Posts Tagged ‘Michael J. Fox’

Advent Devotional Day 29: “The Light Shines in Darkness”

December 29, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: John 1:1-5

In the movie Back to the Future, Doc Brown, the inventor of a time-traveling DeLorean, asks Michael J. Fox’s character, Marty, if he wants to travel back in time and witness the birth of Christ. We then see him set the clock on the DeLorean’s dashboard to December 25 of the year “0000.” 

This is wrong for two reasons: First, there wasn’t a year “0000.” (The calendar changed from 1 B.C. to A.D. 1) Second, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25—or, more accurately, he had about a 1 in 365 chance of being born on December 25.

But the Church chose the date of December 25 to celebrate Christ’s birth for an important reason: Under the old Julian calendar, it marked the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. For the next six months following the winter solstice, each day will be marked by progressively more daylight.

Some Christians are bothered by the fact that Christmas falls on (or near) what was traditionally a pagan holiday. Ancient people celebrated the solstice because it meant “the end of gloom and darkness and the victory of the sun and the light over darkness.”[1]

As Adam Hamilton points out, however, the solstice is a fitting symbol of Christmas:

Many believe that when Christians in the fourth century settled on a date to celebrate the birth of Jesus, they chose the date not because it was a pagan holiday, but because the heavens themselves declared at this time the truth of the gospel. The winter solstice represented astronomically what John’s Gospel proclaimed was happening spiritually in the birth of Jesus Christ. Just as darkness was defeated by light, so in Jesus, God’s light would defeat the darkness of sin and death.

This meaning is captured in John’s telling of the story. John doesn’t mention angels or shepherds or wise men; he speaks only of light and life and the defeat of darkness. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with  God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).[2]

Describe in your own words ways in which the “light of Christ” has driven out darkness in your own life. In what areas of your life do you still need Christ’s life to shine? Pray that God will make that happen through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

1. Adam Hamilton, The Journey (Nashville: Abingdon, 2011), 126.

2. Ibid.

Advent Podcast Day 19: “The Light Shines in Darkness”

December 21, 2017

From the first day of Advent until Christmas Day, I’m podcasting a daily devotional. You can listen by clicking on the playhead below.

Devotional Text: John 1:1-5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What our lives are “supposed” to be

October 30, 2015

Today I was reading a book by a megachurch pastor on the subject of financial stewardship. Our church, as you probably know from recent blog posts, is currently in the midst of our annual stewardship campaign. Let me preface these words by saying that there was nothing wrong with anything this pastor said. He aimed to inspire us to be more generous.

To that end, he gave many examples from the church that he pastored. By all measures he (or his church) was incredibly successful: the size of the church’s budget, the size of his congregations spread across multiple campuses, the extent of the church’s generosity. And, yes, even his personal anecdotes about learning to trust in the Lord more and more with his money were impressive, if not intimidating.

And as I was reading his words, I wanted to throw the book across the room.

Why? Because I felt judged by it. This deeply critical inner voice within me said, “If you were more like him, you would…” And here I could finish this sentence by inserting any number of personal dreams or aspirations. If I were more like him, I wouldn’t have the problems that I have.

Aside from breaking the tenth commandment, this barely conscious thought is wrong in other ways. First, if I were more like him, I wouldn’t be me, and God, for whatever reason, wants me to be Brent White. Second, I have no idea what kinds of problems this pastor has—only I can be sure that he has them. It just so happens that this book isn’t about his problems. So I’m falling into that spiritually deadly trap of “comparing his outsides to my insides,” which I’ve preached against.

Finally, do I believe in God’s sovereignty or don’t I? I talk a lot—I blog a lot—about how God is in charge, about how God’s plans are better than my own plans, about how “everything happens for a reason,” but let’s face it: I often fail to live as if I believe it. Instead, I have a pretty definite idea of the course that my life should take, and I don’t want anyone, God included, to mess with it.

In fact, so much of my unhappiness in life is related to unmet expectations. A while back I referred in a sermon to an interview with actor Michael J. Fox, whose life and career have been dramatically altered by Parkinson’s. Fox said the following:


Yes! This is exactly right! Usually, if not always, it isn’t what happens to me that causes suffering; it’s that what happens to me isn’t what I planned, wanted, or expected.

But I’m a Christian. I follow a Savior who tells me to take up my instrument of torture and death and follow him. Jesus doesn’t seem terribly interested in my plans, my desires, or my expectations. Not because he doesn’t care, but because he doeshe knows what I need better than I do!

My point is, I bring so much suffering on myself through how I respond to external events. It’s not the event itself!

