Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Completed Joy

Could you be loved? Then be loved! Could you be loved? Then be loved! 
- Bob Marley, Could You Be Loved, Uprising 1980

"Oh man!  You left me hanging!"   Regardless of the preferred form, the fist bump, high-five or the simple gentleman's handshake, most folks have experienced this let down before. The proverbial  "right hand of fellowship" goes out in vulnerability to find only the cold air of unrequited intimacy.   These are the moments when you are "left hanging"!

For any handshake or fist bump to reach completion it must find a momentary connection with its intended partner.  Without this reciprocation the initiator finds only a dry, desolate place of empty, pitiful embarrassment.  Am I overstating it?

What about that hoped-for first kiss?  Men, you know what I'm talking about, when on that doorstep so long ago you went boldly searching for puckered lips and instead met a quickly-turned "friendly" cheek.  The joy of intimacy depends upon reciprocation - anything less is something much closer to the pain of rejection.

Megan and I just returned from a blissful vacation on the cliffs of Negril, Jamaica.  We snorkeled, I caught up on some reading, we jumped off 30-foot cliffs into the Caribbean Ocean and we did NOT turn our iPhones back on until we returned to the United States.

(Editor's note: Incidentally, there's nothing more ridiculous than a middle-aged, white guy fist-bumping Rastafarian beach hoppers whilst saying things like "everyting is aright" or "respect mon!".....and yet there I stood bumping!)

During our stay at the resort, like a chant, our waiter, Randall, uttered one phrase again and again.  Every time we thanked him for his service, he responded, "Ah, thank you for enjoying it!"  

"What? That doesn't make sense", we thought. "We just thanked him for the dinner, dessert and wine!  Why does he keep thanking us?"  Yet he continued throughout our (all-too-short) trip repeatedly telling us after each meal or drink to "keep it up!".   We asked him, "keep what up?" to which Randall replied, "keep enjoying all this.....it's all for your enjoyment!"

During the vacation I couldn't help but reflect upon our peculiar exchange.  Randall had caused us to consider both his gratitude for our enjoyment and his whimsical admonition to continue in our joy.

A week after our return I've come to the conclusion that it was our grateful reception of  the chef's food, Randall's service and our mutual acknowledgement of God's sensational creation that was Randall's hope for us. 

He knew if we didn't enjoy the food, his service and the beauty of Jamaica then we'd miss the point of our time.   He was encouraging us toward gracious receptivity of all those good things and he was most grateful when it was evident that we'd joyfully received them!

The Gospel implications are clear to me now.....

The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. 
That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 
- John 3:29

Here The Gospel of John records Jesus' description of the reconciliation (read eternal marriage) between God and man made possible by Jesus' life, death and resurrection.  Jesus is essentially saying to the disciples "you now know that I and The Father are one.  You have received this truth and your reception has completed my joy!"

Later in John's Gospel the focus turns from Jesus' completed joy to the ways in which the believer can share in that joy.   Jesus describes the authority that His name grants the believer and the joy that is available to the man who prays in the name of Jesus....

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. 
Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete
- John 16:24

Later, before suffering crucifixion, Jesus prays to The Father for the fullness of His Joy for His disciples....

I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them
- John 17:13

Randall the waiter reveled in our enjoyment of his service.   In a like manner, and yet to an infinitely greater extent, Jesus desires that we receive His gift in full.  Jesus is praying here that His disciples will not lack any of His joy but will instead receive IN FULL the joy that He enjoys because of His perfect unity with The Father....

...Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
- Heb. 12:2

All these verses about joy give us a sense of (a) the fullness of the God made manifest in Jesus Christ and (b) the unity mankind can share with God now because of Jesus' perfect obedience. 

Christ's teaching of and prayers for the completion of our joy indicate that what is available to the believer is nothing short than the fullness of God, the peace (of God) that passes understanding.   And He is graciously praying that we will enjoy all that with Him and He is most glorified here and now (and eternally) when we do! 

On the cross God opened his arms and reached out to all humanity through Jesus Christ who, in weakness and vulnerability, suffered the punishment, humiliation and loneliness that all of mankind deserved and He was left hanging!    Rejected and scorned, for our sake he who knew no sin became sin that we might have the righteousness of God (2nd Cor. 5:21).

Like a spiritual equation Jesus describes how His joy can now be ours and can overflow from us....

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other." 
- John 15:9-17

Christians, having received the indwelling Spirit which reveals the truth of Jesus Christ's saving love, can share in hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5:5) and thus, the only joy that will never end.

But those who have "left the Son of God hanging" do not know that He has risen and conquered death, they do not know what God has achieved through the Cross of Christ and they cannot share in the completed Joy of the Son who obeyed his father unto death. 

The hope of the unregenerate man is fleeting, consequently he cannot share in Christ's joy.   He is at the mercy of his circumstances.  His successes in life provide him only a false sense of security that he must inevitably relinquish at death's door and his disappointments in life will only crush him leaving him without hope in this life.  Sound dire?  It is.  There's nothing more dire than man who denies the existence, love and salvation made possible by his Creator.

Yet there Jesus hangs, waiting to be received, waiting to be loved as He loved with His every breath and drop of blood.   The Gospel is this: In Jesus Christ, God has loved the unlovable and helped the helpless.   In the midst of our desperation God has reached out to mankind.

Don't leave him hanging - let Him complete your Joy!

