Posts Tagged ‘John Piper’

The foundation of fearlessness

December 6, 2018

Classic Christian theology teaches the following: At this very moment, God sustains the universe and everything in it into existence. This means that everyone and everything in the universe depends on God for their ongoing existence. Nothing currently exists apart from the active role that God is playing right now in giving it existence. To say the least, every heartbeat that we presently enjoy, we enjoy because God is giving it to us. Every breath we take, we take because God is permitting us to do so. If God refused to sustain our lives, we wouldn’t merely die; we would disintegrate. The atoms that compose our bodies would vanish.

Even the physical laws of the universe—which appear to us as a given state of affairs—cannot govern time, space, and matter apart from God’s enabling them to do so at every moment. Ultimately, physical objects in the universe do not operate according to laws, but to the very hand of God.

If anything, Jesus speaks with great modesty when he offers us these reassuring words about God’s sovereignty from Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Paul and the author of Hebrews paint a fuller picture of Christ’s sustaining role (emphasis mine):

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3a).

The only proper response to these words about God’s sustaining power is awe. But pastor Tim Keller brings them down to earth for us. In his book Hidden Christmas, he describes the level of faith that God asked of Mary when she spoke those astonishing words of surrender, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

The woman who spoke [at the conference] said, “If the distance between the Earth and the sun—ninety-three million miles—was no more than the thickness of a sheet of paper, then the distance from the Earth to the nearest star would be a stack of papers seventy feet high; the diameter of the Milky Way would be a stack of paper over three hundred miles high. Keep in mind that there are more galaxies in the universe than we can number. There are more, it seems, than dust specks in the air or grains of sand on the seashores. Now, if Jesus Christ holds all this together with just a word of his power (Hebrews 1:3)—is he the kind person you ask into your life to be your assistant?” That simple logic shattered my resistance to doing what Mary did. Yes, if he really is like that, how can I treat him as a consultant rather than as Supreme Lord?[1]

Indeed.

This morning I meditated on the following words from Psalm 3, which David wrote, we’re told, when he and his royal entourage were fleeing Jerusalem, after his son Absalom led an insurrection to overthrow his kingdom:

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around (Psalm 3:5-6).

There’s that word again: sustained. And it is on the basis of God’s sustaining power over our lives that we can be fearless. Why? Because God is giving us the life that we currently enjoy for a purpose—or purposes. And until those purposes are fulfilled (as pastor John Piper said in a different context), we are literally immortal. We are unkillable. Even if “many thousands” of men or devils are plotting against us, literally no one or nothing has the power to harm us.

Our Lord Jesus, who at this moment is holding your life together—along with the rest of universe(!)—will protect you until the moment that he has decided to bring you safely into his presence through death—an enemy that he’s already disarmed for us who belong to him.

1. Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas (New York: Viking, 2016), 91-2.

It’s O.K. to pursue personal happiness in God. In fact it’s required

December 5, 2018

I know I’m late to the party, but I am persuaded that John Piper is right about so-called “Christian hedonism”: that God is most glorified in us (n.b. we exist to glorify God) when we are most satisfied in him.”

Only Piper, perhaps, had the audacity to give this biblical truth a name—an intentionally provocative one at that—but it’s not like I haven’t read or heard about the concept in the work of others. For instance, on PZ’s Podcast, whenever my hero Paul Zahl compares God’s love to the songs by Journey (“the greatest rock band”), he’s really talking about Christian hedonism. We ought to find our greatest joy in Jesus Christ. 

Did you hear that, Brent? You ought to find the greatest joy in Jesus Christ. Being a Christian is supposed to make you happy. Full stop. For as long as God gives you life in this world, he intends for you to be fully satisfied in him. And then get heaven when you die!

But, but, but… This sounds like self-interest. Yes, it does. Because it is. And that’s O.K.

We Christians are like the Prodigal Son. Why does he return home? Is it because, more than anything, he feels sorry for the emotional and financial harm he caused his father and brother and wants to make it up to them as best he can? Hardly! While his sorrow may have played a secondary role in his repentance, the primary reason he repents and returns home is that he’s starving. “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!” (Luke 15:17)

We are also like the Samaritan woman at the well. When you consider her impact on her town, she might be the most successful evangelist in history:

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him…

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:29-30, 39-42).

