Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Christmas Wish: Peace on Earth!

Tonight the lights will twinkling across streets of El Paso/Juarez. The lights will defy the darkness and the despair so many feel as another drug war continues to te1rrorize the streets and still the hearts of many.

Christmas reminds one and all that evil will not win the day. The Prince of Peace has come into the world. The only One who with a touch can change our reality and turn on the light within us.

During the dark days of 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down with pen in hand weighted down by a heavy heart. Poets feel much deeper than most of us and his life has been touched deeply by personal sorrow and national despair during the dark days of the Civil War.

Longfellow penned some of the greatest words of hope and peace on human lips.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!

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BGCT Executive Director Search Committee: Reflections

As a member of the Executive Director Search Committee I am looking forward to what God is going to do in the days ahead. As much as I am going to miss the leadership and vision of Randel Everett at the helm of the BGCT. I believe God has uniquely prepared a leader for the future that will embody the best of who we are as Texas Baptists and who we will be in the years ahead.

Early next year the search committee will begin this journey toward the leader for the future. As I have tried to prepare my heart for this task I was drawn to the story of Samuel sent on the mission to anoint a new king. He was sent to the house of Jesse who marched out one fine looking young man after another, yet deep in Samuel’s heart he felt no confirmation in his spirit. In the course of this journey God made it perfectly clear what He was looking for in the next king when He said:

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

In the coming days as we prayerfully review piles of resumes from prospective candidates, it is my prayer that God will open our eyes to the hearts of these men and women. Clearly there will be certain life experiences, gifts, and talents that will be critical for the next Ex Director, but we must never underestimate the importance of the heart and the candidates’ relationship with God.

I realize that my heart could help me or hinder me in this search. I have been haunted by the words of Jesus when He said:

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “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? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I would covet your prayers that I would take a hard deep look at my heart before I start evaluating the hearts of others!

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“51”

Today I turned the big 51! It is amazing how time flies when you are having fun!

When I was seventeen I memorized these words:

5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct[a] your paths.

Over the past fifty-one years I have seen these words unfold time and time again in my life. This morning I am recording fifty-one of the defining moments in my life. The milestones have marked and shaped my life.

1. Being the first born son of D.L. and Alice Lowrie. I was born while my dad was a seminary student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth.

2. Birth of my brother Stephen

3. Walking the aisle during a revival at five years old to begin my journey toward Jesus

4. Birth of my brother Tommy

5. Moving to Fort Worth and living on the North side. Attending Denver Ave. Elementary as a minority among a circle of Hispanic friends

6. Birth of my brother John

7. The beginning of a lifelong friendship with Gary Gramling. Gary was someone for me to look up during my teenage years and still today

8. After the death of a friend from cancer, knelling beside my parents’ bed and giving my heart and life to Jesus

9. Being elected King of my youth group and receiving a new NIV translation of the New Testament

10. Making the commitment to read and study my Bible everyday and discovering in the quiet times that my heart and life was being transformed

11. Being asked to give a devotional in my Sunday School class and discovering a love for sharing the Word of God

12. Having an overwhelming desire to be a pastor at age sixteen

13. Surrendering to God’s call on my life to be a pastor by saying to the Lord–“Here am I send me!”

14. Preaching my first “seven minute” sermon to the senior adults at North Fort Worth Baptist Church

15. Preaching my first youth revival in Kokomo Indiana and seeing people respond to the gospel after I preached

16. Narrowly losing the election for Student Body Vice President at Haltom High after sharing my faith to the student body during my campaign speech

17. Moving to Texas High in Texarkana my senior year in high school when my dad was called to be the pastor of First Baptist Church of Texarkana, Texas

18. Supply preaching practically every Sunday the summer after my senior year as I worked as a summer missionary for Bowie Baptist Association

19. Deciding to attend Baylor University after a weekend spent in the home of David Proctor

20. Meeting Robyn Crane during the second semester of my freshman year and falling in love at first sight.

21. Being called to serve as the youth director for Gateway Baptist Church in Waco under the guidance of E.J. Culp who taught me to love people with all my heart

22. Being called to serve as the first youth minister for Canyon Creek Baptist Church in Temple under the guidance and influence of Jerry Raines who taught me to work hard for the Kingdom

23. Graduating from Baylor University with a B.A. in psychology

24. Marrying Robyn Crane on June 4, 1982 at Casa View Baptist Church in Dallas and starting the great love story of my life

25. Being called as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Roanoke

26. Attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and being taught by men like Roy Fish and David Kirkpatrick

27. The birth of my first daughter Kalie who transformed me into a father

28. The birth of my second daughter Lorin

29. Graduating from seminary

30. The birth of my third daughter Jamie

31. Being called as the founding pastor of the Timbercreek Baptist Church in Flower Mound and finding a mentor in Bill Tinsley

