Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Beast of New Year!

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. - John 3:17

Christmas is over.  Just like that (imagine the sound of my fingers snapping!) weeks of rushing around, buying presents and awaiting surprised faces are over in a matter of days. Now reality sets in.  With another year gone by comes the ever-oppressive new year.   Staring at us like a giant beast of impending, judgemental doom (read: LAW).   What will be different?  How will we change?  What will we quit?  What will we begin?  How can we stick to what we couldn't stick to in 2010? (no rhyme intended)

40 to 45% of American adults make one or more resolutions each year.  Among the top new years resolutions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and quitting smoking. Also popular are resolutions dealing with better money management / debt reduction. The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
- past the first week: 75%
- past 2 weeks: 71%
- after one month: 64%
- after 6 months: 46%

The statistics above (from The University of Scranton. Journal of Clinical Psychology) seem a little bloated but maybe I'm just cynical given my own experience with new year's resolutions.

I saw a special on The Today Show last week giving tips on how to keep new year's resolutions.   I changed the channel when the first hot tip was "make a list".   Who really needs a list to know all the things they'd like to change about themselves?   After 34 years of life, no one knows me better than me.   No one knows better than me all the things about me that could use a little shaping up, trimming down or just plain death.

Like Mr. Fox in Ronald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox who confesses he can't stop stealing chickens because, well, he's a fox, all our actions spout from our identity.   What we do is shaped by who we conceive ourselves to be.
For instance I'm a sweet tooth.  I'm absolutely amazed at how many sweets I've had these past few days.   At first it was comical (to me) but soon I was popping these Hershey Kisses every five minutes or so.    With the restraint of a chain-smoker I probably went through an entire bag as Nat King Cole sang the holiday hits in the background.   

Maybe deep down I thought "hey, it's the holidays"....but after a while, paranoia set in and I started to suspect that Megan might be on to my addictive ways as the bowl began to grow emptier and the little balled-up, shiney wrappers amassed in the trash bin.   What's wrong with me?   When is enough enough?   C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters that addiction entails an "ever-increasing desire for an ever-diminishing pleasure".   I think he was on to something there.

The holidays are a perfect reminder of how little most of us really change year by year by our own will power and unfortunately, they're quite revealing as to how far we all have to go.  So how does change come?

Repentance and Baptism was the call by John The Baptist in making way for the coming of The Lord.
Turning from your old life (repentance), going down beneath the water with your old man and then being raised anew.  Not being simply cleansed by the water but (like all sacraments - physical actions having profound symbolic significance) symbolically leaving the old man below the surface while the new man is raised to walk in a new way - with a new identity.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. - 2nd Cor. 5:17

John Piper claims that sin is like mud on the windshield of your life which keeps you from clearly seeing God's pure, perfect and unique will for you.   This must have been why John (The Baptist) called people to "get right with God"... that they might recognize Him when He came.   Is it not then a continual posture of repentance that would best suit us in the new year?  Constantly turning from our old selves.  But by what power?

When Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to "Go and sin no more"  He had already accurately accessed her guilt by telling the others, "those without sin may cast the first stone."  Yet He did not condemn her; instead His grace set her free to become a new creation - to really change.  She then knew that the full force of the source of real transformational power lied in a life with Him.

My guess is, by God's grace, I'll probably change in ways I can't even recognize as the years roll by.   But as I do, The Holy Spirit will reveal more need for change through the gift of conviction.  Without God's power to do within me what I could never do on my own this would be an oppressive reality (read total condemnation).  

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. - Rom. 5:20

But with Him I can say goodbye to another year with gratitude for the work He's done in my life and greet the next one with the knowledge that, though most all New Year's Resolutions won't last past February, my God is The Beginning and The End, the Alpha and Omega and He's faithful to bring to completion that good work that He began in me. (Phil 1:6)

Happy New Year!
Christ's Blessings,
Matt (formerly Sweet Tooth)

This Week:

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Jed Turman will lead discussion - See you guys next week!
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 
* The Magills - off the radar for some much needed relaxation.....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Celebrating Christmas.....

No one can celebrate
a genuine Christmas
without being truly poor.
The self-sufficient, the proud,
those who, because they have
everything, look down on others,
those who have no need
even of God - for them there
will be no Christmas.
Only the poor, the hungry,
those who need someone
to come on their behalf,
will have that someone.
That someone is God.
Emmanuel.  God-with-us.
Without poverty of spirit
there can be no abundance of God.

- Oscar Romero

Horse, Your Breath Stinks and I Don't Like Your Gift!

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Rom. 6:23

Annually our Sunday Bible Study Class partners with The Boys and Girls Club of Tyler for a Christmas outreach.   Each couple in  our class draws a child's name and then puts together a bag of clothes, toys, toiletries and a Bible for him or her.   One day in mid-December we bring the bags to an after-school program at Douglas Elementary. We eat, play and sing songs with the kids and then present the kids with their gift bag.

