Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Keep An Eye On Your Kids Keeping an Eye on Their Presents...

He sees you when you're sleeping.  He knows when you're awake.  
He knows if you've been bad or good.  So be good for goodness sake! 
- J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie

It was 1988, I was 12 and I no longer believed in Santa Claus or the above phrase.  I was addicted (not too strong of a word here) to a certain Nintendo video game called Zelda.  I spent countless hours with a controller in my hands and a bowl of Cheetos at my side.   I'll spare you too much geek-talk here except to say that when The Adventure of Link (Zelda Part II) was released, I lost sleep at night thinking about the day when I could get my hands on a copy.  

The game became available just a month before Christmas that year and my parents, well aware of my deep desire for it, purchased it, promptly wrapped it and placed it under the Christmas tree where it was to sit for the excruciatingly long month of December.

I couldn't wait. To see the box there, wrapped beautifully yet secured by only one thin strip of scotch tape, was too much for me to bear.   Within days of it's purchase I'd carefully unwrapped it, so as not to tear any of the paper, and lifted the game cartridge from within.  Having resealed the wrapping paper I placed it back under the tree.

Unbeknownst to my parents I spent the better part of that December enjoying the forbidden pleasures of a gift not yet given.  Through the years, the memory of having, in a sense, "cheated the rules of Christmas" has seared my conscious in a way that has far outlasted the joy of those first days playing the game.

It would be hard here to overstate the joys of Christmas for children.  While there are obvious downsides to the wholesale embrace of materialism that Christmas in America seems to represent, learning to be good receivers is a vital aspect of the Christian life.   But what does it mean to become a good receiver?

Humility, as always, seems to be the answer.   Without humility patience (predicated on trust) is impossible.  The story above exemplifies the devious nature of the self.   My twelve-year-old state of mind was not so unlike my 25-year-old state of mind.   I sought always and only to be satisfied.  Believing myself to be above "the waiting" and essentially entitled to Christmas morning NOW all the time!   I was in most all ways without patience and completely undeserving of the gifts with which I was showered that (and every) Christmas morning.  What a picture of Grace!

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. - Luke 3:15-16

As Megan and I seek God's leading in discerning which of the Christmas traditions we grew up with we should carry forth with our family, we search for their meaning and truth.  Christmas time for us seems to be more like Lent, a time for learning to wait expectantly, a time to reflect upon what is coming, a time to remember that we do not wait on a hope that disappoints, but rather a hope that is abundantly fulfilling.

I pray that gift-giving in our home will become a tool to teach our children that their mother and father are indeed good to them and want to provide them joy, but primarily I pray that it will be a means of grace, teaching them to wait well.   Maybe in the time between their wishing and their receiving they will learn that hope matters.

(Incidentally if we don't make the gift-giving a means for preparing the minds of our children for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we risk doing what artist and satirist, Robert Cenedella, depicts in the picture below.  Namely, replacing the Cross of Christ with Santa...Ouch!  Talk about mistaking the finger for the moon!)

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.   For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. - Romans 8:23-25

I have learned that the spaces in my life between my desiring and God's fulfillment of my desires (let me rephrase that: God's rearrangement of those desires and then His fulfillment of those new desires) are the most fruitful.  The world did not know that Jesus Christ was what was it needed (1st John 1:10).   But God did.   Most could not receive his teachings and even those that were closest to Him turned their backs on Him when the "light of the world" (John 8:12) was presumably being snuffed out on the cross.

It must have looked like the gift that God had sent the world in the Christ child, the baby born in humility who would grow up to heal many, perform great miracles and teach of a new covenant of love that could free people from their enslavement to the law that left them "dead in the trespasses", was no gift at all.   For a time it must have seemed to Peter and the other earliest disciples that God had disappointed man in sending Jesus Christ.   That hope had disappointed.

If any are inclined to despond, because they do not have such patience, let them be of good courage. It is in the course of our feeble and very imperfect waiting that God Himself, by His hidden power, strengthens us and works out in us the patience of the great saints, the patience of Christ Himself. - Andrew Murray

But then He rose from the grave!  Resurrected He appeared first to Mary Magdalene asking, "Woman why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" (John 20:15). Appearing next to the disciples, He breathed on them saying receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).  Jesus had given them the greatest gift of all, Himself.  The power of hope fulfilled - resurrection life after physical death.

