Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Silence of The Darth Vader "Handless-Death-Choke"

"...and that's the rest of the story."
- Paul Harvey

My Father-in-law is famous (in our family anyway!) for saying, "some people have something to say and some people just have to say something".

I have swung the pendulum playing both parts at different times in my life.   But I remember once near the end of my college daze....(oops!)....days when filled with a lethal combination of overwhelming hubris that lead to a need to be heard and a certain intoxicant that lead to heightened paranoia, two times I called in to offer a "piece of my mind" on Oklahoma City Talk Radio; both efforts were total disasters.

Confidently I dialed the number and waited for the answer.   Almost instantly I heard "you're on air!"............................ and then there was nothing.....but cold.....dead.....silence.

My thoughts raced, sweat beads instantly popped on my forehead as I found myself completely unable to speak (and for this loud mouth that's saying a lot!).   After 3 or 4 excruciating seconds of silence, I heard, "caller,  please go ahead.  Caller, are you there?"

Like the imbecile, who after giving an unsatisfactory answer, was cruelly silenced by Darth Vader's hand-less choke hold, there I was shaking my head with my mouth open wide but panic-stricken and exposed, I was totally speechless. 

I called again.....I got through again.....it happened again! Mind blank.   Zero sound from my mouth.   Both times, though no one knew my name or saw my face, I was crushed by my impotence.   What an embarrassment!

http://static.comicvine.com/uploads/original/13/135592/2806788-Force-Choke-Vader.jpgLORD, the God of Israel, you are righteous! ....... Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence." 
- Ezra 9:15

These days I see an eternal foreshadowing at work in my botched attempts at "having something to say".   Every life is called to account for his or her actions before the creator.  This is a reality which sooner or later all mankind must face.

“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” 
- Jeremiah 17:10

 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
- 2nd Cor. 5:10

Upon the day of my death, for what it's worth, here's how I imagine....

At once I am conscious that I am finally alive free from my "body of death" (Rom. 7:24); death, after all, is the final removal of our sin.  Like standing next to a fire and not being able to pinpoint a specific area of my body that feels the heat, the whole of me will be overwhelmed by God's presence.  At that moment, before the throne, I am made aware of the span of my life.

All at once every sin (confessed and unconfessed), evil impulse, insecurity, fear, defense mechanism, moment of un-conscientious is made instantly known to me.  Yet instead of being crushed, falling to my knees, overcome by the weight of my sin, I see Jesus on the judgement seat (Rom 14:10) who then imparts an eternal relief that I know now only in part.

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

"It's taken care of", He says as He lifts me up with His blessed nail-pierced hands.  It's then that I begin an eternal education learning the span of His goodness and sovereignty throughout the entirety of my earthly existence.  From the many moments that led to the softening of my heart - to the truth of The Good News of Salvation in Christ - to the ways in which God was working every single event in my earthly life for my good, his purposes and ultimately, His Glory (Rom. 8:28).

As I hear, "well done good and faithful servant" - the blessed echo of God's response to Christ's obedience, I feel a sense of God's pleasure with my every earthly act of obedience.  Yet, filled with the knowledge of God's abiding presence throughout my walk as a Christian, at the same moment I recognize that it was Him working in me all along.  And then, before my God and King, I offer Him back the "crowns" He's just bestowed to me.

Suddenly I can speak again.  My tongue loosed I repeat "thank you and praise you" and for eternity in my thoughts, words and deeds I move, think and speak to the glory of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit in "the new heaven and new earth".

In my estimation the Darth Vader "Handless-Death-Choke-of-Silence" perfectly illustrates the condemnation from which we've been rescued.   By His Grace may we be propelled here and now into the assurance that we will one day know in full the mighty mercy and amazing grace of God and await giving account for our lives to God with the full assurance that there is not now, nor will can there ever be, condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1).    The Cross of Christ will not and cannot ever be silenced!

Grace has been spoken over us.   "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor. 12:9).   May we live now as the redeemed....for Christ has spoken on behalf of the speechless.

Grace and Peace,

This Week

* Wednesday - Men's AM Book Study -  7am - Centrepoint Ministries Building - 418 S. Broadway, 2nd Floor.  (Chapter 17,  Chaos and Grace)

* Friday - Men's Lunch - Weekly Devotional - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm  - (Chapter 17, Chaos and Grace)

* Friday - The Magills will play Jake's Rooftop Chaveta - Tyler, TX - 8-11pm

* Saturday - The Magills will play Fresh Patio - Tyler, TX - 6-9pm

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, April 16, 2013

The Gooooooooooaaaaaaal!!!!! of a Soccer Dad

 “If you are first you are first. If you are second, you are nothing.”
― Pele

I was no athlete.   My wife is an excellent dancer but didn't learn to ride a bike until a fifth grade outing made it necessary.   That said we've approached our 4-year-old daughter's first soccer season with all the excitement of a cat thrown into water.

