Learning: Throwback Thursday

The following reflection is from a sermon entitled “Learning” based on James 3:13-4:3,7-8a first delivered on September 18, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyterian.

Who is wise? Where can spiritual wisdom be found? In gentleness. In simple acts of kindness. Those who lead good lives, in harmony with God, nature, neighbor, self.   Wisdom is found not in great achievements, but in the lives of good men and women.

A while back, I was part of a memorial service for a woman named Lillian. She had no children. Her husband had died a year earlier. Meeting with family members, I quickly developed an image of her as someone who had no great accomplishments to her credit, but who poured her heart into all that she did. Everyone knew her as Aunt Lil. She had two great loves: her family and her church. Her walls at home were plastered with photographs of children: nieces, nephews, cousins, and neighbors. At church, she was the organist and played piano for Sunday school. Whenever there was a need for more classroom space, for teaching supplies, for childcare, you could count on Aunt Lil to give…her time, her money, and her love.

When Aunt Lil died, she left behind a legacy…not through children of her own, but through wisdom lived and passed on.

Wisdom has nothing to do with craftiness, says James. It has no envy, selfish ambition, chaos, wickedness or complexity. Spiritual wisdom is not demonstrated in the ability to get ahead, to get what you want, to deceive others. Wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, merciful, bearing good fruit. It is fair; it has integrity. Through wisdom, righteousness is sown -right things are done.

Wisdom, then, has little to do with intelligence or expertise. It is a quality of life – living in harmony with God, with others, with yourself.

James continues in Chapter 4,

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?”

You may have seen the news item a while back about a young boy killed trying to resist having his Air Jordan shoes stolen. What a tragic story- a poignant illustration of what James describes. “You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.” Most of us don’t take it to this extreme, but we all “covet something and cannot obtain it: so we engage in disputes and conflicts.”

It’s a peculiar trait in human nature.   We seem to want most things we can’t have. This desire, the Bible calls coveting, can damage our faith, our relationships, and our health.

I think of the modern disease of anorexia nervosa as a painful example of this. Women are bombarded with messages that thin is attractive, that the way to beauty is through starvation diets and compulsive exercise. Some women take these messages to heart and feel ugly, fat, unwanted. They covet some ideal figure that is both unhealthy and not right for them. Their disputes and conflicts happen internally; often they smile as if everything is fine, while inside they are starving- for food, affection, and love. Only when they are able to let go of what they covet, will they allow themselves to be fed.

James then abruptly shifts in the middle of verse 2.

“You do not have, because you do not ask.”

This seems simple, but we often overlook it, or explain it away. For whatever reason, we fail to ask for what we want. We keep our desires hidden- from others, from God, sometimes even from ourselves. We don’t want to be disappointed. We’re afraid if we open up, we’re afraid we won’t get what we’ve asked for, that we’ll be left longing, looking like a fool.

This happens all the time in the church. As leaders, we sit back expecting people to come to us, to volunteer, rather than actively recruit them. We fear rejection. We’re afraid to ask someone to come to church with us because we don’t want them to say no. It’s like with dating. I remember when I first started dating, how difficult it was to ask someone out. I would start on Monday, plotting what I would say, going over it a hundred times in my head, imagining my facial expressions, what I would wear always trying to look cool. By Wednesday, this image in my head would turn to images of me stumbling over words, of me asking the question and then ramming my head against a locker door, of her laughing and saying, “You want to go out with me? You’ve gotta be joking?” By Friday, I would tell myself either she has a date by now, or I look desperate asking her at the last minute, so…I don’t ask.

It’s simple, but true, you’ve got to ask for what you want. It’s true in our relationships with each other and in our relationship with God. Ask for what you want. Express your desires. Let God respond.

