We Need the Hope of Christmas Now

Simply and directly, our world is not what it should be. And the Advent and Christmas season offer the expectancy of what should be.

Waiting During Advent

In the Advent/Christmas season, let me encourage you to learn how to wait. I know we don’t want to do that.

Facing Grief, at Christmas and Always

I am neither a nihilist nor a pessimist. For heaven’s sake, I am pastor of America’s home of Positive Thinking. I am, however, a realist. And as such, I have a theory about life. Here it is: Life is not the last five minutes of the movie.

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.

The Potter’s Wheel is Still Turning

God told Jeremiah to go the potter’s house because, through the work of the potter, God would reveal his message to Jeremiah. The prophet watched as the potter worked at the wheel, purposefully shaping the clay with a beautiful and useful end in mind. But, as the potter worked, something went wrong.

My Undelivered Stand-up Routine for Those Not Likely to Come Back to Church

How is everybody doing tonight? You look great. You’re less sober than the people I usually talk to.

How Will They Remember You When You’re Gone?

This past week, I conducted a celebration of life service at a beloved church I serve. The packed sanctuary was a reminder to all who were present of this church member’s caring spirit.

If Baptists Could Have Saints

When my parents died, I kept the treasures of their beloved testaments. I also kept the German Bible that my dad was given while stationed in Germany during WWII. The book of Esther was ripped out.

Death and Life

We lose so many good people. When Jesus finally arrives at his friends’ home, Lazarus has been dead for four days.

Meditations on Luke: Forcing Our Way In

It would be hard to count the gallons of ink that have been spilled over the years trying to interpret verse 16. For one thing, the wording in the original Greek is terse and difficult to translate into an English equivalent. Beyond that, the phrase deals in imagery that is awkward and feels out of place.

Holy Whispers

I love hearing whispers—secrets for my ears only, messages so extraordinary they cannot be spoken out loud. I love the whispers I have heard in my life that I could not explain.

God Can See in the Dark

I can’t see in the dark. It’s a fact of life. I’ve proven it many times, getting up in the night, foolishly believing I can navigate through the house without turning on a light, and then tripping over a sleeping dog.

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.

A Prayer for Parents Waiting-to-Be

O Holy God,
It is the time of waiting.
We are waiting, Longing, Hoping, Praying, Promising.

Unless You Come unto Me as These

This one is going to be a problem for us. You know that most adults have forgotten that they were children once upon a time. In fact, how long has it been since most adults have included “once upon a time” in any sentence?

The Social Implications of Salvation

The Christian’s aim, Rauschenbusch believed, was not to pass through an evil world in safety, leaving the world’s evil unshaken; rather, it was to seek a moral and religious transformation of humanity in all of its social relations.

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?”

Wrinkles

Most of us can remember the exact moment when we looked in the mirror and saw our first gray hair or the first noticeable wrinkle on our face. We were still young, perhaps only in our twenties.

This Labyrinthine Calling

In 1982, six months after my college graduation, with no idea where it would lead and without any clear sense of being “called” to a particular ministry, I boarded a Delta jet in Orlando, bound for San Francisco.

Strangers: A Meditation for Teachers

They walk, run, tumble, and drag into your room on the first day of school—complete strangers. At the beginning of the year they all seem to look alike.

Worshiping During the Week

I want to tell you about my friend Ethan. I met Ethan at the church I serve. Ethan is a man about town; everyone knows when Ethan is around, and he makes sure of it.

And Your Daughters Shall “Prophesy”

There’s just something about the word “prophesy” that reminds church women that men prophesy, but prophesying women might encounter some pushback.

Six Ways to Embrace Your Uniqueness

As we put our hands to the plow of the new year, consider these six ways of transforming yourself and your Sunday school class.

The Perils of Individualism

“I can do it myself ” was a favorite saying of both of our daughters when they were very young. “I can do it myself ” might mean tying shoes, gluing construction paper, or eating an ice cream cone.

Bells: A Meditation for Teachers

Telephone bells, doorbells, school bells, and fire alarms all alert us and prepare us to go into action. Our modern use of bells is totally different than one hundred years ago. Church bells rang the hour of the day and told of a death.

Making a Statement

Although I had claimed my professional vocation, I had never questioned biblical interpretations that prescribed the subordination of women at home and at church.