That grace in Jesus Christ has come to sinners who rather than wait on the promised reconciliation, "unwrap" and devour counterfeit idols fearfully and selfishly is nothing short of astonishing.  God did not count men's sins against them (2nd Cor. 5:19) but rather "reconciled to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross" (Col 1:20).   It is for this final reconciliation that we Christians are called (and equipped) to wait.

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God's love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control. 
- Henri J.M. Nouwen

May God lead you this Advent season to wait on Him in all your ways.
Grace and Peace,


This Week

* Wednesday Men's Group - Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 4 @ 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* The Magills - Grace Fellowship Church - Flint, TX - Christmas Dinner and Concert - Call (903) 894-6042 To RSVP 

* Please pray as we meet with many groups this week for Christmas gatherings.   So many are hurting during the holidays especially...

Next Week...

* Monday Men's Lunch - Dakota's 12pm - Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 3


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving For a Future With a Forgiven Past

Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
  Blessed are all who take refuge in him. 
- Psalm 2:11-12

(Warning: The following blog takes a slightly confessional tone wherein I admit to an old guilty pleasure yet claim the truth that "what man meant for evil, God uses for good" (Gen. 50:20 paraphrased))

"Ch - ch - ch - ch - hahh - hahh - hahh - hahh".  If you can say this in soft whisper and not be reminded of shakin' in your jellys/parachute pants back in the mid-80's, you probably never watched Friday The 13th 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc...

From probably 10-13 years of age, I was fascinated with Friday The 13th films.  Sure they were campy, poorly acted and completely predictable (for instance, why is the girl wearing high heels as she runs from the killer and why does she stop to retrieve a dropped necklace?).  They were, however, also terrifying and totally exciting to me.  I'm only now beginning to understand why.

With plenty of uncertainty ahead of me I was subconsciously terrified of my future and unable to make sense of my encroaching pubescent desires. Something about the fear of the impending doom that Jason (the crazed killer in said movies) represented resonated with my experience.   (In other words: I wasn't a scared kid because I watched Friday the 13th, I watched Friday the 13th because I was a scared kid! (HT David Zahl and High Fidelity)) 

For the most part the characters in these b-movies were all what I would become: wildly out of control, passion-inflamed, hedonistic teenagers.   It was always instantly obvious which of the paper-thin characters possessed some semblance of moral character.  He or she would be the one that would survive the massacre.  The others would not be so lucky when the hockey mask appeared.  

But it's also interesting to note what Jason seemed to exemplify.  Jason exacted an unmitigated, all-together gruesome wrath.  Wrath that could not be stopped.  Terrifying right?  Who wants to face any kind of wrath? Especially when we read the prophet Ezekiel write....

The word of the LORD came to me: "And you, O son of man, thus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel: An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land.  Now the end is upon you, and I will send my anger upon you; I will judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. And my eye will not spare you, nor will I have pity, but I will punish you for your ways, while your abominations are in your midst.  Then you will know that I am the LORD.  Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways.  - Ezekiel 7:1-4, 8

The predicament of unregenerate men is not so unlike the helpless teenagers running from their inevitable murder.  There is indeed a comeuppance, a judgment day coming.   Somehow things must be set right.  But why? And How?

Scripture's meta-narrative is ethical.  It concerns itself with our human conflict with divine requirement.  Yes, Scripture is almost uniformly religious -- that is, it's main character is God.  This Character is locked in an ethical battle with antagonistic and resentful men and women.   Will human beings submit to God's law, the Mosaic Decalogue?  Or will they run in the opposite direction? - Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice.

Intellectual honesty demands we confess that humanity at large and individuals in particular continually run in the opposite direction from God's call to holiness.   But Thank God that this does not deter God from running towards man - even when when running towards man meant the death of Himself.

 God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
- Rom. 5:8

Though it would mean absorbing God's wrath against man, Jesus ran towards humanity.  It is THE act of grace.   God's righteous anger against man poured out on one man, The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

 Let's be very clear. God's anger is the anger of grace. It is not the violent anger of unbridled and unrighteous fury. God's anger always works to right what is wrong. That is what grace does. This gracious anger has two sides to it: justice and mercy. In the gracious anger of justice, God works to punish wrong, but he does even more. God is not satisfied merely with punishing wrong. His hunger for right is so strong that he will not relent until wrong has been completely destroyed. He will not rest until evil is no more and justice and righteousness reign forever and ever! - Paul David Tripp

It's a common thing to hear these days: "You can't do anything about your past, the only thing you can control is your future".    But a closer look reveals the fallacy of this statement.    Countless variables in my life are beyond my control.  My health, my circumstances, the stock market, the weather, the drivers ahead, behind and beside me are all beyond my control.  I can't control the beat of my own heart!

