Posts Tagged ‘The Beatles’

Devotional Podcast #29: “Death & the Gospel According to the Beatles”

August 29, 2018

In this episode I challenge us Christians to ask ourselves which gospel we believe: the gospel according the Beatles or the gospel according to Jesus. Don’t answer too quickly! We all know what the “correct” answer is… but what does our heart say?

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:19-21

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Tuesday, August 28, 2018, and this is episode number 29 in my ongoing series of devotional podcasts. You’re listening right now to a song called “Girl,” by the Beatles, which I recorded directly from their 1965 LP Rubber Soul, on Capitol Records.

“Girl” is one of the best Beatles songs from one of their best albums, which means it’s a pretty darn good song! I played a longer portion of the song to introduce this episode than I normally do in these podcasts because I needed to get to the song’s third verse! Listen to these words about the eponymous “girl” to whom the song is directed:

Was she told when she was young
That pain would lead to pleasure?
Did she understand it when they said
That a man must break his back
To earn his day of leisure?
Will she still believe it when he’s dead?

John Lennon told Rolling Stone magazine in a 1970 interview that this verse is an attack on the Christian idea that suffering can be good, necessary, and redemptive—that “pain would lead to pleasure,” as the song says—indeed, that living a faithful Christian life is a life of self-denial, but this self-denial is worth it because it leads, ultimately, to lasting happiness and joy—in heaven if not before. As Jesus himself said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”[1]

Did the girl in the song grow up believing this—back when she was young and naive; back when her parents made her go to Sunday school; back before she had a mind of her own or could think for herself? If so, the song says, don’t believe it anymore! It’s not true! 

From the singer’s perspective, pain never leads to pleasure; it’s never good or necessary; pain is an enemy that disrupts or interrupts or otherwise distracts you from living “your best life now”; and death is the greatest enemy of all! The sooner the girl realizes this, the better. 

Besides, from the singer’s perspective, the girl will realize it eventually—when the worst thing happens to her. And the worst thing in the case of the song is the death of this unidentified man—perhaps her father—who obviously believed in Jesus, who “broke his back to earn his day of leisure”—who’s now dead. 

“Will she still believe it when he’s dead?” the singer cynically asks. The answer: “No… no, she won’t.” Whatever comforting Christian convictions, or principles, or—worse—platitudes she grew up with will come crashing down in the light of the harsh, cold reality of death. And when they come crashing down, well… she’ll realize that she needs to live for herself and not for others—and certainly not for God.

So the song is a cautionary tale: you’re going to die some day, too, dear listener… just like this man that the girl loved. Except… here’s the good news: it’s not too late for you to avoid the mistake that he made. You don’t have to end up like him; you don’t have to miss out on life the way he did! 

So… repent while there’s still time, the song says. Turn away from faith in God; turn to yourself; turn to pleasure; turn to getting as much out of life as you can while there’s still time. Read the rest of this entry »

Devotional Podcast #7: “When the Agony of Defeat Isn’t as Agonizing”

January 24, 2018

In this episode, I talk about the upcoming Super Bowl, and what we can learn about God from the Eagles’ inevitable defeat… Just kidding! Like nearly every American outside of New England, I’ll be rooting for the Eagles!

This podcast features the Beatles’ “I’m a Loser,” which I recorded from their December 1964 Capitol album, Beatles ’65. (Yes, I know it originates on the UK album Beatles for Sale.)

Devotional Text: Genesis 50:20

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Wednesday, January 24, and this is Devotional Podcast number 7. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I will release a new episode on this podcast channel, in addition to the sermons that I also post here.

You’re listening to the Beatles and their song “I’m a Loser,” which I recorded from their December 1964 album on Capitol Records, Beatles ’65. British people or Americans who came of age after the CD era will know that the song originated on the Beatles’ UK album Beatles for Sale.

Well, Super Bowl season is upon us. The game is set. And once again, for better or worse, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have made it to the big game. This means that, come February 4, out of a population of 320 million Americans, about 315 million of them will be die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans! Those of us living in Atlanta will be donning green and silver, that’s for sure!

Almost as inevitable as a Patriots victory is the likelihood that at some point—during the game, on the field, or after the game in interviews—a star player will do or say something to  acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the reason for his or his team’s success, and that Christ deserves all the thanks and praise.

Years ago, when I was going through a season of doubt in my life—long since past, I’m happy to report—this behavior used to annoy me: I thought, “Sure, It’s easy for this guy to thank Jesus… His team won! Would he be thanking Jesus if his team didn’t win?”

Now that I know better, I hope I can speak for Christian athletes everywhere when I say that, yes, by all means, win or lose, we always, always, always have reasons to thank Jesus!

