A Homily for the Geneva School: Moses

The Geneva School Chapel

Homily on Moses

Dr. Michael S. Beates

So we have been watching “The Crown” series since the Queen’s death last month. One recent episode featured Prince Philip creating a documentary on Palace life in the 60s to make them appear more normal to people. So there were cheesy scenes of Prince Philip and his daughter Princess Anne at the grill – trying to look like normal people; there they were around the T set watching TV in this cavernous palatial room. But they weren’t right? They were privileged people living a life of luxury beyond what you and I can only imagine.

Moses grew up in such a setting – household of Pharoah; anything and everything he wanted. But we also know from the opening lines in Exodus that he knew he was a Hebrew and as a young man, he sees injustice, and rather stupidly tries to address it. He kills an Egyptian taskmaster and hides his body in the sand.

Think about this for a minute – he’s raised in the palace environment – was the oppression and slavery of the Hebrew people something he did not know about? Of course not. Makes one wonder what clicked or what snapped that day that all of a sudden Moses sought to identify with his people. Well, word of his murder gets out. So, being the young aristocratic, principled, courageous man of the palace, . . . he flees, runs for his life – and boy did he ever. All the way to the edge of nowhere.  Midian was not “Nowhere” but you could see “Nowhere” from there, trust me.

Then the narrative jumps ahead decades – he marries, has a family, and is a shepherd in Midian. Oh, my how the mighty have fallen! From the lap of luxury to the edge of nowhere . . . for decades. And then God shows up and ruins his placid, private, off-the-grid life at the encounter with the burning bush.

But I don’t want you to miss the big picture here. God often uses people you would least expect; and a corollary to that principle is that God also tends to break people before He really uses them for His purposes in the history of redemption. I think Moses, fleeing from his life in Egypt, settling in Midian, doing essentially nothing but watching sheep for years . . . this was God breaking him in this long isolation. Then, when God was ready, He called Moses back into His service.

Lots of verbs in Exodus 3: God has seen, heard, He knows their suffering, He is coming down, He is going to deliver them, and bring them up to the Promised Land. Then . . . to Moses’ shock, God says, “So now you go!”

You’d think this was a good day for Moses.  “Yes, back to Egypt, back to the palace, back in power with the God of the universe.” But no. Instead, Moses starts objecting and giving excuses why He is not the right person. Four excuses:

     1. “Who am I?”  God essentially says, “It’s not about you, I will be with you!”

     2. “What if they ask your name?”  So, shockingly, unbelievably, God gives up

His name!

     3. “What if they don’t believe me?” So God gives signs of power to convince.

     4. “But I can’t speak well!” Text says, “Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord,

I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

God did not say, “Ohhh, yeah, right! You can’t speak well, forgot that. I better get someone else.” No, God said, “Yes, exactly, that’s how I made you . . . just for this purpose. Your weakness is my plan, not an accident; not bad luck; my plan for you – so you have to rely on me, not on your own natural giftedness.” God does not make excused for Moses’ weakness, He takes credit for it.

God prepared Moses through his up brining in the house of Pharoah;

God prepared Moses by breaking him, humbling him over many years;

God even gave him a peculiar disability of speech in order that God would be the One to get the glory.

God still does this today – nothing in your life is an accident. Nothing you have gone through to this point is just bad luck; nothing you may face in years to come is meaningless in God’s plan.

Moses was someone uniquely prepared, and humbled, and equipped with a weakness, for just such a time to lead the Israelites out of Egypt through 40 years in the wilderness toward the promised land.

I’m not saying there is another Moses sitting here today; but God may just have made you the way you are, and He may just bring you through circumstances in such a way that in God’s time, you may be ready to serve him in such a way that God gets the glory. Some of us are walking through a valley of shadow right now – I know this is true and I count myself among those walking in deep shadow. But God is with you in such shadow.

In the new “Rings of Power” series, there is a young man, Theo, who says to his mother, Bronwyn, before a great battle is about to break out: “Remember when I was little. When I had bad dreams? What would you say while you were holding me in dark? Say it again to me now.”

Bronwyn replies: “In the end the shadow is but a small and passing thing. There is light and high beauty forever beyond its reach. Find the light, and the shadow will not find you.” John says in his opening to the Gospel, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Find the light, stay in the light.

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My Thoughts for the Class of 2022

Commencement Address for The Geneva School Class of 2022

Dr. Michael S. Beates

Board of Governors, esteemed colleagues on the faculty, parents, students, and most especially, . . . you 22 members of the class of ’22:

I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to address you all today. But I also recognize that much more important things are waiting to happen here and elsewhere and my comments may seems merely to delay the really good stuff.  I get that. Since so many really good people have said so many good things, what could I possibly say that might be memorable, or that you don’t already know, having learned so much from this esteemed faculty? Some commencement addresses are indeed memorable. David McCullough, Jr. became famous 10 years ago when his commencement address entitled “You are Not Special” went viral. Then in 2014, Adm. William McRaven got a lot of attention when he challenged University of Texas grads to start each day by making their bed.

Regardless, when I was sitting where you are, some 48 years ago (yes, . . . I can see you doing the math in your heads right now!), the last thing I wanted to do that day was listen to some old guy I did not know. Well, at least I think you all know this old guy . . . but I get it, you’d rather start celebrating than listen to me, so I’ll keep this brief.

Let me get this out there right off the top: I hope you all know I love you all with a godly affection – we have some history, me and this class of 2022. Yes, admittedly, half of you came to Geneva after the more veteran half had put up with m. . . uh, had attended my classes in 7th and 8th for Old and New Testament Survey. But checking the guest book at my home, I was fondly reminded that almost half of you have been in my home, some of you on multiple occasions. Good times, good memories. I sincerely wish I had more time with those of you “late comers” to Geneva, but you’ve had to make do hearing the stories of classes or backyard BBQ’s with Dr. B. But it’s all good. Love you all!

I had lots of thoughts rumbling around in my head to share with you, and I could not decide . . . I thought maybe some advice from an old Hilbilly might work. Things like:

            Keep skunks, bankers, and politicians at a distance.

            Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

            A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

            If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll find the time to do it twice.

            Never corner something that’s meaner than you.

            It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

            Don’t be bangin’ your shin on a stool that’s not in the way.

            Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen anyway.

            The biggest troublemaker you’ll ever have to deal with is that rascal lookin’ back

                        atcha from the mirror every mornin’.

            Good judgment comes from experience, and most experience comes from bad

                        judgment.

            If you ever get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’

                        somebody else’s dog around.

            Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.

