Discovering Mission and Call for our Lives

I’m reading a few books on discernment, specifically because I’m at a place in my life and ministry where I’m asking “God, what is your mission and call for my life.”

I’ve turned to two resources:

“Discernment:  Reading the Signs of Daily life” by Henri Nouwen

“Discernment, God’s Will & Living Jesus:  Christian Discernment as a Way of Life”, by Larry Warner

Henri Nouwen has reminded me again and again about leaning into the heart of God and his love.  These are the most important as we discern.  The questions can get heavy.  The fears or insecurities of searching for answers can wear on us like heavy towels after a spill.  Refreshment comes as we lay the questions at His feet and ask God to help us know His heart and love.

Nouwen says,

What I tell others who ask these questions, and remind myself with surprising conviction, is this: “God has a very special role for you to fulfill. God wants you to stay close to his heart and to let him guide you. You will know what you are called to do when you have to know it.” New vocations are full of promise. Something very important is in store for us. There is a hidden treasure to discover.

Nouwen, Henri J. M.. Discernment (p. 99).

It’s that middle line that got me:  “you will know what you are called to do when you have to know it.”  Can I trust that God will reveal it when I need to know it?  That’s my prayer today.

As I think about discernment, call, and knowing the heart of Jesus, two thoughts immediately came to mind.

  1. I’m not someone with all the answers that is present to equip and empower people.  But I hope my words, actions, and life do equip and empower others.
  2. I used to think I needed to have all the answers to people’s questions, mostly so they’d like and admire me.  Now I’m okay to say “I don’t know”.  I have a few answers, but not all.


chaplain roy

Creating Through Bad Ideas

Play bad notes and rhythms.

Write bad blogs.

Publish poor podcasts.

Do all the creative stuff you wanna do so that you see what’s good and what isn’t.  Nothing is going to get better unless you’re working through the bad ideas as well.

Create through the bad ideas.  I’ve played drums on about 6 albums.  There are some really bad tracks and moments.  This year, I’m recording a live album.  I’m more confident recording BECAUSE of the previous bad performances.

I’ve posted over 300 blogs.  Many of them aren’t very good.  But they’re getting better and I’m weeding out bad ways of writing, bad themes to focus on, and better ways to frame ideas.

Longing for Greatness

We have a fire inside of us that longs for greatness.  We want to be special, make a mark in this world, be famous, and do great things.  This is the divine fire inside of us that God has implanted in our depths.

We also have to remember what we’re capable of:  hatred, envy, power mongering, abuse.

Giving expression to the deep longings in us and also recognizing our limitations is hard work.  At times, there is a growing awareness of being in the flow of divine fire, living out of our gifts/talents/passions.  And then without notice, the insipid darkness knocks at the door and reminds us that we less than divine.  A sharp tongue that cuts someone.  An act of impulse that leaves us feeling more lonely and ashamed.  It’s the constant holy tension in life.

We long to be great.  We are made for greatness.  We are also capable of foul play.

How do we reconcile this great and terrible fire?  God has made us and we are most at home with God.  It may not seem like an answer that pleases you and I.  But it might just be why Jesus keeps telling his band of followers to make their home (remain in me) with Him.

Go be great today.  Just remember that ultimately your greatness is rooted in the God who made you.

Forgiveness Friendships

The best thing to do when you realize you’ve made a mistake is say “I’m sorry” and work to make amends. Sometimes it takes a trusted friend to point out the error.

Make friends that will point out errors, and who are willing to sort it out with you as well.

Gentleness and humility create the space for deep living and transformation.

Late Blooming

Late blooming:  a misperception that I’m late to the game.  A thought that I’m learning late or producing late in life.

The point is to keep planting, pruning, tilling the ground, watering the seeds.

You can be a 40 year old drummer and be reaping the harvest of prior playing years, and  just now reaping the harvest.  Bloom!  (the new boom…or not!)

Inspired Effort and True Selves

We don’t ever stop discovering our true selves.  At least we shouldn’t stop the discovery process.  The premise is that as we keep working at life/work/goals, we are discovering new insights about ourselves that are helping us to be more at home with ourselves and in this world.

We don’t want to see a copycat you.  We want to see someone who has wrestled with life to discover their true hiddenness of goodness.

Much of life seems to be a mutual participation with inspired effort and gracious waiting.  We are not to be passive people who just “wait” for something to happen. We have an inner power of consent, to give ourselves over to the process and journey of discovering the true self.

We keep chipping away at the sculpture and discover more details about ourselves.  These insights help us to determine how we spend our time and resources, and what to focus on.  

We keep getting closer and closer to what our gifts and talents are, and how best to use them in the world.  We keep getting closer to insights about what we truly long for (I love music collaboration and creation with others…it’s a great feeling to create something with others).  

