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).

Naming Your Fears

“What is named, is transformed”
“But what is not transformed, gets transmitted”

Insights worth thinking about and practicing.

It’s time to name the fears.  The night shadows, monsters underneath the bed, the high school crush you had but were afraid to ask to the dance….time for the fears to be confronted.

Fear literally means danger.  It’s something that you feel threatened by.  Psychologists keep telling us that many respond through fight, flight, fright (freeze).  Whatever the fear, it has caused you and I to either get combative, abandon the post, or become paralyzed.

Fear of not being good enough
Fear of not having what it takes
Fear of having the heart broken (so don’t try…this is the fear of success)
Fear of the pain a decision will cause (not feeling like you can endure it)
Fear of being a fraud
Fear of not being accepted or liked

What are your current fears?  Can you name them?  Can you befriend them so that, like the movie Monsters Inc, you can realize that the fears are not the end of the world.

In my faith tradition, the great hope when it comes to fear is God’s presence (God is with us), be strong and courageous, and my favorite one “belovedness baffles fear” (my interpretation).

When I meditate on God’s love for me, how God is for me, there is an inner voice of love that calls out:  “I’ve loved you before you screwed up, during your mess ups, and after your successes.  I will always keep choosing you, even when you reject me, doubt me, or run away from me.”

I’m all too familiar with the voice of fear.  Just scroll up and read the lines of fear.  I’m learning that in order to overcome fear, we need to become present to God and allow Him to wash over our fears with His deep acceptance and blessing over us.

In the beginning, when humanity was created, he looked at us and said, “you are good, GOOD”.  Most translations say very good.  But I learned that in semitic language and culture, if you wanted to stress something, you’d say it twice.  That’s why in the Old Testatment, God is said to be holy, Holy, HOLY (three times).  Creation–animals, plants, the ocean–are said to be good.  But HUMANITY is said to be Good, GOOD!

I can’t be fully me living in shame and fear.  So I turn back to God in prayer and ask, “who I am”.  And he says, “you’re mine.  you belong to me.  I love you.  I bless you.”

Name the fear so that you can be properly named as the beloved!  In belovedness, be ye transformed.

Studio work

A few things I learned about tracking drums in the studio:

Take your time planning out the song: Groove. Dynamics.

What do the different parts of the song call for?

Sometimes less is more, meaning that if the melody is busy, drums may need to hold down the roots.

A nice fill to setup the next part can create great movement. It’s like you’re making an introduction to the next part.

Work with good people that will challenge you.

Track slowly when possible.

Mad respect “creative process”. You’re not easily tamed.

You made me get vulnerable. Seems that’s what you like, as Bruno says.

After three long days of tracking, I’m crispy. It was a team effort.

Tracking for 12 hours a day, 3 days in a row, caused me to be crispy.

I appreciated how tough the creative process. You hear drummers do certain things and it’s not so much how complicated it is. It’s more about “how did they come up with that beat or that fill for this particular part?!” That’s the money part.

Coming up with parts that specifically work for this particular song. That’s what we’re trying to find out. So we ask questions about the point of the lyrics or how to contrast or compliment sounds.

Having a range of toms, cymbals, and snares completely changes the texture of a song. Sounds makes a difference to the feel.

Sometimes a part is best played with 8th notes but the hi hats opened just a bit to make it sound chunky.

Studio spaces DO inspire. They have their own ethos.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the process and hope to more of it next year.


Yamaha maple custom kit

Sizes: 10, 12, 14, 16

Snares: Ludwig supraphonic, dark horse maple

Cymbals: Zildjian dark K customs (ride, 16 crash, 18 crash, 16 hats), meinl medium thin crash 22, t-cymbals 16 FX crash, sabían Splash

John Ortberg: On Spiritual Formation Hates

Mostly, I hate how much this list has described me and how slow of learning am I.  Be careful not to get on the bandwagon of the “next thing” without seeing how current or previous language or practices have led to this next thing.

Dennys bible study or lectio divina…it’s all the same.



When Popular Messages Leave Us Feeling Empty

Many of the messages that I hear in certain church settings are based on “getting your best life” or “fulfilling your purpose/potential/call”. I think we have purpose, potential, and a call. Yet why do they seem to leave me feeling empty? I’ve reached some potential/call/purpose, but it’s not as satisfying as I thought it would be.

“This is your season” messages may not leave room for losses so the message is preached yet again for a lifetime, like a constant loop (i.e. “It’s your season…”, “A season of favor is upon you…”, “you’ll reach the nations…”) .

There will come a time when Jesus will have to be enough.
There will come a time when deep intimacy with Jesus, self, and others is more than enough.

Contentment with our current state is a good spiritual discipline to cultivate in our hearts.  What’s also helpful is grieving losses as part of the life cycle.

As we grieve losses, we can trust that God will resurrect new ways of being that are more commiserate to our stage of life/faith. We may have to practice more contentment or forgiveness; learn to give rather than receive; learn to be fully present to God/self/others and not just our wants/needs.

Engaging Culture and Common Good

I had to save this short post by Dr. Richard Mouw. His work on public theology and common good has helped me engage the world and see God’s goodness rather than pick sides or create “insider-outsider” dynamics.

Several good folks are offering excellent responses to the recent declaration by John MacArthur and company condemning those of us who advocate for “social justice.” No need for me to add to the well-stated critiques (such as Mike Gerson’s latest in the Washington Post). But I am a bit concerned about those who defend social justice advocacy as long as it draws only on “the Bible itself.” This ties in with those who accuse some of us for being too “accommodating” to “secular culture” on some justice issues–such as gender concerns and the anti-racism cause.

One of the memorable sermons I have heard was from a Grand Rapids preacher, Clarence Boomsma, back in the 1970s, on Jonah on the ship threatened by a storm. He said there was a dispute there between two parties: a prophet of the true God and a bunch of pagan sailors. If that is all the information we had, he said, and we had to choose sides, we would obviously put our money on the prophet. But in this case, he noted, the pagan sailors were speaking truth when they told the prophet he was putting them in danger by his own disobedience. Boomsma’s memorable punchline: sometimes the world preaches important messages to the church. I am happy, then, not simply to reject out of hand what secular activists have to say to us on gender and race matters. It is important to listen carefully lest we miss some good sermons.

– Richard Mouw