If you look in your Bibles at Genesis chapters 37 through 50, you’ll read about a man named Joseph. Joseph was the favorite son of his father Jacob. Remember: Joseph was the one for whom his father made him the “coat of many colors”—and his older brothers were insanely jealous of their little brother. At first they wanted to kill him, but cooler heads prevailed. So they sold him into slavery in Egypt instead. But that’s just the beginning of Joseph’s troubles! Over the course of decades, Joseph suffers a lot. Until finally, he rises through the ranks and becomes, next to the Pharaoh himself, the most powerful man in Egypt. Thanks to his wise leadership during a famine, he helps save millions of people from starvation.

And finally, Joseph has a reunion with his brothers—the same ones who caused all his suffering in the first place! And, despite the brothers’ fears that Joseph would kill them, he forgives them instead. And he tells them something remarkable. In Genesis 50:20, he says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”

In other words, what Joseph’s brothers did to him was genuinely evil. The suffering he suffered was genuinely painful. The stuff that happened to him was genuinely bad. But that wasn’t the end of his story. God transformed that evil, that suffering, that pain—into something incredibly good. He used it ultimately to save the lives of millions.

We see this same dynamic at work in the apostle Paul’s life in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul describes what he calls a “thorn in his flesh.” We don’t know for sure what this “thorn” was—it could have been a physical affliction; or it could be related to the persecution he suffered. Whatever it was, it was a trial in Paul’s life that caused him pain, and it was evil. In fact, Paul says it came from the devil himself.

But once again, that wasn’t the end of the story… God transformed that evil thing from the devil into something very good for Paul. It was necessary, Paul said, to experience this thorn in order to keep him humble, to keep him depending on the Lord rather than trusting in himself.

The same principle applies: Satan intended to harm Paul, but God intended it all for good.”

What’s the worst thing that the devil or anyone else or anything else can throw at you? Whatever it is, if you only trust in Jesus Christ, he will transform it by his grace into something for your good.

Do you believe it?

I’ve talked in the last episode and in recent sermons about our need to “fall in love” with Jesus Christ again, or to “stay in love” with him. How can we do that if we don’t believe that he has a plan for the pain and suffering we’re experiencing—that no matter what—even when we’re experiencing something bad—God is somehow using it for our good?

And that’s why the hypothetical football star I mentioned earlier has the ability to thank Jesus—win or lose. Because God is doing something good for us in both victory and defeat.

So, see: we can pity New England Patriots players, coaches, and fans: They don’t often get to experience the genuine good that God can bring out of defeat!

But seriously, if you struggle to believe that God has the power to transform evil into something good, remember the cross: God used the greatest evil the world has ever seen—which was the death of his Son Jesus—to accomplish the greatest good the world has ever seen—which is the salvation of everyone who believes in Jesus.

Surely, surely, surely God can take every lesser form of evil, pain, and suffering and do the same!

Sermon 08-02-15: “Love Never Fails”

August 10, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

1 Corinthians 13 is among the most beautiful poems about love ever written. It’s also countercultural today, since we often think of love in sentimental terms. Paul, by contrast, emphasizes that love is mostly action, not feeling. This is true not only when it comes to loving our neighbor, but also God. When you compare your own love to this poem, how do you measure up?

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

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

The following is my original sermon manuscript. The sermon as delivered may differ slightly.

Do you know what a “mondegreen” is? It’s a word that’s used to refer to song lyrics that are often misheard. So, for example, you know that love song by the Beatles, “Michelle”? Paul sings some of the words in French: “Michelle, my belle”—which means, “my beauty.” Then he says, “sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble.” Which means, literally, “Michelle, ’my beauty,’ these are words that are well suited for one another.” Or, as he says in order to make it rhyme: “these are words that go together well.”

The problem is that “Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble” was often misheard as as “Some day monkey play piano song, play piano song.” Maybe that’s an extreme example, but we have a far more recent mondegreen: The song is “Blank Space,” on Taylor Swift’s most recent album. And the line is, “All the lonely Starbucks lovers/ They tell me I’m insane.” Or at least that’s what I and many others, including Taylor Swift’s own mother, thought she said. What she really said, however, was, “Got a long list of ex-lovers/ They tell me I’m insane.”

taylor_swiftThere are many other examples, which you can look up online. The point is, we do often mishear song lyrics.

