An Ordinarily Extraordinary Day Under the Castle

What is unique about working at the castle?

Armed with a notebook of individual prayer requests and a sheaf of paper containing names and photos of our entire student body, I unlock our prayer room and go in. Within minutes  four parents join me and we circle our chairs in the center of the room. After exchanging pleasantries and some laughter, we systematically go down the lists of student photos, praying for each by name, bringing them to the Throne of Grace.

Once the parents prayer time is done, I walk into the front office and see both the school nurse and school secretary, hands to heaven, spontaneously praying for a need on campus. I respectfully watch this holy moment in wonder--what a privilege we have to carry everything to the Lord in prayer and a work environment that encourages it! 

It is a chapel day. The wood doors are open and students flow in like bees to a hive, finding their friends, and packing in together. Every chair is filled. The band strikes up, voices blend with guitars, keys, and drums and praise fills the air, floods into the hallways, and spills down the outside steps. The mail carrier comes in, lugging an armful of packages from her truck to the office. I wonder what she thinks of this routine day of ours. 

At lunch time, I make my way down to the Student Union and witness a scuffle near the front door. A high school junior is loudly celebrating with fist bumps and high-fives that he successfully memorized his Bible passage for English class.

I join the line forming for lunch--chili and cornbread today--and find a table with two new students from out of state. I lean close to hear them talk about life in the dorms and classes they’re taking while all around us the air is filled with laughter and the clink of silverware. Back in my office at the Castle, three senior journalism students are busy editing photos and working on their various pieces. Worship music plays from one of their computers, providing a soundtrack for the project they're working on. I sit at my desk, picking up my own unfinished project, happy at the bustle of activity and sound around me. Suddenly, I hear laptop computers slap shut and all work ceases. "Guys, we just need to pause and worship." The music kicks back in and I hear three teenage voices rise in sweet, heartfelt harmony over the top of the music from the computer. The work is set aside as the students become more focused on the music and the lyrics that are playing than the work that is scheduled. It is a “Mary Moment” in our Martha World. They are choosing the important thing. I smile and soak in the sound of their worship.

These are a few of the many reasons I love my job.  

This is a somewhat ordinary day at HiIllcrest, something I think is really not ordinary at all.

Dawn Synstelien Comment
Konynenbelt Named Commended Merit Scholar
Eric Horizontal.jpg

Principal Jeff Isaac from Hillcrest Lutheran Academy announced today that Eric Konynenbelt has been named a Commended Student in the 2018 National Merit Scholarship Program. A Letter of Commendation from the school and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), which conducts the program, will be presented by Principal Isaac to this scholastically talented senior. 

About 34,000 Commended Students throughout the nation are being recognized for their exceptional academic promise. Although they will not continue in the 2018 compeition for National Merit Scholarship awards, Commended Students placed amoung the top 50,000 scorers of more than 1.6 million students who entered the 2018 competition by taking the 2016 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT).

"The young men and women being named Commended Students have demonstrated outstanding potential for academic success," commented a spokesperson for NMSC. "These students represent a valuable national resource; recognizing their accomplishments, as well as the key role their schools play in their academic development, is vital to the advance of educational excellence in our nation. We hope that this recognition will help broaden their educational opportunities and encourage them as they continue their pursuit of academic success."

Theology in Parenting

What is it about parenting that relentlessly pummels us at the deepest core of our being; exposing all our insecurities and weaknesses? We give and give, and give some more yet, and at the end of the day still feel we’ve failed at what matters most to us.

Parenting is not first about what we want for our children or from our children, but about what God in grace has planned to do through us in our children.
— Paul David Tripp

Could it be that we need to take one giant Time Out? Is it possible that we are overwhelmed by the endless trees surrounding us that we are unable to locate the forest? In his book “Parenting; 14 Gospel Principles,” Paul David Tripp says that what most Christians lack is a Big Picture Parenting Worldview. Consumed by the tyranny of the urgent and the endless list of good things we attempt to do as parents, we find ourselves depleted and discouraged. We have lost our way. We need help.

Many of you who are reading this are parents of teenagers. You are not newbies to the parenting gig, but you may be novices at the whole adolescent thing. Where is the child who used to sit and watch you shave, who laughed at all your jokes, and couldn’t sit close enough to you on the couch? You look at this young person who rivals you in height and has surpassed you in technology and you can hear the clock ticking down as time with him under your roof is running out. You are afraid of what lies ahead, remorseful of past mistakes and missed opportunities. You need grace.

I remember the day our first child was placed in my arms. I was under the misconception that, since I grew this child in my own personal body and paid the bill to bring her home, she belonged to me. What can feel more gloriously consuming than a helpless newborn breathing their shallow little breaths against your neck? You sigh as you roll your eyes toward heaven and your heart whispers, “Mine...all mine.

