Archive for May 2015

Can You Take the Pressure?

When the pressure is on, not everyone responds the same way. Some people buckle under the weight of it. They go along to get along. They quickly submit and get pushed around. They keep their heads down and live to cower another day.

Maybe if I just do what’s expected of me, they’ll leave me alone.

Others have the exact opposite reaction. They rebel against the pressure. They let circumstances work them into a frenzy. They’re not putting up with anything from anybody.

You think you can push me around Mr. Tough Guy? Think again.

These two responses – fight or flight – are basic, instinctual. They’re the easiest, most natural responses in our repertoire. Which one you pick just depends on personality and experience. When our backs are against the wall, we all experience the urge either to run away or turn and fight.

But there’s another response available to us. There is an alternative to the fight-or-flight polarity of stressful, threatening situations.

It starts with a decision to know who we truly are, down in our bones. We can dwell in that. Nothing can shake our core value, our essential spirit: our identity as beloved children of God.

When we’re rooted in that life, when we know who we are, ain’t nobody gonna rock us. We won’t be the people who get pushed around, tossed by every wind. Nor will we be doing the shoving ourselves, all reaction and no reflection.

We’ll stick around – firm, friendly, and unafraid. We’ll bear the burden – neither collapsing nor striking back. We’ll be the pillar that upholds real human community, despite all its messiness. We’ll live in the power that allows organizations to thrive, efforts to be sustained, communities to grow.

Despite all the pressures bearing down on us, we’ll remain rooted. Trusting. Joyful.

We’ll be able to give an answer for the hope that is within us: I am a beloved child of God, and I live in his unshakable power.

Fear can’t touch that.

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What Does it Mean to be Fully Human?

Fully Human

Are you ready for more?

Not more accomplishments to rack up, not more bills to pay and people to impress – but more life, the real life that all of us hunger for but often fail to experience.

Are you ready to live truly, see clearly, and prioritize the things that really matter?

What does it mean to be fully human?

This fall, Friends of Jesus Fellowship invites you to an experience of wholeness, vitality, and deeper life in community.

Be present with us September 4-7 in Lebanon, New Jersey.

Register now and lock in a special low rate (ends June 8th)!

Watch for more details soon.

It’s the Slow Things that Matter

We live in an age where we expect everything to come quickly. Cities built overnight. Islands reclaimed from the sea. New technologies transforming our lives. The latest and greatest.

That’s how human systems work. In our ingenuity, we build our towers of Babel at lightning speed, and they fall just as quickly.

Remember the VHS tape? Came out of nowhere, revolutionized the industry. Now gone. Or how about the Soviet Union? It arose in a sudden coup, conquered half of Europe, and had the free world shaking in its boots for decades. Kids today know it only from history books, if at all. Consigned to the dustbin of history.

Our many creations of silicon and steel are no match for the enduring power that grows slowly, organically, incrementally. The caves beneath the earth took millions of years to develop, and they’ll be here long after we are gone. Each one of us took 9 months (give or take) to develop in the womb before we were ready to make our debut, and we’re all still growing, learning, changing to the very end.

As I reflect on which things in my life matter most, it’s easy for me to measure myself based on those quick wins. Where I work, the neighborhood I live in, which products I use, wear, eat, drive. All those things that come fast, and go just as quickly.

But what really matters at the end of the day are the slow-cooked elements of my life; the relationships that emerge over time – years and decades, not weeks or months. These are the commitments that endure beyond the froth of the urgent.

These are the deepest, most sacred parts of my life: My grounding relationship with God. My marriage, which keeps evolving and unfolding with every passing year. Friendships that take on new flavors with age. Commitment to place, to a portion of the earth that God has given me to care for. These are the slow things that will matter long after today’s ephemeral gadgets, stock prices, and political controversies are lost to the trash heap.

What are the slow things that lie at the heart of your existence? What will be left tomorrow, when today’s distractions fade away? Where is the steady drip of commitment in your life, your investment in those things that truly matter?

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Feeling Stressed? There’s a Solution

Feeling Stressed? There's a Solution

I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed. There’s so much I want to see and do. I want to make an impact with my life, and my imagination wanders far beyond the limits of my own capacity to make change. My dreams are way bigger than my ability to make them reality.

