Sermons

This is a collection of Michael White’s sermons, from CityLIght Church in New York City.

Walking Through Fire

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Walking Through Fire’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 12/3/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

‘Tis the Season

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. – 1 Pet 4:12-13

The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is an amazing & exciting time of year. We make plans to spend time with friends and loved ones. We contemplate the Advent season as we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We put finishing touches on one year, and get ready to launch confidently into the next.

But for some people, the holidays can be a very difficult time of year. Many of our CityLight family have lost loved ones around Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, for whatever reason, almost every funeral I’ve officiated has been around this time of year. This final month seems to be a prime time for people who have been struggling with terminal illness to let go and decide it’s time to go and be with Jesus.

For some people, the holidays can be a reminder of struggles with money. While the rest of the world is shopping and celebrating, there are those who are faced with the stark reality that they don’t have money to get the gifts they wish they could afford. This final month of the year is a prime time for businesses to lay off workers; after all, when I was laid off from a job years ago, it happened the week after Thanksgiving. I worked all year for a year-end bonus that never came!

This message is for anyone who is experiencing a hard time this holiday season. In an effort to reach anyone who really needs some encouragement, today we are talking about what to do when life comes at you hard.

Fiery Trials

Jesus warns his disciples that adversity would come. Peter reminds us (1 Pet 4:12-13) that we shouldn’t think of “fiery trials” as something “strange” that makes us question God’s love for us. In fact, he says, we should “rejoice!” So how do we rejoice through life’s fiery trials? More often than not, fiery trials are inevitable: death happens, layoffs come, and money is just sometimes tight. But what you find in the fire is up to you.

One of my favorite instances of a fiery trial in Scripture takes place in Daniel 3. God’s people are in exile in Babylon. Daniel and his three friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego – have all been selected by the Babylonian king to serve as provincial governors. Yet before these men can even get the chance to enjoy the favor they are experiencing from God, the fiery trial starts.

In Daniel 3:1, the Babylonian king sets up an idol for his people to worship. Yet Daniel’s friends refuse to bow down to it. The king was not happy when he found out:

Then Nebuchadnezzar, in rage and fury, gave the command to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” – Dan 3:13-18

Step One: Stand Your Ground

What should you do in a fiery trial? Stand your ground. Nebuchadnezzar was going to give them one last chance to bow down and serve this false god; yet Daniel’s friends cut him off. Don’t waste your breath, they said. It’s not going to happen.

Whenever we’re going through a trial, we must stand our ground. If you stand on God’s word, He promises to protect you…

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? – Ps 118:5-6

but if you don’t stand on the word, you aren’t standing on solid ground at all!

Trust God. Trust that He gave you His word on purpose. Trust that He knows what He’s doing! Trust that He will deliver you when you stand up for what is right. Don’t allow the enemy one inch of wiggle room. God still loves you, and He will deliver you from this mess!

Needless to say, the king was not happy with their response:

Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. – Dan 3:19-23

Step Two: Surround Yourself with Good Friends

What should you do in a fiery trial? Surround yourself with good friends. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego didn’t have to worry about standing on their own. If they were going down, they were all going down together.

Are your friends willing to pass through the fire with you? Or do they run at the first hint of flame? Do you have fair-weather friends who only want to be around you when things are going well? Or fire-worthy friends who are willing to get tossed in the furnace with you?

This is why the church exists, by the way. We come to church to worship God, yes; but one of the beautiful by-products is God surrounds us with other people with whom we can make lasting and permanent connections. People who will stand with us. People who will pass through the fire with us. People who will hold their ground in prayer, and contend for God’s best with you over your life!

Nebuchadnezzar really turned up the heat. He made the fire seven times hotter than normal. Even the “mighty men of valor” (v 20) who threw Daniel’s friends into the fire went up in smoke. But these three friends had God on their side, and they had each other; and that meant they had nothing to fear.

Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” – Dan 3:24-25

Step Three: Stay Close to Jesus

What should you do in a fiery trial? Stay close to Jesus. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego didn’t avoid the fire. However, they trusted that Jesus would meet them in it.

Some Bible scholars look at verse 25 and say that an angel met Daniel’s friends in the furnace. Others, however, say it was Jesus Himself. Matthew Henry puts it this way:

“But some think it was the eternal Son of God, the angel of the covenant, and not a created angel. He appeared often in our nature before he assumed it in his incarnation…”[1]

When you have Jesus – no matter how hot the flames – you will come out alive! When you have Jesus – no matter what the odds – you have nothing to fear!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. – Is 43:2

God didn’t leave Daniel’s friends in the fire; He met them there! And because God was with them, the fire had “no power” over them:

Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire. And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them. – Dan 3:26, 27

Finding in the Fire

Fiery trials will happen; but what you find in the fire is up to you.

1) Promotion

The men who threw Daniel’s friends into the fire wanted them dead! But God had a different plan. Not only did they keep their lives; God also promoted them!

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon. – Dan 3:30

What the enemy intends for evil, God will use for good. This is one of the recurrent themes in the Book of Daniel. In Daniel 6, Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den as punishment for devoutly praying to God; yet Daniel survives, and the enemies who tried to kill him wind up dead instead!

God doesn’t cause the fire; but He will use it for His glory. Whenever you pass through a fiery trial, do not fear. Ask God, “Lord, what are you up to here? How are you going to turn this around for my good?”

2) Freedom

Daniel’s friends went into the fire bound; but they came out free:

“Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose… – Dan 3:24-25

The fiery furnace actually burned up the very cords that were holding them captive. You see, clinging to Jesus in the midst of a trial makes you free like nothing else can. When we cling to God, no matter what, supernatural growth takes place. Sometimes we pray for God to deliver us from the fire, when what we should be praying for is freedom in the fire.

No matter what you’re going through, trust God. He will take whatever you are going through, and make you free. He will use what everyone else sees as disaster, and turn it around for you in the end.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. – Rom 8:28-29

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/daniel/3.html

God’s Free Gift

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘God’s Free Gift’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 11/26/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

The Free Gift

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving! Ours was a mess. Seriously. We went to Mississippi to visit family, and both our kids got sick. It was a nice reminder that, once you’re a parent, nothing is set in stone.

On day one of our planned vacation, our 3-year-old son got the flu. Keep in mind that when he got the flu, we were guests in my brother’s home. So the rest of the week felt like a scene from the movie Outbreak, trying to contain and quarantine a virus. Who wants me to lay hands on them after service?!

But hey…we got some good Black Friday deals! I didn’t go to the stores, I just 1) shopped online and 2) trolled social media for videos of shoppers fighting in the stores. There’s no better show on earth. Two women from Alabama got into a fistfight and bystanders had to call the cops. One man in K-mart Judo-shoved an employee into a shelving unit just to get the last lawn ornament in the store. A 30% discount on vacuums brought out the latent Rocky in two women at Walmart. It was madness.

The Best Things in Life…

Why do we go so crazy for a good deal? How is a day like Black Friday so popular in the first place? Life is expensive, and nothing good comes free. If you want to get something of value (low cost; high reward), you have to time it. You have to wait until Black Friday when the sales come out, and pounce! Strike while the iron is hot, right?

Not so in the Kingdom of God. As I reclined on the couch on Black Friday – fight videos on my smartphone in one hand, and antibacterial hand sanitizer in the other – I was reminded of something important. There is no better deal than salvation. Salvation is never on sale or offered at a discount. It is always free. You don’t have to wait for a sale! Salvation is always available: no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what you’ve done.

By Grace through Faith

This is how Paul described salvation to the church at Ephesus in Scripture:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. – Eph 2:4-10

Salvation didn’t come because we deserved it. Salvation didn’t come because we waited patiently for the perfect sale, and then pounced on a deal before someone else got to it. God saved us because He loved us (v 5). He rescued us from the depths of our sin and made us sit with Jesus: at the best seat in the house, until the end of time.

How does salvation come? Not by works. Not by waiting. Salvation comes, “by grace…through faith” (v 8). Faith is the vehicle that gets you there, but grace is the gas that powers the engine. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6); but without grace, it is impossible to have faith! So stop beating yourself up because you don’t feel like your faith is strong enough or powerful enough, and simply ask God to give you more!

In Ephesians 2:8, the Greek word for “grace” is charis. It means, “the goodwill, loving-kindness and favor that result from the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.”[1] You got all that? Put more succinctly, grace can effectively be defined as unmerited favor. It’s favor because it positions you to do things that would otherwise be impossible: getting to Heaven at the end of your life, and living a Kingdom lifestyle here and now. It’s unmerited because you can never earn or deserve it; you must simply receive what Jesus already purchased for you on the Cross!

Grace is different from mercy. Mercy looks backwards and prevents the bad things you do deserve from coming back to haunt you. Grace looks forwards and activates the good things you don’t deserve over your life!

Grace is also different from effort. Effort costs something; but grace is a free gift! Grace takes you places effort simply can’t. Grace allows God to come into your life and do what you could never accomplish on your own, even in 1,000 years! Some of us are bouncing off glass ceilings of our own making. We think the key to success is to try harder, instead of believing more. I’m all for hard work; but if you’re really believing for God to move through your life, you should be asking Him to do things only He can do. I have embraced the reality that everything I have in life is a gift from God – no matter how big or small – with no exceptions!