Now… 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t a song, it is very lyrical, very poetic—surely the most famous poem about love in ancient literature, and one of the two or three most well-known passages of scripture alongside Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer. And like a mondegreen, we have a problem hearing it correctly. We often treat 1 Corinthians 13 as if there aren’t twelve chapters preceding it and three chapters following it. My point is, Paul did not say, “Wouldn’t it be great to write a sweet poem about love right here in the middle of this letter. No, he’s writing these beautiful, powerful words about love to address the main problem that the Corinthian church was having: they were failing to love one another! Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 07-05-15: “Love Builds Up”

July 23, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

In 1 Corinthians 8, the apostle Paul begins addressing the controversy surrounding food offered to idols. Paul agrees in principle with some Corinthian believers that no harm comes from eating this food in and of itself. The problem is the potential harm done to weaker Christians who fear that eating this food amounts to idolatry. Instead of asserting our “rights,” Paul says we should do everything in the interest of love. Love matters more than anything—even including being “theologically correct.” This sermon explores some ways in which this principle applies to us today.

I preached this sermon the day after returning from the Dominican Republic. I’m pleased to say that it’s still delivered at a high energy level!

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

It was February 1985. I had just gotten back from a weekend youth group retreat. On that retreat, my friend Chuck had had a dramatic conversion experience. He repented of his sins, accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, and the following Wednesday night, during youth Bible study, he made an announcement to all of us in the youth group: He said that because of his newfound faith in Christ, as part of his repentance, he was going to get throw away his record collection, which mostly consisted of heavy metal and hard rock bands like Motley Crüe, Iron Maiden, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and AC/DC. He believed the messages in those records were unchristian—as I’m sure many of them were. But Chuck went further than that: From here on out, he said, he was only going to listen to Christian music. He even threw away his Beatles records—which broke my heart.

For at least the next year or so, our youth group was embroiled in controversy: should we or shouldn’t we listen to secular music?

I figured that eventually Chuck would mature in his Christian faith and change his mind, which he did. But in the meantime I knew about today’s scripture, including Paul’s words about not being a stumbling block. Would my love and passion for rock music be a stumbling block for Chuck? Read the rest of this entry »

“The Word Is Love” complete sermon series

June 5, 2013


I believe the seven sermons of this series are among the best I’ve preached. To be sure, they were outside of my comfort zone—but isn’t that often where we do our best work?

Here they are, all in one place:

Date Title Scripture Beatles songs
04/14/13 “The Word Is Love, Part 1” 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“The Word,” “I Will”
04/21/13 “The Word Is Love, Part 2” Matthew 19:16-30 “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “All You Need Is Love”
04/28/13 “The Word Is Love, Part 3” Ephesians 5:21-33 “When I’m 64,” “We Can Work It Out”
05/05/13 “The Word Is Love, Part 4” Acts 20:17-27 “In My Life,” “Getting Better”
05/12/13 “The Word Is Love, Part 5” Mark 7:24-30 “Lady Madonna,” “Your Mother Should Know”
05/19/13 “The Word Is Love, Part 6” Romans 8:28;
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
“Strawberry Fields Forever,” “The Long and Winding Road”
05/26/13 “The Word Is Love, Part 7” Revelation 21:1-8 “Revolution 1,” “Let It Be”


“You better free your mind instead”

May 24, 2013
What a great single this was!

What a great single this was!

The Beatles’ “Revolution” will receive some theological reflection this Sunday as we finish up our Beatles-themed sermon series. The Vinebranch band will also, of course, perform it, along with “Let It Be.”

“Revolution” was controversial when it was released in 1968. In an era in which many young people believed they could make the world a better place, this song was a wet blanket: “Well, you know, we all want to change the world,” John Lennon sang. But show me the plan first. How do you know your efforts won’t end up making things worse? “If you talk about destruction,” count me out. Also, don’t ask me to support causes whose leaders have “minds that hate”—like Chairman Mao, for instance. Violent means don’t justify supposedly peaceful ends.

Both the song and the Bible share a similar pessimism about human nature. In a published response to a radical student who wrote an “open letter” criticizing Lennon and the song, Lennon wrote:

You say ‘in order to change the world, we’ve got to understand what’s wrong with the world and then destroy it. Ruthlessly.’ You’re obviously on a destruction kick. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it—people. So, do you want to destroy them? Ruthlessly? Until you/we change your/our heads—there’s no chance.[†]

I couldn’t have said it better myself. As the song says, “You better free your mind instead.”

Easier said than done, I guess!

In fact, both “freeing your mind” and creating a world in which love, peace, and justice hold sway—a desire that the Beatles often sang about—is impossible apart from a radical and miraculous intervention from God. But I’ll say more about that this Sunday.

Here’s the White Album version, “Revolution 1.” A more aggressive version was later recorded and released as a single.

Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write (New York: It Books, 2005), 169.

