Monday, November 28, 2016

Fat Dogs

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  - James 1:27

Likanson is second from the right.
There are two children missing from this picture
As is always the case when I travel to Haiti, I end up in a conversation that is convicting to my American Christianity.  For a decade, Gayle and I have supported a particularly poor Haitian family, one that is considered poor even in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.  This is a family of a father, mother, and nine children, ranging in age from 21 years old to 3 year old twins.  All eleven of them live in a house that measures less than 150 total square feet, with one bed and a dirt
floor.  Were it not for our meager financial support, they would certainly be facing the threat of starvation.  Even with the support, they still have to worry about sickness (they have all had malaria, dengue, and other tropical illnesses), clean water, mudslides, assault, and other issues that rarely cross our minds here.
The puppy

During our trip last week, we were checking out the progress on an expansion to their house, when a puppy happened to walk by.  Doing what Americans do, I picked up the puppy, handed it to my son, Sam, and took a picture.  After all, who can resist a puppy!?  Our Haitian friends watched this with wonder, and the oldest son. Likanson, asked in his broken English, "Do Americans like dogs?".  Sam quickly answered, "yes", to which Likanson replied, "Haitians hate dogs".  He then added the piercing question, "Are American dogs fat?".  Sam answered, "yes, many of them are fat, especially compared with Haitian dogs.".  Likanson's face revealed his heart. 
Haiti Street Dog

As a background to those who have never traveled to a third world nation, dogs are considered pests and scavengers, who compete with the humans for food.  They are treated with contempt, and often chased away with sticks or rocks.  Most of the dogs we see in Haiti are on top of trash piles, trying to get any morsel of food they can find.  In scripture, we see that this battle between man and dogs for food has lasted for thousands of years in poor nations.  In Mark 7:27, Jesus says, "Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
School Kids

When Likanson asked about fat American dogs, what he was really thinking was this: "In Haiti, my brothers and sisters are starving.  My community cannot find enough food for everyone to share.  But, in America, even the dogs have an over-abundance."  He holds this view, not as a critique of Americans, but in awe that a nation could possibly be so wealthy that even dogs (detested animals to them) are fat (and often clothed).  I do not bring up this story as an accusation toward American animal lovers.  I have a spoiled dog myself.  Instead, I bring it up to point out the vast economic chasm that exists between America and most of the remaining world. 

School Kids
Before leaving America, I announced our intentions for this trip, especially in light of the devastation left behind from Hurricane Matthew last month.  I had scores of people offer donations to help the cause, and ended up receiving over $12,000 in donations.  To put that in perspective, with the average Haitian earning around $500 per year, we raised 24 times an average annual salary in 2-3 weeks, without really breaking a sweat!
This takes me to the scripture I led off with at the top of this page.

