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 04.05.2020: Zeal for God’s House

I’m writing this article in a time of trauma all around the world. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has reached every continent except Antarctica. People are sick, scared, isolated, and anxious for what lies ahead.

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.

Formations 03.22.2020: 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.

Formations 03.15.2020: God’s Law vs. God’s Love

Many memories of my life as a church member—at various churches over the years—are beautiful, positive, and sustaining. But some are difficult, burdensome, and troubling.

Formations 03.08.2020: Love Your Enemies

I’ve got to confess, it’s hard to find a good current-event angle on Jesus’ words about love and non-retaliation during an election season!

Formations 03.01.2020: Keep Still

With the sea in front of them and the Egyptian army at their backs, Moses tell the Israelites, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today….”

Formations 02.23.2020: The First Passover

Have you ever known someone who has lost a child? Maybe you have personally suffered that loss. I have been granted the awful privilege of walking with some families through this nightmare, and I can tell you that I have seen no comparable grief.

Formations 02.16.2020: What God Thinks of Injustice

Some of us have had our fill of biblical stories in which God uses divine power to punish humans.

Formations 02.09.2020: Finding Ways to Serve

As of last month, the Australian bushfires had already burned more than twelve million acres and killed two dozen people and more than a billion animals. The whole world grieves the continuing losses.

Formations 02.02.2020: Moses’ Early Life

Ever since I had children, I can’t read this old story without feeling the intense fear of a mother who is terrified for her child. In my mind, I picture her filling his belly with her breastmilk to make sure he won’t cry out in hunger on his journey.

Formations 01.26.2020: Caring about the Right Thing

There’s a Greek word in Philippians 2 that is hard to translate simply. In verse 2, Paul writes, “Be of the same mind.” A more literal translation would be “Think the same thing,” but even that isn’t quite right.

Formations 01.19.2020: The Wisdom of God

Have you noticed that the message of the cross doesn’t make a lot of sense? At least, it doesn’t easily line up with things that we have heard all our lives. “Look out for Number One.”

Formations 01.12.2020: Cultural Awareness

During my sophomore year of college at Mercer University, I served as a teaching assistant for the freshman experience class. First-year students took this class to establish an initial community of friends and begin exploring different ways of thinking and looking at the world.

Formations 01.05.2020: Dangerous Prayers

I’ve led a fair number of prayer meetings in my time. We all know the drill: you remind those present of matters of concern to the fellowship. Maybe you ask for updates from folks who have more up-to-date information.

Formations 12.29.2019: I Love to Tell the Story

I love the music ministry at my church. Our music minister is an accomplished choral director with a PhD, our accompanist is a highly trained organist and music scholar in her own right, and the church’s musical offerings are always top-notch.

Formations 12.22.2019: A Shepherd’s Perspective

My beloved pastor at the church where I grew up asks church members (both past and current) to submit devotionals for an Advent booklet he compiles each year. Inspired by Luke’s account of the shepherds, I wrote the following story for the 2015 booklet.

Formations 12.15.2019: Sitting in Darkness

Jim McClellan of Marin, California, is co-founder of a logistics software company. In a recent article, he discusses how he and his family have coped with the frequent power outages his state has endured in the wake of this fall’s numerous wildfires.

Formations 12.08.2019: Happy Holidays

How many traditions can you name surrounding the birth of Jesus? Some of these traditions are purely secular; others are deeply religious.

Formations 12.01.2019: A Frightening Call

Some things haven’t changed since biblical times. For a couple (especially a Christian couple) who is in a relationship but not yet married, the potential for pregnancy can be frightening and even shameful.

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 11.10.2019: 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 09.08.2019: A Light in the Darkness

I have consciously been on my faith journey since I was about ten years old. Before that, as far back as I remember, my religious upbringing consisted of church three times a week and prayers before meals and bedtime.

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.