On the way to their destination, they passed two other hatches, both open. One led to a larger version of the sloping wa


Finding Life (in obvious places): Delbert

Delbert had to walk almost a mile uphill on a gravel road to the bus stop where he would wait for the old bus driver who yelled at the kids and stopped in the middle of the road if he suspected trouble. Delbert lived near a small airport — a flying strip — where small planes could land if they needed fuel and the rich kids in town could take flying lessons from the silver-haired pro who owned the place. He’d lost two sons in flying accidents.

Delbert would take baths every Sunday and smell by Wednesday. The other kids, particularly those who sat near him, would complain of headaches and get notes from home to take aspirin. He never missed a day of school and said he could read two pages of a book at once, frontwards and backwards. No one believed him because he picked his nose and cried a lot. It’s hard to take seriously a fourth-grader who picks his nose and cries all the time.

He tried out for the basketball team, but was only good enough to come in for the starters to catch their breaths. No one would pass him the ball and he cried during practice until he finally quit. He was better at track, where he could run and not need to depend on anyone. He would run that gravel hill every day after school, to the Tonka truck collection he kept on the dirt pile in the back yard.

On Saturdays, he would explore the flying strip. The silver-haired pro would sometimes show him around and tell stories about how his boys were top-notch flyers before their accidents. He even took Delbert up a few times to look out at the neighboring towns. The pro would sit quietly and comfortably with the noise of the engine filling the air. Delbert would look out at the ant people, with no one up there to mind if he picked his nose or smelled bad.

One day at school Delbert was telling the other kids how he’d been taking flying lessons and that he could fly on his own now. They laughed and he started to cry, but he held back. He was quiet the rest of the day. The teacher asked him what was wrong and he just sat still instead of whining like he usually did. She sent him down to the principal’s office where he got a few whacks for not saying anything.

That day, in a track meet, he ran well and won a two blue ribbons. The coach said, “Great race,” without putting his arm around him like he did the other runners. Delbert just smiled and put his sweat pants on.

That Saturday, the silver-haired pro took Delbert up about the school playground where some kids were playing basketball. Little ant figures chasing after a tiny spot and then throwing it in the air. He glanced at the old pro cursing the instrument panel under his breath. Delbert sat listening to the sound of the engine. “I’ll go running when I get home,” he thought. He looked below and saw the ant-kids starting a fight.

I love flying, especially in small planes. But big planes are fun for the powerful takeoff.

A Horror Story: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

You have taken from me my closest friends

and have made me repulsive to them.

I am confined and cannot escape;

my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, Lord, every day;

I spread out my hands to you. (Psalm 88:8-9a)


You have taken my companions and my loved ones from me;

the darkness is my closest friend. (Psalm 88:19)

For the most part, I have been very blessed when it comes to family and friends responding to my illness. My wife stayed with me for over 20 years, and while we are now separated geographically, we are still united in marriage, and she still communicates with care. My mother and father and their spouses have supported me. My sister and brother-in-law have been wonderful. Others have stayed in touch. The few friends and family members who have grown distant over the years may well have done so due to reasons other than diagnosis.

I have seen cases, however, where mental illness takes a severe toll on relationships. I had companions in the psychiatric units where I’ve stayed who had no visitors, received no mail, and got no phone calls. Often, this sent them further into seclusion and contributed to a bitterness that only turned more people away—a vicious cycle.

I wouldn’t pin the blame on God for causing such things to happen, but it’s natural to wonder. It does seem that when one person becomes ill, people rally around her/him (as in my case). Meanwhile, when it happens to someone else, s/he is left alone. It hardly seems fair.

Why is it that some, like the Psalmist here, wind up with darkness as their closest friend?

The best I can provide is more a theological answer than a pastoral one (which may be totally unsatisfactory for a person in the darkness). It may be that God sometimes removes relationships from us (or creates distance) so that we would grow closer in our relationship with Him. The darker our loneliness gets, the more we are likely to reach out to the One who is already in pursuit of us.

