Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We're Not Lucky, We're Loved!

 Good love is hard to find. Good love is hard to find.
You got lucky, babe, when I found you! 
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, You Got Lucky, 1982

Without a doubt Megan and I are blessed beyond belief but we've never really won anything.  We all know people who just seem to win stuff all the time. But not us; not once that we can recall.  I don't really ever bother to even enter anything anymore; never buy lottery tickets or enter sweepstakes.  Thus, we'll probably not be seeing Ed McMahon on our doorstep anytime soon!  It would be nice to win something out of the blue.   Oh to hear to the words, "and the winner's are... Matt and Megan Magill!" -  But no such luck. (I'm not whining here! it's just a statement of fact)

I suppose this is why we reacted with such vigor to our friend's good fortune Sunday afternoon.   Megan and I were literally jumping for joy around our house when the news was announced that Clint and Stephanie had won a local charity's raffle of a brand new black 2011 Ford Mustang.   They stopped by the house yesterday in their new ride both beaming with joy at such a seemingly serendipitous gift.   Neither thought in their wildest dreams that they would win.  We all agreed that God is good!

He views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. - Job 28:24
It got me thinking about luck, chance and blessing.  Does God care who wins the Mustang?   We can't say for certain but we do know that it was not a surprise to Him (who sees all and knows all) that our friends won the car.  In the end, the Mustang itself probably falls into the category of raw material for use in the hands of those who possess it.   To the degree they are possessed by God it will be a total blessing to all they encounter.  Have I "Over-spiritualized" the raffle car?   Maybe but I don't think so....

Jesus told His disciples that God knows us so intimately that "even the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:31).   He knows every way in which He'll bless us (increasing our praise of His goodness) and every way in which He'll allow us to suffer (eventually producing greater faith in His sustaining, healing hand at work in our lives) (Rom 5:3-5).

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight..... In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will
- Eph. 1:4,11
One of the main tenants of reformed theology is The Sovereignty of God.   He chose us (predestined) to be hidden in Him before the world was created - to one day be so overwhelmed by His irresistible grace and love for us that we might be born a second time by His Holy Spirit.  Then we'd be called sons and daughters of the Most High in eternity with Him who elected us according to His purposes.  Christians are not lucky, they're loved.   In Jesus Christ He loved us enough...

to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’...... He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. 
- Isaiah 49:9, 10

I'm so thankful that there's no such thing as chance with a God who is omniscient.    Yet there is a flip-side to God's omniscience: not only is there nothing that He does not know about  our circumstances (good and bad) may come our way, there is also nothing that He doesn't know about our hearts and the choices that so often sprout from our unbelief.

If you try and define Divine omnipotence and human free will in intellectual terms, you find language fails because they contradict each other.  Every choice a saint makes is free untrammeled choice of a human will, and yet in the final analysis it will be found to be in accord with the foreknowledge of God - Notes On Ezekiel, Oswald Chambers

Job asks....

Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?  He would surely rebuke you. - Job 13:9-10

There is simply no way to deceive a God who created the very intellect we so often use (futilely) to manipulate our relationship with Him.   He  patiently waits on us to realize that He was, is and will always be in charge of the choosing, the sanctifying and the blessing in our lives.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. - Rom. 8:28

Thank God then that in His omniscience He saw us lost in sin and desperation and He knew our need.   In His love He saw fit to justify us eternally with a gift that we never asked for and didn't even realize we needed:  Jesus.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
- Robert Lowery, 1876


This Week 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   The Obedience Option - Introduction & Chap. 1
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Friday - The Magills in Concert to benefit Breckenridge Village
   in Bullard, TX at Bushman's Event Center

*  Sunday - The Magills in Concert at Treitsch United Methodist Church in Flower Mound, TX

*  Please continue to pray as we meet with several hurting couples this week and weekend whose marriages are under attack.

To support B3 Ministries click www.b3ministries.net

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Stealing Glory and The God of Grace....

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. - Eph. 4:28

You can call me "less than manly" but I enjoy the Super Bowl for all the hoopla, the commercials and the half-time show more than for the game itself... historically at least.    Over all, this year was a let down.   The high-light was The Darth Vader Volkswagen Commercial but the Black Eyed Peas' half-time show was all smoke and mirrors....zero substance.

But most telling was Christina Aguilera's singing of The National Anthem which was a debacle at best and a travesty at worst.  She's a talent to be sure but she is also a product of a culture obsessed with self-glorification and idol worship.

