Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Focusing on the "Reason for the Season"

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.   -   Isaiah 9:6

After almost freezing to death in the winter of 1983 (see previous post), you would think that I would have come to a quick realization that Christmas must not be all about the presents under the tree.  After all, who would celebrate a holiday each year which puts its participants at that kind of high risk?  But, I am a slow learner who needs to be prodded over and over until I understand life's valuable lessons. 

When I think about Christmas past, there are blurs of memory about the toys, games, gadgets and such that I received as gifts.  But, by and large, I have no vivid memory of any Christmas present my parents ever bought me (sorry mom!).  So, as I watch parents literally fighting with other parents at Walmart over the latest new Christmas toy, I wonder what purpose this holiday carries.  In other words, if my goal each Christmas is making my kids temporarily thrilled about something they will eternally forget, then we are just spinning wheels each year.  But, if the plan is to instill values and memories for a lifetime, then the Holiday is certainly worth the effort.

Since I have decided to write on this subject, I took it upon myself to list the things that really stand out when I look back on my childhood Christmases. 
1.  The first thing I always think about is the little nativity set that my mom pulled out of the attic each year.  She still uses it today with the grandkids.  It had a wooden stable with a grass roof, and included all the ceramic participants in the Christmas story.  There was also a tiny booklet retelling the gospel accounts from Luke and Matthew.  Mom would have her three boys gather in the living room by the tree, where we set the manger, and then she began to read the story.  As she read, we would grab Joseph and Mary, put them on a donkey and ride them to the stable, followed by the shepherds, animals, and wise men.  We even pulled the lowest hanging light from the tree into the stable, so that it illuminated the manger, like the star of Bethlehem. 
I think this is the exact set we used.  Ahh, the internet!

As a young boy, I loved this tradition.  There is no doubt that a few years later, as an adolescent with younger siblings, I was rolling my eyes during this annual ritual, and yet there is nothing that captures my nostalgia of the holiday more than this.  Most importantly, the manger was the center of Christmas morning.  We had wrapped gifts and stockings, but they were always tucked away behind baby Jesus.  He was in the forefront.
2.  The Christmas Eve party at my grandmother's house.  This is the party where you see all these strange people that your grandmother tells you are your family, but whom you are certain you have never seen before.  In attendance are 3rd cousins, great-aunts, and somebody's new boyfriend who definitely looks like he won't be back next year.  What I remember about this annual reunion is the tiny artificial tree that sat by the front door (which was never opened during my lifetime).  Her tree looked like a set of giant dark green pipe cleaners, and was decorated with ornaments made with love by grandchildren.  Every year, grandma gave me a pair of socks.  At the time, I remember thinking that she was holding back on us grandkids, but now I understand that for a woman who grew up during the Great Depression, and who was still living off the land (chickens and everything), this was a very intentional, thoughtful, and practical gift.
3.  Candlelight services at church.  The old hymns, the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the occasion, singing "Silent Night" under the glow of hundreds of candles.  Mostly, though, I remember being a young boy excited about holding an open flame in church without getting in trouble, and dipping my fingers in the hot wax to make shapes with my brothers.
I challenge you to think back to your childhood Christmases as well.  If you did not grow up in a Christian home, then this may not directly apply to your upbringing.  But for those of you who had Christian parents who tried to celebrate the real Reason for the Season, my guess is that your primary memories, like mine, are not of the gifts, but of the traditions of the celebration.  If this is true, then doesn't it make sense for us, as Christian parents today, to raise our children on traditions that focus on the Savior, and to let go the stress of buying the "perfect" gift?  Like you, we will purchase presents for our children this year.  I am excited to give them things because I love my kids so much, but I am convinced that whatever gift-wrapped items they receive under the tree on December 25, 2012 will be completely forgotten within a few years, and certainly by the time they are parents themselves.  However, if they are like me, the family traditions will last a lifetime in their minds and hearts, and they will be able to pass them on to their children. 

For instance, every year, our kids dress in pajamas, and we load in the Suburban, turn up the heat and the Christmas music and drive all over Catawba County looking at Christmas lights.  The total cost of this runs around $5.00 for gas, but our kids always excitedly ask when we are going.  Every year, on Christmas Eve, we gather in the living room, read the Christmas Story, and then watch a Christmas movie together.  Then everyone sleeps on the floor, on couches, in chairs, etc. so that we will all wake up in the same room next to the tree on Christmas morning (OK, I will admit that Gayle and I usually end up in our bed because our backs can't take the floor anymore).  This tradition costs nothing, but again, our kids would not hear of doing Christmas any other way.  Most years, Gayle and the younger kids bake a cake on Christmas Day and decorate it with "Happy Birthday Jesus".  Again, this is a very inexpensive tradition, but something our family cherishes. 

