Monthly Archives: June 2008

Evangelism: Good News for the Real World

When a follower of Jesus embraces the “both/and” reality of the Kingdom of God it colors the work of evangelism with bold strokes of color and passion. The revolutionary mission of the church consists of proclaiming the hope of eternal life and heaven through a personal relationship with God through Jesus, and working to bring “heaven on earth” by following the teachings and principles of Jesus in everyday life. N.T. Wright in his book Surprised by Hope paints this word picture with bold strokes writing:

“When the church is seen to move straight from worship of God we see in Jesus to making a difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world; when it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus’ table are the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine; when people realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them are the people who seem to have the extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed, then it is only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others to worship him for themselves and find out what belonging to his family is all about but it is also natural for people, however, irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be a part of.”

As I read these word pictures, my mind is draw back to the pages of the book of Acts. In a sense, Wright has captured the spirit and the urgency of the early followers of Jesus who were not shackled with hundreds of years of tradition. Their movement was a movement of the heart, and the hands. They literally were a people who turned the world upside down in one generation.

I loved the statement: “it is also natural for people, however, irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be a part of”. This allure of the gospel-living has been lost in many of our churches and in our personal lives. Jesus had practically no problem drawing a crowd, because when the Kingdom touches real people in the real world with real answers you cannot keep it to yourself.

The historian Luke recorded the birth of the early church movement with this eye-witness description of the first “mega-church” at work. He wrote:

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

 

Notice Luke’s observation that the early church was “enjoying the favor of all the people”. Granted this lasted for only a season because the threatened religious establishment role up to stop this movement—that could not be stopped because it was of God—but as the movement sweep the first century world the “people” were drawn to the good news in word and deed, only the established religious system attacked this movement, because who in their right mind would oppose this kind of life except those who had something to lose like control, and even some of them crossed over in time.

 

Imagine your local newspaper doing a story about the day to day ministries of your local church would this story be good news for your community? Would it be a boring story buried on the back page of the paper that even your members would not read? Would it be a story that would draw the curious next Sunday to check out what is going on? It appears when a church gets the “both/and” nature of the gospel right the word gets out!

 

 

 

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Way the World Is

Living in the tension of “both/and” rather than “either/or” can be quite a challenge. I was raised to think in shades of black and white, rather than gray. Too often I have tried to squeeze the circumstances of life into my theological boxes like sardines lying side by side in a can. My often tiny cans of fishy thinking worked neatly in the study, but often began to smell as time passed. I realize I need a faith that can survive safely outside the walls of my stain-glassed refrigerator.

The gospel I grabbed hold of growing up was the gospel of Beulah land. It was the good news that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” It was the gospel of heaven. Rarely did I hear or think about the Kingdom of God having anything to do with my day to day life. I was heaven bound, and somewhat bound to take others with me.

In recent years I have begun to realize that Jesus’ mission statement revolved about the Kingdom of heaven, not simply about heaven. His mission was a revolutionary mission that challenged and threatened the power structures of this world. He was calling us to take up our crosses as revolutionaries bound and determined to change the world. In a sense, the full gospel was a gospel of heaven after death, but also seeking to make heaven on earth a functional reality. As Jesus taught us to pray “thy Kingdom come, and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So the discerning disciple fixes his eyes on heaven as his destination, but works toward heaven on earth as his day to day mission.

Recently I have been reading a book by N.T. Wright entitled Surprised by Hope. In his book Wright seeks to get back to the roots of the gospel delivered to the disciples by our Lord. He articulated very effectively this “both/and” mission of the church. Wright observes:

The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else.

