Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Baby's Breath and The Three Strikes.....

We have some dear friends who've just endured quite a scare.   Their 10-month-old son, Grant, contracted a bad case of RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).   In the worst moments his respiratory rate was over 70 breaths per minute.   The couple took him to the hospital where he was unable to breath without the assistance of machines.   Both parents were up around the clock for several  nights monitoring his breathing and conferring with his doctors.   I found one story the mother told be particularly touching....

Most of his stay Grant was bothered by the breathing apparatus and couldn't sleep;  he continually swiped  at the device atop his nose and mouth.   It was clear that little Grant was in quite a predicament; as he refused to allow the very thing that was giving him breath to stay in place his oxygen levels dipped and his respiratory rate spiked.   So his exhausted mother stayed with him through the night holding the apparatus in place praying that Grant might stop resisting and get some much needed rest.  After a few days the doctors declared Grant well enough to go home and the very tired couple took him home and resumed their normal, albeit hectic, lives.

I think I was moved by Grant's dilemma because in some very spiritually unfortunate and, consequently, painful ways I act like Grant sometimes.  The Father is my very life-source but I tend to  treat  Him like a religious hobby believing I can pick Him up when He fits in my schedule and throw off His holiness when it becomes uncomfortable or He asks too much of me.  Disregarding His righteousness we all too often indulge our every whim giving way to temptation and resisting the power of His truth to set us free (John 8:31-32)
Thank God that this is not the way Jesus treated the Father....not ever.

And like Grant's mother who was faithful to insure that he not resist that which was giving him life, God is faithful to provide an answer to all of Satan's truth-twisting temptations with "the sword of the Spirit which is His word" (Eph. 6:17) - the truth for goodness' sake - the truth for our lives' sake.  Jesus, unlike me, always rested in God's truth......

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. - Matthew 4:1

Just after His baptism and just before His ministry truly began, Jesus went away to the wilderness to pray and fast for 40 days.   There He encountered satan who sought to tempt him to sin.

I remember hearing Rick Warren say once, "The devil's wicked but he's not creative - he only has three tricks".   In becoming human God was to be tempted in the only three ways the deceiver ever tempts: with passion (lust of the flesh), possession (lust of the eyes) and position (the pride of life) (1st John 2:16).

The first way that the enemy appealed to Jesus' humanity was through passion.  We all have natural needs and perceived desires (food, shelter, sex, clothing etc.) but what happens when a desire or need becomes all consuming?   Answer: The Spirit is quenched as the appetite is indulged.   God intended joy and blessing to come from the good things He created but by tempting man to worship that which he can taste, see and feel, satan desires to steal that joy.

The man who is submitted to the will of God, however, overcomes the temptation to make good things into ultimate things and desires to be fed, first and foremost, spiritually that God might be Lord over all his needs and desires.   In this instance Jesus was tempted to leave His humanity and exact God's power to turn stone to bread to fill His empty stomach.  Instead He endured  extreme hunger to participate fully with the human condition and yet, not sin.  He recognized that the source of His strength would always be God's truth, not food.

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” - Matthew 4:4

The deceiver would not relent.   He tempted Jesus a second time by appealing to Jesus' sense of position as The Son of God.   In a wicked foreshadowing of Jesus' darkest trial to come, satan then took Jesus to the highest point of The Temple in Jerusalem.  Twisting an Old Testament prophecy satan tempted Jesus to jump to His death that God might save Him as He'd promised.   Here the enemy urges Jesus to rely on His timing as opposed to God's - to sin by testing God as is the inclination of all humans.

Jesus was called to be a suffering servant beholden to God's leading not a prince of this of this world.   The sin of self-reliance leaves God's power to move in and through us dormant.   But Jesus submitted to the will of God knowing that His time would come only when by The Spirit's leading He would go to the cross.  Jesus 2, satan 0.

It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test" -  Matthew 4:7

In one final malicious, but ultimately impotent, stroke satan tempted Jesus with possession or the lust of the eyes.   Promising to give Him all the world that Jesus so loved, the thief only required that Jesus bow before him.  In the Kingdom to come Jesus will one day reign over all the world but in appealing to Jesus' humanity (vis a vis His desire for us) a third time satan asked Jesus to give up God's eternal plan for the redemption of mankind. 

How often do sinful human's desire possessions more than God's possession of them?  Jesus was not to be possessed by anything other than the total will of His Heavenly Father. His third scripture-based answer came forth and with that, God's word had struck satan out!