In James' epistle, in a single verse, he defines a true, "pure", "undefiled" believer by his actions.  In other words, if you claim to be an authentic Christian, there are two characteristics that should define you to the rest of the world, and set you apart from those who are lost.  I will discuss them in reverse order. 
My favorite selfie ever
  1. To keep oneself unstained by the world.  We all know that there is an ongoing battle between the spirit and the flesh within each of us.  The things that I know I should be doing, I choose not to do, and the things that I know I should not be doing are very appealing to me (Rom. 7:15-17).  No amount of trying real hard can get us over this hump.  As Paul says in Rom. 7:25-25, "Wretched man that I am!  Who will set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"  Only through Christ's victory over sin and death can we live righteously, but as James points out, once we are saved, we are expected to live apart from the stains of the world.  Combining these two scripture passages, we see that in order to display authentic Christianity, our lives should be defined by righteousness, but with an understanding that that righteousness can only come through the power of the Spirit placed in us, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  One thing I would add is that righteousness is defined by God alone, not by man.  We tend to add our own asterisk to certain situations so that God's will matches our personal preferences.  God's will is defined in God's word.  Anything we add or subtract voids the truth because it becomes God's word PLUS my word, based on my interpretation, to accommodate my own flesh.  (Rev. 22:18-19)
    Bowls of rice and
    beans bought by our
    own folks.  We had
    Enough to provide
    about 20,000 meals.
  2. Precious
  3. To visit orphans and widows in their distress.  To understand the magnitude of this statement, one must understand the context of history when this was written.  In the first century, women and children did not have the opportunity to work for themselves.  The only hope a woman had in those days was to marry the right guy so that he could support her, while she, in turn, provided a home and family for him.  If the husband/father died, the widow and her children were immediately in crisis.  There was no social security check, no life insurance policy, and no government welfare program.  Unless someone came to their rescue, the widow and children were in danger of starvation (I Kings 17:10-12).  However, if someone did decide to take care of them, they did so with the understanding that the widow and orphan children had no means to pay them back.  The message here is clear.  While speaking specifically of widows and orphans, James is instructing us to minister to those who could not possibly return the favor, ultimately in the fashion that Jesus chose to die for each of us, knowing that we can never repay Him.  
    Thanksgiving Day, Haiti Style
This is why I love going to Haiti, and why many of you love ministering to someone, wherever that may be.  It is the opportunity to invest in someone who can never invest in me in the same way.  In my American abundance, if I can share just a fraction of that surplus with a child who is starving, what better picture of the gospel message can I display?  Our Savior saw our desperate condition here on earth.  He saw the sin we fall prey to, the pride we embrace, and the world in which we live, and chose to leave the splendor of Heaven to rescue us.  We were literally starving spiritually, and He gave us the bread of life.  As Paul put it so eloquently, 
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.   -   Phil. 2:5-8
Sam with Kids
 In my daily routine at home as a parent, or at school as Headmaster, my desire is that my privileged children would understand the importance of serving others and giving from their surplus.  HCA is a blessed people, and it is so easy to get snuggled up in our comfort zone and forget that much of the rest of the world is in crisis.  As we pass Thanksgiving and approach Christmas, I challenge you to seek out someone who fits the "widow and orphan" mold and invest in them, expecting nothing in return.  As a Christian, that is what God requires of us, along with personal holiness.  And, I don't know about you, but as an American, I want to be known for my selfless, sacrificial giving, not for my fat dog.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. - Psalm 145:4

During the past six days, HCA has been able to enjoy the truth of God's plan for generations to carry on the convictions and successes of our past through the youth of our future.  Last Friday, we celebrated our annual Grandparents' Day.  It was a wonderful event, with over 400 of our grandparents in attendance.  I am so grateful for their wisdom and standards in this present life, and for the unconditional love they show their grandchildren.  As we reminded them that morning, the Bible says that "Grandchildren are the crown of the aged" (Prov. 17:6).  And, make no mistake about it, these grandparents wear their "crowns" with much pride!

In today's world, we have lost the value of the command to honor our parents, and too often, older folks feel forgotten or taken for granted.  I hope that each of our grandparents felt that they were loved and honored last Friday morning, and that they see great worth in the educational environment their grandchildren enjoy each day at HCA.  I loved interacting with them, and quickly saw how our current families at HCA got their spiritual depth and high character standards, passed down from the previous generation.

Six days later, HCA was invited to participate in the Hickory National Day of Prayer event, held on the square downtown.  What a blessing it is to live in a nation where prayer and freedom of religion are foundational to our culture!  For the past few years, Hickory Christian Academy has been selected to lead the Educational segment of the annual prayer event.  Our chapel praise team led worship, we read scripture, and then dozens of students grabbed the microphone to pray for God's mercy and grace to be on our nation, and especially on the younger generation, as they grow into tomorrow's leaders.  I was so proud of our students (joined by students from other Christian schools CFA and ROC).  I can honestly say that when I was their age, I didn't even know how to pray, so to hear them share their vision, desires, fears, and dreams to the God of the universe, in front of their peers is amazing, to say the least. 

