A History of Humankind

[For those of you who do not get The Geneva Courier, here is the piece I wrote for the most recent issue. The published, edited version is here (on pp. 24-25): http://www.genevaschool.org/about-us/publications-media/courier/the-courier-september-2015/%5D

A History of Humankind

I hope your summer was a good one which included rest and achieving some goals. I usually try to do at least two things: get some rest and accomplish some “recreational” reading. So in addition to relaxing while on the shore of Lake Erie with family, I dug into some reading. First I read McCullough’s new biographical installment, The Wright Brothers (Simon & Schuster, 2015; highly recommended). Then I followed the crowds and read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (Harper. 2015; which validates Naomi Wise’s dictum advising against ever publishing a first draft! Stick with the old Atticus!). I also dipped into Turley’s Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness & Beauty; but what really got my attention up on Lake Erie was beginning to read Yuval Harari’s best seller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Harper, 2015).Mike.07.15.Lake Erie

Harari is an Israeli historian (Ph.D. from Oxford) whose book has been translated into 26 languages – that got my attention. Further, as an atheistic scholar (who, according to the bio, lives with his husband near Jerusalem and teaches at Hebrew University), his writing gives a window into the worldview of so many who believe and live by a story completely separate from the story we tell at Geneva. Though I have yet to finish the book, I find it incredibly intriguing and helpful in understanding our cultural moment.

At Geneva, we believe (consistent with historic Christian tradition) that God created the world with purpose and intention. His creation is a beautiful construction revealing God’s nature of order and beauty. We also believe that humankind is the pinnacle of his creation. We are made in God’s image (imago Dei) and as his image-bearers, he has given us a “creation mandate” to be fruitful and multiply, and have dominion as stewards over his creation. Further, we believe that humanity’s fall into sin has marred creation such that the whole creation (not just humans) longs for redemption, restoration, and reconciliation with our creator.

The other story is quite different, of course, and Harari articulates it well. When God is not real, there is no “creation.” Everything we know and see and experience is the random result of meaningless forces with no ultimate meaning other than what any particular culture may seek to impose upon our world. Humans are not special, nor actually essentially different than the rest of the animal world. Thus Harari asks how this particular slice of evolution, the species homo sapiens, has somehow risen to dominate the world as we know it (at least for now).

Harari contends that our species rose through the ability to created “imagined realities” such as money, religion, and even corporations – none of which are “real” in his mind – in order to give us a false sense of . . . well, order. “Culture,” he says, “tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition natural” (p. 147). He goes on to say that “our concepts ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ are taken not from biology but from Christian theology” and as such do not apply to those who reject the Christian story. He freely admits that evolution has no purpose and that so much of human “history” is the story of one culture oppressing another for the sake of power and wealth (both imaginary illusions).Harari.07.15

Harari is one of an ever growing number of “scholars” who “see culture as a kind of mental infection or parasite, with humans as its unwitting host” (p. 242). Wow! That’s a dismal view of things. So what does a secular evolutionary atheist hope for? I have already looked ahead toward the end of the book since the picture being painted is so hopeless. To my surprise, his hope (also articulated in a published interview) is that death will eventually be “optional.” Really! This is where human evolution is headed – victory over death and endless life . . . for an elite class who use the rest of human kind to serve and support them.

This made me think of Tolkien (naturally) in whose Middle Earth cosmology members of the Elvish race cannot simply die (though an Elf may be killed). And the Elves, interestingly enough, consider death to be a gift given by the creator to the race of men. Elves find endless life a dreary burden to bear from which there is no release and little joy (even if there is great beauty and achievement).

While we can stand in wonder at the great advancements of modern culture, mankind is still held in bondage to something relatively close to that biblical idea of three score and ten years in this life. Yet we believe that there is much more to life and the world than that which we can see and quantify. I am sure Harari is one of those who pities us as people of the Book who believe in the resurrection of the dead and the prospect of everlasting life. But such belief also gives meaning and purpose to our waking and sleeping moments. Life matters because God has decreed it so.

I am grateful that a summer of rest is a good thing and that God uses such times to energize us for our vocation at Geneva: educating the next generation and continuing the profoundly important task of inspiring students to love beauty in God’s world, think deeply about the significance of life, and to pursue Christ’s calling as we live on this earth.

“Why?”

[NB: I wrote this piece for the May issue of The Geneva Courier . . . before our sweet Jessica sustained another badly broken arm last week. How ironic. But God is good, all the time.]

In my Biblical History class [for 7th grade students] we recently undertook an admittedly brief survey of the book of Job, one of the oldest and most complex books in the Old Testament. You know the basic story. Job, a wealthy, righteous man who feared God lost almost everything of any value to him: his possessions, his children, and his health. All that he had left was a wife, who advised him (foolishly) to curse God and die.

What follows is a long discourse between Job and his friends – 35 chapters worth of deep conversation about the nature of suffering and the justice of God. After Job’s final soliloquy, God speaks (Job 38-41). And virtually all He does is ask Job one question after another – more than 60 questions by my count! And all the questions are rhetorical reminding Job of three things: 1.) God is great; 2.) Job is not; and 3.) Do not get numbers one and two confused!

We can learn an awful lot about God from the questions He asks Job. We are reminded with Job that God has created and ordered everything that exists: earth, sea, sky, stars, all of creation. He tells us through questions that He has designed and ordered everything, from the place where waves stop on the shore to constellations in the heavens. Then God moves more specifically into the animal world, speaking (again through questions) about everything from lions and donkeys to birds on the wing. After two chapters of this Job says, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Job essentially says, “I am small and need to shut my mouth.” But God is not finished yet.

In the next two chapters God challenges Job for assuming that he, a human might presume to know all that God is doing. He continues to teach Job his smallness by speaking at length about “behemoth” and “leviathan.” Much ink has been spilled as to whether God is speaking here about a hippopotamus, a crocodile, or a whale. Regardless, the point is clear. When we take a minute to look at creation in all its vast array, we must admit that we are small and weak, fragile and frail. But God is almighty beyond our understanding. Every year when I travel to California for meetings at Joni and Friends (as I did recently), on the way back to the airport in L.A. I take a canyon road up over the Santa Monica Mountains and pull off at a spot where, from several thousand feet up, I can look out over the Pacific Ocean. It’s good to remind ourselves regularly that we are very small people in a very large world ordered and sustained by a majestic and powerful God.