What motivates her to serve Jesus in this way—if “serve” is even the right word? (Note by contrast our reluctance to speak a word of witness about our faith!) It is nothing other than joy, which results from her having found in Christ a “spring of water welling up to eternal life,” such that she will “never be thirsty again” (John 4:14).

To say the least, her joy—her happiness, her satisfaction in Christ—comes first. Before she “left her water jar and went away into town” (John 4:28), she experienced joy.

We present-day Christians often get it backwards. The message we often hear from pulpits and best-selling Christian authors is, in so many words, first, “leave your water jar and go into town” and then you’ll find your happiness. Or worse: Maybe you won’t find happiness at all, but that’s tough. Living the Christian life is about gritting your teeth and getting to work.

This is why “serving” Jesus should not be the primary metaphor for the good work we do for Jesus. Before anything else, as Piper likes to say, the gospel is not a “help wanted” sign; it’s a “help available” sign. And everyone needs that help at all times.

I often hear Christians say that they’re “blessed to be a blessing,” and I might agree with the sentiment, depending on what they mean. Do they mean, “God fills me first with such joy and satisfaction in his Son Jesus that it’s my pleasure to go out and bless others. Indeed, when I do bless others, I experience even more of Jesus, so that makes me even happier”? In which case I agree!

Or do they mean, “God has equipped me with these blessings in life—like money, health, and time—as a means to an end: in order to give myself away in service to others, such that pursuing my own personal happiness in life is misguided, sinful, and selfish.”  If that’s what they mean by “blessed to be a blessing,” I can’t agree.

Because in my experience, “being a blessing” in this way—as an end in itself—can never fill up my tank. I don’t want to do “service” in that way. Besides, when I do, I’ll only be filled with resentment. Don’t get me wrong: I can “white-knuckle” my way through service to Jesus with the best of them; I can fake people out; but Jesus, as always, sees my heart. I’m never faking him out.

Surely there’s a better way!

And there is! Whatever good work I do, I do because it makes me happy. Because Jesus makes me happy. Because drinking from his living water and eating from his “bread of life” satisfies my deepest longing. He intends for it to do so.

Jesus himself points to this truth in John 4:32 and 34, after his disciples wonder why Jesus suddenly isn’t hungry, even though it’s long past dinner time, and he hasn’t eaten yet: “But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ … My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

Let’s imagine that this “food” to which Jesus refers is food that he wants to eat. It’s steak, in other words—not broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Is Jesus not helping himself (because who doesn’t want steak when you’re hungry) as he is also, at the same time, accomplishing God’s will?

Imagine being so happy in our heavenly Father—so nourished spiritually—that you can be completely satisfied in God even with a growling stomach! Jesus reminded us earlier that “man doesn’t live by bread alone”; here he lives it out.

Please don’t misunderstand: Notice I said above that being a blessing “as an end in itself” is a problem for me. Like the Samaritan woman, it isn’t a desire to “serve” or “be a blessing” that motivated her to witness to her fellow townspeople. It was the satisfaction of her soul’s deepest longing that she finds in Christ. Apart from this—if my experience as a failed evangelist is any guide—it’s unlikely that she’d find the courage or energy to do what she does. (After all, I can safely say that for the vast majority of us Christians, whatever currently motivates us to “witness using words” isn’t working. Right? Imagine doing it, first, because it makes us happy.)

This morning I was reading Zechariah, who prophesied in the time of the exiles’ return from Babylon, when the temple in Jerusalem was being rebuilt. In this passage of hope, the prophet writes the following:

But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as in the former days, declares the Lord of hosts. For there shall be a sowing of peace. The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things. And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong (Zechariah 8:11-13).

“You shall be a blessing,” he writes, by which he’s referring to the blessing of salvation for the world that God promised to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. God’s people Israel, he says, will now resume their role in the mission for which God created this nation in the first place: to bear witness to God and point to the forgiveness of sin that’s available through Israel’s Messiah Jesus. We are continuing this mission as the church—the Great Commission—although we do so now with the full revelation of God’s Son and his gospel.

But before we get to the mission… The vine shall give its fruit, and the ground shall give its produce, and the heavens shall give their dew. And I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” As I wrote in my journaling Bible this morning:

However these blessings from God manifest themselves in our lives today—as God’s people today—they are the wellspring from which mission flows. This was certainly true of the Samaritan woman at the well; surely it’s true for us! Our “blessing” of others—our mission to others—springs from a heart that finds its ultimate satisfaction in Jesus. We are blessed… then we bless others. The blessing comes first. If we try to reverse the order, we will find that living a Christian life is exhausting.