This began with, "To honor America with the singing of...."

After getting the words mixed up Aguilera muscled through the song by shouting louder and adding seemingly endless vocal runs to compensate for what was an obvious emotional disconnect from the lyrics.  A consummate performer, she was intent on giving the people what they wanted: style over substance.   It was hard not to feel compassion for her.  

Just another example of the way the song itself has become a means to an end in ballparks and stadiums across our country.   It seems that the once stirring retelling of America's fight for independence are no longer relevant enough for our overwhelmingly individualistic and increasingly progressive culture. 

In our pervasively judicious "American Idol" culture the question is no longer "does the truth of a song move me?".   The question has become "has the singer wowed me with his/her performance of the song?".  At The Super Bowl we saw a talented singer crumble under the weight of such lofty expectations.

What was once a reverent remembrance of the high cost of the gift of freedom, a time for collective thanks (In this case 111 Million, the largest viewing ever of a televised event), has now become a stepping stone for self-glorification in our culture.   There was a palpable sense of the thievery that had gone down.  It had been cheapened.   God alone deserves thanks for all good things and He alone deserves the glory.   In this instance it had become about something else altogether.

What have you done for me lately? - Janet Jackson

How often do we bring our selfish agenda to the Christian faith making it a means to reaching our own ends?  In their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to describe the way American youth twist the Christian faith to meet their needs.

Christian growth does not happen first by behaving better, but believing better–believing in bigger, deeper, brighter ways what Christ has already secured for sinners.
- Tullian Tchividjian (more here...)

So many believe that the Christian faith is primarily about behavior modification when in reality, as Ravi Zacharias has said, "Jesus did not die to make bad people good but to make dead people live".  The grace of God in Jesus Christ exists not so that we'll be more loving, compassionate, peaceful people but that we might be reconciled to God.   All those good things are blessed by-products of that reconciliation.  White-knuckle behavior modification is simply another yoke of slavery under which many a Christian is suffering in loneliness and fear mistakenly believing God's love is dependent on their deeds.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." - Rom. 8:15

American magazines have gone from Life to Time to People to Us to Self - what's next Me magazine?  In such a self-obsessed culture it's naive to think that this mentality has not infected our understanding of Christianity.  Many believe that God's primary desire is to lift our self-esteem, to make us feel better about ourselves.   Yet it is only in understanding our individual depravity that the healing love of Jesus is truly made real for us.   We're not just saved from hell, we're saved from ourselves.  Preaching should not make us feel better about ourselves but instead convict us of our sickness and immediately lead us to The Healer's throne of mercy and grace.

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners
- Mark 2:17

Wishful thinking continues to dominate the majority of young believers in America.  According to Smith's and Denton's findings most believe that God is not particularly involved in our lives unless we need Him to resolve a problem.   Yet one of the most basic tenants of the Christian life is our unity with God through Jesus who said, "I will be with you, even until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

They also found that most believe that God is a benevolent God who in the end allows all well-meaning, basically good people into Heaven when they die.  How contrary this is to The Gospel wherein Jesus Christ proclaims with his life and death just how seriously God takes sin.  Only a God who created both Love and Justice could so perfectly personify the two in Himself that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you;there is no Rock like our God. Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed. - 1 Samuel 2:2-3

In The Cost of Discipleship Deitrich Bonhoffer writes that self-reliant (read moralistic compliance) Christians cheapen the grace of God by making Christ's sacrifice less than sufficient for our salvation, justification and continuing sanctification.   He calls true grace costly because it cost God his very Son.  Similarly we deceive ourselves and cheapen God's grace by making the Christian life all about us and our self-esteem (therapeutic).  And by assuming that Jesus didn't have to die because God really wasn't that involved in our life and always intended to bring all "good people" to Heaven anyway we again cheapen what is of an infinitely incalculable cost.

Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? - Rom. 2:4

May we by His grace consider more often and more deeply just how much we've been loved by Him and turn once again to Jesus. 


This Week 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   The Screwtape Letters wrap-up - Chaps. 29-31 & Screwtape Proposes a Toast
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

*  Saturday - The Magills in Concert from 12-2:30pm
    Sunday - The Magills in Concert from 1-3:30pm 
    at Harvey Hall in Tyler, TX to benefit The East Texas Crisis Center

* Please pray as we meet with several hurting couples this week and weekend whose marriages are under attack.

To support B3 Ministries click www.b3ministries.net

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We Can't Go On Together With....