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written"Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only". - Matthew 4:10

The word worship stems from two words: "worth" and "shape".   We worship the thing or person whose worth shapes our lives.  Because Jesus Christ was tempted in every way and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15), He is the only one worthy of our worship.   He was totally obedient - even unto death on a cross (Phil. 2:8) and because He was we can take refuge in His Holy Spirit when temptation  comes our way.  He's already overcome our every temptation.  The Word is our power.  He is our strength.

May He keep us all from resisting the truth of His Word and the transforming power of justification  (grace) that comes through faith in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, now and always.


P.S. #1 - For a retelling in song of the account of Christ's temptation in the desert check out Lifted off our first CD, Song by Song!

P.S. #2 - We watched a disturbing but Gospel-laden film last night wherein a mother does the unthinkable to escape a broken social system and provide a better life for her unborn child...(ironically, the child saves her life!)

Maria Full of Grace - 2004

This Week 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Chapters 20-22 of The Screwtape Letters
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

* The Magills - Concert in the Ft. Worth Stockyards in Ft. Worth, TX Saturday Night
    For info and tickets: www.themagillsinconcert.com
    2 services at Glenview Baptist Church, Ft. Worth TX Sunday morning

To support B3 Ministries click www.b3ministries.net

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Only Free Will.....

...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.
- Rom 5:3-5

This past weekend Megan and I were the keynote speakers/performers at a marriage retreat near Houston.   After the performance we met with many in the crowd to encourage them, pray with them and have them ask questions of us.  Near the end of our time together I noticed a man against the wall looking as if he was working up the courage to approach us.   I walked towards him, introduced myself and asked him how he was.

His lip trembled as he explained how, as a former addict, he'd identified with my testimony of God's goodness to me in the midst of my addiction.   I learned how deeply thankful he was to have been sober for 3 years and that he owed any and all credit for his sobriety to his relationship with Jesus Christ who had overcome his bound will.

We agreed that Christ now frees us to hearts of thanksgiving for our former addictions.   After all our addictions had helped us to understand our helplessness apart from God's Spirit.  That as addicts we had indeed been poor in spirit and were, consequently, in a perfect posture to be blessed by God.

The Apostle Paul writes of the reality of sin in our lives and the only deliverer from the cycle of dependence upon our own ability to affect our pitiful state....

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! 
- Rom 7:21-25

This false idea of "free-will" is a real threat to salvation, and a delusion fraught with the most perilous consequences. 
- Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will

So many Christian addicts understand what Luther writes above: that the will is not free.   How many times have we heard, "God loves you so much that He wanted you to choose Him.  So He gave you free will"?   This is, in part, quite true.  God does love us and He does want us to choose Him but tucked within this pleasant-sounding teaching is a heavy dose of  "the law" (read another yoke of slavery to self).  It's subtle but it renders the teaching ultimately unhelpful. to both evangelism and discipleship.   

In his omnipotence and omniscience He also knows that we are unable to choose him because we are enslaved to sin.  Yet the "free will"  teaching assumes my salvation depends on my choosing to love God.  But how can I love what I have no power to understand?

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
  - 1 Cor. 2:14

Paul was first overwhelmed by the love of God who chose Him, giving him a new identity (and a new name) and lavishing him with mercy and grace in the midst of his persecution of Christians.    Likewise when I finally came to Christ it was because I was compelled.   I could no longer resist His grace.  It was irresistible.  This is The Gospel: Christ came to save helpless sinners.

Sean and I agreed that instead of loving God enough to choose Him, we found ourselves being so overwhelmed by God's love in the midst of our brokenness that our will for evil was finally overcome. We had been captured by His grace.   He'd poured His will into us by the power of His Spirit.   There was not some little piece of goodness in me that yearned for Him and invited Him in.   He did it all!

If we believe that Christ redeemed men by His blood, we are forced to confess that all of man was lost; otherwise, we make Christ either wholly superfluous, or else the redeemer of the least valuable part of man only; which is blasphemy, and sacrilege. 
- Martin Luther, The Bondage of The Will

The only truly free will belonged to Jesus Christ who laid it down doing the will of His Father in Heaven and becoming on the cross the propitiation for our sins.    Now being loved by Him no longer depends on the impossible (our choosing God).   Instead, though we are helpless to love Him, others or ourselves, He has chosen us before the beginning of time to be His very own.  

May we stop trying to choose Him and start relying on His having chosen us.


