Archive for December, 2017

Advent Podcast Day 23: “Forgiveness Is the Hardest Part”

December 25, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 2:13-14

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

Merry Christmas! This is Brent White. It’s December 25, 2017, and this is Day 23 of my series of Advent podcasts—the last one for this season. You’re listening to the Brian Wilson song “Love and Mercy.” It’s not a Christmas song, but in addition to being a beautiful song, the sentiment is perfect for our topic. This song comes from Wilson’s 1988 self-titled solo album. Our scripture is Luke 2:10-11, which I’ll read now:

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

In Matthew chapter 2, the wise men likely lived in Babylon, in the Persian Gulf region—about 700 miles east of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. How did God get these men to travel such a great distance to find Jesus? If the star was a miraculous astronomical event, God created it out of nothing for the benefit of these stargazers. If it was a natural event, God designed the universe in such a way that at just the right moment in history this natural astronomical event would appear in the night sky, get the attention of the magi, and inspire them to travel those 700 miles to see the newborn king of the Jews.

Just think: For the sake of saving a few lost, superstitious, idolatrous, pagan, polytheistic men, God literally moved heaven and earth to guide these men to salvation through Christ! Like it was nothing at all! Isn’t that amazing! God is amazing!

Similarly, in Luke chapter 2, God does something equally powerful, equally amazing: You see, Micah chapter 5, verse 2, tells us that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

One small problem… The Messiah’s mother, Mary, was going to be having a her child very soon, and she’s 80 miles north of Bethlehem in Nazareth. If you’re God, how will you get her from point A to point B? You will put it in the mind of the most powerful ruler the world had ever seen to take a census of his empire—and require that everyone must return to their ancestral homeland. And voila! Problem solved. Crisis averted. The Messiah was born in Bethlehem, just as the Old Testament said he would be.

Pastor John Piper points out that God doesn’t do things “efficiently”—whether it’s moving heaven and earth for the sake of a few astrologers, or moving tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people around an empire like pieces on a chessboard—all for the sake of moving two seemingly “insignificant” people—Mary and Joseph—from Nazareth to Bethlehem, so that prophecy can be fulfilled.

As Piper says, It’s almost like God is showing off—the way he accomplishes things in the world!

The point is, these spectacular miracles are not hard for God. Likewise, it’s not hard for this same God to make a paralytic walk, or a blind man to see, or a hemorrhaging woman to stop bleeding. It’s not even hard for for this same God to bring someone back to life. That’s simply not hard for God.

But in this podcast I want to talk about the one thing that is hard for God: the forgiveness of sins—the very reason Jesus came into the world. What do I mean when I say it was hard? Well…

Was it not hard when Jesus sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed for his Father, if possible, to take away this cup of God’s wrath away from him—a cup that Jesus would drink down to the bitter dregs? Was it not hard when Christ endured the beatings, the mockings, the crown of thorns thrust on his head, the nails driven through his hands and feet? Was it not hard when, according to 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us on the cross, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God? Was it not hard when Jesus experienced the God-forsaken death, the suffering, the separation from his Father, the hell, that we deserved to suffer on the cross? Was it not hard when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This is what forgiveness of our sins cost God. God purchased our forgiveness with the shedding of his own blood, the only way forgiveness of sin is possible. And how does God have blood in the first place? How does he have a body that can bear the punishment for our sin? How does God become a perfect substitute for us human beings? How does God die in order save us?

By becoming human. Which is what God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, does for us when he became incarnate—out of a love that we can hardly comprehend.

And that is the meaning of Christmas. This is what we’re celebrating today.

And maybe some of you are thinking, “Pastor Brent, I think you’ve got the wrong holiday: You’ve mostly talked about Jesus dying on the cross. And today is Christmas, not Good Friday… not Easter.”

But brothers and sisters, you don’t understand: the meaning of Christmas is Easter.

Advent Podcast Day 22: “Reaching the Lost with the Gospel”

December 24, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 2:13-14

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 24, 2017, Christmas Eve, and this is Day 22 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to Jon Anderson’s version of “O Holy Night,” from his LP 3 Ships.

