Sermons

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

From Stress to Rest

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘From Stress to Rest’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 2/4/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

From Stress to Rest

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matt 11:28-30

Rest. All of us seek it, but few of us really find it. Wouldn’t you love to live a life of rest?!

When you see the word rest, what is the first thing that comes to mind? A day off from work? Kicking your feet up and watching TV at the end of a long day? Vacation?!

Typically, we think of rest as an escape. If we really want to rest, we have to get away! If you’re a parent, “rest” means a few days without having to chase your kids. If you have a stressful career, “rest” means some time out of the office: not having to commute in or run to any meetings. But did you know that some of the things we do in the name of “rest” aren’t actually that restful?

Take vacation as an example. When work gets tough, what is the first thing we think? I need a vacation! But a study[1] in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life found that vacations don’t actually help us to relax the way we think they will! Researchers interviewed 1,530 people: some went on vacation, and some didn’t. They found that vacationers actually felt happiest before their trips, not after. In fact, they found no difference in post-trip happiness for those who went on vacation, versus those who did not. So that big trip you’ve been planning? Anticipating the trip might make you happy! But the trip itself might not make you happy at all!

So what can we do if even a vacation won’t help us relax and unwind?

Sources of Stress

In order to manage stress, we need to know where it comes from. The American Psychological Association (APA) conducted a survey[2] of New Yorkers to determine their most significant sources of stress. Money was at the top of the list with 78% of respondents saying their financial situation was significantly stressful. Work (78%) was next, followed by the economy (71%), personal health concerns (68%), and health problems affecting family members (62%).

How do most New Yorkers deal with stress? The most commonly reported stress management techniques from the same survey include listening to music (53%), exercising or walking (51%), and reading (40%). Notice our most frequent coping mechanisms are escapes. We’re trying to avoid the stressors – the things that create stress in our lives – to create space so stress can dissipate. I need to get away from work, we think. I need a break from family! Or I need a night out with my friends!

But what if true rest doesn’t actually mean getting away from anything? What if true rest actually means getting closer to something, or Someone?

Redefining Rest

Look again at Jesus’ prescription for rest:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” – Matt 11:28-30

Jesus didn’t say, stop what you are doing, and take a vacation! He simply said, come to Me! We don’t have to go anywhere to find rest; we just have to go to Him! We don’t have to get rid of anything to find rest; we simply have to receive what He has to offer!

Luke 8 tells the story of a woman who struggled with a persistent and potentially life-threatening medical issue for twelve years:

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… – Luke 8:43

What was this woman’s stressor? This was a personal health concern. She didn’t have any rest because she had been struggling with her health – running to doctors left and right – for twelve years. Imagine how that would drain you. Imagine how stressful it would be to see physician after physician, without ever finding anyone who could actually help!

This woman discovered an important truth. She didn’t have to run from her sickness by taking a vacation. She didn’t need something that would help her forget what she was going through. The prescription wasn’t to distance herself from her problems. She knew if she could just get to Jesus, she would receive rest. So, she…

…came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped. – Luke 8:44

This woman pushed through a crowd to get to Jesus, and she was released: from stress, into rest! All it took was one touch. One touch from Heaven. One encounter with Jesus. One moment in His presence. And she was made perfectly well.

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. And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” – Luke 8:45-48

“Go in peace.” Peace is the Greek eirene,[3] which can also be translated as…rest. Here was Jesus’ message for us, through this woman with the issue of blood: when we come to Him with our stress, He will release us and give us rest!

True rest does not mean the absence of stressful stimuli; it means being close to Jesus, no matter what is going on all around you.

Get Close to Him

The most powerful stress-reducing realization you can have is this: God is here. The woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8; above) had to press through a crowd to get close to Jesus; but you and I simply have to realize that when we give our lives to Jesus, He already lives in us.

No matter what you are going through, God is there. No matter what you are facing, God is there. No matter what is causing you stress, God is there! The next time you feel stressed, take a moment to lift your head towards Heaven, open up your arms, and just say, “Daddy, thank You for being here. You are close to me, and I have nothing to fear.”

