Wednesday, December 15, 2021

O Holy Night

 Infinite, and an infant.  Eternal, and yet born of a woman.  Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman's breast.  Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother's arms.  King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph.  Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter's despised son.  Oh, the wonder of Christmas!"

-Charles Spurgeon

Those of us who have been Christians for a long time tend to use some special words in an all-to-familiar fashion at times, because after decades of hearing them in church, we can become numb to the meaning and significance.  "Holy" is such a word.  At Christmas, when we hear 'O Holy Night' or 'Silent Night, Holy Night', we often just hold our candle and run through the verses, so we can get to the family dinner.  

But, the word 'Holy' is special.  It deserves more attention.  Literally, 'Holy' means "set apart".  When we say God is holy, we are literally saying He is set apart.  He is not only different that you and I, but He is different than anything ever created or imagined.  On a plane and in a lane of His own.  Inconceivable to the human mind.  We get a glimpse of this in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, where we look into the throne room of God in heaven, surrounded by angels who are constantly crying out, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory!"

A similar scene is described in Revelation 4, where scripture says the angels "day and night, do not cease to say, 'Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is, and who is to come."  Think about that.  Since the beginning of time, there has never been a moment where God is not hearing the words 'Holy, Holy, Holy'.  Literally, these angels are acknowledging that there is something very very different about the Lord.  He cannot be adequately described or put in a 'box', so they just keep saying "Set apart, Set apart, Set apart."  Not like us.  Beyond our understanding.  Holy.  

Christmas is a prime moment for us to honor the significance of this term, which is why it is included in so many songs of the season, as well as other hymns throughout the rest of the year (i.e. Holy, Holy, Holy).  The events of the nativity are holy indeed.  Never before, and never since has anything like this unfolded.  God Himself became a helpless infant.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  When this happened, the angels Isaiah saw in heaven came down to earth to continue the celebration of God's holiness - And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.' - Luke 2:13-14.  

The next two weeks are full of fun stuff.  Lights, trees, presents, gatherings, time off of school and work.  I tell students all the time that we take one day off for George Washington (President's Day), and one day off for Martin Luther King, Jr., and one day off for the birthday of our nation on July 4.  But, for Jesus, we take two weeks off!  It is that special, that different, that holy.  Even the secular schools and organizations will shut down for multiple days at Christmas, and although they would never admit it, if it were not due to the significance of this particular occasion, they would just do the one day holiday and move on as well.  Christmas is holy.  It is set apart.  It is different.  

As we all make our way to various locations next week to celebrate the holiday, I hope, in the midst of all the Santas, trees, lights, tinsel, shopping, movies, etc., that we can keep ample focus on the holiness of our Savior, and this amazing event we observe in December on His behalf.  I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas celebration this year.  Jesus is worthy of our praise!

Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly?  Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Thank You Card

There are a few people throughout life who have a special impact on us, beyond the normal routines of life. Obviously, our parents, spouse, and other family members fall in this category, along with certain close lifelong friends. But, then you also have other folks who display such consistent examples of character, faith, integrity, etc. that they influence you without really even trying. Erin Sipe was one of those people for me. 

 In a world of self-indulgence, entitlement, and constant demands for our "rights", Erin was a bright light of selflessness, kindness, and sacrifice. She was one of the hardest working teachers I have ever seen, but never asked for anything from me other than a classroom and students. It was her sanctuary where she felt at home, at peace, and full of joy. Other than God and her family, Erin's greatest treasure was to love, teach, and influence the next generation. She simply thrived as an educator, and her students loved every minute of her class; certainly not because they loved the selected novels or papers to write, but because they loved the one who was loving them first. They knew that Erin's purpose in their lives was far more than passing the test on The Great Gatsby. She cared about them. What was in the Great Gatsby that could lead her students to understand God in a deeper way? What life lessons were there in that book that might bring them joy and success in life? Her students knew that they were her personal focus, far more than the curriculum.

  When we hired Erin to teach at HCA, six years into a 10 year battle with cancer, we knew we would likely face this moment in time. Erin was very candid about that as well, almost to a fault, always trying to protect the school and me from undue stress. But when you get one of those special people in life, you take it, even if it carries risk, and even if it is for a short time. She taught two of my own children, and I am forever grateful for the influence she had on them during that time. 

 Monday night, when I knew Erin's time was at its end, my wife and I were on a walk, and I asked her, "What stands out to you about Erin?" Gayle mentioned five or six things that everyone who knew Erin would agree with, but the very first thing she said struck me, and has stuck with me this past few days. When asked what stood out to her, Gayle said, "Erin always hand wrote Thank You Cards". At first, I thought this was a minor thing, but the more I think about it, this truly defines who Erin was. 

Erin leading morning faculty devotion
 Someone who hand-writes Thank You Cards in 2021 has some unique qualities. It would be so easy to do what we all have become accustomed to do these days, and just text my "thank you" to someone. Or maybe email. But, to take a couple days to go to the store, pick out the right cards, find a pen in the drawer, use cursive handwriting you learned back in school, lick the envelopes, buy stamps, and put it in the mailbox displays more than thanks. This is someone who is so intentional in showing kindness and gratitude that she refused to rush through it. And, when you recieve that card in the mail, there is little doubt that you have someone on the other end who loves you. This is not just going through the motions. It is deliberate in its personal touch, a truly rare thing in today's world.

So, as I take the quick route and electronically type my words, I just want to say Thank You to Erin Sipe for showing me how to endure a trial as a believer in Jesus. You never complained, even though you had more reason to do so than anyone reading this today. In the midst of stage four cancer, you loved my kids more than you loved yourself, and you taught them eternal truths far more valuable than any high school novel could reveal. You also loved Hickory Christian Academy, teaching through a pandemic while going through chemotherapy and other treatments, all the while knowing it could threaten your life. But, the beauty that we all saw was that your life was never your own. you knew you had been bought with the matchless grace of God, and so your desire was that the rest of us would see what you already knew - life is not about protecting, but about giving (a lesson you learned from Jesus Himself). Thank you for giving yourself to our school, our families, and our students for these four years. You are already greatly missed, and you will always be loved and treasured at HCA.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Return of Chapel

 Some Classical Christian Schools have chapel, others do not because of the constant integration of scripture into the daily school environment.  At HCA, Chapel has been a long-standing, integral part of our weekly routine.  

For 26 years, our inter-denominational Christian school has invited parents and pastors to present a Biblical worldview lesson from the truths of scripture to our students each week.  The tangible benefits of this are obvious.  I love hearing multiple people from differing Christian backgrounds (who have become one Christian family at HCA) speaking on the impact that Jesus has on their lives, and on the things He is teaching them.  It is so important that the adults in our children's lives display an authenticity of their Christian walk to the kids.  And, weekly, that is what we try to share with our students at Chapel.  

Life is hard.  If we pretend that being a Christian erases all of the hurt, anguish, frustration, and fear, our children will feel like they are failing when they experience the same things.  But, when we tell them that, even as adult Christians, we struggle with life, it helps them see the reality of their own issues, and further, when we explain that the steadfastness of the Lord is our rock to lean on, we reveal that even when we are six feet tall, we cannot truly succeed in life apart from a relationship with God.  

Last school year, as everything was unusual, we stopped our normal chapel services.  While we had to do what we had to do in the covid year, the impact on the school was real.  Without the weekly gathering of believers, we all felt a void that transferred into fears and frustrations that may have been alleviated to some extent by the truth reminders from the Holy Bible - God's Word.  

Motions with the school verse song

We were all so excited to be able to start up chapel services again last week.  Mrs. Peeler started off the Grammar grades with our school verse (John 16:33), and the reminder that we can find peace in troubled times because Jesus has overcome the world.  Yesterday, Pam Starnes shared with our students that they all have eternal worth as Children of God, even when it doesn't feel that way.  

High School Praise Team leading worship
In the upper grades chapel, Dan Tarr shared from James chapter one about how believers should be set apart from the world in how we handle trials.  James tells us that we should find joy in our trials because they solidify our faith and point us back to the Savior, who is the real source of joy and contentment.  

As God would have it, both chapels were full of wonderful reminders for the crazy times in which we live. I am sharing all of this today simply to celebrate the fact that we are able to slowly get back to the real mission and vision of HCA, and we are already seeing a difference.  

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Congratulations HCA Class of 2021

 Most of the time at HCA you hear me talk about spiritual growth, cultural issues, and the benefits of classical methodology.  Although they are primary reasons people look for schools, I rarely highlight test scores or athletics because of the fear of "selling out" to the things that are popular in the world over the things that God has pointed to in scripture as eternally beneficial.  Jesus himself is the one who said, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"  The pursuit of "success" by the world's definition has always been a trap for our flesh, and HCA has historically tried to steer away from those secular values, to point students toward eternal things.  

However, the truth is that our students are getting the best academic education in the area as well, and sometimes, even the best sports experience, as evidenced by the girls 2021 soccer state championship.  MaxPreps ranked our girls as the #8 overall soccer team in the state, including all public and private schools of all sizes.  That's a big accomplishment for a high school of 145 people!

But, where I want to briefly focus is on the academic accomplishments of our most recent graduates, the HCA class of 2021.  I am going here because, by not hyper-focusing on academic achievement, we may have led folks to wonder how we compare with other schools in this area.  So, using Friday night's graduates as evidence, here is the product that just left HCA:

Of the 30 graduates in the class of 2021, one is entering the US Navy, one is going on the mission field, and one is joining a family owned business right away.  The other 27 are entering college in the fall.  These 27 students received 105 total college acceptance letters to 42 different colleges including:

HCA Class of 2021

Alabama, Appalachian State, Auburn, Belmont, Berry College, Campbell, The Citadel, Clemson, CVCC, East Carolina, Florida State, Florida, Fordham, Furman, Gardner Webb, Georgia, High Point, King University, Lenoir Rhyne, Liberty, LSU, Montreat, NC State, North Greenville, Ohio State, Pembroke, Radford, South Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, UConn, UNC, UNC Asheville, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro, UNC Wilmington, Virginia, Virginia Tech, VMI, Wake Forest, Western Carolina, Wingate.

In addition these 27 graduates accumulated $2.6 Million in scholarship offers for their four years of college.  Yes, you heard that right ... $2.6 Million.  Now, that is offers, not accepted scholarships, but regardless, it is an amazing accomplishment.  The bottom line is that graduates from Hickory Christian Academy are getting into their colleges of choice, and most are being offered money to come.  

Now, back to my normal mantra.  These 30 graduates are simply amazing young adults who are defined by kindness, servanthood, and friendship, as well as many who have a tangible pursuit of Christ in their lives.  Since they have been trained to think for themselves, and to communicate intelligently and effectively, each will be well prepared to enter the secular world of universities and other social pressures with a Biblical Worldview and a strong foundation.  Pray for these wonderful young people.  Most have been at HCA since Kindergarten, and it has been an amazing privilege to see them grow into this moment in time where they will now be influencers of the culture they enter.  

Friday, April 30, 2021

Can it really be 20 years?

On May 1, 2001, an idealistic young man walked into Hickory Christian Academy, on his first day of work, with a dream of making a difference.  20 years later, here I sit, still talking about it!

I remember that first day included my first chapel service where the students were able to vote on the school mascot, as formal athletics were going to begin in the fall.  They excitedly picked "Knights" as they represented defenders of the faith.  At the end of that day, we had a faculty meeting where I was formally introduced to the teachers and staff, including one kindergarten teacher named Connie Peeler.  You may have heard of her.  

The school was split between two campuses, using Highland Baptist Church for PreK through 3rd grade, and First Baptist Church for 4th - 7th grades.  Around 170 students total.  I had been hired specifically to help develop grades 8 - 12 over the next five years, to make sure those kids would be noticed and ready for college, if they chose to go, to begin athletics as an extra-curricular for our students, to develop Classical methodologies for our upcoming Rhetoric grades, and most of all, to point young people to the cross of Jesus Christ, as the culture around them was beginning to crumble.  Tangibly, my job was setting up and breaking down classrooms every week, as we were sharing space with two (eventually three) churches.  That helps explain why they hired a young man for the job.

I had been specifically trained as an educator, and had several years of classroom experience, so I felt confident and ready for my new responsibilities.  As long as I was following expectations set by someone else, and not the lead guy, I was excited to serve.  

My yearbook picture from 2001.
I still have that tie!
Well, 6 weeks later...

The board met with me to inform me that there was going to be an administrative change, and that I would be the interim Headmaster until we figured out what to do long term.  Gulp!

20 years to the day later, God has blessed us with a $7 Million campus, virtually no debt, about 500 students, a faculty and staff of 70 amazing people, and 360 alumni who were introduced to a daily interaction with the Lord at school, in order to prepare them to face a mostly secular world.  

This year (2020-2021), we began the process of adding a third classroom per grade in Kindergarten, which will lead to further growth over the next 10 years, and a greater impact on the Christian culture of Hickory, NC.  

I continue to believe that Classical education is the greatest way to train our young people to discern what is true, good, and beautiful in this world, and to defend against all the imposters of those virtues.  If all our kids do is memorize stuff for a standardized test in order to impress a college acceptance committee, we will lose the fight for their minds and our future.  They are worth more effort that that.  I continue to believe that the cross of Christ is the only hope we have, and in today's world, if that is not emphasized to our young people on a daily basis, the future is in trouble, not only for them, but for our culture as a whole. 

The past 20 years have been amazingly difficult, but defending the souls and minds of our children can never have a price too high to pay, and I am honored to have been a small part of that.  The 20 years have also been incredibly rewarding, not only in the daily interactions with thousands of precious children and parents, but also now as I see alumni in their 20's and 30's with children of their own - Young parents who are planting the same seeds in their own homes as they had growing up at HCA, and at least seven of them who have returned to put their kids back in the same classrooms they grew up in back in the day.  

Thank you Hickory Christian Academy for welcoming in and tolerating a young guy who honestly didn't know what he was doing, encouraging me throughout each year, and raising your children alongside of mine for two decades.  I could not ask for a better collection of people to influence my kids that what we have had.  Kristen was in Kindergarten in my first year, and is now completing her 4th year on the mission field in Haiti.  Sydney was in PreK that first year, and is now a 2nd grade teacher at a Classical Christian School in Nashville.  Amy and Sam are finishing college this year, and Julia and Levi (who were not born the day I started at HCA) are in our high school, and beginning to make their life plans. HCA has formed me and my family much more than I could have ever formed it.  Every minute was totally worth it.

On Monday, I will begin the first day of my second 20 years.  I am so excited to see what God has in store!

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Happy Birthday HCA!

In the fall of 1994, God provided a vision to two young moms at Highland Baptist Church to begin a school for their children, and for the kids of other dedicated believers in the community.  Desiring their kids simultaneously have a strong spiritual foundation as well as a strong academic environment, they were discouraged by the lack of choices, and followed the Lord’s lead to begin Hickory Christian Academy. 

On September 5, 1995, HCA opened its doors to 19 students.  Four children entered Mrs. Ennis’ 1st grade, Five kids were in Mrs. Huffine’s Kindergarten class, and Mrs. Ragan had 10 in her K4 class.  And, all of a sudden, HCA was off and running!  The original Mission Statement, which we still adhere to today, was written as “Equipping children today to become God’s leaders tomorrow.”

25 years later, as the school hovers around 500 students and 40 teachers, a lot has changed.  We have our own campus, students through 12th grade, over 325 alumni (seven of whom now have their kids back at HCA as current students).  We have student athletes, a daily lunch program, hundreds of college graduates, an alumni association, and a community footprint where we are respected and appreciated as a beneficial asset to the Catawba Valley. 

But, the mission has not changed.  Our desire was, and is, to produce Christian leaders.  That does not necessarily mean that every student becomes a boss, but rather that they become steadfast in their faith, unwavering in their commitment to Jesus through a combination of true biblical worldview (Christian) and training of the mind (Classical).  Upon graduation, an HCA student will be a combination of spiritual and intellectual strength, making them difference makers for the gospel. 

