Mar

13

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|9:45 am CT

Romans

Screen-Shot-2013-10-28-at-11.42.36-PMI’m currently preaching through the book of Romans. That’s right, ROMANS! Crazy, I know. I swore I wouldn’t even attempt to preach through Romans till I was at least 50 years old but I decided to do it now because it was reading through Romans last fall that rescued me from a season of doubt and discouragement.

My confidence in the radicality of the gospel was resurrected after waking up one morning and desperately grabbing my Bible from my nightstand and reading the first eight chapters of Romans in one sitting. I got out of bed that day much different than I went to bed the night before. I told the people I serve at Coral Ridge that I was going to preach through Romans just as much for me as for them.

I regularly confess to our church that I’m a desperate man. In fact, I heartily disagree with Robert Murray McCheyne who said, “The greatest gift I can give my church is my personal holiness.” I have the utmost respect for McCheyne, but that is ridiculous. The greatest gift I can give my church is the good news that Jesus has done for train-wrecks like me what I could never do for myself. The second most important gift I can give my church is my desperation. Don’t listen to a preacher who isn’t desperate.

As Paul makes clear throughout this letter (and as I say in the sermon below), if Christianity is fundamentally about our performance, we’re all in big trouble. If it’s about our purity, our strength, our cleanliness, our obedience, our anything…we are without hope! This whole thing is riding on the shoulders of Another: one who eternally succeeded where we perpetually fail, one who was strong for us, obedient for us, pure for us, righteous for us. The whole point of the verses I preach from below is that God is not the God of second chances–he’s the God of one chance and a second Adam.

Not long ago, my friend Jono Linebaugh wrote this note to me: “The theological plumbing in the church these days is fixed in such a way that if you try to pour the pure water of mercy down the pipe of people’s hearts it backs up and the theological plumber gets called to come clear the clog with the plunger of a few “ifs” and “buts”. I’m convinced the old plumbing has to be totally replaced, not repaired. And this only happens when it fully breaks–through suffering and failure–not arguments.”

Right on!

Romans is replacement plumbing. I dare you to read it. As Robert Capon so eloquently put it:

The Epistle to the Romans has sat around in the church since the first century like a bomb ticking away the death of religion; and every time it’s been picked up, the ear-splitting freedom in it has gone off with a roar. The only sad thing is that the church as an institution has spent most of its time playing bomb squad and trying to defuse it. For your comfort, though, it can’t be done. Your freedom remains as close to your life as Jesus and as available to your understanding as the nearest copy. Like Augustine, therefore, take and read–and then hold onto your hat. Compared to that explosion, the clap of doom sounds like a cap pistol.

Romans is theological therapy for the soul.

I’m not even half way through, but you can find all my sermons from this series here. Below is this past week’s sermon. I hope God uses it to set you free as he has used this series to set me free.

Romans: Part 7 | Tullian Tchividjian from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.

 
 

Mar

11

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|8:01 am CT

All We Need Is (One Way) Love

All of the talks at Liberate 2014 were amazing, but this one by my good friend (and theological soul-mate) David Zahl was my favorite. If you love Jesus you’ll set aside an hour to watch it :)

Liberate 2014 – David Zahl from Coral Ridge | LIBERATE on Vimeo.

You can find the other talks here.

 
 

Mar

03

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|4:17 pm CT

Liberate 2014: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World

Here’s my talk from Liberate 2014: “Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World”:

 
 

Feb

28

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|8:37 am CT

Liberated

The greatest apologetic for the intentionally myopic messaging of the Liberate Conference are testimonies like the one below:

I was overwhelmed with emotion as I left behind the sanctuary of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and stepped into the February Ft. Lauderdale sunshine. Today’s service with Pastor Tullian Tchividjian brought closure to Liberate Weekend and a conference designed around sharing the message of grace and God’s one way love. But for this girl, the one who’d only recently become reacquainted with God, it was so much more than listening to devoted, authentic speakers talk about how grace will change everything about us – and everything about how we view Christianity. On this warm Sunday, I was bathed in hope and comfort as the mild breeze brushed against my cheek and whispered in my ear like a long, lost love. “There is so much we need to talk about.” Indeed, there is, I thought. We’ll just have to take all this on the run.