Yesterday, as I was preparing to write my Christmas Eve sermon, I on the story of the wise men in Matthew chapter 2. Think about it: in an almost literal way, God moved heaven and earth for the sake of guiding a few superstitious, idolatrous, pagan, polytheistic astrologers 700 miles from Babylon to Bethlehem.

God went to great lengths to save these men! He must really love them! He must have really wanted to save them! And notice that God’s rescue mission for these wise men began by God speaking to these men in a language that they could understand—the language of the stars, astronomy.

It reminds me in a small way of my own experience of coming to faith in Christ. God didn’t reveal himself to me through the stars in the sky—because I don’t know anything about astronomy. But he did speak to me in a language that I could understand: which is the language of rock and roll music.

It sounds like I’m joking or exaggerating, but I’m not! It was fall of 1983. A year earlier I started taking guitar lessons with a man named Jody Johnston. Jody saw my passion for music, which he shared, and he introduced me to the music of his favorite band—the band Genesis. In the ’80s had a ton of hit songs when Phil Collins was lead singer. But back in the ’70s, when Peter Gabriel was lead singer, they were a very different band—and that’s the music that Jody got me into.

And one of their songs, which spoke to me deeply, was called “Supper’s Ready.” The song borrows language and imagery from the Book of Revelation to take about the Second Coming of Christ. It’s a spooky song, to say the least.

One night—it was probably November of 1983—I was listening to this song in my room, in the dark, and I was so moved by it—and scared by it, frankly—that when it was over I prayed my first real prayer—a prayer that wasn’t of the “Now I lay me down to sleep” variety. A sincere prayer. And I told God that I wanted to be a Christian, I wanted to follow Jesus, I wanted to be saved—which led me to a tearful conversation with my parents, who signed me up to go, a couple of months later, on a retreat with my youth group in the mountains of North Carolina, where I made a profession of faith and was saved.

But isn’t it funny? God used my guitar teacher, and his interest in this particular band, to get me to hear this song, at this particular time and place, to get me on that youth retreat, where I could hear the gospel, and repent and be saved! None of those things were “coincidences”—God was working through all of it to reach me with the gospel!

Maybe all of us Christians have a “Star of Bethlehem” in our lives that God uses to bring us to faith. What’s yours?

Notice something else about this scripture: the wise men don’t make it all the way to Jesus aided only by the star. At some point—when they come to Jerusalem—they need people to help guide them the rest of the way. This is what we see the scribes and chief priests doing—they had to tell the magi that the Messiah was going to born seven miles away in Bethlehem. Only at that point did they find the star again, which led them the rest of the way.

This tells us, I think, that God wants to use us—his people—in his mission to reach the lost with the gospel. Well, Jesus himself makes this clear at the end of Matthew’s gospel when he gives us the Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”[1]

But let me ask an uncomfortable question: Do we share God’s passion for reaching the lost with gospel? Why not?

A couple of weekends ago, I was minding my own business, working on my sermon on a Saturday morning, when I heard a knock at the door. And guess who it was? It could only be one of two kinds of people—the UPS guy delivering one of many packages I’ve received recently from Amazon or eBay—because that’s how I do all my Christmas shopping. Or it’s going to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. And sure enough, it was the latter.

And I talked to them for about 15 minutes and challenged nearly everything they said—because even though Jehovah’s Witnesses talk about God and Jesus and use some of the same words we Christians use, they have a deeply distorted understanding of the gospel. Maybe they were wishing they hadn’t knocked on my door, I don’t know… But I thought of 1 Peter 3:15: “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” That’s what I tried to do. I believe that God sent these people to my door. This was a divine appointment.

So on the one hand, I felt good about the fact that I had taken time to share the gospel with these people. But on the other hand… as always happens when I encounter either Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormon missionaries at my door, I felt a bit guilty and ashamed. Because here are some people who believe so strongly in their particular religion—even though it’s a spiritually destructive lie that will lead people to hell—but they believe so strongly in it that they are getting out on a Saturday morning and doing something that 99.9 percent of the people on the streets they visit don’t want them to do. And as a result they’re facing rejection; they’re getting doors slammed in their faces; they’re being ridiculed.

