Friday, December 15, 2017

Prince of Peace

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

About 700 years before the baby in the manger, the prophet Isaiah wrote several passages predicting the events and person of the coming messiah.  The striking similarities in Isaiah's description and the Nativity story in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke lead to the obvious conclusion that both are referring to the same baby Jesus.  

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel (God with us). - Isaiah 7:14

Isaiah's description not only includes the birth of a baby boy, but also the life mission and immortal identity of this child.  This was no ordinary infant, who grew into an extraordinary man, with supernatural attributes.

Take the title "Wonderful Counselor".  The word "wonderful" here literally means "supernatural".  Jesus is not simply a wonderful counselor according to human terms, the best that money can buy, but instead He is a counselor with supernatural power.  He has the ability to repair what man cannot.  Broken marriages, clinical depression, rebellious hearts, political strife, and even international conflict. 

The baby in the manger also is given the title of "Mighty God" and "Everlasting Father".  Obviously, Isaiah was speaking on behalf of the Lord here... or he was completely insane.  Who looks at a baby and calls him Mighty God?  Who predicts a birth of a child, and refers in advance to this kid as the Everlasting Father?  The coming messiah was an event that all the world anticipated, especially in the nation of Israel.  But, even men of royalty from foreign lands traveled hundreds of miles across the desert to see this little boy, further evidence of the extreme nature of his identity.  The world is a messy place, with much strife and conflict.  Who can resolve these deep issues?  Only Deity in flesh. 

Isaiah's final title for Jesus is "Prince of Peace".  When sin entered the word in the Garden of Eden, peace between God and man disappeared, and without a peaceful relationship with God, mankind quickly developed strife with one another as well (see Cain and Abel).  This is why Isaiah's prediction that the Government will be upon His shoulders is so important.  Just look at the world around us.  Regardless of whether you are a Democrat or Republican, Muslim or Jew, or Capitalist or Communist, we have clearly proven that we cannot govern ourselves in unity and peace.  The promise of the Government being on the shoulders of Jesus is so refreshing, given the venomous relationships between nations, politicians, and everyday people in our world. 

All this sounds nice, but what evidence do we have that Jesus actually brings this kind of counter-culture to our world?  An interesting story comes to us under the title of "The Christmas Truce of 1914". 

World War I was probably the most brutal war in the history of the world.  Modern technology had allowed nations to produce weapons of destruction that were so new on the scene that no one had had the chance to evaluate their effect, or the morality in using them.  Tanks, submarines, planes, artillery, mines, machine guns, and chemical weapons were used throughout the war with devastating results, because there was no defense and no moral boundary set.  Prior wars had been fought with men facing one another with single shot rifles.  All of a sudden, any given battle resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives.

In four years, over 16 million people died in the Great War.  While this number pales in comparison to the raw numbers of World War II (you could make an argument that it was really one long conflict), the brutality of the war, and the way people died, caused the entire world to stop in horror and consider future conflict.  The Treaty of Versailles and the Geneva Convention set rules of war regarding chemical weapons, treatment of prisoners of war, and other boundaries of international conflict, that were agreed upon by virtually every nation on earth.  In other words, "We know we will have future wars, but when we do, there needs to be rules set to protect us from going too far."  An amazing thought  when considering the win-at-all-costs mentality of war.

In the midst of this great conflict, on the Western Front in Belgium and France, an amazing thing took place.  After months of shooting, bombing, poisoning, and killing, opposing troops were holed up in trenches on opposite sides of "No Man's Land".  It was Christmas Eve, 1914.  As night came, and darkness fell across the battlefield, there began the sound of singing.  German troops on one side, and Allied troops on the other.  As each listened to the Christmas Carols sounding from their enemy, hearts began to soften, and the realization of a common Savior took precedent. 

After hours of back and forth, both sides simultaneously joined in singing "O Come All Ye Faithful", each in his own language.  The unity of the song brought heads carefully above the edge of the trench, and exchanges of "Merry Christmas" in the opposite language to the other side.  Eventually over 100,000 men emerged from the trenches and met between their battle lines to sing hymns, exchange gifts, pose for pictures, and even play some soccer matches.  in this stretch of battlefield, on Christmas Day 1914, no shots were fired, and the Prince of Peace prevailed.  There was an agreement that Christ reigned supreme over political conflict, and that recognition of His incarnation is much more important than proving points and gaining power. 

I bring this story up to suggest that our society's avoidance of anything Christian is the root of the problem in America, and around the world, today.  Jesus promised to be our Prince of Peace.  He is identified as our Wonderful Counselor.  And, after all, since He is Mighty God and Eternal Father, He surely has the power to be what He claims to be.  If warring nations can lay down mustard gas and machine guns in the name of Christ, why can't Americans tap into the Savior in our time of need?

Laying our Bibles aside, removing prayer from our kids routine, and doing what is right in our own eyes has led to disaster.  The answer to our conflict is not more education or reason or dialogue or acquiescence.  The solution is the recognition of our true spiritual enemies and of our own flesh as the sources of our sin, and pointing ourselves to the only true remedy - a Savior. 

