Mark Lowry Mixes Laughter and Christian Message

Christian Comedian Mark Lowry

Christian Comedian Mark Lowry


One of the privileges of writing stories for newspapers is the opportunity to interview celebrities. I’ve posted some of those stories here including Red Green from the Red Green Show and Bill and Gloria Gaither. Mark Lowry is another person I was thrilled to talk to via phone. He was on tour with a concert date in Fort Wayne Indiana. This is a condensed version of the story that appeared in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel newspaper a few years ago.

**

With a reputation for poking fun at himself and his 500-mile-an-hour speech, a suave tenor voice, and quirky way of poking fun of things, including his former boss Christian music icon Bill Gaither, Mark Lowry has been at the top of the Christian music industry for more than two decades.

After graduating with a degree in youth ministry from Liberty University, Lowry felt God calling him to a music career. During the next few years, Lowry shared tales at concerts of the problems he had sitting still in church while growing up because of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). “I don’t look at ADD as a bad thing,” he told audiences. “I kind of like me. I can multi-task and totally know what I’m doing.” When people laughed, Lowry realized he was on to something.

In 1988, Lowry began touring the country as the baritone member of The Gaither Vocal Band, a position he remained at for 13 years. Clowning on stage with Bill Gaither became a part of the band’s concerts and audiences loved the pair.

When Bill and Gloria Gaither created the popular Homecoming videos and tours, Lowry’s effervescent personality seemed a natural fit. Mark has been featured in 100 of the Gaither Homecoming videos.

When it came time for Lowry’s “Mark Lowry on Broadway” video to be made, Bill Gaither helped out in a starring role.

After traveling with the Gaither Vocal Band for over a decade, Lowry chose to go solo. While he continued to regale audiences with stories about the problems he had while growing up with ADD, his emphasis was to convey the joy found in knowing Jesus Christ as Savior.

He also ventured into songwriting and composed a tune considered by many to be a Christmas music classic. In 1984 when Lowry was asked to write a Christmas play for his church, he came up with questions he wanted to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus. “Mary, Did You Know?” has been recorded by over 30 artists, including Natalie Cole, Donnie Osmond and Clay Aiken. Lowry recorded a Christmas album with “Mary, Did You Know?” featured on it.

Today, Lowry is back singing with the Gaithers. He considers his life a miracle. “I never thought I’d get this far,” he said. “I’ve walked through every door. It’s been an incredible trip.”

The End

Cradle of Grace

 “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Luke 2:7.

017 

Photo by Dave Reusser

           Many people today display a Nativity scene during the Christmas season. The tiny figures of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, and a sheep or two surround Baby Jesus, asleep in a manger. The scene looks calm and idyllic.

            Unfortunately, our twentieth century minds have created a scene quite unlike what it was probably like when Jesus was born, especially concerning the manger. We see it as a sort of glorified first-century bassinet, comfortable, clean, and safe for a newborn baby.

In reality the manger of Jesus’ time was quite different. It may not have even been wooden. Some Bible scholars believe Mary and Joseph sought refuge in one of the many caves surrounding Bethlehem. Situated not far from Bethlehem’s lush grasslands, these caves were excellent shelters for livestock.Most of the caves were formed by erosion of the area’s soft limestone and herdsmen often carved out niches in the cave wall for feeding troughs. This primitive area was where the Bible says Mary placed Baby Jesus.

It is strange the Bible even mentions a manger. Such an obscure object would not have been thought of with respect in those days. The manger would have been nothing but a filthy feeder. Today it would be as if Jesus were born and then placed in a trash can. The thought makes us shudder.

But Joseph, a man who loved God and his family, would have cleaned the manger, filling it with new straw so it could serve as a soft, dry cradle for the child. This makeshift spot, then, was the first place the Savior of the world, the Son of God, laid his precious head.

            We might wonder why God would allow his newborn Son to be placed in such a filthy place. No one knows for certain, but maybe it was because God wanted us to know He specializes in taking the ordinary, the dirty, the forgotten, and making it extraordinary. Only God could transform a manger into an object of love, security, peace, and hope. 

            He is willing to do the same with our lives. When we place our dirty mangers into His hands – things like anger, a gossipy spirit, and thoughts of envy — He transforms them by the Holy Spirit into something holy and pleasing to God.

            If you have a dirty manger in your life, this Christmas season ask God to transform it into something beautiful and worthy of respect and dignity for His glory. That is the best present you’ll ever receive.