Not bad, right? But I finally thought I would just collect my “Top Ten” thoughts I hope you will consider and perhaps remember. Don’t worry, they are brief! Some of you may remember some of these from our times together; and perhaps for others, these might be new thoughts. But trust me, I am confident none of this is original with me . . . I just can’t remember any more where or from whom I first heard most of this. So here we go:

Number 10: Do not love the world or the things in the world – I remember where this one comes from – the Apostle John in 1 John 2:15 – rather love the Lord Jesus Christ. The world sings a siren song; it’s enthralling and it’s attractive. But it’s also death. Yes, as followers of Jesus, we live in the world, but we do not belong to the world – do not let the world own you. And if you come to a place where the world (that is the powers, the cultural influencers, the trends, that big rebellious mindset contrary to what God has created in His world and desires for His people), if this world applauds what you say or do, take a careful, long, honest look in the mirror and ask if you are still following Jesus. Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen (all the signs Jesus performed) and yet believe.” So believe, surrender, trust, and live in Jesus. This is my hope and the hope of every one of my colleagues here for each and every one of you. Believe, surrender and trust, live in Jesus. Do not love the world.

Number 9: Over the past 30 years, the tapestry of Geneva has become more complex, more vibrant colors and textures and depth – but its essence will not, indeed must not, change – Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are always worth pursuing. Geneva is your home and you will always be loved and welcomed here. Take Geneva with you, all that you have learned, all the friends you have made and all the truth you have absorbed. But remember: goodness, truth, and beauty. In that regard, remember also the words from Isaiah 30:21— “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” And the LORD also said through Jeremiah, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” One of Tolkien’s goals was the recovering “old light in the world” – go out and take the old, well-worn, trusted paths, listen for God’s leading as you take turns in your road ahead. Discover, recover, and exalt the old light, the true light that gives light to everyone. Remember that trends and movements will come and go; but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Number 8: To quote Cinderella (or at least her mother), “Find courage and be kind” – even when this means making people angry. Whether Martin Luther said it or not (it has been attributed to him at least), it’s still true as a maxim: “Peace if possible, but truth at all cost.” Our cultural moment prizes empathy over truth. Be courageous enough to stand for truth in an age beguiled by lies and untruth. But also be kind in your stance as you defend the truth. There is no prize for being a jerk while you defend truth and Good News. Things may become hard if you continue to walk as Jesus calls us to walk. The world may hate you. You may be like Frodo, before embarking on the Quest (no, not like the movie in the mines of Moria, but at Bag End), Frodo said to Gandalf, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” Gandalf famously replied, “So do I, my dear Frodo, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” So find courage and be kind.

Number 7: You will learn NOTHING of any lasting value from pleasure and comfort – though too often this is the goal of the autonomous modern self. Let not pleasure and comfort be your goal. About 25 years ago I heard John Piper say “Move away from comfort toward need” – still true. Do the hard thing. The most beautiful gems are found only after digging deep with lots of sweat, pain, personal sacrifice, and loss. If pleasure and happiness are your goal, like a butterfly they will always be just beyond your reach, or profoundly fragile and unsatisfying if caught by your hands.

         Don’t go looking for the painful stuff – trust me, I know this is true – it will find you sure enough in this broken and fallen world. But remember that God redeems pain, suffering, hardship, loss – and the most precious lessons are learned in the midst of the most difficult circumstance.

Number 6: Getting radical now. Follow God’s first commands: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, have dominion over it” – but get married first. Too many people try to be god over their own world, not marrying, not having children. Find that love for life, have children, lots of ‘em if God so blesses you, and change the world. The richest rewards in life come from the simplest tasks – marry, be faithful, have children. Again from Tolkien, remember Thorin Oakenshield’s final words to Bilbo: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song [and I would add marriage, children, and family] above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Number 5: When you get old like me, plant an oak tree under whose shade you know you’ll never sit. Cultivate optimism for the future. You are my oak trees. My optimism says that there are people yet to be born decades from now whom some of you will teach when you are old like me, and those people will be leaders in and change the world 100 years from now in the 22nd century. Play the long game!

Number 4: Have a humble perspective. on life and your calling because God will probably break you before He really uses you – I wish it weren’t that way, but there it is. J.I. Packer’s final brief, little book, written as he was going blind and failing in health, was entitled Weakness is the Way (I recommend it!). So cultivate humility. It will serve you well. And remember that the wounds God gives you are meant for your good and so He gets the glory.

Number 3: God hardly ever does things the way we expect, and He often uses people you’d least expect – you may be sitting close to someone who will change the world! So treat people with godly respect. Expect God to surprise you. Remember that God opposes the proud, but He exalts the humble. So be like David, remembering his words from Psalm 31: “I trust in you, O LORD, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” God is sovereign, you are not.

Number 2: Remember what McCullough said ten years ago: you are not special! Unique? Yes! Made in God’s image and known by name by the Creator of the Universe? Absolutely! But special? Not so much – despite what the self-absorbed culture of the world wants you to think. In light of this, go out and serve the One who is special. The world is selling you the idea that you are number one. But Jesus says be “number last” and give yourself away for the sake of others. Do not think of yourself first, but be like Jesus: deny yourself, serve the needs of others before yourself. The world says “Self-care” but Jesus says “self-denial.” Be contra mundum! Remember Dr. Vande Brake’s reciting to us the words of Jesus: “The greatest among you will be servant of all.”  So . . . go be great as you fly off to whatever new adventures God has in store for you. But remember you are not special. Love others with a basin and a towel. Be a servant.

Finally, Number 1: Proverbs chapter 3 says (in part):

         Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;

                  bind them around your neck;

                  write them on the tablet of your heart.

         So you will find favor and good success

                  in the sight of God and man.

         Trust in the LORD with all your heart,

                  and do not lean on your own understanding.

         In all your ways acknowledge him,

                  and he will make straight your paths.

         Be not wise in your own eyes;

                  fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

         It will be healing to your flesh

                  and refreshment to your bones (Prov. 3:3-8).

What can one add to such wisdom of the ages? But I urge you – each of you – take those verses, write them on a card, keep them with you, put them on your desk at college or wherever the Lord takes you from here. Follow those admonitions, and you will do well. Put hesed and emet – steadfast love and faithfulness – onto the tablet of your heart – interesting thought that when we memorize something, we know it “by heart” not by mind. Bind steadfast love and faithfulness around your heart – these are two qualities God uses most often to describe himself; but importantly, they are also attributes He shares with us so that we can demonstrate love and faithfulness to the watching and desperate world.

         Be people characterized by steadfast love and faithfulness. Draw from and cling to the steadfast love of Christ, and remember always that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is faithful.

Class of ’22 – you have left your mark on The Geneva School. Well done! Now cling to Jesus so that He may use you further to stamp His mark on the world and to build His kingdom through your faithful service.

God bless you all.  Amen.

NOTE: The live stream of this address can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HzBp2WbdZ0 (my address starting at minute 47). Enjoy!

Comforting the Sick

MARCH 2022VIEW ISSUE

by Michael S. Beates

Our dear sister in Christ Joni Eareckson Tada has recently described suffering as “splashovers from hell.” I could not agree more. The years 2020–21 have been years from hell for my family (and COVID was not the issue for us). As I begin to write this article (in September 2021), our disabled daughter, Jessica, is once again in the hospital. Sadly, in these strange COVID times, I cannot even be with her. Her hospital permits only one visitor per day, so my dear wife, Mary, shoulders the burden this time.

