Devotional Podcast #14: “How Great Thou Art”

February 15, 2018

In this episode, I ruminate on answered prayer and something that a Pentecostal Christian told me one time.

Devotional Text: Luke 11:1-13

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Thursday, February 15, and this is Devotional Podcast number 14.

You’re listening to Elvis Presley, of course, and his recording of “How Great Thou Art.” He originally recorded this song in 1966 for his Grammy-winning gospel of the same name. But in 2015, the song was remixed with a new orchestral arrangement, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. So this version is taken from the 2015 album, on vinyl, If I Can Dream. And it sounds amazing, as I hope you can hear.

I want to talk today, briefly, about Pentecostal Christians. Elvis himself grew up Pentecostal, in the Assemblies of God Church. Pentecostalism, if you don’t know, is that branch of Protestant Christianity that places a strong emphasis on the more conspicuous spiritual gifts—like speaking in tongues, prophecy, and physical healing. In principle, I have no problem with the idea that the Holy Spirit may give these gifts and do powerful things through people; I’m not what’s called a cessationist—in other words, I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit stopped giving these gifts to Christians after the age of the apostles. I see no biblical warrant for believing that. Are there excesses in Pentecostalism? Are there abuses? Are there charlatans who take advantage of their credulous flocks? Of course! Pentecostals, no less than the rest of us, need to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God,”[1] that’s for sure.

And I strongly disagree, theologically, with the widespread Pentecostal belief that receiving the Holy Spirit, or being baptized by the Spirit, is something that happens, only to some Christians, at some point after a person is born again. I also don’t believe that the evidence of having received the Holy Spirit is this one particular gift of speaking in tongues. No, I believe we all receive the Spirit at the moment of conversion.

But I don’t mean to be overly critical. in my own life I tend to love people who love Jesus—and seek to build their lives on the foundation of God’s Word. And that describes most Pentecostal Christians that I’ve known—so they have my love and respect!

Plus, there are things that we non-Pentecostals can learn from Pentecostals—like the fact that when Pentecostals go to church, they mean business! They expect the Holy Spirit to do something… powerful!

For example, I drive by a couple of Pentecostal churches between my church and my house. I know nothing about them beyond their church signs—but I like their church signs! One of the churches is called “Perfecting the Saints Church International.” I like that! They go to that church on Sunday morning expecting the Holy Spirit to perfect them. When we show up at church on Sunday morning, what do we expect the Holy Spirit to do? I pass another church on the way home called—get this!—“One-Way Inner Action Church.” I-N-N-E-R Action Church. When they go to that church, they expect that the Holy Spirit is going to do something active, inside their hearts!

I like that! I also like the way many Pentecostals pray. In my experience, they pray with this same expectation that God is going to respond to them in a powerful way—even if it means working a miracle.

I knew a Pentecostal back in high school. Her name was Christine. We were talking one day, and she said something to me back then that has stuck with me to this day. I was Baptist back then, but it’s not hard to imagine that she said back then could have applied equally to us Methodists—and most other modern Christians in the West!

She said, “I have a lot of admiration and respect for you Baptists.” And I said, “Really? Why?” And she said, “Well, you just really believe in Jesus… you have a lot of faith… in spite of the fact that you never see any miracles… you never expect anything supernatural to happen.”

You never expect anything supernatural to happen. Is that true? Was that true for me then? Is it true for me now?

Maybe so! Let me give you an example. Last September, our church finance committee was making year-end projections for our budget, and we were looking at what we feared might be a substantial shortfall. So I challenged the church leadership to pray. And I prayed. Within a week of that meeting, we received a substantial offering check, a portion of which we could use for our operating budget. Basically, this money eliminated the budget problem in one fell swoop. We would no longer be sweating it out the last few months of the year—the way our church usually does at the end of each year. No begging or pleading on my part. No big campaign to raise the money. I was relieved!

But… I promise you, if I could have written down my first thought, upon receiving that check, it would have sounded something like this: “What a relief! We’re going to be just fine. We don’t need that miracle after all!”

Do you see the problem?

All I can say in my defense is, this money didn’t feel like any kind of miracle at the time—it felt like normal, every day event. Nothing too far outside of the ordinary. Surprising, yes, but not supernatural. So at first, I failed to see that this was God intervening in a powerful way to answer my prayers—and the prayers of others.

It’s as if God’s handiwork was hidden from me. I couldn’t see his fingerprints on this particular gift—even though they were all over them.

But isn’t that usually the way God’s providence works? When God does something, it rarely looks like a miracle. It rarely looks supernatural. It rarely looks like anything out of the ordinary.

Isn’t it instructive, therefore, that the portion of the Lord’s Prayer that has to do with asking God to give us things is this humble petition: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Because from our human perspective, our daily bread—at least for those of us living in wealthy industrialized countries—is one thing we don’t believe we need God to provide. “We’ve got that taken care of, Lord. We’ve got a freezer full of it. Our pantry is well-stocked.” we think. So we don’t need God’s help with daily bread. Physical healing? Yes, by all means! Financial aid for college? You bet! A promotion for work? Yes, please. But daily bread…?

And yet Jesus tells us that our daily bread—insignificant, humble bread—is itself a gift from God. It’s our problem that we have the luxury of taking it for granted. It still comes from God. And if even bread comes from God, well, tell me what doesn’t?

So… getting back to my Pentecostal friend’s observation—“You believe in Jesus without expecting him to do anything supernatural.” She may be right. And if so, I repent.

But let’s not underestimate God’s activity in our lives: if we only expect God to act supernaturally, or miraculously, then we may fail to appreciate that God is always doing stuff for us—always giving us exactly what we need, always working in every part of our lives and our world—even when he’s not doing anything supernatural!

If we can live our lives with that perspective, then we will live lives of gratitude to God for his faithfulness to us. Amen?

