Monthly Archives: July 2008

50 and Counting!

One a hot muggy August afternoon in Myrtle, Mississippi a young couple stood before God and their friends and families to make promises of love. The sanctuary was filled. The windows were open so a hot breeze could stir the air while funeral home fans provided some relief. Tears creased the faces of the mothers on the front row while sweat beaded on the brow of the young man who stood looking into the smiling face of his bride. Rev. Percy Ray filled the room with his booming voice as he spoke of God’s institution of marriage, and called for a lifetime bond of love between these two young people who knew little of what the future held. Their promises of love would be made in the very place where their love was born.

I suspect as the preacher waxed eloquent the young groom’s mind raced back to the first time he saw her face. He had traveled with a group of friends from the hills of the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee to a little town nestled seventy miles east of Memphis in Elvis Presley country. He was gladly joining a movement to call America back to God in the last 1950’s lead by Percy Ray and a band of fundamentalist preachers whose prophetic voice spoke of the demise of this once great land if this generation did not get on their faces and repent. The meeting was called Camp Zion and annually this preaching marathon would fire the hearts of young and old alike to seek the face of God.

I doubt the groom remembered much about the preaching or music of the service that changed his life. As he and his buddies sat on the second row and trio of young girls stood to sing behind the pulpit, it is hard to know if it was her voice, her smile, or the twinkle of life in her eyes that captured his heart, but this young stoic mountain preacher boy was smitten. In a sly attempt to cover his intentions, yet to accomplish his mission he befriended the young girl’s mother, who was the organist of the church, and went by the nickname “Dootsie”. He asked permission to write her, but everyone with half a brain knew whose address he was seeking. Though he had a couple of brief conversations with his love before his departure for home soon the post office in Myrtle was pestered with letter after letter from East Tennessee. This was long before the days of email and instant messages but without a doubt his letters were ever bit as effective.

The letters led to visits, and then one fateful day sitting on the porch on a swing this young romantic said to his love, “If I ever go to China as a missionary, I want to take you with me”. Not exactly the kind of proposal that Shakespeare might have written, or the Browning would have composed, but powerful none the less. He never took her to China, but their journey did lead to West Texas which compared to Mississippi is truly a foreign country in which it appeared she spoke a foreign language with her Southern accent.

There before God and their friends, D.L. and Alice Lowrie made their promises of love. They vowed for “better and for worse, for richer and for poorer” that only death would separate them. On August 1st looking out over the lava shores of Kona Hawaii, my parents will celebrate sharing fifty years of love and ministry together. I suspect it will only be in heaven that I will fully understand how much of my life, and the world I have been given was shaped that fateful day when these two young adults in a leap of faith said yes to God and to each other.

Those words spoken in the garden God created with his own hands have become a reality before my eyes:

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Gen 2:24 (KJV)

 

The mystery of this love and “oneness” will continue to be an inspiration to me all the days of my life as I too seek to love my wife with all my heart, body and soul.

 

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Blood in the Dust

The decisive moments of history find their origin and daring in the hearts of men and women who stand willing to make command decisions. Leadership demands vision, courage, and decisiveness. Leadership can in times of peril cost your life. Over the July 4th holiday during a patriotic service this quote capture my heart and my imagination. In speaking of the courage and sacrifice of our men and women of the armed services it was said, “Not all of them gave their lives on the field of battle, but all were willing”. This willingness to lay down one’s life for others is the essence of love and leadership.

One of the shining moments of English history dates back to the days of Elizabeth I when she and her people stood defiantly against the mighty Spanish Armada. This mighty fleet of warships sailed under the flag of Philip II to destroy the reign of the protestant Elizabeth and to return England to the domination of the Pope and the Catholic Church. This holy war of sorts was to be fought on the high seas, and apparently on the shores of England. Elizabeth launched her tiny fleet to seek to slow the advance of the Armada, and gathered her foot soldiers at Tilbury Camp. Against the advice of her cabinet, Elizabeth donned the armor of a cavalry officer and rode into the midst of her warriors. Her friends feared a traitor in the ranks would rise up and slay the queen, but she knew in her heart that if victory was to be had she had to stand with her people.

In an impassioned speech Elizabeth inspired her people declaring:

“Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that under God I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal heart and good will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you as you see at this time not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle to live or die amongst you all. To lay down for God and for my kingdom and for my people my honour and my blood even in the dust”.

In a courageous act of leadership Elizabeth descended from her throne and stood on level ground among her subjects. In a strange twist by standing among them she towered above them and led them to an amazing victory. Even though the victory was won on the high seas her courage and leadership inspired the English people to become one of the most powerful empires the world has even seen. Her humility and courage sets a standard for all leaders to follow.