But they’re doing this very unpopular thing because they believe that God has told them to. They believe so much in their mission they’re willing to face rejection, to face ridicule, to have doors slammed in their faces—they’re willing to sacrifice their reputations, not to mention sleeping in on Saturday, or enjoying leisure time or entertainment or sports or time with their families. And they’re willing to do all of this… for a lie.

Now think about us, think about our churches: “What are we willing to do for the truth?”

Because whether we think knocking on strangers’ doors and sharing the gospel with them is effective evangelism or not, one thing is for sure: We each know plenty of people in our lives who aren’t strangers—family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, fellow students—who need Jesus. What are we willing to do to get involved in God’s mission to reach them with the gospel?

God is showing us through this Christmas story the priority we need to place on reaching the lost with gospel. Are we paying attention?

1. Matthew 28:19

Advent Podcast Day 21: “Peace Among Those with Whom God Is Pleased”

December 23, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 2:13-14

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 23, 2017, and this is Day 21 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio from 1965, and their very interesting rearrangement of “The Little Drummer Boy,” called “My Little Drum.” This comes from the 1965 soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas.

When we hear the Christmas story in the Bible, it often sounds better in the classic King James translation. In fact, many people of my generation think it sounds best of all when we hear Linus read it in the TV special. Let’s listen to that now:

[Play clip.]

Of course, our preference for one translation over another often comes down to style or nostalgia. But the classic King James rendering of the second half of verse 14 is misleading, if not wrong: “on earth peace, good will toward men.”

This translation makes it seem as if the angels are pronouncing God’s favor toward everyone in the world… without condition. And let’s face it: if that were indeed what God’s Word intends to say, well… it would fit in nicely in our culture, which values “inclusion” above all other values.

Just last Christmas, a columnist in the New York Times named Nicholas Kristoff interviewed Tim Keller, the now recently retired pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Over the course of decades Keller had great success reaching young people in their twenties and thirties with an uncompromising gospel message in one of the most secular cities in the world. I was glad to see Keller being taken seriously by the so-called “paper of record.” Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 20: “It’s a Wonderful Life”

December 22, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 22, 2017, and this is Day 20 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to Brian Wilson’s song “Wonderful,” from the Brian Wilson Presents Smile album, an album he originally conceived, in 1966 with the Beach Boys, as a “teenage symphony to God.”

This week, I renewed my annual Christmas tradition of watching It’s a Wonderful Life. I haven’t watched it in four or five years—so I guess it’s not much of a tradition, but it ought to be! This time I even watched it with my son Ian, who had never seen it before—and he liked it as much as I hoped he would. Oh my goodness… It was somehow even better than I remembered! Deeper, more thought-provoking!

There’s a lot in It’s a Wonderful Life that’s grist for the mill for one Advent podcast, but I want to limit myself to just one idea in this particular podcast.

If you haven’t seen the movie, let me give you a brief recap: George Bailey was an ambitious young man who always dreamed of escaping his small town of Bedford Falls, of seeing the world, of going to college, of becoming a success architect, engineer, and entrepreneur. But through a series of misfortunate events, George sacrifices one dream after another, until he gets stuck in Bedford Falls—running a Building and Loan he inherited from his father, watching old classmates and even his younger brother achieve the success and notoriety he so desperately craved himself.

To add insult to injury, George’s ne’er-do-well Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 bank deposit, which the authorities believe George has embezzled from his Building and Loan. Since George has no money to pay the money back, he fears that he’ll soon be arrested. Convinced that he’s worth more dead than alive—since he at least has a life insurance policy—he contemplates suicide before an angel named Clarence intervenes to save him. And one way Clarence saves him is by showing him what the world would be like if George had never been born.

The angel shows George one example after another of how much better his fellow townspeople’s lives are as a result of George’s life. George sees that every unlucky break, every setback, every disappointment, every perceived failure in his life played a role in blessing the lives of others.

It was almost like someone was behind the scenes of George’s life, pulling strings, coordinating events, making things work out in a particular way. And although the movie doesn’t come right out and say it, we Christians can watch this movie and know that Someone was doing these things. While things weren’t going according to George’s plans, they were going exactly according to God’s plan—and that plan was very good. This is how God works in our world, too, for those of us who believe in his Son Jesus.