A few nights ago, I was putting our one-year-old daughter to bed. At first, I held her in my arms while rocking back and forth. Then, when she started to doze off, I put her down in her crib. She instantly woke up, started to whimper, and looked for me: she needed to know I was there. I put my hand out and started to rub her back, just so she would know I hadn’t left. Eventually, I took my hand off her back and just sat in a chair next to her crib. For the next ten minutes, she would sleep for a moment, only to wake up and look around the room to make sure I was still there, and then go back to sleep. In order to rest, she needed to know her father was there.

Your Father is here. He’s here to love you! He’s here to take away your burden. He’s here to relieve you of the stress that’s been overwhelming you for years! You don’t have to get away; you just have to come to Him, and know that He is here.

© Michael D. White, 2018. 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.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2837207/

[2] http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2012/new-york.aspx

[3] https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/eirene.html

Strongs 1515

How to Hear from God

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘How to Hear from God’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 1/28/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

The Importance of Hearing from God

God is still speaking. Are you making time to listen?

I love my Bible. I read it every day. But even if I know God’s written word, I still need to hear from Him! Hearing from God is an essential part of our relationship with God; and it’s also the part that many Christians completely ignore.

In Greek – the original language of the New Testament – God’s written word is knows as the logos.[1] The logos – God’s written word – should be the benchmark for the way we live our daily lives. It should be the foundation upon which we build our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. But even if you know your logos – even if you have Scripture memorized inside and out – there will still be moments in life where you need to hear an on-time word from God.

The on-time, spoken word of God is the rhema:[2]

So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. – Rom 10:17

We can only have faith if we hear God; and hearing comes by the rhema – the spoken word of God. When was the last time you received a rhema, spoken word from Heaven?

We need the rhema. Let me give you an example why. When I reached a certain age, I decided I wanted to get married. I read Proverbs 31 and learned what makes a godly woman great. I studied Ephesians 5 to examine my own responsibilities as a future husband. I went to 2 Corinthians 6:14 and was reminded of the importance of being equally yoked! But nowhere in the logos – God’s written word – did God say, “Mike, thou shalt marry Rachael.” God’s word told me what my future wife’s character should be like; but the logos didn’t tell me what she would look like, where I was going to meet her, or any other pertinent details I needed to determine if she was “the one.”

So guess what? I needed a rhema. I needed to trust that when I met the right woman, God would speak to me and let me know, this is her. When I met my wife, that is exactly what He did. The Holy Spirit was with us from our first date, knitting our hearts together, and encouraging us to dive in as we got to know each other and worked towards courtship and marriage. I already had the logos, but I needed the rhema to make the right decision.

You Can Hear from God

Maybe you know the importance of hearing from God, but you’ve never done it. Maybe you’re wondering, what do I need to do to hear from Him?

Believe. Amos 3:7 says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” And under the New Covenant, on this side of the Cross, do you know who His “prophet” is? YOU!

For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” – Lk 7:28

Even if you are least in the Kingdom of God, you are a greater prophet than John the Baptist! You are filled with the same Holy Spirit as Jesus Himself (Rom 8:11), and you are qualified to hear from Heaven!

Without the rhema, you will be lost…

Where there is no revelation, (prophetic vision) the people cast off restraint… – Prov 29:18

…but with the rhema, you have nothing to fear!

What Does God’s Voice Sound Like?

There are many ways to hear from God. Sometimes He speaks from a burning bush (Exodus 3). Other times His voice booms straight own from heaven (Matt 3)! But more often than not, God speaks in a still small voice.

Then [God] said [to Elijah], “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. – 1 Kings 19:11-12

If Elijah had been waiting for a big booming voice to shake the sky, He would have missed the word of the Lord! God was not in the wind. He was not in the earthquake! He wasn’t in the fire. He delivered His message to Elijah in the form of a still small voice.

God spoke to Samuel in the same way:

Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel: “Behold…” – 1 Sam 3:10-11a

As you read through God’s conversation with Elijah in 1 Kings 19, and then His conversation with Samuel in 1 Samuel 3, you will notice two common elements.

First, God speaks in the quiet. If we want to hear from God in chaos, we have to learn how to hear His voice in silence first! God spoke to Elijah in a still small voice. He whispered to Samuel in a voice so soft that Samuel almost missed it! But He did it so that whenever He needed to speak to them in the future, they would already know the sound of his voice.

Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of a crisis to seek the voice of God. What if I told you to go into the middle of a subway platform and “listen for Bob’s voice?” What would your first question be? Who is Bob and what does he sound like?! You can’t expect to pick out a voice you’ve never heard in chaos if you don’t know what (s)he sounds like in quiet; yet some of us wait to try and hear God’s voice until the stuff hits the fan, and wonder why we can’t tell if it’s Him! Get to know His still small voice now, before the heat is turned up!

