The Weight of Pain

Why does pain almost always seem to weigh more, to have more substance, to impact us more powerfully, than joy? For many people, the moments that have been most life-changing have been, not the moments of joy, but the moments of pain.

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.

Formations 10.01.2017: Freedom Resisted

As Paul introduces his letter to the Galatians, he speaks of “another gospel” preached in their community. It is, he says, “not really another gospel” but an attempt “to change the gospel of Christ” (v. 7). Paul quickly and assuredly rejects this other gospel so as to preserve the one that “delivered us [set us free,” NRSV] from this present evil age” (v. 4).

Formations 09.03.2017: To Share the World

In Judson Mitcham’s Oblique Lexicon, the entry, “Gift,” begins with a globe given to two brothers who never asked for it. For most of the entry, Mitcham describes one brother laying on his bed and tossing the globe up and down, hoping that a mountain chain might kiss the ceiling.

Formations 05.28.2017: The Lord’s Will Be Done

About poems, the poet Richard Hugo says there are two subjects—the triggering and the real. The triggering subject compels the poet to write, but poets must uncover the real subject as they write. Though the triggering subject is necessary for creation, Hugo recognizes that writers’ perceived responsibility to it may stop a poem before it even starts.

Connections 04.09.2017: The Hymn of Christ

Some commentators say that these verses from Philippians describe Jesus and his mission in the form of a hymn. If so, it is a magnificent and beautiful hymn that encapsulates everything Jesus is and all he came to do. We are supposed to strive for a mind like Christ’s (v. 5).

Connections 04.02.17: No Foolin’

The day before April 2 is April 1, and that’s April Fools’ Day. I don’t like April Fools’ Day. I don’t like it because it legitimizes lying and cruelty, which I have enough trouble with on the 364 (365 if it’s a leap year) days they’re supposedly considered illegitimate.

Connections 03.26.2017: Living in the Light

We usually think of light as a positive thing. When darkness falls at my house, I take comfort in the glow of soothing lamps. Both of my girls have small lights in their rooms that stay on overnight. If I’m driving on a dark rural road, I always feel better when I approach city lights once again.

Formations 01.22.2017: Asking Paul’s Questions

In John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the first person Tom Joad meets after leaving prison and hitching a ride with a truck driver is Jim Casy. Joad finds him lying against a willow tree, whistling, and recognizes him as the preacher.

Formations 01.01.2017: Good and Best

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were willing to give up almost anything to achieve it? You may know parents who scrimped and saved to send their children to college. You may know stories of athletes or artists who spend hour after hour perfecting their skills.

Crossroads: I Know Whom I Have Believed

When we ask Jesus to be our friend forever, when we tell God that we know that Jesus died for us and that we want to follow God, we are committing our lives to God. We are saying that God knows better than we do and that we will listen to God and follow what God tells us to do. We will act like Christ by following God.

Connections 08.21.2016: Places in our Hearts

Robert Benton’s 1984 film Places in the Heart takes place in 1935 Waxahachie, Texas. Royce and Edna Spalding own a cotton farm. Royce is also the local sheriff.

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.

Connections 07.10.2016: Privilege

We hear a lot of talk these days about privilege. Since I’m one of the privileged, I try to take such talk to heart. I try to be aware of my privileged status and of the pitfalls and advantages that accompany it.

Crossroads: Giving

One of my favorite stories of giving comes from one of the children at church. At six years old, she received a dollar from the tooth fairy for losing a tooth. But she didn’t use that money to buy something for herself.

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: 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?

Uniform 11.29.2015: Teaching God’s Word

When Paul’s missionary partners Timothy and Silas arrived in Corinth, they found him “occupied with the word” (v. 5; NRSV supplies “proclaiming,” which is not in the Greek text). What was he doing with the word with which he was occupied?

Uniform 11.22.2015: A Pathway for Sharing Christ

Derbe. Philippi. Thessalonica. Beroea. Athens. And on and on the journey goes. Paul and others made the trip without jets or cars—and probably even without horses.

Formations 11.15.2015: Make Mistakes!

“Girls can’t be doctors. Girls are nurses, and boys are doctors.” I was used to my students saying weird and silly things, but this one made me spin around fast. My student, E, was confidently explaining to K why she couldn’t be a doctor when she grew up.

Uniform 11.15.2015: From Derbe to Philippi

The late comedian Mitch Hedberg talked about people who helped their friends move. “I like to help my friends stay,” he deadpanned. I think that one of the basic questions of the Christian life, not to mention of human existence, is whether we should go or stay.

Formations 10.18.2015: SMART Service

Have you ever tried to break out of a routine that you thought was holding you back? Maybe you wanted to eat healthier, be more active, or set aside more quality time with friends and loved ones. How did you do it? Was it easy?

Uniform 10.11.2015: A Credible Witness

Few childhood stories have lessons as powerful as that of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” Most of us are familiar with the tale: Assigned with the task of keep watching over a flock of sheep, a boy finds the job boring and thankless.

