First Day of School

Slow down in the school zones. Watch out for minivans driven by smiling mothers ecstatic about the first day of school. Keep an eye out for packs of elementary school boys running between cards decked out with new tennis shoes and backpacks. By all means don’t forget the teachers walking toward the schools fixated on the calendars of their smart phones thinking to themselves, “Where did the summer go?!”

Somewhere in America, you could have probably overheard the following conversation. Mom shouts upstairs saying, “Son, it’s time to go to school.” A muffled voice from underneath the pillow replies, “I don’t want to go to school.” Undeterred Mom shouts back, “You have to go to school. Give me two reasons why you don’t want to go to school today.” After a brief pause a voice replies, “The students don’t like me and the teachers don’t like me. Give me two reasons why I should go to school.” Mom scratches her head and shouts, “You are fifty-two years old, and you are the principal!”

If you haven’t thanked God for the principals, teachers, counselors, administrative assistants, music teachers and coaches on the front lines for our children this week. Stop now and thank the Lord for their hard work and sacrifice.

For the Lowrie clan this has been an historic week, my baby girl Madison texted me a picture of her arm in arm with three coeds at Dallas Baptist University with the headline “My last first day of school.” The Lord willing, Madison will graduate from college in December with her B.A. in Psychology. Her graduation will be a thrill to her mom and my accountant.

On the same day, my daughter Jamie started her first day of school as a first grade teacher. I don’t know who was more scared, the children or the teacher. By the way, Jamie came down with a sore throat and cold before the end of her first week…welcome to the world of little children and germs!

As I reflected this week on my educational adventures, I came across the following quotes on education that made me smile. For instance:

Ray LeBlond observed: “You learn something new every day….if you pay attention.”

Or Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant men who ever lived who also was slow to talk and failed his first university entrance exam noted:

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

 As an adjunct Christian studies professor for Howard Payne and a Baptist preacher, I must confess I resonate with the observation of W.H. Auden who wrote:

“A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep.”

 You may or may not be aware that one of the great forces behind education for the masses has been the Christian church. Many of the great universities of our land like Princeton and Harvard were founded by devout Christians to train pastors and generations of Christian world leaders. Early believers after the invention of the printing press taught children to read so they could read the Bible and come to a personal relationship with God in the sacred space of their own bedrooms.

As followers of Jesus let me encourage you to be champions of education and lifelong learning.  Solomon wrote to his son the following admonition:

“Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” (Proverbs 4:13 ESV)

As we close out the first week of school whisper a prayer for the teachers and students of our fair city. Pray this school year will be one of great learning and adventure…and yes, prayer because as the saying goes, “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools!”

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I Do

This week as I struggled to go to sleep at night I kept hearing wedding bells. You may ask how did I know they were wedding bells…they sounded just like all my money being drained out of my bank account! Yes, the bells sound like the old cash register bells for those of us who carry AARP cards.

This year I gave up reading scary statistics especially after I read the average wedding in America last year cost $29,858. (Just in case you are wondering…no, we will not be spending that much money on Jamie’s wedding…if I can help it…and yes, you are going to get the Baptist special at the reception…cake and peanuts).

On a more serious note, I am having a hard time believing my little girl Jamie Leigh is all grown up and getting married. I am having an even harder time realizing she is marrying Jordan Villanueva…a young man I helped hire to be an intern at our church. If I had known what was going to happen when I met him…I would have interrogated him hooked up to a lie-detector, but you have to hand it to him. He loved Jamie enough to risk his job and his life to date her!

I must confess I have officiated at least one hundred weddings over the years, and weddings still scare me just a bit. Everyone shows up at the ceremony excited and nervous. The bride has dreamed of her perfect wedding since she was a little girl reading fairy tales. But what really scares me is the mother of the bride, and this time I am married to her!

Many years ago, Groucho Marx quipped: “I was married by a judge…I should have asked for a jury!” After the wedding Jordan may feel the same.

Jamie and Jordan have decided to write the own vows. I think that is so romantic. I can hardly wait to hear their vows of love to each other, but to be frank I had been working on a special set of vows for Jordan. After thirty-three years of marriage and twenty-five years of protecting little Jamie from boys, I had a few things I wanted to say to him.

Shortly after I became the father of girls, I considered joining the D.A.D.D.—“Dads against Daughters Dating.” I loved their slogan. “Shoot the first one and the word will spread.” However, since I do not own a gun, I decided that black leather King James Version Bible would be my sword of choice!

So back to Jordan’s vows, as I reflected on them I remember the only advice my father-in-law gave me when Robyn and I got married. He looked me deep in the eyes peering into my trembling soul and said, “David, just don’t ever buy a black and white television set without talking to your wife.” You know what? I never have– his advice continues to be priceless.