Grace is Good News! Under the Old Covenant, favor was expensive; but under our New Covenant through Jesus Christ, God already paid the price! That is why the Book of Hebrews calls our New Covenant a “better covenant:”

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. – Heb 8:3-6

What Else is Free?

Don’t you love spiritual gifts? Scripture tells us to, “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that [we] may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1). Paul confessed to the early church, “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied…” (1 Cor 14:5).

I believe in spiritual gifts. I believe all believers should earnestly desire to walk in the gifts outlined in 1 Cor 12: the word of wisdom (v 8), the word of knowledge (v 8), the gift of faith (v 9), gifts of healings (v 9), miracles (v 10), prophecy (v 10), discerning of spirits (v 10), different kinds of tongues (v 10), and the interpretation of tongues (v 10). I echo the desire Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 14, that the whole church would “desire spiritual gifts,” especially prophecy (v 1).

But the persistent mentality in the church is that you have to work hard for spiritual gifts. We treat prophecy or healing like a great deal on Black Friday: if we wait for the right moment and pounce before someone else takes it, it will be ours! But a gift is not a sale or a discount; it is a gift! And all you have to do to accept a gift is open your arms and receive. If salvation is for all,[2] then spiritual gifts are for all! Let’s break the mentality that the finest Heaven has to offer is only for a select few.

Our son is three. Whenever his grandma shows up, he asks her, “Did you bring me a present?” His manners need some work and it embarrasses the heck out of me when he asks; but his grandma loves it. She knows, that he knows, that she loves him and wants to bless him with good things! And don’t you think God loves it when we know and confess that He is good in exactly the same way?

I’ve often heard the following from full-time ministers: “Salvation is free, but the anointing is costly.” The unspoken, self-righteous sentiment behind this statement is that we can earn the things of God. But when Saul was anointed to be king, did he earn it (1 Sam 10:1)? When David was anointed to take the throne, was it because of his resume (1 Sam 16:13)? When the disciples who followed Jesus saw the same signs, miracles, and wonders as Jesus Himself, was it because of their effort (Lk 10:17)? Or did all these great men of God simply abandon themselves, and receive everything God had to offer?

A gift is free! It cannot be purchased; it simply must be received. Grace is a gift. Salvation is a gift. And spiritual gifts are…gifts!

So What’s the Catch?

So what’s the catch? If our sin problem is so big, why would God bless us so much? I’m a New Yorker, so I’m naturally skeptical. Free is never really free. If someone hands you a “free” CD in Times Square, don’t take it. They’re about to ask for money. If someone dressed as Elmo or Elsa offers to take a “free” photo with your kids, don’t take it. They’re about to ask for money! So if we can’t even get anything in life for free, how are we supposed to believe that everlasting life itself is free?

Salvation is free for you; but it wasn’t free for Jesus. In fact, it cost Him everything:

“Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” – Jn 10:17-18

He chose death so that you can have resurrection life!

Salvation is free for you; but be warned: grace will change you. There is always a cost associated with change; and when you make a decision to receive everything God has for you and start living your life for Jesus, things will be radically different. Are you sure you’re ready?

Grace will change your desires. A popular hymn speaks to this:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.[3]

You won’t find happiness in things like money and success like you did before you met Jesus. But you will know joy like never before. You will fulfill your design and your purpose. And at the end of your life, when you meet God face to face, you will hear these words: This is My beloved [child], in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/charis.html

[2] “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” – 2 Pet 3:9

[3] “The Heavenly Vision,” Helen Lemmel, 1922

Sex

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Sex’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 11/12/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

Introduction

When was the last time you heard your pastor talk about sex in church? Last week I started a two-week series on sex & sexuality because young people in our church have been coming to me asking for direction and discussion. Last week, we laid the foundation and talked about covenant. You can read & listen to that message HERE (

      http://www.citylightnyc.com/podcast/Craving-A-Covenant.mp3
). This week, we’re continuing with our discussion and talking about sex. What’s right? What’s wrong? Why does it matter?

I’ve learned something over several years in ministry: if we don’t talk about it in church, people will get their opinion somewhere else. We’ve missed opportunities for education and discussion in church because we shy away from issues that are difficult to discuss and articulate.

Before we start, we should acknowledge that sexuality – including sex, premarital sex, homosexuality, and what the Bible defines as sexual immorality – needs to be addressed with sensitivity. As Christians, we have the tendency to hastily address issues that should be addressed carefully: with care and concern for those who are struggling. Sexuality is one of those issues.

Whenever a sensitive topic needs to be addressed, I use Jesus meeting with a Samaritan woman at a well as my guide:

Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” – Jn 4:9-10

First, notice that Jesus didn’t avoid the Samaritan woman. The religious rulers of His day would have had nothing to do with her; yet Jesus sought her out. He did it because He knew her life could be changed with the power of the Gospel.

The woman said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” – Jn 4:11-14

Second, we see that Jesus met her where she was. Jesus didn’t ask this woman to come to His church; He went out and met her at her well. Meeting her where she was gave Jesus an inroad to share the Good News. Too often, we wonder why we can’t reach a certain group of people, but never stop to examine our own willingness to meet them where they are!

The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” – Jn 4:15-18

Finally, we see that once Jesus had her attention, He did not withhold the truth. He knew that good rapport was required first; but once trust was developed, He did not hold back the Gospel, because He knew it would give her life.

What if we started reaching out to people with whom we didn’t agree just like Jesus? What if we were willing to start tough conversations by saying, He, we don’t agree! But I still want to spend time with you. I still want to show you the love of God.

Sexuality: What’s Right, What’s Wrong, and Why It Matters

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision that requires all states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The ruling legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States and its territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands).[1] In response to that decision, the executive leadership team at CityLight Church issued a letter to our leadership. Here is an excerpt:

“CityLight Church accepts ‘The Traditional Christian Faith and Message’ particularly as concerns marriage being solely the union between a man and a woman (Scripture references: Gen 2:24-25, Matt 19:4-6, Eph 5:22-33, 1 Cor 7:1-16).

“The Bible is not a means to squash, or even control, our freedom, as many opponents of Scripture contend. God’s Word is actually the only way to experience true freedom. The Bible explains our design as people made in God’s image, and exhorts us to live according to that design. When we honor God by living as He designed us to live, then and only then will we find peace, comfort and joy.”

So what does it mean to live according to God’s design?

Husband and Wife

God knew what He was doing when He created us. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” He designed us as distinctly male and female, and then He told us how to relate to each other through covenant union, which we now call marriage:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. – Gen 2:24-25

Biblical marriage is covenant union between a man and a woman – a husband and wife.[2] When we understand that, many of the decisions and issues we feel like we have to struggle with become irrelevant. For today’s purposes, the Biblical definition of marriage effectively precludes two arrangements we see all the time today: sex before marriage and same-sex marriage.

Premarital Sex

Look again at Genesis 2:24. When you have sex with someone, you are joined to that person. The New King James translation says, “…a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” To cleave means to join in such a way that what has been put together can never be separated.

To tear apart something after it has been cleaved inflicts damage. It tears what was not meant to be torn. God created intimacy (i.e. sex) to be enjoyed inside the safety of covenant. If there is no covenant of safety, there can never be true intimacy; instead, it will only be a cheap imitation.

Here and now, we have marriage contracts. When a husband and wife get married, they sign a piece of paper after the wedding to make the marriage official. But in Biblical times, there was no such thing. Back then, sex was the signature! A husband would “go in” to his wife to consummate the marriage. If a man and woman slept together, it was a demonstration that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together! There was no such thing as casually sleeping around in a way that was culturally acceptable, or even endorsed, like there is today.

But we’ve forgotten how serious sex is. Some of us are walking around wondering why our hearts are broken after we’ve slept with a dozen people: why it feels like something is “missing” or “broken.” We wake up, take a walk of shame, and wonder why it’s so hard to be happy. The reality is, if you’ve slept with a dozen people – even if you’ve never signed a marriage contract or had a ceremony – you’ve been married a dozen different times to a dozen different people! Can you see now why it’s so hard to be happy with that setup?

God designed sex – intimacy – to be enjoyed inside of covenant. Verse 25 (above) describes that Adam and Eve were both, “…naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” Shame creeps in where covenant is lacking. Any time we try to enjoy intimacy outside of covenant, we open the door to shame. The beautiful thing about the marriage covenant is a man and a woman can reveal themselves to each other completely, with nothing to hide. And the ugly thing about intimacy before marriage is you can never be fully vulnerable, because no real commitment has been made. Doesn’t your heart long for complete and total intimacy with a spouse? So why do we so often accept cheap imitations that can provide temporary jolts of physical relief, but that will never lead to enduring fulfillment?

So what are you supposed to do as a young person who is not married? Wait. That’s it! Maybe you think you can’t afford to wait. What will my boyfriend say? Will he stay with me? Here’s something to consider: if he’s not willing to stay with you because you won’t sleep with him, is he really a man you want as your husband anyway? If you have no relationship without physical touch, do you really want to spend the rest of your lives together? Can I tell you something? The waiting is worth it!

