Posts Tagged ‘Robin Williams’

A homily for preschool commencement: “Christ Our Greatest Treasure”

May 18, 2018

“Parable of the Hidden Treasure” by Rembrandt. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I preached a shortened version of the following homily at our church’s preschool commencement service last night. I’ve said before that I always use these occasions to share the gospel. Why? Because we have a large and “captive” audience of people, many of whom have no connection to this or any church. If we won’t share the gospel with them as we have the opportunity, why bother having a church preschool?

Homily Text: Matthew 13:44-45; 19:16-22

In case you don’t know, we Methodist pastors are itinerant, meaning that each year the bishop reappoints us to our present church, or we get appointed to a new church. Well, after five years serving Hampton United Methodist as pastor, it’s my time to move. So this will be my last opportunity to address the parents, family, and friends of our preschool students. And I have an urgent message that I need to share with you before I leave.

But it’s an easy message to share, and it brings me great joy to share it, because it’s about a gift that is more valuable than any other other; it’s the greatest treasure anyone could possess; it’s completely free of charge; and it’s available to each one of you.

Jesus himself talks about this gift in Matthew 13:44-45:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Of course this “treasure” is nothing less than a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ; it’s eternal life; it’s our hearts’ deepest desire.

And I’m sure that many of you have received this gift already. But it’s also likely that some of you have gone through the motions of churchgoing—perhaps you’ve been baptized; you’ve joined a church; you’ve gone through confirmation; you’ve walked down an aisle at a pastor’s invitation; you’ve prayed a sinner’s prayer; you’ve signed a card. Needless to say, I hope, this is not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about treasuring Jesus above every other possible worldly treasure!

If we don’t do that, it’s very possible that we’re not saved!

Consider Jesus’ encounter in Matthew 19 with the man that we traditionally call the “Rich Young Ruler.” He asks Jesus what “good deed” he must do in order to have eternal life. Jesus tells him, in so many words, to obey the Ten Commandments. The man reassures Jesus that he’s been doing that his entire life. “Okay,” Jesus says, “There’s just one more thing: Sell all of your possessions and give the money to the poor—then you can be my disciple and have eternal life.”

And years ago I struggled with this: Wasn’t Jesus being a little… well, harsh… overly demandingunreasonable… After all, suppose he didn’t have to give everything away: suppose Jesus only commanded him to give 50 percent of his wealth away. Wouldn’t that be enough? Most church people I know, after all, struggle to tithe!

But I now see that Jesus wasn’t being unreasonable… he was being realistic; he was even being compassionate. Why? Because if the Rich Young Ruler didn’t believe and understand that what he would gain by following Jesus was worth far more than every penny that was in his bank account, then Jesus would be giving the man false hope if he had responded to him in any other way! It’s not so much that the Rich Young Ruler couldn’t be saved and hold on to all his money; it’s that he wouldn’t. His heart wasn’t in it. By refusing to obey Jesus and walking away, he proved that he treasured something more than Jesus. He was not like the man who stumbled upon the buried treasure or the merchant who found the priceless pearl.

What about you? Do you treasure Jesus above everything and everyone else? Unless or until you do, you know you won’t be happy, right?

You’ll remember that the actor and comedian Robin Williams died by suicide a few years ago. He had every treasure that our culture tells us is important: wealth, fame, romantic love, the adoration of others, success at the highest levels of his industry. He dated supermodels! He lived in mansions! He had the highest-rated TV show and some of the most commercially and critically successful movies! He had Golden Globes! He had an Academy Award!

A few years before he died, he was talking about his Academy Award. He said that you think, as an actor, before you win an Oscar, that winning this award will fill you up… you’ll be satisfied… you’ll be content… He said, “The Oscar lasted about a week, then everyone was like, ‘Hey, Mork!'”

The greatest treasure our world can offer will never satisfy our souls! Only Jesus can!

Perhaps Robin Williams never learned this, but you know who did? The apostle Paul… For an ambitious and religious young man living in the first century, Paul had every treasure that his particular culture said was important. These would have included the best education, wealth, fame, the respect of his colleagues, a reputation for being righteous, a good name… Yet this same Paul was able to say, “Whatever gain I had”—in my former life before I knew Christ—”I counted as loss… I count everything [besides Christ] as loss… For [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things”—including every treasure that the world tells me will satisfy my soul—”and I count them as rubbish” compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

And not only did Paul lose everything that he had… he also received something from following Christ that he didn’t want: a lot of pain and suffering! Listen to just a few of the things that he endured for being a disciple of Christ, which he describes in 2 Corinthians 11: Five times he received 40 lashes minus one; three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned and left for dead; three times he was shipwrecked; once he was adrift at sea for a night and a day; he was in constant danger from his enemies; he was hungry, thirsty, cold, and naked. He was imprisoned on multiple occasions.

So… Paul lost every treasure he had in his life before Christ; he received a world of pain and suffering in return; and he still could manage to say, “It has been completely worth it for the sake of what I’ve gained in Christ! Totally worth it! A small price to pay!”