A Quiet Life: Living at Peace with One’s Self

One great embarrassment of Christians is that we talk so much and so loudly. Interviews and conversations of all kinds often remind us of a pride of lions feeding, snapping and snarling, each lunging in for a moment and then getting shoved aside by others.

Formations 10.04.2015: Our Spectacular Bodies

The human body is capable of so many more amazing, mysterious things than we usually realize. For example, we probably all grew up learning that we have five senses. Guess what? We have a lot more than that.

Crossroads: The Armor of God

Have you ever seen some of the equipment that comes with playing sports? Football players put on helmets, chin guards, mouth guards, cleats, and shoulder pads in order to protect themselves when they play.

Formations 08.23.2015: Leaving Isn’t Easy

About a year ago, author Beverly Gooden started a movement that went viral. She was frustrated and saddened by a popular argument that criticized victims of domestic violence, and she wanted to help the world understand.

Crossroads: The Body of Christ

God has given each of us different gifts. Some are called to preach, others to teach, others to make snacks for Vacation Bible School, still others to fix the air conditioner when it breaks.

Formations 06.21.2015: Legacy

I’m part of what has been dubbed the “sandwich generation”: people of an age where they’re caring for aging parents while still supporting their own children.

Formations 06.14.2015: Spreading the Word

Advances in technology and the expansion of social media mean that practically anyone can be not only a consumer of local news but also a shaper of its content.

Formations 06.07.2015: United in Christ

Like many southern cities, Macon, Georgia has two Baptist churches with the word “First” in their names. The First Baptist Church of Christ, is predominantly white. The First Baptist Church a block away is predominantly African American.

Uniform 05.31.2015: The Greatest Gift Is Love

The church can and should be a community in which its members experience a taste of heaven right here on Earth. That is so because God is present in the church and where God is, God’s love is.

Uniform 05.17.2015: The Spirit Creates One Body

J. R. Ewing was shot in his office at Ewing Oil on March 21, 1980 by an unseen and thus unknown assailant. Millions of Americans would spend the next eight months pondering and debating the question “Who shot J. R.?”

Uniform 05.10.2015: Unity in Love

Paul tells us that love is the strongest bond—greater than faith and hope. He gives us a description of love that seems impossible to attain, though it is definitely something worth striving for.

Formations 04.26.2015: Do-overs

Do you remember being a child and the grace you sometimes got in the form of a “do-over”? You’re just learning how to bat a baseball or play some other game.

Formations 04.19.2015: Seeking Wisdom

Who are the wisest people you know? More important, how did they get that way? A sociology professor at the University of Florida studies and writes on the topic of wisdom.

Formations 04.12.2015: A Life Transformed

Dorina Baica and her siblings grew up in hardship in Romania. She and her sister remember the difficulties involved even in buying food. “We had the money,” Baica says, “but the stores were empty most of the time.”

Formations 04.05.2015: Easter Faith

The resurrection of Jesus is Christianity’s greatest story. It is the event that set in motion everything believers hold to as distinctively Christian.

Uniform 04.05.2015: Of Resurrection and Moon Landings

On this Sunday, a high holy day for Christians around the world, many Americans will observe a holy moment in pop culture: the premiere of the final season of Mad Men.

Uniform 03.22.2015: Sent to Act

In the days leading up to World War II, a number of German theologians fled Germany. They could not stomach the way the church was changing under Nazi rule, and they knew that their dissenting ideas were dangerous.

Uniform 02.22.2015: Prepared Faith

As a parent of two infants and a preschooler, leaving the house is a tremendous undertaking. After establishing that all three children are rested, fed, and dressed, I have to make sure that our van is stocked with all the equipment we will need for a successful outing.

Formations 02.08.2015: Haitian Conditions Slowly Improving

Five years after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, there are signs of improvement…. Industry is being rebuilt, and they are even making gains to improve health.

Formations 11.02.2014: The Next Culture War?

For several decades, the term “culture war” has percolated through the consciousness of most informed Americans. According to Alyssa Rosenberg, it began with questions about whether entertainment media should be decent.

Formations 10.26.2014: Serving Together

We will never understand spiritual gifts if we don’t see how they relate to the church. Paul is adamant that the purpose of the gifts is “the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).

Formations 10.19.2014: A Holy and Pleasing Sacrifice

There is a good bit of practical advice in Romans 12:1-8 about the nature of discipleship. We can see the practical side of this passage if, after every major section, we ask how what Paul says helps us do what he said just before.

Formations 10.12.2014: Teamwork

A team of students from Cincinnati’s Mason neighborhood has distinguished itself in creativity and problem-solving. The Global Finals of Destination Imagination, or DI for short, was held last May in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Formations 10.05.2014: Who Benefits from Gifted Education?

Who benefits most from elementary-school gifted programs? According to a study from two economics professors, it isn’t the students with the highest IQs but those with more average IQs but high standardized test scores.

Crossroads: A Great Helper – Phoebe

When I was seven or eight years old, my parents decided to move a piano from one floor of our house to another. It was a good idea. The only problem was that we had to move a piano up eight stairs, and the piano was very, very heavy.