It is assumed that there is little to no remnant of Christianity left in our children's generation, but I am refreshed when I spend time with kids who see themselves as the spiritual future of our nation and culture, and I realize that God is still sovereign and on the throne in the hearts of those who seek Him.  The parents of these kids deserve much credit for planting the seeds of the gospel in their children's hearts, and I am thankful to have been given a "watering can" at HCA to help these students continue to grow in grace. 

When we chose to take our high school students to this event, we cancelled on-campus chapel for that day.  Not to be outdone, the middle school students took it upon themselves to hold their own worship and prayer time.  I was not in attendance for the middle school chapel, but I heard incredible things about the leadership and heart of these students.  Their desire, at 12-14 years old, to worship and pray, even when the school did not formally set them up to do so is a blessing to me, and again, gives me great hope for the future. 

So, I say all this to say that I believe HCA is playing a key role in the spiritual foundation of our little section of North Carolina, and I am proud to be associated with such wonderful young people, parents, teachers, coaches, and staff.  Thank you to each of you for the work you put into raising this generation to be the next leaders in our culture.  And, thank you for listening to your parents and grandparents, as they shared wisdom and values with you as you were growing up.  One generation to the next...that is the way God designed it to be. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spirit vs. Flesh

“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do [God's] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of [Jesus] seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

There is much talk these days about the deterioration of American culture, and so much finger pointing about who is to blame for our current mess, that I thought I would share some things that I believe God has shown me in recent days.  It seems that we have become so comfortable with sin in our nation that all lines have been blurred, and all boundaries have been removed.  In our race toward "freedoms", we have ended in indulgences.  This should not be all that surprising as scripture warns us, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9)  The path of humanity will always continue in a confusing and sinful direction when left to its own volition.  Flesh cannot heal flesh.  Only Spirit can do that. 

One critical point to make is that Christians need to refocus and decide whom their king really is. Churchgoing people are some of the worst to rely on a government election to fix spiritual issues.  It should be a foregone conclusion that none of the current (or past, or present) presidential candidates is the answer to the spiritual freefall in our culture.   Neither is any single person, nor group of people, the primary enemy.  Again, the Bible is clear on this subject.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. - Eph. 6:12
But, with all the confusion on what is or isn't sin, and what is or isn't acceptable behavior, I find it important to continue to seek scripture for clarity (as opposed to human opinion).  Now, before we enter into this conversation, there are some preconceived ideas that must be addressed.  First of all, we will go under the assumption that God exists.  Second we will assume that the Bible is actually communication from God to all of humanity, spoken through a select few writers, over a span of thousands of years.  We are confident that this is true for many reasons, not withstanding the fact that the message over all those years and multiple authors is amazingly consistent and accurate across thousands of recovered ancient documents. 
Please understand that if either of these points is in doubt, then there is no basis for determining sin.  If God does not exist, then no one has the ultimate authority to determine what is right or wrong.  Lying is sin because God says so.  Murder is sin because God says so.  Adultery is sin because God says so.  If left up to man to determine, one may think adultery to be sin, while another finds it perfectly acceptable.  Who is to say which is correct?  God is the ultimate authority.  Secondly, if the Bible is not an authentic word from God, then our faith has little to stand on.  How would we even know that Jesus existed, and what words He spoke?  If we cannot take scripture literally, then we are left in the impossible position to determine which parts are figurative or inaccurate, which leads us back to each man's interpretation. 
So, going on our assumption that the Bible is truth. let's look at our current culture in light of scripture.  What we see is a rush toward acceptance of any lifestyle or behavior.  The argument is often made that, "While I may be committing sin, aren't other things sinful as well?  Who is to say that my sin is greater than yours?  Doesn't God hate all of them equally?  Besides, most of the lists of sins are in the Old Testament anyway, and Jesus freed us up from being held accountable for those in the New Testament, right?"
There are dozens of dangerous holes in these arguments, but I will point out just a couple.  Paul tells us in Romans 6:15-18:
What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!  Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?  But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you become obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
The grace that God has given us through the shed blood of Christ is not to be taken for granted or adulterated in licentiousness.  The problem is that most people have no clue of the price that was paid for their sins, so instead of humble thankfulness, we respond with arrogant entitlement.  Studying scripture and understanding the nature of our Savior leads one to love Him to the point of complete submission, resulting in righteousness.  Having a distant "head knowledge" of Jesus, but no real relationship with Him, often results in a celebration of the flesh, disguised as living in "grace".  As Paul tells us in Galatians 5:16-18,
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
Take special note of the phrase, "so that you may not do the things that you please.".  We must understand that our flesh (every one of us) craves sin (see Rom. 1:24-32, I Cor. 6:9-10, Gal. 5:19-21, Eph. 5:3-6 to see if you qualify as a sinner).  We must also understand that apart from the Spirit's rescue, we are powerless to fight it.  Each person on earth is born in sin, and in greater detail, every person has certain sins which are more powerful in their lives than others.  Some are born with a special tendency toward bursts of anger, some are born with tendencies toward gossip, some toward lying, some toward sexual sins, and so on.  You don't have to think too hard to know which one has you captive. 
A true Biblical Worldview says that I recognize my sin nature, I admit that certain sins (ultimately all of them) hold me captive, and I know that my own sinful flesh (nor the sinful world around me) cannot free me from this addiction, so I surrender myself to Christ, asking Him to rescue me from myself.  I also know that even after the blood of Christ covers me, the battle between flesh and spirit will continue to rage within me, but my ultimate desire is to reject the flesh and embrace the spirit. 
It really comes down to that last phrase: embrace the Spirit.  We can talk all day about whose sin is worse, and who is hypocritical in their approach to sin (all of us, by the way).  Let's face it, when Christians address the sins of the world around them, we have a hard time determining who is really saved sometimes.  In the Bible, we see Jesus addressing sinners every day of his ministry in a very patient and loving manner, but still finishing with the phrase, "Go and sin no more".  In other words, He exhibited grace, while keeping a standard of holiness.  But, we see the sins of our neighbors and we gossip about them, slander them, and belittle them.  It is critical that we focus on our own holiness, before pointing out everyone else's sin (Matt. 7:1-5).  When we go there, we are not embracing the Spirit, but embracing the flesh instead. 