Job’s final words are of deep repentance: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. . . . I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

In the epilogue, we see that God restored Job’s fortune doubly, and gave him more children, and Job died full at an old age. But one thing was never revealed to Job: “Why?

Therein lays the rub. All too often, like Job, we are not given a glimpse “behind the curtain” (as we the reader were able to get in Job), to see what God’s purpose is in our suffering in this life. Will we know at some point? Certainly, the Scriptures affirm that at the consummation of all things we will see God’s purposes clearly and know that His plan for us was good and even, in mysterious ways, glorifying to God Almighty. But in the meantime, we wrestle with the “Why?” just as Job surely did.

Many of our 7th grade students have suffered much in their brief 12-13 years of life. And many of you in our parent community have suffered much more! Often without knowing the answer to “why?”

Some people are blessed to see the reasons for their suffering. My friend, Joni Eareckson Tada is one of those. Paralyzed from the shoulders down at 17, she sees now at 65 what God was doing. Her suffering has become a blessing to untold thousands (even millions I dare say); to many people her story has been a vehicle for their salvation in Christ. But we cannot forget that on the way to that blessed knowledge were years of despair, night after night of loneliness and deep sadness at what life would be like: never riding a horse again or being able to wipe her own nose or myriad other simple things we take for granted.
Mike and Joni.05.15
[A pic with Joni at the Joni and Friends Board meeting earlier this month]

In her book The God I love: A lifetime of Walking with Jesus, she closes the book talking about the time she was at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, a place where a paralyzed man was healed by Jesus, but she remained paralyzed in her wheelchair. And there she said to God, “I know I wouldn’t know you . . . I wouldn’t love you and trust you . . . were it not for this chair.” Then she finished by writing this: “The answer to all our fears, Man of Sorrows and Lord of Joy, always permitting what he hates, to accomplish something he loves. And he brought me here [to the pool in Jerusalem] so that I could declare to anyone within earshot of the whole universe, to anyone who might care, that yes—There are more important things in life than walking.”

Good words and true.

I say to students every year that one of the most quoted but least believed verses in the Bible is Romans 8:28, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Do you see what it says? All things? All things that happen to us are not good! Some circumstances are just down right evil, wicked, and unspeakably tragic. But in God’s almighty power and wisdom, he is able – for those who love him and are called by him – to use all things for our good and for his glory.

Our lives are part of a great tapestry that God is weaving (and at Geneva, He is graciously weaving our many lives together in the most surprising ways!). We see the underside of the tapestry, where there are knots, hanging threads, things that don’t seem to be beautiful or make sense. But God sees the upper side of the tapestry, something beautiful beyond what we can imagine. As we trust him, even the dark threads will be used to create beauty, reason, purpose, and glory, all in his time and in his way.

As we end another year [at The Geneva School], here in our small corner of the earth in Winter Park, I am convinced beyond doubt that God is up to something surprisingly beautiful and magnificent, despite us. He is weaving our stories into his grand story. And at the end of the day, that is a happy thought.

Persecution

Homily for The Geneva School

“Bless are you when men persecute you”

April 1, 2015

Mr. Clark has been reminding us recently that in the Beatitudes Jesus lays out a way of being in the world that characterizes Jesus’ disciples. He has further said that Jesus isn’t giving us a list of things we can do to get him to do nice things for us; he is calling together a new people—a renewed humanity—to follow Him into the world, because He wants to extend His gracious rule of the world through people who look and act like what He says in the Beatitudes (and indeed what He says throughout the whole Sermon on the Mount).

Today I discuss the longest and the last of the Beatitudes – both ideas (longest/last) should get our attention. And of course, it’s probably the most objectionable principle as well. Anyone want to be first in line to sign up for persecution? I think not. None of us wishes for such things.

But if we go with what Mr. Clark has said, persecution is a way of being for followers of Jesus. It is the normative experience of Christians throughout the ages and the overwhelming experience of Christians in recent decades around the whole world. Think about the hundreds, probably thousands, of Christians in the Middle East killed recently for their faith. The words of Jesus come true for them. In John 16:1-4 Jesus says, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” When Egyptian Christians were killed recently, the last words on their lips was the name of Jesus because they remembered and trusted.

In the scope of Christian history, we live in a rare, small bubble of relative peace, prosperity, and safety. Don’t get used to it. If you hold fast to the faith once and for all delivered through the ages, if you hold fast to the Gospel that says all people are profoundly sinful and need a savior, you will be persecuted.

In fact, twice in the last couple of weeks I have been accused of not being a Christian because I having gently and lovingly sought to tell people things they did not want to hear. I’ve been called a judgment hypocritical Pharisee and a non-Christian (along with a few expletive deleted words). In the not so distant past, I engaged some younger adult 20-somethings on Facebook regarding our society’s current changing beliefs about sexual expression, same-sex marriage, etc. I graciously sought to represent historic Christian beliefs and practices, unquestioned by all Christians everywhere until a very few years ago by some people here in our country. In short order, I was called a bigoted, close-minded, mean, nasty old man whose ideas would die with me, someone of whom the younger generation would be embarrassed a few decades from now. One said he hoped I would die sooner than later and that my ideas would die with me. Wow!