While modern Christmas is largely celebrated by giving gifts, ultimately, our focus must be on God's gift to us.  After all, why do we celebrate this season each year?  Regardless of what the ACLU might say, the fact that the United States of America chooses to shut down the country on December 25th each year should be evidence that our lawmakers at the time were Christians (or at least honored Christianity).  Why else would they do it?  And, further, if we are moving toward becoming a nation where it is illegal to place nativity scenes in public places, or to sing Christmas carols in school, or even to call a Christmas tree a "Christmas" tree (instead of Holiday tree), then wouldn't it stand to reason that we should also just go to work on December 25th?  Why does a nation legally celebrate a holiday whose instrisic symbols are not allowed to be on display? You can't have it both ways.  Obviously, Christmas will not disappear from the calendar in America because of the incredible revenue generated each December for the US economy, but make no mistake about it, we are in a war to preserve truth, and our children and grandchildren will be the recipients of the outcome of the battle.

This morning, our HCA grammar school children sang "Happy Birthday Jesus" by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir during their Christmas presentation.  The song begins with these lyrics...

Happy Birthday Jesus.  I'm so glad its Christmas.  All the tinsel and lights, and the presents are nice, but the real gift is You.

Jesus is the real gift from the Father.  Without Him, I am lost without hope.  Without Him, eternity is terrifyingly uncertain.  Without Him, life has no purpose.  We just live, interact with other evolved finite beings, make money, and die.  But in Christ, hope springs forth eternal.  Life has crystal clear purpose.  My miraculous rescue from sin by the very God against whom I have rebelled cannot be explained except through words like:


If you had an incurable disease, and were close to death, when someone you didn't know showed up with a cure that no one thought to exist, and chose to save your life, you would celebrate with great enthusiasm and gratitude, right?  Would you tell your kids (in great detail) what had happened?  Well the fact is that you do have an incurable disease in sin, and the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the manger provides the only cure.  God has offered you the most precious gift possible, the life of His Only Son, so that you may have a cure that will not only get you through your earthly life, but provide eons of eternity in the glorious presence of your loving Creator.  An eternity that you can spend with your family in celebration.

So, when you give gifts this Christmas, give them in celebration of Jesus, the real gift of Christmas.  He really is the Reason for the Season.  Really!  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My most memorable Christmas present.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  -  Matthew 6:19-21

Think back on your past Christmases.  Which one stands out the most?  Why?

On December 24, 1983, I did one of the single most foolish things of my life.  Of course, I was 14 years old, and probably the top 80% of my life's foolish things happened during that year, but this is the one that sticks out in my mind the most. 

For those of you who are over 40 years old, you can remember a time without computers, and the great excitement in the early 80's surrounding the introduction of the PC, along with video games, "car phones", and other electronic stuff.  At the time, we didn't know that every computer device would be outdated within six months of purchase over and over again for the rest of our lives.  Instead, we thought once you bought a computer, like a television, you would keep it forever (by the way, we just acquired a Black Friday TV at Walmart to replace our original "marriage" television, which was second-hand when we received it.  I think it was nearly 30 years old!). 

Two years previous, my parents had given my brother and me an Atari 2600, which could play video games through our home television - a big console TV with knobs and no remote.  We got 4 stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) until I left to go to college (go figure!).  So, a video game option was a big deal, when Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk were the only things to watch on Saturday evening.  We played the 2600 to death, until the Atari 5200 replaced it later.  All of a sudden, it seemed the sky was the limit on home-based computerized gadgets, and I got wind of another unit you could hook up to your TV that would allow actual computer programming.  I wanted it! 

Looking back now, it was a cheesy little machine that really couldn't do anything.  You could enter in a few commands, and it would take text (>, / , - , +) to make a rocket ship that would blast off the screen, or some other equally lame thing.  But, for a 14 year old boy in the dawning age of computers, it was all I had on my wish list for Christmas. 

