i’ve just discovered that I’ve never really given grace

I’m so disappointed with my Christian enginiering. You know the place in your heart that spent a good deal of time learning what to and what not to say in order to look good. Yeah, you know the one… the socially acceptable Christian. The less “feeling” taste great Christian. It seems like for the first time in my life what I would have done is actually being over-rided by what I should do.

What kind of a sick place am I in right now in my life where I would actually want to give real grace? You know the kind of grace I’m talking about? Maybe you’re like me where all you’ve experienced passing out is the “oh yeah, I forgive” you type crap where you actually didn’t really get hurt to begin with but was just slightly disjointed. I actually want to forgive someone and it will truly mean giving up something. Where is that surface, ignore mode guy, self affirmed and justified joker in my life? I mean I’m really upset because this will mean that this person gets off scott free and that’s what I’m beginning to think will be okay with me? I mean by every experience I’ve ever had I should have told this sister in Christ where to go! Instead, I’m praying for her? I can’t believe that I’m actually pursuing someone who has hurt me tremendously. This is the kind of baloney people write about in books and give you steps to implement stuff. As I stop and think about it I realize that after I am done with this, and she is restored, there’s pretty much no reason why I won’t be able to love and forgive anybody for just about anything. Why am I not fighting this or looking for a convient out? It’s a blessing and a curse. She’s going to walk away with the greater offense and I am going to gain only the knowledge that I did the right thing. If all of you out there olny knew what had happened to me you would be saying, “dude are you serious? why didn’t you verbally retort or pull out all that scripture to run her into the ground with? she’s almost single-handedly dismantled your ministry!” You would look at me and say, “You want to actually restore her and pursue her?” Let me tell you that what I am experiencing right now, it’s no wonder I use to be so token. I’ve been a Christian for eighteen years and a full time minister for eight of those years and I’ve just discovered that I’ve never really given grace! God help me, because I think I’m growing as a Christian and relaize I’m going to lose myslef in the process.

The Curse of New-Testamentitis

There’s a plague across the land.

It leads to much evil and pain.

It deceives with its attractive twisting of the real truth.

Dare you whisper its name?

…new testamentitis…

“NTitis” has been with us in various forms for a long time, but I feel it’s having a real resurgence at the moment in some churches.

What is it?

NTitis, n. a basic failure to understand that the New Testament is fundamentally connected with, and built upon, the Old Testament, and the two cannot be divorced. This may often be connected with e.g. naivety, unfounded idealism, guilt, literalism, harsh judgement.

Let’s take an example:

In Phillipians 1 Paul spends some time talking about how happy he is to be imprisoned for God, and about how he is torn between wanting to die to be with God and wanting to stay in order to do all kinds of horrible things to advance the gospel.

This could lead us to think that whenever we feel discouraged or beaten down by problems that we are sinning by not following Paul’s example. It could also make us feel guilty about not really believing in heaven enough that we are still scared of dieing.

Of course, if we meditate on things a bit further we’ll probably realise that what Paul is saying here is a sort of public face he’s portraying – he’s trying to encourage others that their own suffering is worthwhile, and that heaven really does exist. I assume it wasn’t meant to make us feel guilty for being down about our problems, and I also assume Paul didn’t always feel quite as upbeat as this about his imprisonment and torture.

However, if we read and absorb a good bit of the Old Testament, we won’t have any problem realising it’s ok to feel down sometimes. There are the obvious choices like Job (who I’m always going on about) who complained and complained not just that his life was hard but that it was God’s fault, and God said he had spoken what was right, and Lamentations which is all about how bad things are, and begging God to make them better. There are also loads more examples: just how cheerful was Moses when God called him? (Exodus 3) Or Jeremiah? (Jeremiah 1) In fact a lot of the prophets seemed to spend their whole lives complaining to God privately and at Israel in public. There is a great tradition of complaining for God throughout the ages (that’s why I think this site is quite Biblical…)

And to go back to Paul, notice that I said if we meditate on it a bit we can understand better. That word meditate was delierate: another problem with taking the New Testament on its own is that it often feels like its meaning is pretty obvious; almost like we should just read it through once and then put it into practice. The Old Testament teaches us about the need to meditate on our “scriptures”. Not just by telling us to do it (e.g. Psalms 1, 18, 19, …,) but mainly by just being more indirect. You have to absorb the history and the poetry before it can teach you about God. It doesn’t just tell you the answers and ask you to try and believe them.

Another example: 1 Peter 1 tells us to “be holy”. It says it in a way that suggests that this is pretty easy. It tells us that we can do it – it’s possible. This could lead us to feel that we’re not good enough to be a Christian because we fail. Now, again, if we meditate on this we realise that Peter is encouraging us, not discouraging, and we also see some pretty raw expression of the kind of struggle we (I at least) face in Romans 7:15, but this lone passage doesn’t compare with the entire history of Israel, and most of the individual lives described in the OT, that are full of failure and disappointment as well as trust and obedience (Numbers 20, Amos, …).

So by absorbing and meditating on the way God treats his servants, both rebellious ones and just plain failing ones, and seeing the love and forgiveness flowing from him over and over, we can get some perspective on the fact that God does want us to do right, but that he is perfectly capable of forgiving us over and over and over and over more times than we can bear.

It might sound like I’m against the New Testament completely from the way I’m putting this. That’s not it at all (although I do admit I prefer to read the OT) – all I’m saying is that the writers of the NT in almost every case took it for granted that their readers would be familiar with the OT. Jesus referred to it all the time. Often what Paul is doing in his letters is trying to change a wrong interpretation of the OT, or to argue that Jesus has fulfilled a certain bit of it. If we read the NT without having it in the perspective of the OT we risk completely misunderstanding it.

1 and 2 Peter are among my favourite books in the Bible because for me they capture what I’m trying to say here – they build on what we (the human race) learnt about God during the entire OT history, and talk about the incredibly exciting new truth we now know, that suddenly makes the OT make a bit more sense.

All I’m saying is, most of your Bible is OT – I personally have learnt a lot more about God from the OT than the NT in my personal reading time, and it’s good stuff!

So read it, meditate on it, and write an article about what you discover 😉