Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Real Chance to Make a Difference

A Christian school is private, in that it must generate its funding and support from private sources.  It is private in that it is an educational alternative to publicly funded schools.  It is private in that it does represent a choice for parents who decide that's where their children need to be.  It's private in that since its primary means of financing is tuition paid by those who make the choice to send their children, it is also an income decision. 

Practically, it is those things.  Inherently, it is not.  If we genuinely believe in our mission and purpose statements, and in the general Christian philosophy of education that most of our Christian schools have in common, then that puts a Christian school squarely in the middle of the church's assigned function of discipleship.  Instead of a couple of hours a week in a church program, some of which isn't even devoted to discipleship and learning, a Christian school has students under its influence and teaching for more than six hours a day, five days a week.  That much time makes a difference.  It is visible, not only in the disproportionately high number of Christian school graduates in the ministry and on the mission field, but in the fact that, among the younger generation, while more than 80% are leaving church by the time they graduate from college, that figure virtually reverses itself among Christian school graduates and former students. 

Unlike most other private schools, Christian schools generally tend to be self-supporting.  In some cases, schools do receive some church support, or have access to grants and endowments, but for the most part, the funding for a Christian school comes primarily from those parents who consider it the best choice for their children.  We're right up there when it comes to academic achievement, extra curricular activities, and even in educational services, but most of our income depends on the parents who send their children.  Since those same parents also pay taxes to support the public school system, by default, not design, Christian school education is not accessible to most parents who would make that choice if it were possible. 

As part of our advocacy for Christian education, PCS participates with ACSIPA, an organization of Pennsylvania Christian school administrators who meet regularly with state legislators on behalf of the Christian schools that they serve.  Pennsylvania does recognize a parent's right to choose their child's education, and combines that recognition with some financial benefits that are designed to make that choice easier, and not solely based on income.  ACSIPA supports the continued existence of school bus transportation funds and tax credit programs for private schools, among other benefits, which help make schools more accessible to families regardless of their income. 

The EITC/OSTC program is one of those benefits.  EITC stands for Educational Improvement Tax Credit.  Scholarship money is provided from private sources for students to attend private schools, including Christian schools.  In exchange for the contribution, the state provides a tax credit, as much as 90%, return on corporate taxes paid to them.  The money is used to provide scholarships for students whose families qualify by income, equalizing the expense of sending them to a private, Christian school.  The OSTC scholarship is similar, an "opportunity scholarship" for income-qualified families to get their child out of a low-performing public school system and into a school where their child's academic growth can be nurtured, along with their spirit. 

Any business in Pennsylvania which pays corporate tax can apply to be able to receive tax credits for scholarships at private schools.  In addition to the 90% return from DCED, the whole amount is also deductible from federal taxes, so Christian business owners can provide a blessing for Christian schools, and be blessed in return.  The state legislature, as a result of the advocacy of groups like ACSIPA, recently expanded the cap on the scholarship programs, and increased the scope of the kinds of taxes eligible for this program.  That means that up to $75 million is available for scholarships for students attending Christian schools, and up to $50 million is available to students from low performing school districts, including the one in our area. 

If you own a business and would like to understand more about the scholarship program, and the ways your business could benefit from it, please contact PCS at 724-368-8787. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Repentance and Grace in Christian School Discipline

"...Neither do I condemn you...Go, and from now on, do not sin any more."  John 8:11, HCSB

You've probably not ever been involved in a Christian school as a teacher or administrator if you've never had a student cite the example of the woman caught in adultery from John 8 in a disciplinary situation at least once.  And if you had a dollar for every time the concept of grace, or forgiveness, was brought up in a situation where a student was facing consequences for something that they had done, you'd be relatively wealthy. 

The fact of the matter is that Christian principles and practices are a core value in a Christian school, and since grace is one of the primary values of Christian experience, any plan that a school develops for handling disciplinary issues with students will be directly affected by its application, provided, of course, that the application is consistent with the interpretation of both the incident requiring discipline, and grace itself. 

We need discipline in a Christian school because our students, (and our faculty, staff, administration, board members and parents) are sinners, and even though the majority of them have experienced redemption and new life in Christ, they still live in the flesh, are tempted, and they still sin.  It's important to distinguish the difference between actions in a school that are sinful, and require discipline in a spiritual sense, and actions which require discipline as a reminder to students about the rules which establish order, based on the school's way of operating.  Disciplinary action is required for both, but there is a clear distinction. 

One of the major components of grace, and receiving it, is conviction.  Grace cannot be experienced or understood without acknowledgement of guilt.  It's not easy to discern whether a student is remorseful and repentant because they got caught, or because they genuinely know that what they did was wrong.  Conviction requires a clear understanding of what is right or wrong, as it pertains to the action or situation to which discipline is applied, and experience tells me that most students, 7 or 8 out of 10 across the board, do not really have an internal belief that what they've done is really wrong, because they do not accept the premise for the rule that they have broken.  Their perspective is usually relative to their own situation, or to the circumstances of the rule violation. 

For example, students are aware of the school's dress code.  But there are clothing items prohibited by it that they would wear anywhere else, except at school.  So they choose to wear something that is prohibited, and are disciplined for it.  They know they've violated the school rule (especially if they've brought proper clothing with them "just in case") but they don't particularly share a conviction that the rule is right in what it prohibits.  Grace might be given, but it would not be understood in this situation, because the student didn't experience a need for it, other than to just avoid a disciplinary action. 

Repentance is the response to conviction which leads to grace.  Repentance is understanding that what you did was wrong, and you respond by accepting the consequence of your actions.  You are not expecting to be "let off the hook."  Grace occurs when you are.  You might benefit from grace because you've never previously demonstrated the same behavior, or because the individual administering the discipline senses a genuine attitude of repentance and sorrow for what you've done, and decides to be graceful rather than punitive.  It might be that you've previously demonstrated reliable behavior, and grace is given because you're attitude has been witnessed before, and those responsible for discipline discern that you are genuinely repentant, and won't err again.

The most important element of a school's application of discipline is its effectiveness in leading the student to understand exactly what conviction, repentance and grace mean, and how they are experienced.  They need to understand the difference between being sorry for getting caught, or being genuinely sorrowful because they did something that went against the expectation of their Christian faith, and wasn't consistent with their testimony.  And they need to experience genuine sorrow, and personal conviction about their behavior, in order to understand the depths of grace. 

Grace is unconditional.  It is offered equally to all.  Conviction and subsequent repentance is a human being's way of accepting and receiving it.  Whereas love isn't love until it is given away, grace isn't grace until it is received.  It's there, and it's available.  A student's school experience is a great opportunity to come to an understanding of grace and everything that is involved with it. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks a Few Days Early

The ACSI Student Leadership Conference in Arlington, Virginia always comes the Sunday through Tuesday before Thanksgiving.  I think that's probably a calendar issue more than anything else, wedging it in between sports seasons and holidays.  But it also provides students the opportunity to visit the nation's capital, Washington, DC, and to take an excursion into the city to see the sights. 

This year, due to some difficulties with scheduling and some unexpected surprises, we were unable to tour either the White House or the Capitol building, which had been in our plans.  Instead, we got an impromptu tour of the Supreme Court building, a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, and a trip to the war memorials for those who served in Korea and Vietnam.  It was a good time to visit both, prompting expressions of thanks from the students who went to see them, and from those who went to Arlington Cemetery afterward. 

The existence of a Supreme Court, interpreting a constitution that protects the same individual rights as the soldiers who are named in those memorials died protecting, were fitting places to visit prior to Thanksgiving.  And in spite of the political perspectives that have, in our day and age, become so heated, and in many cases, so selfish, the impact of both the court, and the memorials, was not lost on the students who visited. 

In a day and age when science, technology and mathematics have taken over the emphasis of the education system, it is time to revisit the mission and purpose of American education in general.  I think, in the realm of Christian schools, we have achieved some balance in the teaching of scripture, and of history, to our students, but I think we need to do much more.  Discernment and critical thinking are not things which can be taught from a book, they must be learned by practical application.  Compulsory education in the United States is considered to be a backbone of support for the entire democratic republic that we have in place to govern the country.  It takes an educated population to administer the apparatus of the state, to the benefit of the people as directed by the constitution.  So I believe we are at a point where our students need to be able to exhibit a clear understanding of this country, its principles, and how it works, before they can graduate from high school.