Sermon 05-12-13: “The Word Is Love, Part 5”

May 17, 2013
The Beatles got up and danced to "a song that was a hit before your mother was born" in this memorable scene from Magical Mystery Tour.

The Beatles danced to “a song that was a hit before your mother was born” in this memorable scene from Magical Mystery Tour.

A church that focuses more on “helping” people than on saving people is a church that has lost its focus. I hate to pit these two tasks—service and evangelism—against one another, but isn’t it easy to see how the United Methodist Church is really good at one and not so good at the other?

Want to help people rebuild after a hurricane? Call the Methodists. Want to get rid of malaria? Call the Methodists. Want to fight for justice in the world? Call the Methodists. Want to tell someone how they can be saved? Hmm… Doesn’t Billy Graham still do that? Or the Baptists? Or maybe the community megachurch down the street? Are the Methodist just supposed to outsource that part of the job?

Like Jesus in today’s scripture, this sermon challenges us to stay focused on what’s most important.

 Sermon Text: Mark 7:24-30

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

When I read today’s scripture, my first thought is, “I have a defective dog.” After all, my dog, Neko, refuses to do the very thing that even JesusGod in the flesh—says that dogs are supposed to do: which is to eat crumbs and scraps that fall from the table—or the couch or the recliner—onto the floor. Jesus knows that’s what dogs are supposed to do; you know it; I know it. It’s like their only job around the house! Cats are responsible for catching mice and bugs and creepy-crawly things that get in the house; dogs are responsible for eating food that falls on the floor. Neko doesn’t eat human food! She never has.

I love my dog, but she is not normal when it comes to eating table scraps!

I love my dog, but she is not normal when it comes to eating table scraps!

We had a normal dog named Presley—an English springer spaniel—when my kids were babies. Presley would park himself underneath the high chair in the morning, waiting for every little Cheerio that would fall to the floor—which would be a couple of handfuls before all was said and done. Spill a bag of Goldfish on the floor? No problem! Presley was on it! But not Neko! Crazy! Read the rest of this entry »

Is “daytime, nighttime suffering” really all she gets?

May 10, 2013

The great B-side to the Wings’ hit “Goodnight Tonight.” If you were Paul, wouldn’t you save a song this good for an album?

I’ve done a nice job (if I say so myself) splitting the difference between John’s songs and Paul’s songs in this Beatles-themed sermon series—with the understanding, of course, that the two often collaborated. (Post-breakup, the two argued over “In My Life”: While John said that he wrote both words and music, Paul claimed he wrote the music. At least one musicologist I read detects the styles of both in the vocal melody.)

Even when they didn’t collaborate, however, near-sibling rivalry and pride motivated them to do their best work. Iron sharpens iron. Therefore, in my mind—I have no idea if this is how it happened—John writes his childhood reminiscence, “Strawberry Fields Forever”; Paul hears it and thinks, “I can do better than that!” Then he writes his childhood reminiscence, “Penny Lane.”

This Sunday, however—Mother’s Day—the two featured Beatles songs both represent the work of Paul: “Lady Madonna” and “Your Mother Should Know.” Sorry. John wasn’t much for domesticity back then. His bittersweet “Julia” was written to his deceased mother, but the lyrics are vague. He could be singing about any lost love. John saved his best motherhood song for the devastatingly sad “Mother,” from the Plastic Ono Band album.

But Paul also wrote and recorded his best motherhood song after the Beatles split: “Daytime Nighttime Suffering,” the B-side to his 1979 hit “Goodnight Tonight.” I promise I would have the Vinebranch Band perform this song if it were in keeping with the series theme!

“Daytime Nighttime Suffering” is “Lady Madonna” without a sense of whimsy. Like the Beatles song, McCartney says that motherhood is incredibly difficult—except there is no “music playing in your head” to ease the pain of regret, failure, and distress.

What does it pay to play the leading lady
When, like the damsel in distress,
Daytime, nighttime suffering is all she gets?

Nice reference to “damsels in distress”: McCartney goes on to say that motherhood is “no fairytale anymore.” It’s a strangely pessimistic song, not only for Paul the family-man, but for the exuberant melody and vocal arrangement—surely one of his sunniest and best. Maybe he’s communicating through the music that motherhood isn’t as bad as it seems? There is hope.

What these mothers need, McCartney says, is for people—well, including fathers like himself—to give them all the love and compassion they deserve. The singer asks the “mighty river” of love to flow through him. The river in this case is likely a metaphor for God: pour out your love on these women who suffer for their children. Pour out your love through me—a fitting prayer for any occasion.

This is easily one of my favorite McCartney songs. Wikipedia even tells me it’s one of Paul’s as well. For mothers everywhere, here it is. Enjoy!

