Connections 11.19.2017: Deborah, a Good Leader

Bible stories about female leaders are rare. And I’ve been in churches whose ministers have attempted to explain away female leadership with excuses like these: “When God can’t find a good man, God has to use a woman.” “Notice that the woman isn’t ruling over men. She’s instructing other women or taking care of children.

Connections 11.12.2017: Give It Some Thought

The story in this week’s Scripture passage reminds me of a part of the John the Baptist story. It’s the scene where “many Pharisees and Sadducees” come to John to be baptized. He doesn’t exactly affirm their decision. “You brood of vipers!” he yells. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt 3:7).

Connections 11.05.2017: Standing on Dry Ground

I love the Bible’s epic stories: creation, the fall, the flood, the tower of Babel, the crossings of the sea, the march around Jericho, Daniel in the lion’s den, and others. These stories describe life-altering events in the lives of God’s people, pointing to the hand of God at work in each element of the tale.

Connections 10.29.2017: Sharing Ourselves

Shon Hopwood is from a small town in Nebraska. He is also a convicted felon who served eleven years in a federal penitentiary for bank robbery. He was arrested in July 1998 after participating in five robberies over the previous ten months. After being convicted, he went to prison in May 1999.

Connections 10.22.2017: Steadfastness of Hope

To me, it’s one of the most beautiful words in the English language. Its French, Spanish, and Italian forms are beautiful too: esperer, esperanza, speranza. Hope means much more to me than wishful thinking or unmet desires. It is a lifeline keeping me afloat in a world that is often disappointing and frightening.

Connections 10.15.2017: Joy on Tuesday

We’d pack into the Children’s Department Assembly Room like sardines in a can and, if it was summertime, our skin would be about as slick. The girls wore their best dresses and frilly white socks. The boys wore their best shirts and non-frilly white socks. We were a pony-tailed, crew-cut, snaggle-toothed mess of early and prepubescent childhood.

Connections 10.08.2017: Paul’s Credentials…and Humility

Paul’s writings can be a tough read. Like many theologians, whether someone relatively close to Paul’s era like Tertullian or someone more recent like Eugene Peterson, he seems to be learning as he goes—making statements, doubling back, almost contradicting himself at times, certain at some points and a bit unsure at others.

Connections 10.01.2017: Your Bootstraps, God’s Boots

I teach a couple of classes at a state college near my home. The courses are designed to help freshmen successfully transition from high school to college. One of the recurring themes of the courses is the necessity of accepting responsibility. “You are responsible for your life,” I find myself saying repeatedly.

Connections 09.24.2017: Somewhere between Heaven and Earth

David is feeling pretty good about God in Psalm 145. Unlike in other psalms, there’s no word about vengeance or swords or wrath. David spends the entire psalm, even through verse 21, proclaiming God’s wonder and nearness and faithfulness. What led him to write this psalm amid all the others so full of lament, fear, anger, and revenge?

Connections 09.17.2017: The View from Below

God is with us. Christ is present in us. These are, the Bible assures us, facts. But such talk can go to our heads. After all, if God is with us, shouldn’t we be able to look down on other people? And if Christ is present in us, shouldn’t we be able to pass judgment on folks?

Connections 09.10.2017: Praise…and Vengeance

Psalm 149 begins with joy, exuberance, music, praise. It sounds like the best kind of worship service, when everyone’s singing in unison—or glorious harmony—and all are feeling good and right before God. It’s how we want things to be when we go to church with our fellow believers.

Connections 09.03.2017: Participation Trophies

Sometimes kids get participation trophies. You know—if you’re on the team, you get a trophy. If you come in last, you still get a trophy. Why? Because you participated. The practice is controversial among some adults who argue that we shouldn’t teach our children that they’ll be rewarded for “only” participating.

Connections 08.27.2017: What about Me?

I write to you today after yet another harrowing time in our nation—a time when any progress we have made in race relations takes a few giant steps backwards. Once again we are reminded that the loud voices of a relatively small group are occasionally more powerful than the quiet voices of the many.

Connections 08.20.2017: Trajectory

The name “Jesus” is the Greek version of the Hebrew name “Joshua,” which means “The Lord saves.” The most famous biblical Joshua led the Hebrews to occupy the promised land, which wasn’t easy since people lived there. So it’s more accurate to say that Joshua led the Hebrews to conquer the land.

Connections 08.13.2017: To Be Bold…

Surrounded by adoring, needy crowds, Jesus is bold enough to tell them enough is enough; it’s time for them to go home and move forward with their lives. He needs to recharge on his own with the Lord. I love many things about this brief story.