Long before I turned 21, I decided I needed a fake ID. My parents (and the law) said I wasn’t ready to drink, but I figured I was the captain of my own ship and I knew better than they did. So, I talked with one of my friends who had a fake ID. I told him I wanted one, and I asked him where he had gotten his.

I still remember walking into a tiny store in the East Village to buy my first fake ID. I thought I was smooth: ready for anything. I yelled out (without realizing I was yelling), “You guys sell ID’s here?” The store owner quickly told me to shut the heck up or get out of his store. He made me browse his selection of “I love NY” t-shirts for 15 minutes before quietly approaching me and saying, “Come with me.” He snapped my photo, and printed me a copy of a shoddy ID. I was no longer Michael White; I was Carl Jones.

A few days later, I went to buy beer for the first time. I drove with a few of my friends to a grocery store. They stayed in the car, and I went in to get a case of beers. When I got to the checkout line, my hands were shaking. The cashier took my ID, and scanned me up and down. Then she told me to wait a moment. No worries, I thought, I’m ready for this.

But I wasn’t ready. A row of store employees came and blocked the exits – arms crossed in front of their chests. In a matter of moments, I heard police sirens. Then a couple cops entered the store, and came straight up for me. “Are you Carl Jones?” they asked.

Do you see what was happening here? My parents told me to wait, but I didn’t listen. The law told me I wasn’t ready, but I didn’t care! I did what I wanted to do anyway. I wanted to impress my friends. I was trying to fit in, and show them how brave I was by pretending to be someone I was not. I was trying to prove I was a man by showing the world I was ready for something, when I really wasn’t. And the result? I got trapped. I would have to pay for my decisions, and deal with consequences for my actions.

When I went to court, my friends didn’t come. When I got fined, my friends didn’t help pay. Those same guys I was trying to impress by buying them beer were nowhere to be found when the stuff hit the fan. I had to pay the price, all alone. We should never make choices just to impress other people. We should never do things just because “everyone is doing it.” Because when the going gets tough, those same people who are egging us on will be nowhere to be found.

Homosexuality

There is simply no interpretation of Scripture that allows for same-sex romantic relationships. Genesis 2:24-25 puts it gently:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed. – Gen 2:24-25

Romans 1 is not so gentle:

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever…For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. – Romans 1:24-27

You have free will. You can do what you want, and God will let you. If you choose the world’s ways over His ways, He will “give you up” (v 24). But walking according to the world is no longer walking with Him. So let’s be clear about the choices we’re making, and the consequences for our actions.

So if you’re struggling with same-sex attraction, what should you do? Get wise counsel. Meet with your pastor or a leader in your church who will walk through that attraction with you in a sensitive and loving way.

Things People Say

1) “It’s my body…I can do what I want.”

Technically, if you’re living your life for Christ, your body is not yours; it’s God’s:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? – 1 Cor 6:19

If you’re really submitted to Jesus, your body is not yours at all. It belongs to Him!

2) “Sin is sin! We’re all struggling with something, right?”

Sin is not sin. Scripture actually makes an important distinction when it comes to sexual sin, and sets it in a separate category because of its particularly poisonous nature and the contaminatory effect it can have on the rest of your life.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. – 1 Cor 6:15-20

There are only a few things Scripture tells us to flee.[3] Sexual sin is not to be tolerated; it is to be avoided at all costs. Scripture is screaming for our attention here. Sexual immorality isn’t just regular sin!

3) “But isn’t there a gay gene?”

There is no “gay gene.” Even the American Psychological Association (APA), which has a history of being a liberal scientific community, states:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.”[4]

“Who was I created to love?” is not a question of science; it is a question of design. Design is not a scientific issue; it is a theological one. We must resist the misguided tendency to attempt to answer a theological question with a scientific response.

What Were You Designed to Do?

At the end of the day, your sexuality is your choice. But it helps to know what you were designed to do. The right question is not, “Can I do this?” It is, “Will doing this really give me joy?” Can you read or listen to this message, and still go out and do whatever you want? Sure…but it’s going to cost you. It’s going to cost you the freedom Jesus died on the Cross for you to have.

I know what it’s like to do relationships the wrong way; and I know what it’s like to do relationships the right way. My wife and I made the decision to wait until marriage before having sex. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Our wedding night was not just another night out; it was the most incredibly night of my life.

It all comes back to covenant: being in the center of God’s perfect will for you. When you are where He wants you to be, doing what He designed you to do, you won’t have to look for joy; joy will find you.

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obergefell_v._Hodges

[2] For further Scriptural support of this statement, please see Matt 19:4-6, Eph 5:22-33, 1 Cor 7:1-16.

[3] Sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:18), idolatry (1 Cor 10:14), & youthful lusts (2 Tim 2:22)

[4] http://www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.aspx

Craving a Covenant

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Craving a Covenant’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 11/5/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

Why Covenant?

Last Sunday after service, my heart was broken in the midst of conversation. A young person at our church approached me, and thanked me for talking about sex in church. She thanked me for staying faithful to Biblical principles, namely that unmarried people should not be having sex before marriage. She told me that her Christian roommate had recently attended a church in New York City for the first time in a long time, and was shocked to hear the pastor explain – from the pulpit – that premarital sex was “okay…as long as you don’t have too many partners.”

That is not Biblical truth. After that conversation, I immediately decided to do a series on sexuality – the contemporary sexual issues we face today, particularly for young people living in New York City. I set out to prepare my message for the following Sunday, but quickly realized: we need to build a base first. We need to talk about covenant before we can talk about sexuality.

My job is to make you want to know what the Bible says before simply telling you what the Bible says. My job is not to cram Scripture down your throat; it is to create a hunger and a thirst for righteousness that you can feel in your bones. My job is to make you want to know Jesus before telling you all about Him.

I believe the world is craving covenant. Whether you realize it or not, your soul is crying out for something permanent and lasting to cling to: an “anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (Heb 6:19). We all need something or someone to cling to in uncertain times – to keep our sense of stability and direction, so we never lose sight of the shore.

We live in a day and age where nothing seems permanent. For many couples – even in the church! – marriage us just a piece of paper. I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve spoken to who live their romantic lives with that mentality. We live in a day and age where sex is just a recreational activity: fun with no strings attached. After all, what could go wrong?! Whenever the church cries out for sexual purity and sanctified relationships, society spits out the message. No sex?! Isn’t that a bit controlling? What right does God – or the church – have to tell me what I can and can’t do with my body?[1]

We live in a consumer culture where everything is temporary. If we don’t like the product being delivered – even in marriage! – we can just walk out and walk away. In our celebration of the consumer, we’ve forgotten about covenant. We go through life training ourselves to be perpetual consumers: living with our boyfriend or girlfriend before marriage,[2] experimenting with homosexual lifestyles, and testing the limits of God’s faithfulness and patience in the name of free choice.

But deep down, all of us are longing for something more. We’re looking for something that lasts! We’re looking for something less painful. I know it; and you know it.

What Is Covenant?

The dictionary defines a covenant as an agreement or legal contract.[3] But the Bible paints a different picture. Whereas society tells the story of a legal contract that can be ratified or broken, Scripture details an agreement that was never meant to be changed.

The first time we see covenant mentioned is in Genesis 6, as God is preparing Noah for the flood. Noah lived in a time not much different from our own. The world was full of wickedness. Every man and woman followed the desires of his or her own heart. Yet in the midst of societal uncertainty, when nobody knew what to believe, here is what God told Noah:

And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. – Gen 6:17-18

God needed to replace society’s values.[4] But He had a special message for Noah: The storm is going to rage all around you…but I am going to protect you. God promised to keep Noah safe in the midst of uncertain times: present for the flood, yet completely protected by the divine vessel God had set up for him and his family.

God protected Noah because He loved him; and God loved Noah because he was righteous. Gen 6:9 says that Noah was, “…a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” But you and I aren’t perfect! So how do we find safety and protection as the storms of life rage all around us?

We need a savior. We need Jesus!

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Cor 5:21

Jesus became sin, and died on the Cross, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. When we give our lives to Jesus, we are, “hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). The storms of life may rage all around us, but we will be safe inside the covenant – just as Noah was.

Jesus & the World

Jesus offers something no one else can. I don’t care how awesome your boyfriend or girlfriend is; Jesus offers something he or she can’t. I don’t care how amazing the casual sex you’re having is; Jesus offers something a promiscuous lifestyle never could.

Jesus offers us unconditional love. You see, the rest of the world loves conditionally. If you do and say all the right things, your friends will love you back. If you work your butt off, your boss will love you back. If you sleep with him after the third date, your boyfriend will love you back. If, if if! Is love that depends on your own behavior really love at all?

But Jesus loves us unconditionally. God knew from the foundation of the world that we could never be perfect, even if we tried! But He loves us all the same. And all we have to do to receive His infinite, unconditional love, is open our hearts.

One of the most beautiful Scriptural illustrations of covenant takes place in Genesis 15:

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” – Gen 15:1-8

God had already made some amazing promises to Abraham (see Gen 12:1-3). Now God was visiting Abraham again, to remind him of His faithfulness. He would have a son! He would become a great nation! But Abraham asked a fair question: Lord, how do I know that everything You promised will actually happen? So God gave Abraham proof: a covenant.