Have I told you how much I hate hospitals? In our years as parents, we have made innumerable trips to hospitals—long stays for surgeries, sicknesses, emergency journeys for injuries. And as dean of students at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and as a pastor, I made many more trips to visit others. Some were happy visits for the birth of a child. But more than once, even that visit turned dark when a physician arrived, saying, “We have discovered a problem in your newborn child.” Whenever I could, I took a colleague with me for moral support. I hate hospitals.

Of course, I have deep, lasting gratitude for my many friends who serve as physicians, nurses, therapists, and so on. We are glad for the many followers of Christ we have met along the way, and I celebrate the new appreciation we have for those on the front lines of medicine.

But in this fallen and broken world, one of the most profoundly significant blessings we can render to another is simply to be with that person. Three times in the first chapter of Lamentations, the writer laments that there was “none” to bring comfort (vv. 2, 17, 21). How awful. But as Paul opens 2 Corinthians, he mentions the comfort of God and the comfort we can bring to another no fewer than nine times in the first seven verses. And that idea of comfort contains the concept of “coming alongside” someone in his time of need. Your physical presence with the sick or bereaved is the greatest gift you can offer.

Of course, in the time of Jesus, one did not have to travel to the hospital (though you might travel to a place like the pools of Bethesda, where many sick and afflicted gathered). The sick were everywhere, and very often they were brought to Jesus.

Not so in our day. We now warehouse the sick in hyper-sterile environments so large that one must park in outlying structures and walk thousands of steps just to get to the sick. It takes effort and can be a pain in the neck. For reasons of logistics and time, we too easily talk ourselves out of care for the sick through our presence.

But there it is. We are called to come alongside the sick and the broken, to bring the comfort we have received from God. But let’s be clear: the comfort we bring is our presence more than anything else. I will never forget the well-meaning Christians who visited and could not stop talking and felt obligated to quote Romans 8:28 (as if we had forgotten that precious truth). Yes, there is a time and place for that, but it is usually later, downstream from the crisis moments of suffering, of fear of the moment. We much more remember and appreciate the pastor or dear friend who came and simply wept with us and said nothing. It brings tears of gratitude to my eyes just thinking about it years later.

So how do you comfort the sick and hurting? First, be like Job’s friends at the beginning: just shut up (pardon my candor). Sit, weep, and be quiet. Your physical presence, your human touch or embrace, is far more potent than your words in such moments. What if (as happens too often) your sick or bereaved friend screams, “Why?” The best answer in that moment is to say: “Yes, that is the question, and it’s a good one. But let’s leave that for later. Let me hug you right now, and let’s just weep together.”

Second, if you must use words, use God’s words—not words of theological precision but words of comfort. Texts like the good ol’ Psalm 23 or Jesus’ words from Matthew 11 or John 14. Allow God’s Word to bring comfort. Our words too often fail.

Third, never say, “Let me know if there is anything I can do.” Don’t add to the sick or bereaved person’s burden by making him reach out for help. Here’s where the Nike advertisement brings truth: “Just do it.” Show up when needed. Take some food, mow the lawn, clean the house, or care for the children. Don’t ask when it might be convenient—just do it. Your active presence will bring comfort to the sick and needy. Show your brothers and sisters in Christ that you care enough to sacrifice your time and treasure to serve their needs.

Fourth and finally, follow the scriptural model. James 5 says to bring some oil (a little olive oil works great) and anoint the sick in the name of the Lord. Pray for the goodness and grace of God to overflow in this hurting soul—and if you’re not sure how to pray, use God’s Word to guide your prayer.

Again, in our strange COVID times, comforting the sick can be tough. We now live in a culture recently trained to fear the sick. Too often there are restrictions on visitation. But the Christian tradition is replete with people of faith walking against fear to comfort the sick. Perfect peace drives out fear. Just do it. Comfort those who are weak and sick. Embody the peace of Christ with your physical presence. Zoom doesn’t cut it. Human touch is everything.

Dr. Michael S. Beates is chaplain at The Geneva School in Winter Park, Fla., and author of Disability and the Gospel. He has served on the international board of directors at Joni and Friends since 2000.

A homily on Creation Order

NB: These thoughts were shared with Geneva’s upper school students in October. It’s a homily that would have been unnecessary and rather uncontroversial just ten years ago. And while I received more “thank you” comments from faculty than on anything I have ever said at Geneva, these thoughts also stirred up various responses from students (many of the more “woke” expressing to one another that these ideas were stupid and out of touch; and from at least one parental unit that I was giving permission to students to “bully” those who identify differently . . . or something like that. See what you think.

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“Creation and Creation Order”

Scripture reading: Genesis 1:1-5, 24-28, 31

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.   . . .

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.  And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

                  in the image of God he created him;

                  male and female he created them.      

         And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” . . . .

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

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Homily: “Creation and Creation Order”

As we walk through this year together in Chapel, we want to lay out for you all the big scope of the Bible, what many people have called “the drama of redemption” from Creation through The Fall, and God’s constant faithful acts of redemption, first freedom from slavery for the people of Israel, with His gracious promises of covenant, and eventually for release from slavery to sin for all mankind through redemption found in Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful story from Genesis through the Revelation. And fundamentally, it’s why The Geneva School exists, since, by understanding these things, we can seek to inspire students to love beauty, think deeply, and pursue Christ’s calling in all of life.

In our brief time this morning, we want to start at the beginning . . . with creation. In the poetic lines of Genesis 1, we receive from God a portrait of His work in bringing all things into being. You all are growing up in a world where the original sin of Adam is being repeated constantly through the “sovereignty of science” – in our human pride, humans have come to believe we can control our environment, we can understand all things, in fact we can be gods in our own world.  But “science” in the world’s mind too often removes God from the picture. However, before science, philosophy and logic help us.

R.C. Sproul, one of our school’s founders, often said, “For anything to exist at all, something must have the power of being within itself.  If there was ever nothing, . . . there would still be nothing. Ex nihil nihil fit – out of nothing, nothing comes. So something had to BE in order for anything else to come into being. Thus, “In the beginning God . . .” It begins there. If there is no primary “Mover” there is no motion. If there is no “Life-giver” there can be no living thing. It’s just that simple.

And the main thing I want you to grasp this morning is that God creates everything with a beautiful, carefully calibrated, and necessary order. In this order all of life can flourish. Without such design and order, we end up in chaos, random meaninglessness, and nonsense. But by the power of His Word, God created light, then the expanses of water, then He separated them into sky and sea, brought forth dry land, brought forth life (in the skies, seas, and on land) all by the power of spoken Word. After all this, we see that God say, “Let us make man” – and this is qualitatively different. Everything else is spoken into being, then God makes us in His image. Thus we can think, we can create (or as Tolkien wisely said, we can be sub-creators, using the things God has already made). And then we get the first commands – what we call the creation mandate: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it.”

