Imago Dei and Masks

If you are old enough, you remember an old television serial where each episode had the hero riding into town, saving the day on his white horse and then riding off into the distance with that inimitable line, “Hi-Oh Silver, awaaaaay!” And the people were left saying to one another, “Who was that masked man”? Zorro’s identity remained a mystery behind the mask (as did Batman’s and other fictional characters as well of course).

And in recent days, as I wore a bandana mask into my bank, it took great restraint (and honestly, a desire not to be handcuffed and locked up!) not to say to the teller, “Stick ‘em up!”

Prior to this past spring, masks communicated at least these two things we see from these examples: someone who seeks to be a mystery-person by concealing their face, and someone who presents a clear threat to our safety and well being. So much of who we are and how we communicate takes place in that rather small 4- or 5-inch space between the bridge of our nose and the bottom of our chin.

Have you noticed how your experience in the grocery store has changed? “Strangers” who we might normally greet with a smile are no longer met with a greeting . . . much less a smile (at least as far as I can tell). Now I readily admit that some people actually possess a gift for smiling with their eyes, but it is a rare gift indeed. Most of us desperately need those other 4-5 inches to communicate, identify, and relate appropriately to one another.

Just as I reminded students last spring that seeing each other on zoom was not the same as being together with one another, so now, I remind students this fall that masks severely inhibit our fully relating to one another. It shows us one of the mysteries of God creating us imago Dei, that is “in His image.”

In Old Testament Survey recently, 7th grade students have been learning about our having been created imago Dei and what that means. We reflect God’s image not only by thinking, communicating, creating, and exercising dominion over creation; we also reflect God’s image in our very being, including to a huge extent how we express ourselves through body language, facial expressions as simple as a smile.

It may be important to note that in ancient Greek, the word we use for “face” became synonymous with “person.” Thus, for example in the thespian world, people can take on a new persona via a mask or make up. They can turn into someone else since their face is now changed and unfamiliar. In this way, a mask can actually free someone to assume a different personality, to act in a different manner.

I remember in my Young Life days, a common part of a week at camp was an evening when everyone would dress up for some new and different theme like a circus. This was a careful strategy to allow young people to “get out of themselves,” to find some freedom to be someone else for an evening, to break away from their “normal” self and try something new. The idea was that many kids were hearing something outrageous (the Good News of Jesus) for the first time, and maybe this could be the beginning of a new self for them.

Paul speaks a lot about “putting off the old” and “putting on the new” when we become new creations in Christ. In his letters to the Corinthian church, he reminds people of the time when Moses wore a veil over his face to keep people from seeing the refulgent glory reflecting from his face having been in God’s presence. But Paul then takes it a step further saying that Moses kept this mask on longer since that glory was fading and perhaps Moses didn’t want the people of Israel to see him in his old self. Then Paul makes the application to us all saying, “But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:16-18).

Do you see it? The goal as followers of Jesus is an authentic transparency. We long to see the Lord and one another without the interference of masks. We long to “take off” the false and reveal the true self.

But that can be a most intimidating prospect, can’t it? We live in these Shadow Lands (as Lewis called this life) where masks are too often the way we live – now more than ever. But we still look forward to that time Paul speaks of when he says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

So, in the meantime, we wear masks. We even try to accessorize our masks with logos or team symbols, to have some fun while we must cover up this crucial aspect of ourselves. But how I long, as I believe we all do, for the time when we can lose the mask, see one another more fully, smile with abandon, and even to embrace once more.

May God give us grace, perseverance, and much patience with one another and with our unknown neighbors as we wait for that time. And may God teach us just a bit about how important it will be to live unmasked with one another. I know we won’t take that blessing for granted in the future.

Written for The Geneva Courier, published 10/01/2020

Thoughts from Italy

On the bus, leaving Rome on a Sunday morning, we stop briefly at Basilica di San Pietro in Vincolo (St. Peter in chains). The church is “out of the way” up a hill near the Colosseum, but not a big draw. You have to know where to go to find it. But such is the case with many treasures. It’s an early church (400s) commissioned by some Pope who mother or daughter (its complicated) came back from Jerusalem with some chains that (some claim) had held Peter. Whatever. The draw of such relics is simply not there for me. See my digression below.

But through more political intrigue centuries later, another Pope had Michelangelo create a statue of Moses (after his most famous “David,” during breaks between Sistine ceiling and “Final Judgment” on Sistine’s back wall). It was breathtakingly beautiful — totally worth the stop!

So now, with most of our party fast asleep on the bus, we make our way north to Orvieto. They’re missing beautiful Italian vistas! This small Medieval town will give us a light afternoon of exploring (or sitting in a piazza viewing the Tuscan countryside!) before heading into Florence tomorrow.

Digression on relics
Our fallen flesh and unbelieving hearts desire things we can see and touch (see Thomas in John 20). We seem naturally to seek to cling to the past through connections. Families pass down Bibles with the writing of great-grandparents. Children treasure the family China from generations past. I get that.

But in Rome, I sometimes whispered to students, “See why we needed a Reformation?” When the church was legalized (325-ish) then state-supported and mandated (by 400), power and wealth began to grow. Then practices like relics developed. Over the next 1000 years, traditions, practices, doctrines, and more sprang up with little or no essential connection with the Good News of Jesus.

In God’s providence, within a generation, people from various places began to push back against the accumulated weight of theses things that made one have to search to see the Good News in the church. Hus in the east, Luther in Germany, Calvin in France and Geneva, Knox in Scotland and many others.

There arose a desire to leave behind the bones of an apostle, a hair from John the Baptist, splinters from the cross of Jesus, supposed saints like Lejeans, the Centurion who speared Christ to relieve his suffering (never heard of this until we saw his statue — one of the “big four” surrounding the papal altar in St. Peter’s!). The call was “by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone; to God alone be glory!”

Peter doesn’t need those chains anymore (if they ever held him at all). He’s free and so are we as we rest in Christ and His resurrection.

Mike Beates from the Umbrian countrysideIMG_3223.JPG

The Gift of Being Loved by Choice


This piece is adapted from an article in The Geneva Courier recently published.

I often tell students that parents should not have favorites when it comes to their children. We look at Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel to see how favoritism works out! However, parents should definitely love their children differently. At that point, 7th and 8th grade students’ head tilt – “What?”

Stating the obvious, our children are unique and we all know there is no “cookie-cutter” method for raising them. One child requires merely a glance of disapproval before a melt-down of repentance and remorse sets in. Another hardly flinches under harsh corporal punishment. One child thrives on words of encouragement, while another only wants (and needs) to be held and hugged. They are each unique, so the parental trick is how we love them each according to their needs.