It was certainly true of of Mary in Luke chapter 1. There we see a number of ways in which Mary’s life is not going according to her plans. Pregnant out of wedlock for a reason that her fiancé could not believe… called by God to do the seemingly impossible, she nevertheless surrenders to God, saying, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And a few days later, when her relative Elizabeth confirms everything the angel had told her—Mary is ecstatic. She says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…”

Brothers and sisters, being a Christian means learning to be O.K. with the idea that God’s plans are infinitely bigger and more important than our own. And not just being O.K. with it, celebrating it! Saying, along with Mary, “My soul magnifies the Lord!”

The prophet Jeremiah spoke the word of God to his fellow Jews after Babylon had conquered Judah and all hope seemed lost. Not what these Israelites had planned, to say the least. And he said the following: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Friends, if we are in Christ, God has the same good plans for us! God has made us a part of his plans. So that, like Mary, we will also “magnify the Lord!” The Lord’s bigger than that dream of yours that never came true. Besides, he’s got a better dreams for you anyway. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any problem you’re facing in your family, with your kids, with your husband or wife. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than that scary diagnosis you received, or that cancer, or that tumor, or that disease you’re dealing with. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any problem you’re facing in your job or at school! “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any financial crisis you’re dealing with! “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than any sin, any failure, any disappointment. “Magnify the Lord!” He’s bigger than whatever you’re afraid of. “Magnify the Lord!”

Why do we act like our problems are so large, and the Lord is so small? We need to magnify the Lord!

Advent Podcast Day 19: “The Light Shines in Darkness”

December 21, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: John 1:1-5

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 21, 2017, and this is Day 19 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the band Jethro Tull, and a song they wrote and recorded about—well… this very day: December 21, the winter solstice. This song, “Ring Out, Solstice Bells,” comes from the band’s 1977 album Songs from the Wood.

My scripture today is John 1:1-5, which I’ll read now:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Do you remember that scene in Back to the Future when Doc Brown is introducing Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox’s character, to the wonders of his time-traveling DeLorean? Brown shows McFly an LED-based instrument built into the car’s dashboard and explains that you simply enter any date in the past that you want to travel back to and—voila!—that’s where you’ll end up. 

At one point he tells Marty, “We can go back and witness the birth of Jesus Christ.” And then you see Doc Brown punch in the date December 25 of the year “0000.”

And at this point, many people in the audience groaned. For two reasons. First, there wasn’t a year “0.” According to the calendar that the church created, which divides history between the time before Christ and the time after Christ was born, the calendar changed from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1.

And the second reason some people watching Back to the Future groaned is because Jesus wasn’t born on December 25—or I should say, there’s about a 1 in 365 chance that he was born on December 25! If you’ll recall a podcast I did last week, my amateur astronomer friend believed that Jesus was born some time in April.

But the Church chose the date of December 25 to celebrate Christ’s birth for an important reason: Under the old Julian calendar, it marked the winter solstice, the so-called “longest night of the year”—or, put the other way, the day with the least amount of sunlight. Just think: for the next six months, each day will be marked by progressively more daylight.

And in ancient times long before the birth of Christ, people attached religious significance to this day—thanking their god or gods that the solstice marked the “end of gloom and darkness and the victory of the sun and the light over the darkness.”[1] Because of this pagan association with the solstice, even some Christians today have misgivings about celebrating Christmas.

I certainly don’t share these misgivings. Even if under the old calendar December 25 was a pagan holiday, I would say that the day has been redeemed—like so many other things, including our very lives—by Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 18: “The Priority of Forgiveness”

December 20, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 1:21

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 20, 2017, and this is Day 18 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the Vince Guaraldi Trio and their version of “What Child Is This?” from the A Charlie Brown Christmas, from 1965.

My scripture today is Matthew 1:21: “She [meaning Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Almost 30 years ago, I had a history professor at Georgia Tech, Dr. Lawrence Foster, whose parents were Methodist missionaries to China—before Mao, before the civil war, before the advent of communist rule. We were studying China, so he made frequent reference to his experience in China, and his parents’ experience. And every time—I mean every time—he told us that his parents were missionaries, he would immediately qualify it by saying, “They were medical missionaries; they weren’t there to proselytize.”

Isn’t that a funny thing to say? God forbid missionaries go somewhere to proselytize!