Who or what inspired Elizabeth to lead in this way? It would obviously be speculation, but there is no doubt one can find this kind of leadership and courage in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords our own Jesus Christ. Jesus left the right hand of His Father and humbled himself to become flesh and blood born in a lowly stable. The creator stood in the dust among His creation, and slept under the stars with His subjects with only a stone to lay His royal head upon. He exchanged His crown for our crown—a crown of thorns, and laid down His life for His friends on a cruel cross. Great leaders would do well to follow the example of Jesus.

If we are serious about changing the world for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, we need to learn to lead like our King. You cannot lead from the throne nor from the rear. Leaders stand among their people, and choose to lay down their lives “in the dust”.

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Broad Brush

Too often we find it too easy to criticism and condemn others with a “broad brush”. Much like a house painter with a roller on a long stick, we paint our “enemies” from a distance coloring them with our “expert” judgments of their actions. Once again the dark side of Baptist life has come to the forefront as James A. Smith Jr. of the Florida Baptist Witness made the bold and hurtful assertion that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is “no longer truly Christian, let alone Baptist”. His pronouncement was made response to the Baptist Press reports of presentations made by Presbyterian John Killinger, executive minister and theologian in residence at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City.

It is without dispute that Killinger’s presentations were out of step with the theology and Christology of rank and file Baptist, including CBF Baptists. As you might expect Daniel Vestal, executive director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship took exception to Smith’s declaration at the CBF was “no longer truly Christian, let alone Baptist”. He confessed he was deeply grieved by the statements made by Killinger, and that the made a mistake to invite him to speak. He said in James White’s article in the Religious Herald on his response:

“The only confession of the [early] Christian church was ‘Jesus is Lord,'” he said. “To make that confession cost many people their lives because of its radical claim. To say and believe that Jesus is Lord was to say and believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God. It was a clear affirmation of the deity of Jesus. And the Incarnation of God in the man Jesus is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

“And so for somebody in one of our workshops to question the Incarnation is simply very painful for me,” Vestal continued. “I have known John Killinger to be a popular Presbyterian preacher. He was a professor at Samford University. … But we had no idea that his views on Christ were what he declared in this breakout session. His perspective is deeply troubling to me.”

In fairness to Vestal and our CBF brothers and sisters we need to be careful when we make blatant accusations and seek to color someone as being “no longer truly Christian”. Granted many of the values and practices of CBF churches may be out of step with many “conservative” Baptist churches, but this does not remove them from the family of God. I too take exception with many of the statements made by Killinger, not to mention his ridicule and attacks on Rev. Jerry Falwell that I thought were totally inappropriate for a Christian gathering, but to paint the CBF to be in lock step with the views of Killinger is deceptive and unfair. We will never paint the masterpiece God called us to produce using a roller and broad brush; we must learn to paint with the accuracy and skill of Michelangelo.

We must remember what Jesus taught in Luke 6 when He said:

37″Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 39 He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

 41″Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The robes of a judge are weighty for us to don. Condemnation often comes back to haunt us in a darkness hours. Forgive fits all seasons and every relationship. We would be wise to remember that the “measure we use” WILL BE “measured to you”. Who among us has not made a mistake in judgment or placed someone in a position of prominence only to regret that decision greatly. Jesus warns us to stop playing the “part” or “role” of judges like hypocrites until we have dealt with the deep issues in our own lives. The question that haunts me is “why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” The simple answer is it is easier to criticize and condemn others than to work on our own issues and problems. If we take a good look in the mirror we all have plenty to keep us busy. Too many of us have “2×4” vision rather than “20×20” vision when it comes to trying to help others with their problems. Is it any wonder that when the “blind are leading the blind” we fall into the pit!

 

 

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I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Oprah Winfrey introduced a new spiritual teacher into the mainstream of American life when she placed Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose on her book list. Tolle was born in Germany and educated in England at the Universities of London and Cambridge. He lived most of his life in the shadows, and struggled with his own darkness until he had an awakening that changed his life and became the basis for his spiritual mentoring and writing. His book The Power of Now was #1 on the New York Times best seller list, and his book A New Earth has sold over 3.5 million copies. The popularity of his books reveals the vast spiritual hunger in the West. Our money, power, possessions, affluences, and entertainment have not been able to numb the deep inner long and pain most people feel. As Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”.

Tolle offers in his book an intriguing blend of spiritual thoughts and ideas. He samples from all forms of religions thought, and likens himself to being a disciple of Jesus and other great teachers like Buddha. He believes in his struggle for meaning and purpose in life that he has stumbled onto the truth deep within each and every one of us. Truth cannot be fully expressed in words, or ideas. Truth dwells in that secret place beyond words and ideas deep within the human soul.