Now, I have two younger brothers, one of whom is 9 years younger than I.  So, at 5 years old, my parents were still playing the Santa game with him, and we all had to go to bed early to participate in the charade.  In our home, we had hardwood flooring in our main hallway (carpet everywhere else) that would creak when you stepped on certain planks.  My bedroom was the last room on the right, so you had to walk the entire length of the creaky floor to get there.

I stayed awake in anticipation of my new computer, and could hear mom and dad rustling around the living room, placing gifts under the tree for the three boys.  Then, around 11:00, they creaked up the hallway, and into their bedroom for a long winter's nap.  The house sat quiet for about 30 minutes, and I figured my parents were asleep.  It was time to check the loot!  But dad was a notoriously light sleeper, and the creaky hallway would give me away if I tried to sneak a peek at the presents.  So, I came up with the brilliant idea of sneaking out the window, running around the house to the back door, and using the hidden key in the garage to get in the house.  It was a foolproof plan. 

One item of interest here is that on December 24, 1983, Catawba County (I grew up in the eastern part of the county) set a record for cold.  The temperature got down to 3 degrees farenheit that morning (I just went online and checked to be sure I am telling the truth), and 2 degrees that night.  So, as I slipped out the window, it was probably around 8 degrees outside.  I was only wearing sweatpants.  No shirt.  No socks.  I figured I would only be outside for 15 seconds or so, and I was in too big a hurry to get dressed.  I shut the window behind me so that no cold air would get inside.

I ran around the house in the excitement that my plan was working, when I got to the garage door.  For the only time I can remember in my whole 10 years of living in this house, the outside garage door was locked!  We always left it open in case someone got locked out, because the hidden key was inside the garage.  My flesh was quickly hardening out in the elements, and I sprinted back to my window, which wouldn't open from the outside.  It was one of those old, wooden windows that you had to hit with a mallet to get it unstuck, and even worse, from the outside, there was nowhere to grab to put any pressure on it. 

So, I decided that my only chance of survival was to go into our tool shed and wrap up in the old mattress we kept up in the loft.  I did this for about 10 minutes, but my feet became painfully tingly, so I needed another option.  Since I was in a toolshed, I decided to look for something that could pry open the window.  I know you are thinking, "Why didn't you just ring the doorbell?"  Are you crazy!?!?  My parents could not know, under any circumstance.  Death was the better option.  Remember, I was 14 years old.   As a matter of fact, I didn't tell my mom about this until about five years ago.

After some searching, I found a big, thick flathead screwdriver.  By now, it was painful to walk on my bare feet, but I made it back to the window, and started prying.  Slowly, I was able to get the window open, and crawled back in.  The air in my bedroom felt like Miami Beach after being outside for 30 minutes.  I had left a little black and white television on in my room to muffle the sound of opening windows, and when I came back inside, the Pope was ushering in Christmas day over in the Vatican.  For what seemed an eternity, I rolled up in my bedsheets shivered.  My feet ached with intense pain as they thawed out.  But, in the end, I survived this ordeal to be able to tell it today.

The next morning, I woke up, having no idea whether my present had arrived or not.  I was just happy to be alive.  The ice on my window was a clear reminder of how close to my doom I had been.  I could barely hear the creaks as I walked down the hallway, since the rest of the family was already awake (I was 14).  As I rounded the corner to enter the room, there it was.  My most memorable Christmas present ever.  Not so much because it was great, but more because of what I went through the previous eight hours because of it. 

Looking back now, I quickly think of how dumb I was to act so foolishly over such a silly thing.  I only remember playing on it a few times.  It really wasn't much fun.  Funny how I totally remember almost dying of hypothermia, but have virtually no memory of the object of that suffering.  But, it is a good indicator that I really had little grasp on the reality of Christmas.  My treasure was not laid up in heaven.  Instead, it was laid under a tree in the living room, which literally left me out in the cold. 

To be continued next week...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Give your kid a hug today

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  -  Psalm 127:3

While most of our closest friends are here at HCA, believe it or not, we do know people outside the school.  Gayle and I have been intimiate friends with Bob and Shelly Benfield for over ten years.  The Benfields have lots of kids like we do, and since their ages match up pretty well, we have enjoyed spending time together on many, many occasions. 