Think of it like this: Musicians notice when instruments move slightly out of tune; a good mechanic can hear if the motor is not quite in sync and needs a “tune up”; doctors, based on carefully calibrated blood counts, can tell if someone is well or quite sick. God has made the world, as my pastor recently said, with a “finely-tuned” order in the universe. Change things just infinitesimally, and everything begins to fall apart. If our earthly orbit around the sun were ever so slightly different, life could not be sustained. If the earth’s rotational axis moved ever so slightly, everything would fall apart.

Even the seven-day cycle of creation is part of that order. Only twice in civilized history (to my knowledge) have people intentionally moves away from this simple cycle: in 1789 in France, a revolution against God and His order, and in Maoist communist China in the 1940s. Both cultures banished the 7-day cycle for something man-made. And both were disasters that quickly reverted to an unshakeable human necessity of six days of work and one of rest. Is it possible to survive outside this order? For a while perhaps. That successful driven professional who claims to work 24-7-365 will succeed . . . for a while, then probably die from a coronary heart attack long before he might otherwise.

But creation order involves more than mere astronomical facts, figures, and calendars. It also speaks to how we live as human beings, women and men made in His image. We are made to thrive, flourish, and live within a finely tuned order involving everything from day and night to humans being male and female.

But you live in a world sending you countless messages every day that you can do whatever you wish, live however you wish, be whoever and whatever you wish. YOU, the world says, are sovereign in your own life. This may explain why our country has about 5% of the world’s population but 98% of the world’s psychotherapists – people need desperate help when the world under their control is spinning out of their control, yes?

You see, . . . the Original Sin of Adam and Eve was their seeking to be gods; to know all things and do whatever they wished. As Dr. Brodrecht says, we in the post-modern West, live in a day that seeks to sell us a lie (the original lie!) that we can be autonomous selves – laws unto ourselves, determining our own destiny. But this ends in disorder and chaos.

We need ordered lives, ordered society, ordered living.

Here at Geneva we see one small example of the place for order with our own Honor Code – it is an order within which we seek to live and learn together – depart from it and we end up in chaos, conflict, and disorder. But we are living in a tumultuous time when order is being challenge, torn down … with nothing substantial offered as a substitute other than, “do as you please, be happy, think of yourself first and last, whatever make you happy.”

Allow me gently to speak truth in love into just one huge area of confusion in our day. Genesis tells us that God has made us with a beautiful order as men and women, male and female (and the science of chromosomes and DNA confirm that all humanity is binary). But the world says you can be whatever you wish to be and now New York City recognizes some 17 different “gender pronouns” to describe people’s self-identifications. But friends, creation order still says . . . man and woman. Every human being created imago Dei is either male or female. That’s it. Just the two. We cannot change our cellular, skeletal, and muscular systems from one to the other, no matter what the world tells you.

When I say “world” of course, I am referring to that biblical idea of a “rebellious mindset against what God has created and ordered.” This is why we hear the Scriptures say that we are in the world, but we, as God’s people, must not be of the world. We live in this fallen realm, but we live as aliens and stranger waiting for the final redemption of our bodies and souls from the brokenness that surrounds us. As God’s people, as followers of Christ, we cannot buy into a narrative the world seeks to sell us when it is so contrary to the beauty and simplicity of creation order.

You see, Creation Order calls humans to be self-sacrificing for the sake of the creation mandate. Man and woman, in relationship, are designed to fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply. This is a profoundly counter cultural concept right now. Our culture says any two people can marry – a fundamental change in the meaning of a word that was understood for millennia in every culture. And words are powerful things. Meaning of words matters and when meanings of words become relative, flexible, and changeable, chaos is the result.

WSJ on Monday reported that the word “woman” is no longer considered appropriate in some circles: “Some politicians [House Democrats] qualified the word woman in a September bill by saying the term reflects ‘the identity of the majority of people’ who might seek an abortion: ‘This Act is intended to protect all people with the capacity for pregnancy—cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary individuals, those who identify with a different gender, and others.’ The White House budget’s neutered term for mothers: ‘birthing people.’” What? I’m confused. “Birthing people”?  Words matter!

But you see, marriage of a man and woman is self-sacrificing for the sake of the next generation. And that is by design. Tragically, two men or two women, no matter how genuine the affection can never fulfill this creation order to being forth children from love. I know, . . . such thinking is considered hateful in many quarters now, but the Scripture speak truth in love and for the flourishing of humanity and for the fulfillment of the creation order. A desire for personal autonomy and happiness leads many people to pursue a sad substitute for what God has designed for all humanity. There may be sincere love in such unions, but according to God’s creation and His finely tuned order, such love is a disordered alternative to what God gives for our flourishing.

Think of it like this: When the world loves, pursues, and pushes ideas and lifestyles contrary to God’s created order, this is a result of that rebellious, self-motivated attitude as self-gods against what God has given to humanity for life and goodness and human flourishing. And when the world promotes as good something God says is not good, this should warn God’s people against such things. Admittedly, to believe biblical ideas about creation and the creation mandate is to invite hatred and exclusion from some powerful forces in our culture.

But remember, Jesus said, when the world hates you, remember that it hated me first [see John 15:18-20]. Fallen humanity does not wish to bend the knee to God or His beautifully crafted and fine-tuned order for us. God’s people are called to live and thrive freely within the gracious order for life that He gives to us.

Some of us at Geneva recently heard several seniors speak [at a senior dinner] about the joy they found in discovering the harmonies of the universe in the Sci-Rev class – yes! This is discovering facets of God’s creation order.  This is why we exist as a school – to help you all discover goodness, truth, and beauty in God’s world, to think carefully and deeply about it – to weigh the messages you hear from the world against the clear, faithful message from God in His Word. And then, knowing you are deeply loved by God, you can pursue with vigor and great joy the calling God has for you in Christ. All of creation . . . and creation order . . . is a gift when we accept it as such.

In the Beginning God said “let there be light” – may He continue to shed light into all of our souls that we might pursue Him as we follow His first commands to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it.  Amen.

Let’s pray.

Oh God, in the brief time we have had this morning, I recognize that we lack the necessary nuance to address so many related concerns and objections to what I just said – but give us grace to see the big picture – all of creation and humanity (we having been made just a little lower than the angels!) – that all these things are evidence of your goodness and power, and evidence of your love for us.  In Jesus name, Amen.

Advent Thoughts During Quiet Moments

It’s Christmas vacation! And I begin to have some quiet moments now that grading is done for my squad of 80-something students. I realize now that there is a profound difference between life as a full-time administrator/part-time teacher, and a full-time teacher. Administrative life takes a rather large emotional/stress drain as one deals with various and sundry crises day-in-day-out. But that role also provided some significant (though perhaps not adequate “think-time”) to write. The full-time teacher, on the other hand, has less significant think-time due to teaching and grading for 87 students, but also near zero stress at managing life crises of families that manifest as bad student behavior and conflict in our community. But . . . with a teaching break, some thoughts emerge in the quiet.  

First, some thoughts on “identity.”

Who am I? Who are you? Who are we as individuals and as a people? Do we have the power to “self-identify”? Or is this a realm belonging only to the One who causes all things to exist? These thoughts come as I complete a study of John’s Gospel with a focus on Jesus’ “I am” statements. Jesus has a right to say who He is, since most fundamentally, He simply “IS” as the great “I AM.”