Bob Marley famously asked, "Could you be loved?"   I don't presume to understand the Rastafarian religion or his full intentions in this fantastic lyric but The Gospel of Jesus Christ exploding in the heart of men and women hinges on his/her response to this question.

The question is not "are you lovable?"  The question is "though you are unlovable, can (or will) you receive the love of God?" If so, then reciprocate His love by first receiving it - let your joy be complete in Him.

Could you be loved?  Then be loved!

This Month

Tuesday, Oct. 2nd - The Magills - BScene Magazine Cover Unveil Party at Fresh,  6991 Old Jacksonville Highway- 6-8:30pm

Wednesdays in October - Men's Gathering - Watchman Nee's Love Not the World.  Ritcheson Law Firm 2 American Center, 5th Floor, Tyler, TX - 7am

Saturday, Oct. 6th - The Magills at Fresh, 6991 Old Jacksonville Highway, Tyler, TX - 6-9pm

Sundays in October - The Magills at Bethel Bible Downtown Campus, 202 S. Broadway - 10 AM service

Mondays in October - Men's Gathering - Matt Chandler's The Explicit Gospel - Dakota's Steakhouse at 12pm - Tyler, TX

Thursday Oct. 11th - The Magills at Bushman's Event Center - The Lone Star Salute to benefit The East Texas Women's Crisis Center - 6:30-10pm - Bullard, TX

Saturday Oct. 13th - The Magills at El Charro, 2604 East Erwin Street - 7-10pm - Tyler, TX

Saturday Oct. 20th - Jake's On the Square (Rooftop Lounge) - Tyler, TX

Saturday Oct. 27th - KE Cellars - French Market Mall - 6-9pm - Tyler, TX


Monday, August 13, 2012

Tears: A Yellow Dog In a Yellow Cab

There's a tear in my beer
'cause I'm cryin' for you,dear
you are on my lonely mind.
And into these past few beers
I have shed a million tears.
You are on my lonely mind
- Hank Williams

My paternal grandfather doesn’t trust banks.   I wouldn’t be surprised if he had some money squirreled away under a mattress in his bedroom.   He’s never voted for a republican; He’s what some folks used to call a Yellow Dog Democrat - "he’d vote for a yellow dog before he’d vote for a republican".   

works progress administration, WPA workers, Franklin Delano Roosevelts New Deal
Ralph grew up in the depression.   Some of his earliest and most painful memories are of the bank taking his father’s home and farm when he couldn’t make the mortgage payment.   The family had to move to town and his family's only relief was the United States government.   In 1935 The Works Progress Administration put his father back to work and his family on the road to recovery. Consequently Ralph trusts the government….that is the democrats in the government.  (But enough of the politics; we'll get enough of that in the coming months).

Those early painful memories of loss and uncertainty charted a path for a boy who carried a tender heart along with a few bitter memories through his long life. When he lost his wife, Priscilla, to lung cancer when she was only in her early fifties, his "heartache" became even more of a defining characteristic. Deeply grieved by the loss but determined to shower his grandchildren with the love that his wife would have lavished upon them, our relationship with Grandpa grew in beautifully complex and bittersweet ways.  

In his desire to fill the gap he and I began to talk more than ever when I was in my teens.   He was a confidant and bulwark of unconditional love.  I remember him telling me when I was approaching the age of 21 why he didn’t dare drink “too” much anymore.   He explained that when he was a younger man and would over-indulge he would go on what he called a “crying jag”.  He defined a crying jag as uncontrollable weeping. It wasn't hard to imagine.

As long as I can remember, tears for my Grandfather were instantly accessible and always a moment away.   The mere mention of a particular Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys song (Western Swing was always favorite music to dance to with Priscilla) or a certain look from his great-grandchildren these days  can send him to place that seems somehow emotionally beyond his control.

6 years ago, at the age of 80, Ralph finally left the Oklahoma/Texas region and made a trip to New York City to visit Megan and me - It was a moving thing to behold.   After three connections (only the second or third flight of his life), long delays, and a bus ride through the Holland Tunnel, he stepped into his first NYC Taxi Cab...then it hit him.

Tears streamed down his weathered face as the cab driver swerved up Amsterdam Avenue and crossed Broadway honking and cursing another cab in English but with a distinctly Middle Eastern dialect.  Megan and I considered that his trip might not be off to a great start if he was terrified of taxis.
Concerned, we asked, "Grandpa, is everything OK?".

With trembling lips and a glimmer in his eye he answered, “I can't believe it, It’s really true.  I've heard it said and I've seen it in movies but these cab rides really are crazy!”

These were tears I'd not seen from him before - tears of confirmation.  These were tears representing joy that, at the age of 80, the knowledge hidden in his heart had finally been confirmed by his experience.

Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. 
- Proverbs 14:13

Whether they be tears of awe-inspired joy, devastating sadness or deep confirmation, because of his vulnerability, humility and weakness (read "broken hearted-ness") my Grandfather continues to bring my family quite literally face to face with the "over-whelming" pain that is just beneath the surface of life lived in world where sin and it's resultant fragmentation, death and disillusionment still reign.   To be sure what is to be is not yet.

