Formations 08.08.2021: The Most Important Lessons

Even if we were blessed to have had loving parents with the means to provide for our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, honesty demands that we acknowledge that they didn’t do it alone.

Formations 07.25.2021: Come and See

It was a significant turning point in my faith when I discovered there is more than one valid, biblical model of evangelism. Growing up, my idea of what it meant to share the gospel was rooted in passages like Mark 5:19.

Formations 07.18.2021: Owning Up

As an only child, I’ll readily admit that there are some aspects of growing up that I missed out on. Some of these things I count as plusses and others I count as minuses.

Formations 07.04.2021: Peace?

Zechariah sees a vision of four riders. Unlike Revelation’s “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” these riders work on God’s behalf, riding to and fro to patrol the face of the earth.

Formations 06.27.2021: Farewell

From May 30, 1982 ‘til September 19, 1998, Cal Ripken Jr. played 2,632 straight games for the Baltimore Orioles, far surpassing the record formerly held by the legendary Lou Gehrig.

Formations 06.13.2021: #Exvangelical

As I write this week’s reflection, the hashtag #exvangelical is trending on social media. As you might guess, an “exvangelical” is an ex-evangelical, someone who grew up in a particular kind of Christian community—Protestant, conservative, most likely white—but has since left the fold.

Formations 06.06.2021: Conversion, Dramatic or Otherwise

“I used to drink, get into fights, and run around with loose women. But then, at the age of ten, I surrendered my life to Christ….”

Formations 05.23.2021: Rekindling the Gift

What have you done with yourself during the pandemic? If your answer is, “I stayed afloat,” that’s perfectly okay!

Formations 05.16.2021: Louder than Words

Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have quipped, “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.”

Formations 05.02.2021: Our Demon-Haunted World

We modern Americans have outgrown belief in demons. To borrow a phrase from physicist Carl Sagan, we no longer inhabit a “demon-haunted world.” We no longer have room in our worldviews for invisible forces of chaos.

Formations 04.25.2021: How Much Farther?

“How much farther?” What child hasn’t asked that question on a trip? What parent hasn’t dreaded that question, knowing that the trip has barely started?

Formations 04.11.2021: Who We’re Looking For

It used to bother me that, so many times in the Gospels’ Easter stories, Jesus’ followers don’t recognize him after the resurrection. To be honest, I suppose that still bothers me.

Formations 04.04.2021: Change of Plans

Have you ever put a lot of effort into a task and then not gotten to do it? Maybe you did a ton of research.

Formations 03.21.2021: A Suffering Messiah?

“You keep using that word,” Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini in the 1987 comedy The Princess Bride. “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Formations 03.14.2021: Pressing On

I’ve always imagined Jesus as fairly unflappable. He always seems to know the right thing to say.

Formations 02.28.2021: Let Anyone with Ears to Hear Listen

The other three Gospels have the decency to postpone overt reference to the plot to kill Jesus until about the halfway point. Mark, however, is famous for never beating around the bush.

Formations 02.21.2021: Not Me!

I admit it: I’m a sucker for Family Circus comic strips. Yes, they’re corny. Yes, they repeat the same gags over and over again.

Formations 02.07.2021: Helpmate?

In the second movement of the Genesis 2 creation story, God takes note that the man is alone and takes measures to correct that situation.

Formations 01.31.2021: A God Who Speaks My Language

When I teach Old Testament, I ask my students whom they would cast as God in the six-day creation story in Genesis 1. The answers are usually actors with a deep, commanding voice.

Formations 01.17.2021: A Christ of Cosmic Proportions

There is a Latin aphorism from the earliest centuries of the church that has always resonated with me: lex orandi, lex credendi, “the rule of prayer is the rule of belief.” In a nutshell, this aphorism says that there is a deep connection between liturgy and faith.

Formations 01.10.2021: We Are God’s Workmanship

I grew up on Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Formations 12.27.2020: Blue Christmas

It’s always good to remember that the Christmas season isn’t always joyful for some of us. Those folks ringing the bells and collecting donations outside your favorite grocery store?

Formations 12.20.2020: The Honor Christ Deserves

My wife and I got married over my school’s Thanksgiving break one year. I was a newly minted Ph.D., with little as of yet to show for it. We arrived at the hotel before our room was ready, so we gave them our luggage and went out to explore the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Formations 12.06.2020: You Better Watch Out

If your church follows the Revised Common Lectionary, John the Baptist always shows up around this time of year to rain on our Christmas parade. Seriously, who invited this guy to the party?

Formations 11.29.2020: Tilled and Sown

In a normal year, you would find me firmly planted in the “no early Christmas decorating” camp. I love the lights, the greenery, the wrapping paper, the music, and the food.

