Catching a Glimpse

The first Christmas comes and goes, and most people don’t notice. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and a few others catch a glimpse of what is happening, but they’re just a handful.

Meditations on Luke: “Do Not Be Afraid”

Over Christmas one of my daughters asked me a question. “Daddy, why is it that every time an angel shows up in the Bible, he always says, ‘Do not be afraid’?” I responded, “Well, what would you do if an angel suddenly appeared in your room one night?”

Crossroads: The Angel Candle/Candle of Love

Today we light the last purple candle. This candle is the angel candle, or the candle of love. This candle reminds us of the love God has shown us through Jesus.

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.

Formations 12.24.2017: A Song of Joy and Sorrow

Because I live a few blocks from a hospital, ambulance sirens, and the occasional helicopter, form one pitch in that harmony of creation I hear. For what they signal—coming help and immediate danger—these sounds are above all interruptions demanding drivers to make way.

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.”

Meditations on Luke: Our Given Identities

When my wife was pregnant with each of our daughters, we felt a degree of stress in coming up with names for them. For one thing, we didn’t want to offend anyone in our families of origin. Use names from only one side of the family and you may alienate folks on the other.

Crossroads: The Candle of Bethlehem/Peace

Welcome to the second week of Advent! This week, our focus lies on Mary and Joseph, a couple who were waiting for the changes that come with a big transition: a new baby.

Formations 12.17.2017: Robert Mugabe’s Legacy

On November 21, Robert Mugabe stepped down as president of Zimbabwe after thirty-seven years of rule. Following his country’s transition from British colonial rule (when it was called Rhodesia), Mugabe oversaw heavy investment in the nation’s social services.

Formations 12.03.2017: The Lights of Christmas

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the lights. We deck our houses with tiny electric lights. We drape lights on Christmas trees. We go to services on Christmas Eve where the light of dozens of handheld candles bathes the sanctuary in a warm, amber glow.

Meditations on Luke: The Last Laugh

The ministry of Jesus is such a ridiculous thing that it draws laughter. Everywhere he goes, he says and does things that are so out of step with what seems to be obvious reality that people think he is crazy. Imagine what the neighbors said when Jesus, somewhere around the age of thirty, walked away from his father’s vocation as a carpenter.

Flame: The Calling of Levi with Colored Cards

We’re always trying different ways to tell stories in visual ways, so here is what we tried in our scaled-down summer group (3-11 years old). We told the story of Jesus calling Levi (Luke 5:27-32) using colored pieces of paper to represent the characters.

Meditations on Luke: Forcing Our Way In

It would be hard to count the gallons of ink that have been spilled over the years trying to interpret verse 16. For one thing, the wording in the original Greek is terse and difficult to translate into an English equivalent. Beyond that, the phrase deals in imagery that is awkward and feels out of place.

Crossroads: The Friend in the Night

My favorite word as a child was “why”. I know my mother got tired of me asking “Why?” all the time. I was a very curious child. In fact, as a small child, my mother had a hard time getting me to sleep. She said it seemed as if I always wanted to observe the world, to know what was going on.

On the Emmaus Road

What courage this pair of disciples shows on the way to Emmaus. When so many others have denied Jesus, fled, or locked themselves away, these two meet a stranger on the road outside of Jerusalem and freely declare themselves to be disciples of Jesus. Maybe it was the grief talking.

“Be Not Afraid”

A popular quote being passed around the internet says that no phrase appears in the Bible more times than “Be not afraid.” One version of the quote claims this phrase occurs 365 times, one for each day of the year. That’s a beautiful idea. Unfortunately, it’s not accurate.

Formations 12.25.2016: God Is Born and Don’t Own a Car

This week, after a month and some change of waiting, Christ comes. Luke introduces us to the one who brings hope, love, peace, and joy, the one we’ve come to call God, as an infant lying in a feeding trough.

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.

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 12.04.2016: Imagining the Details

This account about Mary unsettles me because it seems to leave out a few things. I remember, very early in my marriage, worrying about getting pregnant too soon. John and I were still adjusting to living in the same apartment.

Crossroads: You’re Not Perfect

As a first grader, I was a pretty big talker. I loved to talk to everyone about everything. And one day we had a fire drill at school. You were not supposed to talk during the fire drill, but I did.

Crossroads: Doing What’s Right

Sometimes we lose sight of our purpose. We get so caught up in what we’re supposed to do and in the rules that we forget how much God helped people and how He calls us to help others.

Crossroads: Greed

As an only child for seven years, there have been times in my life when I wasn’t great at sharing. Even now, I want to make sure someone is going to take really good care of my stuff before I let them borrow anything.