Both our families have travelled to Haiti for missions, and have found a common mission there.  Shelly, being a nurse midwife, has especially found a calling to minister to the Haitian women in remote villages in the countryside, which she has done multiple times.  As a matter of fact, their entire family was in Haiti during the earthquake a couple years ago, and were trapped there for several weeks.  As a result of these experiences, they have chosen a life of missions, and have been waiting on God to call them somewhere for their life work. Bob is a jack of all trades.  He has worked for the sherriff's office as a detective, as a nurse, as a repo guy who tows cars, as a carpenter and as a pest control expert.  Right now, he is in the process of getting his pilot's license.  They are some of the most genuine, compassionate, likeable folks you would ever want to meet.  In recent years, they even added to their large family by adopting a nine year-old girl. 

Our kids have grown up together in youth group, church plays, family outings, and camping trips.  The Benfields always sat on the row in front of us at church.  Yes, we are creatures of habit, just like you!  They have four boys (and two daughters), who are just full of life, sometimes to a fault.  Caleb and Daniel, especially were the ones you know in church who are always picking and poking each other, and you sit back wondering if they ever hear anything being said from the pulpit, but you just can't help loving them for who they are. 

Our two oldest girls are the same age and grade as Caleb and Daniel, and have become good friends with these guys over thier lives.  As boys do, they provided entertainment for my girls who consistently wondered aloud how anyone could be so immature, but deep down they loved the display (as girls often do). 

Yesterday afternoon, we got the devastating news that Caleb had died in a motorcycle accident.  He had just turned 18 in August, and was scheduled to graduate high school this year, just like our daughter Kristen.  For the first time that I can remember, the entire Robinson family sat in our living room and cried together last night.  This was not just a kid we knew.  He was family, and it really hurts. 

Our kids have never experienced the death of someone so young, and quite honestly, neither have I with someone I knew this well.  It has caused us to reflect on life, family, and time in new ways.  All of a sudden, volleyball games and major league baseball playoffs don't matter.  In an instant, grades, SAT scores, and college applications are worthless.  I no longer care if there is enough money in the bank, or if the bills get paid this week.  Now, I know that over time, I will reacclimate to these things, but today all that seems to matter is life. 

The loss of a young, vibrant, precious life reminds me of how valuable our lives truly are, and of what really matters in our family.  I definitely want my kids to act a certain way, learn certain things, achieve goals, and live successfully (whatever that means).  But right now, all I really want to do is give them a hug and tell them how blessed I am to have them in my life.  Tomorrow is not promised to any of us.  Take advantage today.  Give your kid a hug, and make today count. 

p.s. -  For those of you who are prayer warriors, please pray for Bob and Shelly Benfield and for their kids, Jonathan, Daniel, Anna, Josh, and Isabel.  They need grace and mercy in their lives today more than ever. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Top 5 List

Unbelievably, we have completed the first week of school!  It is hard to comprehend how fast time goes, and it certainly seems that the older I get, the faster the clock ticks.  The Robinsons have a senior this year for crying out loud!  I vividly remember the day we brought our first little girl home from the hospital, thinking we had an eternity of time ahead of us, and yet, here we are.  Amazing.

God has been so good to us along this path we have traveled.  As parents, He has essentially commissioned us with one task:  Get your children ready to enter the world as well-trained, independent believers, who will impact their society with the truth of The Gospel.  Seems simple.  We can certainly clutter it up with other stuff along the way, can't we?  I look forward to sharing our family's special year with each of you.  We wouldn't want it any other way, because all of you have played a part in the development of our kids.  Thank you.

The first week has been a blur of activity and excitement.  It is always so much fun to see everyone coming back from summer with new uniforms, backpacks, notebooks, and outlooks.  One of the beautiful things about school, that makes it different from most other activities, is that you get a fresh start each fall.  New teachers, new faces, new vision.  As everyone gets acquainted with their new surroundings, it is interesting to hear the comments and questions.  As I have listened, I listed some of the comments that I have heard, and have compiled them below:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Honor of Knighthood

The first HCA Chapel service I ever attended was in early May of 2001.  After the spiritual content was complete, Toby Tate addressed the students in attendance (4th - 7th graders, I think), and presented them with a ballot to vote on the new HCA mascot.  You see, formal athletics was to begin that fall, and we needed to brand ourselves in some way as a team.  Toby (a new parent at the time) and a group of fellow parents had formed an athletic committee about a year before, and had laid out the plan to add sports teams to our little school.  They had created policies and joined a league.  Now, we just needed a name. 

