Can Others Tell When You Are Afraid?

fear1.jpgThat afternoon, we drove away from their house. We had been in a difficult conversation.  We met with a woman whom we both liked and admired but found difficult.  She seemed self-assured and almost smug. I told my wife that it seemed as if she perceived herself to be an expert on most subjects.

Yet, Charlotte had a different take on this woman.  “She is actually quite fearful.”

Upon reflection, I think she is correct.

How do you spot a fearful person?  Is this a person who is cowering in the corner with fear?  Not necessarily.  This may be a 30 year old man who, like an insecure boy, is doing his best to appear cool.  Actually, one may be speaking with a fearful person and yet not really be aware of this person’s fearfulness.  This person may actually be dominated by fear. Children are often more obvious in the way they express their fear.  They typically fight or flee when they are afraid.  Adults respond in much the same way, only we try to mask our fear.

When You are Afraid

fear4“Were you afraid?” she asked.  Of course I was.  We were moving across the country after living in Waco for twenty years.  We were leaving the known and entering the unknown.  Yes, I know fear. Typically I become afraid of what could happen.  After all, “What if?”

Meanwhile, early this morning I sat at a table in Starbucks.  I was near the door.  My cup of coffee was to my right.  My computer was open.  I was working on a document for a lunch meeting that I would have in a few hours.  The morning was calm. People were coming and going, each leaving with a cup of coffee.  I anticipated a full day with several meetings scheduled and some other work that I needed to take care of.  The sun was shining and all was well.  Fear was nowhere to be found.

However, there are times when I have awakened in the middle of the night only to be faced with my fears.

1.  What if the situation I am working through goes bad?  What will I do or say?

2.  What about my children?  What about their future?  Will they be all right?

3.  What if I die suddenly?  What will Charlotte do?  Will she be all right?

4.  What about my work and ministry?  What if I’m not as competent as I should be?

5.   What about my health?  What if I am suddenly stricken by disease?

The Real Me (and perhaps the real you)

fear.jpgThe real me is a guy who sometimes spends too much time wrestling with fear and worry.

Does this sound familiar?  If not, you may want to skip the rest of this post.

Like you, the real me is more than fear.  There are other qualities that I hope I’ve grown and matured in over the years.  I hope I reflect more of Jesus’ character.  I would like to think that my life displays the fruit of God’s Spirit (however imperfectly).

Yet, I sometimes spend too much time with fear and worry.  These can be middle of the night visitors that keep me awake as they remind me of the bad things that could happen in my life.

A few weeks ago I was in conversation with a friend of mine who preaches for a very large community church.  He has served this church for many years.  He is handsome, articulate, and has numerous gifts.  Yet, at one point in the conversation, he made the following comment regarding my ministry and role at Harding School of Theology.

“Jim, I don’t see how you do this work.  Wow.  I would have a lot of fear about doing something like this.”

What Has Helped You Feel Less Self-Conscious?

I never intended to be a minister.


I grew up in a church. Over the years, there were probably a half-dozen ministers who preached at this church. As a child, I really didn’t know much about them. I only saw them from a distance. Yet, most of them seemed “different.” Not different in a Christian sort of way. Just different in terms of manner. I remember dark suits, pulpit voices, and distance. I don’t say this to be critical. I am just expressing what I sensed as a child.

So, I never intended to be a minister.

Yet, I am a minister. I have been in this role for 30 years. I mean the kind who preaches each Sunday and does various kinds of ministry “full-time.” (Whatever that means!)

How did I end up in this role? How did I come to believe that God wanted me to do this for a portion of my life? That is a long story. Yet, I can honestly tell you that during my younger years, I never gave a thought to wanting to be a minister.

Years later, as I found myself moving toward this role, I had to grapple with my self-consciousness. I worriedself1.jpg (a lot) about what people thought about me. Would they think I was odd, weird, or different? The answer is “yes.” Yet, I learned that the issue to grapple with was not their perception but my own self-consciousness.   

I’ve known some ministers who seem to to deal with this by attempting to project a certain “coolness.” It sort of feels like this person is saying, “Hey, I’m not odd, weird, or different. I’m cool. I’m like you.” Well, ok. I just don’t think I want to approach this problem this way. Maybe I don’t trust my motives. It seems to me that in trying to convey “coolness” that my own self-consciousness is still in control.

