Formations 11.24.2019: The Other Side of Sorrow

How could we not conclude a unit on life after death with a vision of heavenly bliss? In Revelation 7, John describes a great multitude gathered around God’s throne.

Formations 11.17.2019: Crying Out for Justice

I’ll have to confess that the ongoing college admissions scandal hits a little close to home. My own daughter is about to finish her first semester of college, and now is as good a time as any to admit that I paid an awful lot of money to get her there: it’s called tuition!

Formations 11.10.2019: Resurrection Hope

Many Americans observe Halloween by focusing on costumes, decorations, and candy for the kids. Some of us don’t know the origins of the day or the one that follows on November 1, All Saints’ Day.

Formations 11.03.2019: The Day of the Dead

The Mexican Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead coincides with Halloween on our calendars, but the two are not the same.

Formations 10.27.2019: Making Amends

Recently, higher education representatives from across the country met in Cincinnati for a conference exploring racial inequalities in higher education.

Formations 10.20.2019: Containing God

There are some impressive houses of worship in this world. Some are centuries-old survivors of war, fire, and poverty. Their stonework and artwork immortalize great architects and artists across the ages.

Formations 10.13.2019: Where We Worship

In college, I served as a summer missionary in Colorado. Our orientation was held at a Baptist camp that was almost literally in the shadow of Pike’s Peak.

Formations 10.06.2019: Everyone Plays a Part

In the most recent chapter of the continuing saga of the Pursiful family, I’m proud to announce that my daughter is gainfully employed—at least for certain definitions of “gainfully.”

Formations 09.29.2019: Living in God’s Son

I began attending church as a baby, so I was encouraged from a very young age to invite Jesus into my heart. Well-meaning Sunday school teachers and preachers told me that if I did this, Jesus would become my Savior, living inside of me.

Formations 09.22.2019: Right Beliefs and Right Actions

Near the beginning of the first Iron Man movie, arms manufacturer Tony Stark addresses a gathering of military brass as he demonstrates a new missile system. He ponders whether it is better to be feared or respected before finally asking, “Is it too much to ask for both?”

Formations 09.15.2019: Kindness for Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn Skidmore was a high school senior, less a month away from graduating, when she was killed in an automobile accident this past April. Obviously, her family and loved ones were devastated by the loss, and her classmates at Jones County High School in Georgia decided to honor her memory in a way that seemed especially fitting.

Formations 09.01.2019: “It Wasn’t My Fault!”

If you struggle to own up to your mistakes, psychological studies indicate you are not alone. Researchers with PsychTests recently analyzed data from over 4,700 people who took their Self-Esteem Test and compared two groups.

Formations 08.25.2019: Strike While the Iron Is Hot

On our recent vacation to Saint Augustine, my family and I enjoyed learning about life in colonial times from a historical interpreter. As part of his tour of Saint Augustine’s Colonial Quarter, he took us to the blacksmith’s shop.

Formations 08.18.2019: A Constant Search for Wisdom

Over the summer, my daughters and I have been sorting through the junk stockpiled in our unfinished basement and searching for the treasures. One of those treasures is a huge plastic bin filled with my high school memorabilia.

Formations 08.11.2019: The Best Laid Plans

There’s an old quip that if you want to make God laugh, all you have to do is show God your planner. When we say something like that, I hope we understand that God isn’t out to get us.

Formations 08.04.2019: What Is the Problem?

Nehemiah continues the themes that thread through Joshua. Where earlier Israelites had rejoiced at the failure of Gilead’s walls, these exiles returning to Jerusalem mourn at the sight of the city’s walls in ruin.

Formations 07.28.2019: I Pledge Allegiance

The American Pledge of Allegiance is a product of the 1890s, written by a young socialist pastor named Francis Bellamy in a time when big business was ushering in an age of materialism.

Formations 07.21.2019: God’s Promises

Like the story of Jericho, Joshua’s speech demands responsibility, creativity, and humility. There are too many layers for anything less. Here, Joshua speaks of God.

Formations 07.14.2019: Working and Praying for Change

Two weeks ago, Hong Kong marked twenty-two years of Chinese rule. The milestone comes after months of protests over a proposed law that, opponents say, could have been used to seize government critics and send them for trial to the mainland.

Formations 07.07.2019: The Battle of Jericho

At this year’s Tony awards, the musical Hadestown won the award for best new musical. It retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice as if it took place in some kind of depression-era, post-apocalyptic company town.

Formations 06.30.2019: Doing Hard Things

On the fourth anniversary of the fatal racially-motivated shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a film about the attack hit theaters.

Formations 06.23.2019: The Kingdom Has Come

The novel Slaughterhouse-Five offers two stories about Billy Pilgrim’s life. In the first, Kurt Vonnegut tells of Pilgrim’s, and his own, experience as a soldier in World War II.

Formations 06.16.2019: Choose Your Next Words Carefully

I am an adjunct university professor, which means I assign research papers. I am also an editor, which means I often regret assigning research papers.

Formations 06.09.2019: “I Will Send the Spirit”

In the 1992 song “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen offered these now classic words: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” The insight comes lyrically through the acknowledgment of liminal spaces—birdsong in the morning or peacetime between war.