It started off, as one might expect with theatrical parents and a slightly (if not overly) neurotic daughter, with an emphasis on the costume.  One trip to Academy and $40 later we had new soccer cleats, shin pads and a neon green uniform (the green only slightly greener than me as a soccer dad).

Practices were chaos and Coach Curtis gave it his best but, as this is affectionately termed "herd ball", it primarily involves corralling the girls and continual reminders "don't touch the ball with your hands!".


Just before game #1 I made a crucial mistake.   I sought to motivate Maggie by telling her that if she scored a goal I would take her on her favorite outing.

"Honey, if you score a goal I will take you to The Dollar Store to get some lip gloss."

"Woo hoo!", she shouted from the back seat barreling out of the car and onto the field.

Her initial exuberance matched mine and Megan's; we shouted encouragement and hoped for the best.  Maggie's team is named The Tyler Riot - this looked more like a peaceful sit-in.   Maggie's timidity and general lack of tenacity resulted in her barely touching the ball.

By half-time, transfigured by the weight of the reality that she was under-performing, the pep in her step had become a sluggish, dirt-kicking lag.    Maggie's heart was set on lip gloss not soccer.    When soccer became an impediment to her acquiring yet another lip gloss (that I will find stuck in the crevice of the couch next week), she began to hate soccer.

Maggie barely touched the ball that game, shoulders slouching and frowns abounding we left game one in tears acknowledging the sting of defeat and the loss of hoped-for lip gloss.

False Hope

Game #2 was much, much worse.    She was excited to suit up (of course) but minutes into the game it was the "same song, second verse".   Megan and I nervously watched as Maggie became more downcast every time the ball was kicked away from her.

As she looked over at us, we shouted, "great job baby! Keep it up.  We're so proud of you!!!"
Megan served a big, toothy smile and raised two thumbs up; Maggie returned a stern, look of disdain and two emphatic thumbs down. By the end of the third quarter Maggie was begging to go home while the other children laughed and played.   What had we done wrong?

Later that night Maggie told us, "you were telling me I was doing a good job when I wasn't.   I was not playing good and you were making fun of me.  I don't want you to lie to me".

Wow!   The reality that my 4-year-old daughter conceived that we were patronizing her soccer performance astounded me.    She wanted the truth.   Good or Bad.   She wanted the truth!   She was suffering under the weight of her poor performance and didn't want someone blithely glossing over her pain or worse yet, laughing at her through what she perceived as sarcastic comments.
Maggie wanted someone to share her burden... and who among us doesn't need that?


This past week something different happened.   I identified with her anxiety, guilt and fears. 

The night before game #3 I told Maggie, "honey, I don't care how you play the game.   It doesn't matter to Mommy and Daddy if you win or if you lose.   We just want you to enjoy yourself.   When you're playing you might start to think that you're not doing well.    When you hear that thought, don't pay attention to it.   All that matters is that you try hard and have fun.   We're doing all of this (buying the uniform, taking the post-game snacks and practicing in the backyard) to make you smile and to show you that we love you.  NOTHING else matters!  So have fun and play the game!"

Her performance was only marginally better than the first two games, but the weight of reward/punishment and humiliation had been totally lifted.   She laughed and smiled and ran and played and even kicked the ball a couple of times (stopping only once to pick it up).

Parenting is a continual lesson in the power of grace to transform situations, hearts and minds.   Maggie was freed by the knowledge that her performance DID NOT MATTER AT ALL.   Consequently, her performance improved a little, but the point was not her performance improving.   Our desire was that her heart would be freed to be the child that she is.     That this time of play would be just that....play; a time to battle the encroaching tide of adulthood that children seem to gravitate towards.

But there is a bliss in childhood and it's not the ignorant kind.  It's the kind of childhood that comes from being identified as a child of God who completely receives you and loves you without condition.   Who asks nothing in return but who through His Holy Spirit does all kinds of things through he/she who enters His kingdom not through strength (for that is impossible) but by weakness, through simple dependence upon God's Son's finished work on the cross (justification) and his continual work on the human heart (sanctification).

