Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Silence of The Darth Vader "Handless-Death-Choke"

"...and that's the rest of the story."
- Paul Harvey

My Father-in-law is famous (in our family anyway!) for saying, "some people have something to say and some people just have to say something".

I have swung the pendulum playing both parts at different times in my life.   But I remember once near the end of my college daze....(oops!)....days when filled with a lethal combination of overwhelming hubris that lead to a need to be heard and a certain intoxicant that lead to heightened paranoia, two times I called in to offer a "piece of my mind" on Oklahoma City Talk Radio; both efforts were total disasters.

Confidently I dialed the number and waited for the answer.   Almost instantly I heard "you're on air!"............................ and then there was nothing.....but cold.....dead.....silence.

My thoughts raced, sweat beads instantly popped on my forehead as I found myself completely unable to speak (and for this loud mouth that's saying a lot!).   After 3 or 4 excruciating seconds of silence, I heard, "caller,  please go ahead.  Caller, are you there?"

Like the imbecile, who after giving an unsatisfactory answer, was cruelly silenced by Darth Vader's hand-less choke hold, there I was shaking my head with my mouth open wide but panic-stricken and exposed, I was totally speechless. 

I called again.....I got through again.....it happened again! Mind blank.   Zero sound from my mouth.   Both times, though no one knew my name or saw my face, I was crushed by my impotence.   What an embarrassment!

http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/13/135592/2806788-Force-Choke-Vader.jpgLORD, the God of Israel, you are righteous! ....... Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence." 
- Ezra 9:15

These days I see an eternal foreshadowing at work in my botched attempts at "having something to say".   Every life is called to account for his or her actions before the creator.  This is a reality which sooner or later all mankind must face.

“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” 
- Jeremiah 17:10

 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
- 2nd Cor. 5:10

Upon the day of my death, for what it's worth, here's how I imagine....

At once I am conscious that I am finally alive free from my "body of death" (Rom. 7:24); death, after all, is the final removal of our sin.  Like standing next to a fire and not being able to pinpoint a specific area of my body that feels the heat, the whole of me will be overwhelmed by God's presence.  At that moment, before the throne, I am made aware of the span of my life.

All at once every sin (confessed and unconfessed), evil impulse, insecurity, fear, defense mechanism, moment of un-conscientious is made instantly known to me.  Yet instead of being crushed, falling to my knees, overcome by the weight of my sin, I see Jesus on the judgement seat (Rom 14:10) who then imparts an eternal relief that I know now only in part.

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
- 1 Timothy 2:5

"It's taken care of", He says as He lifts me up with His blessed nail-pierced hands.  It's then that I begin an eternal education learning the span of His goodness and sovereignty throughout the entirety of my earthly existence.  From the many moments that led to the softening of my heart - to the truth of The Good News of Salvation in Christ - to the ways in which God was working every single event in my earthly life for my good, his purposes and ultimately, His Glory (Rom. 8:28).

As I hear, "well done good and faithful servant" - the blessed echo of God's response to Christ's obedience, I feel a sense of God's pleasure with my every earthly act of obedience.  Yet, filled with the knowledge of God's abiding presence throughout my walk as a Christian, at the same moment I recognize that it was Him working in me all along.  And then, before my God and King, I offer Him back the "crowns" He's just bestowed to me.

Suddenly I can speak again.  My tongue loosed I repeat "thank you and praise you" and for eternity in my thoughts, words and deeds I move, think and speak to the glory of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit in "the new heaven and new earth".

In my estimation the Darth Vader "Handless-Death-Choke-of-Silence" perfectly illustrates the condemnation from which we've been rescued.   By His Grace may we be propelled here and now into the assurance that we will one day know in full the mighty mercy and amazing grace of God and await giving account for our lives to God with the full assurance that there is not now, nor will can there ever be, condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).    The Cross of Christ will not and cannot ever be silenced!

Grace has been spoken over us.   "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor. 12:9).   May we live now as the redeemed....for Christ has spoken on behalf of the speechless.

Grace and Peace,

This Week

* Wednesday - Men's AM Book Study -  7am - Centrepoint Ministries Building - 418 S. Broadway, 2nd Floor.  (Chapter 17,  Chaos and Grace)

* Friday - Men's Lunch - Weekly Devotional - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm  - (Chapter 17, Chaos and Grace)

* Friday - The Magills will play Jake's Rooftop Chaveta - Tyler, TX - 8-11pm

* Saturday - The Magills will play Fresh Patio - Tyler, TX - 6-9pm

Please pray as we continue to meet with couples who by The Spirit seek to display Christ's covenant-keeping love to the world around them.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Gooooooooooaaaaaaal!!!!! of a Soccer Dad

 “If you are first you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.”
― Pele

I was no athlete.   My wife is an excellent dancer but didn't learn to ride a bike until a fifth grade outing made it necessary.   That said we've approached our 4-year-old daughter's first soccer season with all the excitement of a cat thrown into water.

