Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Night

 It’s Christmas night. The house is quiet. Even the crackle is gone from the fireplace. Warm coals issue a lighthouse glow in the darkened den. Stockings hang empty on the mantle. The tree stands naked in the corner. Christmas cards, tinsel, and memories remind Christmas night of Christmas day.

It’s Christmas night. What a day it has been! Spiced tea. Santa Claus. Cranberry sauce. “Thank you, so much.” “You shouldn’t have!” “Grandma is on the phone.” Knee-deep wrapping paper. “It just fits.” Flashing cameras.

It’s Christmas night. The girls are in bed. Jenna dreams of her talking Big Bird and clutches her new purse. Andrea sleeps in her new Santa pajamas.

It’s Christmas night. The tree that only yesterday grew from soil made of gifts, again grows from the Christmas tree stand. Presents are now possessions. Wrapping paper is bagged and in the dumpsite. The dishes are washed and leftover turkey awaits next week’s sandwiches.

It’s Christmas night. The last of the carolers appeared on the ten o’clock news. The last of the apple pie was eaten by my brother-in-law. And the last of the Christmas albums have been stored away having dutifully performed their annual rendition of chestnuts, white Christmases, and red-nosed reindeer.

It’s Christmas night.

The midnight hour has chimed and I should be asleep, but I’m awake. I’m kept awake by one stunning thought. The world was different this week. It was temporarily transformed.

The magical dust of Christmas glittered on the cheeks of humanity ever so briefly, reminding us of what is worth having and what we were intended to be. We forgot our compulsion with winning, wooing, and warring. We put away our ladders and ledgers, we hung up our stop watches and weapons. We stepped off our racetracks and roller coasters and looked outward toward the star of Bethlehem.

It’s the season to be jolly because, more than at any other time, we think of him. More than in any other season, his name is on our lips.

And the result? For a few precious hours our heavenly yearnings intermesh and we become a chorus. A ragtag chorus of longshoremen, Boston lawyers, illegal immigrants, housewives, and a thousand other peculiar persons who are banking that Bethlehem’s mystery is in reality, a reality. “Come and behold him” we sing, stirring even the sleepiest of shepherds and pointing them toward the Christ-child.

For a few precious hours, he is beheld. Christ the Lord. Those who pass the year without seeing him, suddenly see him. People who have been accustomed to using his name in vain, pause to use it in praise. Eyes, now free of the blinders of self, marvel at his majesty. All of a sudden he’s everywhere.

In the grin of the policeman as he drives his paddy wagon full of presents to the orphanage. 
In the twinkle in the eyes of the Taiwanese waiter as he tells of his upcoming Christmas trip to see his children. 
In the emotion of the father who is too thankful to finish the dinner table prayer.
He’s in the tears of the mother as she welcomes home her son from overseas.
He’s in the heart of the man who spent Christmas morning on skid row giving away cold baloney sandwiches and warm wishes.
And he’s in the solemn silence of the crowd of shopping mall shoppers as the elementary school chorus sings “Away in a Manger.”
Emmanuel. He is with us. God came near.

It’s Christmas night. In a few hours the cleanup will begin—lights will come down, trees will be thrown out. Size 36 will be exchanged for size 40, eggnog will be on sale for half-price. Soon life will be normal again. December’s generosity will become January’s payments and the magic will begin to fade.

But for the moment, the magic is still in the air. Maybe that’s why I’m still awake. I want to savor the spirit just a bit more. I want to pray that those who beheld him today will look for him next August. And I can’t help but linger on one fanciful thought: if he can do so much with such timid prayers lamely offered in December, how much more could he do if we thought of him every day?

It Began in a Manger
Published by Word Publishing
© 1995 by Max Lucado

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giving Thanks

“Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation."
―William Bradford (1590-1657) Governor of Plymouth Colony

Here are some photos of the inaugural HCA Thanksgiving Feast. 
What an awesome evening with 800 of my best friends! 

Thank you to everyone who helped plan and provide for this event.  Thanks to the faculty for your servant hearts, even when you had other things you could have been doing.  Thank you to every HCA family for simply showing up to eat; a simple act promoting unity and fellowship within the school body. 

A school-wide Thanksgiving Feast has been something I have desired to have since the day we moved onto this property 8 years ago, but there has always been a roadblock in getting it done (primarily the lack of a working kitchen until two years ago).  Seeing it finally unfold last night was amazing, and certainly helped me refocus on the things I am thankful for. 