Connections 08.06.2017: Knee-Jerk Compassion

This Sunday’s lesson focuses on the fact that we sometimes have inadequate resources to meet the great need before us. It asks us to honestly face and confess our inadequacy so we can be open to God’s provision. It calls us to trust that God will use our meager resources to help meet people’s needs.

Connections 07.30.2017: God Permits

The almost-comical family dysfunction continues in the story of Jacob’s dealings with his uncle Laban. As a woman in the twenty-first century, I sometimes try to add layers of modern interpretations to Bible stories. Let’s face it, if the incident in our text happened today, it would go differently.

Connections 07.23.2017: This Place

I saw the sign in a restaurant in a small Kentucky town: “There’s no place near this place like this place, so this must be the place.” If you wanted a decent meal in that area, it was indeed the place. Most of the time when I was in that town (and in that restaurant), I really didn’t want to be there.

Connections 07.16.2017: God Answers

The dysfunction in some biblical families can be comical. It’s almost like the characters are actually caricatures, drawn larger than life to evoke humor and even a little ridicule. But while these caricatures can make us laugh, more often than not they also make us uncomfortable.

Connections 07.09.2017: The Rube Goldberg Matchmaking Machine

Rube Goldberg, a University of California at Berkley-educated engineer, laid out sewer lines and water mains in San Francisco in the early years of the twentieth century. He was also a cartoonist whose work became nationally syndicated. He specialized in drawing machines that went through many convoluted steps to accomplish a simple task.

Connections 07.02.2017: God Provides

I work for the Jay’s HOPE Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Macon, Georgia, that serves children with cancer. We give meal certificates and gas cards to families who travel for treatment, take care packages and toys to children who are stuck in the hospital, provide a fun playroom where kids can stop by after visiting the chemo clinic…

Connections 06.25.2017: Birth Stories

An angel flew up to me and asked, “What circumstances would you like to be born into?” I said, “I’ve been watching those folks Champ and Sara Ruffin down there in Barnesville, Georgia. They’ve wanted a child for years. They’re hard-working folks. They’re good Baptists. I’d like to be born to them.”

Connections 06.18.2017: When God Comes to Visit…

Sometimes our questions don’t have clear answers, and for me, that is especially true of questions about the Bible. Some questions matter a great deal, and many more are merely the result of curiosity. The challenge is to figure out which questions matter and try to find the best answers to those.

Connections 06.11.17: Creation Celebration

The Genesis reading in our lesson text, which is excerpted from the lectionary first reading (Gen 1:1-2:4a), does not mention the three persons of the Trinity. Even if we stretch our interpretive imaginations so that “God” refers to the Father and “a wind from God” (1:1) to the Holy Spirit, the text nowhere mentions the Son.

Connections 06.04.2017: The God of All People

This morning as I write, the screen is blurry through tears. I can’t stop thinking of an arena full of excited, joyful young concertgoers who had no idea of the horror that was about to unfold when their show ended. Last night (May 22) in Manchester, England, yet another terror attack claimed the lives of innocent people—this time following a concert by American pop singer Ariana Grande.

Connections 05.28.2017: Worrying about Worrying

I have two dogs. Or maybe they have me. One is named Rainey, the other Stevie. They’re both mixed breeds. They’re also both rescue dogs; we adopted them from animal shelters. Each is about six years old. They differ from each other in lots of ways. Rainey is black while Stevie is brown. Rainey loves people while Stevie is leery of them.

Connections 05.21.2017: A Ready Defense

I grew up hearing 1 Peter 3:15b: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” At times it was almost a threat: “You never know when someone may ask you about your belief in Christ, so you’d better be ready with an answer!”

Connections 05.14.2017: Stones

The symbolism and wordplay in this text fascinate me. In verse 4’s simile, Jesus is “a living stone,” and in verse 5’s metaphor, Christians are “like living stones.” Now, you know and I know that stones can’t live. We also know that we’re in the realm of symbols here, and in a symbolic world, stones can live if that helps the writer make the desired point.

Connections 05.07.2017: Suffering with Christ

Friends, I’m not sure that suffering is ever God’s will. Does God let humans suffer the consequences of our choices? Yes. Does God let humans suffer the calamities (natural disasters, criminal activities, sickness, poverty) that befall us in a broken world? Yes. Does God actually make it happen? I don’t know.

Connections 04.30.2017: A Tense Situation

This week’s Scripture passage doesn’t call us to travel in time, but it does summon us to look into the past and toward the future as we live in the present. It calls us to look back to when Christ was revealed, to look forward to when Christ will be revealed, and to live fully in the present as Christ is revealed.

