Nov 222012

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:26 (ESV)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I love this holiday. If we look around we will see just how much we have to be thankful for. God has been so good to us. Americans really have been blessed like no other nation on earth. The way of life we enjoy now did not come easy. It started with the Pilgrims that came to the New World in 1620. Back in September, Beth and I watched Kirk Cameron’s new documentary called Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure. Cameron wanted to research what had made our nation great, so he went over to England to learn from some Pilgrim experts. What I learned from this was fascinating. I will never eat a Thanksgiving meal with a casual attitude again.

The Church of England held sway over the people. To be British was to be a member of the Church of England. The Puritan movement was an effort to purify the Church of England of the abuses of the bishops. Like the Roman Church, they wanted to keep the people in darkness. The Church did not want them to have the Scriptures in English. The Puritans were people of the Book. They were staunchly reformed in their doctrine and were serious about glorifying God in all of life. There is no group of believers that has documented their spiritual journeys and sermons and writings like the Puritans. (We should all read them!) As these believers grew in their understanding of the Scripture, they realized that the Monarch had no say over the Church. One was not a Christian by virtue of being born in England; rather one became a Christian only through faith in Jesus Christ.

With this understanding, these Puritans were being persecuted by the British authorities. So they separated from the Church of England. (It is from these Separatists from which our heritage as Baptists draws its connection.) So the Pilgrims, this Separatist congregation, led by Pastor John Robinson, planned to make an escape. But not an escape to nothing: they had a 500 year plan of how to build a democratic republic and to evangelize the world.

To leave the Church of England meant treason to the King. For four years this congregation met in an underground church in Scrooby. If they were caught meeting unlawfully, they would be taken to prison. The leaders of the Pilgrims met a Dutch sea captain who agreed to take them to Holland. What they did not know was that this captain had also made an agreement with the British authorities to turn the Pilgrims over when they got on the boat. So that’s what happened. They got caught and were put in prison. Upon release a year later, they planned another escape. This one would almost leave them with no more hope.

The men separated from the women and children because they would draw more attention from the British authorities. The women and children were sent down a stream to go to the shore to get on a boat, and they were to meet up with the men. The women and children got there a day early and became sea sick. They got caught and did not make it to the boat! The men got on board hoping to see them. The boat was put out to sea when a 2 week violent storm struck the sea. Over hundred ships sank in the sea during the storm and the men Pilgrims thought it was over for them. They cried out to their sovereign God, “Even now, You can save us!” The storm ceased! That boat carrying the male Pilgrims was the only boat still floating on the sea! The men made it to Amsterdam, but it took a year to get the women and children there. Remember, they were doing this for religious freedom. They believed in educating their own children and proclaiming the Gospel wherever they went. They loved England and they wanted to go back to England to set the people free from the tyranny of the King.

The Pilgrims would be in Amsterdam for 12 years! While there, they met a British publisher named William Brewster. They published 15 books and sent them throughout England. Well, this upset the British authorities, who came to Amsterdam, found them, destroyed the publishing house and brought them back to England.

So, now they were back in England. They hired two ships that would carry them to the new world, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. The Speedwell was not well! It sprung a leak and so those Pilgrims had to get off. The Mayflower was not big enough to carry all of them, so their Pastor John Robinson would stay in England with half of his congregation and send the rest with William Bradford to the New World. The journey lasted 66 days in the cold North Atlantic. It was a brutal trip. Before they got off the boat, the Mayflower Compact was drawn up. This was a democratic document guiding the Pilgrims and other settlers in self-government.

Well, that first winter was terrible. Forty seven died. There was a time when only six or seven were even strong enough to stand. The women would sleep on their children to keep them warm. Most that perished were women. The children survived with about 20 adults. They buried the dead in a common grave.

The captain of the Mayflower said he would take them back in the spring of 1621, but none went back. Things began to improve for the struggling settlers. They found favor with the Indians because they noticed that the Pilgrims brought their families with them. They did not come to pillage them and steal from them. The Indians helped them greatly that first summer, but their desire to start a new society came at a great price.

Today, in a suburb of Plymouth, MA is a monument erected in the 1800’s outlining exactly how these Pilgrims designed our Republic. The monument was paid for by the US congress and the State Legislature of Massachusetts. The statue is named Faith. There is a Geneva Bible opened pointing to faith in our Triune God. We are given wisdom through His Word. Then there is character and morality. It points to the heart transformation that only comes through the Gospel. There is a picture of an evangelist with the Bible open sharing the good news. In the New Covenant, the Law of God is now written on the heart. True liberty and a just society can only come as those in it have been born again. Then it moves to civil law, with God’s standards as the foundation. There is a standard of justice, but there is also a picture of mercy to those who are lawbreakers. Then there is education. The Pilgrims knew that this was the key. Education of children was to be done at home with responsibility given to the parents to educate their kids. The Bible was the curriculum! There is a picture of a woman sitting with her child representing the victory and joy of raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Finally, there is liberty! A man pictured conquering tyranny!

