As I posted Skyler Sandry’s excellent article on Wednesday, I was a bit remiss in that my timing could have been better. Our new blog series, focusing on the penitent season of Lent, probably should have started on Ash Wednesday, the day that marks – literally, with ashes – the beginning of this season. February and Lent overlapped this year, they often do, and Skyler emerged as I learned about the unstoppable high school basketball team at Morning Star when I read about them in the local paper! When I asked Skyler “Will you write?” he said “Yes” and when I added, “How about next week?” he said “Sure.” Perhaps this kind of spirit is the perfect cusp of passions (love) and the passion (Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.)
As Christians all over the world, we now step into Lent and journey with Jesus through his ministry and eventually to his death. We do this in preparation for the day that makes us who we are – for we are indeed “Easter People.”
Lent is a season of penitence and renewal; forty days, not including Sundays. If you are wondering about this funky math, Sundays aren’t included because they are meant to be “little Easters” and reprieves from whatever fasts we choose. These “fasts” are meant not to restrict us, but bring more freedom – creating more space for us to draw near to God.
On a personal note, I tend to get obsessive during Lent, which probably means I’m missing the point. I’ve gone vegan before, given up my car; I often keep Lenten journals. This year, I’m leading a writing group at St. Paul Lutheran Church where I serve as Children’s Pastor. But some years, I try to give myself a break – giving up something small, or indulging in the restful practice of keeping Sabbath.
Whatever we choose to surround ourselves with for these forty (plus six) days, we are all marching toward the same destination – Jesus’ salvific work on the cross, his suffering and death on our behalf.
In many ways, Jesus teaches us how to die. So that’s our theme for Lent. Not because we’re morbid, but instead, realistic: the journey to know Christ is costly; it cannot manifest without death – the death of self, the relinquishing of our sin, the “death” of “Not my will, but thine, O Lord.”
So, friends. When you read this handful of blogs from board members, faculty, alumni, and parents, be reminded of Christ’s journey to the cross, what it teaches us about sacrifice, and how it requires our own death, too.
I’ve played basketball in small environments throughout my whole high school and collegiate career. I received recognition on the state level for athletic accomplishments in high school, and was even ‘All American’ two times in college. Throughout these accomplishments, it wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable or fun without the concept of “big time athletics.”
The general idea of big time athletics is that regardless of the level of competition, which sport, or how many students the school has, you give the student athlete the experience they would get at a large public high school.
This is important on a few different levels: Level 1: recruitment and retention of student and non-student athletes. Level 2: the overall experience for the student athletes. Level 3: the overall experience for the non-athletes that attend the school. Level 4: the overall experience for the faculty, staff, and families.
Creating a culture of excellence that honors God is extremely difficult and requires a level of intentionality that involves the whole team, coaches, and school administration. One of the biggest reasons I am personally trying to implement this philosophy at Morning Star Academy is to give the students the memorable experience that I had.But it is also my hope to retain them in the promotion from junior high to high school.
Historically, Morning Star Academy has lost students during this natural transition due to parents wanting their children to get a “real” high school experience. Interestingly enough, this “real” experience can happen at Morning Star, with the implementation of something like “big time athletics.”
Not only will big time athletics enhance the program on a competitive front, but it also attracts more student athletes, which increases the enrollment numbers.
We have a unique experience at Morning Star Academy in that we are able to focus on Christ and what He did for us, while giving students a very similar athletic experience to what they would receive at a school like Bettendorf High School. A hidden secret about Morning Star is that we have a co-op agreement with Bettendorf, which means if we don’t offer a sport that the student wants to play then they can play it at this neighboring school while maintaining their classical Christian education here.
I believe that a heightened level of attention, detail, care, and effort towards our athletic programs will have a direct impact on enrollment and deepening the student experience; something we should all strive for. The ultimate goal is to honor God through all that we do. We can assure this happens when we keep Christ as the top priority.
This is February, the month that is traditionally about love. What do you love? The usual things probably come to mind. Common answers would be your spouse, kids, God. Our children might say their favorite toy or candy.
I have children that range from twenty-two to eight years old. Each of them is a unique gift from God. These relationships are important to me and I love our time together because I appreciate how fast they grow and are out of the house.
When my husband and I were faced with a school decision for our youngest, we wanted to find a school that helped reinforce our goals for her. We started doing research.