We do indeed have an identity — we are made (note the passive form of the verb) in the image of God — imago Dei. But we now live in a world where we are told by “the world” that people can, indeed must, choose their own identity. People claim to “re-make” themselves or re-invent themselves. Yes, we have returned once again to The Garden where, like Adam and Eve, people strive to be god in their own sphere. This is a new form of the original sin: The desire to be god ourselves, to submit to no one, especially not to The One who made us. But everything around us (in a sane world) tells us we are made, shaped, and receive identity from God rather than being sovereign beings who can employ enough force to carve out our own destiny.

Of course, this is where existentialism and nihilism depart most radically from historic theism — when you “kill God” or somehow convince yourself that He does not exist, then all that is left is . . . you. At that point, choosing an identity is not a luxury, it becomes a brutal necessity of survival. How much pain, confusion, and conflict such thinking has created from Eden even to our own cultural moment. 

How much better to be loved (again, note the passive verb) and be called (again, we are the passive recipient of the action of God!) as a child belonging to the One is All in All. Jesus, as the Word made flesh, has the power — indeed the necessary right — to self-identify as “light of the world,” and “bread of life,” and “resurrection and life,” and “the way, truth, and life,” and more. We, as profoundly dependent and contingent beings, must humble ourselves before the Great I AM, to seek who we are in the light of the truth of who He has made us to be.

At this time of year, as we celebrate Advent and look forward to Christmas, we are reminded in Philippians 2 that Jesus, as the eternal Word, forever dwelling in felicity and eternal self-satisfaction in the mystery of the Trinity, . . . this Jesus humbled Himself, indeed emptied Himself (what a mystery that kenosis!); He left behind (again in some profoundly mysterious sense) His omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and so much more. He took on flesh, and came not as a warrior, conquering king, but as a fragile and vulnerable baby in Bethlehem. Further, He humbled Himself becoming a servant, and willingly submitted to the humiliation of death on the Cross. Indeed, Mary, as Simeon warned, “a sword will pierce through your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).

Come, let us adore Him.

Creation and Creation Order

A Homily for The Geneva School, Wednesday, October 6, 2021

As we walk through this year together in Chapel, we want to lay out for you all the big scope of the Bible, what many people have called “the drama of redemption” from Creation through The Fall, and God’s constant faithful acts of redemption, first freedom from slavery for the people of Israel, with His gracious promises of covenant, and eventually for release from slavery to sin for all mankind through redemption found in Jesus Christ. It’s a beautiful story from Genesis through the Revelation. And fundamentally, it’s why The Geneva School exists, since, by understanding these things, we can seek to inspire students to love beauty, think deeply, and pursue Christ’s calling in all of life.

In our brief time this morning, we want to start at the beginning . . . with creation. In the poetic lines of Genesis 1, we receive from God a portrait of His work in bringing all things into being. You all are growing up in a world where the original sin of Adam is being repeated constantly through the “sovereignty of science” – in our human pride, humans have come to believe we can control our environment, we can understand all things, in fact we can be gods in our own world.  But “science” in the world’s mind too often removes God from the picture. However, before science, philosophy and logic help us.

R.C. Sproul, one of our school’s founders, often said, “For anything to exist at all, something must have the power of being within itself.  If there was ever nothing, . . . there would still be nothing. Ex nihil nihil fit – out of nothing, nothing comes. So something had to BE in order for anything else to come into being. Thus, “In the beginning God . . .” It begins there. If there is no primary “Mover” there is no motion. If there is no “Life-giver” there can be no living thing. It’s just that simple.

And the main thing I want you to grasp this morning is that God creates everything with a beautiful, carefully calibrated, and necessary order. In this order all of life can flourish. Without such design and order, we end up in chaos, random meaninglessness, and nonsense. But by the power of His Word, God created light, then the expanses of water, then He separated them into sky and sea, brought forth dry land, brought forth life (in the skies, seas, and on land) all by the power of spoken Word. After all this, we see that God say, “Let us make man” – and this is qualitatively different. Everything else is spoken into being, then God makes us in His image. Thus we can think, we can create (or as Tolkien wisely said, we can be sub-creators, using the things God has already made). And then we get the first commands – what we call the creation mandate: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion over it.”

Think of it like this: Musicians notice when instruments move slightly out of tune; a good mechanic can hear if the motor is not quite in sync and needs a “tune up”; doctors, based on carefully calibrated blood counts, can tell if someone is well or quite sick. God has made the world, as my pastor recently said, with a “finely-tuned” order in the universe. Change things just infinitesimally, and everything begins to fall apart. If our earthly orbit around the sun were ever so slightly different, life could not be sustained. If the earth’s rotational axis moved ever so slightly, everything would fall apart.

Even the seven-day cycle of creation is part of that order. Only twice in civilized history have people intentionally moves away from this: in 1789 in France, a revolution against God and His order, and in Maoist communist China in the 1940s. Both cultures banished the 7-day cycle for something man-made. And both were disasters that quickly reverted to an unshakeable human necessity of six days of work and one of rest. Is it possible to survive outside this order? For a while perhaps. That successful driven professional who claims to work 24-7-365 will succeed . . . for a while, then probably die from a coronary heart attack long before he might otherwise.

But creation order involves more than mere astronomical facts, figures, and calendars. It also speaks to how we live as human beings, women and men made in His image. We are made to thrive, flourish, and live within a finely tuned order involving everything from day and night to humans being male and female.

But you live in a world sending you countless messages every day that you can do whatever you wish, live however you wish, be whoever and whatever you wish. YOU, the world says, are sovereign in your own life. This may explain why our country has about 5% of the world’s population but 98% of the world’s psychotherapists – people need desperate help when the world under their control is spinning out of their control, yes?

You see, . . . the Original Sin of Adam and Eve was their seeking to be gods; to know all things and do whatever they wished. As Dr. Brodrecht says, we in the post-modern West, live in a day that seeks to sell us a lie (the original lie!) that we can be autonomous selves – laws unto ourselves, determining our own destiny. But this ends in disorder and chaos.

We need ordered lives, ordered society, ordered living.

Here at Geneva we see one small example of the place for order with our own Honor Code – it is an order within which we seek to live and learn together – depart from it and we end up in chaos, conflict, and disorder. But we are living in a tumultuous time when order is being challenge, torn down … with nothing substantial offered as a substitute other than, “do as you please, be happy, think of yourself first and last, whatever make you happy.”

Allow me gently to speak truth in love in just one huge area of confusion in our day. Genesis tells us that God has made us with a beautiful order as men and women, male and female (and the science of chromosomes and DNA confirm that all humanity is binary). But the world says you can be whatever you wish to be and now New York City recognizes some 17 different “gender pronouns” to describe people’s self-identifications. But friends, creation order still says . . . man and woman. Every human being created imago Dei is either male or female. That’s it. Just the two. We cannot change our cellular, skeletal, and muscular systems from one to the other, no matter what the world tells you.

