Posts Tagged ‘Brian Wilson’

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 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!

My Christmas playlist

December 26, 2013

Music plays an important role in all seasons of my life. This Advent/Christmas season has been no different. One highlight, for example, was singing and playing (on guitar) Christmas hymns and carols with a clergy colleague for our churches’ combined Men’s Club last week. Then, on Sunday, I played and sang when a few of us went caroling for my church’s shut-ins.

Thanks to YouTube, I’ll share with you a few unusual Christmas-themed songs that have been on my playlist this year.

The first is a traditional song that I fell in love with when I heard it on a Bob Dylan album. Since Dylan’s people at Sony are Scrooges about sharing his music for free online, I’ll link to this version by Paul Brady. It’s not really a Christmas song, except that it takes place on Christmas morning. Some British army officers are trying to recruit the Irish narrator and his cousin Arthur McBride.

To say the least, their efforts are unsuccessful.

The cousins refuse, politely at first. But Sgt. Napper persists. His sales pitch includes telling them that soldiers have fine clothes, beautiful wives, and money—including the signing bonus he’ll give the two right now if they’ll enlist.

Arthur, the spokesman, declines with this witty riposte.

“But,” says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes
For you’ve only the lend of them, as I suppose
But you’re dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do, you’ll be flogged in the morning…

“And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you’d have no scruples for to send us to France
Where we could get shot without warning”

As you’ll hear, violence ensues. But don’t worry: David beats Goliath.

This next song might be, as one YouTube commenter calls it, the “most depressing Christmas song ever,” but I’m not so sure. At least at Denny’s the narrator isn’t alone on Christmas—and, as he sings, the refills on coffee are always free. The song, “Christmas at Denny’s,” was written by a first-generation Christian-rocker named Randy Stonehill (from 1989, if memory serves). Sadly, no video exists of Stonehill’s performing it, but this is a good one.

When I was a boy I believed in Christmas
Miracle season to make a new start
I don’t need no miracle, sweet baby Jesus
Just help me find some kind of hope in my heart

Another melancholy song, this one from Joni Mitchell. “River” is about a break-up for which the narrator feels responsible. Listen to the tenderness in her voice when she sings, “I made my baby cry.” Christmas is a lousy time to be heartbroken, as everyone knows. She quotes “Jingle Bells” on her piano in a couple places, except in a plaintive minor key. No happy Christmas bells here.

Her album Blue, by the way, is perfect and beautiful—simply one of the greatest things ever committed to vinyl. I love it so intensely that I’m apt to pull an Arthur McBride if anyone says otherwise. Accept no version of the song other than Mitchell’s. When she sings, “I wish I had a river so long/ I would teach my feet to fly-y-y-y-y-y-y,” listen to her voice take off into the stratosphere. Are there actually people who don’t love her voice?

I’m so hard to handle
I’m selfish and I’m sad
Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
I wish I had a river I could skate away on

Finally, here’s a song that isn’t a Christmas song, but I dug it out of my collection of 45 RPM records last night and listened to it—I kid you not—14 times in a row. It’s from Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s self-titled solo album from 1988. (Click here to listen to this version.) Everybody hates the production of this album, which tries way too hard to make Wilson sound relevant to MTV audiences, but if you can hear past that, you’ll hear the man doing some of his best songwriting and vocal-arranging.

There isn’t much to the song, lyrically: three couplets, a refrain, with a “la-la-la” bridge. The world is broken, Wilson says in his typically child-like way, and it can only be healed by love and mercy. He and I both know where that kind of healing comes from.

He sells the sentiment with a gorgeous descending chord progression that reminds me of brother Dennis’s song “Forever.” As with some of his other great songs—”In My Room,” “Don’t Worry, Baby,” and “Time to Get Alone,” to name a few—he melts my heart.

I love this live version with a boy’s choir. By the way, how does Wilson’s voice sound better today than it did back in the ’70s? How did he reverse the years of damage? Getting off drugs helped, I’m sure… But still.