Again like the biblical narratives, things get more complicated with foster-, step-, and adopted children. Mary and I often say, “We have 8 children: some home-grown, some hand-picked.” Such life-situations remind us, like almost nothing else, that love – in every relationship – is a choice more than an emotion. Our modern world has lost the plot, often portraying love as merely a feeling that comes and goes. The biblical picture of love begins with an intentional choice to love followed by a covenantal commitment to continue that love . . . regardless of circumstances and feelings. Paul says, “He [God] predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:5).

But seriously, this is an incredibly important topic and applies to stepchildren, children from a second marriage, adopted children, foster children, and the list goes on. And I love that in our Geneva community, we share life together with so many families who live out all these kinds of parent-child relationships.

I am confident you agree with me that adoption is a precious theological concept because we, followers of Christ, are all adopted children. All of us, in our lost estate, sought desperately to be good enough to be saved, loved, and accepted into a spiritual family (whether we realized it or not at the time). And God, in His infinite mercy, lifted us out of our misery and slavery to sin (our orphanhood), and gave us His name and brought us into His family. So earthly adoption, as imperfect as it is, points toward and reminds us of this profound truth. And earthly adoption is far from perfect, beginning with the unsettling truth that each of us as parents – saved and connected to Christ though we may be – remain needy sinners ourselves.

God’s love for those who are not naturally his children can also be seen in our (admittedly imperfect) ability to love children not naturally our own – we become living and breathing day-by-day illustrations for our perfect Heavenly Father. As a father to naturally born, adopted, and foster children, my parental imperfections poignantly remind me of just how loving, gracious, and patient my heavenly Father is with me, a stumbling and too-often rebellious adopted child.

I am also reminded that when we adopt children, over time they begin to “adopt” our ways which initially are foreign to them. Over time they recognize our voice and even to mimic our words, our slang, our mannerisms. So also, the longer we live and walk with our heavenly Father (hopefully), we learn to hear His voice and we increasingly mimic His ways and adopt His manner.

To love an adopted child is a risk. When we think about it, loving anyone is always a risk. Russell Moore, in a blog-post entitled “Don’t Protect Yourself from Adoption,” recently wrote, “If you wish to avoid the risk or possibility of being hurt, do not adopt a child. Do not foster a child. Do not engage in ministry with orphans or with widows or with the sojourners or with the poor. Do not have children, in any way. Do not get married. Do not have any friendships. Hide under the bed, and hope for the best. Any human relationship brings with it the possibility of deep hurt. You can protect yourself from that possibility, but only by walling yourself off from love” (see the whole piece here: Paul Simon sang it differently in the 60s: “I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.” To love is to invite pain into your heart.

Again, think about our heavenly Father and what His adopting us cost Him – the humbling limitation of taking on flesh, the insult of rejection, the weight of sin, the pain of torture and death on the cross – all so that He could bring us into His family. And I know that even after many years in His family, I continue – regularly – to disappoint Him when I rebel or misrepresent Him through the decisions I make in my life. Yet His love for me remains constant, unchanged, firm. It’s the way He is . . . and it’s the way I should be as well.

I love seeing Geneva families love their children well, through whatever difficulties our children create. Parenting is a risky calling and I deeply admire all who enter it. I love that so many of our families have adopted children in some sense or another. That is indeed a special calling. May we all love our children for the beautiful creations they are. May we think deeply about how our Father has given us the model of love that we might imitate. And may we continue to pursue Christ’s calling as parents as we love our children – whether they are naturally born to us, adopted by us, step-children brought to us, or foster children with us for whatever time God allows. May God give us much grace as we aspire to imitate Him.

Endurance, Character, Hope

This is a piece published this week in The Geneva School’s Courier magazine. Eventually a downloadable pdf will be found here:

As I write this in late October, I find myself extraordinarily blessed. I sit on a hotel balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean with Santa Catalina Island in the mist off shore. Geneva has graced me by allowing me to continue serving on the International Board of Directors at Joni and Friends (an international outreach ministry to people affected by disabilities). So I travel once or twice a year to meetings on the Pacific coast. As is so often the case when you serve others, you find yourself the recipient of the greater blessing. Such is my lot in this case – every time!

While our meetings are happening this week, the ministry is also conducting wheel chair outreach events in Thailand and Peru, family retreats are underway in Cuba and somewhere in Central America, there is a “Wounded Warrior Getaway” for disabled combat veterans near Houston, Texas (those guys never “retreat”!), and so much more. But the ministry is also celebrating the release of a new resource, the “Beyond Suffering Bible” project. Five years in the making, this new Bible project is designed to give encouragement to those who live with suffering in whatever form affliction may come to people.

In an opening essay for this Bible, “No Higher Calling: A Christian Response to Suffering,” Joni Eareckson Tada reflects on her own life of nearly fifty years as a quadriplegic.  She recalls a quote that she memorized years ago from a 19th century British pastor, William Law: “Receive every inward and outward trouble, every disappointment . . . darkness and desolation with both your hands, as a blessed occasion of dying to self, and entering into a fuller fellowship with your Savior. Look at no inward or outward trouble in any other view; reject every other thought about it; and then every kind of trial and distress will become the blessed day of your prosperity.”

I needed to read and think about that because, while I am blessed, 2016 has also been an extraordinarily difficult year for Mary and me with our daughter Jessica. Over twenty times since January, Jessica has needed to be at South Seminole or ORMC for medical intervention related to her feeding tube. I don’t need to tell you how much such challenges wear you out, body and soul.

And I know that in our Geneva community of several hundred families, people face a wide range of afflictions of heart, mind, soul, and body. In our American post-modern context, everything seems aimed at minimizing risk, injury, pain, or even inconvenience. But the Scriptures give us a different picture of the reality of life. In the “real” world, we gain by losing, we live by dying. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom. 5:3-4). Comfort and pleasure on the other hand seem to produce self-centeredness rather than self-denial.

St. Sebastian (3rd century martyr under Diocletian) said something like “It’s not that we have suffered so much; but that we have suffered so little and so poorly.” Like most of you, I try to avoid pain (I ask the dentist for the legal limit!), and I enjoy comfort and simple pleasures. But the way of the cross is a way of denial, pain, suffering, and affliction. Not to demean anyone’s suffering, but not only do we suffering so much less than our forbearers, but we generally bear up rather poorly under our suffering. I know I do.

Someone once asked Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, “What does a person look like who has met God?” Thinking of Genesis 32:31, the pastor responded, “That person will be walking with a limp.” I wish it weren’t so, but we know this is true. God most often uses people after He has broken them. Humility and submission seem to be a prerequisite for service to God, and those qualities come from the fire of trials and affliction.

So we have this tension in our lives. We want our children to be safe, to experience happiness, and to gather a full load of cherished memories of good things.  We want them to excel in all their endeavors and activities. We cheer when they win; we offer congratulations (and feel a certain amount of parental pride) when they demonstrate a mastery of some skill.

