CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

God, Grace and Grumpy Old Men

May 28, 2019

Yes, sadly there are such things as grumpy old men. I suppose I am one of them – at least many folks might think so. Not that I want to be. As a Christian I want to be known for being Christlike – and that includes being gracious. But we all know of such folks: they are grumpy, argumentative, always picking a fight, never happy to just get along, and so on.

And they can include women as well as men. As one involved in internet discussion, debate and ministry, I see this all over the place: on my website, on the social media, and anywhere that public discussion occurs. There are always grumpy old men around.

Obviously it is one thing if you are not a Christian and a grumpy old man. But here I am specifically referring to those who claim to be Christians, but who are still prime examples of grumpy old men. There seems to be no pleasing them. They seem forever on the prowl, looking to argue about something and make a stink about something.

They lack grace. They do not know how to be gracious. They seem to dislike other people and maybe even life itself. Some of these folks you simply have to give a wide berth to – there is just no pleasing them. I encounter them too often, and as I say, I hope I am not included among their ranks – but I may be.

As mentioned, one of the opposites of grumpiness is grace. All this is really just basic Christianity 101, but something most of us need to keep learning and relearning. We need to keep working at this. Let me offer a rough outline here of how all it works:

The more who know about the one true God and who he really is (holy, just, righteous, pure, etc), the more we should be able to see ourselves for who we really are (unholy, unjust, unrighteous, impure, etc). Everything God is, we are not.

It is only by the grace and mercy of God that any of us are “accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). We can never earn our salvation, or get right with God by our own efforts. It is all based on what God has done for us through Christ and his work at Calvary.

When we recognise how great and pure God is, how unworthy and sinful we are, but see that by his grace he brings us into his family, that should have one overriding effect: that should floor us, that should humble us, that should amaze us.

It should take away every bit of pride and arrogance and self-confidence and self-righteousness. When we see God and ourselves as we really are, all we can say is: ‘Wow, God, I am so undeserving of your mercy and grace, yet you shared it lavishly upon me. How can I not go and do likewise?’

‘How can I not be gracious to others? How can I not be overwhelmed by your amazing grace, and therefore seek to show grace to other people? How can I not be humbled before you, and show that humility to one another? How can I remain hard and arrogant and cocksure, given all that you have done for me?’

This is what grace is all about. It should humble us and put us in our place. It should so stagger us that we cannot help but want to be gracious to others. This is of course fully biblical. The story of the sinful woman who is forgiven as found in Luke 7:36-50 is a key passage here. Consider verses 41-44:

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The more grace, mercy and forgiveness you experience, the more you should be showing it to others. Every person who is a Christian has known an infinite amount of grace, mercy and forgiveness, yet we are so unwilling to pass this on to others.

It is the cross that is the great equaliser. It is the cross that humbles us – or should humble us. When we contemplate all that God has done for us at the cross, it should humble us all, drive us to our knees, and show our deep-seated pride and lack of love for others.

Yes, this is a lifelong process of sanctification and becoming more and more Christlike, but that is what should be happening to us all. So if you have been a believer for a long time, you should NOT be getting to be a grumpy old man, but a gracious old man.

We should be more humble, Christlike, gracious, and loving as we grow older. There really should be no grumpy old men and women in the Body of Christ. Let me finish this piece by running with some thoughts from a brand-new book I just bought.

Let me preface things by saying that although the book is written by a Calvinist, and mostly for other Calvinists, it really is generic enough that all Christians can learn from it. I refer to J. A. Medders’ Humble Calvinism (The Good Book Company, 2019).

Even though he looks at the so-called five points of Calvinism, one can greatly profit from this book regardless of the theological views you might have. Indeed, in most cases when he speaks of ‘Calvinist this or that,’ simply substitute the word ‘Christian’.

His point is that perhaps most Calvinists (or Christians) have not always been known for their humility and graciousness. So many have plenty of head knowledge but little heart knowledge. This should not be, argues Medders. He reminds us that those who love the doctrines of grace very seldom show real grace.

He writes, “We have not become more gracious, kind, tender, and compassionate. And that can only mean one thing: we actually don’t know the doctrines of grace.” He continues, “Calvinism in the head will puff you up. Calvinism in the heart will build others up.”

