Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"One of the tragedies of the current Christian evangelical scene is the divisive tendencies present in many strands of the community. When the subtradition is more crucial than the Christian tradition, we fragment the unity to which God has called us and for which the Lord intercedes (John 17)......

In our zeal for creedal commitment, we can draw lines to identify our subtradition and forget we share a larger, more fundmental identity. This is not to deny the value of subtraditons or their contribution to the whole body of Christ, but it is to say that the task before the Christian community to reflect the love of Christ and evangelize the world is so vast that no subtradition can do it all by itself. It is also to say that the basic commitments and obligations to which God calls us commit us to the whole of His body, not just the part of it in which we function most easily......"

Craig A. Blaising & Darrell L. Bock, Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition; Baker Academic; (September 1, 2000)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Smashing of the Idols

What follows is a spiritual autobiography. In July 2000, I wrote a letter to a life long friend detailing how I had come to embrace the Evangelical Christian faith. Later I published an edited version of that letter on a now defunct internet site. Over the years this has gone through several edits and updates for publication.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

" "In a age of relativism, orthodoxy is the only possible rebellion left."

~ Peter Kreeft

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t go to church. At that time my parents seldom went, but sent us kids regularly. I had a childhood friend that I invited to church also. Though we learned many things at this church of our youth, there was also, in retrospect, some things that were missed.

I remember one time when we were about 11 years old, we were at a church camp, and my friend and I talked about looking for the Garden of Eden. Indeed we were looking for something back then. Little did we realize what we were to eventually find. Thus it was at that time in our looking, we were baptized; having been taught that in doing so, one became a Christian; the implication was we were earning our way to God’s favor by our own keeping and doing. I still remember the church camp sermon on the steps to heaven; all things we had to do. I don’t remember the word “grace” being used.

In high school my friend began to drift away and started walking on the wilder side of life. At that time my own walk was something of the respectable hypocrite. For some reason I didn't stop going to church. I think in some sense I was seeking something I had yet to find. I could never be an atheist. Growing up on the farm so close to nature made it almost impossible not to believe in something much greater.

I did become a deist of sorts, someone who believes in God, but not sure He is relevant to anything in this world. And I was certainly not at all sure how Jesus fit into the whole thing, if He did at all. My life became one of being "good" enough not to get into bad trouble, but being "bad" enough to get along with the world.

During my high school senior year, there was a New Year Eve's service at the church. A guest speaker was leading the service. He had us write on a piece of paper any concerns, burdens, questions, or etc. we wanted God to take care of in the year to come. He then collected the papers, and putting them into a collection plate, burned them up; a symbolic act of giving those things to God. On my paper I had written, "Are you really there?" Little did I know how, in the next few years, that question was to be answered.

That fall I was off to Michigan State University. I was a relatively larger fish in a real small pond back home. At MSU I was barely at the plankton level. I also quickly realized that for all the amount of intellect at the University, there were still some areas where the Professors, with all their doctoral degrees, learning, and knowledge, really didn't know anymore then the rest of us. Whatever claims they might make, they were only guessing about the meaning and purpose of life, and one guess was as good or bad as another.

In one of my Freshman classes, in a test essay question dealing with Thomas Paine’s virulent attack on the virgin birth of Christ, I found myself defending the virgin birth. After all, Thomas Paine didn’t know anymore about it then anyone else, so why should I believe him? It was in that context I was seeking my own meaning and purpose. I was carving out and sculpting my own idols; those things I thought would give me purpose, meaning, and comfort in life. I believed God existed, but believed He was far away and didn’t have much time or inclination to worry about my life.

The summer between my freshman and sophomore year, my brother got married to his first wife. Even though I had known of and expected my brother's wedding for some months before, the actual event was something of a shock to me. It was hard for me to handle that we had "grown up", and were taking on adult responsibilities. Even back in high school I had felt at times an acute loneliness and emptiness; a loneliness and emptiness that I thought could be filled by the "good life"; finding a special someone to share life with, a good paying job, and a nice house in a nice community. It was in those growing materialistic expectations that I was looking for ultimate purpose and meaning in my life. I realize in looking back, that those things, as legitimate as they can be, were at that time in my life, becoming my idols.

In my sophomore year, the Lord started drawing His net around me. God is a jealous God. He will not put up with us having any other gods in His place. That fall I attended a concert on campus put on by a Christian musical group. There was a gospel presentation. As the salvation prayer was spoken, I remember saying to myself, “That’s something you should do.” I signed a card that had been provided, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

That winter and spring I thought perhaps I was beginning to find what I was looking for in regard to some of those things that were my idols. But it was a delusion; my feelings and imagination making in my mind something that was not really there. In the spring of that sophomore year, He proceeded to providentially smash those idols. Those idols lay smashed upon the ground, leaving me bewildered and at a loss.