We were not new to Christian education but we were lacking in the basic knowledge of the classical Christian education model. According to the Classical Christian website, “Classical Christian education establishes a biblical world view (Paideia) by incorporating ancient methods of student development.”
This piqued our interest and led us to meet with staff and tour Morning Star Academy. We were hearing great things. We then consulted friends, our older children, our pastor and experienced teachers and trusted family members for advice.
According to the ACCS, “…since the time of the early church, Christians have been about training students to love the true, the good and the beautiful. And to “rightly order” those loves so that we love first our God, and then our neighbor. This means that we order our affections as God would.”
This value statement really resonated with us and after much prayerful deliberation, we decided that we needed to put God first and trust that He had a plan for us and that the classical education model really did align with what we were trying to reinforce for our daughter.
We ultimately chose to make a leap of faith and to embrace the Classical Christian approach with our youngest daughter at Morning Star Academy. We love watching her develop a biblical world view and order her loves; both of which prepare her to incorporate these values into her life and ultimately pass them on to the next generation.
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.Philippians 4:8
Last weekend, I went to see Little Women with two of my three daughters. It is a family favorite, so we were hesitant to see a new version, worried that another re-telling might not do justice to characters who feel like cherished friends. But we loved it! The New England countryside is beautifully filmed, the four March sisters are radiant, affectionate, dutiful, and honest, and the screenplay offers a fresh perspective while remaining faithful to the novel. We even loved the determined and spoiled Amy March in a new way.
My love for Amy and for all the Little Women came from my mother, as did my love for reading.
Children learn to love what we teach them to love.
This principle is what Augustine calls ordo amoris, defined by C. S. Lewis as “the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it.” With so much competing for their attention, it is imperative that children learn to rightly order their affections, to love things that are true, beautiful, and good.
In our Morning Star classrooms, showing students what to love is one of our main purposes. Recently, the seventh graders began to read The Pilgrim’s Progress. This classic of Christian storytelling will challenge them as readers, but they will have the opportunity to learn about accepting encouragement from trusted friends, about facing challenges faithfully, and about pressing on when despair presses down. Our freshman will continue to press in to Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and they’ll take away from it an understanding of virtue and of the good things that lead to happiness.
The challenge for all of us, teachers and parents alike, is to remember to look for those good things. As we struggle through the mundane trials of everyday life, and even as we see injustice, ugliness, and pain in our world, we must still give focused attention to finding the beautiful, the good, and the true. “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair….” We must look for what is fair—a good movie, a loving friend, a kind deed, a sunset, a mountain, a painting.
Most importantly, as we share these loves with our students and children, we’re also sharing what they reveal, the presence of our loving and gracious heavenly Father, author of all that is beautiful, true, and good.
Art—good art—innately harbors grace. Have you ever observed a painting that just speaks to you? Something about the composition, the colors, the subject matter is just working and you’re filled with a fleeting harmony. Or perhaps, like me, you get that feeling during its creation. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, I work on a piece that is simply effortless; it feels as though the painting is pouring from my fingertips. I’m a terrible singer (my five-year-old informed me I sound like Scuttle from The Little Mermaid) but I’d like to believe it is the same feeling a musician gets when perfectly landing that high note, and in fact, I do refer to these occasions as the “singing” moments of painting. Feelings like this are a gift from God; a touch of grace from His own hand.
I think we are given these gifts because our Lord loves art, too. For one, He is the ultimate artist, having created this beautiful universe. Even the trees He made sure were “pleasant to the sight” (Genesis 2:9)! For another, it is He who equipped artists with their talent and creativity, a gift that can only be meant to echo His superlative artistry. And it seems He wants us to appreciate these things we find beautiful and profound. As Paul says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true…whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8). Let us remember, though, that “whatever you do, do it for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). It would be a waste, then, to create art in a random or purposeless way. Instead, art should be used as a tool to glorify God, whether in the creation of it, the reveling in it, or the endorsing of it.
