When Tullian Tchividjian tucked his 11-year-old daughter in bed a few weeks ago, he asked her what she thought God thinks of her. Her response -- "disappointed" -- mirrors the feelings of many Christian believers, Tchividjian said.
His daughter realized the fact that God is perfect, and people are not, Tchividjian (pronounced cha-vi-jin) told OBU students during a weekly chapel service Wednesday, March 6, in Raley Chapel. The grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham and the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Tchividjian was on campus as part of the "Glorious Ruin" speaking tour.
Continuing the discussion with his daughter, Tchividjian used an illustration to compare people's relationship to God. He said if an 18-year-old stranger entered his home at dinnertime without invitation, walked into the kitchen, and approached his wife asking, "What's for dinner?" she most likely would threaten to call the police. However, if the same young man entered the home invited by Tchividjian's son, and the son asked, "Hey Mom, what's for dinner?" the guest would be warmly welcomed and treated like family.
The same analogy applies to people and God, he explained. When people approach God accompanied by Jesus Christ, God does not focus on the person and his or her worth. He focuses on the love extended to the person through the relationship with his son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, God welcomes believers to him and treats them like family.
Such truth could be life-changing to people who focus on the impossible task of impressing God with human accomplishment, he said. He began his message with a reading of Psalm 103:8-12, continuing OBU's chapel theme of "The Psalms," and prayed God would use the explosive verses to set people free.
The passage reads: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of faithful love. He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:8-12, HCSB).
Tchividjian said he does not believe most people think the verses are totally true. Instead, many Christians base their life on a checklist they believe reflects a good faith: daily Bible reading, prayer, church attendance and more. He said Christians become immersed in gauging their personal success in devotion.
"For most people inside the church today, Christianity is about me and my performance, my obedience, my prayer life, my witnessing, my yielding, my Bible reading," he said. "We grew up with the impression that the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian. We spend way too much time thinking about how we're doing, if we're growing, whether we're doing it right or not; we spend too much time pondering our spiritual failures and brooding over our spiritual successes."
"The truth of the matter is we spend way too much time thinking about ourselves, and we justify this spiritualized navel-gazing by assuming that this is what God wants us to be doing," he said.
The pastor said there is nothing in the Gospel or about the Gospel that encourages a person to think about himself or herself. The heart of the Gospel message declares Jesus' work on behalf of all people, not people's work in service toward Jesus. People live in a self-focused relationship with God, "faking it" as long as possible through concerted attempts at impressing God until eventually the person crashes spiritually, burdened by imperfection.
But the Gospel is good news, Tchividjian said, because the message is about Jesus, not about people.
"The Gospel announces: Because Jesus was strong for you, you're free to be weak -- that's huge!" he said. "Because Jesus was someone, you're free to be no one. Because Jesus was extraordinary, you're free to be ordinary. Because Jesus succeeded for you, you're free to fail."
Tchividjian shared Romans 8:1, which says, "Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus" (HCSB). He said the verse applies to any person who fails -- which everyone does and will continue to do.
"We need to be told that the sins we cannot forget, God cannot remember," he said. "We need to be told again and again that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, that nothing can separate us from God's love and that Christian people live their lives under a banner that reads, 'It is finished.'"
When Tchividjian became a Christian at age 21, he set strict rules for himself which included praying for 30 minutes every morning, reading three chapters of Scripture and journaling for 30 minutes. Any day he slacked in those areas, he said he believed God was annoyed at him, and he would double his efforts the next day "to appease this cranky deity in the sky who needed some form of sacrifice from me in order to get happy with me again."
"I know you have felt that God's affection for you, at some level, is riding on you, and that you can separate yourself from God's love," he said.
In the illustration he told his daughter, Tchividjian pointed out that every time a person enters the presence of God accompanied by his son, Jesus, God welcomes the person as a family member. The Gospel reveals that God's affection is based on Jesus, not on a person's accomplishment, and the provision of Jesus applies to every person.
"Most of us spend our lives frantically searching for what we already have," he said. "And the announcement of the Gospel that comes from God is: all the approval, all the acceptance, all the love, all the justification, all the validation -- everything you long for -- all the work, all the value, all the significance -- everything you look for in 1,000 things smaller than Jesus are already yours in Christ. It's a done deal."
"The Christian faith is Jesus-centered," he said. "It's about his work, not ours. It's about his performance, not ours. His achievement, not ours. His obedience, not ours. And I hope that's good news."
The Glorious Ruin Tour is named for the book by the same name authored by Tchividjian. He has written several books exploring Christian issues in today's world.
"Tullian's message of Glorious Ruin avoids the typical mistakes we make when we try to deal with the pain in our lives," the Tour's website explains. "He shows that we don't need answers and explanations as much as we need God's presence in and through suffering. For sufferers, one thing is beautifully and abundantly true: God's chief concern in your pain is to be with you and be himself for you. The good news of the Gospel is not ultimately a defense from pain, it is the message of God's rescue through pain. In other words, our ruin may not ultimately spell our undoing. It may in fact spell the beginning of freedom."