It started off, as one might expect with theatrical parents and a slightly (if not overly) neurotic daughter, with an emphasis on the costume.  One trip to Academy and $40 later we had new soccer cleats, shin pads and a neon green uniform (the green only slightly greener than me as a soccer dad).

Practices were chaos and Coach Curtis gave it his best but, as this is affectionately termed "herd ball", it primarily involves corralling the girls and continual reminders "don't touch the ball with your hands!".


Just before game #1 I made a crucial mistake.   I sought to motivate Maggie by telling her that if she scored a goal I would take her on her favorite outing.

"Honey, if you score a goal I will take you to The Dollar Store to get some lip gloss."

"Woo hoo!", she shouted from the back seat barreling out of the car and onto the field.

Her initial exuberance matched mine and Megan's; we shouted encouragement and hoped for the best.  Maggie's team is named The Tyler Riot - this looked more like a peaceful sit-in.   Maggie's timidity and general lack of tenacity resulted in her barely touching the ball.

By half-time, transfigured by the weight of the reality that she was under-performing, the pep in her step had become a sluggish, dirt-kicking lag.    Maggie's heart was set on lip gloss not soccer.    When soccer became an impediment to her acquiring yet another lip gloss (that I will find stuck in the crevice of the couch next week), she began to hate soccer.

Maggie barely touched the ball that game, shoulders slouching and frowns abounding we left game one in tears acknowledging the sting of defeat and the loss of hoped-for lip gloss.

False Hope

Game #2 was much, much worse.    She was excited to suit up (of course) but minutes into the game it was the "same song, second verse".   Megan and I nervously watched as Maggie became more downcast every time the ball was kicked away from her.

As she looked over at us, we shouted, "great job baby! Keep it up.  We're so proud of you!!!"
Megan served a big, toothy smile and raised two thumbs up; Maggie returned a stern, look of disdain and two emphatic thumbs down. By the end of the third quarter Maggie was begging to go home while the other children laughed and played.   What had we done wrong?

Later that night Maggie told us, "you were telling me I was doing a good job when I wasn't.   I was not playing good and you were making fun of me.  I don't want you to lie to me".

Wow!   The reality that my 4-year-old daughter conceived that we were patronizing her soccer performance astounded me.    She wanted the truth.   Good or Bad.   She wanted the truth!   She was suffering under the weight of her poor performance and didn't want someone blithely glossing over her pain or worse yet, laughing at her through what she perceived as sarcastic comments.
Maggie wanted someone to share her burden... and who among us doesn't need that?


This past week something different happened.   I identified with her anxiety, guilt and fears. 

The night before game #3 I told Maggie, "honey, I don't care how you play the game.   It doesn't matter to Mommy and Daddy if you win or if you lose.   We just want you to enjoy yourself.   When you're playing you might start to think that you're not doing well.    When you hear that thought, don't pay attention to it.   All that matters is that you try hard and have fun.   We're doing all of this (buying the uniform, taking the post-game snacks and practicing in the backyard) to make you smile and to show you that we love you.  NOTHING else matters!  So have fun and play the game!"

Her performance was only marginally better than the first two games, but the weight of reward/punishment and humiliation had been totally lifted.   She laughed and smiled and ran and played and even kicked the ball a couple of times (stopping only once to pick it up).

Parenting is a continual lesson in the power of grace to transform situations, hearts and minds.   Maggie was freed by the knowledge that her performance DID NOT MATTER AT ALL.   Consequently, her performance improved a little, but the point was not her performance improving.   Our desire was that her heart would be freed to be the child that she is.     That this time of play would be just that....play; a time to battle the encroaching tide of adulthood that children seem to gravitate towards.

But there is a bliss in childhood and it's not the ignorant kind.  It's the kind of childhood that comes from being identified as a child of God who completely receives you and loves you without condition.   Who asks nothing in return but who through His Holy Spirit does all kinds of things through he/she who enters His kingdom not through strength (for that is impossible) but by weakness, through simple dependence upon God's Son's finished work on the cross (justification) and his continual work on the human heart (sanctification).

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child 
will never enter it." - Mark 10:15

Stop and consider how easily external pressures separate Christians from the peace that we have in a God who has loved us regardless of our inability to "measure up".   And think of the ways that internal voices, whether they be verdicts passed on us by others or judgements we've made about ourselves, hold us in bondage hampering our God-given, Jesus-purchased ability to simply live life in freedom with joy.

