Category Archives: First Look

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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Color Outside the Lines

As an oldest child I learned and loved to color inside the lines. Following the rules always made perfectly good sense to me, let’s face it you do what mom and dad say and you will not spend much time with the “board of education” if you know what I mean. For the younger generation, the “board of education” would be the equivalent of “time out” on steroids, plus it hurt.

Following the rules has its place, especially if you are in charge of a preschool class, but I have also learned that at times coloring outside the lines makes for a much more vivid and beautiful world.

Let me introduce you to a very unlikely hero. When she was in school she told her friends that the D. in her name stood for “devil” and some of them believed. She would often attend church services to poke fun at the preacher and his sermon while her friends giggled. While attending a Christian school she skipped chapel twenty-six times (at least) and as a child would often sneak out of church and go home to read Shakespeare instead of Psalms. Let’s face it at Christmas time, good old Saint Nick would put her name on the “naughty not nice” list. So who is the young lady who loved to color outside the lines? You will probably be surprised? This little “devil” grew up to become one of the great names of the Christian faith. You know her as Lottie Moon, her parents named her Charlotte Diggs Moon. Yes, little Lottie Moon who only stood 4’3’’ tall casts a shadow that still shapes the world today.

The fact that even after Lottie Moon put her faith and trust in Jesus as her Lord she continued to color outside the lines inspires me to this day. She followed hard after Christ with a passion and abandonment that rocked the world she sought to change. Her passion for adventure and her courageous spirit changed the face of China and has a lasting influence today some two hundred years after she died aboard a ship in the harbor of Kobe, Japan on her way home on Christmas Eve 1912.

So how did this little missionary cast such a big shadow? I suspect she took to heart the admonition of Jesus which states:

“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)

Yes, even Jesus our Lord recognized the value of coloring outside the lines.

Let me share with you a couple revolutionary changes little Lottie inspired and pursued. First, she believed the daughters of God could change the world. She believed girls could make a big difference in the world and not just in the kitchen. Lottie Moon was born into a world where too often women were seen but not heard, but God had given her a voice and she used that voice to glorify God and to preach His gospel. Yes, I used the word preach, but I have to be honest, one of the reasons Lottie loved China revolved around the freedom she found there to preach and share Jesus. From baking cookies to start conversations to going door to door talking about Jesus, Lottie could not be kept silent. I hope my girls grow up like her!

Second, Lottie realized that to enter the Kingdom of God you did not have to become an American, or take on the styles and customs of Western civilization but rather one must follow Jesus. Upon arriving in China, she began to dress like the Chinese, eat like the Chinese, and live like her friends and neighbors so they would soon come to realize Jesus came for all the nations of the world. Her methods were controversial, revolutionary, and powerful. It is little wonder after her death, the Woman’s Missionary Union named its Christmas Offering for International Missions after her.

This year when you give to the Lottie Moon offering realize you make it possible for another generation of missionaries to color outside the lines for the glory of God.

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ABC’s of Thanksgiving

Growing up I learned the classic hymn “Count Your Blessing” composed by Johnson Oatman, Jr in 1897. I can still remember the chorus by memory:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Every Sunday night at the North Fort Worth Baptist Church where I grew we sang this chorus and then had a time of thanksgiving where members stood and expressed their gratitude to God. I suspect now that this “attitude of gratitude” explains the sweet spirit in this great church.

Years ago, I discovered the wonderful idea of making a thanksgiving list using the alphabet. Here’s my list for this year, let me encourage you and your family to make your own.
A-apples, automobiles, angioplasty
B-Bible, books, bananas, bread, banana bread
C-chocolate—enough said!
D-dogs, donuts, deacons, Dad
E-emergency rooms, eggs, exercise, El Paso
F-food, fun, fellowship, family, football
G-God almighty, and Prince George
H-Holy Spirit, homemade anything!
I-ice cream, instant pudding, internet
J-Jesus—enough said! Jamie and Jordan
K-Kalie, Ketchup, kites, kindness,
L-Lorin, love, laughter, light, Little Debbie,
M-Madison, money, mushy movies, Mom
N-nuts, Nutella (fake chocolate), night sky
O-ovens, olives, outdoors
P-Philip, Paris, peanuts, peanut butter
Q-quiet, quiet times, quarters
R-Robyn, rest, rules (I am a first born), rain
S-spaghetti, soup, spiritual disciplines
T-Texas, tacos, tomatoes, tamales
W-West Texas, watermelon, wise counsel
X-x-rays; Xerox, X-chromosome
Y-Yams, yellow roses, Yahweh
Z-Zoo, zippers, zip codes

Try it at home this week and see how you do. It’s more fun and better for you than a New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

I have always loved Psalm 100. I appreciate that it is short, sweet, and to the point. The Psalmist wrote:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

One of the great lessons to this hymn points out that we enter His very gates through thanksgiving. Yes, thanksgiving ushers us into the very presence of the LORD.