Successful parenting is not about achieving goals (that you have no power to produce) but about being a usable and faithful tool in the hands of the One who alone is able to produce good things in your children.
— Paul David Tripp

I discovered early on, that children are not sweet little lumps of malleable clay.They have thoughts. They have opinions. They say and do things that make no sense at all. I learned, among other things, “You can set a child on the potty but you can’t make her pee.” Trying to force my will employing a loud voice and big stick only led to frustration on my part and provocation in the heart of my child. The stage was set for conflict. Do we want to die on the hill of My Will Be Done or is there something bigger?

Parents who believe they own their children seek to gain a sense of value and self-worth from them. They tend to take their child’s misbehavior and failures personally. They are often quick to anger and quick to punish. They see their offspring as projects they can mold into whatever they choose. Children become trophies; a child’s successes in academics, music, sports,and even good behavior validate the parents’ competency and feeds a false sense of power and control. When children fail to meet social markers of success, parents are left angry and disappointed.

Where is our hope, our joy, our sense of mission in parenting? Is it not to acknowledge that our children first belong to God? That they are given to us for a divine purpose that will change us both? What if you found out you were working really hard at things that weren’t all that important to God?

The fact is that we are called to parent broken sinners who are incapable of meeting our needs. They do have the amazing capacity to bring us to the end of ourselves where true change can finally begin. Parenting is humbling. Parenting is messy in every possible way. But out of this messiness and humility, God can produce beautiful trophies out of us and our children that shine for him and reflect the redemptive work only Jesus can accomplish.

Questions: Can you think of a situation from your own family that might suggest you are parenting out of a sense of ownership? In what areas of your parenting do you need to rely more on God’s grace?


Dawn SynstelienComment
5 Ways to Build Your Parenting Team

Human beings are wired for connection. From the Creator’s own commentary of his crowning handiwork in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone,” to Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, “Christ makes us one body and individuals who are connected to each other,” we are clearly designed to thrive in community. While some mavericks among us may chafe at the phrase, “It takes a village,” seldom is our need for supportive relationships more crucial than in the raising, and releasing, of our children.

Recent studies show that it takes meaningful relationships with 6-8 adults for a young believer to transition successfully through high school and college with an intact faith. How and where do parents find these influential people to mentor and model a believing lifestyle for their child?


It would not be wise to suppose that you and your spouse are all that your children need as they mature into adulthood. Ask that the Lord of the Harvest bring laborers to partner with you in cultivating the soil of your student’s heart with the ultimate goal of harvesting a fruitful life.


Take a good look at people closest to you first. Look for those who are already organically involved with/invested in your child--family members; aunts, uncles, older cousins. Then broaden your scope to include those in their wider circle; teachers, coaches, and members of your church and community. Don’t overlook people you think might be too old or too busy. Take note of men and women of character and integrity who could nurture these same qualities in your student. Consider adults who might share a hobby with your child as a natural entry point or someone whose career your student is interested in pursuing.


Everyone understands the energy it takes to parent young children, but we tend to underestimate the mental energy it takes to manage teenagers. Leave margins in your own schedule so you can be available when your son or daughter wants to talk.

I am not a “night owl” but my five teenagers were notorious for wanting to talk as I was on my way to bed. I needed to mentally make room for these untimely interactions. Also, be ready to take full advantage of random errands and car time for meaningful discussions that seem to drop out of nowhere. Such are often divine appointments--don’t miss them. This is not a stage of life to overcommit to outside pursuits and suppose that your teen is able to run on auto-pilot, or that your job is pretty much over.

Your son or daughter still desperately needs your attention, involvement, and presence regardless of what they may project to the contrary. This is a time to sharpen your listening skills and learn to ask good questions, to share your own story, including your honest struggles regarding the Christian faith. Hillcrest uses Cultivate as a resource for ideas in conversation starters. Check out their website:


We were going through an intense time with our oldest child, a high school sophomore, a number of years ago. I was meeting with a pastoral friend of ours who sat, patiently listening, while I expounded my woes with much weeping and gnashing of teeth. When I had exhausted myself in despair, he leaned forward and looked straight into my weary eyes and smiled, “I cannot wait to see what God will Dawn.” I was stunned. Do in Dawn?! Had he not been listening? I was not the problem or the work in progress here...or was I?

There is nothing like having a questioning mind in the house to make you examine your own heart and goals in life. What are some areas in which God may be calling you to personal growth? How much does your student see you valuing the input of others in this process?  