Please read the rest here. If you can make it through without crying, you may not be human.

I’ll be posting my own reflections on the Liberate Conference next week. Still processing it all. Suffice it to say, I’ll never be the same.

 
 

Feb

26

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|9:40 am CT

One Way Love Video Curriculum

Thanks to my friends at Right Now Media and my publisher David C. Cook, the video curriculum for my book One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World is now available. I hope and pray that many are wildly blessed by it. Spread the word!

Here is the trailer for the series.

You can find the whole six-part series here.

 
 

Feb

17

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|4:33 pm CT

We Don’t Find Grace, Grace Finds Us

VBS2013-coverart(1)I love the introduction to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible.  A piece of it goes like this:

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but…most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves.

She’s right. I think that most people, when they read the Bible (and especially when they read the Old Testament), read it as a catalog of heroes (on the one hand) and cautionary tales (on the other). For instance, don’t be like Cain — he killed his brother in a fit of jealousy – but do be like David: God asked him to do something crazy, and he had the faith to follow through.

Since Genesis 3 we have been addicted to setting our sights on something, someone, smaller than Jesus. Why? It’s not that there aren’t things about certain people in the Bible that aren’t admirable. Of course there are. We quickly forget, however, that whatever we see in them that is commendable is a reflection of the gift of righteousness they’ve received from God-it is nothing about them in and of itself.

Running counter to this idea of Bible-as-hero-catalog, I find that the best news in the Bible is that God incessantly comes to the down-trodden, broken, and non-heroic characters. It’s good news because it means he comes to people like me — and like you.

Our impulse to protect Bible characters and make them the “end” of the story happens almost universally with the story of Noah.

Noah is often presented to us as the first character in the Bible really worthy of emulation. Adam? Sinner. Eve? Sinner. Cain? Big sinner! But Noah? Finally, someone we can set our sights on, someone we can shape our lives after, right? This is why so many Sunday School lessons handle the story of Noah like this: “Remember, you can believe what God says! Just like Noah! You too can stand up to unrighteousness and wickedness in our world like Noah did. Don’t be like the bad people who mocked Noah. Be like Noah.”

I understand why many would read this account in this way. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9)? Pretty incontrovertible, right?

Not so fast.

Let’s take a closer look. You can’t understand verse 9 properly unless you understand its context.  Here’s the whole section, verses 5-7:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

Now that’s a little different, isn’t it? Look at all the superlatives: every inclination, only evil, all the time! That kind of language doesn’t leave a lot of room for exceptions…and “exception” is just the way Noah has always been described to me. “Well,” I hear, “Everyone was sinful except Noah. He was able to be a righteous man in a sinful world…it’s what we’re all called to be.” But that’s not at all what God says! He says, simply and bluntly, that he “will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created.” No exceptions. No exclusions.

So what happens? How do we get from verse 7 (“I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created…for I regret that I have made them.”) to verse 9 (“Noah was a righteous man.”)?  We get from here to there – from sin to righteousness — by the glory of verse 8, which highlights the glory of God’s initiating grace.

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8).

Some read this and make it sound like God is scouring the earth to find someone—anyone—who is righteous. And then one day, while searching high and low, God sees Noah and breathes a Divine sigh of relief. “Phew…there’s at least one.” But that’s not what it says.

“Favor” here is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “grace.” In other words, as is the case with all of us who know God, it was God who found us—we didn’t find God. We are where we are today, not because we found grace, but because grace found us. In his book Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis recounts his own conversion with these memorable words:

You must picture me alone in my room, night after night, feeling the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had come upon me. In the fall term of 1929 I gave in and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most reluctant convert in all England. Modern people cheerfully talk about the search for God. To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.

