Connections 12.16.2018: The Lord Is in Our Midst!

How’s your Advent going? By this point, about a week before Christmas, many of us usually feel weary. We haven’t had time to wait for Christ because we’ve been so busy with the trappings of this season—decorating, planning meals, attending parties, cleaning house for guests, preparing for family gatherings, and more.

Connections 12.09.2018: Advent Fussing

It was 1977. I was a college student, and I’d been invited to preach at my home church on a Sunday night. As I walked in the front door, I encountered my first cousin’s husband. The following conversation took place.

Connections 12.02.2018: The Promise of the Righteous Branch

God said, “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (v. 15). Is it any wonder that, as the day of Jesus’ birth approached, people expected him to be a king who would rule with might and power? Their Scriptures were full of promises like this one from God.

Connections 11.11.2018: Heaven’s Head Table

When we all get to heaven and sit down for the homecoming banquet (I hope there’s fried chicken, because you know it would be the best fried chicken), I suspect we’ll be surprised at who is sitting at the head table. I further suspect that those sitting there will be more surprised than anybody else.

Connections 11.04.2018: Jesus Drops the Mic

According to my findings after a Google search, the term “mic drop” originated in the 1980s when entertainers would try to better each other. As one performer finished his rap or comedy sketch or speech, he’d drop the microphone as if to say, “You can’t top that.”

Connections 10.28.2018: Risky Business

I have long wished that the book of Job ended at 42:6. I recognize that would be somewhat unsatisfying, as it would leave Job in his situation of great loss. But it would also leave him having experienced God personally without being materially rewarded for his faithfulness.

Connections 10.21.2018: Job Hears the Voice of God

So far in this unit of lessons, we’ve suffered with Job (Job 1–2) and then listened to him confess both his confidence in God (23:1-7) and his uncertainty about God (23:8-17). If we’ve read between the lesson texts, we have also witnessed his three friends comfort him and condemn him.

Connections 10.14.2018: Humble Confidence

Job makes two very different assertions in this week’s lesson text. He first asserts that if he could just find God and lay his case before God, God would have to agree that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities that have befallen him.

Connections 10.07.2018: The Problem of Job

What do we do with Job? For centuries, biblical scholars, critics, interpreters, and also the average person—not so different from you and me—have tried to answer that question. Job is fairly unique in the Bible.

Connections 09.30.2018: A Community of Prayer

For a long time, I thought and taught that prayer is an important part of the Christian life. Somewhere along the way, I decided that in fact the Christian life is a life of prayer. How did I arrive at that conclusion? Like many realizations, it came over time.

Connections 09.23.2018: Real Wisdom Indeed

My maternal grandmother died suddenly in 2012. She was eighty-two and had lived a good, long life full of blessings along with heartaches, but we still weren’t expecting her to die, and her passing hurt us all deeply.

Connections 09.16.2018: The Danger of the Tongue

The pastor of my growing up years, the legendary Preacher Bill Coleman, liked to brag back in the 1970s that he hadn’t spoken at a Wednesday night prayer meeting in several years. The reason was that anyone who wanted to speak could sign up to do so.

Connections 09.09.2018: More than Thoughts and Prayers

Over the past few years, numerous tragedies across the globe have torn at our hearts. From school shootings to natural disasters to war violence, we hear about specific events and feel helpless. We may cry. We may get angry. We may look the other way. All of these reactions indicate how helpless we feel to make things right.

Connections 09.02.2018: Authenticity

I’m writing these words on the day Aretha Franklin died (August 16). She recorded many hits, but her signature song is “Respect” (1967), which was written by Otis Redding.

Connections 08.26.2018: “This Teaching Is Difficult”

This may be an unorthodox thing to say, but I love it when the disciples are confused, troubled, uncertain, or skeptical. The disciples—even the “extended family” of followers beyond the steady group of twelve men—were always the people closest to Jesus.

Connections 08.12.2018: Watching for Morning

Time moves slower at night. As infants, my daughters always slept restlessly. I would nurse them to sleep (it was the only way they’d give in), and then my husband or I would carry them to bed, lower them into the crib, and back away with a degree of stealth worthy of any secret agent.