Second, both Elijah and Samuel had to engage with God. In 1 Kings 19, God started speaking to Elijah; but Elijah had to “go out, and stand on the mountain” (v 11) before God delivered the message. In 1 Samuel 3, God started speaking to Samuel; but Samuel had to reply, “Speak, for Your servant hears!” (v 11), to hear the whole message. When God starts speaking to you, step up! When you hear His whisper, get closer to Him than ever, and ask to hear His voice loud and clear.

Was That Me, or Is That God?

How can you tell if what you’re hearing in prayer is really God? How do you know it’s not just your wants and desires creeping up on you? How can you be sure you are following His desires for you, instead of the wants and desires of your own heart?

Whenever I need to know “was that me, or is that God,” I do three things:

1) Go to the word

Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. – Matt 12:24-25

A house divided cannot stand. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are One. That means the Holy Spirit will not tell you something that disagrees with God’s word. Said another way, the rhema will always line up with the logos. If you “hear” something in prayer that doesn’t line up with Scripture, it wasn’t from God!

2) Ask other people

Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. – Prov 11:14

If you’re not sure how to respond from a word from God, ask other people. Do you have trusted Christian friends who can help you decipher if the thoughts you are thinking – and the plans you are planning – are really from Him?

3) Wait for confirmation

“By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” – 2 Cor 13:1

Don’t rush. If you hear something from God in prayer, wait for Him to confirm His word. He may speak to you again. He may speak to one of your friends. Or, His Holy Spirit may highlight a Scripture verse that confirms what He is saying. But don’t be afraid to wait. I can’t tell you how many spiritual destinies I have seen derailed because God gives someone a nibble, and they try to bit off His whole hand.

God created you for such a time as this. He made you on purpose, to go out and do something no one else can do; but first, you need to hear his voice!

© Michael D. White, 2018. 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] Strong’s G3056

[2] Strong’s G4487

Divine Healing

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Diving Healing’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 1/14/2018, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

I believe in divine healing. I believe God heals because I see it in Scripture. I believe Jesus still heals because I have seen it in my life!

This is the promise Jesus gave His disciples:

And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” – Mk 16:17-18

And this is what happened when the disciples took hold of that promise and stepped out on God’s word:

And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. – Mk 16:20

When the disciples believed the word Jesus spoke, miracles started to happen. Are you ready to believe God’s word when it comes to healing?

Our Recent History

Our three-year-old son, Clive, was in the hospital last week. My wife took him to his doctor on Tuesday because he was complaining his ear hurt. We assumed it would be a quick visit for an ear infection. But the doctor looked concerned and told her, “You need to take him to the emergency room.”

The emergency room doctors looked concerned too. They diagnosed him with mastoiditis: an infection in the bone behind the ear. Treatment would require a 3-4 day hospital stay. In a worst-case scenario, surgery would be required.

But my wife and I don’t believe in worst-case scenarios. We have seen God heal. We have seen crooked spines straightened and bone spurs retract. We have seen legs grow out, and terminal illnesses vanish. We know God’s will is to heal all His children all the time. So why would we believe any different?

Clive spent four days in the hospital hooked up to IV antibiotics. But no surgery. No lengthened stay. Physicians kept stopping to comment on how good his ear looked, and how fast he was recovering. Some stopped and asked us how we were in such a good mood! We were in a good mood because we know God heals. We believed the best because we know God heals.

I encourage you to learn what God’s word says about healing now before you find yourself in what otherwise could be a medical emergency – so that you will be armed with His word when you need it. We didn’t have to so much as break a sweat at the hospital, because 1) we know God’s will, 2) we are armed with His word, and 3) we are ready to worship at all times.

God’s Will

Step One in the healing process is knowing God’s will.

God makes His will known through His word. If you’re ever going through something difficult and you want to know how God feels about it, read His word! Decipher His heart in the pages of Scripture so you can have confidence and know exactly how He feels.