Of the Order of Balaam’s Donkey

It was a rare opportunity for me to preach. In the Baptist Student Union (BSU) at the University of Georgia where I served as campus minister, the three campus ministers preached only a couple of times per year. I can’t recall what my sermon was about that evening or what biblical text I preached from, […]

How the Second Testament Came to Be

Let’s engage in a thought experiment. Let’s assume that the Apostle Paul suddenly materializes in the midst of a Christian worship service today.

Fight or Flight

“No one ever loathed conflict more than Jesus.” So observed Randall Lolley as he addressed the congregation on Sunday morning, in the early months of his First Baptist Church pastorate in Greensboro.

Between What We Dreamed and What We Got

After all those years of stumbling around in the middle of nowhere, dealing with all the conflict and controversy of his contrary constituency, you’d like to think that Moses would get to lead the parade into the land of promise.

The Identity Crisis in Unemployment

When I got home from my last day of work, I put my key in the door and it struck me that something was wrong with my key chain. I panicked for a second, thinking someone had stolen my keys.

The Bible as a Mirror and a Window

God doesn’t save us by the completeness of our knowledge but rather by our faithfulness to what we do know and our openness to the possibility of learning more. This, I think, is what Jesus meant when he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”

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.

Stay Grounded in Faith

The other day I went fly-fishing with a clergy colleague, Vern Collins, and a bishop with a reputation, Will Willimon. We went down to Boone Fork River to fish the waters surrounding Watauga County and found ourselves lost to the outside world.

Missional Prayer

Missional churches require missional praying. We do not inform God in our praying, nor do we instruct God in our intercession. But we do join God when out of love we pray for the mission of God in the world.

Assumptions about the Word of God

At the end of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 film The Ten Commandments, Moses and the future leaders of Israel stand on Mt. Nebo surveying the promised land.

How Will They Remember You When You’re Gone?

This past week, I conducted a celebration of life service at a beloved church I serve. The packed sanctuary was a reminder to all who were present of this church member’s caring spirit.

Don’t Blink

Right now, time itself seems to be doing some weird things. Even when it seems like the days are trudging along, the weeks and the months might then accelerate. There’s a sporadic nature to it all.

With All Your Heart

Good counselors ask good questions. The counselor who helped me work through my season of depression once asked me a question that revealed a source of my pain and a path I needed to take toward healing. She asked, “Who knows your whole story?”

¿Qué Quieres?

¿Qué quieres, Lorena? ¿Qué quieres? I repeated it to myself as I stared at my reflection in the window of an almost thousand-year-old church. What do you want?

Cancer Is Not Evil

The most significant source of strength I draw from as I deal with cancer is not some coping mechanism that comes naturally to me. I don’t have three keys for stress-free living to offer my readers. Instead, the most important, most helpful sources of inspiration and strength for me have been my beliefs about God.

9 Tips for Interpreting Scripture

Many of us grew up hearing preachers proclaim, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” By now, I hope we realize that the task of biblical interpretation is a tad more complicated.

Ancient Israel as God’s Archetypal Family

The story of Israel is then an archetypal story. All families of the earth share similar stories about their emergence as a people, the land or space that they inhabit, and the challenges and obstacles that they have overcome.

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.

Who Blesses Whom

Isaac was a unique, funny, lovable guy, albeit frustrating at times. He had a way of wiggling his endearing, stubborn soul into your heart like I imagine a little brother would. He was a man of few words, but he could always communicate what he wanted in any given moment.

A Prayer for When Exhilaration Gives Way to Routine

We live on the highs, don’t we, Lord? At least you may have noticed that we try. Of course, this isn’t realistic. But that never keeps us from striving. We become accustomed to the thrill. Addicted to the high of achievement and feedback. We get used to accomplishment and growth.

Jesus’ Use of the Psalms

For ordinary Christians who experience opposition and negative feelings, we are invited to bring the full breadth of these experiences into the realm of God.

Imagining God

How do you and I imagine God? I realize that God exceeds our capacities for imagination, but most of us live with some mental image of the Divine. It’s almost necessary. For example, when I pray, I can’t speak with any intimacy to something that is formless, shapeless, and total mystery.