"I said I was sorry, what more do you want?!"
If you ever say these words in exasperation, you need apology training. 

5 Ways You Should Not Apologize:
1)    “I’m sorry!!!”
Translation: “You’re stupid for reacting that way and it’s really all your fault.”

The tone of how you say it means everything. Words just as an effort to appease the other person are ineffective.  Silence is better than compounding the pain with words you don’t mean.

2)    “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”
Translation: “You are too sensitive.” 

The “if” implies that the other person is responsible for being hurt instead of you. It transfers the guilt onto their shoulders implying that their response is the problem, not your action. It’s a double-whammy of pain.

3)    “I’m sorry, but…”
Translation: “I’m justified in what I did/said and I’m not going to apologize for it.” 

It doesn’t matter what the rest of the sentence says. The “but” negates the rest of the apology. The “but” justifies your actions and you might as well say that the other person deserved what they got.

4)    “I’m sorry I hurt you, but I didn’t mean to.”
Translation: “What I did/said was justified and it doesn’t really matter how you feel about it.”

This is a combination of #2 and #3 above with the addition of making yourself seem noble in the process. Why bother apologizing?

5)    “I’m sorry that you got hurt.”
Translation – “It’s not my fault that you’re so sensitive.”

Really? There is nothing in this statement that resembles an apology because it removes you from any action or fault and places it entirely on the other person.

The right way to apologize:
1)    Wait until you are truly sincere and the other person is ready to listen.
2)    Acknowledge that what you did was hurtful.
3)    Do not try to justify it; admit fault.
4)    Express concern and sorrow.
5)    Ask for forgiveness.

Is it REALLY so hard to say: “Hey, what I did was wrong and was my fault. I am sorry for hurting you. Will you please forgive me?”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Disclaimer: This post was not inspired by any current event.

A Transforming Thought...

I teeter between feeling low about myself and full of myself.  One minute I’m feeling worthless, invisible, useless, and the next I might wonder why everyone else around me is so ignorant. Self-pity vs. self-righteousness. I hate feeling either one. It’s hard to love others when I am busy thinking about myself – either my self not measuring up or others not measuring up.
The answer to low self-esteem is not high self-esteem. It’s no self-esteem. No estimation of self. Jesus said, “…whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39b) -- quoted from James MacDonald in Lord Change Me, page 28
So how do I lose my self-consciousness?  I must lose my self.  I’m still trying to figure out specifically what this looks like in practice...

A Transforming Thought...

Change isn’t coming like some big sweeping force over you, or like a large blanket. Here is how it IS coming: It’s arriving one adjustment at a time, bit by bit, measured progress on specifics(quoted from James MacDonald in Lord Change Me, page 66)
Three steps forward, two (and-a-half) steps back – sometimes the progress of becoming more like Jesus seems so miniscule that I wonder if I’m changing at all.  Or once I find I'm making progress in one area, there are three others revealed to me that need a lot of work.  But when I look at the specifics, the things I struggle with and the things I am handling better as I pass through various seasons of life, I can see that Jesus is changing me. 
Today at work, I was commended for having a positive attitude and being even-tempered, not letting things get to me. I had to look backwards over my shoulder to see if someone else was the object of the compliment.  So maybe, maybe sometimes this negative, cynical, critical, emotionally-ruled old self is being transformed -- one adjustment at a time, bit by bit, until eventually it becomes noticable. 
What is God working on in you?

My "A" List of Books Read in 2012

As an obsessive list-maker, I feel like I must keep a list of every book I have read - I write down the author, title, and genre on a list for the current year and give it a grade of A thru F, based on the book’s impact and how much I enjoyed reading it.

Looking through the list of 75 books that I read in 2012, a few “A” titles stand out as memorable and having the most impact on how I see life or how I live my life.