So, to everyone reading this, and even to those who are not, Thank You for all you do to love our school, and to make it the special place that it has become.  I am blessed to know you. 

I pray you have a wonderful celebration of giving thanks this week!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Happy Birthday To Me

Yep, you heard it right.  Today is my birthday.  Actually, there are many celebrating birthdays today.  Just at HCA, we have three students and at least one other parent aging a year today.  I also saw on Google that John Lennon's 74th birthday would have been today (for all you Beatles fans out there), as well as North Carolina 's American Idol winner, Scotty McReery's 21st. Unfortunately, as hard as I tried, I could not find a famous person in history whom anyone would recognize (i.e. King Peter I of Cyprus). 

Birthdays are funny things.  When you are younger, you can't wait to age another year, and to be "king for the day".  I remember being somewhat depressed on October 10 each year, knowing that I had another 364 days until the next time to score attention and presents on the same day.  I also remember lying to girls during my teen years to make them think I was a year older than I really was (yes, even Mr. Robinson has a devious sin nature).  But the older I get, the more this day either becomes like any other on the calendar, or becomes a reminder of the shortened time I have left to accomplish a million unfinished goals in my life.  Honestly, I don't know how I feel about birthdays any more.  I still get some attention from family and friends, but its just not the same as when I was 11 years old.  Part of me just wants them to go away. 

In my dozen or so trips to Haiti, it was interesting to find out that hardly anyone there celebrates birthdays.  There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that a birthday celebration is primarily a western custom.  Most Haitians have never been taught that their birthday is an important day to remember, so it just falls through the cracks.  As a matter of fact, many Haitians have no idea how old they are, let alone what date their birthday falls on.  While most never have to address this vacancy, some end up with a need to have a birth date so that they can get an official birth certificate (to obtain a passport, open a bank account, etc.).  When this arises, they simply find a family member who was alive when they were born.  That person goes to the government office, says something like, "Well, let's seems that you were born in the spring about the time of that big rain in the late '70's.  Probably mid-April...let's say April 18th!"  All of a sudden, this becomes the person's official birth date (still no party, though).

These days, whenever my kids ask me what I want for my birthday, I always answer in the same way: "I just want a hug".  I really mean that too!  With all honesty, a big hug from my kids would make the day great.  But, they can't accept the simplicity of that, so I still get T-shirts, tools, and snacks, for which I am thankful.  I guess they are thinking, "What a rotten birthday that would be if all I got was a hug!", so they reason that I must be lying about my hidden feelings on the subject.  The best news is that tonight, we will have a great meal together as a family, and tomorrow night, my girls come home from college for fall break.  Those times will make my birthday a worthy celebration.

After 45 trips around the sun, I have come to the following conclusions (bear with me as I reflect):
  • Investments are good, as long as they are prioritized correctly.  Specifically, a wise investment in marriage, family, and children will pay eternal dividends.  The thing about time passing, is that there are no redo's.  Once you have passed your 10th wedding anniversary, or your child's 8th birthday, you can't go back, fix it, and do it better.  These things deserve priority attention from day one, because once the time passes, it is gone. 
  • Raising children is the hardest task you will ever perform.  On a related note, nothing gets permanent marker out of suede leather.
  • Stuff is just stuff (as is money).  Things are necessary on many levels, but they are also the greatest hindrance to eternal investments.  When given the choice between earning a bonus paycheck at the office or spending time with the kids, take the kids. My dad passed away when I was 30.  I have such rich memories of this amazing man. He left me virtually nothing of monetary value, but for my first 18 years of life, he was there to help me walk through every mountain and valley.  I wouldn't trade a hundred 401K's for that time we spent together. 
  • Working with kids and their parents every day is the most unpredictable job ever.  You just never know where your conversations might end up.  I love it.
  • Education is important, but not the end all of success.  At HCA, we have a pretty strenuous academic program, but I am the first to tell you that it is of no value without a Biblical Worldview connected to it.  When the world tells you that the right college will make all the difference for your child's future, be sure to check the scripture reference on that advice.  There are other things that are more important.  This is coming from a school administrator with two kids in a good college, by the way.
  • I don't like coconut, salmon patties, or okra.  Sorry, they are just not good.  I will eat virtually anything else.
  • An effective daily walk with Christ will fix 99.9% of your problems.  Try it.
  • The greatest regret I have in life is how I treated my mom when I was 15-20 years old.  She deserved better than that.  After all, she gave me everything she had every day of her life.  Dads, don't let your son (or daughter) mistreat your wife.  Protect her at all cost. 
  • I love my wife, and should show her more appreciation than I do.
  • Carolina basketball > Duke Basketball.  Face it.
  • Every day is to be savored and met with joy.  This is an area of failure for me virtually every minute of every day.  But, on the few occasions that I do meet this directive, it makes all the difference. 

