Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” ~ John 6:29

The number one job of a follower of Christ is to believe in Jesus. This belief is not merely an intellectual assent to the reality of Christ, nor is it a dogmatic checklist of doctrinal truths that set you securely in the “right” religious camp. Believing in Jesus isn’t really even about being right in all our doctrines; it’s about being right in our hearts, and those are very different things.

(If that statement sounds heretical to you, consider: Did any of the original disciples have all their doctrine right about God? Was a doctrinal test the measure by which Jesus admitted the thief on the cross into paradise? Did he give a doctrinal exam to the woman at the well, or the lepers he healed, or Zacchaeus, or to any of the disciples before he called them to himself? Has any generation of the Church since the first one been correct in all of their doctrine? Even a cursory look through history shows us that every generation of the Church has missed or even perverted some key element of the truth of God and of Jesus. If right doctrine really were the criteria for being right with God, then no one in the history of the world would make it into heaven save Christ himself.)

The word “believe” in the original Greek goes beyond how we think of Jesus in the abstract. When it comes to the work of faith, what really matters is how much and to what degree we actively trust in him, and entrust our lives to him. In real belief, Jesus is not merely a consultant for our lives, not merely a helper, not merely a comforter, not merely a guide. He is our life. He becomes the air we depend on to live moment to moment, the ground beneath our feet that holds up our very existence.

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“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

I recently listened to a fantastic podcast series on Envy from the good folks at Ransomed Heart, and by “fantastic” of course I mean deeply convicting and painful to listen to. But it’s so so good and so worth the personal angst it will undoubtedly stir up. Here’s a link so you can listen to it yourself:

RANSOMED HEART PODCAST ON ENVY (PART 1 OF A 4-PART SERIES)

As they say on the podcast, Envy begins with a simple question: Why do I not have what they have? There’s nothing particularly dark or sinister about the question itself, but it quickly devolves into Envy (and then to resentment, hate and self-destruction) when it follows this path:

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“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find that he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” ~ Henry Ford

Vison…rather, a compelling vision, sets boundaries on our lives. It creates restraints (Proverbs 29:18). Certain ambitions become possible when counter productive behaviors are no longer an option. It this discipline? Yes…but it’s the compelling vision that’s Key.

Of these, there are two varieties: the “Hell, Yeah!” vision, and the “Hell, No!” vision. One moves you toward a vision of your life that you truly deeply desire and have faith you can attain. The other moves you away from a negative vision of your life that you absolutely loathe and have faith you can avoid.

Sidenote: ALL vision requires faith to activate. You may have a truly compelling vision of the life you genuinely desire, but if you don’t believe it is attainable for you (or for the world), then it’s just a fantasy dream, and will provoke you not to action, but to envy, hopelessness, and self-hatred.

As a coach, I have tended to look down on the “Hell, No!” vision as being too negatively motivated to be sustainable over the long haul. (We can’t meaningfully live solely off of what we are against; our hearts need something beautiful and worthy to be “for.”) Also, “Hell, No!” visions can sometimes be fueled by fear, which is a toxic motivation long term. (Who wants to build a life around avoiding what we fear? It’s much better to build a life that promotes and nurtures what we love.)

But, maybe I’ve been too quick to judge. Maybe “Hell, No!” visions have their place in our lives. After all, not all such visions are rooted in fear; some are born of righteous anger and a deep commitment to justice. And even if there is some fear fueling the vision, that has a formidable potency all its own. When confronting a viper in the wild, we all feel the pure rush of urgency to run away. Such a deep reaction to danger can be clarifying. It makes life simple, and the path clear. We are compelled to act, and such action can then take on a momentum of its own, even after the immediate threat has passed.

Even more than fear, however, a “Hell, No!” vision can inspire anger ~ the kind of anger that establishes firm, healthy boundaries around your life (which is, by the way, what anger is for). You may not yet have faith to believe you can attain the positive compelling vision you want for your life, or for the world…but you can nevertheless be crystal clear on the negative outcome you don’t want. That cannot be. That will not be.