Fiction: “A+”

 Little Night, by Luanne Rice

Non-Fiction: “A+”
Spiritual Formation, by Henri Nouwen

Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation, by Richard Foster

The Great Omission, by Dallas Willard

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions for Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

Other Books That Earned My “A” Grade

Great Day Every Day, by Max Lucado
Grace, by Max Lucado
What Matters Most, by Leonard Sweet
Everything, by Mary DeMuth

Finding God in the Hobbit - Book Review

My favorite stories, either in novels or movies, are ones where the storyline parallels life in a way that sheds perspective on my own life circumstances and relationships.  Jim Ware calls this “the sweet spot”, the spot where story and daily grind come together shining vibrant light and truth.  He shares these sweet spots from J.R.R. Tolkien’s story of the hobbit in this book Finding God in the Hobbit.

Each chapter begins with a scene directly quoted from The Hobbit, two pages or so quoted from the tale, so if it’s been years since you have read the book, you can orient yourself to where he takes his reflections on the following pages.  After a few pages of mulling over a central idea he drew from the quoted scene, he provides a summary statement at the end of the chapter for reflection.

Jim Ware knows that J.R.R. Tolkien never intended his stories to be allegories or to teach or moralize, but rather, to just weave a well-told tale while reflecting on universal principles and eternal realities.  He warns in his introduction that he may stretch a point or turn a scene into a springboard for something totally unrelated to the tale, but he is merely allowing his thoughts to interact with the imagery of the story to lead him to a lesson to draw from it.  He designed this book to be about life and feelings in relation to God and Christian spirituality that he draws from the story of the hobbit.

I found this book to be both entertaining and thought-provoking, inspiring me to reflect more on life not just from this story but the stories that surround me.  Fans of The Hobbit would find this book’s devotional style enjoyable.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

A Birthday Party for Jesus - A Theological Perspective

While I was preparing for a 2nd grade Sunday School lesson in the church classroom on a December evening (ten years ago), the children’s minister casually mentioned that she had a theological problem with birthday parties for Jesus.  She said it gives children the idea that Jesus did not exist before He was born as God-in-flesh in Bethlehem.

True, the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, existed before all creation.  He had a distinct personal existence during the Old Testament period as evidenced in Scripture.  For Him and through Him the whole work of creation was done. 

But at a finite point in time, He assumed humanity and was born as a baby.  The pre-existent Christ became man.  The Word became flesh (John 1:14).  He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:6).  He was birthed.

When we celebrate the ‘birthday’ of Jesus, we celebrate the Son of God becoming man in the flesh.  Fully God, he also became fully man through the means of the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary.  Celebrating the birthday of Jesus is commemorating the day toward which all of history had been moving and pointing before the manger.  It is a celebration of the act of God the Son taking upon Himself a human nature, human flesh and breaking into history to be born, to live, to die, and to be resurrected.

A birthday party for Jesus – simple in a child’s eye, but theologically profound.

Content to fill a little space...

Her life trials seem unbearable to me.  She endured the darkness of grief at the death of nine of her infant children, four of which were twins, one of which was accidently smothered by her maid while she was sleeping. 

Her husband, a preacher and pastor, left her over a petty political disagreement; she was overwhelmed with caring for all ten children during that difficult time (he finally returned after a while).

They dealt with plenty of opposition from the parishioners in their community – their children were bullied, their family crops destroyed, their cows and pets abused.
They struggled financially.  Their house burned down, not once, but twice, losing all their possessions, and they had no insurance.

Even through a lifetime of tremendous losses and grief, this woman of faith was still able to say, “I am content to fill a little space if God be glorified.”

I stumbled across a couple of her prayers that show me how God used her difficulties for spiritual transformation.  With her words, I can join hands with Susanna across the centuries and pray to our same God and Lord Jesus Christ :

Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such wise that they may unite my heart more closely with Thee. Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigour in the pursuit of true happiness. 

Since I must expect to meet with many difficulties, much opposition, many disappointments and daily trials of faith and patience in my passage through this world, may it be my highest wisdom to disengage my affections as much as I lawfully may from all transitory, temporal enjoyments, and to fix them on those more rational spiritual pleasures which we are to enjoy when we enter upon our state of immortality. (Quoted from Streams of Living Water, by Richard Foster, page 243).

Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) -- she found God in the details and served Him there. Oh, but that I could consistently be like her and see everything in light of God’s control, to see His goodness in every detail, and hang onto a hope that can carry me through any circumstance -- with a love that could overcome evil with good! 