How do we respond to this? First, I hope that even though Dr. Foster’s parents were medical missionaries they were in China not simply to provide medical relief but also to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. I’m sure that whatever Methodist mission board or agency back then commissioned them to their work did so, in part, with the conviction that non-Christians—in China or anywhere else—need Jesus Christ in order to be saved. And that this medical mission work would facilitate opportunities to spread the gospel.

But even as I say that, I’m mindful, for example, of the words of two great Methodist evangelists, Eddie Fox and George Morris, who wrote,

The United Methodist Church shows tremendous proficiency and commitment when it comes to doing the deed of the gospel. We do the compassionate deed from the best of motives, and we do that deed with skill and commitment. However, we are reluctant to name the Name in whom we do the deed.[1]

For all I know, Dr. Foster’s parents shared this reluctance name the Name in whom they did their good deeds of the gospel—I hope not. But if so, they probably at least felt guilty about it!

Regardless, you can imagine the subtext of Dr. Foster’s words: “Don’t get the wrong idea. My parents were in this third-world country doing practical stuff—helping to relieve actual suffering in the world; making a real difference in people’s lives. They weren’t interested in that superstitious, airy-fairy stuff about saving people’s souls.”

As if saving souls is not a sufficiently worthy cause to devote one’s life to!

Which is funny because, if the gospel is true—and we have only this one life to convince people of the truth of the gospel so that their sins can be forgiven, they can be reconciled to God, and they can have eternal life—then we may rightly wonder if any cause other than saving souls is sufficiently worthy to devote one’s life to!

Am I crazy to say that?

I mean, Dr. Foster wanted to emphasize his parents’ compassion—after all, they did so much good work to relieve people’s suffering in this world. But what about their potential eternal suffering… in hell?

Apart from a saving relationship with God through Christ, everyone is destined for hell—everyone deserves hell; everyone deserves God’s judgment; everyone deserves God’s wrath. Why? Because our sins have separated us from a holy God. Apart from Christ, we are helpless to save ourselves!

If these missionaries—or any other Christian, for that matter—ignored the world’s need for salvation from sin—even while meeting every other conceivable need—how compassionate would they really be?

Jesus makes this same point in the gospels: Remember the four friends who carry their disabled friend on a mat to see Jesus, so that Jesus can heal him? The house where Jesus is teaching and preaching is so crowded that they can’t get through the door. So they instead go up on top of the house, break a hole in the roof, and lower their friend down through the hole, to Jesus—so that he can heal him.

And what does Jesus say to their friend? “You’re healed. Pick up your mat and walk”? No… not at first. At first he says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And apparently, that’s all Jesus was going to do—forgive the man’s sins! It was only after the scribes and Pharisees start questioning Jesus’ authority to forgive sins that he also performs a physical healing. “Which is easier,” Jesus asks, “to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”[2]

Of course it’s easier to say “your sins are forgiven,” because that’s a spiritual reality that no one can prove or disprove. So Jesus performs the physical healing to prove that he can perform the spiritual healing.

Clearly, however, one is more important than the other. Jesus places the priority on spiritual healing, which happens when we place our faith in Christ—who forgives our sins and gives us new birth.

Obviously, we should follow the Lord’s example!

During this season of gift-giving, to say the least there is no greater gift that anyone can receive than the gift of eternal life in Christ. Oh, dear friends, how is God calling us today to share that gift with others?

1. H. Eddie Fox and George E. Morris, Faith Sharing (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 1998), 56.

1. Mark 2:9 ESV

Advent Podcast Day 17: “Glory Thieves”

December 19, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Luke 1:51-53

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 19, 2017, and this is Day 17 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to a 15th- or 16th-century English Christmas carol—sung in the original Latin, no less!—by one of my favorite bands, an English folk rock group called Steeleye Span. Believe it or not, they had a Top 15 hit in Britain in 1972 with this song! A translation would begin, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Christ is born of the Virgin Mary. Rejoice!/ The hour of grace which we seek is here/ We offer with devotion our songs of gladness… God is made man/ A thing of wonder/ The world is renewed by Christ’s reign.” You can look up the rest.