This truth of the gospel resonates in my heart and soul, and I pray it will begin to be played out in my life more fully in the years to come. The gospel as an announcement as “the way the world is” speaks deeply to me in a world of challenges and paradoxes. Faith means seeing the world as God sees it rather than as it is reported on the evening news. Our hope and message is not “Jesus will be Lord” but rather “JESUS IS LORD”. Our call to arms is not “Satan will be defeated”, but rather “Satan is defeated”—remember Jesus cried out of the darkness of that bloody Friday afternoon “It is finished”, not “I hope this will work”. The gospel of the just who live by faith is the good news of the way the world is—not what we hope it will be one day if we work hard enough.

In his letter to the most powerful city in his day, Paul wrote:

16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

 

Yesterday, today, and everyday the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news to those who have ears to hear, and heart willing to follow.

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Comfort Zone or Danger Zone?

When things are going your way watch out! You may be living in the danger zone. For many churches and spiritual leaders when we live in comfort we may actually be in more danger than when we live in a time of crisis. Comfort subtly seeks up and robs churches and pastors of their vision and passion. When all the bills are paid, and the people are getting along it is easy to fall asleep at the wheel like a drowsy driver on a long straight stretch of “driving in place” across the Panhandle of Texas. Crisis creates urgency, passion and at times panic, but comfort lures people into complacency, simply going through the motions.

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle, warns about the dangers of comfort in his book Confessions of a Reformission Rev. He diagnoses the dangers of comfort in a very direct and disturbing way for many of us who find ourselves going through the motions in ministry.

“The comfort zone is the place a church commonly falls into once they learn how to survive…At this point, the propensity is for the church to settle in, accept its size, and slip into a mode of maintenance. At some point, the people will move away or die, others will get bored, and slowly the church will begin a cycle of decline unless it intentionally reinvents itself missionally to continue to grow by taking risks in an effort to reach lost people for Jesus.”

Sadly, this appears to be the place that most churches in America find themselves. Awash in a sea of people, churches have become closer to country clubs than hospitals, and slipped into the comfort zone. Statistics bear out this reality in harsh numbers that report that 70-90% of churches in America are either on a plateau or declining. Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, recently confessed he believed that most of the SBC church will die a slow death over the next twenty years—dying of “cancer of the comfort”.

Where did the fire go? Do we need a spiritual awakening in the pew or in the pulpit? Are we the proverbial frog in the kettle that has been slowly cooked by our changing culture environment?

Jesus and Paul stand out as clear biblical examples of leaders who had an unquenchable spirit about reaching people and changing the world. Even when Jesus had the “whole city at the door” he was not satisfied to stay put and establish his own version of a mega-church, but rather slipped away unannounced to touch the surrounding villages—because “that is why I have come.” In similar fashion Paul was relentless in his pursuit of people for the sake of the Kingdom. Paul noted to his friends in Corinth that “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22b).

How often can we honestly say we have used “all possible means” to reach our community? Watch out when things are going good, you just might doze of and miss the next turn toward becoming all God wants you to be.

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Lessons from My Dad

Yesterday I celebrated Father’s Day with my four beautiful daughters, and had a brief telephone conversation with my father who is currently in South Carolina. I failed to send him a card due to the fact that with his travel schedule it is hard to know where he will be serving the Lord from day to day. To those who don’t know me very well, I am the proud recipient of the good “Lowrie” name. My father Dr. D.L. Lowrie has been a faithful servant of our Lord and pastor for over fifty years in Texas and Tennessee. He has a national reputation as an expository preacher. He has preached in all fifty states to crowds of thousands and to small churches with a handful in the pews. He stands taller in my mind than any man I know. In my book he stands shoulder to shoulder with the great names of Baptist life in Texas. When I was born into his family as his oldest son little did I know what a treasure I had been given.

I would like to share a few reflections on the life lessons I have learned from my father. My father taught me the incredible value of a daily walk with God and the primary place of prayer. I cannot remember a morning I woke up when I did not find my father studying the Word of God. His open Bible and journal were my vivid childhood memories. For some time he had a study at home, and I remember busting into his study unannounced finding him on his face before the Lord. That brief glimpse into his private world spoke volumes to a young man seeking to find his way in life. In my formative years when I would seek his counsel about a decision I needed to make he would encourage me to pray about it. At first I thought “why doesn’t he give me some advice?” Now I realize he was seeking to tie me to Jesus for direction rather than the opinions of men.

