Posts Tagged ‘Georgia Institute of Technology’

Devotional Podcast #28: “Fools for the Gospel”

August 7, 2018

Today’s episode tackles a difficult but important truth: There is no way to obey Christ and bear witness to him and his gospel without being perceived as foolish by many people—that is, if we’re doing it right. This was true for the apostle Paul; it’s true for us. So let’s “lean into” this truth for a change and see what happens.

Devotional Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, August 6, 2018, and this is episode number 28 in my ongoing series of devotional podcasts. You’re listening right now to “Words of Love,” written and recorded by Buddy Holly in 1957 in all its double-tracked, analog glory. By contrast, give people an infinite number of digital tracks today, and they can’t create something that sounds nearly this good! Just wonderful! Anyway, you may be more familiar with the Beatles’ 1964 cover version from the album Beatles for Sale or the long-forgotten American LP Beatles VI. But I recorded Holly’s version directly from his 1978 greatest-hits album Buddy Holly Lives, also known as 20 Golden Greats.

But this song is today’s theme because I’m talking about “words of love” in the context of something that many of us contemporary Christians don’t like doing: that is, witnessing or the dreaded “E-word,” evangelism—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others; telling others about Jesus and what he’s done for us, and what he means to us. We witness in many different ways, but at some point we have to do so using words. And in general Christians would rather receive a root canal than to witness with words. Yet the Lord himself has commanded us to do this important work: “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

And perhaps you object: “Yes, but Jesus was directing these words to his twelve (or eleven but soon to be twelve) apostles. They followed this command, and here we are today. They no longer apply to us!” But that interpretation can’t be right: Because notice he says, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We haven’t reached the “end of the age” yet, therefore, he must have also been directing these words to his disciples up to and including those who will be alive when then end of the age happens. Right? That includes us! Moreover, when he gives the equivalent Great Commission in Acts 1—“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”—we know that even today we haven’t yet reached the “end of the earth” with the gospel. There remain in 2018 places that are yet unreached with the gospel, much less toward the end of the first century. So Jesus’ words weren’t merely for that first generation of apostles, but for all disciples until the end of the age and until the gospel message has reached the end of the earth.

As for another objection—“Yes, but the Great Commission isn’t for just anyone; it’s for ministers… like you, pastor Brent, not for me. I don’t have the gift of evangelism.” My first response to that is that we’re all ministers, whether we’re ordained or not. Philip, for example, in Acts 9, wasn’t a credentialed apostle; yet through his witness the gospel reached Ethiopia. Not to mention one of the most successful evangelists in all of scripture: the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, through whose witness an entire village was saved! The only qualification, as far as I can see, for doing successful evangelistic work is having had a life-saving, soul-saving encounter with Jesus Christ. 

So… Are you a Christian? Are you born again? Then that means you’ve been given the Holy Spirit. So of course you can be a witness! Moreover, if you happen to be a United Methodist, when you joined the church you promised God that you would be a witness for Christ.

How are you doing at that? Read the rest of this entry »

The best gift anyone has ever given me

June 27, 2018

Last week was an emotionally heavy week, for several reasons. I’ll talk about one of those reasons in today’s post.

I’m an itinerant United Methodist pastor, and this year it was my turn to move. I said goodbye to beloved brothers and sisters in Christ—and friends—to whom I’ve given much of life over these past five years. After I preached my farewell sermon, on Acts 20:17-27, the church presented the following video tribute as a parting gift to me. It’s the best gift anyone has ever given me!

In addition to heartfelt tributes from many of my parishioners, two of my heroes in the faith—genuine heroes—contributed to the video: N.T. Wright and Paul Zahl.

As longtime readers of the blog may guess, Wright, more than any living person, is responsible for what I’ve called my “evangelical re-conversion,” an experience that began around the time I started this blog in 2009 (even if it took another year or so to complete).

Wright, a retired bishop of Durham in the Church of England, is a world-renowned New Testament scholar—not to mention, for what it’s worth, the most famous. How many Bible scholars, after all, were able to match wits with Stephen Colbert on his old Comedy Central show, for instance?

But it was Wright’s massive book The Resurrection of the Son of God that turned my life around. Here was Wright, an evangelical who has spent his long career within the world of mainline, critical scholarship—a world in which I was immersed for three years in seminary—offering an energetic defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, along with the scriptures that bear witness to it. His writing gave me a greater confidence in the authority of scripture at a time in my life when I needed it. He also helped me understand how seamlessly the gospel fits within the story of Israel and the Old Testament.