From year two.  Wearing uniforms for the first time!
I don’t know exactly what Karen Johnson and Debbie Bolch had in mind when they founded the school 25 years ago, but I do know that something beautiful has emerged from their prayers and obedience, and every one of us benefits from that today.  Any time you do something significant, you will encounter resistance, rough patches, and fears (including this year for sure), but when you receive the reward, it is all worth the work. 

As Hickory Christian Academy celebrates 25 years of Classical Christian education, I invite you all to be a part of the celebration.  For now, we cannot hold a large gathering, but maybe soon we will be able to do something a little more formal.  Until then, let me simply say THANK YOU to all who have played a part in the success of this school, from founders to teachers to board members to parents and students.  And, let me just say Happy Birthday HCA! to each of you.  So, wherever you are, and however you choose, please join me in celebrating God’s faithfulness to our precious school.  Whether you have been with us for 25 years, or just a couple weeks, you are now part of a very special story, and we are excited to rejoice over this milestone, and the ones to come, alongside each of you.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Rejoice in the wife of your youth

Gayle and I have been married for 27 1/2 years.  July 11, 1992 was a scorching hot day in Hickory, and I was wearing a tuxedo.  Normally, that would put me in a crabby mood, but on that particular day, I didn't bother to think about the drops of sweat dripping down my back, or my lack of oxygen.  Rather, I was focused on the moment in time that would shape my future, and everything about me from that day forward.  I was a mature 22 year old, or so I believed at the time.  I had just graduated college, and landed a job teaching high school math and physics, making a whopping $19,000/year, which, fresh out of college, seemed like a million bucks to me.  We had arranged a honeymoon through a timeshare tour agreement in Florida and the Bahamas, bought a plane ticket, had the world on a string, and were ready to share life.
She still looks at me like this!

Well, as you know, "life" has many flavors and seasons.  Six kids, one son-in-law, four colleges, 20 used cars, aging parents, 5 houses, and a dozen pets later, we have seen a lot, and shared a lot.  When two individuals choose to unite in one household, there are many more ramifications to that decision than a glossy-eyed 22 year old can possibly comprehend.  It would be nice if we always agreed on everything, but the fact is, we don't.  It would be great if we always said kind words to each other, but we fail there as well.  It would also be nice if we were both always self-sacrificial, thinking of the other first, but...

Marriage can be hard, and over the years, Gayle and I often found ourselves co-existing more than celebrating our union.  Many times, we were defined more accurately as business partners than husband and wife.  After all, there is a BIG household of children to manage, a bank account to watch shrink, and a busy schedule to check off, among a myriad of other things that life throws at each of us.

But, she stuck it out with me all these years, and put up with my quirks, pride, attitudes, and snoring, and I am so thankful that she did.  Because, I cannot imagine a better scenario for my life than to be married to Gayle.  She is compassionate, caring, honest and joyful.  She is a prayer warrior for our family, and for many of yours as well.  She taught me how to love Jesus unconditionally , and continues to do so daily.  Marriage is not about being happy every day (repeat that 100 times).  Rather, it is about choosing someone to share the daily grind of life with...the ups and downs, joys and sorrows, victories and defeats.  It is also a reflection of Christ's relationship with His people (Eph. 5:25), and the sacrificial love which forms that relationship.  We have an opportunity every day, just by being married, to show people how much Jesus loves His Church, starting with the people living in our house...

Two became Nine

So, as I think of my Valentine today, and the legacy we are forming through this spiritual bond God has placed us in, I just want to encourage all of you to rejoice in the wife (or husband) of your youth today (Prov. 5:18).  She is worth rejoicing in because she is more than a roommate or business partner.  She is a gift from God.  She's not perfect, and neither am I, but the One who placed us together is perfect, and therefore we are excited to trust Him with our lives and with our family.

I love you Gayle.  I can't wait to see what the next 27 1/2 years holds for us!