Back in the Saddle Again

Back in the Saddle Again

When I signed off on Wednesday, we were in a bit of a pickle at the top of little peak along the Continental Divide. You followed me up a loose rock field that was easy to go up, but once we got to the top it looked treacherous going down. At the moment I’m thinking, If I had it to do over again… (I dare not ask what you are thinking).

I like to call it Hindsight Philosophy (also expressed in the slogan, If I‘d known then what I know now). Hindsight Philosophy would be easy to live by if: 1) we ever get off this mountain, and 2) God didn’t have such a devious sense of humor. Just think of the empty nest couple celebrating their new freedom by taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Cancun. On the last night, over a candlelight dinner, they stroll down memory lane. Through the laughter and tears they talk about what they would do if they had it to do over again. And nine months later they are given the chance with a little souvenir from their trip.

Now to the point: I do not expect to preach again on a sustained basis. I would gladly accept a miraculous healing to make preaching possible, but that’s what it would take. (I’ll say more about me in later posts.) My days as a pastor (or “preaching minister”) are in the past, not the future. I still have a few cards that enable me to do some preaching and seminar work, but nothing near what I once did. Which makes me the perfect philosopher for my first blog subject: What would I do if I could go back to the days of full-time ministry, preaching week after week? What would I change?

Two caveats before we begin.

  • Caveat #1: What I have to say about this topic is not a thinly veiled criticism of the church or preaching where I attend. My reflections are about my practices, and while I confess thinking about practices today, my net is thrown much wider than one place or person.

  • Caveat #2: This blog is not just for preachers, nor is this series of posts. What I say is just as important for non-pastors or non-preachers. So we begin…

If I had it to do over again I would preach more often about God’s love. I would find ways to talk about God’s love in its many expressions: God’s understanding, care, acceptance, and desire for our wellbeing. I would draw attention to the metaphors in the Bible used to describe God’s love: God is our father, mother, friend, shepherd, lover, and brother.

Seven years ago, twenty-seven years of marriage ended in divorce. The pain in my feet was out of control and spreading. I spent the summer going from one doctor to another, only to hear the same response: there is nothing I can do to help you. Finances were beyond tight. I couldn’t sleep well. And the side effects from the pain medicine were just beginning to make themselves known.

During that time it was beyond difficult to go to church. That may sound odd, but people I’ve talked to in similar situations have agreed: the one place we needed to be was the most difficult place to go (hold onto that thought). One Sunday morning in September I pushed against the pain to go to church. It was not an easy morning. As we were led to the table (holy communion), Dana Hood spoke these words (more about Dana later):

{This} is a time to remember that we have a God – Father, Son and Spirit – who does not stand off in the distance. He stepped into the mess. He put on skin and walked to the depths of our pain – abandonment, fear, physical agony, loneliness, rejection, weariness, death. He gets it. Whatever “it” is in your life you can be sure that he gets it… Turn to your neighbor and say, “He gets it.”

The moment my friend turned and said to me, “He gets it,” I broke into tears. I didn’t hear anything else that day. All I needed to know – to be reminded of – was that God still loved me, God understood and cared about what I was going through.

These two verses begin the exodus story: “God heard their cry of grief, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked at the Israelites, and God understood” (Exod 2:24-25 CEB, emphasis mine). What did God understand? If I had it to do over again I would search for this answer. Not just for me, but because the longer I live and the more I see, I am convinced that a majority of those who sit before us as we preach are carrying burdens we cannot imagine. And what they desperately need from me is not the sixth installment of my series on Ephesians (though I thought the series was really good – the notes are somewhere around here). No. What the church needs is a word that reminds them God still sees and cares. Because now I know how hard it can be to see God’s love when my life is nothing but pain. Tell them, God loves you. Remind them, God cares about you. Tell them again because it is hard to believe down here: God loves you. Please, for the love of God, tell them God understands.

Until we meet again,


Not on Sunday

Not on Sunday

The Things that Make for Peace

The Things that Make for Peace