Sixty and Still Counting!

In 1954, a young man who grew up in the backwoods of the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee made his way to Carson Newman College. He traveled light with just enough money in his pocket to pay his tuition and carrying a suitcase which held a few items including two white shirts and a tie for class—one of the shirts borrowed from his grandfather.

 Little did he know this short journey from his home in the mountains to Jefferson City would eventually lead to the plains of West Texas and practically around the world preaching the Word of God. There in a rented room near the campus of Carson Newman, he gave into a longing deep in his heart and soul. He gladly surrendered his life to the gospel ministry, and at the ripe old age of eighteen accepted the call to be the pastor of the Biltmore Baptist Church in Elizabethan, Tennessee.

 Most eighteen year olds can barely tell the difference between up and down, even though they believe themselves to experts in life. At eighteen being a pastor of a local church, even a small one, can be a heady experience. How can a “kid” lead men and women in their walk with God? Even though Paul encouraged Timothy, his son in the faith, to not allow people to look down on him because he was young, being a pastor as a teenager will soon put one’s character to the test.

 In the cauldron of the pressures of ministry this young pastor started out preaching the best sermons he could find off the desks and out of the pulpits of other preachers. But he knew deep inside that this practice robbed him and his people of the “Word from on High” needed for life and fruitfulness. He also came to the realization that he needed a power within that could only come from on high.

 So this teenage preacher dropped out of school for a semester and enrolled in Jesus’ school of servant leadership, and yearned for the Holy Spirit of God to unlock the mystery and wonder of the Holy Scriptures. From sun up to sundown, he devoured the Word of God as the “bread of life” and during a matter of months a “preacher boy” began his journey toward becoming a “man of God.”

 Soon the little mountain church began to grow as people feasted on the Word of God delivered from the pulpit by the pastor who grew up right before their eyes. This humble beginning led to further studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and it was there in those days God burned the state of Texas on his heart and soul.

 Over the course of the next fifty years, he served Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Weatherford. The call of God moved him to First Baptist Church of Lorenzo and Calvary Baptist Church in Lubbock, where he fell in love with the people of High Plains. God took him east to North Fort Worth Baptist Church in Fort Worth where he preached to a generation of young preachers who learned as much about expository preaching sitting at his feet as in class in seminary. After ten years, God prepared him for citywide leadership by calling him to First Baptist Church of Texarkana which led to the call to the historic First Baptist Church of Lubbock, the great love of his life. He served this great church on two occasions for a total of seventeen years. 

 God also included in this journey stints as a state wide leader as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Executive Director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

 This month sixty years ago my father Dr. D.L. Lowrie began this journey by faith. Like the Apostle Paul, he “poured out his life like a drink offering to God” and his sacrifice has made our world a much better and richer place. My life and ministry has been shared by the privilege of following such a great light into the darkness. So how does one make sixty years in ministry—simple—love God and love His people with all your heart. Praise God the journey continues!

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King George Rocks My World!

It happened. In a twinkling of an eye a tiny little six pound baby boy rocked my world transforming me into a stunned grandfather—or grandpa—or granddaddy or whatever he wants to call me.

When my hairy legged son-in-law stepped out of the delivery room holding his son and my grandson George Walker Scott in his arms I must confess I stood there speechless which is quite a feat for a Baptist preacher. I felt a surge of strange emotions with a single tear welled up in the corner of my eye. I knew in that moment my life would never be the same.

As you may have heard I affectionately call my grandson King George. Now I must admit King David also has a good ring to it, but my daughter Lorin had plans of her own for her first born. Lorin will be graduating in a few days with a Masters in European History from Texas Tech and named her son after two of her political heroes.

During her high school years, Lorin became a spokesman and diehard supporter of President George Walker Bush. She even named a stuffed pet lion—“Bushy” after her favorite president. Being a Texan deep in her heart, Lorin has always held our “Cowboy president” in the highest esteem, and granted him one of the highest of honors by naming her first born after him.