The Beach Boys' song I Can Hear Music comes to mind:

Loving you, it keeps me satisfied
And I can't explain, oh, no
The way I'm feeling inside

Oh, and I can hear music
Sweet, sweet music
Whenever you touch me baby
Whenever you're near 

- Berry, Greenwich, Spector

Grace lifts the "death pillow" of expectation off your face; suddenly there's no more suffocation.   The muffling effect of judgement that deadens our senses to the needs of others by beckoning us to pay attention only to ourselves (our performance, possessions, looks etc.) is removed and at last we "hear music, sweet, sweet music"! 

The love of God makes possible this kind of freedom whether it be for a 4-year-old soccer girl, a guilt-ridden mother or a business man at the end of his rope .    The child of God can return from burden to His blessed playground in an instant if he will but knock at the "door of hope", or rather listen to the one knocking at his heart.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. - Rev. 3:20

Game On!

This Week
* Wednesday - Men's AM Book Study -  7am - Centrepoint Ministries Building - 418 S. Broadway, 2nd Floor.  (Chapter 9,  Chaos and Grace)

* Friday - Men's Lunch - Weekly Devotional - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm  - (Chapter 8, Chaos and Grace)

* Friday  - 6-9 pm - KE  Cellars - Tyler, TX.   The Magills - come join us!

* Sunday - The Magills w/ The Downtowners at Bethel Bible North Campus - The Liberty Theater - 10am service.

Please pray as we continue to meet with couples who by The Spirit seek to display Christ's covenant-keeping love to the world around them.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Time Is Tight

 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers
- Philemon 1:4

Newsflash! Time is Tight is not just an excellent Booker T & The MG's song.   It's also a reality; our time together is precious and yet, so (upsettingly!) easy to take for granted.   We don't know how long we'll be around (i.e. employed in this community or alive!) to enjoy fellowship with one another.  

I have a dear friend who, along with his family, will move away from our community this week.   At their going-away dinner last night it occurred to me that their leaving serves as a pointed (...and painful) reminder that our time together in Christian fellowship is not something "we deserve", but instead it is evidence of God's infinite love and never-leaving, never-forsaking presence in our lives.   

That he uses each of us to minister to one another in miraculously unique ways (a shared breakfast, a spontaneous phone call, or a hand to hold in a time of grief) is proof of his creative and redemptive grace at work in our lives.   These friendships are all for naught if they do not consistently point us beyond ourselves and towards greater joy and thanksgiving for a God who meets our needs through our brothers and sisters.

Our fellowship is not perfect by any means and it is not without it's rough patches, but the constancy and transparency that characterize friendships touched by and drenched in God's grace reflect the character of God and results in a miniature picture to the world of His covenant love for us.....and the blessed by-product is that these relationships also edify us spiritually and fortify us for the days ahead.   The more we love (philia - friendship love) one another, the more our hearts are molded into the likeness of Christ, the friend of sinners.

AND GET THIS!  Our Christian friendships are eternal, which means what we do together now as believers, we will do for eternity....we are participating in the desire of God for our eternal lives when we love one another here and now.

C.S. Lewis wrote on the occasion of he and J.R.R. Tolkein's good friend's (Charles Williams) death....

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [JRR Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.” 
- The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis

If that's not an argument for the value of our friendships then I don't know what is.  
The time is tight - thank God for your friends and let God love your friends through you!

Grace and Peace,

We love you Matt and Angela - Peace be with you!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

You're Covered!

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;  
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.   
I need Thee, oh, I need thee, every hour I need thee.
- Annie Hawks, I Need Thee Every Hour, 1872

Any normal trip to the market for my family's necessary sundries can take a whimsical and joyous turn with my two daughters in tow.   Recently, as we checked out at a local pharmacy, Maggie and Blythe noticed "Barbie" Umbrellas for sale.  An early-January freezing rain fell from the sky and their mother and I couldn't resist.  Two exuberant squeals and six dollars later the two splashed in their rain boots under the cover of their new umbrellas all the way to the car (a mere 30 feet away).

A few days later the rainclouds dispersed and we enjoyed sunny skies and glorious 70 degree temperatures.    That afternoon Blythe (2 & 1/2) grabbed her new umbrella and ran outside shouting, “look daddy! It’s raining, it’s raining!”  

I laughed at her curious imagination but in the weeks since it's caused me to consider the way I tend to use the grace of God like an umbrella.   When the rains of suffering, disappointment or failure come falling down I run for cover in the all-sufficiency of the Cross of Christ.   As well I should!   

It is suffering through which God's presence is often times most palpable once we discover we've exhausted every effort to remain self-reliant.   Jesus calls those who experience such helplessness, those that are "poor in spirit" (Matt 5:3) or "those that mourn" (Matt 5:4), blessed.

