Jesus+Nothing=Everything

Story Through Stories

To tell a story many times we reference other stories so that the common and well-known story will help others relate to what we are saying. Stories have a way of telling us something about ourselves and teaching us truths in a way that pure factual dictation never could. So, as I thought about telling my story I found that it was inextricably linked to stories that have meant a lot to me. From a very early age I was captured by the power of story and its ability to affect me deeply and as I look over my life I can see how God has been using these stories to teach me something about myself that I could not seem to learn any other way. He allowed them to come into my life and build a foundation that would make his gospel make more sense to me.

You might laugh, but the overarching story that resonates in my life is Titanic. I am not talking about Kate and Leo on the front of a ship shouting at the wind, I am talking about the tragedy of an ocean liner that was supposed to be unsinkable and yet sunk anyway. My life is a lot like this, I had everything going for me, I was raised in a Christian home, became a believer at the age of 5, I was sheltered from the world through home-schooling (insert any jokes here about awkwardness you want) and I never struggled with drugs or alcohol. Yet in all of this seeming goodness, I was lost; I did not know how to grow in my faith (I believe that God saved me at this age, the gift to believe was given to me by the Holy Spirit and even though there were times as I grew up, where I wanted to leave the faith, I never could. In the end nothing else could explain or makes sense of the world for me, I believe that this was the Holy Spirit’s protecting me), I never was tutored or mentored in the gospel. For me, being a Christian amounted to moralistic Deism; God was there and he saved me, but after that I needed to perform to keep and earn his love. This is what Sunday-school learning and church teaching seemed to be telling me.

On my 8th birthday, a life-changing event occurred; my friends and I watched all three Original Trilogy Star Wars movies in one night. Yes the geek in me was born very early. What is interesting is that to this point I was in love with non-fiction stories, Titanic, The Alamo, WWII and many others were my main source of enjoyment, but Star Wars changed all of that. With its epic, galactic story about good and evil, I was hooked. The spiritual elements of the story influenced me as well. Now, I am not saying that I was won over to eastern philosophy, but the fact that there was a spiritual side to the story left an indelible mark on me. As look back now I can see how God was showing me that story can teach powerful truths; in fact, most of Scripture is the story of humanity told through the lives of individuals and nations and each of them speak mightily into the shared experience of all of us. Stories make things personal and God desperately wants us to know that the gospel is about our being personally connected with him.

Star Wars had a direct impact on my picking up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was longing for more grand and heroic stories. Picking up this book changed my life, I became an avid reader of fiction from that point on and it is still my favorite book. The mark that this story left on me was the way in which Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund. He has done nothing to earn this “salvation”, Aslan’s love for Edmund causes Edmond to turn from evil and love Aslan back. This dimly reflected the gospel for me, and it laid the foundation for what was to come.

There is a big gap for me in my story education. I moved into my teenage years and drifted further from the faith. Oh I was trying hard, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Familial issues of trying to earn love had poisoned my understanding of God. I was lost trying to prove myself worthy and devastated by the falls. The disillusionment grew to the point of me becoming two people, one for the church crowd and the other for world. I pretended to be the good little church boy, all the while diving into the pit of lust and the desperate need to be loved accepted and known. I looked to women and sex to fill this desire and when it didn’t depression set. I was driven to the point of suicide. I did not want to live anymore because nothing in the world could seem to fill the void. Realizing I needed help I looked back to God and medication(prescription anti-depressants). A friend gave me a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel and for the first time an author spoke my language. He spoke of brokenness and failure and the reality of never feeling good enough for God. Manning showed me that God did love me, even when I was a complete screw-up. My understanding of the pure gospel was refined at this point but not fully.

I was still dealing heavily the idols that I had set up in my life. I truly worshiped the idea of relationships and romantic love, I believed as so many movies and stories tell us that I would not be complete until I had “the one”. There was also still this idea of pleasing God and making him love me more. I believed there was no better way to do this than go into ministry. So I set out to make these things happen. I got married, not long after my own parents had divorced and a couple of years later left Dallas for seminary in Minnesota. I had everything that I believed that I wanted. All of my idols were on the shelf and gleaming in the light of newly being fulfilled. Then it all fell apart. What I was worshiping could not sustain me or truly give me what I need. So I began desperately searching for something better to replace the obviously deficient idols. I tried to find the better woman and the more fulfilling career, but searching for things left me empty. A friend gave me the book The Sparrow and I immediately identified with it. It is the story of a priest and his friends who go on a mission to another planet to discover the source of the music SETI has picked up. It brings up the question, what do you do when you follow the calling you believe God has given you and then everything goes horribly wrong? How do you cope? What becomes of your faith? Was it God you were following or an idol? The story left me with the hope that I was not alone; others had asked these questions and it was ok for me to do so. I just didn’t know how God would answer.