When I say “world” of course, I am referring to that biblical idea of a “rebellious mindset against what God has created and ordered.” This is why we hear the Scriptures say that we are in the world, but we, as God’s people, must not be of the world. We live in this fallen realm, but we live as aliens and stranger waiting for the final redemption of our bodies and souls from the brokenness that surrounds us. As God’s people, as followers of Christ, we cannot buy into a narrative the world seeks to sell us when it is so contrary to the beauty and simplicity of creation order.

You see, Creation Order calls humans to be self-sacrificing for the sake of the creation mandate. Man and woman, in relationship, are designed to fulfill the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply. This is a profoundly counter cultural concept right now. Our culture says any two people can marry – a fundamental change in the meaning of a word that was understood for millennia in every culture. And words are powerful things. Meaning matters and when meanings of words become relative, flexible, and changeable, chaos is the result.

WSJ on Monday reported that the word “woman” is no longer considered appropriate in some circles: “Some politicians [House Democrats] qualified the word woman in a September bill by saying the term reflects ‘the identity of the majority of people’ who might seek an abortion: ‘This Act is intended to protect all people with the capacity for pregnancy—cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary individuals, those who identify with a different gender, and others.’ The White House budget’s neutered term for mothers: ‘birthing people.’” What? I’m confused. “Birthing people”?  Words matter!

But you see, marriage of a man and woman is self-sacrificing for the sake of the next generation. And that is by design. Tragically, two men or two women, no matter how genuine the affection can never fulfill this creation order to being forth children from love. I know, . . . such thinking is considered hateful in many quarters now, but the Scripture speak truth in love and for the flourishing of humanity and the fulfilment of the creation order. A desire for personal autonomy and happiness leads many people to pursue a sad substitute for what God has designed for us all. There may be sincere love in such unions, but according to God’s creation and His finely tuned order, such love is a disordered alternative to what God give for our flourishing.

Think of it like this: When the world loves, pursues, and pushes ideas and lifestyles contrary to God’s created order, this is a result of that rebellious, self-motivated attitude as self-gods against what God has given to humanity for life and goodness. And when the world promotes as good something God says is not good, this should warn God’s people against such things. Admittedly, to believe biblical ideas about creation and the creation mandate is to invite hatred and exclusion from some powerful forces in our culture.

But Jesus said, when the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. Fallen humanity does not wish to bend the knee to God or His beautifully crafted and fine-tuned order for us. God’s people are called to live and thrive freely within the gracious order for life that He gives to us.

Some of us at Geneca recently heard several seniors speak [at a senior dinner] about the joy they found in discovering the harmonies of the universe in the Sci-Rev class – yes! This is discovering facets of God’s creation order.  This is why we exist as a school – to help you all discover goodness, truth, and beauty in God’s world, to think carefully and deeply about it – to weigh the messages you hear from the world against the clear, faithful message from God in His Word. And then, knowing you are deeply loved by God, you can pursue with vigor and great joy the calling God has for you in Christ. All of creation . . . and creation order . . . is a gift when we accept it as such.

In the Beginning God said “let there be light” – may He continue to shed light into all of our souls that we might pursue Him as we follow His first commands to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion over it.  Amen.

Let’s pray.

Oh God, in the brief time we have had, we lack nuance to address so many related concerns and objections to what I just said – but give us grace to see the big picture – all of creation and humanity (we having been made just a little lower than the angels!) – that all these things are evidence of your goodness and power, and evidence of your love for us.  In Jesus name, Amen.

My Thoughts on “Vaccine” Mandates and Christian Conscience

My family has built our lives on faith in God in Jesus Christ which results in a deep and abiding respect for human life created in God’s image. We reject any ideology or product connected to or tainted by the scourge of abortion. The so-called Covid “vaccines” were developed with or were test by using biological tissue derived from human babies murdered by abortion. (I say “vaccines” because this is another example of the post-modern pattern to redefine or misappropriate language — think “marriage” “rainbow” or “gender” for other examples.)


Yes, even the so-called “safe” mRNA injections developed by Moderna or Pfizer used aborted fetal cell materials in the testing for these products. I could never go against conscience to protect my own life (worse, from a threat with a mere 99%+ survival rate!) by using a product tainted by the murderous abortion business no matter how remote the connection. Yes, the connection with abortion is deemed slight by some, but electively aborted (that is murdered) babies contribute to this medical product (see here for instance, or here for a far more nuanced statement from Catholic bishops). Yes, the connection may be remote enough for the bishops to say it is so negligible as to allow people of faith to participate and take the injection. But for decades I have been clear that any medical intervention compromised at any point by abortion would be rejected by me, even if it meant my loss of life. Long ago the medical community touted the use of aborted fetal stem cells as the portent of break through technologies for such things as Parkinson’s (even though stem cells harvested from healthy adults are just as effective and scandal-free). I said then, and say now that I will not — my conscience tells me “cannot” — use such products.


I understand and respect the decisions made by many believing friends and loved ones who see this issue differently than I do. I know many who have participated in the so-called “vaccine” — some for pragmatic reasons of travel or employment, others for the sake of endangered elderly loved ones, still others because they live with compromised immune systems and live at a higher risk. I do not condemn others for their choices made in good conscience. But I hope these folks also understand and respect my deeply held convictions.  Not so apparently Mr. Biden and the forces of progressive government. 


Biden’s scolding and governmental pressure tactics be damned! Some of us have long and deeply-held conscientious objections to such medical products and will not, indeed cannot, participate in his quest for victory over Covid — a victory he seems determined to gain by trampling the rights, liberties, and consciences of millions of Americans like me.  

I will not be cowed. I will not be shamed. I will not be made to fear reprisal or societal marginalization for the sake of conscience and faith. As someone purportedly once said, “Here I stand; I can do no other. So help me God.”

More Good Stuff from WSJ

America’s Covid Groupthink Functioned Like China’s Repression

Marching in ideological lockstep is less forgivable in a society where one has a choice in the matter.

By Gerard Baker

June 7, 2021

What we eventually learn about the origins of Covid-19 may implicate China’s government in failure and falsehood on a grand scale. But before we get too carried away with the endemic failures of the communist order, we should ponder that the episode has exposed layers of rottenness in critical institutions of American civil society that are similarly damning.

China’s officials may well be culpable of a combination of incompetence, recklessness and deceit. But in an authoritarian regime, they might not have had much individual agency in the matter. In this country, scientists, bureaucrats, journalists and executives of Big Tech companies suppressed the story not out of fear of imprisonment or death, but of their own volition, out of ideological or even venal motives. You may well ask: Whose culpability is greater?

It’s not simply that the lab-leak theory was “debunked,” as news organizations repeatedly told us when anyone tried to raise it a year ago. It wasn’t even permitted to be considered. Discussion of the topic was deliberately extinguished on tech platforms, in the respectable scientific journals and in newsrooms.

Some highly influential figures in the “scientific community” were the first to block serious consideration of the thesis that the viral pathogens escaped from a Chinese government laboratory.