Dr. Robert Emmons and Dr. Michael McCullough develop what they called “Gratitude lite” which encourages people to start a gratitude journal. In the journal individuals were encourage to write down five things they were thankful for at least once a week. Remarkably after only two months those who kept the journals were much happier and optimistic than a control group who did not journal. In addition, at night they fell asleep much quicker. “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep,” suggests Dr. Emmons.

I can affirm this proven reality myself. Three months ago, I began starting each day by writing down at least three things I am thankful for. This simple practice of gratitude has brought great joy to my life even in trying times. So this week let’s “enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise!”

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The Gasp

I never wanted to be labeled a hypochondriac. You know the kind of person who always seems to be complaining about this ache and this pain. However, over the past forty days I found myself seeking medical attention and missing work with strange physical symptoms and fevers too often.

I diagnose and treat my own ailments, and for the most part I have been relatively successful in my medical career even though I have the wrong kind of doctorate to practice medicine.

However, a few days ago, I found myself driving to the ER after prayer meeting. Over the past thirty days after a long road trip to Brownwood and back, I had not felt good. I thought I had a touch of pneumonia or acute bronchitis, but when I checked into the urgent care clinic the doctor on duty ruled my condition to be a urinary tract infection and put me on a round of antibiotics.

Over the course of the next week, I felt somewhat better and the severe back and shoulder pain related to deep breathes subsided, and it appeared all was well, except the fact when I exercised I continued to have shortness of breath and an accelerated heart beat. So after a couple of weeks of not feeling right, I went to my primary care doctor and she determined I may have a case of congestion and the onset of allergies, so she treated me in line with her assumptions, but I still did not feel right. So I consulted with a doctor friend whose persuasion may have saved my life.

When I arrived at the ER, I must confess I felt a bit dumb. I had no fever, no shortness of breath unless I was running, and only a dry cough, but I decided to trust my friend and rule out any serious complications. Upon arrival, I waited– which is why you are called a patient in a hospital, because you will need patience to be a patient! When I made it back to the examining room and Robyn arrived, a series of tests and blood work ensued. (By the way, I now have nightmares of smiling lab attendants bearing needles seeking my blood!) All the tests, and x-rays appeared normal confirming my feeling I was wasting time and money until I had a scan of my lungs. Robyn and the technician took me to radiology and I laid flat on the machine awaiting a shot of dye in my IV to expose any possible problems.

Since x-rays were to be used, Robyn joined the technician in his office to watch the results on the screen. According to protocol he assured her he could not reveal the findings of the tests but she would watch and make her own assessment. Momentarily, he informed me he was shooting the dye into my veins and I should expect a warm sensation. Just as the dye entered my lungs he gasped and said, “Oh my… his lungs are full of clots!” Quickly blood drained from Robyn’s face and when I saw her I knew instinctively something was terribly wrong.

Needless to say, I did not get to go home that night with the satisfaction of having been right, I spent the next couple of days in the hospital receiving treatments for pulmonary embolisms and giving blood to the vampires in the night.

It all hit me about three o’clock in the morning when I did a Google search on my iphone to read about my diagnosis only to discover that nearly 20% of those with this condition DIE! No wonder the doctors, nurses, and technicians marveled that I was still alive, but I was in good hands all along…not mine, but HIS—His nail-scarred hands.

Yes, this Thanksgiving I have much to be thankful for. This year I will head the list with life…simply being alive. Sadly, too often I take life and health for granted. The Psalmist declared: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases…” (Psalm 103:2-3).  What are you thankful for this year?

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First Day of School

Slow down in the school zones. Watch out for minivans driven by smiling mothers ecstatic about the first day of school. Keep an eye out for packs of elementary school boys running between cards decked out with new tennis shoes and backpacks. By all means don’t forget the teachers walking toward the schools fixated on the calendars of their smart phones thinking to themselves, “Where did the summer go?!”

Somewhere in America, you could have probably overheard the following conversation. Mom shouts upstairs saying, “Son, it’s time to go to school.” A muffled voice from underneath the pillow replies, “I don’t want to go to school.” Undeterred Mom shouts back, “You have to go to school. Give me two reasons why you don’t want to go to school today.” After a brief pause a voice replies, “The students don’t like me and the teachers don’t like me. Give me two reasons why I should go to school.” Mom scratches her head and shouts, “You are fifty-two years old, and you are the principal!”

If you haven’t thanked God for the principals, teachers, counselors, administrative assistants, music teachers and coaches on the front lines for our children this week. Stop now and thank the Lord for their hard work and sacrifice.

