Baccalaureate Sermon preached
to the Desert High School Class of 1998
Scripture reading: Deuteronomy 8:6-20:
6"Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. 7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 9a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.
11"Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12lestówhen you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; 15who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; 16who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the endó 17then you say in your heart, ĎMy power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.í 18And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the Lord your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish. 20As the nations which the Lord destroys before you, so you shall perish, because you would not be obedient to the voice of the Lord your God."1
It is a great honor to address you this evening, as you stand at brink of real personal freedom and independence. Very soon, youíll be making life-impacting decisions for yourselves, and living with the results. As I considered what to share with you tonight, I thought of those things I wish someone had shared with me 24 years ago. Communication of wisdom and lessons learned with those who will follow us provides a crucial ingredient in their success. The Scriptures provide us such a link with Godís wisdom and plan. Yet, sadly, effective human communication still provides us with many challenges. For instanceÖ
There is an old Jewish story, probably apocryphal, about a time when the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave the Vatican and its surrounding territories. Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish community. So the Pope made a deal. He would have a religious debate with a member of the Jewish community. If the Jew won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave.
The Jews realized that they had no choice. So they picked a middle-aged man named Moishe to represent them. Moishe asked for one addition to the debate. To make it more interesting, neither side would be allowed to talk. The Pope agreed.
The day of the great debate came. Moishe and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Moishe looked back at him and raised one finger. The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head. Moishe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. Moishe pulled out an apple. The Pope stood up and said, "I give up. This man is too good. The Jews can stay."
An hour later, the cardinals were all around the Pope asking him what happened. The Pope said: "First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger, to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my fingers around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground and showing that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"
Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around Moishe. "What happened?" they asked. "Well," said Moishe, "First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here."
"And then?" asked a woman.
"I don't know," said Moishe. "He took out his lunch and I took out mine."
Of course, we share many things in common in our earthly journey. Mankind has asked the same questions since Adamís fall. Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? That vision was blurred by sin. But the answers are attainable.
Over 350 years ago, a group of men gathered to distill the Scriptural doctrines to their essence. They additionally created teaching aids in the form of questions and answers, called catechisms. The very first question they addressed was: "What is the chief and highest end of man?" That cuts right to the heart of the matter, does it not? Their answer, after considerable study of the Holy Scriptures, was this: "The chief and highest end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever." Interesting statement, but what does it mean to you as a 1998 high school graduate on the brink of a bright future of independence and achievement?
How do we glorify God?
First, by using and strengthening the gifts God blessed you with. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:31: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Thus we glorify God in our work by being the best that we can, whatever that work may be. For some of you, that will be some kind of career in the economy, for others, raising godly children at home. There is no higher calling than raising our children. Someone once observed that "a hundred years from now, it will not matter what our bank account was, the sort of house you lived in, or the kind of car you drove. But the world may be better because you were important in the life of a child." A wise man I once worked for advised that Iíd have a military career for 20, maybe 30 years if all went well, but Iíd have my family for the rest of my life. He told me to set my priorities accordingly. Never forget that after God, your family is the next most important thing in your life. Donít throw away Godís gift for short-term worldly gain. No one ever lamented on their deathbed that they wished theyíd spent more time in meetings.
And we donít work hard so that we get personal recognition, although that will certainly come, but so that God will be glorified. People should see a difference between the Christian and non-Christian. We must constantly check our motivations to keep ourselves centered on God. Itís not just what I do today, but why I do it. And donít forget where your blessings come from. Our Scripture reading was Godís warning to the ancient Israelites and to us. Success breeds pride. We can come to think of ourselves as self-made conquerors. Therein lies the seed of our own destruction. Proverbs 16:18 warns that "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." And Proverbs 11:2: "When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom." James 1:17 reminds us that "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lightsÖ"
We also glorify God by constantly seeking to educate ourselves, be it in college, daily Scripture study, or less formal reading. God blessed us as Americans with political freedom in the form of a Republic, but it will only survive and prosper if we both honor Him and educate ourselves in the issues of the day. After all, God called Isaiah by saying "Come now, and let us reason togetherÖ" He expects and requires us to think critically. Remember, though, that the only absolute truth is in the Scripture, not on Inside Edition.
We glorify God by living a life of service. Put your family before yourself. Put others before yourself. Listen to those who need an ear. Scripture tells us that some have unknowingly entertained angels. Jesus provided the ultimate example of servanthood. Model Christ in your life, because you might be the only Christian someone ever sees. As Jesus admonishes, let your light shine before men, that they may glorify your Father in heaven. Jesus, who had no sin, died for us so that our sins may be forgiven, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. Yet while we were sinners, Christ died for us. He didnít wait for us to measure up to His standard, wear the right clothes, or hang out with the right crowd. While we were sinnersÖHe lowered Himself to show us what it means to be a servant. So even when you lead, lead as Christ did, serving those whom you lead. Youíll be astounded at the results as God blesses your life and leadership.
