Rockbridge Academy Blog
This article was written in March 2020 by Nathan Northup, Rockbridge Academy Bible teacher. He went to be with the Lord on November 2, 2023. His legacy will live on through the hundreds of people he loved, served, and counseled, both in his ministry to the church and in the Rockbridge community.
“Kick in the gates of hell! I’ll see you on the other side!” is the charge I imagine a great military commander bellowing out to his troops as they storm forward with swords raised high to take captive the great fortified city: Death. The Lord Jesus Christ said that the gates of Hades (death) will not prevail over His Church. As Christians, we know that we have been delivered from the dominion of sin and death and into the glorious kingdom of our Lord and thus enlisted as soldiers in the great battle, not against flesh and blood but against the principalities in the heavenly places.
In particular, here at Rockbridge Academy, our very motto is to TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE and make it obedient to Christ Jesus. The principle is clear throughout the Christian Scriptures that WORSHIP IS WARFARE when we consider all the oddly warlike language used to describe our journey. Every baptism, prayer, song, sermon, sharing in the body and blood of Christ, hearty joyful giving is an act of war. This war is waged with faith, hope, and love. We’ve been given weapons for offense and elements for defense. We desire that God destroy all of His and our enemies by capturing their hearts and adopting them into His family, enlisting them in His army, converting them to change their allegiances. We pray and preach and praise to this end. So then, when we gather as God’s New Covenant people for corporate worship, we have drawn our battle lines, and we go to war. All who are in this battle were once on the other side of the field and were graciously conquered by our triumphant King who leads us in His glorious procession.
This is why, every Monday in the Dialectic Bible classes, I ask for war stories. These war stories are testimonies of what God was doing in their life during the battle in the previous Lord’s Day corporate worship. Most of the time, the students testify to the Word of God given by their pastors, but we also hear stories of baptisms, confirmations, first communions, missionary testimonies, and more. I will sometimes jest that very rarely, if ever, have I had someone come back from the battle and testify to what a great encounter they had with the only true and Triune God during the tithes and offering portion of the service.
When all is said and done, I desire for my students to see the hand of God working in their midst and to rejoice in what He is doing as He works through them to destroy evil in our lives and the world around us. When we head off to worship Christ our King, let us kick in the gates of Hell so that when we have overcome on that great Day, we can look back across the battlefield and raise our swords and glasses to the One who has overcome and trampled down death by death giving us His very life that we may conquer and live with Him!
When all is said and done, I desire for my students to see the hand of God working in their midst and to rejoice in what He is doing as He works through them to destroy evil in our lives and the world around us.
One year ago, Mr. Northup retired from teaching at Rockbridge Academy after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Mr. Northup greatly impacted my life so when I was given the opportunity to write about his life, I took it. This article is dedicated to Mr. Northup and his family for their 17 years of love and support of Rockbridge Academy.
I know many of us are wondering how he is handling the cancer, but more so why he, of all people, got cancer. Mr. Northup was one of the greatest Bible teachers I (and all of Rockbridge) could have asked for. He displayed his faith in every word and deed, and his love for his students and the subjects he taught was unmatched so, why did Mr. Northup get cancer? This question can be restated in this infamous question: why do bad things happen to good people?
That was my main question for Mr. Northup, and he answered it. Before I reveal exactly what he said, make sure to actively look for the providence of God in Mr. Northup’s life throughout the rest of this article.
Mr. Northup was born in Rhode Island and moved to California a year later. At eight years old in California, he dreamed of becoming a real-life Tarzan but he had two problems preventing him from becoming the rope-swinging monkey-man. For starters, he lived in California, and one cannot be Tarzan when climbable objects are limited to a “cactus and a palm tree in the backyard.” This problem was solved when he moved back to Rhode Island the same year where trees grew as commonly as the California cacti. His other problem was more serious: he needed a Jane, but where to find the perfect girl? He did not need to look far; across the street lived the future Mrs. Northup, Merry Dupre. Mr. Northup said that from a young age he knew he was going to marry her. If she made a great Jane, which she did, then she would make a great wife. Obviously, he convinced the girl across the street that he was worth keeping around as they have been married for 27 years and have had five children.