So what do you want?  What do you really want?  I bet you it’s not really a new car or house.  It might be nice to have those things. What we really want is buried deep within.  Get a shovel and start digging. The true self is waiting to be found.



Fearful Questions and Deep Longings

“Which questions guide our lives?”

For some, much of what may drive their lives are “what if” questions.  Not deliberately thinking about the questions.  Just letting the questions guide them.

“What if my coworkers don’t like me”
“What if I’m not good enough”
“What if something happens to my kids”
“What if I don’t make my numbers this month”

“What if I don’t save enough money for retirement”
“What if I’m not raising my kids well”
“What if my spouse cheats on me”
“What if my boss fires me”

What if we are asking the wrong questions that are based on worry and fear?  We feel threatened, powerless, or in some form of danger.  Our imagination is seeking questions to make sense of what is happening.  Some questions are helpful to name what is happening.  Others are intrusive, beguiling, or depressing.

Fear is an optic of danger, threat, or a loss of power.  Moved by fear, we become survivalists and sometimes do things we really didn’t want to do.

Are these questions raising important issues?  Of course.  They make up the material of our lives.  But are they really helping us to live well and good?

Which questions guide our lives into courage and enduring power?

And when we have questions, how does God respond?  “Do not be afraid…I’m with you”

There is a question that Jesus asks in the Gospels.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  Another variation is “What do you want?”

When I move past the worry/fear questions (I picture these questions as the stuff on top of a river, floating there) and “go deep”, the question of want and desire are the ones I’m really seeking.

“How can I be a good coworker?”
“I want to be a good person in this world.  How do I go about doing that?”
“I want to be a loving parent.  How will I do that today?”
“I want to be a faithful partner and create a loving relationship.  What must I do?”

Flip the script on the worry/fear questions and think about your deepest longings which God is inviting you into.

Optics of Fear

When I was in high school, I joined the track team and ran the mile and half mile.  I also ran cross country.  In 9th grade, I was the league champ for the frosh/soph category.  I ran a 17:39 5k.  Same year, I was training to run a 4:30 mile.  The closest I got was 5min flat.  The person behind me came in 10 seconds later.

Ask me what happened my sophomore year…


I quit.


I was afraid of losing.  I couldn’t bear the thought of coming in second or last.  I was also overwhelmed by the training.  I’ll never forget the feeling of quitting.  It hurt….it hurt bad.

I hate fear.  And the kind of fear I’m talking about is the paralyzing stuff where it causes you to stop dead in your tracks.

John Ortberg describes fear like this:

“…an internal warning cry that danger is nearby and we had better do something about it. It is designed to be what researchers call a “self-correcting mechanism”—to be unpleasant enough to motivate us to take action and remove ourselves from whatever is threatening us. It readies our body to flee, hide, or fight.”

book on amazon

We perceive something as dangerous, unpleasant, or threatening.  Our bodies go into flight, fight, or fright mode.  The word literally means “danger”!

But why is that my classmates Seth, Tim, and Ian weren’t afraid enough to quit?  Why did I quit?  Why did I give in to fear and why did I see it more as a threat than they did?

Somehow my perception of racing felt like danger and a threat to my sense of value and worth.  I equated winning and losing to my self-worth and I was more worried about that than actually racing and having fun.


This is the famous buzz word I’ve heard recently.  It’s about how we frame, perceive, and see things.  A “jacked up” view can cause us to see things through optics of fear.  What someone see’s as an opportunity, others see it as a threat or dangerous to their livelihood.

In the Bible, the number one mandate repeated isn’t about how to love God, others, or to do good (although they’re the most important).  Nope.  The most repeated mandate is “DO NOT BE AFRAID”.

Lost dreams, unfulfilled goals, and lack of trying…are they optics of fear that have paralyzed us?


The Belgian spiritual writer Bieke Vandekerckhove found out she had terminal cancer at age 19.  She writes about three inner feelings she had to work through:  sadness, anger, and fear.  The first two are easier to name, express, and work through.  She says,

“fear paralyzes us, and this paralysis is the very thing which robs us of the strength we would need to combat it…fear can only be suffered.  We have to live with it until it recedes on its own…with fear, sometimes all we can do is endure.”

Ronald Rolheiser has quickly become one of my favorite spiritual writers.  He may be the next “Henri Nouwen”.  In his book, “Wrestling with God”, he says,

“Fear can render us impotent.  But naming it properly, recognizing where that symptom belongs and how powerless it leaves us, can help us to live with it, without sadness and anger.”

book on amazon

We may not be able to fix or cure fear completely out of our lives, but we can learn to name it, endure it, and choose to trust God’s invitation to not be afraid (because God is for us, with us, and towards our purpose and potential).

more to name… 🙂

Liberated from Fear

We are afraid of fear because we believe that it has the power to name who we are, and it fills us with shame. We feel ashamed that we’re going around as a fearful person, and so we pretend that we’re not afraid. We try our best to find our own way out of feeling afraid, but this is our dilemma, our stuck place, that Jesus wants us to be liberated from. But we cannot do it on our own.