I don't remember all the choices, but "Flames", "Bishops", and other Christian School labels pop in my mind.  In the end, the students voted to become the Knights.  Likewise, I do not know who chose that  particular mascot as a ballot option, or any of the reasons why it was on the list.  But, I do know that the mascot was an immediate hit, and that it has been carried with pride ever since, even beyond the athletic fields.  Some of you may even remember that we won our very first sporting event ever, a middle school volleyball game, that September. 

At graduation this Friday, I will remind our exiting seniors about their heritage of "knighthood" at HCA, and of the standard to which it holds them, far beyond high school.  Each of them will actually be knighted on stage, and presented with their own sword to carry the legacy of HCA with them wherever they may go.  Knowing this tradition, the emphasis the school puts on honor and integrity, and our desire to have a visual representation for future students to see, the Class of 2012 has presented a mural of a knight on horseback as their Senior Class Gift,  for the school to enjoy for years to come. 

This mural has been placed on the back wall of the gymnasium, and was created by senior parent, Denise Lehman.  When she volunteered back in the fall, I doubt she knew exactly what she was getting herself into.  This was hard work, to say the least.  However, the end result is truly a thing of beauty.  I am including a photo below, but you really need to see it in person to get the full experience.  It is about 13 feet long and 9 feet tall!

As I look at the painting, it reminds me of the fact that as Christians, we are all in a daily battle for Jesus Christ.

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.  -  2 Tim. 2:3-4

In today's world we hear much about peace, understanding, and tolerance.  And while, there are certainly beneficial results from these efforts at times, the reality is that we are at war for the souls of our children. Why else would Paul use the term 'soldier' to describe believers?  This is why Hickory Christian Academy exists in the first place.  It is a training ground for young soldiers of the cross, so that they can fight the good fight and "please the one who enlisted him as a soldier" - Jesus Christ.  According to the verse above, we accomplish that purpose by avoiding the affairs of everyday life.  In other words, we set ourselves apart (personal holiness). 

This is why we press so hard for kids to be kind, generous, patient, courteous, honorable, and full of integrity.  This is a culture that contradicts the entaglements of the world, and focuses on the wonderul victory we have gained through our Savior.  The Old English word for "knight" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for "servant".  A knight was expected to love his neighbor as himself.  he was to be willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of those who were in need, and if necessary, to die in order to save another's life.  But most days, a historical knight wasn't rescuing damsels in distress.  Instead, they were commissioned for two primary purposes:  Protect the kingdom and protect the culture of Christianity within the kingdom.  Of course, we understand that these are really one in the same.  When you protect Christianity, you protect the true King (Jesus), and vice versa. 

As we graduate 400 young minds from one grade to another this week, including some who will move on to life beyond high school, I am excited to see the exhuberance that many of our students show in their Christian faith at such a young age.  Of course, in order to be complete, all of this must be coupled with the wisdom to know when to choose to "turn the other cheek", and when to charge into battle.  A true knight knows the difference.  I pray that HCA becomes a place where our students also develop the wisdom to know the difference, and where they become people of honor, integrity, humility, and bravery as depicted on the wall in our gymnasium.  More precicely, that they become just like Jesus Christ, the one who enlisted them as His Knights.  I continue to be honored to have a small role in the your effort to accomplish this task in your own children. 

Thank you to everyone for another wonderful school year.  May God guide your steps this summer.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Happily Ever After...

And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.  - Rev. 22:5

I recently finished a book by Timothy Keller, entitled King's Cross.  Essentially a Bible Study on the book of Mark, King's Cross follows the ministry of Jesus, and opens the eyes of the reader to the diety of the Savior next to the humanity of the disciples and others who followed Him, ultimately relating each passage to our own need for Jesus' power and grace.  It is a book that I would recommend to anyone seeking to know Christ in a more personal way. 

Obviously, a study of the gospels will ultimately lead to the cross and the resurrection, which opens up a pertinent line of thought the week before Easter Sunday.  At the end of the book, Keller points out the fact that "happy ending" stories are becoming a thing of the past.  The more critically acclaimed books and movies in the 21st century are the ones in which there are plenty of questions remaining at the end, or where there is no final resolution of conflict (Hunger Games?).  He argues that the modern, secular world has determined that life is ultimately without order or hope, and that happy endings are just wishful thinking.