Despite my ambition, it’s only a remarkably tiny slice of life where I can really hope to have any positive impact. It’s the love I show, the work I do, the responsibility I take for my own life, and for being available to others in service.

There are no guarantees. I can’t be sure that things will turn out alright. I struggle to even sort myself out, so fixing other people is totally beyond my reach. The best I can hope for is to do the work that God puts right in front of me, each and every day. I don’t get to control outcomes, just my response to what the world throws at me.

I know this won’t sit well with a lot of folks. It doesn’t sit well with me, to be quite honest. It sounds so passive and fatalistic, doesn’t it? The idea that the best I can do is to respond well to the way the world is?

I was raised in America, and a big part of what makes America great is our conviction that we can do anything we put our minds to. It’s that can-do attitude that says that nothing should be taken for granted. We don’t have to accept anything simply because it is. Rules were made to be broken. There’s always a possibility for change. We can disrupt inefficient, unjust, and ugly systems in order to pave the way for something more wonderful.

I want to believe that. The American spirit speaks to my own sense of optimism and ambition. But in my experience it’s also a quick road to burnout and depression.

Because life just doesn’t work like that. When I push, the world doesn’t simply yield to my desire for change. This world, and the countless people and systems that inhabit it, are what they are. They’re not changing just because I say so.

Recognizing this fact doesn’t leave me powerless, it doesn’t make me a victim of life and the world, but it does inform where I need to be putting my energy. There is just a tiny slice of this universe where I can effectively exercise influence, make a difference, and see positive change happen. That’s where I need to put my focus and imagination.

These are the spheres of influence where I can truly make a difference: The work and relationships that are right in front of me; the little bit of air, land, and water that I am given to care for; the dignity of spirit that I am invited to carry in my body, regardless of how anyone treats me.

My job is to radiate love like a radio tower, not to concern myself with how far the signal reaches. I’m invited to live a humble faith, expressed in simple acts of dedication, generosity, and truthfulness. My life can speak volumes about the Creator when I release my need to control the world and allow myself to be controlled by One greater than myself.

This isn’t what I imagined I would be when I grew up. It’s not the kind of heroism that I was taught to aspire to. But it sure beats the life of stress, burnout, and despair that comes when I try to bite off more than I’ve been given to chew.

So when I’m feeling trapped, exhausted, burnt out, and angry, I have to ask myself: What am I carrying that isn’t mine to bear? Who am I trying to fix, when only God can speak to their heart? What is the work that God has placed right in front of me today? That’s where I’m going to find joy.

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Do You Want Happiness, or Justice?

We all want justice. Practically everyone wants to live in a world where truth prevails and we’re all treated fairly, lovingly. Yet we live in a world that is profoundly unjust. A society in which black men are routinely murdered with impunity by law enforcement. A world in which the wealthiest 1% control roughly half of our planet’s wealth.

How can this be? What does it mean that the overwhelming majority of us long for peace, justice, a society in which fairness and love are the norm, and yet we are surrounded by injustice that is so foul that it tempts us to despair?

Here’s the sad truth: As much as we want justice, we want happiness more.

It often seems like we must choose one or the other. The society of truth and justice that we all long for simply isn’t compatible with a safe, comfortable life. The peaceable kingdom, the beloved community, the society that King and Gandhi and Jesus point us to is one birthed of struggle.

Justice – a truthful and kind-hearted community rooted in love – comes about only through discomfort. We take the first step towards justice when we recognize that we have a problem. We can’t get there until we wrestle with the pain of that problem – with our anger, shame, and fear. Justice doesn’t find us until we resolve to change our lives, facing our own darkness and exposing it to the light.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like a fun time to me. The path of justice is so full of challenge, struggle, and pain; it’s no wonder that our world looks the way it does. We’d rather be happy than do the bloody work of forging a just and loving society. Most of the time, we’d rather limp along with our bandaged wounds than face the cleansing, healing fire.