1. 1 John 4:1

Devotional Podcast #13: “To Obey Is Better than Sacrifice”

February 9, 2018

In today’s devotional, I reflect briefly on the life of Keith Green, who, along with two of his young children, died in a plane crash in 1982—doing the work of his ministry, naturally. Green’s life, as much as anyone’s, was characterized by the title of his second album, No Compromise.

As I argue in this podcast, Jesus teaches all of us to live lives of “no compromise.”

Devotional Text: Philippians 3:8-11

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Thursday, February 8, and this is Devotional Podcast number 13.

One of the highlights of my convalescence from the flu this past week was listening to Keith Green’s 1978 album, No Compromise. You’re listening to one song from that album that moved me deeply. It’s called “To Obey Is Better than Sacrifice.” I was reading the liner notes to the album, in which Green offered “special thanks” to various contributors to the album. To his wife, Melody, he included this poignant detail:

Special thanks to… Melody, my wife, (for encouragement, rebuking in love, and having our baby, Josiah David)

This was late 1978. In July 1982, that baby, Josiah, now three, would be dead—along with his little sister Bethany and his father. They were killed in a private plane crash—while Green was conducting business related to his ministry. Keith Green was 28. And just like that, the life of this incredibly talented singer-songwriter—a musician whose first album Bob Dylan hailed as his “all-time favorite”—was snuffed out, along with the lives of his two young children.

In the song I played on Tuesday, “Make My Life a Prayer to You,” which comes from this same album, Green sang the following:

I wanna die and let you give
Your life to me so I might live
And share the hope you gave to me
The love that set me free

Of course, when he sang those lyrics he meant that he wanted to die to his old self—the “old man” that was crucified with Christ, as Paul says in Romans 6.[1] He meant he wanted to lose his life for Christ’s sake so that he might find new, eternal, and abundant life.

In a way, his deepest desire came true in July 1982. He and his two children—and everyone else who died in that plane crash—are at this moment experiencing a kind of life that we can only dream of—a life that’s waiting for all of us who are in Christ on the other side of heaven.

C.S. Lewis once said every deathbed is a monument to a petition that wasn’t granted. What he meant was that nearly every time someone dies, there’s someone else—a family member, a friend, a spouse—praying that that person would be healed, that that person would live.

And I get his point: Unless the Second Coming happens first, God will always answer that prayer by saying “no.” As much as I love Lewis—and no one would accuse me of not loving C.S. Lewis—he doesn’t get it quite right. God only says “no” so that he can say an infinitely deeper “yes,” an eternal “yes”: “You want healing. You’ve got it.” “You want life. You’ll have it more abundantly than ever.” “You want me… Let me hold you in my arms, son… Let me hold you in my arms, daughter. You’re safe now.” This is why Paul says that we Christians “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”[2]

When I preach funerals these days for people who I know were believers, I often ask the congregation to imagine what that person would say to us if he or she were here with us now. And I often point out that I make a living talking God, talking about his Son Jesus, talking about his grace, his love, his glory… It’s what I do. I’m a pastor. But whatever I think I know right now about these things… [scoffs] it’s baby talk compared to what this person who now lives directly in God’s presence knows… It’s baby talk by comparison!

From my perspective, it’s so obvious what our departed loved ones would say… isn’t it? They would say, “Don’t waste your life on lesser things. Dedicate your life—give everything—sacrifice everything if necessary—to pursuing and loving and pleasing and glorifying God and following his Son Jesus wherever he leads. Be willing to say, with the apostle Paul, “For Christ’s sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”[3]

Would we follow Christ with that kind of dedication if, as with our brother Keith Green, it meant our death within a few short years?

Or do we put heroes of the faith like Green in a special category—his example is too lofty for us. But we don’t get it… There’s just one category in which all of us Christians belong. If we are Christians at all, that means we sign our death warrant; it means we carry our cross—that instrument of torture and death—even if it leads us up that hill to Golgotha—for no servant is greater than his master.

And even if it kills us—physically—we are supposed to be O.K. with that—if that’s what Jesus wants for us.

Is that too extreme? Is that asking too much? If so, maybe being a Christian isn’t for us—because Jesus asks his followers for nothing less!

Green sings: “To obey is better than sacrifice/ I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights/ Because if you won’t come to me every day/ Don’t bother coming at all.”

I used to think, “Where’s the grace?” Isn’t that so perfectly Methodist of me… to ask that question? Where’s the grace?

How about, instead of asking, “Where’s the grace?” we sinful Christians instead ask ourselves, “Where’s the contrition? Where’s the confession of sin? Where’s the repentance? Lord Jesus, forgive me for failing to give you everything… for failing to come to you every day.”

When we confess our sins and repent, by all means, God’s grace will be there. Why should we expect it a moment before that?

Brothers and sisters, Jesus wants everything that we have. Do we believe that if we give everything, it will be worth it? If not, why not? If so, what’s stopping us?

Devotional Podcast #12: “Did God Give Me the Flu?”

February 6, 2018

Short answer: yes. But listen to (or read the transcript of) this podcast for the long answer.

Devotional Text: Psalm 38:1-3, 8-11

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Tuesday, February 6, and this is Devotional Podcast number 12. I’m still homebound with the flu, which you can probably hear in my voice.

You’re listening to a song from 1979 called “Daytime, Nighttime Suffering,” written and sung by Paul McCartney and performed with his band Wings. This is the B-side of his single “Goodnight Tonight.” By the way, if you asked me to compile a list of favorite McCartney songs, including his work with that other famous group he was in, this would be in my Top Five.

Just by chance—or so it seemed—my devotional reading last Friday—when I was in the throes of influenza—included Psalm 38. Let me read verses 1 to 3 and 8 to 11 now:

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin…
I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
O Lord, all my longing is before you;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart throbs; my strength fails me,
and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my nearest kin stand far off.