Mr. Northup’s youth in Rhode Island involved street fights and big older brothers. Our teacher was small for his age but hotheaded. He was known for roughhousing and the kids on his street beat him up multiple times. However, they stopped picking on him after Merry’s brother began looking out for him. Her brother was big and strong with a statement 70s hairstyle, a mohawk.
While Mr. Northup had his fair share of fighting, he also spent a good amount of time in church. He was brought to church as a child, but only began searching for God in his teenage years. He told me that, “Everyone at church had a testimony but I didn’t.” Mr. Northup decided to change that by becoming a rebel until he had a good story to tell.
Mrs. Northup said this time was short lived once they had their first child, Samuel, when he was 17 and a daughter, Nadia, at 18. With two children and little stability, Mr. Northup decided to start bringing the family to church, but he made a mistake and joined, as he called it, a “cult” instead. The church that the Northup family joined preached that one’s salvation depended upon their daily missionary work. One had to share the gospel every day to a random stranger to secure their own salvation. Mr. Northup realized that this teaching did not match his understanding of the Bible from his youth. The dissonance between his understanding of the Bible from childhood and what this church was preaching lit his heart afire for God and truth.
Mr. Northup was hungry and curious to know God’s word, so he sought out the youth pastor from the church he grew up in and began a mentoring relationship with him. To make ends meet he worked as a mechanic until he pursued seminary at age 20. He brazenly decided to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. At first, the college rejected him but that did not stop our teacher. He caught a flight from Rhode Island to Chicago to meet the admissions board face to face. He told them, “I am going to come, but how do I do this?” Seeing the passion of this young teacher changed the hearts of the board. Mr. Northup’s grades were not great, and he was behind in the necessary schooling, but his heart was ready to tackle any obstacle presented to him. The college offered him a deal: he would take night classes until he was ready for full admission into regular daytime classes. Eventually, Mr. Northup worked his way up to those daytime classes and even earned a full ride. During this time, he moved his family out to Chicago and received free housing from a nearby church in exchange for his cleaning services. His living costs were low, so he only had to provide food for his family. Thankfully, the window washing business was booming and he received a job cleaning windows for around $100 an hour.
Here, Mr. and Mrs. Northup had their third child, Josiah. After finishing college with a wife and three kids, he moved back to Rhode Island, desiring to impact children’s lives. He first thought about working at summer camps, but a week or two was too short to create a lasting impact. He then considered becoming a pastor, which he did for three years, but he still wasn’t achieving his goal of teaching children. He decided to change careers once more and become a teacher.
The first and only school Mr. Northup taught at was Rockbridge Academy. When deciding where to teach, Mr. Northup and his wife asked the question, “Who do we want our kids to be?” They came upon this one, strange way of teaching called classical Christian Education. They fell in love with the idea of teaching children with a focus on the liberal arts but centered around Christ. Mr. Northup told me concerning classical Christian Education, “This is the way Christians ought to be training their kids.” The Northups found a classical Christian school called Rockbridge Academy which they thought embodied the classical Christian spirit and teaching they desired for their kids. Mr. Northup applied to work here and hit it off with the school board, landing the job for a Bible teacher. He served at Rockbridge for a total of 17 years and during this time, had two more children, Luke and Emma. I asked him which Bible class he enjoyed teaching the most and he answered, “Christ in the Old Testament . . . We get to explore the question ‘where specifically is Christ?’”
Sadly, as we all know, Mr. Northup has left Rockbridge and pursued treatment for his cancer. He said that in these hard times, his wife, Merry Northup, has been his continuous rock and constant companion, a true helper. He is also very grateful for the time he can now spend with his immediate family and his three grandsons. God’s providence, which has shown itself time and time again, is clearly woven throughout Mr. Northup’s life. God has provided in countless ways from protection in his youth to free housing in college and ultimately a job at Rockbridge Academy. To end this story, I want to provide you with Mr. Northup’s answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” He said, “This sounds cheap, but I don't think that people are good; I think that God alone is good and He's gracious. I don't expect that I should get things because I'm good or because I'm not. He is. That's one part. The rest is grace. He's been gracious to me with everything from my family to provision. I don't expect that I should be taken care of. Everything is grace. I am grateful for the provision of my family. I can't do anything more than simply be grateful. I don't know if that's the right way to think about it, but that's what I think.”