I could go on, but these are the things that quickly popped in my head in the moment.  Thanks to all of you for making my birthday a great one (even if you had no idea).  The quality of folks that surround me each day is gift enough.  God bless.

Friday, September 5, 2014

19 Kids (years) and Counting

Many of you may be familiar with the TLC show, “19 Kids and Counting”, which is a reality show about Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 10 boys and 9 girls (all who have ‘J’ names).  I have only seen the show once myself (I guess I have been hardened to the curiosity of bunches of kids living under one roof), but it is somewhat of a national phenomenon, and an indicator of our modern times, where we are entertained by those who are different than us.  Whether we watch with amazement over a family of 21, or with  judgment over our own ideas of the appropriate size of a family, or just to veg on the couch for an hour over a “clean” slot on national television, there is no doubting the fact that the show has been a hit. 

In the show, we see a family, who could not possibly function effectively due to their enormous size, function effectively.  The kids are well mannered and all help around the house with good attitudes.  This is a family who takes “family” and “faith” very seriously, visible by the interaction, Bible study, and family prayer times that we witness on the show.  In today’s world of seeking self and personal conveniences, it is refreshing to know that there are still some people who place other’s needs before their own, and who point their kids to Christ, through Biblical Parenting (on TV no less).

In no way am I endorsing this show, or even the Duggar family.  I don’t know them, and like I said, I have only seen the show once.  But, the title and content are ironic to me, because they indirectly link to HCA, not just because there are several large families in our school, and not just because we emphasize traditional family and biblical values.  You see, on September 5, 1995, Hickory Christian Academy opened its doors to students for the very first time.  This week is exactly 19 years since that initial event (“19 Years and Counting”).  An even greater connection is the fact that the first student body that year consisted of 19 students in K4, Kindergarten, and 1st grade.  So, the title of the TV show, “19 Kids and Counting” fits perfectly into the history of HCA.  Today, with 474 students seated in classrooms, I can often feel like Jim Bob Duggar, wondering where we are going to put all these young ‘uns!

During chapel this week, Mrs. Peeler did a beautiful job of connecting this year’s school verse with our anniversary celebration.  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” – Phil. 3:14.  Toward the end of 1994, when Debbie Bolch and Karen Johnson received the word from God to begin a Christian school, they had no idea of the final result  of that vision.  They simply knew that they were to open the doors to a brand new school, and then let God take it from there.  They pressed on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.  To be clear, the prize is the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  The prize is not large student population, new buildings, scholarships to elite colleges, nor championship sports programs.  The prize is the calling.

For each of us who call ourselves “Christians”, we have received a calling from God through the grace given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ.  The privilege is not in our own accomplishments nor any prestige or glory that comes from the world.  The prize is having received sufficient grace from a loving God, who has allowed us to serve Him by serving His children each and every day at HCA.  We don’t want to become famous or highly acclaimed by man.  We just want to faithfully serve our Savior, and to bring Him glory, and to be satisfied in that upward calling. 

The thing that many of our families might miss in this message is that we are ALL in on this calling.  The calling did not end with Debbie and Karen.  Neither does it stop with our school board, administration nor teaching staff.  Every person who works at HCA, every person who learns at HCA, and every person who drops off a child at HCA is part of this calling.  This is much more than a safe-haven from the things of the world, where kids can learn quality academics.  HCA has the vision and potential to alter the culture of Hickory, North Carolina by investing in a remnant of families who still place Jesus as their top priority.  Eventually, our kids will grow up, and intelligently take what they have gained at HCA to share with their kids, friends, and neighbors, who will in turn do the same in the next generation.  The world is rejecting Christ in almost every direction.  We are a body who can stand firm, and actually fight to change the course of this community. 

Over the next 12 months, you will see more and more regarding our 20th year of school (2014-2015) at Hickory Christian Academy.  We are excited about celebrating this milestone with each of you, and we are planning several unique things during the year to recognize this accomplishment.  Having been here for 14 of the 20 years, I can tell you that it has never been easy, nor will it ever be.  But, the satisfaction of knowing that we are fulfilling a divine calling that has passed through many people, and now through an entire generation makes it all worthwhile.

