Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Miss, Do You Know How Fast You Were Going (Toward Grace)?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. - Matthew 5:17-18

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. - Matthew 7:12

Who would have guessed that the background check on ol' Matt Magill would have taken a couple of months?  This past weekend I finally received clearance (Clarance!) to go on a "ride along" with a friend and Texas Highway Patrolman.   

The trooper told me that the most "action" was on Saturday nights patrolling for drunk drivers after midnight.   I rode with him from 10pm - 2am and it was a thrilling, eye-opening experience.    After I was briefed a bit on the "do's and don't's", we perched just over a hill and waited for "lead foot" drivers, "swervers" or those missing tail lights, headlights, etc. to fly by.

The first time he flipped the surprisingly bright lights on and calmly said, "we got one" before stepping down on the gas pedal I got a rush of adrenaline that I could never have expected.  

I was (finally!) on the side of the law now and felt completely safe running down those violators, cleaning up the streets and serving justice.   I felt like the caped crusader all the while sipping my Diet Coke in the passenger seat and pretending I wasn't just like most of the people we stopped.

It increases my paranoia like looking into a mirror and seeing a police car.
- David Crosby, Almost Cut My Hair

Most of us have felt the soul-crushing, impending doom of a those flashing lights in our rear view mirror.  Knowing that I was on the other end of just such doom gave me a strange mixed feeling of power coupled with compassion for the poor folks we stopped that night (probably 15 stops in all).  It helped me to understand the awesome responsibility that these troopers have.

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. - Luke 12:48

The responsibility to both distribute and, at times, withhold the full force of the law is incumbent upon officers of the law.  What a perfect model our Savior is.  Full of discernment and wisdom Jesus always correctly recognized both repentant helplessness in lawbreakers and the reckless manipulative abuse of the law by some.

In Luke 7 a pharisee puts on a dinner for Jesus.  A "woman of the night" comes and brings an Alabaster jar full of perfume.   The woman wept just behind Christ and began to pour out the perfume on his feet.  The pharisee was incensed and doubted Christ's identity thinking to himself, "a real prophet would know what kind of woman (sinner) this was" (not knowing Jesus knew even his thoughts).

At this Jesus began to teach Peter and the pharisee that indeed it was this pharisee who was confused and had missed his opportunity to anoint Jesus' head with oil because of his pride.  He couldn't see who Jesus was because his focus was on his own righteousness and understanding of the law.   He was blinded to Jesus' power for focusing on himself and his surroundings.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”- Matthew 14:29-30

Juxtaposing the "self-centered and self-righteous" pharisee with the "helpless, hopeless" sinner woman who knew of her brokenness and thus, her need for Jesus' restorative unconditional love and grace Jesus goes on to explain that her love for Him was evidence that she had already been forgiven by Him. 

I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. - Luke 47:7

The Patrolman told me at one point Saturday night that instead of a ticket he was going to give only a warning to one (clearly guilty) driver.    

For some reason he had decided to show her some compassion and grace saying, "people have been pretty good to me in my life when I didn't deserve it.  I think I'll be good to her tonight".   I was struck by his humility as he (like the pharisee) knew of her transgression but (unlike the pharisee and like Jesus) he saw fit to give her the forgiveness that she did not deserve.

All jobs are gifts from God and as such carry a responsibility of righteous stewardship.   The trooper described how sometimes just what people need to wake them up from their irresponsible, dangerous lifestyles is a DWI and a night in jail.   But other times people need Grace. *   I pray God's wisdom for him in the days to come.  

Knowing the relief of having received grace from a trooper before, I was thankful Saturday night, even on an old dark Texas highway, for the opportunity to see grace at work again.

Grace and Peace,

(* not to say here that drunk drivers are ever given a pass.  In this instance their incarceration is actually an act of grace to those whose lives are so clearly endangered by such moronic behavior......)

This Week... 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am, Wednesday AM - Kings Cross Chapter 10
   @ 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* The Magills @ The Moores Store - 8pm-11pm, Friday Night July 1st - Ben Wheeler, TX 

Next Week...   

* Men's Lunch @ Dakota's in Tyler, TX - Mondays @ 12pm - Keller's Kings Cross - Chapter 11


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The First and True Duke

 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! - Matthew 7:11

Father's Day had me thinking of some of my favorite childhood memories with my father.   One thing stands out for some reason.  We had this over sized (and I mean big!) pillow that lay in the middle of our living room where my brothers and I would curl up with my Dad and watch our favorite movie, John Wayne's The Cowboys or, and especially, The Dukes of Hazzard television series whenever it was on.

