Connections 10.04.2020: Grace Leads to Works

Church people talk a lot about grace versus works. In the church where I grew up, and in subsequent years at other churches, we often studied the difference between these two terms.

Connections 09.27.2020: What’s In a Name?

An etiology is a story that explains the origin of a name or a custom. The writers of the Pentateuch skillfully wove etiologies into their narratives.

Connections 09.20.2020: What Is It?

God had brought the people out of Egypt and across the sea. They had begun their journey toward Mount Sinai. Now they needed food.

Connections 09.13.2020: The Cost of Deliverance

Many paintings and films tell the story of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt, especially their miraculous passage through the sea. As long as we acknowledge that these are artists’ interpretations, I believe they can bring us closer to one of the most powerful events in the history of our faith.

Connections 09.06.2020: This Day. This Night.

This week’s lesson text contains the Passover instructions that God gave Moses and Aaron to share with the Hebrews who were enslaved in Egypt.

Connections 08.30.2020: Hindsight Assurance, Foresight Faith

We can imagine how awe-inspiring God’s revelation at the burning bush must have been for Moses. We might also be fascinated at the way Moses falls into a conversation with God during this awe-inspiring experience.

Connections 08.23.2020: Moses on the Nile

Women dominate this tense, frightening, beautiful, miraculous story in Hebrew history. Let’s imagine each of them…

Connections 08.16.2020: Powerful People

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So said Lord Acton in an 1887 letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton.

Connections 08.09.2020: Caution: Pit Ahead

An interesting convergence of events lands Joseph in a pit. First, Joseph has dreams of grandeur. As you will see if you read the entire Joseph story, dreams play a large role in it.

Connections 07.26.2020: Yes, But…

The short parables in this week’s lesson are fascinating, and they give us much to think and talk about. They also give us much to do something about.

Connections 07.19.2020: The Waiting

The waiting is the hardest part. In the parable found in this week’s lesson text, Jesus tells the story of a farmer who sowed good seed in a field, only to have an enemy sow weeds in the same field.

Connections 07.12.2020: “Such Great Crowds…”

The parable Jesus tells in today’s text is about soil, but I can’t get past the crowds. Can you picture them? Can you see Jesus surrounded by people who wanted to hear him speak?

Connections 07.05.2020: Yokes

Merriam-Webster offers several definitions of “yoke.” First, a yoke is “a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together.”

Connections 06.28.2020: Have To and Want To

Paul uses the word “slaves” a lot in this week’s lesson text. This should make us uncomfortable. I hope it does. If it hasn’t before, I hope it will from now on.

Connections 06.21.2020: Alive

I’ve tried to imagine a world where humans never die. Would the land fill up to the brim? Would we drain the earth’s resources?

Connections 06.14.2020: Hope for Tomorrow, Love for Today

The entire New Testament is about living in the in-between. It’s about more than that, but it’s definitely about that.

Connections 06.07.2020: Self-Examination

This week’s lesson text places quite a challenge before us: “Examine yourself to see whether you are living in the faith” (v. 5a). We have many options as to how we will deal with it.

Connections 05.31.2020: Unity

If you’re on social media, what does your feed look like right now? Do all of your friends and followers post similar sentiments about politics, the pandemic, and matters of faith?

Connections 05.24.2020: Let Us Pray

Jesus’ followers had watched him ascend to heaven. Before he ascended, he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. As they gathered to wait, they “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer…” (v. 14a).

Connections 05.17.2020: Proclamation

This Sunday is the sixth Sunday of Easter. Observing Eastertide, the fifty-day period that begins on Easter Sunday and ends on Pentecost Sunday, is a good way to remind ourselves of the ongoing reality, power, and effect of Jesus’ resurrection.

Connections 05.10.2020: Faithfulness

The story of Stephen reads like a dramatic action movie. It’s dangerous, frightening, and devastating. It’s also heartening, inspiring, and exciting.

Connections 05.03.2020: Community from a Distance

We’ve been doing something counter-intuitive during these days of the COVID-19 pandemic: building community by staying apart. In our current situation, we love our neighbors by staying away from them.

Connections 04.26.2020: What Things?

Cleopas and his companion know what has happened. They know the facts. They are talking about those facts as they trudge the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

Connections 04.19.2020: The Empowering Christ

Today’s passage contains one of my favorite images in the New Testament. It’s not the appearance of the risen Christ. It’s not him breathing the Holy Spirit upon his disciples.

Connections 04.12.2020: The Risen Christ

I listen to a podcast called “Gone.” In each episode, hosts Richard and Molly discuss something or someone that went missing and has never been found. One of the podcast’s taglines is, “Just because something is gone, [it] doesn’t mean it can’t be found.”