Humility acknowledges the need for outside perspective, yet it is hard to model something you don’t fully embrace. Acknowledge your own need of instruction and the wisdom of others. Let your children see your respect for those who have impacted your life and share those valuable contributions. Who have been people of influence in your walk with the Lord? What character qualities did they have in common?



This past weekend I was able to spend time with my grown, daughter who lives with her husband three hours away. We were goofing around and took a selfie for me to post on Facebook. I asked her, “Do you know why I look so great in this picture?” She laughed at my unabashed assessment of my appearance. I answered my own question. “Because I am so happy. I’m with you and that makes me happy.” Our children need to hear messages like this. It is important for each of us to know that we belong to something bigger--that we are individually essential to the benefit of the whole. 

That is why you are no longer foreigners and outsiders but citizens together with God’s people and members of God’s family. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone. In him all the parts of the building fit together and grow into a holy temple in the Lord. Through him you, also, are being built in the Spirit together with others into a place where God lives.
— Ephesians 2:19-22

Demonstrate through your words and example the importance of being connected with other Christians. Encourage your pending graduate to seek and pursue relationships that challenge them to be the person God has called them to be. As they make plans to leave home, join them in visiting prospective churches near their new neighborhoods and discuss what sort of fellowship they’d like to connect with and serve.

As a parent of adult children, nothing brings me more joy than seeing my offspring involved in ministry; mentoring teens, leading small groups of young couples, teaching Sunday school, and volunteering in the church nursery. Together with our forebears, our children, and later our children’s children, we are living stones and we are called to apprentice the next generation for their place in this holy habitation known as The Church--God’s grand design from the beginning of time.

3 Reasons We Need an Archaic Faith

The world spins in a pattern of 500 year cycles. Embedded in each 500 year cycle are paradigm shifts in transportation, communication, technology, faith, and science. Man is different in the throughs of the cycles.

Some say we're at the top of the bellcurve of a cycle. Ancestors from 250 years ago are nearly unrecognizable. And while powdered wigs and wooden teeth are happily historical artifacts, the shift in faith may be the most damaging change over the last two centuries.

 Caroline Rasmussen, Ida Walen, and Marie Harstad were 1904 graduates of the Lutheran Bible School, what later spun-off HIllcrest Academy. Their Biblically-based training with mentors who loved Scripture propelled them to China before a worldwide effort to evangelize the populated country at that time.

Caroline Rasmussen, Ida Walen, and Marie Harstad were 1904 graduates of the Lutheran Bible School, what later spun-off HIllcrest Academy. Their Biblically-based training with mentors who loved Scripture propelled them to China before a worldwide effort to evangelize the populated country at that time.

The Barna Group recently interviewed 14,000 people for the American Bible Society. For the first time in recorded history the number of Bible skeptics is larger than the number of people engaging Scriptures daily. At the same time, 68% of Americans believe the Bible is a comprehensive guide to living a meaningful life. What replaced the Bible is peeling the skin off humanity, and there is a desperate need to pick up the Bible and reorient life. Here are three fundamental reasons the world needs to study the archaic Christian faith, and get back to a Biblically-based view of the world.

The Bootstraps Aren't Long Enough, Edna

Caught in the historical timeline sits Edna. The fabricated woman is a midwest farmer's wife whose standstill on the time line in history is caused by the fact that she can't pick herself up, the bootstraps aren't long enough.

Since John Dewey's emergence at the turn of the 20th century, American schools have slowly shifted their source of ultimate truth away from a Biblical root to something manmade. Dewey rested on Science. Some leaders in education are sliding further from Dewey, driving students inward to discover ultimate reality. From imploring self-ascribed sexual preference to propelling students to write how they feel about history, the shift in American education is leaning clearly ego-centric. The move from a Biblical root is paving the path for post-truth thinking, a new idea recently recognized by most dictionaries as a tight hold on reality depending on how one feels rather than facts and documents.

The problem with these moves in education is the bootstraps aren't long enough. At the end of the day reality comes rushing in like a blunt force object. No matter how many times the universe is explained without God, there are four fundamental elements no human source can create or identify their roots; time, space, matter and energy. Science and personal beliefs are still incapable of creating these four things to initiate the start of the universe.  

Logic drives science to the need for a higher power that generated time, matter, space, and energy. And while Science fiddles with leather straps, working to pull itself up to real world relevance, a Biblically-based perspective rests. It rests in the simple truth that of all the world religions only the Bible identifies a holistic worldview that holds a God both loving and organized enough to form a universe that propagates human beings who care for the poor for no self benefit. The Christian perspective enhances human care and concern, while explaining harsh realities like time, matter, energy, space, and gravity. At least, gravity is a harsh reality for me after a pan of meatloaf.

