troubled about the people, troubled about Ireland, troubled about London, troubled about Africa, troubled about China, troubled about India—hear the echo of this word—“I have compassion on the multitude.” If Jesus spoke thus to His people while here, He equally says it now that He is exalted on high, for He has carried His tender human heart up to Heaven with Him! And out of the excellent Glory we may hear Him still saying, in answer to His people’s prayers, “I have compassion on the multitude.” There is our hope! That heart through which the spear was thrust and out of which there came blood and water,is the Fountain of hope to our race! “I have compassion on the multitude.”
Hear Him speak, again, and I think you will grant that there is much sweetness in the utterance. At the end of the 32nd verse we read, “I will not send them away fasting.” We do not wish to judge Peter and James and John, but it seems to me that after hearing the Master say, “I will not send them away fasting,” they hardly ought to have said, “How can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” They ought quietly to have replied, “Good Lord, You have asked us a question which You must, Yourself, answer, for You have distinctly made the promise, ‘I will not send them away fasting!
Remember that this glorious Man is now invested with Omnipotence. His own words are, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth. Go you, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them.” Our Jesus is Omnipotent. It is He who, by the infinite wisdom of God, made the world and without Him was not anything made that was made. Is anything hard for the Creator? Is anything impossible, or even difficult to Him who rules all things by the power of His Word? Courage, Brothers and Sisters— the grand question is answered! Since there is a full Atonement and there is an exalted Savior with all power in His hands, what remains to dismay us?
Listen once more. The Spirit of God has been given. Better than Christ’s bodily Presence among us is the Presence of the Holy Spirit. It was expedient that Jesus should go away that the Holy Spirit might abide with us as a greater blessing for the Church! Is the Holy Spirit gone? Has the Holy Spirit left the Church of God? Is the Church appalled by her difficulties though the Spirit of God is poured out upon her? What is she thinking? Has she forgotten herself? Has she become insane? Brothers and Sisters, with Jesus Himself slain as an Atonement—Jesus exalted as a Prince and a Savior at the right hand of God and with the Divine Spirit abiding with us forever—what is there impossible to the Church of God?
The Problem of the Age Preached February 7, 1886
Someone else has taken the trouble to look into a old, dusty, half forgotten manuscript and discovered new proof that Jesus wasn’t really the Son of God. He was in fact married to Mary Magdalene and they had two sons. According to the authors of a new book, their study of a text bought from the British museum (who purchased the manuscript in 1847 from a dealer who claimed to have bought it from a monastery in Egypt) led them to discover exciting new facts about Jesus from a source previously believed to be unremarkable. According to the authors they were able to “decode the basic symbolism” of the text and confirm that Jesus was married, that Mary Magdalene was a Gentile priestess, they had two sons together, Jesus had powerful political connections in Rome and the church of Mary Magdalene existed before Paul preached Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Apparently all these facts are not to be found in a surface reading of the text but are discovered by decoding the original Syriac. Of course, these groundbreaking truths are only now coming to light because the Roman Emperor Constantine determined to cover up all evidence of Jesus’ marriage and thus had all gospels except the four found in the Bible destroyed.
What will come of this breakthrough information? First, since it is not a fiction novel about mysteries and treasure hunters who discover a great conspiracy in the Roman Catholic Church, it will be largely ignored. Second, those who already refuse to believe Jesus is God will continue to reject His Deity, but may bring the book up as another proof that the Bible is a collection of fairy tales written by men long after Jesus died. Third, those who already believe Jesus is God will continue to remain convinced of His Deity. Last, the book and its authors will be shown to be yet another fraud based upon a biased misreading of a forgery. This last event will be even more widely ignored than the publishing of the book. I am not going to bother critiquing such obvious nonsense as the supposed facts discovered by the supposed scholars. Tripe such as this has no impact on genuine faith and adds nothing to the conversation for those who are genuine in their search for honest answers. It is sensational pablum that stirs a few headlines and makes a few skeptics happy.