Paradoxically even beauty can serve as a reminder that life, while unfathomably valuable, is also slipping away from us like sands through the hourglass.  The  divine beauty of The Grand Canyon or The Tetons, for instance, ought confirm deep with in us that we have zero to do with creation and cannot add to or diminish it.   Artist Wayne White remarks in his new Bio-Documentary that, "it's so beautiful it hurts my feelings."

There were tears of joy at my children’s births, on my wedding day and occasionally there are tears of deep connection in great movies (Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, for instance, slays me every time!). For some strange reason I love crying;  perhaps it's because I cry less frequently as I’ve grown older.  But in this way I'm still learning from Grandpa.

In his timeless wisdom King Solomon wrote:

I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. - Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

Inevitably life hands us all less than we hope for, loved ones are taken from us and we look to temporal things in the material world to meet our needs that cannot.   Eternity has been placed in the hearts of men, yet we suffer.  There must be more.

Simply put: we cannot see the future.   In times of mourning and in times of weeping (Eccl. 3:4) the Christian is propelled by the Spirit within to deeper faith, while others are lost in their utter desperation. St. Paul described the cyclical and paradoxical power of suffering carried by faith to it's proper end...
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. 
- Romans 5:3-5

Tim Keller writes that "what we believe about our future changes us presently".   As I read The Bible and learn more of The Gospel of Jesus Christ I am drawn more deeply into this gift of hope and changed by it and hope does not disappoint - it is having its way with me. 

Christ inaugurated a new heaven and will "reconcile to himself all things" (Col 1:20) in the new earth where joys will never cease and the sons and daughters of God will be satisfied eternally.  We are awaiting the final consummation of all things when The Spirit within us will be reunited with The Creator and The Son.  Christians await the redemption of our bodies and a world of dissatisfaction.... and we do not wait in vain.

I've got no home, I've got no home, I've got no home - but I've got a destination.

Sorry Clapton, for me there will definitely be Tears in Heaven!  I look forward to weeping on that day of new life.   When this life ends and we are enveloped by the love of God in full, seeing the face of his Son, Jesus, whose death purchased our eternal lives, may the confirmation of all that we've hoped for send tears of joy never ending down our faces.

Here's to the tears - a signpost for us of the redemption that is to come.


This Week

* Monday - Mens Lunch - The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler - Chapter 1 - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm

* Wednesday - Mens AM Book Study -   Chapter 9, The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler at 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Sunday - The Magills w/ The Downtowners at Bethel Bible North Campus - The Broadway Building - 10am service

Please pray as we continue to meet with couples who by 
The Spirit seek to display Christ's covenant-keeping love to the world around them.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse.  Three weeks, and it couldn't be worse.
One week, will it ever be right?  Then out of the hat it's that big first night

The overture is about to start.  You cross your fingers and hold your heart.
It's curtain time and away we go.  Just another op'nin of another show!

- Cole Porter, Kiss Me Kate

"This is your five!"

Anyone who's spent anytime in the theater is familiar with the "five minute call".  In short, it means show time!  The excitement of opening night is indescribable.  Whether it's community theater in Western Oklahoma (Holla!) or Broadway in New York City, months of preparation, time, talent and energy brim to successful (or sometimes disastrous!) fruition just moments after the "five minute call".

I can't count the time I've heard "this is your five" in my dreams.  The call instantly propels me into complete panic when I'm suddenly aware I HAVE to find the script to look at the lines I can't recall because I haven't rehearsed at all!   I'm about to be in the spotlight and caught completely unaware of my role.   I even chastise myself in the dream. "Did you think you could wing it - you idiot!  Why, why, why! did you not rehearse? You're going to make a fool of yourself and ruin this production!"

As though I'm caught in some FBI examination, light shining bright on my head hung low, I'm a suspect terrified at being found out.  My inadequacy will be discovered and worse, I will be discovered onstage before a jury of my peers. 

But then, just as the curtains open on exposing the fake I am, I awake to find it was all a dream.   I'm then giddy in bed realizing it was just a nightmare that revealed a universal fear of being exposed.  A fear that, miraculously, I no longer have to claim when I believe The Gospel.

Only a dream, only a dream, And glory beyond the dark stream;
How peaceful the slumber, How happy the waking;
For death is only a dream. 
- C.W. Ray

The old hymn "Death Is Only a Dream" brings to light the fear we have of physical death and serves as a steady reminder to believers that, as Paul writes, because we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection (Romans 6:5).  In other words, what's happened to Christ Jesus (death and resurrection) also awaits us.   Consequently, though death appears to be a permanent end, it is merely a dream. 

King David wrote in one of the most oft-recited Psalms, 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).   What comfort this simple scripture has brought countless sufferers through the centuries.

Clearly the shadow David describes is not the real thing; it is only the appearance of the real thing. The King is describing here humanity's proclivity to view the shadow of death as the real thing and instead offers us a song to sing redirecting our hearts to him who guides us through physical death and into life eternal.

Genesis' telling of our earliest ancestors presents postexilic Adam and Eve as being naked and ashamed east of Eden.   Their having eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil left them shamefully aware that they had transgressed God's good and perfect law.    It was the inaugural trip to the valley of the shadow of death from which no human ever returns without aid from The Father.    Down in that valley they looked around for life, peace and the pursuit of happiness and found only failure, unrest and futility.   Why?  According to John Piper, because the foundation of covenant-keeping love had collapsed.