So let’s look at what Jesus and the New Testament have to say about this. First, if we are living as Christ lived, persecution is inevitable. It’s not “blessed are you if” but “when.” Philippians 1 says that to us is given not only to believe in Christ but to suffer for his name sake. Later in Phil. 3 Paul list four concepts that should be aspirations for every believer: “That I may know Christ, and the power of His resurrection; that I might share in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death.” And then 1 Peter 4 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”

So this brings us to a second point: why we should suffer persecution: for righteousness sake. The beatitude does not merely say you are blessed when you are persecuted, but when you are persecuted because you live like Jesus lived. When Jesus came into the world, He shone light into people’s darkness. But John’s gospel reminds us that people love darkness and get pretty ticked off when a light exposes their deeds of darkness. So it is with the followers of Jesus. In John 15 Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

Two things we draw from this. First is that if the world loves you, you are probably not living or speaking like Jesus. There is a guy, Rob Bell, former pastor of a mega-church in Michigan, who recently came out in favor of same-sex marriage and is now Oprah Winfrey’s spiritual counselor – the world and media love him for his tolerance his willingness to embrace new realities and his “forward thinking.” He said “if the church keeps resisting same-sex marriage it will continue to be even more irrelevant.” Well, let me gently say that Mr. Bell has missed something pretty important – Jesus never intended to be “relevant” and cool and hip to the times – He intended to be revolutionary. To save people from their sin.

The second thing we see from Jesus words is that we should not rejoice if we are persecuted for being jerks. He said, “Blessed are you when men persecute you and revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you FALSELY on my account. For example, the Westboro Baptist church – no glory in being persecuted for being angry jerks who are unkind . . . even if you are right on a social issue (which too often they are not!). ]

So first, we learn that persecution is inevitable, second that it is blessed when related to our righteous living in Jesus’ name. But third, what should our response be? Two responses: first, Rejoice and be glad. look at the Apostles in Acts 5:41-42. “and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Second response to persecution, pray! In Romans 12 Paul tells us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 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.” The if possible is key. Sometimes truth requires that you say things, in love, that people will simply hate. But Jesus calls us to “turn the other cheek” when someone strikes us, and to pray for the very ones who persecute you.

Finally, there are blessings that come to us in persecution when we live like Jesus (when we display humility, meekness, mercy, and a hunger for righteousness).

First, persecution for righteousness sake shows that we have Identification with Christ. We already mentioned Phil 3:10. When the apostles were persecuted and rejoiced, and prayed for their oppressors, they were identifying with Christ. They were being like Him. So should we when we receive persecution.

And second, persecution for righteousness sake gives us further purification into Jesus’ image. In 1 Peter 1:6-8 the apostle says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Then in 1 Peter 5:10-11he concludes by saying, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

The promise there is that just like difficulties make us stronger, persecution is like a sub-set, a particular kind of intense difficulty. And Peter tells us God will restore us, confirm our faith through such things, strengthen us in such things, and establish us – that is, make us steady, and immovable.

None of us wishes for such things. Makes me think of Gandalf speaking to Frodo at Bag End at the beginning of LOTR. When Frodo says he wishes the events swirling around the ring had not happened to him Gandalf replies, “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.” Ladies and gentlemen, if we live like Jesus, we will see persecution. None of us wishes for such things, but we must decide, when it does happen what we will do, how we will respond, to the times that are given to us. May God give us grace to identify with Christ, rejoice in God, and pray for those who persecute us.

Jesus our Great High Priest — a homily

The following is the text of a brief homily today for Geneva’s Lower School students

“Jesus our Great High Priest” (Heb. 4)

Grammar School Chapel, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015

Dr. Michael S. Beates

Scripture:

Hebrews 4: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Leviticus 16: Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, it shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away as a scapegoat into the wilderness. . . . .   And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.

All year long, we have been thinking in Chapel about the names and titles of God. In the OT there has been “God Almighty (El Shaddai)” and others like “The Good Shepherd” or “I AM.” As we have come to the NT, we have considered Jesus as the “Beloved Son,” “Christ.” “Lamb of God,” “the Resurrection,” and “the Vine.”

Today we think about Jesus as our “Great High Priest.” What does a priest do? Different things might come to mind. But the idea basically has been that a priest makes things right between you and God. A priest answers the questions about life and death. In ancient times, people trusted their priest with all the important questions about life and meaning and purpose. In our culture today, there are some new high priests – people we trust to keep us safe from the dangers of life: doctors and scientists. Many people think they have the answers to life and death. But do they?

In ancient Israel the high priest went in to the inner tabernacle or the Most holy place in the Temple only once a year to atone for the people – if you and I lived then, we would never think about approaching God on our own – only the priest could do that for us, and the high priest once each year. You had to trust this priest that what he was doing was right for you in order to keep you safe, to save you from death and the punishment for your sin. But notice in Leviticus 16, the teaching about Day of Atonement, the most solemn assembly for Jews each year, notice that the High Priest had to make atonement for himself first, before he could intercede for the people. Aaron and every high priest after him was sinful. But Jesus was not.

Here’s the thing: The High Priest in Israel was a symbol of One to come, a sign pointing toward Jesus. He had to make sacrifice for Himself (because he was impure), then for the people by using two goats (one whose blood atoned, and one who took sin away). But Hebrews tells us Jesus, as the great and final high priest, offered Himself. He served as the priest, and as the sacrifice, and as the scapegoat! Since Jesus is pure, He needed no sacrifice for Himself. And since He had no sin, His sacrifice of Himself was sufficient – once for all. Sacrifice is needed no more. If time allowed, we could see ten reason in Hebrews 7 why Jesus is the perfect and final High Priest. But real quick :

  1. Jesus is a better hope by which we can draw near to God (v. 19)
  2. Jesus guarantees a better covenant (v. 22)
  3. Jesus lives forever (v. 24)
  4. Jesus saves completely (v. 25)
  5. Jesus always lives to intercede (v. 25)
  6. Jesus meets our needs (v. 26a)
  7. Jesus is holy, blameless, pure, set apart, exalted (v. 26b)
  8. Jesus was sacrificed once for all (v. 27)
  9. Jesus offered Himself (v. 27)
  10. Finally, number Ten, Jesus is perfect (v. 28)

We have to go back to our doctors every year for another shot, or another filling and we have to keep taking the medicine they give us day in and day out. They need to go to a doctor themselves when they get sick. But not Jesus.

He was tempted in every way like us, but without sin. He was born into humanity, experienced our existence, He knows our weaknesses. And now He sits forever next to God the Father defending us and representing us. The work of the high priest in the Temple was never done, and they never sat in God’s presence. But Jesus has finished the work, and He is seated with God as our Great High Priest.

Thanks be to God.