It took the grace of God to move Noah from the ranks of the all-encompassing unrighteous onto the rolls of the redeemed. Pay special attention to the order of things: 1) Noah is a sinner, 2) God’s grace comes to Noah, and 3) Noah is righteous. Noah’s righteousness is not a precondition for his receiving favor (though we are wired to read it this way)…his righteousness is a result of his having already received favor!

The Gospel is not a story of God meeting sinners half-way, of God desperately hoping to find that one righteous man on whom he can bestow his favor. The news is so much better than that. The Gospel is that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Sinners like Noah, like you, and like me are recipients of a descending, one-way love that changes everything, breathes new life into dead people, and has the power to carry us from unrighteousness to righteousness without an ounce of help.

So, even in the story of Noah, we see that the Bible is a not a record of the blessed good, but rather the blessed bad. The Bible is not a witness to the best people making it up to God; it’s a witness to God making it down to the worst people. Far from being a book full of moral heroes whom we are commanded to emulate, what we discover is that the so-called heroes in the Bible are not really heroes at all. They fall and fail; they make huge mistakes; they get afraid; they’re selfish, deceptive, egotistical, and unreliable. The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our badness with His goodness.

Yes, God is the hero of every story—even the story of Noah.

 
 

Feb

14

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|9:59 am CT

Jeremy Abbott and Freedom in Failure

jeremy-abbott-featuredNick Lannon, editor-in-chief of LIBERATE, wrote an amazing gospel reflection on figure skater Jeremy Abbott’s epic fall last night during his routine:

It is when we can look ourselves in the mirror and be honest about what we see: failings, sins, and shortcomings, that we can begin to live our lives with some measure of freedom. As long as we look in that mirror and tell ourselves that glory is possible (Olympic or otherwise), we’ll be like Jeremy Abbott before “the fall”: a nervous wreck. We’ll be terrified of exposure, of failure…of being outed as frauds.

Admitting from the beginning that we are a failure in need of profound rescue from the outside makes it all the easier to accept that salvation. Martin Luther famously said that the quest for glory could never be satisfied; that it must be extinguished. This is perhaps most clearly obvious during the Olympics. For every gold medal awarded, there are hundreds of athletes who leave with their arms in slings, their egos bruised, and their dreams crushed. In the same way, for every Mother Teresa, there’s a you and me. Of course, our freedom is even better than Abbott’s: our errors, our embarrassing falls, and our public disgraces have been give to a substitute. His perfect score has been given to us. We now live secure in the knowledge that when the “judges” (the Judge) regard us, they see only God’s blameless son, Jesus Christ. The next time Jeremy Abbott skates that program, that fall will come back to him. He’ll worry about it, and hope it doesn’t happen again. Our falls can never come back to us. They were nailed to a cross 2,000 years ago.

Read the rest here.

 
 

Feb

10

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|9:29 am CT

“LiveStrong” Christianity

mad_men_fallA couple months back I wrote about Reader’s Digest Christianity, and how it reduced the Christian faith to pithy, easily-achievable goals that ensure our personal improvement. Here, I have a different (though depressingly similar) target: “LiveStrong” Christianity. LiveStrong bracelets are today even more popular than the infamous WWJD bracelets were 10 years ago, despite the public fall from grace of their namesake, Lance Armstrong.

In the minds of many people inside the church, “Livestrong” is the essence and goal of Christianity. You hear this obsession in our lingo: We talk about someone having “strong faith,” about someone being a “strong Christian,” a “prayer warrior,” or a “mighty man/woman of God.” We want to believe that we can do it all, handle it all. We desperately want to think that we are competent and capable— we’ve concluded that our life and our witness depend on our strength. No one wants to declare deficiency. We even turn the commands that seem to have nothing to do with strength (“Blessed are the meek” or “Turn the other cheek”) into opportunities to showcase our spiritual might. I saw a church billboard the other day that said, “Think being meek is weak? Try being meek for a week!”

