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.”

A Spirit Prayer

O God, Thank you for your Spirit that is with us, within us, and among us.
Thank you for the spirit that we are.
Thank you for the spirit of your creation.

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 02.19.2017: 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 02.05.2017: 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 01.22.2017: 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.

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 12.25.2016: Ridiculousness

The whole thing seems ridiculous to me. God Almighty cares enough about this world and the people in it to come down and spend a few years in it and with them. And when God Almighty comes, it’s as a helpless baby who has to be protected, fed, and burped.

An Advent Prayer

O God,
As you come to us, please come bearing faith, hope, and love.
We need to trust, hope, and love more.

Connections 12.11.2016: The Upside Down

I came—and that I come—to Mary’s song as a person of privilege. My late parents would have scoffed at that statement. They worked in textile mills. They bought very used cars. We lived in a small, two-bedroom, one-bath house. But still—we never missed a meal, we always had decent clothes, and the house was warm and dry.

Connections 11.27.2016: Alphabet Power

If you want to know a language, it’s pretty helpful to learn the alphabet. It really helps things go more smoothly. I don’t remember learning the English alphabet. It’s unlikely that I was born knowing it, although I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t and didn’t read.

Connections 11.13.2016: It’s All About the Presence

On the day before Mother’s Day in 2004, my Good Wife and I purchased a slate sign about the size of an automobile license plate from a vendor at the Charleston (SC) City Market. We had two lines of text inscribed on it.

Connections 10.30.2016: Job, Jesus, and Me

At some point in my young life, I began participating in my parents’ nightly prayer time. Using the denominational devotional guide, one of them would read the suggested Scripture passage and the printed meditation, and then say a short prayer.

Connections 10.16.2016: Suffering. Praying. And…

A parishioner had liver cancer. One day, as we sat talking in his den, he told me that he had recently attended a service conducted by an evangelist who claimed to be able to heal the sick.

10.02.2016: Thank God for Jesus

I think I’d believe in God even if Jesus hadn’t come. I seem to assume that God exists. That assumption appears to be a vital part of who I am, but I can’t tell if it’s the product of nature or nurture.

A Prayer about War

O God,
Of the 162 nations in the world, 152 are currently at war or involved in armed conflict. Only ten nations are completely free of conflict.

Connections 09.18.2016: Getting Personal

Speaking in generalities is one thing. Getting down to specifics is another. Generally speaking, believing that God runs the universe is easy, but trusting God to take care of you is hard.

Connections 09.04.2016: Dystopian Visions and Utopian Prophecies

Two books I read during my high school years (and yes, I read more than two!) that influenced me significantly were Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s 1984.

Connections 08.21.2016: Places in our Hearts

Robert Benton’s 1984 film Places in the Heart takes place in 1935 Waxahachie, Texas. Royce and Edna Spalding own a cotton farm. Royce is also the local sheriff.

A Prayer about the Genome

O God, We praise you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
We praise you for the human genome.

Connections 08.07.2016: Safe in God’s Love

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor recessions, nor politics, nor presidential elections, nor terrorism, nor racism, nor sexism, nor homophobia, nor the internet, nor arrogance, nor ignorance…

A Prayer for Discourse

O God,
We are in the midst of a presidential election season.
It’s been ugly. We expect it to get uglier.

Connections 07.24.2016: Hope Called and Love Answered

I remember an old Gospel song: “Justice Called and Mercy Answered.” Were I to write a song based on Romans 5:1-11, I’d call it “Hope Called and Love Answered.”

A Prayer about Violence

O God,
Our society is so violent. Why are people so afraid? Why do they assume the worst of others and see them as threats?

Connections 07.10.2016: Privilege

We hear a lot of talk these days about privilege. Since I’m one of the privileged, I try to take such talk to heart. I try to be aware of my privileged status and of the pitfalls and advantages that accompany it.

Connections 06.26.2016: We Know

At one point in his 1971 song “Ain’t No Sunshine,” singer/songwriter Bill Withers says the phrase “I know” twenty-six times in a row. He says he intended to write other lyrics, but the veteran musicians playing on his debut album talked him into leaving it as it was.

Connections 06.12.2016: Them and Us

Judgment is real and necessary, but it’s nothing to be happy about.
God’s not happy about it. We shouldn’t be happy about it.