His writing affirmed for me classic doctrines of faith that were minimized or neglected in seminary—such as penal substitutionary atonement, Final Judgment and hell, a literal Second Coming, and the infallibility of scripture—if not without much nuance and qualification. Still, Wright’s qualifications never come from a place of skepticism about the reliability of scripture, only his effort to be more faithful to it. How can I not respect that?

So I love Wright and owe him a debt of gratitude. God used him to make me a more faithful follower of Jesus today—which is to say, a happier, more joy-filled person. And here he is, from his home near St. Andrews in Scotland, congratulating me on my new appointment!

My other hero of faith in the video is Paul Zahl, a retired Episcopal minister and theologian. For the past four years, the Very Rev. Dr. Zahl has been “living in my head” through his preaching, his writing, and (especially) his podcasts. More than anything, Zahl helped me fall in love with Jesus again. (As you hear in the video, this has been a theme of my recent preaching—not a coincidence.) He did so by enabling me to reconnect with a part of myself I lost too many years ago: that gawky 15-year-old who once wore the cover off his 1984 NIV Study Bible. “To find God,” Zahl said—paraphrasing Meister Eckhart—“you have to go back to where you lost him.” Or, put another way, to make sense of your life, you have to go back to that point in time—for me, around age 19 or 20—at which life stopped making sense. Truer words! And his reflections on those words in one of his podcasts—drawing on both Citizen Kane and the great Burton Cummings of the Guess Who—changed my life! Only Zahl could say, without irony, that if you want to understand what God’s love is like, “You need to listen to more Journey.” Indeed!

That these two men—who’ve helped shape me into the pastor and person that I am today—were part of this tribute moved me deeply!

And for good measure, because of my abiding and long-suffering affection for my alma mater, Georgia Tech, and my beloved Yellow Jackets, head basketball coach Josh Pastner offers his well-wishes.

(Special thanks to my friend and brother Matthew Chitwood for reaching out to all these people and putting this video together.)

Is it selfish to complain? Only if it’s also selfish to be happy

December 15, 2014
My son Townshend and I enjoyed this recent Georgia Tech victory, over Clemson.

My son Townshend and I enjoyed this recent Georgia Tech victory over Clemson.

I’m almost embarrassed to say how happy I was a couple of weeks ago when my beloved alma mater, the Georgia Institute of Technology, defeated its in-state SEC rival to win the Governor’s Cup. I say I’m almost embarrassed because of course it’s unwise to let a group of 18-22 year-olds affect my happiness to such a great extent. So the voice of reason within said, “Act like you’ve done it before, Brent.” And we have done it before, although our current losing streak had been five years.

Still, the next day at church I disappointed a few Tech fans who wanted me to gloat. But it’s not my style. Act like you’ve done it before, Brent.

Happiness from sports is a zero-sum game. One team’s happiness from winning always comes at the expense of the other team’s misery from losing. Since we Tech fans, unfortunately, are much smaller in number than University of Georgia fans, our team’s victory in this game inflicts a disproportionate amount of pain on our state. Not that I mind!

Predictably, this pain was reflected in my Facebook feed that afternoon. One clergy acquaintance posted that he was tempted to complain about so many things regarding his team’s performance and the coaching decisions but decided not to—which is probably for the best. But I gently disagreed with the reason he gave for not complaining: all the “real” suffering in the world, from ISIS’s campaign of terror against Christians to parents in his church who are grieving the death of a child.

I replied, “Yes, but by that standard what right do any of us ever have to complain about anything?” Football is trivial relative to the scale of suffering in the world—as are most things that occupy our time and give meaning to our lives. Yet, my clergy friend and I both spend money on our respective teams’ games and merchandise. Why do we do that when that same money could go to help relieve suffering in the world? Why do we even spend time watching football games when we could more productively spend that time working for justice in the world?

Do you see the problem with my friend’s logic?

If we can’t complain about “little things”—for the sake of what other people are dealing with—then we can’t complain, period. Because no matter what we’re going through on a particular day, there are always at least tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are going through something much worse.

Moreover, if we can’t complain about little things then, by all means, we can’t let ourselves be happy with little things, either! For example, how can we be happy with presents that we receive on Christmas Day when so many people around the world have nothing, or next to it? How is our happiness not selfish? How can any of us be happy until God finally balances the scales of justice in Final Judgment?

Obviously this is not a Christian disposition. For one thing, God’s Word is filled with righteous complaining and complainers. God seems O.K. with that, even as he also tells us repeatedly and emphatically to rejoice in all circumstances—no matter how favorable or unfavorable, how significant or insignificant.

God gives us gifts—even like football, which I’ve blogged and preached about before—and he wants us to enjoy them.