They experienced this immediately in the corruption of their own covenant love for each other.  It happened in two ways.  And we experience this today in these same two ways.  Both related to the experience of shame.   In the first case, the person viewing my nakedness is no longer trustworthy, so I am afraid I will be shamed.  In the second, I myself am no longer at peace with God, and I feel guilty and defiled and unworthy -- I deserve to be shamed.  - John Piper, This Momentary Marriage

Essentially they began to hide from God (and one another).   Using God's creation now as a means to retreat from Him, Adam and Eve fashioned clothing with which they could hide their exposed flesh from God and from one another.   But what they really sought to hide was their shame.   They could not stand the spotlight of God's holiness shining on their wickedness....before it they were undone.

Sin is: in despair not wanting to be one's self before God - Soren Kierkegaard

This pitiful game of hide and seek from God is common to all mankind, and it has no ending unless we are freed from external (law) and internal (shame) condemnation.   Unless we are freed from our guilt and the resultant shame there can be no peace internally or externally.   Though we seek to deceive ourselves with the shadow of peace or happiness through pleasure (the aesthetic life), treasure (materialism) or measure (self-justification by way of achievement), curtains are pulled back all too quickly.   So, in what Matt Chandler calls circular silliness, we continue to strive for the deliverance (read salvation from emptiness) that only God in His complete fullness can provide.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus - 1st Timothy 2:5

Man must be delivered from the valley; our bondage to sin must be broken with help from the almighty.  We feel it - we read about it - the crisis of humanity bears witness to the truth.  The honest man knows it in his heart.   Within and without the human condition is on display and thus, Humanism, the enlightenment philosophy of Stuart Smalley ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and doggone it, people like me!"), has been tried and found wanting -  Mankind as "the little engine that could" is continually being exposed for the lie that it is.    

We don't get better, we don't improve, we get saved - we get delivered.   Saved from our sin, saved from our inadequacy and saved from our selves.   If we could but hear his voice calling, "it is finished" (John 19:30).   The job of living life free from sin was completed on our behalf by one man.   The rod and the staff which comforted David now comfort the Christian eternally as they have become one in The Good Shepard who leaves 99 sheep to rescue one that is lost (Matthew 18:12).

The word made flesh, Jesus, has become the script I will never be able to track down.  He took the stage when I was speechless and yet when the applause comes (well done, my good a faithful servant! (Matthew 25:21)), I can join him in taking the bow because His righteousness is now mine - a free gift of grace!  I'm equipped to stand before God under the unrelenting spotlight of His holiness because I am now found in Him.  God does not see my sin, He sees Christ's righteousness alone made perfectly manifest in his sacrifice on the cross of Calvary.

No longer alone in our guilt, we have been replaced by the only one who could bear the burden of guilt for us. Reconciled to God the Christian is no longer alone, East of Eden, he finally rests, exposed but forgiven, helpless but helped, loveless but loved.....and changed!

Lonely no more - Lonely no more!   
How can we be what I was before when I'm not lonely anymore?
- Steve Marriot, The Small Faces


This Week

* Wednesday AM Book Study - The Explicit Gospel, Chapter 7, 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

Please pray as we meet with hurting couples in the East Texas area who are in desperate need of God's restoration individually and relationally.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Speaking of Speaking....

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.  
- Proverbs 18:21

Let this serve as another confession:  I tend to talk too much.  I remember once (and only once!) eloquently espousing the benefits of natural childbirth to some women at a beach party in East Hampton.  It only took watching one documentary for me to foolishly believe myself an authority on the matter.  I somehow felt I had license to preach to new and expectant mothers that night.   Later, I noticed across the sand a group of women surrounding Megan saying, "you need to tell your husband to get hold of his tongue!"  Let me sum up the car ride home: tense.

The all of me (including my speech!) is a work in progress by the power of God's grace.   These days I give myself about three minutes in our Sunday School class when talking to the opposite sex.   After the third minute I step away from the conversation guided by the knowledge that somewhere in the fourth minute I will inevitably insert foot in mouth.

Simply scan the headlines; foolish speech abounds.  It's a rare thing to read a headline like "Mr. so and so said something extremely insightful at a White House Dinner last night".   More often than not careless or hateful speech sends people free-falling through the blood-thirsty media's ringer.

A persons words do indeed reveal what is already taking place within them.  After Jesus drove demons from a blind and mute man so that he could both talk and see, The Pharisees told the crowds that He drove out the demons by the power of Beelzebub (literally The Lord of the Flies, referring to the false God Baal, whom The Jews thought of as a pile of dung and his followers, the flies).  It's no wonder then that Jesus returns to them a stinging sermon of rebuke...

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 
- Matthew 12:34

The Pharisee's words had revealed the attitude of their hardened hearts.   So darkened were their minds they thought Christ to be of the Devil when he was God's very Son.   These same men would lead the call for Christ's crucifixion. Their words revealed their intentions and consequently, their coming condemnation.

President Obama had what many construed to be a terrible week a couple of weeks ago based on his simple but profoundly debatable comment in a press conference that "the private economy is doing fine".   The tide of an election and, indeed, the direction of a nation can turn based on the utterance of words.   In The Book of James, the apostle writes that a tiny rudder moves a big ship (James 3:4).

There's a super-natural  (creative and/or destructive) power at work through words in relationships and the circumstances into which they're spoken.   "I'd like to rescind that statement" or "I didn't mean to say that, I'd like to take those words back" fails even in its truest intentions.   Once spoken there is no amount of backpedaling that can undo the harmful and potentially disastrous effects of speech.