Hannah Bates is currently in 11th grade and a member of the Rockbridge Review (student-run school newspaper) editorial team.
On my last morning at Rockbridge Academy, my classmates and I all came together for one last joint homeroom. Miss Scheie passed out the hymn books one more time and aptly chose for us to sing “Be Thou My Vision.” Suddenly I found myself close to tears, surrounded by classmates and friends, all lifting our voices up as one body praising our Lord and asking for His guidance in this next chapter of our lives. The rest of the day I walked the halls humming that tune, the words repeating in my head over and over. This day is representative of many I have had in the past at Rockbridge. The prominence of singing at Rockbridge Academy demonstrates its importance for instilling truth and fostering unity.
The prominence of singing at Rockbridge Academy demonstrates its importance for instilling truth and fostering unity.
Singing is not scarce at Rockbridge Academy. From staff prayer to joint homeroom to Monday morning assemblies, the words of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” the Doxology, and other hymns float through the halls. Singing is a prominent technique in the grammar school, and you won’t make it through a Rockbridge event without singing or being sung to. We even spent a whole Apologetics class putting the Beatitudes to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me.” This is primarily due to the fact that singing helps with memory. Our grammar students can name all the states or rattle off grammar rules because they learned a song for it. However, singing as a tool for memory has more uses than just to memorize facts.
One day in my junior year, I was at an early morning FCA Bible Study and we were talking about singing. One senior made the point that what we sing stays in our heads and permeates our thoughts. Everybody has had some song stuck in their head that they just can't seem to get rid of. Well, it doesn’t have to be an annoying pop song that permeates your thoughts. I experienced the positive end of singing on the last day of my senior year after singing “Be Thou My Vision.” Instead of the chorus to Justin Bieber’s “Baby”, my mind was whirling with words praising God and reminding me to focus on Christ. By singing hymns frequently, Rockbridge was filling our heads with beautiful Gospel truths that would permeate our thoughts throughout the day, week, and even year.
As well as instilling truth, singing as a body creates unity with your fellow singers. When we sing as one body, we are lifting up our individual voices to become one voice proclaiming one truth. The old and young, the mature in faith and new Christians, those in mourning and those rejoicing: when we sing we demonstrate that we are one body. That is what brought me close to tears in my last homeroom: despite differences and even disagreements I may have with my classmates, we are still able to come together, shoulder to shoulder, and proclaim Jesus’ name.
…when we sing we demonstrate that we are one body…despite differences and even disagreements I may have with my classmates, we are still able to come together, shoulder to shoulder, and proclaim Jesus’ name.
On Grand Tour, my class had several opportunities to sing together. One opportunity was in the Tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae. The egg-shape of the tomb gave it great acoustics, so we stood in the middle and sang the Doxology. The whole site went quiet as we sang. Tourists stopped moving and guides stopped talking. Many of these people didn’t even speak our language, yet they were silenced and stilled. Whether it was out of awe or reverence or simple respect I don’t know, but to me it demonstrated the power of song. It was evident not through our words, but through our unity as a group lifting up our voices that we were honoring something bigger. Indeed, we were praising the God of our universe.
You do not have to be a good singer for singing to impact you. I would be the first to admit I lack singing abilities—I can’t even read sheet music. Thankfully, that is not required to sing with your community and praise our God. The next time you find yourself singing in church or at Rockbridge, close your eyes and listen. Hear the ten, twenty, thirty, or a hundred people around you singing the same song, worshiping the same God. This is the body of Christ. I hope you continue to sing often and sing loud, praising the name of your Lord and Savior. I would like to leave you with the words I was left with at the closing of my time at Rockbridge:
True Light of heaven, when vict’ry is won
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
from Be Thou My Vision
Olivia Reardon, ‘22, attends Messiah University where she continues to pursue her passion for teaching, writing, and dance. She loves reading, spending time with friends, and eating ice cream.
