You Owe Me Three Minutes
Delivered to the 2017 Graduating Class of Blue Ridge Christian School
Superintendent Reynolds, school board, faculty and administration, friends, family, and men and women of the graduating class of 2017. It is my honor to be with you this evening, to share this moment with you as you celebrate an epic milestone in your lives.
I understand there was some talk of granting me an honorary high school diploma, but the administration decided against it because they looked at my algebra transcripts. I think the expression they used was “facepalm.” Thankfully, we aren’t here to talk about my algebra prowess, we are here to talk about you, and to honor your achievements.
As I attempt to do that, realize that I am the last thing you have to endure before you actually graduate. In fact, you could think of it this way: the only thing standing between you and your high school diploma… is me. Perhaps I could hold your diplomas for ransom. I wonder what you might be willing to pay me to keep this commencement address from going long.
But since you are graduating from a private school I am guessing you don’t have a lot of extra money laying around. Your parents and families have made a fantastic choice – a choice that comes with great sacrifice. They invested in you, sending you to Blue Ridge Christian School when there were much easier and less expensive options. But they valued your training so much – they knew how important it was for you to become grounded in the Biblical worldview, that they paid the price so you could be here tonight. Thank you, families and parents for your example, your sacrifice, your investment.
In honor of what your families have sacrificed so that you could complete this stage of your journey, I simply can’t hold your diplomas for ransom. That would just be wrong. And you would remember me for all the wrong reasons. So how about this. I was asked to speak for twenty minutes, but how about I speak for seventeen, and you owe me three minutes. Yes?
Now, what would I ask you to do with those extra three minutes of adulthood I have just granted you? Hang in there with me and I will come back to my gracious addition of three minutes to your life. Your welcome – well, don’t say “thank you” just yet. My offer is conditional. But first, a few things to think about.
Twenty-five years ago, I was sitting where you are now – finishing high school, and eagerly planning for the future. Anything seemed possible then. Knowing that the Lord had something planned for me was invigorating. Not knowing exactly what that would be was sometimes confusing and even frustrating. But as often is the case, with time comes clarity. Things usually get a bit clearer as you travel the road a bit. Not always, but usually. Or maybe just sometimes. Every now and then time helps give us perspective. And having traveled the road you are about to embark, I have gained some perspective that I would like to share with you. Just seven observations that I hope will encourage you as you go from this moment to your next adventure.
You can drink volcanic lava, but only once. Now, I admit, I didn’t learn this one from experience. It was a meme on Facebook. It’s truth, though, was confirmed on Instagram, so you know it’s reliable (everything is confirmed by two or three social media witnesses, right?). The point is that some actions are irreversible. Bad decisions make fantastic stories, but they make for painful lives. A man once said, “I used to think drinking was bad for me so I gave up thinking.” Now rest assured, this is not a “don’t drink or you’ll go to hell” speech, it isn’t that at all. It’s a “don’t give up thinking” speech.
You are about to embark on a new journey in which you will be making more decisions with greater consequences than ever before. Proverbs 2:6 tells us that wisdom and knowledge come from the mouth of God – from His word. You can learn by experience, or you can learn by listening to God’s counsel. Experience is a good teacher but her tuition rates are higher than any of us can afford. “I’ve learned so much from my mistakes, I think I will make some more,” said no one ever. On the other hand, God’s counsel is tuition free, and the wisest man ever – who ironically has lots of entertaining stories (just read Ecclesiastes) – says in Proverbs 3:14-15 that God’s counsel is better than silver, gold, jewels – and anything else you could ever desire.
Skinny jeans will be cool. Then they won’t. Then they will. Fashion fades, and styles change. The preferences of the culture around you will morph wildly every five years or so. What is old becomes new again. There is really nothing new under the sun. One of the reasons Paul told us in Romans 12:2 not to be conformed to this world was because he didn’t want to see bell bottoms come back in style again. I’m just kidding. Actually, Paul was wearing bell bottoms when he wrote that. In seriousness, Paul warns us against becoming conformed to this world, because he understood that some things are temporary and fade away, and that other things are lasting and valuable. He encouraged us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, because he knew that if we allow God’s word to do its work in us, we will have minds set on what really matters. Stuff fades away – all of it, but people are eternal – invest in people not things. Remember, for example, the great investment your families made in you. Pay that forward – in fact pay that in all directions. When you have an opportunity to invest in people do it. Loving people never goes out of style.
