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.

Connections 03.24.2019: An Invitation

In the New Revised Standard Version, the title for this section of Scripture is “An Invitation to Abundant Life.” In some Christian traditions, the main focus is the afterlife.

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.

Connections 03.10.2019: Remembrance, Gratitude, and Celebration

In our Scripture passage from Deuteronomy 26, we learn about three ways God wants us to respond to the gifts God gives: remembrance, gratitude, and celebration.

Connections 02.24.2019: Life after Death

Who among us has not wondered about the afterlife? Especially when someone we know dies, we cling to the few descriptions the Bible gives us about what we imagine as “heaven.” God is usually depicted as speaking from heaven, as in Psalm 33:13.

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.

Connections 02.17.2019: “To Infinity…and Beyond!”

“To infinity…and beyond!” is the catchphrase of the Toy Story movies’ character Buzz Lightyear. The statement is nonsense. For one thing, infinity isn’t something you can go to.

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.

Connections 02.10.2019: A Mature Belief

Like Paul, I have grown as a believer—though maybe in a less dramatic fashion. I was born into the church and attended faithfully throughout my childhood and young adult years. Though I faced plenty of doubt and uncertainty about the things I learned, I can look back now and realize that I was devoutly Christian.

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.

Connections 02.03.2019: The Greatest of These is Charity

Modern English versions of the Bible use “love” to translate the key word agape in 1 Corinthians 13. That is indeed what it means. The correct translation isn’t without problems, though. I might say, “I love the Atlanta Braves.”

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.

Connections 01.27.2019: Fulfilling the Prophecies

During his traveling ministry, there were few places where Jesus encountered no one who questioned him, doubted his claims, or requested proof that he was actually who he said he was. According to the Bible, no place was worse about this than his own hometown.

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.

Connections 01.20.2019: The Best Is Yet to Come

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now” (v. 10). That’s what the steward of the wedding feast, who has just tasted the water that Jesus turned into wine, says to the bridegroom.

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.

Connections 01.13.2019: Humility

John the Baptist was a celebrity. He had all the right factors to create interest and even obsession among the people who had encountered him or even just heard of him. Young. Strong. Eccentric. Intriguing. Tantalizing.

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.

Connections 12.30.2018: Growing Up

My younger daughter Natalie will be 12 years old in March. It’s a delicate age. She is just crossing the threshold into puberty, clinging to the joys of childhood while also confronting body changes and swinging emotions.

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.

Connections 12.23.2018: Peace for a Day

It happened over forty-five years ago, but I still cringe when I think about it. As you may know, some teenagers can occasionally be a little dramatic. I was not immune.

Formations 12.16.2018: “Just Hand Me a Baby”

Most scholars agree that the words of comfort in today’s lesson were first spoken to Jewish people near the end of their decades-long exile in Babylonia. The national shame of the exile will soon be over, the prophet proclaims. Now it is time to “prepare the way of the LORD” (v. 3) so that the captives may return home.

Connections 12.16.2018: The Lord Is in Our Midst!

How’s your Advent going? By this point, about a week before Christmas, many of us usually feel weary. We haven’t had time to wait for Christ because we’ve been so busy with the trappings of this season—decorating, planning meals, attending parties, cleaning house for guests, preparing for family gatherings, and more.

Connections 12.09.2018: Advent Fussing

It was 1977. I was a college student, and I’d been invited to preach at my home church on a Sunday night. As I walked in the front door, I encountered my first cousin’s husband. The following conversation took place.

Formations 12.02.2018: Remembering Our Roots

For many Chamorus, the indigenous people of Guam, genealogical research has proven to be a powerful tool for connecting to their roots. As Chloe Babauta writes, historically there hasn’t been a lot of information on genealogy on Guam. People would know they were related, but would not know how.

Formations 11.25.2018: You are Witnesses

So far, Ruth and Naomi and Boaz and their commitments to family have anchored this story. This week we remember that their stories, like all of ours, take place within a community. This last chapter expands the scope of that community.

Connections 11.25.2018: Because Christ Reigns

As you probably know, we had an election back on November 6. As of this writing, they’re still counting votes here in Georgia and in several other states. As the process stretches on, one can detect a touch of holiday rancor in the air.

Formations 11.18.2018: Unconventional Courage

I would never tell my daughter to do what Naomi told Ruth to do. Naomi tells Ruth to bathe, put on perfume, put on her best dress, and sneak to the threshing floor under cover of night so she can lie down beside Boaz where he sleeps. If that seems to you like a sketchy way to get a husband, then congratulations: you’re paying attention!

Connections 11.18.2018: Insight for Divisive Times

The United States political and religious climate is nothing short of divisive, often in devastating ways. Within my own extended family, there have been threats of withholding contact due to political and religious differences. One person asked how the other could claim to be a Christian while holding a particular point of view.