Now let's forget about the 2006 remake movie, the television show had some merit if not always the greatest acting or imaginative story lines.   There was a winsome innocence to TDOH wherein a viewer could escape to a simpler time and though the lines between good and evil were slightly blurred (Ex. The Dukes weren't always angels and Boss Hog was somehow lovable), yet in the end the message was clear: good wins.

Bo and Luke Duke seemed to play with the law; they were after all, a 70's version of Robin Hood, "straightening the curves".    They were right to view the law of Hazzard County as corrupt.   Thus, they lived by their gut and a folksy, country wisdom that came from the likes of their Uncle Jesse and their mechanic, Crazy Cooter (Did I just type Crazy Cooter?).     

Boss Hog, on the other hand, wielded (and suffered under) his own absolute power and was the stereo-typical CEO of and consequently, the chief beneficiary of Hazzard's corrupt power system; He always dressed in the white of his presumed spotless self-righteousness.  Together with hard-headed sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane, Boss Hog was always out to "get them Duke boys".   But out of every sticky situation Bo and Luke always seemed to pull one over on the law.

Someday the mountain might get him but the law never will.
- Waylon Jennings, Good Ol' Boys

Mid-way through nearly every episode Bo and Luke would land in jail and as evidenced by narrator Waylon Jennings' smooth whiskey voice ("now how these Duke boys gonna get out of this mess?") the situation seemed hopeless.  Falsely accused of misbehavior (or rightly locked up for just being "good old boys") they always found themselves up against the wall of The Law.

There was a fierce freedom in The Dukes of Hazzard that resonated deeply with many viewers - a triumph of good will over injustice.  When carried too far every analogy breaks down but as a Christian I know a freedom that always trumps the sting of death and melts the doubt that leads to destruction.   Faith in Christ alone brings about the redemption and restoration of man - and ultimately, leads the believer into an ever deeper, ever firmer faith in power of The Gospel (read: not what I do but what God's done in Christ on my behalf).   The Gospel turns the worst situations upside down and always frees man from the condemnation the law has brought.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. - Ephesians 2:4-5

The Christian life lived to the glory of God is smelling salt to a world so seduced by the likes of materialism and humanism that it is dead to the Spirit of the one true God, blind to His natural revelation of Himself (in nature) and deaf to His special revelation of Himself (in the Bible).

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1st Cor. 1:18

I heard recently that Christians are to etch in pencil what one day God will paint with indelible ink.   That is make known the glory of The Gospel through our words and deeds.  But so often we forget just how full of His love, grace, peace, compassion and power we are.

It sometimes seems like the well is empty; like there is no more left to give.  Yet this is precisely the time when the obstacle of self-reliance is removed allowing the grace of God to finally flow freely.   His inexhaustible love for us can be likened to an eternal flame (a common symbol for The Holy Spirit) from which one day (like the phoenix) His church and new kingdom will rise.

When Christ, though He was totally innocent, went up against the wall of God's perfect Law on our behalf. He didn't rely on family, worldly wisdom, cunning trickery or eloquent words to save Himself from God's wrath.   Instead He gave us what we don't deserve (peace with God) by taking on what we did deserve (shame, scorn, pain and separation from God).

This is where the Dukes analogy breaks down.   A duke is defined as a member of the nobility, historically of highest rank holding the highest hereditary title.   Christ was the spotless, perfect son of God and thus, the only true Duke...ever.  By totally fulfilling the Law in life He became the perfect sacrificial atonement in His death.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. - John 3:18

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. - Rom 8:16

For a little while, as a boy, I enjoyed great intimacy with my Father on that big pillow watching The Dukes overcome Hazzard's worldly, corrupt law.   This Father's Day I can, by God's grace, behold those memories as the "foretaste of Glory divine" that they were.   Because of Jesus' work I can call God Daddy (Abba Father) eternally and He can call me His son.  And, along with all the Saints in glory, He'll wrap me in His arms of comfort as we recall the story of Jesus' miraculous rescue of us (in the midst of our inability to keep God's perfect law) again and again and again.....


This Week... 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am, Wednesday AM - Kings Cross Chapter 9
   @ 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

Next Week...   

* Men's Lunch @ Dakota's in Tyler, TX - Mondays @ 12pm - Keller's Kings Cross - Chapter 10
* The Magills @ The Moores Store - 8pm-11pm, Friday Night July 1st - Ben Wheeler, TX


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Onward Christian Campers!

But the place which you have selected for your camp, though never so rough and grim, begins at once to have its attractions, and becomes a very center of civilization to you: "Home is home, be it never so homely." - Henry David Thoreau

Megan and I don't really like to "rough it".   For us an ideal vacation typically would involve us close to a big body of water, listening to the waves crash and reading a good book while taking in some rays before an afternoon nap back at the hotel.  Suffice to say camping is not our cup of tea!
Recently we were invited to Pine Cove Family Camp at Crier Creek near Colombia, TX but it didn't sound ideal for our family.   South Texas heat and humidity and two kids in diapers for a week seemed like it might result in two (or four) unhappy campers.   Still the offer was there and with adventurous spirits we decided a week away might do us some good.  We had no idea what was in store for our little family.