I love that last verse: “My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague.” That’s the truth! The flu feels a lot like a plague, and my cat, Peanut, was my only companion the first couple of days, as I was quarantined to my room. Could there have been a more appropriate scripture to read for when you have the flu?

Well, that depends, you might say. David was attributing his flu-like symptoms to God: God, he said, was punishing him, or disciplining him, because of some particular, unspecified sin or sins. Do I really believe that God would do that today—to me?

To which I say, “Of course I do!” For one thing, God foreknows everything that’s going to happen in the world, including the fact that I would be exposed to the flu virus when George coughed last Monday without covering his mouth. Now, simply being exposed to the virus doesn’t mean I’ll get the flu. Suppose, on that very morning, I prayed that God would keep me healthy through this severe flu season. Then I can assume, when this invading, viral enemy penetrated by immune system and gave me the flu, that God answered my prayer with a resounding “no.” God chose not to keep me safe.

Why did God do that?

After all, Jesus teaches us that prayer changes the world—that our Father is happy to give us what his children pray for—if he can do so in a way that’s consistent with his will. Which means, if he doesn’t give us what we pray for, he must have good reasons—whether we know what they are or not!

I simply can’t comprehend the resistance, especially among my fellow Methodists, to the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” By all means, it’s a cliché, but it’s still true! Read Psalm 139, a powerful psalm about God’s sovereignty, and tell me that everything doesn’t happen for a God-ordained reason! Verses 4-5:

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.

How can that great promise of Romans 8:28 be true—“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good”—if “all things” doesn’t also include something like the flu? I hate to be a wimp, but the flu is kind of a big deal! How is God using the flu to help me right now? How is he using it for good? So of course he allowed or arranged for me to get the flu for a reason!

In fact, I completely concur with C.S. Lewis, who wrote the following:

I am beginning to find out that what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run. I used to think it was a “cruel” doctrine to say that troubles and sorrows were “punishments.” But I find in practice that when you are in trouble, the moment you regard it as a “punishment,” it becomes easier to bear. If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.[1]

That’s exactly right. The Bible teaches repeatedly that God tests us when we suffer. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4. “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” Hebrews 12:6-7. There are many similar verses.

When it became clear, Friday morning, that I had the flu, I responded to the bad news in a way that I never have before. Normally, thoughts such as these would cross my mind: “Well, there goes the weekend! There goes my Sunday sermon! There goes my ability to see my son play basketball, or to go running, or to go to that party Saturday night! This is going to put me way behind!” But I didn’t respond that way.

Instead, I said, “Thank you, Father. I know you’ve got some good reasons for giving me this flu. Let it do its good work.” In fact, even just slowing down and being still has been a great blessing.

Over these past few days, for instance, I’ve had some sweet prayer and Bible-reading time. I’ve been reminded of how utterly dependent I am on God for everything I have and am. I’ve been reminded of people in my life who love and care for me. On Sunday morning, I happened to listen to a Keith Green album that I purchased off eBay recently—and God used it to convict me of sin and as a means of worship.

That’s all good! Thank you, Jesus!

So did God give me this flu? Of course he did! Thank God!

1. C.S. Lewis, “Money Trouble” in The C.S. Lewis Bible, NRSV (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 1123.

Devotional Podcast #11: “If Grace Is Cheap, It’s Too Expensive”

February 3, 2018

How can we be confident that all of our sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven? For starters, by not being confused about justification and sanctification. That’s what this special “flu-length” episode is all about. Enjoy!

Devotional Text: Genesis 18:22-33

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Saturday, February 3, and this is Devotional Podcast number 11. It’s a very special flu edition of the podcast, which means it’s an extra long version. In fact, you might even say it’s a sermon-sized podcast. Lucky you! Yes, I intended to record this for Friday, per my usual schedule—but I have been wiped out with the flu since Thursday. Anyway, while my temperature is down and the headache has subsided and ibuprofen works its wonders, here we go…

You’re listening to Keith Green and a song called “Make My Life a Prayer to You,” written by his wife and frequent collaborator, Melody. This comes from Green’s 1978 album, No Compromise, which could easily be a motto for his entire ministry. He is famous for not compromising—even going so far as to give his records away for free to anyone who couldn’t afford them.

I like the line in the song, “I guess I’ll have to trust and just believe what you say.” So honest! Isn’t that the hard part of being a Christian—that it actually takes faith to believe what Jesus said. If you’re a Christian, you sometimes say, “I guess I’ll have to!”

After today’s podcast, I hope you’ll trust and believe what Jesus says about forgiveness and grace.

Years ago, I was reading theologian Phillip Cary’s excellent commentary on Jonah. In the book’s introduction, he wrote something that literally changed the way I read the Old Testament—which is to say, it changed my life. He wrote:

First of all, this is a Christian reading of the Scriptures of Israel, which Christians call the Old Testament because it contains the ancient covenant to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Like the whole Bible, the book of Jonah is about Christ and therefore about all those who find their life in him.[1]

Did you hear that? Like the whole Bible, the book of Jonah is about Christ and therefore about all those who find their life in him.

This was exactly opposite what I’d learned in the liberal mainline Protestant seminary I attended. I’ve blogged about this before. It’s not that I didn’t learn a lot of useful things in seminary—I did! But I was spiritually unprepared for it. I was unprepared for the spiritual warfare—by which I mean attacks by a literal Satan—that inevitably accompany one’s decision to uproot one’s life and family, to leave a relatively prosperous career, to go to an expensive school, and to devote oneself to serving the Lord as a pastor. I was a sitting duck for the devil! And it didn’t help that few if any of my professors in seminary even believed in the devil!

Regardless, it was all for the good. I was tested. I failed miserably. But emerged on the other side a much better person for it. Thank God!