Maslow's Mischievous Mistake

Most college students know Maslow. In the 1960's, Abraham Maslow formed a theory to identify what motivates people to satisfaction. Through his study he found that food and water, basic needs, were essential if man was to be motivated to live a good life. From there, safety and security would drive man to seek love and belonging. Once the needs of relationship were met, Maslow found that man could achieve esteem, the prestige and feeling of accomplishment, which would drive man to the ultimate goal, self-actualization. Maslow's hierarchy of needs moves from one pleasure to the next in a figure of self-determination toward satisfaction.

On this pyramid modern man was formed, and as Maslow's hierarchy formed crude limbs it pumped hard on the chest of a lifeless worldview. As the idea was modernized, the breath of Biblical explanation wafted out of nominal Christian thinkers who found another reason to trust science over the Biblical account. Science revealed what drove humans to create. Mankind found purpose and meaning in being happy, but the pursuit of happiness leads off a cliff for most in Maslow's hierarchy. 

Maslow's studies were wholly flawed. He identified less than 10% of the human population capable of being whole in his hierarchy. Meanwhile, the Bible's explanation of mankind enables everyone, and stands unmoved in the wind.

According to the archaic Biblical model, man is self-actualized when he breathes. Man bears the image of God. And with this image come a setup of dominoes that simple belief and action force a chain of events leading humans to holistic living in a Biblically-based model.

After recognizing the incredible reality of resembling the intelligent creator, humankind is set off to practice and hone creativity. We might call it building esteem. We build respect and admiration for the creator when we creates. Ask some of the greatest scientists in history who actually identified rules and realities set in motion by the Creator and you'll find a love and esteem in acquiring knowledge of the universe.

Newton, Galileo, Boyd, and even Einstein all noted that there is something more intelligent and powerful at work in the universe. In their marvelous discoveries they celebrate and praise the consistency of the universe. Through their findings they found self-esteem, not because they built it, but because they recognized and trusted the work of the Creator in building purpose. Recently, computer scientists working with the Discovery Institute in the realm of DNA and gene mapping have noted the information system in our cells is an advanced computer storage system unlike anything man has ever developed. Genesis 2 shows Adam building esteem as he names the animals. In a Biblical form, when students are at school and adults study and hone a craft, esteem is built, without the reliance on outside factors like Maslow posited. I like the Biblical model.

However, with the decline in Biblical literacy, most students study 40 hours of Maslow's views with little-to-no Biblical insight, throwing graduation caps in an effort to gain satisfaction, recognition, and purpose. The danger in liberal thinking is the self-made man finds satisfaction. In reality, Maslow's man is on a cavernous hunt for pleasure, climbing a pyramid of outside forces for self-actualization. Standing movements in history are built on archaic faith, not liberal thinking. Biblically-based perspectives propagated western civilization, and are slowly eradicated poverty much like the progress Maslow sought to recreate in his hierarchy. A Biblically-based view humanizes mankind from conception, not relying on their perception or reception in the world.

The 106.5 Year Test

Recently we published an article on our oldest alumni, Minnie Nelson. We published another article beside it noting the staying hand of the Lord on Hillcrest during the Great Depression. The 1930's cut the number of Lutheran boarding schools in half following the dust bowl. A Hillcrest alumnus wrote to me shortly after the publication. He noted what I call Maslow's Push, a movement in academia and school choice to meet base biological needs. Clothes, shelter, and food are primary drivers for most parents. If their kids have base needs met it opens a path for progress and satisfaction. For many, school is a place for students to learn a trade or develop an intellect to become consumers, people designed to produce and consume to their satisfaction, safety, and comfort.

An alumnus wrote to us after receiving the publication. He noted the difference in his mother's education, who attended Hillcrest during the depression era, from the modern era. His mother's drive in high school training brought an understanding of God and His world. Her ability to produce and care was built on an identity and connection with the Creator and Caretaker. 

Minnie's story is somewhat sad. She attended Hillcrest for a year. Life-threatening ailments cut her time at the Castle short, but not before she spent a year in a Biblically-based environment. In my interview with her I was shocked at the things she couldn't remember about her time at Hillcrest. The dorm rooms and names of friends were unrecognizable. She looked in the distance like looking through opaque glass, squinting in an effort to remember small details of things she said were significant. However, when we began talking about the spiritual impact God made on her during her time at Hillcrest, the alumna recalled with clarity, breaking into song and citing Bible verses. She said one teacher told her to study the Bible like a cow chews its cud. She told me at the end of the interview that Hillcrest made a great impact on her and her faith. Her identity was founded on something that poverty, a failing memory, illness, or the Great Depression couldn't take from her.

