Made for Eternity

“We are not human beings with spiritual experiences.  We are spiritual beings with a human experience.”  – Douglas Fisk

Today we went to the funeral home and said goodbye to Great-grandpa Fisk, who departed this life on February 16th, just last weekend.  Friday was the Memorial Service, and due to snow in Kansas City (a LOT of it!), only one of the three children made it on that day, and so Jonathan spoke as a grandson on behalf of his father, Grandpa Fisk’s eldest son.  Nathan joined his dad, closing his remarks by reading the words to the poem, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” one of great-grandpa’s favorite hymns and particularly noteworthy because Grandpa was so gentle that the chickadees would land in his hand to eat birdseed.

Today finally all three children were here- Jonathan’s Dad, his Uncle Jim, and his Aunt Ginny.  It was a time of remembrance and a time for celebrating the rich heritage that great-grandpa had left behind.  David was comforting Nathan, remembering something that grandpa had said more than once, that “we are not physical beings with spiritual experiences, but we are spiritual beings with a human experience.”  It was such a remarkable thought and yet so completely true.  This life is but the beginning; it is not the end.  We were made for eternity.

And as I contemplated this, some of the stress I was feeling over not feeling well, issues at school that need attention, emails needing responses, over not being sure we could get out of Kansas City before the next snowstorm hit, all of it began to take on a new shape.  Jim remarked that the poem Nathan had read “His Eye is on the Sparrow” did not contain two lines that must have been added to the song from the original poem:

“I sing because I’m happy.  I sing because I’m free.  His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over me.”

Clearly grandpa’s body no longer houses grandpa.  Clearly it is just a shell, devoid of his spirit.  The once booming tenor voice is now silent.  But he sang in life because he was happy and knew he was free.  He knew the truth that had set him free.  And now, free even from the infirmities of mind and body that had accompanied his 93 years on earth, we know he is singing still, in the presence of the Lord he so loved.

Usually I only post about things on this blog that have to do with school in some way, and I’m not sure this one does exactly.  And yet what we are about is pointing young people to Jesus, to what is eternal and beautiful and good.  Jesus knew his time on earth was short, a mission trip, so to speak.  He had come with the mission of setting humanity free from the bondage of sin.  That describes us too- we are on a mission trip- all of life is mission.  Home is not here.  Home is there.  With Him.  Forever.

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Only Half the Story

Over the past several weeks, I have been involved in multiple conferences with staff members and a few parents over different situations involving unkind remarks made by one child to another.  These can be very hurtful, and whether it is two junior high students texting each other or two little primary students bursting into tears because they feel left out by their friend at recess, these are part and parcel of what it means for our children to be in community with other sinners.  Community is not a 1950’s black and white movie with a sunny day, a bandstand, and everyone in their best dresses and suits on a Sunday afternoon picnic together.  Community is messy.  It involves people being confronted when they sin, hopefully repenting, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, being forgiven.

God has been teaching me much through this season of conflict amongst some of our students.  Here are just a few of the things I am learning…

Part One:  The First Half of the Story

Words can hurt- far more than sticks and stones- and they do make marks on us.  I did an illustration with the junior high students last week where I gave them all a clean sheet of paper (this was not my idea- I got it from a parent).  I had them fold it, and then I asked them to try and get the fold out.  They could not.  No matter how much you tried, the fold was still there, visible in some way.  Once the paper was folded, it could not be unfolded.  Then I had them scrunch up the paper and try and make it right again- of course it was covered with folds and marks and no longer suitable for writing.  Over a lifetime, harsh words can mar us.  We need to teach our children the power of the tongue to hurt.

Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days,

keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from speaking lies.

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34:11-14

Part Two: The Second Half of the Story

But this is the good news!  That is only half the story!  God can take that folded piece of paper, no longer suitable for writing, and make it into something new.  He can mold it into a shape of His choosing.  He can give us compassion for those who have been through the same thing, an attentiveness to the lonely person who is on the fringes, an understanding for the one who is hurting.  He can also make us stronger in ways we would not have imagined.  We no longer have to live as victims, fearful of the next strong breeze.  We understand that we are both victim and perpetrator.  We have done things that are just as bad as what has been done to us because sin is sin.

That is not to say that there doesn’t come a time when some separation is necessary or that we shouldn’t confront sin.  Not at all.  There are times that we have to remove ourselves from someone who continues to hurt us without regard or remorse.  However, we don’t have to live in bitterness of soul.  We can forgive even without the other person repenting.  Not that the consequences go away- there may still be a breach of trust, and the hurt is still there.  But God really is big enough to heal that hurt and to draw us to Himself, and then send us out again into the world as warriors for Him, wounded but ready to fight, clothed in the full armor of God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Some Other Observations

a)     We cannot shield our children from all hurt.  Arborbrook is not a Christian bubble- the sin within is just as potent and harmful as the sin without.  We should be grieved by sin, but we shouldn’t be surprised by it.  Like Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Masque of the Red Death,” when wealthy party-goers lock themselves in away from the world (and the plague outside the walls), but discover too late that the plague is actually already inside with them, we cannot escape from the results of sin.  As one of my pastors used to say, “If you find a perfect church, once you go there, it won’t be perfect anymore.”