In Old Testament Scripture, God told His people exactly how He feels about physical healing. They reached a place called Marah on their way through the wilderness, and God spoke:

“There He made a statute and an ordinance for them, and there He tested them, and said, ‘If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord who heals you.’” – Ex 15:25-26

God called Himself, “The Lord who heals you” (in the original Hebrew language: Jehovah Rapha). Healing is not just something God does; healing is who God is! Healing is an inseparable part of God’s character. He called Himself Jehovah Rapha so His people would know: no matter what, I am the God who heals!

But God’s people had to activate His healing. Look at the conditional nature of God’s promise: if you diligently heed My voice…I will put no disease on you. Do you know what it means to “diligently heed” God on this side of the Cross? Believe in Jesus! When you put your faith in Jesus Christ and trust Him for salvation, God becomes Jehovah Rapha – the God who heals – to you!

God wants to heal you. Knowing His heart is the first step in the healing process. I know too many Christians who believe God makes them sick to teach them a lesson. But Jesus spent His entire earthly ministry healing the sick, and Jesus and the Father are One. So why would Jesus heal, only to have God turn around and undo His work? A house divided cannot stand (Matt 12:25); and “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8)! If Jesus healed when He walked the earth, God still wants to heal you now!

God’s Word

Step Two in the healing process is knowing God’s word.

Six years ago, my wife and I founded the healing rooms at CityLight Church. I knew what God’s word said about healing, but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. It wasn’t enough just to know that Jesus healed; if God was real, I needed to know that He heals! So we put His word to the test.

I knew I had to get filled up with His word to pray effectively; so I took every single Scripture on healing I could find, wrote them all down on index cards, and started to memorize. The transformation was incredible. As God wrote His word on my heart, things started to happen when I prayed. Prayer for the sick was no longer an exercise to decipher God’s will; it was a declaration to release God’s will over sick bodies, to watch them come back to life.

Do you need healing in your body? Do you want to see other people healed as you pray for them? Get filled up with the word of God, and watch His Holy Spirit move!

The Book of Isaiah tells us why being filled with God’s word is so important:

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” – Is 55:10-11

God send His word to heal (see Ps 107:20). His promise is this: whatever He has spoken will not return to Him void. How do we make God’s word return to Him? By repeating it – out loud – over our bodies!

When we speak God’s word back to Him in the form of prayer, we exercise this promise from Isaiah 55:11. When we exercise His word, the power in His word is released. When we declare His word out loud over our bodies, miracles happen. His word will accomplish what He pleases (v 11). But if we want to pray His word, we have to know His word.

God’s Worship

Step Three in the healing process is knowing God through worship.

God is willing to heal. Can I prove it to you?

When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” – Matt 8:1-4

This leper asked a fair question! He needed to know, “God, are You willing to heal me?” But you and I already have that answer. The leper had an excuse to ask Jesus if He was willing to heal, because there was no written record of the miracles of Jesus Christ! But you and I don’t have an excuse. We know His will, and we have His word; so nothing should stop us from grabbing hold of it with everything we are. I believe Jesus’ response to the leper forever answers the question, “Is God willing to heal me?” He is willing; be cleansed!

Jesus was willing; but the leper had to come and worship to receive his healing. God is always willing to heal; but it is our worship that activates His willingness over our bodies and our lives. So if you know His will (you do!), and you have His word (you do!), now it’s time to worship.

To worship is the Greek proskuneo: to kiss the hand in reverence.[1] When a servant met a king, he would bow and kiss his hand to show love and submission. When we worship Jesus, we bow and submit our lives to Him in exactly the same way. Typically we associate worship with music; but Biblical worship is so much more than just music! To worship Jesus means to trust Him with all your heart: to bow your knee to Him, and believe what you see in His word more than what you see with your eyes. Are you willing to worship God like your healing already happened? Are you willing to act on your expectation that healing is coming?

Jairus learned the importance of worship first-hand when he came and asked Jesus to raise his daughter from the dead:

While He spoke these things to them, behold, a ruler came and worshiped Him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay Your hand on her and she will live.” So Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples. – Matt 9:18-19

Jairus was a ruler! But he didn’t send a servant to meet Jesus. He came and bowed his own knee. He worshiped Jesus, because he knew it would make all the difference:

When Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd wailing, He said to them, “Make room, for the girl is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him. But when the crowd was put outside, He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went out into all that land. – Matt 9:23-26

Worship activates God’s willingness. He is already willing! Are you ready to make the decision to worship? To lay down your fears, and to trust in His faithfulness?