Teachers, moms and dads, administration, board members, alumni, and current students, you are ALL making a difference for the kingdom of God through this school, and in our community.  Thank you for your faithfulness which has gotten us this far, and thank the Lord for His magnificent grace, now “19 years and counting.” 

Happy Birthday HCA!

(Below are a few pictures from the "old days" when we were still at Highland Baptist Church.  Check to see if you recognize any faces...)
Lunch Time
Having Fun

There are a few still remaining...
Current Building Under Construction in 2006
Christmas Concert


Monday, August 25, 2014

God's Mission of Grace

Grace is a word that is often used, and misused, in our Christian society.  Most of the time, our church definition is "unmerited favor from God".  In other words, my individual sin condition, from birth, and by choice, is so grossly repulsive to a holy God, that there is no way I should ever deserve His favor.  And, yet, His great love for me, shown through the violent sacrifice of His only Son, outweighs the burden of my rebellion, and gains me favor, where there should have been wrath.  This is a good working definition, consistent with HCA's Biblical worldview. 

Where we have misused the term "grace" over the years has been in our tendency to redefine it to mean, "don't judge me" or "let me just be whomever I choose".  These terms are usually followed by the phrase, "Jesus never judged anyone.  He just loved them".  We see evidence that supports this type of statement in John 12:47, where Jesus says, "If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world."  John 3:17 similarly states that Jesus' mission to earth was not one of judgment, but of salvation. 

So, is it true that Jesus was a "be your own person and feel free to live life however you wish" type of guy?  Not so fast.  While getting caught up in what Jesus did not come to do, we can miss the whole point of why He did come.  He came to save the people of the world from the snare of our own sins, which had caused an impassible gulf between God and man.  He says this over and over in the gospel narratives.  He came because He is our only hope.  No other plan would work, and we surely couldn't save ourselves.  A quick 30  minute newscast is evidence enough that left to ourselves, we are a mess.  Jesus came to rescue us from our sins before we were judged for them.

While Jesus' first coming to earth in human flesh was not a mission of judgment, it was a mission of loving correction.  Mankind has lived in falsehoods since creation, believing that we can accomplish great things on our own, regardless of whether God exists or not.  After all, isn't that the mantra of government education these days?  "If you set your mind to do something, there is no limit to what you can accomplish."  And since our school kids are forbidden to hear from God, or to speak with Him, then they must arrive at the conclusion that any great thing they accomplish in life is by their own effort.  In the process, God becomes an irrelevant option that you can take or leave at your own discretion. 

The problem is that while humans are accomplishing their "great things", they are in outright rebellion against their creator (Tower of Babel sound familiar?), Who amazingly sent His Son to die for the penalty of that rebellion.  For believers, Jesus' excruciating death on a cross removes the consequences of our sins.  If there is any truth that we must know, this is it.  Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32).  Jesus' mission was one of setting captives free.  It was a mission of grace. 

So, why is it so important that we accept this grace from the Savior?  I mean, can't everyone choose his own path if it makes him happy?  Absolutely.  However, it is important to understand that while Jesus' first coming was a mission of grace, the second time will be a mission of judgment.  "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead" (2 Tim. 4:1).  This is the same Jesus both times, which emphasizes the nature of our great God.  He is perfectly loving and grace-filled, while simultaneously being a perfectly holy judge of sin.  

You see, God in His infinite foreknowledge and wisdom, was able to see the coming judgment of all humanity.  Because He purposely created mankind for His own glory and for intimate fellowship, He chose to send a Savior before the judgment, Who would share the truth, and Who would offer grace so that we would not have to endure that awful event, and so that we could restore fellowship with our Creator.  It is the greatest display of love the world will ever know.  The sinless for the sinful.  The righteous for the unrighteous.  Free of charge, no strings attached.  Our only hope. 