We honor God by correctly defining success. Godís definition of success is incredibly simple: faithfulness. Hebrews Chapter 11 is often called the "Faith Hall of Fame." It briefly remembers those of old who stood with God, trusted God, even at great cost. Noah, who built the ark, despite the ridicule of his friends and neighbors. Abraham, who picked up his belongings and family and immediately moved to a strange land at Godís request. In Genesis, we read of Joseph, who remained faithful to God although it looked like the whole world was aimed squarely at his head. Then there were John the Baptist and Stephen, who paid for their faith with their lives. And Paul, who suffered more in a lifetime than this entire congregation put together will likely ever see. At the end of Paulís life, he could say that he had run the course, remained faithful to the cause of Christ to the end. Notice that fame and fortune are never mentioned. Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven where the moths, rust, and thieves canít get them, because where our treasure is, so is our heart. Our goal should be to hear these words from our Savior as we close our eyes for the last time: "Well done, good and faithful servant." Then weíll know that we have glorified God with our lives.
And how we can enjoy God forever?
First, believe God. Scripture teaches that God is perfect, holy, and cannot look upon sin. To stand in His presence, we must be perfect. We must then recognize our sinfulness. Paul reminds us in Romans 3 that there is none righteous, not even one. We are separated from God by our sin. John tells us in his first letter that if we claim to have fellowship with God, but walk in sin, we are liars. But he goes on to say that if we confess our sin and turn from it, God is faithful and will forgive us. He does that through Jesusí death on the cross, where all our sin was borne by Christ and paid completely, once and for all time. He rose from the dead, conquering death and sin for us. Paul teaches that if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, we will be saved. Then, Scripture tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. To enjoy God all the way into eternity, we must accept Christís sacrifice for us, live lives of gratitude to God, and stand before God covered in Christís righteousness. So seek God in all things, that you may rest in him. Paul in Philippians 4:6, 7 says that we should "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." In Christ, we live joyful lives independent of our circumstances, knowing that in the end, all things work for the good for those that love Him.
Second, obey His commands. In John 14:15, Jesus said that "If you love Me, keep My commandments". God provides a clear, objective standard for us in Scripture. Weíre told in 1 Samuel 15:22, 23: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry." Again, God looks at our hearts, at our motivations. Heís not interested in lame excuses or rationalizations. What does God expect of us? Micah 6:8 tells us: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" He hasnít given us His commands to cramp our style, but to guard us and keep us from the temptations and errors of the secular world around us. Jesus taught that weíre saved by grace through faith, but good works are the fruit of our salvation. Only by loving God and obeying His commands can we be fulfilled in this life and the next. Weíre told in 2 Chronicles 16:9: "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." Thomas Aquinas observed that "A manís heart is right when he wills what God wills." Nothing is more fulfilling in life than fellowship with the Almighty Creator and author of our salvation. And donít forget (especially if youíre interested in politics) that the softest pillow is a clear conscience. Obey Godís commands, and youíll never lose a minuteís sleep worrying about whoíll find what out, or how to keep your story straight. You can concentrate wholly on doing your best every day, to Godís glory.
Third, trust God and His providence. Scripture teaches that God is always and totally in control. Nothing happens without his command or consent. There is not one rogue molecule in all of creation. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:29 that not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from Godís will. Benjamin Franklin observed at our constitutional convention that: "ÖGod governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?" Indeed, Jesus taught in John 15:5: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." I guarantee there will be times in life when your human nature will doubt. Perhaps you already have. Trust and rest in Godís infinite wisdom, justice, and mercy. Remember that God is infinite, while we are finite. We cannot hope to understand His master plan. Remember the words of Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge." Revelation teaches us that this all ends well. Iíve read the back of the book, and we win.
Iíve sought to present some basic life truths for you this evening from the Scriptures, the handbook for our lives, and apply them directly to your lives. I hope that youíve gained some wisdom that will start you out right, and keep you on the straight and narrow way as you continue to study the Scriptures throughout your lives. Iíd like to conclude by offering you two truths that, if you remember nothing else Iíve said, you keep these in your heart and mind. Galatians 6:7 states: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." I canít begin to count the number of times Iíve seen this truth in action. And Jesusí words in Matthew 7:24-27: "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."
My prayer for each of you is that youíll build your lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Then youíll truly glorify God and enjoy fellowship with Him throughout your life and into eternity. You will rest securely knowing who you are, why youíre here, and where you are going.
1All Scriptures are from the New King James Version, Nelson, 1982