Formations 06.02.2019: God Made Us for a Purpose

When my daughter was three or four, she became fascinated with our church’s music minister and his “batond.” She had a little yellow fairy wand that she loved to wave around while she sang.

Formations 05.26.2019: Timothy and Epaphroditus

In the last two years of his life, my grandfather Bill and I often talked about the last verse in the book of Judges.

Formations 05.19.2019: Teamwork

My campus ministers in college were a husband-and-wife team who shared between them responsibilities for the spiritual care of students on two campuses in neighboring cities.

Formations 05.12.2019: Jason and the Others

In this stage on Paul’s journey toward preaching in Rome, we encounter a verse that questions the arc of Luke’s two-volume history.

Formations 05.05.2019: The Power of Encouragement

Seventeen teachers in Houston County, Georgia picked a student who inspires them and took the time to say “thank you.”

Formations 04.28.2019: Witnesses to the Resurrection

I’ve noticed that Easter brings my attention to the place I call home. Often, it has been the geography of my particular neighborhood.

Formations 04.21.2019: Go and Tell

I believe in evangelism; I’m just not very good at it. I might attribute my aversion to sharing the gospel to my introverted nature or to my general Midwestern hesitance to open up about the things that matter most to me.

Formations 04.14.2019: The King Is Coming

When early December rolled around with the Christmas parade, it happened that our marching band hung around the Church of the Nazarene.

Formations 04.07.2019: The Greatest in the Kingdom

I spent a semester as Dr. David Garland’s teaching assistant when we were both at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Garland was a master of the pithy comment.

Formations 03.31.2019: A Living Sacrifice

The poet Donald Hall, in a documentary for The Atlantic, describes aging as “a ceremony of losses.”

Formations 03.24.2019: Lead Us Not Into Temptation

I didn’t know there was a TV show called Temptation Island until I started researching for this article. The premise of the show is to put four unmarried couples who are “at a crossroads in their relationship” in an island paradise.

Formations 03.17.2019: Freedom from the Law

Paul held the torah in high regard. In this week’s passage, he affirms, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

Formations 03.10.2019: Renaissance

Five years ago, the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. At that time, the city’s debt topped $18 billion.

Formations 03.03.2019: A New Way of Life

My clothes wear out predictably. Holes form over the left knee and under the right elbow. The heels of my shoes wear down at the outer corner.

Formations 02.24.2019: Dancing with the Divine

In Judaism, the Torah is read from start to finish every year. In the fall, Jews mark the completion of this annual cycle through holiday of Simchat Torah, “rejoicing in the Law.”

Formations 02.17.2019: You Shall Be Holy

This week’s text raises our attention to holiness. In the process, I’ve noticed two questions I’ve been struggling with lately—who are we, and what does it mean? As Moses relays these codes for holiness, he begins with identity.

Formations 02.10.2019: First Things First

We usually associate the ten commandments with Mount Sinai. They appear for the first time in Scripture in Exodus 20, following directly after the scene in last week’s lesson where God speaks from Sinai with thunder and lighting, thick clouds, a loud trumpet blast, smoke, and an earthquake.

Formations 02.03.2019: The Giving of the Law

The windows in my apartment face southeast. This doesn’t matter except that we’ve started keeping the blinds open in the kitchen. While I make coffee, I’ve begun noticing the sun’s rising—fiery fields degrading into sky.

Formations 01.27.2019: Naysayers and Detractors

The other Synoptic Gospels at least give Jesus a chance to get going before people start resisting his message. True, Matthew tells of Herod’s attempt to destroy Jesus while he was still a toddler, but Jesus never took flak for the things he said and did until he dares to heal a paralyzed man’s sins in chapter 9.

Formations 01.20.2018: Reading Openly

After a month of holiday traveling, it is the banquet table that I notice most readily in the passage. I’ve sat around at least four family tables this month, and I’ve remembered some others I’ve known. One was my grandparent’s dining room table in Mobile.

Formations 01.13.2019: The Point

My wonderful daughter isn’t on the autistic spectrum, but I bet she can see it from wherever she is. Over the past seventeen years, I have learned that there is often a very thin line between the traits of a gifted child and the traits of an autistic one.

Formations 01.06.2019: Jesus Is Baptized

At the time of writing, forecasts indicate that the rain out my parents’ window will continue for another week. I tend to take overcast wintry weather in stride, but this is bad news, at least for my drive home to Macon. Mark, however, proclaims good news and its beginning (v. 1).

Formations 12.30.2018: The Last Word

As the son of a high school basketball coach, I didn’t exactly grow up with the most positive opinion of sports referees. Dad has mellowed in his retirement, though. In recent years, I have even heard him admit—to the shock of my teenage self—that referees get a lot more calls right than they get wrong.

Formations 12.23.2018: Rhythm Saved the World

The fourth Sunday of Advent, less than a few days before Christmas—It’s a time when I often turn from the prophetic hopes of Israel to a single family gathered around a manger. But Paul raises a vision of Christmas that is more cosmic than it is common.