© Michael D. White, 2018. 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/proskuneo.html

In That Place

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘In That Place’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 12/17/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

Jesus In A Manger

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Lk 2:1-7

Jesus’ birth was supernatural; but it wasn’t perfect. He was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger, “…because there was no room for them in the inn” (v 7). Surely God could have made room for them in the inn! But He didn’t. So the question becomes, why?

Sometimes God’s blessings are messy. Sometimes they come when and where we think they will happen; but other times they come in places we least expect. Surely Mary and Joseph would have been more comfortable in a hotel, or a nice bed and breakfast. People would have heard the news more easily if they had given birth in a big city, instead of a small town like Bethlehem. But God’s blessings do not always depend on location.

Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, and God blessed them in that place. I’m here to tell you that wherever you are – as long as you are following the will of God – He will bless you in that place. You don’t have to wish you were someone or somewhere else. He will do amazing things right where you are, in Jesus’ name!

Where Are You Now?

Where are you in your life plan? What is your living situation like? What about your financial plan? Are you living where you want to live? Are you single, or married? What about kids? Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking we have to be somewhere else to experience God’s goodness. Wherever you are: God wants to bless you in that place.

New York City is a very transient city. People often move here, stay for a matter of a few months or years, and then move on. I cannot tell you how many people I have met who think, “If I just leave New York, my life will be so much better.” We have this mindset that if we change location – or jobs, relationships, the list goes on – all our problems will disappear. But when you move, your problems won’t disappear; you will just have new problems!

Whenever we think about making a major change that God has not ordained, we are entertaining escapism. Escapism is, “the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.”[1] If we’re sick of New York, we daydream about moving to the South. If we’re struggling in our marriage, we wonder if we married the wrong person. If we’re tired of our job, we fantasize about switching jobs, or even careers.

But what if God wants to bless you right where you are?

In That Place

For many years, my wife Rachael and I wanted a big house. We both grew up in the suburbs, and we wanted a similar experience for our kids. When we got married, we told ourselves we would never raise kids in the city. We had a plan to move out and find more space. But don’t you know sometimes God’s plan is different from your plan? Here we are, still in New York City.

Instead of trying to escape, we started asking God to bless us right where we are. We’ve come to treasure the intimacy that comes from having two (going on three) kids in a New York City apartment. We wanted more, but we knew God wanted us to stay right where we are; so we asked Him to bless us in that place. And He did! We are financially blessed right where we are. Our kids are going to great schools right where we are. We love to host friends and family right where we are. We didn’t need to change locations; we simply needed to ask God to bless us in that place!

Our Manhattan church meets in the basement of an Orthodox church. We have been renting the same space for the past fifteen years. As we’ve grown, we’ve started to run out of room. At first, we (our church leadership) prayed that God would move us out of that place. We needed more space, and we needed it now! (After all, our ‘kids room’ is an open-air playpen at the back of the sanctuary). But wanting to move just resulted in closed doors and endless frustration; so our prayer changed. Instead of praying for God to move us, we started praying He would bless us right where we are.

Since our prayer changed, we have been growing in that place. Now, we are on the threshold of buying that whole building for pennies on the dollar! If we had insisted on moving, we never would have been blessed the way God wanted us to be blessed!

Don’t waste your time wishing you were somewhere else. Ask God, “Lord, how do you want to bless me where I am?” Wherever you are, God wants to bless you in that place.

Time and Again

God is omnipresent: He is everywhere. That means He can put His power on display wherever you are. He doesn’t need to move you to bless you; He can bless you in that place! And He has proved it for His people time and time again.

When God’s people were wandering through the wilderness in Exodus 16, they cried out because they were hungry. God didn’t tell them to wait until they got there to eat; He blessed them in that place:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you.” – Ex 16:4

In Exodus 17, when God’s people got thirsty, He didn’t tell them to hang on until they reached their destination to have a drink. He blessed them in that place:

Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” – Ex 17:6

When you and I needed a Savior, God didn’t tell us to clean up and get to church before we could be saved. He met us right where we were, and blessed us in that place. While you were still in sin, He died as your sin (see 2 Cor 5:21), so you could be free in everlasting life.

God persistently shows His people that He is willing to bless them wherever they are. So, what are you in the middle of? Wherever you are, and whatever you’re going through, God wants to bless you in that place.

© 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

Not My Will

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Not My Will’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 12/10/2017, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click the play arrow above.