– James Finley

Much like the 12 Step tradition, we must admit that we are powerless to overcome fear on our own.  We need a higher power that can restore and liberate us.

President FDR’s memorable inaugural speech contains one of the most famous lines regarding fear:

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance…”

– President FDR

Until now, I didn’t know it was followed by him saying words like nameless, unreasoning, or unjustified.

Fear has a way of trying to name who we are so we work hard at disapproving that we are NOT who fear says we are.  The voice of fear tries to name us:

  • not good enough
  • failure
  • fraud
  • powerless
  • no one likes you

For Christians, the cross is the mystery of salvation and suffering, death and resurrection, defeat and victory.  Jesus was tormented by the fear of suffering He was going to face (Luke 22:44).  But Jesus wasn’t afraid of fear because He knew it was just fear.  And I think it’s because Jesus was constantly hearing the voice of His Father saying, “You are my son, the one I love, pride of my life”  (Mark 1:11, my version).  Jesus was properly named from the beginning.  His identity as Messiah, Christ, King, Lord, or Master were superseded by his identity origin:  Beloved.

The message of Jesus is inviting us to experience liberation from fear and hear our original names.  Shame becomes disempowered as we are properly named.

God meets us in the fears that try to name us.  The Father doesn’t abandon Jesus in the Garden of suffering or on the cross.  God’s life is somehow interwoven in the scary things that life throws at us:  middle school, teenage years, dating, marriage, school, career, money, retirement, sickness, death.  Some of these rites are scary.  Scary things happen to us during these stages of life.

When scary and painful things are happening in people’s lives, I listen and say something like, “I’m so sorry to hear about this.  I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you.”  And then we wait to see how God is present and how we might be attentive to his caring and comforting presence.

“Well-formed love banishes fear.” (1 John 4:18, the message).  It’s the voice of love from God that is truly naming you and I.

I won’t pretend this is an easy liberation.  It has been a lifelong wrestling for me.  But I’m more comforted by the words of love these days than prior.  I am much more courageous now to say, “Oh, it’s just fear trying to name me” and then move forward, knowing that the God of love is present in the scary things of life.

Themes of Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh

Quotes from an article written by Alan Roxburgh on Missional Church, along with my own reflections.

“More than anything else, [missional church] is about a people who are continually asking questions about what God is up to in the world about them and experimenting in all kinds of ways with joining God in the mission of the kingdom.”

Roxburgh offers a few themes that characterize Missional Church:

  • Western society as mission field
    • Many people in our N.American society don’t live under a “christian” narrative.  They don’t know the basics of the gospel.  We can’t assume they know what we mean by good news.

“We must fundamentally rethink the frameworks and paradigms that have shaped the come-and-see church over the last half-century. The basic stance of denominations and local churches must be transformed to that of missionaries in their own culture. This requires more than adjustment; it calls for a new kind of church.”

It’s more important that the church be immersed in daily and public life rather than put so much of its emphasis on the Sunday morning program.

  • Mission Is about the Missio Dei
    • God is a missionary and has a certain mission in and for this world
    • there are other “missions” in this world that have certain values and practices that are antithetical to redemption, justice, flourishing.
    • It’s not about God just meeting our personal, individualistic needs.

“The biblical narratives revolve around God’s mission in, through, and for the sake of the world. The focus of attention is toward God not the other way around. The missio dei is about a God-centered rather than a meeting-personal-need centered understanding of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.”

The focus towards God’s mission in this world instead of my personal needs is ironic because of the fact that God desires to renew and redeem the world, which includes personal flourishing.  But the emphasis is for all, not just me.  My personal christian formation and morality will include others’ flourishing when I see that God desires to redeem and renew all of Creation.

  • Missional Church Is about the Church Being a Contrast Society
    • we live in a pluralistic world that is undergoing rapid change
    • the church is no longer the center of morality, ethics, authority

“…the message of Jesus is the breaking-in of God’s reign into the world. Therefore, the church is the called-out community of God in midst of the specificity of a culture…The church is an ecclesia, which means an assembly that has been called out in a public way as a sign, witness, and foretaste of where God is inviting all creation in Jesus Christ.”

We had an escapist mentality.  God has breaking into this world mentality.  I can’t say what Roxburgh says in better or clearer ways.  This is why I believe in a public gathering.  We can’t do away with meeting.  But the gathering is reframed in the context of God’s mission and breaking into our specific culture (and world).