Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Savage Truth: A Response to Dan Savage’s Speech

When was the last time a keynote speaker at a high school journalism conference captured headlines across the nation? Frankly, I cannot think of a time in my lifetime, but last week Dan Savage, a vocal activist against bullying, found himself squarely in the spot light because of some very pointed and at times harsh condemnations aimed at the Bible, and at those who hold the Bible to be true and authoritative.

At one point in his speech to an unsuspecting crowd of teenagers Savage informed the audience that they could “ignore the __________ in the Bible” about homosexuality and a number of other subjects. As he continued his condemnation of the hypocrisy of those who hold to one text in Leviticus and not others, a handful of students began to walk out in protest. At this point, Savage ridicules them for not being able to take his criticism calling them a derogatory name. Like most of us learned in the halls of the junior hall, name calling is one of the basic forms of bullying. I fear Savage forgot that simple truth.

In fairness to Savage he tried to mend fences over the weekend by apologizing and trying to explain himself, but as I watched the video on YouTube I must admit the most disturbing parts to me were the reactions of the crowd—many of whom rallied to Savage’s criticism of the students who walked out and cheered loudly for some of his snide comments about the Bible.

Like the classic line from the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy observed:

“We are not in Kansas anymore”

This event illustrated vividly how rapidly our culture has shifted. No longer does Christianity and its moral framework and values color the way people view reality. I suspect Dallas Willard was right in his observation that our nation has taken this course not in spite of what we have done, but because of what we have done. Sadly, the Western church has sold out to either the extremes of conforming to or condemning our culture, when Jesus called us to transform it from the inside out.

Andy Stanley, in his sermon “Separation of Church and Hate”, noted that too often the church has tried to:

“make a point rather than make a difference”

Savage’s comments and observations reveal what happens when we “make a point.” Granted, I believe the Bible is the Word of God, and the Bible calls “sin—sin.” But I am intellectually honest enough to admit that too often the church picks and chooses what sins to highlight and condemn. When the church climbs into the judgment seat, we can with authority say, “Thus saith the LORD” but a society cannot be saved by ruling from on high.

Our world needs more light not more judges

Jesus called us to be “salt” and “light.” Both work best in environments that are foreign and often hostile to them. In the days of Jesus salt was used to preserve meat and keep it from rotting or to treat a wound. Light then and now drives back the darkness with its penetrating presence. Jesus was our model of what it means to be salt and light and earned the critical nickname “the friend of tax-collectors and sinners.”

I believe the events of the weekend must call the followers of Jesus to renew our efforts to “make a difference” through loving actions of compassion rather than simply trying to prove our way is right by “making a point.” Without doubt Savage has been savagely attacked and condemned by sincere men and women of faith who have attack “him” while seeking to attack his “lifestyle.” He struck back.

We will not make a difference by walking out. We will make a difference by walking beside men and women like Dan Savage. We will make a difference by getting to know them as people and not as labels. We will make a difference when our actions speak louder than our words and rhetoric. Jesus showed us the way—let’s follow Him—but never forget His path led to a cross.


Filed under Church and State, Civil Right, Devotion, New World Order, World Events

In Season and Out of Season

Recently the words of Oswald Chambers captured my imagination and stirred my heart. The striking quote emerged from his classic devotional book “My Upmost for His Highest.” This particular devotional book has been part of the Lowrie family collection for years. Often God has spoken a fresh word to us from the thoughts and meditations of Chambers.

One of the interesting facts about this classic devotional book is that it has been in print since 1935, but that it was actually compiled by Gertrude Chambers, or “Biddy” as Oswald like to call her—the wife of Chambers.  Biddy met Oswald when he watched over her on an adventurous voyage from England to America. Aboard ship a friendship turned into love, and they married after a courtship sparked to flame by heart-felt letters.

Biddy trained to be a high skilled stenographer sharpening her skills to the point she could transcribe 250 words a minute. She took meticulous notes of her husband’s sermons and lectures. After his untimely death from complications from surgery in Egypt while he served as a British chaplain during World War I she produced devotional pamphlets from her notes.

The devotional book “My Upmost for His Highest” was the byproduct of this labor of love and for decades it has inspired countless millions to follow Jesus with more and more abandonment. In the devotional for April 25th, entitled “Instant in Season” Biddy recorded the following thoughts of her husband drawn from the words of Paul “Be instant in season, out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Chambers observed:

“The season does not refer to time, but to us—‘Be instant in season, out of season,’ whether we feel like it or not. If we do only what we feel inclined to do, some of us would do nothing for ever and ever…”

As so often I found his words to be truthful and convicting. Significance and effectiveness mark those who struggle and labor with discipline with an eye fixed on the ultimate destination. Feelings often color the labor, but rarely do they consistently inspire it.

