Archive for February, 2018

Devotional Podcast #17: “Healing Our Past”

February 27, 2018

Another jumbo-sized podcast episode!

This one is all about the necessity of healing our past, without which our future won’t be as good as we want it to be. Why? Because the past has a way of continuing to exert a harmful influence over our present and future. To help us find healing from our past, I reflect on some helpful resources related to forgiveness and providence from God’s Word.

Devotional Text: Philippians 3:8b-14

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Tuesday, February 27, and this is Devotional Podcast number 17.

You’re listening to Pete Townshend’s song “Somebody Saved Me,” from his 1982 album All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. In the song, the singer is looking back on his life. And he sees that there were times in his life when he was rescued from decisions that he made—decisions that, ultimately, would have brought him great harm—if not killed him outright. Not that he saw it that way at the time—when he didn’t get what he wanted, when his plans fell through. No, he was often dragged kicking and screaming away from paths that would have led to his destruction. “But somebody saved me,” he sings. “It happened again/ Somebody saved me/ I thank you, my friend.”

He doesn’t know who this mysterious “friend” is. A guardian angel, perhaps? But notice it’s somebody, not some thing; it’s not an impersonal force; it’s not fate; it’s not luck; it’s a person. And of course we know that person’s name, even if Townshend doesn’t: his name is Jesus.

Townshend sings, “All I know is that I’ve been making it/ And there’ve been times that I didn’t deserve to.”

Who hasn’t been there? Who can’t relate to that?

For the last several weeks, I’ve been preaching a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer. I’ve benefited greatly from reading Frederick Dale Bruner’s commentary on Matthew. In fact, every time I teach or preach anything from Matthew’s gospel, I benefit greatly from reading Bruner. Here’s what he had to say about the final three petitions in the Lord’s Prayer—what he calls the “Second Table” of the prayer. He writes:

In the Second Table of the Lord’s Prayer, we may say in summary so far, the petition for bread was a prayer for the present (“give us this day”), the petition for forgiveness was a prayer for the removal of a bad past, and now the prayer for leading is a prayer for the future. This petition follows naturally from the preceding prayer for forgiveness. For when we ask for forgiveness we almost instinctively ask also to be kept from the temptations and evil that made our prayer for forgiveness necessary at all. So the Sixth Petition follows the Fifth like wanting to be good follows sorrow for failing to be.[1]

I like that! I’ve never thought of these petitions in terms of past, present, and future.

In today’s podcast, I want to focus on the fifth petition: “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.” I’m reluctant to say that any of these three petitions is more or less important or necessary. But I will say this: the “prayer for the removal of a bad past,” as Bruner puts it, must be granted by God before the “prayer for the future” has any hope of coming to pass.

Why do I say that? Because the past has a way of haunting the present—and influencing the future. And if we haven’t made peace with the past, its influence can be harmful.

Stop and consider how many times even today you’ve ruminated over something in your past. Maybe it’s from your recent past: like some offhanded comment that someone made about you yesterday—“What did he mean by that? Was he criticizing me?” Or that witty riposte you wish you had said to your boss last week when she challenged the quality of your work. Read the rest of this entry »

My collection (so far) of Billy Graham sermons on vinyl

February 23, 2018

Image courtesy of the New York Times

Since 2014, I have been collecting Billy Graham records. From these I have digitized eleven sermons from the ’60s (and one from 1986). As best I can tell, he didn’t release any sermons on vinyl in the ’70s. (Am I wrong?) I recently acquired an RCA LP from 1957 by Graham called The Problems of the American Home. I’ll post that sermon soon.

In the meantime, to celebrate the life and legacy of one of my heroes, here are the eleven that I have so far. If you follow the links, you’ll also find my commentary on each one, along with photos from the albums themselves. Enjoy! (Please note: the two sermons on the Second Coming, both entitled “The Climax of History,” are substantially different sermons.)

“God’s Delinquent” (1964)

“The Climax of History” (1964)

“Why I Believe the Bible to Be the Word of God” (1962)

“Why I Believe Jesus to Be the Son of God” (1962)

“David and Goliath” (1962)

“The Climax of History” (1962)

“The Cross of Christ” (1963)

“The Frontiers of Tomorrow” (1963)

“The Cure for Loneliness” (1986)

“The Signs of the Time, the End of the World, the Second Coming” (1969)

“Man in the 5th Dimension” (1964)

Devotional Podcast #16: “Will Our Father Take Care of Us?”

