Formations 10.08.2017: Dance with the One that Brought You

After recounting his dealings with Peter and the other Jerusalem leaders in chapter 2, Paul launches into the main topic of his letter: “doing the works of the Law” versus “believing what you heard” (3:2). Which of these, Paul asks, is the basis for the blessings God has poured out on us?

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.

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.

Crossroads: Roots

Today’s Scripture is all about our roots growing in God’s love. How do you feel about your life’s roots? Have they grown deep in God’s love?

Crossroads: Staying Connected

I have always loved wisteria. I know that it’s a parasite, but it has always been beautiful to me. One of my favorite parts of driving to my grandparents’ house as a kid was driving past the beautiful wisteria growing in a patch of trees.

Presenting Portraits of Jesus

When Mark sketched out our first Gospel account of Jesus, he was not simply writing a direct history or creating a photo account about Jesus. He was doing something far more significant than recording a Vine. He was providing a testimony about the figure he believed was the most important person who ever lived.

Connections 07.17.2016: “Can I Get in Line?”

Andrew, my five-year-old nephew, is a great source of joy in our family. Born at 29 weeks, weighing about 2.5 pounds, he lived in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital for 65 days before my brother Dusty and his wife Christy were able to bring him home.

Crossroads: The Storms of Life

I was always terrified of storms as a child. The thunder scared me the most, and my mom could never convince me that the thunder couldn’t hurt me.

Formations 06.26.2016: Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Halfway through drafting this post, I realized I was guilty of oversimplification in order to find a moral in this story. I hadn’t determined if I would praise Mary for recognizing Jesus’ resurrection or chide her for missing it at first.

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.

Crossroads: Waiting

Have you ever had to wait for something that you were sure was going to happen? You wait with nervous anticipation, excited and scared at the same time. I went to Paris when I was 16.

Crossroads: Friends

I was at school when I got the call that she was gone, and a friend of mine found me crying in the hallway. He comforted me and then we went our separate ways.

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.

Formations 06.05.2016: All You Have to Change Is Everything You Are

Why are so many celebrities willing to sacrifice who they are in order to achieve success and fame? Jan Aitken, a life coach based in Dunedin, New Zealand, recently pondered this question after watching a documentary about Janis Joplin, a stellar blues singer.

Crossroads: Don’t Give Up!

When we were kids, my sister hated school. She didn’t want to do her homework or study, and so there were a lot of times when she didn’t understand things. But when she was in Middle School, she had a really hard time with math.

Formations 05.29.2016: Asking and Listening

Ernesto Sirolli is widely renowned throughout the world as an expert in economic development. He has led successful International Aid efforts in communities in Zambia, Kenya, Algeria, and other African countries to develop sustainable economies.

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.

Crossroads: The Presence of the Holy Spirit

Several years ago on a weekend retreat, I gathered with a group of teenagers in a dimly lit room to share an Agape Love Feast. Earlier, we had set up the room with candles, a plate of bread, and a large cup of grape juice.

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.

Formations 05.15.2016: Unfamiliar Truth

C. S. Lewis, himself a Christian convert, wrote some pretty original and fantastic fiction, most of which didn’t even take place on this planet as we know it. The books in his Narnia series were the first stories I remember my parents reading aloud to me when I was a kid.

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 05.08.2016: 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.

Formations 05.01.2016: Biding our Time

On an average day between 6:30am and 7:30am, you’re probably waking up and getting ready for the day. Then you either head to work, run errands, do housework, or take care of others in your home.

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.

Crossroads: He Is Risen!

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Easter is such a wonderful time. The dark, somber mourning of Good Friday has passed and in its place is new life, lots of color, and thankful spirits.

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.

Crossroads: Good Friday

Have you ever had a week start off well, but by the end of it all hope seems lost? Terrible things happen all at once, and you just aren’t sure how you’re going to make it another hour, let alone another day.

Crossroads: Palm Sunday

I love celebrations. In particular, I love birthdays. I love finding the perfect present and celebrating who that person is. I love my birthday as well, but it’s always a little odd to me.

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.”

Connections 03.27.2016: The First to Know

When I was seventeen, my church put on an Easter play that one of our members wrote, paraphrasing directly from various Scripture accounts of Jesus’ last week, his death, and his resurrection.

Crossroads: Pride

As Americans, we focus a lot on accomplishments. We give trophies to kids who win at sports. We sometimes ask “what did you accomplish today?” We focus on the accomplishments of others and reward them for it.

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.

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.

Crossroads: Our Wisdom vs. God’s Wisdom

There are many instances in my childhood where logic got me into trouble. It usually began with me saying “I told you so” and you can guess that it didn’t end well.

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.

Connections 03.13.2016: Safety versus Sacrifice

We draw ever closer to Good Friday—the day when we honor the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, who gave up everything for all the people of the world.

Crossroads: Rules vs. Grace

I love lists. I make to-do lists, grocery lists, lists of things to clean, etc. Whatever it is, if I can make it into a list, I probably have.

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.

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.”

Crossroads: Everyone

My granddad loved to fish. And I wasn’t a fan of fishing. In fact, I thought fishing was pretty boring. But one day he talked me into going fishing with him for a tournament. We have pictures to prove that I caught a fish that day (that I wouldn’t touch).

Crossroads: The Body of Christ

Talk about a time in your life when you had to work as a team with others. Talk about what your role was and how each person had a different role. What were you trying to accomplish?

Connections 01.31.2016: When Death Comes

Death came into my life during the night when I was around ten years old, taking with it a beautiful white dog named Princess. A few more dogs followed over the years, one of which I raised from a tiny puppy.

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!)

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.

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.