On a spring night – much like tonight — I sat where you are sitting. I was a seventeen-year-old graduate ready to head off into the wild blue yonder. I was determined to be the first in my family to graduate from college. That night, my head was full of anticipation — a summer job was lined up, and I was thinking of life on campus away from home – certainly much like you are this evening.
The revelation tonight is — THAT night — was 50 years ago – this year! 1972 to 2022.
So tonight, I am compelled to ask YOU this question:
Where will YOU be in 50 years?
What will you have accomplished? What will you have done with your lives? How will you have impacted the world or, more importantly, impacted the Kingdom of God? There will be a lot of living between this night and fifty years from now. There are dreams to realize, places to see, people to meet, goals to achieve, and lots of mistakes to be made. Yes, mistakes. Because with all the positives wished for today, mistakes WILL come your way. They can steal your joy and alter your direction if you let them.
IF you allow mistakes to teach you, they may be the greatest teachers you’ve ever had. Everyone wants to be successful — no one plans on making mistakes. One of the defining questions in life is — WHEN you “mess things up,” what then? You seek God’s grace and His strength to carry on. You dust yourself off and you get back up.
The truth is – your choices won’t always meet with success. In fact, it’s learning to cope with failures, grasping what you can learn from miss-steps, forgiving yourself, and accepting God’s forgiveness that actually opens many doors for you to share God’s love with others in an empathetic and meaningful way.
I’ll share with you three lessons of great value I’ve learned in my life. Three important reminders that will help you in the next 50 years. I’ll call them the three L’s.
According to Merriam Webster, the word “LORD” means “one having power or authority over another.” Let’s face it — L O R D is a foreign concept to our human nature! Someone we owe allegiance to? Our human nature tends to want US to be our own lords. For true success and happiness, it is essential that Christ have the genuine Lordship of your life.
Many believers want Jesus in their lives as a buddy, a daddy, or a pal to turn to when they need a friend or find themselves in trouble. But Jesus is FAR more than that. In life, we often devise plans, take actions, and ask Christ to co-sign on the plans WE have made. We’re looking for a friend to tell us we are right about what we’ve ALREADY decided to do. THAT’s a big problem. We often prefer an ally to cheer us on towards OUR OWN plans, rather than a COACH – the guy on the court calling the shots, or on the field calling the plays, the coach who has the expertise – the direction.
Our prayers should sound more like: “Lord, what do You want me to do? What direction do You want me to take? And a lot less like: “Lord, bless the direction I’m going.” Your Savior WANTS to be your planner, your guide, your LORD. We have the erroneous idea that we can do it by ourselves. THAT is precisely why we are LOST!
We — the created — want to take precedence over the Creator who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves! Life — with God in the lead – although NOT easy — will lead to true fulfillment and joy. When we are the “lord” of our own lives, we often mess things up. And — if and when — we do that, our LORD is there to forgive us and lead us back into his will.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”Lamentation 3:22-23
When we detour from His Lordship and make our own way in the wilderness, he is still there.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”Psalms 139
We all need to get back on track from time to time, because — as humans — we are messy, and sometimes, like wayward children, we forget to look to God first. But if you dedicate yourself to Christ as LORD of your life – every day, in every way – He promises to lead you.
Choosing a life-mate is second only in importance to following Christ as your Savior. I know this decision may not be imminent for you, but it will be here in a very short time. And this decision is of VAST importance. To live a truly successful life, you must choose a mate who will help you keep Christ as your FIRST LOVE. There are many interesting, beautiful, intriguing people out there in the world — people you will find attractive. There are many people in this world who would make a suitable partner for you.
However, Attraction, Emotion, and Love — although very important — are NOT the keys to a lasting relationship – a lasting harmonious marriage. The REAL key to a lasting marriage is commitment and keeping Christ as the head of your home. Once you find your “other half,” true LOVE COMMITS and doesn’t waiver when circumstances or life changes.
