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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Daily Affirmation: “I heard the voice of the Lord…”

Oswald Chambers in his classic devotional book “My Upmost for His Highest” spoke to the whole issue of God’s calling on our lives reflecting on Isaiah’s trans-formative  experience of being called to be a prophet during the dark days after the death of King Uzziah and his being taken up into the very throne room of God himself.

Chambers reflected:

“The call of God is not a reflection of my nature; my personal desires and temperament are of no consideration. As long as I dwell on my own qualities and traits and think about what I am suited for, I will never hear the call of God. But when God brings me into a right relationship with Himself, I will be in the same condition as Isaiah was. Isaiah was so attuned to God, because of the great crisis he had just endured, that the call of God penetrated his soul. The majority of us cannot hear anything but ourselves….”

I wonder how many times I had confused my desires and aspirations to be the voice of God when it was nothing more than my own ego and ambition. How many times has God had to stand in my way to keep me from going the wrong way like the angel in the path of Balaam’s donkey? Too often we hear what we want to hear. We see what we want to see, and we call our own selfishness spirituality.

I pray today I will be “profoundly changed” from the inside out, so that I hear clearly the voice of the Spirit living within me. As Jesus said so aptly:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:17)

Whose voice stirs your heart today?

 

 

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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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Paris Reflections

On a cold rainy overcast morning last week, Robyn and I took a short walk uphill from our apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris to stand at the front door of an apartment building where Ernest Hemingway, the prolific American journalist and author lived with his wife in the roaring 1920’s. In 1964, his memoirs of these days in Paris were released by his family under the title of “A Moveable Feast”, interestingly enough once again after the terrorist attacks in Paris this book has become a best seller.

The phrase “a moveable feast” seems fitting for our trip to Paris last week, which marked our celebration of our baby girl Madison graduating from high school. What had started out to be a trip of three ballooned into a traveling party of seven (my wife and three daughters Kalie, Lorin, and Madison, along with two of Madison’s close friends). So do the math, I went to Paris as the chaperon of six beautiful young women. Talking about dying and going to heaven! Some of you may remember the days from long ago when after a vacation a friend or family member would sit you down to show you the slides of their trip on a tiny screen in the living room using a carousel slide project, well sit back and enjoy (or endure) a few reflections with devotional twists from my own “moveable feast.”

After a long red eye flight from El Paso to Paris by way of Dallas, we step off the plane blurry eyed and tired. We are ready to get to our apartment but first we must make our way through customs. Customs goes smoother than expected and Robyn had arranged for a shuttle service to pick us up but we anticipated a long wait, however the moment we exited customs with our bags we saw a smiling face of a Frenchman holding a sign with Robyn’s name on it. He welcomed us in English and in a matter of minutes escorted us to a Mercedes Benz van with leather captains seats, and a large cargo hold which easily held our luggage (remember I am traveling with a large number of beautiful women who need fashion options.) In less than 15 minutes we find ourselves being whisked into Paris. I was stunned as we raced toward the “city of lights.”

As I reflect on that joyous moment of our arrival and seeing Robyn’s name, I thought one day when we will cross over to the other side and the joy we will feel when we see our names written in the Lamb’s book of life. By the way that shuttle service was expensive, but not nearly as expensive as our welcome to the ultimate “city of lights” which Jesus paid for on the cross. Make sure you make arrangements in advance to be picked up then. When you arrive it will be too late.

I witnessed French soldiers carrying machine guns at the ready guarding the entrances to cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques. Sadly in our world today faith divides us and the faithful become targets. Oh how we need the reign of the Prince of Peace.

Like countless others we found ourselves drawn to stand in front of the Bataclan Theatre where 89 innocent people were gunned down by terrorists. With flowers scattered on the ground as a memorial, we were vividly reminded of precious value of life and how quickly it slips through our fingers like a “mist” as the Scripture remind us.

After church on Sunday at the American Church, I spoke with Scott Herr, the pastor, about lessons learned from the darks days in our own community when the streets of Juarez ran with blood. We reflected on how our presence in the city offers hope to the people living in the darkness. Even though the doors of most of the stunning cathedrals stand open all day long mostly tourists enter to snap pictures rather than to pray. May the day never come on our watch when our houses of worship become museums of a long forgotten faith.

As you can see in the “city of lights” Jesus reminded us that the light shines brightest in the darkness. So let your light shine this week!

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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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