Conversely, words can bring (read: impute) life to the deadest of scenarios.   For instance a word of encouragement from a wife lifts a husband who is depressed by his helplessness to control the circumstances of his life.  A compliment from a husband goes a long way towards deepening a wife's sense of self.  Encouraged that, regardless of what anyone around her thinks of her, her husband finds her attractive she can then move out into the world in confident beauty.   Relationally there is no denying the sometimes devastating, sometimes liberating power of words.

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison
- James 3:5-8

If no man can tame the tongue, then man has reached a perilous impasse (me included!).   Men and women, who continually suffer the consequences of careless talk, participate in hurtful gossip or dole out the destruction of mean-spirited speech find themselves in a dire predicament relationally.   Nowhere short of falling at the mercy and grace of a God who brings light to the darkness (Job 12:22) and who gives wisdom to the wise man's heart guiding his mouth to bring instruction from his lips (Prov 16:22) will we find deliverance.

The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. 
- John 7:18

The Bible understands original sin, total depravity and man's bound-will.    The Bible understands that without aid from The Holy Spirit, man cannot help but speak from his own self-absorbed heart and for his own gain (glory) to bring about his desired ends, to convey and control the way others perceive him.   Directing conversations as he wishes or maligning those individuals he naturally perceives as a threat to him or his well-being is the way of fallen man.  False-flattery (or the desire for flattery), manipulation and even vengeance are but a few of the seductive symptoms of Sin that taints even the most well-intentioned speech.   We can look to the Psalms for some description...

For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue. 
- Psalm 5:9

Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
with flattering lips and out of  a double heart they speak.
- Psalm 12:2

His speech was smooth as butter,
yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
yet they were drawn swords 
- Psalm 55:21

God has given us His very Spirit to reside within us directing our hearts for His glory.   Let us cling then to God who has spoken righteousness over us by His word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), Jesus Christ, who took to the cross all our sin (and sinful speech!).  Having been crucified along with our hearts, mouths and words, let us pray that as we have been resurrected by God in Christ, He would now redeem even our speech that His heart and His words might reign through us to His glory forever and ever.


This Week

* Monday Men's Lunch - Grace in Practice - Chapter 3 -  Dakota's Steakhouse 12pm

* Wednesday AM Book Study - The Explicit Gospel, Chapter 5, 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Sunday - Matt Magill at Green Acres Baptist Church, 9:45 and 11:15  - Tyler, TX

Please pray as we meet with hurting couples in the East Texas area who are in desperate need of God's restoration individually and relationally.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Pain and The Pump....

Just in time, I found you just in time
Before you came my time was running low
I was lost, the losing dice were tossed
My bridges all were crossed, no where to go

Now you're here, now I know just where I'm going
No more doubt or fears I've found my way
For love came just in time, you found me just in time
And changed my lonely life that lucky day
     - Just in Time, Songwriters: Betty Comden,  Adolph Green, and Jule Styne
Recently a friend described the harrowing experience of running out of gas as friends and neighbors drove by stopping to ask what was the matter.

I'm no different.  Like many people I find myself avoiding the gas station these days.  "Ohhhh, we can make it there and back," I tell Megan.  "Look! the gas light hasn't even come on yet!" I plead while casually motoring by the gas station secretly hoping to actually make it "there and back".

Last Sunday morning the gas light was on and just as I accelerated past the filling station I began to feel the jitters of an engine that could not push the wheels any longer without "the juice".   I had literally pulled into the gas station on fumes.  Imagining "what could have been", I thanked God for the presence of mind to recognize how empty I really was causing me to pull in and fill up.

I got back into the car and turned the key.  The engine swallowed the gas and began to purr again as Dean Martin crooned on the radio "you found me just in time, love came just in time".  Just then it became apparent what I would be writing about this week.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
- Psalm 51:16-17

This is the beauty of The Gospel of Jesus Christ - this is the good news.   When we are completely out of steam - when the needle is on empty, we are finally in the place to receive His amazing grace.  There is nothing we can bring to God but our brokenness.  The only thing our creator is interested in is our acknowledgement that we can't get it done, that we need Him to do the work for us.

My dear friend, Tommy, is suffering with the knowledge that cancer is literally alive and well in his body.  These days Tommy lives with a continual reminder of his mortality; Simply put, he is helpless.   This certain type of cancer did not respond to chemotherapy.  He cannot will his body to return to health - it is literally beyond his influence.  He can only wait to see what God will do through it.   But in the midst of the waiting, God is awakening Him to the bits of his life that He can never lose - the love of his wife, his children, his friends and his Creator.   In this way Tommy is not so much "battling" or fighting "cancer" he is surrendering to God.

Completely unlike Tommy is Walter White from Breaking Bad (in my opinion maybe the best show on television since Friday Night Lights), a high school chemistry teacher who when faced with the knowledge of his terminal cancer begins to grab for control in disastrously horrifying (and gruesomely entertaining) ways.   Like a drowning man, the more he struggles for control the quicker he sinks bringing down those around him who would seek to rescue him.