Naturally, this will be the thought process of evolutionists and others who believe we are only on this planet by chance.  If there is no designed purpose in my existence, then what good could possibly come from my life?  For that matter, does "good" even exist?  Therefore, these people lump the gospel accounts into the same category as Cinderella and Snow White.  They believe that we blindly wait for our imaginary prince to come, in denial of the tragic "truth" that there is nothing beyond the daily grind of this accidental life.  In response, they seek daily pleasure to get whatever they believe they can get while here on earth.  From that perspective, the resurrection is a fairy tale indeed. 

The problem with this line of thought is that secular society has not done its logic homework.    As believers, it is crucial that we can defend our faith with and without scripture.  After all, if the resurrection of Jesus is not true, then all is lost, hope is gone, and there is no eternal value in anything I do.  Fortunately, scripture and history give us compelling evidence that the resurrection is indeed a fact.  Could it be that we really do live "happily ever after"?

First of all, the tomb was empty on Sunday morning.  There is no denying this one, and the empty tomb is a crucial fact beyond the obvious.  Pilate, the Roman Procurator, had overseen the whole trial and execution of Jesus, and had commissioned soldiers to guard his body.  The last thing that he (or the Jewish leaders) would allow would be for speculation to arise that he had actually executed the Jewish Messiah, who would fulfill his promise to rise again in three days.  Pilate wanted to be sure that no one tampered with the body in that tomb.  The stone which blocked the entrance would have weighed thousands of pounds.  In addition, Matthew tells us that it was sealed to prevent any movement.  Any effort to remove that stone could not have been done in secret.  It would have required many men and probably quite a bit of noise.  The fact that it was empty on the third day, despite these obstacles was baffling to the Jews and Romans (with the exception of the soldiers who actually saw the angel move the stone, of course!).

Secondly, scripture tells us that Jesus appeared to hundreds of people after his resurrection.  As a matter of fact, many of them are named in the gospel accounts.  "And when the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices that they might come and anoint Him (Mark 16:1)."  Mark names three specific women who were witnesses to the empty tomb on Sunday morning.  to quote Keller:
In ancient societies, as you know, women were marginalized, and the testimony of women was never given much credence.  Do you see what that means?  If Mark and the Christians were making up these stories to get their movement off the ground, they would never have written women into the story as the first eyewitnesses to Jesus' empty tomb.  The only possible reason for the presence of women in these accounts is that they really were present and reported what they saw.  The stone had been rolled away, the tomb is empty, and and angel declares that Jesus is risen. (p. 217)
By naming people who witnessed the resurrection, Mark is basically giving his first century readers an opportunity to go find these people and ask them what they saw.  In addition, the fact that there are four gospel accounts by four different men, telling the same story further verifies the truth of the matter.  In any society (including ours), at any point in history, if four witnesses come forward with the exact same story, we can be confident that they are telling the truth.  Any court of law would see it that way.

Finally, and maybe most compelling, is the fate of Jesus' followers as they began the spread of the good news, following Jesus' ascension into heaven.  According to Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and church historical accounts, every one of Jesus' 12 disciples was eventually executed in horrific fashion, with the exeption of John, who survived boiling in oil because God needed him to later write down the prophecies of the Revelation.  Five were crucified, two were speared, two were stoned, one beheaded, and one was stoned then beheaded.  In addition, other believers like Paul and Mark were likewise ruthlessly killed.

Any of these men could have avoided their ultimate fate by simply denying the resurrection of Jesus.  If the resurrection was a hoax, they certainly would have known about it.  If they were covering up a lie, don't you think that at least one of them would have come clean to avoid torture?  Of course they would have.  Yet, every one was willing to endure pain and suffering beyond belief in defiance of the command to deny their Lord.  Would you be willing to be stoned, speared, beheaded, or crucified for a lie?  Neither would they.  No one would go that far for a cause they didn't believe in.  The only explanation is that they had actually seen the resurrected Christ, and that they knew the price was worth the reward that would come with death.

The fact of the empty tomb is absolutely essential to Christianity.  Without it, we have nothing.  Jesus' power to raise Himself from the dead, following His blood sacrifice on our behalf, verifies that He was exactly who He claimed to be.  Any doubt that His death really was the payment for our sin debt was erased early that Sunday moring as a few Hebrew women peered into the small rock cave only to find that Jesus' dead body was not there.  As the angel said, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead?  He is not here, but He has risen."