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace.   
And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace. 
- Jerry Bridges

But am I blessed when I don't recognize I need him?   I confess days do go by when I feel that God's grace was for yesterday or that I will most likely depend upon it tomorrow.    I forget that His grace is raining down on me even when I don't think I need it!

Though we have the benefit of objectivity it's easy to see that, even in the midst of their skepticism when Jesus stood among the self-righteous Pharisees, they were being showered with God's grace.

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  
 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” - Matt hew 9:11-13

God's grace in Jesus Christ is not dependent upon my need for it.   It does not ebb and flow like the water hose I turn off and on in my backyard.  It is THE constant in the universe.  It is unchanging, it is unyielding and it will have its way.   Paul writes of the preeminence of Christ this way...

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. - Colossians 1:15-17

The grace of God has been made perfectly known to man in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who indeed holds all things together; it is evidence of God's grace and love for his created that the earth does not spin of its axis right now hurling believer and unbeliever alike into nothingness.   It is God's grace that I breath my next breath.   It is God's grace that anyone ever recognizes his/her need for salvation and it is evidence of God's grace that His Spirit within quickens my senses to perceive his abiding presence when I am crushed by the weight of the world or when I am lifted to new heights by a Beethoven concerto (or Led Zeppelin's Rain Song, as the case may be).

What a constant comfort it is to read of Paul's reminder to the Corinthians (and us!) that the Grace of God has poured down on believers forever and always (we walk in it and never don't walk in it!) once and for all in Christ Jesus....

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. - 1st Cor. 6:11

Here I'm reminded that I am forgiven and thus, possess the free gift of eternal life (John 3:14-15),  I am sanctified as The Holy Spirit makes real to me my new identity as a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:19) and I am justified receiving communion with a Holy God because Christ's righteousness has been imputed to me (2nd Cor. 5:21).

Our position as believers is like this...

Whether we know it or not, whether we think we need it or not, whether we appreciate it or not - we are under the umbrella of God's grace.  All Christians everywhere and always need to be reminded of that every day no matter how long they've been in the faith or how little or great they are suffering.   

Knowing I'm safe, sanctified and justified eternally brings peace presently.     I inevitably get "caught out in the rain" of the broken world but God's grace is his promise that he will never leave us and never forsake us and that in Jesus, He has identified with our every suffering and loves us...even (and sometimes especially) if our circumstances seem to imply otherwise.

I found this painting (if it can be called that - more like a cheap, 70's print!)  the other day at a garage sale.   I hang it my studio as a reminder that I am covered.   I like how the girls clings to the umbrella with both hands.   May we always cling to God's grace in the same way.....rain or shine!


Here's a recent demo I put together that puts music to some of the themes above.....


Rain falling down, falling down on me
Ain’t nothing new as far as I can see
I could hear it coming, there was thunder crashing down
Now lightning bolts be ripping through this Texas town

I want to stand, I got to stand, take my stand underneath your umbrella
Only a fool could blame a man for taking shelter

If you see me coming and my head is hanging low
My boots are filled with water, my heart filled with woe
You will see me reaching, reaching out for you
Save me from this flood that I been walking through

Feels like there's a curse upon me; like I done lost a bet
Drowning in a river of my guilt and regret
Meet me my Jesus, open up the door
Dry my every tear, settle the score

- Matt Magill

Check out the new single "Umbrella" HERE
Check out the new record of scripture songs, "Wallpaper" HERE

This Week
* Wednesday - Mens AM Book Study -   Chapter 6, Glorious Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian at 7am - Centrepoint Ministries Building - 418 S. Broadway, 2nd Floor.  (Men, pick up Chaos and Grace NOW...it's our next book!)

* Friday - Mens Lunch - Weekly Devotional - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm  - (Men, pick up Chaos and Grace NOW...it's our next book!)

* Saturday - 12-4pm - Harvey Hall in Tyler, TX - East Texas Women's Crisis Center Auto and Cycle Show.   The Magills w/ Special Guests Ronnie "The Mouse" Weiss, Emily Williams and Smitty perform to raise money for Crisis Center - come join us!

* Sunday - The Magills w/ The Downtowners at Bethel Bible North Campus - The Broadway Building - 10am service

Please pray as we continue to meet with couples who by
The Spirit seek to display Christ's covenant-keeping love to the world around them.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Completed Joy

Could you be loved? Then be loved! Could you be loved? Then be loved! 
- Bob Marley, Could You Be Loved, Uprising 1980

"Oh man!  You left me hanging!"   Regardless of the preferred form, the fist bump, high-five or the simple gentleman's handshake, most folks have experienced this let down before. The proverbial  "right hand of fellowship" goes out in vulnerability to find only the cold air of unrequited intimacy.   These are the moments when you are "left hanging"!

