Are you a problem solver? Lord knows I am.
Suppose we were best friends and I was given the difficult task of solving a problem too great for you to handle. Let’s say that it took several years to wade through it, but the fruit of my labor was life changing for you and our friendship as well.
Years after the fact, you come to me grateful indeed, but your desire is to start over and to try to solve it again…on your own this time. To which I reply, “What, I already solved that problem for you, remember? It’s done, finished, finito! How would you even go about it? Why would you even try? Why would you want to?”
In many ways, this is how we behave as Christians. And it is the running theme of Pastor Tullian Tchividjian’s latest book, Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything. When Christ said “It is finished,” what do you suppose He truly meant? Indeed it is packed with theology in one sense, but in another, I’m not sure that Christ could’ve been any clearer, or said it in a simpler way. You know when parents say, “because I said so”? Right or wrong, according to experts in the parenting field, that’s how I hear Jesus responding to me from heaven when I say, “But Lord, why can’t I try harder to get right with you, to be more holy, to be more saved, loved, etc.?”
So how do I shed the bird brain idea that I need to add something to what Christ has already accomplished on my behalf? How do I, once and for all, believe the words of my Savior, “It is finished?” Anything shy of believing that truth would have me breaking into a prison that I’ve already been released from. It seems so foolish, yet it in reality, it is part of my daily routine and quite possibly yours.
I confess that when I had the great privilege of sitting down with Tullian to hear his heart on the matter, I was challenged several times to genuinely grasp how to walk through even one day under the umbrella of the title of his book, let alone my entire Christian walk. I even had a few discussions with some close friends about how ‘Jesus plus nothing equals everything’ really works, or what it looks like day to day as we strive to live in this world that we’re called (according to Paul) to be in, but not of? I’m still not totally clear on it, but the more I dig in, the more I understand the true meaning.
Fortunately at this point in his life, Tullian is not struggling with the concept, and has therefore honestly written a first hand account of how Jesus plus nothing is proving to be everything in the life of this grace driven pastor, and how the gospel saved him after he became a Christian. Another zinger until he unpacks it! Have no fear, he most definitely will in his new work.
How It All Went Down
If you live in Fort Lauderdale and you are a believer, actually even if you’re not a believer, you undoubtedly heard the buzz regarding the merge of New City Church and Coral Ridge Presbyterian several years back. Tullian tells it like this: “We were just hitting our stride at New City around the five year mark. We had a great staff, strong leaders and we were financially sound and growing in numbers. So when I got the call in 2008, (about nine months after the death of Dr. Kennedy,) to go through the process of possibly becoming the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge, I was humbled for sure but not interested.”
Dr. Kennedy started Coral Ridge in 1959, and for the first time in the history of the internationally acclaimed church, they were put in a position of needing to find a pastor. This was unfamiliar territory for them, but there were in fact 175 candidates for the position, so it seemed reasonable that they would find their guy.
Although Tullian was flattered to be one of the candidates being considered for the position, it just didn’t make sense that he would uproot a church that he not only planted, which he likened to child birth, but a church that was doing well in every area. Declining seemed not only reasonable, but even wise at the time.
After putting the idea of relocating behind him, and just when he thought it was safe to get behind his own pulpit again, a second call from Coral Ridge emerged and he was faced once more with the challenge. However, this time it came with a new twist to merge the two churches. Along with the aforementioned items that kept him from accepting the initial invitation, his biggest concern was that which he felt needed to happen at Coral Ridge in order to get it to the place (in his opinion,) it needed to be. He was also not convinced that his existing staff really understood in depth what would be required of them to make a go of it. Then there was the thought of addressing his own congregation to tell them that God was asking him to put New City (at least as they knew it) on the altar so to speak. All very painful stuff!
Despite the issues at hand, Tullian met with his elders and they basically decided that they were not going to know if the invitation was a major Satanic distraction, or a major unconventional move of God, unless they investigated it.