Let It Be

In Luke 1, Mary receives good news:

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. – Lk 1:26-38

Mary would have a Son. She would call His name Jesus. He would be great, and of His kingdom there would be no end!

But there’s another side to this story. Mary wasn’t married! According to Jewish law, the punishment for becoming pregnant outside of wedlock was death. If anyone found out she was pregnant, she would be stoned!

Sometimes God’s blessings cause friction. Mary received a great promise; but receipt of that promise would not be without its challenges. What an infinite privilege to be the mother of Jesus! But what great shame to have your friends and family judge you for their lack of understanding God’s plan. What great pain to be destined to see your Son die on a Cross! What great danger if people didn’t believe Mary that her child was from God!

Mary didn’t ask for the gift God gave her; but her response showed the posture of her heart: “Let it be to me according to your word” (v 38). When you receive an unexpected blessing, is your first response to say yes to what God is trying to do? Or do you buck and kick against the will of God in an effort to maintain control?

You can’t always control what comes your way in life; but you can control how you respond to it. Mary was a woman after God’s own heart. She received unbelievable news (v 34); but she chose to believe it by faith (v 37). She refused to fight against God’s will for her life, and instead chose to receive everything He had for her; because she knew that God’s plan would be far greater than anything she could ever plan for herself.

God’s Will

“Will” is defined as “the thing that one desires or ordains.”[1] I believe you can know God’s will for your life, if you ask Him to show it to you in prayer. But “will” can also have another meaning.

In the fall of 2015, my Uncle Jon passed away. He was my mother’s little brother. He had been a smoker his whole life; and even though he was a fighter, the habit eventually caught up with him.

When he died, he left a will. His will was a legal document representing his desires for all his “stuff” – everything he left here on earth. My mom was the executor of his will: she was legally appointed to carry out his will, because he was no longer here on earth to carry it out himself.

For months, I watched my mom faithfully execute every single one of my uncle’s desires. She tied up every loose end to make sure his home was properly cared for. She tirelessly tracked down every single one of his personal possessions to make sure it got into the right hands. She spent countless hours of her time and energy to honor her brother’s memory.

Being the executor of a will is a thankless job. So why did she do it? She didn’t do it because she feared a consequence if she said no; she did it because she loved my uncle. She loved her little brother with all her heart, and wanted to make sure his desires were carried out.

You are the executor of God’s will. He has given you His stated desires in written form – His word – and your task is to carry out every last instruction. You don’t have to do it because you fear some consequence if you fail; you get to do it because you love Him with all your heart. Sometimes things might get messy. Sometimes it might be a pain! But God’s will is the best way: always, and forever.

So what happens if you choose not to do it? What happens if you ignore what God has called you to do? Someone else will do it; but if they do it, that means they get the reward (see Ester 4:14).

Yielding to God’s will for your life does not mean you become a casual observer. It does not mean you float through life, allowing whatever happens to just take place. Accepting God’s will actually makes you a fierce enforcer. It means you stand your ground with a healthy insistence – and a confident assurance – that His will is the only thing you will allow to take place in your life. You do not get to exercise your own will; instead you lay it down in favor of God’s will. The enemy does not get to exercise his will; instead you reject his plans for the plans of God alone!

Not My Will…

All great men and women of God share one characteristic in common: they continuously lay down their own will for God’s will. We saw Mary do it in Luke 1:38: “Let it be to me according to your word.” And we see Jesus make the same self-will sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. – Lk 22:39-44

Jesus made a decision: His Father’s will was more important than His own will. Now consider this: if even the very Son of God had to make a conscious decision to lay down His own self-will in favor God’s, how much more so do we?!

Jesus knew the road ahead would be hard; but He refused to settle for anything less than complete fulfillment of God’s will. God sent Him to earth with a very specific mission; and He would die to fulfill every last word.

Are you ready to do the same in your life? Are you ready to lay down your self-will, and pick up God’s will for you? Are you ready to throw out your plan, and simply carry out every instruction God has asked you to fulfill?

When you do, you will notice three things happening:

1) You will be more satisfied than you have ever been before, because you are fulfilling God’s design for you.
2) The people around you will be stepping into their destiny because your self-sacrifice propels them to obedience.
3) You will no longer live one day at a time; you will live with eternity in mind.

And that, my friends, is worth it!

© 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

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