Letters in the Lancet and Nature in the early days of the pandemic from an impressive constellation of experts dismissed the lab-leak idea, and in the case of the former, denounced it as a conspiracy theory.

Thanks to a recent release of emails under the Freedom of Information Act, we now know that some of the scientists dismissing the idea had themselves expressed concerns that the zoonotic explanation they were publicly championing might not be right. We also know that in the case of the Lancet letter, some of the correspondents were involved in similar research and had a strong professional interest in denying the possibility of an engineered virus.

Scientists differ in their methods and conclusions—and do so in good faith. It’s possible some believed there was a genuine scientific basis for rejecting challenges to the official Chinese version of events. But this dismissal of the lab-leak idea is of a piece with the politicization of science that’s been a feature of the last few years. The obsession with debunking anything Donald Trump said and the fear of being accused of racism undoubtedly colored the judgment of many whose job is to consider only the empirical evidence.

Last year, many scientists beclowned themselves by bowing to the prevailing political pieties with their absurd assertion that taking part in protests on behalf of Black Lives Matter was literally salubrious, whereas taking part in protests against lockdowns was lethally reckless.

If too many American scientists failed to help us get a proper understanding of the origins of Covid, they seem to have been abetted by like-minded people in the permanent bureaucracy. Emails to and from Anthony Fauci uncovered last week show that while there were some genuinely diligent officials determined to get to the truth, too many in positions of power seemed keen to stamp out a proper investigation.

As Katherine Eban reported in Vanity Fair last week, officials from two separate bureaus in the State Department warned against a proper investigation for fear of opening a “can of worms.”

Again we have good grounds to suspect that officials in a bureaucracy that had already undermined Donald Trump’s presidency with baseless allegations about Russian collusion seemed intent on suppressing any suggestion, however well-supported it might be, that Trump officials might be right about a critical issue of state.

Yet the largest responsibility for the failure to consider in a timely fashion the lab-leak theory lies with the media.

Journalists were once marked by their curiosity. Now the only thing that’s curious about many of them is their lack of curiosity when a story doesn’t fit their priors.

Instead of pursuing the tantalizing suggestion that the official Chinese and World Health Organization account might not be true, they simply signed onto it and dismissed anyone who didn’t as a kook or a xenophobe. Their ideological cousins in Silicon Valley then firmly shut the door on the story by blocking access to articles that didn’t fit the approved version.

In each field—science, government, media and tech—there were surely independent-minded people who did seek the truth. But they were no match for the groupthink and coverup.

It seems increasingly likely that Chinese officials mishandled research and misrepresented and misinformed the public. But they did so under pain of punishment, even death, in a system designed to suppress that kind of information.

In this country, constitutionally protected, free and independent scientists, bureaucrats, journalists and others did the same. What’s their excuse?

An Important Read from WSJ today

It’s a Travesty to Compare the Capitol Siege to 9/11

More than 3,000 children never saw their parents again. On Jan. 6, Congress returned within hours.

By Debra Burlingame

May 27, 2021

Democratic lawmakers want to establish a “9/11-style commission” to investigate the siege of the Capitol on Jan. 6. “I would like to see Jan. 6 burned into the American mind as firmly as 9/11, because it was that scale of a shock to the system,” commentator George Will said recently. The attempt to reconfigure the “domestic terrorist” narrative to fit the horrifying story of Sept. 11 is profoundly disheartening. These two events are fundamentally different in nature, scope and consequences. Mentioning them in the same breath not only diminishes the horror of what happened on 9/11; it tells a false story to the generation of Americans who are too young to remember that day nearly 20 years ago.

My brother, Charles “Chic” Burlingame, was the pilot of American Airlines flight 77. He was murdered in his cockpit at age 51 in a 6½-minute struggle for control of the airplane. Here is what I want these young people to know:

Members of Congress might have had a frightening day on Jan. 6, but on 9/11 some 200 people in the World Trade Center towers chose to jump from 80 to 100 floors above the ground rather than be consumed by fire. A woman waiting at a lobby elevator bank was burned over 82% of her body when jet fuel from the first plane sent a ball of fire down the elevator shaft and into the lobby. She spent three months in a hospital burn unit and was permanently disfigured.

There are countless harrowing stories like this—of death, destruction and heartbreaking loss. More than 3,000 children lost parents. Eight young children were killed on the planes. Recovery personnel found 19,000 human remains scattered all over lower Manhattan from river to river, including on rooftops and window ledges. Victims’ remains were still being recovered years later by utility workers and construction crews. Some families received so many notifications of remains that they couldn’t take it any more and asked for them to stop. More than 1,100 families received nothing. Their loved ones went to work that morning and disappeared.

The attack brought down our nationwide aviation system, shut down the New York Stock Exchange for days, destroyed or rendered uninhabitable 16 acres of Lower Manhattan including underground subway and commuter train lines and destroyed a section of the Pentagon. Rebuilding at ground zero is still incomplete, and U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan.

On Jan. 6, Congress resumed its session that evening.

It is deeply offensive and sad that the brutal and harrowing memories of the worst terrorist attack in American history are being deployed by political partisans. They are using 9/11 not as an example of what the American people endured and overcame together, but explicitly to divide, to stoke hatred and to further a political agenda aimed at stigmatizing the other party and marginalizing ordinary Americans from participating in the political process. That is the real threat to democracy.

It should matter that the vast majority of the people who went to the Capitol protest that day didn’t believe they were there to overthrow the U.S. government, or, it must now be said, to kill anyone.

There have been real terrorist attacks on the Capitol. But those must be forgotten because they came from the political left. In 1971 the Weather Underground, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group whose goal was the overthrow of the U.S. government through violent, armed revolution, blasted a hole through the ceiling on the Senate side of the complex. It also bombed the Pentagon in 1972 and the State Department in 1975.

In 1954, four Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire with automatic weapons from the House visitors gallery with members in the chamber for a quorum call. Five representatives were wounded, including one, Alvin Morell Bentley of Michigan, who was hit in the chest. The perpetrators received sentences ranging from 50 to 75 years; one was released in 1978, and President Carter granted clemency to the others the following year. One week after the shooting, the House was back to business as usual. That was a time when more members of Congress had served in the military, and with the world still recovering from World War II, one doubts that anyone likened the attack to Pearl Harbor or the Battle of Iwo Jima.

We are living in perilous times. When a modern democracy deploys forces of intimidation—whether government, corporate media or cultural institutions—to promote the ruling majority’s propaganda, it is time for good people to stand up and object. The world-changing attack of Sept. 11, 2001 shouldn’t be used, either as precedent or moral authority, to create a commission whose sole purpose is to turn a straightforward law-enforcement failure into destructive political theater.

Ms. Burlingame is a founding board member and trustee of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum Foundation and a director of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation.