However, since King George reigns as my first grandson, she also named him after King George VI of England, the father the Queen Elizabeth II who currently sits on the throne of Great Britian. King George VI in many ways was a reluctant king, who stammered his way into the hearts of the English people during the dark days of World War II. Both King George VI and Winston Churchill instilled iron into the backbone of the English people who stood firm in the face of the onslaught of Nazi Germany. As the terror of the bombing of London rained down on the city, the King huddled with his people in Buckingham Palace and dared not escape to a safer place when his people had nowhere else to hide.

Needless to say, my King George has some big shoes to fill, and I have no doubts that he will. (Did I mention to you I am a grandfather—and now I think and brag just like one!)

However, I fear that part of being a grandparent may be senility. The writer of Proverbs wrote: Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers. (Proverbs 17:6 ESV)

“Children’s children are the crown of old men…”

 Not to be deterred I decided to look it up in the original Hebrew, and guess what I discovered. You guess it. The Hebrew word in this text means—OLD! Ouch.

 Yes, I am officially an old man with a happy heart, and the best grandson in the world. (Of course, if you are a grandparent you can disagree with me, and you have the right to be wrong!)

 On a serious final note, God’s grace and love never cease to amaze me. God is good and King Jesus once again rocked my world by sending us love wrapped in a baby boy.

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Good Neighbors?

This week our church hosted the meeting of the Downtown Church Connection. I had the opportunity to bring a greeting to our friends and neighbors and tell a little bit about our church. I shared with them about our brave and humble beginnings back in 1882 (We have been in the neighborhood a long time!) and shared a brief word about our glimpse of our shared future.

 I talked about how we have the opportunity every Sunday due to our generational and ethnic diversity to “practice heaven on earth” and also that we strive and long to be “good neighbors.”

 Being a good neighbor stands out as one of the greatest ambitions of life, and one of the simplest ways to put our faith and love into practice.

 I resonate with the quip of the old English columnist G.K. Chesterton who wrote decades ago:

 “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

 Seriously proximity does not always lead to love and affection, but it certainly creates the opportunities.

 One day a religious nut and expert inquired of Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Turning the tables Jesus asked him, “How do you read it?”

 The expert nailed it saying: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27 NIV)

 Jesus commended him, and challenged him saying “Do this and live.” Sadly the expert wanted to “justify” himself—not a good idea when you are standing in front of Jesus—and inquired “Who is my neighbor?”

 In response Jesus told the story of the beaten and dying Jewish man lying beside the Jericho road. To his dismay the priest and the Levite passed by on the other side of the road.

 

This was shocking but nothing compared to when Jesus recounted how a Samaritan, the arch enemy of every God-fearing Jew, stopped and rendered aid, even taking him to an inn nursing the wounds until morning.

 Now Jesus asked the question. He asked the expert “who do you think was the neighbor to this man?” No even able to articulate the words, the expert sheepishly replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

 In mind’s eye, at this point Jesus smiled and said, “Go and do likewise.” As you can see bring a good neighbor has more to do with the heart and actions than how close our houses or apartments are to each other.

 Being a good neighbor costs…it costs you love…time…getting your hands dirty…maybe even your heart broken. Being a good neighbor means caring enough to get involved because you care. Let’s be good neighbors and make Jesus smile.

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Who in the world is J.D. Prevatt?

Have you ever wondered if your life was making any difference? Do you ever feel small and insignificant?

 I guess in the big scheme of things we often feel tiny in comparison to be vast world around us. Like the lyrics to the hit song of my early years by the rock group Kansas that sang to a generation searching for meaning and purpose in life:

 “Dust in the wind—all we are is dust in the wind!”

 For those who stumble through this life without meaning and purpose that sentiment might make sense. But for those of us who have discovered a personal relationship with our Creator in the face of Jesus—we know life has meaning and purpose.

 Even Henry David Thoreau captured the essence of our purpose when he observed:

 “One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”

 So what is that something for you and me? For a moment go back in time with me to Charlotte, North Carolina in the year of 1934, just five short years after the darkness of the Great Depression fell over America like a looming shadow.