So [God] said to [Abraham], “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. – Gen 15:9-11

What was happening here? Why all the animals, and what does this have anything to do with covenant?

In Abraham’s time, the most binding form of agreement that could be made was a blood covenant. Two men would act out the consequences of failing to fulfill their end of an agreement. They would gather the sacrificial animals we see in Genesis 15, divide them in two, and walk through the middle of them, one at a time. Both parties were saying, if I can’t hold up my end of the bargain, you can cut me in half. If I don’t do what I’ve promised to do, make me just like these animals.

Abraham wanted a guarantee, so God gave him the most binding form of guarantee known to man. But then something unexpected happened:

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. – Gen 15:12

It was time for Abraham to enter into covenant! And then he fell asleep? How could he possibly hold up his end of the bargain if he was asleep? But watch what God does:

And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. – Gen 15:17

God put Abraham to sleep, and walked down the aisle twice: once for Him, and once for Abraham. God is a cloud by day, and a fire by night (Ex 13:21). You see, God already knew that no matter how hard Abraham tried, he would never be capable of holding up his end of the bargain. He would falter, and he would fail, because he was human. So God made Abraham rest, and passed through twice: first as a smoking oven, and then as a burning torch. What He was telling Abraham was this: you could never hold up your end of the covenant with Me, so I will hold it up for you.

When God entered into Covenant with Abraham, He not only promised He would never fail; God also promised that even when Abraham failed, God would take the fall. God sent Jesus Christ to die on the Cross to fulfill His covenant with Abraham; and to extend an invitation to every man and woman who would ever walk the earth to trust and relate to Him in exactly the same way. God was divided from His Only Son for one infinite moment, so that you and I could be united to Him for all eternity.

Abraham had meaningful questions. God’s answer to all of Abraham questions, doubts, and fears, was covenant. Without a covenant, you have no guarantee that God’s promises will unfold over your life. You’re just hoping for the best. But inside a covenant, you can have the confidence that God has given His own life as a guarantee that everything He has promised will come to pass.

Every Area of Your Life

That one word – covenant – changes everything. Here is how covenant will change every area of your life.

1) Your Faith.

Covenant means that God will never turn His back on you.

“Return, O backsliding children,” says the Lord; “for I am married to you. I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” – Jer 3:14-15

God is not a man, that He should lie (Num 23:19). When the rest of the world breaks promises and walks away scot-free, God’s promise is that He will never leave – no matter what. That means you can believe in Him with all your heart, knowing that He will care for and protect your heart like no one else can.

2) Your Relationships.

If you try and start friendships or romantic relationships without a secure attachment to God, you will be plagued by insecurity. You will look for confirmation of your value and worth from other people, instead of Him. But because you are secure in Christ, you don’t have to get your value & worth from how other people treat you. You get to know your worth & infinite value directly from the Source. Once your vertical relationship with God is secure, your horizontal relationships with other people will all fall into place.

3) Your Finances.

When my wife and I got married, something powerful happened: my life became her life, and her life became mine. All my assets became hers, and everything she had became mine. All our debts also became mutual. Managing our finances is not my job, or her job; it is our job.

God’s promise is this: “I am married to you” (Jer 3:14). So, once you enter into covenant with God, that pile of debt you are struggling with is no longer just yours; it’s also His. Those financial goals you have are no longer just yours; they are also His; and when your prayer requests line up with His will, everything He has promised will come to pass.

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. – Deut 31:6

Because you have covenant, you have nothing to fear.

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Scriptural truth is that our bodies don’t belong to us, they belong to God:

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? – 1 Cor 6:19

[2] On average, when encompassing data from over 4 decades of study on cohabitation, it is estimated that those who get married face a 33% greater risk of divorce than couples who choose alternative living arrangements. Source: https://brandongaille.com/43-statistics-on-cohabitation-before-marriage/

[3] https://www.google.com/search?q=covenant+definition&oq=covenant+def&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j69i57j0l4.1479j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[4] The way He does this today is not with utter destruction, but through societal redemption. That is why the local church exists, so that the Gospel might permeate every segment of society.

God’s Heart for Reconciliation

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘God’s Heart for Reconciliation’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 10/15/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

God’s Heart for Reconciliation

Reconciliation is, “The act of reconciling parties at variance; renewal of friendship after disagreement or enmity.”[1] Reconciliation happens when two people who were formerly at adds come together. Reconciliation takes place when two people with completely opposing viewpoints can come together and – at the very least – respect one another’s opinion.

God has a heart for reconciliation; and since we are made in His image (Gen 1:27), we should too! God laid everything down for reconciliation:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. – Jn 3:16

He gave all He had to give – His precious only Son Jesus Christ – so that we could be reconciled to Him. He gave everything so we would know what it feels like to be wrapped in the loving arms of our Father in Heaven. He gave Jesus so that we would be “hidden” in Him (Col 3:3): with nothing to hide, and no reason to be ashamed. He interrupted the trajectory of the universe so we could be saved. God made it His priority to reconcile with us, so that we would be empowered to make it our priority to reconcile with others.

Jesus told His disciples to place an absolute priority on reconciliation:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” – Matt 5:21-26

Jesus told His disciples that no amount of religious ritual or observance should take precedence over being at peace with other people in our lives. Reconciliation was God’s first priority with His people. Is it yours and mine too?

Tough Conversations

Reconciliation is hard. We all have certain people in our lives who seem to make reconciliation especially difficult. Just when it seems like our relationship is turning a corner and improving, they say something silly that seemingly sets the recovery process back by months or even years.

After years in full-time ministry, do you want to know my motto? People are funny. They say funny things. They do funny things. Heck, I do and say funny things that rub people the wrong way too! But we should never let a lack of desired behavior interfere with God’s desire for reconciliation to take place.

Years ago, I remember one of our church members asking for an appointment to meet with our entire office staff. We all got together in a conference room and waited to see what he would have to say. This member had a history of making reconciliation difficult. He frequently said things that made the staff uncomfortable, and even offended us. But we knew God’s heart was for reconciliation, so we made space for it.

The meeting started on the wrong foot. Our “difficult” member was unhappy that someone hadn’t given him a bottle of water at our last church event (please keep in mind, we didn’t give out bottles of water to anyone at the event). “I give to the church,” he said. “I put milk in your cups, and bread on your tables. So that means I have every right…”

At that point I cut him off. I politely explained that tithing to God didn’t mean he was the CEO of the church, with the mandate to manage the staff. I invited the rest of the staff to please give us a moment to speak alone. And then, despite everything that had happened, I pursued reconciliation. I asked him to consider where his request was coming from: perhaps he didn’t feel like he belonged in our church. Perhaps he didn’t feel he was loved by the staff; but we wanted him to! I put aside every offensive comment and forgot about what had just been said; because that is exactly the privilege that Jesus affords us.

The next twenty minutes was a tough conversation. I bit my tongue many times, and swallowed my pride faster than ever before. Reconciliation requires tough conversations. If reconciliation is going to happen, we have to step up and say something! But at the end of the day, it’s worth it. That man who asked to meet with the staff moved away, and is no longer at our church. But I still meet with him when he comes to New York. I still pray for him, and bless him; and he does the same for me, because we pursued reconciliation when it seemed impossible

Unfinished Business

Are there tough conversations you need to have in your life? In counseling, we refer to that unresolved state as “unfinished business:” You need to say something, but you don’t have the guts – or the time! – to make the tough conversation happen. By the end of this message, my prayer is you will be willing to sit down and work through tough conversations for the sake of reconciliation in Jesus Christ.

There are two primary reasons we back away from tough conversations: 1) We’re afraid of how the other person might react, and 2) we’re afraid we won’t have the right words to speak. Notice that both misguided assumptions are driven by fear, not faith. At the end of the day, if you lean on God’s Holy Spirit, neither of those two reasons are valid concerns.

How that person responds is not your problem; it is theirs. They will be accountable for their reaction. Wouldn’t you know that in the vast majority of cases where I’ve been fearing a tough conversation, the other person’s reaction is not nearly as bad as I’ve expected? How many times have you known someone has something to say to you, and you’ve wished they would just come out and say it? We are quick to expect that courtesy from others, but we’re slow to extend it ourselves.

I had a tough conversation with a friend this week. He said something that upset me, and I knew I had to say something; but I was dreading the conversation. So, I started to pray. I resolved to take the night to pray & sleep on it, and then have the conversation the following day. But later that day, God sent my friend to me. He immediately apologized, before I could even start speaking. When you simply resolve to have tough conversations, God will make them more graceful than you could have ever imagined!

You don’t have to worry about having the right words to say when you walk into a tough conversation. Did you know that in every critical moment, God promises to give you the words to speak? Look at what Jesus told His disciples:

“But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” – Mk 13:9-11

We don’t have to be afraid of tough conversations! We don’t have to prepare everything we’re going to say in advance! When we need supernatural wisdom to find the right words, the Holy Spirit will tell us what to say!