By contrast, the Bible gives us the example of the apostle Paul: languishing in prison, afflicted, facing execution, ruminating on everything that—from a worldly perspective—has gone badly wrong with his life. Yet in the midst of a life that hasn’t gone according to his plans, he can say things like, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Or “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” Or “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”

O God, I want to be like that!

But I think I’m making progress: for example, I’m encouraged that I now recognize that there’s something wrong with my desire to throw the successful pastor’s book across the room!

In her book Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff writes about the “hidden assumption” that “colors our emotional reactions”: that our life is “supposed” to go a certain way. I’ll leave you with these words. Maybe you’ll benefit from them, as well.

And even when we’re having a painful experience that is not our fault—perhaps we’ve been laid off our job because of an economic downturn, for instance—we often irrationally feel that the rest of the world is happily employed while it’s only me sitting at home watching reruns all day. Or when we become ill, it feels like sickness is an unusual, abnormal state (like the dying eight-four-year old man whose final words were “why me?”). Once we fall into the trap of believing that things are “supposed” to go well, we tend to think something has gone terribly amiss when they suddenly don’t. Again, this isn’t a conscious thought process but a hidden assumption that colors our emotional reactions. If we were to take a completely logical approach to the issue, we’d consider the fact that thousands of things can go wrong in life at any one time, so it’s highly likely—in fact inevitable—that we’ll experience hardships on a  regular basis. But we don’t tend to be rational about these matters. Instead, we suffer, and we feel all alone in our suffering.[1]

1. Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 63.

Fighting against the temptation to “comparison-shop and wallow in self-pity”

July 21, 2015

In my June 21 sermon, I made reference to a profound insight that actor Michael J. Fox, who has suffered for many years from early-onset Parkinson’s, shared in an Esquire magazine interview:

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. Acceptance is the key to everything.

Of course, from a Christian point of view, acceptance doesn’t mean acquiescing to fate with Stoic courage. It means—and I swallow hard when I say this—appreciating that God’s hand is in this. God has a purpose for allowing this unplanned, often unwanted event to occur. In other words, this experience is, or can be, good for us.

Pastor and theologian Andrew Wilson explores this theme in some depth in this fine post about rearing two autistic children. Having children with special needs, he writes, is like receiving an actual orange for dessert, when the rest of your friends received a chocolate orange.

Special needs, like the orange, are unexpected. We didn’t plan for them, and we didn’t anticipate them. Because our children are such a beautiful gift, we often feel guilty for even saying this, but we might as well admit that we didn’t want our children to have autism, any more than we wanted them to have Down’s, or cerebral palsy, or whatever else. Give or take, we wanted pretty much what our friends had: children who crawled at one, talked at two, potty trained at three, asked questions at four, and went off to mainstream school at five. We could have lived quite happily without knowing what Piedro boots were for, or what stimming was, or how to fill out DLA forms. So there are times, when we’re wiping the citric acid out of our eyes and watching our friends enjoying their chocolate, when it feels spectacularly unfair, and we wish we could retreat to a place where everyone had oranges, so we wouldn’t have to fight so hard against the temptation to comparison-shopping and wallowing in self-pity. We know that oranges are juicy in their own way. We know that they’re good for us, and that we’ll experience many things that others will miss. But we wish we had a chocolate one, all the same.

Sermon 06-21-15: “God’s Assignment for Us”

July 15, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

In this Father’s Day sermon, I begin by focusing on words about fatherhood from comedian Jim Gaffigan, who has five kids. Being a dad requires sacrifice, he says, and these “five little monsters rule [his] life.” Whether we know it or not, we parents can learn a lot about Christian discipleship from raising kids. After all, we follow a Savior who rules our lives and asks us to sacrifice. In fact, all of us Christians, the apostle Paul tells us, live our lives “under assignment” from God. This sermon explores the meaning of our assignment.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

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

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

So I was at Annual Conference last week, and I went to a clergy breakfast, and they had a buffet. So naturally when I got to the tray of bacon, I began piling it on my plate—because that’s what you do with bacon—it’s awesome. And my wife pointed to a sign in front of the tray that read, “Limit two strips of bacon per plate.” And I’m like, “Two strips? That’s not enough bacon!” But, you see, bacon is so good you have to ration it.


And I thought in that moment of my favorite comedian Jim Gaffigan, who is famous for stand-up routines about food, especially bacon: He says you feel like you never get enough of it. He said, “Whenever you’re at a lunch buffet, and you see that big metal tray filled with four-thousand pieces of bacon, don’t you almost expect to see a rainbow coming out of it?” Because you’ve found the pot of gold! And he notices that the tray of bacon is always at the end of the buffet line—at which point your plate is already full. And you look at your plate and think, “What am I doing with all this worthless fruit?” Read the rest of this entry »