Day 1 was a hard travel day and then we were up most of the night when the girls didn't sleep well.   Thus, day 2 was the perfect storm of child crankiness and parental frustration.   That night Megan and I were considering faking an illness and heading back north to the our comfortable routine and the modern luxuries of central heat and air and separate rooms for each of our children.

But the counselors showed up on day 3 to watch the girls while we went on a couples morning trail ride complete with a cowboy breakfast.  After the ride we looked across the table at the other exhausted but grateful couples and began to relax into what would be an unforgettable week.   I found myself sitting on the bed later that night (around 10pm!) with my worn-out girls and nothing else on my mind but gratitude for a hard, full, memorable day.  We'd been plucked from our regular routine and were now completely off schedule.  Yet once we'd surrendered to the discomfort, God began to show us why He'd brought us there.

We later confessed to the other parents that the week at family camp had allowed us to let go of trying to be great parents in our flesh and enjoy the chaos for a little while trusting that God is indeed the leader of our home...not Megan and me.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - 2nd Cor. 12:19

Control in the midst of struggle is an illusion in a world that is chock-full of spiritual dimensions (Eph. 6:12) that are beyond our comprehension.   Yet we labor under the ever-oppressive yoke of decreasing discomfort and minimizing detours in hopes of reaching our set goals or perceived needs in a timely fashion.    Often times what seems like a disruptive curse can actually be God trying to get our attention (read: a blessing!) so that we might learn to hear His voice in the midst of uncertainty or suffering.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. - Rom. 8:28

Did you notice that "in all things" bit?   There is no part of our life that God is not completely in control (i.e. sovereign).   Thus even when we believe Him to be distant, He is not.  He's incessantly working on our behalf.
For instance, we learned throughout the week that while many assume God was absent during the intertestamental period, in working through the lives of Pagans to create the perfect circumstances for Jesus Christ to enter the world He was anything but silent.   

In 323 BC Hellenization began and ancient Greek culture spread rapidly through many people groups.  Greek became the universal language which would eventually allow The Gospel of Jesus Christ to be far more accessible and consequently, spread faster.  (Read: God at work in the silence!)

In reaction to Antiochus' issuing a decree that forbade Jewish religious practice and calling them to worship Greek Gods in 167 BC, The Maccabean Revolt occurred reasserting the Jewish religion, expanding the boundaries of the land of Israel and leading many Jews to re-examine their hearts and seek God's holiness once again.   Without doubt this revived obedience readied the hearts of many to receive John The Baptist's prophecy and his eventual declaration of The Messiah's presence among them. (Read: God again at work in the silence!)

If God is not silent even when He seems silent why should we ever worry?  Even when prophecy ceased in 400 BC God never ceased unfurling His majestic plan for the salvation of mankind.   When Christians suffer they can be sure that they're merely being tenderized to the hear the voice of the God who is there.  This leads to a greater hope in His ultimate faithfulness to us.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. - Rom. 5:3-4

When David wrote:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me - Psalm 23:4

..... it's clear that to him death is only a shadow.  Yet death is a looming reality for all those who are not comforted by God's rod and staff.  However for those, like David, whom God has kept "the apple of His eye" (Psalm 17:8) and "take comfort in the shadow of His wings" (read: the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross)  death is merely an illusion.

If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. -  John Calvin

Last week at Family Camp we learned a blessed lesson in becoming content.   Taking long walks in hot weather, enduring tired and embarrassingly cranky children and less sleep than we're used to were all blessings in disguise.   Once we became content our hearts became grateful and we began to enjoy our time with an entirely fresh perspective.   We might have missed all that had we had a less trying week.    We'll be back next year for more....it was a difficult, trans-formative, eye-opening blast! 


P.S. The blog above may not have seemed like an advertisement for camp but it actually is!   Megan and I could talk and sing for hours about our time at Pine Cove Family Camp.  We are now converts....we get it!  Check it out even if you don't like camping!

This Week... 

* Tyler Men's Gathering - 7am, Wednesday AM - Kings Cross Chapter 7 
   @ 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* The Magills @ The Forge Bistro - 7pm-10pm, Friday Night - Ben Wheeler, TX 
* The Magills - Lindsey Pond Benefit Concert in Bergfeld Park - 11am-1pm, Saturday
   Visit www.BenefitThePonds.com for tickets!
Next Week...

Men's Lunch @ Dakota's in Tyler, TX - Mondays @ 12pm - Keller's Kings Cross - Chapter 8