As a young pastor my dad did give me some sage advice about the perils and pitfalls of ministry. He said, “David, don’t touch the gold, don’t touch the girls, and don’t touch the glory.” He aptly pointed me to the bloody traps too many of the God’s finest have succumbed to in the past.

When I was growing up I only had one pastor as you can imagine, so I thought everyone preached the Word of God. Now I realize what fantastic blessing I was given. I learned the value and power of preaching expository sermons week in and week out. I believe this sowing of the Word in the hearts of people makes for a great harvest of righteous and sets Jesus securely on the throne of the church. People do not need my best opinions or the insights from the latest book to hit the stands. People need a Word from the Lord. There is no substitute for the preaching and teaching of the Word. On my worst day in the pulpit when I preach the Word at least I have pointed people in the right direction.

I also learned from my father that the most powerful sermon in a life lived before the people. Much like the famous quote of Saint Francis of Assisi “Preach the gospel. If necessary, use words.” My father set an example of leadership and integrity. He challenged his people to knock on doors by knocking on doors. He show what compassion looked like by been there in their times of crisis and sorrow. He kept his word, and his promises. Too few good preachers are good pastors. My dad was both. In fact, he may have been a better leader and pastor than a preacher even though his preaching skills were world class.

Finally, my dad taught me how to navigate the political pressures in Baptist life today. He taught me to stay true to the Lord and to myself. He taught me that political maneuverings rarely advance the Kingdom of God very far in the right direction. As a peacemaker he was often criticized by both sides, and yet his integrity made him indispensible to leaders who needed help. You can usually pick out a peacemaker by the arrows in his back, and my dad has taken a few. In a conversation with a strong Fundamentalist leader my dad was challenged to take sides. A less than veiled threat was made when the leader said (I will paraphrase), “if you don’t side with us we will blackball you and you will not hold a single position in the SBC.” Without blinking my dad reached into his pocket and pulled out his daily calendar and slid it across the table. He said, “If you look closely you will see I have plenty to do.” Unfortunately he was blackballed, but he never retaliated. I took up his cause on one occasion because it is wrong for a good man to be hurt by the controlling spirit of another. Simply put, I learn by watching my dad the simple lesson of our Lord “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

As you can tell I have been given an amazing gift…I pray I will be able to pass it on to my children, and to those I lead.

4 Comments

Filed under Devotion, Leadership

Reflections on Southern Baptist Convention (Part Two)

As I navigated this week in Indianapolis I had a number of random thoughts about the convention and its themes.

This week had a number of interesting twists and turns. The convention festivities began early Tuesday morning for me with a come and go breakfast sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. One highlight of the breakfast was the opportunity to visit with Randel Everett the new executive director. On a personal note it was good to have Randel at the convention with a smile on his face. He seemed to be a home with this gathering of Baptists from across the nation. Unfortunately the breakfast attendance was slim at best. In fact we could have had the meeting in a fifteen passenger van going through the drive through at McDonalds. I had hoped more BGCT pastors/laypersons would have been at the convention, but it appeared our numbers were few and far between. Dr. Everett’s presence at the convention was a very positive move. His presence gave substance to his rhetoric about leading all of our churches into the future. I believe good days are ahead for us.