Again, substitute Arminianism, or Pentecostalism, or Catholicism here if you prefer. These truths apply to all who call themselves Christ-followers. But since Medders is indeed committed to this particular theological system, let me quote more of him, as he looks at how other Calvinists have dealt with this:

I heard a story about when the eighteenth-century preacher George Whitefield, a vibrant Calvinist, was asked if he thought he would see the founder of the Methodists and well-known Arminian, John Wesley, in heaven.

Whitefield’s answer? “No, I don’t think we will.”

Shocking, huh? But George wasn’t done yet. He wouldn’t see Wesley in heaven, he added, because, “Mr. Wesley will be so near the throne and I will be so far in the back that I will not be able to see him.”

Humble Calvinism. Heart Calvinism. One Lord. One Faith. United above the differences. The comments of the great Victorian preacher C.H. Spurgeon on this story of Whitefield and Wesley are insightful:

“As I read such remarks made by Mr. Whitefield, I have said to myself, ‘By this I know, as a Christian, that he must be a Christian’; for I saw that he loved his brother, Wesley even while he so earnestly differed from him on certain points of doctrine. Yes, dear brethren, if we cannot differ, and yet love one another – if we cannot allow each brother to go his own way in the service of God, and to have the liberty of working after his own fashion – if we cannot do that, we shall fail to convince our fellow-Christians that we, ourselves, are Christians.”

Love for one another, not Calvinism, is the way people know that we are disciples of the risen Nazarene. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13 v 35). While we can’t imitate the ministry, preaching, or smarts of Whitefield, all of us can imitate this style of Calvinism.

Spurgeon and Whitefield were not weak Calvinists. They were meek Calvinists. They didn’t belittle the doctrines of grace, and they refused to belittle the Body or beat up their brethren. I wish I could say I always did the same.

Image of Humble Calvinism
Humble Calvinism by J.A. Medders Amazon logo

And a proper understanding of what Jesus meant in Matthew 7:1-6 goes a long way here. Of course we are to judge, but not hypocritically. Christians are forgiven sinners, but we all still have a long way to go in becoming like Christ. Again, the grace God has shown us is what we should be showing to others.

We all have issues we are still dealing with, so a bit of humility can go a long way. Says Medders:

Jesus called out this speck-spotting. And Calvinists tend to be really good at this. . . . It seems like Reformed sport these days to go sniffing for other people’s sins. We can identify people’s idols, talk about the sin beneath the sin, and point out legalism in others. Like bloodhounds, we can smell doctrinal error 130 miles away. We notice other people’s micro-splinters while looking past our own eye-timber with “Depravity” spray-painted on the side. But real Calvinism means we remember the lumber dangling from our eye sockets.

Again, being in the presence of God and being blown away by his incredible grace and patience with us should be extended to others. This does NOT mean we do not care about doctrinal purity and the like. Anyone who knows me or Medders knows we both value sound teaching very highly.

But we also need to value sound living very highly as well. And that includes not just talking about grace, but living a life of grace. When we show love and respect and forbearance and grace to others, we are reflecting just a little bit of what God has so richly lavished upon us.

As mentioned, I can be a grumpy old man. Yes, I do like Grumpy Cat (RIP), and I can enjoy sharing memes about her. One of my favs is this one: “I liked Titanic: My favourite character was the iceberg.” OK, one more: “I don’t like morning people: Or mornings, or people.” Hey, I can relate!

And I can identify with other such characters, such as Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, or the Marshwiggle in C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair who said: “Puddleglum’s my name. But it doesn’t matter if you forget it”. I could blame a melancholic personality on this, but I don’t think God wants me to stay in that place.

He wants me to be so transformed because of the cross, that people will look at me and declare, “There goes a gracious old man”. And we all should have that as our desire and prayer. No more grumpy old men – or women. Let us keep soaking up the grace of God and let it transform us into gracious, loving, forgiving and forbearing saints.

Medders closes his book by again quoting from Spurgeon:

So do not give yourselves up to any system, and say, “I follow this doctor, or that.” John Wesley is not our master—that is Jesus Christ. John Calvin is not our Master—that is Jesus Christ. These men were great and good: they were worthy of the love of all the church of God. But we do not call them Teacher. We may follow the man as far as the man follows Christ, but not an inch farther. We must sit at Jesus’ feet: humble, teachable, and child-like.

Amen!

