Dear Friend, What is it about God…?

tonyroberts64:

My friend and editor Leanne Sype speaks the truth in love by raising some challenging questions concerning doubt about God.

Originally posted on Writings and Ruminations:

Dear Friend,

What is is about God that makes you so mad? The mere mention of His name causes your shoulders to tense, and your fists to curl, and your mouth to spit words of hate.

What is is about God that makes you so skeptical? The mere mention of His name causes indignant doubt and the passionate desire to prove His non-existence.

What is is about God that makes you so irritated? The mere mention of His name causes you to turn your back, to tune out your heart, to question the intention of the Believer.

What is it about God that makes it easier to believe in the universe, to believe in coincidence, to believe in “just meant to be”–all of which are equally unseen and void of visible proof and human explanation. Why is God so much more intensely unfathomable than those other things to which we…

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How We’d Change Our Stars, in 6 Words

tonyroberts64:

I contributed a six-word sentence to Coach Daddy’s blog this week.

Originally posted on Coach Daddy:

Changing your stars is kind of a big deal.

It’s like in Scrabble, when you’re saddled with Z, D, D, Y, R, R, L. You cash in your chips for a new set. Surrender up what you have, and trust that whatever you pull out of the bag is to be than what you had.

Every month, I compile a post called 6 Words. Ernest Hemingway inspired it when he claimed you can tell a story in a six-word sentence. I call on bloggers, friends, strangers, and a few strange blogger friends. How will they respond to the prompt?

January is Change Your Stars month. What would you change in your life, sky’s the limit, in six words?

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Jesus, the Teacher: Throwback Thursday

When Jesus returns from his wilderness adventure, he is filled with the power of the Spirit. He begins teaching in the synagogues; stories about him begin to circulate. “He teaches with such authority.” They say.   “He brings the sacred text to life.” “He brings the kingdom of God down to earth.”

Stories like these reached Nazareth, but they were not easily impressed. When Jesus returns home, he enters the synagogue, reads a passage from Isaiah:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he

anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In silence, Jesus rolls back the scroll. All eyes are fixed on him. He opens his mouth and says,

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled.”

Then Jesus sits down and begins to teach.

You can almost hear the murmuring of the crowd. On the one side, his lifelong friends saying things like, “Doesn’t he read wonderfully. I remember when he couldn’t pronounce his Rs. And just look at his hair. It could use a trimming, but isn’t it beautiful.”

On the other side, his detractors, saying, “Who does he think he is, a carpenter’s boy interpreting Isaiah for us?” “My son studied 3 years under Rabbi Gamelia and you don’t see him up there. It isn’t proper.” What does he get to teach to us?”

Jesus anticipates the response, saying to them,

 “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here in your hometown things we have heard you did at Capernaum.’

Jesus knows this crowd is not easily impressed. These familiar faces respond more to him than to his message. And not even him, but their narrow view of him as a child, a young boy, with so much to learn.

They say “familiarity breeds contempt.” One challenge of small town life is to allow our children to grow and become the unique creatures that they are, not to hold them hostage to our own images of who they are or what they will become. When we fail to do this, we overlook the Spirit of God which can do new things in amazing ways. We also fail to hear what they might teach us about the world, about ourselves. Some of our best leaders and prophets move away because nobody in their hometown was listening, nobody would accept them for who they had become.

We don’t know what Jesus was like as a child, as a teenage, but we can see that now at 30, he is filled with the Spirit of God. He had become a teacher who brought the kingdom of God down to earth. People who listened found great comfort and encouragement to live holy and joyful lives; those held captive were released, the blind received sight, the oppressed were set free. As Jesus taught, those who had been pushed down were lifted up. Poor people discovered that they were blessed with the riches of God’s love.

Jesus was a teacher with a prophetic message. It is important that we cultivate our capacity to hear prophetic voices in our midst. Within the established church, we’ve placed too great an emphasis on visible signs of authority. Prophets are often people with no social or political standing who speak the truth of God. Some people refuse to hear them because they have no formal degrees or impressive titles. Yet, they are not without knowledge and understanding. True prophets immerse themselves in the Word of God and regularly listen for the voice of God in the silence of prayer, in the music of worship, in the words of Scripture and reflections of the Word.

True prophets are able to speak God’s truth more clearly. Many of my African-American colleagues are tent-making ministers. They make their living doing things other than preaching. Some have expressed to me they wouldn’t have it any other way. One said, “How could I speak the truth if I depended on the people to put food on my table?”