One contrast I saw between this SBC annual meeting and the BGCT annual meetings of recent years was the number of young families and leaders in the crowd. It appears many young pastors had hooked their wagons to the SBC star. According to my brother who last year attended the Southern Baptist of Texas Evangelism Conference in Euless, this trend of seeing young leaders was also true in Texas. What is the fascination of these young men with the SBC movement? How can the BGCT also capture the same enthusiasm in our ranks? One personal observation is the “celebrity” factor of the SBC annual meeting. The hall was filled with the high profile pastors of the mega-churches of the SBC. From the section I sat in I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with Robert Jeffries, Jack Graham, James Merritt, Ed Young, Mac Brunson, Steve Gaines, and President-elect Johnny Hunt. These men stand out like giants among the crowd, and were often followed by a “posse” of young men. If there was a star in the mix it had to be Al Mohler. His stature among the people in the room was without question. I suspect in some ways these “heroes” may explain why a number of young pastors have chosen to be part of this movement.

A highlight for me was the gentle firm manner of leadership demonstrated by Dr. Frank Page. His two years of leading our convention have been without question some of the best years in recent memory. I hope and pray his commitment to openness, inclusiveness, and cooperation will set the course for Johnny Hunt. Without question Dr. Page has helped us to get of the front page of controversy and back to being on the main page of our mission.

Overall I found the SBC annual meeting to be a positive experience. I pray that the “Great Commission Resurgence” will become much more than a slogan for all of us. Dr. Page in his annual address forced this issue by reminding all of us that the SBC statistics are a mirror reflection of the health and vitality of our local churches. The convention in reality has little to do with what happens week in and week out in my church. If we want the direction to change each of us will have to take a hard look in the mirror and take responsibility for our place on the wall and get to work.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Reflections on the Southern Baptist Convention 2008 (part one)

I am writing this blog aboard Southwest Airlines jet somewhere between Kansas City and Denver at a cruising altitude above the clouds. In some ways as I look out the window the perspective of the earth below is quite different from my day to day life walking the planet below. When your feet are firmly planted on planet earth often little things look huge while from peering down from above the clouds these same obstacles seem so tiny. I wonder if God doesn’t sometimes chuckle (or worse grieve) over the things we get so worked up about on good ol’ planet earth while we often miss the main things.

During the SBC Pastor’s Conference Charles Lowrey (no relation as you can tell from the spelling) spoke about the important things in life in his humorous conversational style. He spoke of funerals and potato salad, and how in the end life seems to boil down to faith, family and friends. In all our planning and plotting too often we get distracted from the simple essence of life. It was a gentle reminder to me to be real in a world of facades and images. For my dad’s generation the SBC annual meeting was as close to a family reunion you could find on this side of heaven. Under Frank Page’s leadership this year’s meeting had that feel in many ways.

I wish I had a dollar for everything someone on stage used the words “Conservative resurgence” or the “inerrant Word of God.” I don’t know why we have to keep bringing up those difficult days in our family. In hopeful terms a new catch phrase also began to take on life—time and time again speakers referred to the “Great Commission Resurgence”. It appears the reports of the demise and decline of the convention is beginning to get our attention. It is sad that in our battle over the Bible we wander away from its central message. I suspect as we get back to Kingdom business many of the lines in the sand we have drawn between each other will be blurred by the winds of the Spirit.

The presidential election was quite interesting. Good men from across the nation and from various perspectives were nominated. There were so many that we had to go back to the old fashion method of casting lots to determine the order of nomination speeches. Johnny Hunt of Woodstock was elected president. Surprisingly to me he won a majority on the first ballot. I voted for Avery Willis because of his touch on my life and ministry by training me in the principles of Masterlife a number of years ago. I believe Hunt will be a good president. He is a good man, and is the pastor of a great church in Georgia. The shock of the election to me was the poor showing of Dr. Wagner from California. He actually ran a campaign for the position complete with website, and printed full color handouts for the messengers with his promises to the SBC. He was nominated by Wade Burleson who has been a lightning rod for SBC issues in recent years. When the ballots were counted Wagner received only 257 votes out of over 5000 votes. I will let those wiser and more insightful interpret this outcome, but I was quite surprised. I thought Burleson had a greater following. One lesson I will take home from this is the reality that “blog world” may not always represent “reality” in the real world. On the internet everyone can have his “fifteen minutes of fame” but that does not always translate real influence and power.