The sad reality of Walter's suffering extends to all of humanity; no one is exempt (no not one!).   God understands the human condition.  He knows how we suffer with our self-absorption and self-justification and yet, by His grace, He has made a way for us.  The futility of our reaching for control leaves us trying to "possess" our lives like Steinbeck's Lenny from Of Mice and Men who, unaware of his strength, kills a puppy by continually petting it.    Our problem is not that we don't think enough of ourselves as many in my generation (The Self-Esteem Generation) were raised to believe.  In fact, quite the opposite, we never stop thinking of ourselves.   To this (as with all things) Jesus provides the answer....

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 
- Matthew 10:39

Letting go of (read: losing) our lives is made possible by our God of grace who essentially gently takes the gun out of our cold dead hands, talking (read: loving) us off the ledge saying to us "you can't do it, but I already have and it's all OK now because I love you"....

Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; 
 I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name
 He will call on me, and I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. 
With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation. - Psalm 91:15

You only come to Christ out of gas.... totally empty.   New Testament theologian, Paul Zahl, speaks of God's love as always and only "one way love".   There is no "meeting in the middle"; there is no "you take one step, He'll take two".  We bring nothing to the throne but exhausted efforts and empty hands. As we, drawn by His Spirit, approach God, he sees not our efforts and our hands, but the crowning achievement that is the Cross of Calvary and the nail-pierced hands of His Son, the only servant with whom God has ever been well pleased (Matt 12:18).

"Taking Jesus as my personal savior" has always sounded a little like it was my choice to posses a path towards salvation and having chosen Jesus, He is now mine.  It's always sounded to me like "I have Jesus in my back pocket".  How easy it is to make Christianity a means to our ends.  But the bible has made clear...

The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God
- Psalm 98:2-4

His salvation - His righteousness - His Love - His faithfulness.  Thank God then that we are no longer responsible for any of it.  By God's Grace, Jesus holds it all, and consequently, us, in His hands.


 This Week

* Wednesday AM Book Study - The Explicit Gospel, Chapter 1 - tomorrow at 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Thursday -  KE Cellars on Broadway - Tyler, TX - 6-9pm

* Saturday - SCRUBS Medical Missions Fundraiser - Rose City Flying Clays - The Magills play 3-5:30pm

Next Week

* Monday Men's Lunch - Grace in Practice - Chapter 2 p. 100-110 -  Dakota's Steakhouse 12pm


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Resurrection (Charmed) Life In Christ!

Darkness is a harsh term don't you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But, you say that's exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

- Roll Away Your Stone, Mumford & Sons

I spend so much time thinking about The Gospel that I'm rarely surprised at what seemingly insignificant incidents bring it to mind.  Last week when I poured Maggie her first bowl of Lucky Charms, she immediately ate all the marshmallows and none of the "unlucky" cereal.  She then asked if she could have more.

In the days that followed I repeatedly preached to her that a true cereal connoisseur, like her father, eats the "magically delicious" Lucky Charms one bite at a time allowing the marshmallows to fall only by chance (or by luck!) into the spoon.   Yesterday, however, I poured a bowl for myself only to find that this sneaky three-year-old had been working her way through the box digging out all the "marshmellow-y" goodness.

Appetizing right?
Loretta Lynn famously wrote and sang, "Everybody wants to go to Heaven - but nobody wants to die!" Indeed Maggie is showing signs that she will take her place alongside the rest of humanity - only wanting what's tastiest while resisting what's healthiest.

Matthew records Jesus temptation in the desert just before his earthly ministry began.  Of the three temptations, Satan's final temptation was truly insidious. Scripture foretells of Christ's eventual and eternal reign as the "king of kings and lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16) but Satan tempted Jesus to embrace then and there what was only meant for Him in eternity and what could only be attained by perfect submission not through some Faustian exchange.

Author Russell D. Moore writes in Tempted and Tried that "what God had veiled in future promise, Satan sought to uncover in present observation.  We must see why we want to exchange the end-time exaltation by our Father for the right-now exaltation of a snake."

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”   Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.  - Matthew 4:8-10

Christ knew that the way of the suffering servant would be the way by which He would set things right between a perfectly Holy God and sinful humanity.   This would require patience, heartbreak and obedience unto death.  Though Christ taught His disciples of the coming sacrifice predicting his death time and again (John 3:14-15), yet even those within his inner circle completely missed His intimations....

They (James and John) replied “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,  and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” - Mark 10: 37-38, 42-45

When James and John asked to sit at Jesus' "right and left hand in glory" they were assuming some kind of military might or political honor and glory would soon accompany Jesus' earthly ministry. But Jesus made clear that "his moment of greatest glory" would be a radically counter-intuitive and painfully fatal act of self-submission with which they (along with the other disciples) would want no part.

Yesterday, I caught a picture of Maggie really listening to The Easter Story for the first time. She was heartbroken as she heard of the suffering that Jesus went through. To date, the focus of our teaching (through story and song!) is how much Jesus loves Maggie, but yesterday that "how much" was unpacked in a lot more detail.

She gasped hearing how he was whipped with The Cat o' Nine Tails, the crown of thorns, the mocking and The Crucifixion.  With each new station she winced a bit more and seemed truly shocked that anyone would hurt the one who loves her so much.  But then when finally she was told of Christ's first Easter, The Resurrection of the Son of God, the relief on her face revealed more than a glimmer of hope in her heart. She literally jumped up smiling and exclaiming, "He's alive!"