Counterfeit Gospels - Book Review

“Gospel-Centered” and “Christ-Centered” are buzz words of the day.  But what do they mean?  “Be your best you!” and “God wants you to be happy!” might claim to center on the Gospel.  Promises of blessing abound if you only do this, or that.  And they all use Scripture to back up there claim.  So what exactly is the Gospel and how can I recognize distortions of it?  Trevin Wax provides a simple method for recognizing counterfeit gospels in his book Counterfeit Gospels.

A counterfeit gospel either dilutes the truth or displays the truth out of proportion.  The messages may have just enough of a saving message to reconcile us to God, but it is watered down, robbing us of the Gospel power and leaving us unsatisfied in the long term. 

Trevin Wax describes the Gospel as a three-legged stool: 1) the Gospel Story, the Scriptural narrative that takes us from creation to new creation, climaxing with the death and resurrection of Jesus; 2) the Gospel Announcement, what Jesus did and how He reconciles us to God; 3) the Gospel Community, a lifelong expression of repentance and faith that wells up from the bottom of our hearts and overflows into love for God and His beloved community.

Cut one leg off the three-legged stool and the whole thing tips over.  Trevin Wax shows us how six common counterfeit gospels have crept their way into our lives today.  For each leg of the stool, he provides examples of two counterfeit gospels that change the true Gospel message. He explains what they proclaim and even shares their merits.  He also shows the truths that they distort and how to correct them. 

The therapeutic gospel is one of the most common that I have seen lately, where we pursue God as an avenue of self-fulfillment, adding him into our life instead of letting Him completely re-build us.  I have noticed many new books being published that might fall into this category.

The quietist gospel surrounded me when I was growing up – a gospel where one’s personal experience in switching the lever with a single prayer to escape hell was of all-consuming importance with the emphasis on the Christian’s single role of evangelism along with the value of full-time Christian service, splitting apart the secular from the sacred.  Trevin Wax helped me move my magnifying glass back and see that the emphasis was distorted.  My own leaning toward spiritual transformation as a primary life goal might be an over-correction.

The churchless gospel is the most proliferate in my generation and younger.  There are several versions, but the most common I recognized was those who believe they do not need the local church, especially with the availability of internet broadcasts and messages that they can tailor to their self-determined needs.  Trevin Wax reinforced my need for other believers in my life to correct me from falling into error and to expand my world.

The material is extremely well organized, and the idea of the 3-legged stool is an image that we can cling to in order to recognize a message that proclaims to be gospel-centered but is actually a bit distorted.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to open their eyes to distortions of the Gospel in our current culture. I believe it would be a great tool for every believer,and essential for ministry leaders, Bible teachers, and small group facilitators. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

A Wonderful Life?

What is a ‘wonderful life’? Is it being surrounded by the love of friends and family? Community respect?  Prosperity, happiness and comfort?

If Jesus came to give us abundant life, not just for eternity but for our lives right now, is it supposed to be a ‘wonderful life’?

When we receive God’s grace by believing in what His Son Jesus did for us in the work of the cross, we can know that because of His love for us, He desires for us to have both eternal life with Him and an abundant life now. Does this lead to a wonderful life? And what if it doesn’t? Does it mean our faith isn’t strong enough?

According to the Gospels, Jesus' life was certainly abundant.  As was His death and resurrection.  But did Jesus have a wonderful life? 

Henry Thiessen wrote that Jesus was “grave without being melancholy, joyful without being frivolous.”  He loved. He taught. He served. He sacrificed.

He was rejected, even by his friends and family – the people of His hometown. He worked hard – in giving, not in trying to gain anything.  He was not financially prosperous or comfortable.  He was misunderstood. He was wrongly judged.  He lost community respect, not that He ever sought it.  And He suffered – to His death. 

Maybe we prefer the wonderful life, the rose garden.  But perhaps the abundant life that God desires for us is found in the wilderness, sometimes for a season, sometimes for a lifetime.  It may not fit the cultural definition of ‘wonderful’ but it can be so much more.

