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Tullian Tchividjian Christian Blog and Commentary

Tullian Tchividjian

Pastor & Author

Over the last four months I have learned a lot about prayer, burdens, and fears. The current contractions of our one new church have me feeling more desperate than I’ve ever felt. I have a thousand questions and not nearly as many answers as I’d like. I have concerns, fears, and doubts. I hate “the unknown.” People who don’t know me (and haven’t taken the time to try) have said things about me that are untrue and cruel, calling into question my character, my leadership, my theological credibility, and my motives. At times, the weight of this burden has made me want to give up and give in. After all, I didn’t go looking for this merger and I didn’t need it. Before God brought this around, I was enjoying the thrill of pastoring a thriving 5 1/2 year old church that I had the privilege of planting. It was strong. It was healthy. I was happy. Therefore, in my weaker moments I have been tempted to relieve myself of this burden and go back to the way things were. But God won’t let me. There is no going back–only onward and upward!

God is clearly up to something big. A friend wrote to me the other day telling me that God must be doing something huge if the enemy is attaking so voraciously. I agree. He’s moving in a profoundly tangible and unexplainable way. He is doing things. He is working. We know it. We feel the pruning process. We feel God stripping us of everything but Him–it hurts, but it’s good.

Yes, the contractions are painful. But each painful contraction carries with it a promise that new life is on the way. The reason I am able to bear the discomfort of these contractions is because the promise of something new and beautiful deeply grips me in transcendent ways. God is giving birth to a “new church.” 

So, as we continue to “follow the cloud” with fear and trembling, I have had to learn in new ways what it means to pray. I’ve had to learn afresh “not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” I’ve learned the hard way that the primary thing which separates the spiritually mature from the spiritually immature is what one does with his/her burdens and fears and frustrations and doubts and unanswered questions. The late, great Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said in a sermon from Genesis 26:17-18:

The man who is really feeling the burden is a man pressed to his knees and pressed into the presence of God. His supreme activity is prayer. For he realizes that this is a province that God alone can deal with. He knows the burden. And a man who is burdened is a man who prays.

Throughout this process, I’ve learned the difference between responding to my burden in a self-centered way and responding to my burden in a God-centered way. A self-centered response reveals itself through gossip, vain speculation, taking matters into your own hands, Bible-ignoring impatience, and an unruly demand for answers. A God-centered response reveals itself in prayer. All too often my fears and lack of answers have made me want to demand from God and others an explanation for what is going on. “After all, I’m a paying customer”, I conclude. “I have a right to an explanation for what you’re doing, God.” And in the process, God has revealed my own spiritual immaturity. What about you? Alan Redpath once said that the flavor of a teabag comes out when put in hot water. What flavor comes out of you when in the midst of trials? 

The words of the great hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” have been a source of great comfort and correction for me. May they be a source of great comfort and correction for you as well:

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear, May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there.

One of the most common objections that those of us who are committed to preaching the gospel of grace week in and week out hear is, “Ok…I get it. Can we move on now? We hear the same thing week after week. Can we hear something different already?” Considering the way our consumeristic culture has conditioned us to always crave “what’s next”, the objection is understandable. Add to that a fundamental misunderstanding inside the church that the gospel is not for Christians but for non-Christians, and you have the perfect recipe for Christian people thinking that it’s “time to move on.”

Over the years I’ve come up with a variety of ways to explain to people that once God saves us he doesn’t then move us beyond the gospel, but rather more deeply into the gospel—that Christian growth is always growth into grace, not beyond it. But just recently I discovered another way to help people understand that we never, ever outgrow our need to hear the gospel.

In Galatians 5:6 Paul makes a stunning statement. He says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” So, the thing that matters most is faith expressing itself through love. And then in Romans 10:17 Paul makes the point that “faith comes through hearing the word about Christ.” Put these two statements together and you have what is, in my opinion, the strongest biblical argument for why we need to hear the gospel of grace week in and week out.

According to Paul, real love is impossible without faith. Faith is vertical (it’s upward)—it’s trusting that everything I need and long for, I already have because of what Jesus has accomplished for me. Love, on the other hand, is horizontal (it’s outward)—because Jesus has done everything for me (faith) I can now do everything for you without needing you to do anything for me (love). You could put it this way: love is faith worked out by us for our neighbor horizontally; faith is love worked into us from God vertically. The implication, of course, is that love is absent to the degree that faith is missing. If I’m not trusting that everything I need in Christ I already possess (lack of faith), then I will be looking to take from you rather than give to you (lack of love). I’ll be concentrating on what I need, not what you need. I’ll be looking out for me, not you.

So if we ever hope to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (which is precisely what God’s law calls for), it will depend on faith. And faith, according to Paul in Romans 10:17, depends on hearing the gospel—over and over and over again. God stokes faith through the preaching of the gospel, and since our faith needs constant stoking, the preaching of the gospel needs to be constant. As long as love is needed (which is always), faith must be fueled. And the only fuel for faith is the gospel. The logical formula, then, goes like this:

No faith = no love
No gospel = no faith
Therefore, no gospel = no love.