He is risen indeed!  His victory over sin and death gives us new life and power on this earth.  He has taken us from lost to found, from hopeless to triumphant, from foolish to wise, from weak to powerful, from death to life.  His death and resurrection have caused us to become a "new creation".  The past is completely gone.  As Paul reminds us:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The empty tomb has made princes out of paupers, and by grace, through faith, our proverbial glass slipper fits.  The story of the world really does have a happy ending...forever.  That is cause for celebration.  So, let's take a week off of school in honor of our Lord! 

Happy Resurrection Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Shotguns in the Hands of Children

The following blog is a summary of Friday morning's "Coffee with the Headmaster" discussion as requested by those who were in attendance...

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.    -Ephesians 5:3-4

OK...not a .410 shotgun, but it was the best picture I could
find to help make the point!
Growing up in a very rural, wooded area, I was introduced to hunting at an early age, around eight years old.  When I turned 12, my father gave me my own gun, a .410 Shotgun, a deadly weapon.  As I look back on those days, I wonder if that was a wise choice on my parents part, and would I do the same thing now with my son?  My answer is, "Maybe, but only with the proper precautions".  By the time I was 15, I was actively hunting by myself.  I would go out early on Saturday mornings, or sometimes after school until dark.  Fortunately, during the three year span from the original gift to the independence, there was a great deal of training and accountability. 

I was never allowed to use the gun without my dad being present.  I was required to keep the safety engaged until the moment I was ready to pull the trigger.  Even with the safety engaged, I was required to always point the gun at the ground while walking through the woods.  I was never allowed to take a shot without knowing exactly what I was shooting at, and what was in the distance behind that target.  He taught me all the safety procedures of firearms, along with how to maintain the weapon, so that it would be most effective, and so that I would be a good steward of the gift I had been given.  And, of course, there were constant warnings that if I was ever caught using the gun in the wrong way, I would lose it forever.  The potential risks were simply too great for Dad to ignore. 

Whatever we expose our children to, whether we are talking about guns, cars, internet, cell phones, school, sports, or going to the movies, the bottom line is that parents must take the lead in investigating all the potential risks, and then act proactively in preventing disaster before it sneaks in the back door.  Our children are, after all, children.  They are typically clueless on the big picture.  However, they are keenly aware of the moment, and they know exactly what they want to maximize the moment, regardless of what ramifications it might bring later in life. 

This is why we should be extra careful with the modern cell phone and Facebook issues with our children.  Like that shotgun, we are handing over a very dangerous object to our kids, and we often leave them unsupervised "with the safety off".  The risks can be much greater than we realize.

When any of us recall our middle school years, we probably remember much of it as times of social positioning, cliques, fashion statements, selfishness, and major chemistry changes within our bodies.  The same girl who was detestable to me in 5th grade, now is suddenly very, very intriguing.  The group that I hang around with defines me as "cool", "nerd", "jock", or some other label that tends to stick through the majority of the remainder of the school career.  Once those groups form, there are often accusatory words that flow between them that are intended to raise the social status of one at the expense of the other.  It was, and is, a difficult and potentially cruel period of life.  The same tendencies that we had at 12-15 years old are alive and well in today's adolescents.  The nature of the flesh has not changed.  Unkowingly as parents, we often hand them instruments that are specially designed to enhance these early teen tendencies. 

Think about it.  Facebook enables us to choose or reject friends, just like picking teams for football when we were young.  There is increased social status when the popular guy or girl accepts my friend request, and humiliation when they reject it.  In addition, we can post pictures of the party we held over the weekend, where we invited only certain friends, for everyone to see whether they made the cut for the party or not.  If I buy a new fashionable outfit, or if mom and dad get me a nice car, I can show it off immediately to everyone who didn't get such things.  If I have a conflict with someone else, I can speak derrogatory things about her with all my friends in the comfort of my own home, without the possibility of a face-to-face exchange.  To a lesser extent, texing can do many of the same things.

This is not to mention the void of "real" communication skills which our children are missing by primarily speaking with one another electronically, or the fact that having my face buried in a device, while other flesh and blood people are trying to have a conversation with me, could be considered very rude or disrespectful.  Culture is certainly changing on these things.  Additionally, I have not mentioned the possibilities of open access to the internet at a young age, and the impact that is having on how our society views itself and how people view each other.  We have become a restless people in constant need of noise, entertainment, and stimulation. 