And so the story unfolds. Tullian, along with three people from both churches, met regularly for a period of four months, going through a meticulous due diligence process that would eventually have them all convinced that merging was in fact the very thing that God was calling them to do.
What Tullian didn’t realize was that in going forward, he was getting ready to step into what became an excruciating season of having to surrender first to the work that God was fashioning in his own life – a work that would have to be accomplished long before Coral Ridge would even start to resemble a thriving church under his pastorship.
I Am The Clay, You Are The Potter
One of the most effective tools that God used during the first few months of the merge, and one that was most life altering for Tullian, was the deep pain caused by the realization that he was in fact despised by a small group of long term people at CRPC. Despised, after uprooting to answer their need? Division ensued, petitions went forth, cars got keyed (his specifically).Yes, you read that right. In his own words, “It was really, really BAD!”
If you know Tullian at all, or have heard him preach, he is not by any stretch the depressed sort, not a melancholy type of guy, no, no, no… but to a significant degree, all the bombs going off in his world had dared to interrupt his ‘happy go blessed’ attitude, and he was now in fact and I quote, “depressed, a bit scared and down right angry.”
After deciding that he would commit to making his wife and children a priority despite the ongoing trials that the merge presented, he providentially landed on the porch of their family vacation spot in June of 2009 with loved ones near, pen in hand and heart in repair. Oh happy day!
As often God does while we are duking it out with adversity, Tullian was led to Colossians, Chapter 1 (his reading plan for the day,) where revelation upon revelation slowly came to him and he arrived at the sobering realization that God was in the intimate process of breaking him. But even with the understanding that God was and is in complete control, Tullian could not figure it all out? The “whys” were too many, and the answers were…well, there were none, yet. Why would God initiate a merge that would hurt both churches and cause so much division? Tullian found himself literally saying to God, “What have you done? Please, just give me my old life back!” It was at that point through God’s Word (specifically through verses 9-14,) that he would get his answer, “It’s not your old life that you want back Tullian, it’s your old idols you want back, and I love you too much to give them to you.”
Insert Vinyl Screech
Tullian was now faced with the sobering reality that never before in his life (prior to this merge,) had he felt so disliked or experienced such disapproval and he was starting to let it define him in a way that was rubbing against gospel truth. He was used to full acceptance at New City and he was loved as a pastor should be. Instead he was undergoing what he termed, “the shelling of his life!” And he was becoming alarmingly aware of how dependent he had become on human acceptance and approval until God stripped him of it.
It was verses 13 and 14 in Colossians that spoke the truth directly in that Paul reminds us that we have already been transferred, forgiven, redeemed, reconciled and approved by God through the finished work of Christ. Up to this point,Tullian had been preaching the gospel with passion, he could articulate the gospel theologically and biblically, but it wasn’t until he was going through the absolute crucible of pain, according to him, that the gospel became a functional life line. It was then that he realized that all of the approval, acceptance and love that he longed for and had been looking to receive from his new found family at Coral Ridge, was already his in Christ. He further illustrated this by laughing about the time he was walking around his house looking for his sunglasses while they were on top of his head! In his opinion it was just as foolish as that, and the gospel had now become alive for him in brand new ways!
The beauty of the vacation was two fold in that Tullian and his family simply got away from the madness, but he also came back transformed, stable and calmer, with a new response to a now even more intense situation. He returned understanding that because Jesus has won – that he is free to lose, because Jesus is strong, that he’s free to be weak, because Jesus succeeded and that he is free to fail…you get the picture.
‘Jesus plus nothing equals everything’ was becoming functional. Attached to nothing but the One who is everything, he would now be equipped to make difficult decisions and face tough situations with greater clarity and ease.
I was actually there for that difficult season, along with my husband and step-daughters and it was brutal, but the sermons became more gospel and grace drenched during that time of healing in Tullian’s life, and the fruit has been nothing short of miraculous. To God be the glory.
The book will debut October 31, and as a member of CRCP and being very familiar with the passion that Tullian preaches with, I can safely say it will rock your Christian, “prone to wander” world in a good “theologically sound” way!