NOT SURPRISING

I read an article this week from Christianity Today about “The Struggle to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ in Public.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not surprised at all by the suggestion made in the article that it can be a struggle.

For many it is not just a struggle to say “I’m Sorry” in public, it is a struggle to say “I’m Sorry” in private. Earlier this week I had forgotten something my wife told me and I was curt with her on the phone. After almost 45 years of marriage I have made some progress; I called her to apologize and she graciously accepted it.

Why is it hard for some to say “I’m Sorry” in public or in private? It seems obvious to me – to say “I’m Sorry” is to acknowledge that we said or did something we should not have done or said. In other words it is to admit you were wrong about something. And that is hard for a lot of people.

Often we are embarrassed when we admit we were wrong about something. And depending upon exactly what we are sorry about, it may be extremely embarrassing. I see no reason to apologize publicly for something unless the misdeed is widely known. Otherwise, our apology should simply be offered to the person or persons directly involved.

I have a sense that for some people it isn’t hard to say “I’m sorry.” As a matter of fact it seems easy for them to apologize – too easy. And that raises a yellow flag for me. Years ago a lady came to me frustrated because her husband would apologize to her, but then in no time do the same thing again. I asked her what she thought that was all about and she indicated he probably didn’t really mean he was sorry. I think she was right; and that’s why when it seems too easy for someone to apologize it raises a yellow flag for me.

It may seem strange to some, but I find myself at times saying “I’m Sorry” to God in my prayers when I am acknowledging (confessing) my shortcomings. And my shortcomings include not only things that I’ve done or said I should not have done or said, but also leaving out things I should have done or said. For me, saying “I’m Sorry” to God is part of my expression of repentance.

I’m not surprised it is a struggle for any of us at times to say we are sorry – in public or in private, to loved ones or our wider circle, or to God himself. Hopefully it never becomes too easy to the point that saying “I’m Sorry” doesn’t mean much. I’m convinced that saying “I’m Sorry” is not just good for those to whom we say it, but it is also good for us to say it – if we mean it!

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LOSS, GRIEF, AND LAMENT

Following a span of four days in which we had three funerals at our church I saw an article that got my attention. Written by Ed Stetzer and entitled Recovering the Good in Seasons of Lament, I thought this is a piece I need to read. I read it and I’m glad I did.

The reality is that everyone experiences losses in life and grieves those losses. The losses we face, however, are not limited to the passing of loved ones. I have moved three times in the past 40 plus years and as excited as I was about where we were moving to, leaving each place was a significant loss.

Grief and lament are not limited to our losses, but they are part of life. Perhaps another way to say it is that we all do and will go through times of discouragement, confusion, uncertainty, pain, disappointment, and failure.

Even though they challenge us, such seasons should not surprise us. A verse I often emphasize in my teaching is Jesus’ words in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble.” That suggests to me that our decision to trust and follow Jesus does not mean we will be exempt from things that hurt us – things that cause us to grieve and lament.

As much as we wish it were not so, and as much as it grieves us, neither should death surprise us. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us “each person is destined to die” (NLT). We can prepare for it and expect it, but neither takes away the loss death deals us.

Stetzer notes that when those close to us experience loss “it’s natural to want to step in and provide encouragement,” but we don’t know “what to say or how to go about saying it.” And giving me as a pastor some comfort, Stetzer rightly notes, “The truth is that we don’t have all the answers.”

Offering a challenge that makes sense to me, Stetzer surmises, “Perhaps the church needs to allow space for people to lament – to wonder why, to ask questions, and to work through their grief. Maybe we needn’t be a people of quick answers but instead of soft hearts and listening ears.”

To grieve and lament in life is appropriate. In Ecclesiastes 3:4 the teacher notes, there is “A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance.” The shortest verse in the Bible tells us that at the grave of Lazarus “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). That’s an example I have often followed in my own grief and one I will continue to follow in the future.

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WHAT TO CALL MYSELF

As we finish our study of the gospels in my dual credit Amarillo High School/Amarillo College class I’m wondering what the best designation is for those of us who believe what the record says about Jesus. Not everyone, of course, believes the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; but many do.

In the first two sentences I’ve already suggested one popular designation of what to call myself: believer. Believers believe the accounts of the gospel writers, but more than that, they believe in Jesus in terms of who he was and is and what he said and did.

As good as believer is as a designation, there is another one in the gospels I like better: disciple. In the gospels those who gathered around Jesus as believers were called disciples. But what is a disciple? In my reading the definition of a disciple is usually one of two terms: a follower or a learner. Well, which is it? Both, and that is why disciple is such a good designation.

Those with some familiarity with the gospels may wonder about the term apostle. When talking about those closest to Jesus in the gospels a lot of us use the terms apostle and disciple interchangeably. But Luke 6:12 and 13 reports, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” It looks like all the apostles were disciples, but not all the disciples were apostles.

So far I haven’t mentioned the best known and most used designation: Christian. Where did that come from? Not from the name Jesus, but from his role as Christ (the Greek title for the Hebrew Messiah). It may be surprising to some readers that the word Christian is used only three times in the New Testament.

The first usage of the word Christian is the most instructive. In the book of Acts, the book that tells us about the birth and growth of the early church, tells us in Acts 11:26, “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” They were called Christians because of their actions, behavior, and speech. I’ve always heard people say that Christian means “of or belonging to Christ.”

The other two usages of the word Christian in the New Testament are also instructive. Acts 26:28 gives the second usage, “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’” The third and final usage in the New Testament is in I Peter 4:16 where the writer encourages readers, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”

So what should I call myself? With the exception of apostle, I like all of them for myself. I think they all are descriptive and informative. I still have a long way to go in becoming what I want to be, but I am a believer in Jesus, a disciple of Jesus, a follower of Jesus, a learner of Jesus, and a Christian.

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