We like our Christianity to be muscular, triumphant. We’ve come to believe that the Christian life is a progression from weakness to strength—”Started from the bottom, now we’re here” (Drake) seems to be the victory chant of modern Christianity. We are all by nature, in the terminology of Martin Luther, theologians of glory—not God’s glory, but our own.

But is the progression from weakness to strength the pattern we see throughout the Bible?

Take Samson, for instance. As a kid growing up idolizing Rocky, Rambo, and Conan the Barbarian, the story of Samson was right up my alley. I may have been bored by the rest of the Bible, but not the Samson narrative. Anybody who could kill a thousand bad guys with the jawbone of a donkey had my respect. He was the Wolverine of the Old Testament and I wanted to be just like him. Samson seems, at first blush, to be an exemplar of “Livestrong” Christianity.

The story of Samson is actually the exact opposite of the “weakness to strength” paradigm that has come to mark our understanding of the Christian life. Samson’s story shows us that the rhythm of Christian growth is a progression from strength to weakness, rather than weakness to strength.

Samson starts off strong. He’s invincible. Seemingly indestructible. Clearly unbeatable. He’s what we all want to be—what, down deep, we’re all striving to be. Maybe not physically, but spiritually.

We think his strength is in his hair (heck, even Samson thought that his strength was in his hair), but before every great deed Samson performed, we read, “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him.” Before he tears a lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:6), before he kills the 30 men of Ashkelon (14:19), and before he kills a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (15:14), the exact same phrase is used: “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him.” The author of Judges is at pains to make it clear that these feats of strength are not Samson’s, but God’s.

Think about the times in your life when other people have told you that your faith was strong. Aren’t people always saying that when you feel the weakest? When you feel like you’re barely hanging on? There’s something to be said for the real-world truth of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:27—”But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” It is when we feel foolish that God shows himself to be wise. It is when we feel weak that God shows himself to be strong.

The Philistines are not defeated until Samson is weakened. His hair is shaved, his eyes are gouged out, and he’s chained up like an animal in the zoo. He finally realizes that he is weak and that God alone is strong and so he prays and asks God for a generous portion of strength. God answers his prayer and Samson brings the building down on himself and all the lords of the Philistines. It is when Samson is at his weakest that he is most powerfully used.

Gideon experienced something similar to Samson. Gideon is prepared to fight a battle. He’s got his army ready—32,000 strong. But God reduces his army from 32,000 to 10,000 by getting rid of everyone who’s afraid. Then he reduces the army from 10,000 to 300, keeping only those who drink “like a dog.” Then he reduces their weaponry to trumpets and empty jars. No knives, no swords, no spears. God wants to make it obvious that their promised victory is owing to his strength, not theirs.

We see this same pattern in the life of the Apostle Paul. By his own admission (Phil. 3:4-6) he started off strong. His spiritual resume was more impressive than anybody else’s. And yet God systematically broke him down throughout his life so that by life’s end he was saying stuff like, “I’m the worst guy I know” and “I’m the least of all the saints” and “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The hope of the Christian faith is dependent on God’s display of strength, not ours. God is in the business of destroying our idol of self-sufficiency in order to reveal himself as our sole sufficiency. This is God’s way—he kills in order to make alive; he strips us in order to give us new clothes. He lays us flat on our back so that we’re forced to look up. God’s office of grace is located at the end of our rope. The thing we least want to admit is the one thing that can set us free: the fact that we’re weak. The message of the Gospel will only make sense to those who have run out of options and have come to the relieving realization that they’re not strong. Counterintuitively, our weakness is our greatest strength.

So, the Christian life is a progression. But it’s not an upward progression from weakness to strength—it’s a downward progression from strength to weakness. And this is good news because “Livestrong” Christianity is exhausting and enslaving. The strength of God alone can liberate us from the burden of needing to be strong—the sufficiency of God alone can relieve us of the weight we feel to be sufficient. As I’ve said before, Christian growth is not, “I’m getting stronger and stronger, more and more competent every day.” Rather, it’s “I’m becoming increasingly aware of just how weak and incompetent I am and how strong and competent Jesus was, and continues to be, for me.”