The Fruit of Reconciliation: Powerful Prayer

Reconciliation paves the way for powerful prayer. In Matthew 18, Jesus outlined the Biblical model for conflict resolution:

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” – Matt 18:15-17

If we have a problem with someone, we should go straight to that person first. If they won’t hear us – then and only then – we should bring in disinterested third parties who can objectively evaluate the disagreement from an unbiased perspective. If they still won’t hear us – then and only then! – we should bring in the church. Isn’t it a shame that so often, when we hear about a disagreement in church, we skip steps 1 and 2 and go straight to step 3? That is called gossip, and there is no place for it in the body of Jesus Christ!

The goal of conflict resolution is to “gain a brother” (v 15). And guess what happens immediately after reconciliation takes place? Powerful prayer.

“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” – Matt 18:18-20

Reconciliation paves the way for powerful prayer. God’s heart is that we would take the very people with whom we used to be at odds, and make them our prayer partners. As we do, it will be evidence – to the world, and also to Heaven – that we are serious about changing the world.

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] http://sorabji.com/1828/words/r/reconciliation.html

Lay It On the Altar

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Lay It On the Altar’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 10/8/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the podcast please click the play arrow above.

Lay It On the Altar

What is the biggest thing you’re praying for right now? What is the one prayer request occupying most of your time in prayer, and most of your attention? Is it a new house or apartment? A relationship? A breakthrough at your current job, or an open door to a new one?

What would you do if the promise came true – you got that very thing you are praying for – and then God turned around and asked you to give it up?

Abraham was a man of great faith. When he was seventy-five years old, God promised to make him a “great nation” (Genesis 12:2). He took Abraham into Canaan – what would later be known as the Promised Land – and said, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Gen 12:7). But something had to break – to change drastically – in Abraham’s heart before God could trust him with the answer to his prayers. And if we are to avoid frustration – the bad kind of heartbreak – as we are waiting for an answer to our prayers, we need to see exactly what that change was.

Abraham and Isaac

When Abraham was 75, God gave him the promise. He would have a son. Twenty-five years later, God reminded Abraham that he was not forgotten:

Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” – Gen 17:15-17

Abraham laughed. He had been waiting on the promise for twenty-five years. How? How could it happen? How could Abraham become a father? How could Sarah, his wife, bear a son? But even though Abraham laughed, God made clear that He was not joking.

And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” – Gen 18:10-12

God has not forgotten His promise to you. He will give you as many reminders as you need to let you know that everything He has promised will come to pass! You can laugh it off; but you cannot cancel the work He wants to do in your life.

Finally, the promise came. “The Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age…” (Gen 21:1-2). Isaac had arrived. The promise had been fulfilled. But that would not be the end of Abraham’s journey to trust and believe God. In fact, it would only be the beginning.

The Test

Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” – Gen 22:1-2

What would you do if God actually gave you the promise – that thing you’re praying for – and then asked you to give it up? Would you continue to follow God with your whole heart? Or would you take offense at God’s brazen request and retreat from His heart with the answer to your prayers?

Sometimes God delays the promise because He knows what would happen if we got what we wanted right away. I’ve seen this in the Healing Rooms at CityLight Church. Someone will come in for prayer and get a radical answer to their request for healing. They’ll walk out of the sanctuary completely healed, only to come back in and ask for prayer a few weeks later! They get the promise, but they forget about the God who promised. They receive their healing, but they don’t receive Jesus. And the result can be continued pain and suffering as they struggle to understand why God seemingly will not provide an answer to their prayers.

Look how Abraham responded:

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. – Gen 22:3

Abraham’s response after his prayer was answered reveals the condition of his heart before his prayer answered. Abraham didn’t hesitate. He didn’t call a meeting with his elders. He didn’t even talk with his wife! He simply got up and did what God had asked him to do – regardless of what he thought. Isaac was the promise! He was the missing link to the fulfillment of God’s prophecy that Abraham would be the father of many nations! Yet Abraham was willing to do whatever God asked him – regardless of the cost.

If your heart isn’t right before the promise comes, it’s not going to be right after the promise arrives. I hear so many believers say things like, “If God does [insert prayer request], I’ll finally have time to worship.” Or, “If God just answers my prayer for [insert prayer request], I’ll finally have enough to give to the church.” But to put conditions on our worship means God does not have our unconditional worship at all! Something had to change in Abraham’s heart before he was ready to receive the promise. Does something have to change in yours?

Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” – Gen 22:4-7

Doesn’t your heart break in this part of the story? Abraham had been trusting God for twenty-five years; and now God was asking him to give up his only son? Poor Isaac! The boy trusted his father completely, even as he led him up to be killed. And what about Sarah? Did she even know what her husband was up to? What would her reaction be when Abraham came back home, without Isaac? But Abraham did not hesitate. He trusted God with all his heart – just as he always had.

God had been preparing Abraham to trust Him unconditionally for the past twenty-five years. And Abraham’s faith wouldn’t fail him now.

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” – Gen 22:8-12

God would not let Abraham’s dream die. He would not kill the promise! Abraham’s willingness to give everything to God removed the possibility that God would take anything from him. More importantly, Abraham’s willingness to give up his own son paved the way for God to give up Jesus. Abraham would not withhold Isaac; and generations later, God would show Abraham that He would not spare Jesus.

Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” – Gen 22:13-14

God provided a sacrifice so that Abraham’s dream didn’t have to die. And through Jesus, God has already done the same for you.

Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelt at Beersheba. – Gen 22:15-19

You see, Isaac was just the beginning. There was so much more God wanted to do in Abraham’s life! God wanted to bless generations – and eventually every single man and woman who calls on the name Jesus – through Abraham! But first, Abraham had to be willing to lay down his worship of the promise, and take up unconditional worship of God.

What are you praying for? It’s not just about the promise. There’s so much more at stake! If Abraham had refused to give up Isaac, an entire nation would have missed out on the blessing of God. And whatever you’re praying for – no matter how big or small – you have to understand that there is so much more at stake than just the answer to your prayers. God wants to bless other people through you – not just through the answer to your prayers!

My Testimony

I recently published a book. Four years ago, God started speaking to me about writing it. It was always meant to be a resource for CityLight Church. After countless meetings with members asking the same questions and expressing the same difficulties as they walked through life with Jesus, I longed for a resource I could give our members to answer the most common questions they had about life with Jesus and His Holy Spirit as our guide.

But somewhere along the road, my priorities changed. Earthly dreams of success mixed with the heavenly reality of the promise God had given me. I started to fantasize about selling thousands of copies. I started to dream of my name in lights as a New York Times bestseller.

Finally, in the summer of 2015, I signed a publishing deal. I was excited. I couldn’t wait! But the whole time, people at CityLight Church were missing out on the resource God had put in me because I refused to publish it without fanfare. In the summer of 2016, that publishing deal fell through. So I resolved to hold out for another one. In the spring of 2017, another publishing deal fell through. Finally, I started to get the message.

Do what God has called you to do. Over time, my priorities had shifted. God had always wanted this book to be a resource for CityLight Church! But I wanted it to be a best-seller. I wanted to make money! But God wanted to touch hearts.

This fall, I self-published the book. God reminded me that His plan had always been for the book to be a resource for the people who call CityLight home. I’m still open to whatever God wants to do down the road with this book! But I refuse to believe in and worship the promise, instead of the God who made the promise.

Several weeks after publishing, God spoke to me. He told me to put the book on the altar – to let Him do what He wanted, with the book and in my life. So I literally took a copy and placed it on the altar at the front of the church. I surrendered full control to God, and asked Him to do exactly what He wanted with the book – nothing more, and nothing less.

Now I’m starting to get testimonies of God’s faithfulness. Last Sunday after the first service, a woman stopped me. She had grown up in a relatively conservative denomination, and she was just getting acquainted with the Holy Spirit. The book had blessed her. She got the wisdom and insight she needed to follow God with her whole heart. She had even read a passage of the book to her mom to explain aspects of her faith that she couldn’t put into words!

After second service, a young man approached me. He had given his life to Jesus at age 13, and was now 19 and attending college in New York City. He had just moved here, visited CityLight, and picked up a copy of the book. He told me it had completely changed the way he prays. It had answered questions he had grappled with for years!

What would have happened if I wasn’t willing to lay that book on the altar? A whole generation of believers would have missed out on getting what they needed from God. It’s not about the promise. The answer to your prayers is just the beginning! God wants to bless other people through you – not just through the answer to your prayers!

Take that thing your praying for, and lay it on the altar. Make the conscious decision that, no matter how long it takes for the promise to come, you’re going to love God with all your heart. God wouldn’t let Isaac die – and He’s not going to let your dream die either.

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Encountering God

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Encountering God’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 9/17/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

Why You Need A God Encounter

What would you give for an encounter with God? Would you lay down your busy schedule to make time with Him? Would you rearrange your priorities to build your life around intimacy with God? What if I told you that as much as you want to have an encounter with God, God wants to have an encounter with you all the more?

We see the importance of “God Encounters” on many occasions in Scripture. Jesus’ baptism is just one of them:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?”

But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” – Matt 3:13-17

A “God Encounter” is an experience in which God makes Himself real to you in a conversational way. Most often, you will hear His Holy Spirit (who lives on the inside of you the moment you give your life to Jesus) whisper something to you. Less often, you may even hear God’s audible voice.