What you got buried in your back yard? 
What secret do you sleep with when the black moon comes?
   -  The Black Crowes, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, 1992

Married men, it's happened to you before.  Your wife says out of the blue, "alright, honey, I'm going to ask you one time and I want you to tell me the truth" and then there's a long pause.

In our bathroom the other night Megan asked me this exact question and then waited an inordinate amount of time as my mind scrambled to anticipate what she might ask.  In retrospect I realize that in those few short moments I assumed I was guilty of something; I just wasn't sure what.  My mind raced as the seconds rolled by and I promised to tell the truth though I shuttered to think what dark secret she'd unearthed. 

Finally she asked, "did you use my razor the other night because I cut myself with it and I'm wondering if you helped to make it dull?"
She forgave me (for essentially cutting her!) and we moved on with our day but I couldn't help pondering why her first statement riddled me with such fear.  Do I have something to hide?  Is there something that Megan doesn't know that could wreak havoc on our marriage?

The integrity of the upright guides them but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
- Proverbs 11:3
No, and thank God!  In the Spirit we are one-flesh. now  We no longer live lives of suspicion and deception.  The hidden lives that once kept us in relational limbo no longer exist.  Gone are the  former facades we once worked to keep up.  We now know all of each other: the good, the bad and the ugly.

And yet there exists some old default mode within me (Paul calls it my "old man" (Rom. 6.6)) that wants to hide, to fear being found out by anyone else, even my spouse.  Perhaps it's that same default mode that causes me to fight to be right in an argument or to make sure through passive-aggressive comments or downright criticism that Megan always knows what I want/expect out of our marriage.  It's the me that forgets what has been done my behalf.   It's the me that forgets how much I've been loved by God.

I don't love you - but I always will.
- The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
(Released last week - go get this record!)

Though I've pledged my love to Megan for as long as we "both shall live",  in reality I don't always love Megan with my actions.  In highlighting his love of self, relational counselor Ted Tripp describes the way in which he weighs two bowls of ice cream he's just scooped for him and his wife.   He writes, "This woman has washed my socks and underwear for forty years and I'm willing to cheat her out of a scoop of ice cream!"

...and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”   - Mark 10:8,9

Sin living within me (Rom. 7:17) desires separation. Sin desires it's own way and leads to division in relationship.  In marriage especially my flesh has been measured and found wanting.   I have not loved God as I've loved myself and I have certainly not loved my wife as I've loved myself.   Inside I know this to be true and thus, I'm prone to act like a rabid dog backed into a corner.  Aware of my guilt before God and man, I do all I can to hide it or overcompensate for my insufficiency by sizing up others to feel better about myself.  What a mess I can become.

Only love can break your heart.
- Neil Young

But then Jesus comes saying calmly, almost in a whisper, "Matthew, rest in me - I have endured what you could not so that you may have the life that I gave up.  I have taken upon myself all the guilt, shame, anxiety and fear that you could never bear.   Accept my gift of grace today, now, and let go of your schemes.  Lose yourself in my love and find your true identity in me. Only then can you love as I have loved".

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little. - Luke 7:47

It's in these moments that I'm deeply grateful for my marriage.   Only a covenant relationship that demands this much of me could bring me to His throne of mercy and grace.  When I'm unable to love Megan as I've pledged to love her I need a power beyond myself and for this I have Jesus' Spirit.  I need only realize what depths of love reside within me because of His grace to be freed from the hell that the self inflicts on relationships....

Pure love and suspicion cannot coexist.  At the door the latter enters the former exists. 
- Alexandre Dumas Pere, French Philosopher

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
- 1st Cor. 13:11-13

Our marriages are but dim reflections of the love we have in Christ but the love that holds Christian marriages together is the very power of God.  Entrust your marriage to Christ and be set free from worldly suspicion as faith in Him unleashes hope and love in your union.

I need to go shave....I think I'll use my own razor this time!


This Week 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   The Screwtape Letters wrap-up - Chaps. 29-31 & Screwtape Proposes a Toast
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

* Thursday - The Magills in Concert
   at The Engage Evangelism Conference at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, TX

*  Saturday - The Magills in Concert
   at Pine Cove Camp Marriage Conference at The Woods in Tyler, TX

*  Sunday - The Magills share at 10:30 service at Tyler Metro Church, Tyler, TX

* Please pray as we meet with several hurting couples this week and weekend whose marriages are under attack.

To support B3 Ministries click www.b3ministries.net

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"He'd Give You The Coat Off His Back!"