It was during the depression era that my friend, Minnie Nelson, attended Hillcrest. And at 106.5 years she looked weathered. However, her family felt it wholly necessary for her to study the Bible to prepare her for difficult times. That's what prompted the letter from the alumnus' letter after we published the two stories. Take a look below and consider for yourself why training in an archaic faith may be the most important investment you make:

When I saw the story of the Bible School in the Great Depression I thought, "Who goes and studies the Bible in the Great Depression?" Today we send kids off to college to earn a skill to make money...not to become a Bible scholar...certainly not to go to a Bible School like LBS which just studied the Bible...not other vocational courses with a Bible class or two in today's Christian Colleges. Somehow, going off to study the Bible for a year seems too impractical today...yet my mother did this and as a result had a level of Biblical literacy that I'm sure neither any of you or my grand kids have today. She saw it as essential to know scripture and understand it to just live as an effective Christian going to Bible School didn't sound so crazy if your faith was important to you. I don't think she ever, in all the time I lived with her, missed a time of daily devotional Bible reading and prayer...a discipline that few have today. The memory of her inspires me a new to more disciplined in this area.

Hillcrest incorporates Bible study into every academic study. One Junior High student told their teacher, Ms. Ronnevik, that they felt they their Bible class was more like a history class and their history class was like a Bible class. Sit in Hillcrest's marketing class and you'll hear the teacher note the marketing principles they're studying are God's design. When they open Scripture the teacher spends time pausing to identify the marketing principles inside Scripture by going through history and the communication channels during that time. English class is an exercise in seeing eternal truths, found first in scripture, bubbling inside Shakespeare, Crane, and Hawthorne. History class is an endeavor of seeing God cause nations to rise and fall, noting what happens when a nation bows its knee to Jesus Christ. Hillcrest's STEM program pauses to marvel at the creative structure of the universe. Studying at Hillcrest is a practical exercise of seeing the Bible explain the world. There is a deep study of how general revelation is supported by the fundamental truths of special revelation. Faith and knowledge are integrated as Hillcrest works to build faith, develop intellect, and strengthen character. Spend time at Hillcrest and you'll see students get so much more than a diploma at the Castle. There is a strong case made for studying an archaic faith at Hillcrest.

Wayne StenderComment
Dissecting the School Theme

Students heard the value of a consistent, coherent, and complete view of the world as Principal Isaac and Wayne Stender teamed up to dissect the school theme.

Principal Isaac revealed that every student needs to address the question of what caused everything in the universe, going into the reason everything looks and appears structured and designed. Mr. Stender asked how the world views explain why things are broken in the world. Racism and power struggles are some of the palpable issues recently facing students that Mr. Stender used as examples of brokenness. Principal Isaac then asked how we fix these problems, and what humankind turns to in fixing and redeeming the brokenness of the world. Mr. Stender then closed by asking what we're working towards and why peace and harmony are sought after in worldviews that say the universe came to exist in chaos and order. In all of this, students heard a special presentation for why a Biblically-based view of the world makes sense.

The Fight For Equality with God

Yesterday I saw some graffiti under a bridge in Fergus Falls. I paused for a minute, feeling an attraction to it. The graffiti read "Respect Existence or Expect Resistance." Sticking my chest out a few inches and clinching my fist, I dropped my head. My fight for existence isn't with man, my battle for equality is with God.

Recent race-laced riots have left communities in mourning. Some mourn the loss of history, others mourn the loss of life. The battle seems to be a fight for equality, and for what the Fergus Falls tagger calls respect for existence. The lack of respect is real, and oftentimes palpable. In my response I realize that the battle for equality is a war waged in my heart, and likely the heart in all of humankind. While we think we battle flesh and blood, our true fight for equality is with God.

Most of us live lives where simply existing is the ultimate goal. We want to be able to eat, work, play, and procreate, all on our time. When we are in control we feel like things go better. When things don't go our way we can sometimes create chaos until we're back in control. Welcome to the world of evolution.

Rather than appeal to a design or order, most of our culture conflicts are settled in power grabs. We live-out evolution. The strong grow louder until opposition is deafened, revealing weaknesses until the unfit shrink away in irrelevance. The strong survive and the weak are scared away to disappear. My self-preservation is the primary goal. Failure is the worst, and weakness and subservience is disrespectful to the value I have given myself. My battle with God is a battle for equality. I want to determine my value, not trust God's picture of worth.

In the Christian worldview, however, my value is not tied to my opinion of success or strength. My value is tied-in with the humility and brokenness of the crucifixion. In the chaos of Christ dying on the cross we find life. Not because God displayed dominance over sin, but because God revealed the power of love. In the crucifixion we find the value of man, and we're exalted. Our design is not to be equal with God, but we are most whole when we rest within God's character; and whether you look at residing in Christ through the crucifixion in Galatians 2:20 or the vine and branches of John 14:16-17, it is plain to the reader that our value is endowed, not earned.

