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The most shocking thing I had ever seen at our school graduation

January 21, 2018

Graduation Crowd 1I had just taken a new position at a small Christian school and the first year was, to be honest, extremely tough.  To be concise, the school was an absolute mess.  You could practically feel the rebellion throughout the classrooms when the school year started .  Grades were pitifully poor.  Students were skipping classes and hiding out in the building. The lunchroom air was filled with squabbling and bickering among the kids.  Students were getting into fights on campus and in social media battles off campus.  Some students were caught with porn.  Others with drugs.  Many of the students had no desire to get a Christian education.  In fact, many of the students had no desire to get an education of any kind.

I believe that I sent more students out of the classroom that year that I had in all my previous years of teaching combined.

We teachers were in a warrior mode such as I had never seen.  Each minute, and I mean each minute was a challenge.  We were not only called to the role of educators, but also babysitters, counselors, guardians, and even policeman.  The daily grind was exhausting, and if weren’t for prayer and a bonding of the faculty, I really don’t think we would have made it to Christmas.

But things started to change, thank the Lord.  It took patience.  Lots of patience.  Boy, did I ever see the teachers set their jaws and dig the trenches.

Slowly, slowly we each did our share in ministering, evangelizing and discipling the students as the weeks and months went on.  From the German classroom to the Art classroom to the Bible classroom, we each worked at reaching out to the students and working with them.  We started seeing results, little by little.  Some students repented and became serious about their spiritual walk.  Some of the on-campus enemies reconciled and became friends once again.  Some students came to Christ through salvation.

By May graduation we teachers sat in the main auditorium and smiled.  We nodded to each other.  The fight was hard, but it had been worth it.

The graduation ceremony began with the usual pomp and glory.  Seniors made speeches and administrators handed out awards.  Families cheered and clapped.

But then something changed the tone of the ceremony when one of the seniors rose and walked to the podium.

“Our graduating class has been grateful for the many teachers who have helped us through this year,” he said, “but we grads want to recognize a very special teacher near and dear to us, who has really gone above and beyond in service.” He held up a crystal trophy.  “We want to start a new tradition: the Teacher of the Year.”  He looked into the Teacher Section.  “And the very first award goes to…”

He named the teacher and she stood and bounded toward the stage.

While the rest of us teachers gasped.

Nobody, but nobody on the faculty would have guessed that this teacher would have won.  This was an English teacher who had been flaunting the rules with the administration all year and her spirit was quite contrite toward campus regulations.  She had skipped her English lessons to let her students make a video which had nothing to do with her subject.  She had led the class – I am not making this up – on an outside-the-classroom romp through the grass barefooted.  She had not handed in teacher assignments and the classroom level of teaching was pitifully poor.  Parents were openly complaining that their children were not getting prepared for college English.

But she did what the graduating seniors liked.

In pulling back her desks and letting the seniors sit on the floor and chat about life, she was making her room the delight of the seniors’ days.  She ignored discipline.  The unsettling news from the administration was that she was going to be dismissed at the end of the year.

But she made a ton of seniors happy so she was awarded the Teacher of the Year.

I heard an audible gasp coming from the Teacher Section.  I was not the only one shocked.

The teacher held up the trophy, waved to the crowd, and quit our school.  We never saw her again.

At that moment I realized a very sobering and sad truth:  to most people, outward appearance equals inward excellence.  I gazed across the section of tired teachers, shaking their heads.  I saw those educators who had sternly given detentions, sorrowfully reported failing grades, dutifully counseled kids after school – all with no pomp or glory.  They had labored in near anonymity.

But a teacher who let the students run free and wild was recognized as the Teacher of the Year.

This was a reminder again to me when years later the Senior Class once again voted a teacher in, openly giving as one of the main reasons “she could really bust a move on the dance floor.”  She was a single teacher who was lax on discipline, hanging around with the seniors throughout the year off-campus, buddying them up.  She also took the award and quit our school for a better paying teaching job.  Once again, I heard the gasp from the teachers and that same sad, tired look.

It was a classic post-modern action by the students.  Style over substance.  Outward appearance equals success.

And I see it as a danger to our Christian generation.  How many pastors have I seen who really take to the stage in an actor’s performance rather than in deep Bible training?  They’ve become celebrities, and embrace the honor cheerfully.  Youth pastors  relegate most of the teaching hour with self-congratulatory anecdotes.  Music leaders who emphasize excitement over an opportunity to doctrinally strengthen the congregation (spare me from one more laser-light show!).  One youth group room was admittedly specifically designed to emulate a night club setting.  We churches have gotten into the entertainment business, haven’t we?  As a California adult churchgoer told me one time, “I love coming to see the staff joke with each other onstage.  As I always said ‘Keep ’em laughing!'”

While I understand the joy of the Lord we can all have, has the worship service really built a theme around entertainment?  Keep ’em laughing?  Keep ’em in emotional music?  Keep ’em socially stimulated?

…at the expense of seeing Jesus?

Ah, I see it in my own life.  I need to shut down the social and build up the solitude.

I see the need to completely honest with my Jesus, to sit side-by-side, to “be still and know that I am God.”

I see an example of someone who went intense in his quest to grow closer to Christ. Note the opposing situations:

I look at Acts chapter 9 and I see the outward view of Paul being struck down with the thunderous reality of the holiness of Christ, thrown from his horse and from his physical sight.  I read about his turnabout as recorded by the writer Luke.  That’s what was seen.

However, I turn to Philippians chapter 3 and I look at verse 8 – isn’t this a magnificent verse? – and I read of what is not seen, what comes from within Paul:

What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.

Paul openly tells us that he will discard everything that is seen in order to gain that beautiful Savior.  Of course, Paul will be humiliated, scorned, mocked and beaten.  That is what is seen.  But what is not public… well, look at verse 10 and 11:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and … the resurrection from the dead.

Paul is making a trade.  Look back in the early part of the third chapter of the letter to the Philippian church and you will see his trophies:  Hebrew heritage, Benjamite lineage, Pharisee distinction of glory and honor… brother, he was famous, respected and recognized when he got on stage.  He was trophy winner for Religious Leader of the Year.

He trades it away in a Heavenly heartbeat.

He wants Jesus, honestly and inwardly.  So do I.

I have some work to do.

Psalm 91: 1 – He that dwells in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.


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