Why did he say that? Because he found that knowing Jesus Christ was of surpassing worth! He found that it was worth everything he could give and more! He found that it satisfied his soul’s deepest longing!

And don’t you want that, too? God wants to give you this gift!

Here’s how you can receive it: First, understand that we’re all sinners. The Bible says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. And this is a problem. “For the wages of sin is death”—which isn’t merely physical death, but spiritual death, too, which means eternal separation from God in hell—but the Bible goes on to say that the “free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23. God wants to save us; he wants us to spend eternity with him because he loves us: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. In other words, on the cross, God in Christ willingly took upon himself our sins, and he suffered the penalty for them that we would otherwise have to suffer—including hell itself! He did that because he loves us. The Bible says, “For our sake, [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” So on the cross a glorious transfer takes place: we give Christ our sins; he gives us his righteousness. So that now we can have a relationship with God; we become God’s children; and we can experience a new and better and deeply satisfying kind of life—both now and forever. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give [us] a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 (NLT).

Finally, if you believe all of that, here’s how you receive it: the Bible says, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” Romans 10:9-10 (NLT).

Are you ready to make Jesus your life’s greatest treasure? I would love to talk with you further about it!

Devotional Podcast #16: “Will Our Father Take Care of Us?”

February 23, 2018

One of the most important questions we face as Christians is this: Do we believe that our heavenly Father will take care of us? Jesus promises that he will, for example, in Matthew 6:25-34. But Jesus and the New Testament writers warn us that we’ll face sickness, violence, suffering, and death. How is that taking care of us? This podcast episode explores these questions.

Devotional Text: Matthew 6:25-34

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

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Thursday, February 22, and this is Devotional Podcast number 16. It’s a long one, so stick with me.

You’re listening to the Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations,” which I recorded from their 1967 album Smiley Smile—the album the band released in place of their unfinished masterpiece Smile. This album, a hastily assembled consolation prize, is actually quite charming in its own right. Anyway, in addition to being a #1 hit for the band, this song was also the most expensive pop single ever recorded! Brian Wilson worked on it for months!

Last week, after another national tragedy, many people—apparently—urged us to send out our “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families.

Not that I saw or heard anyone calling for “thoughts and prayers” this time, but I certainly saw the backlash against people calling for “thoughts and prayers.” “It’s not enough to send ‘thoughts and prayers.’” these people said in various ways. “No more ‘thoughts and prayers’! Do something real instead!”

And I get it: When someone asks for thoughts and prayers—or says that they’re sending out thoughts and prayers—it often sounds glib and empty. And believe me, I also get that the subtext of these complaints is as much about politics as theology. These critics are talking more about what politicians have or haven’t done than they are  about God. I know that. But they’re talking enough about God to bother me a little. Which is why I’m talking about it.

Let me begin by agreeing, in part, with these critics: from a Christian point of view, no amount of positive thinking, or sympathetic thinking, or compassionate thinking—by itself—can accomplish anything.

We don’t really believe in “good vibrations,” right—as much as we love the song? (And I love that song!)

God doesn’t respond to “good vibrations”; he responds to prayer!

Or… doesn’t he? For those of us who are his children—who have been adopted into his family through faith in his Son and for whom God is our Father—can we trust our Father to take care of us?

This is surely one of the most important questions of our time… And I’m not mostly speaking of this question as an apologetic concern—so that we can give a defense of our faith to skeptical people who don’t believe in God and might use last week’s tragedy as an excuse to say, “See? How can you believe in a good, loving, merciful God who lets children and their teachers and coaches get murdered like that?”

Those are important questions, and I’ve blogged a lot about them over the years.

But today I’m talking to those of us who already believe in the God revealed in the Christian scriptures—I’m talking to my people, to fellow Christians: Do we believe that our heavenly Father will take care of us? Do we believe that he’ll supply all of our needs… so that we can be truly happy… so that we can know true joy?

Listen to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, from Matthew 6:25-34. I’ll read an excerpt.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

If there’s any scripture that promises that God will take care of his children, surely it’s this one. Is is true? Is Jesus telling the truth? Especially in light of some words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:35-39. There, before promising that nothing—no amount of suffering can separate us from the love of  God—he says that he and his fellow apostles have experienced and are experiencing tribulation, distress, persecution, danger, sword, famine, and nakedness. Notice famine and nakedness.

But didn’t Jesus say that our Father will provide us with food and clothing?

So which is it? Will Christians suffer “famine and nakedness” or will our Father “supply all things”?

I love what John Piper says on this subject. Let me read the following, which comes from his book Don’t Waste Your Life:

What, then, does Jesus mean, “All these things—all your food and clothing—will be added to you when you seek the kingdom of God first”? He means the same thing he meant when he said, “Some of you they will put to death… But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16-18). He meant that you will have everything you need to do his will an be eternally and supremely happy in him.