I cannot overstate the importance of finding a mate who will work with you in the service of the Kingdom. If you become emotionally entangled with someone who doesn’t have God first or doesn’t know God as Lord, then, a truly successful Christian life will be very difficult.
My dad gave me solid advice many years ago simply stating, “Never date someone you wouldn’t marry.” Of course, as a teenager, I couldn’t quite grasp that concept. I wondered, “How do I know I would or wouldn’t marry them if I haven’t dated them?” But there are signs and indicators that are clear, even from the very beginning, as to whether they are a potential match. Watch for those signs before you ever go out on Date #1.
Seniors, don’t waste your time, or someone else’s time, in a relationship that you KNOW will not make God happy. It’s unfair to you, to the person you are dating — and consequently, it will avoid the temptation to stray from God’s plan for your life. Having the wrong person as a partner in your life is a major derailing event. It will cost you dearly.
Allow the LORD to guide you in every area. If you allow him Lordship, realize He has your best interests in mind. Your earthly partner, your love, is undoubtedly the most important decision you will make, second to becoming a follower of Christ.
During the past several months, people have asked: What will you major in during college? What are your plans? What kind of career will you pursue? These are reasonable questions since you will be working for the next several years. What will you put your hand, your head, and your heart to that actually makes a difference in the world?
Graduating seniors often idealize their futures when asked and say things like, “I want to make a difference in the world,” and while that’s a worthwhile goal, few of us reach fame or amass great wealth, or make a huge world-changing difference. You may. — But most of us will live relatively average lives. Let me remind you — most of the disciples were average fishermen who, through surrender of their lives to Christ, became men of consequence for the Christian faith. They labored for what truly mattered.
Although careers and money are essential in our society and are the way in which many measure success, money is merely a tool: a tool used to provide things we need or want in life. OR, to help others; it is NOT the main goal in life; not the end goal. And even though God blesses some with the gift of accumulating money, that gift is to be used to provide for our families and to bless others.
Make sure the labor of your life has a legacy and is not just for money or fame. Be used by God in your work. That is to say, allow God to lead you to significance for His sake. Actually, live the life of a Christian; BE the body of Christ in an increasingly hostile world. It will not be easy. Remember — this life you are embarking on tonight does not belong to you.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast and immovable. Always excel in the work of the Lord, because you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”1 Corinthians 15:58
Choose your work according to the gifts and talents God has given you. Let them be the calling in your life. Be willing to work unto the Lord, labor in love, and make a difference in other people’s lives. Subsequently, that will make a difference in the world!
There are many more L’s we could talk about — such as Laughter, Leadership, or Life-long Learning, or the Limitations of time. But remember, life will teach you many lessons, some because you hit the bull’s eye and some because you missed the mark. Let the marks you miss not become defining failures, but rather lessons learned, lessons to be shared, and lessons from which to grow. And do your best to avoid the big misses in the areas of Labor, Love, and Lordship.
Be vigilant. Yes!
Be forgiving of yourself and others. Every day!
And above all, be the difference makers in this world – all for the glory of God.
Then, and only then, will your life be truly noteworthy.
Seniors, I’m confident you’ll do amazing things with your lives. Jeremiah reminds you, “He has plans for you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Fifty years ago, I sat where you’re sitting. And between us, I didn’t listen enough to my life’s calling, my choice of a godly spouse, or leaving Jesus in control daily.
Fifty years ago, I never knew I would learn as much from my failures as I have from my successes, or where either would lead me. But lessons learned from both have been valuable.
Fifty years ago, I had no idea I would have the honor of working with each of you or the privilege of being your mentor and watching you develop into people God can proudly use for such a time as this.
Seniors, I wish you God’s clear direction and guidance. We love you and will miss you and pray God’s greatest blessings upon each of you. I join with those gathered tonight in congratulating the Cookson Hills’ class of 2022. Thank you and God bless.