My scripture today is Luke 1:51-53, which comes from Mary’s song, the Magnificat:

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

In my sermon last Sunday, I was preaching about the kind of surrender to God’s will, to God’s plan, to God’s purposes that is implied in Mary’s words in Luke 1:38: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” I said that just as Mary surrendered, so we need to surrender:

Surrendering doesn’t mean asking Jesus for advice on how to live; it doesn’t mean asking him to help us out of a jam every now and then; it doesn’t mean asking him to be our personal assistant; it doesn’t mean asking him to be our life coach. It means he’s in charge. It means that what he wants, he gets. It means that we’re happy to give it to him—because we’re not living for ourselves; we’re living for him.

Then I asked the congregation to think about recent experiences with anger: “Did you get angry because you squandered an opportunity to do God’s will, to glorify God, to put the interests of God and neighbor ahead of your own?”

Even as I was asking these questions, I heard laughter in the congregation: Of course we don’t get angry about those things! We get angry when we don’t get our way. When we don’t get the glory for ourselves to which we feel entitled. When our plans get disrupted.

We love Mary’s words of surrender in Luke 1:38, yet more often than not we say—through our actions—“Here I am, servant of myself. Let it be to me according to my word.” Because what I say goes.

In a new Advent devotional book called Come, Let Us Adore Him, pastor Paul David Tripp writes the following:

You see, our problem is not just that we live in a broken world and that its brokenness enters our doors; beneath that reality is a much deeper problem. We have a glory problem. We have preferred living for ourselves over living for something and someone bigger than ourselves. In our marriages, in our parenting, in our work, in our friendships, and in the church, we have made life all about us. We have tended to reduce the active field of our concern down to the tiny confines of our wants, our needs, our plans, our satisfaction, and our happiness. It’s not wrong to want some control, or to want to be right, or to like beautiful possessions, or to be surrounded by a community of love, but it’s wrong and spiritually dangerous for those things to rule your heart.[1]

He goes on to say that sin has made all of us “glory thieves”: we steal for ourselves the glory that belongs to God alone. And of course this makes us miserable. We simply weren’t created to live for our own glory.

Yet I wonder if this sinful desire to glorify myself isn’t my main struggle in life!

Twenty-five years ago, my first job out of college was in sales. I was mentored by an older, well-seasoned, and successful salesperson named Alec. He told me more than once that money—of which he had plenty—wasn’t a big motivator for his success: “I want recognition,” he said. Given my own modest commission checks at the time, I thought that was insane. Now, however, I totally know what he means. Unfortunately.

Oh how desperately I crave “recognition”! God help me, I am a glory thief!

When I answered the call into ministry thirteen years ago, I did so believing that God and I had an “understanding”—an agreement. If I could put this agreement in words, it would sound something like this:

“God, if I do this for you—give up a relatively successful engineering career, uproot my family, sell my house, go to seminary, make all kinds of financial sacrifices along the way—I need you to ensure that everyone—including my district superintendent and bishop—will love me and praise me and think I’m God’s gift to preaching and pastoral ministry, that I’ll move up church ladder of success, that I’ll make plenty of money, and that I’ll become bishop before I’m 45!”

Well, I’m 47 now, so how did that turn out?

Since I recognized that I was a glory thief about seven or eight years ago and began making faltering attempts at repentance, God, out of his great mercy, has frequently disciplined me—often using circumstances in my life to keep my pride in check… well, more like stomping my ego flat.

It re-inflates very easily, but maybe I’m a little less “puffed up” each time.

In our Wesleyan tradition, we have a prayer that we often pray—especially during this time of year—called the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. It used to be featured in Methodist “Watch Night” services on New Year’s Eve. Most Methodist churches don’t have Watch Night services anymore, but the prayer remains, and it’s a good one. If we could only live it out, it would kill the glory thief within.

Let’s make this our prayer today:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

1. Paul David Tripp, Come, Let Us Adore Him (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 46.

If you prefer to read my Advent devotionals rather than listen to them…

December 18, 2017

I’ve now added the manuscripts for Advent Podcast Day 8 through Day 16. If you want to interact with these devotionals through the old-fashioned medium of words on pagescreen, feel free to do so by scrolling down!