But let’s remember that the most precious lessons come not from the wins, but from the heart-breaking losses. The way up, in God’s economy, too often requires going downward. The 8th grade classes recently discussed the Transfiguration from Mark’s Gospel. We made the point that though we all love the “mountain top experience,” the reality is that we live life in the valley at the bottom of the mountain. We can stay only briefly in the clouds and reverie of the wonder of the “spiritual high.” But the rest of life is often a slog through difficulty as we practice faithfulness in the dark valley at the mountain’s foot.

Sometimes it’s not our own difficulties, but those of others nearby that teach us. The followers of Jesus at the bottom of the mountain were not afflicted, but they were faced with a father and son who were (see Mark 9:14-ff). In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-ff), the “hero” was not afflicted, but the man in the ditch certainly was. But the point of the story was that character is revealed by how we respond to the needs of others. The “religious” and ethnically “pure” people showed a heartless character as they walked on by their neighbor in need. But the Samaritan (from a rejected people group) showed godliness and goodness by coming alongside the one in need. Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be servant of all.” We want to inculcate this ethic in our community. Rather than mocking or rejecting those in our midst with needs, we want to see students come alongside their classmates in need. We want to model for them and to see them model for others a willingness to love the unlovely, to support those in great need – especially when it costs us in some personal way.

God smiles on such servanthood. May we be found to be such people.

(Postscript: Not to be self-promotional, but I was privileged to contribute to the “Beyond Suffering Bible” project, writing notes, devotionals, and introductory material for Deuteronomy, Hebrews, and portions of 1-2 Samuel.)

In the Eye of the Storm

As I write this article, it is early on a Thursday afternoon when I would normally be engaged with 8th grade students (at The Geneva School) in conversation about the Gospel of Mark (I know this because my phone keeps reminding me I should be in Room 110 right now). But on this day, I am quite literally enjoying “the calm before the storm” – sitting on my front porch with a nice breeze awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. The early bands should arrive in a couple of hours – I see them on my Doppler radar app on my phone. The predictions are dire. We expect damage, loss of power and who knows what else? Wait . . . God knows! And that is a comforting thought. But allow me a few rambling (and perhaps disconnected thoughts) as the eye of the storm barrels up our Florida coastline.

First, I put the word “storms” into a word search in my ESV Bible app earlier today – only one verse came up, but it was spot on!

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by” (Psalm 57:1).

David wrote this while under duress, hiding in a cave as Saul sought to destroy him. So we see that while, at this moment, our community faces a literal “storm of destruction,” this is also a strong and apt metaphor for life. All of us face “storms of life” at various times. Some we see brewing from afar. We can try to prepare for these – at least to some degree, but we know they are coming and sometimes, preparation notwithstanding, they bring damage and destruction; sometimes, they just scare the bejabbers out of us and roll on by.

Other storms can catch us by surprise – flash floods in life so to speak. We don’t see them coming and they knock us sideways and take our feet out from under us. Still other storms in life seem to settle over us and pound away day after day, month after month; they never seem to let up. So we take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings and we cry out “Kyrie eleison!” And we trust God.

 Second, with that in mind, it is good to be reminded that God is sovereign and we are not. Though our modern world whispers the lie that we are in control, the power of a Hurricane Matthew reminds us that there are many things beyond our control. We simply have to bow before such storms, hunker down, and hold on. Circumstances are often (in fact, usually) beyond our control – but our response to circumstance is something for which we are responsible. When “storms” blow, we can fold up, give in and/or give up; we can act foolishly, or blame others. Or we can do our best, stand by faith, band together with brothers and sisters in the faith, and carry on, trusting God that He knows the outcome. Mark Heard, a singer/song writer (who studied for a time under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri) wrote, “In the eye of the storm” which included this chorus: “In this world, Thunder throbs in the darkness, Out in the eye of the storm, The friends of God suffer no permanent harm” (see lyrics below). Mr. Heard experienced this. At age 41 he suffered a heart attack and died six weeks later. But his theological reflection was right. No matter what storms assail us, as God’s children, we never, ever suffer “permanent” harm. And that too is a comforting thought.

 Third, and finally, I am reminded today of William Cowper, his life and one hymn in particular: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (see lyrics below). Cowper waged a life-long battle with depression and mental illness, but trusted deeply in the God of his salvation. Yes indeed, storms may come – and they are not the work of chaos and blind fate. They are instruments of God for the sanctifying and strengthening of His saints. Remember and reflect on this thought that the clouds we dread, that seem full of danger and destruction, ultimately break with blessing and mercy on those who fall upon Christ as their only hope in life and in death. And that too, of course, is a most comforting thought, even (and especially) in the “calm before the storm.”


“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (William Cowper, 1773)

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines Of never failing skill He treasures up His bright designs And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.


“In the Eye of the Storm” (Mark Heard, 1983)

When it’s dark outside you’ve got to carry a light Or you’ll stumble and fall like tumbling dice It takes a steady step, it takes God-given sight Just to tell what is the truth, what is wrong, what is right

Chorus: In this world, thunder throbs in the darkness Out in the eye of the storm The friends of God suffer no permanent harm

When the night sky glows with the red fires of war And the threat of annihilation pounds at your door You don’t have to pretend that you got nerves of steel To believe that the love of the Lord is actual and real (chorus)

When the daybreak comes with a trumpet blast And the true fruit of faith is tasted at long-last When the darkness dies and death is undone And teardrops are dried in the noonday sun (chorus).

Trust in God as Your Only Refuge

[adapted from a sermon for St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Sunday, June 19, 2016]

I had a great opening illustration for this sermon all set last week, about a missionary who died of starvation after a shipwreck in 1851. I had some stellar exegesis on Psalm 31 all prepared, . . . Then death came to our town – on June 10th a sweet young sister in Christ, Christina Grimmie, was gunned down at the Plaza Theater a few miles from here. Then 48 hours later more death came to many more people last Sunday morning at Pulse . . . and everything changed . . . Then still later a young boy is killed by an alligator at a Disney resort.

But as I meditated on Psalm 31, reading it each day, I thought “The Scriptures are true – the grass does wither, flowers do fade, people die and awful things happen; but the Word of our God stands forever . . . it remains unchanged, true, and a balm for us in times of pain, confusion, loss, and desperation. Psalm 31 still speaks to our cultural moment.

Before we dig in a bit it’s worth noting that in Psalm 31 David gives words to the emotions we all have felt at one time or another. He articulates the stresses we feel. In fact, so genuine is David’s expression, that numerous other biblical writers found these words appropriate for them in their own time. First, Jeremiah borrowed a phrase from v. 13 “terror on every side” six times in his writing (along with other allusions to this psalm) to describe his own experience. Second, Jonah, in his prayer of repentance from the belly of the great fish quoted words from v. 6 (“those who pay regard to worthless idols”). Third, the writer of Psalm 71 (perhaps David himself?) uses most of the first three verses nearly verbatim to open that psalm. Finally of course, the words of v. 5 are some of the final words Jesus uttered from the cross: “In to your hands I commit my spirit.”