I have learned to deal with this by first recognizing when I am feeling self-conscious and then focusing my energy and intent toward being authentic and being “me.”

The other day I was at a luncheon. Most of the other people present were either attorneys or business people. I was there as a guest of the luncheon speaker. At each table, we were asked to stand and introduce ourselves to those in the room. In this self-introduction, we were to give our name and our work. At one time, being the only minister present, I would have felt self-conscious in such a setting. That day, however, I was more focused on the conversation taking place between myself and a very interesting man who I had just met. I was more interested in him than focused on myself. It was an enjoyable lunch.


Do you ever find yourself so concerned about what others think of you that you don’t enjoy the moment? What has helped you become less self-conscious?

How to Ruin a Good Relationship

Lots of people are looking for the right relationship. Yet, so often these same people will then contribute to the demise of what otherwise might have been a very good relationship.

A few examples:

A woman thinks she has found a new friend. She becomes acquainted with another woman at work who is about her same age and they come from a similar background. They enjoy going to lunch and talking, and seem to have much in common. Yet, in a few months, the relationship ends and yes, there is lots of drama. This seems to happen again and again.

A minister and his wife have recently moved to a new community where he has begun working with a church in this new setting. He is excited about the new possibilities. Yet, in less than twelve months, it all changes. He is in major conflict with this congregation.


A guy and girl meet and everything seems right. She seems to have so many qualities that he has always wanted in another person. She thinks the same about him. In fact, this relationship seems “special.” Yet, in a matter of months things change. In spite of what they have invested in the relationship, neither will address his or her own issues.

Very often, the one phrase that might be repeated in each of these situations is:

“I just don’t know what happened.”

A few observations:

1. New relationships are often great opportunities to grow, mature, and develop. Yet, for many people these relationships are just another occasion to make the same old mistakes again and again. For example, a person with much pent-up anger may find that his anger seems to be a recurring issue in his relationships. Yet, if this anger is never really dealt with, he will walk away from the ashes of a broken relationship, concluding that the end is due to the other person and her issues.

2. Very often, there are some identifiable patterns that begin to emerge as we look back at our past relationships. For example, some ministers have certain patterns regarding their ministry. They enter a congregation full of hope and promise. They believe that this congregation is really good (not like the last one). This church has good elders, good deacons, etc. Then, some sort of conflict happens. The minister is very “willful” and angry in the way he handles himself. Often the intensity of the conflict seems much greater to the church than it does to this minister. (“Everybody loves me here. I just have a few people who seem to have it in for me.”) Little does he know that this is “the beginning of the end.”

3. Some people will not seek help because of their own blindness, pride, or fear. Perhaps they are afraid of the pain that is deep within and rather than face the pain and mature, they try to avoid dealing with it. In the meantime, pain that is not addressed can often be a negative energy that destroys good relationships.


1. Focus on being the kind of person you ought to be instead of finding the kind of person you desire.

2. Get help for your pain (especially pain that is deep and/or traumatic). Yes, it can be frightening to face the pain. Many people simply try to avoid dealing with pain, thinking that it will go away. Yet, working with a good counselor to process such pain can be absolutely freeing!

3. Pay attention to clues regarding destructive patterns in your life. Is there a pattern of anger or perhaps conflict avoidance? Are there other unhealthy patterns in your own behavior that continue to reoccur?


What do you need to do right now for your own well-being and to avoid needlessly ruining a good relationship? What have you been avoiding? What could you do this week that might be a step of courage?   


Much Fear in Many Churches


It is everywhere! No, I am not talking about the fear of the Lord. Nor am I talking about any sort of healthy fear.

No, I am referring to another kind of fear — an unhealthy fear.

She sat just outside the main doors to our auditorium (sanctuary, worship center, etc.). She was in her late 40s, had alcohol on her breath, and looked as if she had been crying for days. The doors were open and the service was about to begin. She sat in a chair and refused to go in. She said something about not being worthy. She sat in that chair, legs crossed, and rocked.


I knew this woman and some of her family. She was an alcoholic and had lived in much pain and had caused much pain for many years. She had lived a sad life.

Deep within this woman was much fear. She was fearful that God no longer loved her. She was afraid to stop drinking and afraid to continue. She had been hurt deeply by others. She had been through one broken marriage and wondered if she would be loved again.


