Sunday, August 29, 2004

Evangelical Legalism

“We’ve gotten beyond the Galatian brand of legalism today. We haven’t resurrected circumcision as a requirement for salvation, and we’re clear that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ apart from the keeping of the law. Instead, we have developed another brand of legalism, a brand that is concerned, not with salvation, but with how we live the Christian life. I call this “evangelical legalism”…

...Despite God’s call to be free and His earnest admonition to resist all efforts to curtail it, there is little emphasis in Christian circles today on the importance of Christian freedom. Just the opposite seems to be true. Instead of promoting freedom, we stress our rules of conformity. Instead of preaching living by grace, we preach living by performance. Instead of encouraging new believers to be conformed to Christ, we subtly insist that they be conformed to our particular style of Christian culture. We do not intend to do this and would earnestly deny we are. Yet that’s the “bottom line” effect of most of our emphases in Christian circles today…

…We are much more concerned about someone abusing his freedom then we are about his guarding it. We are more afraid of indulging the sinful nature then we are of falling into legalism. Yet legalism does indulge the sinful nature because it fosters self-righteousness and religious pride. It also diverts us from the real issues of the Christian life by focusing on externals and sometimes trivial rules…

…We build fences to keep ourselves from committing certain sins. Soon these fences – instead of the sins they were designed to guard against- become the issue. We elevate our rules to the level of God’s commandments. “

From Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges

Monday, August 23, 2004

Spiritual Abuse in the Pulpit and the Pew
by Dale O. Wolery, (Spiritual Abuse Recovery Resources)

"Pastors should be the last people to perpetrate abuse. The idea is disconcerting and repulsive, but God’s people sometimes do God’s work in destructive ways. Surely not every clergyperson is an abuser, and yet many thoughtful observers believe that spiritual abuse, intentional or not, has become the norm for modern pastors.

Any ministerial behavior, mine or someone else’s, that damages someone’s relationship with God is spiritual abuse..." (complete article...)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Faith Matters to Public Life

By Charlotte Allen, to the source, August 4, 2004

"...Religion, by nature, is a public thing, because it acknowledges a reality that is outside the private realm of the inner heart. Individuals' faith and religious experiences are private matters, but religion itself, whether it be Wicca, Buddhism or Roman Catholicism, is shared and communal. Those who would banish religion to the realm of the strictly private in effect contend that religion has no relevance to public life. This notion fatally trivializes religion by treating it as essentially meaningless.

More important, religion recognizes there is inherent meaning, order and purpose in the universe. It thus induces humility; a recognition that our puny ideas about how things are and ought to be may not be the final word. The horror of 20th century totalitarianism was the insistence of atheistic, militantly secularist intellectuals, from Germany to Russia to China to Cuba, that they had a right to impose their pet utopian schemes at the point of a gun or threat of the gulag. Professing "allegiance … to a higher authority," as Robert Reich, secretary of Labor during the Clinton administration puts it, is a check on such murderous egotism..." (Read more here.)
Observing the Signs

This has been a pretty cool August. We've hardly used the air conditioner at all. Temperatures have definitely been below normal for this time of year. The days are also noticeably shorter. The feel of fall is in the air, but this should be the most "summer" part of summer. Here and there I've even seen a few trees starting to turn color!

On our trip to visit my parents, we passed a number of fields of corn, a standard crop for this area. Probably the majority of the fields we passed looked pretty good, but a noticeable number of them looked pretty sorry. That had to do with all the rain we got in May that delayed the final plantings. Also, with this cooler weather, we've not had the hot days and cool nights that are optimal for corn plant growth and development.

While on our way home, we passed through a relatively brief, but heavy rain storm. As the rain started to let up, the sun came peeking through the clouds in the west. I told my daughter and her friend who was with us to look off to the east for a rainbow, for if there was going to be one, that was the optimal time. They looked and sure enough, there was a rainbow in the east. Having to keep my attention on my driving, I was only able to see one leg of it. There it was, God's bow, just as He said.

Pondering the sight of the rainbow and the progression of the seasons, I thought again of the promises made so long ago to Noah:

"While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease." (Genesis 8:22)

"This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth." (Genesis 9:12-13)

With the passing of the seasons and the sight of the colors of the rainbow arcing across the sky, God has once again reminded us that He is faithful and true. He will keep His promises. We can put our hope and trust in Him and His Word even as Noah did so long ago. All glory be to Him!

~ The Billy Goat ~

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Going "Back Home"

We just spent a few days visiting my parents. They still live in the same area, and on the same farm where I grew up. Dad has long since stopped farming, and the land is rented out.

There are so many memories in that area; the farm I grew up on with the river cutting across the middle, the old school building, the sleepy rural town, the country roads, and the land I used to help Dad till with tractor and implement.

Now days the only farmers in the area that have their fields fenced off are the Amish. As you drive around the country side, many a barn and silo stand empty and unused. In many places the barns and silos that once stood there are long gone, including some that once stood on our farm.

When we drive up M-99, we see one barn still standing, the name "Britton" faded but still readable on its siding. My 2nd great-grandfather brought his family from Vermont to Michigan, and settled on that farm about 150 years ago. The farm stayed in another part of the family line for over 100 years before finally being sold off to someone outside the family.