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child 
will never enter it." - Mark 10:15

Stop and consider how easily external pressures separate Christians from the peace that we have in a God who has loved us regardless of our inability to "measure up".   And think of the ways that internal voices, whether they be verdicts passed on us by others or judgements we've made about ourselves, hold us in bondage hampering our God-given, Jesus-purchased ability to simply live life in freedom with joy.

The Beach Boys' song I Can Hear Music comes to mind:

Loving you, it keeps me satisfied
And I can't explain, oh, no
The way I'm feeling inside

Oh, and I can hear music
Sweet, sweet music
Whenever you touch me baby
Whenever you're near 

- Berry, Greenwich, Spector

Grace lifts the "death pillow" of expectation off your face; suddenly there's no more suffocation.   The muffling effect of judgement that deadens our senses to the needs of others by beckoning us to pay attention only to ourselves (our performance, possessions, looks etc.) is removed and at last we "hear music, sweet, sweet music"! 

The love of God makes possible this kind of freedom whether it be for a 4-year-old soccer girl, a guilt-ridden mother or a business man at the end of his rope .    The child of God can return from burden to His blessed playground in an instant if he will but knock at the "door of hope", or rather listen to the one knocking at his heart.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. - Rev. 3:20

Game On!

This Week
* Wednesday - Men's AM Book Study -  7am - Centrepoint Ministries Building - 418 S. Broadway, 2nd Floor.  (Chapter 9,  Chaos and Grace)

* Friday - Men's Lunch - Weekly Devotional - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm  - (Chapter 8, Chaos and Grace)

* Friday  - 6-9 pm - KE  Cellars - Tyler, TX.   The Magills - come join us!

* Sunday - The Magills w/ The Downtowners at Bethel Bible North Campus - The Liberty Theater - 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, March 5, 2013

The Time Is Tight

 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers
- Philemon 1:4

Newsflash! Time is Tight is not just an excellent Booker T & The MG's song.   It's also a reality; our time together is precious and yet, so (upsettingly!) easy to take for granted.   We don't know how long we'll be around (i.e. employed in this community or alive!) to enjoy fellowship with one another.  

I have a dear friend who, along with his family, will move away from our community this week.   At their going-away dinner last night it occurred to me that their leaving serves as a pointed (...and painful) reminder that our time together in Christian fellowship is not something "we deserve", but instead it is evidence of God's infinite love and never-leaving, never-forsaking presence in our lives.   

That he uses each of us to minister to one another in miraculously unique ways (a shared breakfast, a spontaneous phone call, or a hand to hold in a time of grief) is proof of his creative and redemptive grace at work in our lives.   These friendships are all for naught if they do not consistently point us beyond ourselves and towards greater joy and thanksgiving for a God who meets our needs through our brothers and sisters.

Our fellowship is not perfect by any means and it is not without it's rough patches, but the constancy and transparency that characterize friendships touched by and drenched in God's grace reflect the character of God and results in a miniature picture to the world of His covenant love for us.....and the blessed by-product is that these relationships also edify us spiritually and fortify us for the days ahead.   The more we love (philia - friendship love) one another, the more our hearts are molded into the likeness of Christ, the friend of sinners.

AND GET THIS!  Our Christian friendships are eternal, which means what we do together now as believers, we will do for eternity....we are participating in the desire of God for our eternal lives when we love one another here and now.

C.S. Lewis wrote on the occasion of he and J.R.R. Tolkein's good friend's (Charles Williams) death....

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [JRR Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.” 
- The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis

If that's not an argument for the value of our friendships then I don't know what is.  
The time is tight - thank God for your friends and let God love your friends through you!

Grace and Peace,

We love you Matt and Angela - Peace be with you!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

You're Covered!

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;  
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.   
I need Thee, oh, I need thee, every hour I need thee.
- Annie Hawks, I Need Thee Every Hour, 1872

Any normal trip to the market for my family's necessary sundries can take a whimsical and joyous turn with my two daughters in tow.   Recently, as we checked out at a local pharmacy, Maggie and Blythe noticed "Barbie" Umbrellas for sale.  An early-January freezing rain fell from the sky and their mother and I couldn't resist.  Two exuberant squeals and six dollars later the two splashed in their rain boots under the cover of their new umbrellas all the way to the car (a mere 30 feet away).

A few days later the rainclouds dispersed and we enjoyed sunny skies and glorious 70 degree temperatures.    That afternoon Blythe (2 & 1/2) grabbed her new umbrella and ran outside shouting, “look daddy! It’s raining, it’s raining!”  

I laughed at her curious imagination but in the weeks since it's caused me to consider the way I tend to use the grace of God like an umbrella.   When the rains of suffering, disappointment or failure come falling down I run for cover in the all-sufficiency of the Cross of Christ.   As well I should!   

