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February 2016 entries

Another of God's Prophets is Called Home

LoweryOne of the greatest preachers of this and the last generation was called to heaven Sunday. Most of my Baptists readers have probably never heard of him. T. L. Lowery, was a pentecostal pastor, preacher, evangelist and spiritual leader. I have been impressed with very few people in my life more than this man. When I was a child he would come to our church and hold revivals. Sometimes indoors and at other times the church would set up a tent on the lawn and throw sawdust on the floor and line up folding chairs. Where ever he preached it was to a standing room only crowd. Yes they were fiery. Yes they were emotional. But they were also filled with a lot of truth.

No man ever looked like a preacher more than Brother Lowery. Billy Graham may be better known, but with their commanding appearance neither could have been mistaken for anything but mighty men of God. In a day when genuine spirituality  is often replaced with trumped up theatrical performances this man's character would not allow him to "fake it until you make it." If he served as a pastor, the church experienced exponential growth. When he preached revivals they became great movements of the Holy Spirit. He was not forced into pushing people to the ground so they might experience God's power. I have never known him to bring attention to himself as he ministered in the Spirit. God always took center stage as this man of God stayed out of His way.

My father is not a man who would ever fake his spiritual experiences either. Dad has shared with me many times how on one occasion he was knocked off his feet in a church service. T. L. Lowery was holding a revival when my father came forward for prayer. As dad approached this man he stretched his hand toward him but never touched him. My father describes a sudden shock of electricity that hit him in his forehead that pushed him to the ground. While lying there God ministered to his spiritual needs.

I was speaking to a pastor one day who had a similar experience in one of Dr. Lowery's services. The young man had only recently surrendered to the ministry. As he sat in the the service  he began to smell a wonderful scent that reminded him of flowers. Thinking it was a powerful perfume of a nearby female he moved to another spot in the room. He did this twice only to find the distinctive aroma was each place he went. About that time Lowery spoke from the pulpit, "Do you swell the sweet scent of the Rose of Sharon passing by?" Then Dr. Lowery pointed to him and called him to come forward. Just as in my father's case he didn't lay a finger on this young preacher. However, he was knocked to the ground by a force he could not see. Then  in a few moments when he attempted to get to his feet and leave Dr. Lowery said that God wanted him to receive a double portion and once again this young man found himself on the floor. 

Such stories could be repeated over and over by those who were touched by this man's ministry. He would go on fasts for weeks at a time just so God would use him to change lives and powerfully preach His Word. If I could have one-third the impact on people's lives as Dr. Lowery's when my life is over I would consider myself a blessed man.  

The End of Civility

 It should be fairly obvious by now, even to the casual observer, that the best and the brightest no longer run for president of the United States. I should also note that civility is a thing of the past. Politicians hurling insults at one another has reached an all time high. Or an all time low would be more accurate. Why would a qualified individual submit themselves to such attacks on their character? Policy has been replaced with personality as the driving force behind a person's surge in public opinion polls.

I propose this hasn't happened overnight. My mother, God rest her soul, voted for Nixon because "he looked like a president." In retrospect that probably wasn't a good reason for choosing our commander-in-chief. Before Nixon voters were captivated with an American version of "Camelot" as Kennedy took office in the early sixties. History reveals that Americans have often elected their president for reasons other than sound policy platforms. The current occupant of the oval office was elected with an ambiguous promise to bring about "change." He certainly did that. Many, even in his same party, wonder if the changes have been beneficial or detrimental to the well being of the country.

So it's not so much the weight given to personality over policy that has me worried, but the lack of civility between the candidates. I still remember when Reagan would call his arch nemesis in congress, Tip O'Neil, to have a talk about issues that separated their parties and our country. I don't remember attacks on their character from members of their respective political caucuses because each was reaching across the aisle for the good of the country.  They were applauded by most for their willingness to set aside personal agendas for the benefit of everyone. We can't even get members of the same party to be civil to each other much less towards someone from the other side.

This all reminds of what I've been reading in First John. I was struck with the odd composition of one verse as I was beginning to share it with my congregation. The 7th verse in the first chapter reads "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin." As I read that verse something struck me as profound. You would imagine if we walked in the same light as Jesus is in the light the result would be fellowship with Him. However, John says the result is fellowship  with one another.  Walking in the light refers to walking in a way that is pleasing to God and is the opposite of walking in darkness. So my take away from that verse is that our fellowship among ourselves has more to do with our relationship to God than it does with each other.   Could the same be true of our politicians. Is it possible that we as a country have gotten so far away from God that it is becoming more and more difficult to be civil with each other? Has our turning away from Him and our dependence upon government to fix our problems taken us to a place where we longer walk in the light but in darkness? In the darkness it is difficult to identify who is your friend and who is your foe so we attack everyone.

