Tag Archives: looking back

Looking Back – walking and waiting

looking back

(this post first published August 4, 2007)

7:00 am “Dear God. Please help me find a job. Not just any job, but the perfect job. Amen.”

noon “Dear God. I don’t want to seem pushy, but I really would like a job. And you said to ask, so I’m asking. Amen.”

3:00 pm “Dear God. I haven’t heard anything yet. But that’s okay, I know you are busy. But where I am now is really annoying and I don’t think I can handle this much longer, so I’ll just wait here in line. Amen.”

9:00 pm “Dear God. I tried it your way. But I haven’t heard anything, so now I lay me down to try to sleep. But waiting is really hard, so if you care, I’d like an email with a job when I wake up. Yes, that’s it. Just make someone send me an email with a job. Great. That will work. Amen”

4:00 am “Dear God. You’ve got 3 hours. Amen.”

Because of a number of conversations with a number of people, I am increasingly aware that I may not be the only person in the world who has a push-button view of prayer.


Here’s what I mean. When we are walking in the city, we see the direction that we want to go or need to go or think we need to go. We stand at the corner, but the traffic is heavy. We push the button and wait for the light to change and the traffic in our path to stop. When it does, we know we can walk safely across. Because pedestrians are important, the wait is seldom more than a minute.

We apply this same thinking to our lives. We decide which direction to go, we know that what we need is a new job or a new relationship or a new situation or a healing. We stand at the corner and pray, which means that we say words which we believe with push the God button. And when the traffic doesn’t stop, we push it a few more times. We may try cutting through the traffic. We may give up and walk away.

But what if God isn’t a traffic signal? What if prayer, rather than being a button, is part of a conversation with a person? What if the silence which we see as a broken button is actually Someone waiting for us to stop deciding which way we are going and start just talking about the path and the corner and the traffic.

I don’t like it when people look at me merely as a traffic signal, giving approval to what they have already decided, do you? I mean, you want to offer counsel and direction and conversation and relationship when people talk to you, don’t you?

Maybe God does, too.


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.


looking back – 4 things (part 1)

looking back

This post was first published February 12, 2007)

The leadership of our church started talking about what we value. In a couple of conversations, we developed two lists of core values, with a lot of overlap. And then as we met, we started talking about what we want to be known for, about what four things we want people to know about us, about what we would say in 15 seconds about our church.

It was a great exercise, because we have a bunch of people who really care about church NOT being church or playing church. We want to be, well, “a Biblically-based, caring community, worshiping God and reaching people for Christ.”

In this statement are actually FIVE things, but that’s okay.

First, we want to be a community. There are many things that a church could be: family, club, party, team, association, therapy group. What we are saying is that we pick community. We want to be about relationships that matter, about people coming and going but desiring to put down roots, about interdependence, about different ages and skills and abilities and interests but something in common. We want to be.

Second (and last for this post), we want to be Biblically-based.

That has the potential to be scary. The Bible gets used in ways it was never intended and therein is great pain. However, what would happen if we looked at it, not as a book of lists or rules or strange names, but as a love letter.

What if God really exists and really cares about people like a groom cares about a bride? And what if the groom is a King and the bride is an abused slave girl? What if that groom wrote a bunch of letters to that bride, in the middle of her slavery, telling her that he loved her, saying what life in the court is like, telling her how to live in the courts of the King. What if he explained what happens to the people who are holding her in slavery? What if he told the stories of what love means. What if he wrote about his own love for her which caused him to give up his royal position and live in exile and die for her.

Would that slave girl look at those letters as rules or as expressions of love? Would she see a life more restrictive or a hope of freedom. Would she look in them for ways to restrict, or would she be reading them and saying to other slaves, “the prince is coming, he really does love me, he somehow smuggled food to me, he wants me.”

And what would a community that was built around love letters from the king look like?


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

looking back – electricity and ego

looking back (This was first posted June 5, 2005.)

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk watching a video which had been produced for our Sunday service. The lights in the hallway and my air conditioner went out, but my computer kept running. I noted the outage, patted myself on the back for my UPS, and kept watching. Soon, however, the computer went off, and I wandered out to the hall. A person who was working in the kitchen came singing down the hallway, trying to stay positive in the face of preparations for her son’s impending wedding. A call came in from one of our renters across the street, wondering why her power was out.

In each case, people assumed first that the problem was local and was part of the evidence of the world being against them. As they understood that the problem was building-wide, then neighborhood-wide, their personalization of their frustration and the desire that we “fix this for them” disappeared, replaced with a sense of resignation and relief that someone else would be working on the problem.

As I thought about our reactions, I realized how often we get frustrated because we believe that there is a plot against our particular happiness. There is an intentionality to problems which is directed at our own joy and happiness and peace and success. I consistently have to help people understand that they are not the focus of pain. Frequently, there are many sides to stories. Often, there are details which they don’t know. Always, there is a God who is aware of our lives and who desires to be part of our understanding of what is happening.

How often do we ask God to take away our anxiety? We are told to do so in Philippians 4. How often do we remember God’s promise to the exiles that He had plans for them?