Connections 04.23.2017: Four Things to Remember in John

For me, this passage contains some of the most moving and powerful moments in John’s entire Gospel. There are four specific things I love about it.

Connections 04.16.2017: The Gardener

When the ordinary meets the extraordinary, chances are pretty good that the ordinary will try to cut the extraordinary down to size. It’s understandable. After all, we’re limited by our experience, and our experience is mighty limited.

Connections 04.09.2017: The Hymn of Christ

Some commentators say that these verses from Philippians describe Jesus and his mission in the form of a hymn. If so, it is a magnificent and beautiful hymn that encapsulates everything Jesus is and all he came to do. We are supposed to strive for a mind like Christ’s (v. 5).

Connections 04.02.17: No Foolin’

The day before April 2 is April 1, and that’s April Fools’ Day. I don’t like April Fools’ Day. I don’t like it because it legitimizes lying and cruelty, which I have enough trouble with on the 364 (365 if it’s a leap year) days they’re supposedly considered illegitimate.

Connections 03.26.2017: Living in the Light

We usually think of light as a positive thing. When darkness falls at my house, I take comfort in the glow of soothing lamps. Both of my girls have small lights in their rooms that stay on overnight. If I’m driving on a dark rural road, I always feel better when I approach city lights once again.

Connections 03.19.2017: What Is and What Will Be

There was a time when I wanted everything to make sense. It didn’t want to, so I tried to force it. It didn’t go well. Somewhere along the way, I gave up on that project. Life’s been better since I did. But folks do try to explain things, don’t they? One of the things we hear well-intentioned Christians say is, “Life’s tough; then you die.”

Connections 03.12.2017: Just Believe?

Paul spent a lot of mental energy writing about faith versus works. Having studied some of the history of his time, I understand why this was so important. The new Christian movement broke into a centuries-old religion that relied on sacrifices, rituals, and strict adherence to the laws of the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament.

Connections 03.05.2017: So Much More

Back when the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was all the rage, Saturday Night Live presented a parody of it (of course they did). Darrell Hammond portrayed host Regis Philbin, and Will Farrell played a contestant named Rich Preylant.

Connections 02.26.2017: Jesus Is Lord

Sometimes I need to read about Jesus’ transfiguration. Instead of walking by his side down the dusty roads, listening to his stories about how to live in God’s present kingdom, eating the food from one of his miraculous multiplying meals, watching him heal the sick and bless the kids and care for the poor.

Connections 02.19.2017: Getting Past the Great Filter

It was 1950, and some scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were walking to lunch. Along the way, they talked about some recent reports of UFOs and a New Yorker cartoon that attributed the recent disappearances of New York City trash canisters to alien activity.

Connections 02.12.2017: Above and Beyond

I am both awed and horrified by these passages where Jesus expands the reach of well-known laws almost beyond human capabilities. What awes me? We can easily list basic rules of humanity, and we tend to think that we are covered. We are obviously better than others who break such foundational rules.

Connections 02.05.2017: Excessive Righteousness

In my imagination, when Jesus tells his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20), I see them looking at each other with expressions that say, “He’s got to be kidding!” After all, you couldn’t get any more righteous than a scribe or a Pharisee.

Connections 01.29.2017: The Nature of the Beatitudes

I have also viewed these Beatitudes as something to strive for. Do you want the kingdom of heaven, comfort, the earth, and so on? Then be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, etc. But as I read these again this week, I realized something. Every quality Jesus lists here is either innate or enforced.

Connections 01.22.2017: The Speed of Light

Light travels at 186 thousand miles per second. That means it travels about six trillion miles in a year, so that’s the distance in a light year. The sun is “only” about 0.000016 of a light year (93 million miles) from Earth; its light reaches us in about eight minutes twenty seconds.

Connections 01.15.2017: The Polished Arrow

My older daughter Samantha is twelve. She adores fashion, hairstyles, and accessories. For Christmas, someone gave her a gift card to Claire’s, a small boutique that carries earrings, hair accessories, and other novelties.

Connecting with the Lectionary

This time last year, the Uniform series became Connections. We said at the time that the Scripture selections for Connections would be drawn from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) beginning in January 2017.

Connections 01.08.2017: Going Under

I was watching a made-for-television film about Jesus. In its depiction of Jesus’ baptism, he joined John in the Jordan River. As they stood in the river, which came up to their waists, John poured water over Jesus’ head.

Connections 01.01.2017: New Year’s Dawn

It isn’t every year, of course, that Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays. But I think Sunday suits both holidays. When I was young, our family had a piece of brown stone about the size of both of my hands. It was flat, polished on the front, and rough on the edges. I always thought its shape resembled my home state of Georgia.