Formations 11.11.2018: Kindness

This week we’ll ask how we can practice kindness. We will do so when unkindness seems inescapable, even to those who can escape it most of the time. We’ve seen in the past week eleven worshipers murdered in a synagogue. We’ve heard political leaders call migrants fleeing violence invaders and enemies ridden with disease.

Connections 11.11.2018: Heaven’s Head Table

When we all get to heaven and sit down for the homecoming banquet (I hope there’s fried chicken, because you know it would be the best fried chicken), I suspect we’ll be surprised at who is sitting at the head table. I further suspect that those sitting there will be more surprised than anybody else.

Formations 11.04.2018: Determined Faithfulness

When Naomi returns to Judah after a years-long sojourn in Moab, her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to go with her. Though Naomi urges her to remain in Moab and find a new husband, Ruth insists that she will remain by Naomi’s side.

Connections 11.04.2018: Jesus Drops the Mic

According to my findings after a Google search, the term “mic drop” originated in the 1980s when entertainers would try to better each other. As one performer finished his rap or comedy sketch or speech, he’d drop the microphone as if to say, “You can’t top that.”

Formations 10.28.2018: Reward

When Jesus tells a story about masters and slaves, we hope that its promises about God’s kingdom will add up within us. But I’ve noticed more conflict than promise in this story. There is the punishment faced by the last slave.

Connections 10.28.2018: Risky Business

I have long wished that the book of Job ended at 42:6. I recognize that would be somewhat unsatisfying, as it would leave Job in his situation of great loss. But it would also leave him having experienced God personally without being materially rewarded for his faithfulness.

Formations 10.21.2018: Crossing the Threshold

There’s a scene in The Time Machine (MGM, 1960) that doesn’t appear in the H. G. Wells novel on which the movie is based. During a climactic battle in the far future, George, the time traveler (played by Rod Taylor), is finally reunited with his time machine.

Connections 10.21.2018: Job Hears the Voice of God

So far in this unit of lessons, we’ve suffered with Job (Job 1–2) and then listened to him confess both his confidence in God (23:1-7) and his uncertainty about God (23:8-17). If we’ve read between the lesson texts, we have also witnessed his three friends comfort him and condemn him.

Formations 10.14.2018: Seeing God’s Favor

I’ve not seen it, but I’ve heard the stories. On some days in the summer, rising tides and east-facing winds push poorly oxygenated water toward the eastern edge of Mobile Bay. With it come the crab and flounder, and the shallow waters are overrun with all manner of food.

Connections 10.14.2018: Humble Confidence

Job makes two very different assertions in this week’s lesson text. He first asserts that if he could just find God and lay his case before God, God would have to agree that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities that have befallen him.

Formations 10.07.2018: What Is Money Worth? Why?

Why is money worth anything? In modern economies where currency is not backed by precious metals, money is worth what some central authority says it does—no more and no less. This system has worked generations.

Connections 10.07.2018: The Problem of Job

What do we do with Job? For centuries, biblical scholars, critics, interpreters, and also the average person—not so different from you and me—have tried to answer that question. Job is fairly unique in the Bible.

Formations 09.30.2018: Rust Will Be Evidence

The cut in Red Mountain, finished for the expressway in 1971, might tell Birmingham’s stories between layers where rusted hematite meets our vision. My mom drove me through this cut many times, between downtown and the suburbs I grew up in, to visit my dad at his office or to pick up my sister from dance classes.

Connections 09.30.2018: A Community of Prayer

For a long time, I thought and taught that prayer is an important part of the Christian life. Somewhere along the way, I decided that in fact the Christian life is a life of prayer. How did I arrive at that conclusion? Like many realizations, it came over time.

Formations 09.23.2018: Conflicts and Disputes

Today’s passage gives us a good example of how James constantly revisits his central themes. He has already urged his readers to be slow to anger (1:19-20) and love their neighbors as themselves (2:8). He has already commended gentleness born of wisdom (3:13).

Connections 09.23.2018: Real Wisdom Indeed

My maternal grandmother died suddenly in 2012. She was eighty-two and had lived a good, long life full of blessings along with heartaches, but we still weren’t expecting her to die, and her passing hurt us all deeply.

Formations 09.16.2018: Words of Wisdom

My grandmother Joan taught me, as she did with all of her grandchildren, to pay attention to language. She had been an elementary-school teacher, so she taught us with sharp, repeated, and mostly frustrating questions.

Connections 09.16.2018: The Danger of the Tongue

The pastor of my growing up years, the legendary Preacher Bill Coleman, liked to brag back in the 1970s that he hadn’t spoken at a Wednesday night prayer meeting in several years. The reason was that anyone who wanted to speak could sign up to do so.