 

The End

 

Dishonest Dealings

 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me that I too may come and worship him’. (Matthew 2:9, New American Standard Bible)

Beautiful poinsettias photographed by Dave Reusser

 My friend, Heather, had never shown an interest in God. I hesitated to mention my own faith since I thought might alienate her. So I wrote to a minister who lived close to her, asking him to visit her. My plan was that he would appear to “drop in” as he canvassed the neighborhood, asking people to come to church. “Remember not to mention my name,” I added. I didn’t want Heather to be mad at me for interfering in her life.

 

The minister refused to act on my terms, however. He pointed out in a reply letter that while he appreciated my interest in Heather’s welfare, he wondered why I wanted to remain anonymous. “Why don’t you contact Heather and tell her of your belief in God? Then ask if I can visit her and talk about her beliefs.”

 

After reading his reply, I realized I had been dishonest in my request. I was more concerned about my friendship with Heather than I was about her soul. Thankfully, the preacher corrected me. Herod was dishonest in his concern for the Christ child. Thankfully, his plan was foiled through God’s intervention.

 

Prayer: Lord, You know our hearts and why we do things. Help us to always be honest in our dealings with others so that we might show them our belief and trust in You. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overcoming Holiday Blues

This story has been posted on my blog in other years but it is such a timely subject that I wanted to share it again. It originally was published in The Lookout Magazine. Since then, we have lost my father-in-law. Losing a loved one is never easy, but enduring it at the holidays is harder. I hope this helps and blesses everyone who reads it. Please let me know your thoughts. Take care.

**

My dad died in August 25, 2005. His death was the result of an unsuccessful surgery for an enlarged aortic aneurysm (he had to have the surgery to remove it or it could have burst, killing him at any time). The next couple of months were a blur. I worked in a college library and had to immediately return to work for the new school year. My older children were in college and my youngest in high school so their lives were full too with school duties. My husband’s work in a factory also kept him busy.

Dad’s last Christmas before Heaven.

Having little time to grieve became a disadvantage as the Christmas holidays approached. My own family as well as those of my two sisters, wondered how to handle our usual holiday family traditions minus Dad’s presence. Who would distribute our extended family’s gifts to each other on Christmas Eve? Dad always did that. Who would buy the piece of jewelry Dad always gave to Mom? Who would sit in his chair at the head of the table during meals? Dad had loved each of us unconditionally and we missed him. To replace him without thought during those special occasions seemed dishonorable.

The Bible says, “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Proverbs 3:4). Unfortunately, the time to mourn can seem to interfere with the message of Christmas, which is joy. This emotion can be difficult to manifest for people dealing with loss of a loved one. One thing that can help is to be prepared to deal with grief at Christmas.               

 

 

One of our favorite photos of Grandma Jane.

1. Acknowledge your feelings of loss.

The first year after Dad died I tried ignoring my grief as Christmas approached. It didn’t work. Holiday music grated on my nerves as it was far from ‘the hap-hap-happiest season of all’. To croon, “There’s nowhere like home for the holidays” was a lie when every visit to my parents’ home reminded me of Dad and how he would not be here to celebrate with us.

For a person in grief Christmas is far from ‘the hap-hap-happiest season of all’.

Attending a grief seminar that focused on ways to handle grief during the holidays helped. The instructors provided ideas for achieving a sense of normalcy (would anything ever be normal again?). Their suggestions alleviated my anxiety about greeting the season of Christ’s birth with joy when my heart was heavy.

One suggestion that meant much to me was to honor Dad’s absence by establishing a memorial in his honor. Our family chose to do this by hanging an ornament with his photo (a smiling head shot) on the front of our Christmas tree. Seeing it among the twinkling lights reminded me each time I drew near of Dad’s happy outlook on life.

The methods of handling grief at holidays can vary by individuals. Every year since Dad’s death, my sister and her daughter have honored him by taking holiday gifts to the local animal shelter in memory of his hobby of raising dogs.

After my mother-in-law died of cancer, another daughter-in-law burned a candle during daytime hours for weeks leading up to Christmas in her honor.

When thinking of ways to honor a loved one, it can be soothing to bless others simultaneously. My friend and author Cathy Shouse purchases a poinsettia each year to decorate her church in memory of her mother-in-law who died several years ago. “My mother-in-law’s  name is printed in the church bulletin along with the names of several other people who have passed away and are placed there by members of the church,” said Cathy. “After Christmas, we take the flowers home and continue honoring our loved ones by caring for the plants.”

 

John and his dad had a close relationship until Bob’s death in 2011.

2. Accept comfort and support from friends.

Grief can feel like a solitary process, but it can help to accept comfort from family and friends. A few weeks after Dad’s death, a friend sent me a card. “I know Christmas will be difficult for you this year,” Tonya wrote. “I’m praying God will bless you this holiday season.” Her contact reminded me I wasn’t alone. 