So, that is what it all boils down to.  What are you embracing?  The argument over what is defined as sin was over about 2000 years ago.  The new testament lists of sinful behavior referenced above are pretty clear.  In addition, the question over whether you and I are personally sinners is also very apparent.  We are.  So, the real issue in each of our lives, and in society as a whole, is our response to our sin problem.  Are we embracing the spirit, or are we embracing the flesh?  If I know that I am a serial gossip, do I parade that fact around with pride, and ask everyone to love me anyway, even though I might be gossiping about them as well?  Or, do I understand that God is offended by that behavior in my life, causing me to repent and desire cleansing that can only come from His great grace and mercy? 

For me personally, I am the greatest sinner I know.  I can think of no one else who falls short of God's glory more often than me.  However, that fact produces humility and shame in my heart.  I don't want to try to defend my sin nature.  I want to change.  I want to grow in my faith.  I want to know my Savior in a deeper, more intimate way.  And, I understand that when I hold fast to my sin, I cannot gain in my relationship with God, because, in His holiness, he cannot fellowship with sinful man.  If I pridefully embrace my sins, I will never open up the door for Christ to restore me into beautiful fellowship with the Father.

Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, and you cannot look on wickedness with favor. - Hab. 1:13a

Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith. - Hab. 2:4

In summary, here are some key points:

1. Humanity is caught in sin.  Always has been.  Always will be. 
2. We should fully expect a world without Christ to act sinfully.  It is our nature, like a duck to water or a pig to mud.  Anything else would be abnormal.
3. Christians, of all people, should be the leaders in knowing scripture, understanding their own sin nature, grieving their own spiritual failures, and repenting of their behaviors.
4. We all have a choice to embrace flesh or spirit.  God asks us to embrace spirit, as defined in His word.
5. The Church's response to the sins of our culture needs to be focused on loving others well, and pointing them to righteousness; not griping, gossiping, and arguing with them, which further alienates the lost world to the church.  I agree that truth is at stake here, but you will never win the truth war with bitterness.  Let God be angry with sin, and pass judgment as He sees fit.  We have been called to truth in love.

