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.

Formations 09.09.2018: Making Integrity a Priority

A growing trend in the business world is to establish a position with responsibility for corporate ethics. Brooke Masters of the Financial Times recently found more than 400 openings at the recruiting site Glassdoor for chief integrity officers and more than 650 for ethics officers.

Connections 09.09.2018: More than Thoughts and Prayers

Over the past few years, numerous tragedies across the globe have torn at our hearts. From school shootings to natural disasters to war violence, we hear about specific events and feel helpless. We may cry. We may get angry. We may look the other way. All of these reactions indicate how helpless we feel to make things right.

Formations 09.02.2018: To the Twelve Tribes in the Dispersion

In the past week, my fiancée and I have spent more time than normal going through addresses. We’ve separated city, state, and zip codes from street addresses. When we saw unit numbers, we moved them to another column on the spreadsheet.

Connections 09.02.2018: Authenticity

I’m writing these words on the day Aretha Franklin died (August 16). She recorded many hits, but her signature song is “Respect” (1967), which was written by Otis Redding.

Formations 08.26.2018: Anxious for the Future

In a sense, today’s passage pushes back against last week’s Central Question about having an undivided focus. The fact is, we all have many concerns. Among them are basic questions of livelihood: food, clothing, and shelter.

Connections 08.26.2018: “This Teaching Is Difficult”

This may be an unorthodox thing to say, but I love it when the disciples are confused, troubled, uncertain, or skeptical. The disciples—even the “extended family” of followers beyond the steady group of twelve men—were always the people closest to Jesus.

Formations 08.19.2018: The Days Drew Near

The stroke is rehearsed and memorized on a four-count cycle. So it is that Norman Maclean notes the metronome’s preeminent place in learning to cast a fly rod. Downbeats and backbeats directed him.

Connections 08.19.2018: Really Real

I can still see the beloved pastor of my growing up years standing behind the communion table, speaking words meant to prepare us for the Lord’s Supper. They went something like this: “Now we know that the bread isn’t really the body of Jesus.”

Formations 08.12.2018: Saying No

How hard do you find it to set boundaries—and stick to them? Many find this to be a struggle. Caterina Kostoula, founder and executive coach at The Leaderpath, explains that “we care about what others think, are afraid of consequences, and fear harming our self-image.”

Connections 08.12.2018: Watching for Morning

Time moves slower at night. As infants, my daughters always slept restlessly. I would nurse them to sleep (it was the only way they’d give in), and then my husband or I would carry them to bed, lower them into the crib, and back away with a degree of stealth worthy of any secret agent.

Formations 08.05.2018: Our Daily Bread

Studs Terkel, in the early seventies, interviewed a number of workers ranging from farmworkers to baseball players, proofreaders to gravediggers, actors to hair stylists. From these laborers, Terkel observed a twofold purpose in human labor. “It is,” he says, “about a search… for daily meaning as well as daily bread.”

Connections 08.05.2018: The Best Bread

My childhood friend Cal and I spent a lot of time at each other’s houses. That meant we often ate lunch at each other’s houses too. The only thing I remember about eating at his house was that they had Tang, which I thought was cool because (a) astronauts drank it (according to the commercials—Tang commercials, not NASA ones) and (b) we didn’t have it at our house.

Formations 07.29.2018: Making Morality Manageable

It often seems impossible to do anything without causing some degree of harm—either to others or to the environment generally. Should you buy a new silk shirt? Many silkworms will die in the process.

Connections 07.29.2018: Will this Be on the Test?

We can’t help being fascinated by stories like David’s. A handsome, admired man with a bright future, beloved of God, giant slayer, powerful leader, conqueror of Saul, adored friend of Jonathan.

Formations 07.22.2018: Inheriting Fruits

When Israel comes into the land, they are to tell the stories of ancestors who went down to Egypt. There, their ancestors became great, and then they were enslaved. And they will remember God, who heard their cries and led them through the wilderness into a land where they would learn freedom.

Connections 07.22.2018: Preachers in High Places

King David wanted to build a house for the Lord, which means he wanted to build a temple. What could be wrong with that? After all, as David observed as he discussed the idea with the prophet Nathan, it hardly seemed right that David had a fine house to live in while the Lord had only a tent (fine tent though it was).

Formations 07.15.2018: WWJD? HDWK?

The church of my youth subscribed to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statement. In discussing the role of Scripture, this brief doctrinal summary states, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.”

Connections 07.15.2018: Containing Your Excitement

I grew up in the so-called Bible Belt, that strip of the South where church is king and good religious folks are expected to adhere to a certain set of standards. In many churches, dancing was (and in some places still is) forbidden.

Formations 07.08.2018: Eating in Worship

When the Bible says, “Break down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their sacred poles with fire, and hew down the idols of their gods, and thus blot out their name from their places,” what do you do (v. 3)?

Connections 07.08.2018: Learning from Experience

My late mentor, Dr. Howard P. Giddens, was an excellent Bible teacher. So when I became pastor of my first church after seminary, I asked him over the years to come lead several Bible studies.

Formations 07.01.2018: Bottom-Line Beliefs

A few weeks ago I had the honor of preaching in a local Presbyterian church. Precisely how a Baptist-preacher-turned-curriculum-editor wound up preaching in a Presbyterian church is a long and irrelevant story. Suffice to say that we all came out of the experience unscathed.

Formations 06.17.2018: In Defense of Troublemakers

A recent study of dissenting Supreme Court decisions concludes that if you’re going to disagree with people, you might as well do it with style. The study, “How to Lose Cases and Influence People,” was conducted by Rachael K. Hinkle and Michael Nelson.

Connections 06.17.2018: From Old to New

Have you ever read advice that is intended to help you age well—or barely to age at all? Avoid the sun, get some sun each day, take vitamin D, don’t take vitamin D, use sunscreen at all times, sunscreen causes cancer, drink red wine, avoid red wine, be a vegetarian, go paleo, sleep more, sleep less, eat dairy, avoid dairy…

Formations 06.10.2018: Disruption on the Road

In front of the National Civil Rights Museum, on the corner of Mulberry and Butler in Memphis, Jacqueline Smith has stood for over thirty years. From this corner, the former tenant and employee of the Lorraine Hotel has called people to boycott the museum.

Connections 06.10.2018: Keeping Heart

When Paul says that he and his missionary companions “do not lose heart” (4:16), he means they aren’t overcome with despair. I don’t think he means they never get discouraged.

Formations 06.03.2018: Overcoming Defensiveness

We all know what it’s like to see someone behaving defensively. Something has challenged a person’s values, perceptions, or belief system, and he or she responds by giving off a defensive vibe. They aren’t interested in dialogue.

Connections 06.03.2017: “The god of this world”

Being an editor of Christian writings, I’m constantly alert for references to the Creator. In the Old Testament, the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (the translation used by Connections curriculum) refers to the Creator God as “LORD” or “GOD.”

Formations 05.27.2018: Live by the Spirit

Unlike many friends and most of my family, I don’t consider myself a news junkie. Mostly, I limit my news intake to one podcast each morning. I trust it to tell me what I need to know…