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 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 07.15.2018: 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 07.01.2018: 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.

Very Short Commentaries

Recently, WIRED asked some science fiction, horror, and fantasy writers to follow in Hemmingway’s footsteps and write a short story in only six words. This project is crying for a biblical application.

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 05.20.2018: 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.

Formations 05.06.2018: Fearless Humility

Author Jim Collins and his research team spent five years exploring “good” companies and what it took for them to become “great.” The results were published in 2001 in Collins’s book Good to Great.

Formations 04.22.2018: The Ultimate Teammate

Football great David Humm recently passed away at the age of 65 from multiple sclerosis. His former college coach, John L. Smith of the University of Nebraska, remembers him as both a gentleman and the ultimate teammate. According to Smith, Humm “saw what the game was all about, and the game was all about being a good teammate.”

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.

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 03.11.2018: Mayor Chooses Students over Derelict House

After nearly eighteen months, an abandoned, fire-damaged house in Salt Lake City is slated to be demolished after Mayor Jackie Biskupski overruled city planners and landmarks commissioners to approve the permit.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

Formations 12.17.2017: Robert Mugabe’s Legacy

On November 21, Robert Mugabe stepped down as president of Zimbabwe after thirty-seven years of rule. Following his country’s transition from British colonial rule (when it was called Rhodesia), Mugabe oversaw heavy investment in the nation’s social services.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 09.24.2017: Japanese General’s Gift Launches a Career in Science

John S. Blunt was a U.S. Navy Seabee during World War II. Serving in both the European and Pacific theaters, he acquired a number of trophies. Among them was a high-quality Japanese microscope. He had saved a Japanese general’s life by providing him with antibiotics from the American base’s medical dispensary.

Formations 09.10.2017: Americans Step Up Their Giving

Hurricane Harvey made its first landfall on the evening of August 25 near Rockport, Texas. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the US since Charley in 2004. Three days later, FEMA Administrator Brock Long estimated that 30,000 people may need shelter, and as many as 450,000 may qualify for federal flood victim assistance.

Formations 08.27.2017: Honor to Whom Honor Is Due

Let me tell you about Miss Margaret. When I was a seminary student, I was also the pastor of a mission church that met in a trailer park in LaGrange, Kentucky. We literally met in a mobile home that the local Baptist association purchased for us and set up on the site. I think our high attendance record was thirty.

Formations 08.13.2017: Persecuted Christian Seeks Asylum

What does it take to be “persecuted” around here? That’s the question that will soon be before the United States Supreme Court as Chinese Christian Ting Xue’s appeal of a Circuit Court decision moves forward. The former factory worker fled China after his arrest for attending illegal house-church gatherings in his native country.

Formations 07.30.2017: Life-giving Water

In the previous lesson, Judah’s restoration was described using the metaphor of the life-giving breath of God. Here, it is described as a river of water that flows from God’s presence. Where before, God’s presence had departed because of the people’s sins, now God has returned to a rebuilt temple with life-giving power.

Formations 07.16.2017: Jerusalem’s Collapse

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. He first gained fame for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), in which he traced the geographic, environmental, and biological factors that led to the rise of Western civilization.

Formations 07.02.2017: Excessive Politeness Can Be Deadly

A recent study in Seattle has concluded that “overly polite” 911 operators are partly to blame for slower police response times and, ultimately, loss of life for some callers. The report, released in November of last year, found the operations of Seattle’s 911 call center “potentially dangerous.”

Formations 06.18.2017: Everybody Has a Sermon

From 1993 until 2004, CBS News ran a feature called “Everybody Has a Story.” Someone would throw a dart at a map of the US. Then correspondent Steve Hartman would go visit the place where it stuck, pick a name at random from the local phone book, and do a story on the person he found (assuming they were willing, of course).

Formations 06.04.2017: Come, Holy Spirit

One of the oldest songs of Pentecost is Veni Creator Spiritus, attributed to the ninth-century monk and theologian Rabanus Maurus. This hymn to the Holy Spirit is traditionally sung on Pentecost and other occasions (ordinations, church dedications, etc.) to invoke God’s transforming power.

