Two things strike me about the 2017 Senior class verse. One is that these high achieving seniors recognize their fears. And second, that they know confidence is found in their relationship with God!
The phrase “its rights and privileges” has often intrigued me. You have heard the phrase. On May 28th, I will address the HLA Class of 2017 “Upon recommendation of Mr. Isaac, Hillcrest Lutheran Academy Principal, and by virtue of the authority…granted by the Hillcrest Board of Directors, it is my privilege to award you the Hillcrest Lutheran Academy High School Diploma with all of its rights and privileges.”
A couple of weeks ago, I put down my foamy razor for a pen and paper to jot down the composer and name of an amazing arrangement playing on our “easy listening” TV channel. I thought, "I want this CD, and I’m going to recommend our music department perform the number.”
To the Colossians (2:20, 3:1), Paul wrote “Since you died with Christ…” and “Since you have been raised with Christ…” Since we died with Christ, the messages and expectations of natural philosophies (worldviews) have nothing for us. They lack power for changing our lives and they offer no eternal hope.
My emotions are touched by students who notice, hand off their books to another, and team up to carry Dan in his wheelchair to the next floor.
In spite of the frantic attempt to get away from being "Old Fashioned", we are not very successful. We are very much "Old Fashioned" after all, evidenced by the facts that we enter the world in the old fashioned way, we are nourished and grow in the old fashioned way, we rejoice and laugh, we suffer, weep, sorrow, die, all in the "Old Fashioned" way. Why, then, all this make-belief!
What would you imagine if I said, “Test?” My guess is you thought of a driver’s license or classroom examination if you are in your teens or early twenties. Maybe you remembered a recent eye exam if you’re in your forties. I chose not to mention the variety of tests doctors order for people my age.
“Inauguration” is defined as “an introduction into office,” “a ceremonial opening,” and “putting something into operation.” A new USA President is being inaugurated today, January 20, ’17. It’s a time when the country expects her chosen leader to say, in Paul’s words, “forgetting those things that are behind, I press on to lay hold of that for Christ took hold of me” (Phil. 3:12).
In 1931, the teachers agreed to keep on teaching “even without a guaranteed salary.” In the 1932-1933 school year, the teachers and administration had a total of $1,930 of salary left unpaid. In the 1933-1934 school year, they were paid less than half of their contracted salaries. They had been paid a total of $4,776.32, but $5,871 had been left unpaid. In the 1934-1935 school year, the teachers were paid a total of $5,647.40, with a total of $4,196.44 left unpaid.
Minnie’s foundational peace in Jesus propelled her to drink from the well of Bible training she received at Hillcrest 7 years later. “We studied the books in the Bible, it helped me a lot,”
“Why do I feel so alone when I have so many ‘friends’?” The social media context may be new, but the internal cry is the same, "I'm alone in a crowd."
Thirty-some years ago, I read a piece suggesting that our language shapes our identity. It was a period when we were incorporating technological vocabulary into self-descriptive conversation such as “networking,” “processing,” "hard-wired" and “random memory.”
The piece suggested that we would increasingly understand ourselves through mechanical robotic concepts and less in psychological terms that had been common beforoe that time.
But the most interesting point in the essay was that psychological descriptors had replaced theological concepts in our conversation.
I believe the lonesomeness of our day is not significantly different than it was decades ago, but the changes in language (influencing self-understanding) has increasingly blinded us to the solution of our loneliness.
In tech thinking, we need more connectedness. In psych terminology, we need therapy. In spiritual terms, we need God.
Knowing God is our mission at Hillcrest. The boy, Samuel, needed to lie down and listen to the Lord. In hearing the Lord's words, he became a prophet in Israel. The zealous Saul of Tarsus, had to be stopped in his ambition to excel above his peers and ask “Who are you, Lord?”
Our students, like Samuel and Saul, will be fulfilled humans when brought to oneness with God. Jesus was sent to grant us the Holy Spirt to indwell us with such intimacy that we would speak to God in familial terms, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6).
Are you feeling alone? Listen to elderly Eli’s words to young Samuel, “say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” You will discover you are not alone!
We in the States were looking forward to relief from political advertisements only to be flooded with Black Friday ads. Both ad blitzes promised us great benefits if we responded positively.
I understand the "Black Friday"; designation has a positive history for retail accountants hoped to switch from red to black pens for their year-to- date income reports when Christmas shopping began. Years later, it became a super-sale event for shoppers. Interestingly, the term also has some negative history. The gold market crashed on this weekend, and the term was used by traffic officers trying to manage the city crowds on the (for many) Thanksgiving Friday holiday.
Money has both positive and negative results. It is a means of expressing loving generosity, which when used in harmony with the Lord’s will, actually translates to eternal treasures. On the other hand, as you know, Scripture warns that the love of money is the root of all types of evil.