February 23, 2018

One of the most important questions we face as Christians is this: Do we believe that our heavenly Father will take care of us? Jesus promises that he will, for example, in Matthew 6:25-34. But Jesus and the New Testament writers warn us that we’ll face sickness, violence, suffering, and death. How is that taking care of us? This podcast episode explores these questions.

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:25-34

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Thursday, February 22, and this is Devotional Podcast number 16. It’s a long one, so stick with me.

You’re listening to the Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations,” which I recorded from their 1967 album Smiley Smile—the album the band released in place of their unfinished masterpiece Smile. This album, a hastily assembled consolation prize, is actually quite charming in its own right. Anyway, in addition to being a #1 hit for the band, this song was also the most expensive pop single ever recorded! Brian Wilson worked on it for months!

Last week, after another national tragedy, many people—apparently—urged us to send out our “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families.

Not that I saw or heard anyone calling for “thoughts and prayers” this time, but I certainly saw the backlash against people calling for “thoughts and prayers.” “It’s not enough to send ‘thoughts and prayers.’” these people said in various ways. “No more ‘thoughts and prayers’! Do something real instead!”

And I get it: When someone asks for thoughts and prayers—or says that they’re sending out thoughts and prayers—it often sounds glib and empty. And believe me, I also get that the subtext of these complaints is as much about politics as theology. These critics are talking more about what politicians have or haven’t done than they are  about God. I know that. But they’re talking enough about God to bother me a little. Which is why I’m talking about it.

Let me begin by agreeing, in part, with these critics: from a Christian point of view, no amount of positive thinking, or sympathetic thinking, or compassionate thinking—by itself—can accomplish anything.

We don’t really believe in “good vibrations,” right—as much as we love the song? (And I love that song!)

God doesn’t respond to “good vibrations”; he responds to prayer!

Or… doesn’t he? For those of us who are his children—who have been adopted into his family through faith in his Son and for whom God is our Father—can we trust our Father to take care of us?

This is surely one of the most important questions of our time… And I’m not mostly speaking of this question as an apologetic concern—so that we can give a defense of our faith to skeptical people who don’t believe in God and might use last week’s tragedy as an excuse to say, “See? How can you believe in a good, loving, merciful God who lets children and their teachers and coaches get murdered like that?”

Those are important questions, and I’ve blogged a lot about them over the years.

But today I’m talking to those of us who already believe in the God revealed in the Christian scriptures—I’m talking to my people, to fellow Christians: Do we believe that our heavenly Father will take care of us? Do we believe that he’ll supply all of our needs… so that we can be truly happy… so that we can know true joy?

Listen to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 6:25-34. I’ll read an excerpt.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

If there’s any scripture that promises that God will take care of his children, surely it’s this one. Is is true? Is Jesus telling the truth? Especially in light of some words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:35-39. There, before promising that nothing—no amount of suffering can separate us from the love of  God—he says that he and his fellow apostles have experienced and are experiencing tribulation, distress, persecution, danger, sword, famine, and nakedness. Notice famine and nakedness.

But didn’t Jesus say that our Father will provide us with food and clothing?

So which is it? Will Christians suffer “famine and nakedness” or will our Father “supply all things”?

I love what John Piper says on this subject. Let me read the following, which comes from his book Don’t Waste Your Life:

What, then, does Jesus mean, “All these things—all your food and clothing—will be added to you when you seek the kingdom of God first”? He means the same thing he meant when he said, “Some of you they will put to death… But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18). He meant that you will have everything you need to do his will an be eternally and supremely happy in him.

Piper continues:

How much food and clothing are necessary? Necessary for what? we must ask. Necessary to be comfortable? No, Jesus did not promise comfort. Necessary to avoid shame? No, Jesus called us to bear shame for his name with joy. Necessary to stay alive? No, he did not promise to spare us death—of any kind. Persecution and plague consume the saints. Christians die on the scaffold, and Christians die of disease. [And editor’s note here: Christians die from rounds fired from an AR-15. Piper continues:] That’s why Paul wrote, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

What Jesus meant was that our Father in heaven would never let us be tested beyond what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). If there is one scrap of bread that you need, as God’s child, in order to keep your faith in the dungeon of starvation, you will have it. God does not promise enough food for comfort or life—he promises enough so that you can trust him and do his will.[1]

So… we’ll get enough of what we need to do his will—no matter what his will is for us; no matter how painful or scary his will for us might be.