Formations 05.21.2017: Anonymous Strangers, Angels, and Pixies

I’ve never (that I know) met an angel. The closest I can claim was more of a pixie. Here’s how it happened. I had a pretty rough time my first semester or so. I was living farther from home that I ever had before. I struggled with some of the new concepts and approaches my professors were teaching me.

Formations 05.07.2017: Unsung Heroes

The Jenco Awards are cash awards for people in Appalachian Ohio “who have performed visionary leadership in the service of others in the region.” The award was founded in 2001 by Terry Anderson, a journalist and former Athens County, Ohio resident. They honor Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, a Catholic priest.

Formations 04.23.2017: Sitting a While with Thomas

According to a new survey, fully one-fourth of British people who identify themselves as Christian say they do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Hobson urges a certain degree of restraint in our responses to such people. After all, our universal human experience is that dead people stay dead. To say otherwise flies in the face of all that we know about how the world works.

Formations 04.09.2017: Jesus’ Death Foreshadowed

Jesus enters Jerusalem amid cheering crowds inspired by hope in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 13). They came out to meet Jesus because they had heard about the raising of Lazarus (vv. 17-18). Ironically, it was this same sign that led to Jesus’ death.

Formations 03.26.2017: Uber’s Lesson in Humility

Uber Technologies Inc. is an online transportation network company with operations in over 500 cities in sixty-five countries. It is also a company reeling from a spate of recent setbacks including sexual harassment scandals, allegations of a covert operation to avoid regulators in key markets, and a recently leaked video of CEO Travis Kalanick berating an Uber driver.

Formations 03.12.2017: Think Before You Speak

I must admit I wasn’t watching the Academy Awards last month when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway accidentally announced the wrong winner in the Best Picture category. Apparently, Beatty had been handed the wrong envelope—the one for Emma Stone’s Best Actress award for La La Land.

Formations 02.26.2017: Meeting the Author

Once in a great while, you hear or read a simple sentence that changes everything. For me, one of those sentences came long ago in a sermon preached by my college pastor. “There is a difference,” he said, “between reading the Bible and meeting the Author.”

Formations 02.05.2017: Moving Day

The first time I moved away from home was fairly easy. Then again, I only moved about forty-five minutes away in order to attend college. I was back again for the summer, and for numerous weekends throughout the academic year. My second move was harder: about six hours away to attend seminary.

Formations 01.15.2017: A Year of Reconciliation

At Victoria’s traditional New Years Day levée, a reception hosted by political figures in Canada, Mayor Lisa Helps read a proclamation acknowledging the thousands-of-years history of native peoples in the region and called upon all Victorians to contemplate the meaning of reconciliation and to take meaningful action.

Formations 01.01.2017: Good and Best

Have you ever wanted something so badly that you were willing to give up almost anything to achieve it? You may know parents who scrimped and saved to send their children to college. You may know stories of athletes or artists who spend hour after hour perfecting their skills.

Formations 12.18.2016: A Glimpse of Holiness

Angels almost always appear on the biblical scene saying, “Don’t be afraid.” And they are indeed frightening creatures, at least in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings.

Formations 12.04.2016: Pace Yourself

I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did.

Formations 11.20.2016: God Wins

For all of its troubling images of evil and destruction, Revelation ends with triumph and joy. In heaven, the victory of God is proclaimed. The heavenly multitude anticipates the downfall of Rome—its greed, its oppression, and its war-mongering—and the Lamb of God prepares for his wedding banquet.

Formations 11.06.2016: What Is God Worth?

Waste is all a matter of what something—or someone, or Someone—is worth. And worth, as you’ve probably heard somewhere along the way, is the basis of our English word “worship.” When we worship God, we’re expressing how much we think God is worth.

Formations 10.23.2016: A Festival of Giving

Earlier this month, India celebrated its week-long festival of giving, Daan Utsav. This is a new holiday, first launched in 2009. It isn’t tied to any particular cultural or religious tradition, though an anonymous group of core volunteers manages the campaign.

Formations 10.09.2016: The Discipline of Giving

Our October unit invites us to think about giving as another spiritual discipline. Maybe this one isn’t so obvious. Depending on your upbringing, you might have been taught that giving, especially giving to the church, was more in the category of a religious duty.