Anyway, we were taught in seminary that the Old Testament—which of course shouldn’t even be called the Old Testament, because that sounds pejorative, but rather, it should be called the “Hebrew Bible”… We should call it the “Hebrew Bible” because, by doing so, we recognize that this is a book that doesn’t even belong to us Christians. At best, when we read the Hebrew Bible, we are eavesdropping on someone else’s scripture. We certainly shouldn’t read Jesus into the Old Testament. He doesn’t belong there! It’s disrespectful to our Jewish friends. Or so the propaganda said…

I hope that sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me now.

Of course Cary is right: the whole Bible, including every book of the Old Testament, is about Jesus… Jesus and the New Testament authors certainly thought so. I shouldn’t have needed someone like Cary to tell me this, but there you are…

My point is, I can now find Jesus on nearly every page of the Old Testament! Read the rest of this entry »

Devotional Podcast #10: “Sin in the Life of Christians, Part 1”

January 31, 2018

I suspect many thoughtful, sincere Christians feel guilty because of their sins. Not necessarily the ones they commit before their conversion but after. If that describes you, I hope this episode and the next one will help you.

Devotional Text: 1 Corinthians 6:13-18

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Wednesday, January 31, and this is Devotional Podcast number 10. We are in double digits! Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I bring you a new devotional on this channel, so stay tuned.

You’re listening to Glen Campbell’s version of the Randy Newman song “Marie,” from Campbell’s 1975 album, Rhinestone Cowboy. What I want you to hear in this song, first, is the sincerity of the singer’s love for his wife—however imperfect it may be. He knows he doesn’t deserve her. He knows he lets her down in a hundred different ways. He’s brutally honest about his faults. And it’s clear that his wife, Marie, must love him to put up with him the way that she does! When we think about our relationship with God, well… to say the least, we’re much more like Glen Campbell than Marie!

Our scripture today comes from 1 Corinthians 6:13-18, which I’ll read now:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality.

The apostle Paul is addressing a very serious problem in the church at Corinth. Christians in his church were employing the services of prostitutes. Corinth was a busy port city, and as in all port cities, prostitution thrived. Corinth also had a history of temple prostitution in connection with a temple built to Aphrodite, the goddess of fertility and erotic love. This means that illicit sex was actually a part of pagan worship.

This was the culture that this little church in Corinth was called out of. A culture not unlike ours, when you think about how free and plentiful pornography is over our smartphones, tablets, and computers—not to mention the “old-fashioned” sexual sins of which Paul was aware!

I want to make two points about this: First, Paul is warning these Corinthian Christians in the severest terms: flee sexual immorality! Earlier in the chapter he warns these Christians that unrepentant sexual sin risks excluding us from God’s kingdom—eternally. In his second letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13, verse 5, Paul writes, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”

In other words, sinful behavior, including sexually immoral behavior, is a symptom of a larger problem—we may be demonstrating, through our sinful lifestyle, that we do not possess saving faith.

I’ve said this in sermons before, but here’s a good test for us: Do our lives have a “before and after” Christ. Does your life have a “B.C.” and an “A.D.”? In other words, can you look at your life since Christ became part of it and see the difference that he’s made? Or does your life look just the same as it did before? If there’s no “A.D.” in your Christian life, that could be a sign of serious spiritual danger!

And you might say, “Yes, Pastor Brent, but I grew up going to church—going to Sunday school, going to Vacation Bible School, going to youth camps and youth retreats. I’ve always believed in Jesus. I never remember a time when I didn’t believe in Jesus! I can’t point to a ‘moment’ when I was first saved. So I’m not sure when the ‘before and after’ starts.”

I get what you’re saying, and I’m sure that describes the experience of many Christians, especially Methodists and others whose churches offer confirmation classes instead of emphasizing a moment of conversion. I’m Methodist now, but I grew up Baptist. In that tradition, we waited to join the church and get baptized until after we were converted—which is most often expressed by “walking down the aisle” at the end of the sermon, while an “invitation hymn” is playing on the organ—well, I guess fewer churches have organs, but you know what I mean.

Regardless, even if you don’t know the exact “moment” you were saved, you should still be able to look back over time and point to real differences that Christ has made in your life. Sanctification is a process of change over time, so you should be able to see changes. If not, Paul would say, that’s a warning sign that your faith isn’t genuine.

My point in saying all this is that I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of sin—for a single moment! Paul doesn’t want to minimize the serious of sin for a single moment. It’s deadly serious. Apart from God’s grace, apart from a lifetime of repentance and faith, sin will send us to hell. Full stop. There’s no way of reading the Bible and coming to any other reasonable conclusion.

But… Please don’t miss the grace that’s here. When Paul was warning these Corinthian Christians, in the most dire terms, to “flee sexual immorality,” he was speaking to Christians—genuine Christians—who were engaging in sexual immorality. No New Testament scholar disputes that. Look back at 1 Corinthians chapter 1, verse 2:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified [past tense] in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

So… Paul’s readers and listeners—the members of this church—are sanctified in Christ Jesus—indicating something that has happened in the past and is a present reality—these “sanctified” ones include the very ones who are also having sex with prostitutes—perhaps even on a regular basis.

And keep in mind: the Corinthian church struggled with far more than just sexual sin—as is clear from reading 1 Corinthians. They are far from a perfect church! Yet in spite of their sin, they are “sanctified” and “saints.” Paul says so in verse 2!

So Paul is not questioning the genuineness of their faith; he’s not telling them that they need to be born again… again. He’s not telling them that they’re not saved. He’s not telling them that they won’t be forgiven. He’s not telling them that while God forgave them a couple of years ago when they were converted, that was before they went out and did this awful thing—committed this sin.

That doesn’t even make sense when you think about it! When they first repented of their sins and came to Christ, when they were justified and born again, God foreknew all the sins that they would commit in the future—including even sleeping with prostitutes. Yet God forgave them then… and he would forgive them in the future, so long as they kept on repenting, kept on believing, kept on trusting in Christ.