Down the road and around the corner from where Mom and Dad live stands the house my grand-parents built back around 1916. My Dad was born in that house, and I spent the first five years of my life in that house. Memories... So many memories...

Mom and I went out to the Burt Cemetery where many of her family are laid to rest. We brushed the grass clippings off of Grandma's stone, and Uncle Bob's stone, and the stone for my Grandpa who died when momma was only seven years old so I never got to see or know him. Grandpa's twin brother, Uncle Stub and his wife are laid to rest there also. It's been 30 years since Grandma left us, and I still miss her...

Over in another part of the cemetery lie Grandpa's parents. My Great-grandma's stone was obscured by the over grown perennial flowers. I thinned them back, and once again the sun lighted up the engraving on the stone.

If I was to walk down the street of the old home town, very few would recognize me, and I would probably recognize even fewer, even of those I went to school with. It's been over 34 years, a major part of a lifetime. I drive the streets of the old home town as an expatriate. There is still much there I recognize, but there is also very much that has changed over the years. A part of my life is in that area, but the life now being lived there is not mine.

We are nomads, the descendents of nomads; nomads who left Europe for a better life in a new world, nomads who wandered west from New England and Pennsylvania seeking a new life in a new place. A few generations in the NW Ohio/Southern Michigan area, and then my generation wandered off again; off the farm to the opportunities of the larger cities, scattered to the four winds. There may no longer be the frontier our ancestors faced, but we still wander, and our children and our children's children will wander too.

Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans for a land he knew not of. He left Ur with only a promise, "...dwelling in tents... ... looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10) Someday we'll really "go home". That will be nice...

~ The Billy Goat ~

Friday, August 13, 2004

How to Think About Secularism

by Wolfhart Pannenberg, (First Things 64 (June/July 1996): 27-32)

"Whatever is meant by secularization, few will dispute that in this century the public culture has become less religious. This is not, as some suggest, simply the result of the separation of church and state that first happened some two centuries earlier. Such separation did not then entail the alienation of culture from its religious roots. In America, for instance, the end of state-established religion did not mean the end of the predominantly Christian and Protestant character of American culture. In other Western societies, the linkage between the state and one or another Christian church continued to be effective well into this century. Yet in these societies, too, we see evidence of secularization, typically much further advanced than in the United States. Secularization is not caused by the separation of church and state. The roots of the process of secularization, resulting in the present alienation of public culture from religion, and especially from Christianity, are planted in the seventeenth century...

...Christianity proposed as an alternative or complement to life in a secularist society must be both vibrant and plausible. Above all, it must be substantively different and propose a difference in how people live. When message and ritual are accommodated, when the offending edges are removed, people are invited to suspect that the clergy do not really believe anything so very distinctive. The plausible and persuasive presentation of Christian distinctives is not a matter of marketing. It is a matter of what the churches owe to people in our secularist societies: the proclamation of the risen Christ, the joyful evidence of new life in Christ, of life that overcomes death..."

(To read Pannenberg's full article click here.)

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Surviving VBS & Enjoying the Experience

We survived vacation Bible school. It was enjoyable too. Over 200 children attended, with a high of 257 on the last night.

It was really fun to have an opportunity to interact with the kids in the classes. Each child had a name tag which enabled us to greet and interact with each one by name. I really enjoyed the "high fives". I'm glad I participated and was able to help.

Each night the various classes would come together for the closing assembly. In those assemblies there was plenty of loud cheering and enthusiastic singing. It was a fun and enjoyable time. But even more, it was a fun and enjoyable time with a clear focus on God and His Word. Seed was sown, and in His time, God will give the increase.

In a previous post, I talked about the relationship of children to the local church. This week's experience was an opportunity to see those principles in action.

~ The Billy Goat ~

Saturday, August 07, 2004

VBS and Being "Elisha"

This coming week our church is having vacation Bible school. It will be an evening affair, running four days, Sunday through Wednesday. In the past we've had a significant number of kids from outside the immediate church family attend VBS; a good number who do not regularly attend any church.

At the urging of my wife, I signed up to help. I get to be Elisha. I'll put on the robe and beard and tell the Bible story. The costume will not be historically precise, but the effect will be there, and we'll have fun with the kids and with God's help, perhaps sow some seed that will later bear fruit in their lives.

I remember going to VBS as a child. There were the stories, the songs, the crafts, and the treats. I am not able to measure how VBS impacted me personally and spiritually. Perhaps the biggest impact was the reinforcement of the things we learned at church about the stories of the Bible. How many relatively little things like that added up over the years until that time when at the University, I found myself believing.

Now I realize how much time and effort went into those VBS sessions I attended as a child; how much those adult teachers and helpers gave of themselves on our behalf. More then a few of those teachers and helpers have since departed this world, and gone on to their reward.

Only eternity will tell what the real impact of next week's VBS will be. I pray it will be far beyond anything we can hope or imagine. For after having done all we can do in that time, the ultimate results are in His hands. Glorify Thy Name Oh LORD!

~ The Billy Goat ~