That is a pretty simple message for anyone involved in the church for a while. After all, this is the core of the gospel, the good news; whatever you’re idolizing, loving, or desiring – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re hating, running from, or fighting against – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re pursuing, fighting for, or working towards – Jesus is better. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is better than anything in this world, and you can have him.
Jeff Vanderstelt explains how he had exchanged this truth, that Jesus is better, with regard to his church and his position in the church. He came to believe that he was the savior of the people in his community. Now, I am sure he would never have actually voiced his belief that he was a the savior of Tacoma, but it was evident in the way he felt about the church and the things he was doing for the church. Jeff thought it was his job to save Tacoma.
He explains all he had been doing:
hosting cookouts with neighbors, serving our schools, feeding the homeless, partnering with the arts community, starting small businesses, meeting with politicians, fixing homes, and caring for families whose spouses had been called to war. . . We wanted to see our whole city saturated with Jesus, but making it happen was turning out to be much more overwhelming than we had expected! (50)
He explains later that his friends who heard his heart during this time pointed out to him that he was trying to be Jesus. He was taking on responsibility too big for him to carry.
I had been trying to carry the weight of Jesus’s mission on my shoulder, and, in turn, I had been putting it on everyone else’s shoulders. I was asking them to be and do something they couldn’t be or do.
I was trying to be Jesus and I was asking them to be Jesus. But we can’t be Jesus. Only Jesus can be Jesus. (52)
It’s interesting:I came to Tacoma to bring a message of good news that Jesus saves, but I believed and lived out a message that Jeff saves. That wasn’t good news at all. (54)
So we see here a destructive pattern to which many passionate Christians fall prey. They burn themselves out trying to save something only Jesus can save. I love that Vanderstelt highlighted this example of how Jesus is better. Because I think those who are attempting to live all of life on mission are particularly endangered by this pitfall. We believe passionately that missional community is essential to reaching the lost in our neighborhood. But our strategy is not as good as Jesus at saving out community. Vanderstelt says exactly that.
[You] are going to find that we are no different from you. . . We are just as needy as you are. Soma is not what you are looking for. Missional communities are not the new Savior. What you’re looking for is Jesus. (54)
Neither our work nor our strategy will save people. Jesus will. He will use our mission strategies. And he will bless our work. But make no mistake, only Jesus will save.
I found this to be reassuring. Because I see a lot of work that needs to be done. I see a lot of people with whom I want to connect. I see a lot of opportunities to bring people into our lives. But I only have so much time and relational capacity, so I have a choice. I can forge ahead, intent on being the martyred savior, or I can faithfully plug away, serving as I can, trusting Christ to do the rest. The latter option sounds far more appealing!
Vanderstelt closes the chapter with an introduction to the next three chapters about three ways Jesus saves us: from the penalty of sins committed, from the power of sin over us now, and from the presence of sin in our future.