So, while I do believe that people can do amazing things, I also believe the words of Christ when He said,
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.    -  John 15:5-9
What I need to realize is that the amazing things that I am capable of doing are all temporary and bear no eternal fruit, unless they are under the grace of my Savior. 
At HCA, our goals for children are WAY bigger than a good quality modern academic education.  We are not in the business of "learning" as much as we are in the business of "truth".  After all, if any school has any goals, shouldn't truth be at the top of the list?  Whether the world likes it or not, Jesus is truth (John 14:6).  We can choose to believe this or not, but nothing can change the fact of this statement.  If He is the truth, then whatever we do should be grounded in Him.  Any other "learning" is based on man's own opinions and experiences, which again, were fundamentally flawed from the beginning. 
So, as we peruse through the next nine months together, I hope that you see the strong undercurrent of grace at HCA.  Not in slacking off on standards and rules (quite the opposite), but in sharing with students that there is no hope in this world apart from the person of Jesus Christ, and that the true beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7).  We don't want our students to just learn lots of stuff that achieves an acceptance letter from a university (nothing inherently wrong with that, by the way).  But, in addition, we want them to learn to bear fruit that will have an impact on the world around them, and that will lead others to the knowledge of the truth of the Savior.  If Jesus really is the only hope for all of humanity, then shouldn't we teach our kids about Him, and have them teach others about Him?  Shouldn't our graduates carry Christ to the college campus, as well as Calculus and Chemistry?  I say 'yes'. And, by the way, while Jesus' earthly mission was not to judge, he was known to tell people to "go and sin no more" on a few occasions, so He did establish a standard by which we should live outside the bonds of sin (John 5:14; 8:11) and in the grace of His marvelous presence. 
God has promised good things to those who are called according to His purpose
I am so thrilled to begin a new school year.  As we prepared for this year, especially over the past two weeks since our teachers have returned, there has been a presence of the Spirit of God here in a greater manifestation than I have seen in a while.  He is up to something big, and by His wonderful grace, He has allowed you and I to participate in His work this year.  One of the great benefits of grace is "new beginnings".  Ready or not, here we go...
p.s. - Our entire faculty read a book together this summer that I would like to recommend to every parent reading this blog.  The title is Give them Grace by authors Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson.  Check it out when you get a chance.  It will revolutionize the way you approach Christian parenting.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There is a reward waiting at the top

     With the busyness of the end of a school year on our shoulders, a long Memorial Day weekend was just what the doctor ordered!  On Monday, we loaded up the family and headed to the mountains for a picnic and some hiking.  Of course, we received the normal mixed reaction from the kids, with some really excited, and others making it clear that they prefer the great indoors.  But, once we got past the "You are going, and you are having fun whether you like it or not!" speech, all was well.
      After a lengthy drive on a dirt road, through the woods, we arrived at our trail head.  This particular trail was only about a mile in length, but uphill the entire way, and very steep at the end.  There were lots of rocks and washed out areas that made it even more challenging, and I must admit that I had to stop a few times for a breather.  The legs are older and carrying a bigger load than they used to!  There were a few times when one of the kids would question why we were doing this, and what was in it for them.  In their minds, the hill, rocks, and mud were not worth it.  But, Gayle and I knew that there was a reward for us at the top, so we kept encouraging them to plug away.  And then, it happened...
     We decided it would be fun to take our dog, Lucy, on this trip.  Lucy loves to go for walks, and is extra pumped about being in the woods with her people.  Her ancient animal heritage comes through in situations like this (which is great, because sometimes I wonder if she even remembers that she is a dog when she is sitting on the couch watching a movie with the kids).    I had Lucy on a leash about 7-8 feet in front of me, when we rounded a turn in the trail.  As my eyes came around the curve, I saw the dog straddling a long, dark object on the path.  Immediately, I knew it was a snake, and my first reaction was to pull back hard on the leash.  Unfortunately for Lucy, she is only 20 lbs, so my jerk sent her flying through the air in reverse, like a giant yo-yo.
     Stretched out across the path was a rattlesnake.  It laid motionless as if we were not there, and somehow chose not to bite the dog that had just stepped all over it. The snake was about 3 1/2 feet
This guy gave us quite a scare!
long, and showed up clearly on the dirt path, blocking our way through.  Of course, we all took turns looking at it, before getting a long stick to prod it away from us.  I assumed that once I poked it a few times, it would flee from us.  Interestingly, when I pushed it off the path, it immediately turned to come back, as if it was intentionally hindering our progress toward the goal of the top of the mountain.  At this time, several of the family members began to question the whole expedition.  Isn't this a sign that we should turn back?  What if there are more dangers ahead?  The car seems much safer!

