Friday, December 20, 2019

Glory to God in the Highest!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.  Luke 2:14

It's the Friday before students are dismissed for Christmas break.  All morning, our teachers were engaging their students in some form of activity as a group which points to this season of the year as the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  There are Christmas lights, trees and other decorations around each classroom, all of which reflect a traditional symbol of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Most of our students can tell you the meaning behind the symbolism and they have learned from their class experience that there is a connection to the belief that Jesus was sent here by God to be our savior from sin.  That's something worth celebrating.

For four weeks prior to this time, the chapel messages have focused on the names of Jesus found in the New Testament and why those names were applied to him as the Christ, the savior of the world.  The Bible curriculum has directed students to objectives which lead them to an understanding of God's purpose in sending Jesus as our savior and to the prophetic messages which pointed to this event occurring that were written long before it happened.  As part of their school experience, we want to make sure our students connect Christmas to the birth of Jesus so everything we do here is aimed at helping our students understand who Jesus is, why he came and how that relates to them. 

This is an exciting time of the year for most school-aged students.  We think it is important for their school, where they are learning knowledge objectives which will eventually be developed into wisdom and real life skills, to make the celebration of Jesus' birth the primary focus of the season.  And on this last day of school before we go home for the holidays, we're having some fun as part of the celebration. 

May you have the peace of knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior this Christmas season! 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Making the Life of Jesus Visible

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.  We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies.  For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.  For death is at work in us, but life in you.  2 Corinthians 4:7-12, NRSV

The book of II Corinthians is hard to study, not necessarily because it is difficult to understand, but because it is a letter from Paul to a church he loved and cared about that was going through a tough time.  Corinth was a very worldly, pagan place, a crossroads of trade and travel because of its location.  Some Bible scholars have compared it to Las Vegas as a place where, because so many people who passed through were from different places, they could pursue worldly passions not inhibited by their own beliefs or culture.  It was also a place of extremes when it came to religious practices of the paganism of the time.  The church in Corinth, which for the most part had emerged from the Jewish community there, also had to endure the derision and persecution of Jews who saw Christian faith as a deviation from the truth.

Paul had invested a lot of time and work helping the Corinthian Christians develop into a body of Christ so that the church there could be a light in the middle of spiritual darkness.  But after he left them, a whole series of events occurred which created conflict, diminished the church's witness and testimony, divided its members into factions who fought with each other and completely disrupted its ministry.  A group of people whom Paul sarcastically calls "superapostles" were influencing the church and teaching false doctrine while at the same time attacking Paul and his character to diminish his influence with the church.  So as you read and study this book, you can sense Paul's frustration and disappointment with what was happening.  You can also sense the strength of the Spirit that inspires him.  He does not hold back in the discipline he instructs the church to follow, doesn't cower in front of those who oppose him and calls out the sin that is happening.  He never gives in to his own feelings, but continues to emphasize the Holy Spirit and pushes the members of the church to move forward instead of backsliding.

In that regard, it is one of my favorite books in the New Testament.

Our school has been a light in a dark world for a long time.  So many things have changed around it over the 63 years that it has existed and yet, it is still here, still teaching children and ministering to families.  It has experienced periods of time, including recently, when factions based on self-interest have erupted into conflict that diminished the school's effectiveness in carrying out its mission and prupose.  We are recovering from one of those periods now.  There are days when recovery seems far away and almost impossible to attain.  There are days when progress is made and a victory can be celebrated only to have another conflict or problem rear its ugly head and create a new sense of frustrating circumstances.  But, as the verse I cited above says, "We have these treasures in jars of clay...."  Yes, indeed we do.

The ministry of Christian schools in the American education culture has changed considerably over the time that MCA has been in existence.  The whole culture has changed, influenced by a secular philosophy known as "humanism" which has been advanced primarily through the expected outcomes of a public education system that has been legally committed to "religious neutrality."  In the generations since the Second World War, the influence of Christian churches has waned, undermined by the humanist belief that humans are capable of "saving" themselves through their own intellectual power.  The practice of Christian faith has been separated from the educational process by the secularization of the school system and placed in a different domain apart from intellectual development.

So does what we do in our Christian school every day make a difference?  Is it worth it for our parents to continue to make sacrifices to enroll their children, for our teachers to work long hours at diverse, difficult tasks for low pay and what seems like very little appreciation at times, for our school to agonize over keeping our budget affordable and yet  seeing the need for technological advancement and keeping up with professional development, maintaining facilities and getting the word out about what we have to offer?

I think it is.

Sunday morning, just before worship, a relative of one of our new students this year came up to give a compliment about the Christmas musical our students in Pre-K up to 3rd grade performed on Friday evening.  While I was worrying about logistics, order and time, this person saw a group of kids who were singing about Jesus with their classmates.  He also pointed out the difference in attitude, behavior and motivation that the students he knew had exhibited since they had been in our school.  They have become increasingly polite, he noted, and yes, that is an important difference between what we teach and what they are taught elsewhere.  But beyond that, he was amazed by the knowledge of the scripture they had gained in just the four months they had been in school, their ability and desire to talk about it and have their questions answered.

So we are making a difference.  It's a difference that we should never take for granted.  If we were not here, it would indeed make a difference to those students who are here.  We may be struggling on a tight budget and our tuition doesn't cover all the bells and whistles we'd like to have but we have students whose time here has put them on a different path than the one they were on when they came here and their presence here is keeping them on that path.  Academic outcomes are important, and I think it is very important to note that all of the measurements we use to determine our academic progress show that we are doing an excellent job in this area as well.  Our goals are aimed at maximum potential, not minimum standards and the results we get show our students do indeed work to that potential, based on their own ability.  But when someone notices the spiritual progress one of our students in elementary school is making and can point to the visible growth and maturity they are showing as a practical result of that, then we have succeeded.  And that's a good day.

The world around us has changed considerably.  In my lifetime, our society has changed from being one that was influenced by a majority Judaeo-Christian perspective, with significant Christian presence, to one that is completely secular and relativistic in nature with a tolerated but non-influential Christian church as one of many philosophies in the marketplace of ideas.  If you've read Dr. Erwin Lutzer's book, The Church in Babylon,  you have a good idea of what I am talking about.  It is becoming more difficult for a Christian school to survive in this culture and the unfortunate fact is that many of them are simply giving up and closing their doors.  That's contributing to the crisis that the Evangelical church is now facing, as it loses membership, attendance and influence, and as it struggles to find the kind of leadership Christian schools are committed to produce.

MCA needs students who come from families who see the difference that being in a Christian school makes in their children, and are willing to support that difference with their prayers and their commitment to this school.  Sure, you expect good grades, but beyond that, when your child comes home talking about their Bible lesson, or reciting from memory a whole section of verses from the scripture, or when their "winter musical performance" at their school is made up of Christmas music celebrating the birth of Christ, you'll understand that all of the sacrifices you make to be here are worth it, as are the things we sacrifice in order to provide it for you.  We need your prayers.   Every day is a battle against "principalities" and the darkness of this world that is all around us.

We have a vision for MCA that puts it on the road to recovery, in God's time, and develops it into the ministry He has appointed for us to have.  If we're not here, there isn't another school to take up the slack and there will be kingdom work that does not get done.  So we have to be here and you have to help.