Let me tell you: these Pilgrims were not wimps!! They endured extreme hardships for years to pursue the plan of a just and godly society. This is the heritage of our nation. Watching Monumental made me want to go to New England and see all the monuments and graves. “There is nothing like bones to remind you of your heritage,” one of the historians said.

So, as you sit down to eat today, remember your heritage. Remember those who have gone before you and have sacrificed so much for your freedoms. Pray for our troops, pray for our leaders and pray that God would restore our nation. Pray that the Church of Jesus Christ would stand for truth. Pray that His Church would be built and that all nations would be glad in our great God!

I am thankful for each of you. We at RBC have had many hardships in planting a Reformed Baptist church in the mountains of Georgia. I will not quit the fight. God is doing great things among us. Keep a close watch on your heart and let us keep our marriages and families strong. Let us remember God’s covenant, steadfast love for us and let us be truly thankful.

Nov 062012

For the Lord of Hosts has purposed, and who can annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?

Isaiah 14:27 (ESV)

God has ordained the time and place of our dwelling. “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” Ultimately, we did not choose the country in which we would live. God did. There are different types of governments in the world, and we read in Scripture that all of these governmental authorities have been given by God (Romans 13:1).

The Scriptures makes clear that Christians, no matter which country they inhabit, have certain responsibilities to the nation in which they live. First of all, believers, like other citizens, are to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15-22). Paul told the Roman believers that they were to pay taxes because the governing authorities were ministers of God on their behalf. They were to pay what was owed them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, etc. (Romans 13:6-7)

Secondly, believers are to submit to governing authorities. We read this in Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 3:5-6, and Titus 3:1. Paul is writing in regards to the Roman Empire! Of course, when man’s laws contradict God’s Word, we must obey the Word (Acts 5:29). But in the general course of our lives, we must obey and submit to those over us. Just as an example, believers should respect and obey the speed limit on our roads. We should respect and obey other driving laws that are designed to keep the public safe. In America, driving in the left-hand lane will cause accidents and death. In Britain, driving in the right-hand lane will cause accidents and death. Each nation’s rules should be respected and obeyed.

Thirdly, believers are called to pray for those in authority over us. Paul told Timothy to urge the believers in Ephesus that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we might lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). How do I pray for our leaders? First of all, I pray that God would grant them a humble spirit and that they would seek the wisdom that comes from God. I pray that they would acknowledge God as the sovereign King and recognize that they are accountable to Him. I pray that they would seek wisdom from God’s Word, which is truth, and which speaks to every issue of life. I pray that they would fear God and not man or other nations, and would seek to please God. I pray that God would protect their marriages and families. I pray that they would pursue righteousness and forsake the spirit of our relativistic age. “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will” (Proverbs 21:1). I pray that God would use these leaders for His own sovereign purposes. There are many others areas where prayer is needed for our leaders, but these are just a few.

Fourthly, as mentioned in the verse above and in Romans 12:18, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” No question that believers must speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves (such as the unborn and the weak), and believers should stand up for what is right in other areas (such as God’s design for marriage as one man, and one woman, for life). But we should be respectful. Yes, we must be bold and courageous, but we should never be arrogant. We should strive to live at peace and to be an example of godliness. Yes, we must contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), but we must not be contentious! We won’t go around looking for a fight, but we won’t back down from one either!

I take great comfort today in the fact God is working His sovereign plan and He can be totally trusted. Our lives, as children of God, are absolutely secure! The only way I can truly rest and press on is to know that God is doing something that is so much bigger than what my feeble eyes can see and what my ignorant mind can comprehend. This morning in my devotions and prayer time, a hymn that we sometimes sing at RBC came to mind and I found that it eased my anxiety over our troubled land and helped me to rest in God’s sovereignty. The hymn was written by Margaret Clarkson and is entitled “O Father You Are Sovereign.” The second verse says this:

O Father you are sovereign in all affairs of man;
No powers of death and darkness can thwart your perfect plan.
All chance and change transcending, supreme in time and space,
You hold your trusting children secure in your embrace.

O what a great and mighty God we serve! There is none like Him! One day Nebuchadnezzar stood on his roof and looked over Babylon and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” But a voice came from heaven, “O king Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdoms of men and gives it to whom he will.” Then, after his humiliation, Nebuchadnezzar, this pagan king, blessed God and declared, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

Praise be to God! He rules! So RBC, let us trust Him. Let us love Him. Let us submit to Him as our King!

I love you all!

Pastor Bill