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Special Note: Delight in Disorder is hitting the road. I will be speaking in Lake Oswego, Oregon on October 18 at the conference —  “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” to be held at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. We are looking for prayer warriors to lift up the conference and the on-going mission. Members of our “Delightful Prayer Team” receive regular (1-3/week) e-mail updates with brief petitions and prayers. If you would be interested and feel led to serve, contact me at tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .

“Like Dominoes, Dice”


My friend Kelcey describes in vivid, disturbing detail how difficult it is to live with an eating disorder. Through it all, she maintains faith in the knowledge that she is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Originally posted on Writings From The Ravens Desk:


It started with a pizza.
Trader Joe’s, Sunday afternoon, a swirling carousel of yoga pant clad people with their bursting baskets filled with organic produce. And I was buying pizza. I flipped the to the back side of the box, scanning the numbers.
1 serving: 360 calories = stomach in knots = swimming blurred vision, heart racing get – me -out -of – here -now icantbreathewhereisthedoor. My body does a 360 to get out of the store, pay swipe nod go.

Why did I buy this? To eat. To eat. My body wants it my mind does not. I shove the scattered numbers that have spilled like dominoes, dice, into the deep deep drawer of my head, lean heavily against the car door outside and breathe in sweet quiet air. Until my husband shoves the door open and asks if I am coming. I am frozen, rushing scared. Grocery stores…

View original 1,012 more words

A Prozac Queen, an Inspiring Voice, a Crazy Mind, a Bipolar Navigator, and an Honest Wrestler : Friday Featured Followers

The Prozac Queen’s Court : Musings about life and love, with the occasional chewy sweet tart.

I am very interested in religion (all kinds), entertainment, and people in general.  I like to write about my thoughts,  or lack thereof . :) Sometimes I can come off quite bitter and ranting, but most of the time I have a sense of humor and am pretty tolerant of other points of view.  When people start getting hurt, that’s where I draw the line.  In real life, I am too nice for my own good.

I am normally very friendly and can’t stand snobbishness, racism, sexism, or any other kind of ‘-ism’. Also, I have bipolar disorder…I lean more toward depression than mania. I mention this because I talk about it in some posts. Most posts are in the ‘editorial’ vein, including general ‘people’ or social topics. I also write poetry. My sense of humor can be rather silly and sarcastic…many things I post will have language that is not safe for work or for children.

karenphillipsescape : An inspiring voice of hope through depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts to build courage within.

Beneath the Smiles : Welcome to the craziness of my mind

I struggle with PTSD, mood problems, and self harm primarily. I used to have a severe eating disorder, but I like to think that I am mostly recovered with that. (thank goodness). I also have Dysautonomia.. but thats a long story.

Ive been in hospital a lot and a lot of my blog posts will be about that. So if you are looking at what its like inpatient/ residential etc,  here’s the place to be.

Navigating Bipolar 1: The truth about a bipolar diagnosis

I am 33 years old. I am a wife and a mother of 4, with 2 grandsons. My family is my life. I enjoy being with them and spending time making memories that are simple and lasting. I am a very strong-willed, independant, loving, nurturing, fast talking woman, and I love myself that way.

I will be sharing more of my story through my posts here but just wanted to get the basic information out there. Would welcome any thoughts or comments and look forward to building an awesome network of people who understand where I am coming from.

finding life beautiful : words of an honest wrestling

i say the wrong thing most of the time.

my daddy used to call me “difficult”  but i never meant to be.

i can be brave and terrified in one breath.

i love the color grey for too many reasons to explain … but mostly because it is neither white or black.

i cry…. easily

i cuss… occasionally

i laugh…as much as possible

i spend too much time pondering life which some consider a waste.

my thoughts are mostly muddled because i think i’ve been writing a beautiful poem in my head for my whole life… but just now realized it.

i am broken and whole at the same time…. because of Jesus.

Moving Forward in Faith: Throwback Thursday

This reflection is an excerpt of a sermon entitled “Moving Forward in Faith” based on Exodus 14:19-31 first delivered September 11, 2005 at Ovid Federated Church (NY).