 J.D. Prevatt got up, drank a cup of coffee for breakfast and headed off to work as a tailor. After a long day of work with his nimble fingers, he joined a throng of people gather a sprawling ramshackle building with saw dust floor seating close to 5,000 people to hear the hell-fire and brimstone preacher Dr. Mordecai Ham—a traveling Southern Baptist evangelist who had been preaching to thousands of people night in and night out.

 Little did J.D. Prevatt know he was going to play a small part in changing the world as we know it. Mr. Prevatt was a humble good Christian man, who loved the LORD, loved his family, and loved people and wanted to be used by God.

 As Dr. Ham concluded his message, the words of the old gospel hymn “Just as I am” rang out over the masses. Many came forward, but it appeared the Spirit of God was not finished yet, so the tune turned to the old hymn “Almost Persuaded, Now to Believe” as the second verse rung out a young sixteen year old boy stepped out of the row where he had been seated and headed to the front.

 When he arrived, he notice a woman next to him weeping with tears rolling down her cheeks, and he felt a bit embarrassed that he was not moved with that kind of emotion. As he was reflecting on his feelings a man put his arm around him. It was J.D. Prevatt who was a friend of his family. Mr. Prevatt urged this young teenage boy to give his heart and life to Jesus. At his urging, the young man surrendered his life to God.

 When the young man returned home and crawled into bed after his evening prayers, he noted “No bells went off inside of me. No signs flashed across the tabernacle ceiling. No physical palpitations made me tremble. I wondered again if I was a hypocrite, not to be weeping or something. I simply felt peace. Quiet, not delirious. Happy and peaceful.”

 The young man’s name was Billy Graham.

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Whole City at the Door

Do you get uncomfortable in large crowds? When someone invades your personal space does your brow break out in a cold sweat? Do you prefer the wide open spaces to confined quarters with a large group of people? If you prefer space over people God may stretch you a bit when you sign up to follow him.

 Sports fans love big crowds. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the largest football stadium in the United States towers over the horizon. “The Big House” as it is affectionately called can seat over 109,000 loyal fans of the “Big Blue”—the Michigan Wolverines. For those who love the “round football” (or soccer) of the rest of the world, the largest stadium is the Rungnado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea, the home of their national soccer team, this stadium can hold a whooping 150,000 rapid fans of the world’s sport.

 Thinking of lots of people in confined quarters, the world record for the most people stuffed into a Volkswagon Beetle is twenty-five students from Asbury University in Lexington, a Wesleyan-Holiness school. No one can say those Methodist don’t enjoy close fellowship!

 This past Wednesday, our church had the opportunity to host the FM 419 rally preparing for the Franklin Graham Festival of Hope in April. On this special evening we squeezed in over 900 students and adults into our sanctuary. It was an amazing night of worship, training, inspiration, and imagination. In one evening, God gave us a glimpse of what He has been up to in our city. He also pulled back the curtain to let us see just over the horizon at what He has in store for our future.

 I fear that we too often setting for “man-size” visions when God wants to place before us a “God-sized task.”

 “God-sized tasks” fall on the shoulders of those who can join God in dreaming big dreams and have the faith to trust in Him to make up the difference between what we can do, and what needs to be done.

 In the early days of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum, Jesus began to preach of the Kingdom of God being at hand and He also made this vision tangible by touching and healing the people of this fishing village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

 Mark tells the story of one night at Simon Peter’s home when he noted:

“The whole city was gathered together at the door” (Mark 1:33 NIV)

Can you close your eyes and see the people surrounding this little house in a tiny village? Why the commotion? What drew them to this door? Of course you know the answer—JESUS WAS IN THE HOUSE.

 When Jesus resides in the house don’t be surprised if the doorway cannot hold the throng that appears. Wednesday night as the teenagers and adults pushed through the doors and filled the house it reminded me that “Jesus was in the house.”

 Next Sunday you may have to give up a little bit of your personal space to make room for those who enter the sanctuary seeking a fresh touch from Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I am willing to move over to make room for someone seeking Jesus. It feels good to have Jesus in the house doesn’t it?

