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 08.19.2018: Really Real

I can still see the beloved pastor of my growing up years standing behind the communion table, speaking words meant to prepare us for the Lord’s Supper. They went something like this: “Now we know that the bread isn’t really the body of 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 07.01.2018: Journeying through Grief

“Grief Is Complicated.” My first thought when I read the title for this lesson was Well, that’s an understatement! Anyone who has experienced grief—no matter the cause—knows that it is more than complicated.

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 03.11.2018: To Know You

One of my favorite Christian singer/songwriters is Nichole Nordeman. She put out nearly a dozen albums at the beginning of her career and then took a ten-year break to be home with her children and navigate a personal crisis.

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 02.18.2018: 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 01.07.2018: 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.

Connections 12.10.2017: What Would John the Baptist Say?

The other morning I got out of bed before my wife did. When she came into the den a few minutes later, she found me eating my oatmeal and watching the CBS Morning News. The first thing she said was, “Good morning!” The second thing she said was, “Has there been another one yet today?”

Connections 12.03.2017: Wake Up!

In the Gospels, I identify much more with the disciples than with the people who are in awe of Jesus, scared of him, or threatened by him. The disciples, like me, are comfortable with Jesus. They feel secure enough in him to question his ideas, criticize his actions, and even fall asleep when he wants them to stay alert.

Connections 11.26.2017: Past, Future, and Present

I have a longstanding affection for time travel stories. I think it goes back to the television show The Time Tunnel (1966-67). Its tales of two scientists lost in time and popping up in one historical event or another each week fascinated eight-year-old me.

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.