Category Archives: FBC El Paso

Pass the Pizza: Presidential Politics

This week the presidential candidates turned their focus to the State of New York and the Big Apple—New York City with its primary looming just over the horizon on April 19th. Ohio Governor John Kasich had quite a week in the Empire State. In the same week he received the endorsement of the New York Times along with Hillary Clinton (which may be good news or bad news depending on how you see it) and he flunked the New York Pizza test at Gino’s Pizzeria in Queens by eating his pizza with a fork!!

Yes, this gaff made national news from Good Morning America to Politico. You can’t make this stuff up—life truly is stranger than fiction. If you step back and look at how we choose our leaders you have to wonder what we are thinking or better if we are thinking at all.  This particular political season has been mind boggling on many levels if not nauseating.

Sadly, politicians and their handlers have turn running for office into a “blood sport” with essentially no rules or healthy boundaries. It appears candidates will say and do practically anything to try to get the upper hand by sinking lower and lower into the gutter. I am not sure we have enough character to handle a Twitter feed with only 140 characters. #thinkbeforeyouhitsend.

John Maxwell, former pastor and leadership guru rightly noted: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I suspect all of us have found this to true from the little league coach, manager of the local fast food joint, church planter, captain of a company of soldiers to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

So if leadership truly makes all the difference, the selection of leaders must be of paramount importance. In the National Football League each year the coaches and general managers host a combine for college athletes seeking to play on the biggest stage in sports. Not only do they measure the speed, strength and agility of the student athletes but they also administer what they call the “Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test” developed by Eldon F. Wonderlic, who designed this fifty question test administered in just twelve minutes to identify one’s problem solving abilities. Score low on this test and you may not ever get a chance to score on the field.

Jim Collins, who spent much of his research career analyzing great companies and great leaders made the following observations:

Great vision without great people is irrelevant…get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus…In determining the right people, the good-to-great companies placed greater weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, practical skills, specialized knowledge, or work experience.”

 Yes, character counts! I liked to call it the “Big C” when my little girls were going up and facing an opportunity dressed in the disguise of a problem or challenge. I would remind them God continually seeks to instill character into those He loves and believes in. James nailed it when he wrote: Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4 The Message)

Before we turn our attention too quickly to criticize those in leadership, we would be wise to look into the mirror of our hearts and souls. Are we, men and women of character, or do we expect qualities in our leaders that we do not expect of ourselves? Remember what Paul said: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV)

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(Un)apologetic

 

A few weeks ago, while standing outside the doors of our sanctuary following our Upward Basketball Celebration, a grandfather of one of the little dribblers pulled me aside to ask a question saying, “Pastor, I need your help. My grandchild asked me the other day, why does God allow tornadoes and storms to destroy homes and take the lives of people? So what do you think and what should I say?”

I must confess I would have been a bit more comfortable talking to this grandfather of a little basketball player about the advantages of zone defense vs. man-to-man defense on the court, but I knew I needed to help him navigate one of the many spiritual mine fields we face together.

So what would you say in a conversation that would last less than fifteen minutes but could actually be the basis of a graduate theological class for an entire semester? Before I share how I replied, let me fast forward to another conversation after a recent church service where I preached on the two most important people who have ever lived—Adam and Jesus. With a big smile on his face one of our members inquired, “Where did Adam’s sons get their wives?” In this case, I smiled thinking to myself, “I don’t have any idea!”

If you have been paying attention you realize we live in a rapidly changing society. When one compares the beliefs of the “Greatest Generation” with their great, great grandchildren at times it is hard to believe they came from the same family and grew up in the same nation. For instance, 75% of the “Greatest Generation” would say religion remains a very important part of their lives and 56% attend church nearly every week, while only 40% their great, great grandchildren the “Millennials” would concur that religion is a very important part of their lives, and only 18% attend worship on a regular basis according to the Pew Research Center in 2010.