Everybody wants peace, but who wants to face up to our own violent behavior and attitudes? We all want truth, but who among us really wants to face the lies we’ve told? Practically everyone wants to live in a world that is kind, loving, and fair, but how many people do you know who are eager to give up their hard-earned advantages to benefit those who have less? Not many.

We’d rather not go down that road of risk and pain and struggle. We want justice, but not at that price. So we live in this broken world, full of injustice and hatred, despite our deep desire to see truth and love prevail.

It’s tragic, but not surprising. Most of the time, we’ll pick happiness over justice. Even if that unjust happiness is just a pale shadow of the fulfillment we might find in truth. But that kind of happiness lies on the other side of the fire, through the struggle and the pain. If the way out of hell is covered in thorns, flames, and the agony of the cross – well, most of us prefer the devil we know.

But we do have a choice. What if we had the courage to take the journey out of the inferno, even if it means walking through the flames? What kind of life, what kind of community would be possible if we committed ourselves to embracing the struggle for Christ-like love, justice, and mercy – even if it threatens our short-term happiness? You and I are not victims; we are powerful people with choices, ones that make the difference between heaven and hell. 

The easy path leads to destruction. The narrow, hard path leads to life.

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Can Apple Watch Measure my Soul?

Do you know what your blood pressure is? How about your heart rate? How many hours of sleep do you get each night, and how many miles do you walk every day? All of this information – and much more – is available to us through recently developed wearable monitoring technology.

Millions of people are using tracking technologies like FitBit, Apple Watch, and other wearables to measure many aspects of our lives, and the media is speculating that the popular obsession with self-measurement is only likely to grow in the years to come. Pretty soon, we may be able to get real-time information about all of our bodily functions, including our thoughts and feelings. 

For me, this raises the question: Are human beings more than the sum of our parts? Are we just a collection of electrons firing, hearts beating, muscles spasming? Am I, at the end of the day, just a very complex biological program running to its logical conclusion? When we’ve gathered all the data on the human race – and on each of us individually – will there be any room left for free will? For meaning?

Eventually, will Apple Watch be able to give me a readout on my relationship with God, a temperature check on my soul? Will FitBit be able to provide me with a comprehensive analysis of my closest friendships? At what point do my decisions become irrelevant? When does it just make more sense to follow the data?

It makes me wonder: Is there something that we experience in our lives, our universe, that transcends the superficial metrics of science and reaches into the realm of meaning? What might we miss in the rush to quantify our lives down to the millisecond? What gets lost when human beings are converted into data streams?

The determinism of big data is seductive, but is that really where we want to put our trust? Do we recognize all the moral assumptions that come with our technology? What will it mean for us to reclaim the wonder of our lives, rather than being remade in the image of the machine?

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I Don’t Know (And Neither Should You)

There’s no shame in ignorance; only in pretending to know things you don’t. When you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. Admit it: I don’t know.

Real wisdom isn’t about knowing things; instead, it’s a willingness to be taught. A wise person, by acknowledging their own ignorance, leaves space for the next step, a new discovery, fresh insight.

Such epiphanies doesn’t always come easy. When Jesus was raised from the dead, his disciples simply couldn’t fathom it. They were so busy processing the crucifixion that they were unable to absorb the reality of the resurrection.

It wasn’t until Jesus appeared to them – in the garden saying Mary’s name; on the road to Emmaus breaking bread; by the seashore eating fish – that the disciples were able to see the truth. Jesus had to literally reach out and touch someone before his disciples finally understood.

If even the Twelve couldn’t wrap their heads around what would happen to Jesus, how can I expect to understand what God is doing in my own life? Despite my earnest attempts to anticipate God’s plan, I’m constantly astonished. Better to admit it up front: I have no idea what’s going on here.

Real strength lies, not in knowing, but in trusting. Having faith that despite my lack of understanding, the Holy Spirit is present with me. Jesus walks beside me on the way, ready to break the bread and pour the wine, if only I have eyes to see it. If I’ll invite him to come and stay the night with me, he will show himself.

What is getting in between you and the next step that God wants to reveal to you? What are the un-examined assumptions you’re carrying? What is it you think you know? Are there unexpected marks of the resurrection hiding right under your nose?

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