“I’m not tired! Why do you always tell me I am tired when I am not tired!” Such were the protests from my early youth when my parents knew that I was overtired and lovingly sent me upstairs to bed. Little did I understand at the time that my rantings only added to their resolve to get me the sleep I needed.
How many of us still need this—someone to make us go to bed when we are tired, or insist that we take a break to rest? When so many things press in on us, demanding our time and attention, sleep, or rest of any kind, can seem like the most expendable part of our schedule. But to deny ourselves rest, a break, and even sleep is to behave like children lacking wisdom, obedience and faith.
Brain researchers have discovered something amazing that happens when we go to sleep. While our bodies are still, our brain is performing some important work. Like the cleaning crew that comes into the office after hours, your brain is also busy at night:
“In fact, when the lights go out, our brains start working–but in an altogether different way than when we’re awake. At night, a legion of neurons springs into action, and like any well-trained platoon, the cells work in perfect synchrony, pulsing with electrical signals that wash over the brain with a soothing, hypnotic flow. Meanwhile, data processors sort through the reams of information that flooded the brain all day at a pace too overwhelming to handle in real time. The brain also runs checks on itself to ensure that the exquisite balance of hormones, enzymes and proteins isn’t too far off-kilter. And all the while, cleaners follow in close pursuit to sweep out the toxic detritus that the brain doesn’t need and which can cause all kinds of problems if it builds up.” (“The Power of Sleep,” Alice Park, TIME, Sept. 2014)
When we are awake, the brain is busy handling the immediate demands of the day. Just as we cannot reflect and meditate at the same time we are teaching or having a conversation, our brains cannot run the “daytime show” while simultaneously cleaning up the place and dumping the trash. As teachers and parents, we understand this principle quite well. We don’t try to clean up while our kids or students are around. We wait until they leave or have gone to bed to clean up from the day’s activities. It is the same with your brain. Unfortunately, we often believe the opposite, thinking that skipping sleep (or rest) will allow us to get more done. God’s Word rebukes this notion:
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Psalm 127:2
God, our creator and sustainer, knows what we need, and has told us. But knowing is one thing, obeying is another.
We know intuitively and experientially that we are finite beings; we have limits. The Bible describes us as “dust,” like “grass” and “flowers” that blow away (Ps. 103:14-16). God, on the other hand, is “the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary,” (Is. 40:28). Yet God establishes rest as part of His creation from the beginning: the seventh day is a Sabbath. He commands us to recognize and obey this regular time of rest. And this concept of rest permeates the whole Bible. Type “rest” into your Bible search engine and a theme quickly emerges from verse to verse: rest is a gift from God, and those without it suffer and are cursed. This is stark language that speaks to the seriousness of our self-sufficiency. Weekly rest, our nightly sleep, even routine breaks during each day are acknowledgements that we are not God. Instead, we accept and obey our limits, affirming the order of Maker vs. creature. Rest becomes an act of humble obedience. Obedience that leads to faith.
Going to bed, or simply stopping to rest, can be an act of faith. Our to-do lists often haunt us. But God’s promise is clear, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt.11:28). This is one of those verses we hear so often that we carelessly cast it away presuming we’ve already grasped the concept. But have we? Do we believe it, not just as some hope for eternal rest, but here and now, today, this moment? Our "Best Self Journals" and "Full Focus Planners" cannot ever give us what only our Heavenly Father can give: that eternal and continual promise of rest. God causes us to lie down and sleep in peace (Ps. 4:8); we wake again for He sustains us (Ps. 3:5). Do you suppose God wants you to work beyond exhaustion or without refreshment? Then listen again, “For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Heb. 4:10). Pray that you would believe it. As Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in You.”
One more thing: “Good night, sweet dreams.”
Family, worship. Two words, each of which standing alone is richly warm and evocative. “Family” connotes community, belonging, and love. “Worship” conjures thoughts of reverence, jubilation, and communion. However, curiously (and sadly), when these two precious terms are conjoined into a single phrase (family worship), the associated words that come most immediately to mind are “boring” and “bland.”