For any handshake or fist bump to reach completion it must find a momentary connection with its intended partner.  Without this reciprocation the initiator finds only a dry, desolate place of empty, pitiful embarrassment.  Am I overstating it?

What about that hoped-for first kiss?  Men, you know what I'm talking about, when on that doorstep so long ago you went boldly searching for puckered lips and instead met a quickly-turned "friendly" cheek.  The joy of intimacy depends upon reciprocation - anything less is something much closer to the pain of rejection.

Megan and I just returned from a blissful vacation on the cliffs of Negril, Jamaica.  We snorkeled, I caught up on some reading, we jumped off 30-foot cliffs into the Caribbean Ocean and we did NOT turn our iPhones back on until we returned to the United States.

(Editor's note: Incidentally, there's nothing more ridiculous than a middle-aged, white guy fist-bumping Rastafarian beach hoppers whilst saying things like "everyting is aright" or "respect mon!".....and yet there I stood bumping!)

During our stay at the resort, like a chant, our waiter, Randall, uttered one phrase again and again.  Every time we thanked him for his service, he responded, "Ah, thank you for enjoying it!"  

"What? That doesn't make sense", we thought. "We just thanked him for the dinner, dessert and wine!  Why does he keep thanking us?"  Yet he continued throughout our (all-too-short) trip repeatedly telling us after each meal or drink to "keep it up!".   We asked him, "keep what up?" to which Randall replied, "keep enjoying all this.....it's all for your enjoyment!"

During the vacation I couldn't help but reflect upon our peculiar exchange.  Randall had caused us to consider both his gratitude for our enjoyment and his whimsical admonition to continue in our joy.

A week after our return I've come to the conclusion that it was our grateful reception of  the chef's food, Randall's service and our mutual acknowledgement of God's sensational creation that was Randall's hope for us. 

He knew if we didn't enjoy the food, his service and the beauty of Jamaica then we'd miss the point of our time.   He was encouraging us toward gracious receptivity of all those good things and he was most grateful when it was evident that we'd joyfully received them!

The Gospel implications are clear to me now.....

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. 
That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 
- John 3:29

Here The Gospel of John records Jesus' description of the reconciliation (read eternal marriage) between God and man made possible by Jesus' life, death and resurrection.  Jesus is essentially saying to the disciples "you now know that I and The Father are one.  You have received this truth and your reception has completed my joy!"

Later in John's Gospel the focus turns from Jesus' completed joy to the ways in which the believer can share in that joy.   Jesus describes the authority that His name grants the believer and the joy that is available to the man who prays in the name of Jesus....

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. 
Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete
- John 16:24

Later, before suffering crucifixion, Jesus prays to The Father for the fullness of His Joy for His disciples....

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them
- John 17:13

Randall the waiter reveled in our enjoyment of his service.   In a like manner, and yet to an infinitely greater extent, Jesus desires that we receive His gift in full.  Jesus is praying here that His disciples will not lack any of His joy but will instead receive IN FULL the joy that He enjoys because of His perfect unity with The Father....

...Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
- Heb. 12:2

All these verses about joy give us a sense of (a) the fullness of the God made manifest in Jesus Christ and (b) the unity mankind can share with God now because of Jesus' perfect obedience. 

Christ's teaching of and prayers for the completion of our joy indicate that what is available to the believer is nothing short than the fullness of God, the peace (of God) that passes understanding.   And He is graciously praying that we will enjoy all that with Him and He is most glorified here and now (and eternally) when we do! 

On the cross God opened his arms and reached out to all humanity through Jesus Christ who, in weakness and vulnerability, suffered the punishment, humiliation and loneliness that all of mankind deserved and He was left hanging!    Rejected and scorned, for our sake he who knew no sin became sin that we might have the righteousness of God (2nd Cor. 5:21).

Like a spiritual equation Jesus describes how His joy can now be ours and can overflow from us....

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other." 
- John 15:9-17

Christians, having received the indwelling Spirit which reveals the truth of Jesus Christ's saving love, can share in hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5:5) and thus, the only joy that will never end.

But those who have "left the Son of God hanging" do not know that He has risen and conquered death, they do not know what God has achieved through the Cross of Christ and they cannot share in the completed Joy of the Son who obeyed his father unto death. 

The hope of the unregenerate man is fleeting, consequently he cannot share in Christ's joy.   He is at the mercy of his circumstances.  His successes in life provide him only a false sense of security that he must inevitably relinquish at death's door and his disappointments in life will only crush him leaving him without hope in this life.  Sound dire?  It is.  There's nothing more dire than man who denies the existence, love and salvation made possible by his Creator.