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ. - Eph. 4:14-15

Our desire at Hickory Christian Academy is to be a true reflection of Jesus Christ, understanding truth, loving a lost world to repentance, and maintaining personal holiness in our daily lives.  Each of our sin natures hinders this process, but ultimately, that is what we are embracing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Child is This?

This week, I had the opportunity to read the Christmas story from the book of Luke to our Transitional Kindergarten class.  It was such a fun occasion with these kids, who are so wide-eyed about the world anyway, and especially during Christmas.  Their enthusiasm and inquisitive minds about Jesus got me thinking about this old, old story that continues to stay forefront in our world and culture today. 

As you are familiar, the passage transports us into a dark, cold night outside the village of Bethlehem, where shepherds are watching their flocks, when suddenly, out of nowhere, an angel appears to tell them that a child has been born to be their savior, followed by thousands of other angels loudly proclaiming the glory of the situation.  What an incredible sight that must have been!  The initial, and obvious, response from the shepherds is stated in Luke 2:15-16, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.  So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger."  After what they had seen, they had no choice but to run to the stable to find out who this child was.

Some time later, we see wise men, or Magi, from the east receiving news of this new baby in a different way.  "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." (Matt. 2:2).  Their announcement led the political king and the people to also wonder about the situation.  "And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." (Matt. 2:8).  This began an intense search, by powerful, wealthy people for a poor peasant couple with a newborn; too poor to have been able to afford a more suitable place for a birth.  When has this ever happened before or since, where the powerful and wealthy seek out the poor to "worship"?

Through these stories, we clearly see that Jerusalem and Bethlehem were all abuzz during this time.  It had become apparent that a very special baby had been born; one who was recognized as king by the wise, and as savior to the lowly.  As a side note, the fact that the angel chose to specifically call Jesus "Savior" indicates that he came to "save" the people, to whom he was sent, from something.  What was he saving them from?  How did he have the power and authority to provide this salvation?  What would have happened to the people if this "savior" had not been provided them?  As we inquire about these things today, they are not new questions.  No doubt they were being asked 2000 years ago in the stable as well. 

As Jesus grew into adulthood, and began His ministry, there was even more interest in Him.  Matt. 4:24-25 tells us, "The news about Him spread throughout all of Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.  Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan." 

Even at his death, we see the interest in Jesus at fever pitch, with hundreds of people clamoring to get a glimpse of Him, and to see who this person really is.  Matt. 27:20, says, "But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death."  Throughout his life, Jesus was followed and surrounded by crowds of people.  Some followed Him faithfully.  Others wanted Him to just go away.  Some loved Him.  Some hated Him.  Some received Him.  Others rejected Him. 

Amazingly, 2000 years later, Jesus is still being discussed and argued about.  A simple Google search on "Jesus" produces about 600 million websites, dramatically more than modern iconic figures like Barak Obama, Michael Jordan, and Donald Trump.  Why is He still the most popular topic of discussion after all these years?  Some praise Him.  Some ridicule Him.  Some follow him faithfully.  Others just want Him to go away.  Some love Him.  Some hate Him.  But, what is true of all 600 million of the website creators is that they are still being forced to address the question, "What Child is this?" 

Wars have been waged, and lives have been lost over this little baby, born in a dark stable outside a tiny village.  Why isn't the mainstream media arguing about the significance of historical figures such as Alexander the Great, or Isaac Newton, or even George Washington on an almost 24/7 basis?  What is it about Jesus that makes each of us have to face the question at some point in our lives, regardless of where we live, who we are, or what we have? 

What Child is this?