Wherever we are, for whatever season, He wants us to let go of everything and give Him every part of who we are.  It’s not all about us.  Wherever He places us is so that He is even more glorified and His greatness more pronounced.  And it’s not all about now.  He’s preparing us for something beyond this life.

I don't want to be distracted by the frivolously wonderful. I want to be willing to receive profound abundance, whatever God meant for that to mean.

Linking up with A Pause on the Path

Everything: What You Give and What You Gain to Become Like Jesus - Book Review

Do you find yourself wandering around in circles, trusting yourself to solve your problems, even though you don’t want to admit it?  Do you want to be able to let go of everything and to experience God’s nearness and growth even in the very things you desire to flee?  But are you uncertain or even afraid of what God will require of you?

It is easy to sing and claim that Jesus is my everything.  But an “everything” Christian is someone who has learned the secret of giving Him every part of her life.  She gives all of herself and all of her time for Him, mind and heart deeply engaged with His so that she will joyfully follow Him toward every single adventure He has planned for her, as Mary DeMuth describes in her book Everything: What You Give and What You Gain to Become Like Jesus.

Mary DeMuth was formerly part of a church plant in Southern France and now lives with her family in Dallas serving as an author and speaker proclaiming freedom in Christ.  She shares her feelings of apparent missionary failure and financial disaster, showing that God doesn’t necessarily desire for us to be successful, wealthy, famous, or comfortable.  He wants us to follow Him, and that means abandoning ourselves to follow Jesus and suffering for His sake.

She provides many nuggets of truth that resonated with me:
·         We shy away from risk, from anything seeping of tragedy or difficulty. And yet that’s where our treasure lies (p. 177).
·         Suffering enlarges us so earth’s clothes no longer fit, so we long to be clothed with Him (p. 178).
·         When we live for what we cannot see, we grow.  When we spend our lives for what we can see, we shrink (p. 180).
·         God does not always call us to live out loud; sometimes He calls us to the quiet and the secret (p. 181).
·         The secret of growing right now is holding Jesus’ hand as we walk the path He stretches before us. How we choose to live in each moment is actually the manner we live our lives (p. 196).
·         The fundamental place we grow is in the moment-by-moment decisions we make for or against Jesus in our lives (p. 197).
·         Profound growth happens in the context of community. Community can be the most painful thing we endure on earth, but God also uses His flawed followers to heal us (p. 153).

If you want to find the freedom of giving everything to God every single day, Mary DeMuth shows you what this looks like.  Gradual transformation into the likeness of Jesus is not a procedure or a program.  She provides biblical truth on how our heads, hearts, and hands are intertwined in the internal transformation and illustrates how this results in living out Jesus as our everything. 

Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Christ-Like Middle-Aged Womanhood

What does it look like for a middle-aged female to be “Jesusy”?  Jesus wasn’t a woman. Jesus didn’t face the loss of youthful beauty and the tortures of perimenopause.  Even though I can’t see a literal picture of what I’m supposed to look like, God tells me to open my eyes and look around.  He put some Jesusy women in my life to show how I, a middle-aged woman, can be more like Him. 

My Jesusy girlfriends just seem to ooze God’s love and grace through their pores.  It’s not that they go around with cheery smiles and happy dispositions.  It’s a quiet, joyful strength in the midst of raging battles.

They wrestle with the flesh, with relationships, with low self-esteem. They experience deep suffering through financial disaster due to job loss or difficult marriages or the death of those they love.  Yet they grow stronger in their faith and are full of hope in Jesus.  Their joy runs visibly deep.  The element they all have in common? Jesus is their everything and it shows in their work and in their lives.

They didn’t go to seminary or Bible college, but they long to have more knowledge. So how did they get to be so Jesusy?  George Barna says, “Some people reach the ultimate stages of wholeness and maturity within just a couple decades while others failed to achieve such maturity after more than five decades of consistent religious activity and positive intent.” Why do some grow and mature while others stagnate? 

