We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
HEBREWS 12:2 NLT
You see, “the main thing” about Christianity and the Bible is, you guessed it, Jesus Christ: knowing Him and following Him. He is the main thing, and the main thing then is to keep Him, Jesus Christ, the main thing. I am constantly reminded by the Bible that the focus of my life and of my ministry, my teaching, preaching, service, thoughts, conversations, goals, projects, and so on, is to keep Jesus central. This is what the early church did. This is what the Bible is all about. It’s about Jesus Christ, telling us who He is, and what He has done for us, and what He will do if we come to Him for salvation, and what He will do in our lives as we follow Him and serve Him, and what He will do in the future. It tells us that Jesus is going to appear once again, to come for His church in the rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 5:9 — “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”), and then to return with His church to rule and to reign upon the earth for 1,000 years.
The Bible also teaches us that once we get to heaven, the focus there will be upon the Lord Jesus Christ. (Revelation 4:11 — “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will, they exist and were created.”) Jesus is our wonderful and glorious Savior, the Lamb of God who has redeemed us and has paid for our sins and given us eternal life with Him in glory, and it will take Him eternity to unfold the riches of His grace toward us. Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: He is indeed the focus of the Bible. What a focus to have in life! How or why would we get into something else? That’s what this chapter is about. I sure hope it will help you keep your focus on Jesus Christ.
With Christ as the focus and the Holy Spirit leading us and giving us faith through the Word of God and vision, we were plowing ahead with one idea for ministry after another. Soon, everything was starting to grow. The 1:30 p.m. Sunday meeting was now being held on Sunday mornings at the local YMCA, and pretty soon we had to go to multiple services. The Bible studies were growing, lots of people were attending, and excitement was everywhere as the hand of God was clearly upon us.
Listening to tapes by Pastor Chuck and reading some recommended commentaries, I was starting to feel a little more confident in my ministry. Not only were people attending, but people were getting saved, and people were wanting to be taught the Word of God. This expository teaching was new to our area, and people were being fed and finding growth in their lives and in their walks with God. I would often hear people say to me, “I’ve learned more being here at Calvary Chapel in six months that I have in ten years in my other church.”
Jesus said that if we abide in Him, we will bring forth fruit in our lives (John 15), and abiding in Him is something that happens as we study the Bible and let the Holy Spirit teach us and empower us. God’s Word is all about Jesus, and it’s laid out in a fashion, chapter by chapter, that explains God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation. I’m convinced that it’s this simple approach to the Bible, and this simple dependence upon the Holy Spirit, and the simple application of the Bible in our lives, that helps us to grow, and, in fact, change our lives, making us more like Christ. I’ve found out over the years that this approach of keeping “the main thing the main thing” has indeed been most fruitful and blessed in my life and ministry. Pastor Chuck Smith has modeled for us the concept of “we simply try and teach the Bible simply.”
Many blessings came in our ministry. God opened the door for us to go on a local radio station that reaches many parts of the entire Central Valley of California. We are still on the radio with four airings a day: 4:30 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 9:30 p.m., and once on Sunday. This has been a tremendous way to get the Word of God out to many thousands and thousands of people on a daily basis. Hardly a few days go by where I don’t meet someone who tells me they listen to and enjoy the radio ministry called “Grace for Today.”
We started reaching out into the Philippines and into Mexico, sending huge teams of 120 or more, including doctors, nurses, drama teams, Bible teachers for conferences, and the like. The fruit was mushrooming. A third Sunday morning service was added to the schedule. Wow! The Lord was truly doing His part, and we were simply doing ours.
Praise the Lord! He is so faithful. Hundreds of people were now attending the church. The parking lots were always filled up, and chairs needed to be added. It’s been said before, and my, how I agree, that one of the most dangerous times in a minister’s life are those times of apparent success and victory. I’ve come to believe that saying.
We invited Pastor Chuck to come up and do some outreach ministry about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. We held these meetings at the local convention center. One time, we had 1,800 or more people show up. Pastor Greg Laurie (Harvest Christian Fellowship, in Riverside, CA) came up and held a number of meetings here, and hundreds and hundreds of people attended, with many coming to know Christ. Mike MacIntosh (Horizon Christian Fellowship, in San Diego, CA), whom I’d come to know, came up; and we held a crusade that reached into every area of the community. Out of Pastor Mike’s ministry, we not only held our first Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, but have had one for over 20 years now, and they have borne much fruit. An explosion of God’s love and grace was taking place here. We started adding staff, renting office space, and making an impact in the community.
It was around September of 1991 that I began studying the book of Romans, which led to both a revival and a revolution of sorts within our church body. I wound up spending 132 Sunday mornings in Romans, and it’s one of those things that I never want to go through again, but I’m glad I did it. It was my desire to really master this profound book of the Bible, and I was determined to really understand it as well as I could. I purchased commentaries on Romans and started digging in.