If you are stressed, He is your Prince of Peace.  If you are lost or frightened, He is the Good Shepherd.  If you need someone to fight on your behalf, He is the Lion of Judah.  If you are sad or lonely, He is the Rose of Sharon.  If you are sick, He is your great physician.  If you need advice, He is a Wonderful Counselor.  If you have gotten lost in sin, He is your Redeemer.  If you wonder about the meaning and brevity of life, He is the Everlasting Father.  If you need spiritual advice or atonement for sin, He is your High Priest.  If life is too difficult to bear, He is a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. 

In short, He is your Savior.  Without Him, you can do nothing, but you can do all things through Him who strengthens you.  He is Emmanuel, God with us. 

I am as excited as anyone about the upcoming season of trees, lights, and presents.  I love the music, parties, and traditions.  But, through it all, we must keep asking ourselves, our children, and our neighbors, "what Child is this?"  Through the noise and glitter that has become the modern American Christmas, there still lies this tiny baby in a manger, with all eyes being directed toward Him.  2000 years later, it is still quite apparent that He must be something very special.

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and donkeys are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My, how much you've grown!

     When I was a kid, one of the things I hated the most was family reunions.  Essentially, it boiled down to spending the day with a bunch of old people that my grandmother was convinced I was intimately close with, but in reality, I didn't have a clue who they were.  One by one, they would come by and pinch my cheeks, or pat my head, and say, "My, how much you've grown!  I remember when you were knee-high to a june bug!".  Inevitably, that initial comment would be followed by "I'll bet you have lots of girlfriends, don't you.  Are they pretty?  Do you tell them you love them?"  The worst was my Uncle Claude, who seemed to have a passion for tormenting me about my relationship with girls, while Aunt Geraldine would cackle and laugh in the background.  It was agony to a young boy, and caused my brothers and I to desperately ask to get out of all future family events.  Of course that request was quickly denied, so the tradition continued until I escaped to college. 
     Since then, I have realized that all those comments that I hated can really be funneled down into one particular statement: "time flies".  What Claude and Geraldine were really saying (whether they knew it or not) is that in what seems like the blink of an eye, an infant grows into a boy, who quickly becomes a young man interested in girls, and before you know it, he is married and producing infants of his own. 
     As HCA approaches its 20th birthday celebration next week, we have been reminiscing about the early days of the school.  Pictures, old jumpers, bumper stickers, and scrapbooks have been coming out of the woodwork in the last few weeks, and as the first day of school has come and gone, I share Geraldine's sentiment with many of our returning students, "My, how they have grown over the summer", coupled with the continued amazement of the overall growth of the school since September 5, 1995. 
     It has caused me to look at my own house, and lament/celebrate the fact that Gayle and I no longer have any little ones.  Our oldest daughter, Kristen, was in the first TK class in the fall of 1999, HCA's fourth year of existence.  Sydney soon followed, then Amy, Sam, Julia, and Levi, who just celebrated his 10th birthday.  (Levi was born the day before school started in 2005, which made for a pretty crazy week for the Headmaster and wife that year, but that is for a later blog).  While preparing the big recognition of Levi moving to double digits last week, we came across a photograph of him being surrounded by his siblings on his day of birth.  The older ones decided to recreate that picture for fun.  Here it is:

By the way, Levi is wearing the same hat in both pictures.  I guess they are pretty stretchy!

     For those of you in the beginning stages of parenting, or putting your child in school for the first time, we are so excited to share the adventure with you!  I will be the first to tell you to enjoy every day of the ride.  It really does go faster than you can imagine when you are in the middle of changing diapers, packing lunches, or saying 'no' for the thousandth time.  Before you know it, they are adults themselves, with plans and dreams of their own.  The parenting process is simultaneously painful and fulfilling, and the only keys to success are quality time from you and help from God. 

