Paying attention to red flags

When I lived in Afghanistan, I noticed something about myself and my companions. There were definite signs that we were in trouble. I don’t mean in trouble with the Taliban, but rather in trouble with ourselves.

One of my coworkers had a tendency to melt down into tears. Another withdrew, reevaluated her schedule and created new plans. I just snapped people, usually loudly. There’s a word for that, but I won’t use it in this blog.

The point is, we each had a different response to stress, but we all had a response. Do know what your responses are? Do you know when you’re in trouble?

I like to call these red flags.

Red flags tell me that I’m upset about something or that I’m working too hard and need to rest.

Recognizing my own red flags helped me considerably. It went something like this; okay, I snapped at three different people today. Yes, I was probably justified in, well, maybe two of them, but that’s not the point. I didn’t respond well and that means something is wrong and it probably doesn’t have anything to do with the people I snapped at.

So, Lord Jesus, what’s going on in me?

The question isn’t about looking for my faults and failures and then condemning myself and forcing myself to behave better. It’s about reflecting on what’s going on in my heart with Jesus who loves me and delights in healing my heart.

The next step is to listen, preferably with a pen and journal.

I’ve often been surprised at the things I’ve learned. Oh, I’m upset with this teammate. Yikes, I haven’t rested in weeks and I’m getting exhausted. Really, I just need to spend an evening playing, laughing with friends and relaxing.

Sometimes the process led me to repentance and confession. Sometimes to forgiveness and the extension of grace. Other times, it led me to take a break or to change the way I was working.

I wouldn’t have been able to harvest any of this fruit within my own life if I hadn’t notice the red flags and paid attention to them.

So I ask you again, what are your red flags? How do you know when you’re in trouble? How do you respond?

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God loves my enemy

So here are some mysteries;

  • God saw me when I was conceived.
  • He watched me as I grew in my mother’s womb.
  • He heard my first cry.
  • He was with me when I was sick and when I was happy and when I feared and all the other moments in between.
  • He’s with me now.

I just love that. Don’t you?

The thing is, I didn’t know. I thought I was alone or really just didn’t think about it. Long before I recognized God’s love or God in Christ or even God’s existence, God was loving me.

That’s the mystery part, isn’t it?

When I recognize that God has always seen and loved me, even when I was a reckless mess, I realize that he sees and loves my neighbors, my friends and even my enemies, too.

Hmm. What should I do with that? Ignore it? Look at my enemy and say; Nope, no God’s love for you!

It’s hard to look at people who do really bad things and think; God loves you, isn’t it?


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Benefits of walking with Christ

I had a conversation with a traveler in the Middle East. He wanted to know, “What’s the good in following Christ in the here and now?”

I thought his question was stunning. It’s more than reasonable. It’s one of the best questions we can offer.

He asked in the backdrop of life in the Middle East; a place where Christians are persecuted and converts, killed.

I had fun thinking about it and here’s what I came up with:

First off, God loves everyone. That’s absolutely true. But here’s the deal; although God loves everyone, not everyone experiences the joy of belonging to God. That’s another matter entirely.

When we commit our lives to Christ, we move our allegiance from the ethos, passions and desires that define our world and pursue Christ’s ethos, passions and desires. We may pay a very heavy price for that and many of us do, but the transition has the capacity to transform our very hearts. In place of striving we can find peace, even when the world is exploding around us.

Here’s another thing. When we commit our lives to Christ, we become one of His siblings. I am his sister His sister, God’s child. I belonged to His family. If you don’t think family is important, consider the journey of orphans. There’s something in us that needs to know to whom we belong. When we belong to God, that sense of belonging fills our souls with safety even when the world is falling apart around us.

It also means that we have access to God in ways that we didn’t, before. We’re no longer outsiders hoping for the best, but children, leaning into our Father.

When we follow Christ, we find the freedom to be fully ourselves. We’re not cardboard cutouts of something called “Christian”. Instead, we’re invited to be the salty, brilliant people we were designed to be. That freedom is a wonderful gift.

Then there’s the joy. In absolute fact, God loves everyone, but experiencing the joy of being with God depends on, well, being with Him.

How do you define the benefits of walking with Christ in the here and now?

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Even scooping the poop?

One day, recently, I was singing one of my favorite old praise songs; “I want to be out of my depth in your love.”

I sensed a response I didn’t expect. “I want my love to be in the depth of your life.”

I stopped singing.

I was reminded of the story of a man who, dejected, stood by a lake and skipped rocks across the surface. In the quiet, he sensed Jesus beside him asking him a very simple question. “Can I throw rocks with you today?”

I have this picture in my mind of Jesus standing by the Sea of Galilee skipping stones with Peter and John. Okay, I know that’s not biblical, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. They spent a lot of time together and it wasn’t all just about the big stuff.

I thought about washing dishes, cleaning up my dog’s mess in the yard and taking out the trash. “Do you really want to take out the trash with me?”

I knew the answer was yes.

I’d love to tell you that everything I do, I now do with Jesus, but it’s not really true. I get caught up in my own thoughts and forget that Jesus and I are taking out the trash or cleaning up the yard, but when I remember, everything changes. Then, scooping the poop isn’t drudgery – something I should finish as quickly as possible so I can return to the really important stuff.

No, even scooping the poop is a task I can do with Jesus.

I know I’m not the first to think about this. Brother Lawrence in “Practicing the Presence of God” and many others before and since experienced the grace of Christ’ presence in the most, shall we say, un-Christ-like places.