Yet there Jesus hangs, waiting to be received, waiting to be loved as He loved with His every breath and drop of blood.   The Gospel is this: In Jesus Christ, God has loved the unlovable and helped the helpless.   In the midst of our desperation God has reached out to mankind.

Don't leave him hanging - let Him complete your Joy!

Bob Marley famously asked, "Could you be loved?"   I don't presume to understand the Rastafarian religion or his full intentions in this fantastic lyric but The Gospel of Jesus Christ exploding in the heart of men and women hinges on his/her response to this question.

The question is not "are you lovable?"  The question is "though you are unlovable, can (or will) you receive the love of God?" If so, then reciprocate His love by first receiving it - let your joy be complete in Him.

Could you be loved?  Then be loved!

This Month

Tuesday, Oct. 2nd - The Magills - BScene Magazine Cover Unveil Party at Fresh,  6991 Old Jacksonville Highway- 6-8:30pm

Wednesdays in October - Men's Gathering - Watchman Nee's Love Not the World.  Ritcheson Law Firm 2 American Center, 5th Floor, Tyler, TX - 7am

Saturday, Oct. 6th - The Magills at Fresh, 6991 Old Jacksonville Highway, Tyler, TX - 6-9pm

Sundays in October - The Magills at Bethel Bible Downtown Campus, 202 S. Broadway - 10 AM service

Mondays in October - Men's Gathering - Matt Chandler's The Explicit Gospel - Dakota's Steakhouse at 12pm - Tyler, TX

Thursday Oct. 11th - The Magills at Bushman's Event Center - The Lone Star Salute to benefit The East Texas Women's Crisis Center - 6:30-10pm - Bullard, TX

Saturday Oct. 13th - The Magills at El Charro, 2604 East Erwin Street - 7-10pm - Tyler, TX

Saturday Oct. 20th - Jake's On the Square (Rooftop Lounge) - Tyler, TX

Saturday Oct. 27th - KE Cellars - French Market Mall - 6-9pm - Tyler, TX


Monday, August 13, 2012

Tears: A Yellow Dog In a Yellow Cab

There's a tear in my beer
'cause I'm cryin' for you,dear
you are on my lonely mind.
And into these past few beers
I have shed a million tears.
You are on my lonely mind
- Hank Williams

My paternal grandfather doesn’t trust banks.   I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some money squirreled away under a mattress in his bedroom.   He’s never voted for a republican; He’s what some folks used to call a Yellow Dog Democrat - "he’d vote for a yellow dog before he’d vote for a republican".   

works progress administration, WPA workers, Franklin Delano Roosevelts New Deal
Ralph grew up in the depression.   Some of his earliest and most painful memories are of the bank taking his father’s home and farm when he couldn’t make the mortgage payment.   The family had to move to town and his family's only relief was the United States government.   In 1935 The Works Progress Administration put his father back to work and his family on the road to recovery. Consequently Ralph trusts the government….that is the democrats in the government.  (But enough of the politics; we'll get enough of that in the coming months).

Those early painful memories of loss and uncertainty charted a path for a boy who carried a tender heart along with a few bitter memories through his long life. When he lost his wife, Priscilla, to lung cancer when she was only in her early fifties, his "heartache" became even more of a defining characteristic. Deeply grieved by the loss but determined to shower his grandchildren with the love that his wife would have lavished upon them, our relationship with Grandpa grew in beautifully complex and bittersweet ways.  

In his desire to fill the gap he and I began to talk more than ever when I was in my teens.   He was a confidant and bulwark of unconditional love.  I remember him telling me when I was approaching the age of 21 why he didn’t dare drink “too” much anymore.   He explained that when he was a younger man and would over-indulge he would go on what he called a “crying jag”.  He defined a crying jag as uncontrollable weeping. It wasn't hard to imagine.

As long as I can remember, tears for my Grandfather were instantly accessible and always a moment away.   The mere mention of a particular Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys song (Western Swing was always favorite music to dance to with Priscilla) or a certain look from his great-grandchildren these days  can send him to place that seems somehow emotionally beyond his control.

6 years ago, at the age of 80, Ralph finally left the Oklahoma/Texas region and made a trip to New York City to visit Megan and me - It was a moving thing to behold.   After three connections (only the second or third flight of his life), long delays, and a bus ride through the Holland Tunnel, he stepped into his first NYC Taxi Cab...then it hit him.

Tears streamed down his weathered face as the cab driver swerved up Amsterdam Avenue and crossed Broadway honking and cursing another cab in English but with a distinctly Middle Eastern dialect.  Megan and I considered that his trip might not be off to a great start if he was terrified of taxis.
Concerned, we asked, "Grandpa, is everything OK?".

