Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Presley’

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

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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 #3: “Good News! Prayer Is Not ‘Listening'”

January 15, 2018

It’s become a truism among many Christians that “listening for God” in prayer is at least as important as “talking to God” in prayer. But what if that’s not true? What if prayer doesn’t involve “listening” at all? If that’s the case, then prayer suddenly seems much easier, doesn’t it?

Of course listening to God speak to us is incredibly important, but the way we do that is not through prayer but through reading God’s Word.

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:9-13

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, January 15, and this is the third of my new series of devotional podcasts. My plan is to release new podcasts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—in addition to my sermons, which I’ll also post here. Speaking of which, I realize I’m already a week behind! It’s been a busy week! 

You’re listening to Elvis Presley, and his version of the Andraé Crouch song, “I’ve Got Confidence,” from his 1972 gospel album, He Touched Me.

I chose this song because I want us to have greater confidence when we pray. In fact, the theme of these first three podcasts is that prayer shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as we make it seem. As I’ve preached in my last two Sunday sermons, Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer—the model prayer which is meant to guide our own praying—in part to show us how easy prayer is meant to be! Listen to today’s scripture, Matthew 6:9-13:

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

For one thing, the Lord’s Prayer is short. That should reassure us that our prayers—even good prayers that follow the Lord’s prayer as a model—don’t need to be long prayers. What does Jesus say in Matthew 6:7-8? “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Among other things, Jesus is giving us permission to pray short prayers, as necessary.

Notice something else: Prayer, according to Jesus’ model prayer, is verbal communication that moves in one direction—from our hearts to God. It is one-way communication from us to God.

I emphasize this because it’s become almost a truism among many Christians to say that prayer is two-way communication; that prayer involves both our speaking and our listening. Haven’t you heard this before? I’m sure I’ve heard many times over the years from Christian teachers and preachers that our “listening” for God to speak to us is at least as important as our “talking” to God. Of course, these same teachers will tell us that we shouldn’t expect God to speak to us in an audible voice. God’s “voice” will seem more like an intuition—a thought, a warm feeling.

Haven’t you heard something like this? Where does this idea come from?

Yesterday morning, I asked on Facebook where in the Bible we get the idea that prayer involves “listening”? A seminary classmate of mine, who is now an Episcopal priest, quoted 1 Samuel 3:9: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

And that sounds great, until you look at that verse in context. In context, Samuel is so convinced that he’s heard an audible voice that three times he walks over to his mentor, Eli, the priest, and asks, “Here I am. You called me. What do you need?” And three times Eli tells him, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t call you.” Only then does it become clear that this voice—which sounds like an audible voice to Samuel—is the voice of God. And at that point, Samuel says to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

What do I conclude from this? As much as I would like for God to speak so directly to me—as much as I would like to hear God in an unmistakably audible voice, the way Samuel did—I don’t expect that to happen, and besides, this is light years removed from the subtle kinds of intuitions, thoughts, impressions, and feelings through which the modern-day mystics tell us we should expect to hear God.

Besides, we don’t need to hear God speak to us in this direct sort of way. Why? Because God has already spoken… in God’s infallible Word… in holy scripture. In fact, we have about 750,00 words that God has given us. If we want to listen for God to speak to us, we need to start there… by reading the Bible. Haven’t we all had the experience of facing some challenge in our life. And then we read something in the Bible that is exactly what we need to hear to help us with whatever we’re dealing with! That’s the main way God speaks to us!

Of course, some Christians would say that the only way God speaks to us today is through scripture; I’m not even willing to go that far. If God is sovereign, which he is, then that means he’s sovereign over our thoughts and feelings, and he may use them, providentially, to guide us. He may guide us through dreams and visions. He may guide us through the advice or prophetic word of other people. He may guide us through circumstances. I’m thinking, for instance, of Acts 16:6-7, in which Luke tells us that the Paul and Silas were prohibited by the Holy Spirit from preaching the gospel in two different regions. How exactly did the Spirit prohibit them? We’re not told, but it was likely through external circumstances. We usually call this providence. But this revelation or illumination or providential guidance on God’s part—call it whatever you want to—is not prayer, even though it may be God’s response to our prayer.