Jesus forsook "the charmed life" due him to embrace the pain and suffering we all deserved paying the debt that we could never pay.  In so doing He made a way for us to meet the harsh realities of life (pain, disappointment, failure) with the hope hidden within us of a future in which sin and suffering no longer holds sway over our hearts and minds.   But (and this is the thrust of B3 Ministries message!) this hope has a mysterious power to change us now.

What you believe about your future changes you in the present.
 - Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian, NY, NY

Jesus' love for us has led us into new life now - resurrection life now!   No longer do we fear what once could crush us (1st John 4:18).  No longer is there shame over our past transgressions (Rom. 8:1).  No longer must we labor under crushing expectations coming from ourselves or others calling for our "best life now".  For in Him, death has lost it's sting (1st Cor. 15:55), death is no longer victorious.   In Him our life is now hidden - we have died to this life - our real life (read eternal life) is now hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3).

Can't no grave hold our bodies down!
Happy Easter,
 This Week

* Wednesday AM Book Study - Grace in Practice by Paul F. M. Zahl - get your books here!  Chapter 3, Grace in Families tomorrow at 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)
* Thursday -  KE Cellars on Broadway - Tyler, TX - 6-9pm

* Easter Sunday - The Magills at Arbor Fellowship (Bethel North) 10 am - Elks Club Building - 202 S. Broadway - 3rd Floor, Tyler, TX

Next Week

* Monday Men's Lunch - Grace in Practice - Chapter 1 p. 30-45  -  Dakota's Steakhouse 12pm


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Posers Posters!

Let's go to my room - I'll show you my posters
- Dada, Posters 1992

Megan and I recently purchased a stunning piece of art for our living room and oh how far I've come!   At one time it was $3 posters that were my pride and joy; my father designed perhaps the world's largest cork board (most likely to save his walls from me) and I filled every square inch.  Those posters unashamedly spoke to every entrant of just who that 14-year-old me planned to become - they were pictures of my idols.

I grew up in Mayberry... not exactly, but close enough.  It was a picturesque slice of Americana with just a few trees that stood strong (if not tall) - those that would not be blown over by Western Oklahoma's infamous wind that pushes through town and on to more exciting places - but the folks stay put.   Like a few of my friends, I felt trapped.

But there were strangers' songs and stories from other places - from a world outside our little town - places we'd never been and longed to go.   We heard about the stories and listened to the music on Rock 100.5 The KATT and I couldn't get enough.

But try as I might to imagine what that life outside was like, I was stuck in my room with posters of "rockers" on my wall.  Guns N' Roses, Tesla, Cinderella, Motley Crue - you name it.  They looked drunk, angry, petulant, high and most of all, mysteriously exciting.  And I wanted what they had.

I wanted out of a risk-averse, manicured existence - to have all the fun - consequences be damned.  In retrospect it's clear to me that I believed myself to be above the consequences.  I was privileged, relatively speaking, and though I'd been given an (advanced) inheritance, in a sense, of safety, security, and a steady-handed work ethic that could pave the way for the same in a family of my own one day, what I wanted was sex, drugs and rock n' roll.  Essentially I salivated to become a walking cliche and that's just what happened. 

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. - Gal 6:7

I'll spare you the details of where my desires led me.   Suffice it to say this reformed poser eventually ran out of gas, I gave up and came home.   Not home to "Mayberry" but home to my creator.   I had made the journey. I'd caused a lot of pain to others and to myself in the process but in the end I found grace and forgiveness in The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Amazed that THE quintessential story of a father's one-way love for his wayward but "found" son had somehow evaded a friend's ears his entire life, I recently explained The Parable of The Prodigal Son. This is the universal story of every man in relation to his creator through which Jesus described the essence of The Gospel.

We have all in some form or fashion, to varying degrees, wasted the good and perfect gifts (read inheritance) given to us by God.  We've done so by living life to please ourselves - living lives either to please or manipulate others.    For some the result has been disappointment, guilt, shame and isolation for others the "rotten fruit" of self-absorbed lives cannot be faced.  The resultant and ever-present self-deception for these unfortunate prodigals increases to catastrophic and blatantly obvious levels.

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. 
- Matthew 23:12

But then when all hope is lost.  When every effort and attempt to recover has been exhausted there is that liberating word from God, "sinner, come home".

The return home, repentance, the turn from one's old way of thinking to a true awakening of the heart and soul found only in the outstretched arms of the Father who alone can provide clarity in the midst of our confusion and light in the midst of our darkness.

This is the parable that continues to preach to my weary soul.   The eternal offer of God to return to Him.   The way home is a one-way road that leads the sinner across a bridge built with the wood of the cross and the nails of crucifixion by the pierced hands of Christ Jesus.  When He has delivered me to the other side once again, I am no longer my own.  I have been hidden in Christ to be received like the king that He is - righteous and without blame.

...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. - Phil 2:12-13

That journey begins anew each day.  Though I turn from the costly love of Jesus again and again,  by God's grace, my ears are being attuned to more quickly perceive the call of the Father and the sound of His footsteps rushing towards me at my slightest inclination to return to Him again.  With each journey home I learn more of the sickest parts of me that so desperately need all of Him and the grace that makes my repetitive return home possible.

