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.

peace,

chaplain roy

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…

nothing.

I quit.

why?

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.

OPTICS

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?

ENDURE

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).

Your Story Takes Courage

Your life is a story.  It has a past/present/future.  There are plot twists, characters, and different settings.

Your story contains a DNA strand of purpose and meaning.  All of it is material that is trying to tell you something about you and this world.

There are beliefs, experiences, and people that have helped give shape to your story–for better, for worse.

In the DNA strand of your story, there is courage to be caught and remembered.

  • I remember the day that I graduated with a masters in theology.  My story?  I was a C student in high school with a lot of insecurities and self-doubt.  Courage got me through seminary.
  • I remember the day when marriage was getting hard.  Our story?  Troubled marriages as examples.  Courage got us through the rough patches.
  • I remember when I was cycling my first century bike ride, climbing 7500 ft.  My story?  Mexicans don’t cycle and never had done a century.  Courage and a tribe of people pushed me through to the end.
  • I remember when started a new job as a corporate chaplain?  My story?  “I’ve never done this before!  What am I thinking leaving all the comforts of the IT world?!”  Courage helped me see that I was made for this.

Feeling discouraged?  Need some #encouragement?  Look at the times when you overcome a struggle or hardship.  Look back on your storied life and see how courage has been finding you!

From pain to belovedness

Being away from home can be disorienting. The familiar is suspended for the unknown.

Being at home in the deep places of my heart when traveling happens when I return to the message of belovedness.

New settings may trigger old anxieties.

Being away from home can make me feel like a lost stranger in a new city.

When I return to the voice of love, I see the new place as a gift, one not to fear or resist.

The voice of love helps me to see my own brokenness and lead out of vulnerability and trust.

The voice of self-rejection is self-critical, making many demands of the self and of others that can’t really be met.

An old pain resurfaced this past week that made me get on my knees and wonder what I’d do. It was a few loving conversations where I heard the voice of love calling me back home.

Beloved friendships have the power to point us back to our original identity: belovedness. I don’t find my deep identity in my work, roles, music, gender, or ethnicity. I find it in the voice of love.

I can only long for this home or belovedness because I have been there before. I can only return because I’ve once claimed it for myself.

And when I do return, I am blessed as a child of God. My gender, ethnicity, and gifts now make sense.

Daring Greatly: 12 Shame Categories

I chose to read Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, for a seminary class because shame sucks.  Her work has been so helpful to many, including myself.  Last night, I was recounting how helpful it is to be aware of your shame triggers so that you recognize the patterns.

Brown says that “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”, (p.69).  I describe it as the feelings and thoughts that tell us “something is wrong with me”.  I remember feeling different when I was younger, asking myself “what’s wrong with me”.  It’s an ugly feeling.

Brown lists 12 shame categories to be aware of.  Her books talks about building shame resilience as a way to cope with the shame triggers:

  • appearance and body image
  • money and work
  • motherhood/fatherhood
  • family
  • parenting
  • mental and physical health
  • addiction
  • sex
  • aging
  • religion
  • surviving trauma
  • being stereotyped or labeled

Urbana18: Nothing new in Revelation

[NOTE:  This year, I have the opportunity to play drums for the Urbana conference and be the band chaplain.  From their site:

Urbana is a catalytic event bringing together a diverse mix of college and graduate students, faculty, recent graduates, pastors, church and ministry leaders, missions organizations and schools.

I’m posting thoughts/reflections on being musicians, ministers, and mission-minded that are shaped by scripture, tradition, and our own experiences.  This year, Urbana has chosen the theme “Faithful Witness” and the book of Revelation to discern our role in God’s mission for the world.  I’m also using a rubric of character, competency, chemistry, and culture to organize thoughts and ideas.]


Eugene Peterson says that there is nothing new being said in the book of Revelation.  I found that deeply profound given that my pentecostal/dispensationalist background gave me a sense that Revelation was about futuristic, catastrophic events occurring on earth.  Rapture.  Wars.  Famine.  Earthquakes.  The Anti-Christ (Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, The Pope, Barak Obama, Trump).

So when I read Psalm 93:1,25, I was yet again reminded of Peterson’s adage:  there’s nothing new being said.  God has been saying it “…in the beginning”.

The team has been thinking about Revelation 4-5, which has been dubbed “The Throne room scene”.  What John saw then is what the Psalmist says thousands of years prior:

1 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty;

the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength;
indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.

2 Your throne was established long ago;
you are from all eternity.

Your statutes, Lord, stand firm;
    holiness adorns your house
    for endless days.

Why does the Lord reign?  And why is that good news?  And how does the Lord rule and reign?  That’s probably the most important question for me.  In other words, whose in charge and are they worthy of leading?

In the marketplace, a company takes its shape and form from the leaders (those who rule and reign).  The manner of leading trickles down the pike and influences each person.  Leadership is very important.  It sets vision and values which impact the culture of a company.

As Christians, we profess that Jesus Christ is Lord.  He rules and reigns with justice, mercy, and unfailing love.  That’s a great description of a leader!

As musicians leading people in worship, I’m a bit holy-scared!  How and why is that God would choose to use some rag-tag people with unclean lips and impure hearts to lead people into His throne room?  I’m not trying to paint a sad picture of our depravity, but in some ways, God’s presence doesn’t allow me to stay unexposed.  All things are brought to the light and because he rules with justice and mercy, I’m in good hands.

Someone taught early on my musician formation that we play because we motivated and compelled to worship the living God.  When I play at church, people come up to me and say, “I knew it was you playing today…I could feel you.”  That means a lot to me because I want every beat to a passionate prose of worship to the living God.  I’m captivated by this Jesus as King figure!  I’m moved by His love for me and for you.  And I want the music to reflect it.

For Research: Here’s How To Prevent The Next School Shooting, Experts Say : NPR Ed : NPR

This article is a great plan and resource for reducing violence and gun related issues. Posting it for future use.

Here’s How To Prevent The Next School Shooting, Experts Say : NPR Ed : NPR
— Read on www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/03/07/590877717/experts-say-here-s-how-to-prevent-the-next-school-shooting

And, these experts say, you remove the major “environmental hazard” that contributes to gun violence: the guns. The eight-point plan calls for universal background checks, a ban on assault-style weapons, and something called Gun Violence Protection Orders: a type of emergency order that would allow police to seize a gun when there is an imminent threat.

What sets this call to action apart from other policy proposals is not gun control, however, but the research-based approach to violence prevention and response. This is a long haul, say the experts, not a quick fix.

“No matter what you try to do by just hardening the target, we’ve learned that having the armed officers isn’t necessarily going to stop it,” says Matthew Mayer at Rutgers. “Having the metal detector or the locked doors isn’t going to stop it. The hard work is a lot more effort. You’d better start thinking in a more comprehensive manner about prevention instead of reacting.”