The only hope I see is the church. Not a denomination. We have a tendency to attack one another just as the politicians do. I mean "the church." The "called out ones" from every denomination. Is it possible that if we set the example by walking in the light that we could once again regain the influence we once had in this country? It may be entirely too late. The genie may already be out of the bottle, but does that justify not trying? I don't think so. Our responsibility is to be salt and light in this world of darkness. That commandment has never changed. We are charged to be the bearers of His light. I am encouraged by the truth that it is always darkest just before the dawn.        

Have the Pundits Overestimated Our Unity?

While I have not been as captivated by the political process this election cycle as it seems much of the country is, I have been watching sporadically. What I have noticed is that one specific interest group is being courted by several of the candidates. Political pundits often group evangelicals together as a voting powerhouse. Two things about this line of thinking strike me as profound. One, do those who don’t consider themselves a part of this evangelical community really believe we ever unite for anything except in times of crisis? We spend more time knit-picking one another than we do uniting our voices. Second, it is also clear that they do not lump evangelicals in with Christianity at large or the church. We are seen as that fringe element of Christianity where our faith actually has some influence on how we live and how we vote. While that should be a fairly accurate evaluation of most evangelicals, it also sends up a red flag. Once we are identified as outside the norm for Christianity it is not too far a stretch for us to be labeled extremists. The next step is to lump us all together with those who bomb abortion clinics or hijack airplanes.

This spotlight from those outside the evangelical community has caused me to consider who we really are. From my perspective I think the political strategists give us more credit than credit is due. I don’t think we are as united as they assume. However, I think we were at one time, but not today. When I read of the early church I see a powerful influence in society. I see a group of people who are united for the cause of Christ and the expansion of the gospel. Yes there were some early divisions within the church. In her formative years some members of the church brought their former prejudices with them. These needed to be reminded that there were neither Jews nor Greeks, men or women, slave-owners or slaves in the fellowship. When they came together they were all equals. (Galatians 3:28) Some who were wealthy and were accustomed to having priority over others found that this type of behavior was not to be tolerated in the church. (I Corinthians 11:33) Even widows who were from outside Israel, by necessity were beggars before becoming believers. However, they were not to be ignored in God’s new economy. (Acts 6:1) These issues, and several others, were dealt with head on by the leadership of the early church. They knew their influence on the world would be amplified if they remained together (John 17:21)

So early on believers would unite under the banner of Christ in a city and become a powerful influence to change lives where they lived. Churches were known by the city in which they were united. There was the Church at Pergamos, the Church at Smyrna, the Church at Sardis and other churches in other cities in Asia Minor. In Europe you had the great Church in Rome. In Israel you had the Church in Jerusalem. Each of these churches had elders and deacons. Internally, they shared within their ranks so that no one would suffer need. Externally, they infiltrated and influenced their cities with the good news and were prepared to give a response for the hope that resided within them. (I Peter 3:15) United, they were the single most influential segment of society. (Acts 17:6)

Prophetically, Jesus warned His disciples about the human propensity to elevate self and separate over minor differences. 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Mark 3:24-25 (NKJV) No wonder he prayed just before He was betrayed,
11 Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. John 17:11 (NKJV) I wonder if Jesus looked down through the centuries and saw the church become splintered into numerous denominations and divisions within those denominations? Did He anticipate hundreds of churches within the same city speaking with different voices in favor of different agendas? Was He praying for churches He knew would choose to divide over the color of their skin, their rituals, or their emphasis of one Scripture above another or one spiritual gift as greater than the rest? While we have become many we have also become weak. When a volume of water is narrowed into a single powerful stream it can spin turbines that can light entire cities. But when that same amount of water is diverted into thousands of shallow streams, its force is diminished so that any obstacle in its path can halt its flow. The result is a puddle that eventually stagnates and evaporates into thin air.

Sadly, outside of another crisis I see no evidence that the church will be united until we do so in heaven. I don’t want to sound like an eternal pessimist. I think I am a realist. I truly hope I am proven wrong. I would like nothing better than to see churches working together until the Lord returns. Personally, I want to do my part in joining the forces of Dallas Bay with other great churches to influence the world for the cause of Christ. Wouldn’t it be great to be more than just a political interest group to be won at election time and become a force for good every day of the year. We should influence the political process with our participation by the Spirit that dwells within us while never forgetting that we serve a King Whose Kingdom has no end and the government shall be upon His shoulder. Somebody say AMEN!