Jonathan and David had this kind of friendship when Jonathan said to his friend, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.” (1 Samuel 20:42 NIV). These friends were there for each other through everything life could produce. That proved especially true when David later cared for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, after Jonathan’s death (2 Samuel 4:4).
 
The Christmas season can take a strenuous toll on individuals suffering from loss of a loved one. Friends offering a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear can lessen the impact.

 

3. Grief can lead to spiritual growth.

 
Jesus spoke about the inevitability of grief in our lives when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, 
   for they will be comforted. (Matt 5:4 NIV). 

My friend Susan discovered this comfort the Christmas following her father’s suicide. “I had just graduated from college,” she said. “My life was supposed to be filled with excitement over new possibilities. Instead, it came to a screeching halt. I was shocked and devastated.”

That tableau continued throughout the fall. Then, in December while singing ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, Susan had a revelation. “The words from the song ‘Born that man no more may die’ took on new meaning,” she said. “I realized for the first time in my life what Christmas was about. It wasn't a matter of doing something or focusing on what I didn't have but focusing instead on what God gave us on Christmas Day. The weight of grief lifted from my heart.” 

4. Care for yourself when in the throes of grief.              

I was shocked at how pain from Dad’s death affected more than just my emotions. Getting out of bed, choosing clothes to wear and food to eat became difficult as Christmas approached. Concentrating on doing things I enjoyed, such as volunteering to help with a charity, attending a candle light service, calling an old friend to wish her Merry Christmas, taking a child shopping for his parent’s gift, helped assuage my sluggish movements. By thinking less of my loss and focus more on others at Christmas, I obeyed the words of Paul in Philippians, “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”  (2:4 NIV)

As the days got closer to the Season of Joy that first year after Dad’s death, I cried more often and apologized less. It was hard to smile at gift-opening time for many of us in our extended family, but we knew Dad would not want us to be sad at this family event.  He would want us to feel happy. 

By the time the next Christmas occurred, we could talk about Dad without entering a crying jag. Such actions did not mean we missed him any less. We just could handle our loss better by then.

5. Ways to help others through the grieving process. 

Do you hurt for someone who is grieving and want to help them through the season of Christ’s birth? The above suggestions can be adapted to fit their needs (i.e. give money to a charity in celebration of the loved one’s life; make a memory tree for the deceased; purchase a poinsettia to decorate a church and place the name of the friend who has passed away on it).

Churches can help people dealing with grief at Christmas by providing support. One example is a Living and Giving Tree. It can be a full-sized tree (artificial is recommended) placed in a central location, such as the sanctuary, at Christmas time. Envelopes filled with names of people from the church who have suffered loss during the past year are hung on the tree. Other church members choose a name and offer an appropriate gift to the bereaved, thus offering friendship during a difficult time– a meal, gift, an invitation to go caroling.

Two gifts you can give a person deep in the pit of grief that will mean more than anything — undivided attention and unconditional acceptance of their journey.

 
Grief can occur at any point in our lives. It seems especially tough to have it interfere with Christmas, the season created to bring joy to every person through Christ’s birth. But if we accept the support of friends, share with others, and acknowledge our feelings of loss, we can move toward the road of healing and true understanding of Jesus’ birth.

 

The End

 

 

 

A Story on Forgiveness

John Kremer featured my guest post on his book marketing blog today. He features many authors at this site, all with valuable lessons about writing and promotion. Contact Mr. Kremer about signing up for his blog. John Kremer JohnKremer@BookMarket.com.

John Kremer is the Guru of Book Marketing

Read my post below.

**

Guest post by Kayleen Reusser

In 1989 a 10-minute incident with a stranger helped me through a miserable day during the Christmas season. The encounter wouldn’t leave me. “If I’m still thinking about this incident,” I thought, “maybe it would impact someone else.”

I crafted an essay about the experience the next year at the beginning of my writing career. I wrote the story, titled “A Lesson in Forgiveness,” at 500 words, including details about the weather, the reasons for my bad mood and how I felt transformed following our interaction.

The subject of forgiveness was popular with religious magazines and editors of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Newspaper editors seeking holiday stories loved it. I even turned the incident into a skit that was purchased for a church program book.

Since its initial publication, “A Lesson in Forgiveness” has been reprinted more than 30 times and I believe it will continue to be evergreen because of its timeless message.

A Lesson in Forgiveness

It was snowing as I finished unbuckling my baby from her car seat. A toot from behind reminded me that I was holding up traffic on the one-way street.