Living with a “wartime mindset”

August 10, 2018

Pastor John Piper understands how high the stakes are.

In my previous podcast episode, I talked about the inadequacy of most Christians’ efforts (including my own) to witness. I said that all Christians are ministers who are called to this task, as evidenced by the Great Commission that Christ gave to his Church.

Yet I’m sure that some listeners thought, “Yes, but I’m not bold enough to witness: I couldn’t do what the woman on the subway train in Manhattan did, for instance [not that I think I could, either]; I couldn’t muster the courage to give a Bible to an unsuspecting stranger (much less a celebrity who’s openly hostile to Christianity), as in the Penn Jillette story. The very prospect fills me with fear. I’m an introvert, after all. I’m too shy! I’ll have to leave witnessing to people who have a gift for it.”

Other listeners likely fear that certain techniques for witnessing risk “turning people off” to the gospel. (One point I made in the podcast, however, is that the gospel will turn many people off, no matter how well or poorly we present it.) Other listeners disagree with any self-conscious technique or effort to evangelize. They believe that we should follow the prompting of the Spirit and let opportunities for witnessing flow organically. Any ulterior motive to share the gospel with someone, rather than enjoy a relationship on its own terms, spoils the effort.

While I would argue against these objections, that’s not my point today… My point is, even if you disagree with something I said in my podcast, I hope we can agree on this: We live in a world in which the vast majority of people (judging only by objective demographic surveys) need Jesus and the gift of eternal life that’s available through him. Moreover, we have a deadly Enemy, Satan and his demonic forces, working to thwart even our most well-intentioned efforts to convince people of the truth of the gospel. We are at war, as Paul says in Ephesians 6, the stakes of which are higher than any merely human war.

So I’ll grant that, for any number of reasons, you may feel unqualified to witness. Fine… Given that nothing less than heaven or hell hangs in the balance, however, let’s figure out what you can do to reach lost people with the gospel: First, if you’re a parent, consider the lives of your children your most important mission field and respond accordingly: You are constantly “witnessing” to them, whether you know it or not. They are learning from you every moment about who Jesus is and how important he is to you. Your example will have a far greater influence on how they’ll spend eternity than anything they learn at church. You have an awesome responsibility! Don’t take it lightly.

What else can you do (whether you’re a parent or not)? Pray for people you know and love who aren’t yet in a saving relationship with God through Christ. Pray that God would send someone to reach them with the gospel and convert them, even if it’s not you. (Have you noticed, for example, that “prayer request” time at church focuses inordinately on loved ones who are physically sick. How often does someone ask for prayer for a loved one’s soul? Where are our priorities?)

Pray for the Holy Spirit to empower your church to be bold and successful in evangelism—not just “sheep-stealing,” which is what counts as evangelism in most churches. On that note, stop worrying about “growing the church” and worry instead about making disciples. Invite unbelieving or lightly committed Christian friends, neighbors, and co-workers to church. Support and encourage your church in its evangelism efforts. Give more money and volunteer more time for the cause of Christ in your church and world. Live in such a way that people outside the faith notice that you treasure your relationship with Christ above all earthly treasures. Pray for revival in your church. Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Pray especially for your pastor or pastors as they seek to be faithful to their call!

In fact, you and I should live with what pastor John Piper calls a “wartime lifestyle”:

The phrase is helpful… It tells me that there is a war going on in the world between Christ and Satan, truth and falsehood, belief and unbelief. It tells me that there are weapons to be funded and used, but that these weapons are not swords or guns or bombs but the Gospel and prayer and self-sacrificing love (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). And it tells me that the stakes of this conflict are higher than any war in history; they are eternal and infinite: heaven or hell, eternal joy or eternal torment (Matthew 25:46).

I need to hear this message again and again, because I drift into a peacetime mind-set as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call the earth “home.” Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached peoples drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mindset that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.[1]

That second paragraph, especially, convicts me. “I drift into a peacetime mind-set… I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing.” Instead, I worry about worship attendance; I fret over the already-saved leaving for another church (and taking their tithe with them); I’m too easily satisfied with “church growth,” which relates to marketing and sales, rather than making disciples.

But no longer… Lord, help me live with a wartime mindset. Place people in my lives who will hold me accountable to live this way. Amen.

1. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009),111-2.

