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
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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. 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.”
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.”
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?