True prophets are often ignored because they say things we don’t want to hear. Jesus spoke wonderful good news, but it was good news that required a change. Things could no longer be the way they had always been. Synagogue worship could no longer be for the chosen elite, the upper echelon. Worship of the God of Israel could no longer be the sole privilege of Jews. Jesus challenged his Jewish sisters and brothers to expand their view of God and humanity, to see all people as part of God’s wonderful creation to be included within the covenant of God.

In the same way prophets today call us to expand our view of God and each other. I was listening to a radio preacher the other day talking about Evangelism as fishing. “The trouble with most church folks, he said, is that we want to catch fish already cleaned.” At times, we refuse to reach out to the very people who could most benefit from the good news of Christ. Worship has become over the years a privilege for the social elite. One church in Pittsburgh still rents pew space. Christ shows us that worship should not be a privilege, but a right, that all may come to know their loving creator, in Jesus Christ.

Jesus was a teacher who taught people the good news of God’s salvation in the way they could best understand it. As Christians, we are called to be teachers of the faith. We have many excellent teachers in this congregation. When we were reviewing the decline over the last 10 years, it came as no surprise to me that our Sunday School has remained strong; it has even grown. We have many devoted Sunday School teachers who take their calling seriously, who use a variety of methods to teach the love of God to children of all ages. We are blessed with 2 strong Adult Sunday School classes, and 1 on the way. We also have mid-week Bible study and prayer groups which help Christians connect in small groups and further apply the Word to their daily struggles.

As Christians, we are called to be teachers of the faith. I would challenge you to take this calling seriously. As s Sunday School teacher, a Small Group leader, a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle. Get to know the unique lives of your sisters and brothers in Christ and help them discover the Way of Christ. Reach out to someone you know without a church home, someone in need, someone who could use some good news and bring them to worship, to Sunday School. Share a newsletter or worship tape with them. Expand their thinking about God in Jesus Christ and let them expand yours.

You don’t have to be an expert to teach. Sometimes your expertise even gets in the way. All you need is passion and a willingness to learn. Faith is not a test; it is a journey. As Christians, we are called to be fellow travelers, companions on the journey of faith. We are called to get in shape and to help others get in shape for the coming of God.

Greg Olson  Jesus, reading from the prophet Isaiah in his home town of Nazareth, to fulfill the prophecy about himself. Luke 4:15-21

Led: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

He guided them with the cloud by day

and with light from the fire all night. (Psalm 78:14)

 

We need distinct things from God at each stage of our lives. God knows just what we need and provides it every step of the way.

The children of Israel needed a constant guide to make it through their wilderness wanderings and God provided one. Not only this, but God created it in a distinctive form they could best see – a billowy cloud by day and fiery cloud by night.

One night before Thanksgiving, our young family set out on a trip from Northeast Pennsylvania to the Finger Lakes region of New York to visit my Alice’s parents. The forecast was calling for a snow storm and several church members tried to discourage us from travelling. But we were intent on going, and shortly after the Thanksgiving Eve service, we headed out.

My wife, who is more accustomed to driving winter roads, was in the driver’s seat. Our two daughters cuddled up with blankets and pillows and fell asleep. I tried to stay awake to keep Alice focused, but I kept drifting off.

At one point, I tuned in and looked out the windshield. All I could see were the taillights of the semi in front of us.

“Don’t you want to pull over?” I asked.

“I’m afraid to,” Alice responded. “I’ve been following the lights on this truck. It’s all I’ve seen for over an hour. But we’re going to need gas soon.”

As if on cue, the truck turned on his right signal to exit.

“I’m going to follow him,” Alice said. “Maybe he’s stopping for gas.”

Sure enough, the semi pulled into a gas station. We filled up as well.

As we pulled out, we noticed the side of his truck.

It said, “Sure.”

We laughed. That truck might have been filled with under-arm protection, but it was also God’s sure way of protecting us and guiding us through the storm.

 

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. For a signed copy, directly from the author, write to me — tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .

David Zucker’s Foreword: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

The following is the foreword to my spiritual memoir, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.

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Tony Roberts’ book is not the first I’ve read by an ordained clergyman diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Some years back, a renowned (former) mega-church pastor/motivational speaker began his tome by declaring, “I have conquered bipolar disorder.” Right… What makes Tony’s devotional so compelling is that bipolar disorder continues to periodically beat the crap out of him, and he still believes. He still sees God working in his life, finds himself slowly but surely transforming despite, and even through, the torment of this disease. This level of honesty and vulnerability is rare, and if you’re seeking hope and understanding in the midst of the painful and messy parts of life, do like me and hop on the Tony Roberts train.