My concern with his writings is the fact that he offers a path to purpose and awakening foreign to the truth found in Jesus. I have chosen to follow Jesus so I take issue with Tolle on a number of fronts. I would suspect that Tolle would claim to be a follower of Jesus of sorts, but he certainly does not see Jesus as Jesus saw Himself. As an example of his interpretation of Jesus’ words Tolle writes:

“The Truth is inseparable from who you are. Yes, you are the Truth. If you look for it elsewhere, you will be deceived every time. The very Being that you are is Truth. Jesus tried to convey that when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. These words uttered by Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to Truth, if understood correctly. If misinterpreted, however, they become a great obstacle. Jesus speaks of the innermost I AM, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact. He speaks of the life that you are. Some Christian mystics have called it the Christ within; Buddhists call it your Buddha nature; for Hindus, it is Atman, the indwelling God. When you are in touch with that dimension within yourself—and being in touch with it is your natural state, not some miraculous achievement—all your actions and relationships reflect the oneness with all life that you sense deep within. This is love…”

As you can see Tolle appears to understand Jesus to be speaking of a spiritual experience Jesus was having within himself rather than the kind of relationship he desired to have with his followers. For those more versed in the words of Jesus it is clear that Tolle has misunderstood the very nature of what Jesus was saying. To make this point, look at the words of Jesus in their original context as reported in the Gospel of John in chapter 14:1-6 (NRSV).

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe* in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?*
3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.’*
5Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

In context, it is rather clear Jesus is describing HIMSELF as the way, the truth and the life. He proclaims “no one come to the Father except through me”. I believe Tolle is right when he wrote “These words of Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to Truth, if understood correctly”. The sad reality is that from my perspective Tolle does not understand at all what Jesus was talking about. Like many other “new age” spiritualist who are trying to create “many ways” to Truth, he colored and crafted the words of Jesus to fit his version of truth, rather than letting Jesus be “the Truth” that leads to life.

The sad reality is millions of people are clinging to teachers like Tolle for spiritual help. We need to redouble our efforts to share the hope that is found in Jesus alone. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” and I pray many will discover Him as their Lord and Savior by faith.

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A Star is Born

In the 1960’s American Artist Andy Warhol was credited with the statement that everyone will have their “fifteen minutes of fame”. The stopwatch on my “fifteen minutes” starting ticking on Sunday evening July 6th when I stepped on the stage of the Palo Duro Amphitheatre before a crowd of 1500 people to make my acting debut. I was going to make a cameo appearance in the local production of “TEXAS” a historic musical about life in the Panhandle. I was cast as the local “reverend” or pastor decked out in my hand-me-down western gear complete with a floppy Cowboy hat, and western bowtie.

 

Needless to say playing the part of a preacher was not a stretch, but singing and dancing were a bit out of my comfort zone especially since I was not required to attend any rehearsals (because I suspect the director Dave Yirak knew it would do no good). To give you some perspective about my rhythmic motions I give choreography a bad name. My historic “anti-dancing” position was exposed before 600 members of my church to be nothing more a matter coordination rather than theological conviction. I simply do not have what it takes to stay in step with the music. Who knows maybe when I get to heaven I will be able to dance like John Travolta!

 

One of the highlights of the evening was my “line” in the script as adapted by Dave Yirek. Did I mention he is my hero—talk about a brave man! In the pivotal “party scene” Calvin Armstrong, the hero, makes a passionate plea to Chief Quanah Parker for peace. In response to his “sermon” his arch rival Dave Newberry breaks in and announces “Well, Pastor Lowrie it appears that we have a new preacher in town”. This was my cue to say “I need all the help I can get”. Sounds simple, but the spotlights went to my head and in my moment of fame, I decide to take a couple of liberties, first, I changed my line and said, “Just look around—I need all the help I can get”. It was a subtle powerful change from my perspective just like Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men” glaring back at Tom Cruise saying “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH”. Well, maybe it was not that good, but I did not stop there.

 

In the scene I had strategically placed myself close to the Calvin Armstrong. So as I finished my line with the skill of a seasoned thespian I reached out to shake his hand. This was not in the script nor expected, I caught the young actor by complete surprise but by instinct he shook my hand to the delight of my adoring fan club (Robyn, and my three girls who were hiding under their seats in fear of being embarrassed by the dad before the whole community). Then suddenly life moved on for everyone else, and I was left with this quickly fading memory. My “fifteen minutes” may have been closer to “fifteen seconds”, but I have to admit it was fun while it lasted.

 

Just so you will know I am going to keep my “day job” as the preacher of First Baptist Church of Canyon. Acting is fun, and the stage is alluring, but I suspect I need to end my acting career on a high note! I would be wise to take to heart the words of Paul:

 

15 Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Eph 5:15-17 (NIV)

 

Sunday night I had a blast during my “fifteen seconds” of fame, but my greatest joy in life is simply “being” who God created me to be—all the time!

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