I moved home after seminary with a masters and a divorce. Much of me had been crushed and yet I was still fighting for my idols. I know, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, but I continued to plug away. Working at Barnes & Noble I was surrounded by books full of stories. I came across a book that peaked my interest it was called Christian Atheist. The book opened my eyes to the way that I was living. I said that I believed in God but that belief did not have much impact on my daily life. I was still working to be a more moral person, not necessarily someone who was moving into deeper relationship with Christ. The gospel was being opened to me in a way that I had not heard before.

Home and Prodigal God both furthered my gospel education. Home is all about the black sheep in a family and his question of whether or not he is destined to always be the screw-up or if he can come home again. This drove straight to one of my most painful wounds; how could God love me and accept me after all that I had done and was there any hope of change?

Tim Keller helped me see the prodigal son parable in a whole new way. I had been hurt by the self-righteous “older brother” types in the church many times They had driven deep arrows into my heart, underscoring my feelings of inadequacy before God and the impossibility of ever truly making God happy with me. I was never going to live up to God’s standards and many “older brothers” had made sure I knew it. Yet Keller shows how this parable is about the sons, not just the son. Each one of these boys has left the father and gone their own way, one tries to live life his way and the other tries to earn salvation in his power; each missing the free gift that is being offer to them.

Gospel, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, The Explicit Gospel are the culmination of my story so far. God had primed me through the subtle spirituality of Star Wars, the sacrifice of Aslan, the love God has for ragamuffins, the truth that God cares even for the sparrow, the futility of saying I believe in God yet not having that belief impact my life and the hope for a black sheep to run back into the arms of grace. Its grace stupid; God grace. It’s not about what I can do because in and of myself I can do nothing (and I have tried so hard), I can never live up, all that moralism is filthy rags to God and leads ultimately to self-righteousness (which is utterly useless) or depression or and early death. Each of these books opened up the gospel for me in a way I could finally understand and hear. Each one had laid a foundation that allowed it to click and make sense more fully and deeply when the Holy Spirit opened my heart to the explicit, crazy/love of the gospel.

There is nothing that I can do to make God love any more or any less. It is through Christ and his work that I am made new and whole (Romans 5:1-11). This is the last story that has had a major impact lately, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In this story Eustace, a very self-righteous and disagreeable lad is turned into a dragon because of his greed. He literally becomes the embodiment of his self-righteousness and it is ugly. He tries desperately to undo it, to scrape off the skin he now lives in, but to no avail, he cannot dig deep enough. It is only when Aslan comes and “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” God showed me that it is though Jesus and his work only that I am made new

Christ has not just saved me from something but to something, freedom. Freedom to be the fullest and best version of me, the version he created me to be not the perversion that I had been trying to create (Galatians 5:1-6). I am called to abide in Christ, to be rooted in him and his love and his love are his commands. You see, I thought of commands as something that hindered me from doing something  I wanted or would be fun. I never fully trusted that God would give me what I wanted. I held so tightly and I trusted only myself to provide for the deepest longings of my heart. Again and again I tried to get what I want, all the time trying to earn God’s love through “moral living”, yet my pursuit of idols led to immoral living and therefore never living up to the standard that I believed God had for me. Jesus lays it out in John 15. He calls me to abide in his love and obey his commands; and as I look closely, his love and his commands are one in the same. For loves sake he has given me the way to navigate life that will lead to ultimate joy, fulfillment, peace and identity if I let go of myself and my desire to chase after the cheap thrills of fast-food dreams and one-night let downs. That doesn’t sound like someone who wants to hinder my life and existence but someone who truly wants my best. This is why David can say that he delights in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night; he’s not some kind of sadist, he realizes that God’s commands are his love they are love itself. His love will be our joy and fulfillment if we will abide in and follow his love, since he knows what it best for us; being the creator of the universe and all.