So let’s look together at what this psalm may say also to us in our day and in our situation.

A Prayer for Help: vv. 1-5

The opening prayer in vv. 1-5 revolves around God being the “Rock of refuge.” David often calls God a rock or a refuge, but here, David combines the two. This word refuge is the word from which the name Masada is derived. If you are familiar with the geography of the near east, Masada is a strong, secure, high, safe place of hiding.

Some might say there seems to be an illogical leap from v. 2 to vv. 3-4. In v. 2 David asks God, “Be a rock of refuge for me.” Then in v. 3-4 he says, “For you are my rock and refuge.” How can God be his refuge when he has just asked God to be this for him? This teaches us to ask God to show Himself to us as He is, so that we may experience in reality what we grasp by faith. We know by faith that God is many things because the Scriptures tell us so. But proving these things true through our personal experience can a very different thing.

Do you believe God is all powerful, omnipotent? Of course you do! Then the psalmist’s example says we should pray that God will prove His strength to us in our weakness. Do you believe God is wise, omniscient? Then ask Him to display His wisdom by ordering your life and giving you needed insight.

Such should be the prayer of believers: “God you are . . . : so now be . . . in my life!” And ohhh, don’t we need God to be such a safe refuge for us in our times? This week has shown us beyond doubt that we might not be safe anywhere.

And more difficult, what about those who have died? Was God a refuge for Christina Grimmie? Listen carefully: . . . for those who trust Him, God is a refuge even in death.

Through the ages, since our Lord used the words in v. 5 “into your hands I commit my spirit,” many believers have used these words to ask God to receive their souls in death, to bear them safely into His glorious presence. It is said these were the final words or St. Bernard, Jan Hus, Martin Luther, Melanchthon, and many others. Luther said, “Blessed are they who die not only for the Lord as martyrs; not only in the Lord as all believers, but likewise with the Lord, breathing forth their lives with these words” from Ps. 31.

So there is a prayer for help, followed by a confession of trust in vv. 6-8.

A Confession of Trust (vv. 6-8)

In the Old Testament and in life there is a deep connection between the concepts of refuge and trust. One in whom we take refuge must also be one in whom we can place our trust.

In Scripture we see many examples of false objects of security: fortified cities and walls, strongholds and fortresses, horses and chariots, wealth and power. None of these is sufficient to give ultimate security, much less to save. Of course the things we trust in today are more refined than horses or fortresses. We trust in our cars and savings accounts, our IRAs and securities. But these also can supply only passing peace.

When we cannot trust things, we turn to trust people. But of course Scripture shows abundantly that our trust cannot be in man either. As soon as we trust in someone, that person shows their “clay feet” – imperfections and shortcomings that cause our trust to disappear in disillusionment. Finally, perhaps, we trust ourselves. But Prov. 28:16 reminds us, “he who trusts in himself is a fool.”

In times of need, the only security, the only refuge is the Lord God. Yet how human of us to fall on Him most fully, most completely, only when all other things fail – how much better to say when things are good, “In you, O Lord, do I trust”? But when things are good, we easily drift back into depending upon self.

Why can we trust in the Lord? Because in v. 7 His חסד [hesed], His covenant faithfulness, lovingkindness, mercy, unfailing love. Because God is one defined by His חסד, He sees our afflictions, He knows the anguish of our souls. He has not handed us over, but instead has set our feet on a solid place. This is the reason we can trust in the Lord, Yahweh. He is not a refuge that will collapse or crumble, that will betray or leave us hanging with unfulfilled longs. He is trustworthy.

But what does it mean to trust? The church has often said there are three levels of biblical faith: knowledge, belief, and trust (Notitia, Assensus, Fiducia). Since we do not have a blind faith, we begin with information, data (notitia). Our faith is based on things seen, heard, and experienced. But information does not save. We have to believe that the information is true (assensus – we must assent to its truth). But this also does not save – James reminds us even the demons believe the truth! Finally, the biblical saving level of faith requires trust, surrender. Like knowing about aerodynamics of flying, believing that the plane can get you to Pittsburgh, but then actually surrendering by entering the plane. Fiducia means staking your life on something.

Do you trust God? I fear many in our land know about Him, even believe that what they know is true. But do you trust Him? Have you surrendered all you are to Him? He is the only rock of Refuge.

A Lament of Distress (vv. 9-13)

David’s language in these verses is deeply emotional, describing his precarious situation. David begins with his personal stress and works on to its cause. We see the causes in v. 13: he is surrounded; in vv. 11-12 he is receiving scorn of those who oppose him, and finally, in vv. 9-10 we read of his personal grief and its physical effects: his bones are weak, his eyes fail, the affliction weighs heavy on him, body and soul. Then it gets worse because there is rejection from people, a sense of worthlessness like a broken vessel, with people scheming and plotting, accusing and rejecting.

We have been experiencing a time of corporate, community grief these days in Orlando. But sadly, and I say this with utmost humility, perhaps like me you have seen a growing animus – I have been seeing it all over the media – toward historic Christian belief in the wake of Pulse. Some people have been quick to point fingers. “It’s all your fault, you Christian people, you intolerant people.” And I fear that this will only increase with time. We have seen a massive, tectonic cultural shift in the past few years with respect to sexual expression and the acceptance (even legislation) of new “norms.” To be a follower of Jesus today, to hold to and humbly support and proclaim that which has been handed down to us and that which is so clearly spoken in Scripture – is to be regarded with disdain and anger by those who believe differently.

I have been glad to see the church in our city respond with compassion and mutual mourning with those who believe radically different things about life and truth. But friends, if you believe to be true what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself open to the kind of rejection and vilification that David experienced and speaks of here. You may become a reproach to your neighbors and an object of dread to your acquaintances and even to family. But this is not something new, beloved. The early church was castigated as cannibals, the Romans believed, since Jesus’ followers rescued abandoned children, that they were using these in their so called “blood feasts” – how drastically acts of love and mercy can be misconstrued by those who are lost. It may not be much different for you and me today if we hold to the biblical models of life, love, and family.

In fact, The New York Times printed an editorial opinion piece this week saying that Christians want homosexuals executed! Really! See here:


Luther said, “Peace if possible, truth at all cost.” Paul (in Rom 12:16-18) said, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Note, it will not always be possible, but we do all we can to live humbly and to live in harmony. But truth is a costly thing – and may bring you to be shamed by others, to become even a reproach and an object of dread to people you hold dear. This is not your fault. This is the distorting deception of sin in our broken world.