With trembling lips and a glimmer in his eye he answered, “I can't believe it, It’s really true.  I've heard it said and I've seen it in movies but these cab rides really are crazy!”

These were tears I'd not seen from him before - tears of confirmation.  These were tears representing joy that, at the age of 80, the knowledge hidden in his heart had finally been confirmed by his experience.

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. 
- Proverbs 14:13

Whether they be tears of awe-inspired joy, devastating sadness or deep confirmation, because of his vulnerability, humility and weakness (read "broken hearted-ness") my Grandfather continues to bring my family quite literally face to face with the "over-whelming" pain that is just beneath the surface of life lived in world where sin and it's resultant fragmentation, death and disillusionment still reign.   To be sure what is to be is not yet.

Paradoxically even beauty can serve as a reminder that life, while unfathomably valuable, is also slipping away from us like sands through the hourglass.  The  divine beauty of The Grand Canyon or The Tetons, for instance, ought confirm deep with in us that we have zero to do with creation and cannot add to or diminish it.   Artist Wayne White remarks in his new Bio-Documentary that, "it's so beautiful it hurts my feelings."

There were tears of joy at my children’s births, on my wedding day and occasionally there are tears of deep connection in great movies (Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, for instance, slays me every time!). For some strange reason I love crying;  perhaps it's because I cry less frequently as I’ve grown older.  But in this way I'm still learning from Grandpa.

In his timeless wisdom King Solomon wrote:

I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. - Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

Inevitably life hands us all less than we hope for, loved ones are taken from us and we look to temporal things in the material world to meet our needs that cannot.   Eternity has been placed in the hearts of men, yet we suffer.  There must be more.

Simply put: we cannot see the future.   In times of mourning and in times of weeping (Eccl. 3:4) the Christian is propelled by the Spirit within to deeper faith, while others are lost in their utter desperation. St. Paul described the cyclical and paradoxical power of suffering carried by faith to it's proper end...
We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 
- Romans 5:3-5

Tim Keller writes that "what we believe about our future changes us presently".   As I read The Bible and learn more of The Gospel of Jesus Christ I am drawn more deeply into this gift of hope and changed by it and hope does not disappoint - it is having its way with me. 

Christ inaugurated a new heaven and will "reconcile to himself all things" (Col 1:20) in the new earth where joys will never cease and the sons and daughters of God will be satisfied eternally.  We are awaiting the final consummation of all things when The Spirit within us will be reunited with The Creator and The Son.  Christians await the redemption of our bodies and a world of dissatisfaction.... and we do not wait in vain.

I've got no home, I've got no home, I've got no home - but I've got a destination.

Sorry Clapton, for me there will definitely be Tears in Heaven!  I look forward to weeping on that day of new life.   When this life ends and we are enveloped by the love of God in full, seeing the face of his Son, Jesus, whose death purchased our eternal lives, may the confirmation of all that we've hoped for send tears of joy never ending down our faces.

Here's to the tears - a signpost for us of the redemption that is to come.


This Week

* Monday - Mens Lunch - The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler - Chapter 1 - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm

* Wednesday - Mens AM Book Study -   Chapter 9, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler at 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Sunday - The Magills w/ The Downtowners at Bethel Bible North Campus - The Broadway Building - 10am service

Please pray as we continue to meet with couples who by 
The Spirit seek to display Christ's covenant-keeping love to the world around them.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse.  Three weeks, and it couldn't be worse.
One week, will it ever be right?  Then out of the hat it's that big first night

The overture is about to start.  You cross your fingers and hold your heart.
It's curtain time and away we go.  Just another op'nin of another show!

- Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate

"This is your five!"

Anyone who's spent anytime in the theater is familiar with the "five minute call".  In short, it means show time!  The excitement of opening night is indescribable.  Whether it's community theater in Western Oklahoma (Holla!) or Broadway in New York City, months of preparation, time, talent and energy brim to successful (or sometimes disastrous!) fruition just moments after the "five minute call".

I can't count the time I've heard "this is your five" in my dreams.  The call instantly propels me into complete panic when I'm suddenly aware I HAVE to find the script to look at the lines I can't recall because I haven't rehearsed at all!   I'm about to be in the spotlight and caught completely unaware of my role.   I even chastise myself in the dream. "Did you think you could wing it - you idiot!  Why, why, why! did you not rehearse? You're going to make a fool of yourself and ruin this production!"

As though I'm caught in some FBI examination, light shining bright on my head hung low, I'm a suspect terrified at being found out.  My inadequacy will be discovered and worse, I will be discovered onstage before a jury of my peers. 