Crossroads: The Lord’s Prayer

Jesus says to ask God for what we need. He tells us to be bold and ask! Here’s the thing: it never hurts to ask for something. You may ask your parents for a new Xbox One and they may say no.

Crossroads: The Good Samaritan

As a young teenager, I went with my youth group to a soup kitchen one Saturday morning to feed the homeless. Several of my friends were going, and I wanted to have fun with my friends.

His Heart Went Out to Her

There is this simple moment that is essential to my understanding of Jesus. Sometimes I think we see him as almost a miracle-working robot, the unstoppable antithesis of the Terminator. He was sent to our Earth to save, heal, and point others towards God.

Formations 06.12.2016: Grace at the End of the Line

Before beginning as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys, I graduated from Mercer University. In the three weeks between finishing school and starting work, I gave up on productivity and chose to go fishing instead.

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.

Formations 05.22.2016: Casting a Vision

One of the key skills of any leader is motivating his or her team, and there is no shortage of advice about how to do it. Much of this advice, however, though true, is also rather basic.

Connections 05.22.2016: Like a Child

My older daughter, Samantha, is eleven years old. Though reserved and quiet around new people, she is at least polite, and she becomes more animated when she gets to know them better. As a baby, though, her encounters with new people went a little differently.

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.

Crossroads: Ascension

New chapters are exciting, but also a bit scary. Moving to college was an important step for me, and it was part of being able to do things on my own. The disciples face a new chapter of their own that begins in the book of Acts.

Formations 05.08.2016: Tongues of Fire

In today’s text, the Spirit comes attended by astounding supernatural phenomena that capture the attention of the pilgrims in Jerusalem. These phenomena do not automatically inspire faith, however; some onlookers wrote the whole thing off as the disciples simply being drunk.

Connections 05.08.2016: The Struggle for a Grateful Heart

Bold, shocking, and even offensive to some, Anne Lamott writes about the rawness of the spiritual journey—especially for a person who has lost much, made big mistakes, and still managed to find God in the process.

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.”

Connections 04.24.2016: Rejoicing in the Found

The story of the prodigal son is one of the most confounding, ridiculous, and beautiful passages in the Bible. I can think of a few headlines that might apply: “Spoiled Rotten Kid Wastes Parents’ Money, Gets Rewarded.” “Father Accused of Enabling Ungrateful Son.”

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 04.10.2016: A Fool for You

In my reading today, one line that Jesus says stands out to me: “Simon, I have something to say to you” (Lk 7:40). That Pharisee named Simon, who had invited Jesus into his home but showed him little hospitality, watched a woman’s extravagant love for Jesus and muttered to himself.

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.

Formations 03.27.2016: Risen Offers a Unique Perspective on Easter

Easter is a story Christians tell year after year—whether or not Hollywood finds the story marketable, and whether or not Hollywood retellings of the story are “rotten” or “certified fresh.”

Formations 03.20.2016: Justice, Mercy, and the Crucifixion

It wasn’t until I found myself reading a book about mercy and hoping for a person to be punished that I realized I’ve been way too comfortable with the story of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Formations 03.13.2016: Learning from Failure

Is our success-oriented, results-driven culture setting us up for a life of disappointment? In a recent column in the Independent, Gerard Gilbert wonders if this might be the case.

Formations 03.06.2016: What’s Your Comfort Food?

My grandparents kept a painting of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper hanging, fittingly, above their dining room table. We shared meals at that table on almost every major holiday, or birthday, or whenever relatives came to visit.

Formations 01.24.2016: Making a Murderer: A Controversy That Hits Close to Home

In the last month, I have received a recommendation from almost every single one of my friends to watch the Netflix true crime documentary series Making a Murderer. (Don’t worry—no spoilers here!)

Crossroads: Why We Baptize

I have loved Jesus for practically my whole life. I grew up in church, and we were there pretty much every time the church was open. At seven years old, I told Jesus that I wanted him to be my Savior and I was baptized.

Formations 01.10.2016: Refreshing Traditions

The New Year is our chance to start over in every aspect of our lives. People want to begin the year knowing that they can hope for good health, prosperity, happiness, and success for the next twelve months.

Formations 01.03.2016: Baby Names of 2015

Jackson and Sophia are the most popular baby names of 2015, but there are some interesting trends further down the list. According to a USA Today report, the gender-neutral name Royalty is up 90% this year.

Crossroads: The Angel Candle or Candle of Peace

Today we light the last purple candle. This candle is the angel candle, or the candle of peace. This candle reminds us of the peace Jesus gives to us. We also light the other two purple candles, candles that remind us that Jesus brought hope and love to the world.