Uncomfortable Thoughts about the Death of Tyre Nichols

I am not unaware of the racial difficulties in our culture. Two of my sons are black and have had to deal with this. They have been followed by police in our neighborhood and on the interstate. One was stopped by State Police on I-95 for no particular reason other than he was black (they said suspicion of drugs). He was scared to death. Listening to the cultural narrative post-George Floyd, he was convinced he might die at the hand of police. Another son was lied to by police in order to incriminate himself.  I am not unaware of the problem.

But I have had several uncomfortable thoughts roiling through my mind concerning the terrible death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.

First, did any of those black Memphis police officers and EMTs (now fired and/or arrested) leave the house that morning thinking about killing a black man? I think we can say, “Of course not.” But they were, each and every one of them, certainly thinking about coming home alive at the end of their shift, despite whatever dangers they might face. And a very troubling and uncomfortable truth is that police face far more danger — statistically and unarguably — from young black men than from men of any other race. Let me be clear: this fact does not excuse the barbaric treatment of Mr. Nichols, but it cannot be dismissed from the conversation. My black sons have been suspects simply because so many other young black men are statistically criminals. Is it wrong that police will suspect and treat a Black man differently? Yes. Is it a legitimate fear on the part of police? Also, yes. And this is part of the conversation we are not allowed to have in our cultural moment. And any solutions run far deeper than “End Racism” bumper stickers. It begins with fathers in the home, discipline in the family, and a community that builds hope and expects success for young black men.

Second troubling thought: Now every single one of these first responders in Memphis has lost their career, their reputation, and perhaps, their freedom. And I think they will say they were trying to do their job. A suspect fought back and fled; and they responded. A related uncomfortable thought: how many young people or their parents will decide that law enforcement is no longer a career option after yet another altercation like this? Why risk your life being a first responder when, by acting wrongly or badly under pressure, you end up in jail? Who wants that risk every day?

Hear me, please! . . . these police obviously responded badly, perhaps (time will tell) criminally — probably due (at least in part) to poor training in the aftermath of “defund the police” movements. When a culture defunds the police, maligns the police, and scales back on its forces, expect more of this: poor training, perhaps even poor candidates accepted and put into dangerous situations; and bad things happening as a result.

Third very uncomfortable thought that I have not heard a single person ask: Why did Mr. Nichols run? Would he have been killed if he had simply complied? Some are now saying despite the five black law officers, this is yet more evidence of systemic racism. Further, that the later revelation of a white police officer somehow implicated is another sign of racism. Some say if Mr. Nichols were white, he would have been treated differently — good question for the cops. But I think if a white guy, or any guy, fights back, escapes and runs, it will go badly when he is caught — in the best of circumstances and training. At that point, he becomes a threat to the survival of the cops. Again, this does not excuse what these five officers did, but I have heard and read repeatedly that Mr. Nichols was an innocent man and father (they always throw that in, . . . but without any further comment, like “is he married to his child’s mother?”), . . . so why did he run and endanger himself?

Fourth troubling question worth asking: Would these five officers have been fired, arrested, and charged with murder as quickly as they were if they were white? And related to this, of course: Sadly, if these officers had been white (or a mixed combination of races as in Minneapolis), we would see cities burning yet again. But they were all black officers, quickly fired and arrested so . . . for some profoundly confusing and uncomfortable reason, there has been relative peace.

God help us.


A Homily for The Geneva School

Dr. Michael Beates

“Simeon and Anna in the cloud of witnesses”

Cloud of witnesses — who will we see? John Newton said, “If ever I reach heaven, I expect to find three wonders there. First, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had expected to see there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.”

We spoke last semester of many Old Testament saints listed in chapter 11 in Hebrews – people of faith under the old covenant – people who believed the promises. We considered people like Abraham, the messed up family of Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Ruth and Naomi, Hannah, David and Mephibosheth, Hezekiah and Josiah. I believe we will see them in heaven. This semester we will consider some people not mentioned in Hebrews 11, people who are under the new covenant, people found in the New Testament Scriptures who we believe we will see there as well. Mr. Ingram spoke about the Magi two weeks ago. But today I need to step back in time just before the Magi and let us think together about two rather obscure people mentioned in Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus: Simeon and Anna and their encounter with Mary and Joseph when Jesus was just a week or so old.