What does this mean, exactly? Do we need to start adorning our homes with Da Vinci’s Last Supper and the like? No, not necessarily. You simply need to create or seek art that places the Lord in the forefront of your mind and heart, something that immediately starts you on a mental path to worship. I will refer to this as Glory Art. Art is, of course, hugely subjective, so Glory Art is going to be different for everyone. For example, a lovingly rendered nature scene may remind some of Genesis and His capabilities. For others, an abstract composition may inspire a harmony and peace that you know stemmed from Him. Or, to provide an incredibly specific example, I have a painting I created of the temporal bone of the skull (I specialize in anatomical art, which hopefully makes that seem a little less weird). It highlights a protuberance called the petrous portion of the temporal bone. This reminds me of St. Peter, since petrous means rock, and Peter, of course, is that rock upon which the church was built. Every single time I look at it I think of Peter and his follies and transformations, and I feel a kinship to both him and to Jesus. So you see, there are infinite ways artistry can instill Jesus in your heart, and really, it is not my purpose or desire to define it for you here.
I can, however, do a better job defining what Glory Art is NOT. It is not art whose sole purpose is to anger or disgust. For example, I went to a show once that had an exhibition entitled “The Nuclear Family”. It was comprised solely of mutilated and decapitated dolls. In case you are wondering, this did not make me feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not art that is so absurd or grotesque that it becomes shocking and somehow newsworthy, like the banana duct taped to the wall that sold for $6 million, or the 2018 show in the Netherlands comprised of genitalia and excrement. And most of all, it is not sacrilege. It is altogether too easy to find paintings, sculptures and installations whose primary purpose is to defile and degrade everything that we as Christians find holy. I refuse to honor any by describing them here, but feel free to do a quick search on the subject and prepare to be disappointed, disgusted and shocked.
For too long artists have been using such reactions as a quick and easy way to get attention, a crutch to be called “cutting edge”. This idea that art is supposed to generate feeling and shock is a strong feeling, therefore anything shocking is good art, has been exploited to the point of ridiculousness. A label of “different” seems to be the only requirement of art today; no longer is it built upon a foundation of talent, education or profundity. Artistic culture has gotten so backwards that it seems the most radical artists right now are the ones who, gasp, actually know how to draw, as explained by April Hopkins in a 2019 article! Indeed, open any art magazine today and you’ll see skill-based rendering or, even more so, anyone using Christian principles as their focal point, is in a clear and drastic minority.
My desire, my dream, is that soon the pendulum swings the other way, since by eschewing subject matter that is in any way reverent, by disregarding the talent lovingly provided by God, we are turning our backs on a rich and powerful tool for glorifying the Lord. And you know what? The change starts with us. If you see a painting that sings to you, that brings Jesus to mind, consider purchasing a print or a piece. If you hear about an art exhibition that somehow encapsulates the Holy Spirit, even obliquely, consider showing up. A small bit of effort can make a world of difference to the artist, and, moreover, we can start to show the world we are ready for a new wave of art.
In an empirical world where if it can’t be measured it isn’t real, we need days like today, Epiphany, to remind ourselves that we live in an enchanted world, that is, one that cannot be so easily quantified, measured and put into a nice, neat little box.
Epiphany means “revelation” or “an unveiling” or “manifestation.” In the church calendar it is celebrated on January 6th and although little known to our American evangelical churches, it has much to do with us Gentiles. Epiphany is the culmination and the pinnacle of the twelve days of Christmas; a celebration of the manifestation that Jesus was not merely the prophetic fulfillment of Jewish aspirations, but that He was and is the hope of the world.
Specifically it is a celebration of the Magi who mysteriously entered into Joseph’s and Mary’s lives with lavious gifts for their son; Magi who just as quickly left, never to be heard from again. It is these men whom God made wise through His creation, a star. It was these pagans whom He revealed through Scripture specifically that their Hope lived in Bethlehem. This Christmas story is truly enchanted. It has mystery and intrigue. We cannot put it into our nice, neat little boxes.
But most importantly it these Magi who represent us as those, who like them, are called into God’s enchanted story, a story that began with the Jewish nation, but one intended for all. It is this story that gives us hope for an enchanted new year where He will be working to quietly order our lives to redeem and renew all that has been darkened by sin.
So as not to lose our appetite for the enchanted, this month Morning Star will dive deep into fables and myths. We know that all of these stories have an aspect of The Story, God’s story of redemption. And again we will be reminded that we live in an enchanted world that we cannot quite fit into our nice, neat little boxes.