Tony Roberts has a way with words. With the gifts of a poet and the precision of a surgeon, he skillfully zeroes in on the dilemmas so many of us believers who contend with brain disease (25 percent of us) face each and every day. I’ve been scribbling quotes throughout my reading, and if I were a lesser mortal, I’d scoop them up and claim them as my own. I don’t want to quote him here because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to uncover these gems, one at a time, as you read, reflect and then read some more. The wise Seattle writer Naomi Stenberg once remarked, “One can be much more accepting of one’s (mental illness) when one is not tormented by it.” Tony Roberts takes it a step further and proposes that one can find delight in the disorder. God, Tony demonstrates – again and again – can work in the midst of the worst chaos, the most overwhelming pain.

As a mental health advocate with over 25 years of experience, I’ve long understood the circle of empathy in faith communities rarely extends to individuals and families carrying the burden of serious and persistent mental illness. Ironically, our churches are filled with hurting people; so many of them hiding these very same wounds. When clergymen speak, people often listen. I hope you find yourself as challenged and rewarded by reading Tony Roberts’ splendid devotional book. If you have the means, buy a copy for your church pastor too.

 

David Zucker

Mental Health Advocate

University Presbyterian Church

Seattle, WA.

11/28/13

 

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Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. For a signed copy, directly from the author, write to me — tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .

Baptism and the Spirit: Throwback Thursday

          This reflection is drawn from a sermon entitled, “Baptism and the Spirit,” based on Acts 8.14-17 first delivered on January 08, 1995 at Cochranton Presbyterian church in Pennsylvania, USA.

*     *     *

          What is the relationship between baptism and the Holy Spirit? The apostles and early followers of Christ experienced baptism and the Spirit separately. Baptism was a ritual of purification, a cleansing from sin. John baptized those who desired a life change, those who needed a fresh start. Even Jesus goes to John for baptism, which marks the beginning of his earthly ministry.

It wasn’t until after the death of Jesus that the apostles discovered the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2. The Spirit comes as the wind. People of all nations, speaking different languages, were able to understand one another, as the Spirit flowed through them. From Pentecost on, believers experienced the Holy Spirit as a healing, inspiring, nourishing and unifying presence within and among them.

It was Peter who first put baptism and the Holy Spirit together, in Acts 2:38. Peter says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Here the Spirit is seen as God’s gift to those who repent and are baptized in Christ. This understanding became the rule within the faith community. Those baptized in Christ received the Spirit to live new lives in faith.

Yet, for every rule there are exceptions. For some, the Spirit did not follow their baptism. Three such cases are mentioned in Acts: Cornelius in Chapter 10, Ephesian believers in Chapter 19, and Samaritans in our Acts 8 passage today.

Peter and John are sent as ambassadors from Jerusalem to Samaria. Though the Samaritan believers had been baptized, there was no evidence of the Spirit within the faith community. When Peter and John discover this, they first pray for the Spirit, then they lay hands on their brothers and sisters. Then, the Holy Spirit is received.

For the Samaritans and others, baptism is not enough for them to live out their faith as disciples of Christ. They need the prayers, the touch of their sisters and brothers in Christ. Though the Spirit was present before, during and after their baptism, they do not receive the Spirit until the Laying-on-of-Hands.

For some time, people have debated the nature and role of baptism within the faith community. Some claim baptism ought to be reserved for those with a mature understanding who profess faith. They look at the baptisms in the Bible and see ample evidence that those who were baptized were mature believers who desired a new way of life.

Others value the tradition of infant baptism. They see Biblical evidence to support this in Jesus blessing the children in Mark 10, Matthew 19, and Luke 18. They find 1 Corinthians 7 and other passages where parents came to believe and their households were baptized together. They see the role of baptism being acceptance into the God’s covenant community, much as circumcision was for the Israelites.

Wherever you stand on this issue, it is important to see that the Spirit is present in, yet not confined by baptism. Baptism is not a magic ritual in which the Holy Spirit is concocted. The Spirit moves freely within and around the waters of baptism — inspiring people to live holy lives, uniting people to serve God and God’s creation, feeding people with spiritual food through the word, the cup, the loaf.

The Westminister Confession of Faith says that Baptism is the sign and seal of the covenant of grace. Water is the element used, but the efficacy of baptism is conferred by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, flowing through baptism, make the difference in our lives, whether we are baptized as infants, youth, or adults. The Spirit makes the difference.