(Australians can find this book at Koorong: www.koorong.com/search/product/humble-calvinism-and-if-i-know-the-five/9781784983727.jhtml )

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12 Responses to God, Grace and Grumpy Old Men

  • Good morning Bill,
    Your message here is wonderfully kind! Thank you, only a gracious Christian man such as yourself can write as well as you do on a daily basis. It is my prayer that you are held in high regard and remembered for the fantastic job that you do in keeping us so very well informed about all of important social issues which effect us all. Having a biblical perspective on the many matters that you address is very important indeed and your Culture Watch is of great value to all of us especially who share faith in God and his word revealed to us in every action as well as in every word spoken by Christ Jesus our Lord. Praising the name of our Saviour for you brother, keep on keeping on, its okay to be grumpy, Jesus was grumpy and he didn’t sin, love Jesus as well as grumpy cat!?
    Kindest regards from Sandra xo

  • Many thanks indeed Sandra – bless ya.

  • Thank you I needed that!

  • Dear Bill, Sandra McMahon said it so well.
    Hear hear, keep it coming.
    Mark Bryant

  • Hmm, Mr M, I think you have not given grumpy its full merit. My dad is grumpy, he is so since he has a wisdom that often displays itself as frustration when his daughter has been infuriated when meeting someone younger than I who was allowed to wear makeup, and I have been waiting for my dad to come home to have the battle all over again. My dad can never offer anything new to the defence of his decision, and I never offer anything new to my argument other than its not fair.

    To be a grumpy, old man doesn’t mean what you think it does to those my age. What it means is someone wise due to their age who are annoying since we (those immature) know ‘old grumpy’ is right. ‘Right’ often relates or is synonymous to their authority, which relates to their age and wisdom. I can’t win the argument with my dad over makeup since he doesn’t give me an argument; he exercises his authority.

    His authority doesn’t mean I can’t try to change his mind or even tell him is decision is unfair; it means I am to do as I’m told.

    The truth of the matter is that if I were to change my dad’s mind, I wouldn’t wear makeup since I would know he didn’t want me too. What daughter would want to lose that look from daddy that says- I am so proud of my beautiful daughter when what he is seeing is just his daughter, flaws and all.

    I know many girls my age who long to be told off by their dads, one told me not long ago that she wished her dad told her she was to be back home by eight at the latest.

    I have to tell you, Mr M, the world needs more grumpy old men not less, but grumpy without wisdom is the equivalent of a rebellious daughter who thinks she knows better than her elders.

    I think I have told Mr Grumpy its ok to be grumpy, but if I haven’t them Mr M be just who you are, as that is quite perfect… and when it isn’t, your daughter in Christ will let you know.

  • Many thanks again for your wise words young Miss S. We need more young champions like you. And remember, one day – maybe when you are 42 or so – you might be allowed to wear makeup. In the meantime you will have to rely on the heaps of inner beauty you possess!

  • Ok, Bill, If you’re “Statler” then I’m “Waldorf”… or vice versa if you prefer!

  • unfortunately wisdom doesn’t always come with age Sarah. look how many leftist are old yet not wise. some people grow up other just grow old. also there is many a beardless sage and quite a few old fools! (also written as quite a few gray haired children) while we have quite a few wise fathers and grandfathers out there we also have several who think since the are old they are right or since they have believed something for decades they are right.

    I think we should always be willing to reexamine what we believe to be able to get rid of falsehood no matter how long held they are. (Even if you are a pastor or theologian don’t be afraid to reexamine maybe you didn’t think of something someone else has or some new info has come out. NEVER think you know everything just because of your position. {we all know people like that who say they don’t know everything but any subject you bring up they know the truth of it}) we should be challenged so that we prove what we say and still be open to being wrong. (People appreciate being listened to and are more likely to believe the truth if they are wrong than if you totally dismiss them. Who knows maybe a fresh perspective will make you see something you never thought of. Maybe God didn’t bring this person to you so YOU could enlighten THEM but so THEY could enlighten YOU!) Unfortunately some have gone so long without being asked for proof they have forgotten it and then get angry at the person who asks for proof. Or they have always had their word be sufficient that when someone asks them for proof they don’t have it. NEVER stop learning! ALWAYS be open to being wrong! ALWAYS have to proof of what you say! (don’t make others find YOUR proof [I have had this happen before he says there is proof and wants me to go out and find it] if you say proof is out there YOU find it!)(even if the person you are talking too believes you they need to have that proof to point out to others that they speak to [who may NOT know you and thus not have reason to believe you]) IF what you say is opinion, ie no proof (and there are subjects that lack proof like what is the New Jerusalem going to be like or what will be in the Millennial Kingdom where the bible is mostly silent on details), state as much and accept that someone else’s opinion is as good as yours!