For the Lowrie clan this has been an historic week, my baby girl Madison texted me a picture of her arm in arm with three coeds at Dallas Baptist University with the headline “My last first day of school.” The Lord willing, Madison will graduate from college in December with her B.A. in Psychology. Her graduation will be a thrill to her mom and my accountant.

On the same day, my daughter Jamie started her first day of school as a first grade teacher. I don’t know who was more scared, the children or the teacher. By the way, Jamie came down with a sore throat and cold before the end of her first week…welcome to the world of little children and germs!

As I reflected this week on my educational adventures, I came across the following quotes on education that made me smile. For instance:

Ray LeBlond observed: “You learn something new every day….if you pay attention.”

Or Albert Einstein, one of the most brilliant men who ever lived who also was slow to talk and failed his first university entrance exam noted:

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

 As an adjunct Christian studies professor for Howard Payne and a Baptist preacher, I must confess I resonate with the observation of W.H. Auden who wrote:

“A professor is someone who talks in someone else’s sleep.”

 You may or may not be aware that one of the great forces behind education for the masses has been the Christian church. Many of the great universities of our land like Princeton and Harvard were founded by devout Christians to train pastors and generations of Christian world leaders. Early believers after the invention of the printing press taught children to read so they could read the Bible and come to a personal relationship with God in the sacred space of their own bedrooms.

As followers of Jesus let me encourage you to be champions of education and lifelong learning.  Solomon wrote to his son the following admonition:

“Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” (Proverbs 4:13 ESV)

As we close out the first week of school whisper a prayer for the teachers and students of our fair city. Pray this school year will be one of great learning and adventure…and yes, prayer because as the saying goes, “As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in schools!”

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I Do

This week as I struggled to go to sleep at night I kept hearing wedding bells. You may ask how did I know they were wedding bells…they sounded just like all my money being drained out of my bank account! Yes, the bells sound like the old cash register bells for those of us who carry AARP cards.

This year I gave up reading scary statistics especially after I read the average wedding in America last year cost $29,858. (Just in case you are wondering…no, we will not be spending that much money on Jamie’s wedding…if I can help it…and yes, you are going to get the Baptist special at the reception…cake and peanuts).

On a more serious note, I am having a hard time believing my little girl Jamie Leigh is all grown up and getting married. I am having an even harder time realizing she is marrying Jordan Villanueva…a young man I helped hire to be an intern at our church. If I had known what was going to happen when I met him…I would have interrogated him hooked up to a lie-detector, but you have to hand it to him. He loved Jamie enough to risk his job and his life to date her!

I must confess I have officiated at least one hundred weddings over the years, and weddings still scare me just a bit. Everyone shows up at the ceremony excited and nervous. The bride has dreamed of her perfect wedding since she was a little girl reading fairy tales. But what really scares me is the mother of the bride, and this time I am married to her!

Many years ago, Groucho Marx quipped: “I was married by a judge…I should have asked for a jury!” After the wedding Jordan may feel the same.

Jamie and Jordan have decided to write the own vows. I think that is so romantic. I can hardly wait to hear their vows of love to each other, but to be frank I had been working on a special set of vows for Jordan. After thirty-three years of marriage and twenty-five years of protecting little Jamie from boys, I had a few things I wanted to say to him.

Shortly after I became the father of girls, I considered joining the D.A.D.D.—“Dads against Daughters Dating.” I loved their slogan. “Shoot the first one and the word will spread.” However, since I do not own a gun, I decided that black leather King James Version Bible would be my sword of choice!

So back to Jordan’s vows, as I reflected on them I remember the only advice my father-in-law gave me when Robyn and I got married. He looked me deep in the eyes peering into my trembling soul and said, “David, just don’t ever buy a black and white television set without talking to your wife.” You know what? I never have– his advice continues to be priceless.

So what would I ask of Jordan. I want him to love her with all his heart. I want him to realize his responsibility will never be to fully understand her, but to love and cherish her all the days of his life. I want him to fall in love with her over and over again. I want him to put her needs above his.

I want him to keep lighting up her face like he does now. I want him to keep on sharing his heart and life with her and talking to her long into the night while listening closely to her dreams and fears. I just want him to keep on loving her like he did to capture her heart. Obviously I may be asking just a bit too much, but don’t forget Jordan will have help from above.  Jesus is the greatest “love doctor” of all.

A number of years ago, YouTube captured a father of the bride giving his final word of advice to the groom right before the ceremony. He spoke of how time and time again God had answered his prayers for his little girl. I loved and identify with his closing remarks. He said, “Me and God’s worked hard—so don’t screw it up!”  See you Saturday at the church at 2:00 p.m. Do you hear the bells too!

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