Now, I am not saying that it is inherently wrong to send texts or Facebook messages.  I text all the time. My wife has a Facebook page. What I am saying is that the negative attributes of the human flesh can be easily accentuated through these social media, and have the potential to cause much damage to the psyche of others, especially in oversensitive adolescents.  The difficult social aspects that you can remember from middle school have become daily routine with the click of a button in the 21st century.

As parents, it is our job to study all the aspects of Facebook and cell phones before we hand them over to our kids.  Much like that shotgun, if we don't train our children how to use these things wisely, they can be psychologically lethal in the wrong hands.  Just watch the news to see the consequences of kids being cruel to other kids.  The wave of technology has hit us like a tsunami over the past 20 years, and most adults are totally unprepared to handle it with wisdom because they simply do not know the potential risks.    This kind of stuff did not exist when we were growing up.  We tend to treat it like our parents treated video games back in the day.  My mom and dad simply thought they were buying me a toy to play with.  While most of it was harmless, there were things to avoid that they were generationally blind to. 

Similarly, we hide under the guise of giving our kids a cell phone or Facebook to increase our own communication ability or for them simply to have a new "toy" to enjoy, but fail to see what it does to affect their communication with the rest of the world.  I encourage you to open your Bible to Ephesians 4:25-5:7 and read what God says to us about good, Biblical communication with one another.  After you read that passage, open any Facebook page you would like and see if it mirrors that scripture.  If your child has a Facebook page or texts regularly, I doubly encourage you to do this.  It is a great teaching time for them to examine their own words, and hold them up against the light of scripture. 

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." - Eph. 4:29.  Can Facebook and texting accomplish the purpose of this scripture?  Absolutely!  Does it usually?  Absolutely not.

Parents at HCA, let's unite together in holding our children to a higher standard than the world has to offer.  Who cares what the popular trends are in the world, if they do not line up with God's Word?  Texting and Facebook are modern conveniences that can make some of life's communication needs much more convenient.  But please understand that convenience must always be trumped by holiness.  If my convenience leads me to act or speak in un-biblical ways (again, read the scripture in Ephesians), then I am better off being inconvenienced. 

I shared the following statistics at Friday's meeting:

National Statistics*
·         95% of kids 12-17 years old are regularly online.
·         80% of those are using a social networking site (primarily Facebook).
o   64% post pictures and video of themselves
o   58% reveal where they live
o   10% post their cell phone numbers online
o   31% pretend to be older than they really are
·         84% of 15-18 year olds own a cell phone. (up from 45% in 2004)
·         60% of 10-14 year olds own a cell phone.
·         22% of 6-9 year olds own a cell phone. 
·         Within three years, nearly 60% of 8-12 year olds will own their own cell phone.

Of teens who own a cell phone…*
·         54% have received spam and unwanted texts (12-17 year olds).
·         52% regularly talk on the phone while driving (16-17 year olds)
·         34% regularly text while driving (16-17)
·         26% have been bullied or harassed through texting (12-17)
·         15% have received sexually explicit (“sexting”) text messages (12-17)

·         79% of youth pornographic viewing happens in the home.
·         The largest group of online porn viewers are 12-17 year olds.

At HCA (survey of current 8th graders [14 year olds])
·         87.2% of 8th graders own their own cell phone (34 out of 39)
·         The average age at which they got their first phone was 11.5 years old.
·         38% have internet access through their cell phone.
·         82% have a Facebook account
·         93% post pictures of themselves online
·         55% list an age that is older than reality
·         23% post their actual address or phone number
·         24% say they have been harassed or bullied through Facebook or texting
·         69% say they have seen other kids harassed or bullied through Facebook or texting
·         40% say they have accessed websites that their parents do not approve of

As you can see, our kids struggle with the exact same issues that other kids struggle with.  Let's not pretend that Christians or Christian school kids are immune.  We must expect that children will act like children, regardless of their environment.  The real question is whether adults will act like adults.  Our hope is that at HCA, we adults can be more proactive and provide more accountability as we parent and teach our children and to "train them up in the way they should go, so that when they are old, they won't depart from it."

It is my honor to work with your kids, and to support you in training them according to true biblical principles. Your children are a blessing to me. Please let me know if there are ever needs or concerns along the way. 

God Bless!