To disagree with someone because you love the truth is not to hate the person with whom you disagree – no matter how many time they may allege that this is so. And truth is not a cultural construct (as much as our culture may say so). I have often said that even if 99% of Frenchmen said 2+2=4.5 “because we like it that way” such an assertion does not change the truth. God is true – He does not lie, or change His mind like humans; in Him there is no shifting shadow of uncertainty. As you humbly and faithfully hold to the biblical teaching on creation order, man and woman, you will increasingly be an object of scorn in our land. But this is why the object of our trust is so crucial. Look at the next stanza.

A Second Expression of Trust (vv. 14-18)

This psalm, like others, like our lives in fact, rises to crests of satisfaction and joy, and falls into troughs of weakness, despair. Verses 9-13 are just such a trough. And the verses that follow in 14-18 come back toward a crest. May it not be said of us what was said of Israel in Isaiah 30:15

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,

“In repentance and rest is your salvation;

in quietness and in trust is your strength.”

But you would have none of it”


Rather may we be like those referred to in Isaiah 50:10

“Who among you fears the Lord,

and obeys the voice of his servant?

Let him who walks in darkness and has no light,

trust in the name of the Lord, and rely on his God.”

As we live in strange, sad, challenging, confusing, and even dark times, let us say with David in Psalm 31:14-15 that “we trust in you O Lord; You are our God, our times are in Your hands.” He is the only worthy object of trust. And what many of us experience today – whether financial hardship, faltering self-confidence in your abilities, personal and relational struggles, anxiety about the future, distressing loss as so many have experienced recently – these experiences are coming from the hand of a loving Father who is causing you to lose faith in yourself, in your stuff, and perhaps even in your friends – in order that you might lean wholly and solely on Him.

This week I heard a worship song “Edges” by the group This Hope. The title comes from Job 26 where Job says in verse 14 “Indeed these are but the mere edges [or outskirts] of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” Even when we acknowledge the sovereignty of God over heaven and earth, life and death, we often question the equity or fairness of His actions. Job questioned God’s actions, but says, “Who are we to question when all we see are the fringe or outskirts of His ways?” Corrie ten Boom described this equally well saying that God is weaving a beautiful tapestry; but we, in these shadow lands, can only see the lower side – and there are knots, hanging threads, things that seem a mess and disconnected. But when we get to the other side . . . oh my, then we will see the design in all its glorious beauty.

This is not to say – don’t miss hear me on this – this is not to say that what has happened this past week is not plainly wickedness and evil. Nor are we saying anyone “deserved” what happened. Indeed, friends, we all know that in our sinful state we all – each and every one of us sinful people – deserve far worse. But we are saying God is not surprised. God is sovereign, but humans are responsible . . . and we see only in part Paul says; and Job goes further and says, no, we only see the mere outskirts, fringes of His infinite and majestic purposes.

Is this hard teaching? Certainly. But far more frightening is the prospect that God is not sovereign and we are left to fend for ourselves in this chaos.

A Prayer of Praise (vv. 19-20)

Here is another crest in the psalm. We began with a prayer for help, followed by an expression of trust, a deep lament, and another expression of trust. Then David moves on to praise God – and for what? For God’s great goodness and for His sheltering presence. And note that the goodness is shown in the sight of men. In the sight of antagonists and enemies. But even if His goodness is reserved just for you to see, still it is great goodness! And His sheltering grace keeps us no matter what the outward circumstances may be. May we, in the face of such unspeakable evil and tragedy as we have seen this week, weep and mourn with those who weep . . . but not as those who have no hope.

A Concluding Application (vv. 21-24)

Listen to the imperative verbs in this brief application section: Love the Lord. Be strong. Take heart. How can we be strong and take heart? Because the Lord preserves. And who can do this? Only those who hope in the Lord.

Love the Lord, be strong, take heart, you who put your trust in the Lord. Bow to Him, or receive from Him the fill payment of what we deserve. May we be of those who take refuge in One in whom we can trust. His refuge is unshakable, He alone is worthy of our trust and our worship.

Last week Kyle Stewart asked people at St. Paul’s to recognize that we are on a journey – hard and long. Search your soul, he challenged us – are you ready for the trial when they come? Think about the Grimmie family, the Graves family and the families of 49 others killed and 50-some scarred for life. About 85 years ago Frank Hougton wrote a hymn “Facing a Task Unfinished” – “We go to all the world with kingdom hope unfurled; no other name has power to save than Jesus Christ the Lord” – He alone is the rock of refuge upon which we must place our trust in life and in death.

This truth came home to us in new ways this past week as lost souls pass into night in great numbers in our midst. We can go, though danger is undiminished, with courage knowing we are held in a refuge that does not fail. Young Christina Grimmie was killed two days prior to the awful events at Pulse – one news story conjecturing that she was killed by a deranged man who attacked her precisely because she was a vocal follower of the Lord Jesus. Two days prior to her death, she posted a picture on her facebook page that said, “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.” Hope drives out fear. But not just any hope; not the type of hope that says “I hope my favorite team wins.” But the type of hope that anchors the soul; biblical hope, like an anchor, firmly grounded in the promises of God. Only biblical hope can drive out fear

Finally, I was reminded by my colleague, Sarah Madsen, this week of a line from Tolkien that fits us as we close. After the death of Gandalf, when the company is in despair, they heard this encouragement: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” I pray as we move forward in our city, in our church, and in our families, we can say with David, “I trust in you Yahweh; my times – however long or short by our reckoning they may be – our times are in your hands.” May God give us grace so to live, knowing that He who holds time also holds those who trust in Him.

Closing prayer:

O Lord, Whose power is infinite and wisdom infallible, order things that they may neither hinder, nor discourage us, nor prove obstacles to the progress of your cause in our day. Stand between us and all strife, that no evil befall, and no sin corrupts. Let us dwell in your most secret place under your shadow, where we are protected from arrows that fly by day, from pestilence that walks in darkness, from the strife of tongues, the malice of ill-will, the hurt of unkind talk, the snares of company, the perils of youth, the temptations of middle life, the mourning of old age, and from the fear of death. We are entirely dependent upon You for support, counsel, and consolation. Uphold us by your free Spirit, and may we not think it enough to be preserved from falling, but may we always go forward, always abounding in the work You give us to do. Strengthen us by your Spirit in our inner selves for every purpose of our Christian life. All our jewels we give to the shadow of the safety that is in you—our bodies, souls, talents, characters, successes, our spouse, children, friends, work, our present, our future, our end. Take them, they are Yours, and we are Yours, now and forever.           Amen.

God’s Sovereignty and Human Freedom (part 1)

This article was published in the February issue of “The Courier” at The Geneva School (online here:

In the course of my teaching seventh and eighth grade students, I ask them to memorize four primary themes for the Old Testament and four more for the New. One major theme in the Old Testament is “God is sovereign; humans are responsible.” As you can imagine, this theme (and a corresponding New Testament theme: “The required human response: Repent and Believe”) needs a lot of “unpacking” through my two courses of Biblical History of the Ancient Near East (in seventh grade) and New Testament Survey (in one semester of eighth grade). Allow me to unpack these ideas just a bit in this article and in a following article later this spring. Some of this material is drawn and adapted from two chapters of a resource that Bob Ingram and I produced in 2009 entitled “The Biblical Motifs Project.”