32. Buying our first little home

33. The birth of our fourth daughter Madison

34. Being called as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Mabank

35. Receiving a new car as an anniversary gift from FBC Mabank as an expression of their amazing love for us

36. Being called as pastor of the Northwest Baptist Church of Milwaukee and moving my family to the upper Midwest to enjoy the wonder of the people and the beauty of God’s creation through the seasons of the year

37. Being elected second vice president of the Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention

38. Being called as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Canyon and learning to lead a large church and a large church staff around the mission of “glorifying God by discovering, developing and deploying fully devoted followers of Jesus.”

39. Earning a Doctor of Ministry degree from Bethel University. My D.Min project was entitle “Nurturing and maintaining corporate unity in a multi-congregational church”

40. Being approached by Bill Wright to consider a run for president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas

  • Meeting face to face with David Currie to discuss the upcoming presidential election and setting the ground rules
  • Making the public announce in the Baptist Standard along with the announcement from Joy Fenner
  • Learning the power of blogging
  • Rejecting a deal to  pull out of the race for president for an offer to be first vice president with an open door to the presidency the next year
  • Losing the election to Joy Fenner

41. Deciding to make another run at the BGCT presidency with the help and support of Bruce Webb.

42. Narrowly winning election as BGCT president over a good friend Stephen Hatfield in my hometown of Fort Worth

43. Being an advocate for Broadway Baptist Church in Nashville before the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention

44. Preaching in chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Truett Seminary, Dallas Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University, and Howard Payne University

45. Being re-elected as BGCT president in Houston while seeking to focus the convention the mission of Texas Hope 2010

46. The death of my good friend and mentor Bill Wright

47. Face to face dealings with the leaders of Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas seeking to find common ground that could not found.

48. Being called as pastor of the First Baptist Church of El Paso and planting our lives on the border of Texas

49. Leading my final annual  BGCT meeting in McAllen around the theme of Hope 1:8.  Finishing my term as president with thousands of air miles and even more friendships.

50. Being asked to serve on the BGCT Executive Director Search Committee at a very critical crossroads in Texas Baptist history

51. Waking up in El Paso this morning with my eyes fixed on the horizon to see what God has in store for the next chapter in my life

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“3000”

El Paso: Arturo Sandoval, spokesman for the Attorney General of Chihuahua, announced this week that Juarez set a grisly record of 3000 murders this year. During an interview with CNN he chronicled the rise in murders as follows:

“Last year we had 2,656. The year before in 2008 it was around 1,500 and in 2007 we had about 300. Can you imagine?”

When a law enforcement leader longs for the day when a city has only “300” murders you know times are bleak.

This morning, I ministered to a Juarez father whose wife was beaten and robbed of her grocery money as she made her way to the market. As I shared with him I could see the helplessness and hopelessness in his eyes.  He shared with tears in his eyes:

“This has been the worst year of my life.”

When will the senseless violence come to an end?

As we look forward to Christmas my heart holds to the words of Isaiah 9:

5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Oh how we long for the Prince of Peace to rule and reign over our land!

 

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Christmas Alive: 2010 Living Christmas Tree

Forty-six years ago (1964) First Baptist Church of El Paso presented its first living Christmas Tree in the heart of downtown. Some among our number suggest that our church has the longest running living Christmas tree in the land. (Of course, Texans are known to brag!)

As the new kid on the block, this year was my first experience of our presentation of the living Christmas tree. I must admit at each performance I felt like a child on Christmas morning with a big, brightly wrapped package in my lap with my name on it. I found myself caught up in the wonder of it all.

The Christmas music by the choir and orchestra captured all that is good about Christmas. The performance had the blend of the best of a high school musical and a worship service. It was fun and funny at times, and it was high and holy at other times. It was a spiritual journey of the heart and soul that led us to the threshold of the throne room of God. Music has a mysterious way of penetrating even the hardest of hearts, and touching the soul.

There is no way a “dead church” could put on a “living Christmas tree” because the tree came alive through the tireless investment of over 250 musicians, technicians, and volunteers. Staging the tree reminded me of a military operation at its best. Over the weekend’s four performances our facilities and parking lots were abuzz with activity. From a logistics stand point, I believe God was glorified as much by the teamwork as the music. From the stage to the kitchen to the parking lot to the foyer people were hard at work with big smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts. Their hearts of service were contagious.

Over the weekend 2600 people attended the performances. Our guests were from all walks of life and represented the vast diversity of our city. Nearly one-third of the guests attended for the very first time–so new relationships were formed for us with each of them. At the close of each service we encouraged those who wanted to talk further about “making room” in the hearts for Jesus to turn in a response card. Eleven people asked us to join them on their spiritual pilgrimage toward Christmas. What an honor for us!