Because Jesus paid it all, we are set free from the pressure of having to do it all. We are weak. He is strong.

 
 

Feb

07

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|4:46 pm CT

What Of It?

no-pointing-finger“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” (Martin Luther).

Well may the Accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none!

 
 

Feb

03

2014

Tullian Tchividjian|10:30 am CT

God Threw A Stone

Woman Caught in AdulteryAs I’ve said before, God speaks two words to the world. People have called them many things: Law and Gospel, Judgment and Love, Critique and Grace, and so on. In essence, though, it’s pretty simple: first God gives us bad news (about us) and then He gives us Good News (about Jesus).

This is perhaps most clearly seen in another incredibly well-known (and incredibly misunderstood) passage of Scripture: Jesus’ interaction with the woman caught in the act of adultery.

The scribes and Pharisees catch a woman in the act of adultery, and drag her before Jesus. Can you imagine a woman who ever felt more shame than this one? Literally caught in the act of adultery? Unfathomable. They tell Jesus of her infraction, and remind him that the law of Moses says such women should be stoned. Then they issue a challenge: “What do you say?” They’re trying to trick Jesus into admitting what they suspect: that he’s “soft” on the Law.

Boy, were they wrong.

Confronted by this test, Jesus bends down and writes in the sand with his finger. Now, we aren’t told what he writes, but I think it’s instructive to look at the only other instances in the Bible where God writes with his finger. The first is obvious: The inscription of the 10 Commandments on the stone tablets. The second, though, is less well-known.

In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar is having a huge party, at which “they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone” (v. 4). Suddenly, a hand appears and begins writing on the wall. When Daniel is called in to translate the writing, this is what it is revealed to say: “Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” There can be no doubt that these are three words of judgment—i.e. Law. “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” Has a more chilling word of judgment ever been uttered?

So the two other times God wrote with his finger, he wrote law. I don’t think, therefore, it’s a stretch to think that when Jesus writes in the sand with his finger, he’s writing law. I like to think that perhaps Jesus wrote, “Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).

Far from being “soft” on the Law, Jesus shows just how high the bar of the law is. How do we know? Because the scribes and Pharisees respond the same way that all of us respond when we are confronted with depth of God’s inflexible demands—they scattered. Beginning with the oldest ones, they all, like the rich young ruler, walked away defeated.

When Jesus and the woman are left alone, and she acknowledges that no one remains to condemn her, Jesus speaks his final word to her: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). This is where the story gets misunderstood.

“Aha!” we cry. “See! Jesus tells her to shape up! He leaves her with an exhortation!” But look at the order of Jesus’ words: First, he tells the woman that he does not condemn her. Only then does he instruct her to sin no more. This is enormous. He does not make his love conditional on her behavior. He does not say, “Go, sin no more, and check back with me in six months. If you’ve been good, I won’t condemn you.”

No. Our Savior does so much better than that.

Jesus creates new life in the woman by loving her unconditionally, with no-strings-attached. By forgiving her profound shame, he impacts her profoundly. Now free from condemnation, she walks away determined to leave her old life behind. As this account demonstrates, redeeming unconditional love alone (not law, not fear, not punishment, not guilt, not shame) carries the power to compel heart-felt loyalty to the One who gave us (and continues to give us) what we don’t deserve (2 Corinthians 5:14).

Like the adulterous woman, we are all caught in the act—discovered in a shameful breach of God’s law. Though no one on earth can throw the first stone, God can. And he did. The wonder of all wonders is that the rock of condemnation that we justly deserved was hurled by the Father onto the Son. The law-maker became the law-keeper and died for us, the law-breakers. “In my place condemned He stood; and sealed my pardon with His blood. Hallelujah, what a Savior.”