But then, just as the curtains open on exposing the fake I am, I awake to find it was all a dream.   I'm then giddy in bed realizing it was just a nightmare that revealed a universal fear of being exposed.  A fear that, miraculously, I no longer have to claim when I believe The Gospel.

Only a dream, only a dream, And glory beyond the dark stream;
How peaceful the slumber, How happy the waking;
For death is only a dream. 
- C.W. Ray

The old hymn "Death Is Only a Dream" brings to light the fear we have of physical death and serves as a steady reminder to believers that, as Paul writes, because we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5).  In other words, what's happened to Christ Jesus (death and resurrection) also awaits us.   Consequently, though death appears to be a permanent end, it is merely a dream. 

King David wrote in one of the most oft-recited Psalms, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).   What comfort this simple scripture has brought countless sufferers through the centuries.

Clearly the shadow David describes is not the real thing; it is only the appearance of the real thing. The King is describing here humanity's proclivity to view the shadow of death as the real thing and instead offers us a song to sing redirecting our hearts to him who guides us through physical death and into life eternal.

Genesis' telling of our earliest ancestors presents postexilic Adam and Eve as being naked and ashamed east of Eden.   Their having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil left them shamefully aware that they had transgressed God's good and perfect law.    It was the inaugural trip to the valley of the shadow of death from which no human ever returns without aid from The Father.    Down in that valley they looked around for life, peace and the pursuit of happiness and found only failure, unrest and futility.   Why?  According to John Piper, because the foundation of covenant-keeping love had collapsed.

They experienced this immediately in the corruption of their own covenant love for each other.  It happened in two ways.  And we experience this today in these same two ways.  Both related to the experience of shame.   In the first case, the person viewing my nakedness is no longer trustworthy, so I am afraid I will be shamed.  In the second, I myself am no longer at peace with God, and I feel guilty and defiled and unworthy -- I deserve to be shamed.  - John Piper, This Momentary Marriage

Essentially they began to hide from God (and one another).   Using God's creation now as a means to retreat from Him, Adam and Eve fashioned clothing with which they could hide their exposed flesh from God and from one another.   But what they really sought to hide was their shame.   They could not stand the spotlight of God's holiness shining on their wickedness....before it they were undone.

Sin is: in despair not wanting to be one's self before God - Soren Kierkegaard

This pitiful game of hide and seek from God is common to all mankind, and it has no ending unless we are freed from external (law) and internal (shame) condemnation.   Unless we are freed from our guilt and the resultant shame there can be no peace internally or externally.   Though we seek to deceive ourselves with the shadow of peace or happiness through pleasure (the aesthetic life), treasure (materialism) or measure (self-justification by way of achievement), curtains are pulled back all too quickly.   So, in what Matt Chandler calls circular silliness, we continue to strive for the deliverance (read salvation from emptiness) that only God in His complete fullness can provide.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus - 1st Timothy 2:5

Man must be delivered from the valley; our bondage to sin must be broken with help from the almighty.  We feel it - we read about it - the crisis of humanity bears witness to the truth.  The honest man knows it in his heart.   Within and without the human condition is on display and thus, Humanism, the enlightenment philosophy of Stuart Smalley ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggone it, people like me!"), has been tried and found wanting -  Mankind as "the little engine that could" is continually being exposed for the lie that it is.    

We don't get better, we don't improve, we get saved - we get delivered.   Saved from our sin, saved from our inadequacy and saved from our selves.   If we could but hear his voice calling, "it is finished" (John 19:30).   The job of living life free from sin was completed on our behalf by one man.   The rod and the staff which comforted David now comfort the Christian eternally as they have become one in The Good Shepard who leaves 99 sheep to rescue one that is lost (Matthew 18:12).

The word made flesh, Jesus, has become the script I will never be able to track down.  He took the stage when I was speechless and yet when the applause comes (well done, my good a faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21)), I can join him in taking the bow because His righteousness is now mine - a free gift of grace!  I'm equipped to stand before God under the unrelenting spotlight of His holiness because I am now found in Him.  God does not see my sin, He sees Christ's righteousness alone made perfectly manifest in his sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.

No longer alone in our guilt, we have been replaced by the only one who could bear the burden of guilt for us. Reconciled to God the Christian is no longer alone, East of Eden, he finally rests, exposed but forgiven, helpless but helped, loveless but loved.....and changed!

Lonely no more - Lonely no more!   
How can we be what I was before when I'm not lonely anymore?
- Steve Marriot, The Small Faces


This Week

* Wednesday AM Book Study - The Explicit Gospel, Chapter 7, 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

Please pray as we meet with hurting couples in the East Texas area who are in desperate need of God's restoration individually and relationally.