There is much fear in many churches. For example:

  • The fear of being known.
  • The fear of being known and then rejected.
  • The fear of being left out.
  • The fear of being seen as “less than.”
  • The fear of being discovered.
  • The fear of having another see my guilt.
  • The fear of having another see my ignorance.
  • The fear of having another see my insecurity.
  • The fear of having another see how fearful I really am.

On and on it goes.

When I first began working with a church as a minister, I remember feeling fear. I was afraid that people would be very disappointed if they knew that I didn’t have it all together. I was afraid that some would be disappointed that I wasn’t like the Apostle Paul or Peter, not to mention Jesus. No, I was a minister and was living as a Christ-follower. Yet, I was also me — just a regular guy.


Fear has a way of keeping our relationships shallow and our friendships surface level. Fear has a way of keeping others at arm’s length, even those who appear to be safe.

What about you?

What kind of fear have you seen among Christian people?


Are You Worried?

WORRY.JPGSometimes I worry.


I don’t think that I live each day in worry.    But — I do know how to worry.  Sometimes I notice that these worries seem to stand in line waiting for me to examine each one.  One by one they parade in front of me, each one of them demanding time, space, and energy.  Each one seems to be clamoring for my attention.  I think about one of these and plan to move on to something else when another worry pops up demanding its own place in my mind.  


Does this sound familiar to you?  I suspect it does, at least to some of you.    

I decided one day to write down every worry that I saw in the parade.  I’ve got a list of them.  In front of me at this moment is a "worry list" written in my journal.  My worry list was not difficult to write.  I encourage you to do this sometime.  Just list everything that you see in your parade of worries.

  • Worries related to your children.
  • Worries related to your marriage or other significant relationships.
  • Worries related to your health or the health of people who really matter to you.
  • Worries related to your work.
  • Worries related to your church or your personal ministry.
  • Worries related to your finances.

Now maybe some of these are not in your parade, but I suspect that many of them are.  Write down your worries.  Be brief but specific.


The other day I was with a good friend at lunch and he said, "You know fear and faith always point to the future."  He went on to say, "Fear anticipates the future.  So does faith."  Hmmm.  In other words both of these are connected in some way to our view of the future.


Then I read Psalm 33.  The author praises God for who he is.  In particular, I like these lines:


4 For the word of the LORD is right and true;
       he is faithful in all he does.

5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
       the earth is full of his unfailing love.


Faithful.  The Lord is faithful.  When everything around me is uncertain, unpredictable, changing, and unstable, God is faithful.  He is like the house in the middle of the hurricane that stands firm while everything else is blown away.  He is like the mighty oak tree.  He is stable, secure, and solid.


If I am living in him and he is living in me, my life takes on his stability and security.  I become more and more solid.  All of this is happening because I am holding on to God who is stable, secure, and solid.  My life begins to take on more and more of his character. 


Consequently, when my parade of worries begins, I want to focus on the one who is faithful instead of watching the parade.  I want to place my life in his hands.  If I focus on my parade of worries, fear will rule me.  Fear will always paint a bleak picture of the future.  I want to instead put my faith in the faithful one.  I want to put my faith in the Lord who will never leave me or forsake me.  


Maybe this will help you today.  Maybe you too have a parade of worries that is demanding your attention.  Keep your eyes focused on the one who is faithful.  Hold on to the one who is your help, shield, and hope. 


Psalm 33 closes with these words:


20 We wait in hope for the LORD;
       he is our help and our shield.

 21 In him our hearts rejoice,
       for we trust in his holy name.

 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,
       even as we put our hope in you.

Having the Nerve to Follow Christ (Part 2)

coffee5_1.jpg"Well of all the nerve!"

I’m not sure where I first heard that expression.  It may have been from my grandmother in Searcy, Arkansas, who used to utter that phrase quite often.  Whenever I have heard that expression, the context is usually the same.  Someone is expressing shock or disbelief at someone’s behavior.

It really does take some nerve to follow Jesus.  Perhaps in some respects, following Jesus simplifies life.  After all, it becomes very clear as to what one’s priorities are to be.  "Seek first the kingdom," Jesus said.  He also said that the first and second greatest commandments were to love God and to love our neighbor.  Now that clarifies what is really important.