If you look at the trends on moral issues in American from same-sex unions, immigration, legalization of marijuana, and abortion one can see the “faith of our fathers” must have taken a detour at some point along the way. Take the fundamental question of “Where did we come from…did we evolve or were we created by God?” 50% of those with gray hair and a birth certificate dating back to the 1940’s at least  would confess they believe God created human beings in their present state, while 65% of those born after 1980 would state the human race evolved into its present form with or without the help of God.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, challenged the believers in the first century who lived in a world much like our own to be ready and willing to stand up and speak out for the cause of Christ saying: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV)

Back to my answer to the grandfather, I reminded him to never underestimate how the curse of sin has marred creation.

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A Prince, The Pope and The King

For those of us who claim Paseo Del Norte as our home this has been quite a week on both sides of the Rio Grande River twisting its way through our metropolitan village. On the El Paso side of the divide, we had the much anticipated visit of Prince George, my grandson, who arrived via his regional jet service. On the other side of the river, we had the historic visit of Pope Francis, the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church who made the first visit of a Pope to our community.

Needless to say, one visit received much more media coverage than the other, but at least at my house the visit of Prince George rocked my world in more ways than one. As you may know, my grandson will turn two years old in less than three weeks, so he has entered that wonderful phrase parent’s lovingly call the “terrible twos” because of the mobility, curiosity, and speed by which two year-olds investigate and attempt to rule and reign over their kingdoms. Prince George could also go by the nickname the “Texas Tornado” because he loves to pick up things and whirl them across the room, and he literally leaves a trail of destruction in his path. I love it!

In preparation for our “Texas Tornado” let’s just say Robyn and I had to batten down the hatches in preparation of his royal visit. We gathered the breakable items and hid them from his touch. We established borders and barricades to direct his path. We went to the story to storm up food for the siege. We swept, mopped, vacuumed so he would have a clean canvas to work with as he painted his masterpiece of demolition. Let’s face it when royal comes to visit serfs must go to work preparing the way for the king.

Meanwhile, the cities of El Paso and Cuidad Juarez prepared for the momentous visit of Pope Francis. On both sides of the river civic and law enforcement leaders laid the groundwork for his much anticipated arrival. On the El Paso side highways and schools closed offering the children and residents of the city a “holy holiday” while on the other side of the river, city officials and leaders of the diocese prepared the path for the Pope’s pilgrimage to the border symbolically tracing the path countless immigrants have traveled in search for a better life.

I must confess I had a wide variety of emotions as I personally prepared for the Pope’s visit. As a prominent Protestant leader in our city I felt a bit conflicted about how to respond, but as a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven I readily acknowledge his visit moved me.

I commend the local television stations for their live coverage of the Pope’s visit. I don’t know if ever in my lifetime I have witnessed secular media outlets freely offering their services to the faith community. By broadcasting live the words and actions of Pope Francis our two cities had the opportunity to experience the pageantry, passion, and preaching of the gospel of Jesus from sun up to sundown.

Pope Francis’ messages and symbolic actions spoke to the great challenges and injustices faced by countless thousands who live along the border. During the Mass late on Wednesday afternoon in the presence of over 200,000 of the faithful standing in his presence and another 28,000 joining in by the marvels of technology in the Sun Bowl, he declared: “Let us together ask God for the gift of conversion, the gift of tears, let us ask him to give us open hearts—open to his call heard in the suffering faces of countless men and women. There is still time to change. There is still a way out and a chance, time to implore the mercy of God….”

In response I can practically hear King Jesus saying:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)  Pope Francis and Prince George will head home this week, but King Jesus still reigns over our valley. He longs to reign over our hearts and lives. He has always been here. He never left.

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Be Mine

When it comes to “conversation hearts” often exchanged in celebration of Valentine’s Day between lovers, I must acknowledge my favorite simple sentiment has to be “be mine.” I suspect the creation of “conversation hearts” can be traced by at an introverted, shy guy who had a hard time putting into words how he felt so he created a candy that did the talking for him. Recently Robyn and I shared a large bag of “conversation hearts” with our Marriage 101 class and enjoyed the updates which include “text me—friend me—e-mail me—tweet me.” I must confess I was quite surprised to find one that said, “Call me” since most “brave” teenage boys these dates text their beloved to ask them out on a date, and the girls break up across the same digital medium of communication.