Hear this promise from 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

What sins do you need to confess to God today? Will you do so… and as you do so, you need to also believe that you’re truly forgiven.

I’m going to continue talking about this theme of sin in the life of Christians in the next podcast. Stay tuned!

Devotional Podcast #9: “Christ Our Bridegroom”

January 29, 2018

Today’s podcast makes sense of Jesus’ strange response to his mother in John 2:4, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 

Devotional Text: John 2:1-11

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, January 29, and this is Devotional Podcast number 9. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I bring you a new devotional on this channel, so, if you like them, stay tuned.

You’re listening to the Everly Brothers and their 1958 single, “Devoted to You,” which was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. I recorded it from their 2015 Record Store Day compilation album 15 Everly Hits.

Our scripture today comes from John 2:1-11, which I’ll read now:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

I want to focus on verse 4, where Jesus says, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” I’ve read many explanations of Jesus’ brusque response to Mary. We know for sure that it wasn’t rude—it was polite and respectful—like saying “ma’am” today. But there’s no getting around it: it isn’t warm and affectionate. Taking first-century Jewish culture into account, isn’t the way a son would normally address his mother. Why does Jesus speak this way?

I think he’s sending a message: He’s reminding his mother that, now that his public ministry has begun—which will end with his death on a cross—he can no longer perform favors for her simply because he’s her son. In fact, he doesn’t perform this miracle because she asks him too. Most commentators agree that she gets the message, and that when she speaks the words, “Do whatever he tells you,” to the servants, she is speaking not as his mother but as his disciple. She is leaving the problem in Jesus’ hands; he’s solve it in his own way. I’m sure there’s a message for us modern-day disciples, too.

But that’s not what this podcast is about. Instead, I want to focus on the second part of verse 4: “My hour has not yet come.” We know from many other references in John’s gospel that Jesus’ “hour” always refers to his death on the cross. So it’s as if Jesus were saying, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? It’s not my time to die.”

What a strange non-sequitur: to be talking about running out of wine at a wedding in one breath and dying on a cross in the next! Why does this wedding emergency have to do with Jesus’ death?

Well… what do we think about when we go to weddings? If we’re married, we think about our own wedding day. If we’re single, we imagine what our future wedding day may be like. Either way, we’re thinking about our wedding day. And Jesus, I would argue, is no exception: he’s thinking about his wedding day.

And you’re probably thinking, “Hold on, Pastor Brent! What are you talking about? Jesus wasn’t married, and he knew that he never would be married. He couldn’t have been thinking about his wedding day?”

Oh, yes he could! Because Jesus had a wedding day in his future. In the Old Testament, God is often portrayed as a bridegroom or husband to his people Israel, the bride. In fact, the entire Book of Hosea is about how God is like a spurned husband, whose wife, Israel, has cheated on him repeatedly. In Matthew 22, Jesus tells a parable about a king who throws a wedding banquet for his son—that son, of course, is Jesus. Paul refers repeatedly to the church as the bride of Christ. Revelation 19, which we quote in the Lord’s Supper liturgy when we refer to “feasting at Christ’s heavenly banquet,” refers to a wedding banquet for the Messiah.

Finally, the best reference to Christ as the bridegroom comes from Ephesians 5, where Paul is giving instructions to Christian husbands and wives. Then he quotes Genesis 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Then Paul explains, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” I talked about this scripture last week: Paul is saying that in the marriage of husband and wife we learn something important about the relationship between Christ and those of us who have placed our faith in him.

My point is, Christ is the bridegroom—or he will be—and this is what his mother Mary, when she asks him to supply wine for the wedding, is asking him to be. It was the bridegroom’s responsibility to provide the wine. This is why the “master of the feast” goes to the bridegroom and compliments him on the wine; he assumes that the bridegroom had something to do with it. The bridegroom, of course, was unaware of the miracle that Jesus had performed, so he probably had no idea what the master of the feast was referring to.

So consider this episode at the wedding at Cana of Galilee an enacted parable—a symbolic action that points to who Christ is and what he will be. He will be our bridegroom.

And how will he be our bridegroom? Well, the answer finally makes sense of Jesus’ strange response to his mother: “My hour has not come”—i.e., “It’s not my time to die.” It’s as if Jesus were saying, “I can’t be the bridegroom yet, because in order to be the bridegroom I have to go to the cross, and that can’t happen yet.” But he gives us a miracle rich with symbolism. What does he say to his disciples during the Last Supper: “[T]his is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” And what was the symbol of Christ’s blood? Wine.

Jesus is able to become our bridegroom by taking upon himself our sins on the cross and dying for them. And remember that when the bridegroom marries his bride, everything that is his now belongs to his bride as well. And what does the bridegroom have? Righteousness. Christ our bridegroom, unlike his bride, was perfectly obedient to his Father in every way, so that his obedience becomes ours. This is the basis on which we are saved. Praise God!

Devotional Podcast #8: “What Are You Afraid Of?”

January 26, 2018

Have you noticed that the things that you fear today aren’t usually things that are happening today? Rather, they are things that might happen next week, next month, next year. Why is that? Yet Jesus says not to worry about anything beyond today. It seems clear to me, then, that our fear is a far bigger problem than the things that we’re afraid of.

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:34

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Friday, January 26, and this is Devotional Podcast number 8. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I bring you a new devotional on this channel.

You’re listening to the Beach Boys and their 1963 song “In My Room.” This came from the album Surfer Girl originally. I recorded this from their 1974 compilation album, Endless Summer, which reached number one on the Billboard album charts.