I’m a bit of a neophyte, a novice, an apprentice, but in those moments when I look up from the dishes or the trashcan or the bucket and realized that Jesus is with me I know that every moment in my life is a place of grace, waiting for me to notice.

Where have you seen Christ today?

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How are you doing?

Sometimes, I have the privilege of talking to folks who’ve been beat up knocked down and left exhausted on the side of the road. It happens to us. It happens to even the most committed, most successful Christ followers.

It happens when we’re under chronic stress or when our lives have changed dramatically and unexpectedly. It happens when we’ve lost people we love or when we realize we’ve just gotten stuck somewhere in the middle of our lives. It happens when trauma or secondary trauma has ripped a hole in our hearts and were just trying to get up and move on.

When our bodies are sick, we’re smart enough to know we need a doctor, but often, when our hearts are sick, we think we have to go it alone. We don’t. We’re a community and when we need help, there are people ready to help us.

The first step is in determining if we need help. That’s not always easy.

When I meet with someone who’s been knocked down, I like to ask them a handful of questions. I’ve found that sometimes just asking the questions helps a person recognize where they are and whether or not they need help.

Here’s some of my questions…

  1. How’s your energy level? Has it changed? How?
  2. Are you able to focus the way you used to?
  3. Do you feel like you’re getting things done that need to be done?
  4. Are you sleeping as well as you normally do?
  5. Are you eating well?
  6. Exercising?
  7. How are you playing?
  8. How do you feel about the work you’re doing? Has your attitude changed?
  9. Are you able to make appropriate decisions when they need to be made?
  10. How are your interpersonal relationships? Do you find yourself withdrawing or growing irritable?
  11. How’s your prayer life, really?
  12. How do you feel about God this week?

These are my questions, perhaps you have better ones. I’m sure many people do, but these are mine and I offer them to you. Maybe there’s someone in your life you might want to ask these questions of. Perhaps you want to ask them of yourself.

How are you doing?

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How Long do I have to be Good?

Before I went to Afghanistan, I heard lots of advice about how to share God’s love and truth with people. Most ideas went something like this; if I’m really good, different, kind, loving and generous, my Afghan neighbors will see I’m different and ask me about my faith.

Now that’s a big jump!

In truth, my Afghan neighbors saw my good efforts and just assumed I was really good person. That was nice, but not very helpful for them.

The other idea is related…I’ll earn the right to be heard by being a good person for a long time.

Wait. If I’m trying to tell someone they’re really lost and going to hell, that their dead parents are already in hell and that their whole religious system is a disaster, then I don’t think I can ever be good or loving or kind enough! Maybe you can, but I certainly can’t.

Maybe the whole discussion hinges on how we understand the love and truth we want to share.

What happens if I ask the question differently…. how good do I have to be to tell someone that God loves them? How generous and culturally relevant do I have to be to tell someone God wants to forgive their sins, wash away their shame and adopt them as his children? How long do I have to know someone before I can be honest about my own faith?

When I put the questions this way, the answers seems so much clearer.

I can be honest and open about my faith from day 1 because it’s my faith! I can tell someone God loves them from day 1, too. After all, he does and being loved is a really, really good thing. And as for God’s desire to forgive, cleanse and adopt, well, I don’t see why I can’t say that, too.

Sharing God’s love and truth isn’t about me. It isn’t about how good or kind or culturally relevant I am. It’s just good news, free to receive or reject or, as is most often the case – free to consider.

I can go with that. How about you?

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Invitations to Worship

The Afghans have lots of words for worship; hamd, tamjid, shukur, hormat, and many, many others. So did our fore-parents in the faith.

I like words. They help me consider and invite me into new possibilities. Perhaps these words might help you today.

Halal was my favorite when I was young. It’s full of energy, excitement and joy. It brags, celebrates, dances, throws its hands or a shimmering flag into the air. Hallelujah!

Tehillah and humneō are also favorites of mine. I sing to God my King. And when I sing, I join Paul and Silas in prison and Jesus and his disciples around the table and the saints who’ve reached Heaven before me.

Shachah & Proskuneō means to bow down. I kneel on the floor of the sanctuary. I touch the foot of the cross with my fingertips. I echo the action of the kings who traveled from the East to lay their gifts at the feet of the infant Jesus. My very movement is a prayer to the God who saves me.

Todah invites me to recall the gifts of God and thank him for everything that I’ve received from his hands. With this thanksgiving, I enter his presence just as my fore-parents entered his courts.

Exomologeō reminds me of the significance of confession –I say, with God; this thing is true. I look forward to the day when everyone who has ever walked the face of the earth kneels before the God of the universe and says; yes. Everything you say is true. I’m sorry.

Eucharistia both invites me into thanksgiving and reminds me of the communion we share – that at the center of our faith is a table, a loaf of bread and a cup. Eucharistia moves my heart from ‘I’ to ‘we’ and welcomes me into one holy community.

Eulogeō reminds me to go into the world and speak well of God. I recall that we are Christ’ witnesses, invited and empowered to share his story. And so I do, joining the company of martyrs, pilgrims, missionaries, preachers and grandmothers, teenagers and small children.

Barak calls me to bless; the God who created me, the world he created and each stumbling individual he has loved throughout eternity.

latreuō and abad calls me to serve with joy and obedience and so I work. This too is worship.

There are more words, of course, but which resonates with you today?

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