The preaching of the gospel alone activates faith, and faith alone activates love.

If the church is ever going to experience the kind of reformation that many of us long for, preachers are going to have to understand that they are not called to say many different things, but rather the same thing over and over in many different ways from every different text.

So preachers, do everything you can to help people understand why they will never outgrow their need to hear the gospel of grace. But don’t ever apologize for the rhythm of redemptive redundancy that should always mark your preaching week after week after week.

 

William Graham Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, Tullian is also the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham, a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal.

A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tullian has authored a number of books including Jesus + Nothing = Everything (Crossway). He travels extensively, speaking at conferences throughout the U.S., and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program LIBERATE. As a respected pastor, author, and speaker, Tullian is singularly and passionately devoted to seeing people set free by the radical, amazing power of God's grace.

When he is not reading, studying, preaching, or writing, Tullian enjoys being with people and relaxing with his wife, Kim, and their three children—Gabe, Nate, and Genna. He loves the beach, loves to exercise, and when he has time, he loves to surf. 

A Tale Of Two Lunches

Below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (David C. Cook, October 2013)

I was sixteen when my parents kicked me out of the house. What started out as run-of-the-mill adolescent rebellion in my early teens had, over the course of a few short years, blossomed into a black hole of disrespect and self-centeredness that was consuming the entire family. I would lie when I didn’t have to, push every envelope, pick fights with my siblings, carry on, and sneak around—at first in innocent ways; later in not-so-innocent ways. If someone said “black,” I would say “white.” Nothing all that terrible by the world’s standards, but given my Christian context and upbringing, it was pretty egregious. Eventually, everyone involved reached the end of their patience, and looking back, I can’t blame them. It’s not as though my parents hadn’t tried every other option. Private school, public school, homeschool, counseling, interventions—you name it.

Anything they did just made me want to rebel more. Eventually, my lifestyle became so disruptive, the fights so brutal, that my parents were forced to say, “We love you, son, but if you’re going to continue living this way, you can’t do so under our roof.”

My parents were well loved in our community, and their friends could see the heartache they were going through with me. I remember two separate instances of people caring enough to ask them for permission to talk with me one-on-one to see if maybe they could get through to me.

The first time was early on, when I was still living at home. Their friend picked me up after school, brought me to Burger King, and read me the riot act. “Look at all that God’s given you. You’re squandering everything. You’re making your parents’ life a living hell, acting so selfishly, not considering your siblings. You go to a private school. You have this remarkable heritage. Shape up, man! Snap out of it.” Of course, he was 100 percent right. In fact, if he had known the full truth of what I was up to (and what was in my heart), he would have had every reason to be even harsher. But in the first five minutes of this guy talking to me, I could tell where it was going, and I just tuned out. As far as I was concerned, it was white noise. I could not wait for it to be over and for him to drop me back off at home.

This first friend was the voice of the law. He was articulating the standard that I was falling short of—what I should have been doing and who I should have been being—and he couldn’t have been more correct. The condemnation was entirely justified. His words gave an accurate description of who I was at that moment. But that’s the curious thing about the law and judgment in general: it can tell us who we are, it can tell us the right thing to do, but it cannot inspire us to do that thing or be that person. In fact, it often creates the opposite reaction than the one that is intended. It certainly did for me! I don’t blame the man in question—he was trying to do the right thing. It’s just that his methods completely backfired.

The second experience happened about a year and a half later, and by this time I was out of the house. This man called me and said, “I’d love to meet with you.” And I thought, Oh no, another one of my parents’ friends trying to set me straight. But I didn’t want to make things any worse between my parents and me, and the free meal didn’t sound too bad either, so I agreed to get together with him.

Once we were at the restaurant, he just looked at me and said, “Listen, I know you’re going through a tough time, and I know life must seem very confusing right now. And I just want to tell you that I love you, I’m here for you, and I think God’s going to do great things with you. Here’s my phone number. If you ever need anything, call me. If you want to tell me something you don’t feel comfortable telling anybody else, call me. I just want you to know that I’m here for you.” And then he switched the subject and started talking about sports. That guy—the second guy—is still a friend of mine to this day. He will forever be marked in my personal history as an example of amazing grace.

Most parents and spouses, siblings and friends—even preachers—fall prey to the illusion that real change happens when we lay down the law, exercise control, demand good performance, or offer “constructive” criticism. We wonder why our husbands grow increasingly withdrawn over the years, why our children don’t call as much as we would like them to, why our colleagues don’t confide in us, why our congregants become relationally and emotionally detached from us.

In more cases than not, it happens because we are feeding their deep fear of judgment—by playing the judge. Our lips may be moving, but the voice they hear is that of the law. The law may have the power to instruct and expose, but it does not have the power to inspire or create. That job is reserved for grace–grace alone.

In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that the law illuminates sin but is powerless to eliminate sin. That’s not part of its job description. It points to righteousness but can’t produce it. It shows us what godliness is, but it cannot make us godly. The law can inform us of our sin but it cannot transform the sinner. Only the gospel can do that. As Martin Luther said, “Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God.”

The law may expose bad behavior, but only grace can woo the heart.

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