Recently, I was reading a college football blog, and the readers of this blog were arguing in the comments section—as they often do—about my team, the direction of the program, the coaching staff, the institution. And one of the commenters referred by name to another commenter with whom he disagreed—I’ll call him Jason—and said, “Last year, I remember that Jason said thus-and-so, but here’s why he’s been proven wrong.”

Well, that prompted Jason to come out of the woodwork and respond. He wrote, “Thank you for letting me live rent-free in your head for the past year!”

That was a pretty good putdown. Jason was saying, in so many words, “Yes, you may think I’m wrong, but whatever I said a year ago made such an impression on you, that you’ve been thinking about it ever since—stewing over it, letting yourself be bothered by it or angered by it. Therefore, I win the argument.”

But it got me thinking about the people that I allow to “live in my head rent-free.” Who are they and why do I give them such an exalted place of honor?

And usually, the people who “live in my head” are people I’m afraid of for some reason: For me, this is almost always in the professional sphere; my career: I’m often afraid of colleagues, or supervisors, or parishioners who I perceive don’t like me—I’m afraid of how they might judge me, what they might say about me, how they might influence the opinions of others.

I’m like Sally Field at the Academy Awards so many years ago. “You like me! You really, really like me!” I just want everybody to like me!

I know this is beyond silly; this is un-Christian. My only concern should be to please my Lord—and worry about how he judges me. But instead I worry about others. There are, I know, a host of very interesting reasons going back to my childhood why I struggle with this insecurity.

My point is, these are the people who I let “live in my head.”

I wish I could say I was afraid of bad and powerful men like Kim Jong-un, but, no… he rarely crosses my mind. The objects of my fear are much smaller and much more local.

But it’s not just people—I let things I worry about live there as well.

I’m not saying everyone is like me—you probably let other kinds of people other kinds of things live in your head. But I’m sure, like me, you do so out of fear.

One of C.S. Lewis’s masterpieces is The Screwtape Letters. It’s an imagined correspondence between a demon named Screwtape, a well-seasoned tempter of humans, and his nephew Wormwood, a so-called “junior tempter.” We only get to read Screwtape’s side of the correspondence. But we infer that Wormwood is seeking advice from his uncle on how to handle Wormwood’s “patient.” You see, in the world of The Screwtape Letters, each demon is assigned a human “patient”—more like a victim—and it’s that demon’s job to lead their victim away from God, and away from salvation through Christ, and toward hell. If their human ends up in hell, well… then that demon will be judged a success.

In one of Screwtape’s letters, he talks about how Wormwood can use his patient’s fear to his advantage. In this case, his patient is worried about being called up for military service. (The novel is set in World War II Britain.) It’s uncertain whether the patient will be drafted, so he feels a mixture of anxiety and suspense. Screwtape writes the following [emphasis mine]:

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. [Remember, the “Enemy” in this case is God.] What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him—the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “thy will be done”, and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them [that is, the things he is afraid of] as his crosses: let him forget that, since they are incompatible, they cannot all happen to him, and let him try to practise fortitude and patience to them all in advance. For real resignation, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible, and the Enemy does not greatly assist those who are trying to attain it: resignation to present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is far easier and is usually helped by this direct action.[1]

Do you see Lewis’s point? The devil tries to focus our minds on the things that we’re afraid of—things that are waiting for us out there, in the uncertain future, where any number of fearful, undesirable things may happen to us—or not: because the future is unknowable. What we know for sure, right now, is that we’re afraid. Therefore, what what God wants us to focus on instead at this very moment—is the fear itself. That fear should be the thing occupying our prayers.

In other words, the anxiety that we’re feeling right now, as we think of possible future outcomes, is the problem; not the possible outcomes that are making us anxious.

Or put it this way: The fear is the problem; not the thing that’s making us afraid.

This is clear from Jesus’ teaching. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Or as the New Living Translation puts it, “Today’s trouble is enough for today.” This also clear from the rest of scripture. As Paul writes in Philippians 4:6, “[D]o not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Do you see the practical wisdom here?

What is making you unhappy todayright now… at this moment? It’s probably some “worst case scenario” that you fear will come to pass not today but at some point in the future—tomorrow, next week, next month.

Pray first about the fear that you’re experiencing right now. That fear is part of today’s trouble for which the Lord tells us to pray. You don’t yet know what tomorrow’s trouble is until you get there. But today’s trouble includes the fear that you’re experiencing. Pray about it! Your fear, as Lewis said above, is your “appointed cross” for today—not the thing that you’re afraid of.

Because, believe it or not, God doesn’t want you to be anxious… about anything… ever!

It’s not God’s will for you to worry. You’ll find out whether it’s God’s will for you to face that thing you’re afraid of when the time comes; at which point you can count on God’s giving you the grace you need to face it; but it’s definitely not God’s will for you to be afraid.

So pray that God will take away the fear. And listen to God’s Word—especially what it has to say about anxiety and fear. Start with Matthew 6:25-34.

1. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Westwood, NJ: Barbour and Co., 1961), 34-5.

Devotional Podcast #7: “When the Agony of Defeat Isn’t as Agonizing”

January 24, 2018

In this episode, I talk about the upcoming Super Bowl, and what we can learn about God from the Eagles’ inevitable defeat… Just kidding! Like nearly every American outside of New England, I’ll be rooting for the Eagles!

This podcast features the Beatles’ “I’m a Loser,” which I recorded from their December 1964 Capitol album, Beatles ’65. (Yes, I know it originates on the UK album Beatles for Sale.)

Devotional Text: Genesis 50:20

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Wednesday, January 24, and this is Devotional Podcast number 7. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will release a new episode on this podcast channel, in addition to the sermons that I also post here.

You’re listening to the Beatles and their song “I’m a Loser,” which I recorded from their December 1964 album on Capitol Records, Beatles ’65. British people or Americans who came of age after the CD era will know that the song originated on the Beatles’ UK album Beatles for Sale.