So God is calling me to rest in his gospel and to dive deeper into his love by abiding in a way of life that will bring me closer into relationship with him, those he brings into my life and the world at large. I will never move beyond the gospel, but as Jewel the unicorn says in The Last Battle, “Come further up, come further in!”

The Explicit Gospel – Review

The Explicit Gospel

Matt Chandler

Wheaton: Crossway, 2012 237 pages  $17.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Chandler cements himself as one of the best Bible teachers today with his first book, The Explicit Gospel. There have been a flurry of books on the gospel in the last year and for me, this makes the third in what I am calling the “Gospel Trilogy”. This includes Gospel by J.D. Greear,  Jesus+Nothing=Everything by Tullian Tchividjian and Chandler’s book. Matt’s book is a fantastic capstone to these other books (this does not mean it does not stand alone, which it certainly does). The Explicit Gospel is just what the title says – it is a concise and yet surprisingly comprehensive look at the gospel in less that 230 pages.

The introduction lays out the why and the how Matt will tackle this subjet. There were growing concerns, for him, of seeing people who had been in the church all their life and hearing them say something like this,

“‘I grew up in church; we went every Sunday morning and night; we went to Wednesday prayer, vacation Bible school, and youth camp. If the doors were open, we were there. I was baptized when I was six, seven or eight, but I didn’t understand what the gospel was, and after a while I lost interest in church and Jesus and I started walking in open sin. Someone recently sat me down and explained or invited me to The Village and I heard the gospel for the first time. I was blown away. How did I miss that?’ Or they would say, ‘No one ever taught me that.’”(12)

This lead to a realization that began to haunt Matt. Why was this such an issue? What has happened in the church to allow this kind of thing to become so prevalent? He began to see that much of what the church was teaching was not the explicit gospel but, “Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”.

“The idea behind moral, therapeutic deism is that we are able to earn favor with God and justify ourselves before God by virtue of our behavior.  This mode of thinking is religious, even ‘Christian’ in its content, but it’s more about self-actualization and self-fulfillment, and posits a God who does not so much intervene and redeem but basically hangs out behind the scenes, cheering on your you-ness and hoping you pick up the clues he’s left to become the best you.

The moralistic, therapeutic deism passing for Christianity in many of the churches these young people grew up in includes talk about Jesus about being good and avoiding bad – especially about feeling good about oneself – and God factored into all of that, but the gospel message simply wasn’t there. What I found was that for a great many young twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, the gospel had been merely assumed [Chandler's italics], not taught or proclaimed as central. It hadn’t been explicit.” (13)

The goal of the book is to make the gospel explicit. “But I want to spend my time with you trying to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing.” (15) So, “in part 1, ‘The Gospel on the Ground.’ we will trace the biblical narrative of God, Man, Christ, Response…When we get to part 2, ‘The Gospel in the Air,’ we will see how the apostle Paul connects human salvation to cosmic restoration in Romans 8:22-23…If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level” (16) “Both are necessary in order to begin to glimpse the size and the weight of the good news, the eternity-spanning wonderment of the finished work of Christ.” (17)

I could walk through both of the sections here, but I would only end up quoting the whole book, instead of letting you read it. Chandler constantly builds on each chapter and methodically shows how the gospel has impact on the person and then on all of creation. I was surprised at just how much theology he is able to fit in each chapter. None of this is exhaustive, but it is a concise and easily understood introduction for anyone. And because of the depth in each chapter, it is engaging for those who may feel like they have heard it all before.

The next section of the book looks at the problems that can arise for us if we focus exclusively one aspect over another.

“The explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary, two views of the same redemptive plan God has for the world in the work of his Son. By holding these perspectives together, we do the most justice to the Bible’s multifaceted way of proclaiming the good news. When we don’t hold them together, either by over affirming one or dismissing (or outright rejecting) the other, we create an imbalance that leads to all sorts of biblical error.” (175)

Then he moves to moralism and the cross and the danger he mentioned in the beginning of the book: not being explicit about the gospel to the detriment of souls.

“…the truth that unless the gospel is made explicit, unless we clearly articulate that our righteousness is imputed by Jesus Christ, that on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God aimed at us and washed us clean – even if we preach biblical words on obeying God – people will believe that Jesus’s message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.