The Lord God Almighty is the First Cause and the Final Cause, thus he is called the “Alpha and Omega,” the first and the last. In this same regard, Jesus is called the “Author and Finisher” or the “Founder and Perfecter” of our faith (Heb. 12:2).

The Scriptures are replete with one affirmation after another, from the mouth of God, from the prophets, from Jesus, and from the apostles, that God holds all things, determines all things, controls and providentially moves all things. But at the same time, of course, God allows us tremendous freedom and responsibility in our lives. I remind students that they choose each day (admittedly from a limited range) what color polo shirt they will wear to school. In my class they decide where they will sit when they enter the room (unless they arrive late at which point their choices are necessarily more limited). But it is clear that within the realm of God’s sovereign rule, we also bear responsibility each day for a multitude of choices, small and large, consequential and inconsequential, that we make.

God’s divine sovereignty in the spiritual realm can seem to come into tension with human responsibility. We can see both sides of this tension in Deuteronomy. First, God requires of man that we fear, love, and serve him with our whole heart, and further that we circumcise (that is, cleanse) our hearts (see Deut. 10:12–16). These commands are impossible for us to fulfill. We are unable, due to our sinful and fallen nature, to accomplish what the law requires. But toward the end of Deuteronomy, that which God requires of us, he graciously provides for us saying, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6). So we see that God intervenes on behalf of his chosen children to change hearts that are predisposed by sin to rebel into hearts now disposed to respond with gratitude to his grace and his call. And as an added benefit of this, he gives us life! When we read this with “New Testament eyes” we are reminded of Jesus’ words, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they [God’s “sheep”] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

I try to communicate this to students by asking them to think about what part they played in their own physical birth. With just a minimum amount of reflection, they admit that they were the passive party in this great event. They did not choose to be conceived, to grow, or to leave their mother’s womb. In fact, they were not even “conscious” of these events as they were happening to them. But they each receive life all the same. In this way, our physical life is a metaphor for our spiritual life. Just as God creates physical life (admittedly through natural and profoundly mysterious means), so God creates new spiritual life.

When Jesus spoke about spiritual rebirth to Nicodemus in John 3, that wise teacher did not see the spiritual lesson—he could only ask how he could enter again his mother’s womb to be born again. As so often happened in John’s Gospel, Jesus spoke about spiritual realities, but people saw physical realities and did not understand. Jesus told him that the Spirit of God moves like the mysterious wind, bringing life where and when he intends to. This is still true with us.

In conclusion, the Scriptures teach that God is sovereign over every aspect of our being: body and soul, will and emotions, personal relationships in our daily lives as well as the movements of international governments and rulers. He rules over every kingdom and every culture. In Jesus Christ he is head over the church, with all things eventually working to the praise of his own glory. This is, not surprisingly, summarized well by John Calvin (Institutes, I.16.1–2):

  • It were cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all, and then left it. Here, especially, we must dissent from the profane, and maintain that the presence of the divine power is conspicuous, not less in the perpetual condition of the world than in its first creation …
  • That this distinction may be the more manifest, we must consider that the Providence of God, as taught in Scripture, is opposed to fortune and fortuitous causes. By an erroneous opinion prevailing in all ages, an opinion almost universally prevailing in our own day—viz. that all things happen fortuitously, the true doctrine of Providence has not only been obscured, but almost buried.


If one falls among robbers, or ravenous beasts; if a sudden gust of wind at sea causes shipwreck; if one is struck down by the fall of a house or a tree; if another, when wandering through desert paths, meets with deliverance; or, after being tossed by the waves, arrives in port, and makes some wondrous hair-breadth escape from death—all these occurrences, prosperous as well as adverse, carnal sense will attribute to fortune. But those who have learned from the mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head are numbered (Matthew 10:30), will look farther for the cause, and hold that all events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God.

In my next article, we will consider more carefully where our personal and corporate responsibilities lie. But it is always good to remember what Paul said as he addressed the Areopagus in Athens, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Thanks be to God!

Random Thoughts on “Inside Out”

Perhaps you saw the animated film “Inside Out” when it was in theaters last summer. I missed it but finally watched it over the Christmas break with some of my family. What a creative film about “emerging adults” and the emotional turbulence that seems to characterize the inevitable transition from the innocence of youth to the challenging years of middle and high school. I think every parent of a junior high student ought to see this film – perhaps with your student! And I might extend that suggestion to every parent of students – almost whatever age: for parents of Grammar students, in order to look ahead and prepare; and for parents of high students, to look back and smile. Allow me to offer a few rambling comments and thoughts.Inside Out

First, the premise of “Inside Out” is that the five emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust live and work together in an emotional control room in the mind of “Riley” a young girls of 11-12. [in the picture above the are (left to right): Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust, and Anger] Would that things were so simple! While a most entertaining piece of work, there is always a danger if we see a movie as “the way things work.” Perhaps it goes without saying that though the movie is profoundly creative, humans are far more complex and far less mechanistic than portrayed in this film. It works for this movie, of course; but since we are fearfully and wonderfully made, the reality is far more unfathomable. That said, there are numerous positive take-aways from the film (which was produced by the same writer/producer of “Up” and “Monsters, Inc.”).

Second, the story follows the “inside” world of Riley’s emotions as they interact with and respond to her “outside” world of family, friends, sports, school, etc. After doing a little reading, I learned that the “outside” portion of the story comprises less than 20% of the film with well over 80% of the action taking place inside Riley’s mind. “Joy” is the leading emotion, personified by an irrepressibly positive pixie (“A good day leads to a good week, leads to a good month, leads to a good year, leads to a good life!” she says). But “Sadness” and her cohorts, “Anger,” “Fear,” and “Disgust” chime in accordingly to keep things lively. Joy’s goal is to be sure that each day brings memories (in the form of colored spheres) that sparkle and shine. At the end of the day, the memories are downloaded into the long term storage. But especially important “core memories” leave an indelible mark on Riley and these special spheres stay in the “control room.”

Third, the idea of “core memories” is provocative. In fact, while watching the film, I was pushed into thinking about (perhaps dredging up!) a few core memories of my own. Each of our lives has numerous “water shed” moments that, to a lesser or greater degree, shape us into who we are, chart our course in life for better or worse. One Geneva colleague insightfully noted, “The fact that certain core memories/experiences really do shape who we are and become [should be] an admonition to educators and parents to be careful about how we interact with the students/children … But [we must also remember], God can work in us to change us. Through sanctification we can become what God has called us to be – regardless of our core memories.”