So, the battle isn't so much with each other, but in the way we understand how the world operates. Many of us are taught that we have value because we have taken control of situations and exerted dominance to make it work our way. We learn this in school. High school students are often taught how the world operates without God, and they're encouraged to take control and manipulate patterns and organization found in this godless world for their benefit. 

But in the Christian perspective students are taught the organization of the world through God's creative order. Everything has relationship. So, chaos is to be avoided. Power struggles harm and hurt God's design. Humankind exists not because we have fought for existence, but because we bear an image that was endowed by our Creator. So, the reality of inequality isn't with man, it's with God. Man's fight is often to build his own world inside God's world, and the power struggle commences. This is most poignantly seen in the fall of man, where Adam and Eve ate the fruit to know good and evil, and earn their equality with God (Gen. 3:5). That fight to earn equality caused the world to operate outside of God's design, and death, disease, famine, and the like followed in man's wake to resist the design of God in a fight for equality.

In understanding this cultural moment it is important to ask what equality means and what we're fighting for. God gave us this earth to bear his image in organizing it to flourish (Gen. 1:28). How we're taught to relate to the world and order it to flourish has everything to do with our view of our place in God's design. We are to halt the chaos of violence and bring order to the relationships God ordained in the Universe. In our broken world, we find this most powerfully in the restoration God is bringing to the world after the redemptive and finished work of Christ on the cross.

It is eternally significant to invest in a correct Biblical perspective of the world for high school students. Students need to see that their existence is not tied to their ability to defend their voice or their rights. This is part of the reason we believe Hillcrest's theme of Square One has cultural relevance. It drives students to consider the design in creation, the brokenness in the fall, the power of the redemption in Jesus Christ, and the priceless value of restoration in living inside God's design.

Throughout the year Hillcrest students will rebuild an identity that is found wholly in Christ, listening carefully to how he might be calling them to be culture restorers, leading their generation to greater flourishing in the design and hope of Jesus Christ.

Wayne StenderComment
When the Bible Doesn't Reach Beyond Morality

"Only 8 people survived? No way!" The student's comment surprised me. We were at a Christian camp, the small group leader had his finger in his Bible, and this student didn't believe a word of it. His reference to Noah's ark was just the tip of the iceberg. I was brought in for answers. I wondered what truth he was hoping to get from me as I quietly shuffled in my backpack for my Bible, praying for confidence.

The line of questions started with the student asking me if it was a sin to name your baby 'jesus'. His questions were followed with a series of queries from me. If I was going to help this small group of young boys at Bible camp, I'd better find out where they were coming from.

There was a gentle breeze that cooled us off as we sat under a tall pine tree. My hands propped me up as I intently listened to their answers. They were a group of boys who hadn't met before camp. One was an athlete, another liked Pokémon. Two quiet boys flanked the talkative ones. The quiet ones had answers, but kept quiet.

My new friends were church veterans. Three of the four wore polos to session. They all stacked their plates after lunch and bowed their heads when conversation grew serious. They took notes, the pages on their Bibles were folded in, and their backpacks had a supply of pens. They said they went to Sunday school, but it was clear they weren't buying the Bible beyond morality.

That's when the question about 8 people on a boat above a worldwide flood came. I paused after they floated their question, retreating to a world of black and white for what felt like a series of hours. I was transported to memories of my mom reading a children's Bible in a weather-tattered farmhouse, a scene in my kindergarten classroom where my teacher was holding a small Bible in leading the class in a round of "Jesus loves me", and my sixth grade classroom where I heard, for the first time in memory, the overarching story of the Bible. The black and white mental pictures flashed quick with images of the Hillcrest Castle, a Bible under a desk lamp, and a vignetted picture of me shaking hands with Chuck Colson popping into focus before I shook myself awake to address the question. There was some history to the answers that I gave. I'd spent a lifetime of learning preparing for these questions. 

I worked to open a door to learning rather than dogmatically tear apart their question. I shared evidence for the flood that transcends pop-science.

I explained how, in studying language, we see that the Chinese symbols for boat and flood holding a Biblical context that is unique to the Genesis stories. I explained that history is filled with ancient stories, passed down through generations. Many stories about the foundation of the earth are followed by a flood story in ancient cultures.

I went on to share that the geologic record lends a sample of evidence that water covered the entire earth, and there were living things before the water occupied the earth that are now fossilized because of the geologic phenomena that are recorded in Scripture.

