Category Archives: El Paso Journal

A Moveable Feast: Paris Reflections

The family of Ernest Hemingway entitled the memoirs of his days in Paris as a young journalist and writer “A Moveable Feast”. They pieced together the story of those amazing yet dark days of his life after his tragic death from notes and items found in an old trunk. His journal told the stories of lessons learned, both good and bad, on the streets of the “City of Lights.” A couple of days ago, Robyn and I returned from our own “moveable feast” after taking our baby girl Madison on a once in a lifetime trip to celebrate her college graduation. Joining us on this feast also included our two oldest daughters Kalie and Lorin, and two of Madison’s close friends, so if you do the math you can see I spent the last week in a half chaperoning six beautiful young women through the streets of Paris. Talk about a dream come true, but I must acknowledge I did not know the Alabama Crimson Tide won the NCAA Championship for days. Let’s just say when you are standing in front of the cute little smile of the Mona Lisa football rarely comes up.

As I began this year I chose to focus my quest on knowing Christ, and knowing Him in ways I have never known Him before. I decided to look for His presence and fingerprints all around me, and to join old Brother Lawrence, who too walked the streets of Paris as a Catholic monk, in his quest to “Practice the Presence of Christ” every moment of every day—to look for Him—to experience Him in all the moments and breaths of life.

I enjoyed the smile of our Lord just moments after landing outside the city after a long overnight flight from Dallas. Bone weary and blurry eyed, yet with my heart beating with the excitement of travel, we waited in line to go through customs expecting a long wake that actually turned out to be rather uneventful, which created some concern because our ground transportation had been arranged to arrive later because we expected a long delay. Robyn and I discussed how to communicate with our shuttle service but had little idea how to contact them. As we walked out of the secure area our first sight was the smiling face of our driver holding in his hands a card with the words “Robyn Lowrie”. In less than 15 minutes he whisked us and all our luggage (remember I was traveling with an entourage of girls…we need a logistic officer from the 1AD at times, but thankfully he brought a large van) onto the highway leading to Paris. As we drove to the city, I imagined what it will be like on that day when I cross over to the other side, and I see my name written in the Lamb book of life and know my arrangements have been made.

Over the next few emotional days, I kept seeing Jesus pop up. I saw Him in the faces of young French soldiers patrolling the sidewalks in front of cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues saying “You are safe on my watch.” I saw Him when I saw a man sit down with an old woman begging with her puppy petty the dog and listening to her life story giving her the gift of being alive and notice rather than a handful of spare change.

I felt Him join the conversation as I spoke with Scott Herr, pastor of the historic American Church, about how to be the presence of Christ in a dangerous unpredictable world, and agreeing with him after my own experiences in El Paso that our very presence with the people declares the gospel loud and clear. We don’t run from fear, we live in faith. I grieved with Him as Robyn and I stood in silence at the makeshift memorial outside the Bataclan Theatre where so many young people died at the hands of terrorist.

I laughed with Jesus when on the Metro Robyn began singing “Happy Birthday” to Madison celebrating 22 years. She exclaimed, “I need an accordion player, the doors of the subway opened and on stepped a man with an accordion to our amazement and bringing a big smile to the young Frenchman who witnessed this everyday miracle of Jesus. As you can see Jesus pops up everywhere if you keep an eye out for Him. Try it today; You might be surprise where He turns up!

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A Sunday Snow Day…in EL PASO?

When I turned 56 years old just a few days ago I thought wrongly my snow days were all behind me—obviously I made a big mistake thanks to a big warm band of ocean water way out in the Pacific affectionately named “El Nino” interestingly enough after the “Christ Child” which brought us our first white Christmas in years, just a day late (but you have to remember we live in El Paso—so it was right on time).

According to forecasters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) those of us who live in the southern states can expect a much colder and wetter winter than normal due to the powerful effects of El Nino—translation you might want to go buy a windshield scrapper and a snow shovel! When I moved to the “Sun City” some nearly six years ago I never dreamed I would sit through snow flurries at the Sun Bowl and then on the same weekend have to make the call to cancel church services on Sunday. I believe God enjoys making life an adventure for the young and old alike out in far West Texas.

Since Jesus extended our Christmas celebration of His birth with a snow day for the whole family, I decided to pass on the Sunday sermon just a couple days late. I had intended to share with you the story behind the name “Ebenezer.” For many of us during the Christmas holidays, we review the great classics and one of the great villains turned heroes has to be the famous Ebenezer Scrooge created in the mind of Charles Dickens in 1843. As you may remember Ebenezer Scrooge’s attitude toward Christmas could be summed up in two words “bah humbug” until one fate night he was haunted by three ghosts who pulled back the veil of how his cold heart robbed others of the joys of Christmas and life itself. Thankfully like the prodigal son of the story of Jesus he came to his senses and brought Christmas joy with all its glory to the home of Bob Cratchit and his crippled son “Tiny Tim.”