Well, Super Bowl season is upon us. The game is set. And once again, for better or worse, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have made it to the big game. This means that, come February 4, out of a population of 320 million Americans, about 315 million of them will be die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans! Those of us living in Atlanta will be donning green and silver, that’s for sure!

Almost as inevitable as a Patriots victory is the likelihood that at some point—during the game, on the field, or after the game in interviews—a star player will do or say something to  acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the reason for his or his team’s success, and that Christ deserves all the thanks and praise.

Years ago, when I was going through a season of doubt in my life—long since past, I’m happy to report—this behavior used to annoy me: I thought, “Sure, It’s easy for this guy to thank Jesus… His team won! Would he be thanking Jesus if his team didn’t win?”

Now that I know better, I hope I can speak for Christian athletes everywhere when I say that, yes, by all means, win or lose, we always, always, always have reasons to thank Jesus!

If you look in your Bibles at Genesis chapters 37 through 50, you’ll read about a man named Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob. Remember: Joseph was the one for whom his father made him the “coat of many colors”—and his older brothers were insanely jealous of their little brother. At first they wanted to kill him, but cooler heads prevailed. So they sold him into slavery in Egypt instead. But that’s just the beginning of Joseph’s troubles! Over the course of decades, Joseph suffers a lot. Until finally, he rises through the ranks and becomes, next to the Pharaoh himself, the most powerful man in Egypt. Thanks to his wise leadership during a famine, he helps save millions of people from starvation.

And finally, Joseph has a reunion with his brothers—the same ones who caused all his suffering in the first place! And, despite the brothers’ fears that Joseph would kill them, he forgives them instead. And he tells them something remarkable. In Genesis 50:20, he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

In other words, what Joseph’s brothers did to him was genuinely evil. The suffering he suffered was genuinely painful. The stuff that happened to him was genuinely bad. But that wasn’t the end of his story. God transformed that evil, that suffering, that pain—into something incredibly good. He used it ultimately to save the lives of millions.

We see this same dynamic at work in the apostle Paul’s life in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul describes what he calls a “thorn in his flesh.” We don’t know for sure what this “thorn” was—it could have been a physical affliction; or it could be related to the persecution he suffered. Whatever it was, it was a trial in Paul’s life that caused him pain, and it was evil. In fact, Paul says it came from the devil himself.

But once again, that wasn’t the end of the story… God transformed that evil thing from the devil into something very good for Paul. It was necessary, Paul said, to experience this thorn in order to keep him humble, to keep him depending on the Lord rather than trusting in himself.

The same principle applies: Satan intended to harm Paul, but God intended it all for good.”

What’s the worst thing that the devil or anyone else or anything else can throw at you? Whatever it is, if you only trust in Jesus Christ, he will transform it by his grace into something for your good.

Do you believe it?

I’ve talked in the last episode and in recent sermons about our need to “fall in love” with Jesus Christ again, or to “stay in love” with him. How can we do that if we don’t believe that he has a plan for the pain and suffering we’re experiencing—that no matter what—even when we’re experiencing something bad—God is somehow using it for our good?

And that’s why the hypothetical football star I mentioned earlier has the ability to thank Jesus—win or lose. Because God is doing something good for us in both victory and defeat.

So, see: we can pity New England Patriots players, coaches, and fans: They don’t often get to experience the genuine good that God can bring out of defeat!

But seriously, if you struggle to believe that God has the power to transform evil into something good, remember the cross: God used the greatest evil the world has ever seen—which was the death of his Son Jesus—to accomplish the greatest good the world has ever seen—which is the salvation of everyone who believes in Jesus.

Surely, surely, surely God can take every lesser form of evil, pain, and suffering and do the same!

Sermon 01-14-18: “Prayer Is Supposed to Be Easy”

January 24, 2018

As I argue in this sermon, we make prayer more complicated than it needs to be. The message of Jesus’ words in today’s scripture is that prayer isn’t that complicated. 

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:6-13

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Recently, I was listening to a sermon by a favorite pastor of mine whose church is very large and whose sermons are more intellectually demanding than my own. Unlike me, this preacher seems happily indifferent to using humor, or trying to be “relevant,” or entertaining his audience in any way in his sermons—he just dives right into scripture week after week. So, rightly or wrongly, I perceive that his church must be more advanced in the ways of prayer and in Bible study than the typical Methodist churches of which I’ve been part.

I was surprised, then, when he said that his church had recently conducted a survey on prayer in his congregation. Over half the congregation, he said, admitted that they did not pray regularly—his theologically rich sermons on the subject notwithstanding.

The pastor said that when he read the results of the survey, he was tempted to resign on the spot. Had he been wasting his breath all these years about the power and importance of prayer? Why wasn’t the message getting through?

I’m sympathetic with this pastor. But at the same time, I know from painful personal experience that prayer often seems hard to me. And I’ll bet you’ve experienced prayer as something that’s often difficult.

Actual alert message sent to smartphones throughout Hawaii

Not always, of course. In fact, prayer is the easiest thing in the world sometimes… When is it easy? When we are in a crisis. Prayer becomes very easy in those situations. I’m reminded of a hilarious Richard Pryor comedy routine from 1978 about his experience having a heart attack. He describes how that pain in his chest brought him to his knees, and he describes literally speaking to the heart attack, “Don’t kill me, don’t kill me, don’t kill me!” But his next words were directed to God: “God, please don’t let this thing kill me!” And then his heart attack spoke back to him, “Were you talking to God behind my back?” And the pain, he said, just got worse!

I’ve never had a heart attack, but “heart attack” prayers come very easily, I’m sure.

You know another time when prayer comes easily? When you believe that the island you live on is about to be attacked by ballistic missiles! Did you see that terrible false alarm on people’s smartphones in Hawaii yesterday? “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” No, it was not a drill, but it was a false alarm!

