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 10.20.2019: Prayed Up

Have you heard the one about the church member who prayed such long prayers that his fellow members cringed when the pastor called on him to pray? They dreaded hearing his prayers drag on for five minutes or longer, which they always did.

Connections 10.06.2019: The Least We Can Do

My Good Wife likes yellow roses, so every now and then I buy some for her. One time, I posted a picture on Facebook of some roses I had given her.

Dead Skunk (Possum, Squirrel, Armadillo) in the Middle of the Road

I tend not to notice roadkill until it’s too late. I’ll be driving merrily along, and I’ll feel that little bump from running over something that’s already dead. If my Good Wife is a passenger in the car I’m driving, she’ll cringe when I run over a dead animal.

Connections 09.29.2019: Seeing the Big Picture

Jeremiah’s cousin Hanamel offered to sell the prophet a piece of family land out around Jeremiah’s hometown of Anathoth, which was just a few miles from Jerusalem. It was a bad deal.

Connections 09.08.2019: Grace Greater than our Self-Evaluation

God goes to a lot of trouble to make sure we know about God’s grace and mercy. In this week’s lesson text, God sends the prophet Jeremiah to watch a potter at work.

Connections 08.18.2019: Division

Jesus says that his coming causes division. He highlights the divisions that occur in families. By the time Luke’s Gospel was written, such division over Jesus was certainly happening in families.

Connections 08.04.2019: Greed (Which Is Idolatry)

There’s a scene in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life in which George Bailey asks Clarence the angel if he has any money. Clarence says, “No, we don’t use money in heaven.” George replies, “Well, it comes in real handy down here, bud!”

Connections 07.21.2019: Starving for the Word of the Lord

Vacation Bible School (VBS) season is winding down. I grew up in the era when VBS food consisted of cookies and Kool-Aid.

Connections 07.07.2019: Our Faith, Their Health

Naaman was the general in charge of Syria’s army. He was important and powerful. He also had a disease. Because Naaman was important and powerful, he had servants.

Connections 06.23.2019: Christian Clothes

Some people try to express their convictions and commitments through their clothing.

Connections 06.09.2019: All Flesh

When the Holy Spirit fell on the gathered believers on the day of Pentecost, they began to speak in the languages of the people who had come to Jerusalem from many other countries for the festival.

Connections 05.26.2019: Seeing and Being Seen

Darkness can be frightening because it can keep us from seeing things that are there. That’s why if we get up in the middle of the night and don’t turn on a light, we might stub a toe on a piece of furniture.

Connections 05.12.2019: There’s Someplace Like Home

I was sitting at a table with other ministers. We were at a workshop, and the leader had asked us to discuss issues we were struggling to come to terms with.

Connections 04.28.2019: Living in the Center

This Sunday we’ll study the final lesson in a unit entitled “Easter at the Center.” The unit title reflects two truths, one simple and one profound.

Connections 03.31.2019: Gratitude Plus Responsibility

We have a five-week-old granddaughter. She gets fed every few hours. She doesn’t have to do anything for her food. It just shows up. She partakes, burps, and goes back to sleep.

Connections 03.03.2019: Something About Her

I was attending a conference for pastors. My wife accompanied me so she could visit some family members who lived near the host college, shop in the quaint college town, and (I think, hope, and believe) spend some time with me.

Connections 02.17.2019: “To Infinity…and Beyond!”

“To infinity…and beyond!” is the catchphrase of the Toy Story movies’ character Buzz Lightyear. The statement is nonsense. For one thing, infinity isn’t something you can go to.

Connections 02.03.2019: The Greatest of These is Charity

Modern English versions of the Bible use “love” to translate the key word agape in 1 Corinthians 13. That is indeed what it means. The correct translation isn’t without problems, though. I might say, “I love the Atlanta Braves.”

Connections 01.20.2019: The Best Is Yet to Come

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now” (v. 10). That’s what the steward of the wedding feast, who has just tasted the water that Jesus turned into wine, says to the bridegroom.

Connections 01.06.2019: Perspective

On Christmas Eve in 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft was orbiting the moon. The three astronauts inside the craft— Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders—were the first human beings to travel to the moon and back. I was only ten years old, but I vividly remember the chills I experienced when the astronauts read the opening verses of the Genesis 1 creation poem as they beamed footage of the lunar surface back to Earth.

Connections 12.23.2018: Peace for a Day

It happened over forty-five years ago, but I still cringe when I think about it. As you may know, some teenagers can occasionally be a little dramatic. I was not immune.

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.

Two Advent Hymns

At this time of year, we look forward to Advent worship. A few years ago, I realized that we might benefit from some additional Advent hymns, so I wrote a couple and set them to the tunes of well-known Christmas hymns. If you think your church’s Advent worship might be enhanced by them, I’d be honored for you to sing them.

Connections 11.25.2018: Because Christ Reigns

As you probably know, we had an election back on November 6. As of this writing, they’re still counting votes here in Georgia and in several other states. As the process stretches on, one can detect a touch of holiday rancor in the air.

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 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 10.14.2018: 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.

Follow the Leader

One day, Jesus asked his disciples what they were hearing people speculate about him. They offered various answers. Then Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. A disciple named Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

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 09.16.2018: 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 09.02.2018: 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 08.19.2018: 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 08.05.2018: 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 07.22.2018: 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 07.08.2018: 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 06.10.2018: 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 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 05.13.2018: 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 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 04.15.2018: 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 04.01.2018: 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 03.18.2018: 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.

Faith and Science

Every great once in a while, my father, the late great Champ Ruffin, would decide it was time to get a new used car. He had one main criterion for any vehicle he purchased: it had to have four doors. The reason was that we transported “the ladies” (as he called them) to church every Sunday.

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.