P.S. Speak thanks to Dan, Jordan, Juan and our great team of volunteers for doing such a great job.

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Real Change: Sermon Excerpt

“Real change in my attitude and actions begins when I change in a healthy way what I think and believe about my relationship with God”

You see the key to real change begins in my heart and mind—it begins in my relationship with God. I cannot really change in a positive and healthy way without have a healthy relationship with God.

Let’s look at how John preached this message in this interesting chapter of his early ministry. Matthew begins by pointing out that John began his ministry in a very unlikely place. Instead of hitting the big city, John began his ministry preaching “in the wilderness of Judea.” In other words, he started out in the middle of nowhere.  So why did God have John start his ministry in a place that most people would not have expected him to start? Let me suggest that John knew something about human nature. He knew that the people who really wanted to change would go anywhere and everywhere to seek what they were looking for. John’s strategy revolved around “desperate people.”

I suspect one of the reasons we don’t see the kind of real change we say we wants may be because we are not really desperate—we are not really hungry. We want the kind of change that will not really cost us anything. We want it to be quick and easy. Could it be one of the reasons most churches are filled with believers who struggle in their faith is because we have strived to lower the bar and to make things easier rather than harder?

Strangely when the crowds around Jesus began to swell, he would raise the bar and call for greater commitment until the point that most turned away, but those who were really hungry and thirsty for righteousness stay and were transformed from the inside out. I suspect this is what John was up to by calling people out to the wilderness. Rarely does real change happen on the mountain tops of life, but rather out in the desert—in the wilderness.

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Marriage Still Makes “Cents”

Over the past couple of weeks it has been my pleasure to witness first-hand the wonders and the mystery of marriage. On the front side I joined in the festivities as our own Drew Cook tied the knot with Veronica, his lovely bride, and God performed the miracle of the “two becoming one” in His presence.

At the other end of the journey, I stood over the grave of Clinton Wolf, who loved and cared for his wife Joann for over sixty-years. Their love born during their days as college sweethearts lasted through all the twists and turns life could throw at them, yet nothing could separate what God had joined together.

At weddings, I must confess my heart is still stirred by the romance and emotions of it all. My mind races back to seeing Robyn standing at the end of a long aisle, dressed in white, coming to-ward me to be my bride. Honestly, her dad did not look all that happy about her marrying a Baptist preacher boy, but the glow on Robyn’s face captured my heart for good.

At the funerals of lifelong loving partners, I am inspired to never ever give up or give in. My marriage is worth fighting for—even if it means fighting with Robyn on occasion, seeking to find common ground, and a healthy relationship. Sadly, I must confess too often my own selfishness rears its ugly head in the midst of us “talking nervous” as Kalie, our oldest daughter, used to call it.

This week, Kathleen Parker, of the Washington Post, wrote an article that has captured the attention of people across our nation. Parker entitled her article: “To Defeat Poverty—Look to Marriage.”

In a wonderfully written essay, Parker acknowledged and pointed to the incredible benefits of marriage in its own right. She noted how the research on the “war on poverty” has revealed the striking reality that a good, strong, healthy marriage protects couples and families from the downward death spiral of poverty.

In her argument for the age old—traditional view of marriage, Parker made the following observation: “More to the point, we know that being unmarried is one of the highest risk factors for poverty. And no, splitting expenses between unmarried people isn’t the same. This is because marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by a magical concoction of love, selflessness and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.”

Who would have ever thought you would find the Washington Post on the same page as Moses in the opening lines of the book of Genesis? I love her description of marriage which states: “marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by the magical concoction of love, selflessness, and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.” I think her words would make the Apostle Paul smile.

However, those who know marriage best know without doubt that this kind of love, selflessness, and commitment finds its root in the presence and power of God in the hearts and lives of the husband and wife. In fact, Paul pointed out that marriage works best when both partners are filled with the “Spirit” whose fruit includes: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.” It appears God knows what He is doing and we would be wise to follow His direction for real solutions to real problems.

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