The question is, Do we want to do his will—above all else? Do we believe, along with the Westminster catechism, that our “chief end” is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”?

Do we want what God wants for us? Or do we want something else?

Let me speak for myself: I am someone who has always had ambition—and I’m not talking here about, you know, godly ambition—the desire to share the gospel with millions. I’m speaking about career ambition. Even though it has not served me well; even though it has taken a toll on me; it has always been part of me. Long before I went into ministry I have been an ambitious person. I want people to notice my good work, to appreciate me… to love me, not so much for who I am but what I achieve. This sin is deeply embedded within me!

Back in the late-’90s I was nearly finished getting my electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. This was my second degree from there—for a second career. (So yes, pastoral ministry was my third career.) Anyway, I had a friend—I’ll call him Andrew—who graduated from Tech with a different degree many years earlier. He went on to get a law degree from Emory and became a consultant with a large consultant. And from my perspective he was… well, he was the kind of success that I wanted to be. Not that I wanted to be him, exactly—his job seemed deadly dull—but if I could achieve his level of success in my career—well, then I would know that I had arrived. I would know I was somebody. I would stop this anxious striving and be content.

If I could just be like Andrew!

Anyway, Andrew was in Atlanta on business and we met for dinner. After a couple of beers he told me something that surprised me. He said, “You know, I majored in electrical engineering at Tech. At first. And I couldn’t handle it. My grades were terrible. I went on academic probation. I had to change majors… Not getting that degree is my life’s biggest regret. The truth is, I’m a little jealous of you.”

Jealous of me! What on earth is there to be jealous of? From my perspective, my friend had everything! If you can have everything and still feel jealousy or resentment, what’s the good of having everything? Which goes to show how badly distorted our self-image often is!

So this is what it comes down to: If worldly success is your goal, you’re never get enough of it to be happy. If any worldly thing is your goal, you’ll never get enough of it!

Years ago before he died—by suicide—actor Robin Williams gave an interview in which he was talking about the elusiveness of happiness. And here’s a talented actor and comedian who won an Academy Award, multiple Golden Globes, Grammys, Emmys; had a number one prime-time TV show; starred in some of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed movies ever made; lived in mansions; dated supermodels; was beloved by millions. And what did he say about all this success? No matter what dizzying heights of fame and fortune you achieve, he said, “You bottom out… People say, ‘You have an Academy Award.’ The Academy Award lasted about a week, then one week later people are going, ‘Hey, Mork.’”

You bottom out, he said. It’s certainly true for me! I have bottomed out—many times. God has allowed or caused me to bottom out. He’s very good at that! I think he does it so that that I can learn this one thing: I will never get what I want until I learn to want what God wants for me.

Let me repeat: I will never get what I want until I learn to want what God wants for me. None of us will.

Lord, please… help me to learn this truth. Amen.

1. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 94.

Devotional Podcast #15: “How Much Have We Been Forgiven?”

February 19, 2018

In this episode I talk about the inspiring testimony of Rachael Denhollander, the brave young Christian woman (and attorney) who testified against Larry Nassar, the U.S. gymnastics team doctor who molested over 150 girls. Her words about God’s wrath, judgment, and forgiveness were powerful. What can we learn from them?

Devotional Text: Luke 7:36-50

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, February 19, and this is Devotional Podcast number 15.

You’re listening to my favorite singer, Bob Dylan, and his version of the song, “Stay with Me,” which is found on his 2015 album Shadows in the Night. The album is a collection of songs made famous by, or at least recorded by, Frank Sinatra. And Dylan’s crack five-piece band follows the Sinatra arrangements, with Donnie Herron’s pedal steel emulating the orchestra. And I’ll be darned if this has not become one of my favorite Dylan albums. I really like Dylan the old man—he sings songs suitable for his voice and age.