Connections 05.29.2016: What Zacchaeus Saw

Most people, if given the choice between being physically tall or financially and socially big, would go with the power. So Zacchaeus was big in the ways that most folks regard as important.

Connections 05.15.2016: It’s Hard to Be Humble

My father, the late great Champ Ruffin, would sometimes say, “You know, it’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” He was kidding. I think. I noticed he never said it when Mama was around.

Connections 05.01.2016: The Least We Can Do

I was serving as Interim Pastor of a small church that was blessed to have a very good pianist. She had to be away one Sunday, and a young church member filled in. After the worship service, I was telling the fill-in how grateful I was for her service. She gave me a funny look and said, “Mike, you don’t need to thank me. It’s my church, too.”

Nicodemusly

So in Zimglish, “nicodemusly” means “to do something secretly, under cover of darkness.” This, of course, got me to thinking about other possibilities. Allow me to share some I came up with.

Connections 04.17.2016: Coming and Going

There’s a lot of coming and going in this story. Jesus comes by boat to the land of the Gerasenes. As soon as he steps ashore, a demon-afflicted man comes to him.

Connections 04.03.2016: Free Indeed

Something about this story bothers me. Now, I know that slavery was an accepted part of first century Roman culture. But I also know that for a human being to own a human being violates the humanity of both.

Connections 03.20.2016: Good Intentions

I believe Peter, who could be the patron saint of those who mean it until it matters, was serious when he told Jesus he’d never desert him and wouldn’t deny him even if it cost him his life….I have a theory about what happened.

Rejoicing in Heaven?

I had a really neat—and that’s not a term I use very often—experience a few Sundays ago. I’ve been the fill-in preacher at The Rock Baptist Church in The Rock, Georgia for a few months.

Connections 03.06.2016: Powerful Faith

I’ve kept a prayer journal for years. Somewhere along the way, I started writing down the Jesus Prayer as the first line of my daily entry: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

A Prayer for Freedom

O God,
We thank you that in Christ, we are free under grace.

Connections 02.21.2016: Day of Atonement

We all know what a “cover-up” is. We also know it’s not a good thing. How many times have we learned of a crime only after the cover-up falls apart?

Connections 02.07.2016: Passover

The story of the institution of Passover is about the present, the future, and the past. The narrative opens with “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt . . .” (v. 1). God then proceeds to give them instructions for the Passover observance.

Live Forever

Glenn Frey will live for as long as the world continues. That’s because he will live on in his songs. Now, before some of y’all get your halos twisted in a knot, let me say that I do believe in everlasting life.

Connections 01.24.2016: A Wedding in Cana

Jesus didn’t make it a regular practice, so far as we know, to protect people from party disasters. Still, John viewed this miracle as so important that he put it right up front in his story of Jesus and went out of his way to point out that it was Jesus’ first miracle.

Connections 01.10.2016: The Most Beautiful Bride

I imagine you’ve heard of a hopeless romantic. I’m not one of those. I’m a hopeful romantic. I believe that hope leads to love and that love leads to hope. I believe that love changes the way we see those we love.

Telling the Truth

I’ve been thinking about truth telling. Our son is a writer. He’s also a cicerone. A cicerone is to beer as a sommelier is to wine. So Joshua is a certified, card-carrying beer expert. When it comes to beer, he really knows his stuff.

Uniform 12.27.2015: A Generous Gift

I have a confession to make. There was a time when I thought Christmas was about me. Now, don’t think I was worse than I was. I knew that Christmas was really about the birth of Jesus.

Christmas Time

When I was a child, I was very confused by the tense of the verb “to be” used in the Christmas hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful.” We’d sing, “With angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Uniform 12.13.2015: Acceptable Offerings

I was the young new pastor at the church. As I walked around the offices, I noticed that every room had a different color carpet, that a lot of it was ugly, and that none of it was what you’d call “nice.”

Uniform 11.29.2015: Teaching God’s Word

When Paul’s missionary partners Timothy and Silas arrived in Corinth, they found him “occupied with the word” (v. 5; NRSV supplies “proclaiming,” which is not in the Greek text). What was he doing with the word with which he was occupied?

A Prayer for the Gullible

O God, Sometimes I am going to be gullible. Sometimes I am going to be too trusting so that I too easily believe what someone tells me. I suppose I should ask you to keep me from being gullible. But something else seems more important.