I cannot see the future.   I can only react to it.   But even my reactions, unfortunately and all too often, are beyond my control.   I ask myself, "why did I say that?" or "if only I had reacted this way or that way".  Jesus saw man's future as inescapable but not irredeemable.

For Christ, the only thing you can do anything about is your past.   God alone can deal with your future.  If you have repented of your past, if you have taken an inventory of the full extent of hurt, victim-hood, malice and self-service that describe your achieved life, if you have said the one single word, "sorry," then that is all.  There is nothing more.  The future, which Paul would later call the "fruit of the Spirit," flows totally from the "sorry".   The past resolved give the present its only chance.  The future is the Spirit's job. - Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice

Can there be anything but eternal thanksgiving for a love this liberating?  God's love is a love that frees us from the fear of the impending judgement (i.e. massacre of wrath) ahead by removing the threat of it all together.  

By calling us forgiven (1 John 1:19), redeemed (Gal. 3:13), and heirs to the Kingdom of God (James 2:5) because of Christ's perfect love for us, He has eternally saved us from God's righteous wrath (i.e. removed the red dot from our forehead, the x on our backs, the S on our clothing etc...).

Christians can give thanks and look forward to a future in which our past (even yesterday and 5 minutes ago!) has been washed clean and consequently, our present has been empowered by the same love He first showed us!

Happy Thanksgiving,
Grace and Peace,

P.S. ...and who doesn't want a love like this?

If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me. 
- Led Zeppelin, Thank You

I am really thankful for the way The Gospel According to Alpha Males Luncheon and The Gospel According to Pixar Mini-Conference turned out this past weekend.   We're also thankful to be able to provide the talks for those of you who missed.   Three talks by David Zahl and one by Chris Legg.   Enjoy!

The Gospel According to Alpha Males - David Zahl

The Gospel According to Pixar #1 - David Zahl

The Gospel According to Pixar #2 - David Zahl

Engaging the New Media: Freedom and Responsibility - Chris Legg

This Week

* Wednesday Men's Group - Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 3 @ 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving!  One of my favorite Thanksgiving Day Articles!

Next Week...

* Monday Men's Lunch - Dakota's 12pm - Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 2

* Saturday December 3rd - The Forge in Ben Wheeler, TX, 7pm-10pm - The debut of some new original material from The Magills.  See you there!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Watch The Iron Giant and Show It To Your Friends!

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.   God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
- Genesis 1:27

On a friend’s recommendation I revisited the 1999 (largely overlooked but...) out of sight film The Iron Giant.   I cannot recommend this movie highly enough; It wrecked me.   It seemed to me the perfect example of the kind of work of art that exalts The Gospel yet intentionally refuses to exclusively cater to a Christian audience.  It's what my friend, Kevin Gosa, calls a poignant, pre-gospel piece of art in that it softens the heart to the beauty of what Christ perfectly exemplified in life and death and in so doing makes our world more beautiful.

Hogarth Hughes is raised by his mother in the small town of Rockwall, MN sometime in the late 50's.   He’s the kind of misfit that is picked on by others but who, in suffering well, learns to hold his own with a rebellious self-confidence and unwavering optimism (kind of Leave It Beaver all-American boy).

When an Iron Giant collides with the earth landing in Rockwell, the real story begins.  The Giant's ominous footsteps can be heard crashing down for miles as it moves towards the food it needs to survive: Metal.   When the giant begins to feast on an electrical plant Hogarth, the adventurous boy who's been tracking the giant through the woods, notices it being electrocuted and pities The Giant.  He runs to power plant and flips off the power switch.   A friendship is born.
Enter the conflict: throughout the story the giant robot, considered a threat by the cold-war era (stereotypically paranoid) FBI agent and the military, becomes a friend to the boy who encourages The Giant.   Hogarth tells the robot that he doesn't have to be a menace to the society instead, "it can choose who it wants to be!".
We love because he first loved us. - 1st John 4:19