PS - For an abridged version of Luther's The Bondage of The Will go here.

This Week 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Chapters 15-19 of The Screwtape Letters
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Couples Bowling Night - Green Acres Bowl, Friday @ 8pm
    RSVP to mpmagill@gmail.com

* The Magills featuring The In-Laws & Out Laws @ Ben Wheeler's The Moore's Store Saturday Night @ 7pm - 13 and older show 

Next Week
Our men's group will be taking a road trip to Dallas to see Tim Keller at Park Cities Presbyterian Church.   Let me know if you plan on attending!


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Good News for All Repeat Offenders

Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.
- Rom. 5:20

My daughter, Maggie, is turning out to be a creature of habit.  She has the uncanny ability to perfectly remember the way things were done the previous day and require that they be done the same way the following day.   Same breakfast everyday, same bedtime routine every night and if she enjoys some small variance to the routine one day, she wants to do it again the following day.   Incidentally, she also closes every door in the house all the time.    There's just something strange about seeing every door in the house closed.    Obsessive compulsive disorder?   There's medicine for that you say?

Perhaps, but as Christians we're called to hearts of thanksgiving all the time (1st Thes 5:18) in order that we might see God's blessing in all things - even the quirky proclivities of our children.  Megan and I thank God for the slightly addictive personality that we're seeing our Maggie begin to exhibit.   After all it's said...

Sew an act, reap a habit.   Sew a habit, reap a character.  Sew a character reap a destiny.
- Charles Reade

The Word applies same principle here....

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
 - Gal. 6:7-8

 As C.S. Lewis indicates in The Screwtape Letters,  most things (beauty, falling in love, food, cars etc...) are morally neutral.  He writes, "they are simply raw material for either God or Satan to make use of in our lives."  In other words it's not our aptitudes, situations or desires that ought dictate our life.  Rather it is our Spirit-led faith which helps us to control/temper our impulses and see our circumstances and desires in the light of God's big picture.

Megan and I are not "Pollyannish" about Maggie's heart (i.e. making lemonade out of lemons).   Instead we are eternally grateful for all of Maggie's seemingly zany behavior. We are, however, praying for the wisdom to bend and direct Maggie's natural tendencies towards the things of the Lord that  as she grows she might be repetitively compassionate, repetitively conscientious and repetitively concerned for the needs of others.  We are studying Maggie to see what  unique qualities she has that God means to use to express Himself through her.

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
- Prov. 22:6

We intend to encourage patterns in Maggie's behavior that most clearly display the image of her Creator.   Conversely when she acts beastly (throwing food on the floor, hitting us with sucker-punches, screaming for any reason...ever), I remind her that we're not wild monkeys.  That we're created by a God who has provided both the model for righteousness and the power to enact it in Himself (in Jesus and the Holy Spirit respectively).

"Be a good girl, not, um not, not a wild monkey"
- Maggie Magill (echoing the words of her father last Saturday night)

One of my top 5 favorite comedies has to be Groundhog Day.   In the movie what starts out as a nightmare turns into a process of total transformation when Bill Murray's character finds himself trapped living the same day over and over.  The self-obsessed, cynical weatherman is slowly tenderized while repeating the day again and again coming to realize who he was and who he now has the opportunity to become because of his fresh start everyday.  Can someone say GRACE?

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 
- Lamentations 3:22-23

Living in the light of God's grace we are overwhelmed by His love and its trans-formative on every nook and cranny of our imperfect lives.  All the God requires is a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) that we might then be in a posture to receive His love understanding our unbearably deep need for it.  

Many say, "come in Savior, but stay out Lord" asking for eternal security but resisting God's holiness in their lives.   However the man who recognizes the degree to which the enemy has controlled his life knows of his need for a new Lord who will lend righteous direction to his thoughts and deeds.

But when he came to himself, he said, How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father... 
- Luke 15:17

Today let's offer all of us to our God who is the comforter in the midst of our most painful afflictions and the true fulfillment of all our deepest needs and desires.....and then let's repeat it all tomorrow!


ps - do you like golf?  does Grace appeal to you? check out The Mulligan.