In closing, I shared that they are going to put their faith in something at the end of the day. But a world without God is a dangerous world. Without God, following science, Hitler should've been permitted to continue evolutionary development through the Holocaust. But, a world with people who live a Biblical-view bring life. William Wilberforce fought world-wide movements to silence his outcry against slavery. National economies depended on the slave trade, and Wilberforce's faith in God and education to see the world from God's perspective led him to fight slavery for over four decades. The Bible gives morals, but its active gift to the world encompasses much more.

The point of education is salvation. The world believes we can save ourselves through study, developing knowledge, and achieving wisdom. The Bible teaches that all attempts to save ourselves lead to disorder and confusion. However, in believing the Bible and trusting the redemptive and restorative work of Jesus on the cross, man sees that God holds all things together, and is the redemptive and restorative agent in the world. Man is then called to align with the reality of scripture and engage the world to flourish the way God designed it to flourish.

A recent Barna survey of 1100 college students asked what the purpose of education is. The Evangelicals were divided from the pack by pre-survey answers. 11 distinct questions about God and church history separated Christians from the rest of the pack. In the survey about the purpose of college, only 9% of Evangelicals said school was expected to grow their faith. 9% of atheists surveyed agreed.

There is a problem with how we view education. Barna found that 70% of evangelicals go to college to increase their financial opportunities. After my question-and-answer session with the four boys, I think for many the pathway of education is focused on earthly thoughts that are no heavenly good. 

Education drives students to deeper faith, whether we acknowledge it or not. High school is the fundamental place students begin unifying their world. In most public schools, students are taught about the world from a godless perspective. Students are taught the best ideas to come up with the world without an active god-like creative force. So, naturalistic explanations come into play and man's wisdom is being praised.

In a Biblical perspective students hear a more unifying truth. In order for things to be designed there has to be a designer. From this, students begin to process what this means in terms of organizing mathematics, language, government, the arts, and other academic disciplines. Every study in academia drives students to see the organization in the universe and God is praised for his creative order. All of education is faith formation. Students are either taught to trust themselves and other man-made ideas, or they trust the order and design of God, found in Scripture and their study of the universe. 

A Godless religion continues to infiltrate our thinking, teaching us that the ultimate goal of education is to achieve, which is an evolutionary thought. The Christian perspective is that education drives us to be better caretakers, who enhance the earth and make it more abundant to the glory of God. The Bible reaches beyond morality, do you believe it?

Wayne StenderComment
2 Tips to Help Parents Transition from Caretaker to Coach

In the beginning are the parents...and they do it all. Mom literally breathes, nourishes, and filters blood for a helpless, prenatal person within the safe haven of her own body. Once the child is out and about, Mom and Dad continue to think for him; to determine when he is hot or cold, hungry or tired. They thoughtfully research the best car seats, diaper brands, and organic baby foods--choosing his playmates and managing his every waking, and sleeping, moment.

Fast forward eighteen years to see an adult who is expected to responsibly drive himself hither and yon, clothe and feed his own person, and positioned to make vital decisions that will direct the course of his life--to find a spouse, choose a career, and embrace for himself an identity that reflects what he believes and values. So much has transpired in less than two decades with the parents’ roles morphing as dramatically as the child’s growth! To their dismay, many discover that what constitutes good parenting of a newborn is not healthy parenting of a senior in high school. Ultimately, and ideally, what must happen during these years, and certainly from here on out, is the transfer of power and dependence. How graciously parents are able to navigate this exchange will set the tone for all future interactions and, hopefully, a lifelong, intergenerational friendship.

Holding On and Letting Go

The process of letting go is different for every family and even for every child within a family. Some children demand the reins prematurely, yanking them from startled parents who are left to nurse rope-burned hands. Still others are content to continue in the nest of dependency and need coaxing and coaching to stretch and flex their untried wings. Regardless of where you are at in this transfer with your teen, whether just beginning junior high or about to close the high school chapter, it is not too early (or too late) to begin the process of letting go. Be open about your intentions. Discuss the responsibilities that will accompany each stage of newfound independence. Set aside time on your calendar for periodic meetings with your student--maybe monthly breakfast dates, or a weekly trip to a coffee shop. There are many resources out there to get you started or provide direction. Check out for more ideas.

Building Rites of Passage

Adolescence provides some rituals for marking important rites of passage. Most churches commemorate the completion of confirmation, baptism, or catechism classes. Many 16 year-olds realize the adult responsibility awarded to them when they receive their driver’s license or get their first real job. But high school graduation is, without question, the main event heralding official adulthood as students prepare to leave home and the only life they have ever known. Some families get really creative at marking this milestone with creative customs of their own design.