Baptism is one way we gain access to the Spirit, one way to prepare our hearts and minds, to make room for God.

*     *     *

Are you baptized? Why or why not? If so, what difference has baptism made in your life?

 

The Blessing of a Child: For Ruthanna Esther

I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be a blessing.  (Psalm 37:25-26)

“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” ― Carl Sandburg

This past weekend, I travelled to Upstate New York and met this most beautiful girl in the world. She stole my heart. Her name is Ruthanna Esther. She happens to be my granddaughter.

When I arrived at her home, my daughter quickly brought Ruthanna to me and placed her in my arms, knowing how eager I was to hold her. Almost immediately, she looked into my eyes and gave me a big grin. It was the greatest gift in the world. This was followed by another grin — a double blessing. She cooed a bit as I talked to her and her parents about her. She is so precious. Adorable. A miracle of new life.

As much of a blessing as it was to watch her smile into my eyes, an even greater blessing came when she started to fuss a bit. Her father showed me how to calm her — basically by holding her upright and bouncing her a bit. This soothed her right away and she went to sleep. I laid her on my shoulder and held her as she slept, resting secure. I didn’t want to let go. Ever.

I am discovering there is nothing like the love between a grandparent and his/her grandchild. I’m counting the days until I see her again. I often find myself staring at pictures of her and saying a prayer. I am so grateful for her life. I am especially grateful that she has godly parents who will care for her and raise her in the love of the Lord.

A Cheater's Guide to Baby Sleep Training - Hands down the BEST guide I've found!!! @James Kenny

Fading to White, The Kid Next Door, Keeping it Chaste, Rhythm, and The Monster in Your Closet: Friday Featured Followers

fading  to…WHITE

“For me to live is Christ, to die is… gain.” “For I HAVE died and my life is hidden in Christ. The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who LOVED me and GAVE HIMSELF for me.”

Chronicles of a kid next door

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. Titus 2:11 ESV

Keep it Chaste:  gone wilder or gone wiser in a world gone wise

Noise. Rhythm. Breathe.

Hi, I’m Chad and this is my blog. I have bipolar disorder and try to use my struggles to support others in need. I intend to talk about my struggles, moods, and recovery as life happens.

The Monster in Your Closet… is quite friendly, actually.

Life moves a little more slowly now than it used to, but it’s infinitely more beautiful and complex than it was before. I’m not writing as much as I thought I once wanted to, and am content with that. After 30+ years without cooking more than macaroni, I’m able to whip up (usually) edible dishes. Most of all, I’m loving every minute of motherhood, which is so, so very much more than soiled diapers, sleepless nights and endless exhaustion.

So far, my life hasn’t gone at all according to my plans. I hope I’ll be able to say the same at 70!

 

Sometimes following your heart means losing your mind

One Little Town: Throwback Thursday

          The following reflection is drawn from a message entitled, “One Little Town” based on Micah 5.2-5a first delivered on December 18, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyterian in Pennsylvania, USA.

Great movements begin in small places. On the outskirts of the village Bethlehem a young boy David is tending his sheep. He thinks of his brothers, soldiers for the King. He imagines himself a soldier, places a smooth stone in his sling and heaves it toward a distant tree. Wham! Direct hit. Lost in his dreams, his sheep begin to wander, which pulls him back to the moment. With his staff, he gently guides his sheep back on their path.

Guiding his sheep along, David had time to think. He thought of the stories he’d learned from his mother. Stories of his people, Israel. How God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Stories of Moses-an unlikely leader, who stuttered when he spoke. This Moses spoke against the Pharaoh and when Pharaoh refused to budge, Moses led God’s people across the Red Sea, through the barren desert, into the Promised Land.

David composed songs, celebrating the goodness of God. God’s power, justice and mercy. At night he would take out his harp and sing across the open fields, with the stars as his light celebrating the glory of God in the midst of God’s wondrous creation.

There was nothing exceptional about David. He was a young boy from a small village 5 miles west of Jerusalem. To choose a leader, you would think God would look in the temple in Jerusalem, at the scholars or maybe on the front lines-those waging war against the Philistines. You would think God would choose the wisest, the smartest, the one everyone would look at and say, “Wow! Now there is someone I can respect.” Instead, God chooses David, a young shepherd boy from the village of Bethlehem.

It is years later. The Kingdom David ruled has become divided. The people Israel are in exile, living under foreign rule, struggling to maintain their community, their faith. The prophet Micah speaks a hopeful word:

“You, O Bethlehem, one of the little clans of Judah.”