Sermon 05-05-13: “The Word Is Love, Part 4”

May 9, 2013
John's handwritten original lyrics for "In My Life."

John’s original handwritten lyrics for “In My Life.”

In this sermon, I talk about the importance of God’s “Plan B” for our lives: When life doesn’t go according to our plans, God always has a Plan B for us. We may not always like Plan B, but if we have the courage to follow it, we can be confident that it will be good. 

Sermon Text: Acts 20:17-27

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

After nine seasons, one of my favorite shows, The Office, is coming to an end. If you’ve been watching it this season, then you know that branch manager Andy Bernard has been asking to be fired for months. Not literally, but through his complete incompetence, his negligence, his mismanagement. Somehow he’s survived without being fired. But on last Thursday’s episode, Andy literally asked to be fired. Repeatedly. You see, the premise of the show for the past nine years has been that a film crew from the local PBS station has been filming the people in the office in order to make a documentary. They’ve now completed their task, and in a couple of weeks, they’re going to broadcast it. For some reason, Andy is convinced that the documentary will make him famous, that he’ll be a big star, that the viewers will love him. Andy is convinced that he’ll make it in show business if commits himself wholeheartedly to the task—which means hiring an agent, taking acting lessons, pounding the pavement day after day in pursuit of his dream. Read the rest of this entry »

“In my life, I love you more”

May 7, 2013

I intended last Sunday’s sermon to speak, in part, to high school seniors and other young people who would soon be making a transition in their lives—leaving home, going to college, going into service, beginning a new career. As such, I assumed the sermon would have a valedictory tone. After all, Paul’s words in Acts 20:17-27, the scripture I chose a couple of months ago, are literally part of a farewell speech to elders in the church at Ephesus, a church with whom he had ministered for two years.

Little did I suspect when I chose that scripture that I would also be be making a transition—and that it would be announced on the very Sunday I was preaching this text. As a United Methodist elder, I’m “itinerant”: each year I either get reappointed to my present church, or I get appointed elsewhere. It’s always a year-to-year contract. I’ve been an associate pastor for six years, which is a long time in the Methodist system. So in June, I’m leaving Alpharetta to pastor a church of my own.

I’m sure the word “bittersweet” was made for such an occasion. As I said in my sermon, I know I’m ready for this new opportunity. I know it’s a good career move. And, most importantly, I know the Lord has good work for me to do down in Hampton, Georgia, where I’m headed. I know all this in my head—it’s my heart that still needs convincing. But it’ll catch up soon enough.

With all that in mind, you can imagine how I felt hearing the Vinebranch Band play the Beatles’ “In My Life.”

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed.
Some forever not for better.
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall.
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all.

Pass the Kleenex, please! I read somewhere that this was the first pop song that dealt so candidly with mortality and loss. It was certainly the first Beatles song to do so.

Regardless, by the second verse, it becomes more a love song than a reminiscence.

But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compares with you.
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new.
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before—
I know I’ll often stop and think about them.
In my life, I love you more.

On the one hand, the narrator is making a statement about his new lover: “As much as all these other people mean to me, this new person means so much more.” But he’s saying more than that: thanks to this new lover, he understands love itself differently—he’s learned something about the meaning of love that makes the love he knew previously pale by comparison: “And these memories lose their meaning…”

In a way, isn’t this what happens to us when we enter into a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ? It changes everything—the way we understand the world, our values, our relationships, our choices. Once we experience Love Himself, the God-who-is-love, we see all other loves in relationship to the absolute. As the song indicates, human love can only pale by comparison.

Not that John Lennon necessarily had God’s love in mind when he wrote the song. He was likely confusing the “God who is love” with the “Love who is god,” a common mistake in pop songs and pop culture. But he wasn’t too far off, so I give him credit.

With this understanding in mind, it made perfect sense for me to say the following, alluding to the Beatles song, at the climax of my sermon:

So I’ll never lose affection for you—for your love, your prayers, your patience, and your forgiveness. I love you… and nothing changes that—certainly not moving away or changing churches. But I love God more. And this move is the difficult sort of thing that I have to do because I love God more.

My point was that sometimes all of us Christians have to make painful, heartbreaking choices because we love God more than anything or anyone else. Jesus himself makes the same point, through hyperbole, when he says that unless we hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even our own lives, we cannot be his disciples.

Leaving all these people I love at AFUMC is at least one small example of what Jesus is talking about. Otherwise, in my life, I almost never have to choose.

Unless or until the Beatles camp decides to remove their songs from YouTube (and I hope they don’t) you can enjoy “In My Life” right here: