Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What Child is This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Child is this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My, how much you've grown!

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

Chris Tomlin and Open House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, February 6, 2015

The Day We Turned the Corner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These "angels" are falling prostrate before Jesus

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