     And what is success?  It is not college acceptance or the high paying dream job.  It is not even a great spouse and kids, as great as those things can be.  As our school verses state, true success comes a full understanding and knowledge of our Savior, Jesus Christ, which produces love, unity, encouragement, wisdom, and knowledge.  If our kids can walk away from the house in 18 years with all of these things intact, they are in great shape.  HCA is humbled to be able to partner with you again this year as we watch our kids grow up together, and as we seek God's help in giving us success. 

"that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." 
                                                                                                                  Colossians 2:2-3

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chris Tomlin and Open House

"...we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." - I Cor. 15:51b-52

Eternity will actually even sound better!
My wife and I were blessed with Chris Tomlin concert tickets last night in Charlotte.  It was a great Christian concert.  If you ever have a chance to see Chris Tomlin, take it. 

The cool thing about a concert is with all the huge speakers and sound equipment in the coliseum, it is extremely loud, to the point where you really cannot even hear yourself.  What that means is that I can sing as passionately and as loudly as possible, and all I can hear is Chris Tomlin's voice.  It dawned on me that that is a small glimpse of heaven, where my cruddy earth voice suddenly gets turned into Chris Tomlin's voice, along with thousands of others, singing praises to Jesus.  Pretty neat, huh?

Today was our rescheduled Open House at HCA.  We had dozens of prospective families here to see the school.  Most of them commented that they had friends or neighbors who are parents at HCA, and they have noticed that there is something different about these families and their children.

No kidding.  I literally had several families tell me that they have seen such differences in the HCA kids in their circle of influence, that they want that type of educational environment for their children as well.  One mom serves in a local organization which consists of high school kids from all over the area.  A young man in our high school has impressed her so much that she came this morning to enroll her kindergarten child in hopes that she will be as mature, respectful, and responsible as this high school student one day.  That is high praise for a teenager!

All of that to say, "thank you" to all of those who pour so much time and energy into parenting your children the right way.  As a parent myself, I am occasionally frustrated by the daily results I see in my kids, when they choose to disobey or make poor decisions.  However, remembering that they are still very young, coupled with the fact that they get to grow up with your kids, who are products of families with similar vision for their children, is encouraging.  In other words, having partners in Christian parenting is a blessing for my wife and I.  It really does take a village to effectively raise a child.
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see
your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:16

The one message that I deliver to our students over and over is this: "when you are outside of school, whether is be at church, at the mall, or socializing in the neighborhood, do you look different than the rest of the worldCan anyone see a difference in you?"  When working with kids, you have to grab any moment of success you can find, and today, I was thrilled to hear of so many stories about our HCA kids truly making a difference in the community, just by living life as they have learned to live it.  God meant it when he told us to "train up our children in the way they should go, so that when they are old, they won't depart from it."  Keep it up.  It is paying off. 


Friday, February 6, 2015

The Day We Turned the Corner

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.  The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." - James 5:16

The product you see at Hickory Christian Academy in 2015 is still very much a work in progress.  But for those who have been around the school for a long time, the progress we have made over the past two decades is nothing short of amazing.  It is so easy to go through the ease of the daily routine today and forget the trials and sacrifices that got us there.  I suppose that is somewhat true in any successful organization that started from grass roots, but since HCA is the one I have been assigned, it is the only one I can speak of from experience. 

Last week, we had the privilege of hosting an accreditation team from the Association of Classical Christian Schools.  We have been building toward this moment for quite some time, and trying to judge when we would be ready to take the plunge.  We finally bit the bullet last year, and began the 18 month process, which culminated in this team visit. 

One of the requirements was to arrange a dinner meeting between the HCA School Board and the ACCS Accreditation team, which was held last Wednesday evening.  It was a lovely occasion, with great food and fellowship, followed by a question and answer time.  The first question that was asked to our board members was, "Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you became involved with Hickory Christian Academy."

Each member took turns recalling their time at HCA.  For most, it began as an interest in finding "something better for my child", going through the standard interview process, getting involved by volunteering time in the classroom or in athletics, seeing a difference in their child's life, then becoming a member of the board.  Several of the answers were accompanied by tears, including some of the men (sorry guys!).  I know the impact that HCA has had on my family and my children, but to hear a group of people, whom I greatly admire, share from the heart how their families have been affected by HCA, was so refreshing and encouraging to me. 