But the problem is deeper and more pervasive. If we don’t make sure the gospel is explicit, if we don’t put up the cross and perfect life of Jesus Christ as our hope, the people can get confused and say, ‘Yes, I believe in Jesus. I want to be saved. I want to be justified by God,’ but begin attempting to earn his salvation. By taking the cross out of the functional equation, moral, therapeutic deism promotes the wrong-headed idea that God probably needs our help in the work of justification and most certainly needs us to carry the weight of our sanctification, as well. The result is innumerable Christians suffering under the burden of the law’s curse because they have not been led to see that gospel-centered living is the only way to delight in the law” (208-209)

The beginning and ending quotes I have shared are monumental for me. Personally, the trilogy of books that I have read in the last year have had a – well, what adjective is sufficient to explain the life-changing nature that the gospel has had in my life? God has opened my eyes and has illuminated the Word to me in a truly life-giving and life-altering way. So, do I recommend this book? Yes, but as I do, I recommend reading it with the Word of God ever in your focus and praying that the gospel would come alive to you.

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Harry Potter, Easter and the Passion of the Christ

“Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms.”

Harry willfully walks in the the embrace of death to protect those he loves. He surrenders himself to his destiny and in the end defeats death by death. He has a choice, he could run, but he gives himself freely for the greater good.

As I was sitting in church today, I was thinking about this scene from Harry Potter over and over again. Some people might think it strange that I would be thinking about a movie while sitting in church, so I will explain why. The sermon today was all about surrender. The pastor talked about Jesus and how his whole life was nothing but surrender. First he surrendered his place in heaven to come to earth as a human. Then, he surrendered his comfort to grow up and live his life in the backwoods of the Roman empire, not really heaven on earth. And most importantly, he surrendered his life to the will of the Father and gave himself up to be nailed to a cross when he could have called down twelve legions of angels to wipe out all who would dare touch him. Jesus surrenders it all to do what I cannot.  He pays the price for my sin, but he also gives me what I need to change; because here’s the thing about surrender, I can’t do it by myself. The power to lay down myself does not come from me, it comes through the work that Christ does on the cross and the power of his resurrection. Tullian Tchividjian says it like this,

 “Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the complete work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So again, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.”

So when it comes to surrendering all to the Father in the way Christ does, I must look to what Christ has done and know it’s not about what I do, but it is about what he has done. Therefore it is through the power of the gospel that I can lay myself aside and follow him with everything I am. I can surrender, because he has already surrendered himself for me, and has given himself as a ransom for many.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:4-5 ESV)

Jesus+Nothing=Everything – Review


Tullian Tchividjian
Wheaton: Crossway, 2011 220 pages$18.99

To follow Jesus and grow as aChristian, to give up all the world offers us, we must see the overwhelming value of the gospel and what God hasdone through Christ. We cannot truly change unless we understand the weight of the gospel in our lives. This is the focused message of Jesus+Nothing=Everything.
Tchividjian uses this formula as the backbone of the book; looking at each part, starting with everything and working to Jesus, then backtracking to talk through it all again. This means that he drives home his point effectively by giving us the time to digest what he is saying because we hear it again and again. The main thrust of the book is that our lives need to be gospel focused and centered and that it is only by gaining a deeper and richer understanding of what Christ has done that one can truly grow.

“The hard work of Christian growth, therefore, is to think less of ourselves and our performance and more of Jesus and hisperformance for us. Ironically, when we focus mostly on our need to get better,we actually get worse. We become neurotic and self absorbed. Preoccupation with our effort instead of with God’s effort for us makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.”(95)

It is only when we believe and trust in the new identity that God has given us, through the life and work of Christ, that we can let go of our self and actually grow.
The natural question that arises from all this talk of grace is, “What about the law and the commands of God?” Tchividjian answers this way:

“Therefore, it’s the gospel (what Jesus has done) that alone can give God-honoring animation to our obedience. The power to obey comes from being moved and motivated by the complete work of Jesus for us. The fuel to do good flows from what’s already been done. So again, while the law directs us, only the gospel can drive us.”(192)

Considering this topic is foundational to the Christian faith, the author doesn’t expect hisbook to be exhaustive on the topic. He provides a list of twenty-six books on the gospel for further study. At the end of the book Tchividjian says, “So relax and rejoice. Jesus plus nothing equals everything; everything minus Jesus equals nothing.” This reminds us of what Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Matthew10:39 ESV)