Gustave Flaubert, classic French novelist of another century, rightly observed:

“One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.”

Our feelings much like the weather of West Texas come and go with the change of the winds—one day bright and sunny, the next blustery with dust in the wind thick enough to hide the face of the mountain on the horizon.

The Psalmist noted in Psalm 1 that the life rooted in mediation and contemplation of the Word of God would be like a “tree planted by the rivers of water…bearing fruit in season.” The fruit in season lay dormant during the long cold winter while the tree appeared to be death yet it went faithfully about its task of bearing fruit—with little or no outward evidence.

Discipline yourself to be strong and true to the Lord when you feel like it or not and “in season” no doubt you will bear fruit for the Kingdom in ways that will even amaze you.

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Filed under Devotion, El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso, First Look

Reflections on a Fallen Soldier–War Still Marches On

His picture appeared amidst the news of the day. He wore proudly the uniform of the nation he loved and served. Left behind weeps a young bride mourning the loss of a life together. In the green rolling hills of Tennessee his parents gaze into the horizon trying to remember the last time they saw his face–the last time their arms held him tight–praying that this nightmare will end with  the suddenness of a morning alarm. Yet the alarm never rings and the nightmare lives on and on.

The grave marker will bear his noble name: Jason K. Edens. Twenty-two years mark the number of his days. A life snuffed out so soon for a noble cause that resonated deep in his heart, and led him to the battle field for all the right reasons. Pray his death will grant life and freedom to others–that his life will live on in theirs even though few will be able to recall his name.

As a resident of El Paso near sprawling Fort Bliss it is  an all too common sight to see young men and women being ordered into harms’ way. When I stand and preach Sunday after Sunday I gaze into the faces of young wives whose husband’s wear body armor on their way to work on the dusty streets or the steep rock faces of Afghanistan. Few Americans even think about the harsh reality that our sons and daughters wage war this day across the sea. May God forgive us for being distracted when lives struggle in the balance.

One of my nightmares has yet to grip me in the night. I dread the call bearing the solemn news that one of the soldiers I know and love has fallen. I pray that day will never come, but it came a few days ago for a young wife, and proud parents. May we never forget to pray, to grieve, and to remember our heroes sent on a mission for freedom, justice, and right.

Only people who have never slept in a foxhole or stood their post glamorize war. Old soldiers know all too well the harsh dark realities of war. Veterans rarely speak of the horrors and many still awaken in the night in a cold sweat when their dreams betray them and plunge them back into the caldron of conflict. Sadly too often those who send our children to war know little of its costs, dangers and lasting effects.

In 1879, General William T. Sherman stood before a room full of fresh faced cadets graduating from the Michigan Military Academy. The stench of Civil War had begun to subside yet the “glories” of war stirred the hearts of young warriors. As this old warrior stared into their eager faces he said:

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here. Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell.

(Dr. Charles O. Brown in the Battle Creek Enquirer and News 18 November 1933)

In days like these, we must remember the horrify truth of his words. No matter how noble or right the cause the harsh reality remains “war is hell.” Just days before his brigade deployed to man the front lines of Afghanistan I stood at the front of the sanctuary talking in hushed tones with a brigade commander who had thousands of young lives entrusted into his hands. He looked me in the eye and said,

“Pastor, please pray for the souls of my soldiers…I will bring almost all of them back alive, but I fear for their souls.”

Spiritual warfare does not just reside in the prayer closets of the faithful, it spills over to the battle field where young lives struggle in the “valley of the shadow of death.” Since that solemn moment, I have prayed for our young warriors to come home “whole” both in body and soul. The wounds of bullets and shrapnel heal with time and high-tech medical attention but the wounds of the soul need a “Savior”–the healer of the soul–the mender of broken hearts.

May the fall of young Jason Edens awaken us to the stark realities of wartime. May his death call us back to our Maker and protector. Let me close with the words of a poet warrior who declared in lyrical voice:

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…you anoint my head with oil my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

David knew all too well that “war is hell” but he also knew  the destiny of a warrior whose faith rests in his or her Savior awaken  at home in heaven.

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Filed under Devotion, El Paso Journal, Fort Bliss

My First Prom @ 52 Years Old

Last Saturday evening I attended my first prom as a chaperon for the Franklin High School Junior/Senior prom held at the El Paso Convention Center. I guess you may need some of the back story for why it took me so long to go to prom. Besides the fact I was a border line high school nerd my senior year at Texas High in Texarkana.  I boycotted the prom because I believed dancing was sinful and that prom was nothing more than an excuse to get drunk and do things you were not suppose to do. I guess you could say I was a bit stiff in those days–obviously I had the makings of a great Southern Baptist preacher!