The wonder of Simeon and Anna is that their faith in God was so deeply grounded in His promises. Promises speak to something we do not yet see, but for which we hope. And as many of you have heard me say before, Christian hope is not like hope in this world – “I hope we win tonight” or “I hope it does not rain on our picnic” or “I hope I will get this job or that good thing.” The world’s hope may or may not come to pass. For the world, hope basically equals chance or good luck.

Christian hope is like an anchor – it’s secure, it’s immovable, heavy, solid. Hebrews 6 says our hope is grounded in two unchangeable truths: first, that God cannot die (and He promised to Abraham that He would die if He did not fulfill the promises) and second that God cannot lie – thus His promises are sure. Our Hope is secure. It’s as good as done . . . but we don’t see it yet, do we? So we believe in the promises. And perhaps the saints of old are like links in the chain connecting us more directly to that Anchor of Hope.

Simeon and Anna saw a mere spark of the fulfillment of God’s promise – they saw Jesus and trusted! – and they took great joy from it. Remarkable. Imagine being Mary and Joseph and this old guy walks up and takes the baby from Mary, probably holds him up in the air a bit and begins to sing or at least recite his “psalm” (what we call the “Nunc Dimitis”). I think Simeon was ready for this moment. He knew it was coming and he had something to say when it did. He was waiting for this moment.

Simeon declared that Jesus was a light of revelation to the Gentiles – Simeon knew that the promises were for all people everywhere, not merely for God’s chosen people, the Jews.

And Jesus’ parents marveled . . . ya think? This was further confirmation to them! The angel had said so to Mary at the announcement to her months before; Joseph had dreams with angels telling him what to do and where to go; the shepherds bore witness to glory, now here was an old saint further testifying to the truth about Jesus – even though He was a mere babe in arms. Amazing!

Then Anna went further. Not only was Jesus to be a light, a salvation; but she said He was to be God’s instrument of redemption – this little one, somehow, someday, would provide the payment for sin to buy His people back from captivity to sin.

Such foresight . . . such faith in God’s promises.

So what about us? Have we seen the fulfillment of God’s promises? Well, we have seen so much more than Simeon and Anna, right? We have seen the cross, the resurrection, the Scriptures that unfold the fulfillment of God’s promises to redeem His people and renew the world through His everlasting kingdom. All things these two old saints never lived to see.

But have we seen everything? No indeed. We still look to another coming, a victorious King coming. And when He comes in glory, He will make right of everything that’s wrong.

We know there’s lots wrong with our world, amen? We see moral decay and confusion all around us. There’s covid and cancer, injustice, family struggles, war around the world, and uncertainty about so many things like the economy, etc. But the promises of God say He will put things right. All the wrongs will be made right.

Anna and Simeon knew this. God is not finished. We have seen only a part of the whole. So we trust and take each day as it comes, grateful for simple blessings. In this world we will have trouble. I caught a quote in a Christmas movie – it grabbed me so much I reached for my hand-held computer – that thing we still call a phone, and I wrote it down in a note. One character said, “Grief is the price we pay for love . . . and it’s worth it a million times over.” Truth for sure. But it’s still grief. So we say with the saints of old, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Reflections for Christmas

Dr. Michael S. Beates, Chaplain

We live in a time of unprecedented anxiety. So many of us are fighting against defeats on numerous fronts; damages to life, home, and property; despair from hope and dreams that seem crushed by forces beyond our control; death and resulting grief have seemed to be epidemic in recent years. From a biblical angle, many of us are shocked to find ourselves wandering in a desert wilderness, unfamiliar and seemingly unending.

But then a baby came to Bethlehem to bring us victory in all these things!