God Encounters typically do three things:

1) They remind you who you are (and whose you are)

2) They remind you how God feels about you

3) They leave you empowered to do what God has called you to do

Look at Jesus’ baptism (above) one more time. Before His baptism, Jesus had not performed a single miracle. Yet God gave Him an encounter to remind Him who He was: “This is My beloved Son.” He gave Him an encounter to remind Him how He felt about Him: “In you I am well pleased.” He gave Him an encounter to leave Him empowered to do what God had called Him to do.

The timing of this God Encounter is significant because Jesus hadn’t done anything yet. That means God’s love for Him didn’t depend on His resume; it depended on His identity. And do you know that when you give your life to Jesus, God loves you, and He is well-pleased in you, no matter what you have done? Jesus hadn’t performed a single miracle before His baptism, yet God showed up to remind Him, 1) You are My Son, and 2) I love You and I am pleased in You. The Holy Spirit descended “like a dove” (v 13); and from that moment forward, Jesus was ready to live out His calling.

God Encounters leave you prepared to weather any storm that comes your way in life. They strengthen you to do everything God has called you to do! They provide a breath of fresh air that empowers and encourages you that you are capable of living up to the calling God has prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Some of us have been called to do great things; but without a God Encounter, we’re lost. Without a God Encounter, we tend to forget who we are. Without a God Encounter, we so easily forget how God feels about us, independent of our performance. Without a God Encounter, we don’t stand a chance! But with a God Encounter, we cannot be stopped.

It’s one thing to know a God Encounter is possible; and it’s another thing to have one for yourself. What would you give to have an encounter with God? What would you sacrifice for God to make Himself real to You? What would you change for Him to speak with yo face to face?

My Encounter

This past Friday, we had a book launch party at CityLight Church. I just published my first book: Intelligent Charismatic: The Believer’s Guide to a Spirit-Filled Life.[1] What you know (if you came to the party) is that this book is three years in the making; it took some time. But what you may not know is that it is based on encounters with God.

I didn’t write a book just to write a book. I didn’t just write a book just to get my name out there and attract more Twitter followers. I wrote a book because God told me to. In a God Encounter, He gave me what felt like an overwhelming burden to write this book for the local church.[2] And every single piece of the puzzle to write this book came in the form of a God Encounter.

I remember crying out to God on the floor of our church office and asking Him if he had the right person: “Lord, are you sure You want me to write this?” In that God Encounter, He gave me the book title. Months later, as I was working with an editor to tweak the manuscript, I remember asking God, “Lord, should I really trust the editor to make these [major] changes?” In that God Encounter, He told me to trust my editor, and let her make the changes she saw as necessary because she was going to take the manuscript to a level of quality and clarity that I couldn’t properly steward on my own.

Every single part of the writing process was fueled by a God Encounter! So, what process does God have you in? Has God shown up to lead you and guide you every step of the way? Do you need an encounter with Him to move from where you are, to where He wants you to be?

How Do I Get a God Encounter?

Too often, we talk ourselves out of God Encounters. Sometimes we think God Encounters “just happen:” that if we’re in the right place, at the right time, God will show up and we can get a glimpse of Him. We make the mistake of thinking there is no cooperation required on our part. But that’s not true!

Other times, we think maybe we’re not qualified for a God Encounter. We read about Jesus’ baptism (above) and think, Well that must have been nice, but that was Jesus! Of course He had a God Encounter; but I’m not Him! Or we hear stories about God Encounters from our pastors and leaders in church and think, Well that must be nice for you, but I’m not a pastor!

But you don’t need perfect timing for a God Encounter! And you certainly don’t need the perfect resume for an encounter with God! When you examine God Encounters in Scripture, you will find that the one common trait of almost all the men and women in Scripture who have an encounter with God is they are desperate for His presence.

Moses

Moses was desperate for a God Encounter. In Exodus 33, Moses had already led God’s people out of Egypt, but they had a lot of ground to cover before arriving at their final destination. When the Promised Land seemed so far out of reach, Moses knew exactly what he needed: an encounter with God.

Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.”

And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.”

So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”

And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” – Ex 33:12-18

Moses knew the overall plan: get to Canaan. But he needed specifics! God had called him to do a great thing; but Moses had no idea how God was going to get it done. So he didn’t wait. He cried out to God with a simple prayer: show me Your glory! And God answered.

God reminded Moses who he was: “I know you by name” (v 17). He reminded Moses how He felt about him: “…for you have found grace in My sight” (v 17). He left Moses empowered to do what He had called him to do. In the rest of Exodus 33 and into Exodus 34, Moses experienced a God Encounter that would mark him for the rest of his life. God showed Moses His glory. He renewed His covenant with him, so that no matter what, Moses would always know exactly how God felt about him. And from that place, Moses went out and did everything God created him to do!

Jesus

Jesus gave many people God Encounters. But He didn’t use God Encounters as a reward for good behavior. He used them as a response to desperate passion.

In Luke 8, Jesus met a woman with a unique medical issue:

So it was, when Jesus returned, that the multitude welcomed Him, for they were all waiting for Him. And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.

And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?”

When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’”

But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.” Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. – Lk 8:40-47

Many people brushed against Jesus; but not everyone touched Him. There was something special about this desperate woman’s touch that broke through every barrier and drew miracle-working power straight from the Source.

This woman was desperate! She had tried everything to get her healing, but nothing had worked. We picture Jesus swinging around and demanding, “Who touched me?” as if He was angry. The disciples thought He was getting ready to rebuke whomever had touched the hem of His garment! But Jesus was far from angry – He wanted to give this woman a face to face encounter with God Himself.

Jesus was compelled to respond to this woman’s desperation with an intimate God Encounter:

And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” – Lk 8:48

Look at the fruit of this interaction. First, Jesus reminded this woman who she was. “Daughter,” He said (v 48). Daughter! She had been healed physically, but now she would be healed emotionally. She would no longer be an outcast; from that moment forward she would know herself – and be recognized by others – as a daughter of the Most High King!

Then, Jesus reminded her how God felt about her. “Be of good cheer, your faith has made you well” (v 48). God is pleased with you: not because of what you have done, but because of your passionate belief in Jesus! So don’t be sad of upset! Be full of joy!

Finally, Jesus empowered her to do what she was called to do. “Go in peace,” He said (v 48). He had equipped her by healing her, and filling her with the love of God, to go out and serve Him without fear (see Lk 1:73). From that moment forward, she would be a vessel of the peace of God. She would go out and do everything God had called her to do – with no excuses, and no exceptions.

What About You?

What if all God is waiting on to encounter you is passion? What if He just needs you to be more desperate? Being desperate for His presence does not depend on circumstance. You don’t need to be backed into a corner! Being desperate for a God Encounter is a choice: you simply make a decision to say, God, I need You more than the air I breathe. I need You more than life itself!

So here is the invitation I’m giving you today: don’t wait. Don’t wait until you’ve tried everything else to “fix” your problem before running to God. Don’t wait until you’re backed into a corner with no other conceivable options to pursue His presence. Get desperate for His presence now; and watch how He meets you where you are.

God wants to encounter you. He wants to remind you who you are. He wants to remind you how He feels about you. He wants to leave you empowered to go out and fulfill your destiny. And all you have to do is ask!

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] You can get your copy at intelligentcharismatic.com and on Amazon.

[2] Explanation of the Old Testament term “oracle”

Tackling Grief

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Tackling Grief’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 8/27/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

For They Shall Be Comforted

All of us grieve. Every single one of us will experience a loss at some point in our lives that shakes us – that disrupts our sense of comfort and security and calls us to question or rearrange what is most important to us. Grief is not something we should try to avoid; it is something we can try to embrace and use for growth.

Jesus taught His disciples about grief in the Sermon the Mount:

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matt 5:1-4

Blessed are those who mourn; for it is in mourning that we learn to turn to God for comfort. Jesus made it clear that we should make space for mourning in our lives. Did you know it’s not a bad thing to mourn? That grief can be healthy?

Psychologists distinguish between healthy and unhealthy (i.e. modified or prolonged) grief. Healthy grief – sometimes referred to as “normal” or “functional” grief – “…has a function. It allows survivors to identify, acknowledge, feel and integrate what they love but are now without.”[1] Healthy grief is part of an adaptive process that allows us to move forward in life. Unhealthy grief, on the other hand, prolongs suffering. It interrupts normal activities, and “prevents life from being lived to the fullest.”[2] Whereas healthy grief helps someone in mourning to adapt, unhealthy grief prevents a person from moving forward.

The point is this: healthy grieving is a part of life. We should never treat a loss as if it’s something we just need to “get over” and move on. Doug Manning – a pastor, author, and counselor for more than 30 years – reiterates our need for grief like this:

“Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired, eating when you are hungry, or sneezing when your nose itches. It’s nature’s way of healing a broken heart. ….you must have it. If you had major surgery, no one would pressure you to run a marathon the next week. Grief is a major wound. It does not heal overnight.”

If you’re grieving, that is ok. If Jesus made space for grief and mourning, we should too. Going through a difficult loss in life can actually prepare us to be more effective ministers to the people around us. And that is what we are here to talk about this morning.

Jesus promised that those who mourn “shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4). And do you know who’s called to do the comforting?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. – 2 Cor 1:3-5

I am. You are! We are called to take the comfort God has given us, and give it to others. We have blessed assurance of eternal and infinite love from God because of the Cross of Jesus Christ; and we are filled with His Holy Spirit. That means we are empowered and equipped to comfort those who need it most.