I remember my mother grieved for me missing such a significant night in my life, and to be frank I don’t remember what I did that evening, but I felt good and noble in my stand against sin. Not that anyone noticed I was not there or even cared that I was taking such a stand for “righteousness.”

As I look back on it now I am thankful I followed my heart, but I fear my heart was a bit too judgmental and legalistic at the time. You have to look out for young preacher boys with all the answers. Of course it is much easier to have all the answers before you have even begun to really live.

Over the years I have bought a number of fancy prom dresses, and joined in the spectacle of the parents taking all the pictures before prom like a convention of paparazzi . Prom dresses and black tuxes add years of maturity to high school students. They make little girls grow up way to fast from a father’s perspective.  In fact, it can be a bit scary for a father sending off her beautiful daughter in the company of a young “wolf” dressed in black. (You see fathers remember all too well when they were teenage boys hyped up on hormones).

This year, my wife signed us up to be chaperons at prom. I prayed for a job in the back of the room, and definitely out of the spotlight. I wanted to stand back in the shadows with the nerds, and hope no one would notice the Baptist preacher at the dance. But I guess God had other ideas. Upon arrival we were assigned guarding the entrance to the prom like gate keepers asking to see the wristbands that gave entrance to the festivities. Two uniformed police officers flanked us on either side with the assignment to check purses, and bulges in jackets to make sure nothing inappropriate made it into the room like alcohol, drugs, weapons etc…Security checks at prom stand out as one of the sad realities of our modern world.

Needless to say my daughter was as mortified as I was to see me standing front and center as everyone of her classmates enter the prom. However, this front row seat to the evening did open my eyes to many harsh realities faced by our teenagers–especially the young women. I witnessed the cliques and the vying for position among peers. I saw boys trying to be “men” and I saw young women dressed seductively trying to catch the eyes of gawking teenage boys trying desperately to stand out as the most beautiful in the room.

As the father of four beautiful young women I must admit my heart went out to the young ladies the most. The pressure on them to be outwardly beautiful was almost oppressive, and I could tell many of them did not have a positive male role model in their lives because a good father would have never let their daughter out of the house dressed in such revealing outfits. I hurt more for these young women than I was disappointed because I knew deep inside they were trying to do the best they could with the rules imposed by our society.

We also had an eye-opening experience as purse after purse revealed “condoms” obviously stashed away for the extra-curricular events planned for later in the evening. Again my heart grieved for the hurt and shame that would follow in the days ahead spurred on by bad choices made on this special event set aside to celebrate the great accomplishments of high school.

I must admit, in spite of some of these eye-opening experiences, I had a great evening. The mood was fun and festive. The staff and administration were attentive and enjoyable to be around. The students were polite and considerate. It was not nearly as bad as I had imagined as an 18 year old Baptist preacher with all the answers.

My daughter had the time of her life, once she got pass the mortification of all her friends telling her that they saw her parents at the door.

It dawned on me that the condition of your heart creates the environment of your life.

Prom is what your heart makes it to be. I am so thankful that I let my daughters go to prom. I wish I had gone long ago, but at least I got to go at fifty-two with the love of my life Robyn. Not a bad prom date I must admit, since she is  still way out of my league. It was the classic nerd dating the beauty queen. For those inquiring minds, I did not dance nor did Robyn…because Madison told us in no uncertain terms “do not dance…do not embarrass me!” For once we did what she asked us to do.


Filed under El Paso Journal, Rite of Spring

Andy Stanley: Separate of Church and Hate

This week at the pastors luncheon of the El Paso Baptist Association, we viewed a sermon by Andy Stanley entitled aptly “Separation of Church and Hate.” Stanley waded into the complicated world of religion and politics with courage, insight and a light of hope for those of us who have struggles with how to be good citizens of both the United States and the Kingdom of heaven.

From my perspective the church loses it prophetic voice when it gets too entangled in the political systems. When the church begins to be colored by the politics and platforms of one political party or another the church is the big loser.

I resonated with Stanley’s observation that for too long church leaders have been more interested in “making a point rather than making a difference.” When we get drawn into the debate by one side or the other for their political gain we cheapen the “grace” we offer, and we lose our ability to say “thus saith the Lord.” Besides, we are not going to win America by winning debates or having better sound bites.  As Stanley observed about Jesus:

“Jesus refused to be dragged into debates that took away from the primary issue…”

We will change America when we embody the gospel and let our light shine into the darkness.

Jesus lived in a highly charged political world. He was a revolutionary but not within the halls of apparent power, but rather in the hearts and lives of common ordinary people who began to live less than ordinary lives by following Him with absolute abandonment. Along these lines Stanley quoted an old African American preacher who said of Jesus:

“I am not here to take sides…I am here to take over.”