Advent Podcast Day 16: “He Who Is Mighty Has Done Great Things for Me”

December 18, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Homily Text: Luke 1:46-49

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 18, 2017, and this is Day 16 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the band Big Star, a band from Memphis in the early-’70s whose influence on future bands far exceeded their commercial fortunes. The lead singer and songwriter of the band, Alex Chilton, updated the hymn “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” Our scripture is from Mary’s song, the Magnificat, in Luke chapter 1. I’m reading verses 46 to 49: “And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, or he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

I went to the Holy Land back in 2011. During the first leg of the trip, we stayed for a few nights in Tiberias, which is on the Sea of Galilee. There was a sign in the front lobby that said that the hotel featured something called “Sabbath elevators.” I had no idea what Sabbath elevators were. But I found out at sundown on Friday. I was on the sixth floor of the hotel, and I wanted to go down to the lobby. I pushed the call button on the elevator and after a long wait, the elevator doors finally opened. No one was in the elevator. I pressed the button marked “1.” The doors closed, and then the elevator stopped at the fifth floor—even though I hadn’t pushed that button. And there was no one there waiting for it. Then the elevator stopped at the fourth floor. No one was there. Then the third floor. No one was there. “What’s going on?” I thought.

Then I figured out what “Sabbath elevators” are. If you are an orthodox Jew, and it’s the Sabbath, even pushing an elevator button is considered illegal “work.” Sabbath elevators enable people to ride the elevator without having to do “work.” You might have to wait a long time, but if you’re patient you’ll eventually get where you need to go.

While I admire religious people whose commitment to God is so great that they would avoid even pushing a button if it risked breaking God’s commandment, my experience at that hotel gave me a greater appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

See, every other major religion in the world says, in so many words, “Follow these rules… Obey these laws… Repeat these mantras… Follow these principles… Practice these disciplines… and then you will be accepted by God or whatever your ultimate reality happens to be.”

Religion says, in other words, “Do these things, and you God will accept you.” Christianity says, “God accepts you, therefore do these things.” Read the rest of this entry »

Advent Podcast Day 15: “What Is God Up To?”

December 18, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: Matthew 2:1-2, 7-10

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 17, 2017, and this is Day 15 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the Beach Boys’ version of “We Three Kings” from their 1964 LP The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. Our scripture, appropriately enough, is about the so-called “three kings” or wise men or magi, found in Matthew 2:1-2 and 7-10. I’ll read it now:

Many years ago, not long after I graduated from seminary, I was an associate pastor at a large church. I frequently visited a parishioner who was convalescing at home after a debilitating illness. He was a retired NASA scientist—with a Ph.D. from Harvard—who was also an amateur astronomer. (“Amateur” in the truest sense of the word: he didn’t need compensation to pursue his love for the stars.) To pass the time and keep his sanity during his long recovery, he engaged in some astronomical research.

“I’ve made a discovery,” he told me with excitement as he greeted me at the door. “I know the date on which Jesus was born!”

“Really?” He sensed skepticism in my voice.

He then qualified his earlier words: Maybe he didn’t know the exact date, but he had a narrow range of dates, within a week or two, given certain assumptions. “Look, I’ll show you.” He explained his findings using a star chart, the Bible, and various clippings from astronomy journals. Given a few more assumptions, he said, Jesus was most likely born on… Well, now I wish I had written it down. I forgot.

Surprisingly, it all seemed very… plausible to me. And I promise you this man was not a crackpot. He argued that it wasn’t actually a star, per se, that led the magi from the Persian Gulf to Jerusalem but a morning star—Jupiter, I believe—which would have been visible to the magi at this particular time in this particular region.

Contrary to popular illustrations of the Star of Bethlehem and Christmas songs like “Do You Hear What I Hear,” this astral phenomenon was not something just anyone would have noticed. But for men like these magi, who made their living studying the night sky, this would have been an incredibly curious event.

The point is, my friend believed that through this natural event, God was speaking to the magi.

If I could go back in time and talk to him, I would ask him about verses 9 and 10, which describes the original star “going before them” and “coming to rest over the place” where Jesus was. That doesn’t sound like it can be explained by a merely natural phenomenon, but that doesn’t matter for this podcast.  Read the rest of this entry »