What is represented by those institutions at either end of the National Mall--the war memorials and the Supreme Court building, is the foundation of the democratic republic that is the United States of America.  The values that are present go well beyond the perspective of an individual, to the collective good of the entire country.  It is not hard to understand these values, though it is much more difficult to set aside personal preferences and biases.  But it must be done, or the country will not survive intact. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Approaching Election...

Many people will be very happy when November 8 passes by.  I know I will be.  But there are some considerations that you might want to note before you go cast your ballot. 

School choice is an important issue for those of us in the Christian school community.  It never really gets high on the priority list for most politicians, but for those of us involved in private, Christian education, particularly those of us who earn a living from it, it is important, and we are affected by what happens on every election day. 

School choice is primarily a state issue.  So in those races that are "down ballot", when you get into state senators and representatives, it is one of the primary issues state politicians deal with.  And because of the nature of the issue, and its relationship to education, which is its larger umbrella, party affiliation is not always a predictor of the level of support of any particular candidate. 

The EITC and OSTC programs all operate based on limits and regulations from the state legislature, as does the transportation fund for bus operation.  In the past couple of years, there has been a conflict between individual rights, and the school's religious liberty as a Christian institution that has the potential to create difficulty for us when it comes to the admissions process or hiring.  The PA Family Foundation has warned us that exemptions which apply to religious institutions and allow for religious requirements in hiring practices is disappearing from legislation.

So while we cannot endorse candidates for office, we can encourage you to "do your homework," and find out where candidates stand on school choice.  We've had a strong effect on the way the legislature has handled bills that affect private schools through the voter voice app on the ACSIPA and PACAPE websites, and are recognized by many legislators when it comes to deciding how they'll vote or pursue bills that affect private schools.  There are several strong supporters of the EITC/OSTC program in our area, as well as proponents of protecting our religious freedom, and you need to find out who they are before Tuesday. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Religious Liberty in Chaotic Times

R. Lee Saunders, Head Administrator

Bill Wichterman, senior legislative advisor from Covington & Burling, and a former policy advisor to President George W. Bush and Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, was the opening speaker for the 2016 ACSI Legal/Legislative conference in Washington, DC September 12-14. The title of this blog was the title of his opening presentation at the conference. It was a privilege for me to be invited to attend, along with 20 other Christian school administrators from 11 states.  Bill's opening address provided not only information regarding the increasing pressure and difficulty that Christian institutions are encountering when it comes to navigating government regulation, but inspiration that will help us understand how to deal with it.

There is a lot of information, and mis-information which gets passed along when it comes to what the government is doing, and why, and it helps to hear from someone who knows, and is in a place where daily observation provides genuine and accurate insights.  The balance between civil rights and religious liberty is changing, issues are arising from court decisions and legislation that is placing religious institutions like Christian schools in a precarious position when it comes to things like employment practices, admissions policies, and the civil rights of students.  Things like the definition of "protected minority" and where the line is drawn between civil rights and the inalienable guarantees of the constitution are changing, and each succeeding piece of legislation or court ruling has the potential to intrude in areas where it has never intruded before.   And if you think there's someone taking care of these things in Washington for us, you'd be right, except that it's probably not what you think.  ACSI, which represents about 2,700 schools in the United States, with about 800,000 students, has a legal/legislative department in its Colorado Springs office with two staff members, and we have a Director of Government Affairs in a one-man office in Washington, DC.  So the 21 of us who went to Washington last week, and were probably the only Christian school administrators to go to Washington this year, are it.  And there is a lot that is happening. 

Tuesday, we gathered in Congressman Joe Pitts' conference room in the Cannon House Office Building for morning and afternoon conferences built around the legal and legislative issues faced by Christian schools. We heard from Congresswoman Vicki Hartzler of Missouri, who was a teacher in a Christian school that her mother founded and is a strong advocate and protector of Christian schools.  Congressman Steve Russell, of Oklahoma, has proposed an amendment to a bill which asserts the religious liberty rights of organizations in hiring practices.  Senator James Lankford, of Oklahoma is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and served as a staff member at the Baptist Convention of Oklahoma, directing the largest Christian youth camp in the country prior to becoming a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, and then getting elected as a United States Senator taking former Senator Tom Coburn's seat.  These legislators all had a powerful testimony of faith, and all have a direct connection to Christian schools. 

Perhaps one of the most impressive presentations of the day, from my perspective, came from a young lady named Erica Suares.  The daughter of immigrants from India, Erica is a graduate of Lakeland Christian School in Florida.  With degrees from Auburn and Harvard, Erica's service record is impressive.  She started out at the Heritage Foundation, and has been a legislative advisor to serveral Senators, and in the office of the Political Director of the White House.  She was the deputy director of legislative affairs for the Romney campaign, and is currently the Policy Advisor to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  Erica talked about how her education in a Christian school not only helped her come to Christ, but gave her a firm foundation from a Biblical worldview.  Erica is a Christian school graduate who is making a difference.  She arranged for her presentation to our group to take place in the Strom Thurmond room of the Senate wing of the Capitol building, and we were escorted there by a couple of interns from Congressman Pitts' office, one of whom was a graduate of Jefferson County Christian School. 

Wednesday, we scattered out across Capitol Hill to visit with Senators, Congressmen and their staffs, from our own states.  The three of us in the Pennsylvania delegation shared meetings in pairs with Senator Casey's office and Senator Toomey's office, and we met separately with our individual congressmen's offices.  The goal was to share our specific concerns, especially on the religious liberty interpretation issues, and help the legislators understand how those of us who are directly affected and impacted by their decisions.  Christian groups and churches which operate institutions like schools and colleges are being accused of using their claim to the first amendment guarantee of religious liberty to discriminate against those with whom we disagree, particularly on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, and as a means of protecting bigotry.  Our legislators, regardless of their party affiliation, need to see us and hear from us, and we need to let them know about what our schools are doing, and help them understand that we are committed to a ministry that comes from a sense of mission and purpose that is firmly rooted in our Christian faith.  

I wanted our legislators and their staff members to understand and see that we are committed to a cause which has a specific Christian mission and purpose to encourage and enhance the lives of our students and their families, and that our intention is not to discriminate, but to practice and live out our faith according to the higher law that we acknowledge as the written word of God.  People come to our schools voluntarily, not through any kind of coercion, with the understanding that the guarantee of religious liberty of the first amendment allows us to integrate Biblical principles into the curriculum, and offer our students Christian discipleship through the educational process, which is exactly where it fits and where it belongs.  We believe that the first amendment guarantee of religious liberty is all that we need to do what we do, not something to use in order to discriminate or to use as a means of justifying or hiding bigotry.  We are exercising an inalienable right, guaranteed by the first amendment, and our lawmakers need to understand what we do, and realize that their actions will impact our work. 

Almost everything we hear and see about our government is negative.  And yet, our government is a representative democracy, and it is made up of representatives that we elect.  The unavoidable conclusion of that fact is that government is a reflection of our society and our culture.  The first three words of the constitution are, "We the people."  My impression of our government was changed considerably by those three days in mid-September in Washington.  We live in a pluralistic society, and it has been the fundamental liberties and individual rights we have as Americans that has been the attraction.  We may not always be in the majority, and in fact, it is possible that we may never be.  But there were 21 Christian school administrators who spend three days interacting with the members of our representative democracy on their turf.  The conference room we used was borrowed from one of our congressmen from Pennsylvania, the other, from the majority leader of the Senate.  We were escorted through the hallways of the Capitol building by their staff members, and collectively, we met with the political and advisory staffs of 22 Senators and at least 24 congressmen.  Those who came to speak to us inspired us, and I hope that our presence there encouraged them.  That's the way it works best. 

I appreciate the work of those at ACSI who are on the line for us all the time, Thomas Cathey and Phillip Scott, who work in the Legal/Legislative office in Colorado Springs, and George Tryfiates, who mans the office in Washington, DC.  They work on behalf of Christian schools and they need our support and our prayers. 






Thursday, September 1, 2016

Staying in Christian School through Senior Year

Understanding that the early years of childhood are very important when it comes to skills development and faith formation, about two thirds of the Christian schools in our country are aimed at providing a faith-based educational environment through the 6th grade, and in some cases the 8th grade.  Beyond that point, many parents begin to think that social development of their children may be better served in a public school that offers a wider variety of extra curricular activities in fine arts and athletics than smaller, Christian schools can offer.  They believe that the spiritual foundation that has been developed during those early, formative years is strong enough for their children to "get out of the Christian bubble," or to "leave the more sheltered environment".  And they believe that in the secular environment of the public school setting, their children's faith will actually be strengthened by this exposure to "the real world." 