Shortly after these events, I was invited to a meeting of a campus ministry group. I went... I was supposed to get a term paper done, but I couldn't concentrate on it, so I went to the meeting.

After the meeting I talked to the speaker. He went through a Gospel presentation. I knew enough of the Bible to recognize the truth of what he said. I knew I fell far short of living up to what I knew was right. I needed grace, mercy, and the forgiveness of sins. Though I did not fully understand it at the time, I needed to turn from myself and embrace what Christ had done for me in His death, burial, and resurrection. It was then I confessed to the Lord I was the fool, and in so doing acknowledged that He, Jesus Christ, was Lord and God. Somewhat to my surprise, I found I believed. I was surprised by faith...

The skeptic may say, "He got religion on the rebound from a broken heart.” That an understandable response, but it is a rather superficial kind of analysis that misses deeper root issues. The issue was not my seeking solace for a broken heart; though that pain was real enough. The real issue was not “me” centered, but God centered. What was to be the object of my hope and faith for meaning and purpose in life? The object of a person’s hope and faith is what they will worship. My heart was broken because I sought in my idols that which God alone can give. God smashed my idols so I would seek Him, and in Him alone find all I really and truly needed or wanted. Nor does that kind of superficial analysis explain why, after all these years, I keep on believing.

From that point, old things started passing away, and new things came in their place. I went home at the end of that school year a different person then what I had been when that school year had started. Someone gave me a copy of the New Testament in Today's English. That summer I read through it, and the Word of God was alive like it had never been before... I found I wanted to be with God’s people...

There is much more I could probably say about the last 40 plus years since that time. I did marry a really nice Christian lady, was able to have a decent job, and we have a nice home in a nice suburban community. Shortly after we were married, I was baptized in an Evangelical Baptist church. Over the years we have attended and been involved in several local churches. In those churches we have seen both the good and some of the bad of church life, but our confidence is not in any specific church or group of churches, rather it is in Him who is head over all the church.

At one point I thought to enter the ministry, but the Lord providentially led me otherwise. I did take several years of seminary classes and learned enough Greek and Hebrew to be dangerous. More important, I learned more about God Himself and who I am in relation to Him. I learned more fully about His sovereign grace and mercy.

I am a saved sinner. I am a sinner still being saved. One day I will be fully saved. Jesus Christ is my all in all, my only hope in life and in death. Anything I have is a gift of His grace and mercy alone; certainly not at all deserved or earned by anything I could do. All I can do is respond to His love by loving and seeking to serve Him.

For the child of God, nothing is wasted in His sovereign economy. It is from the ashes, broken wreckage, and debris of our lives that He perfects His image in us.

Whatever God's providence brings our way, His promises are true and He remains faithful. The light afflictions of this poor world are nothing in light of the weight of the eternal glory that is waiting for those who love Him.

So it is that I affirm and confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, and that He is my LORD and my Savior.

I believe....

..in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,

And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Piliate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from where He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit;

the holy universal Church; the communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

AMEN!

(~ The Apostles' Creed ~)

Solo Deo gloria!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If I Could Dance With You Once Again



It was in another lifetime in another world.

You, the girl, would come up to me, the guy, and ask me to ask you to dance. I remember the look in your eyes as you stood there making your request.

Pain. Frustration. A cry for recognition and attention; for validation as a human being with a place of value among the other human beings of the world; for affirmation that you were a woman, and at least one guy in the world valued you as a woman.

It did not bother me to oblige you. My acquiescence was not coerced or given grudgingly, but was willingly and freely given. If I agreed to ask you to dance with me it was because I wanted to; because as I look back, I enjoyed doing so.

And it may be in my acquiescence I also was looking for validation and affirmation.

Then we went our separate ways.

You found love and companionship. Then your whole world fell apart; shattered by bullets in a far off land on the other side of the world.

A year after he was killed you came to me, just as you had done at the high school dances a few short years before. I still see the pain and grief written all over your countenance. You were still deeply mourning. You told me how you had gone to church and had prayed for him, and then he was gone. The implied question being, "Where was God in all of that?"

I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do. I look back at that time as a time of failure; a time when I let you down. You may have expected more from me then what was reasonable given my inexperience with life and youthful immaturity. I couldn't help you, and the burden of that failure has stayed with me over the lifetime that has since intervened.

If I could dance with you once again, just one more time, this is what I would say.

"You are a human being. You have worth and value as a human being created in the image of the God you may or may not believe in. Your life has a purpose. That purpose is found in bringing glory to this God who made you."