Since some will latch onto this as validation of their unbelief, it is worthwhile to consider an appropriate response to the never ending claims that Jesus was married and Christianity tried to cover it up. These claims are aimed directly at the heart of the gospel. If the Jesus presented in the Bible is not the Jesus of history, then Jesus is not God and He cannot be Savior. If Jesus led a religious movement with Mary Magdalene as a chief figure, then Christianity as we know it today is a fraud. These claims, though based on ridiculous evidence and spurious scholarship, are attempts to undermine the foundation of Biblical Christianity. They are no joke. So, if you present the gospel to a skeptic and he brings up this latest expose of the conspiracy behind the development of Christianity there are several responses to consider. You could laugh out loud at the irony of a man who berates Christianity for its credulity and is himself being duped by lies so obvious that they are not even believed by people who email their bank account information to Nigerian princes. Or you could attempt to engage the person with genuine facts. You could enter into dialogue with him falsely assuming that you are entering into an honest debate and that facts, evidence and rational thinking will persuade the listener out of his skepticism. Or you could recognize that the skepticism is a smokescreen to disguise the fact that the skeptic refuses to believe the truths of the gospel. With that realization, the only hope for the skeptic is the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the truths of Scripture. Present the Biblical truths of Jesus’ claims and let the skeptic accept or reject them according to his readiness to believe the Word of God. Present the truth with confidence that the gospel is the power of God to salvation. The Word of God is a hammer, a fire and a piercing sword. The Bible will peel back the skeptic’s facade and reveal his sin and unbelief. These kinds of “breakthrough discoveries” have no real impact on truth. Since the Word of God is eternal, timeless and powerful, the folly of a few scholars will do nothing to hinder the working of the Holy Spirit in hearts through His Word. Let the hyena’s laugh, the lion is still king.
At the end of Mark 7, Mark tells of an event that no other gospel writer mentions. Jesus is besieged by a crowd of thousands, all clamoring for His attention. He healed many that day, but Mark describes the healing of only one man. Jesus draws away from the crowd a man who was deaf and troubled by a speech impediment. Jesus pantomimed what He was going to do and then commanded, “Be opened”. The ears which were closed were opened at Jesus command. The speech which was hindered was loosed at Jesus’ command. This miracle highlights the fulness of Jesus’ healing. As in other healings, Jesus’ work in this man went far beyond just giving him the ability to hear. Jesus restored the deaf man’s hearing and removed the speech impediment. The ability to speak clearly is closely connected with the ability to hear clearly. The man’s speech impediment was more than likely a result of having never heard clearly. It was a learned behavior. At Jesus command, the man’s hearing and speech were corrected. Jesus did not just heal the man and leave him able to begin speech therapy. With a command, Jesus corrected the disease and the effects of that disease in the man’s life.
The perfection of Jesus’ healing beautifully illustrates the perfection of Jesus’ salvation. This is illustrated time and time again as Jesus fully healed all manner of diseases. At His command the lame, paralyzed and weakened were given full strength and mobility. The broken nerves and shriveled tendons were healed, but not just so the diseased could begin therapy to strengthen atrophied muscles and learn to operate unused limbs. No! The lame leapt, though they had never learned to walk! The mute spoke, though they had never learned to speak! The paralyzed walked and worked, though they had never used their muscles before! Jesus healing was always perfect and full. He left nothing lacking. Jesus complete and perfect work was not true only of the way He healed, it is always true of the work He does in all men at salvation. The work of forgiveness and cleansing is complete. When Jesus saves, He does not leave some little part left undone for the Christian to do Himself. Jesus does not give the power to start down the right road. He doesn’t waken the heart so one can then cooperate with God’s grace and bring himself to a state of righteousness. Christ does all things well, leaving no necessary part of salvation undone. As Paul declares in Colossians 2, the old man is put to death, all guilt and offense is put away, all our foes of sin, death and bondage are put down and all the penalty of sin is put on Him. The praise of the multitudes in Mark 7 should be the continual praise of the believer. “He hath done all things well” (Mark 737) because, “you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.”(Colossians 1:10)
Recent news from Dunbar, WI has signaled the full and final end of the decade long demise of a beloved institution. On August 1, 2015 Northland International University will become an extension of Boyce College and the property of Southern Seminary. I have sorrowed throughout the last ten years of deception and change. Now the course is nearly finished and I grieve anew. As a graduate of Northland and a pastor in the Upper Peninsula, I sorrow over the loss of a valuable ministry partner, one which was not revived under the current administration nor will be replaced under the new ownership. Encouragements like Heart conference, Monday’s pastor’s conferences and extension teams that greatly ministered to scores of small churches and isolated pastors throughout Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula are now gone. Instead, this region is likely to face an influx of Southern Baptist pastors whose doctrinal commitments and ministry methodologies are suspect. This is a grievous thing.