     Eventually, I was able to keep the stick on the head of the rattler so that it would not come any closer, while we all passed through.  Everyone hugged Lucy and told her how happy we were that she was not dead.  Of course, she never knew the difference, and was happy to continue to lead the way to the top. 
     As we scaled the rocky path, which seemed to become almost vertical at the end.  As my heart was pounding, and my lungs heaving, all of a sudden, the tree line cleared, and we were on top of the world!  Without the mountain or trees to block it, there was a cool breeze which brought immediate relief to the weary travelers.  We all chose large boulders to sit on, and we just soaked in the reward of the incredible scenery.  God really is amazing, isn't He?  At the end of the day, it was all worth it.  The complaining, the dusty road, the rocky trail, the steep climbing, and yes, even the snake.  When we reached the point of successful completion, and realized that God rewards those who persevere, the satisfaction was...well...satisfying.
My graduating senior symbolically looking toward her future
     I know that the duration of a school year can be much like a hike up a mountain.  We begin with a goal in mind, and an excitement about reaching it.  But, we quickly find that there are all sorts of obstacles and difficulties along the way, sometimes even some "rattlesnakes".  However, once we get to these final few days of a school year, I am always reminded that it is worth it.  The kids are worth it.  The families are worth it.  Jesus is worth it.
     On Friday, we will send the next batch of HCA graduates into the world.  Some are more prepared than others.  Some will make wise decisions from day one.  Others will step on some snakes and trip on some rocks before getting to the top.  But, the faithful training that they have received from parents and teachers, grounded in scripture, will have its desired effect on each life, just as God has promised us.  God's word is life to the dying, and refreshment for the weary.  And, at the end of the day, Christ is our reward.

So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.  For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and the trees of the field will clap their hands.  - Isaiah 55:11-12
Thanks for your partnership in Christian education this year.  There are so many awesome things happening at HCA right now, that I am so excited to share with you.  Stay tuned for an update in the near future!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Thirsty People and their Cracked Pots

As Spring approaches (I am still holding out hope that it is really coming), we are in that transition time for a school, where we live two years at once.  Simultaneously, we still have nine weeks of class remaining on the 2013-2014 year, but are eagerly working on the details of 2014-2015. 

Last week, we closed out our re-enrollment for current families, with over 95% choosing to re-enroll their children for next year.  This is great news for school stability and future planning, and a reminder of God's continued hand of provision for HCA.  However, as many of you know, the larger we grow, the more pitfalls we will encounter along the way.  When you crowd nearly 300 families (over 1000 people) into an organization, there is a ton of human nature to monitor, including my own. 

Hickory Christian Academy is a lot of things to a lot of people, and people choose HCA for a multitude of reasons.  Some choose to leave for many different reasons as well.  Such is the nature of a private school, and of a community of humans with needs at large.  The only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain.  However, regardless of the varying degrees of personalities, desires, and intentions from within our membership, and regardless of how many students we serve, and regardless of how big the school property becomes, we must keep the "main thing" the main thing. 

This year has certainly carried its share of trials and challenges.  To some extent, these come when you let your guard down, and become satisfied, which we are all guilty of at times.  But, scripture is clear to tell us that trials are blessings from God which produce endurance in the faith, resulting in perfection and completion, where we lack nothing (James 1:2-4).  God has a desire for perfect, unhindered fellowship with his people.  Our sins get us off course, which lead to trials (places we don't want to stay very long) which cause us to reverse direction to find the path again. 

In other words, if this school really does belong to the Lord (which is what we have been saying for 19 years), then He wants to run it the way He wants to run it.  When we throw 1000 people in the mix, who all have their own plans and preferences, we often expect God to change his mind, and agree with each of us simultaneously.  Not likely. 

As God has molded me over the past several months, one message has been clear: Be careful not to leave your first love (Rev. 2:4) while pursuing your own goals and dreams.  We are members of the largest private school in the history of the Unifour area of North Carolina.  We have been phenomenally successful in college acceptance rates.  We have been a leader in representing Christ to the community through athletics, field trips, and other public activities.  We have been a very effective alternative to government education.  I am very careful to write these things, because while they are true, the credit must be laid at the feet of Jesus.  We have accomplished nothing apart from Him (John 15:5). 

So, moving forward, what is the plan?  Where do we go from here?  Last Sunday at church, my pastor shared scripture with us that was unfamiliar to me, but hit me like a ton of bricks.  In Jeremiah, 2:12-13, God says, "Be appalled, O heavens, at this, and shudder, be very desolate," declares the Lord.  "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water." 