The news of Hurricane Katrina and its effects has stirred up in me one of the things that most irritates me about the way the world talks about God and humankind. Natural disasters are referred to “acts of God” while relief efforts are described as “humanitarian acts.” The tragedy of natural disasters are, in many respects brought on by decisions humans make that disrupt the balance of nature while what motivates people to respond to tragedies with gifts of love is, in fact, the Spirit of God.

In a similar way, as we look back on the terrorist acts at the Twin Towers, some consider what happened as God’s will, God’s punishment on America as a corrupt nation. Others pat themselves on the back for the many acts of kindness extended to the family of victims.

I don’t believe God causes terrorist attacks or natural disasters. God does not, however, prevent the consequences of our sinful behavior. At the same time, God always responds to tragedy with love, through the actions of people like us.

Too often, we blame God for things we do and give credit to ourselves that belongs to God.

As we look at the story of the Exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt, notice how God rescues people who have been enslaved and allows people who enslave them to pursue their own destruction.

Imagine yourself on the brink of a disaster. Your past is catching up to you. If you turn back, you’ll be destroyed. Your future prospects are bleak. The sea of the unknown terrifies you. You can’t go forward and you can’t go back. You’re stuck. Where do you go?

This is where the Israelites find themselves. Just how did they get there? First, they were brought to Egypt by Joseph during a famine to be fed and provided for. Once Joseph had died and been forgotten, they came to be viewed as resident aliens, a threat to Egyptian society. Hoping to curb their power, they were forced into hard labor – essentially serving as slaves.

After a time, Moses was called by God to lead the people out of Egypt. They don’t get out without a fight, though.   The Egyptian ruler – Pharaoh – only lets them go after God sends 10 plagues. After he releases the Israelites, Pharaoh has a change of heart and sends his army after them.

God leads the Israelites through a wilderness until they get to the Red Sea – or “Sea of Reeds”. With the Egyptian army in hot pursuit, they stand before this body of water as a rag-tag army of slaves who have no idea where they are going or how they will get there. But they are not alone. Exodus 14:19 tells us –

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. (Exodus 14:19)

God not only leads his people, he protects them. This fiery cloud stands between the Israelites and certain death.

In the midst of the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, there have also been stories of God’s miraculous protection and rescue through the efforts of common people called to be angels.

We are indeed each other’s angels. After surviving a direct hit at Buras, LA, a woman and her son along with the family dachshund and Jack Russell terrier were rescued from the roof of their home.

They were chest deep in water yet were able to escape with the pets to the roof. They miraculously weathered the winds while continuing to keep hold of their pets. A cooler floated toward them and they used it to shield their heads against flying branches and debris. The coast guard was able to rescue them after a tip was called in from a family member in Maryland.

They were then taken to a shelter in Baton Rouge. The shelter could not accommodate their pets, however. They were told they would have to have them “put to sleep”. Someone volunteering at the shelter took the woman, her son and the pets home with her.

Another “angel” citizen from Texas volunteered to not only drive to Baton Rouge to pick them up, but to drive them an additional four hours to the airport in Houston where family members made an arrangement to fly them to Maryland.

This angel citizen also provided pet containers and spending money for the family.

This is just one of many stories of how God sends angels to rescue and protect those in need.

I am always inspired when people tell me how God protected them in situations where they could have, even should have, lost their lives. Often people wonder, “What did I ever do to deserve this?”

The truth is there is nothing we do to deserve God’s protection. Just as with pain, God has a purpose when He protects His people. We may never know just why, but it’s not because we’ve done anything special, it’s because God has a special purpose for our lives.

A fireman, covered in debris, rinses his eyes out after the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 in New York City. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

A Tissue Paper Topic


Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you or someone you know is considering suicide as an option, reach out to someone first. In the U.S., you can call a lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Someone cares about you. Choose life, that you may live!