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. - Gen. 3:7

Parents have a way of telling that "so cute" story about you so many times that you wonder if they'll ever tire of telling it.   I was a fairly image-conscious kid.   My second grade teacher paid me a compliment for wearing a tie for picture day so I wore it every day for the rest of the year.   But here's the story they really love to tell...

This is us... in our own clothes!
When I was in 4th grade I grew particularly attached to a plaid, long-sleeve button-up.  One day over Sunday lunch my uncle commented that he liked the shirt and asked me if it was a flannel.   I replied, "no, it's Izod". 

What can I say?  I was also brand conscious.   I was aware that what I wore stated something about me.  Somehow my identity was tied up in my clothing.   I wasn't the first and I won't be the last.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than  all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. - Gen. 37:3-4

Joseph's coat of many colors was a sign of his father's love.  The coat symbolized the birthright being given by Jacob to his 11th-born son.  God gave Joseph dreams of a future that matched his earthly father's proclamation of Joseph's greatness.   Hearing Joseph describe these dreams incensed his older brothers and caused them to hate Joseph so much that they eventually stripped Joseph of his ornate coat and sold Him into slavery.  

In God's infinite wisdom "what man meant for evil, God meant for good".    Joseph was God's chosen man and the coat and the dreams were signs of the blessing God would bring forth through Joseph.   But to be blessed by God is often times to be ostracized by man.  Joseph ultimately endured extreme persecution and hardship in order to bring all of Egypt through a terrible drought and physical salvation to the Israelites.   With obvious messianic foreshadowing Joseph was the chosen suffering servant whose obedience led to the salvation of a people and it all began with a father's love and beautiful coat.

Ministry is not first about telling people what to do, but about telling them who they are, so that obedience will flow out of celebration. - Paul David Tripp
In Jesus' Parable of The prodigal Son the younger brother, finally having come to the end of himself, returns home to become a slave in his fathers' house after squandering his advanced inheritance with riotous living.  Head hung low and exhausted by his own sin the son seeks only his father's mercy but receives an overwhelming abundance of grace as well....

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. - Luke 15:21-22

The son "who was lost but has now been found" is treated like royalty not because of his intrinsic worth and certainly not because of any meritorious conduct but because of His father's love for him.  Value had been imputed to him.   The best robe is a garment meant for him who is worthy of wearing it.  In this case the father deemed the pitiful, wayward son worthy and literally covered him with grace.

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. - John 19:23

It's not hard to see Christ's reason for telling the parable.   Jesus Christ is the Son of God whose robe we are not worthy to wear.   Yet because of the Father's love for us, Jesus exchanged His clothing, becoming literally naked and shamed for us that we might be clothed in His majesty and finally become unashamed.   

Jesus Christ hung naked before men that men might not be found to be naked before God.  That unlike our first parents and everyone since we would no longer be ashamed of our nakedness before God because God only sees us adorned in Christ!

I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.  For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness -  Isiah 61:10

Most brides desire to look more radiantly beautiful than ever on their wedding day.  (Ever seen the TLC reality show Say Yes to The Dress?)  The bride in white is a picture-perfect symbol of the church who is presented as spotless and without blemish before our groom, Christ Jesus, who has won us to Himself by taking our upon Himself our filthy sin.

We have no righteousness that does not belong to Christ, no power that is not given by Christ and no hope that doesn't depend on Christ. - Paul David Tripp

In Act IV of Puccini's tragic opera La Boheme the bass sings Vecchia zimarr, senti.   Colline.  A young philosopher, sings a farewell to his prized overcoat just before pawning it to buy medicine for his friend Mimi who is dying of tuberculosis.  He sings....

Faithful old garment, listen, I'll rest down here
you however, must climb the sacred mount of piety.
My thanks you must receive.

Deep in your calm cavernous pockets,
You have protected philosophers and poets.
Now that our happy days have fled, I must bid you
farewell, faithful friend of mine. Farewell, farewell.

Colline gives up what has become an integral part of his identity in order that he might save his dying friend.  Just another gleaming example of how the most touching art somehow touches the truth of God in Jesus, Him who laid down what He had that we might forever and always have what we need, peace with God.  
Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. - 2nd Peter 3:14


This Week 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am Wednesday AM
   Chapters 26-29 of The Screwtape Letters
   2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm) 

* Please pray as we meet with several hurting couples this week and weekend whose marriages are under attack.

To support B3 Ministries click www.b3ministries.net