There are other motivations for making this kind of choice.  One of them is certainly financial.  As college costs increase, many families are hard pressed to continue paying tuition and fees for students to attend Christian school, especially if there are two or three children in the family. High school costs more. Finding another Christian school that offers what you're looking for in the upper grades is not always easy, and there's the social pressure if their friends opt for the public school instead of another Christian school.  Many parents think that six, or eight years of Christian schooling is enough to lay a strong faith foundation for their children, and enable them to resist the philosophical, social and moral challenges that are a daily part of life in the public school system. 

In fact, a few kids who come from a Christian school into the public school system are equipped to handle all of the challenges, are determined enough to remain committed and understand where their strength comes from, and have the kind of spiritual foundation at home that supports their continued growth in their Christian faith.  But most of them, the vast majority of them, are not. 

Dr. Glen Shultz, in the introduction to his book, Kingdom Education, points to several sources which indicate that a few years of Christian education is not enough to counter the influence of years of forced tolerance, relativism, subjectivism, and secular humanism that form the philosophical foundations of public education in America.  Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a noted Christian apologist, points to five specific factors that have significantly impacted our culture, primarily through its public education system, including the rise of atheism, eastern mysticism, the controlling impact of the visual, a worldview oriented toward youth, and the loss of a single source of authority with the right to lay claim to moral direction.  Dr. Zacharias asks the question, "How do you reach a generation that hears with its eyes and thinks with its feelings?" Dr. Shultz points out research which shows that only 7% of teenagers who consider themselves "born again Christians" base their moral choices on Biblical principles. 

Let that sink in for a minute.

Dr. Voddie Baucham, a noted Christian apologist and pastor, says, "If you turn the education of your children over to Caesar, you should not be surprised when they become Romans."  He's also said that whoever controls the schools controls the world.  If you look around at the world, and at the culture and society in which we live, you must conclude that a few years--six, or perhaps even eight-- of Christian schooling, while it may be beneficial, is probably not enough.  Weigh your child's future, and their faith foundation against a few sacrifices in social activity, athletics, or cost.  It's easy to see the benefits, blessings, and importance that comes with those extra four or six years in Christian secondary education.

Staying at PCS
You won't miss much that you might find elsewhere if you decide to stay at PCS.  And what you gain on the spiritual side outweighs all other advantages.  The fact of the matter is that a Christian school is the only institution outside the home or church where teachers will instill a Biblical worldview in your children.

Our Bible curriculum, from 7th through 12th grade, has been restructured to provide students with a complete and solid Biblical worldview.  Instruction is provided in basic Bible study skills with survey courses built around an approach that connects personal, moral decisions with scriptural principles, along with development of a systematic theology that teaches students to apply the doctrinal points that they study to their personal life.  As they approach their junior and senior year, Christian apologetics are introduced into their core Bible class, and in their senior year, they wrap up the summary of their Biblical worldview with practical, real-life application. 

Understanding the connection between themselves and the Holy Spirit, in order to become the "spiritually minded" follower of Christ that the Apostle Paul speaks of in I Corinthians 1 and 2, PCS provides many opportunities to students to live out their faith.  Three school days each year are set aside for all students to engage in mission service, so that over the course of their junior and senior high years, they will have served in as many as 12 different venues, from assisting with patients in a nursing home, to preparing boxes for Operation Christmas Child, to helping a rescue mission serve Thanksgiving to almost 1,000 families.  The weekly campus worship service is planned, and led by students who are developing their own skills, and building connections to the resources within the local churches.  An international mission trip to the Dominican Republic is an opportunity for students to serve over spring break, and the senior class finishes out its high school experience serving together for a week on a class mission trip. 

Leadership development is also a component of the junior and senior high school years at PCS.  Leadership conferences are an opportunity for students to gather with other Christian student leaders from other schools, and the Student Council works to provide the funding and the opportunity for high school students to attend the leadership conference sponsored by ACSI in Washington, DC.  The senior class starts their last year of high school together, through a four-day wilderness experience that is designed to build relationships on a spiritual foundation, reconcile believers and develop genuine Christian community in preparation for the major change that is coming at the end of the school year. 

You're also not going to miss anything from an academic perspective by staying at PCS.  Even as a small school, with limited course offerings, our students can graduate from high school with as many as 24 college credits already earned through dual credit and AP courses.  The school has earned a reputation for excellence in academics, with students earning the county's highest SAT, ACT and achievement test scores.  We believe that students will achieve what is expected of them, so in writing our own curriculum guides, we aim for a high level of accomplishment, expect that our students will do the work to get there, and that approach gets the results we seek. 

The fact that our graduates can go to any college of their choosing, and be successful is evidenced by the long list of them who are enrolled in engineering, nursing, pre-med, business and pre-law programs in some of the top colleges and universities in the region.  But the fact that we are achieving our expected spiritual outcomes is evidenced by the fact that many of our graduates are pursuing careers that will enable them to do ministry, and by how many of them choose like-minded, Christian colleges and universities that share the same Biblical worldview.  And those outcomes are incomparable to things like the social atmosphere, or where your friends go to school, or whether or not you got to play football. 

Yes, it is a sacrifice to stay in Christian school through 12th grade.  But, considering these outcomes, is it any more of a sacrifice than it would be to leave these things behind? 




Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kingdom Education in the 21st Century

"The Christian school is the only system, outside the home, where the teachers will instill in your child a Biblical worldview."  Dr. Glen Schultz, Kingdom Education

Dr. Glen Shultz has served as a teacher, head of school, and director of a curriculum publishing division of a major Christian publishing company.  He wrote a book entitled Kingdom Education:  God's Plan for Educating Future Generations a little over a decade ago.  Our faculty will be taking a look at it this fall as part of their continuing education.  Dr. Shultz's outlines the mission and purpose of a Christian school, links the basic education that is required to produce functioning citizens of our society with the church's Biblically assigned function of discipleship, or Christian education, and addresses the Biblical role and relationship between the institutions of the home, the church, and the school. 

It's important for us to review this foundational material, because it goes to the very heart of the mission and purpose of Portersville Christian School, and why we are here.  The waning influence of the gospel message of Jesus in our culture and society is what compelled church leaders to start Christian schools in the first place, but even though the movement enjoyed success in the 80's and 90's, both the church, and the enrollment in Christian schools, in our country is declining at an accelerating pace.  Most church growth is transfer growth, not evangelistic outreach, and finding volunteer leadership has become one of the most difficult things that churches have to do.

Most Christian grade schools and high schools were started by churches, or groups of Christians, from 1960 to the mid 1990's.  There was really not much in the way of unity of purpose or planning involved.  The Catholic church established schools all over the country in the 19th century, mainly to counter the influence of Protestants who tended to dominate the public education system at that time.  They connected the schools to the church's ministry of Christian education, and they funded the cost of providing the education by committing large amounts of church revenue to the schools, as well as utilizing those in the church who served under the calling of sacred orders, and a vow of poverty, and taught students as part of their service to the church.  The end result was that for about two generations, the Catholic church saw its membership stabilize, and then increase in number, and its need for leadership on the local church level was filled.  Even today, the majority of Catholic priests and nuns are products of the church's school system. 

Protestants and Evangelicals were latecomers to the Christian school movement, but when they did get involved, the schools had an impact.  The problems experienced by Christian school education on our side of the denominational divide has been  a lack of unity of purpose and a lack of unity when it comes to planning where schools will serve.  While the Catholic church accepted the responsibility for educating its children, and worked to ensure that most of its families could afford to place their children in a church-owned and operated school so that they would be under the church's influence every day, Protestants left their families pretty much on their own, to bear the full cost of sending their children to the kinds of schools that will undergird and support the values of their home and church, instead of teaching the opposite, or trying to tear those values down. 

There are some good things that have come from the development of faith-based education, particularly Christian schools connected to a Conservative, Evangelical perspective.  While up to 80% of the youth who are raised in church and active in their youth group will drop out by the time they finish college, those who have been enrolled in a Christian school that emphasizes and practices a Christian worldview are much more likely to stay in church, and not drop out at all.  A significant percentage of adult church leadership in the US today is drawn from among the alumni and former students of the Christian schools.  Christian school graduates tend to gravitate toward international missions in particular, making up a significant portion of those who leave this country to serve overseas, for the long term. 