I often tell students that God seldom does things the way we might expect. He uses people and event we would least expect to accomplish his ends so that he gets the glory. And we are reminded of all this at Christmas.

About 90 years ago, Gustaf Aulén wrote a book entitled Christus Victor that reintroduced us to an ancient theological concept of Jesus as the one who bring victory through his death. He said, Jesus gives his followers “victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil.” He got this idea from early Church Fathers like Cyril of Alexandria and Gregory
of Nyssa who saw Christ as the bait on a fishhook, bait that lured the devil to bite and eventually to destroy himself. This concept has even been called the “fishhook theory of atonement.”

It all began immediately after The Fall in the Garden. As God pronounced the curse in Genesis 3, he said to the serpent:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).

This verse is called the proto-evangelium – the first hint of Good News that God will defeat Satan through the offspring of Eve, even Jesus, born to Mary so many years later. But it only starts there.

We see God provided redemption from slavery in Egypt, real and existential, for his people Israel through the blood of a lamb on their door posts at Passover in Exodus 12. This foreshadowed a much greater redemption from sin and death through the blood of the Lamb for all people everywhere who believe in Jesus.

In the New Testament, we see the first glimpse of this when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple just days after his birth. The old man Simeon, after singing about Jesus as one who would bring salvation to all people in the “Nunc Dimittis” (Luke 2:29-32), he blessed the new parents and said to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:34–35).

Paul continually speaks of our triumph in Christ as in 2 Corinthians 2:14 (“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere”) and in Romans 8:2 (“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death”).

The Apostle John also tells us that “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). And of course, in his Gospel, John gives us some of Jesus’ final words to his followers, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Are you fighting despair these days? Is the prospect of death far too close? Do you feel like you are wandering in a desert wilderness? Remember this:
A baby came to die for us to defeat death and sin.
A baby came to repair all the damage the world inflicts upon us.
A baby came to dispel despair in the midst of our misery and to and bring everlasting joy.
And a baby came so our deserts might bloom again, despite our worst fears.

I believe that Mary must not have been totally surprised by Good Friday because she heard soon after Christmas that God was going to work wonders through her pain and loss. So remember at Christmas, Jesus’ words in John 12: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses
it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). The baby born in Bethlehem came to die for our sins, to redeem us from our despair and misery and to bring us great, great joy.

Merry Christmas to you all.

An Advent Homily for The Geneva School

The Geneva School Chapel, Monday, Dec. 5, 2022

Dr. Michael Beates, Chaplain

All this fall semester, we’ve been looking at the “cloud of witnesses” – those people from the deep past who showed faith in God, believing the promises of God. Well today we look at two of the later kings of Judah, good kings in the midst of many bad ones.

Hezekiah was king in Judah for about 5-6 years when the northern kingdom of Israel, famous for apostasy, child sacrifice, and wickedness, fell to the Assyrian empire. God promised Hezekiah that though his kingdom of Judah would also fall and his decedents would be carried away in exile, he would die in peace.

Isaiah was the prophet who spoke during his reign – and this is the Isaiah who had already promised during the reign of a prior king that one would be born who would be the salvation of Israel and a light to the Gentiles. Things were bad, but they were going to get worse before the promises came to pass.

But here is the thing with Hezekiah – he had moral courage and righteousness, even though he knew doom would eventually come. In 2 Kings 18:3–7 we read “Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD.”

When he began trying to bring Judah back to faithfulness, he destroyed an ancient relic from the time of Moses – the bronze serpent on the pole. That took massive strength of leadership and moral courage to destroy a 1,000-year-old relic from the time of Moses. But the truth is, something that had been a good thing had become, over time, a bad thing. That relic had become an idol. Even good things can become bad if we turn them into idols and worship the man-made object instead of worshiping God.

Friends, this is still true today. Good things can actually lead us astray from God if we allow them. Have you seen the ads for a new movie, show, something, call “Violent Night”? It’s playing off a time-honored song about Jesus’ coming, but it turns something beautiful and profound into something dark and violent. Yes, . . . it can happen in our day too.