Connections 04.05.2020: The Cross and COVID-19

When the devil tested Jesus in the wilderness, he introduced two of his three challenges with, “If you are the Son of God” (Mt 4:3, 6). In refusing the devil’s challenges, Jesus declined to prove his identity on the devil’s terms.

Connections 03.29.2020: The Lord Hears Us

It’s Monday, March 16, and I’m writing this on a strange, surreal day during a strange, surreal time in the life of our country.

Connections 03.22.2020: The Church of the Shepherd

There are local churches called The Church of the Shepherd or The Church of the Good Shepherd. Those are good names. After all, as Psalm 23 affirms, the Lord is our shepherd.

Connections 03.15.2020: Rebellious Creatures

Machines with artificial intelligence turning against the people who made them is a recurring theme in works of science fiction. One example is the 2004-08 Battlestar Galactica television series.

Connections 03.08.2020: A Wide-Awake God

My daughter, who turns thirteen this month, has slept poorly for a few nights in a row. She says she has a hard time getting to sleep, and then she tends to sleep restlessly and wake up sometime after midnight.

Connections 03.01.2020: Replacing the Plug

It’s an image most of us are familiar with: the dropping of a stone into water produces ripples, which represent the ongoing effects of an action.

Connections 02.23.2020: Holy Imagination

Our high school English teacher Mrs. Powers was teaching us about similes and metaphors. “’The baby is like a rose,’” she said, “is a simile.”

Connections 02.16.2020: The Choice God Offers

In our lesson text, God seems to offer a simple choice. Choose “life and prosperity” or “death and adversity” (v. 15). Doesn’t the best choice seem obvious?

Connections 02.09.2020: Light in the Darkness

Most contemporary biblical scholars believe that Isaiah 56–66 contain the words of a prophet who preached in the tradition of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah of Jerusalem to the Jewish people after their return from exile in Babylon.

Connections 02.02.2020: Abiding Principles

A long time ago, in a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary far, far away, I heard a chapel speaker say something like this: “We don’t read a manual on how to operate a vacuum cleaner as poetry, so why would we read Genesis 1 as a manual on how God created the universe?”

Connections 01.26.2020: Unifying Grace

Division within a church is incredibly painful. I know this from experience. Maybe you do too. I was part of a church fellowship for ten years before deciding to leave because the divisions were so disruptive.

Connections 01.19.2020: Team Players

Another college football season is behind us. I hope your team had a good year. I watch a lot of college football.

Connections 01.12.2020: Too Small for Walls

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. closed its doors on December 31, 2019 after eleven years of operation. I hated to see this happen.

Connections 01.05.2020: Heirs of God

The physical tradition of inheritance seems to be fading in our modern times. Over the centuries, it mattered greatly who was the main heir (usually a couple’s oldest child).

Connections 12.29.2019: Infant Jesus vs. the Empire

This week’s lesson text makes at least three main points. First, God guides Joseph to protect the Christ child. Second, what happens to and around Jesus fulfills Scripture. Third, Jesus’ experience reflects Moses’ experience.

Connections 12.22.2019: A Righteous Man

Our lesson text says that Joseph was “a righteous man” (v. 19). We could use more righteous men these days. I say that as a man. I’m allowed to talk about my own kind.

Connections 12.15.2019: Orientation

Picture John the Baptist, leaning against a prison wall. For many months, he has worked tirelessly, pleading with people to repent and prepare for the One who is to come.

Connections 12.08.2019: Privilege

Advent is a good time to consider our privilege and what we need to do about it. This week’s lesson text features John the Baptist.

Connections 12.01.2019: Being Alert

This week we begin a unit called “Advent and Christmas Goals.” Our lesson text calls us to be ready for Jesus to come again.

Connections 11.24.2019: Prayerful Hopes

Since my daughters were very small, I have written them several letters per year in special journals that I bought for them. The earliest entries detail their milestones (“You crawled toward the remote control today” or “You slept in your big-girl bed all night without waking us up”).

Connections 11.17.2019: Keep On Keeping On

I was born and raised in Barnesville, Georgia, which was (and is) about forty miles from the Smyth & Helwys and NextSunday Resources world headquarters here in Macon.

Connections 11.10.2019: Getting and Being Ready

I try not to think too much about “the real meaning of Christmas”—the incarnation event, the Word made flesh, the baby in the manger—until just after the fourth Sunday of Advent. Don’t freak out on me.

Connections 11.03.2019: A Just and Merciful God

I’m one of those people who has a hard time reading about the judgment of God. There’s plenty of it in the Old Testament, but I tend to think of the New Testament as being more about mercy.