So what would I ask of Jordan. I want him to love her with all his heart. I want him to realize his responsibility will never be to fully understand her, but to love and cherish her all the days of his life. I want him to fall in love with her over and over again. I want him to put her needs above his.

I want him to keep lighting up her face like he does now. I want him to keep on sharing his heart and life with her and talking to her long into the night while listening closely to her dreams and fears. I just want him to keep on loving her like he did to capture her heart. Obviously I may be asking just a bit too much, but don’t forget Jordan will have help from above.  Jesus is the greatest “love doctor” of all.

A number of years ago, YouTube captured a father of the bride giving his final word of advice to the groom right before the ceremony. He spoke of how time and time again God had answered his prayers for his little girl. I loved and identify with his closing remarks. He said, “Me and God’s worked hard—so don’t screw it up!”  See you Saturday at the church at 2:00 p.m. Do you hear the bells too!

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Sounds of Heaven

Do you think there will electric harps and drums in heaven? For centuries one of the classic views of life in heaven sadly revolved around sitting on clouds and playing harps. (If asked I would prefer playing golf…like Jordan Spieth if possible).

This classic idea of harps in heaven can be traced back to Revelation 14 when John witnessed the 144,000. He reported what he saw as follows: “ And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps,  and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders.” (Revelation 14:2-3 ESV)

John Bunyan captured this idea and portrayed Christian and Hopeful entering the Heavenly City and greeted with harps and crowns in his classic allegory Pilgrim’s Progress.

“Practicing heaven on earth” remains as one of my favorite mottos when I speak of the life and mission of our church. Much of the time when I think in these terms, I think about the wonderful diversity of life within our family. Just as in heaven every nation, language, and tongue will gather around the throne. When our church family gathers we increasingly reflect the glory of heaven in the faces of our people. A few weeks ago on International Sunday, we had over eighty (80) people stand acknowledging their births in other homelands like Mexico, China, Kenya, Japan, Korea,  Taiwan, Columbia, Lebanon, and Arkansas! (I was just kidding about Arkansas—sooie pig).

Let’s be honest, we may not all be playing harps or singing in a heavenly choir, but I cannot imagine heaven without music. Will you dream with me about the glorious sounds and harmonies that will resound in glory? That being said, there have been moments when I have felt caught up to glory but never during a sermon. It has always been through music. I can close my eyes right now and feel the music washing over my heart and soul like a wave of ecstatic joy.

If we seriously intent to “practice heaven on earth” we need to pull out the hymnal, the guitar, the piano and yes, the organ and sing—or at least make a joyful noise.

Over the past ten years, Jim Cleaveland has invited us week in and week out into the throne room of God through worship and music. God has used him to pull back the veil, and to usher in the glory of God among us. As you know, Jim will be retiring August 9 of this year, so our Personnel Committee began a search to find the one uniquely gifted to take on this mantle.

This Sunday morning, Elvin Porflit will be coming in view of a call to be our new minister of worship and media. Many of you may already know and love Elvin, Julie and their children since they have been part of our family for years. Elvin accepted our invitation to be considered after seventeen years as the choral director of Jefferson High School where he has led some of the most outstanding choirs in our region. In addition, Elvin has had the opportunity to lead worship and participate in many of the great congregations of our city like Del Sol and Coronado Baptist Church.

As I stand back I marvel at the process, it has amazed me how God uniquely prepared Elvin to step into this role of leadership having served under Ron Bowles and Jim Cleaveland and grown up among us. He knows and loves our church. He knows and loves our city.

We will be hosting a time of questions and answers with Elvin and Julie on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. in the Wolf Conference Center, and we will be voting on his call at the end of each of our morning services. I hope you will join us as we “practice heaven on earth” and sing until heaven comes down!

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Go Enjoy the Adventure

We arrived just after dawn, which can be incredibly early for a teenager, to make the trek from Fort Worth to El Paso for our annual River ministry mission trip. I must admit I did not sleep very well the night before being kept up by the excitement of going on a mission trip as a fifteen year old preacher boy. This would be my first mission adventure and I could hardly wait, but we all had to wait because as usual one of our team arrived just a bit late because he oversleep which was clearly evident by the state of his hair!

After a quick prayer for travel mercies, we hit the road to the sounds of Bachman Turner Overdrive blaring “Taking Care of Business.” Remember this was the ‘70’s and contemporary Christian music was still in diapers, and it was far too early in the morning to sing hymns.