On a personal note: “Come on, boys, man up, ask the girls out in person, or at least call them! Don’t make it so easy on them to say no!”

 Of course, if I had created “conversation hearts” I would have used chocolate. Let’s face it; I hope true love doesn’t taste like a chalky tiny heart. Fun fact: did you know that over Valentine’s week over 58 million pounds of chocolate is purchased, and if you are wondering February 15 has been declared a chocolate lovers national holiday because so much of it goes on sale at half price.

Believe it or not, the chocolate industry did not dream up Valentine’s Day, nor can you trace its origin back to florists or the greeting card industry. No, the official declaration of Valentine’s Day dates back to Pope Gelasius, who in approximately 498 A.D. sanctified a pagan Roman holiday called the ‘Feast of Lupercalia’—a fertility feast in celebration of women held on February 15 into St. Valentine’s Day named after a legendary Catholic Priest by the name of Valentine or Valentinus. Historians have discovered conflicting stories about this hero of love whether he married Roman soldiers in defiance of Emperor Claudius II who outlawed marriage to increase his recruitment of young men to serve in his army or the story of a priest who fell in love with the jailer’s daughter during his imprisonment before his execution and penned a note to her saying “Be my Valentine.” Either way, you have to congratulate the Pope for declaring a holiday around love. I suspect he knew husbands and boyfriends needed all they help they could get to keep the spark in their relationships by saying “I love you” in tangible and romantic ways.

Bible trivia: Who spoke the following romantic words, and to whom were they spoken?

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Was it Rebekah to Isaac, or Rachel to Jacob, or Ruth to Boaz? If you guessed Ruth you nailed it but she did not speak these words to Boaz her beloved, but rather to her mother-in-law Naomi. So the next time you hear these words in a wedding, I suspect a smile will cross your face because you know the “rest of the story” like old Paul Harvey used to say.

Without doubt one of the powerful descriptions of love has to be the words of Paul to his friends in Corinth when he poetically wrote:   Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends….” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ESV)

As you can vividly see, real love reaches far beyond fickle feelings and romantic emotions. Real love shapes our character so that we touch and hold each other like Jesus holds us. Don’t miss the opportunity this weekend to say “I love you” and if you must used chocolate!

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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 New Soul

Before the dark days of World War II, God used a profound solitary voice to shape the soul of Great Britain by the name of G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton served the kingdom of God as an apologist, theologian, prolific writer, columnists, and novelist. One of the great influences of his life had to be the effect he had on the great mind of C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest voices of Christendom.

When Lewis struggled for his soul in the empty depths of atheism, God used Chesterton to touch his heart and mind. Lewis described his touch years later as follows:

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading [George] MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

Praise the LORD that He will go to any extreme to capture our hearts for His glory and purposes.

One of my favorite Chesterton quotes revolves around the dawning of a new year. He wrote:

“The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.”

As you can readily see, Chesterton nailed it. Life only has true meaning and purpose on the “soul level”—all other experiences are nothing more than random heartbeats and wasted breathes. So how does one seek a new soul?

I resonate with Paul’s amazing description of this transformation within when he wrote to his comrades in Corinth, a pagan city awash in the slime and sensuality of the human condition saying:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV)

As we gaze upon the stunning glory and beauty of our Lord, His power and presence transforms our souls into His image— as His character oozing from our very pores through “fruit” of His Spirit abiding within us. Yes, God transforms our souls from the inside out.

Bishop John H. Vincent, a Methodist pioneer of spiritual formation and education for the masses back in the 19th and 20th centuries penned a prayer that seems to capture well the character of Christ for those of us serious about chasing after Him day after day. He prayed:

“I will this day try to live a simple, sincere, and serene life; repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike trust in God.”

It seems Vincent captured well and understood what Paul alluded to when he wrote:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

A new soul springs to life within as we chase after the Lord with a “childlike trust” that unravels the mysteries of life and opens our yes to see God pursing us with a love than never ceases. Happy New Year! Enjoy your new soul!

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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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