I have taught in other Christian schools and in public school, and I can say that Arborbrook is a far better environment than most- this is mostly due to the fact that we spend time addressing these issues, have higher expectations for behavior, and don’t allow bad behavior to continue, and due to our small class sizes, and Christian parents supporting us, we have the resources to be able to do that.  However, it isn’t perfect.  And I don’t think we are supposed to try and shield our children from anything that could possibly hurt them.  Look at our own lives- how God built us up in him and what situations he used to do so.  So often it is in the furnace of difficulty that the Lord breathes his truth into us- helps us to develop compassion for others and making us stronger in the broken places.  I think we rob our children of the strength they will need in later life if we try and shield them from every hurtful thing.

While I believe there are parents who are called to homeschool for a time for different reasons, I think homeschooling for the sole purpose of removing a child from all possible harm and conflict is a very bad reason to do it.  It makes us hermits, and that is not what we are called to be; like the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), we are hiding our precious gold in the ground rather than using it for His glory.  Like the oft-quoted phrase, “A ship is safe in the harbor but that’s not what a ship is made for,” our children are made for more than being kept safe.  Our goal as parents is to protect, yes, but also to equip.

b)    Satan will do everything he can to divide believers from one another.  He is the father of lies, and one of the lies he loves is that it won’t do any good to go to the other person who has offended you, that they won’t respond.  Perhaps they won’t, but the seed is still planted, and we should still obey.  Once the second parent comes to them with the same concern, perhaps they will be ready to listen.  And it is remarkable to see what happens when we do this, when we go to the other person following Matthew 18 and when we speak the truth in love to them, respecting them as a brother or sister in Christ.  Don’t wait!  Do it now.  Don’t wait until so much damage has been done that it is exponentially more difficult to repair and restore.

c)     Repentance and forgiveness are two of the best gifts we have been given.  They are beautiful when they are carried out.  Let me tell a story here to illustrate.  My own dear sweet son Nathan has been both the victim and the victimizer in the war of words that so easily entangles us.  Last year, he said something about a girl in his class which she overhead and hurt her feelings, the mom came to me, and Nathan was genuinely contrite, writing her a letter and apologizing.  She forgave him.  In another instance, a little boy said something that hurt Nathan deeply, I told the boy’s mom, and she wept on the phone with me.  Eventually there was a confession and forgiveness was offered.  In both instances, what had to happen first was an acknowledgment that sin had occurred, and someone had to be brave enough to go to the other person who had offended them.  There are few things quite as powerful as this.  When we shield our children from conflict, we also shield them from getting to experience the power of repentance and forgiveness.

d)    Going to the other person directly is the first step but it isn’t the last.  If the other person doesn’t repent or the actions continue, then it is time to go and tell someone else- not just complain about it to random people, but tell someone who is in authority to do something about it.  It may also be appropriate to establish some separation and create boundaries.  The school often needs to know if there is a pattern developing that isn’t healthy or good, and so long as the child and/or parent has been confronted first, we do want to protect our students and we do need to know if there are continuing issues needing attention.  We have a zero tolerance policy for bullying, but we cannot address bullying if we don’t know it is occurring.  Next week, we will have some staff members coming to share very intentionally with some groups of students about some of these issues.  However, it isn’t in those types of meetings that heart change normally takes place.  It is in the nitty-gritty context of real one-on-one heart-to-heart relationship and in obedience to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

e)     Our children are in training…Not just to learn a trade, but to be husbands and wives that serve their spouses, friends that can be counted upon, Christians who speak spiritual truth in a culture that hates faith.  Over the years I have been in education, I have known very godly people who respond well to most situations, but when their children are involved, they positively lose it.  They defend their kids at all costs rather than being honest about the sin nature and realizing that their own children may be lying to them.  They act as if their children are made of glass whenever they are harmed in any way.

Remember that our children are not ours.  They are on loan to us from the Father, but they are His and we must not stand in the way of the lessons He wants to teach them.  We comfort, of course.  We hold them accountable when they do wrong.  But we do not do them any favors if we respond to every situation as if they are breakable or incapable of doing wrong, either one.  Doing that only separates them further from the type of real life to be found in Christ- messy and yet full of uncommon grace.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3