As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed--the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. - Rom. 4:17

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. - Gal. 2:20

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus - Rom. 8:1

In a sense, I suppose, Christians spend their lives repeating that journey home being made ready for that eventual and final return, carried home in the arms of a Savior, Jesus - the only Son of God, who rather than waste His inheritance on Himself, lavished His life completely on humanity to the Glory of God and for the salvation of every prodigal son. (The most recent rendering of this kind of one-way "carrying" love was The Cohen Bros. True Grit's final scene)

Having shed His light on the futility of faithfulness to false idols and the ensuing disappointment to which they inevitably lead, may He paper the walls of our hearts and minds now and forever with His love and truth!

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. - Proverbs 3:3


This Week

* Monday Men's Lunch - Grace in Practice - Chapter 1 - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm

* Wednesday AM Book Study - Grace in Practice by Paul F. M. Zahl - get your books here!  Chapter 2, The Four Pillars of a Theology of Grace tomorrow at 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Thursday - The Magills at Rick's on The Square - Tyler, TX 8pm-11pm


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Squirrely Omen?

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. - Proverbs 16:18

Clothes don't make the man - anonymous

I don't throw salt over my shoulder.    I don't like black cats (or, for what it's worth, cats at all) but I'm not afraid to cross one's path.    If I break a mirror, I suppose I'd pick up the pieces, throw them out and buy a new one.   Simply put,  I don't believe in any kind of luck, good or bad.  That said, something so peculiar happened recently that I had to step back, take a big gulp and consider my life in the light of this altogether strange occurrence.  Let me explain...

My friend works at a high-end clothing store.   He recently told me that all the distributors, from which he purchases the clothes to sell, continually send him clothes to keep and wear.  It's the kind of perk that this fashion-conscious, cheap skate would "eat up".   In any event, he told me his closet needed to be "raided".   "You're my size" just come on over and I'll give you some of these clothes.   I have to make room for more!"

After having him over for dinner with Megan,  Jim and I drove to his place where he proceeded to give me so many great pieces of clothing that I've had to in turn give a great deal of my clothing to The Salvation Army just to make room for the new.   "Get to the point" you may be saying....

Feeling like Joseph after receiving his exquisite coat of many colors I was becoming extremely excited thinking of how much Megan will like seeing me in these new clothes and quite honestly, how great they will look on me.  I know, GAG! (See Donny Osmond to the left!)

With arms so full of clothes that I can barely see above them I walk out the front door when I was struck by the sight of a really plump squirrel laying flat on his stomach with his head cracked open and blood running all over the sidewalk.  

I called to my buddy, "Hey, check this out!"

He tells me, "yeah sometimes they try to climb too high and the poor things fall to their death!"

After tip-toeing around the squirrel to drop off the clothes in my trunk, I helped my friend clean up the squirrel's remains and drove home excited. I must have dreamed about the whole scene continually reviewing Jim's remark because I popped up out of bed before the sunrise to the reality that it may have been an omen.

This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. - Jeremiah 9:23-24

Materialism calls out to us continually.  In this instance, being conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2) would simply mean trusting that my wealth and health are signs that God loves me.   And in one sense they surely are...

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 
- James 1:17
...but only to the degree that humility (His not mine!) ignited by God's grace within leads to deeper gratitude on my behalf to God for his goodness to me.   If for one moment I believe I am somehow due the good things with which God chooses to bless my life, I have become self-deceived climbing ever higher in the "shaky tree of self-justification" (i.e. If I keep doing for God, He'll keep doing for me).

And yet isn't this where we all so often live?  Doing and doing and doing intoxicated by worldly methods of transaction.   Thinking if we scratch God's back, He'll scratch ours.   Functionally, we so often operate under "prosperity gospel" precepts.   This is akin to a hamster on wheel, going nowhere but running at a fever pitch, laboring but void of any true meaning.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 
- Col. 2:8

I deserved the death of an overweight squirrel reaching for another nut in an unstable tree.   Instead I was delivered to safety because Christ took my place on a tree of His own.  Obedient unto death on a cross (Phil 2:8), Christ knew that "the son of man must be lifted up" (John 12:34) temporally as a sacrifice for our sins that He might then be lifted up eternally and "seated at God's right hand in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 1:20).   The Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ proclaims I'm there too!

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus 
- Eph. 2:6

In Jesus' most famous parable (The Prodigal Son), the Son returns to the father after squandering his advanced inheritance.   Instead of simply becoming a worker in his father's house (which was the very best he could think to hope for),  the exuberant joy and love of the father overwhelms the boy with grace.  The father says, "bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet" (Luke 15:22).

I deserved what the squirrel got.  But last week, I got outfitted like the Prodigal Son coming home.  I'm thankful to Jim but I'm especially thankful to the giver of all good gifts.   I'm clothed for a blip in the here and now, but I'm clothed eternally in Christ's righteousness.

Thanks be to God.



PS - here's one for the squirrel....

This Week

* Wednesday AM
Book Study - Grace in Practice by Paul F. M. Zahl - get your books here!  Chapter 1, Grace in Theology (pgs. 68-90) tomorrow at 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

* Thursday - The Magills w/ The In-Laws and Outlaws at Rick's on The Square - Tyler, TX - 8:30-11:30pm

* Saturday - The Magills w/ The In-Laws and Outlaws at The East Texas Auto and Cycle Show to benefit The East Texas Women's Crisis Center - Harvey Hall - Tyler, TX 12-4pm

Next Week...

* Monday Men's Lunch at Dakota's - 12pm - Chapter 6 of Tempted and Tried