We n eed to trust our doctors to help us when we are sick, but Jesus is the great High Priest we need to trust with not just our bodies when they are sick but with our souls for all eternity so that we can have everlasting life.

The Benedictus (Luke 1:57-80)

A Sermon for St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church (12.14.14)

Intro

Two weeks ago Frank began this Advent sermon series “Great Expectations: Celebrating Advent from Luke’s Gospel” preaching on the opening verses of Luke 1 and the prophecy to Zechariah as he served in the Temple. There Zechariah heard that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son in their old age, but Zechariah doubted this word from God. Frank reminded us that anxiety results from looking at our circumstances and lacking trust in God. But faith rests on the promises of God. We were reminded that we all struggle with doubt and we limit God by relying on self. And Frank told us that the remedy for doubt is to rest on the promises of God and to meditate on the attributes of God.

Then last week Justin continued with the middle portion of chapter 1 opening up for us the prophecy to Mary in Nazareth and her song of praise to God, the Magnificat. We were encouraged to leap as John in the womb, Shout for joy as Elizabeth did, and sing songs of gratitude and faith as Mary did.

The Narrative

Today we complete this first chapter. Time has moved on, and Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, is ready to give birth. The text tells us:

  1. 57-58: “She bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her.” One of the most desperate life situations in the ancient world was to be without child. And since God looks on the broken hearted, this is one of numerous stories where He indeed showed great mercy in such a situation; here to Elizabeth and Zechariah. And there was great rejoicing.

vv 59-63: Naming the child: Custom of following the father’s name. Meaning of the names Zechariah (“Yahweh remembers”) and John (Yohanan, “Yahweh is gracious”).

Note in v. 62:“They made signs to his father” — Zechariah was both mute and deaf – He suffered silence for months as a result of his unbelief at Gabriel’s announcement to him in the Temple. But this suffering, this penalty if you will, led to deep godly meditation [my 10 days!].

Zechariah had doubted the goodness and sovereign power of God – and his silence may be seen a “punishment” of sorts. Piper on this point says, “Remember that [that is, remember this story], you who now suffer from the scars of past sins. If you keep faith now, God will turn the marks of sin into memorials of grace.” Zechariah kept faith . . . albeit in silence . . . and when he agreed with Elizabeth, writing on a tablet that the new born son would be named John, he was released from this silence. His first words after months of silence were praise to God. And text in vv. 65-66 says, “Fear came on the people” and they “laid these things up in their hearts” – personal recollections behind Luke’s Gospel account.

So Zechariah, filled with the Spirit sang a song traditionally entitled by its first word in the Latin text: “Benedictus.” The “Benedictus” reads like a psalm, and in fact there are many allusions to OT Psalm texts. But it also breaks out into two parts – the first speaking about the Messiah to come, the second stanza about the Messiah’s forerunner, John.

The Prophecy concerning Jesus:

  1. 68: “has visited and redeemed” – Zechariah is so sure of the present/future reality that he speaks of it in the past tense! There had been no visitation, no word, for 400 years! Israel had waited. Amos had prophesied there would be a famine, not of food but of the hearing of God’s Word and there had been – silence from God – for 400 years. But the waiting was over. Anticipation was about to be fulfilled. But this deliverance and redemption was not what they thought it would be – God seldom does things the way we expect. They expected (as they saw with Moses) deliverance from the present existential state of oppression – from Rome.
  1. 69: “He has raised up a Horn of salvation”

The horn is not a musical instrument (with apologies to Brian, Rob, and Larry), but a sign of strength and a means of victory. In Micah 4:13 God says to Jerusalem, “Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples.”

Psalm 92: 9-10, “For behold, your enemies, O Lord, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered. But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox”            Psalm 18: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation.”            We are weak and broken people. One of the big lies our age seeks for us to imbibe is that we are strong, able, and self-sufficient. As I think I have said before here, I believe the opposite of faith is not doubt – rather it is self-reliance. But God’s people in the first century knew that no amount of self-reliance or strength (personal or national) would solve their problem. They needed a strong ox with a mighty horn to free them.            Free them from who?

  1. 71: “To save us from our enemies, from the hand of those who hate us”!

The people of Israel needed a strong savior to bring deliverance from oppression. But as too often, they were thinking physically, and God was communicating about spiritual truth. Yes, indeed, they suffered from oppression and slavery – though not what they thought. Rome was an enemy, yes, but sin is a much worse and more evil taskmaster and an oppressive enemy beyond their imagination – not just of Israel but of all mankind, of me and of you. Just as with ancient Israel, we need to be saved from the hand of the one who hates us, who hates all thing good and true – Satan, the father of lies. But God’s purpose was not merely to save us, but also in

  1. 72: “To show mercy” and “to remember his holy covenant”

The NT word mercy harkens back to that big, bountiful Hebrew word hesed that speak of God’s steadfast love, unfailing covenant loyalty and deep, abiding affection for His people. The Savior about whom Zechariah speaks, Jesus the Messiah, would show this covenant love, this steadfast mercy to His people.

Did God forget His holy covenant? Of course not! Remember here carries the sense of fulfilling and bringing to full fruition the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and the prophets.

So God’s purpose is to save, show mercy, remember covenant, and . . .

“deliver us from the hand of our enemies” – Just as Moses was God’s man to deliver Israel from existential slavery, so Jesus has come to deliver all who trust in Him from sin and death. He came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. The Law had not changed. The righteous requirement of the Law stands firm. God still requires clean hearts. In Deuteronomy 10 He required that Israel circumcise their hearts – something they were unable to do – something we are unable to do. But toward the end of Deuteronomy, in chapter 30 God promised that He would – in His great mercy – circumcise our hearts . . . so that we could love Him and live. What God required of us, He promised to provide for us. Why?

In vv. 74-75: “That we might serve God without fear” – how? “with holiness and righteousness all our days.” God desires and desires our worship. And as He provides for us what He requires of us, so He gives us the grace to worship Him as His Body. Week in and week out, this is a profound privilege that we should not lightly give up or pass over. At vs. 76, the “Benedictus” turns to . . .