Originally posted on Writings From The Ravens Desk:

ImageSeptember is suicide prevention awareness month. This is a difficult month for me, but I want to talk about it, because it’s important. It’s a tissue paper topic, delicate and easy to rip, and as with all delicate things, I want to choose my words carefully. I want to speak openly but carefully, and share my heart on this matter with you all.

I didn’t fully understand how real suicide was until this year. Late at night, on April 12th, my friend Kevin from my support group suddenly said that he was going to hang himself, that he had nothing to live for, and goodbye. Completely terrified, I called 911 and told them that my friend was suicidal and asked them to please go to his house.

I couldn’t sleep all night, waiting to hear back from the police or anyone of the many other numbers I had called trying…

View original 860 more words

Escaping the Pain: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

 In the Lord I take refuge.

How then can you say to me:

“Flee like a bird to your mountain”?  (Psalm 11:1)


When I first began to experience the symptoms of bipolar, I tried to escape them with drugs and alcohol, what some call self-medicating. As you might expect, this only made things worse. Treating a mood disorder with non-prescribed mind-altering drugs is not something I would now recommend.

I then tried to treat my symptoms with only talk therapy and self-help techniques. While it was good to get off un-prescribed drugs, talk therapy alone was ultimately ineffective. It wound up being another form of escapism from my full problem. It was bipolar disorder causing a chemical reaction in my brain, and I needed something more than encouraging words to re-establish balance.

One thing I’ve discovered in my journey through bipolar is that faith and medicine can, and often do, work well together as partners to promote healing. We find refuge in the Lord when we resist our urge to “flee like a bird to your mountain,” and instead seek professional help and spiritual guidance.

The combination of talk and drug therapy has worked well for me over the course of my illness. Counseling goes a long way to help me sort out my mind and function better when the right dosages of medication are balancing the chemicals in my brain. Properly prescribed medication takes enough of the edge off my pain such that I can be more productive in my therapeutic work.

There is no way to escape the pain we are bound to feel as we battle bipolar or other serious illnesses. Yet, we can find refuge in the LORD if we avoid the damaging flight of escape and face our suffering with all the spiritual and medical resources God provides.

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.


Special Note: Delight in Disorder is hitting the road. I will be speaking in Lake Oswego, Oregon on October 18 at the conference —  “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” to be held at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. We are looking for prayer warriors to lift up the conference and the on-going mission. Members of our “Delightful Prayer Team” receive regular (1-3/week) e-mail updates with brief petitions and prayers. If you would be interested and feel led to serve, contact me at tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .

Rape, Enabling, Whiplash, Emotional Light Switches, and Suicide: Mental Health Monday

40% of women with severe mental illness are victims of rape or attempted rape” (Cambridge Medicine)

“The number of rape victims among women with severe mental illness is staggering,” says lead author Dr Hind Khalifeh of UCL’s Division of Psychiatry. “At the time of the survey, 10% had experienced sexual assault in the past year, showing that the problems continue throughout adulthood. Considering the high rate of suicide attempts among rape victims in this group, clinicians assessing people after a suicide attempt should consider asking them if they have been sexually assaulted. Currently this is not done and so patients may miss opportunities to receive specialist support.”

When does supporting become enabling?” (mckarlie)

My chappy and i have been dealing with my illness together for over 13 years, i have always wondered if i would have the strength to stay with me if i were him and i probably wouldn’t but he has stayed with me through my lowest of lows and haziest of craziest days. He isn’t an emotional person by any stretch but he does his best to support me, but it has occurred to me that support can very easily slither into enabling a person not to try or be better or be brilliant. Sometimes we need our loved ones to kick us in the arse when we’re unable to see our own silliness, which then poses the question: when do you decide to stop supporting and start well, ‘motivatin’?

just stuff” (blahpolar diaries)

Life is a whim of several billion
cells to be you for a while.
Groucho Marx

I had a much, much clearer sense of myself back then (somewhen, anywhen), I think I’m still shocked at this diagnosis, just over a month later. I’m such a maudlin and morose creature. Don’t want to look back at the bad, because then fear and grief come. Don’t want to look back at the good, because then it’s all bittersweet regret. Don’t want whiplash either.