This baby in a manger is much more than a picturesque Christmas card.  He is our Eternal Father and our Prince of Peace.  He is our only hope.  Our future depends on our faithfulness to that truth. 

Merry Christmas!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why Classical Education? (subtitle, "What is wrong with modern education?")

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education" - Mark Twain

Like anything else these days, it is important that we examine education in light of reality and truth to see what exactly our kids are getting, or not getting.  Our culture pushes the term "education" on us so hard, that we cannot help but be influenced by the movement in a major way.  We are told that education will be the solution to hatred and prejudice.  We are told that education will be the solution to economic hardships.  We are told that education will be the gateway to all kinds of bliss and joy.  The message is clear: Education will produce happiness, peace, and contentment for individuals and society as a whole.  How's that working?

The fact is that America is the most educated is has ever been, and the most educated nation on earth, at least in spending.  The federal government spends $650 Billion on education each year, or about $12,500 per public school student.  Those numbers do not reflect additional state funding to boost the amounts even higher.  In other words, the cost to put a child through public school each year is significantly higher than the cost of most private schools.  And yet, the mantra from Washington and state capitals across the nation is a call to increase spending on education.  In order to get the results you want in the classroom, all we need is more money.  Is that really a true statement?  A 2016 Harris poll revealed that only 31% of Americans would say they are "happy".  How can this be, when we are so educated, and constantly promised that education will be our savior?

Similarly, the federal government, and other large organizations, have dictated how we measure success in our classrooms.  Standardized testing has become our end-all-be-all across the board.  Someone in Washington DC (or Raleigh, etc.) makes a decision on what is essential for a child in Hickory to learn at a certain age, and creates a test to determine the level of learning success.  Teachers are pushed to teach to that test, as their success and reputation, as well as the reputation of the school, directly depend on the scores.  The 185 days of interaction with the teacher, and his/her determination of whether a student has successfully traversed the 3rd grade are rendered meaningless in light of that standardized test score.  It is no wonder teachers are frustrated. 

Every spring, I interact with teachers, students, and parents, who are overly stressed out about these tests, and rightfully so.  A teacher's professional standing is on the line.  A student's progression to the next grade is in question.  A parent's bragging rights with the neighbors about their child's intellect is in the balance.  And, as the children age, the pressure gets greater.  We move from, "how does my child measure up to other 3rd graders?" to "Is my child going to be accepted into college?".  And after all, a college acceptance to the preferred school is the pinnacle of all parenting, right? (that was sarcasm). 

In reality, when our kids take End of Grade Tests, or the SAT, or the ACT, what are we really learning about our child's education and ability?  And do those results match our priorities of what is really important in the development of young people?  Before going there, I will reluctantly admit that we are stuck.  The state government of North Carolina requires every student in the state to take standardized tests in certain grades.  Virtually every college in America requires an SAT or ACT (or both) score for admission, which makes sense on some level, because it is the only consistent number they can measure across thousands of schools.  But, the structure of the questioning of these tests is problematic to say the least.  At the end of the day, we determine whether our kids can memorize facts and spout them out on a ABCD bubble sheet, but can they reason and think on their own?  Can they hold an intelligent conversation?  Can they examine a situation to determine right or wrong, without being caught up in the emotion of the moment?  Can they write intelligibly?  We are producing Trivial Pursuit champions who cannot effectively debate a difficult topic with someone, form an opinion on their own, or present themselves before a group of people, or even in a job interview. 

This is why HCA has chosen Classical Christian education as our modus operandi (Latin pun intended).  Classical education is time honored, and proven through the great historical figures of western civilization.  From Aristotle to Martin Luther to Thomas Jefferson to CS Lewis to your child, classical education has successfully formed young minds into great thinkers for thousands of years.  This is not because it is necessarily harder, but because it is simply more effective.  The chanting and memorization of the Grammar Stage, followed by the debate and analysis of the Logic Stage, leading into the eloquence, presentation, and beauty of the Rhetoric Stage produces a well-rounded thinker with potential to contribute to society, far beyond the basic Jeopardy questions for college acceptance.  Coupled with a Christian Biblical Worldview, we hope to produce eternity changers with much higher aspirations than report card grades. 

Topics like Latin, Logic, Rhetoric, Western Civilization, and Apologetics stand out in this genre of education at the surface, but deep in the core of a classical education is a heart that is not satisfied with modern educational bubble sheets as its standard of success.  God expects so much more when asks us to love Him with all of our minds (Luke 10:27).

So, as a parent, I must question myself daily.  What do I desire in the life of my child?  If I am being honest, I would choose righteousness, holiness, character, integrity, common sense, diligence, and joy well before high test scores and degrees.  But, do my actions match that priority list?  I am not saying that some of those things are not important.  They certainly can be, and HCA students consistently score significantly higher than other schools on college entry exams, and typically perform at a higher level than their peers in college classes.  But, sacrificing the eternal for the temporal is always foolish, regardless of what the culture around me says.  And a quest for truth should always supersede the satisfaction of memorizing the answers long enough to pass Friday's quiz.  Wouldn't it be great if we could hold students to a high spiritual standard, character standard, and academic standard simultaneously? 

