Formations 04.29.2018: The Traveled Gospel

The other night I washed dishes while listening to a Tift Merritt concert. After the silverware but before the plates, I dried my hands to check the YouTube description. It included the standard information—record label, band members, and producer.

Connections 04.29.2018: Where It Starts

When Philip met the Ethiopian on the desert road, the eunuch was reading the passage in the Isaiah scroll that talks about the suffering servant. When the Ethiopian asked Philip about the identity of the servant, Philip answered him, “starting with this scripture” (v. 35).

Connections 04.22.2018: Questioned because of a Good Deed

Like many faithful followers of Jesus over the centuries—people who took a stand for those who were oppressed and hurting—Peter and John were arrested and tried. And for what reason? Because they helped someone in Jesus’ name.

Formations 04.15.2018: Acts of Encouragement

The most triumphant moment of the musical Dear Evan Hansen might come after Evan starts a club to remember Connor Murphy, a classmate who had recently killed himself. In the Connor Project’s first assembly, Evan imagines a community of encouragement.

Connections 04.15.2018: The Source

The Flint River flows not far from where I live in Central Georgia. Its headwaters are in Hapeville, Georgia. The river begins as groundwater seepage that goes into a concrete culvert and then under the runways at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Fifty miles or so later the water from several creeks has joined with that seepage to form the beautiful Flint.

Formations 04.08.2018: Building Community by Giving Gifts

The Buy Nothing Project is a Facebook-based organization that promotes local gift economies. In a gift economy, no money is exchanged, but people offer goods and services with the expectation that others in the community will do the same.

Connections 04.08.2018: Uncommon Generosity

The generosity among the people in these passages is phenomenal. And honestly, it’s not something I encounter very often. I’d like to think that I’m generous. My husband and I give a large portion of our earnings to various causes and charities each year.

Formations 04.01.2018: Signs and Wonders

The sign told the Vestavia Hills Lutheran Church, “you are now entering the mission field.” And so it proclaimed that the nations began in my neighborhood at the top of the mountain where Shades Crest Road crossed US-31. Four blocks from the house I grew up in, that sign bent from use was posted cattycorner to the whitewashed-concrete replica of Sybil Temple.

Formations 03.25.2018: Breaking the Rules

During Britain’s heat wave last summer, teenage boys at Isca Academy in Exeter staged a protest against their school dress code, which forbade the wearing of shorts. This protest took the form of them coming to school in skirts they had borrowed from their sisters or girlfriends.

Formations 03.18.2018: An Inheritance of Eternal Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about inheritance lately, particularly the people who remain to sort through what’s left behind. And it seems that while this work permits us to remember joy and laughter and tenderness, it requires us to acknowledge that some things, including life and its relationships, get broken.

Connections 03.18.2018: Practice Means Progress

I made my annual pilgrimage to Florida to watch some Atlanta Braves Spring Training games last week. I’ve been making that trek for over twenty years. I’ve also been watching the Braves play baseball ever since they moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966.

Connections 03.04.2018: Déjà Vu Faith

Sometimes when I experience déjà vu, it seems like it’s happened before. But seriously, folks: I’ve had many occurrences of déjà vu, which is the sensation of remembering being in a place or situation that you’ve never been in before. So you might walk into a restaurant in a city you’ve not previously visited and feel like you’ve seen it before.

Formations 02.25.2018: Let Us Go to Him

The writer of Hebrews was tricky. One Greek word he uses over and over translates to “draw near” or “approach.” In the Greek Old Testament, to “approach” God was something priests did. It was the common term for worship, entering the defined sacred space of the temple in order to offer a sacrifice.

Connections 02.25.2018: The Most Important Question

Growing up in a Baptist church in the South, I frequently heard three questions throughout my childhood and adolescent years. Most of my church-related activities during these years centered on the theme of salvation.

Formations 02.18.2018: Run the Race

For the writer of Hebrews, rest best describes the promise given to Abraham and subsequent generations. So the vision for Israelite society in the promised land rested in sabbath. Likewise, Christian communities would be guided by a commitment to rest. But this writer also understood that the promise did not come into fullness immediately.