  • “G.O.M.” may not only equal “Grumpy Old Man”… There is that epithet, “Grand Old Man”…

    By the way, Waldorf and Statler once had ample heads of brown hair, if the relevant bio-pic on Kermit the Frog’s early “swamp years” is anything to go by…!

    Curiosity has the better of me: Do all the “angry young men” of yesteryear really pass through a phase where they tenaciously defend the status quo, and yet cannot thereafter bear to retire peaceably “far from the madding crowd”?

    When the old are silenced by the “young Turks” of our time, who think that they are “the people” and knowledge will die with them, our civilisation may well be doomed to march madly into a morass of its own making – all in the name of “progress”.

  • Thank you so much for your wise words, Mr Wilson, any such words coming my way are always appreciated even if I do not want to hear them sometimes (especially from my dad).

    I, in my defence, do not count those on the left as part of my comments when communicating on wisdom; in the same way, I would not take childcare advice from a paedophile, biblical interpretation from an atheist or expect wisdom from someone on the left. I, of course, may speak with authority on atheism, the left and paedophiles since they are all those to be understood appropriately so maybe, avoided yet criticised.

    I tend not to use the word “prove” or insist on it from atheists or for that matter anyone (unless they demand it from me) since it’s an unnecessarily to strong a word. I have sufficient good evidence to believe in Gods existence. I have very good evidence my dad is a reliable source of wisdom and has concern for me. I have sufficient good evidence CultureWatch, and those who inhabit it are an excellent source of Christendom. I will never be able to prove the man I accept as my husband will be a godly husband and father, the best I can do is look for red flags and judge him by his fruit before considering him. Interestingly I would not in the interest of factual proof revisit my decision to accept him 10-years down the road since proof of something isn’t the ultimate measure, overcoming problems is.

    It would be a fact I could rise to the top by eliminating all my competitors, but the reality of that doesn’t overcome the lack of morality to achieve that end.

    When I look at a worldview that isn’t my own, I am biased against it since I didn’t select my worldview from a box when I was blindfolded. I have invested in my worldview (Christendom) and had objections brought against it, further, others depend on my stability. I do think if I am being honest Christianity has a ‘problem’ with self-criticism. I believe we Christians have infected the west with that failing. I assure you I never hear a Muslim taking any responsibility for slavery even though they were far more involved than Christian nations. They castrated their male slaves, so the evidence of their actions are not so apparent. They rightly when challenged by me respond with it wasn’t anything to do with our generation, and I agree.

    On the microscale, I would be interested in different interpretations of biblical passages, yet I would reject out of hand an interpretation from a liberal Christian. I, for instance, listen to the rational Bible by a Jewish man (D Prager).
    I do not compromise on specific values I hold; for instance; I would not compromise my view on abortion, which is murder. I would not compromise on, marriage as something other than between a man and a woman. I think it’s right and proper a man leads his family too.

    An atheist could not talk me out of my faith with facts or evidence since I hold the facts and evidence. I do not allow them to lecture to me since I am there to lecture them.

    that said I have my dads name and faith so when he gives me to another; I will take his name and faith… as long as his faith is mine lol.

    I have no problem whatsoever topping up my evidence of something with faith in the evidence, after all, adults do this when they marry, as every one of them only had faith that the person they were marrying was going to make a suitable wife/husband.

    When I ask an atheist what evidence they have atheism is true and correct, they will often try to reinterpret the meaning of atheism. (which I do not let them do) Or they say that a negative can’t be proven which they do not realise is just another way of saying they have no evidence for atheism. However, they are not seeking, evidence for atheism, but neither am I we are both locked into our worldviews. If I didn’t know better, I would say we were chosen to be so in some way.

  • Hallelujah for this article! So often I have been saddened by the sniping at Christians who differ from the writer’s own strand of Christianity in the REPLIES to Bill’s articles. To reassure you, Bill, I have never noticed a lack of grace in the original articles and am sure that you are no more grumpy than the rest of us who are still being transformed from one degree of Glory to another.
    Our church, its village and our region are being blessed with an outbreak of genuine Christian unity which we cherish and are guarding with prayer and a determination not to cause offence to others, except the offence of the gospel. Jesus prayed for this in John 17 and it is so lovely to see it in action (Psalm 133). It is also a good witness to those outside the church/Kingdom of Christ

  • Thanks Bill. This one was a good spiritual slap. I’ll try not to let myself forget it.

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