In the next few months, I hope to highlight some key aspects of a Classical Christian Education with the goal of making sure we are all on the same page, and appreciative of the opportunity our kids have to experience this unique form of education in modern America.  From a mile away, HCA can look very much like every other school.  We have long dropoff and pickup lines.  We host multiple sports teams.  We give homework assignments.  We learn math, read books, and make science projects.  But, there is a difference that I hope you will clearly see as the years go by, because it gets clearer as students get older.  My own three children who graduated from HCA have all reported that they were amazed at how much more prepared they were for post high school life than the vast majority of their college peers.  Some of that has to do with the way we parent, some with their own unique personalities, but I attribute a great deal of that preparedness to Classical Christian Education.  They were ready, not only for college, but for life.  There is a difference. 

Stay Tuned... 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Finding Beauty in Education

As 21st Century Americans, we are inundated with information and opinions from all angles, virtually all day, every day.  The amount of people who fill our airwaves on television, internet, and social media is too high to count, but make no mistake, they have a tremendous impact on each one of us.  Visible folks on the news, in athletics, entertainers, and politicians all want us to know their take on life, and to convince us that we should agree with them, sometimes accompanied by threats of what will happen if we don't.

An example of this is the change in culture from my childhood to today.  When I was a kid, growing up in Virginia and North Carolina, we enjoyed small town culture.  We rode bikes, played baseball, went to church, talked with our neighbors, and generally felt secure in our simple existence.  We were taught that truth and integrity were more valuable than money and fame.  We knew that places like Los Angeles and New York had differing cultures, and that many of our values were foreign to them (and vice versa), but the prevailing sentiment was that they were free to live over there and do as they please, and we would stay here and do the same.  Everyone seemed OK with that arrangement at the time.  How times have changed.

With the onset of the internet in the 1990's, the world rapidly got smaller.  It is no longer acceptable for people to live in various places with differing beliefs and values in our country.  If you are an American, then you should automatically buy into the prevailing culture, as depicted through electronic communication.  Whatever the pundits on FoxNews and CNN say, should now be what we all believe.  However Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift view the world should dictate our own viewpoints a well.  If Tom Brady or LeBron James say something is important, then if must be important.  College professors and politicians have control of the mindset of the future.  In other words, we have become a bunch of "yes men" who don't need brains of our own as long as we have famous people to do all our thinking for us.

In many ways, this is the prime reason for the existence of Hickory Christian Academy.  As a Classical Christian School, our core value is that we would produce thinkers, not just memorizers.  It is far too easy (and dangerous) for a teacher to simply be handed a textbook to complete, and administer a government test at the end.  Even if our kids score perfect scores on those tests, and even if it impresses a college, what have we really gained?  All that is proven at that point is that our kids have memorized the educational agenda deemed most important by the politicians we wish were out of office.  But, we have been so convinced by the establishment that this is quality education that we just blindly follow the crowd, without asking questions.  

This year's theme at HCA is "Beauty".  Our reference comes from Psalm 27:4, which states "One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to mediate in His temple."

A few years ago, I wrote an article for a local magazine about our school.  I hope that its words reaffirm your desire that your children become thinkers and culture-changers, not just test takers and degree earners.  The latter are a dime a dozen these days.  We need more of the former, if our core values are to survive the modern storm.

Beauty in Education

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. – Colossians 2:8

The human brain is an intricately delicate flower.  When neglected or poisoned, it wilts away and dies.  But when properly cared for, nourished, and cultivated, it produces a product so beautiful, that nothing can compare with its radiance. 

As we work with children of all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds, we see a common theme:  A child’s mind was meant for much more than memorizing facts to spout out on standardized testing.  It was created to be molded and challenged; to be developed and unfolded; to be watered, fertilized, grown, and harvested. 

At Hickory Christian Academy, we seek to develop the entire person, and to create learners who hunger to continue to grow in knowledge far beyond Friday’s test.  We seek to promote an intellectual curiosity that will increase the quality of a long life, not just gain them acceptance into college.  Most of all, we seek to understand that Christ is the center of all knowledge and truth.  It was He who said, “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b), to which Paul added, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).  If the Bible is true, and we really can do all things through Christ, but nothing apart from Him, why would we separate Jesus from the education of our children?   He is the key to their success. 

HCA strives to educate children through the time-honored methodology of Classical Christian education.  We integrate instruction in Latin, Logic, and Rhetoric to stimulate the mind of young learners, and to enhance their understanding of their own English language, as well as literature, math, science, and history.  The methodology of a classical education changes with the natural changing of the human brain, from a “soaking in” of information when young, to a topical debate format when adolescents, to a self-expression environment as young adults.  Education is much more complex than answering A,B,C,D on a bubble sheet.  It is truly the formation of thought processes that will grow a student into a successful adult who makes a difference, and who strives to continue to deepen their knowledge of things that really matter in life. 

We invite you to explore the Christian community of Hickory Christian Academy.  It is a community where families seek to partner with one another to protect and enhance the spiritual walk of our children, challenging them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, strength and MIND.  If it truly does take a village to raise a child, this is where it happens.  

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!