Having lead family worship in our home for nearly thirty years with reasonable consistency and intentionality, I must confess that it is not one of my more successful endeavors. Although I have not had the courage to poll them, I suspect that “boring” and “bland” might summarize my children’s collective assessment. Nevertheless, by grace, my wife Deni, and I have persevered through the years clinging to the conviction that, in conducting family worship in some form on a regular basis, we are about a noble business the ultimate success of which is not only determined by God but is best left to Him to measure as well.
At our house, family worship has taken on many different forms over the years, but almost always it has consisted of three essential elements: God’s word, prayer, and singing.
1) The Scriptural Component—For many years, we used a family worship card distributed by our church that listed daily Bible readings designed to prepare us for the upcoming Sunday’s sermon. At other times, I have simply read a Psalm or other short passage. More recently, I have used a daily reading from a devotional book such as (a) My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, (b) C. H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, and (c) Note to Self by Joe Thorn. In the early years, when we had only young children, our Bible readings were “age appropriate.” However, in those middle years when our children’s ages spanned 17 to infancy, I refused to “dumb things down” and stubbornly taught to the eldest level, trusting that the younger ones would glean what they were able and calling on the older children to explain any difficult concepts to their younger siblings.
2) Prayer—The prayer component of our family worship has consisted primarily of thanksgiving and intercession. We collectively identify prayer items, and one or more of us leads in prayer about those particular matters.
3) Singing—Typically, we close our worship with a song, which could be a hymn, a contemporary chorus, or simply the doxology.
Beyond content and format, I have learned that consistency is critical to family worship. As in virtually all other worthwhile endeavors, whether it’s physical fitness or personal devotions, so it is with family worship: much more is gained by small incremental efforts consistently applied over a long time than by lavish outpourings that occur only sporadically. Of course, this does not mean that family worship has occurred in our home every day of every week for the past thirty years. However, it does mean that Deni and I, together, have battled hard alongside our children not to succumb to their apathy, my indolence, or the innumerable distractions presented by our varied schedules.
Consistency also should not suggest rigidity. In fact, consistency over the long haul is fueled by flexibility. For example, adjusting the time that we conduct our family worship to accommodate our schedules has been the saving grace to this daily endeavor. There was a period of a few years during which we shifted family worship from the dinner hour to the breakfast table because it offered a better fit.
If flexibility is the fuel, then brevity is the oil that helps to overcome the frictional forces that grind against consistency. Except for those occasional times when genuine discussion springs forth, our family worship times generally last no more than 5 to 8 minutes. While such brevity imposes limitations, it has been central to preventing family worship from being crowded out by competing demands.
So, why do it? We have persisted in this difficult devotion because it affords our family a corporate opportunity to exalt the wisdom, power, and love of our heavenly Father and to acknowledge our need for the grace of Jesus Christ. It is a propitious moment in the day for all of us—together—to be reminded of the gospel. In this sense, family worship is yet another means of grace, literally empowering us to live our lives in a manner worthy of our high calling.
As such, can it be said that family worship is “bland” or “boring?” If that is my perspective, then it is simply indicative of my need. And that realization should not discourage me to pursue this blessed opportunity as one who is desperate to drink more deeply of God’s precious grace—desperate for me and desperate for my family.
Jay Mitchell currently serves as an elder at Annapolis EP Church. He also served as the chairman of the board of directors for Rockbridge Academy. Jay practices law professionally, but adds his favorite avocation is teaching. He has been married to his wife, Deni, for over 40 years, and they are blessed with eight children (5 of whom are Rockbridge alumni) and 12 grandchildren. This article was originally published in the spring 2013 issue of The Rockbridge Reporter.
Since 2005, Mr. Nathan Northup has been faithfully teaching Bible at Rockbridge Academy in the upper school. He shares IN THIS VIDEO the heart of why we teach Bible at Rockbridge Academy. More than Bible knowledge, our desire is that each and every student would see and know and love Jesus, our Savior, and that they would be able to evaluate their whole range of life experiences in light of the Scriptures.