But when I think about Black Friday, my thoughts go to another day when the sky turned dark, and blackness fell over the earth. It is the day we call "Good Friday."
Red fluid flowed that day. It flowed until all sin, all moral debts, were paid in full. Coming under Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death, we are credited with His righteousness and our accounts are changed from red to black. We are given an abundant righteousness because His grace is greater than all of our sin.
As we enjoy this Thanksgiving and search Black Friday ads, remember the Lord's invitation to buy eternal life without money and price (see Isaiah 55:1-3). It is a Good Friday, after all!
“School would be wonderful if it were not for all the tests,” a student lamented. It may be a feeling many of us also experience outside of the classroom.
Permit me to take the teacher’s side and say that writing and grading a good test is also difficult.
Good test questions must target important information, central to the purpose of the class. They must distinguish between students who know the material and those who do not. However, a test may measure knowledge but not learning. Let me explain what I mean.
My Testing and Measurements college professor emphasized that learning is more than retaining information. Learning involves choices, behaviors, and attitudes. For example, if someone is taking an auto maintenance class, a test may show if a student knows how often to change engine oil, examine the tires, and check the anti-freeze. My prof said, “You will have to examine the student’s vehicle to evaluate what he/she learned.” Retaining information is knowledge. Acting on the information is learning.
At Hillcrest, we study God’s Word and give tests to evaluate the student’s knowledge. However, our instructors, residence directors, coaches, staff persons, and administrators have a greater goal. It is that students, and ourselves, love and serve the Lord God.
Jesus said His disciples will have learned when they do what He does. He washed their feet and said, “Do you understand [know] what I have done for you? … You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, … Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.”1 “All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.”2 In short, “[E]veryone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”3 Spirit of the Living God.
Some assignments require years of home, or heart, work. President J. H. Levang assigned me one long-termer during my senior year at Hillcrest.
Hillcrest administered a standardized aptitude test to help us identify potential vocations. I received an appointment to discuss the test results with Pastor Levang when I received a copy of my test results. To be frank, I was pleased with my scores for, if I was reading it correctly, it indicated that I was very interested in several different fields. I had a lot of options, and I expected a good session with my advisor.
President Levang seated me across from himself behind his big desk and studied my profile. I don't remember what else he said during my interview except, "Joel, you have a lot of maturing to do. You should be developing strong interests in some careers and less in others.”
I need not describe how I felt when I walked out of his office. However, I will tell you that I’ve often thought about Levang’s insightful observation. It is true that I am curious about many subjects and often feel I need to focus.
James (1:8) says people who lack direction should ask the Lord otherwise they will be “double-minded and unstable in all they do.” Jesus called for us to focus. For example, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Here is a hard statement, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters –yes, even their own life- such a person cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).
Paul stated, “…one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13b- 14).
In the words of one of my pastor-mentors, the lesson is: Eliminate and Concentrate.
Taylor Filippini’s Hillcrest classes in physics, anatomy, and chemistry laid a basic foundation for science. She said her teachers at Hillcrest gave her an eternal perspective, and she found herself drawing closer to God. Taylor noted that her spiritual growth at Hillcrest served to highlight her academic strengths.
Wading through the confusing maze of college applications, Taylor said conversations with respected mentors like Gregg Preston and Steve Undseth calmed her searching heart. “I learned to follow God step by step and trust him to reveal my path.”
After graduating from Liberty, Taylor started work on an MBA in Healthcare Management. She wanted to be involved in meaningful work while continuing her education, so she applied for a fellowship in Duke University’s School of Medicine.
Selected as on one of five, from 150 applicants, Taylor is flexing her administrative muscles in the fellowship program. She is gaining valuable experience, specializing in grant management for federal and foundation grants, contracts, and industry clinical trials. She is working alongside doctors who are conducting groundbreaking research.
Taylor notes that miracles happen frequently in her work. One of the doctors she routinely works with performed the first hand transplant. Others are Nobel Laureates.
Taylor’s personal, volunteer, and academic experience gives her an edge in understanding medical terminology and procedures, enhancing her job managing grants and budgets that makes significant research possible.
“I am the middle man between research and funding. But I love this academic world that is constantly changing and challenging,” Taylor noted. She spoke of her Christian witness, a concept instilled in her through many mission experiences at Hillcrest. “I am in a secular environment--very different from my high school and college...People are watching.Your life is a light and witness for Jesus.”
Yesterday, someone asked me to describe a favorite teacher. After a quick mental scan of excellent instructors, I focused on one, Martin Holoien, and said, "He was able to communicate a concept in two lines, and he used interesting, relevant illustrations to help us understand."
