Friday, December 15, 2017

Prince of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

Friday, October 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay Tuned... 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Finding Beauty in Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty in Education

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

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

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

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

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

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