This year Megan and I shopped for a boy named  Kieth spending time, thought, energy and money on his bag.   We looked forward to the event all week long.  But when the day arrived and  it came time for Kieth  to open his bag, our (assumed) joy turned to grief when he was underwhelmed to say the least with our gifts.   The 9-year-old, Kieth, looked up at us and said, "Why'd you get me all this?  Didn't you read my list?  I really wanted an X-Box!"

Later as Megan and I recalled the event we both expressed frustration with Kieth.  Why didn't he appreciate our gift?  How could all we'd done be lost on him?  These questions led us to pray for Kieth and do some much-needed introspection of our own.

Maybe we'd wanted too much to have Kieth cry with joy and wrap his arms around us like Tiny Tim who hugged the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickins' A Christmas Carol.  Perhaps deep down we assumed Kieth's response would affirm us as benevolent givers, as generous care-takers of those less fortunate than us.

But much more indicative of my own sin nature was Kieth's reaction. It revealed a piece of my heart that I like to keep hidden.   Far too often I'm unappreciative of what God has done on my behalf in His Son, Jesus; I carry on with life assuming I know better what I need than God does.   Are we not all prone to grumble about the life we have?  At times, and to varying degrees, all of us, like Dickens' Jacob Marley, are held in bondage by our assumptions about the life we "ought" to have been given.  In reality The Christian has been freed from such illusions but often times feels more comfortable "in chains" (can anyone say recidivism?)
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 
- Gal. 5:1

Encountering ingratitude in others should only serve to remind us of our own all-too-typical posture of entitlement - a gargantuan barrier to authentic thanksgiving.   Apart from The Holy Spirit we are all like spoiled children.   King David wrote that if we truly understand who God is we'd seek Him with our whole hearts.  But alas we just don't get it. .....

God looks down from heaven on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good, not even one.
- Psalm 53:4-5
God's Christmas gift to us was one of mercy because we deserved wrath.   But instead of wrath we received a gift we never realized we needed.  God's Christmas gift to us was one of grace in that we did nothing to merit Him becoming the unthinkable - a miraculously vulnerable child.   A child who would one day become the Savior of the world.  

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 
- Rom. 5:15

May we all be so moved by God's love for us in Christ that we pray for the supernatural power to truly appreciate it.  In doing so He will overflow from with in us and the world will be filled with His glory.  I like the way Sam & Dave say it....

You didn't have to love me like you did
But you did, but you did.
And I thank you. 
- Issac Hayes & David Porter

Merry Christmas!

This Week:

Tuesday - The Magills play in Longview (private event) - please pray for open hearts!

* Wednesday - Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
  TOMORROW MORNING!  2nd Annual Christmas B'fast at Washmon's Workplace
   516 S Spring Ave, Tyler, Smith, Texas 75702 

*  Saturday  - Celebrate the birth of Christ with Deep Gratitude for His birth,
    death, resurrection and ascension!

Support B3 Ministries HERE!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Let There Be Lights.....

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.  - Matthew 5:14-16

Unlike Clark Griswold I've been a little reluctant to put Christmas lights up.  I'm no Scrooge but as a new homeowner I am a bit flummoxed as to how to most appropriately decorate our house for Christmas.  What's too much?  What's not enough?  What color?  How many?  Why waste money this year on what I might not use next year?   Megan has decorated the inside of our house beautifully but the whole dilemma/drama of how to best decorate the roof (etc.) continues.   Thus it's Dec. 15th and it's dark at 2428 Oak Lane.

Can I make a decision already?  I  did a little research for inspiration....

The tradition of using small lit candles to light up Christmas Trees dates back to at least the middle of the 17th century.  The tradition slowly caught on (fire?) in Germany and spread throughout Eastern Europe.  As one might imagine immigrants carried the tradition to America where, with the advent of electricity, the first strand of Christmas lights was displayed in NYC in 1882 by an employee of Thomas Edison.  Still far too expensive for the average American, lights didn't replace candles until the 1930's when mass production began of Christmas lights began.

I've heard it said by parents to children, "how else will Santa know where to find our house?".    In this instance lights seem to serve as sort of a landing strip for the bearded-fat-man-gift-giver.   But it seems to me, historically, lights at Christmas symbolize the life of the Christian.   

Early Christians were persecuted for having worship gatherings. A candle in the window signified where worship would be occurring for Christians in a community.  Under the threat of death Christians continued to "shine a light" in order that they might gather to worship God and that He might add to their numbers daily.

Over two millennial later and under far less persecution the same question ought be asked of The American Christian:  How else will people know Christ unless He shines His light through our lives?  Being indwelt with His Holy Spirit we worship God with our lives and like Christmas lights through which electricity rushes we become conduits for the love of God.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. - 2nd Cor. 4:16

Over 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied how God would send His light into the world.....