Connections 08.05.2018: The Best Bread

My childhood friend Cal and I spent a lot of time at each other’s houses. That meant we often ate lunch at each other’s houses too. The only thing I remember about eating at his house was that they had Tang, which I thought was cool because (a) astronauts drank it (according to the commercials—Tang commercials, not NASA ones) and (b) we didn’t have it at our house.

Connections 07.29.2018: Will this Be on the Test?

We can’t help being fascinated by stories like David’s. A handsome, admired man with a bright future, beloved of God, giant slayer, powerful leader, conqueror of Saul, adored friend of Jonathan.

Connections 07.22.2018: Preachers in High Places

King David wanted to build a house for the Lord, which means he wanted to build a temple. What could be wrong with that? After all, as David observed as he discussed the idea with the prophet Nathan, it hardly seemed right that David had a fine house to live in while the Lord had only a tent (fine tent though it was).

Connections 07.15.2018: Containing Your Excitement

I grew up in the so-called Bible Belt, that strip of the South where church is king and good religious folks are expected to adhere to a certain set of standards. In many churches, dancing was (and in some places still is) forbidden.

Connections 07.08.2018: Learning from Experience

My late mentor, Dr. Howard P. Giddens, was an excellent Bible teacher. So when I became pastor of my first church after seminary, I asked him over the years to come lead several Bible studies.

Connections 06.24.2018: Opening Up

Let’s think about how we talk with one another, and particularly about how we carry out difficult conversations with each other. Along the way, let’s learn (or remember) a little Latin. We can choose between two approaches when we are discussing, debating, or arguing with someone.

Connections 06.17.2018: From Old to New

Have you ever read advice that is intended to help you age well—or barely to age at all? Avoid the sun, get some sun each day, take vitamin D, don’t take vitamin D, use sunscreen at all times, sunscreen causes cancer, drink red wine, avoid red wine, be a vegetarian, go paleo, sleep more, sleep less, eat dairy, avoid dairy…

Connections 06.10.2018: Keeping Heart

When Paul says that he and his missionary companions “do not lose heart” (4:16), he means they aren’t overcome with despair. I don’t think he means they never get discouraged.

Connections 06.03.2017: “The god of this world”

Being an editor of Christian writings, I’m constantly alert for references to the Creator. In the Old Testament, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (the translation used by Connections curriculum) refers to the Creator God as “LORD” or “GOD.”

Connections 05.27.2018: Elite Jesus

We sometimes hear people complaining about elites trying to run the country (and maybe the world), but I think they’re really talking about elitists. Elites are well-educated, well-qualified, and well-positioned to be in charge of things.

Connections 05.20.2018: Picking the Flowers

Like many book lovers, I often find that certain sentences or paragraphs strike me as I read. I actually have a compilation of quotes from various authors saved on my computer—ranging in subject from spirituality to growing old.

Connections 05.13.2018: True News

We live in a strange time, truth-wise. A lot of people seem to live according to the principle of “It’s true if I want it to be true.” And their desire for it to be true depends on their preconceived notions. This seems especially applicable to politics, but it’s not confined to any one area.

Connections 05.06.2018: Love One Another

“Love one another” (Jn 15:17b). Is there a greater calling in Scripture than this? Is there a harder one? It is often paired with what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment, “Love God with all your being.”

Connections 04.29.2018: Where It Starts

When Philip met the Ethiopian on the desert road, the eunuch was reading the passage in the Isaiah scroll that talks about the suffering servant. When the Ethiopian asked Philip about the identity of the servant, Philip answered him, “starting with this scripture” (v. 35).

Connections 04.22.2018: Questioned because of a Good Deed

Like many faithful followers of Jesus over the centuries—people who took a stand for those who were oppressed and hurting—Peter and John were arrested and tried. And for what reason? Because they helped someone in Jesus’ name.

Connections 04.15.2018: The Source

The Flint River flows not far from where I live in Central Georgia. Its headwaters are in Hapeville, Georgia. The river begins as groundwater seepage that goes into a concrete culvert and then under the runways at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Fifty miles or so later the water from several creeks has joined with that seepage to form the beautiful Flint.

Connections 04.08.2018: Uncommon Generosity

The generosity among the people in these passages is phenomenal. And honestly, it’s not something I encounter very often. I’d like to think that I’m generous. My husband and I give a large portion of our earnings to various causes and charities each year.

