Formations 11.19.2017: Faith and Violence

Herod Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great and a nephew of Herod Antipas. The book of Acts remembers him mainly as a persecutor of the early church. Somewhat like the Apostle Paul, this king’s zeal for the law was apparently what drove him to persecute the church.

Formations 11.05.2017: Monument to Ivan the Terrible Erected

A bronze statue has been erected in Moscow to one of the most brutal rulers in Russian history. The monument is the first of its kind in the Russian capital and only the second in the entire country. The statue was first placed in the city of Alexandrov, where the locals protested.

Formations 10.22.2017: Morality and Conformity

A new study from the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, has demonstrated what many of us already know intuitively: that our view of what is morally right or wrong is shaped by how widespread a particular behavior is. These findings come from a combination of behavioral experiments, mathematical models, and computer simulations.

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?

Formations 09.24.2017: Japanese General’s Gift Launches a Career in Science

John S. Blunt was a U.S. Navy Seabee during World War II. Serving in both the European and Pacific theaters, he acquired a number of trophies. Among them was a high-quality Japanese microscope. He had saved a Japanese general’s life by providing him with antibiotics from the American base’s medical dispensary.

Formations 09.10.2017: Americans Step Up Their Giving

Hurricane Harvey made its first landfall on the evening of August 25 near Rockport, Texas. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the US since Charley in 2004. Three days later, FEMA Administrator Brock Long estimated that 30,000 people may need shelter, and as many as 450,000 may qualify for federal flood victim assistance.

Formations 08.27.2017: Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

Let me tell you about Miss Margaret. When I was a seminary student, I was also the pastor of a mission church that met in a trailer park in LaGrange, Kentucky. We literally met in a mobile home that the local Baptist association purchased for us and set up on the site. I think our high attendance record was thirty.

Formations 08.13.2017: Persecuted Christian Seeks Asylum

What does it take to be “persecuted” around here? That’s the question that will soon be before the United States Supreme Court as Chinese Christian Ting Xue’s appeal of a Circuit Court decision moves forward. The former factory worker fled China after his arrest for attending illegal house-church gatherings in his native country.

Formations 07.30.2017: Life-giving Water

In the previous lesson, Judah’s restoration was described using the metaphor of the life-giving breath of God. Here, it is described as a river of water that flows from God’s presence. Where before, God’s presence had departed because of the people’s sins, now God has returned to a rebuilt temple with life-giving power.

Formations 07.16.2017: Jerusalem’s Collapse

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He first gained fame for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), in which he traced the geographic, environmental, and biological factors that led to the rise of Western civilization.

Formations 07.02.2017: Excessive Politeness Can Be Deadly

A recent study in Seattle has concluded that “overly polite” 911 operators are partly to blame for slower police response times and, ultimately, loss of life for some callers. The report, released in November of last year, found the operations of Seattle’s 911 call center “potentially dangerous.”

Formations 06.18.2017: Everybody Has a Sermon

From 1993 until 2004, CBS News ran a feature called “Everybody Has a Story.” Someone would throw a dart at a map of the US. Then correspondent Steve Hartman would go visit the place where it stuck, pick a name at random from the local phone book, and do a story on the person he found (assuming they were willing, of course).

Formations 06.04.2017: Come, Holy Spirit

One of the oldest songs of Pentecost is Veni Creator Spiritus, attributed to the ninth-century monk and theologian Rabanus Maurus. This hymn to the Holy Spirit is traditionally sung on Pentecost and other occasions (ordinations, church dedications, etc.) to invoke God’s transforming power.

Formations 05.21.2017: Anonymous Strangers, Angels, and Pixies

I’ve never (that I know) met an angel. The closest I can claim was more of a pixie. Here’s how it happened. I had a pretty rough time my first semester or so. I was living farther from home that I ever had before. I struggled with some of the new concepts and approaches my professors were teaching me.

Formations 05.07.2017: Unsung Heroes

The Jenco Awards are cash awards for people in Appalachian Ohio “who have performed visionary leadership in the service of others in the region.” The award was founded in 2001 by Terry Anderson, a journalist and former Athens County, Ohio resident. They honor Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, a Catholic priest.

Formations 04.23.2017: Sitting a While with Thomas

According to a new survey, fully one-fourth of British people who identify themselves as Christian say they do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Hobson urges a certain degree of restraint in our responses to such people. After all, our universal human experience is that dead people stay dead. To say otherwise flies in the face of all that we know about how the world works.

Formations 04.09.2017: Jesus’ Death Foreshadowed

Jesus enters Jerusalem amid cheering crowds inspired by hope in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 13). They came out to meet Jesus because they had heard about the raising of Lazarus (vv. 17-18). Ironically, it was this same sign that led to Jesus’ death.

Formations 03.26.2017: Uber’s Lesson in Humility

Uber Technologies Inc. is an online transportation network company with operations in over 500 cities in sixty-five countries. It is also a company reeling from a spate of recent setbacks including sexual harassment scandals, allegations of a covert operation to avoid regulators in key markets, and a recently leaked video of CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver.

Formations 03.12.2017: Think Before You Speak

I must admit I wasn’t watching the Academy Awards last month when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway accidentally announced the wrong winner in the Best Picture category. Apparently, Beatty had been handed the wrong envelope—the one for Emma Stone’s Best Actress award for La La Land.