It is suffering through which God's presence is often times most palpable once we discover we've exhausted every effort to remain self-reliant.   Jesus calls those who experience such helplessness, those that are "poor in spirit" (Matt 5:3) or "those that mourn" (Matt 5:4), blessed.

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace.   
And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace. 
- Jerry Bridges

But am I blessed when I don't recognize I need him?   I confess days do go by when I feel that God's grace was for yesterday or that I will most likely depend upon it tomorrow.    I forget that His grace is raining down on me even when I don't think I need it!

Though we have the benefit of objectivity it's easy to see that, even in the midst of their skepticism when Jesus stood among the self-righteous Pharisees, they were being showered with God's grace.

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  
 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” - Matt hew 9:11-13

God's grace in Jesus Christ is not dependent upon my need for it.   It does not ebb and flow like the water hose I turn off and on in my backyard.  It is THE constant in the universe.  It is unchanging, it is unyielding and it will have its way.   Paul writes of the preeminence of Christ this way...

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. - Colossians 1:15-17

The grace of God has been made perfectly known to man in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who indeed holds all things together; it is evidence of God's grace and love for his created that the earth does not spin of its axis right now hurling believer and unbeliever alike into nothingness.   It is God's grace that I breath my next breath.   It is God's grace that anyone ever recognizes his/her need for salvation and it is evidence of God's grace that His Spirit within quickens my senses to perceive his abiding presence when I am crushed by the weight of the world or when I am lifted to new heights by a Beethoven concerto (or Led Zeppelin's Rain Song, as the case may be).

What a constant comfort it is to read of Paul's reminder to the Corinthians (and us!) that the Grace of God has poured down on believers forever and always (we walk in it and never don't walk in it!) once and for all in Christ Jesus....

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. - 1st Cor. 6:11

Here I'm reminded that I am forgiven and thus, possess the free gift of eternal life (John 3:14-15),  I am sanctified as The Holy Spirit makes real to me my new identity as a slave to righteousness (Rom. 6:19) and I am justified receiving communion with a Holy God because Christ's righteousness has been imputed to me (2nd Cor. 5:21).

Our position as believers is like this...

Whether we know it or not, whether we think we need it or not, whether we appreciate it or not - we are under the umbrella of God's grace.  All Christians everywhere and always need to be reminded of that every day no matter how long they've been in the faith or how little or great they are suffering.   

Knowing I'm safe, sanctified and justified eternally brings peace presently.     I inevitably get "caught out in the rain" of the broken world but God's grace is his promise that he will never leave us and never forsake us and that in Jesus, He has identified with our every suffering and loves us...even (and sometimes especially) if our circumstances seem to imply otherwise.

I found this painting (if it can be called that - more like a cheap, 70's print!)  the other day at a garage sale.   I hang it my studio as a reminder that I am covered.   I like how the girls clings to the umbrella with both hands.   May we always cling to God's grace in the same way.....rain or shine!


Here's a recent demo I put together that puts music to some of the themes above.....


Rain falling down, falling down on me
Ain’t nothing new as far as I can see
I could hear it coming, there was thunder crashing down
Now lightning bolts be ripping through this Texas town

I want to stand, I got to stand, take my stand underneath your umbrella
Only a fool could blame a man for taking shelter

If you see me coming and my head is hanging low
My boots are filled with water, my heart filled with woe
You will see me reaching, reaching out for you
Save me from this flood that I been walking through

Feels like there's a curse upon me; like I done lost a bet
Drowning in a river of my guilt and regret
Meet me my Jesus, open up the door
Dry my every tear, settle the score

- Matt Magill

Check out the new single "Umbrella" HERE
Check out the new record of scripture songs, "Wallpaper" HERE

This Week
* Wednesday - Mens AM Book Study -   Chapter 6, Glorious Ruin by Tullian Tchividjian at 7am - Centrepoint Ministries Building - 418 S. Broadway, 2nd Floor.  (Men, pick up Chaos and Grace NOW...it's our next book!)

* Friday - Mens Lunch - Weekly Devotional - Dakota's Steakhouse - 12pm  - (Men, pick up Chaos and Grace NOW...it's our next book!)

* Saturday - 12-4pm - Harvey Hall in Tyler, TX - East Texas Women's Crisis Center Auto and Cycle Show.   The Magills w/ Special Guests Ronnie "The Mouse" Weiss, Emily Williams and Smitty perform to raise money for Crisis Center - come join us!

* 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.