Connections 04.01.2018: Whatever Happened to Brother Cornelius?

Cornelius’s story is very important because he and his family are, according to Acts, the first Gentiles to become Christians. So Cornelius matters as a sign of what is to come in the Christian movement and as a representative of those “outsiders” who will come into the church.

Connections 03.25.2018: Now We Know

My dear friend Rickie is sixty-seven years old. Neglectful parents meant that he spent much of his childhood in an orphanage. He has told us stories of his time there, of days longing for a normal home life, of being one among many children and there wasn’t enough time or attention to go around.

Connections 03.18.2018: Practice Means Progress

I made my annual pilgrimage to Florida to watch some Atlanta Braves Spring Training games last week. I’ve been making that trek for over twenty years. I’ve also been watching the Braves play baseball ever since they moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966.

Connections 03.04.2018: Déjà Vu Faith

Sometimes when I experience déjà vu, it seems like it’s happened before. But seriously, folks: I’ve had many occurrences of déjà vu, which is the sensation of remembering being in a place or situation that you’ve never been in before. So you might walk into a restaurant in a city you’ve not previously visited and feel like you’ve seen it before.

Connections 02.25.2018: The Most Important Question

Growing up in a Baptist church in the South, I frequently heard three questions throughout my childhood and adolescent years. Most of my church-related activities during these years centered on the theme of salvation.

Connections 02.18.2018: Making His Paths Crooked

I have a thirty-minute drive from Yatesville to Macon every morning and a thirty-minute drive from Macon to Yatesville every afternoon. My route takes me through the countryside, so it’s a pleasant journey. The only problem is that I travel east in the morning and west in the afternoon, so I’m always driving toward the sun.

Connections 02.11.2018: The Clay Treasure

These days, as I watch my daughters continue to grow and mature in so many ways, I find their creations from early childhood more and more precious. The first face Natalie drew at age two: big, round, hollow eye circles and a straight horizontal mouth line.

Connections 02.04.18: A Community of Service and Sacrifice

I spent twenty-two of the thirty-one years of my career serving as a pastor. I did so for seven years, then took a six-year break to teach in a college, and then returned to the pastorate for another fifteen years. For the last three years I’ve served as the Connections editor.

Connections 01.28.2018: Who Is a Prophet?

This passage makes me roll my eyes a little. The writer, speaking for God, says that the Lord will provide a new prophet like Moses who can speak to the people on God’s behalf, thus protecting them from death. For actually hearing the Lord God, it seems, can be a deadly experience (v. 16).

Connections 01.21.2018: A Second Time

Mr. James Boggs died a few weeks ago. He was my Little League Baseball coach. He taught me many lessons; one in particular has stayed with me through the almost half-century that has passed since those days. I was at bat. I don’t remember all the details, but I know that we had at least one runner on base.

Connections 01.14.2018: Samuel and Eli

Sometimes we picture ancient stories in black and white. They are old, removed, and distant. And even when the characters are vivid and exciting, they are almost superhuman to us. They don’t seem real. I’ve always felt closest to Bible characters when the storyteller portrays them as human beings who could be people I know—or even me!

Connections 01.07.2018: God’s Words, Our Words

The first words God speaks in the first words of the Bible are creative ones: “Let there be light.” “And,” the narrator reports, “there was light.” God speaks. Something happens. And so it goes through all the days of creation.

Connections 12.31.2017: Jesus and the Elderly

I turned forty this year, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I still have one living set of grandparents. My father’s parents, known to me as Mom and Pop, are age eighty-three and ninety-three. They’ve been a huge part of my life since my birth.

Connections 12.24.2017: When the Lord Is With You

If you ever hear an angel say, “The Lord is with you,” how should you respond? Let me suggest, “Uh oh!” In Mary’s case, the angel’s statement “The Lord is with you” meant “The Lord has a really difficult task for you.”

Connections 12.17.2017: The Light of Christ

At this time of year, we marvel at the beauty of Christmas lights. Our family enjoys getting a special treat and riding through our town, admiring neighborhood light displays while we listen to Christmas music. We love to decorate our own house as well.