I didn’t care. My six-month-old had to get an immunization shot, which meant she would be up all night with a fever. My head ached like I was coming down with the flu and my husband’s job didn’t look steady for the holidays. I wasn’t in a good mood.

The truck tooted its horn again. When I finally had my little one in my arms and covered from the cold air, I looked up and felt my heart sink. I had inadvertently parked in a delivery zone. A look at the name printed on the truck confirmed that I was parked in its delivery zone.

Angry at myself for not noticing the sign sooner, I put my baby back into the car and looked down the street. The nearest empty place was more than a block away. Gritting my teeth, I was tempted to go home and reschedule my baby’s vaccination for a day when things were going better, but I didn’t.

After managing to park in a tight spot, I again got ready to get out of my car. Glancing up, I saw someone waiting for me outside. I knew it was the truck driver.  Bracing myself for a verbal attack, I slowly emerged from the car.

“Sorry about that back there.” A strong note of apology rang in the man’s voice. I looked at him suspiciously. He was actually grinning at me!

“I saw you had a baby,” he continued, “but there wasn’t any other place big enough for me to park in.”

I managed to stammer my own apology, though I was completely taken aback by his friendly manner. Like Scrooge, I wondered if this was a setup.

“I’d like to give you this.” The stranger held out a coffee mug with his company’s name on the side. He didn’t wait for my reply, but shouted “Merry Christmas” and sprinted away, as fast as he dared on the slick pavement.

I stared after him, the coffee mug still in my hand. As the snow continued to fall steadily around me, a warm feeling spread throughout my body and I smiled for the first time all day.

At home that coffee mug serves as a constant reminder to me of the way that driver showed unexpected kindness and forgiveness to me that day. As I drink from it each day, it also reminds me of the way God forgives each of us when we least deserve it.

Using the coffee mug each morning as I begin my day inspires me to work on showing that same kindness and forgiveness to everyone I will meet — clerks, cashiers, complete strangers — not just at Christmas, but every day of the year.

Kayleen Reusser

About the Author

Kayleen Reusser has written nine children’s books, including biographies on Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, three books on the Greek gods, and Recipe and Craft Guide to Indonesia, all from Mitchell Lane Publishing.

She has written articles for Chicken Soup for the Soul, Indianapolis Monthly, Boy Scouting, The Lookout, Focus on the Family,  Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, and Bluffton News-Banner. She is a weekly columnist for the Ossian Sun Riser and co-founder of a writing group.

She currently works in a public middle school library where she finds inspiration for ideas among the students and books. Check her out at http://www.KayleenR.com.

Managing Grief at Christmas

Dad at Christmas 2004--his last one with us

This is a special blog post for me.

My dad, Forace Hale Brewer, died in 2005.

The first Christmas without him was very difficult. I didn’t even want to try to celebrate Christmas that year. But we managed to get through it.

One holiday tradition my extended family had established several
years ago was to hold a mock auction on Christmas Eve.
Before unwrapping gifts at my parents’ home, we used play money
to bid on wrapped gag items worth five dollars or less.
The prizes ranged from everyday household items like a broom
to a poster of a 1970s rock group. It was silly and fun and
we talked about it together for months afterward.

Dad served as auctioneer for our family Christmas auction. His quirky comments about each item to be sold and methods of getting bids made the event extra-fun. Our family of 12 always laughed throughout the evening.

We debated whether to conduct
the auction. In the end we decided to go ahead with it
for the sake of the grandchildren.
There’s no escaping it.
When we experience the loss of someone we loved,
mourning will become part of our lives.
In the book, Death and Dying; Life and Living,
bereavement expert Edwin Schneidman says
mourning is a good reaction.
“The deep capacity to weep for the loss of a loved one
and to continue to treasure the memory of that loss
is one of our noblest human traits.”
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Blessed are those that mourn, for they should be comforted.”
The act of crying as a means of expressing my grief
always helps me feel better.
Here are other methods of coping with grief
during the holidays.
1. Accept comfort from family and friends.

A few weeks after the death of my father five years ago, a friend sent me a card of encouragement. “I know Christmas will be difficult for you,” she wrote. “I’m praying God will bless you this holiday season.” Susie’s card reminded me I wasn’t alone.

2. Look after my physical body.

A lack of focus and feeling of lethargy invaded my body after Dad’s death. Doing anything out of the ordinary, such as holiday parties, seemed impossible. By minimizing the number of Christmas events to attend, I rested and made it through that painful holiday time without getting sick or unable to work.