Yes, Jesus came to take over but not the halls of power, but in the hearts of people. We would be wise to follow His example at the local, state, national and international level. Never underestimate the power of the gospel, the reach of the local church, and the scope of the Kingdom of God. Real change marches on. Don’t settle for making a point–let’s sell out to making a difference one life at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one city at a time.

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Filed under Border Journal, Church and State, El Paso Journal

Who Will?

As a young pastor I observed a rather interesting phenomenon when I would visit in the homes of many of my senior adults—especially those who grew up during the Great Depression. Most often when I would enter the home I would be greeted with the question, “Have you had anything to eat today?”or “Can I get you something to eat?” Of course not wanting to be seen as rude or ungrateful I would often share a bite to eat with them. It was part of my church growth plan—I was “growing” right along with the church!

These persistent encounters piqued my imagination so one day I asked one of my trusted friends and mentors why this kept happening over and over again. With a gentle smile and a wise tone I was instructed in the patterns of the Great Depression. During the Great Depression far too many people ran out of food and lived much of the time hungry. A growling stomach became a daily reality for far too many people, so those who had food to share asked everyone who entered their home—“Have you had something to eat today?”

This simple kind inquiry may seem out of place in our apparent day of plenty, but the harsh reality remains that many people all around us live day to day worrying about the next meal. Social workers call this plight “food insecurity” but for the average person we call it poverty. Yes, Jesus warned us that we would always have the poor among us, but his insight did not suggest that we should simply embrace this reality as an acceptable norm.

The early people of the “Way” stood out in the ancient world by their acts of generosity and kindness. In the book of Acts you find the people instinctively sharing the food with one another in love.

James, the brother of Jesus, noted in his thoughtful practical letter that true faith revealed itself in actions saying:

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17 NIV)

 One of the great challenges we face as believers in El Paso is our response to hunger—both spiritual and physical. Over 200,000 people in our neighborhoods live with the challenges of “food insecurity” and it has been reported that two out of three of our city’s children show up to school hungry.

During the school year, our local schools address this need by feeding the children a filling breakfast and lunch, but the question our Missions committee wrestled with recently is “what happens during the summer?”

Sadly, this is not a problem faced only on the border. Texas ranks near the top in the nation for hungry children.

In answer to this question emerged the “Spiritual and Nutritional Summer” ministry. For $40, we discovered that in partnership with the local food bank, that we can help make sure the children of our neighborhood have breakfast and lunch throughout the summer months. On April 29th, you will have the opportunity to stand in the gap for these children by donating $40 toward this noble cause. The question remains—“Who will?”

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Filed under BGCT, El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso, First Look, Uncategorized

No. 12–A Texas Longhorn Legend

The freshman quarterback from Jim Ned, yes this is a town in Texas, stood in the University of Texas football equipment room, which was nearly as large as his high school building, to be suited out with equipment and to select his number. The equipment manager for decades had dealt with the elite of Texas football, these high school superstars who would now wear burnt orange with great pride.

As the young fresh faced quarterback negotiated for his number he first requested his high school number, the number “4”. The manager shook his head it was taken and the young freshman did not have the clout to get it. Then he requested the number “11”. This time the manager chuckled and said, “No way, that was Major Applewhite’s number.” He must have mumbled under his breath “Just who in the world does this kid think he is?”

Finally after a long negotiation, the kid quarterback from Jim Ned with a baby face settled on the number “12.” The kid was too young to remember Dallas Cowboy great Roger Staubach wore that number proudly. No, this freshman just knew he was going to wear a number no one else really wanted, or at least a number that would match his potential of greatness.

In October 2010, the historic Texas Longhorn football program retired the number “12” worn for four years proudly by this quarterback who graduated from Jim Ned with a class of twenty-five classmates. The number “12” joined the numbers:

“10”–worn by National championship quarterback Vince Young

“20”–worn by the Tyler rose Earl Campbell

“22”–worn by the great Bobby Layne from dawn of football

“34”–worn by -fleet-footed Ricky Williams

“60”–worn by the head hunter linebacker Tommy Nobis

Colt McCoy may have gotten his last choice of a number but he made the best of it. Today young freshman quarterbacks from big and small schools  idolized the number “12” as they strut into the equipment room ready to choose their number.

The old saying “You can’t tell a book by its cover” is so very true. There is no way you can measure heart, hustle, hard work, and desire. This week Colt McCoy shared this story with over 500 people gathered for a Fellowship of Christian Athlete banquet in El Paso. As I listened to this story I was reminded that the “just shall live by faith” and I would suggest “see by faith.

Stories of unlikely heroes from shepherd boys taking down giants to sheep herders becoming the leader of a great nation on the move fill the Bible.  Never underestimate the impact of a single solitary life fully devoted to God and willing to live with absolute abandonment.


Filed under El Paso Journal, FBC El Paso