Solomon wrote, “The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.”
He continued, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter; “Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man. “For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or bad.” Ecclesiastes 12:10, 12b-14.
One professional writer told me that he reworks his columns an average of 14 times to be sure his readers will understand and be moved by his words, images, and phrasing. (Sorry, I don’t.)
A good teacher invests time and thought in searching for the best words to communicate what is yet unknown to the students. I believe HLA teachers are committed to the hard work of preparation.
Secondly, an excellent teacher selects the most helpful material, from the host of available recourses, because students will wear out trying to evaluate the overwhelming amount of information in the library, not to mention the internet. Our teachers select their assigned readings with the students’ growth in mind.
Let us hear what the Teacher says, “Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man.”
Because God is the ultimate authority.
He will examine every deed.
The Teacher is clear and concise. With chosen words, the lesson is stated in two lines.
Pray our students will heed it. Pray that we elders will hear and embrace it.
It’s Thursday evening, and my blog is due tomorrow. I'm feeling deadline stress. I'm accountable.
But, I have a greater accountability for “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” Hebrews 4:13).
I graduated Hillcrest in 1959.
Many years later, I drew from my Hillcrest experience when I had to select a password for a computer program. I entered “Romans45” It was my senior verse printed in the Hillcrest Beacon.
It seemed a perfect password because it is my password to enter heaven one day. Romans 4.5 is, "to the one who does not work but trusts God, who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
I believed in Jesus for salvation before I came to Hillcrest as a sophomore. During my three years at Hillcrest, my faith developed something like a brick mason’s wall, one brick at a time. I can think of many student and faculty conversations that nurtured my faith, but I can’t recall one or two major events as many students do.
In fact, I don’t remember how I selected Romans 4.5 as my senior verse, but I know it was, and continues to be, a liberating message for me. It encapsulates the good news of grace that I needed at that time and every day since. Grace is undeserved gifts from God or from others.
I felt unqualified and undeserving of close friendships, being on teams, and certainly, I was not deserving of Jesus Christ. These would be mine only if someone gave me these gifts. I could not earn them. I needed grace, but it was not easy for me to accept grace.
I vividly recall an experience of grace in my first year at Hillcrest. I had tried out for the traveling choir and waited for the day the traveling roster would be posted. Finally, it was. To my delight my name was on the list! I made the choir!
But there is more to the story. Another student on the list who had traveled the previous year, was a tall, outgoing, fun-loving, senior. He was the captain of the basketball team and a quality student. His name was Wes Vall.
To my great surprise, Wes asked me to be his roommate on the choir trip. Maybe shocked is a better word than surprised. I didn’t know if could believe him, but he assured me he was serious.
I had a delightful time rooming with Wes. He was a gracious house guest, led choir devotionals, played practical jokes on other members, and took time for Bible reading each evening. I was honored to be his roommate! After each concert, someone would read the names of the hosts and their choir guests. How neat to hear them call “Wes and Joel, you will be going with this family.”
Why Wes invited me to room with him is a question I can’t answer except that the Lord wanted me to experience grace and Wes was the Lord’s servant to give it to me.
These types of experiences made Romans 4.5 meaningful to me. Grace is for those who do not earn it, do not qualify, who do not deserve the blessing.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but facing one’s fear,” said Coach Werdal.
I was in his office shortly after he had told us football players to turn in our pads if we were going to play fearfully. He said fearful players have a greater risk of injury and have a negative influence on the team’s spirit.
I went to admit that I was often fearful. That was true in other areas in addition to messing up on the football field. That is when he described courage as facing fear, not the absence of fear.
I have thought about Coach’s statement in many different situations these 55 years since I was on the Hillcrest team. I occasionally think of his words as I watch our Comets on the gridiron.
We miss the best of life because of fear. Like Adam, who admitted, “I was afraid …so I hid,” we even hide from our Creator Redeemer!
Jesus, our Savior, faced an infinitely more dangerous opponent than any football team. In facing Satan who was determined to destroy Him, Scripture says that Jesus entered the conflict by looking forward to the joy set before Him.
Jesus knew the suffering He would endure and the death He would experience, but He faced His future with something greater than courage. He was on God’s mission to win freedom for us being held captive by Satan, sin, and death. He looked forward to that outcome!
The joy He saw, of people like us freely enjoying God, receiving and sharing His blessings, and living with Him eternally, caused Him to “endure the cross” and “scorn its shame.” (see Hebrews 12:2)
My desire for you, and for our Hillcrest students, is that we face tomorrow, not with self-generated courage, but carried by the joy Jesus won for us.
Rejoice that Lord Jesus will walk with you each tomorrow until He welcomes you into the eternal today forever captivating you with the joyous fullness of life!