Overcoming Ethnocentrism

A major barrier that impedes growth in multicultural, multiracial churches is known as “ethnocentrism,” the tendency to view the norms and values of one’s own culture as absolute and to use them as a standard against which to judge and measure all other cultures. Many times this tendency is cloaked under the attitude that “they don’t do it like us.”

Getting It All Together

Jesus’ boat lands on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee—no longer in Jewish territory. This is like landing in Cuba. Along the edge of the lake, tombs are cut into the mountain. The village graveyard is this land’s version of a mental institution.

Faith, a Prayer for Epiphany

God of life,
God of all our becoming
winding
changing
hopeful
fearful years—
we praise you
for your faithfulness.

Pain Can Give Birth to New Life

The day my first grandchild, Liam, was born, Linda and I arrived at the hospital and went to my daughter Elizabeth’s room to spend time with her and her husband, Josh. Every two or three minutes, Elizabeth would have a contraction, a passing moment of tension and discomfort.

The Decision Paradox

People seldom have to choose between right and wrong. Once upon a time, not long ago it seems, I embarked on a journey to be a pastor. I felt call to do battle with the forces of evil in the name of God.

God Is Greater than Our Hearts

I once owned a car with a broken gas gauge. When the tank was empty, the needle pointed to “E.” When the tank was half full, the gauge still read empty. When the gas tank was filled to overflowing, the needle budged just a little, moving slightly to the right of the empty mark.

Don’t Let People Rob You of Your Joy

I realized that joy is something beyond the measure of human capability. We’d rather crucify joy than find hope in it.

Solitude Matters: Listening to Your Soul

There was a big oak tree behind my school, Ridgecrest Elementary. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in that big tree as a young boy, sometimes with friends and sometimes all by myself.

An Invitation to Joy

If we relied on Mark, we would have to stretch to get a story worth a Christmas carol. Mark has no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no Mary, no Joseph, no manger, no wise men, no Herod.

Light the Candles and Push Back the Darkness

During Advent, in churches and private homes around the world, candles are lighted and the stages of the journey to Bethlehem are observed. It is the time when we sing familiar hymns commemorating the birth of the Christ child.

Thanksgiving Supper

At 10:30 on Thanksgiving Day, I am standing in a long line waiting for a box of Thanksgiving. We are not in a restaurant, as you might expect, but in a nondescript building—a VFW hall, Rotary Club hall, or Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.

A Bit of Hell

“I’m a fake,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I mean that I get up and I teach my Sunday school class when I don’t even know if I believe what I’m teaching anymore.”

Laughter Matters: Finding Levity in a Heavy World

A couple of weeks ago, my sister Laurie called from her home in Houston to check on us. We talked about our families and did some “catching up,” and then she started telling me a funny story.

Saints, a Reminder of Life’s Beauty

Renowned writer and philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky said it best: “The world will be saved by beauty.”

Holy Ghosts: Deadly News (For Raymond)

The news came crawling
Like dreaded, deadly spiders into my ear,
Spewing their gossip like a lethal poison.

Faith Postures: Noticing When We Obstruct Christ

I did something one weekend of which I am ashamed. I did something I can never take back and something for which I can never be sure of the ramifications.

Of Course, You’ll Have the Good Taste Not to Mention that I Spoke to You

You may have already recognized that the sermon title is taken from one of the greatest, most socially relevant, and downright funniest movies ever made: Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles.

Abram, Sarai, and Pharaoh

The Genesis storyline takes a turn when famine strikes. Abram goes to Egypt to live as a resident alien. Before they reach the border crossing, Abram starts to worry.

Choose Discipline, Not Disease

The people of Judah were in the grips of a great enemy. King Nebuchadnezzar and the armies of Babylon had conquered their land, taken away the sacred items from their temple, and carried many of the people far from home. The people needed wise political and religious leadership to know how to live in such difficult times.

Examining the Wreckage

A poem from On Paying Attention.

I am drawn to plane crashes….

The Hybrid Church

The pandemic of 2020 forced all of us into innovation mode for a short time, and in some places there was great pressure either to continue online or to return to in-person worship in the building.

Meditations on Mark: Permanence

Scientists in Britain recently made a fascinating discovery. After centuries of mystery and debate, they finally located the body of King Richard III, who was killed in battle in 1485. The location of his grave was lost to history until February 2013, when DNA tests confirmed that they had indeed found the late king.

Bringing Our Pain to God

Think about the people you know who are in terrible pain right now. Violence, death, loss, trauma, or physical or mental illness has touched them, even destroyed them. If they should come to worship, is there an appropriate context for them to acknowledge their pain before God?

In Community

We are in all kinds of communities, and we should be grateful for each of them. There are of course the neighborhood we live in, the one we work in, our city or town. Our churches are communities of faith but also communities of friendship.

Visiting an Ill Church Member

People who are ill at home, in the hospital, and in nursing homes need care far beyond medical attention. Especially at this time of year, we can find ourselves in hospital elevators or pulling into unfamiliar driveways to offer a kind word and warm presence. Before you visit, though, consider the following suggestions.

Self-fulfilling Prophesies

When we were young children, our parents would tell us that we were smart, hesitant, too thin-skinned, impatient, or cute. We often accepted the labels our relatives gave us before we had a chance to understand the significance of our attributes.