In high school, I had my own sense of style: bleached streaks in my dishwater blonde hair and a preference for thrift store clothing. I wasn’t trying to stand out, but neither was I working hard to blend in. So, in 12th grade social studies, I was surprised one day when a classmate with a shaved head, knee-height combat boots and a leather jacket got my attention by shouting, “Hey counter culture, give me your pen.” When I puzzled at this new nickname, he informed me that “no one dresses like you at our school.”
It was a bit of a surprise to be singled out. I wonder now what it would have been like to wear a school uniform every day, like the students do here at Morning Star. Would I have still been pegged as “different?” There’s no sense in speculating. Especially since my other observation is that being called “Counter Culture” is a compliment.
Not only that, but to be a Christian is to be countercultural – to look to Christ for our identity and purpose more than the awards and possessions and trappings of this world. And we can take our cues from the biblical narratives leading up to Christmas.
In Luke’s gospel, a couple in advanced age are told they will give birth to a son who will announce the Messiah. Fearing God, they are doubtful at first, but then believe. The father of this awaited child is rendered mute until his son’s birth.
Later in Luke, a peasant girl of Nazareth, whose family lives under the constant threat of Roman occupation, is visited by a Divine messenger. While the announcement of a birth surprises her, she accepts the angel’s news. “Behold,” she replies. “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”
Even her betrothed spouse, wondering if these secondhand words from God are true, sleeps and dreams and an angel visits him, too. They head to Bethlehem and await the promised birth not only of their firstborn son, but a king, the Messiah, who will liberate God’s people from their sins and bondage.
You could argue that the stories of Advent, leading up to Christmas, are counter-cultural. Rather than being caught up in the powers of this world, they are all about listening to God and trusting that his kingdom is the only one worthy of our allegiance and praise.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been singled out as being different in your workplaces or classrooms. But I do know that if you’re reading this, you have some connection to the Christian narrative, found in scripture, that comes alive at Christmas. So, take these stories to heart. Let them “dwell in you richly,” as the Apostle Paul says, and as you celebrate Christmas this year, take delight in the invitation to be countercultural.
To learn about what is truly important to a society one simply needs to look at their budget and their calendar. Where do they spend their money and where to they spend their time? According to a 2017 study by WinterGreen Research, youth sports are a 15.3 billion dollar industry. The Aspen Institute tells us that on average, students in America spend 11.5 hours each week participating in a sport. The most committed students will spend up to 60 hours in a week participating in functions associated with their sport while it’s in season. It is easy to see that youth sports hold significant influence in our society.
The weight of importance we have assigned to youth sports should cause us to pause and question what value is being gained from them and what part they should play in the education of our students.
Morning Star Academy is concerned with teaching students to view all of life in light of Christ’s Kingdom. Education is not simply passing on knowledge from one generation to the next, but rather cultivating the affections of students so that they will live virtuous lives. If youth sports have been woven deeply into the world our students are being raised in, how should Morning Star teach students to view them in light of the Gospel of Jesus?
Affections are learned and ordered in our routines, practices, and habits. I’ve had the opportunity to coach 5th and 6th grade boys’ basketball at Morning Star for 6 years. Most people would point to teamwork and self-esteem as being some values gained from basketball. I believe that while those things are important, basketball gives us a unique opportunity to instill an affection for meekness.
Meekness is strength under control. It is the ability to put our trust in God and commit ourselves to His will. It allows us to cast our cares on Him and wait patiently for His will to be done. When we do this we don’t succumb to quick flashes of anger. Instead we allow God to control the situation. In James 3:13 we read about the “meekness of wisdom” that teaches us to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and open to correction.
Basketball, like life, is a training ground for meekness. Those who have great power and the ability to control it reflect a gift that comes from God. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. That is a trophy worth playing for.
“Tell me a story from when you were a kid?!” my sons like to ask. I don’t have as many high school shenanigans to re-play as my husband does, so I often punt to him. He’ll tell them about the time his buddy threw a whole pizza out the sunroof and it landed right back in the driver’s seat … or the time he and his friend took Josh’s grandma’s convertible through a car wash … or the time …
Our kids clamor for stories. On the surface, it’s just for giggles. But under all the fun they show their longing for belonging. Your stories become their stories. This is the principle at work in Deuteronomy when Moses commands the Israelites to “Remember the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.”