I wonder if Dickens understood the back story to the name Ebenezer. I suspect he did. The name “Ebenzer” is a Hebrew compound name literally meaning “Stone of Help” It dates back to the early dark days of the ministry of Samuel, who served as a judge over the nation of Israel. After twenty dark years of rebellion, the Israeli people turned back to the Lord and asked Samuel for guidance. He called on them to “direct” their hearts toward the Lord and to serve Him only by putting away all their false gods.

Samuel called the nation to gather at Mizpah to affirm their covenant of repentance with the Lord. As they gathered their arch enemies the Philistines saw an opportunity to once again take advantage to them. Surrounded and in peril the people pleaded with Samuel to call on the Lord for help. As he offered a sacrifice of worship the Lord thundered from heaven throwing the Philistines into disarray and confusion fleeing from the field of battle while the God of Israel once again won the day to the joy and amazement of His people.

To commemorate this historic moment, Samuel placed a large stone in the midst of the people and named it “Ebenezer” saying “Till now the Lord has help us” (I Samuel 7:12 ESV). This stone stood through the ages as a vivid reminder that we stand and live in total dependence upon the Lord. So as you look back over 2015, can see you see the foot prints of God upon your path…I can? As we enter 2016 I pray we too will join in the poetic words of Robert Robinson and say “Here I raise my Ebenezer–Hither by thy help I’m come” These words rang true when he wrote them in 1757 and ring even truer today!

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Daily Affirmation: Psalm 37:4

Teenagers enjoy such an interesting and at times inspiring perception of life. Of course, they are just old enough to think they get it, and too young to realize they know far less than they think. During my teenage years I began my spiritual quest in earnest. I longed to silence the secret struggles of my soul with passions that seemed to be strong than my will, and to find a peace that could sustain me in the relentless pressure to mold myself into the image designed for me by others so I could fit in and be “happy” like everyone appeared to be.

One day in my devotional time or “quiet time” as Larry Sims, my youth minister called it, I stumbled across a verse in Psalm that appeared at first glance to like finding a credit card with an unlimited balance to be used to satisfy my wants and whims.

The Psalmist wrote:

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 ESV)

At first glance through the depth of the eyes of a teenager, it appears the LORD had just promised me anything I wanted if I long to delight in Him. Immediately I had visions of a new car to replace my 1967 American Rambler that did not even have a radio, and a beautiful girlfriend on my arm who laughed at my jokes and thought I was truly amazing as she hung on my every word with a glow on her face. I could already see her beautiful long hair blowing in the wind as we drove to school in my bright red Mustang convertible. I even looked good in my new preppy clothes like the guys in the magazines besides my voice lowered and I actually had stubble on my baby face. At least for a few minutes I enjoyed the fantasy, but down deep inside it seems to be a bit shallow and out of step with the Jesus I had come to know who called me saying, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow me.” Where was I going to put my cross in my new convertible?

At this point, I suspect the Holy Spirit nudged me back to reality and I look a bit closer at the text, and found treasure beneath the surface. If I delight in the LORD with all my heart and soul how in the world would I be satisfied with play things when I could have the real deal a close, personal intimate relationship with my creator and God–my Savior and LORD. Yes, it dawned on me that those who delight in the more receive more and more of His presence, power, and glory in their lives. They see His fingers prints all around them, and the long for His voice and the guiding touch of His Spirit.

Even as a doubt teenager enslaved by hormones I decided I wanted more than the toys, and I wanted the treasure hidden in the field. I wanted more and more of Jesus in my life. This desire though often distracted by the glitter has not wavered. I still long to experience life as it was meant to be by delighting in the LORD.

So today, choose to delight in the LORD and open your heart and eyes to witness Him filling you with more and more of His presence and power. Don’t settle for the toys when you can enjoy the lasting treasure of His smile.

 

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New Wine: Failure of Nerve

Edwin Friedman, the renowned leadership guru, counselor and rabbi, slaved over a draft of a new book right up to the day of his death. After his untimely death his wife and a group of friends and colleagues sought to share his insights to a waiting audience who needed the light from his soul to navigate these uncertain times.

The entitled the book, “Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of Quick Fix.” In this insightful book based on years of conversations and insights into system’s theory, Friedman calls on leaders to be daring and courageous in an age when fear and anxiety rule. In an age colored by terrorism, the masses long for safety and security, when the age calls for bold bravery in the face of evil.