Often, the circuit breaker just trips. It is the enemy of our souls who wants us to take it personally. And it is the Savior of our souls that will give us peace in the midst of the darkness.

And just like yesterday, the power may be back on in a couple minutes.


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

looking back – I can’t fix me

(originally posted September 26, 2007)

Friday night I was sitting at a dinner. The speaker was talking about revival. More specifically, Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan was talking about the Fulton Street Revival, a(n) (…um…event? movement? process?) thing that started with a guy deciding that he needed to spend lunchtime once a week praying and invited other people to come and pray, too.

As he was talking, Keller said, “The default mode of the human heart is to revert to self-salvation.”

I would love to argue with this. Except I can’t.

This morning I was looking for my shoes. Nancy innocently asked what I was looking for. I was polite, but inside I thought “don’t ask me. I don’t need help. I’ll look myself.”

A month ago, a four-year-old was in my office. There were balloons on the walls because a friend had decided (correctly) that I needed encouragement.  The little one’s dad wanted her to ask me for a balloon. She resisted, was told “no” to taking one without asking, went through a period of tears, calmed down, got down from her dad’s lap, and was told again to ask me for a balloon.

“I don’t need to. I can reach myself.”

We looked at each other, the dad and I, and laughed the kind of laugh that doesn’t show up on the face. We laughed because we recognized the independence of spirit which characterizes humans, showing up clearly in this four-year-old.

Every face I look at, every mirror I see, shows this same fierce commitment to fixing things myself, to fixing myself. Even as I put myself into this picture with my close friend Manhattan, there is a strong sense of me.


Practically, such independence is silly. I cannot save myself, not even from myself. Now, I do have to take care of myself. I am responsible for my actions, for my reactions, for my attitudes, for my attempts to live life in a meaningful way. But I cannot function apart from other people. If I tried, I would die. I can’t grow enough, work enough, whatever enough, to sustain myself.

And if I try, I prove that I’m an ornery cuss. To function as a person, as a social being, I need other people.

Now Keller’s comment wasn’t talking merely about the practical level. His point was that unless we stop trying to save ourselves and acknowledge that God has to do that, we will fail at revival and we will ultimately, eternally, fail.

What is important to understand is that he is talking first to that collective entity of people who call themselves The Church. Keller was saying that The Church, or the little clusters of people who call themselves churches are stuck in this self-salvation too.

We end up saying that if we believe exactly right or if we care for the poor exactly right or if we have the precise kind of worship service services that make me God happy or if we go to church the requisite number of times a day/week/month/year or if we consume the right kinds of music/movies/books or if we do ______ exactly right, then God will be happy with us and love us.

And that is exactly wrong because it puts all the burden for our salvation on us. It makes us responsible for fixing ourselves.

It’s no wonder that people get annoyed with “church”. It’s because we often are helping people get LIKE US rather than helping people get TO God.

I was reading about Jesus a bit ago. He was talking to and healing and touching people who never would have made it into a church. In fact, he was even doing all those things with people who didn’t even, well, didn’t even know whether they believed in him or not. I mean, they saw him, and knew that he was cool, and knew that he healed them, but they didn’t understand any of the theological stuff about him.

All they knew was that what they were doing wasn’t working. So when Jesus talked about good news, they were all (deaf) ears and (blind) eyes and (broken) hearts.

What if the church stopped being so churchy? Maybe there might be evidence that God actually is necessary rather than just our rules.

Or at least that’s what I think.



“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

looking back – pass it on

(First published May 31, 2007)

Today Chris was talking about the importance of teaching, of taking what we know and passing it on. His point is affirming and challenging and frustrating to me. At times I hear my response to that point: “I don’t know much. No one needs what I know. I don’t have the time.” In fact, as Nancy and I were walking last night (keeping a purpose set in December), we were talking about our neighbor who has done quite well as an academic author and I said, “I don’t know anything that well.”

However, the more I thought, the more I realized that I better pass on the advice I gave someone recently. This person, who has children and loves them and is loved by them, is having a difficult time praying. Somehow the words aren’t tracking right. Somehow it feels like the intention isn’t quite right or that God must be questioning how the praying is happening or maybe God is saying, “I gave you everything you need, what are you waiting for?” This is a person near the edge.

So I said “Spend the next few days listening to how your children talk to you and your spouse. Listen to what is requested. Listen to the talking for talking sake. Listen to inflection and urgency and desire to be with you and hear you and love you. And then talk to God the same way.”

We get so stuck in formality, in pleasing, in rituals that we forget completely that we are talking to Dad. At least that’s what I read.

I’m praying that it helps this person. And maybe you.


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

looking back – Graduation 2005

(First published, as very first post, on June 6, 2005)

Saturday was graduation day for our son. I was on my way to get one last table, a wheelchair for my dad, and a bunch of balloons. I started to cry as I was driving, which wasn’t surprising because I had been on the edge all week. He graduates, his sister finished 8th grade, lots of transition right now.

As always, I was wondering how much I had failed. After 18 years of trying, what more should I have done? How could I have been more effective as a father? What are the things that I should have taught him?