With menopause approaching, more than ever it seems that life careens out of control while I simultaneously grasp for control of things I have no business controlling.  Add to that a face that is growing more haggard, a waistline that expands when I look at a cookie, freckles peppering my body in places they’ve never been, and ‘silver’ hairs taking over faster than I can pluck them, things that I can only control to some degree by artificial measures – getting older doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to be Jesusy. 

But I can choose – choose to try to be in control or relinquish everything to Jesus, to continually turn to Him inwardly, and outwardly to seek to overflow His love.  I can choose to open my eyes and ears to see and hear what He is speaking into my life to grow me, so that I, too, can be more Jesusy.

Jesus did suffer. He suffered loss, battled the flesh, and endured inconceivable pain. And He was victorious.  He gives us women the power to endure, to grow and even find victory through the mountains and valleys of middle-aged womanhood.

Linking up with: Soli Deo Gloria Party at Finding Heaven and A Pause on the Path 

Jesus: Pure & Simple - Book Review

I was cutting multiple pieces of string to 8 inches in length.  First, I measured the original strand and snipped.  I used it as a pattern for length of my 2nd one and snipped. Then I used the 2nd one to measure the 3rd one and snipped. By the time I got to my 15th string, it looked significantly longer than my first one. When I measured it, it wasn’t 8 inches, but 8 ¾ inches.  By failing to use the original as my pattern or measured each strand individually, I fell off track.   The same thing can happen to our faith when we start mimicking other believers rather than measuring against the original source, Jesus. 

Wayne Cordeiro tells a similar story about cutting planks of wood to build a fence and relates it to our faith in Jesus – always go back to the true original.  If you don’t, you’ll slowly go off. This is the premise of his book Jesus: Pure and Simple.  We must be willing to correct the drift.  He claims to show us how to focus on what matters most, which in turn changes how we see the world around us. Then everything else falls into place. And what matters most is Jesus – pure and simple.  Sounds a little bit like prosperity gospel, but perhaps that depends on how we define “falls into place.”  I was not reading this book through a prosperity gospel lens.

Before this book, I had not heard of Wayne Cordeiro, founder and senior pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, so I do not know what he preaches or what he stands for, and I did not approach the book with presupposed bias. (After doing some research, I guess I’ve been in an isolated bubble to not have heard of him!)  He uses Scripture, re-tells Bible narrative, and illustrates using both famous and unknown Christians to support his points of how we can get back to Jesus, pure and simple.  Short questions at the end of chapter can be used for individual reflection or group discussion. 

When I started this book, I was so excited about what I read in the first few pages that I told a dear friend that she just had to read it too! In the first half of the book he presented his points in living the spiritual life in a fresh way that really resonated with me.  He shared about pure and simple devotion, how it’s not about doing more OR doing less. We tend to measure our worth by how many are following what we say and do on Twitter or Facebook rather than how close we are following what Jesus is saying or doing.  He claims distraction is one of the fiercest enemies to following Jesus.  And he provides the solutions.

He also shows what it means to truly be a servant of Christ, ways to make sure you’re walking where Jesus is walking.  We find Him when we serve. (Hmmmm…is this contradictory to the idea of devotion about not doing more or doing less?)

He touches on a gamut of worthwhile topics that brings us back to Jesus - the error of the modern-day Pharisee, problems of self-righteousness and judgment, the value of solitude, letting the Word study you instead of just studying the Word, reflecting on our experiences and letting the past tutor us (instead of torture us)…. and he claims the answer is pure and simple.  But I disagree.  It’s a battle that we must fight for and work toward for as long as we walk in this flesh in this world.

I changed my mind about insisting my dear friend read the book after I dragged through the second half of this book, which was much more shallow and uninteresting.  I didn’t underline anything after page 92 (of 200 pages). 

At the end, I had a hard time pinpointing just exactly what the book was about.  Still, while he bounces around from topic to topic, I found the book worth reading to help me keep my eyes on Jesus and become more like Him.  I think it’s a good read.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Evicting Ungratefulness

Ungratefulness, bitterness, resentment – they become your acquaintances when life does not unfold the way you planned.  Having them around makes you feel suspicious and cynical when they whisper to you that you’ve suffered unjustly, that you are a victim of circumstances.    They keep you from seeking forgiveness and add difficulty to your relationships. When you’re not looking, they rob your joy.  They crave attention and invite others to their parties – pity parties.  