Big productions are exactly that–“big productions.” It costs a lot of money and even more time, but over forty-eight hours our church experienced the joy of serving our King, the synergy of working together, the celebration of His presence, and the honor of sharing His love with a couple of thousand people.

I suspect in the middle of the planning and the logistics there were many among us who wondered if it was worth it–but looking back with tired smiles on our faces we know it was because the true meaning of Christmas is that love will do whatever it takes to bring hope into our world.

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Christmas–“For All People”

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.”–Angels to band of Shepherds (Luke 2:10 NIV)

The staging of the first Christmas sent a powerful message from heaven about the nature of the Kingdom of God. “Good news–for all people” sounds good on the lips of a politician, but Jesus was far from a politician–He was absolutely serious and demonstrated it in his actions.

My first Christmas in El Paso has been a wonderful adventure and collision of cultures. One of my favorite discoveries has been “Christmas Tamales!”

At the close of last week I shared a Christmas brunch with the ladies of the Christian Women’s Job Corp (CWJC) of El Paso led by Paula Jeser. It was a close family gathering of nearly seventy women and volunteers who are part of this amazing organization.

I was invited to shared a Christmas story to these new friends. As I prepared to speak to these women who are struggling to make a better life for themselves and their children, I wondered what I could share that would help to lift their burdens and turn their eyes toward the Christ of Christmas.

As I reflected on the Christmas story I realized it was really more their story than mine. My story has been one of security and affluence by the world’s standards. I have never gone to bed hungry or cold. I have never worried about where my next meal would come from or feared for my safety or the safety of my children. However, Mary and Joseph knew the struggles of the women of CWJC better than I did.

You see Mary was a poor peasant girl raised in a small backwoods town. Joseph was a construction worker, a carpenter by trade, who had callouses on his hands, and knew all too well the aches and pains of a hard day’s work. When God staged the events of Christmas He did not not spare any details. He made it perfectly clear that Jesus came for one and all, and especially for the poor.

As I shared that Jesus was truly “God with us” I could tell from the expressions on their faces that this story of hope was resonating with them in a deep personal way. In fact that morning six of these young women gave their hearts and lives to Jesus their Savior in every sense of the word.

You see Christmas is not a fairy tale–rather it is a story about real people, in the real world, with real struggles, and with real hope!

Merry Christmas!

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A Story of Courage: “I will not be afraid”

I met James a few weeks ago as he was going church to church asking for help. James was not asking for help for himself but rather for a Christian drug rehab ministry in a small house on a dusty street in Juarez. On his belt were key chains he had made that he sold on the streets of downtown El Paso, and he carried a small bag filled with snacks he also peddled to make ends meet. James ran this ministry on a shoe string and a big heart.

James is a tall African-American from my hometown of Fort Worth. He says God called him to come to Juarez to make a difference in people’s lives even though he speaks little Spanish and has no formal theological education nor training in rehab. Yet, this gentle giant of a man has an infectious smile and a heart as big as gold. Clearly he loves Jesus, and he loves people.

Yesterday James dropped by to pick up a ministry funding check. Our church agreed to join him in his work, and after yesterday’s conversation I am a bit embarrassed at how little we gave. As we were awaiting on the paper work of a large church bureaucracy, James shared about the events of the weekend. Just a few blocks from his rehab center two other rehab centers were shot up by gunmen. The gunman simply walked in and opened fire. The assassins killed four and wounded a number of others.

As James spoke of the shootings, I feared for him. He assured me I had no need to worry because God would protect him as he slept in a small walk in closet behind the only locked door in the house. Instead of making plans to pick up and head for a safer assignment, James would go back “home” and settle in for the night.

The Psalmist wrote:

The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

The longer I live in El Paso and befriend those who serve across the river, I realize I am a member of a Kingdom that I don’t know much about. In the affluent safety of the West our definition of courage and abandonment are quite lame when measured up against the real deal.

Sebastian Junger in his book entitled “War” revealed a military study of courage and opened my eyes to its mystery.

What the Army sociologists, with their clipboards and their questions and their endless metanalyses, slowly came to understand was that courage was love.  In war, neither could exist without the other, and that in a sense they were just different ways of saying the same thing.

Courage is love, and love is courage. I suspect the most courageous among us are those who experience the love of Christ the deepest, love Christ with abandonment, and love others as themselves.


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Angel Tree: A Christmas Blessing for All

Last Sunday our church hosted an Angel Tree Christmas Party for over 150 children and the family members of inmates. Angel Tree is a ministry of Prison Fellowship that connects the children of inmates to churches, ministries and individuals who want to brighten up their Christmas.