Meditations on Luke: The Depth of Darkness

One the greatest measures of human creativity is our ability to rationalize almost anything. No matter how destructive our actions, no matter how foolish our choices, no matter how selfish our behaviors, no matter how dark our impulses, we can always come up with a good excuse or a reasonable explanation for them.

Naming Our Demons

In the ancient world, people believed that knowing a person’s name gave them a degree of power over that person. You might use your knowledge of someone’s name to give the person a blessing or place a curse on him or her.

Mission and the Families of the Earth

The story of ancient Israel offers one powerful example of the way gives meaning to each particular family. The challenge is to find the point of intersection between the story of the family and the purposes of God in the world.

The Struggle to Cope with Time

The prayer, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart,” serves as the turning point in the larger prayer of Psalm 90. The human experience of time is a major theme of the psalm as a whole.

Seeing People, Learning Lessons

In a city like the one where I live, most growth is up. So all of us spend a lot of time on elevators. Thus we all know elevator etiquette: Do not speak to anyone. Do not make eye contact. Stare at the numbers as the floors change.

Honesty: Believing There Are No Ifs, Ands, or Buts

This verse is about a merchant weighing out a customer’s goods. When the customer pays for a gallon or for a pound, the Lord demands a gallon delivered, or a pound, and not a drop or a hair less. Don’t even begin to walk down a dishonest path. But the command is about much more than buying and selling; it’s about honesty and truthfulness.

A Place at the Table

Sometimes it’s easier to be a man. Your last name is not an issue. Wedding plans take care of themselves. Mechanics tell you the truth. You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is “just too icky.” Three pairs of shoes are more than enough. The same hairstyle lasts for years.

Holy Hilarity: Somewhere Over the Rainbow

The conclusion to the flood story addresses a variety of topics, including what we eat and how we eat it, capital punishment, and the connection of all life on earth. It does not specifically address Big Macs, whether to execute by firing squad or electric chair, or the importance of talking to your plants.

Waiting for You – Addie Davis

Your achievements represent hard work and dedication—a milestone—but you will discover that there are no resting places, just breathers along the way, for you must get on with the tasks of missions, education, and employment. You must certainly get on with the business of living.

Loyal Dissenters: Reading Matthew 22:21 Together

When English Baptists in the seventeenth century read Matthew 22:21, they heard Jesus establishing a limit on the authority of civil power. Caesar did have legitimate concerns in this world—collecting taxes, for example—and, in those areas, he could exercise his power as he saw fit.

Meditations on Mark: The Transfiguration

It is an obvious fact that you cannot look directly at the sun. Expose your eyes to that much intense light for more than a fraction of a second, and you can do permanent damage. And yet it is also an obvious fact that were it not for the sun’s intensity, life on Earth wouldn’t be possible.

Caring for Country

Even standing in line at the National Archives is inspiring. The original Declaration of Independence is on the left: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness . . . . That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

A Preface to the Question of Why There is Evil

For almost five decades, I have been considering, thinking about, reading, and studying the problem of evil and suffering.

Helping Each Other Grieve

As well as being a joyous time, Christmas can be difficult for people touched by tragedy or loss in the past year. Grief is isolating. While the rest of the world seems to be celebrating, tragedies years and decades old resurface.

Pearls Before Swine

Forgive us, O Lord, for our sometimes judgmental attitude that causes us to be overly critical of others and for our sometimes hypocrisy that causes us to hold others to a higher standard than that to which we hold ourselves.

Live the Stories: Noah’s Ark

Remind the children of how Adam and Eve made a mistake in last week’s story. That mistake caused the world to be an unhappy place where people didn’t treat God or each other the right way. Begin by asking the children if they know what an ark is. They may respond by stating that an ark is a boat or something that Noah built.

A Plain Vanilla Alabama Boy

While the US census ranks it in the upper 4 percent of surnames, not many people actually know someone named Lolley. The state where one is most likely to encounter a Lolley is Alabama.

Meditations on Mark: Prepare the Way

This is the promise John the Baptist makes in the opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Mark doesn’t begin with the story of Jesus’ birth. Rather, he jumps into the middle of the story with Jesus already as an adult, ready to begin his ministry. This is the urgency in Mark: The Messiah has come.

Of Spirit and Mind: A Pentecostal’s Battle Against Depression

She stopped eating and looked at me. “Are you serious?” She was more commenting than questioning. “Why would you go see a counselor? They don’t have any wisdom. They can’t help you. Are you depressed?”

The Baggage We Carry

My excitement about being on El Camino De Santiago—the Way of St. James—walking in the footsteps of the millions of pilgrims who came before me, carried me for the first portion of my journey. My feet were still in good shape—no soreness or blisters, not even any calluses yet—and I was sticking to the schedule I’d designed to keep myself from overdoing it.

The Fourfold Pattern for Common Worship

When the people of God gather then for Sunday worship, the “order of service” is not accidental or simply because “we’ve always done it that way.” The structure of common worship should be determined by our very best understanding of who God is, what God is about, what God expects and wants, and who we are in relationship to God.

Interviewing Randall Lolley

Among the first questions a friend asked when I floated the idea of a Randall Lolley biography was, “Is Randall able to help?”