Devotional Podcast #18: “Don’t Settle for Christian Mediocrity”

March 2, 2018

In this podcast, I talk about, among other things, Billy Graham. What we admired most about Graham was not his ability to fill stadiums, to convert thousands in one fell swoop, and to be a chaplain to presidents and royalty. No—what we admired most was his integrity… his character. In Graham, what you saw was what you got: a man who sincerely loved the Lord, who trusted in his Word, and who wanted everyone else in the world to do the same.

Does this describe us? If not, why not? Do we doubt that God has a plan for our lives? Do we doubt that we have the same Holy Spirit working through us that Graham had?

Devotional Text: Genesis 28:10-22

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

Hi, This is Brent White! It’s Friday, March 2, and this is podcast number 18.

You’re listening to the band Blondie and their 1979 hit “Dreaming,” from their album Eat to the Beat.

I’m playing this song because today’s scripture, Genesis 28:10-22, is all about dreaming—specifically, a dream that Jacob had when he was on the run from his murderous brother, Esau. He was on the run from him he tricked Esau out of his inheritance and, a little later, his father’s blessing. So Esau is understandably angry. He vows to kill Jacob as soon as his father dies and the period of grieving is over. Rebecca learns of Esau’s intentions and sends Jacob, her favorite son, to live with her brother Laban, in whom—as you’ll see if you read the next several chapters—Jacob fully meets his match, at least in terms of cheating and deceiving.

What a family! You’ve got to admire the way the Bible tells the unvarnished truth about its heroes!
Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Sermon 12-10-17: “Treasuring God and His Word”

January 3, 2018

In this sermon, for the Second Sunday in Advent, I contrast Mary’s response to Gabriel with Zechariah’s response. When it comes to treasuring God and his Word, are we more like Mary or Zechariah?

Sermon Text: Luke 1:26-38

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Recall last week that after Gabriel tells Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, are going to have a child, Zechariah asks, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”[1] He doubts Gabriel’s message. And what happens next? The angel zaps him! He makes him mute—and as we can infer from verse 62 later in the chapter, deaf as well. For the next nine months, until his son is born, Zechariah is unable to hear or speak.

Of course, Gabriel is only acting on God’s behalf. So it’s not that the angel did it so much as God did it. God punished or disciplined Zechariah.

What do we make of this?

Just last week, in the New York Times, Billy Bush wrote a personal essay about his experience being fired by NBC News this time last year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can google Billy Bush. I’m not getting into it! All you need to know is that Bush—a member of the political dynasty—was a rising star at NBC News before he got in trouble. And he got fired.

But I bring it up because I found the last two paragraphs of his essay deeply moving. He wrote:

On a personal note, this last year has been an odyssey, the likes of which I hope to never face again: anger, anxiety, betrayal, humiliation, many selfish but, I hope, understandable emotions. But these have given way to light, both spiritual and intellectual. It’s been fortifying.

I know that I don’t need the accouterments of fame to know God and be happy. After everything over the last year, I think I’m a better man and father to my three teenage daughters—far from perfect, but better.[2]

As a fellow sinner saved by God’s grace alone, I can only say a hearty “Amen.” What I hear in Bush’s words, first, is an acknowledgment of the destructive, insidious power of sin—but in the same breath I hear the grace of repentance and the mercy of God’s discipline.

That’s right… I said “mercy.” God’s discipline of Billy Bush was merciful. Read the rest of this entry »

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 19: “The Light Shines in Darkness”

December 21, 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: John 1:1-5

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s December 21, 2017, and this is Day 19 of my series of Advent podcasts. You’re listening to the band Jethro Tull, and a song they wrote and recorded about—well… this very day: December 21, the winter solstice. This song, “Ring Out, Solstice Bells,” comes from the band’s 1977 album Songs from the Wood.

My scripture today is John 1:1-5, which I’ll read now:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Do you remember that scene in Back to the Future when Doc Brown is introducing Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox’s character, to the wonders of his time-traveling DeLorean? Brown shows McFly an LED-based instrument built into the car’s dashboard and explains that you simply enter any date in the past that you want to travel back to and—voila!—that’s where you’ll end up. 

At one point he tells Marty, “We can go back and witness the birth of Jesus Christ.” And then you see Doc Brown punch in the date December 25 of the year “0000.”

And at this point, many people in the audience groaned. For two reasons. First, there wasn’t a year “0.” According to the calendar that the church created, which divides history between the time before Christ and the time after Christ was born, the calendar changed from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1.