There is much more that would need to be said to more fully explain this brief summery. And how much help such conversation would be to you as we dance across the floor I do not pretend to know.

It could be that at the end of the dance, once more you would walk away feeling and thinking it was no help at all, just words containing no relevance to what you believe is the reality of your life.

But then again, just maybe possibly, you would find Him, and in finding Him you truly would indeed "live happily ever after".

For you see, over all the lifetime that has gone by since those days in another lifetime in another world, that has been my prayer for you; that you would truly indeed live "happily ever after".

Thank you for the dance...

Peace...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Of This and That



  • Of Matches and Autumn Fires: I'm losing my touch. Tonight I went to light a fire in our portable outdoor fireplace and it took me about 6 or plus matches to get the fire going. That's a little humbling to me because I've taken pride in being able to start such fires with just one match. The kindling would not cooperate. That was my fault for not being more careful about the material I was using for kindling. I finally got a steady flame going, and in the end it was a really nice fire. It was a beautiful crisp Fall night for having a fire. I enjoyed just sitting out on the patio and watching the flames dancing and flickering.

  • Revisiting Hemingway: Back at the first of this year I picked up and read Hemingway's For Whom The Bells Toll. In my mind, Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and For Whom The Bells Toll constitute a Hemingway trilogy of sorts. It is the two war novels that give the setting and context for understanding the rampant anomie found in the story being told in The Sun Also Rises. The generation that fought in WW-I (Farewell To Arms) is the "lost generation" of The Sun Also Rises. And if that was not enough, we then have the disillusionment that came out of the horrors and atrocities of the Spanish Civil War (For Whom The Bells Toll). Someday I want to develop this perspective into a full blown essay with the premise that these three Hemingway novels taken together, give us a picture of the birth and development of post-modernity in the early 20th Century.

  • I love "the Church". Yes, the church that is represented by institutions known as local congregations. It is because of the church, universal and institutional, that I have the Bible in my own language. It was this church that supported the college and university Gospel outreach that a Sovereign God used to bring me to Himself. (Rest in peace Mr. Bill Bright.) It has been the "Doctors" of this church that honed and worked out from that Bible the theology that helps me understand and make sense of what the Christian life is about. It is the Pastors of that church that faithfully explain the Word of God and feed my soul. It is in the fellowship of that church where I find encouragement and friendship with those in whom I see the image of Christ being formed.

    I know this church is not perfect. I know it's not always as authentic as it should be. Yes, there have even been times when some in this church have let me down, or even betrayed me. I'm not perfect either.

    I love the church. I love the church because I love Jesus Christ. Because I love Him, I also love the bride He loves. The church is not perfect, but one day it will be. I am not perfect, but by the grace of God, one day I will be.

    I love the Church.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Calvin on External Discipline and Ceremonies



[I separated and underlined the part of this quote I wanted to focus on. I'm including all of section 30 and 31 so that part can be seen in the context in which Calvin wrote it. ~ The Billy Goat ~]

From: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book Four, Chapter 10

30. But as there is here a danger, on the one hand, lest false bishops should thence derive a pretext for their impious and tyrannical laws, and, on the other, lest some, too apt to take alarm, should, from fear of the above evils, leave no place for laws, however holy, it may here be proper to declare, that I approve of those human constitutions only which are founded on the authority of God, and derived from Scripture, and are therefore altogether divine. Let us take, for example, the bending of the knee which is made in public prayer. It is asked, whether this is a human tradition, which any one is at liberty to repudiate or neglect? I say, that it is human, and that at the same time it is divine. It is of God, inasmuch as it is a part of that decency, the care and observance of which is recommended by the apostle; and it is of men, inasmuch as it specially determines what was indicated in general, rather than expounded. From this one example, we may judge what is to be thought of the whole class—viz. that the whole sum of righteousness, and all the parts of divine worship, and everything necessary to salvation, the Lord has faithfully comprehended, and clearly unfolded, in his sacred oracles, so that in them he alone is the only Master to be heard.

But as in external discipline and ceremonies, he has not been pleased to prescribe every particular that we ought to observe (he foresaw that this depended on the nature of the times, and that one form would not suit all ages), in them we must have recourse to the general rules which he has given, employing them to test whatever the necessity of the Church may require to be enjoined for order and decency. Lastly, as he has not delivered any express command, because things of this nature are not necessary to salvation, and, for the edification of the Church, should be accommodated to the varying circumstances of each age and nation, it will be proper, as the interest of the Church may require, to change and abrogate the old, as well as to introduce new forms. I confess, indeed, that we are not to innovate rashly or incessantly, or for trivial causes. Charity is the best judge of what tends to hurt or to edify: if we allow her to be guide, all things will be safe.