So, here is the picture...God has provided an endless supply of living water; water that will provide joy, peace, success, and life eternal.  We can have all we want.  We can drink it until we are filled.  It will never dry up, it will never be soured, it will never be contaminated.  It provides all our needs.  Why in the world would we stop drinking from this fountain?  The only answer would be our own stinking pride.  Starting with me, we all have a pride issue to deal with.  We all have an innate voice which tells us that maybe our plan is a little better than God's.  Maybe, we really are self sufficient after all.  Maybe life is more enjoyable outside of God's grip. 

So, we leave the fountain of living water, and head out to find our own spring of "happiness".  This spring might be financial success.  Another spring might grant us the right college choice for our kids.  Yet another seems to offer solutions to relationship problems.  The tempting choices are endless.  The problem is that instead of standing under the endless waterfall of God's blessings with our mouth open, we instead carry cisterns to the springs offered by the world to find satisfaction them.   Unfortunately, these cisterns leak.

HCA provides an opportunity to fill many cisterns.  We can provide a safe environment for your child, shielding them from many of the frightening things they might encounter in this world.  We can challenge them with quality academics to strengthen their minds for the future.  We can introduce them to the college of their choice.  We can place them on a competitive athletic team, or a debate team, or a Model UN team, or in a quality chorus or drama program to broaden their horizons.  We can teach them manners, structure, and rules.  There are so many great things that kids and families can gain from placing their kids in school here.  But as good and rewarding as these things might be, none of them will last for eternity, and none are even guaranteed to bring success in the short term. 

Let me put it this way, suppose a child is a high school valedictorian, starting quarterback on the football team, and possesses a charisma and magnetic personality that wows audiences who hear him speak, act, or sing.  Let's say that all this earns him a full scholarship to the elite college of his choice, where he continues to excel, and earn a degree in a high-paying field.  After school, he is quickly offered a position in a big-time company, marries the former Miss America, and lives in a lake front mansion with his three well-behaved children.  What's not to admire about that?  Shouldn't he (and his parents) be thrilled and satisfied?  Absolutely, except for the fact that all that success will eventually leak from the cistern.  There is no guarantee that any of these things will last.  As a matter of fact, we are guaranteed that they won't (I Cor. 3:10-14). 

Over time, the star athlete will become old and fat (as will Miss America).  His brilliant mind will begin to fade, his children will misbehave (trust me), and his money will be divvied out to others when he dies.  All the cisterns that he filled in life (or that mom and dad filled for him) are cracked, and will finally dry out completely at the end of his time.  This is not to mention the fact that he spent his whole life trying to fill these cisterns back up in an effort to maintain his unquenchable desires.  The more cisterns he tries to fill, the heavier the burden becomes, until he ends up carrying a load that is ridiculously heavy, when all along God's stream is flowing for anyone to drink with free hands and no burdens to bear.   

As much as this school has to offer, if it doesn't consistently offer Jesus to our children first and foremost, then it just becomes another stream where we fill broken cisterns as we try to manage the trials of life.  That's why, from day one, we have been committed to an authentic Christian education.  Sometimes we fail in this effort, while other times we succeed.  But the focus continues to be the same.  So, how will HCA handle its rapid growth?  On our knees.  What is the plan of action for growing the school from where it stands now to the next phase?  Listening to, and following God's lead.  What is the ultimate goal for a graduate of HCA?  To know the Lord personally, and to develop the passion to follow Him faithfully wherever He leads.  But, will my kid learn quality math, science, literature, and history?  Yes, but with the understanding that these are leaky cisterns on their own, apart from the grace of Jesus Christ. 

I guess it all boils down to this question...Do we really believe the Bible?  If God says that His endless supply of living water is all we need for an abundant life, are we going to be willing to drop the broken water pot for a lifetime of drinking from the fountain?  (John 4:28-29)  I am saying all this to say that as HCA transitions to the next year of school, we are refocusing our attention on that which got us here in the first place.  While everyone else might be searching for the latest educational trends, the most fashionable marketing tools, and the approval of men in general, we are going to continue to be satisfied in going against the grain and toward a life of holiness, because that is what Christ did. 

The fountain is flowing, and I don't know about you, but I am thrilled that my sons and daughters get to grab a swallow as they pass through.  HCA certainly has a long way to go, but don't worry about getting weary, because there is plenty of water to drink.