Other ways to care for one’s body during the grieving process include:

  • Taking a walk in a pretty wood, weather permitting
  • Exercising regularly
  • Attending a grief memorial service
  • Listening to soothing music
  • Reading a novel by a loved author
  • Scheduling times to laugh, perhaps watching a funny movie or talking with upbeat friends

3. Accept loss as a means of spiritual growth.

When Susan’s father committed suicide one month
after her college graduation several years ago,
her life that was supposed to be filled with excitement
over new possibilities came to a screeching halt.
She was shocked and devastated. The following December,
Susan sang the line, "Born that man no more may die"
from ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’. Suddenly,
Susan felt the weight of grief lifted from her heart.
“For the first time in my life, I understood what Christmas
was about,” she said. “It wasn't a matter of doing something,
or focusing on what I didn't have, but focusing instead
on what God gave us on Christmas day.”
4. Honor a loved one publicly at Christmas
Author Cathy Shouse purchased a poinsettia to decorate
her church in memory of her mother-in-law.
“Each year her name is printed in the bulletin
along with several others,” said Cathy.
“After Christmas, we take the flowers home and
continue honoring our loved ones by caring for the plants.”
The ways to cope with grief at Christmas are affected
by individual choices.
I can’t celebrate Christmas with my dad this year.
But I can choose to honor him by managing my grief
constructively. I can wallow in it --
or accept that loss is part of life,
as well as a chance for a new beginning.

The End

Manger of Grace

                                                                                          

 This devotion was written as a skit for a seasonal religious publication. Writers train themselves to be observant of the world around them. This is especially true of seasons and celebrations. Editors are always on the lookout for meaningful expressions of sentiment for holidays like Christmas. This was inspired by a sermon heard at Christmas.

 CHARACTERS:

NARRATOR

JOSEPH and MARY

 

SETTING: Enclosure around JOSEPH and MARY resembles a cave. A feeding trough is placed against the wall. NARRATOR stands at side of stage.

 

PROPS: Baby doll wrapped in cloths; Bible; straw; trash can; Nativity scene large enough to be seen by audience; Bassinet.

 

RUNNING TIME: 10 minutes

 

Soft light on Narrator and Joseph and Mary sitting off to side in cave setting behind Narrator. Mary holds baby. Light does not reveal the cave setting

 

NARRATOR: [holding a Bible and reading] “…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger. Luke 2:7.

            Many people today display a Nativity scene during the Christmas season. [points to Nativity scene] The tiny figures of Mary, Joseph, shepherds and a sheep or two surround Baby Jesus, asleep in a manger. The scene looks calm and idyllic.

            Unfortunately, our twentieth century minds have created a scene quite unlike what it was like when Jesus was born, especially concerning the manger. We see it as a sort of glorified first-century bassinet, comfortable, clean, and safe for a newborn baby. [NARRATOR gestures to fancy bassinet setting close by].

In reality the manger of Jesus’ time was quite different [light lowers on bassinet]. It may not have even been wooden. Some Bible scholars believe Mary and Joseph sought refuge in one of the many caves surrounding Bethlehem. Situated not far from Bethlehem’s lush grasslands, these caves were excellent shelters for livestock. [Lights up on cave setting around the couple. Sounds of animals mooing and baaing are heard off-stage. Straw is scattered around].

Most caves were formed by erosion of the area’s soft limestone. Herdsmen carved niches in the cave wall for feeding troughs. This primitive area was where the Bible says Mary placed Baby Jesus. [Mary places doll in manger.]

It is strange the Bible even mentions a manger. Such an obscure object would not have been thought of with respect as it was nothing but a filthy feeder. Today it would be as if Jesus were placed in a trash can. [gestures to trash can standing beside narrator; spotlight shines on it.] The thought makes us shudder.

But Joseph, a man who loved God and his family, would have cleaned the manger, filling it with new straw so it could serve as a soft, dry cradle for the child. This makeshift spot was the first place the Savior of the world, the Son of God, laid his precious head.

            We might wonder why God would allow his newborn Son to be placed in such a filthy place. No one knows for certain, but maybe it was because God wanted us to know He specializes in taking the ordinary, the dirty, the forgotten, [points to trash can] and making it extraordinary [points to Joseph, Mary watching Baby in manger]. Only God could transform a manger into an object of love, security, peace, and hope. 

            He is willing to do the same with our lives. When we place our dirty mangers into His hands – things like anger, a gossipy spirit, and thoughts of envy — He transforms them by the Holy Spirit into something holy and pleasing to God.

            If you have a dirty manger in your life, this Christmas season ask God to transform it into something beautiful and worthy of respect and dignity for His glory. It could be the best present you receive.

[Lights out.]

The End