In Canyon, we participated in Angel Tree, but our participation ended with the dropping off of the Christmas presents to the homes of the children. I really enjoyed taking the relationship a step further by having the party and sharing an El Paso style Christmas dinner of enchiladas, rice and beans around the table.

One of the activities of the evening was the making of Christmas Family pictures. While the children waited for their pictures to be taken I had an opportunity to talk to them and get to know them better. One of the things that struck me was how these boys and girls reminded me of my own children. Their eyes lite up at the sight of the Christmas tree and their smiles reached from ear to ear when they saw the table full of brightly wrapped Christmas gifts.

It was hard to imagine the life these boys and girls experienced. I was especially drawn to the teenagers, who were growing up in a world disrupted by the choices of their parents. As all social workers know these children are at risk of falling into the same vicious cycle of despair that claimed their parents.

When Jesus began his earthly ministry he chose the words of Isaiah 61 as his marching orders:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners

As I witnessed the events of Sunday evening, I could see the darkness being driven back by the power of love.

Additional Note: Several of our members wanted to take this relationship one step further so Sunday a van will be running to pick up many of these children and their families to worship with us Sunday. I can hardly wait to see them.

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Christmas for the Pastors of Juarez

There are times in life when words escape you, and even when you find the words to speak they seem so empty. For someone who called to speak and to find the right words to say, I felt very inadequate.

Today our church hosted over thirty pastors from Juarez for our annual Christmas gathering and celebration. Historically this has been a joyous reunion of pastors from both sides of the river dividing El Paso and Juarez. Over the course of a normal years pastors would go back and forth ministering and working together. They would share meals at the local market, and share life together.

Sadly over the past two years these joyous times of fellowship has ceased as blood flows in the streets of the most dangerous city in the world. Now these two sister cities stand in stark contrast to each other. El Paso shines as one of the safest place in America. Children ride their bikes down the streets and play soccer on the school yard, while the streets of Juarez that once teemed with life resemble a ghost town, and when the sun goes down every one hides behind locked doors.

How does a pastor who lives in safety bless those who serve people who live in danger that lurks around practically every corner? As you might imagine words escaped me, but there are times a smile, a hug, a handshake, and a whispered prayer can say more than the finest of sermons.

A Shield Around Me

During the course of the Christmas celebration, one of the members of our church struck up a conversation with a pastor, and shared how we had been praying for them.  She pleaded “How can we help?” He responded that we are helping. He said, “I feel your prayers…they are like a shield around me.” Then he added there is no need to cross the river–just keep on praying for us.

We intended to share a blessing on this day, but we received the blessing to sit among men and women who live lives of abandonment for Jesus. Oh how I long to follow Jesus as I witnessed in their lives.

As my brothers and sisters loaded up their cars with Christmas gifts and headed home, I became increasingly thankful for the hope of Christmas for Jesus truly is “Emmanuel–God with us.” On both sides of the river, Jesus is Lord.

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Break the Arm of the Wicked Man

As countless thousands pray for the end to the bloody violence along the border of United States and Mexico, I wonder how God will answer our prayer?

Several weeks ago as I was praying and meditating about the violence, I read these words in Psalm 10

12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.
Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
that would not otherwise be found out.

As I read these words I could identify with the plea “break the arm of the wicked man.” This intercession called on the God of heaven to come down to bring justice to the land, and to defend the fatherless.

A few days ago, Mexican police officials announced the capture of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, alias “El Farmero,” who claimed to be responsible for 80% of the deaths in the drug war on the streets of Juarez including gunning down  American Consulate workers, and a massacre of fifteen teenagers at a birthday party. If he is telling the truth there is the blood of hundreds of people on his hands.

Of course  the officials celebrate this capture, but they know all too well there is another violent leader waiting in the shadows. We need to pray that those who take his place will not have the thirst for revenge and violence that “El Farmero” possessed. We need to pray these men and women plotting violence will see vividly the bloody road they have chosen, and turn away from the violence for the sake of their families and community–for their very own lives.

At Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the “Prince of Peace” into our world as a tiny homeless baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. When God confronted the violence of our world, He chose not to move in power and force, but rather love and grace.

The bloody cross of Jesus confronts us with the realities of hatred and violence. The cross also reveals the glory of grace and love. I pray Arturo will come to faith in Jesus. I pray he will turn from his wicked ways. I pray he will find love rather than the wrath of God.

We must not forget the LORD is not powerless, and as the Psalmist wrote:

16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;
the nations will perish from his land.
17 You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.

I pray for the day when “mere mortals will never again strike terror.”

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