I will never forget that first trip to El Paso. I remember we drove, and drove, and drove. I distinctly remember stopping for lunch in Midland convinced El Paso rested just over the horizon, but to our shock we had many more miles ahead of us across what appeared to be a lunar landscape. Upon arriving, we checked into our hotel. Unfortunately our reservations had been messed up by clerical error since computers barely existed, so our youth minister had to assign me along with two buddies to the “honeymoon suite” with a heart-shaped tube, and yes, a mirror on the ceiling above the bed. You can’t make this stuff up!

Early the next morning, we easily crossed the border into Juarez, and as I remember we made our way into a poor neighborhood complete with tiny frame homes made with shipping pallets. After a series of twists and turns we arrived at a small frame Baptist church building that would be our base of operation for the week. I remember wondering how we would connect with the children for our Vacation Bible School, but God answered that question rather quickly. As we unloaded, the children started appearing, and soon after we started kicking the soccer ball the yard of the church was filled with smiling happy faces. I did not know what they were saying, but I quickly discovered a smile and a hug can be translated into any language.

Over the course of the week, I witnessed the power of God and felt the sweet winds of the Holy Spirit at work. In the evening when we gathered for worship and preaching of the gospel, I witnessed boys and girls, and moms and dads giving their hearts to Jesus. I can still close my eyes, and relive the moment.

At times I wonder about those children, who today would probably be between 45-55 years old, how their lives were changed because of a band of teenagers who spent a week with them. I suspect only in heaven will I truly ever know the impact on their lives, but to this day I remember the impact on my life. I learned to love God more deeply, to trust Him more fully, to share His love in simple ways, and to trust the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives.

This week, our church once again has been given the privilege to take the “GO” from the Great Commission and to make it our marching orders. Eighty-eight (88) of our students and sponsors traveled to Moore, Oklahoma to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the people of “tornado alley” who saw their lives twisted by the devastating impact of tornadoes. Through actions of compassion and kindness—and hard work—our students reminded those around them Jesus loves and cares for them deeply.

Meanwhile, University Baptist Church of Fort Worth sent twenty-three (23) friends to the border to join volunteers from our church to take the good news to the streets our valley. Much like my experiences from years ago, little boys and girls learned that Jesus really does love them, and so do we.

If you want to follow Jesus, let’s face it, “GO” will need to be part of your vocabulary and more importantly your lifestyle. Go and enjoy the adventure of following Jesus!

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Why does your memory not fade when you want it to? When I need to remember something my mind freezes up, and the names or facts escape me, but when I want to forget an incident or an image my mind works like a steel trap and the memory haunts me like a bad dream.

To be frank, in many ways I wish I could go back in time to a day when news—especially bad news—did not arrive on my doorstep with such sudden urgency. I realize the good old days in reality had the dark tinge of evil just as our day, but at least the horrors of this world did not confront you in such vivid colors burning their way into your psyche.

Can you imagine a day when the pony express rider brought the news from afar on the back of a breathless horse that scampered across the desert? Today news arrives practically instantaneously on flat screens big and small that hold court in the family room or in the palm of your hand. Sadly, much of the news these days especially out of the Middle East and Europe chills the soul.

A few days ago an image of a long line of men dressed in orange walking along the seashore at sunset caught my attention. The grandeur of the stunning scene turned dark when I recognized another line of masked and hooded men dressed all in black carrying long knives escorted these men. A black flag with Arabic symbols waved in the background and instinctively, which had to have been the intent, I realized I had inadvertently stumbled into another tragic drama staged by ISIS—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Quickly averting my eyes to the text of the news release, I read in horror how the men clad in orange in reality were family to me—these twenty-one men being lead to their slaughter claimed my Lord Jesus as their own which by the power of the His Spirit living within our hearts makes us brothers.
Yes, in an act of cruel barbarism, these ISIS assassins murdered “21” Coptic Christians from Egypt not for crimes they had committed, nor for plots orchestrated in dark rooms, but for bearing the name of Jesus as their Lord and Savior. ISIS targets Christians, even going as far as crucifying many of them—another image I wish I had never seen—and if left unstopped many more Christians will fall at the edges of bloody swords.

So what does one do in response to such unspeakable evil? How does heaven response when its sons and daughters die at the hands of cruel evil men? Sadly, much like the Jews, Christians have often been targets of persecution dating all the way back to the crucifixion of Jesus himself.

Jesus openly warned His devoted followers of the dangers and the backlash of an evil world. He knew His followers too would suffer atrocities and brutal acts of hatred. In the Revelation written by the Apostle John in exile on the isle of Patmos, he watched the Lamb of God opening the seals which would unleash His fury upon the evil on the earth he wrote:

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-10 ESV)

As so vividly noted, without doubt God hears the cries of His people, and He will settle the score once and for all time, but until that final victory our LORD Jesus commands us to follow His revolutionary path of love and grace. He urges us to “love our enemies” knowing hatred only evokes more hatred. The edge of the sword will not advance His kingdom but rather unconquerable charity. I too cry out for God to stop the senseless violence, while pleading for my heart to be filled with His unspeakable love.