But Hezekiah had the courage to say no to a good thing that had turned bad.

Well, jumping ahead a couple of generations, after a couple more really kings, Hezekiah’s great-grandson Josiah finally came to the throne later on.

The Kingdom of Judah was already past the point of no return. No matter how much Josiah tried to turn the ship and do what was right in God’s eyes, the kingdom was too far gone to recover. I call it an example of “The Niagara River Principle.” Years ago, living near Buffalo, I had a boss take me out on his boat on the Niagara River. At some point we came upon signs that warned not to pass that point. It was the “point of no return” for small boats. Go any further and you will be swept over Niagara Falls. But the Falls were about 8 miles down stream still. You could not see them, hear them, and the water was deceptively calm.

For instance, water runs at 7mph leaving Lake Erie into the Niagara River, but runs at 40+ mph just above the falls.  Water running at 25 mph has the force of 700 mph wind. The actual “point of no return” is 6 miles away from the falls.

The point is, the Kingdom of Judah had gone too far. That kingdom, despite the attempts of Josiah, was going to go over the falls. Judah would be conquered by the Babylonians at some point after Josiah’s death and God’s people would spend 70 years in exile in a foreign land.

But here’s the shocking thing about the reforms of Josiah: the Israelites had forgotten about God’s Word – the Scriptures had been lost in piles of “stuff” in the Temple (2 Kings 22). Hard to imagine! And worse, they had forgotten about Passover . . . for hundreds of years (2 Kings 23:21-ff). It sounds like even by the time of King David Israel had already forgotten this most important rite of remembering God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt, how He had saved them by the blood of a lamb on their door posts and had led them out to freedom to the Promised Land.

Think about this! It would be as if the Pilgrims forgot Christmas and we, 400 years later, somehow stumble upon and rediscover this lost, vital, profoundly important rite of remembrance. This is why way back in Moses’ time in Deuteronomy 4:9, God told the Israelites to remember the things their eyes had seen, not to let them slip from their hearts all the days of their lives; but to teach them to their children and their children’s children. But someone in some early generation simply had not passed on the tradition of Passover. And it only takes two generations of forgetting for important things to disappear.

Could such a thing happen in our day? Certainly! And in fact, I think in many ways it has happened. So many people – so many of our neighbors – think Christmas is about snow and parties, reindeer and presents . . . and they forget it’s about a baby who was born in Bethlehem Immanuel, God with us in human flesh, who came to die for our sins in Jerusalem.

My family watched the old Christmas classic movie Miracle on 34th Street the other night. Do you know . . . the name of Jesus never even is mentioned in that film? Already, just after WWII in our country, Christmas had turned into a social phenomenon of good will toward people, giving gifts, and being nice.

But we have to remember and cherish the true story of a baby born in Bethlehem, to be the Messiah for all the world for those who believe. But so many people simply have forgotten this.  So when you hear songs on the radio or at the mall about a “holly, jolly Christmas” remind yourself that there is far more to the story.

Are we as a culture too far down the river? Are we going over the falls? I don’t know.  We certainly hope not! But God is the One who raises up kingdoms and princes and He is the One who brings down empires and kings, all in His timing and for His glory.

Our job is to be like Josiah: to hold on to stories the culture has lost, to remember God’s story, to sing about the Jesus who came to save His people from their sin. Having inherited the Word of God, we are to be a people who stay in the Word of God, reading it, studying it, as we pursue Christ’s calling on our lives. We need to tell these things to our children and to our children’s children so that God receives the glory.

May God give us all the moral courage to throw away those things that have nothing to do with worshiping God . . . even perhaps things that once were good but that now threaten to take us away, to distract us from the God who saves. And may we never forget the Good News sung by the angels to shepherds that night. So, come let us adore Him. Christ is born, Christ is born, Christ is born for you.

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.

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


            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


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.


“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.”


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.