In spite of that record, Evangelical Protestants have not yet found a way to come together and cooperate across cultural and denominational lines to provide the kind of foundational support for Christian schools that would enable them to get past many of the obstacles they now face, and remain open.  When the Catholic church refers to its budget for Christian education, they are speaking of the lion's share of the money committed to that purpose going to support parish, and diocese owned schools.  When Evangelicals talk about Christian education, they are speaking of Sunday School, small groups, and programs that are inwardly focused to provide services for their own congregations and members.  Using Christian education budgets to support Christian schools is almost unheard of in Evangelical Protestant circles.  And yet, collectively, the dollar amounts that churches spend in the category of "Christian Education" would allow existing schools to more than double the enrollment they currently serve, increasing the effectiveness of what is provided every time another student graduates.  Instead of seeing over 300 Christian schools close annually, and up to 80% of the young people raised in church leave by the time they graduate from college, never to return, that kind of investment would have a major impact on the effectiveness of the church's ministry everywhere.

"Kingdom Education" outlines a plan for Christian schooling that aims at preparing students for service in the Kingdom of God, namely, his church.  It builds the foundation for a student's school experience on the truths of scripture, and links this experience to the task of discipleship which is one of the five Biblically mandated functions of the church as the body of Christ, and the local expression of that body.  Every church that has one of its members involved in this Christian school is seeing that Biblical function carried out, according to God's will.  And every home represented in this Christian school is engaged in a partnership to make sure that their children are taught truth, and connected to the God who is the source of it. 

As Dr. Shultz says, "The Christian school is the only system, outside the home, where the teachers will instill in your child a Biblical worldview." 

Think about that and let it sink in.  Teachers, next to parents, have as much influence over what a child things as anyone.  You may be fortunate enough to have your children in a Christian school like this one, but what about the other families in the body of Christ that is your spiritual family?





Thursday, August 4, 2016

It's August. And you know what that means!

Three weeks from today, alarm clocks will go off all over the area in the homes of PCS students.  The busses will start up, and head out.  By 8:15, the students will be unloaded, and at 8:19 the bell will ring to signal the beginning of the 2016-17 school year for about 250 students at Portersville Christian School. 

About 30 new students will be joining us, including some siblings of current students, and some families who are new to the area.  Our theme verse for the year, I John 3:16, indicates our desire for all of us to come together as a body of Christians.  We hope that happens quickly, that friendships and bonds between student form, and that we can get about the business of being a Christian school ministry. 

We still have some openings for students, a few in grades K, 1 and 2, and a few more in 11 and 12.  There might be some room in the middle, depending on being able to tweak a class schedule here and there.  We also have some room in Pre-K, which is an excellent, affordable way to come to PCS, and guarantee a spot in the following year's kindergarten class. 

All the way around last year, our students did an excellent job in their studies.  The tests we use to measure student progress painted a glowing picture of achievement and progress.  Of course, test scores are not the only component of expected student outcomes, in fact, they are only one of many indications of how students are doing, and of the quality of education that is provided in the classrooms.  We use them to tweak our curriculum objectives, and to fine tune the academic program.  But in every regard, the academic strength of PCS is visible.  This is a good place to go to school, and the quality of the education is excellent. 

Please join me in prayer as we prepare for the upcoming school year.  The supplies and books are already hear, and are in the process of being distributed to the classrooms.  The calendar is in place.  Before long, the summer cleaning in the building is almost done, the teachers will be arranging their classrooms, and everything will be ready.  We have a mission, and a purpose that turns education into Christian discipleship and partners with parents in the God-given responsibility of training their children.  Education and the acquiring of skills goes hand in hand with understanding truth, and the source of truth is the Bible.  Otherwise, without the Bible, learning takes place in a vacuum, and there's no objective foundation. 

I believe this is our 54th year of operation.  That makes us one of the oldest Christian schools in Western Pennsylvania, set on top of a hill in a township near a tiny town that straddles the line between two very rural counties.  In an era when many Christian schools are struggling, and many are closing, we're still here. 

Apparently, God isn't finished with us yet.  So as we begin this coming year, let's find out what he wants us to do.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Vines and Branches Illustration

"I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."  John 15:1-2

For the past 20 summers, I've coordinated a World Changers project somewhere, from Nashville to Missouri to Arkansas and Texas, to Indiana and now, in Pittsburgh for the past three years.  This year's project was called a "combo," meaning that there were crews doing construction ministry, and crews working with local church planters. 

The construction ministry works to assist low income homeowners, and older homeowners, with repair work that helps improve their home.  Much of the work we do in Pittsburgh involves improving access, like building hand-rails along walks, and ramps from driveways to doorways.  And one of the aspects of this work in Pittsburgh involves some weeding and pruning work around the house, especially for older residents who no longer have the physical ability, or financial resources, to work on their yard.

One of the crews, working in the New Kensington area, needed to clear out an entire lot before any work could be done.  Vines had grown up all over the place, along with weeds, and even some wild trees, because the homeowner had not been able to get out into his yard for several years.  As it happened, the scripture reading and devotional for Monday morning was John 15.  And the crew devotion leader had a visible demonstration of exactly what that passage means.

Jesus uses the analogy of branches to represent our lives.  When we are redeemed, he begins the process of removing the branches in our lives which are not spiritually productive.   And he prepares those branches within us that are producing the fruit of the spirit to be able to produce more by pruning them.  The idea is that we are to be spiritually shaped by Jesus, letting him have control of our growth, so that he can remove those things within us that are not beneficial to our spiritual growth, and taking care of those things which do. 

The lot that the crew worked on Monday took two days to clear.  There was a lot of undergrowth and overgrowth, which was preventing the light from getting to some of the flowers and blooming plants that were deliberately planted there.  The old vines, with their thick, leafy covers and branches twined around all of the plants and trees, were keeping new growth from happening.  It was amazing to see the array of plants and flowers underneath the growth, all of which now has a chance to bloom again.  The analogy is very clear.  "Pruning" doesn't mean that Jesus selectively removes people from his church that he doesn't think are productive, nor does that apply to anything else except your own self, and your own spiritual growth.  He's speaking about that part of you as an individual that gets in the way of your own personal spiritual growth.

Think of yourself as the lot, and the overgrowth represents your inner self, your soul, before Christ came into your life.  Then Jesus comes in, and brings his "vinedresser," in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Just like that lot in New Kensington, there was no way that a crew of 8 kids and 2 adults could trim it and clear it out in a day, it took a little bit of work here and there for four days before it began to look like it should, and before the plants that were put there to beautify the space, would begin to grow again.  The trimming takes some time, because the sin that has rooted itself in our life is not easy to get rid of, and it has a tendency to keep coming back, if it isn't kept trim.  It depends on the vinedresser getting in there to use his tools, which is his word.  And as the flowers and shrubs grow, they are pruned in order to continue to keep them productive, and to make room for new growth, which will eventually be strong enough to push out the weeds and the vines.  From a physical perspective, all of this takes time, and likewise, it's not something that happens overnight spiritually, either.  Sometimes there are setbacks.  But faith makes it possible for the Holy Spirit to work in you, provide you with gifts for ministry, and bring about spiritual growth in your life. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

We Know Love by This...Theme Verse for 2016-17

"We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another."  I John 3:16

The chapter and verse divisions found in the Bible are not part of the original text, but were inserted to provide points of reference in order to facilitate the study of scripture.  History credits the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, as the individual who used the chapter and verse divisions as reference points, and the Wycliffe translation into English in the 1300's was the first translation to use them.  Since that time, Langton's reference points have been commonly used as the standard in all other translations.  There is no content in these reference points, though in the way we read and interpret English, some of them do not seem to be well placed.  But the intention of their use was never to change the flow or the actual reading of the scripture, only to make it easier to find specific passages and places with thesis statements and corroboration.

Understanding that makes it interesting that, among the works of the Apostle John, in his gospel, chapter 3, verse 16 is the place he is addressing the purpose of Jesus coming to the world, an act of the most supreme love by God.  In John's epistle, chapter 3, verse 16, the same theme appears.  The kind of love that comes from God, and can only be known in that context, is defined by the willingness to lay down one's life for another as a result of it, because Jesus laid his life down for us. 

Love is defined by Jesus, and it was illustrated perfectly in his willingness to endure the suffering of the cross in order to set us free.  Likewise, the kind of love that is expected of us, toward our fellow human beings, is exactly the same, "we ought to lay down our lives for one another." 

There is some context here.  John was writing to Christians in churches in Asia Minor.  Whether he was writing to one specific church, or a group of them, they were probably living in the area in and around Ephesus, where increasing persecution was breaking out against Christians.  John's words were penned to educate the church and strengthen its belief in Jesus as their savior, who was both wholly human and wholly divine, in contrast to some false teaching that was spreading.  Christians there were faced with a very real threat of death because of what they believed, and John was writing to encourage them to stand up for each other, and protect each other, because within them they carried the kind of love that had led Jesus to his death. 

It is an expectation that this is the kind of love that we will find in the Christian church, whenever we encounter it.  This kind of love is a visible means of identifying the true believers in the body of Christ.  There is no place in scripture that changes this concept, or defines it as a characteristic that only specifically applies to places where the church is in danger of persecution.  The statement that follows this one clarifies and defines it even more, and provides a specific example of how that kind of love is demonstrated. 

There are some specific references to the church in the New Testament when it did behave this way.  In the early chapters of the book of Acts, after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the body of Christ came together as no other group of human beings had ever done before.  Acts 2:43-47, and 4:32-37 describe particular signs that the church was being what God intended, and that the love they had for each other was real.  This provided a foundation for miraculous signs and wonders performed by the apostles as part of their ministry, which was fuelled by the love that these people had discovered and demonstrated for each other. 

Would the world be the way it is today if the Christians who make up the church had continued to have, and demonstrate, this kind of love for each other? 

We see glimpses of this vision at times.  The social media photos of our students enjoying play time with kids in the Dominican Republic is a good illustration of how the love that we are to have for each other works, even through a language and cultural barrier.  Those mission trips make a difference for both the recipients and the participants.

But do we treat our fellow Christians, and the people around whom we live and work every day, with the same kind of love?  That's a rhetorical question, and we already know the answer.  So the challenge for our students, with this as our theme, will be to see what kind of a difference we can make for each other by demonstrating the kind of love toward each other that only comes from God.  This year, we will teach them what this means, and encourage them to put it into practice.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Theme Verse for 2016-17: Focus on I John

"Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."  I John 3:18

It is always difficult to choose a theme verse for the school year.  It is a scripture which teaches a principle that we want to emphasize with our students, because we see it as a need, and we see the scripture passage as a means of addressing that need.  We let our chapel speakers know what our theme is, and they often feel let to preach on it, using corroborating scripture passages to support it.  In classrooms, especially at the beginning of the year, the theme verse is used in devotions to begin the day.  It is important, because it is a means of enhancing the spiritual life of the student body. 

Since school was completed last week, there's been a search and a study going on to find a theme verse for 2016-17.  We are a school, made up of students, and our ministry is Christian discipleship.  For the most part, as a student body, we are growing spiritually and moving toward spiritual maturity.  The school community mostly consists of students, sincere in their faith, but still at a point where they have a lot more to learn, not only from being taught, but from experience.  And it's real life experience.  These are real relationships and real friendships, and they provide real joy and fulfillment, real opportunities for students to grow through them, and real support for that growth.  They also provide real pain when things go wrong, real hurt that causes real problems, and requires real solutions. 

I once heard someone make the statement that a Christian school should not be a shelter, but it should be a refuge.  Given the events that are happening all around us right now, we need a refuge.  And we need our school to be a place where students can have their faith strengthened, where teachers and staff come alongside each student, supporting them when they have doubts, encouraging them when they are discouraged, guiding them when they need direction, including discipline when they stray, and helping to build a strong, spiritual foundation on the truths of scripture, so that when they graduate, they will not become part of the 80% of young people who leave the church and the Christian faith by the time they finish college.  And they need to learn, and see, how to give this kind of love and support to each other. 

It is frustrating to hear someone say, "That shouldn't be something which happens in a Christian school."  The fact is, a Christian school is not a perfect environment, and neither the staff nor the students always make the right decision that is consistent with what the Bible teaches, and what God expects.  Things happen which are not consistent with Biblical, Christian faith.  When they do, what makes us distinctive in our response is our faith in Jesus. 

"For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God...If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sin, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness..."

We want our theme verse to be something that comes to mind in a particular situation, something which teaches a particular principle that will contribute to the spiritual growth of our students, and the spiritual life of the school.  Something that they will remember, and which will add to the foundation of Bible teaching, worship, home and church which they already have developed.  Something that will help them be a blessing when they are confronted by a complicated issue of the day, or when a major tragedy happens. 

Both of the verses in this article from I John are possibilities.  In fact, the whole theme of I John is about relationships that Christians have with each other.  So at the very least, a set of devotionals and thoughts from I John might be on the table for first thing each morning.   

So watch this space for the big announcement of the PCS verse of the year, 2017-2018

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

In all your ways acknowledge Him...

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths."  Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV

Congratulations to the Portersville Christian School class of 2016.  On Saturday, 25 seniors received their diplomas, and celebrated thirteen years of completed education.  It was, as we say, a commencement, a beginning, and not a conclusion.  The members of the class have been encouraged to trust in the Lord, at least from the moment that they enrolled at PCS, if not before that in their family and home church.  We are praying that the foundation they received as part of their education at PCS will lead to their acknowledgement of the Lord, and their complete trust in his will for their lives, and for straight paths.

Standing in the gym, looking at those 25 seniors in their blue gowns and caps, shifting their tassles to signify their graduation, and receiving their diplomas, we were watching a miracle.  No, it was not a miracle that they all passed, that they all met the requirements for graduating from high school at Portersville.  It was a miracle that in the day and age in which we live, with all that is happening in the world, with instant communication by a dozen different means at our fingertips, with all of the influences of ideas and philosophies and religions, we watched 25 students step out into the world with a high school diploma that symbolizes the acquisition of basic skills, integrated with the principles of the Christian faith, measured by the Bible. 

That did not happen in a vacuum.  The education received by those students, represented by their diplomas, was the result of their own effort and hard work.  And it was also the result of the effort and hard work made on their behalf by their teachers.  It would not be what it is, however, if that is all that went into it.  In both cases, the result required whole and complete trust in the Lord, dependence on the presence of his Holy Spirit, indwelling each student and teacher, to bring about the result of a class of 25 students who are ready to move forward to the next chapter of their life, equipped with basic educational skills, and with a growing, and strong Christian faith that is visible and evident in their lives. 

We can't do what we do without completely trusting in the Lord.  Education in basic subjects and skills is, in our philosophy, a part of the bigger domain of Christian discipleship.  And discipleship is one of the five functions of the church, according to scripture, along with worship, evangelism and missions, ministry and fellowship.  We are engaged in a partnership with the parents of our students who trust their children to our professional abilities to teach, and to model the principles of scripture that will protect their children's minds and hearts, and keep them in a place where their faith can develop and grow strong before they go out into the world.  It takes the work of the Holy Spirit to bring all of those elements together to provide the students with what they need, and that is not something that we, alone, have the strength to do.  We must trust in the Lord, and as we do, we show our students how to trust in him as well. 

It has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to serve here at Portersville Christian School.  One of the things that has made it so is being able to see what our students are doing with their lives once they leave here.  Most of what I've observed to this point has been their college experience, but we are now having alumni who are completing college and moving forward into careers.  That's exciting to see, but what is even more exciting, and fulfilling, is to see that most of our alumni are remaining faithful to the Lord, and are serving his church.  Our current senior class left behind some prayer requests for the staff, which were distributed at our last day luncheon on Tuesday.  They are asking us to pray for them as they search to find God's will for their lives.  They want our prayer support as they go off to college, and make finding a church a priority.  That's some evidence that trusting in the Lord is already working. 

"Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty.  Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.  Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name?  For you alone are holy.  All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed."  Revelation 15:3-4, NRSV

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Supporting the Christian Values of Home and Church: What does that mean?

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we ought also to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us."  I John 4:7-12, NRSV

The sanctuary of the Wedgewood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas was packed, mostly with teenagers, on a Wednesday night, September 15, 1999.  "See You at the Pole" had happened that morning, and the youth were gathering in a time of worship and celebration that evening.  Shortly after the rally began, 47 year old Larry Gene Ashbrook walked into the back of the church, threw a pipe bomb, and started shooting from a 380 caliber handgun.  Reloading several times, he killed seven people, including four teenagers.  Three young adults, including students from nearby Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who were assisting with supervision were killed when they attempted to protect kids in the room.  Several other people were seriously injured.  One of the participants, a 19 year old named Jeremiah Neitz, confronted Ashbrook, and started talking to him about the gospel.  It was a very dangerous situation for him, and a very brave thing to do, but it bought some time, and Ashbrook stopped shooting.  Only one more person died after that confrontation, when Ashbrook turned the gun on himself.  Many of those youth are alive today because there were some fellow Christians who put their faith in action, and laid their lives down for them, and one who survived, who put his own life on the line.

When questioning Neitz after the shooting, police had a hard time believing his story.  Why would a young man put himself in that kind of danger rather than protect himself?  The answer is found just a few verses earlier:

"We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another."  I John 3:16, NRSV

The kind of fellowship between believers that John was shaping with this epistle was developing at a time when Christians faced the daily danger of persecution.  But faith in Jesus brings believers together in relationships that are stronger than persecution, even to the point of death.  We rarely see examples of that kind of persecution, so when they do happen, it's hard to understand the kind of faith that it takes to put yourself in mortal danger to protect the lives of others. 

That's not the only relevant application of this particular Biblical principle.  As a Christian community, we might not face the kind of situation where we are required to lay our life down for someone else, but if that's the ultimate expectation of a relationship between believers, what should our relationships look like the rest of the time?  This is a discussion that comes up frequently in a Christian school.  We tend to think in terms of the ideal and principle when we are in a group, and we expect others who claim to have the same kind of faith in Jesus that we do, to behave according to the ideal that is stated in the principle.  We question behavior in others that we evaluate as not being consistent with the kind of spiritual maturity that is taught in this epistle.  But the real question we should be asking is whether or not we expect our own behavior to meet this standard. 

It would be an expectation of the adults who work with students in a Christian school to have this level of maturity, especially teachers.  Effective teaching of Biblical values requires believing in them, and modeling them.  If you send your children here, then you're right to have this expectation of the staff.  Part of our agreement to serve in this ministry is that our faith has reached a level of maturity that makes us capable and effective teachers of Biblical values and principles, because we know the scriptures, and we live by them. 

Among the students, there are those who are demonstrating spiritual maturity.  The amount of scripture that they know, and what they know about it is impressive.  It should be.  They have a class in it every day.  And we do indeed see a difference in their behavior, in their attitude, and in their lifestyle that reflects what they know and what they are learning.  But they are students, and they are still learning.  Not everyone has the same level of spiritual maturity, and not everyone has the same kind of faith foundation at home, or in their church.  If your expect that the school's ministry will be supporting and encouraging to your child as they grow in their spiritual maturity, you're on the right track.  I've heard it characterized as the difference between a shelter and a refuge.  We're a refuge.  Students will interact and engage with other students here who do not share the same level of maturity of faith, who do not necessarily have the same kind of spiritual foundation at home, or the same support from the Christian community at their church.  While we require every family, and every student after 7th grade, to have a testimony of faith in Jesus as their savior, that doesn't guarantee that everyone is on the same level in their spiritual maturity.  Realistically, it doesn't really guarantee that everyone actually knows Jesus. 

 Those who have a foundation that's been laid at home, and who have a connection to the body of Christ through their church have a distinct advantage.  We can do a lot here, but we certainly can't do it all.  Our role is to support the faith foundation at home in a partnership with parents, and what we do here is made more effective when it is a genuine partnership.  It's more difficult if we're the only place that undergirds and supports a student's faith experience.  These particular passages from I John point to the fact that those who do have a firm foundation of faith bear a responsibility for those who don't. 

"How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?"  I John 3:17, NRSV

If we're expected to help with material needs, how much more do these passages underline the expectation that we are to help with spiritual needs?  If you're part of our school community, and your children enjoy advantages that provide them with a foundation to grow in Christ, and develop spiritual maturity, then you are part of the ministry to others, who need to develop those things in their lives and in their homes.  We're brought together in fellowship in many ways, as classmates, as teammates, in the cast of a musical, as we travel to archery tournaments, or on field trips to places like Gettysburg, or mission trips to places like Virginia Beach.

If Jonathan Neitz had thought of himself, and either hid out or fled from the situation, it is hard to tell how much longer Larry Ashbrook would have wandered around the room reloading his gun and shooting people in the Wedgewood Baptist Church.  You may not ever find yourself in a situation that critical.  But what happens when you see that the enemy has started an attack on students at the school through behavior or attitudes that don't necessarily exhibit the standards of Christian values and behavior that you do?  Do you flee?  Hide out?  Gossip and complain about what other should be doing?  Or do you face the attack, and help protect those who are less mature and more needy than yourself? 

Do you love your fellow believers, even the less mature ones, that much?

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace."  James 3:17-18, NRSV
 







Thursday, May 5, 2016

Practical Examples

Sometimes you wonder how much attention younger people, particularly school age students, pay to what is happening in the world.  There is so much happening, so many critical issues occurring which have an immediate impact and effect on the lives we live, and the future we've planned, all of it available literally at the fingertips of anyone who has a cell phone, tablet, MP3 or other electronic device.  That includes most school-aged students.  But when they have their head bent over, concentrating on what is on their screen, is it related to what's happening, or is it some mesmerizing game, or distracting social media post?  Are they so secure, and insulated, in the prosperous world that has been created around them that they are dangerously unaware of what is important, and either don't know, or worse, don't care, about what is going on all around them? 

Some of them are most definitely aware.  I've been asked for my opinion about shopping at a particular discount department store chain, related to their policy on bathroom use.  Yes, it does sound strange when you put it down on paper that way.  My response is usually to turn that around, to find out if they know why that's an issue.  If they do, then I ask them, "How should Christians respond to that?"  It's a remarkably complicated question, because there's a quick answer that seems right from a moral perspective, but there's also consideration which must be given to the question of how that answer affects what other people will observe, and learn, from my faith as a result of my actions.  And that isn't always as obvious as it might seem to be. 

The social status of the Jewish faith of Jesus' day was woven into religious teaching so tightly that it was difficult to separate principle from practice.  On at least three occasions, Jesus did something that shocked the religious leaders of his day, but which illustrated the importance that he placed on redeeming and restoring sinful people to a relationship with God.  He accepted a dinner invitation and hung out with Matthew's tax collector buddies, who were despised, social outcasts because of their occupation.  He more or less turned down the admiration of an adoring crowd in Jericho to spend the afternoon with Zacchaeus, another despised, socially outcast tax collector, who had notably cheated people to benefit himself.  And he spent some time talking to a Samaritan woman (double whammy) who was also lacking in moral character when it came to her relationships with men.  In Jewish teaching, the woman's reputation and lifestyle made her an outcast, and a Jewish man talking to a Samaritan woman was well outside of social expectations.  But Jesus did it anyway, because he cared more about the woman's spiritual condition, and about grace and redemption, than he did about what people thought.

In each case, Jesus showed that he cared much more about the spiritual condition of the lives of the individuals than he did about the rules that had been developed as a result of the blending of a social agenda with religious doctrine.  Take that principle, and set it along side the question about what a Christian should do in a particular situation, and the person who asked the question has their own answer, from a conscience that is now familiar with a Biblical idea, and they can answer that question for themselves.  And with students, that's more important than just telling them what you think they should think. 

I read an account, several years ago, about a Jewish rabbi who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II.  He was connected to the underground, so was more aware of the potential fate of the Jewish population in the Ghetto, and in all of Europe for that matter, and was active in resistance work.  For a while, he was able to assist some of the younger people in the community with getting false papers so that they could live among the Polish population, at least somewhat safe from the deportations that sent people to the camps and furnaces of Auschwitz. He had always been taught that such actions were illegal, and thus, immoral, but at the same time, in a world turned upside down, he was very clear on the principle of the sanctity of human life that he knew from scripture. 

His connections allowed him to escape selection himself, but he found himself in a camp, and then on a work crew wandering through Eastern Europe, disinterring mass graves where Jewish communities had been massacred and buried, burning the corpses so that the Nazis could hide the evidence of the murders.  Eventually, all of the violations of Jewish ceremonial law that he had to undertake, from handling dead, long buried bodies, to the lack of any ability to participate in ceremonial cleansings, began to weigh on him, and he contemplated suicide.  As a child, he had been required, in his Jewish school, to memorize the entire book of Psalms in Hebrew.  Each day, as he dug up bodies and placed them in piles to be burned, he went through the entire book, sometimes more than once in a day.  It was burned into his memory, and because the SS guards would not get too close to the graves or to the pyre when it was set alight, he could speak the words freely, out loud, so that others could hear.  That's how he was able to bear what would have been the unbearable work he was forced to do. 

He survived the war, and several years later, arriving in the once German city of Breslau, which had been turned into the Polish city of Wroclaw, to begin a new life in the aftermath of the war, a man came up to him on the street who recognized him from the travelling work crew, and told him that he heard him recite the Psalms every day, and that was what kept him sane and alive. 

Perhaps the things that are going on in our world today aren't quite at the level that they were during the dark days of World War 2, especially in Eastern Europe.  But there are a lot of things going on which require Christians to do some serious thinking, and rely on some serious faith.  And there's no guarantee that the world we live in won't turn upside down, at any time.  Our Christian faith is the most important thing we have in our lives.  Sometimes, we can use it to behave in a manner that cheapens its value and dispute over petty, insignificant things, while ignoring the effect that our behavior has on other people, and how they look at Christ.  It could well be that a time will come when our ability to think about the Christian values we have and know so well will be a deciding factor in how we deal with something that comes into our lives. 

"One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.  Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the spirit will from the spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith."  Galatians 6:6-10, ESV

What is the good word or deed that you have today for the household of the faith at Portersville Christian School?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Too Much to Take for Granted...Count Your Blessings...and other cliches

Our annual accreditation report is on its way.  It's been two years since the visiting team was here, and we're well on our way to meeting the major recommendations which resulted from our self study, and three days of observation by the visiting team.  I just finished serving on a visiting team myself, this past week, and was reminded again of all the work that goes into this process which gets condensed down into three days of observation.   

We've had some great things happen here during the school year.  Starting with Seth VanGent, a sophomore who earned the title "state champion" by earning the highest score among all high school archers in the state of Pennsylvania, and the middle school archery team which qualified to compete in the national tournament, it was a banner year for athletics.  A soccer and boy's basketball championship, girls volleyball and basketball as runners up, and junior high teams making the playoffs, all add up to a lot of accomplishment. 

We opened a new stage addition that makes our gym into one of the nicest multi-purpose buildings owned by Christians schools in our area. 

But we've had some other things happen that might not be on everyone's radar screen because, well, they're getting to be routine. 

We have another senior class approaching graduation that exceeded national and state averages on their collective SAT scores, and are headed off to the colleges of their choice.  Many of them are taking scholarship money with them, one is going to a specialty school, and it's another tight race to the top for the potential valedictorian and salutatorian.  This is pretty much a regular occurrence now, but these students have some accomplishments worth mentioning. 

Did I mention that we also had another National Merit Scholarship recipient among our senior class?  Yes, the second one in four years, and it almost slipped by because we didn't get a notification until later in the year.  Potentially, there are two or three in the junior class, based on PSAT scores.  We'll have to wait and see.  But 12 out of 18 of our juniors scored in the top 25% nationally on the PSAT they took in the fall. 

And if this all sounds academic (it is), we had some ribbon winners at the speech tournament, and we are looking forward to the math Olympics.

About 30 of our students ventured down to the Dominican Republic over spring break, and came back not only with great reports about what happened there, but having experienced some spiritual renewal of their own.  It's a noticeable influence on our campus each year, and I hope it continues. 

The Student Leadership Conference in Arlington, Virginia in November has the same kind of effect.  Things change because of the students interaction with the speakers and the ministries they represent, and the issues they discuss, and it's a change of spiritual renewal.  Then they come home, and they become salt and light. 

There are some other blessings for which we are grateful.  Our re-enrollment, which ended on March 30, exceeded 95%.  That's not only good for planning for next year, but it says that the confidence and trust that our families place in our school is very high.  We love teaching your kids!  And we're glad you want them here with us.  Our finances are healthy, and we are going to be able to offer our teachers a raise next year. 

We know that none of this happens without God's direction and blessing.  Our staff prays for God's blessings in many ways, including together in prayer partners and as a group in devotionals every week, and they put feet to the prayers by working hard.  It's fun to love what you do for a living.  We appreciate your prayers, and we're asking that God continue to bless this ministry. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Core Values and Student Discipline

One of the most difficult aspects of Christian school administration is student management and discipline.  For one thing, most parents don't really think their kids need it, and some of them don't react well to the news that there's been a problem in this area.  For another, many people think that Biblical principles, applied to this area of school life, is all about forgiving and forgetting.  And there are people who think that there's not really much of a need for discipline in an environment where most of the students are professing Christians. 

Guess again.

Christians aren't perfect.  They are just forgiven.  And while I would most definitely agree that there are fewer problems in a Christian school environment, the fact of the matter is that we deal with what just about everyone else deals with too, including parents who don't think their kids do anything wrong, or who don't have a solid grip on the reality of what their children are doing, or who don't have a correct understanding of the Biblical principles involved in this process. 

The whole message of the New Testament has to do with God's ultimate plan for resolving the problem of human sin, which separates mankind from him.  The main difference between human reason and wisdom, and the Bible's revealed knowledge comes down to the resolution of this issue.  From a Biblical perspective, discipline methods are derived from the same process by which human sin is forgiven and forgotten by God.  It's the very simple formula of the conviction of the Holy Spirit coming upon a person and generating feelings which we refer to as conviction of sin.  We cannot come to this point on our own, because we cannot see sin for what it is.  But God used the miraculous and pervasive influence of the spirit to bring us to this point. 

The response to conviction that leads to salvation is remorse and grief over our condition as a sinner, and a desire to repent, or turn from that sin.  In the process of doing this, we are covered by the blood of Jesus which saves us from our sin.  We are forgiven.  And he erases the memory of the sin from his presence.  The Holy Spirit responds by sanctifying our soul and giving us grace which God provides to seal us in Christ. 

There's a big difference between the kind of grief expression that brings about genuine repentance, and simply being sorry for what we've done, or sorry that we got caught.  The concept of discipline actually rests on this particular aspect of the whole process.  Repentance requires change in behavior.  There can be sorrow and guilt which causes pain, but if it doesn't cause a change, there's no repentance and no restoration. 

"Endure trials for the sake of discipline.  God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?  If you do not have that discipline in which children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children.  Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us and we respected them.  Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?"  Hebrews 12:7-9

Parents discipline children that they love.  God disciplines his children that he loves.  The purpose of discipline is to generate respect for those in authority, and ultimately to prevent someone from getting so far away that they cannot, or will not come back.  It brings conviction as the recipient realizes that what they have done is wrong, and are put on the path of making it right.

I think it's important to distinguish between discipline and punishment. Punishment is a consequence; discipline is guidance that brings conviction.  Since discipline is likely to result in repentance at some point, we want to make sure that there is a way for the person who is receiving it to respond, and turn from the behavior that caused the discipline.  Punishment is what happens when there is no repentance, and no change of heart or mind.  Because we are created in the image of God, and have a free will, both are possible in our life.  At school, it is our hope that discipline results in repentance, not punishment.

The support of parents is the key to the success of discipline.  When parents realize that other people, particularly adults who understand their children because of years of experience and a wealth of training, have insights into behaviors and attitudes that they might not see, or might overlook because of their relationship, and allow those people to provide their children with discipline, it has a chance to succeed. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Break is an Opportunity to Serve

It's been a tradition at PCS for a number of years now.  School dismisses at noon on the Friday before Spring Break, not so much because everyone is anxious to get started on their vacation, but to allow a group of students some time to pack and prepare for a week of mission service in the Dominican Republic.  A combination of students, faculty members, first timers and veterans, join a group of doctors, dentists and nurses who serve through Meeting God in Missions. 

Some serve with the medical or dental teams who serve people who probably haven't seen a doctor or dentist since the last time they were there.  It's hard work, but it is missions in its purest, Biblical sense, meeting people's needs in Jesus' name, and allowing the service testify to their faith.  From what we hear upon their return, it is an effective way to share the gospel, and people are led to faith in Jesus as a result of it.  But it's what happens to the students that we see when they return, and that is a very visible, and lasting, result.

I've been watching our students go on this particular trip for the past six years.  And when they return, they are always full of excitement about what they've done, what they've seen, and what the Lord has done while they were there.  Sometimes, I think what they don't see is what the Lord has done in their life in the short time they were there.  They may not see it, but the way that God has worked in their life, and transformed them, is very visible.  And they, in turn, become vessels that God uses to transform the lives of other students.  This trip has a definite effect on the spiritual life of our campus, and on the spiritual atmosphere of the school. 

So as you read this, pray for the group that is serving this week.  Pray that they are protected, that their ministry to the people in the Dominican Republic is effective, and that many people there find Jesus as their savior this week.  But pray, too, for those who are serving.  When people put themselves in God's hands in this way, and allow themselves to be used as vessels for ministry to serve others in Jesus' name, God not only uses them, but he fills them with his spirit, empowers them, and as they serve, meditate and read his word, pray, and seek his face, they grow in their relationship with him.  Christians who serve in this kind of ministry find that their relationship with the Lord drives their commitment to new heights, and gives them boldness, and peace.  So we are also praying for those who are serving, that this would be a time of commitment and dedication to the Lord which would be beyond anything that they have experienced in their walk with Him so far. 

And we will be praying for them as they minister to the school upon their return. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Icing on the Cake

It's been a great year for athletics at PCS, as the previous article pointed out.  Virtually every team at the school was involved in post-season playoffs.  The soccer team won the SWCAC title, the volleyball team finished as runner up, the boys' varsity basketball team won the SWCAC title, and the girls finished as runner up.  The boys put a little bit more on top of their league title, and won the NCSAA Division 3 championship in Ohio last weekend.  Not to be outdone, the younger girls won the 10th and Under tournament on our campus last weekend. 

Then there was the archery team. 

After hosting Pennsylvania's first interscholastic archery tournament a few weeks back, an excited group of archers headed off to Penn State University this past Thursday, for the state archery tournament.  And after all the arrows had been shot at the target, the best high school archer in the state is PCS's own Seth VanGent.  Seth brought home some new archery equipment, a nice trophy, and a scholarship for his effort.  And he will be representing PCS at the national archery tournament in Kentucky in April, along with our entire Middle School archery team, all of whom qualified for nationals. 

"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory."  I Corinthians 10:31



Sunday, February 28, 2016

Champions!

Last week was championship week in the Southwest Christian Athletic Conference (SWCAC).  PCS was represented at every level.

I am very proud of our junior high boys' and girls' teams.  Both of them had seasons in which they had to rebuild from the loss of a lot of eighth graders from the previous year, and both were back at the top of their respective conferences.  Both finished second and qualified for the playoffs, and while they both lost in the opening game, they played hard and represented our school very well.  Congratulations! 

The girls' varsity basketball team put PCS back in the SWCAC championship after a three-year hiatus that included a year in which we didn't even have enough players to put a team on the court.  After restarting with some girls who hadn't played before, and some eighth grade girls who were willing to give it a try, their commitment and dedication led PCS back to the championship game this season.  They lost in the finals to a team they'd already beaten twice this season.  And while it is unfortunate that a trophy, and some recognition, are associated with that one specific game on Saturday, one game doesn't change the course of the season.  The Lady Warriors played with class and dignity, respect for their opponents (including actually cheering for the same team that beat them by one point in the title game) and with their acquired skills and talent.  We are proud of your ability as a team, and proud of the Christian character that you demonstrated all season.

It was a little different for the boys' varsity team.  Boys' basketball championships have been rare at PCS, evidenced by the blank spots on the SWCAC championship banner that hangs in the gym.  The frustration of recent years, when we've had excellent teams, but when seasons were changed by key injuries in the last couple weeks of the season, melted away Saturday afternoon with the Warrior's 40-28 victory over Cheswick Christian, the defending champions.  PCS made the championship game last season, but came up short, so this season's 30-1 record, and the championship trophy, are something special to celebrate.  

I was particularly proud of the way that our team shared the load all season.  We had numbers, and we had talent, skill and experience.  Everyone got to play a lot of minutes, because our starters, who all work hard, and who had earned their spots on the team, were generous enough not to complain when they didn't even get in some games against struggling opponents.  Their reward includes the championship run, and the upcoming tournament in Ohio, where they'll get plenty of time to play.  And their Christian character was also visible and evident as they played. 

Athletics is an all-volunteer activity at PCS.  The coaches are volunteers, the members of the athletic committee are volunteers.  Oh, we hand out a few stipends to help with expenses, but it's a volunteer operation.  And that makes our school a winner, regardless of what happens during the season.  Some of our volunteers are parents of alumni, not current students, and they give their time because they love the students, and they love teaching them about a sport that they love.  They also teach about their faith in the process.  And that is a blessing that no trophy can hold a candle to in comparison. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What Should be Expected from Students in a Small, Private, Christian School?

"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  Matthew 5:48 ESV

Normally, when I see something on social media that relates to an issue or problem at school, I don't respond.  The context of most social media posts is obvious, the perspective is slanted in the direction of the person making the post, and frankly, most of those kinds of issues and discussions are nothing more than casual gossip.  We have a pretty clear, and very open policy which recognizes the Biblical nature of the partnership in education that we share with parents, so if what's happening isn't important enough to follow the agreement, and address it directly with administration, then it probably isn't important at all. 

Recently, I saw a post that I've seen on occasion before, and decided that it related to a topic that probably needs to be addressed from time to time.  I won't reference the specific situation, but on occasion, the question about the expectation conduct of students at a small, Christian school, where everyone knows everyone, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, does come up.  Should there be a difference in the way that students in our school, where families are required to provide evidence of a Christian testimony, and a connection to a Biblically sound church, compared to others who either don't share the same kind of educational environment, or a Christian testimony? 

The obvious answer is yes.  But being in a school where most of the other students have made a profession of faith in Christ, and come from homes with families that have a commitment to Jesus and his church does not guarantee perfect behavior when it comes to relationships with each other.  People in the church have, on occasion, been known to exhibit exclusive, judgmental, and mean spirited behavior toward each other.  In a school where most of the students are at the younger end of their spiritual life, it would be difficult to expect a higher standard of behavior than you find in the churches from which they come. 

That's not an excuse.  It's a reason.  Those who have experienced a school environment in a much larger public school would tell you that things are much better in our little Christian school in this regard, and they are right.  That's evidence that the basic Christian principles of repentance, forgiveness and restoration, are being taught, and caught, by our students.   Nor is the grass any greener on the other side of the fence.  Over the course of the past 30 years, I've had an up close, front seat to observe students in small, private, Christian schools, and in this regard, the problems and issues are the same, as are the ways that schools and school personnel have adopted in dealing with them, particularly as it relates to interpersonal relationships and the behavior that is expected.  If the Bible is the sole guide to faith and practice, as we declare, then the Bible must influence the choices we make, and the resolutions to problems that we seek. 

Jesus himself had something to say about relationships between his followers, particularly when it came to the subject of logs and planks. 

“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye"  Matthew 7:1-5, HCSB

We want our students to grow and develop spiritual maturity when it comes to their understanding of repentance, forgiveness, redemption and restoration, and to make those principles part of their spiritual DNA.   We also want them to stop making excuses when it comes to their behavior, and start accepting responsibility.  It's unrealistic to think that our kids are not influenced by so much of what they see and hear in the culture at large, especially when it comes to their place in it.  "It's all about me," is a popular theme, so judging other people by a set of standards that almost requires them to be perfect, while at the same time excusing our own lack of perfection, is a very common cause of conflict between students in a school setting.  Three fingers always point back, which illustrates where the responsibility lies in restoring a broken relationship, or healing a conflict, or dealing with people who are behaving in a manner that is mean spirited and rude.  Part of the measure of the spiritual, social and emotional maturity of a Christian is being able to recognize their place in its resolution, which includes accepting responsibility for their own actions, acknowledging their own lack of perfection, and being willing to let things go instead of holding on to them for dear life. 

An honest evaluation of the social atmosphere at our small, private, Christian school by virtually all of its students would clearly show that things are much different here than they are in the public school system, and that the Christian culture that we do indeed expect to be developing is very much a part of the atmosphere of our school.  But we need to understand, especially as adults, that our students are just at the very beginning of their Christian experience, and they have a lifetime ahead of them which will shape them into the "little Christs" that constitutes the spiritual identity of a mature, wise, follower of Jesus.  One of the things which makes our school distinctively Christian is that we provide guidance, instruction and practical application of the Biblical principles which deal directly with their spiritual, emotional and social growth, so that they can learn from their mistakes. 

It takes an extremely mature Christian to turn to someone who has been rude, hateful and mean, with the kind of grace and gentleness that Jesus showed to us, and which is expected of us.  That's totally against what our culture teaches, models, and expects.  Our patience is put to the test when we seem to be repeating the same things over and over, and yet still see the same behavior.  It tempts us to simply run away, or isolate ourselves, or huddle in the corner and be critical of those who don't meet our expectations, but none of those things accomplishes a resolution to the problem, or teach a Biblical principle.  Given time, and patience, our students will develop the kind of spiritual maturity we expect, which reflects the character of their savior. 

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.   2 Corinthians 12:9, HCSB