Jesus speaking to his critics about his tendency to color outside the lines declared:

 “Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17 ESV)

Friedman joined Jesus in the chorus calling on leaders to be imaginative and courageous. I loved his quote that opened chapter one which read:

“The safest place for ships is in the harbor….but that’s not why ships were built”–Anonymous

I would have loved to have met the sailor or explorer who penned those words, better yet I would love to possess his or her spirit of adventure.

Speaking of a spirit of adventure Friedman pointed out that adventure in the “Old World” or “Old Wineskins” suggested that “imagination was cerebral” or in other words, creativity and imagination start in the mind, but he argued that real imagination in the “New World” or “New Wineskins” was “emotional”. He used the world “emotional” to speak of the winds of anxiety and fear that tend to grip the heart and the soul. He believed imaginative courageous leaders like say Columbus who set sail searching a new passage to India to amazingly stumble upon a new world are men and women who stare down their fears, silence their worries, and lay aside their anxieties because of their spirit of adventure.

Franklin D. Roosevelt knew something about this fearless spirit of adventure when in his first inaugural address he declared:

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…

In a world filled with leaders playing it safe and coloring inside the lines and playing behind white picket fences, could it be Jesus is calling out a generation of leaders who dream big dreams, and use their imaginations to envision a whole new world of possibilities. Don’t let fear define you. Don’t allow your anxiety to have the final word. Be strong and courageous and set out on the seas seeking the adventure known only by those willing to risk and live.

 

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Marriage Still Makes “Cents”

Over the past couple of weeks it has been my pleasure to witness first-hand the wonders and the mystery of marriage. On the front side I joined in the festivities as our own Drew Cook tied the knot with Veronica, his lovely bride, and God performed the miracle of the “two becoming one” in His presence.

At the other end of the journey, I stood over the grave of Clinton Wolf, who loved and cared for his wife Joann for over sixty-years. Their love born during their days as college sweethearts lasted through all the twists and turns life could throw at them, yet nothing could separate what God had joined together.

At weddings, I must confess my heart is still stirred by the romance and emotions of it all. My mind races back to seeing Robyn standing at the end of a long aisle, dressed in white, coming to-ward me to be my bride. Honestly, her dad did not look all that happy about her marrying a Baptist preacher boy, but the glow on Robyn’s face captured my heart for good.

At the funerals of lifelong loving partners, I am inspired to never ever give up or give in. My marriage is worth fighting for—even if it means fighting with Robyn on occasion, seeking to find common ground, and a healthy relationship. Sadly, I must confess too often my own selfishness rears its ugly head in the midst of us “talking nervous” as Kalie, our oldest daughter, used to call it.

This week, Kathleen Parker, of the Washington Post, wrote an article that has captured the attention of people across our nation. Parker entitled her article: “To Defeat Poverty—Look to Marriage.”

In a wonderfully written essay, Parker acknowledged and pointed to the incredible benefits of marriage in its own right. She noted how the research on the “war on poverty” has revealed the striking reality that a good, strong, healthy marriage protects couples and families from the downward death spiral of poverty.

In her argument for the age old—traditional view of marriage, Parker made the following observation: “More to the point, we know that being unmarried is one of the highest risk factors for poverty. And no, splitting expenses between unmarried people isn’t the same. This is because marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by a magical concoction of love, selflessness and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.”

Who would have ever thought you would find the Washington Post on the same page as Moses in the opening lines of the book of Genesis? I love her description of marriage which states: “marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by the magical concoction of love, selflessness, and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.” I think her words would make the Apostle Paul smile.

However, those who know marriage best know without doubt that this kind of love, selflessness, and commitment finds its root in the presence and power of God in the hearts and lives of the husband and wife. In fact, Paul pointed out that marriage works best when both partners are filled with the “Spirit” whose fruit includes: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.” It appears God knows what He is doing and we would be wise to follow His direction for real solutions to real problems.

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Choices, Choices

French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once observed “we are our choices.” Meanwhile one of his contemporaries General Charles de Gaulle in exasperation declared: How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?”

Without doubt Sartre was on to something of significance, but equally telling is how we are surrounded by a whirlwind of choices and options. Take a stroll down the local cereal aisle at your local grocery store and you will quickly realize we are treading water in a rolling sea of decisions and alternatives.

Most of our decisions in a given day matter little in the big scheme of things. My choice of which one of my four pairs of black dress shoes will not make or break my day, but my attitude toward those along my path that morning could be life altering experience.

When we get up in the morning we have no idea if this is going to be the day in which a defining moment of our lives happens. How do you get ready for the big days of life when you never really know when they will appear due to a crisis or opportunity? I would suggest you get ready by calibrating your heart and mind as if every day is the most important and significant day of your life—because it a real sense it is.