I fully acknowledge that some within the Southern Baptist Convention have made monumental stands and accomplished that which no one else has been able to do. For a comparatively few to grab an entire denomination by its heels and drag it out of the mire of theological liberalism is a feat well deserving our praise. I appreciate the doctrinal clarity of the teaching of some of the leaders at Southern Seminary and within the SBC. Despite the great work they have done to defend the truth, I am not comforted. Though the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer on the verge of teetering headlong into theological liberalism, they still position themselves squarely in the middle of classic new-evangelicalism. This is not a good thing. I am not against the Southern Baptist Convention because I possess a stubborn sense of independence and autonomy that refuses to be a part of anything bigger than me and my church. Nor am I insular and isolationist, hanging on to an outdated system in hopes of returning to fictitious glory years of the church. Rather, despite recent moves in the right direction, the Southern Baptist Convention still practices that which undermines the doctrines they rightly proclaim. This article is not the place to expound on those practices, but I will list a few of those which are the greatest source of my consternation. First, the Southern Baptist Convention is not and has not been separatistic. The convention does not practice separation from those whose teaching denies the gospel. As long as theological liberalism is taught in their schools; as long as seeker sensitive, market driven, entertainment oriented or shock preachers are accepted in their midst; and as long as cooperation across significant theological boundaries is promoted, then the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Mohler and others notwithstanding, is supporting by its practice the distortion and corruption of the gospel. If Peter was justly rebuked for distancing himself from Gentiles to appease the Judaizers, then those who team up with apostasy should much more be rebuked. The Southern Baptist Convention is not rebuking these men and ministries, it accepts them as a part of its own. Second, the Southern Baptist Convention is overrun by a ministry methodology that is attractional and entertainment driven. If there is good cause to rebuke churches who bribe kids onto their buses with 6 packs of Coke, then there is excellent cause to rebuke churches who bribe crowds into their auditoriums with concerts, light shows, scintillation, and the ridiculous antics of buffoons in the pulpit. This kind of ministry methodology runs contrary to Scriptues and what Northland used to stand for. Dr. Ollilla often summarized the dangers of attractional ministries with these words, “what you do to attract them is what you must do to keep them.” We must not win converts by words and programs of man’s wisdom, but with the message of the gospel so that the excellency of the power may be of God and that their faith will stand in the Word of God. Last, and closely related to the first, the Southern Baptist Convention is still filled with theological unorthodoxy. It is necessary to ask a graduate of any Southern Baptist School if he upholds the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, and then to ask him what he means by that! it is necessary to ask a graduate of any Southern Baptist School if he believes the sign gifts have ceased and if someone alive today is getting direct revelation from God apart from the Bible. I have good cause to suspect the theology coming out of the Southern Baptist Schools because there are still so many churches and institutions that teach aberrant doctrine. No, I am not encouraged that Southern Seminary is moving into the northwoods. I am concerned and fearful for churches in this area because of the next generation of leaders that will be pouring in from Boyce at Northland.
I am concerned for the future and I mourn what has been lost. For the first ten years of my experience with Northland, the college stood as a bastion of reasonable fundamentalism. Northland upheld and propagated much of the best of the fundamentalist legacy. She did not get embroiled in stupid debates about trivial matters. She did not insist that her standards were of Divine origin and applied to all. Northland upheld certain expectations of behavior, not as an end or means of righteousness, but as practical, cultural applications of Biblical principles. As Dr. Ollila often said, the standards were “buttons, not badges.” The standards served useful functions, but were never the end themselves or the display of one’s spirituality. Northland upheld a deep respect for the Word of God. She taught a robust, studious exegetical approach to the Bible. Northland did not just give lip service to the preaching of the Word, she taught and modelled sound exposition. Men like Doug MacLachlan, Dave Doran, Les Ollilla and Sam Horn taught and practiced a model of preaching that sought to rightly divide the Word. Students were consistently under the teaching of men who knew a passage in it’s full context and were able to show the historical, literary and lexical foundations on which a text was preached. Hobby horses shot, not ridden. We need more fundamental schools that teach and practice that kind of preaching. Northland did not promote any leader as the pinnacle of a movement, a man to be followed and emulated for his own sake or a regal personage who reigned over his fundamentalist fiefdom. Northland taught and modeled a servant leadership that flowed from the heart and genuinely sought the promotion of the church and edification of others. I was able to see this from both sides, as a student hearing it taught and as a pastor watching my former professors and administrators genuinely seek to serve. I was humbled to sit across from Dr. Brilliant Exegete and Bible Scholar and hear him ask, “How can we serve you, Pastor?”. For a clueless pastor in his early 20’s making a royal hash of his attempts at ministry, such a question meant far more than libraries of books on pastoral ministry. I watched men spend weekends in churches of 8-10 people when they could go anywhere in the world they wanted and preach to hundreds in massive churches. Then they came back when invited the next year. “Be great, serve” was not just a motto or a graduation gimmick, it was a way of life. I mourn the loss of such an institution that drove genuine service into the very DNA of its students.
I mourn because a necessary and balancing force in fundamentalism has been lost. I mourn because an institution that faithfully prepared men and women to preach the gospel, upheld truth in doctrine and practice and who modeled Christlike service is gone. I rejoice that in all things, God is accomplishing His plan for His church. While I sorrow over what is lost, I look forward to what God is going to continue to do through His people