From you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel. “He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord.”

What a vision! A righteous leader-God’s chosen one, born in Bethlehem-the city of David. A great leader who empowers the people in the strengths of the Lord. Again, it is the village of Bethlehem, not the great city of Jerusalem, which becomes the birth sight of God’s chosen leader. God’s glory is to be found in a little village, a small town.

Great movements begin in small places. God often chooses what the world deems insignificant. God works through people overlooked by society to accomplish great things, to bring glory to God.

As Joseph and Mary set out for Bethlehem, they didn’t know what to expect. Their child would be born any moment. They had no place to stay. All they knew was that they had to go. They prayed and trusted that God would provide, just as God had throughout their relationship, keeping them together through difficult circumstances.

To Joseph and Mary, a child is born-in a manger feeding trough, in someone’s barn.

Big things begin in small ways. We are often tempted by the illusion that bigger is better. Go for a bigger paycheck, move to a bigger city and buy a bigger car, a bigger house, a bigger computer, a bigger stereo system. Some people find great pleasure and satisfaction in obtaining bigger and better things. Others struggle with the frustration of wanting things they can’t have. People in Central America watch those wealthy Americans on their TV screens and wonder-how can I get what they have. Poor people in large cities are bombarded by large billboards that show beautiful people having such a great time smoking cigarettes, drinking Jim Beam or Colt 45 beer.

Some people give into the temptation-trade in their food stamps for lottery tickets and pray to the God of fortune, only to be left with even less to live on.

God shows us that great things happen in small places. When an older woman crochets a lap robe as a gift to a stranger or friend, there is God. When a group of young people visit a nursing home to sing Christmas carols, there is God. When a group of boys and girls gather each Tuesday night, pretend to be animals and shepherds and sing about a special child born in a manger, there is God. When a Sunday School class visits home bound and nursing home residents and offers them the gift of their presence, there is God. When you spend time with someone, with anyone, talking about God’s love sharing that love in what you do, there is God. When you pray for someone you may not know, you may not understand, or you may not even like- there is God.

On The Road To Bethlehem #Plus Size Lingerie#sexy#lingerie

From the Middle of Nowhere: A Story Inspired by Wednesday Blog Hop Photo Prompts

IMG_2294  IMG_2116      Photo Credits: Tena Carr

He had come to the Middle of Nowhere with a purpose. Only now, he could remember just what that purpose was. He slipped off his camouflage  backpack, reached inside and pulled out a Power Bar.

What did he plan to achieve by leaving his home as he did? He had a good job, making good money. He had a devoted wife and three adorable children. For some reason, it just wasn’t enough. What was missing? He couldn’t tell. But here on this road in the Middle of Nowhere, he could see he had not found it. He now began to long for the comforts he had left behind.

He took his cell phone out of his backpack and pressed the “on” switch. To his dismay, the “low battery” icon flickered on and off, along with the sound telling him he would need a charge. But where? Surely, there was some way station ahead, but how long would he have to walk to get there? He zipped up his pack, pulled his cap down over his eyes and headed toward the Western skies.

Out of nowhere, a car pulled up beside him. The driver rolled down his window and motioned for him to get in. He slid into the front seat, putting his pack between his legs.

“Name’s James Carr.”

“Tom Jones.”

“Tom, I have to ask you. What are you doing walking out here in the Middle of Nowhere?”

“Long story. Short version is, I guess I’ve been looking for something.”

“Have you found it yet?”

“Nope.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. Go home, I guess. I’ve got a wife and three children.”

“I imagine they’ll be glad to see you.”

“I hope so. I didn’t really say goodbye and I haven’t contacted them in over a month.”

“Well, Tom, I’m not exactly sure why you left or what you’ll face going home, but I can help get you there. Where do you live?”

“Tucson.”

“How about that? I have business in Tucson. Great city. Been there many times. Very nice. Though it can get as hot as blue blazes.”

They talked on. About the weather. The places they’d been. The things they’d seen. Favorite holiday memories.

The sun was setting low in the horizon as they spotted the “Welcome to Arizona” sign.

Tom turned to his window and took in a deep breath. It was not stale as he remembered it. It was fresh and clean. Even the desert sand seemed like a newly wrapped package waiting just for him.

He turned to face James. His face broke into a grin as James said,

“You’re almost there. Are you ready?”

This story was inspired by the Wednesday Writers Blog Hop photo prompts from October 8, 2014. To find out more about participating in the blog hop and voting for your favorite entries, visit Debb at Stanton Sunshine