This ancient story of deliverance was the Israelites’ story. In Christ, it is our story too. Advent – the four weeks leading up to Christmas – is a precious opportunity to tell The Story to our sons and daughters. As Pam Rhode reminds us, our Christmas preparations involve a posture of watching and waiting for the Hope of the Ages. Last year our family assembled a Jesse Tree to trace The Story through the Old and New Testaments. It consisted of paper ornaments hung on a vertical strip of garland. It was not very complicated, and the kit included Scripture readings for each day of Advent. This gave us the opportunity to explore different books of the Bible together.
Through this daily rhythm, I realized that while training our sons to “think” about what God has done in Christ is central, there are truths they will “catch” just by the very act of gathering after supper and pinning up scraps of paper. (James K.A. Smith explores this power of habit in You Are What You Love, which Morning Star faculty read together in 2016.)We could call it habit, rhythm, or liturgy. A life of devotion means routinely giving praise to God. We bring a sacrifice of praise not once, but evening by evening.
Because Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us,” a regular family devotional life together will reflect that reality as we gather in person. We might read a Psalm of praise, take turns offering prayers of thanksgiving and petition, or read aloud from a devotional book … yet all of these things do more than impart knowledge. Moms and Dads: Remember that our preparation and patience are critical elements of being present with our kids in this rhythm. We model life in Christ’s kingdom by what we do, not just by what we say.
So let your family’s Advent tradition of paper doors or ornaments or countdowns be a springboard into a new year of daily gatherings. The ordinary habits of your family life will form your child’s heart and remind them that The Story is not only true, it is beautiful. And it is daily bread.
“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are hevel, a chasing after the wind,” says the Teacher in Ecclesiastes 1:14. Some versions of the Bible translate hevel as “meaningless” but it also carries the meaning “vapor.” That means all the things done on earth are vapor, a breath that looks white and substantial as it’s released into the winter air, but is gone too quickly to be grasped.
Advent, which remembers thousands of years of God’s people longing for his salvation, begins four Sundays before Christmas day. That means it invites us into over four weeks of anticipation and longing – that can be a tough sell in a commercial season of lights, sparkle, and cozy Christmas cheer.
We think of Christmas as a season filled with meaning, but the Teacher would say that our celebrations, too are hevel – quickly fleeting and often leaving us weary as we enter ordinary time. Advent reminds us to be cautious about where we seek meaning by grounding us in the hope of the ages.
While Advent isn’t a biblically mandated observance, it is a valuable one. It anchors us in the eternal plan of God rather than our fleeting Christmas traditions. In Advent, we add our voices to those of God’s people awaiting his deliverance throughout time, and we remember our connection to his story of redemption. As we read the Bible, we’re aware that the story of the Redeemer isn’t limited to the four gospels. Every book we read sings of Jesus. So we long for his coming alongside generations of believers, and we’re ready to burst with joy when we read in Galatians four:
We rejoice in the coming of Jesus at the time God appointed. However, our anticipation doesn’t end at the incarnation, but carries on in the already-but-not-yet spiritual reality of our current existence. As Paul writes in Romans 8:23, the groaning of anticipation continues as we await the full expression of our redemption:
In Advent we don’t only re-live the eager waiting for the Messiah, we also live in confident hope and longing for Christ’s return. We remember that the posture of a disciple, as Jesus tells us, is watchful expectancy.
So how do we approach the Bible in this Advent season? This question is less about what we read than how we read it.
We read it slowly, leaning into the waiting, letting our hearts be shaped by the joyful – and sometimes painful – yearning for the second coming of the One we’re called to love with all our hearts, souls and strength. We allow the frenzy of Christmas trappings to be stilled in the presence of the living Word of God.
We read it seeking greater knowledge of the Redeemer, a knowledge that moves beyond the intellectual to the intimately relational. We ask how our Advent readings illuminate the character, qualities, and mighty acts of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. We grow in our adoration and love.
And finally, we read with assurance in his promises. Remembering his faithfulness in the past, we cling confidently to his promises not to leave us as orphans (John 14:18) and to provide new strength (Isaiah 40:30) and rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29) as we wait for him to carry his good work to completion (Philippians 1:6). We draw strength from the knowledge that nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:39) and live with missional intentionality as we pray along with the apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus!”