A final thought: We did not make the front page of the New York Times that is good news and bad news. The good news is we did not say or do something really dumb to can the attention of the national media. The sad news is that seeking to change the world through the good news of Jesus is not front page news in our secular world.

Leave a comment

Filed under SBC

The Kingdom of God: Institution or Movement?

It is amazing how what you own tends to “own” us. I have found this particularly true over the past twenty-six years as a local church pastor. Often the buildings our churches meet in form and shape us more than the gospel we proclaim. As a new church planter in the North Dallas area, I learned the hard lesson of “small shoe” equals “small foot”. In other words, the size of the building often dictates the size of the congregation. In our efforts to reach Texas we built small first unit buildings for churches encircling major metropolitan areas like Gideon and his small band of warriors. These small buildings were the birth places of congregations that soon grew to fit the shoe, but unfortunately the shoe was too small for the opportunity. (Note: Don’t miss hear me, I am not a big proponent of the “if you build it, they will come” mentality straight out of the movie “Field of Dreams” not the New Testament). However, buildings can become burdens and reasons for being for too many congregations.

When you ask someone about their church too often they describe a building on a corner of a street somewhere in Anywhere U.S.A. As you know churches are not building. Churches are people. The Baptist General Convention of Texas is not the Baptist Building on Washington Street in the heart of Dallas. The B.G.C.T. is the people and churches who have found cooperation as a key value in Kingdom work. Jesus did not lay down His life for an institution. Jesus laid down His life for His friends.

Erwin McManus in his book Unstoppable Force makes a clarifying distinction about the church. He distinguishes between the church as “movement” and the church as an “institution”. It is his argument that Jesus came to launch a “movement” not an “institution”. Too often institutions become consumed with their organizational charts, facilities, budgets and traditions. Survival of the institution becomes the mission, and the original mission is often lost in the struggle. McManus points out movements revolve around their mission. Sounds like McManus may have been hanging out with Jesus! It seems like Jesus gave His early followers something today we call the “Great Commission”. When the “Great Commission” ceases to be our mission, we may have inadvertently become an institution rather than a movement.

How does an institution or an “institutionalized” church regain its missional qualities? I suggest a history lesson may be in order. I suspect most Christian institutions began as movements. A band of devoted followers sacrificially committed themselves to establish a church or a school for the advancement of the Kingdom or educating the next generation of Christian leaders, or caring for orphans, or feeding the poor with bread for the stomach and soul. This hardy bunch of revolutionaries began to experience success, and found a need for a building(s), and soon a professional staff was added. With the staff came the need for budgets, organizational charts, personnel policies, etc… Soon the simple mission became a bit complicated, and even sometimes lost in the busyness of the bureaucracy. History points us back to origins. Often the institution can take on “missional” life and return to its movement when it is reminded why it began in the first place.

Recently I had a wake up call in my own leadership journey. As I tried to look at the world around me with new eyes, I began to see how easy it is to get sucked in by “institutional creep”. The pastor of a reasonably large church wears many hats (or helmets). The pastor serves as fund raiser, bureaucrat, friend of committees, expert of the bylaws, referee of conflicts, entertainer, and part-time preacher. He finds himself spinning more and more plates in an effort to satisfy the consumers (disguised as followers of Jesus). In all this busyness where did the mission get lost? I had a reality check when I realized our church spent considerably more money on the care of our facilities than we gave to our mission efforts outside the walls of our church buildings, and we don’t even have any building debt! How did this happen? “Institutional creep” catches up with all of us if we are not careful.

I believe Jesus is calling us to join Him on His revolution to change the world. Jesus calls us to be on mission with Him. This mission has global implications and will stretch all of us to our limits. In fact, when it is all said and done you may feel like you have lost your life—only to find it! Can institutions live again? Yes, when the Spirit breathes new life into them! Pray for the winds of the Spirit to blow again among us.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized