Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"This is How We Know"...Some Thoughts as we Begin a New Year

"The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.[b] 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes." I John 2:9-11, HCSB

You can read through John's short epistle, known to us as I John, in about ten minutes.  The author answers the question, "How can we know that we really know Jesus, and that our faith is genuine?" He answers this question all the way through his letter, repeating the points that provide believers with the assurance they are seeking. 
  • Our love for God is demonstrated by the love that we have for one another.  On several occasions, John flatly states that it is impossible to claim to have the truth, and have genuine love for God unless this is demonstrated through love for each other.  
  • Our faith is secured by our confession of our sin, and our belief that Jesus was the Messiah, God's son, sent to save us from our sin.  John goes so far as to say that anyone who denies that Jesus was the Christ is Antichrist. 
  • Our faith in Christ and our love for God motivates our obedience to his commandments.  We do not obey in order to earn his salvation, we obey because we are demonstrating the assurance of our salvation.  
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit speaks to us and confirms these truths.  The written word is also confirmation.   
At PCS, we ask that every family who sends their children to our school provide us with a testimony to faith in Christ as their savior by at least one of the parents, preferably both.  We expect that students who are admitted after 6th grade have the ability to tell us about their own faith experience.  We believe that, as a Christian educational institution, discipleship is a core component of a student's educational experience, and having that as part of our mission and purpose is part of what sets us apart from public schools, among other things. 

I have spent more than 30 years in a career in Christian education, most of it in a Christian school environment like PCS.  As we look ahead to a new year in 2016, and we look back at how things in our country, in our world, and in our churches, are developing, I think that the leadership which is coming from Christian schools that are providing their students with a solid foundation in Christian discipleship, as well as superior academic training, will be crucial to the future of the Christian church in the US, as much as it will be to the nation itself. 

For more than two decades, now, our church researchers have been telling us that there is a growing gap in generational involvement in the churches in this country.  Churches have been losing a large percentage of the children and youth who have been raised in them.  Initially, the figure that was cited was that 70% of those raised in church were leaving it by the time they graduated from college.  As time passed, into the 80's and 90's, that figure was raised to 80%.  Churches and denominations spent a lot of time and resources on programs to stem the tide, that failed.  The thinking was that perhaps, after time, when they'd had a chance to settle down, and start having families, they'd come back.  They haven't.  The median age of today's church is about 20 years older than that of society in general, and the American church is in a membership decline that is beginning to have an effect on the financial resources need for ministry, including international missions. 

There is some indication that the process which leads to young people going through an intellectual and spiritual shift that causes their exit from the church begins in their early education.  The seeds of a secular worldview are sown early in their educational experience, and during their formative years, their education is separate from their spiritual formation in most cases.  So when they go off to college, where they will be exposed to worldviews and thinking that comes largely from a post-Christian, humanist perspective, they see their church involvement as inconsistent and irrelevant, and they drop out, usually before they get their college diploma. 

Christian schools must stand in the gap.  That is why we are intentional in our mission and purpose.  That is why we do not separate the process of Christian discipleship and spiritual formation from the educational process.  And that is why we strive for academic excellence as well.  The best contribution we can make to our churches, and to our country, is to provide them with leaders who know how to think, and who understand how to think Biblically and spiritually minded thoughts.  Looking around at what is happening in the world, and what is happening in the church, I believe Christian schools may be the hope of the future for both.  I hope that the evidence shows that we are doing the job God has called us to do. 

Happy New Year!  May you be blessed by the Lord in 2016. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Memorizing Scripture in These Troubled Times

"Do not be agitated by evildoers; do not envy those who do wrong.  For they wither quickly like grass and wilt like tender green plants.
Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.  Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires."  Psalm 37:1-2, HCSB

In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom mentions a time when she discovered that the words of scripture that she was reading were so fresh and relevant, and applicable to her time and situation, that she "marveled that the ink on the page was dry."  She wrote that from the depths of a prison worse than almost any of us could imagine, or have experienced.  Hope seemed to leap off the pages of her smuggled Bible, and into her mind and heart. 

Our society lives in a time where information is instant, and news from halfway around the world can reach us almost as soon as it happens.  So we've had a front seat to the shootings in Paris and in San Bernardino.  We've also had a front seat to see the way our culture has reacted to those events, and we can almost live the moment with the help of a camera and a way to transmit the information.  And we've seen both the best and the worst when it comes to reactions to these terrifying events. 

"Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated--it can only bring harm." (37:8) 

I've heard preachers say that much of the wisdom of the Bible sounds a lot like common sense.  This sure does.  We spend a lot of time building a Biblical worldview, and Biblical principles into our curriculum to teach to our students.  Here's a situation where that can be practiced by all, and seen by all.  There are no exceptions when it comes to the principles of life that are set out in the scriptures.  God certainly knew what he was doing, and he certainly understood every situation in which we would find ourselves. 

It is difficult not to have an emotional reaction, especially when pictures and video from events like this put it right in front of you, and make it seem as if you were there, almost.  But the Psalmist says it three times here--"refrain from anger, give up your rage, do not be agitated." That's quite an emphasis, and it's not an accident that it is mentioned here.  Reacting out of anger, or out of fear, has the potential to create circumstances that cause us, in our humanity, to set aside what God has given to us, and take things into our own hands to resolve the problem.  We should move in a forward in a way that demonstrates our continued commitment to remain in God's will, and be guided by faith, not fear.  Pray.  That always works.

"The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord, their refuge in a time of distress."  (37:39)

Really, this whole Psalm is so promising and encouraging, and worth reading more than once, especially before you sit down to watch the news.  It's so relevant, it is really similar to Corrie Ten Boom's experience of marveling that the ink on the page is dry, and that the words weren't actually written in our time, but thousands of years ago.

The Bible's writers, including the same person who wrote this Psalm, encouraged people to commit scripture to memory.  Part of that was to preserve the words, but part of it was to put them in a place in the mind where they can be brought out when needed.  It's part of our human nature to respond to the things that are going on around us, and we have a tendency to respond according to our own mind, and leave God out of it.  Our selfish nature tells us to do something to even the score, or to inflict the kind of pain we've experienced on someone else, simply to satisfy our own rage.  If these words from scripture are in our mind, programmed to pop out when something like this happens, it's a lot easier to think clearly, act slowly and do the right thing.