Connections 02.18.2018: Making His Paths Crooked

I have a thirty-minute drive from Yatesville to Macon every morning and a thirty-minute drive from Macon to Yatesville every afternoon. My route takes me through the countryside, so it’s a pleasant journey. The only problem is that I travel east in the morning and west in the afternoon, so I’m always driving toward the sun.

Formations 02.11.2018: Old School

Today’s passage lies at the intersection of rest and discipleship. Ironically, rest is something that disciples have to strive for. It isn’t automatic, anymore than it was automatic for the wilderness generation that refused to listen to God’s voice.

Formations 02.04.2018: Living in Tensions

It’s not uncommon that I steal books from my grandfather’s coffee table. He goes ahead and tells me to take what I want, so it isn’t really stealing. Over the years, he has made sure to send me home with books that have been meaningful for him.

Formations 01.28.2018: Come and See!

When we think of evangelism, the verbs that usually come to mind are “go and tell.” That is certainly the approach we see in verses such as Mark 4:19 and Matthew 28:19. When I was in college, our Baptist Student Union leaders often encouraged us students to take the Great Commission seriously.

Connections 01.28.2018: Who Is a Prophet?

This passage makes me roll my eyes a little. The writer, speaking for God, says that the Lord will provide a new prophet like Moses who can speak to the people on God’s behalf, thus protecting them from death. For actually hearing the Lord God, it seems, can be a deadly experience (v. 16).

Formations 01.21.2018: Unexpected News

Our story this week begins as one ends. Naaman, mighty warrior that he was, filled his house with wealth and servants taken from raids in Israel. And yet, despite this resolved story of victory, success, and stability, he still suffered from leprosy.

Connections 01.21.2018: A Second Time

Mr. James Boggs died a few weeks ago. He was my Little League Baseball coach. He taught me many lessons; one in particular has stayed with me through the almost half-century that has passed since those days. I was at bat. I don’t remember all the details, but I know that we had at least one runner on base.

Formations 01.14.2018: Pagan Is as Pagan Does

Members of one damselfish species identify their enemies through facial patterns that can only be seen in ultraviolet light. In 2010, Ulrike Siebeck of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia found that Ambon damselfish could tell their own species from another just by interpreting these markings, which are invisible to the human eye.

Formations 01.07.2018: The Suffering Servant

Lately I’ve been reading about Bartolomé de las Casas. A sixteenth-century Dominican friar, Las Casas is best remembered for his protests against the dominant forms of Spanish colonial and evangelical activity—the wars of the conquest and the encomienda system.

Connections 01.07.2018: God’s Words, Our Words

The first words God speaks in the first words of the Bible are creative ones: “Let there be light.” “And,” the narrator reports, “there was light.” God speaks. Something happens. And so it goes through all the days of creation.

Formations 12.31.2017: Christ(mas) Has Come!

On the Christian calendar—as opposed to the secular calendar by which stores began decking their halls shortly after Halloween—the Christmas season began on December 25th and will end twelve days later on January 5.

Connections 12.31.2017: Jesus and the Elderly

I turned forty this year, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I still have one living set of grandparents. My father’s parents, known to me as Mom and Pop, are age eighty-three and ninety-three. They’ve been a huge part of my life since my birth.

Formations 12.24.2017: A Song of Joy and Sorrow

Because I live a few blocks from a hospital, ambulance sirens, and the occasional helicopter, form one pitch in that harmony of creation I hear. For what they signal—coming help and immediate danger—these sounds are above all interruptions demanding drivers to make way.

Connections 12.24.2017: When the Lord Is With You

If you ever hear an angel say, “The Lord is with you,” how should you respond? Let me suggest, “Uh oh!” In Mary’s case, the angel’s statement “The Lord is with you” meant “The Lord has a really difficult task for you.”

Connections 12.17.2017: The Light of Christ

At this time of year, we marvel at the beauty of Christmas lights. Our family enjoys getting a special treat and riding through our town, admiring neighborhood light displays while we listen to Christmas music. We love to decorate our own house as well.