If you try to just ignore them, they do not naturally fade away.  If you don’t kick them out, they will set up house, get comfortable, and stay for as long as you let them.  They are exhausting company to keep.  If you cling to them, they will try to find a way to become your identity.  You become the things you are against.

Getting rid of them is no easy task. They are not just a single emotion or attitude that needs to be turned off.  If you kick them out, they will come back. 

But if you fill your house with other guests, there will be no room for them to stay.  Even better, you need to fill your house with guests that are incompatible to them. 

Gratitude – she becomes your acquaintance when you choose to see beyond the surface and see how God has led you to this moment through everything that has happened in the past, and with that is sending you into a future that is part of His plan if you yield to Him.  Gratitude will disintegrate the fatigue that comes from resentment and bitterness and move you forward to new possibilities, energizing you. 

Gratitude kicks out feelings of entitlement as you become aware of the abundance of gifts poured into your life.  With her around, you will see what you have as quickly as you see what you don’t have.  She helps you treasure and value other people just the way they are.  

And no matter what happens, if you allow gratitude to flow from the cross of Jesus into your life, you will be able to see that Jesus is the main house guest, changing your identity into something even more beautiful.  You will be able to keep Him near, no matter what happens, and gratitude is your friend that helps you along the way.

You get to choose your house guests, who will take up residence, get comfortable, and eventually become part of your identity. 

Linking up with A Pause on the Path and Finding Heaven

The Cure for a Grumbly, Critical Spirit

First thing this morning when I saw my 7th grade son, he didn’t give me his usual good morning hug.  Instead he looked at me with disdain and asked me why I didn’t bring his shirts upstairs to his bedroom like he had asked after I washed and hung them to dry.  Excuse me? Don’t you mean “thank you mom for washing my clothes”?   He tried to argue with me and I told him he wasn’t going to win this one and moved on.  It left me feeling grumbly.

Last night in our small group Bible study on Ephesians, a dear friend said her husband brought her coffee every morning while she was in the shower.  She didn’t say it to brag, but to complain – that he should be showing love by doing the hard sacrificial things, not easy, routine things, and learning her ‘love language’.  Excuse me? Don’t you mean “thank you honey for bringing me coffee morning after morning”? Thank you for loving me regardless of which ‘love language’ you choose?

Hearing others grumbling stirred up critical feelings toward them, but as I was pointing, this time I saw the three fingers pointing back at myself. How often I catch my own self feeling entitled to something or expecting a behavior from someone that doesn’t line up with reality and leaves me feeling grumbly?

Grumbling and criticizing is a heart attitude that develops when things in life don’t unfold to our liking. It begins with how we interpret the facts.  We have the power to choose our interpretation.  We can choose the path that makes us passive victims of people’s remarks or of random incidents.  Or we could choose the path of gratitude.

Gratitude isn’t about psyching ourselves up to have a good attitude.  Choosing gratitude must flow from God, our reliable source.  In fact, He desires for us to be able to live feeling thankful in any and every circumstance.  He has to tell us to do this because thankfulness doesn’t come naturally.

Henri Nouwen believes that gratitude is a difficult spiritual discipline to constantly practice. “It is hard precisely because it challenges me to face my painful moments – experiences of rejection and abandonment, feelings of loss and failure – and gradually to discover in them the pruning hands of God purifying my heart for deeper love, stronger hope, and broader faith.”

Adele Calhoun beautifully describes thankfulness as a thread that combines together all the patchwork squares of our lives.  It is a discipline to choose to stitch our days together with the thread of gratitude.   

Gratitude not only squelches grumbling, but it annihilates the critical spirit, at least temporarily for as long as we are upstage the critical spirit by practicing gratitude. 

I just chatted with my son and we exchanged pleasant good-byes before he left to get on the school bus.  We showed each other we had moved on and weren’t holding a grudge over the earlier exchange.  Next Saturday I’ll be filled with gratitude as I watch him do his own laundry.

Linking up with Finding Heaven's SDG Party.