Comforting Is Hard

Comforting others is not easy. It’s hard. I cannot tell you how many times fear has stopped Christians from comforting others. When someone we know experiences a loss, our first response is often, “I don’t know what to say!” We have a misconstrued notion that, in order to comfort effectively, we need to sweep in on a wave of God’s Holy Spirit, deposit the perfect mini-sermon, and then leave. And that is not the case at all.

This Spring I experienced one of the most difficult and jarring losses I have ever experienced as a pastor. A young man[3] had been part of our church family for several years. He was one of those people who never said anything bad about anyone else. He showed up to service every single week: hungry for the things of God, in love with Jesus, and constantly encouraging the people around him.

He was a young man with a bright future; and then, last summer, he was diagnosed with an aggressive from of bone cancer. My world was shaken. The church’s world was shaken! How could a young man with such promise receive such a harsh sentence? Why would this happen to him? How could this happen to him?

Even in his illness, this young man was a constant encouragement to us. We should have been comforting him; but he was comforting us! Any time one of us went to visit, we would leave more encouraged than when we came. He had received a challenging diagnosis, but his faith never faltered for an instant. He believed God would heal him with all of his heart; and we believed it too.

But despite our strongest belief and our most passionate prayers, that young man passed away in June. Can I be honest with you? I was confused. I know God is the Healer! I have seen Him heal terminal illnesses with my own eyes! I was angry – not at God, but at the enemy. What right did Satan have to lay his hands on the body of this young man?

Weeks before his death, I had visited this young man at the hospital several times. I had met with his mother, sister, and one of his brothers. I shared with them instances where I had seen God come in and heal someone when the doctors said it was impossible. They agreed to believe with all their hearts that their son – their brother – would be healed. And now this. How could I face that family? How could I encourage them after having just pushed them to believe for the impossible, and then having this end result?

But my loss was nothing compared to theirs. I had lost a friend; but this mother had lost a son. I had lost a friend; but these siblings had lost a brother. I had no right to let fear interfere with my availability to this family. The comfort we receive from God is absolute; but the comfort we enjoy compared to each other is relative. It is the responsibility of those in comfort to BE THERE for those in mourning! So while I was experiencing a lot, it meant nothing compared to the suffering this family was going through. It was therefore my responsibility to step up and do everything I could to simply be there.

How to Effectively Comfort Others

The most comforting thing you can do for a friend who experiences a loss is to simply be there. We see this illustrated powerfully in the Book of Job. Job experienced tremendous loss. In an instant, he lost his children and all of his material possessions. In the blink of an eye, everything and everyone he held dear to him was taken away.[4]

When his friends heard about it, they came running. They wanted to be there:

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. – Job 2:11-13

They got it right at first! They sat with Job – grieving with him – for one week straight. No one said a word.

This is the most powerful response we can have to grief. This is the most powerful response we can have to loss. When you know someone who is going through a tough time, you don’t have to show up with all the answers. Explaining why loss happens is not helpful in times of loss; it can actually be hurtful. We need to be comfortable staying silent.

Job’s friends got it right at first; but they couldn’t stay silent for long. After seven days, the quiet got the best of them. Eliphaz was the first to break the silence:

“If one attempts a word with you, will you become weary? But who can withhold himself from speaking?” – Job 4:2

Eliphaz couldn’t take the silence. He couldn’t “withhold himself” from speaking! And as a result, he unknowingly made Job’s hurt further pronounced:

“Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright ever cut off? – Job 4:7

Eliphaz blamed Job for his loss. Job, he was saying, this is your fault! Eliphaz incorrectly assumed that Job deserved the suffering he was going through. Zophar also added insult to injury:

Then Zophar the Naamathite answered and said: “Therefore my anxious thoughts make me answer, Because of the turmoil within me. – Job 20:1-2

Notice exactly what forced Zophar to speak. It wasn’t Job’s best interest; it was Zophar’s anxiety. Oftentimes when we comfort others, our own discomfort with silence – or anxiety resulting from loss – compels us to speak when we should keep our mouths shut. Just like Eliphaz, Zophar added to Job’s suffering by speaking instead of alleviating it:

This is the portion from God for a wicked man, the heritage appointed to him by God.” – Job 4:29

Zophar blamed Job for his own suffering too! And so did the third friend, Bildad:

How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman? If even the moon does not shine, And the stars are not pure in His sight, How much less man, who is a maggot, And a son of man, who is a worm?” – Job 25:4-6

Three friends came to comfort Job; and all three friends actually made his pain worse. You might read the examples above and think, How could they?! But the truth is, all of us do it all the time.

We are just like Job’s friends. Whenever someone Close to us experiences a loss, we have two common temptations: We either judge that person for their loss – we assume they deserved it; or we try to explain why it happened. And neither of those responses helps that person’s grief.

How many times have you had another Christian try to comfort you with an explanation? I call these responses empty Christian platitudes.[5] “God has a purpose in all this,” we might say. True? Yes. Helpful? No. “Everything happens for a reason!” Thank you for that. “Let go and let God!” What does that even mean? “I’m sending my thoughts and prayers!” I’ll be waiting!

When we are 1) judging or 2) explaining in response to grief, it means we are not listening. Too often we assume we know how grieving people feel, without taking the time to listen. But the only way to really know what they’re going through is to sit with them and be quiet.

Job’s friends did well to sit and simply be available for Job. And we would do well to do the same.

How the Story Ends

God is a God of restoration. Even in the midst of his suffering, Job refused to curse God. He refused to profane God’s name. And in the end, God rewarded him for it:

And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord commanded them; for the Lord had accepted Job. And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. – Job 42:7-10

God “restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends.” Have you been hurt by someone who meant to help when you were grieving? Did a well-meaning friend or loved one come to you in a moment of deep pain, and say exactly the wrong thing? God will restore your losses as you pray for them: no natter how much it hurts.

Let’s pray this together:

Father, I forgive everyone who has ever said something hurtful to me in a moment of pain. I know they meant well; but it really hurt. I release them. They owe me nothing. And I know that with forgiveness comes restoration. I invite you to restore my losses, just as you did Job’s, in Jesus’ name!

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Healthy-Vs-Unhealthy-Grief.pdf

[2] Canadian Counseling & Psychotherapy Association

[3] I am withholding the use of his name in an effort to be sensitive to family and friends.

[4] Please note that Satan – not God – was the author of this disaster. Satan is the father of lies, and the perpetrator of loss. Please do not attribute your suffering to God. He is the Author of deliverance, not disaster. For a complete Biblical theology of suffering, please see intelligentcharismatic.com.

[5] A platitude is, a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.” – Google dictionary

You Are Worth It

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘You Are Worth It’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 7/9/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

You Matter

You mean more to God than you will ever know. Did you know you are the apple of His eye?

Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings… – Ps 17:8

Did you know you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)? That God knows, “…the thoughts that [He thinks] toward you, …thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11)?

Proverbs 31 describes a “virtuous wife” (v 10). But these words also remind the church – the bride of Christ – that she is worth far more than we can ever imagine:

Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. – Prov 31:10-11

Your worth is “far more” than rubies. You are worth more to God than you could possible fathom. He trusts you! And when you know and embrace just how much you mean to Him, everything changes. The worth of something is determined by the price you are willing to pay; and God paid the highest price for you!

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. – Jn 3:16

God gave His Only Son – all He had to give! – so that you could be redeemed to Him for all eternity. All He asks in return is that you would receive His love, and open your heart to love Him back.

Our Short Memory

Two things often distance us from knowing what we’re worth to God: time and adversity.

1) Time

Time is a form of distance. Have you ever gone a few months without talking to a good friend? After a while, you start to feel distant; and if you don’t reach out and re-establish communication soon, you can even start to question how that friend feels about you: even if nothing bad happened!

The same thing can happen in our relationship with God. When we haven’t talked to God in a while, or even so much as feel like we haven’t heard from Him as often as we wish we would, we start to question how He feels about us. That is why we need His word: every single day. When we go too long without the word of God, we forget how He feels about us.

I was meeting with a group of men recently, and one of them started to tell me that he didn’t understand why we needed the word of God. He was recovering from homelessness and addiction, and felt God’s word had been used to beat him into submission. The message he had heard preached from the word of God was: Do better! Try harder! Transform yourself!

I gently explained to him that the word of God is not a weapon; it’s a tool. God’s word is life. We should never read it and try to “do better, try harder, or transform ourselves;” we should simply let His word transform us. The word of God reminds us how God feels about us. When we refresh our souls with the word of God every day, we are reminded of our worth! We are reminded what we mean to God. We become refreshed and rejuvenated; and from that place of humble confidence, we can go out and live in His love. “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov 16:24); and God’s word is the most pleasant of them all!

2) Adversity

Adversity is a, “condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress.”[1] When life beats us up, sometimes we forget how much we mean to God. Sometimes we forget His calling on our lives. Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that the gifts and the callings of God are irrevocable (Rom 11:29): that nothing can diminish the love He has for us (see Rom 8:38-39).