On the other hand, following Jesus can complicate life.  Following Jesus can lead to pain, suffering, etc.  Look at what happened to the earliest Christ-followers.

We are called to look into the face of Jesus and trust him through this life.  This trust gives us the nerve to follow him.

Now let us think about all of the reasons that we have to be afraid:

  • Gas prices.  We are close to $4 per gallon.  It seems to go up almost every day.  You wonder how expensive gasoline will be by the end of summer.  What will happen?  Will God take care of me?
  • The overall economy.  Constantly we hear bad news about the housing market.  You feel this need to cut back.  "I could stop eating out so much.  I could car pool.  I could cut back on what we give to our church."  Will God take care of me?
  • "What if_______ happens?"  Just fill in the blank.  Will God take care of me?
  • "What about my problems?"  If you are like many of us, you know what it is to wake up at 3:00 AM and for your mind to be flooded with anxiety over your children, your parents, your brother or sister, etc.  Will God take care of me?

The truth is that so many of us live with constant worry and anxiety because we are just not sure that God will come through.  We are just not sure that he can be trusted with the kinds of things we are wrestling with.

Trusting God does not mean that we trust God to fix or repair each and every mess we are in.  Nor does trusting God mean that we will not go through pain.  Many people trust God and still end up divorced, terminated at work, and familiar with difficulties in general.    

Trusting God means that God will not let go.  He will not abandon us.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  At times that will seem obvious.  At other times you may feel as if he is doing nothing.  Yet, even in the mystery of this life, even when God is silent, we continue to believe that he is present and faithful.

Do I need to hear this?  Yes

Do I sometimes get wrapped up in my own fear and anxiety?  Yes

Do I, at times, attempt to live out of my own strength and resources?  Yes

That is the reality of my own life.  Yet, I have been comforted and encouraged by the constant faithfulness of God throughout all of life.  When I get bogged down by anxiety, I go back to the truth of God’s faithfulness.

You may be a husband, wife, father, mother, or church leader and you just have difficulty getting beyond your own fear.  Can you relate to this?  Does this sound familiar?  

Having the Nerve to Follow Christ (Part 1)

coffee24.jpgIt takes a lot of nerve to follow Christ.  It takes a lot of nerve to minister to a church and to a community. 

No matter who you are and what your vocation might be, if you are going to follow Christ, it will call for courage.  Before the late Edwin Friedman passed away a number of years ago, he had been working on a book entitled A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.  The book is very good and I recommend it highly, particularly to Christian leaders.  However, I love this title!  A failure of nerve.  I suspect that if you have wrestled with fear, as I have at times, you relate to this line.

Christians have always struggled with fear, timidity, and cowardice.  Early on in the book of Joshua, God reminds his new leader Joshua: 

". . . As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."  (Joshua 1:5b-9)

Courage!  One Christian writer has said that courage is the willingness to say or do the right thing regardless of the cost.  For most of us in the West, the cost comes in the form of mental and emotional pain.  Yet, perhaps such pain really shouldn’t be a surprise to Christ-followers.  After all, the earliest Christians suffered for the sake of his name.

Friedman spoke of the danger of being a "peace-monger."  This is the person who often disrupts the Christian who is displaying courage.  This person, according to Friedman, is actually a highly anxious risk avoider.  He described this person as being incapable of taking a stand.  This person functions as if he/she had been "filleted of their backbone."  Such a leader may be nice but spineless.  When a church leader hears the words, "I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about you," that is not necessarily a compliment.  In fact, such statements may actually feed a person’s addiction to good feelings rather than God-centered progress.

What kind of courage is needed by believers in general and Christian leaders in particular?

  • The courage to keep your marriage covenant even though the present season of marriage may be far from satisfying.
  • The courage to be faithful to your husband/wife even when you are traveling and are away from home and enticing opportunities for sin appear.
  • The courage to trust God when faced with opportunity to serve and do good instead of yielding to fear and then using your fear to terrify others in the church.
  • The courage to model personal holiness and purity in an R-rated culture.
  • The courage to challenge believers to move toward risk and sacrifice for the kingdom of God instead of ease and a soft, easy, self-indulgent life. 

What evidence of courage do you see among some Christians today?  What evidence do you see that fear has been allowed to rule some Christians?

More later.