Fourth, at one point, Riley re-encounters her early childhood “imaginary friend” named Bing Bong. In a painful moment during the story, this “friend” sacrifices himself (falling into the “memory dump”) in order to help her move ahead in her development and growth. This made me think of 1 Corinthians 13 when Paul speaks of letting go of “childish things.” Such an act is painful, but necessary for growth.

Fifth, this thought leads to a critical factor (and the turning point in the movie): the   realization that life will not always be made up of “happy” memories. In fact, the film demonstrates the value sadness can bring when mixed with joy. At a critical moment in Riley’s journey, when all seems lost, Joy realizes this and says, “Sadness, it’s up to you. Riley needs you!”

I have often told students that though we all wish for comfort, peace, and happiness in life, the most precious and formative lessons we learned come through difficulty, often mixed with sadness and loss. And this film does a great job demonstrating this. And as this was playing out in the film, Tolkien came to mind (of course!)

Finally, Tolkien has much to teach us about the close relationship between joy and sadness. In his letters and in an important essay “On Fairy-Stories” Tolkien weaves a beautiful tapestry, convincingly showing that joy and sorrow produce something far more beautiful than either can alone. This difficult and mysterious concept comes through in the film as Riley eventually realizes that one of her core memories of joy was actually immediately preceded by (and indeed set in motion by) one of her greatest moments of grief and loss. Tolkien once wrote: “Christian joy . . . produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love” (Letters, 89). This is a great example of what Tolkien calls “eucatastrophe” – a word he coined to describe the instance when something terrible actually turns out to lead to something immeasurably good. With respect to story, Tolkien said eucatastrophe is the “sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance . . . .”

In Riley’s case, in a crucial moment of maturity, she realizes that this core memory is actually a mixture of the bright yellow of joy and the blue of sadness which is more rich and deeply satisfying than she could ever have imagined as a young child when she tried to forget the sadness and loss.

Do you see the gospel here? As we mature as humans made in God’s image, we confront our brokenness and sinful inability to be “good” on our own. When this happens, we begin more deeply to appreciate (and hopefully to appropriate) the richness offered us in the grace of redemption we find in the Good News. Tolkien calls the death and resurrection of Christ the greatest eucatastrophe which occurs in the truest story. As we see and understand that death issues forth in life and loss can bring understanding and joy, we begin to be able to see that memories of even “bad” things can become, by God’s grace “good” things (and that sometimes the bad and the good are the very same incident!). In this way we can affirm Romans 8 when Paul writes, “And we know that for those who love God all things [and that all is an all-inclusive all] work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

At the movie’s end, Joy and Sadness walk hand-in-hand. And so it is in our lives.

Homily for Ash Wednesday

The Geneva School Chapel, February 10, 2016

Today is Ash Wednesday on some church calendars. It begins a 40 day period of time (minus the Sundays) called Lent leading to Easter. As you can see from the inside cover of your bulletin, the word Lent is from a Middle and Old English word that simply means “spring” – though I have also heard it is from the Latin word for “40.” But this 40 day period is associated again, in some church traditions, with the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness with a focus on self-denial and fasting. Not all Protestant churches observe this – it is one of many traditions observed by some, originating rather early to help people understand Scripture, though it is not mentioned in Scripture per se. As someone who comes from a tradition where this day and season is not observed, I feel a bit like a porcupine in a balloon factory – proceeding with care lest I move a bit too far in one direction or the other with disastrous results. So I would begin by remembering Paul’s good teaching in Romans 14:

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”

But let’s think about this, focusing together for a few minutes on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. This followed immediately after He was baptized by John in the Jordan – and that event, Jesus’ baptism, is traditionally considered the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. So let me begin with a question.

Second graders, let me ask you to remember back to when you were just little kids way back in K-4. Back then I imagine that if someone asked you, “What did Jesus come to do for you?” you might have answered, “Jesus died on the cross for my sins . . . I’m 4 ½!” And that would be a good answer as far as it goes.

But let’s be very clear: was it enough that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and rose from the dead? Shake your heads “no”! Our sins certainly needed to be atoned for with a perfect sacrifice. But too many people forget what Jesus did for us before He died for us. He had to live for us as well. Someone had to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. And Jesus did this with His life. And we see this beginning to happen right here in these 40 days in the wilderness. Follow me on this, o.k.?

Luke 3 recounts the story of Jesus’ baptism, then the chapter ends with a long genealogy of Jesus going all the way back to Adam – that’s important – tuck that away. Then in Luke 4 we read,

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” When we hear about someone being led by the Spirit in the wilderness for 40 days, who else was led by God in the wilderness . . .? Yes, the people Israel . . . for 40 years! Why? Because they did not trust God to lead them into the Promised Land. So they were led by a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night (sounds like the Spirit!) for 40 years until all those adult who did not trust God had died. The people of Israel failed to trust, and someone had to do that for them; someone has to do for us, too. So Jesus lived in a way we could not, trusting God faithfully in perfect obedience.

The Scripture in Luke 4 continues, “And he [Jesus] ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. [Well, I guess so, right?] The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” What did Israel eat in the wilderness? What did God provide for them those 40 years? Yes, Manna, bread from heaven, yet they complained and failed to be grateful and to trust God.

But Luke 4 continues, “And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And Satan took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’    and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

Hmm, . . . 40 days in the wilderness being faithful to God reminds us of Israel’s 40 years of failure in the wilderness. Jesus does in the wilderness what Israel could not do. But even more, when the devil comes to tempt Jesus with food, and power, and life, what does that make us think of? We remember that Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They were surrounded by everything they could ever want or need in the Garden, including fellowship with God; yet Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of Satan. They wanted different food, power, and life than God had already so graciously provided for them. Adam and Eve failed to trust God, but Jesus did not fail when faced with an even greater temptation.

Jesus did in temptation what Adam could not do. Jesus is so much greater in all the deprivation and hardship of the wilderness than Adam was in the comfort and beauty of the Garden. Adam had all he needed, yet failed to trust God and sinned. Jesus, in great deprivation and hardship, stood up to Satan’s temptation and lived faithfully, defeating the same serpent that had defeated Adam

Irenaeus, an early Father in the church, famously said that Jesus succeeded where Israel and Adam failed. Jesus succeeds where we fail too. Irenaeus proposed that in this situation Jesus was not so much giving us a model to imitate. Rather this was an important action where Jesus lives for us in a way we could not live. Jesus offers what Irenaeus called “recapitulation.”

That’s a big word, but what is in that word, students? The “capital,” the head. Jesus put the head back on — He recaps the failure of humanity in the way He lives in obedience to God as we are unable to do. So we enter Lent looking to Jesus as one who lives a life of perfect obedience that we cannot live. Then in Holy Week Jesus dies a death we cannot die as the perfect sacrifice. He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become, by His grace, not by our effort, the righteousness of God.