The Prophecy concerning John

Many have said that John is the final Old Testament prophet. He would be the forerunner, preparing the way – as we see played out later in the Gospels, what it says here in v. 76: “preparing the way” for Christ confessing that he is unworthy to untie His sandals, telling his own followers that he (Jesus) must increase while I (John) must decrease! And just as he must decrease, almost immediately, in this second stanza about John, the focus turns back to Jesus. He would bring . . . in

  1. 77: “Knowledge of salvation and forgiveness for sin” and then this precious thought, Jesus will display
  2. 78: “the tender mercy of God”

Forgive me at this point as I quote Charles Spurgeon at length:

The Lord could not forgive them on the ground of justice, and therefore he did so because of his tender mercy—the tender mercy of our God, who has made himself “our God” by the covenant of grace. He passes by the transgression of his people because he delighteth in mercy. At the very outset, I want any soul here that is burdened with sin to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and to believe in it because God is love, and has a great tenderness towards the work of His hands. He is so pitiful that he loves not to condemn the guilty, but looks with anxious care upon them to see how He can turn away His wrath and restore them to favor. For this reason alone there is remission of sins. Forgiveness comes not to us through any merit of ours, present or foreseen; but only through the tender mercy of our God, and the marvellous visit of love which came of it. If He be gracious enough to forgive our sins, it can be done; for every arrangement is already made to accomplish it. The Lord is gracious enough for this—for anything. Behold Him in Christ Jesus, and there we see Him as full of compassion. ‘Mercy’ is music, and ‘tender mercy’ is the most exquisite form of it, especially to a broken heart. To one who is despondent and despairing, this word is life from the dead. A great sinner, much bruised by the lashes of conscience, will bend his ear this way, and cry, ‘Let me hear again the dulcet sound of these words, tender mercy.’

In His tender mercy God has come to us in Jesus – Advent is the arrival of His most tender mercy. He has come to walk with us, to empathize with us, suffer with us. So He was prone to come along side the most needy among people – the sick and helpless, the rejected and marginalized. This is tender mercy. And it goes on in

vv 78-79: “The sunrise shall give . . . Light for those who sit in darkness”

Notice especially He is the rising sun for those who sit in darkness. Those who are motionless, without hope and without light. Those who know their plight is far beyond any remedy they might conjure from themselves. This light is for us!

Seventy years ago, in a Nazi prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that a prison cell is a good analogy for Advent. He said that in prison, “One waits, hopes, does this or that – ultimately negligible things – but the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside by someone else.” John Piper expands on this saying, “There is a hopeless precursor side to Advent. Until God arrives we have no hope for release from the imprisonment of our sin. We are stuck and condemned and the door is locked from the other side. We depend completely on Someone from the outside to free us.” Jesus has brought this light to our darkness to show us . . .

  1. 79: “The way of peace” – shalom!

We live in a world sorely in need of God’s shalom. We live with rushing, anxiety, pressure, unmet expectations, disappointment, depression, sadness, loss. Oh how we need peace. This tender mercy of God condescending to us in Christ brings every miracle you can think of into one. Imagine a paralyzed, sick, blind beggar, languishing in a dark prison. And Jesus comes, bringing light, and life, and strength and wholeness and hope and escape from an enslaving enemy of sin and darkness. This is our story. And at the first Advent it began and with this Advent, it continues as we embrace the One who come to release us, lift us on formerly lifeless legs and walks with us from incarceration to freedom and light and life. Oh the goodness of God’s tender mercy for us.

Conclusion: Do you see the Gospel here friends? Has God brought light and sight to the eyes of your heart to see His strength, His horn of salvation doing for us what we cannot do? Have you experienced His gentle and tender mercy, lifting you in your broken state, clothing you with righteousness and holiness to serve Him without fear? Oh the goodness of God with us, . . . of God for us, . . . of God in our midst. Thanks be to God.

what we cannot do? Have you experienced His gentle and tender mercy, lifting you in your broken state, clothing you with righteousness and holiness to serve Him without fear? Oh the goodness of God with us, . . . of God for us, . . . of God in our midst. Thanks be to God.

An Advent Homily for The Geneva School

Advent – as with so many things at The Geneva School, meaning of the word is from Latin (advenire) “to arrive.”

At this time of year, as we celebrate the arrival of Jesus, as we anticipate the coming of the Light of the World, light is so integral to our celebration of Christmas. There are lights on tress, lights on houses (hundreds of thousands on a house near my home). And there is candle light on Christmas Eve.

Light – so basic, simple, yet so mysterious and profound. From the earliest time, humans have tried to create light to fight against the dark – which of course is not a thing in itself at all – it is only the absence of light. We take light for granted until we don’t have it! Then we find ways to manufacture it so that we have it artificially. First fire, then oil lamps, then electric lighting (which I still think is a form of magic) and more recently portable light through battery powered flashlights (wonderful in hurricanes). But light is still a mystery to me. It intrigues me. I am one of those people who can stare at a fire all night.

Mr. Jain, Mrs. Schaefer and Mrs. Andrews, Mr. Polk and Mr. Andreasen, our science teachers, could tell us a lot more about the nature of light from the scientific point of view, but let’s think about it from the perspective of Advent.

As we have already mentioned, “light” is woven into our celebration of Advent and justifiably so since light is woven even more pervasively into the tapestry of Scripture.

In the beginning God created . . . light!

Even though we walk through the valley of the death shadow. Darkness is scary! But God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

Isaiah said that People walk in darkness, . . . and upon them, a light will shine.

Then in the Gospel of John, one of the major ideas throughout the Gospel is the contrast between light and darkness. John begins by telling us that the Word was with God and was God and in Him was life and light, and this light shines in the darkness [that is, it shines in the darkness of our fallen world of sin] and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Later in John, Jesus declares, “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” His light not only gives us direction and comfort, Jesus says that His light gives life itself!

Then as our Scripture reading this morning reminds us, Jesus also called us to “Put our trust in the light while we have it, that we might become children of the light!”

Later in the New Testament, Paul tells us that “the god of this age [the devil] has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine in darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” His light is life, and His light is knowledge of His glory! . . . and soooo many people are blind stumbling in darkness . . . even though they think they see.