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Seize the Day!

What truly makes up a day? Is a day simply twenty-four hours, one-thousand four hundred and forty minutes, or eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds? How does one truly measure time? Do you ever waste time? Have you ever used the phrase, “I have an hour to kill”?

To kill and hour means to squander an opportunity to be truly alive. American theologian A.W. Tozer rightly pointed out:

“When you kill time, remember it has no resurrection.”

As I grow older, life takes on a new luster and value. Time begins to matter more and more. For instance, if you find yourself in a financial bind and ask me for $60 to pay a bill or buy a bag of groceries, I can give you my money, and in a matter of time I can earn $60 more dollars and be back to zero, but if you ask me to spend an hour with you in conversation, in a task, or simply wasting time I can never get that hour back. It has been spent. It has been invested. It will never return.

In reality most of us really have more money, or access to money than we have time. Time may actually be the most valuable treasure you hold in your hands, so don’t let it slip through your fingers in idle mindless tasks or habits.

The old American sage and patriot Benjamin Franklin penned the following insight about time:

“Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of.”

A few decades before the birth of Christ, the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, better known to some of us who did not fall asleep in Literature class as Horace wrote in Latin:

Dum loquimur, fugerit invida
Aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero

The literal translation of this text reads: “While we’re talking, envious time is fleeing: pluck the day, put no trust in the future”

Sandwiched in the middle of this verse you find the phrase “Carpe Diem”, which we often translate “Seize the Day.” I remember I first heard this phrase not in a lecture, but watching a movie when Robin Williams playing the role of John Keating, a literature teacher in a back East private boarding school in Dead Poets Society, challenged a room full of spoiled, rich boys to stop going through the motions and to truly live—to “seize the day.”

Through the ages, the philosophy of life has inspired many a wanderer to choose a path and to step out on a quest for life as it was meant to be.

Jesus, in his classic and timeless Sermon on the Mount, inspired a sea of common ordinary people to live extraordinary lives. In the heart of his plea he cried:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you…Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:33-34 ESV)

In other words, a life fully lived focuses on seeking the rule and reign of our Creator over our hearts and souls in such a way that one drinks deeply of every moment and invests his or her very being into things that really matter. Or simply put, “Don’t waste time…invest your life in eternity by loving, laughing and living with every breath you take.” So what are you going to do today?

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All Nations?

Do you remember taking geography in middle school? If you are like me you would struggle to find on a map or a round globe in the corner of your classroom nations like Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Can you imagine trying to spell these names on a fill in the blank test without the aid of spell check? As of last year there are one-hundred ninety-six (196) nations laying claims to parts of planet earth. Of course that number could have changed overnight. To be honest, I would be lucky to name fifty of these countries much less the whole exhaustive list.

One of my family’s favorite vacation destinations has been Disney World in Florida, and my personal favorite of the theme parks has to be Epicot Center. One of the reasons I love Epicot has to be the ability to stroll on a beautiful afternoon around the lake winding through eleven villages representing countries from around the world like Mexico, France, Germany, Morocco, Italy, China, Norway, Japan, U.S.A., England, and Canada. These exhibits not only capture the sights and sounds of these diverse countries but also the smells—the aroma of fresh hot dishes from around the world! Yum, Yum! Now you figured me out!

Speaking of diversity on display, my wife Robyn has flowing through her veins bloodlines of at least five nationalities including French, Irish, Welsh, English, American Indian, and possibly a touch of German. My family tree has its primary roots in Scotland and England. Our union has practically created the European Union flowing through the veins of our children and you throw in the bloodline of Philip Scott of England and you get “King George”—my grandson!

You see in a real sense we are all world citizens to one extent or another. I have found this to be especially true in El Paso—one of the largest border cities in the world and the “center of the universe” as our own Steve Jones calls the “Border Plex.”

One amazing afternoon, Jesus gathered his disciples around him for His final briefing before He ascended back to headquarters. With the clear distinct words of a commanding officer readying his charges for D-Day He declared: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me…” Translation,” I am in command, and this will be our mission.”

“Go and make disciples of all nations….” The Kingdom of God set its sights on touching and changing every nation in the world from its first salvo. The Kingdom of God never intended on being some kind of Middle Eastern “Mom and Pop” operation. No, Jesus gave his followers, what Jim Collins so affectionately calls a “BHAG”—a big hairy audacious goal!

Guess what the order still stands!

As you know by now First “International” Baptist Church enjoys “practicing heaven on earth.” Every Sunday when we gather together for worship we witness a glimpse of what John saw as he wrote: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”(Rev. 7:9-10 ESV)

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