I won't spoil the film for you except to say that the love Hogarth shows The Giant transforms it/him into the Christ figure in the most beautiful way.   In essence he's transformed from the presumed other-worldly antagonist that the military presumes him to be to a self-sacrificing savior of Hogarth's whole world.
According to the Bible, our repentance and faith are gifts of God to us; our conversion, our great change, occurs only by God’s grace. - Mark Dever

Author of Culture Making, Andy Crouch insists that the conversion of Anton Ego from critic (of creation) to ambassador (for creation) in Pixar's Ratatouille is a radical shift in story-telling and exemplifies the journey that kingdom-minded Christians must make from condemning culture to cultivating culture.    

Crouch writes that historically the church has first condemned culture like Ego, the food critic who would not be pleased, "You don't want to disappoint me!", standing in judgement and separating itself from culture (read: sacred-secular split (church=all good, world=all bad)).

There is much to be said for critiquing particular cultural goods. But when critique becomes a posture, we end up strangely passive, waiting for culture to deliver us some new item to talk about. Critique as a posture, while an improvement over condemnation, can leave us strangely unable simply to enjoy cultural goods, preoccupied with our interrogation of their "worldview" and "presuppositions."
- Andy Crouch (more here...)

First the church came to take a further reactive stance by embracing forms that the culture had contributed and copying them  (Think: the mega-church's wholesale embrace of U2-esque arena-rock style worship).  Crouch's concern here is that as we increasingly employ professionals to "worship for us on stage" we are losing the crucial culture-creating element inherent in offering the amateur the opportunity to create and express themselves artistically and them pushing them out in to the culture (read: outside the walls of the church!).

Over the decades, condemning culture turned into critiquing it, then copying, and now, Christians mainly consume culture.  Crouch notes that above all the American church's relationship to culture has become one of consumption.  Yet we are made in the image of our creator; so what does the collective church do to create or support culture-making activities that reclaim the culture working redemptively to make humans more aware of God's beauty?

Most people die before they are fully born.   Creativeness means to be born before one dies. 
- Erich Fromm

The fear of the unquantifiable, mystical movement of The Spirit within the arts has for too long sent supposedly "more than conquering" (Rom. 8:37) Christians running for the hills.  Consequently artists have been on the run from the church.

(I vacillated on weather or not to insert the following quote; see if there's any truth in it.....)

If a man approaches a work of art with any desire to exercise authority over it and the artist, he approaches it in such a spirit that he cannot receive any artistic impression from it at all. The work of art is to dominate the spectator: the spectator is not to dominate the work of art. The spectator is to be receptive. He is to be the violin on which the master is to play. And the more completely he can suppress his own silly views, his own foolish prejudices, his own absurd ideas of what Art should be, or should not be, the more likely he is to understand and appreciate the work of art in question.
- Oscar Wilde

By God's grace and ultimately for His Glory, the tide is shifting.   Christians confident in Revelations 21's description of The New Jerusalem know that "He is making all things new" (Rev. 21:5).  Here are a few resources do an excellent job highlighting evidence of cultural renewal:

Speaking of Mockingbird.....Our guest speaker at this weekend's The Gospel According to Pixar conference at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX is David Zahl.   David is the founder of Mockingbird Ministries and runs an extremely popular blog www.mbird.com.   He'll also be at Rick's on The Square in Tyler for a men's luncheon.   If you live in East Texas make sure to make plans to attend!

I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess - Martin Luther

May we see with increasing clarity how Christ calls us to trust Him with changing our world by reclaiming the culture.   Come join the conversation this weekend!
Hope to see you Friday!
Grace and Peace,
More of Mr. Crouch....here!

This Week

* Wednesday Men's Group - Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 2 @ 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)


Friday - Men's Luncheon at 12pm at Rick's on The Square - $10 at the door - Grace in the Trenches: The Gospel for Alpha Males and Other Weary Scorekeepers w/ David Zahl

The Gospel According to Pixar featuring David Zahl of Mbird.com, Chris Legg and The Magills - Friday November 11, 2011 and PLEASE "like" this event on Facebook.com
Saturday November 12 - Panel Discussion with David Zahl, Chris Legg and Matt Magill

Next Week...

* Monday Men's Lunch - Dakota's 12pm -
Tempted and Tried by Russell D. Moore - Chapter 2