One story in particular, however, stood out to us all.  In the spring of 2002, HCA was in its 7th year of existence.  We had added grades each year since the founding in 1995, and that year had 8th graders as our oldest students.  The job before us was daunting to say the least.  We needed to create a high school.  What we quickly found out was that the curriculum, availability of quality faculty, scheduling logistics, parental expectations, and raw expenses for high school are on a whole other level than what we were accustomed to.  We had committees and passionate people in key positions as we planned for this addition, but the enormity of the task was so much more than expected. 

In addition to the complexity of the process was the fact that we were already struggling with available space and finances in our young school.  Back then, we held board meetings almost every week to hold things together.  Our board room was in the main hallway of the educational wing of Highland Baptist Church, just across from their small chapel. One evening, our board chairman, Gene Modlin (currently serving his third term), arrived at the meeting with a discouraged look on his face.  He said that he just wasn't sure if we could pull this off, and that maybe we should just consider stopping at 8th least for now.  He was displaying what we were all feeling.  None of us had created a school before, and everyone was wondering if we had gotten in over our heads.  Young people's futures were at stake, and we didn't want to risk them.  As we looked around the room at one another, Gene suggested that we go into the chapel to pray. 

This was not your typical "God is great, God is good" type prayer, in which we often find ourselves going through the motions, prior to any type of Christian get-together.  We all opened our Bibles, found passages of scripture where God told His people to trust Him and to obey Him, and read them out loud.  Then each of us laid face down on the floor (prostrate) to cry out to God (literally crying).  For two hours, we prayed, sang, read scripture, and wept.  It was the most amazing time of Christian humility before the Lord that I have ever been a part of.  And when we were finished, we all were able to look at one another with confidence and say that God has clearly told us to press on.  His answer was clear.

Thirteen years later, we are still pressing on, and reaping the benefits of that special night.  It was the moment that defined everything moving forward.  I would be lying if I told you that there were no problems after that date, or if I claimed that we have since "arrived" in ANY area of school success.  However, what I can say definitively is that this was the day when I truly believed that God was going to do something special here.  It was the day when He reminded me that our battle is not against flesh and blood, and that He knew the plans He had for us, even if we were unsure.  It was the day when I decided to allow His voice to be louder than all those that were tormenting me inside my own head.  The Lord is a God of great strength and promises.  Words like, "The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed." (Deut. 31:8), brought such peace and eager anticipation to each of us that day. 

Today, the school is in much better shape financially, academically, and structurally.  It is easy for us to rest in "our" success, and to forget the spiritual war that was fought to get us to this point.  Therefore, I was so excited when God recently reminded me of that special night with not only this accreditation dinner conversation, but also through a music lesson to our youngest students. 

About three weeks ago, Mrs. Johncock was teaching music to our 1st - 3rd graders.  She had introduced the hymn, "All hail the power of Jesus' name" to the students, which contains a lot of older words that we don't use that much anymore (royal diadem, sacred throng, etc.), so she was taking time to help them understand what they were singing.  The first few lines of that particular hymn go like this:

All hail the power of Jesus' name!
let angels prostrate fall;
bring forth the royal diadem,
and crown him Lord of all.

As they reviewed these words, Mrs. Johncock had these very young children physically represent what it means for angels to fall prostrate before Jesus.  The room was full of little kids stretched out, face down, singing "All hail the power of Jesus' name!".  I wasn't there in the classroom, but I saw a picture later that day, and was instantly reminded of how blessed I have been to have worked with adults for 14 years who are willing to lay prostrate before the Lord, and to see that that spiritual humility is still being promoted to our students today. 

These "angels" are falling prostrate before Jesus

As excited as we all were to receive full accreditation this week, it pales in comparison to the spiritual legacy that is being laid in the hearts and minds of our children by so many faithful servants of God.  We are truly blessed.