A Homily on Jesus as the True Vine

Homily for The Geneva School

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Jesus is the True Vine

Over 20 years ago now, before the turn of the century in fact, a book came out called Way of the Modern World with a subtitle something like “why it’s tempting to live as if God does not exit.” The author’s contention was that in the Western world of comfort and consumeristic materialism, we can actually live in 21st century America as if God does not exist. Hey, look around you in your neighborhood – there are thousands of people living and walking around with no knowledge of God, Jesus, or the things we speak about here at Geneva. Some of them appear to be doing quite well, yes?  They seem to live quite successfully as if God does not exist.

         In fact, I think one of the crazy things about life in America is this ethos that says, “I got this.” Self-sufficiency has always been considered a virtue in the American work ethic. Perhaps you have heard me say in the past that the opposite of biblical faith is not doubt. Doubt still asks the questions; doubt can still turn to belief and trust. Rather, . . . the opposite of faith is self-reliance. Faith requires that you surrender to another, you depend on another to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.  Self-reliance says, “I control my life, I got this.”  The first and most fundamental act of rebellion is “I will do this myself. I will be my own god.”

         But the Scriptures teach us something different – something, in fact, that remains a huge stumbling block for most people in our Western culture. Scripture teaches us that as created beings, we are profoundly dependent creatures. We cannot survive much less thrive on our own. Yes, there are those legends of the wilderness hermit who lived and survived on his own – but such people are also often severely broken psychologically.  We are made in God’s image. We are made in God’s image as relational beings – and the first and fundamentally essential relationship is that which we have with our triune God, then relationships with family, then with others.

         Jesus captures this idea of our fundamental inter-connectedness when He told His disciples “I am the True Vine and My Father is the Vinedresser.” It is a rich metaphor, with nuances often lost on most of us who have grown up away from any exposure to agrarian life. But it is one of those titles of God, names or metaphors of Jesus, that includes us in the metaphor. He is the True Vine, we are the branches. We have a lot to learn here.

         First, note that Jesus says He is the “True Vine” – which of course implies that there are other vines. I saw this as a kid in my parent’s home town in Pennsylvania. There were well tended winery vineyards – these are the true vines; then you could also find vines in people’s back yards – not as strong a heritage or product, passable maybe; but then you could also find wild grapevines in the woods whose fruit was positively sour and unsatisfying.

         Make no mistake, my young friends, there are many forces in our culture, many false vines, calling for your loyalty, your trust, your connection, and seeking your surrender. Some are rather banal and harmless, others frightfully dangerous and destructive to body and soul. Only Jesus offers true connection, true life, true hope and future.

         Second, note that connection to this vine requires pain and loss. Did you hear it? “Every branch in me that bears fruit he [God, the Vinedresser] prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”  Ouch. Some of you have heard me talk about this. I saw this in action as a kid when we lived in that town. In late winter, the vinedressers go into the vineyard and prune away last year’s growth and any parts of the vine not bearing fruit. These are living parts of the vine.  Sometimes God needs to cut away parts of us living parts that are not fruitful. Why? . . . So the essence of us can be more fruitful.  Left to ourselves, we grow all kinds of needless sucker vines, drawing life and richness away from the fruit. God wants our fruit to be rich, deeply satisfying, complex; . . . not watered down, weak, and tasteless.

         But third, and scary, note the other part of vs. 2: “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away.” And then in vs. 6: “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Again, the vinedressers cut away the unfruitful, harmful parts of the vine to allow the true vine to flourish. And those parts cut off are gathered – we called it “pulling brush” – put into huge piles and burned.

         Now let’s be careful here. Jesus was speaking to His people – those connected by covenant and family to God and His people. And this speaks to many of you here – born and raised in a covenant, believing home where faith is present and real. This is a warning to you – being born in a Christian home does not make one a Christian –it is only by faith in Jesus, God’s Son that saves you, not mom and dad’s faith. The warning is: grow up in such a blessed environment, and a time will come when God looks at the maturing vine to assess its fruitfulness – if it is not bearing fruit (that is, not believing and trusting), it … will be … cut off.

         Some of you right now might be thinking, “Well, my family are not Christians, so what does that mean for me?  Like you, I grew up in a family where faith was not real or meaningful. So God cut me off a wild vine out in the woods and graciously grafted me into His True Vine, the people of God and His Church. Perhaps that can be your story of grace and mercy too!

         But there is more! Fourth, note the offensive part of this passage in vs. 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” I remember hearing that as a kid in 6th or 7th grade and thinking, “Who does this Jesus think he is? I can do all kinds of things: play guitar, play soccer, I’m smart and pretty good looking, . . .” I really thought such things. I was raised to be self-reliant.

         Friends, we are not independent people; we are not made to be self-reliant. Rather, we are profoundly dependent upon God and inter-dependent upon others. It takes God pruning away your self-righteousness, your pride, and your trust in yourself to bring you to a place of surrendering to Him.  … But that’s when real life can begin.

Geneva’s faculty teach and mentor you all because we care about not only your present success but your future growth into faithful and faith-filled adults. Our collective affection for each of you grows from our deep desire to see you flourish as human beings. That only happens when you are connected to The True Vine. Jesus is our life! In Him we live move have our being. This faculty may have different convictions on many things socially and politically and personally — but on this, there is 100% consensus: Jesus is your only hope in life and in death.  

A sad reality is that some of you may shipwreck your faith.  It happens to some. Worldview, community, mentors in Jesus matter.  Don’t become cut off.  Suckers without fruit get cut off — we are saved by faith in Jesus, and that salvation bears fruit. If there is no fruit, it shows there is no root. We are not saved by what we do. It is by Grace alone through faith in Christ alone!  But what we do, the way we live, demonstrates the reality of Jesus as our life-giving vine. 

The World says, “Do your own thing, find your way, be true to your authentic self” . . . but Scripture says our authentic self runs from God, wants to be its own god, and the fruit it yields is weak, sour, or (at best) tasteless – it will not satisfy!

         Last week Haley Taylor spoke about the necessity of taking a genuine Christian faith with you to college. She said, “without intentionality it is easy to conform to the ways of the world.”  And I would add, without connection to the

True Vine of Jesus, you will inevitably be conformed to the world – the wild, uncultivated essentially poisonous vine. Remember, false vines don’t give life or richness; stability, health, or vitality. But life in Jesus is contra mundum –against the world. Today’s cultural worldview is driven by selfishness and self-centered-ness that erodes into immorality and fruitlessness. “Americans are softening in their practicing Christianity; social issues are recalibrating essential Christian convictions. These are gradual small steps away from historic faith.” Haley said, “With every choice we either move closer to God or father away from him.”

         Some in this room heard a sermon last Sunday where the pastor said the worst possible curse is to be left alone, left to ourselves – but God says He will allow this for those who are ultimately self-reliant and rebellious. Ps. 81 in yesterday’s morning prayer: says, “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.”  Then Deuteronomy 28:68, “And the LORD will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” May God forbid that you are ever left ultimately to yourself with no one who even would want to make you a slave. The opposite of connection to the Vine is utter loneliness.

         My friends, abide in the True Vine. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Find life, health, future, hope, fullness of life and contentment in Jesus, the True Vine. Then you will flourish and bear much fruit.  May God give you and me the grace so to do.