Connections 12.10.2017: What Would John the Baptist Say?

The other morning I got out of bed before my wife did. When she came into the den a few minutes later, she found me eating my oatmeal and watching the CBS Morning News. The first thing she said was, “Good morning!” The second thing she said was, “Has there been another one yet today?”

Formations 12.03.2017: The Lights of Christmas

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the lights. We deck our houses with tiny electric lights. We drape lights on Christmas trees. We go to services on Christmas Eve where the light of dozens of handheld candles bathes the sanctuary in a warm, amber glow.

Connections 12.03.2017: Wake Up!

In the Gospels, I identify much more with the disciples than with the people who are in awe of Jesus, scared of him, or threatened by him. The disciples, like me, are comfortable with Jesus. They feel secure enough in him to question his ideas, criticize his actions, and even fall asleep when he wants them to stay alert.

Formations 11.26.2017: Innocence, Guilt, and Technicalities

The first time I heard Les Misérables, I was fifteen or sixteen. My mother had picked me up from school. Somewhere between learning it was her favorite musical and the grocery store, I asked her what it was all about. She began with the bishop.

Connections 11.26.2017: Past, Future, and Present

I have a longstanding affection for time travel stories. I think it goes back to the television show The Time Tunnel (1966-67). Its tales of two scientists lost in time and popping up in one historical event or another each week fascinated eight-year-old me.

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.

Connections 11.19.2017: Deborah, a Good Leader

Bible stories about female leaders are rare. And I’ve been in churches whose ministers have attempted to explain away female leadership with excuses like these: “When God can’t find a good man, God has to use a woman.” “Notice that the woman isn’t ruling over men. She’s instructing other women or taking care of children.

Formations 11.12.2017: What We Stand For

Alexander Hamilton, at least as played by Lin-Manuel Miranda, asks Aaron Burr early in their relationship, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” This tension between principle and calculated ambition defines Hamilton and Burr’s relationship through the remainder of Hamilton.

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.

Connections 11.05.2017: Standing on Dry Ground

I love the Bible’s epic stories: creation, the fall, the flood, the tower of Babel, the crossings of the sea, the march around Jericho, Daniel in the lion’s den, and others. These stories describe life-altering events in the lives of God’s people, pointing to the hand of God at work in each element of the tale.

Connections 10.29.2017: Sharing Ourselves

Shon Hopwood is from a small town in Nebraska. He is also a convicted felon who served eleven years in a federal penitentiary for bank robbery. He was arrested in July 1998 after participating in five robberies over the previous ten months. After being convicted, he went to prison in May 1999.

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.

Connections 10.22.2017: Steadfastness of Hope

To me, it’s one of the most beautiful words in the English language. Its French, Spanish, and Italian forms are beautiful too: esperer, esperanza, speranza. Hope means much more to me than wishful thinking or unmet desires. It is a lifeline keeping me afloat in a world that is often disappointing and frightening.

Formations 10.15.2017: No Longer

In 2015, John Legend and Common’s song “Glory,” written for the movie Selma, won an Oscar for the best original song. That same year, I worked for Passport camps, an ecumenical youth camp, and every night this was one of many songs that helped us to prepare for worship. As I read this week’s passage and tried to start making sense of Paul’s vision of belonging and freedom in Christ, this song returned to me.

Connections 10.15.2017: Joy on Tuesday

We’d pack into the Children’s Department Assembly Room like sardines in a can and, if it was summertime, our skin would be about as slick. The girls wore their best dresses and frilly white socks. The boys wore their best shirts and non-frilly white socks. We were a pony-tailed, crew-cut, snaggle-toothed mess of early and prepubescent childhood.

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 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).

Connections 10.01.2017: Your Bootstraps, God’s Boots

I teach a couple of classes at a state college near my home. The courses are designed to help freshmen successfully transition from high school to college. One of the recurring themes of the courses is the necessity of accepting responsibility. “You are responsible for your life,” I find myself saying repeatedly.