This Week 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Chapters 15-19 of The Screwtape Letters
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

* The Magills - Marriage Conference in Baytown, TX on Friday Night
                        2 services at 2nd Baptist Church, Baytown, TX Sunday morning

Monday, January 3, 2011

Usher's Sad Jam....and The Glory of a God-Centered Marriage

I'm ready to sign them papers, papers, papers
I done took all I can take, but you leave me no options, girl 
I can't deny how much I love you, I done gave up everything I had to
              As hard as it is, I'm afraid I gotta say I'm ready to sign them papers, papers, papers
- Papers, Usher

For some reason I find myself listening to the local R & B station Hot 107.3 JAMZ from time to time in the car.  Who doesn't need some Barry White or Al Green for the occasional inspiration to let their woman know they're "never gonna give her up" and they're "so tired of being alone"?

The other night I heard Papers (please listen here!) by Usher and was blown away.  Though the song was an initial shock to my sensibilities, 2 minutes in I was moved by the brutal honesty and pain in the lyrics.  A heart of compassion grew within me as I began to consider that Usher speaks for a generation of spiritually and thus, relationally confused young men and women.  Art imitates life and Usher, regardless of your taste for R&B, is a consummate performer/artist telling the truth about himself through his music.

In Papers the recently divorced Usher speaks of what my friend, Ken Brumley, call the "issues" in marriage.  Brumley says that when the issues in a marriage overshadow the relationship, the individuals within it retreat into a self-protecting (read self-centered) stance and the power of covenant love rapidly begins to break down.  

Conversely when the relationship is fed by the truth of God's unbending, unbreakable love for us and for our marriages, faith grows and issues shrink.  Couples can press selflessly into the relationship with hope as fears are dashed by belief in God's promises (1st John 4:18).

  God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”

 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 
           - Heb. 13:4-9

I remember seeing Kramer vs. Kramer when I was most likely way too young to view such heavy material (thanks HBO 1983 summer morning programing!).  In the movie a NYC couple fights incessantly whilst deciding the particulars of their divorce settlement leaving their little boy to make sense of his parent's fragmented relationship.  

A married father of two children I recently revisited the picture from a totally different perspective.  I was moved on a whole other level.   It was easy to see that the couple in this story was powerless to defend their marriage from the schemes of "the thief who comes to kill, steal and destroy" (John 10:10).

I thank God for my own marriage and it's trans-formative effect on my life.   It's far from easy but no where do I feel the hand of God more at work in my life.   To illustrate....

Most nights Megan and I lie in bed recounting the days events. Getting into agreement about the ways we approached relational situations, conversations, parenting etc. is key for us.   Megan has an uncanny way of helping me make sense of my actions thanking God when they are righteous and praying that I will receive her rebuke when they are tainted by sin.    

I can be impatient at the day's end restless to get some sleep before another day begins, but my precious wife wants us to be on the same page about the preceding days events in the hopes that our understanding will pave the way for my righteous leading of our family in the days to come.

Pride is an issue for me.   I'd rather not hear that I'm anything less than perfect; that I make mistakes.  For this God gave me marriage.  You laugh but I'm serious!    I'm so thankful for a wife who loves God and our family enough to encourage me towards righteousness.   The issues in my marriage cause Megan and I to more deeply depend on the God of all truth who reveals to us the depths of our sickness but then immediately overwhelms us with His healing, curative power.  

Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; 
for you I wait all the day long. - Psalm 25:5

Not long ago George Barna’s research discovered that the divorce rate in so called Christian churches in America was fractionally higher than the national average of 1 in 2.  Interestingly the same article carried an encouraging statistic related by George Gallop, another Christian statistician that couples who pray together four times or more a week, have a divorce rate of 1 in 1052.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  - 1st Peter 5:8

If, as Paul writes in Ephesians, the "one-flesh" reality of  Christian Marriage is a "profound mystery" meant to symbolize God's covenant love to His church in Jesus, consider just how powerless are those couples who enter into the sacrament of marriage without acknowledging Christ as both the designer and sustainer of the very covenant love they are committing to.
Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.  
- 1st John 4: 1-6
Because our marriages are constantly assaulted by world-views opposed to the love of God (made manifest by the committed, loving Christian marriages), let us seek to encourage one another towards the facts:  God loves us, God gave us our spouses,  God means to transform lives with the power of The Gospel and He uses our marriages as His megaphones to a broken-hearted, loveless world.  

I'm going to go hug my wife,

I leave you with a  much more Gospel-centered R&B track.  Truly a covenant love message for the ages.....

This Week:

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Chapters 11-15 of The Screwtape Letters
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

* The Magills - God's Way Church in North Tyler - Sunday at 10:30 AM w/ gospel choir!