The first Adam had faced the temptations of Satan in a bountiful garden and failed. The second Adam – Jesus – faced the temptations of Satan in a desolate wilderness and He succeeds. He succeeds where Adam failed because He trusts the Word of God. Satan twisted God’s Word in his tempting of Adam and Eve and caused them to doubt. He twisted God’s Word in his tempting of Jesus, but Jesus does not falter.

The significance of this is that Jesus, like Adam, acted as a representative of humanity. In Romans 5 Paul teaches us that the failure of Adam brought sin and death on the human race. In order to be our Savior, it was necessary for Jesus to live a life of complete obedience to God. His sinlessness was absolutely necessary for our salvation. In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted like Adam, but did not sin.

One of the main New Testament Scriptures upon which this view of recapitulation is based is Eph. 1:10 which says: “[God’s purpose is, in] the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth.” The Greek word for “sum up” was rendered “to recapitulate” in Latin.

In this recapitulation view of the atonement, Christ is seen as the new Adam who succeeds where Adam failed. Christ undoes the wrong that Adam did and, because in his union with humanity, by perfect obedience, He is able to offer humankind eternal life when we trust in His obedience rather than in our own.

Irenaeus said, “[Christ] was in these last days, according to the time appointed by the Father, united to His own workmanship, inasmuch as He became a man liable to suffering … He commenced afresh, that is in Latin “in seipso recapitulavit,” He summed up [He recapitulated] in Himself the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that everything we had lost in Adam—namely, to be in the image and likeness of God—that we might recover in Christ Jesus.

He has therefore, in His work of recapitulation, in His life of obedience, summed up all things, both waging war against our enemy, and crushing him who had at the beginning led us away captives in Adam. …the enemy would not have been fairly vanquished, unless it had been a man [born] of woman who conquered him.

For Irenaeus, the ultimate goal of Christ’s work of becoming a human being is to bring us back to God by faith in Him. He said, Jesus “became what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.”

So, back to Lent. I read an article this week in Time magazine about something Pope Francis said this year about Lent. He said, if we’re going to fast from anything this Lent, Pope Francis suggests that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast from indifference towards others.

Rather than fasting from some food or some activity that affects you only, perhaps this Lenten season Francis said we might consider feasting on love. I kind of like that. How can we feast on love? Perhaps you fast from criticizing your classmate; fast from laughing at the mistakes of others; fast from assuming the worst about someone’s intentions. Feast instead on kindness, feast forgiveness, feast on love by out doing each other in showing respect to each other and finding ways to serve each other.  Fast from selfishness and feast instead on finding ways to give to others, cultivating selflessness instead.

True confession for a moment: I am a weak and sinful man – weaker than I care to admit – Jesus is my strength. My righteous acts, my attempts at “being good,” amount to so many stinking, filthy rags. Isaiah 64 describes me and I think it describes us all when it says, “We have all become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment [like filthy rags]. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But Jesus’ righteousness is refulgent in glory and perfect – so by His grace, as we contemplate the goodness of Christ for us, let us glory in His righteousness by which we are saved and with which we are clothed. He alone is good

C.S. Lewis said, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Does God desire that we do good things? Of course, it pleases God when we begin to look more like Jesus. But let us remember that only the goodness of Jesus can save us. Let us feast on the goodness of God in Christ, who was good for us so that we can, by His grace, be remade increasingly into His image as we trust in Him.


The Long View

[recently published in The Geneva School’s Courier newsletter]

My Grandmother was born in the late 19th century (1898). She died on her 70th birthday (living exactly that biblical “three score and ten”). Though I was only 12 years old at her death, I have a sense that she handed down to me in my younger years some of what I now hand down to your students. And this is how it has gone for thousands of years now. One generation passes on to another the valuable lessons of life, and in her case faith and Christian hope.

So think about this with me. Geneva students have just two degrees of separation (from my grandmother to me and from me to Geneva students) from someone who grew up without automobiles, indoor plumbing or electric light bulbs. She saw the very beginnings of recorded sound and the mass usage of electricity. For much of her life, she heard news on the radio and saw news reels of the World War II in the movie theater. But Geneva students have never known life without the internet, mp3 technology, and concepts like “global warming” – things foreign to me in my youth and which my grandmother never heard of or could possibly have imagined at her death in the late 1960s. I sometimes have to explain to students things like LPs and manual transmissions!

In the same way, I cannot imagine the changes that my present students will see by the time they are my age. Our culture is adept at predicting the future – though we did not get hoover boards by October 2015 as “Back to the Future” predicted in 1985, and I must admit, by the way, that I am somewhat disappointed by that! But we cannot imagine the changes that will happen over the next 50 years, nor can we predict the cultural challenges young people will face in their later lives.

I teach students the following: “Culture is the integrated system of learned patterns of behaviors, ideas, and products that characterize a society.” Whatever culture one might observe, one sees complex layers of thinking and acting that result in ideas that issue forth in behaviors which create certain products, and these together become characteristic of any particular society. Students quickly see that certain products in our culture (e.g., fast food, media, and football) characterize the American experience. But these are the result of profoundly influential ideas which form our behaviors. When we think more deeply about such things, students eventually (hopefully) see that ideas about life and afterlife are also profoundly influential in the way they live their lives.

But as much as things change, some things remain the same. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)! Truth is truth – and it does not and will not change (despite our current cultural moment contending in many sectors that truth is subjective and created by communities). While the body of knowledge grows exponentially, some things will always be true despite any and all attempts to “restructure truth” to fit new cultural paradigms. Maimonides (1335-1204) said, “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”

And this is what excites me about teaching at Geneva. At some point every year, I tell 7th grade “emerging adults” that I hope someday some of them will be teachers as well. And if/when they are and they reach my age, they will be teaching young students in their classrooms. Their students will be, eventually and by God’s grace, the leaders of the 22nd century! Do the math – it works out! This is “the long view” that I hold onto as I teach. My hope is that the truths we teach at Geneva will be passed on by our students to students fifty years from now who will grow up to lead our country (and the world!) in the 22nd century. That’s what gives me energy to do what I do most days of the week.

Let me give you a couple of examples. Students in 7th grade recently discussed Psalm 27 where we saw one verse that says,

“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”

Many people adopt this as a “life verse.” They want their life to be characterized by seeking after God, gazing on his beauty, inquiring about his truth. In a way, this verse capsulizes our new idea that at Geneva we are about the big goal of “inspiring students to love beauty [“gazing on the beauty of the Lord”), think deeply [“to inquire in his temple”], and to pursue Christ’s calling on their lives” [“that will I seek after”]. A thousand years before Christ came, this was David’s desire. Now, two thousand years later, it is ours at Geneva.

Likewise, 8th grade students each semester contemplate Paul’s desire seen in Philippians 3:10, “that I may know him [Jesus Christ] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Almost two thousand years after Paul articulated this life-long striving, this should also be our goal as well. And we remember, with Paul, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

May God give us the grace to hold this “long view” in mind each day at The Geneva School.