And the second reason some people watching Back to the Future groaned is because Jesus wasn’t born on December 25—or I should say, there’s about a 1 in 365 chance that he was born on December 25! If you’ll recall a podcast I did last week, my amateur astronomer friend believed that Jesus was born some time in April.

But the Church chose the date of December 25 to celebrate Christ’s birth for an important reason: Under the old Julian calendar, it marked the winter solstice, the so-called “longest night of the year”—or, put the other way, the day with the least amount of sunlight. Just think: for the next six months, each day will be marked by progressively more daylight.

And in ancient times long before the birth of Christ, people attached religious significance to this day—thanking their god or gods that the solstice marked the “end of gloom and darkness and the victory of the sun and the light over the darkness.”[1] Because of this pagan association with the solstice, even some Christians today have misgivings about celebrating Christmas.

I certainly don’t share these misgivings. Even if under the old calendar December 25 was a pagan holiday, I would say that the day has been redeemed—like so many other things, including our very lives—by Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Read the rest of this entry »

Whatever we’re thankful for is paid for by the blood of Christ

November 17, 2017

I wrote the following for my church’s weekly electronic newsletter. This insight comes from John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 51-54.

Paul writes the following, in Romans 2:4-5:

[D]o you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

One of the things that we’ll be celebrating on Thanksgiving next week is what Paul calls the “riches of [God’s] kindness.” But consider Paul’s words above: We are living right now in a season of mercy, the purpose of which is to lead us to repentance.

Paul’s point is something like this: God gives us one amazing gift after another–our lives, our families, our friends, our health, our possessions. And God does so in spite of the fact that we’re sinners who, according to God’s Word, deserve only death, judgment, and hell. When we consider how kind and merciful God is to us, our hearts should melt. As a result, we should repent and be saved.

But notice what happens if we don’t repent: We are “presuming on” God’s riches and “storing up wrath” for ourselves on Judgment Day.

The only thing that saves us from this wrath is the blood of God’s Son Jesus.

Therefore, those of us who are Christians ought to remind ourselves that every gift that God gives us is paid for by the precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The gift of my wife or husband is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gift of my children is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gift of this warm, safe home is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gift of this delicious meal is paid for by the blood of Jesus. The gifts of love, laughter, and friendship are paid for by the blood of Jesus.

Remind yourself of this truth next Thursday. Let it melt your heart. And be thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sermon 11-12-17: “Being Thankful in a World of Evil”

November 15, 2017

Last week, in the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting, more than a few tweets called into question the effectiveness of prayer. What good is prayer when these kinds of massacres become routine? After all, the victims were already praying when they were shot. What good is faith if God doesn’t seem to intervene? This sermon is, I hope, a Christian response to these kinds of questions.

Sermon Text: Philippians 2:1-11

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Last Sunday, around the time that we were gathered here at 11:00 for worship, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ were gathered at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, when a gunman, armed with a Ruger military style rifle, walked into the church and fired his weapon. Within minutes, 26 of our brothers and sisters, ranging in age from 5 to 72, including eight children, were dead. Another child, by the way, named Carlin Brite Holcombe, hadn’t yet been born when he and his mother, Crystal Holcombe, were killed.

They were not so different from us… Small town, like Hampton. In church worshiping, singing hymns. Praying. The pastor of the church and some of his family happened to be out of town that day. A guest preacher was filling in. This guest preacher and his family died. But one of the poignant details that stood out to me was this: the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter—who didn’t go out of town with her father—chose to go to church. Because, after all, that’s what Christians do on Sundays; that’s what her mother and father raised her to do; that’s what she wanted to do; because she loved Jesus, and people who love Jesus go to worship on Sunday. So that’s where she was when she was killed.

A day or two after the shooting, we Americans were arguing, as we always do in the wake of these tragedies, about gun control on the one hand and second amendment rights on the other—and I promise I have no interest in discussing these questions. But it was in this political context that Michael McKean, a talented actor and comedian whom I admire, tweeted a controversial message. He was apparently disappointed that so many politicians, including President Trump, urged Americans to pray for the victims of Sutherland Springs—while taking no further action. So he tweeted, “They were in church. They had the prayers shot right out of them. Maybe try something else.”

They had the prayers shot right out of them. A lot of people found these words insensitive, to say the least. He later retracted it, saying he didn’t at all mean to attack people’s faith. Read the rest of this entry »