Piper continues:

How much food and clothing are necessary? Necessary for what? we must ask. Necessary to be comfortable? No, Jesus did not promise comfort. Necessary to avoid shame? No, Jesus called us to bear shame for his name with joy. Necessary to stay alive? No, he did not promise to spare us death—of any kind. Persecution and plague consume the saints. Christians die on the scaffold, and Christians die of disease. [And editor’s note here: Christians die from rounds fired from an AR-15. Piper continues:] That’s why Paul wrote, “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

What Jesus meant was that our Father in heaven would never let us be tested beyond what we are able (1 Corinthians 10:13). If there is one scrap of bread that you need, as God’s child, in order to keep your faith in the dungeon of starvation, you will have it. God does not promise enough food for comfort or life—he promises enough so that you can trust him and do his will.[1]

So… we’ll get enough of what we need to do his will—no matter what his will is for us; no matter how painful or scary his will for us might be.

The question is, Do we want to do his will—above all else? Do we believe, along with the Westminster catechism, that our “chief end” is to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”?

Do we want what God wants for us? Or do we want something else?

Let me speak for myself: I am someone who has always had ambition—and I’m not talking here about, you know, godly ambition—the desire to share the gospel with millions. I’m speaking about career ambition. Even though it has not served me well; even though it has taken a toll on me; it has always been part of me. Long before I went into ministry I have been an ambitious person. I want people to notice my good work, to appreciate me… to love me, not so much for who I am but what I achieve. This sin is deeply embedded within me!

Back in the late-’90s I was nearly finished getting my electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. This was my second degree from there—for a second career. (So yes, pastoral ministry was my third career.) Anyway, I had a friend—I’ll call him Andrew—who graduated from Tech with a different degree many years earlier. He went on to get a law degree from Emory and became a consultant with a large consultant. And from my perspective he was… well, he was the kind of success that I wanted to be. Not that I wanted to be him, exactly—his job seemed deadly dull—but if I could achieve his level of success in my career—well, then I would know that I had arrived. I would know I was somebody. I would stop this anxious striving and be content.

If I could just be like Andrew!

Anyway, Andrew was in Atlanta on business and we met for dinner. After a couple of beers he told me something that surprised me. He said, “You know, I majored in electrical engineering at Tech. At first. And I couldn’t handle it. My grades were terrible. I went on academic probation. I had to change majors… Not getting that degree is my life’s biggest regret. The truth is, I’m a little jealous of you.”

Jealous of me! What on earth is there to be jealous of? From my perspective, my friend had everything! If you can have everything and still feel jealousy or resentment, what’s the good of having everything? Which goes to show how badly distorted our self-image often is!

So this is what it comes down to: If worldly success is your goal, you’re never get enough of it to be happy. If any worldly thing is your goal, you’ll never get enough of it!

Years ago before he died—by suicide—actor Robin Williams gave an interview in which he was talking about the elusiveness of happiness. And here’s a talented actor and comedian who won an Academy Award, multiple Golden Globes, Grammys, Emmys; had a number one prime-time TV show; starred in some of the most financially successful and critically acclaimed movies ever made; lived in mansions; dated supermodels; was beloved by millions. And what did he say about all this success? No matter what dizzying heights of fame and fortune you achieve, he said, “You bottom out… People say, ‘You have an Academy Award.’ The Academy Award lasted about a week, then one week later people are going, ‘Hey, Mork.’”

You bottom out, he said. It’s certainly true for me! I have bottomed out—many times. God has allowed or caused me to bottom out. He’s very good at that! I think he does it so that that I can learn this one thing: I will never get what I want until I learn to want what God wants for me.

Let me repeat: I will never get what I want until I learn to want what God wants for me. None of us will.

Lord, please… help me to learn this truth. Amen.

1. John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 94.

Sermon 08-17-14: “Bible Heroes, Part 2: Abraham”

August 26, 2014

superhero graphic

Prior to today’s scripture, Abraham had sacrificed plenty for the sake of God’s call. But everything he did, one could argue, he did in order to receive the promise from God. The question Satan asked of Job, he could ask of Abraham: Does Abraham serve God for nothing? What would Abraham do if God took his blessings away? Would Abraham remain faithful?

What about me? Do I serve God for nothing? What about you? This is an intensely personal sermon for me. Enjoy!

 Sermon Text: Genesis 22:1-18

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

I know many of us were deeply saddened to learn last Monday that actor and comedian Robin Williams committed suicide. He was only 63. Williams, as we’ve all since learned, struggled with clinical depression and alcoholism. He had only in the past few years fallen off the wagon after many years of sobriety.


I suppose each of us has our favorite Robin Williams movie or moment. But I can say with great confidence that for many men of my generation, Williams’s portrayal of English teacher John Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society deeply moved us. In the movie, Keating teaches at an elite, all-boys preparatory school in New England in the late-’50s. He challenges his students to “seize the day”—carpe deim in Latin—to find the courage to be your own person, to not be shackled by other people’s expectations, to live life to the fullest.

I was 19 when that movie came out—the perfect age to be blown away by the movie’s message. And not just me! Every young man I knew! Read the rest of this entry »