The song is literally a prayer—the singer is pleading with God not to abandon him, even though he has been unfaithful to God. Listen to the first few stanzas:

Should my heart not be humble
Should my eyes fail to see
Should my feet sometimes stumble
On the way, stay with me
Like the lamb that in springtime
Wanders far from the fold
Through the darkness and the frost
I get lost
I grow cold
I grow cold, I grow weary
And I know I have sinned
And I go, seeking shelter
And I cry in the wind
Though I grope and I blunder
And I’m weak and I’m wrong
Though the road buckles under
Where I walk, walk along
Till I find to my wonder
Every path leads to Thee
All that I can do is pray
Stay with me
Stay with me

I find that deeply moving. And pertinent to today’s discussion…

Last month, I was deeply moved by the words of Rachael Denhollander. She is an attorney, an evangelical Christian, and a former gymnast who, along with over 150 other young women, was sexually molested by Larry Nassar, the team doctor who treated gymnasts on the U.S. Olympic team for 20 years. The judge allowed her and her fellow victims to address Nassar in court.

Here’s an excerpt from what she said:

You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen in this courtroom today.

The Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you to be thrown into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.

The Bible you speak of says there’s a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.

I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.

Is Denhollander right? Is forgiveness of an evil man like Nassar possible—if he truly faces up to his sins, repents, and turns to Christ? If so, does that seem fair—or just?

Before you answer, let’s look at Luke chapter 7: Jesus is invited to have dinner in the home of a Pharisee named Simon. While he’s there, we’re told that “a woman of the city, a sinner”—i.e., a prostitute—came and wept at Jesus’ feet, wetting them with her tears and drying them with her hair. She poured expensive perfume on them.

This behavior alarms Simon. He thinks, “If this man were truly a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is who’s touching him.”

I know we are rarely feel sympathy with Pharisees, but from Simon’s perspective, as he understood the Bible and his Jewish traditions, this woman risked making both him and Jesus spiritually impure. After all, if you’re trying to keep kosher while you eat—as Simon was—you simply can’t let a prostitute touch you. For all we know, Simon sincerely wanted to please God, and avoid sinning, and this woman was making it hard for him to do that—at least as far as he knew. And I get it: sexual sin may not bother God’s people living today nearly as much as it bothered God’s people living in the first century. But that probably says more about us than them.

No, Simon’s estimation of this woman’s character was absolutely correct. Jesus concedes as much in verse 47, when he says, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven.” Indeed, the short parable Jesus tells Simon in verses 41-42 presupposes that this woman was a very serious sinner:  “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

In the parable, the woman is the one who owes 500 denarii—which amounts to about two-years’ worth of wages. Simon, meanwhile, would owe 50: about two months. It’s not the case that we’re all equally sinful—or that all sins, in God’s eyes, are equally evil or harmful. The Bible doesn’t teach that. All sins will separate us from God eternally, apart from Christ, but it’s not the case that God is indifferent to the kind of sin we commit. The point of the parable is, because of their sins, both of them owe a debt that they’re unable to pay to God. Both of them will only be forgiven because of God’s grace alone.

So let’s get back to Larry Nassar. If Jesus were updating the parable for today, maybe Nassar would owe 5,000 denarii, or 500,000, or 5 million. I don’t know.

But Denhollander is absolutely correct: Is forgiveness possible even for Nassar? The answer has to be yes—and not on account of anything Larry Nassar can do. As Denhollander said, good deeds cannot erase what he’s done. Moreover, apart from repentance and faith in Christ, “God’s wrath and eternal terror” will be poured out on him.

But even now, so long as Nassar lives and breathes, the possibility exists that he can still repent and be saved. Whether he will or not… that’s up to him.

While it’s understandable that many of us feel no sympathy or compassion for the Larry Nassars of the world, the possibility that God can forgive even sinners like them is good news: It means that the blood of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to save the worst of sinners. It means that even the worst sin is no match for cross of Christ. It means, best of all, that there’s hope for us! God can forgive us and save even us!

Isn’t that amazing?

In Colossians 2:14, the apostle Paul says that because of the what Christ accomplished on the cross, God canceled the “record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Our debt to God is wiped out—which is an amazing gift, if we’re willing to receive it?

What about you? Have you experienced the “soul-crushing weight of guilt” for your sins? If so, has this guilt led you to “experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God”?

Please believe me: That forgiveness is available to you right now!

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

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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 »