And in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah and again at the end of Revelation (the last book in NT) we are told that there will be a time when there is no more night, and no need for sun or moon, since God Himself will be the light.

God is light, and in Him there is no darkness. Light is so pure and clean. When we are afraid we run to toward light for safety and security. Maybe you have a night light in your house just in case.

Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness hides, obscures, frightens. TV and movies so often contain dark scenes portraying evil deeds. And while darkness is only the absence of light, it is real, isn’t it? It comes earlier and earlier every evening now in the winter. And there are places in our world where it feels particularly dark. We live in a fallen world. A world of spiritual darkness.

John 3 we read very familiar words. But listens to what follows immediately: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Jesus says we love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil. But we also live around darkness, don’t we? Jesus knew darkness as well. He understands.

Darkness was real when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Herod the Great was a dark and evil man (less said the better). Darkness was real when Jesus confronted demons and unbelief, real darkness fell at His crucifixion. . . . Darkness is real in our world today.

But it only takes. . . a little light . . . to make darkness flee – instantly! And there was light when angels sang to the shepherds, there was light on the mountain of transfiguration and there was light on the morning of resurrection. And there will be no need for any other source of light when we are with God in all His glory.

Advent celebrates the arrival of Light . . . into a dark and broken world. Our candles at Christmas Eve are fragile. But the light of Christ can never be extinguished. It is eternal. This brings to mind a metaphor from Tolkien – the phial of Galadriel, the star crystal. This gift to Frodo was given with the promise that “it will be a light for you when all other lights have gone out.”

Our fires grow dim. Electricity fails. Our manufactured battery-powered lights run out. But if we have the light of Christ, we will always walk in the light.  However, if we are not in Christ, if we are separated from Him, we remain in darkness. In Isaiah 42 the Lord speaks through the prophet ff Jesus His Anointed One saying,             “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;I will take you by the hand and keep you;  I will give you as a covenant for the people,a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Seventy years ago, in a Nazi prison, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that a prison cell is a good analogy for Advent. He said that in prison, “One waits, hopes, does this or that – ultimately negligible things – but the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside by someone else.” John Piper expands on this saying, “There are two sides to Christmas. There is a hopeless precursor side to Advent. Until God arrives we have no hope for release from the imprisonment of our sin. We are stuck and condemned and the door is locked from the other side. We depend completely on Someone from the outside to free us.”

There may be some here who are still imprisoned in the darkness and condemnation of sin and unbelief. Or perhaps there are some here who are children of the light who have wandered from the light into a prison of some kind and you need to return to the Source of light. When we trust the One who is the Light of the World, He unlocks prison doors and floods the darkness with the light of life.

Of course the other side of Advent is that when Jesus comes and when we unite with Him, we become children of light. And He has come not merely to bring a little light, to add illumination to what is already here. He does not merely bring a bit of focus and clarity. Rather, He has come to put everything into an entirely new light.

John 8:12, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Following Jesus, trusting Him brings everything into a new light. Clear, pure, safe. Alive, abundantly so, and eternal.

This month, as you see lights on houses, lights on a wreath or on your tree, lights everywhere, and finally perhaps candle light on Christmas Eve, remember that our celebration of Advent is a celebration of the arrival of God’s light in Jesus to push back and defeat the darkness and the imprisonment of my sin and your sin. When you see all these lights, remember that in our sin we are locked in prisons of darkness, unable to escape. But in Christ, we are set free, brought into light, and into life.

Let me close with one more line hidden away in Psalm 36. There in verse 9, David sings, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Did you hear that? In God’s light – which is Jesus! – we actually can see light.

May God give us each the grace not only to hear about the light, but to see the light of Christ this Advent season.

Better Off Dead Than Disabled?

So it hit the news recently in our country that a mother in Britain received permission from the courts to “allow her child to die.” Interestingly, the 12 year old died August 21 — this is old news. But as you read the stories (one is here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/begged-judge-end-sick-daughters-4509235), I trust you will be struck by the profoundly oxymoronic nature of the comments. The young lady (like Terri Shiavo in Florida years ago) was not dying, she was not in danger of dying, no one “allowed” her to die. The mother, with approval of the courts and assistance of medical professionals, decided to stop feeding her daughter food and water and it took two weeks for her to die. They decided to kill her . . . slowly  . . . painfully . . . in ways we don’t allow for animals.

Then they salve their consciences (nationally, judicially, medically, and parentally), by saying they all just wanted her at peace or some such nonsense. They say she was no longer there — only a shell, that her life had no quality, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and it happens in our country too by the way — all the time.

Let’s be very clear about a couple of things. First, I think the suffering most involved were trying to end was their own. I get it. It’s hard to be a parent of a kid who is deeply disabled. I know this is true. But I also am convinced the parent usually suffers more than the child. Related to this is the dangerous idea that non-life is better than life. As a Christian, of course, I know this is true in the ultimate sense of life after this life. But just as we have no control over the beginning of our lives, we are not in a position to determine the ends of lives either. Suffering is not the worst thing — unless you believe that human beings are merely sophisticated animals and suffering is devoid of any possible meaning or worth. And this mother’s comments of remorse and guilt seem to bear out that even though she is “free” from her daughter, she is now sorry, but not sorry all at the same time.

Bottom line, it is important that we understand that for quite some time now, our broader culture thinks it’s better to be dead than disabled. And this is dangerous. Please read Joni Tada’s comments about this here: http://www.christianpost.com/news/uk-high-court-allows-mother-to-euthanize-severely-disabled-daughter-joni-eareckson-tada-says-judges-decision-terrifying-129344/.

Second, this is a place where the Christian church MUST speak into the culture with an unambiguous message: life is a gift — all of it, all the time. I am pretty convinced that the church fails at this point too often. And admittedly, even when the church speaks truth and offers help, many people simply would rather not be bothered by disability.

