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Sometimes, Our Apologies Stink Bad

Have you ever been turned off by someone's attempt at rectifying a wrong with you? All of us offend someone at some point in our lives. It's probably a given that it's happened this week. Instead of judging too quickly someone's lackluster apology, why don't you plan on giving a meaningful (that is, sincere and full) apology the next time you are aware of offending someone or somebodies? Do you know how to apologize?

Jimmy Dodd, the founder and CEO of PastorServe, recently sent me a letter that was super helpful on the theme of apologizing: "The Nine A's of Confession." He said this: "... we make mistakes [and we sin]. We must apologize. Personally, when I apologize, I take a deep breath and think through the Nine A's. Each one is critical."

Read this prayerfully with an open heart and start right away with someone. Throughout this list, I've put brackets around my own additions or tweaks.

  1. Address everyone involved. When you hurt with words or actions, address EVERYONE impacted.
  2. Avoid "if, but, and maybe." This is essential! Using the word "if" declares that you are not fully taking responsibility for your actions or words. The phrase "if I hurt you" says that your actions may or may not have inflicted pain. The word 'but' conveys that you believe you were justified in your actions.
  3. Admit specifically. Just admit what you did! This is where the vast majority of apologies go horribly wrong. Don't justify your behavior. Don't beat around the bush. Just admit what you did or said. It's not rocket science. If a video tape shows you punching  a woman— don't be so foolish as to say, "Everyone who knows me can confirm that I have the highest respect for women." In reality, that statement only confirms that you are an immature, narcissistic, blame-shifting individual; [not to mention, a liar].
  4. Acknowledge the hurt. Acknowledge the pain you caused. Use words like, "I know my actions caused deep pain." Make sure the other party is satisfied that you understand the depth of hurt your words or actions inflicted upon them.
  5. Accept the consequences. Yep. There are consequences to careless words and actions. Accept [humbly] what is coming your way.
  6. Alter your behavior. Commit that [by God's grace and Holy Spirit's power] you will never do this again. Tell the offended party that you will diligently work to change your behavior. [Even ask for and submit to some extra accountability like a fellow church member or counselor to hold your feet to the fire and encourage you in any progress you're making.]
  7. Allow the other person to share their emotions. Ask the offended party what else they need you to know. Often, there is deeper hurt than we ever realized. Practice active listening! Don't defend yourself, just listen!
  8. Ask for forgiveness. So basic but often overlooked. Every apology must include the words, "I am sorry. Will your forgive me?" [And if you've offended a family member, spiritual or biological, I'd add: I sinned against you on this.]
  9. Allow time for final reflection. Don't rush the apology. Sometimes, people need time to reflect, further acknowledge the hurt and ask questions to confirm that you understand the pain you caused. [Give them that space and keep the door open for them to "come in" and elaborate further on the hurt.]

For another helpful read about cultivating a church culture of healthy confession, check out John Lee's post "Confessing Sin is Always Awkward, Sometimes Costly and Absolutely Worth It".

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Four Spiritual Knee Bends in Church Relationships

A Chicago pastor from a couple generations ago, A.W. Tozer, keenly said: “‘Need’ is a creature word and cannot be spoken of the Creator.” This is so true. God doesn’t need anything (Acts 17:25). But in his humbled estate, Jesus, the God-man, needed his disciples in one of his darkest hours: the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus needed Simon to finish carrying his cross up to Golgotha (Matthew 27:32). If Jesus had need, how much more so do we!

First, we often take for granted that we need Christ. Without him we can’t do anything (John 15:5). Not only do we need Christ to come through every day on waking us up, keeping our limbs moving and lungs full of air, holding up the world and keeping the laws of the universe in force (Hebrews 1:3), but we also need him to survive and grow spiritually. Ways that we need Christ are demonstrated when we take advantage of what’s been called the “ordinary” means of grace: the Scriptures, prayer, communion and fellowship of the saints. But, I want to drill down further on that last one.

Second, one of the ways that we show our need of Christ is by our humble dependence on others. Doesn’t sound too American, right? The Gospel’s call demands that we humble ourselves agreeing with God about our sin and taking his only sufficient solution in his Son, Jesus. That’s not just a one-time thing. This kind of forever humbling starts a process that kills pride and opens us up to the spiritual potential of our brothers and sisters. That’s the way Christian family was designed. Here are four kind of “knee bends” in humbling ourselves to get help from each other:

  1. We need each other’s gifts (1 Corinthians 12). We can’t all be the same. Sometimes it easier to see the gifts of others than our own. Start serving in the church. Ask help identifying what your spiritual gifting is. When others use their gifts effectively whether for the whole church or towards you in particular, accept it and rejoice!
  2. We need each other’s rebuke (Hebrews 3:12-15). There’s no such thing as “Lone Ranger” Christianity. Isolation is a killer. When you’re isolated, you have no one to catch your blind spots. When you’re sinning, you don’t have someone else to tell you how they see it and walk with you out of the sin and into the light. Our hearts are wily, and we need others to do the tough love thing and tell us when we’re straying. Let people into your life to not only encourage you but also tell you what’s hard to hear.
  3. We need each other’s love (1 Peter 4:8) for forgiveness and walking in the light. Christianity is Christ, and Christ is love. No love is a useless, impotent Christianity. We need contexts to practice loving each other; not just on Sundays. If you try it, you’ll offend, yes. You’ll step on toes, sure. But love will cover the multitude of our sins. Mash it up, folks!
  4. We need each other’s help. And, here’s where I’d like to let you consider another Christian’s experience. Laura Denny preaches to herself (and us!) in her recent blog post on The Gift of Accepting Help. If you’re the kind that likes to help others yet has a hard time receiving help, then, click on her very practical article.

 Some people may initially be drawn to a church for solid, expositional preaching, but is the mere consuming of good preaching sufficient for spiritual vitality? No. Only showing up to your family meals 2-3 times a day no matter how yummy they are and disappearing right after as a pattern of action for 18 years (is,  yes, unrealistic but) would be unconscionable. But we do this with our church sometimes. We come get the good spiritual “fillin’ up” and then fail to relate with our brothers and sisters during the week around the Word and in other general life rhythms and meaningful touch-points. A Gospel-rich life embraces weakness, and weakness means help. Say no to your pride and ‘yes’ to your brothers and sisters in the church body more often. You’ll be glad you did. And so will they.

Posted by Will Pareja with

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