I recently heard the story of a man who gave his life to Jesus after years of struggling with homosexuality and addiction.[2] When people heard his testimony, they told him his story would change the world! He would be an influencer of people: a Christian writer who left an impression larger than C.S. Lewis.

But several years passed, and the mega-ministry he had been promised through prophetic words didn’t materialize. He started to question his value. Had God really called him to great things? Was he really a recipient of “every good and perfect gift” (Jas 1:17)? If God really loved him, why weren’t the promises unfolding?

This man had to take his eyes off his surroundings, and put them back on the promise of God. He had to learn that his worth – his value to God – did not depend on the volume of speaking engagements he had, or the number of followers reading his work on social media. He had to remember that his value did not depend on his performance: that even one life changed by the power of the Gospel is a miracle in and of itself!

The enemy’s goal is to use adversity to discourage you: to cause you to forget your identity, and to question your calling. But I’m here to remind you that you matter, and what you do matters!

What You Do Matters

I recently preached at a Christian summer camp. My wife and I went out for the weekend to share with the staff of the camp before new campers arrived. I had an awesome message prepared on hearing the voice of God, and I could not wait to share it.

But when I finished preaching that Saturday night, I felt like I missed it! The message I preached didn’t have the impact I had hoped. The chapel where we met for service didn’t have A/C, so it was 1,000 degrees in there. The staff was looking up at me with sleep y eyes and blank stares, like they had never even considered hearing the voice of God and couldn’t care less about what I was saying. I put down the microphone after the message and took my seat: discouraged and deflated.

But after service, people from the staff started coming up for prayer. “I never even knew I could hear God’s voice,” one counselor said. “Will you pray for me?” Another counselor used to hear God’s voice, but then got burned by prophetic abuse. Someone he trusted had given him a prophetic word, and he had changed his whole life around it. He dropped out of school to pursue a business idea full-time; but when the business didn’t work out, he had to pick up the pieces (and of course the “friend” who had given him the prophetic word was nowhere to be found)!

I thought I had missed it. I felt like everything I had done didn’t matter! But then I ended up spending over 30 minutes encouraging the staff, one by one, to hear God’s voice for themselves. God was working behind the scenes the entire time! His breakthrough simply took a different form than I expected. I didn’t win a whole crowd with the message; but I won a handful of hearts, one by one.

The Fruit of Obedience

Here’s one thing I’ve come to understand in my walk with God: obedience is all that matters. Ask God what He has called you to do; and then go out and do it, knowing that 1) you are worthy of the calling, and 2) what you are doing matters! It doesn’t matter if people would look at your life and say, “Behold the glory of God!” Or if they would hear your testimony and say, “WOW!” All that matters is: are you doing what God has called you to do?

You might be called to change the world; or, you might be called to hold down the fort here at home.[3] But either way, when you are being whom God has called you to be, you are causing His will to unfold over the earth. And that matters more than you will ever know.

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Dictionary.com

[2] http://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/god-may-not-want-you-to-be-a-world-changer.html

[3] “But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.” – 1 Thess 4:10b-12

God Loves Underdogs

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘God Loves Underdogs’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 7/30/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

God Loves Underdogs

Whenever I watch a game and I don’t have any stake in who wins, I root for the underdog. It’s fun to root for the little guy. It’s exciting to cheer for the team no one else thinks can win. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching a fierce competitor overcome impossible odds, and winning when everyone says it can’t be done.

An underdog is, “a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest. Someone with a long shot; a dark horse; the ‘weaker one;’ the little guy.”[1] And God loves underdogs.

Israel the Underdog

Have you ever faced impossible odds? All throughout their history, the people of Israel have been the underdogs. When Jacob and his sons faced extreme famine and moved to Egypt, the entire household was only seventy people:

“All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy.” – Gen 46:27

The entire time they were in Egypt, they faced impossible odds. The people of Egypt despised them. Pharaoh – the ruler of Egypt – hated them. When Moses demanded freedom from Pharaoh, things got even worse!

And the taskmasters of the people and their officers went out and spoke to the people, saying, “Thus says Pharaoh: ‘I will not give you straw. Go, get yourselves straw where you can find it; yet none of your work will be reduced.’” – Exodus 5:10-11

God’s people were hated. They were despised! Nobody thought they could win. But “…the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (Ex 1:12). By the time God’s people left Egypt en route to the Promised Land, God had done the impossible. He had overcome the odds, and multiplied them – just as He promised Abraham He would:

Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. – Exodus 12:37

Six hundred thousand men, plus women and children. That means anywhere between 2 and 5 million people! God’s people came to Egypt with nothing in the midst of an impossible situation – the most severe famine the world had ever seen! Yet they came out stronger than anyone could have ever imagined. God loves underdogs.

King David the Underdog

Have you ever faced an obstacle that seems larger than life? Something bigger than you’ve ever faced before? David knows how you feel. He was an underdog. He had zero chance of winning in the greatest battle he ever faced. But watch what God did in his life; and consider that if God did it for David, He will do it for you.

Goliath was big:

The Philistines stood on a mountain on one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him. – 1 Sam 17:3-7

Goliath was the best fighter the enemy had. He had been trained in combat since he was a kid. And did I mention he was huge? Historians estimate his height – “six cubits and a span” – was anywhere between 9’9” and 11’4”. Eleven feet tall! They don’t make them like that any more. The staff of his spear was like a “weaver’s beam.” John Gill’s Bible Commentary notes Goliath’s spear would have been about twenty-six feet long.

Goliath knew he was big; so he came out before the army of Israel and taunted them. “Send your best guy,” he said, “and I will fight him. If you win, we will serve you; but if I win, you will serve us.” The entire army was afraid. Nobody wanted to fight him! They were at a standstill, unsure of what to do and afraid for their lives.

Then here comes David. David was not a warrior. He was “…ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking” (1 Sam 16:12); but he was tiny compared to Goliath. Goliath was a man of war, trained from his youth; and David was just a little shepherd boy, stuck at home watching sheep while his older brothers went to war.

But God loves underdogs. David had a little body; but a great big heart.

Then he took his staff in his hand; and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag, in a pouch which he had, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine. So the Philistine came, and began drawing near to David, and the man who bore the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about and saw David, he disdained him; for he was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking. So the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!” Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. – 1 Sam 17:40-45

Goliath refused to take David seriously. He thought this was a joke! But David was confident. He told King Saul (see vv 34-37) that when he watched his father’s sheep and a bear came, he would fight it off. When a lion came, he would catch it by its beard, strike and kill it (1 sam 17:35). He confidently told King Saul that he was ready for the challenge: “Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Sam 17:36).

David had faced impossible odds before. And every time he faced a new enemy that was bigger than the last, God had delivered his enemy into his hand. Why would this battle be any different? David had his testimony. He stood on everything he had already seen God do, and believed God would to it again.

And that is exactly what God did:

So it was, when the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, that David hurried and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran and stood over the Philistine, took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled. – 1 Sam 17:48-51

Maybe you don’t have a personal testimony like David’s. Maybe you’re a brand new Christian facing a huge battle and you’re not sure what to believe. But this is why we have our Bibles. Even if we don’t have a personal history with God, we get to rely on the strength of testimonies from men like David – men who have seen God overcome absolutely impossible odds, again and again and again. If God did it for David, He will do it for you!

David knew something we should know as God’s people: God loves underdogs. The size of the dog in the fight doesn’t matter; it’s the size of the fight in the dog that counts! God loves achieving impossible victories, because they make the rest of the world step back and say, “Wow. That had to be God!”

Jesus the Underdog

Have you ever been surrounded by people who don’t believe in you? Have you ever gotten frustrated because nobody knows what you’re capable of? Jesus knows how you feel. He overcame impossible odds to accomplish the mission God gave Him to complete, even while everyone around Him doubted who He was.

Jesus knew who He was and what He could do; but in some places where He went, nobody else believed Him:

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” – Luke 4:16-21

This was a Nazarene mic drop! Jesus came to the temple and announced that He was the Messiah the Jewish people were waiting for! But nobody believed Him. They stared at Him as He sat down, completely unwilling to consider that He was who He said He was.

But Jesus didn’t care what they thought. He knew what He had come to do; and He would complete His cosmic rescue mission, no matter what anyone thought or said.

The religious leaders tried to kill Him for so brazenly announcing His destiny. But evil cannot touch whom God has anointed:

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. – Lk 4:28-30

They didn’t believe Him! But they couldn’t touch Him. God made a way to pass right through them, as if nothing had happened at all.

We need to learn to trust what God says above what people think. We serve Him; not them. And if we value and prize our work for Him about our praise from them, He will protect us from them in the name of Him.

You Are the Underdog

What impossible odds are stacked against you? What life-sized obstacle are you currently facing that seems impossible to overcome? Who do you know you are, that nobody else will believe? You are an underdog in some way, shape or form. You have dreams to fulfill that nobody else thinks can happen.

Other people may look at you and say, “You’re too small. You’re too weak. You’re not smart enough! You’re not tough enough!” But you are not one who shrinks back. You are an underdog who overcomes impossible odds because God’s Holy Spirit lives in you! You serve the Living God. When we serve Him, He fights our battles; and when God fights for us, it is impossible to lose.

© Michael D. White, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[1] Google dictionary