Let me put it this way: some of the comments the mother made seem to say she was tired, she was in over her head, she had no support system — basically, no community to help her. And this is sad; profoundly sad. I saw a movie recently (it was a long flight from Cairo!) called “A Long Way Down” (see here: (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0458413/). There will be slight spoilers below, and of course, in nearly every movie there is sin that I am not endorsing by talking about the movie.  Pierce Brosnan, the star, wants to jump off a tall building on New Year’s Eve (and his character’s life was admittedly a train wreck). But the plot line is that three other people also turn up on the same evening to jump (an older woman about Brosnan’s age, and two 20-somethings, guy and girl of course).  They all talk each other out of it — until Valentine’s Day.

The twist is that as each life is considered we are surprised to learn that the older lady wanted to die because she was the sole care-giver for her adult son, a deeply disabled man. She was tired, worn out, no support. And, she reasoned, if she died, the government would take over and her son would get better care.

How sad I thought that the church was no where to be seen (I know, common in film). But I think this is true in the real life story of a mother starving her 12 year old to death (with court and public opinion approval!). No one wants to be bothered. “People like that” owe us the dignity (?!) of dying so we can get on with life.

But God mysteriously uses brokenness to remind us of our own profound neediness, and our need for a community, and our need for a Savior. And along the way, as we care for the broken — even in our own fallible, needy, brokenness — we are healed and strengthened. And we show our humanness most as we care for the most needy among us.

“Better off dead than disabled” is convenient, practical, easy, relieving, prudent, popular, plausible, . . . and diabolically smells like the smoke of hell.

Random thoughts on “dating”

Answered an email question this morning (sometimes a dangerous thing without sufficient coffee yet ingested!); but here are some random thoughts about “dating”

We live in a rather decadent and decaying culture in our country – too much evidence not to see this. One indicator that does slip by us too often however, is the whole youth “dating” thing.  I know, . . . I grew up with this too – but sadly I did not have a Christian environment that spoke winsomely about bigger ideas of goodness and truth. I was in one of those high quality public schools (northern Virginia claimed the best in the country after all!) that taught subjects well, but gave absolutely no guidance as to what it means to be a human being made in God’s image. Yes, the church and Young Life were speaking into my life, but the overwhelming cultural forces (then and today) too often drown out the truth.

Bottom line, as my own children have grown, I have sadly had to admit that at its best, “dating” is an innocent entrance into much bigger things that best wait until young people are not . . . well, young people! At worst, dating is just practice for divorce. Sorry, but there it is.

Here’s my concern: a Christian school environment tends to be a close and vibrant community. This is a blessing in so many ways. But when students begin to “date,” size becomes a challenge. The inevitable “break-up” results in awkwardness in classes and hallways where students have nowhere to “hide” from failed relationships like these. Students have enough challenges in their adolescent lives without the extra difficulties that accompany the “dating” culture.

I was so pleased that my daughter’s class at The Geneva School (2008) conscientiously remained a bunch of good friends throughout their Rhetoric years. Only one “couple” occurred in their senior year – and everybody was pretty disappointed frankly because then those two were completely distracted by each other and had no time for anyone else. Here is my  fear when students at a Christian school start to “date” – sometimes (and it has happened) – when it goes badly at some point (and it almost always does), students end up leaving to find another place to finish school away from the awkwardness of the failed relationship. That is the extreme of course, but it is a reality no one should have to face. Others have merely had to work through unnecessary relational damage and awkwardness.

So my recommendation: speak to your student about our culture’s relatively recent (and experimentally disastrous) practice of “dating.” Seek to inculcate the notion that friendships forged from mutual experiences with multiple people allow students to be themselves and enjoy their peers without the extra pressures (on multiple levels) that dating creates for younger students.

One more thought: I remember a few years back speaking with 7th graders about this. Some girls were distraught that I could not understand how important this was to them. I told them I remember the thrill in those years – yes indeed. But I also told them that from my looking back, I now consider the emotional investment a lost enterprise. Those emotions could have been so much more invested in things that last rather than in the fleeting and vain pursuit of a temporary relationship that would inevitably end badly. I know it’s difficult for students to see, but that is because our culture sings a compelling siren song – “Come, join us and end up on the rocks with emotional damage and broken young hearts.”  In retrospect, we all have to admit, the song sounded good, but was pretty shallow after all. Much better goal: guard your heart, guard your virtue, and enjoy the value of Christian friendship with classmates.  I have preached too long and will desist.  Bless you all!

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Technology, Distraction, and the Good Life