Regardless, whatever we believe God is telling us in these various ways does not rise to the same level of authority as God’s Word, nor should this message be considered nearly as trustworthy. So scripture is still by far the main way through which we “listen” for God to speak to us. And listening to God speak in this way is not prayer.

Why does it matter so much that prayer does not involve listening for God to speak? Why am I getting worked up about it? Because I am a frustrated pray-er, in part because I believed that for years, decades even, that prayer was partly or even mostly about “listening.” So for years when I prayed, I thought I was supposed to wait until I heard something from God, or felt an intuition, or got an impression, or experienced some warm sense of God’s presence inside me—and unless or until I did, I hadn’t prayed properly. I would get discouraged with prayer! “It isn’t working,” I’d tell myself. “I’m not doing it right!” It just made me want to give up—or at least not do it as often as I should. I would think, “I’m not spiritual enough to pray properly.”

Don’t be like me! Jesus is telling the truth! Prayer is not hard!

Besides, maybe all this “listening” for God to speak to us is just a way of reassuring ourselves that we’ve really been heard. As if we’re waiting for a sign from God that he’s listening. Why? Because we don’t really believe Jesus when he tells us what prayer consists of. Because we don’t believe how simple it really is. Because it’s not enough to simply talk to our Father and trust that he’s listening and he’ll respond. No, we need to hear back from him—to make sure he’s really listening; to make sure that he really cares; to make sure that he’s really there.

So maybe all this listening is disguising our own lack of faith? Hmm.

If so, I repent.

Sermon 12-24-15: “Peace among Those with Whom He Is Pleased”

December 25, 2015


According to the angels in Luke 2, the gospel of Jesus Christ promises peace to those who receive God’s gift of eternal life through Christ. This Christmas Eve sermon explores reasons why we often fail to experience more of this peace right now.

Sermon Text: Luke 2:1-20

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Talk about having a bad day at work, did you hear about Steve Harvey’s “bad day at work” last Saturday night hosting the Miss Universe pageant? Let me preface this by saying that as someone who makes a living, in part, by standing in front of people talking, I am nothing but sympathetic with Harvey, who is otherwise a very gifted speaker and entertainer. Mistakes happen. But oh my goodness…

In case you didn’t hear, after Harvey announced the second runner-up, Miss USA, it came down to the final two contestants—Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines. And the winner, he said, was Miss Colombia. So the music started playing, the crown was placed on her head, she walked around the stage, waving at the cheering crowd. Then, suddenly, after what seemed like at least two or three minutes, Harvey comes back out, and says he messed up. He read the wrong name… It turns out Miss Colombia was the first runner-up. The true winner, the true Miss Universe, was Miss Philippines. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 04-27-14: “If the Lord Wills”

May 3, 2014


“God is in control.” We hear this so often that it’s become a cliché. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And if it’s true, it ought to make a difference in our lives—especially when it comes to the problem of worry. [Please note: the last five minutes of the sermon video are missing—my iPhone battery died. 😦 ]

Sermon Text: James 4:13-17

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

As a nation we recently marked a terrible anniversary: On April 15, 2013, terrorists detonated a couple of homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, which killed three and injured 260 others. The New York Times profiled some of the survivors about how they’re coping. There was a lot of sadness, anger, and fear—understandably. But there was another emotion present among at least a few of the survivors they interviewed: gratitude. One of those was a bystander near the finish line, a lawyer named Katie Carmona, had this to say:

It was such a terrible tragedy that sometimes I feel guilty because it was a blessing for me. It made my life more rich, more full. I learned how to appreciate living in the moment. And I learned not to worry and stress about things as much. I don’t let work bother me. I don’t let piddling money issues bother me. It was not even a conscious effort on my part. It just changed my attitude.”

Did you catch that? Katie feels guilty because the experience ended up being a blessing to her. But see, if the experience was a blessing, that means that Someone is doing the blessing. And of course that Someone is God.

God is able to bless someone like Katie, even in the midst of the terrible evil and suffering, because God is in control.

Read the rest of this entry »