Formations 02.26.2017: Meeting the Author

Once in a great while, you hear or read a simple sentence that changes everything. For me, one of those sentences came long ago in a sermon preached by my college pastor. “There is a difference,” he said, “between reading the Bible and meeting the Author.”

Formations 02.05.2017: Moving Day

The first time I moved away from home was fairly easy. Then again, I only moved about forty-five minutes away in order to attend college. I was back again for the summer, and for numerous weekends throughout the academic year. My second move was harder: about six hours away to attend seminary.

Formations 01.15.2017: A Year of Reconciliation

At Victoria’s traditional New Years Day levée, a reception hosted by political figures in Canada, Mayor Lisa Helps read a proclamation acknowledging the thousands-of-years history of native peoples in the region and called upon all Victorians to contemplate the meaning of reconciliation and to take meaningful action.

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.

Formations 12.18.2016: A Glimpse of Holiness

Angels almost always appear on the biblical scene saying, “Don’t be afraid.” And they are indeed frightening creatures, at least in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings.

Formations 12.04.2016: Pace Yourself

I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did.

Formations 11.20.2016: God Wins

For all of its troubling images of evil and destruction, Revelation ends with triumph and joy. In heaven, the victory of God is proclaimed. The heavenly multitude anticipates the downfall of Rome—its greed, its oppression, and its war-mongering—and the Lamb of God prepares for his wedding banquet.

Formations 11.06.2016: What Is God Worth?

Waste is all a matter of what something—or someone, or Someone—is worth. And worth, as you’ve probably heard somewhere along the way, is the basis of our English word “worship.” When we worship God, we’re expressing how much we think God is worth.

Formations 10.23.2016: A Festival of Giving

Earlier this month, India celebrated its week-long festival of giving, Daan Utsav. This is a new holiday, first launched in 2009. It isn’t tied to any particular cultural or religious tradition, though an anonymous group of core volunteers manages the campaign.

Formations 10.09.2016: The Discipline of Giving

Our October unit invites us to think about giving as another spiritual discipline. Maybe this one isn’t so obvious. Depending on your upbringing, you might have been taught that giving, especially giving to the church, was more in the category of a religious duty.

Formations 09.25.2016: Hope in Christ’s Appearing

In the religious circles I tend to run in, there are a lot of people who grew up in churches that were saturated with the teachings purported experts on end-times prophecy. They grew up with that kind of theology, but somewhere along the way, that theology got, well, left behind.

Formations 09.11.2016: Encouraging Others

Legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once explained that his coaching philosophy involved communicating three things to his players: “If anything goes bad, then I did it. If anything goes semi good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it.”

Formations 08.28.2016: Clinging to the Past or Embracing the Future?

In 1950, there were 67,000 coal miners working in eastern Kentucky. By 2014, however, that number had declined to only 7,000. The industry is clearly in a state of steep decline, and this has huge repercussions for those who have made their living in the mines.

Formations 08.14.2016: Singing the Blues

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Ted Slowik explained how, as a white kid growing up in the suburbs, his views about race were shaped in part by exposure to blues music.

Formations 07.31.2016: The Things that Drive Us

Even though I grew up in the Midwest, my family roots are in Kentucky. It’s where most of my extended family lives, where I attended seminary, and where my thoughts always turn on the first Saturday in May.

Formations 07.17.2016: Deborah the Judge

We traditionally call the biblical heroes who flourished from the settlement of Canaan to the rise of the monarchy “judges,” but that doesn’t quite capture their role.

Formations 07.03.2016: Breaking the Cycle of Failure

She’lah Shreve is a graduate of George W. Carver High School in Birmingham, Alabama and is soon to begin his studies at Lawson State Community College. There was a time, though, when it looked like he would never graduate at all. Tenth-grade chemistry threatened to be She’lah’s downfall.

Formations 06.19.2016: Pilate’s Indecision

Pilate comes near the end of the story of Jesus. Whatever Gospel you’re reading, by the time you arrive at Pilate’s palace, you’ve already gotten a pretty good idea of who Jesus is. You’ve seen him heal with compassion. You’ve seen him go out of his way to include people that most would have written off.

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.

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.

Formations 04.24.2016: The Problem(s) with Polygamy

Polygamy isn’t just an Old Testament issue. Recently, the South African acapella group Afrika Mamas released a new album that addresses this issue head on, seeking to empower African women to reject this practice that is firmly entrenched in many parts of Africa.

Formations 04.10.2016: Places of Worship

Do you have fond memories of a particular place of worship? Maybe it’s the sanctuary were you were baptized, where you were married, or where your parents or grandparents were bid farewell.

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 03.13.2016: 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 02.28.2016: Renewing Our Vows

Two weeks ago, hundreds of married couples gathered at Fountain Hills Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona to renew their wedding vows. The fourth-annual event was one of the world’s largest vow renewal ceremonies.

Formations 02.14.2016: The Lenten Fast

The message that church conveyed—sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly—was that Lent and many other traditions of the wider church were nothing but empty ceremonialism that “real” Christians were better off avoiding.

Formations 01.31.2016: Creation from Catastrophe

This September marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London. Among those commemorating the event is the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba), which has already opened an exhibition.

Formations 01.17.2016: Being a Better Wedding Guest

Danielle Rothweiler is a celebrity wedding and event planner. In a recent article, she comments that going to a wedding ought to be easy. Unfortunately, wedding guests often provoke the greatest stress in the engaged couple.

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.