I turned on the radio and heard worship music, lyrics which were pointing to the power and worthiness and significance of God. It felt odd, somehow, in my mood, but as I drove, thinking, switching between the two Christian stations in our town, I realized that every song on the playlists for both stations was pointing to God.

Then I realized that even in the middle of my doubting of myself, God was assuring me that He was in control. He was and is and will be sufficient for our son–and us–for ever.

Do I have responsibilities? Yes. Do I have permission to be depressed? No. Can I question myself? Yes. Am I loved even in the middle of the questioning? Absolutely.

I think that I graduated on Saturday, too.


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

looking back – following God: a small step

(This post was first published on May 31, 2007)

small steps.
one at a time.
not looking at potential outcomes.
not looking at potential catastrophes.
not looking at water under our feet.
not even trying to see the next step.

small breaths.
one at a time.

five hundred twenty-five thousand, six hundred minutes seems like an immense number. But that year can only be lived one minute at a time. And each one is an act of faith. and each one is an act of love. and each one is an investment.

And we want formulas. And we want answers. And we want the right questions. And we want to know that it is worth it and that it matters and that it, well, that it is what to do.

And we never ever get to know the next step or the next breath or the next thought until it happens.

And when Job wanted answers and suffered without cursing God and was going through pain, God never ever ever told him why. All God said was, “were you here when I made all this?”

A singularly dissatisfying answer in the abstract, but I’m pretty sure that when Job was hearing God actually asking him the question, he didn’t argue too much.

But we don’t often get to actually hear God. saying. our. name.

Or do we?

Not if we are expecting it to come with answers. other than…

small steps.
one at a time.
not looking at potential outcomes.
not looking at potential catastrophes.
not looking at what the step after this one might mean.

just small steps.
one at a time.


“Looking Back” is an opportunity to republish posts which have mattered to me. They may matter to you, too.

looking back – why people liked Jesus

(This post was first published June 25, 2007)

One of my fundamental life questions comes from Luke 15. Why did “tax collectors and sinners” like to, choose to, want to hang around Jesus? This is particularly compelling to me as it seems that the same is generally not true about church. Sinners and tax collectors generally do not choose to show up around church. Or invite church to show up around “them”.

This could be because the people who were unhappy about the people who liked to be around Jesus were the most religious people of the day, the Pharisees. They spent their time arguing with Him, criticizing His actions, plotting to kill Him. So there was a tension: people who were identified as sinners liked Him, people who were identified as religious didn’t.


When faced with that question in Luke 15, Jesus told a story which may explain some of the attraction. (Although I need to be accurate. He wasn’t faced with the question, the Pharisees were mumbling about the sinners and tax collectors and Jesus, like a teacher who hears the side comments in the back of the room, walked over to their desks and let everyone know that He heard.)

Jesus talked about a shepherd who has 100 sheep and when counting them at the end of the day, discovers that one has wandered off and is lost. He leaves the 99 sheep huddled together in the open country and goes looking for the missing one. When he finds the missing sheep, the shepherd puts it on his shoulders, carries it home, and invites the neighbors over for a party to celebrate finding the lost sheep.

So here’s what I think:

1. The sinners knew that just like the shepherd in the story, Jesus was coming looking for them.
The shepherd was personally involved. He didn’t put up posters, he didn’t expect the sheep to come home eventually, he didn’t send someone else. He went looking. And Jesus went looking. He was not spending all His time in the temple, or with the religious people, or at committee meetings. He was wandering around, having conversations, going to parties. He wasn’t giving up what He believed, but what was at the core of what He believed was that people mattered. So He was looking for people.

2. The sinners knew that just like the sheep in the story, their lives were messed up.
The shepherd was specifically looking for a sheep that knew that it wasn’t where it was supposed to be. He wasn’t trying to convince the sheep that there was something wrong with its current situation because it knew. Jesus was offering life, not condemnation. Now, for people who thought their lives were fine, or who were looking to be entertained by cool miracles, Jesus was interesting. For people who were religious, Jesus was a threat. But for people who knew that the way they were living wasn’t what they had been made for, Jesus mattered.

3. The sinners knew that just like the shepherd in the story, Jesus was wanting to hold them not scold them.
The shepherd picked up the sheep, loaded it on his shoulders, and carried it home. Didn’t make it follow, didn’t scold it, didn’t take it home and hide it. Jesus talked to people and gave them hope and told them that following him would be hard but worthwhile. He healed them without condemnation. He forgave them without condemnation. He gave them multiple chances to get it right. What’s not to like about that?

4. The sinners knew that being around Jesus made parties great.
The shepherd had this big party to let the neighbors know that the sheep had been found. Jesus went to parties that made religious people cringe, with people who made religious people cringe. He held parties for lost sheep.

5. The sinners knew that Jesus cared more about them than His reputation.
Just by telling this story, Jesus was saying to the 99 that He was willing to leave them to find the missing sheep. He preferred relationships that gave life to religion that drained life.

Now, does all this mean that Jesus believed just anything? Not really. He called for His sheep to live changed lives. But when you know that your life was completely wrecked and that someone came looking for you and carried you back home and was really glad to see you, it’s easier to think about what He said.


“Looking back” is a new series starting today. I’ll be republishing posts that I have found helpful…and you might, too.