Formations 11.15.2020: The Day of Atonement

In ancient Israel, the turn of the new year was accompanied by a nationwide spiritual reset called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It was (and is) the most solemn day on Israel’s liturgical calendar.

Formations 11.08.2020: What Now?

One of my ministry colleagues was once doing a research project on worship practices in American Baptist Churches in Indiana. He loved to tell the story of a particular service he attended with his grown children and his young granddaughter.

Formations 10.25.2020: Stumbling Forward

Paul calls the Colossian believers to lead holy lives. In chapter 3, he lists numerous virtues they are to embrace, love above all.

Formations 10.18.2020: Fools and Their Money

Every year, people lose a lot of money to phone scams. Sometimes, they can lose their whole life savings to scammers who have figured out how to spin a story designed to separate people from their money.

Formations 10.04.2020: What Is God Worth?

Worth has to do with what one is willing to give in exchange for something else. If would be stupid to pay $20 for a soda at the fast food place: It’s only worth a couple of dollars.

Formations 09.27.2020: Persistence

Persistence is one of the key factors that underlies success. Think about the people you knew in high school. It’s likely you can think of somebody in your graduating class who got good grades but perhaps wasn’t terribly successful in life.

Formations 09.13.2020: Grace at Meals

We’re not big “entertainers” in our house. We enjoy having company over every now and then, but we don’t live for it the way, for example, my mother did.

Formations 09.06.2020: Whom Do I Fear?

In Luke 10, a religious expert tries to test Jesus with a question about eternal life. When Jesus answers with reference to the various commandments of the Torah, the expert challenges him further by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”

Formations 08.23.2020: Finding Joy

Are you tired of the global pandemic yet? It’s certainly wearing on me. My family and I have spent the spring and summer hunkered down, avoiding crowds, wearing our masks, and missing our friends.

Formations 08.16.2020: Laughing through Tears

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was applauded as a groundbreaking TV program. Despite the fantastical premise—a teenage girl who fights vampires—the show explored characters and emotions in ways that aren’t common even today.

Formations 08.02.2020: Taking Words with You

There have been times when I have done something wrong, realized my fault immediately, and blurted out an apology, a sincere but entirely unrehearsed expression of regret. When you let your anger or sadness control your tongue, that kind of apology is definitely the way to go.

Formations 07.26.2020: A Mother’s Love

Hosea 11 begins with God lamenting Israel’s rebelliousness. Like a wayward child, Israel has rejected seemingly everything that God has ever done for them.

Formations 07.12.2020: Forgiveness and Moving Forward

Benjamin Watson, retired football player for the New England Patriots, has said that he forgives former teammate Drew Brees for insensitive remarks about protests involving the American flag.

Formations 07.05.2020: For Better, For Worse…

A 2019 study confirmed what many people have no doubt long suspected: People who cheat on their spouses are likely to be untrustworthy in other areas of life.

Formations 06.21.2020: The Family of God

The scene with Jesus’ mother and the Beloved Disciple at the cross is unique to the Fourth Gospel. In the Synoptic Gospels, however, there’s another story with a similar them.

Formations 06.14.2020: At Jesus’ Side

Biblical scholars debate the identity of the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Tradition identifies him as John son of Zebedee, but the Gospel of John itself is more tight-lipped.

Formations 05.31.2020: Pentecost

Everybody knows about Christmas. Even people with only a passing familiarity with Christianity embrace the Christian ideals of generosity, joy, and goodwill to others when December 25 comes around.

Formations 05.24.2020: Receiving the Spirit

I had just finished my sermon on the Holy Spirit and the ways God empowers us to participate with God in ushering in the kingdom.

Formations 05.10.2020: But I Don’t Want To!

What would it take to get you to do something you really, really didn’t want to do? Imagine: You’re a typical first-century peasant in a small village where everybody knows everybody.

Formations 05.03.2020: Well Pleased

Several years ago I had the privilege of baptizing my daughter. Our church was without a pastor at the time, and given the choice between me or our children’s minister, I got the call in the bullpen.

Formations 04.19.2020: On the Threshold of Resurrection

Liminality is a word anthropologists use to describe experiences that happen on life’s borderlands. Coming from the Latin word for “threshold,” a liminal experience involves crossing from one state to another.

Formations 04.12.2020: Giving Things Up for Lent

John places Jesus’ “cleansing of the temple” near the beginning of his Gospel rather than at the end, as the Synoptic Gospels do. In John, this symbolic act foreshadows the many controversies that Jesus will face and that will eventually end with the crucifixion.

Formations 03.29.2020: Things or Experiences?

New research from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin suggests that some purchases are better than others at providing happiness.