Well, I was not even through with the first chapter when I started reading about Calvinists and Arminians. I had heard about these two different systems of theology before but had never really looked into them too much. You see, up until that time, I had, as mentioned in the start this chapter, simply looking to the Lord, following Him, and keep- ing Him “the main thing.” But that started to change, slowly but surely. I became very enticed by all of these books and arguments about the great mysteries of God and His Word, i.e., the sovereignty of God, the free will of man, the way that God saves sinners, the doctrine of election and predestination, and so on. Up until that time, I simply taught about them as they came up in my verse by verse teaching, saying what it said in the verse, and then moving on to the next verse, and verses, etc., never getting too hung up or overemphasizing any one doctrine in the Bible. Nor did I get too hung up on the thought of how one reconciles these seemingly irreconcilable truths in the Bible.
Well, pretty soon I became mentally and intellectually enthralled with all these books and ideas about all of these doctrines. You see, I did not realize what was happening to me, but I was ever so slowly moving away from keeping “the main thing the main thing,” and I was now moving toward these different systems of theology — systematic theology, as it’s called. This began to take the place of Jesus Christ in my life, and my, how exciting it was. I felt like I had been born again — again. I wished that everyone could know what I was apparently coming to know and understand.
The slowdown of blessings in the church wasn’t overnight, but rather so slowly that I didn’t see it. It’s been said that if a pilot takes off from LA and is flying to Honolulu, it won’t make much difference right off the bat if he is off just one or two degrees on the compass. It looks like he is still heading in the right direction; and he is, for the most part; but after awhile, that one or two degrees of difference will cause him to miss the airport where he wanted to land. Well, it’s that way with Jesus, as well. It’s not His fault that we miss Him; it’s ours. He has given us His Word to set us apart to Him and to help us grow in the grace and the knowledge of God. However, if we start substituting systematic theologies for God’s Word and begin to depend on our own wisdom and the wisdom of others instead of the Holy Spirit, we will miss Christ Himself. At least, I can say that this is what happened to me. I can’t say what may happen to others, but I do know, first hand in my own life and ministry, that things grew steadily cold and still, almost to a complete stop in our ministry.
It grew icy cold at Calvary Chapel Visalia. In fact, we even changed the name of our church to Immanuel Christian Fellowship for a short period of time. I thought this would allow us to make room for a system of theology that was becoming so important to me. God does work all things together for the good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and He was needing to do that for us then because things were not very good. The poor sheep at church were being confused and troubled, and many of them left the church. We lost the sense of wonder and joy at the work of the Holy Spirit. Most of our time seemed to be spent talking about this doctrinal view, or that doctrinal view, and which was more correct, and which one was in error. Serving the Lord seemed to disappear, and try- ing to figure out these doctrines was “the main thing” now. Doctrinal views had replaced simply knowing Jesus Christ and following Him. But, as mentioned, God can work all of these things out for our good; and He did, and He is doing so even today and will do so in the future.
The Bible warns us against the sins of pride and arrogance and tells us that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. First Corinthians 8:1 — “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” “Puffs up.” What a strange sounding term, but I know it well. It means to inflate, to cause to swell up, to make proud, to bear oneself loftily, to be proud. Yes, I know it well, because that’s what happened to me. And what destructive fruit it brought. My pride took its toll on many relationships that had been forged over the years by the Lord and brought lots of ministry to a screeching halt. Fortunately, they (relationships and ministries) have been recovered now; but back then, it was so painful. My doctrinal views were putting distance between people rather than encouraging unity in Christ.
The true grace of God is evidenced by love: love to God, and love to man. Whenever we see that fruit, we can be sure we are on track; and whenever that fruit is not there, we ought to pause and give some thought to the focus of our lives. Jesus is the truth, and Jesus is the embodiment of love. The truth of Christ and the love of God are the main interests of God for man. They ought to be our main interests, as well.
As mentioned earlier in the book, God is faithful, and He was faithful to bring me back into that simple relationship of abiding with Him. I’d like to tell you about that in the next chapter; but first, let me say this. If you were to ask me, “Bob, are you a Calvinist or an Arminian?” I would say that as I teach verse by verse through the Bible, when there is a verse that supports the Calvinistic view, i.e., the sovereignty of God, then I teach it that way. You see, God is sovereign, and the Bible makes that very clear from Genesis to Revelation. And likewise, when I am dealing with a verse that supports the Arminian viewpoint, i.e., the responsibility of man, then I teach it that way. Again, the Bible teaches that man is responsible from Genesis to Revelation. Now back to the question, “What are you, Bob, a Calvinist or an Arminian?” What I really am and want to be is a Christian who takes the whole counsel of God and teaches the balance of Scripture that deals with both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man.
This is one of the blessings of teaching through the whole Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book. You are fed all the truths of God’s Word, you get the whole counsel of God and thus the balance that is found in Scripture. God is gracious and will save any man who repents and puts his faith in Jesus Christ. God is neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian. He is the living, loving, gracious, saving, redeeming and forgiving God who has sent His Son into the world to die for each and every- one’s sins. How I thank Him that He died for me and that He drew me through His goodness to repent of my sins. And I love Him because He first loved me. What a relief to get back to simply looking to Jesus Christ and following Him.
What happened next is only another testimony to the wonderful faithfulness and love of God. How I thank Him that, even though I lost my focus, He didn’t lose His for me. I’d like to tell you how things unfolded in our ministry at Calvary Chapel Visalia.