Formations 04.28.2019: Witnesses to the Resurrection

I’ve noticed that Easter brings my attention to the place I call home. Often, it has been the geography of my particular neighborhood.

Formations 04.21.2019: Go and Tell

I believe in evangelism; I’m just not very good at it. I might attribute my aversion to sharing the gospel to my introverted nature or to my general Midwestern hesitance to open up about the things that matter most to me.

Formations 04.14.2019: The King Is Coming

When early December rolled around with the Christmas parade, it happened that our marching band hung around the Church of the Nazarene.

Formations 04.07.2019: The Greatest in the Kingdom

I spent a semester as Dr. David Garland’s teaching assistant when we were both at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Garland was a master of the pithy comment.

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.

Formations 03.17.2019: Freedom from the Law

Paul held the torah in high regard. In this week’s passage, he affirms, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

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.

Formations 03.03.2019: A New Way of Life

My clothes wear out predictably. Holes form over the left knee and under the right elbow. The heels of my shoes wear down at the outer corner.

Formations 02.24.2019: Dancing with the Divine

In Judaism, the Torah is read from start to finish every year. In the fall, Jews mark the completion of this annual cycle through holiday of Simchat Torah, “rejoicing in the Law.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Formations 12.9.2018: From the Wasteland

For this second Sunday of Advent, I’ll admit that part of my preference for this season is religious cover for my Scrooge-like demeanor. It persists most of the year, but November and December throw it into particular relief. Needless to say, this year I’ve surprised myself and have willfully listened to Christmas music before Thanksgiving.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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)?

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 06.24.2018: Finding Guidance Together

When the scroll shows up in the temple’s renovation, it is taken to the prophet Huldah. And she offers a vision of what it means for Judah and its king, Josiah. She also addresses a question that has risen again and again: how are words and work related to each other, to God, and to humanity?

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.

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.

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.

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…

Formations 05.20.2018: Signs of Life

Scientists used to hypothesize that many planets existed beyond our solar system. In the past few decades, the existence of these so-called exoplanets has become a proven fact. But do any of these distant worlds harbor life? Answering that question is the goal of NASA’s exoplanet program.