31. Things which have been appointed according to this rule, it is the duty of the Christian people to observe with a free conscience indeed, and without superstition, but also with a pious and ready inclination to obey. They are not to hold them in contempt, nor pass them by with careless indifference, far less openly to violate them in pride and contumacy. You will ask, What liberty of conscience will there be in such cautious observances? Nay, this liberty will admirably appear when we shall hold that these are not fixed and perpetual obligations to which we are astricted, but external rudiments for human infirmity, which, though we do not all need, we, however, all use, because we are bound to cherish mutual charity towards each other. This we may recognise in the examples given above. What? Is religion placed in a woman’s bonnet, so that it is unlawful for her to go out with her head uncovered? Is her silence fixed by a decree which cannot be violated without the greatest wickedness? Is there any mystery in bending the knee, or in burying a dead body, which cannot be omitted without a crime? By no means. For should a woman require to make such haste in assisting a neighbour that she has not time to cover her head, she sins not in running out with her head uncovered. And there are some occasions on which it is not less seasonable for her to speak than on others to be silent. Nothing, moreover, forbids him who, from disease, cannot bend his knees, to pray standing. In fine, it is better to bury a dead man quickly, than from want of grave-clothes, or the absence of those who should attend the funeral, to wait till it rot away unburied. Nevertheless, in those matters the custom and institutions 2437of the country, in short, humanity and the rules of modesty itself, declare what is to be done or avoided. Here, if any error is committed through imprudence or forgetfulness, no crime is perpetrated; but if this is done from contempt, such contumacy must be disapproved. In like manner, it is of no consequence what the days and hours are, what the nature of the edifices, and what psalms are sung on each day. But it is proper that there should be certain days and stated hours, and a place fit for receiving all, if any regard is had to the preservation of peace. For what a seed-bed of quarrels will confusion in such matters be, if every one is allowed at pleasure to alter what pertains to common order? All will not be satisfied with the same course if matters, placed as it were on debatable ground, are left to the determination of individuals. But if any one here becomes clamorous, and would be wiser than he ought, let him consider how he will approve his moroseness to the Lord. Paul’s answer ought to satisfy us, “If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

We All Believe in One True God


By: Tobias Clausnitzer

We all believe in one true God,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Ever present help in need,
Praised by all the heavenly host;
All he made his love enfolds,
All creation he upholds.

We all believe in Jesus Christ,
Son of God and Mary’s son,
Who descended from his throne
And for us salvation won;
By whose cross and death are we
Rescued from all misery.

We all confess the Holy Ghost,
Who from both in truth proceeds,
Who sustains and comforts us
In all trials, fears and needs.
Blest and holy Trinity,
Praise forever yours shall be.

Hymn # 212 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Kirchengesangbuch
Tune: Wir Glauben All An Einen Gott
1st Published in: 1699


Amen!!!

~ The Billy Goat ~

In the following video, the above hymn is sung in German with the English translation scolling on the screen.

Linkin Park- In The End




Friday, October 02, 2009

The Pending Death of Geocities.com


"GEOCITIES IS CLOSING ON OCTOBER 26, 2009.
New GeoCities accounts are no longer available."


Geocities was a free web-page hosting community absorbed into the Yahoo conglomerate a few years back. Yahoo is going to shut it down by the end of this month, and all the individual web-page accounts that have accumulated over the years will die with it. One of those accounts that will be terminating is mine.

For a fee I can move my Geocites site to a Yahoo web hosting site, but the bottom line is that the free pages are going to be history. I choose not to spend the money. I have salvaged from my Geocites site the stuff I want to save, and have found other homes on the net for those items; (homes that are still at no cost to myself).

What this pending demise of Geocities proves is that immortality will not be found on the Internet. I have from time to time pondered what would happen to all my different WWW page accounts if I was to die;(and someday, God knows when, I will).

I confess that at an early point in my Internet history, I had some vague notion that after I was gone, my WWW pages would just stay there into perpetuity; an on-going memorial to the fact I once existed in this world order; my thoughts and logic to endure and to inspire future generations ages after I'm gone.

Of course all of that is sheer poppycock and nonsense. The pending demise of Geocities underscores how illusionary that kind of thought is.

Immortality and meaning is not found in the idol of the Internet. The Internet will not bring in the Age of Aquarius or the millennium or utopia or any such thing.

God reserves that prerogative for Himself. He alone is the source for immortality and for meaning and purpose.

Someday Blogspot will die and "The Billy Goat Blog" will die with it. Facebook will die along with deviantArt and all the rest. This world order will pass away. A New Heavens and New Earth will come.

Then we will know true shalom. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

~ The Billy Goat ~