I have just begun to read a new book called Jesus + Nothing = Everything, by Tullian Tchividjian (the grandson of Billy Graham). So far it is an outstanding book that I highly encourage everyone to read.Part of the reason that the book has so captured my attention is that Tchividjian begins the book by recounting one of the most stressful and taxing times in his life. As I read that opening portion of the book I was amazed at how that painful time in his life paralleled one in my life in remarkable ways.
You see, it was near the end of 2008 when Tchividjian was approached with the idea of merging his church plant, New City Church, with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, the church of the late D. James Kennedy. At practically the same time in 2008 the little church plant that we had started in Dacula, called Harbins Community Baptist Church, was also approached about a merger with another church on the other side of town. Of course, our merger was not nearly as big or noteworthy as Tchividjian’s church merger, but the timelines were strikingly similar, matter of fact they were identical in many respects.
Both our church and Tchividjian’s completed the mergers in April of 2009 with the first official service being the 2009 Easter service for both of us. And also like Tchividjian’s experience, our church merger began to hit some rocky waters by the time summer had rolled around and we both entered into some of the most painful and difficult chapters of our pastoral careers.
Here’s where our stories do diverge a bit, for the problems at Coral Ridge were not identical to those at Harbins, but they were problems none-the-less. What was the same was the stress that the church leadership and congregations endured. Tchividjian seriously considered resigning as pastor of Coral Ridge, and I too remember typing up my resignation letter as quitting became a serious option in my mind. I will never forget the stress and pain that I, my family, and all the families in our church endured during those difficult days.
I was amazed to read that Tchividjian was struggling with the same weakness I struggled with. What was that you ask? Well, I’ll let him explain it (he is the one who wrote a book after all):
I began to get choked up as I read these words. I know exactly how Tchividjian felt, because it’s the place I still often find myself. For far too many days of my relatively short life I’ve worried about being accepted by people instead of finding my contentment in the gospel. Some may call it a self-esteem problem, but let’s call it what Scripture calls it: idolatry!
Tullian Tchividjian was guilty of the same idolatry I was guilty of, namely putting our hope in something other than the gospel-other than Jesus Christ and what He has accomplished on the cross. What Pastor Tchividjian learned, and what I’m learning, makes up the content of his great book and it can most simply be stated like this: The gospel teaches us that we are to find our ultimate fulfillment in nothing outside of Jesus Christ, and only when we find our fulfillment in Him will we ever have anything of any value at all. Jesus + nothing = everything!
This Sunday, from Acts 20, we looked a lot at how we are called to be encouragers like Paul. What we did not have time to dive into completely was the question of where our own encouragement must come from. If we are banking on uplifting words, good circumstances, and acts of kindness to keep us encouraged then we will be sorely disappointed when times like the aforementioned merger problems come around. The question is not if we will hit storms during life’s journey, but when. And when they inevitably come, what are we standing on? If it’s not the gospel of Jesus Christ then it’s only sinking sand.
It’s during times of great stress that God graciously purges us of our idols and false confidences, and drives us to the cross where we find our only true encouragement. Our encouragement rests on the truth that in Christ we have been fully forgiven of our filthy sin; we have been given new robes consisting of Christ’s own spotless righteousness; we have been irrevocably sealed in Christ through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit; we are unconditionally adopted into the Father’s family, secure forever; we stand with full assurance that our sanctification will be complete and one day we will be with God forever without any hindrances of sin and self. That’s our hope. That’s the gospel. That’s encouraging!
The gospel of Jesus Christ is all we need, so why proclaim anything else?