Don’t you know that literally tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of people in Hawaii were praying yesterday who hadn’t prayed in days, or weeks, or months before yesterday? Why? Because prayer is very easy when you fear you might die in a ballistic missile attack! People say, “Why did this false alarm happen?” I’m sure there are all sorts of interesting technological reasons. But I believe that another, overarching reason that this disaster happened was in order for people to turn to God in prayer! In other words, I’m sure that God used this crisis to get people’s attention. If it takes the fear of death to get people to turn to God, God will use it! It’s very merciful of God to use a disaster to bring people to him, while they still have to time to repent of their sins and turn to God. Because there is a far greater disaster coming upon our world—Judgment Day—and at that point, people won’t be able to repent and turn to God. It will be too late! Read the rest of this entry »

Devotional Podcast #6: “Open Arms”

January 22, 2018

What does the band Journey have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Only this: the greatest love songs find their ultimate fulfillment in the gospel, which is, among many other things, the greatest love story ever told.

Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:31-32

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, January 22, and this is Devotional Podcast #6. I post new episodes in this series every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I also post my Sunday sermons here.

You’re listening to “Open Arms” by the band Journey. This is one of the greatest love songs ever written. This comes from their 1982 album, Escape. It was written by Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain.

One recurring theme of my recent preaching—well, because it’s also a recent theme of my life—is that most of us Christians have an urgent need to fall in love with Jesus all over again. In our Methodist tradition, we are supposed to follow something called Wesley’s “General Rules,” which are: One, do no harm. Two, do good. Three, attend to the ordinances of God. When Wesley originally wrote the rules, he gave specific examples of each rule—which would have been helpful to Methodists living in the 18th century. Without specific examples of “harm” that we are to avoid doing today, I find the rules to be anodyne. I mean, of course we’re supposed to “do good” and “do no harm”! Who could possibly disagree?

But it begs the question: what does “doing harm” and “doing good” look like today? Doesn’t everyone always feel justified in whatever they’re doing or not doing? Are they right or wrong to feel that way, and how do they know? In Wesley’s day, he gave the rules some teeth: “No, my fellow Englishmen and women, you may not own slaves or be employed in industries that benefit from or facilitate the slave trade in any way and still call yourselves Methodist.” That sort of thing… Of course, there were plenty of Christians who would disagree with him back then, unfortunately.

If the rules were updated for our day, what would they say? Can Christians buy lottery tickets and still “do no harm”? Is it harmful for a Christian to watch Game of Thrones? What about owning gas-guzzling SUVs instead of more environmentally friendly vehicles? Can Christians vote for candidates who support legal abortion and still “do no harm”? I have no interest in answering these questions in this podcast, but if Wesley were alive today, he probably would!

But I want to focus on rule number three, “attend to the ordinances of God.” This rule seems pretty straightforward and unchanging from Wesley’s day to ours: These “ordinances” would include the prayer, Bible study, the Lord’s Supper, worship, baptism, tithing, fasting, Christian service, among others. By all means, we Christians should do these things today!

A prominent United Methodist devotional writer, the late Bishop Reuben Job, wrote a book about Wesley’s General Rules several years ago called Three Simple Rules. And he changed this last rule from “Attend to the ordinances of God” to “Stay in love with God.” I guess he thought “attend to the ordinances of God” sounded too stuffy and formal. From Job’s perspective, the way to “stay in love with God” was to attend to these ordinances.

Anyway, in the past I have complained loudly about the way that Job changed the name of this rule. I mean, for heaven’s sake, can we modern-day Methodists receive something from our past, from our heritage, that we don’t try to mess with—that we can just accept without qualification? Also, it seemed touchy-feely—overly sentimental. Stay in love with God… Yuck!

But now that I’m a little older, guess what? I love it! That’s the most useful part of the book that he wrote—those five words: “Stay in love with God.”

Reuben Job was onto something. We desperately need to stay in love with God!

Because make no mistake: the gospel of Jesus Christ is a love story. Not like in the Old Testament, for example, where the book of Hosea depicts God as a spurned lover, a husband whose wife has cheated on him over and over. No, the gospel is a romantic “falling in love”-type love story. Just look at Paul’s words in the Book of Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 31 and 32. Paul is talking here about the relationship between husbands and wives. Then Paul tells husbands that they need to love their wives the way Christ loves the church and briefly describes what that looks like. And then, in verse 31, he quotes Genesis 2:24, written in the context of the first marriage in history, between Adam and Eve:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

So… we’re talking about husbands and wives still, right—men and women… Right? Not so fast. Because then Paul says,

This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

In other words, the relationship between husband and wife is an analogy for the relationship between Christ and all of us who have accepted him as Savior and Lord. Or vice versa. That’s an amazing way to characterize Christ’s love for us!

But think about it… Let’s look again at the quote from Genesis chapter 2. Out of love, a man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife and the two become one. Similarly, out of love, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, leaves his Father in heaven in order to be joined to humanity, so that the two—Christ and his church—become one.

We all remember, or have experienced, or currently experiencing what it’s like to be in love. Remember the butterflies in our stomach? Remember how eager we were to be with the one we loved? Remember how we’d do anything for them?

Is it possible that Jesus Christ loves you and me like that? With that kind of intimacy… that kind of intensity… that kind of emotion? Think of every good love song you’ve ever heard—like the one I’m playing, for instance. That song finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s love for us Christians! You think, “How can that be true?” but the Bible says it is!

Before he was hanged by the British for being a spy during the American Revolutionary War, patriot Nathan Hale famously said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” Guess what? That feeling is even more intense when you’re in love! You would gladly lay down your life for the woman or man you’re in love with—without a second thought!

That’s how Christ loves us. Which explains his willingness to go to the cross for us! He was happy to do it—because he loved us the way Paul describes in Ephesians 5.