Playwright Oscar Wilde made this keen insight into life and the significance of our choices and decisions when he said: “I won’t tell you that the world matters nothing, or the world’s voice, or the voice of society. They matter a good deal. They matter far too much. But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!” 


As a fully devoted follower of Jesus we would rob earth of the creative genius of our LORD if we settled for a “false, shallow, degrading existence…” We must seek to live out our lives with abandonment, love, laughter, smiles, thoughtfulness, compassion, and purpose. Wilde is right it all comes down to our choice of which path we choose.

How did you learn to be decisive? Who taught you to be wise and discerning? How did you learn the trick of telling the difference between right and wrong, black and white in an increasing gray world?

The writer of Hebrews chided his readers with the following observation when he wrote: By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong. (Hebrews 5:12-14 The Message).

My journey toward a discerning heart began at my father’s knee when as an adolescent we thumbed through the pages of the book of Proverbs together seeking the lessons of wisdom. Later I advanced to my Heavenly Father’s knee as I wrestled with the Scriptures for myself. Moving from chocolate milk of Sunday School stories to the grisly meat of the hard sayings of Jesus tested me. Soon I came to realize the harsh, raw honesty of the Scriptures. The men and women revealed on its pages struggled, sinned, and soared—real people in a real world. Now I realize that is what God longs for me. My choices count.

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Is the Sky Falling?

As a little boy I still remember hearing the story of “Chicken Little”, who scampered far and wide like a “fowl” version of Paul Revere warning his friends and neighbors shouting “the sky is falling—the sky is falling.” You see, the poor chicken had a chance encounter with an acorn that fell from a tree and hit him directly on his feathery head. Upon impact, “Chicken Little” knew the world as he knew it was coming to an end and it became his mission to get the word out to one and all.

 Among Evangelical Protestant Christians, one often gets the impression that “Chick Little” has been promoted to the press secretary of the Religion Right. This week as the Supreme Court struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to eliminate any discrimination against legally married same-sex couples, and its refusal to address the Proposition 8 ruling in California that will overturn the will of the people concerning legality of same-sex marriage in the largest state in the union, many believe our nation has placed its second foot on the slippery slope to destruction and ruin.

 These decisions come on the heels of the controversial compromise of the leadership of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) which decided to change its historic stance on homosexuality and to invite homosexual boys to freely join their ranks while excluding homosexual men from holding any position of leadership among the boys. This compromise for many represents a slow but sure move by BSA toward a full embracing of homosexual behavior as normative and natural.

 So what is happening all around us? Is the sky falling? Have traditional Christian values gone out of style like the bell bottom jeans of my teenage years?

 Yes, the world around us is changing, but I don’t believe the sky is falling. Here’s why? Concerning our nation’s views of same-sex marriage and homosexuality, we now live in a “post-Christian” society. The Biblical world view that is still hanging on in much of the Deep South and the Bible-belt no longer holds sway in the rest of our nation. In addition there is a huge generation gap in morality taking place all around us. As the “Builder Generation” of WWII enter the “valley of the shadow of death” a younger generation of “Millennials” who received their moral training in front of a flat-screen upon which homosexual behavior and friends were normative are taking their place. It is not so much that the citizens of our nation are changing what they believe—it is that it is a new generation making the decisions.

 

So how do we respond to these seismic changes that are shaking the ground beneath our feet? I would suggest we do what Jesus did. Don’t panic—don’t run around screaming the “sky is falling” nor hide in “stained-glass windowed bunker with a year’s worth of canned goods all around us.” No, I believe we need to be proactive and positive in our approach.

 In the first chapter of Mark, the reader receives very troubling news—Herod the wicked king arrests John the Baptist, the herald of a new day—the most popular preacher of his time. Meanwhile Jesus is just launching his ministry, so what does He do?

 Does Jesus run for the hills to play it safe until it would be safe to preach his message? Does He seek to form some kind of a Galilean version of the “Moral Majority” to oust the king and to institute morality from the capitol to the living room? No, He instinctively knew that religious legalism was part of the problem and certainly not the answer. The Pharisees held the corner market on legalism. In fact, they had darkened people’s views of God to the point that few people recognized the Son of God when He walked into their neighborhood.

 Do you remember what He did? Listen closely to Mark’s description:

 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV)

 Simply put Jesus preached “good news” in a bad news world. He pointed to the sky not in a panic about the end of the world, but rather calling people’s attention to the “coming of the Kingdom of God—the rule and reign of God among His subjects.” But don’t miss the key action points—“repent and believe the good news.” Yes, Jesus’ response to moral decay revolved around “repenting and believing”—simple responses with the power to change the human heart. This is not a day for panicking but a day for preaching good news. Jesus is the answer for the world today—share it!

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