I Am an Emotional Light Switch in Amish Country” (This is Probably a Coping Strategy)

I like to think of myself as a relatively complex and multidimensional being. I mean I’m already sentient, so I’ve got that going for me, and based on the fact that I no longer throw myself on the ground in a heap of anguish when the ice cream truck drives away, I believe I appear to have developed some semblance of emotional maturity. I can experience emotions so powerful that they make words useless and I can write stories that allow me to build other humans from the ground up and I can cry just from listening to music and on occasion I royally freak my freak when I realize there are probably certain colors my eyes can’t see. But when it comes down to it, I appear to have a grand total of two settings. On and off. Up and down.

Suicide — What I know for sure.” (Not So Bland)

My father walked through the arrivals gate at Ottawa International Airport wearing a golf shirt, casual trousers and an aura of confusion and sorrow that hit me directly in the gut. I was 18 years old and his return to Ottawa was not to visit me, but rather to honour his brother who had died by suicide. It was the first time I witnessed the complete devastation that surrounds those left behind by the loss of a loved one from suicide. It was not the last.

September is National Suicide Prevention month. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


In Honor of Robin Williams. please share...National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 You Can Make a Difference.


Our Role in Salvation: Two Views

Since I was a child, I have wrestled with human free will and divine sovereignty when it comes to being saved from sin and death and receiving abundant life in Christ. I grew up in a church that focused heavily on “making a decision for Christ.” They came to believe there was an age of accountability somewhere around first grade and put a strong emphasis on scaring the hell out of you so you would come forward at the altar call and receive Jesus into your heart.

I obliged and was “saved” when I was six. But I continued to wrestle with my salvation. Was it secure? If it was based on a decision I made, it seemed I could readily decide to lose it through poor choices in backsliding. During my college years I did just this and wound up feeling quite fearful of God’s wrath. I numbed my fear with drugs and alcohol.

Shortly after college I was led to worship in a church that believed more in God’s sovereignty than human free will when it comes to salvation. Simply put, God loves us before we can possibly love God. I encountered the “doctrine of election” and saw abundant evidence in Scripture that our salvation is secure in Christ alone, which is the greatest security we could possibly have.

While I have come home to a church that places a high premium of God’s sovereignty, I still visit churches that focus heavily on free will. A few weeks back I worshiped in such a church and hear a modern parable that perfectly illustrates what is known as an “Arminean” perspective.

We find ourselves in this life sitting behind the wheel of a pick-up stuck on the edge of a cliff. Many try to gun the accelerator, to no avail. Out of his great love for us, God shows up with a wrecker and chains to pull us out. But, it’s our job to us to get out of the truck and hook up the truck.

As I heard this parable, I felt a familiar unsettled rumbling in my stomach. This is not what I believe. God has done much more for us in the sacrificial death of Christ than stop by with some chains to pull us off the edge of the cliff. And God does much more for us through the working of the Holy Spirit than wait for us to hook on the chains.

A Reformed/Calvinist perspective (which I hold) might tell the parable this way.

We are stuck on the edge of a cliff. God shows up with a wrecker and chains. Our dilemma is that we have locked the door, we are glued to the driver’s seat, and we are so heavy we are wedged to the steering wheel. Our job is to unlock the door, move over to the passenger seat and let the Holy Spirit take over the wheel while Christ installs the chains and the Father drives the wrecker.

 We certainly have a role to play in our salvation. But it is not launched by human effort. It is an act of surrender to the Spirit of Christ who transforms our wills such that we might receive his saving love.


Christ on the Cross by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1541

Christ on the Cross by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1541