And that is a faith of its own kind.

What do you think? Are “Hell, No!” visions ultimately helpful, or not?

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” ~ Henry Ford

You have Agency.

Agency is the power to take action, and through that action have impact. Agency is not about having absolute control (you don’t); neither is it about praying hard and “trusting God” to do all the acting for you. Rather, it is the recognition that real change comes via an active partnership of faith and action forged between you and God.

This faith-fueled action is the opposite of victimhood ~ that is, the despairing belief that nothing you do matters, or will matter, that you are essentially destined to lose. This is the most tragic form of faithless fatalism: The vapid conviction that nothing you do will ultimately make any difference.

It’s not all up to you; but neither are you impotent. You have a critical role to play in your own victory.

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“Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” ~ Rick Warren

Not too many days from now, billions of people around the world will gather with their families to celebrate the holidays. Even in the most ordinary of years, these gatherings can be stressful. In most families, not every member sees the world in the same way. Not everyone agrees on what’s to be done about the common challenges we face. Not everyone likes the leaders we’ve had or have now, or the decisions they’ve made, or plan to make.

In a year like the one we’ve just experienced, these tensions of difference are running particularly high for just about all of us. You’ve probably already wondered just how volatile things might get around the holiday table this year. Even in the calmest of families, the likelihood that somebody will say something that sets somebody else off are considerably higher than they may have been in previous years.

If this past election cycle has shown us anything, it’s that we need a better way of talking with each other. Attacking, judging, shaming, yelling, condescending, hating, breaking off relationship…these approaches may feel justified in the moment, but they’re very unlikely to produce any sort of lasting solution that honors us all.

Thankfully, there is an alternative approach. It’s called “Civil Conversation,” and it’s a skilled way of talking and listening that every one of us needs to learn for the sake of the common challenges we share and must find a way to resolve together.

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America will be voting today. And for many of us, the voting will be hard. It’s been a difficult path to get us here. We’ve all been a little beat up by it. So I thought I’d offer a little healing balm for our souls, especially for today.

I call it “Remember Love.”

It’s simple. Start the music. Then read the meditation below. Slow down. Take your time. I suggest you read it aloud.

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“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa

I want to talk with you for a minute about the United States as a Relationship System.

When I say “Relationship System,” I mean something that’s in some ways quite similar to the nervous system in your body. For example, imagine you’re running a marathon. You’re determined to beat a certain time you’ve set in your head, and you’ve been training your body for months to achieve that goal. But on the day of the race, at about mile 14, your right heel begins to scream in pain. Now nothing else in your body is hurting, at least not yet. The vast majority of your body is signaling All Systems Go, except for this annoying heel, which is screaming at you that something isn’t right. So what do you do? How do you respond to that signal in your heel?

This is similar to how a Relationship System works. A Relationship System is a web of people who are linked together via a network of relationships. Such a system can be as small as two individuals (such a married couple) or as large as the entire population of the world. At whatever level you parse it out, however, every relationship system tends to function a bit like a living organism, like the body of the athlete running the marathon. No one part of the system has a complete picture of the Current Reality. Rather, each part of the system provides vital (but partial) information back to the whole, and the “whole” must collectively decide how to proceed based on that information.

Right now in our nation, we’ve all begun to recognize that there’s been a significant breakdown in this information loop within our National Relationship System. A large segment of the nation perceives the current reality in our country in a radically different way from another large segment of the nation. We’re all looking at the same picture, but perceiving very different realities. It’s like we’re the marathon runner, but the signal pathways between the major parts of our body have been cut off. Part of us is feeling one way, another part is feeling very differently. But the connection between the two has been severed, so neither part understands what the other part is experiencing. Thus the whole body suffers.

Now, I have some very good news about all this. In Relationship Systems Theory, which is a big part of the work I do every day, there is a simple solution to this system-wide breakdown. It’s so simple, in fact, it almost sounds too simplistic to be true. But my experience, and more importantly loads of research, have demonstrated that it works, time and again.

What is the solution?

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