Consider assembling a scrapbook for your child, celebrating not only physical growth but their spiritual development as well. Ask for contributions from key adults in your student’s life--aunts, uncles, teachers, coaches, and family friends. Include handwritten Advice to the Grad, or ask participants to expound on one specific characteristic they have seen in your child. Add your own notes including meaningful verses and special memories. I know families who plan a special dinner out with just their student where they might present a ring or other significant article of jewelry. Still others take their son or daughter on a trip to a location none of them have visited before, symbolizing this new phase of life which is also an uncharted adventure. You might want to host a meal that includes adults who have impacted your child spiritually. Set aside time after dinner to pray together and speak a blessing over your graduate. In all the pomp and circumstance, the physical prep of an elaborate grad party, or the details of a university launch, don’t lose sight of the spiritual and emotional significance of what is about to transpire.

I’m asking God to give you a gift from the wealth of his glory. I pray that he would give you inner strength and power through his Spirit. Then Christ will live in you through faith. I also pray that love may be the ground into which you sink your roots and on which you have your foundation. This way, with all of God’s people you will be able to understand how wide, long, high, and deep his love is. You will know Christ’s love, which goes far beyond any knowledge. I am praying this so that you may be completely filled with God.
— Ephesians 3:16-19
Summer Contacts Bear Fruit for Staff

Rings of water puddle under lemonade on backyard patios. Facebook inbox dings interrupt morning coffee. Slapping mosquitos on the board walk at Bible camps. These are a few quick snapshots from Hillcrest staff who are continuing to connect with students during the summer.

One interaction with a former international student popped into email inboxes this week. The student was raised in a country where religious practices aren't normal. The student's Hillcrest experience set him up for a life of eternal significance that is bearing fruit in college.

The student was raised in what he calls a sorrow-free environment. He was satisfied with a life without God, never feeling pushed to search for answers to big questions before his fourteenth birthday. But a neighbor met him on a sidewalk one day and opened a new world to the student. It was shortly before this student would travel to the United States for school, and their sidewalk conversations led the student to consider big questions in life. 

The student wondered why he hadn't been brought to big questions before. He found a horizon that was bursting with color as he explored ultimate purpose and meaning. He found intense interest in the Bible, learning about the Gospel through stories of life-change in Biblical characters and Christians he was meeting in his home country. 

The student ventured to a boarding school with his fledgling faith and big questions. The school threw weight on the student. Regulations and forcing fruit caused slow faith growth and the student's faith and questions seemed to shrivel. The student looked for other boarding school options with greater grace to open fields of freedom. 

The student came to Hillcrest in his junior year. Through dorm interactions and classroom discussions the student found mentorship and friendship. In his senior year the student was called to practice his faith, explaining fundamental insights in Christianity to searching roommate. The student was mentored in his discussions with his roommate, seeking answers from Hillcrest staff while finding love and support. 

In Graduating from Hillcrest, the student said he was leaving with a deeper knowledge of the Bible, drawing him into deeper faith. He is quoted in the school newspaper saying, "Leaving Hillcrest, I want to study more about God - Learn more about Him." 

After graduation a host of Hillcrest staff reached out to the graduates. A letter writing station was set up where Hillcrest students sent notes of encouragement to the graduates from the year before. Facebook messages started trains of conversation where big questions were followed by quick updates and emojis. 

Through Facebook staff heard the student made a strong commitment to a church, being encouraged to do so as the student approached graduation at Hillcrest. The church called the student to deeper faith, encouraging the student to rest in the gift of baptism. The student wrote to Hillcrest's staff member: "I was told the importance of being baptized, so I decided that I cannot wait anymore. The biggest thing I learned these days is the resurrection is happening everyday in our life. I appreciate everything you taught me about Our Lord Jesus in Hillcrest."

The student is in summer school now, volunteering at a local hospital. He continues to attend church on Sundays, going to various Bible studies throughout the week. He told the staff member, "I need the Word of God. It is life to me!"

The student was asked how we can pray for him. He said, "That I will grow more and more in the things of God's spirit." So, the staff member prayed with him on the phone, and then had the student pray for her. And he made her cry. He prayed for all of HIllcrest, the teachers and staff, he prayed for our students this year and those who have graduated. 

The student spoke of his Hillcrest roommate who was searching. They are planning to connect in the coming years. Their questions formed at Hillcrest are an ongoing conversation that drives the students to deeper discussions and thoughts on God and His character, with the student pulling the conversation to Scripture.

Preparing students to live lives or eternal significance is happening. Students come to us for such a short time and we launch them out, unfinished and incomplete. But God is at work to finish what he's begun, equipping them with everything they need for purpose and godliness. 

We thank God that we get to partner with Him in this amazing, life-transforming work of grace! Good things are happening, friends! What more can we expect in the year ahead?

Wayne StenderComment