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; 
I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.  
I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, 
to free captives from prison and to release 
from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. 
- Isaiah 42:1, 6-7

Released from the dungeon of darkness!  Praise God for His eternal offer of parole from the prison of the self to eternal union with Him.  He is indeed the giver of all good things......

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. - James 1:17

Coldplay has released a Christmas tune and, in the opinion of this writer, it's an instant classic!   With Gospel-heavy overtones it comes off more like a prayer for relational reconciliation.   Martin writes.....

Saying how I always loved you darling
And I always will....
 ...Those Christmas lights light up the street.  
Maybe they'll bring her back to me.  
Then all my troubles will be gone. 
Oh Christmas lights keep shining on

It's hard to miss that this was indeed God's plan in sending Christ to Earth - that in so doing He would win His bride (the church) to himself.  Christ's shining work continues to this day and because we are now plugged into the source of all true power we Christians are the lights called to keep shining on.  
May you shine His light this Christmas and then leave them up all year long!

This Week:

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Spiritual Warfare and The Mind of Man (chaps. 6-10 of The Screwtape Letters)
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

* The Magills - Wednesday Night at The Crossbrand Cowboy Church Youth Event

* The Magills - Thursday afternoon outreach at Douglas Elementary

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Restoration Hardware.....

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. - Phil. 1:6

It's Alive!  It's Alive! - Dr. Frankenstein

I recently purchased a 1976 International Scout II for $300.  Many would argue that this car is not worth fixing up but I'm convinced it's going to be priceless experience.  Saturday my father-in-law, brother-in-law and I put in a full day's work beginning the long process of restoration. What do you know about cars you may ask?  Answer: not much but, thank God, I've got a "ringer" on my team.

I'm just an old chunk of coal; but I'm gonna be a diamond some day

My father-in-law, Ronny, restores vintage cars and it's a wonder to behold.  He truly works redemptively when it comes to cars.   He looks at an old "rust bucket (to quote him)" and sees it as it once was and, more importantly, what it could be again.   With incredible patience and a surgeon's precision he takes cars apart piece by piece to clean, sand, paint, polish, buff, shine, reassemble and restore them to their original magnificence.   And here's another thing - he knows where every unfinished car in town sits.   He'll say to me, "Right over there in that guy's back yard sits a 1965 Dodge Dart and man, could it be a beautiful car!".   He's almost hungry for their restoration; he wants to free them from being pieces of junk!

The Project:

The Present.....
.....The Future


Any gift we see in others that teaches and inspires us or find within ourselves that surprises us is but a shadow of our Creator's true and awesome nature.  

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. - 1st John 3:2-3
God's always known what we could be and who He would make us. And since The Fall He's been hungry for the restoration of mankind.  It's His grace that makes our sanctification possible; It's the gift of faith that enacts the process and the fruit of the Spirit, patience, that allows us to endure the process.  As Christians we are no longer what we were BUT we are also not what God is going to make us.  The "already and not yet" reality of the Christian life can be a frustrating.

I'm reminded of a terrific analogy Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC uses to describe the sometimes painstakingly-slow process of sanctification.   He first teaches the difference between mechanical growth (white-knuckle compliance to The Law) and botanical growth (the inner transformation of man by the power of The Holy Spirit that produces true and lasting Spiritual fruit).   He then went on to say, "if you ever have to bet on a winner between an acorn and a marble slab, take the acorn every time".   Under a marble slab the acorn might seem like the ultimate underdog, but over many years an acorn will always split the marble slab in half!

It's the same with God's sanctification of Christians.   It's said that "a watched pot never boils". We might not always perceive it but He is always moving within the hearts of those He has captured.   We can always expect God to move in our lives but only in His timing and, ultimately, only for His purposes.   We are His works in progress and to the degree we focus not on our sanctification but on His beauty our lives will begin to more visibly reflect His glory.


Paul described this process to the 1st Century Christians in Philippi.   First he detailed how The Jews were "dull in their minds" because of their legalistic (i.e. mechanical) approach to The Law.   He said it was as if a veil kept them from seeing God.    Going further he explained how Christians (Jew and Gentile alike) have encountered the "word made flesh" in Jesus Christ who fulfilled the Law in His life and canceled the law by His death eliminating the gulf between man and the Glory of God.   He emptied Himself that we might be filled with His Spirit.  Thus we see God's glory perfectly in the face of Jesus Christ.....

And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 
- 2nd Cor. 3:18

....and we are becoming new beings in His spirit.....

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. - 2nd Cor. 5:17

In this season of Advent may we all wait on the Lord to move in our lives and with hearts of thanksgiving proclaim His presence withing us with our the words, works, thoughts, and prayers.

Christ's Blessings,

This Week:

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Spiritual Warfare & The Battle for the Mind of Man
   The Screwtape Letters (Chaps 1-5)
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

The Magills - Three private events - please pray for our time with these groups

*  The Magills - KE Cellars - Tyler, TX - Saturday Night - 6pm-9pm

Support B3 Ministries HERE!