Recent musings in The Geneva Courier

As we began our year at Geneva, we held a “Great Conversation” on August 15 about technology and its impact on our school community. It was an enlightening evening with rewarding and informative comments from panelists and parents alike. We strive for excellence in all things at Geneva. We embrace the classical model, understanding that the beauty of this timeless mode of education is in its ability to prepare students to walk wisely in a modern world.
Recently in the Wall Street Journal, I read about one Johannes Trithemius, a fifteenth-century abbot of a monastery in Sponheim, Germany, about fifty miles from Gutenberg’s workshop where Bibles began to be printed a few years earlier. Trithemius was concerned by this new technology that allowed the mass production of Scripture. In 1492, he wrote that the work of the scribe producing manuscripts by hand gave “strength to words, memory to things, vigor to time.” He worried that the mass production of printed texts might replace scribes and the result would be that “faith would weaken … law would perish, Scripture fall into oblivion.”
In retrospect, such fears five centuries ago seem quaint. However, many would say that we now live in another such transitional era. The digital world expands at a dizzying rate. So much so that we cannot know how life in front of a screen will affect our children for whom this is becoming a normative experience. One writer laments childhood has become a “restless idleness,” while another says too many young people today suffer from “continuous partial attention.”
The WSJ wrote:
According to YouTube’s own statistics, users uploaded 100 hours of video for every minute of real time in 2013. That’s a “decade” of footage posted to the internet every single day. Google processes over 3.5 BILLION queries [my emphasis] daily while each American owns, on average, four digital devices. A 2013 report found that Americans aged 18–64 spend an average of 3.2 hours a day on social networking sites.
Yikes! Such statistics should indeed give us pause. What’s a parent to do? And too often these numbers find us guilty in our own usage of time and digital media. So do we throw everything away, unplug, and move to a cabin in the woods out of range of the nearest cell tower? With satellite communication, even this is unrealistic.
While we are at it, let’s admit something else. The constant barrage of media and images, scene changes every five seconds, and the urgent sense for constant connection too often create an increasing sense of insecurity in young people. The carefully photo-shopped and airbrushed images young people see in media create in too many of them a sense of self-loathing or worthlessness and create a need for constant affirmation that their images are “liked.” And of course the short attention span that all this creates makes patient reflection on big ideas and deeper meaning a diminishing (but still necessary) skill.
So it is worth some reflection that we must not lose … the art of reflection. In our age of constant distraction, we must be conscious and intentional to remain human and to think. To “muse” is to think, reflect, and to allow quiet reflection the opportunity to help us hear things we cannot hear amidst the cacophony of digital noise from multiple devices running simultaneously. Such reflection and quiet is essential to living a good life. The best writing happens after careful and patient thinking. The best photography requires waiting for the right moment; planning, setting up, and finally capturing the shot. The most beautiful music is produced after hours and hours of unrushed scales and slowly, patiently entering into the music being played. Some of the most crucial insights of faith and life are grasped slowly through extended, deliberate, and heartfelt conversation.
Reflection also requires quiet and solitude. But many people can’t abide quiet without becoming nervous and anxious. Wherever we go—walking, running (or artificially running on a stationary machine), riding in a moving vehicle—we see earbuds. There is “noise” to drown out the quiet. Bob Ingram at the Convocation chapel said this:
Sanctuaries are contemplative spaces protected from distractions of this busy, noisy world. They are deliberately quiet in order that we can perceive the still, small voice of God. Where is your sanctuary? Do you have a place reserved for silence, unencumbered by the myriad noises we clamor to hear? Do you have the will power to be still and know that he is God? Is it feasible for you to entertain the prospect of solitude, if only for a few fleeting moments each day? Do you know the sounds of silence? Does God have to compete for your attention or do you offer it to him as a joyful alternative to the cacophony of this world’s strident voices?
While writing this piece I dug out a well-worn and underlined copy of Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business. It was written almost thirty years ago (1985), before email and internet went “viral.” Toward the end of the book, postulating about the growing use of computers, Postman said this:
A central thesis of computer technology—that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data—will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved (Postman, 161).
Postman’s foresight was remarkable. If we accept that his term “computer technology” includes the whole spectrum of digital devices he could not have imagined, we may quibble about whether they have solved important personal challenges. But there is no question that our media-saturated twenty-first-century digital life has spawned numerous unforeseen problems. My point here is that as our children mature into adulthood in this environment, we will do well to seek intentional ways to live out a “good life,” working diligently against some of the unintended problems of technological life.
We must help our children grow as humans, not merely as able manipulators of technology. We must help them learn to relate as human beings one to another, not merely to stay “connected” through the latest app. We must encourage authentic social interaction rather than allowing students to rely too completely on the artificial social media realm where it is too easy to create a persona that does not reflect who they really are.
This ultimately lies behind our big goal of shaping the loves our students will develop during their years here at Geneva. Will they love things that advance their unique qualities as a humans being created in God’s image, or will they settle for merely loving the way a device connects them to some level of cyber-reality? Will they be able to converse in a beautiful and articulate manner, or will they settle for texting abbreviated thoughts with emoticons? Our students will certainly and quite naturally adapt to technological innovation. It is the way of things. Our forbearers adapted to the horseless carriage, the radio, and air travel. This older guy now often communicates via text message and email. I will even, in all likelihood (and with no small level of irony), post the content of this article on my blog (mikebeates@wordpress.com).
Yet while we adapt to and use technology for our benefit, we cannot allow it to corrode our humanity. The “good life” will always be a human and fleshly, real, relational venture. It cannot be achieved through avatars and substitutionary lives in a cyber-world. May we have wisdom not to exchange what is real and good for what is temporary and a mere distraction from the good. May God give us grace to balance the benefits of technology with the gift of being fully human.

Thoughts on the World Cup and Soccer in America

So, I have been experiencing a lot of cognitive and emotional dissonance these days.

I love the beautiful game, it’s complexities of strategy and it’s demand for extraordinary skill, finesse, and athletic patience. I hate that people like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter trash soccer as a leftist activity. I love that so many more Americans have been swept up in the drama of the World Cup. I hate that so many players seem to be members of a theatrical guild, playing only for the referee’s whistle rather than seeking to score out right and win on merit rather than on set pieces (skillful execution of such plays notwithstanding).

But this last thought is why I think soccer’s time has not come yet for America. We Americans have little patience for the cheap victory (or at least we should have!) when it comes to sport. I believe that for the game to achieve popular acceptance in our country, world soccer (think FIFA) will need to get control of fouls. Players from other countries (and too often our own as well) seem to have no sense of pride or self-respect. Knowing there are a dozen camera angles at ultra-slow motion does not deter them from launching their bodies toward to ground followed by writhing painful images – even though every camera angle shows that they only felt an arm slightly grazing against their back, or that another soccer boot nicked theirs ever so slightly.

Can seemingly insignificant contact “hurt”? My son, Eli, assures me – and I thus believe – that it can. But does it create agonizing pain every time? I think not. Games have turned on a referee’s biting on such a display and awarding a free kick that results in a deciding score. But when even the commentators agree a “foul” was manifestly wrong and unjust, . . . well, Americans tend to turn the channel or say, “What’s that about?”

How much better to play through the contact, win the ball, stay in the game and seek to score? But too often players take themselves out of the play, going to the ground in hopes the official will award the free kick. Then there are the times when things go terribly wrong. When Colombian player Zuniga went high and kneed Brazilian star Neymar in the back, Neymar ended up with a cracked vertebrae. But the cracked vertebrae is so low, some think that the knee did not create the injury. Rather, Neymar arched his back and sailed to the ground onto his hip which may have contributed to the severity of the injury. All agree that it is grievous and Neymar’s loss is near fatal to Brazil’s chances. But it seems a stretch to think Zuniga meant to hurt the other player.

But I ramble. My point is simple. When players embellish, it taints the sport. Interestingly, I think this began to happen more in professional basketball when foreign players began to “embellish” there as well. And Americans dislike it. That’s all.