They are always worthwhile, because they matter to the One who created them, and they should matter to you. You matter to somebody, or you wouldn’t be here. What are you going to do with that debt of love? Don’t ignore it. Value what matters. Value what is lasting.
Money doesn’t make you wealthy, you already are. You already have riches in Christ – every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, according to Paul in Ephesians 1:3. Money, on the other hand, is hard to get and even harder to use wisely. Beware of the temptation to base your decisions on money. 2 Corinthians 9:8 says that, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…”
Anything God allows us to have, He allows us to have so we can do good with it – so that we can honor Him. Money is not the destination; it is just a car we drive to get to the destination. Of course, some cars are nicer than others, but don’t get caught up in all that. Be wise with the car you have, and wash it occasionally. (It’s a metaphor – I am not suggesting you actually launder money. That’s a felony, and that would make me an accomplice – did I mention the importance of avoiding bad decisions?). Be good stewards of the car, but never lose sight of the destination. Why has God allowed you to have some material blessings that some people never are given? Don’t forget – with great power comes great…electricity bills. You’ll get to pay those soon enough. Be a wise steward of His money and you shouldn’t have too much problem fulfilling your responsibilities.
Highlights are overrated. We live in a culture that celebrates highlights. That’s not all bad – tonight’s celebration is a highlight. That’s a great thing, but if we are too focused on big moments, we forget the beauty of the small moments that has given us in between. 1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us that whether we are eating or drinking or whatever we are doing we should be doing all to the glory of God. That means that the little things in our lives matter to God. Even the most menial parts of life are significant and full of meaning if we are doing them with and for Him. Don’t fall into an ESPN SportsCenter view of your own life – if it doesn’t make the highlights it may as well have not happened, because it doesn’t matter. That approach works fine for sports, but for your outlook on life, look through God’s lens. Everything matters to Him. There is no distinction between your spiritual life and everything else. Your life is the spiritual life. Do life like He designed it – many small moments with small tasks all with great meaning, purpose, and significance.
Someone once said, “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” I am a philosopher. I know that saying isn’t true, because I am also very happy. I picked an excellent woman – a Proverbs 31 woman, and I have tried to be an Ephesians 5 man for her. While that particular saying about picking the right spouse or becoming a philosopher doesn’t ring true, Solomon – who, again, had probably as many great stories as wives – said in Proverbs 21:9 that “it is better to live in the corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”
Men and women, this goes both ways – if you don’t find someone who is more in love with God than with you, then do not marry – God provides singleness, and that is also a good thing. If God isn’t the center of one’s life then they can never love you properly nor respond properly to your love. Choosing a spouse is perhaps the second biggest decision you will ever make in your life. Choose wisely. Rely on God’s counsel to help you navigate that choice.
I hope and pray you all fail well! You aren’t perfect, and you simply won’t succeed at everything. You can try to limit what you do so that you minimize the risk of failure and there is some wisdom in that. Or you can do a great many things unafraid of failure, and there is some wisdom in that. But you will fail. The question is: at what are you willing to fail? Do not accept failure in your walk with God. Do not accept failure in the love of your spouse. Do not accept failure in the training up of your children. Be willing to fail in any area, but not in these. John 17:3 tells us the meaning of life is to know God. If you fail in your walk with God, you have missed the point of life. If you fail in loving your spouse, you have failed in your walk with God. Peter talks about that in 1 Peter 3. And if you fail in training up your children, you failed in a great task with which he has entrusted you. Just see Ephesians 6. Be willing to fail in your vocation and in your recreation, but not in those three. You are going to fail. Prioritize. Be prepared to fail. Fail well when you must fail. Thank God for His grace when you fail in anything. His grace is sufficient for us, and we can praise God for that.
My final observation for you is #7: You don’t graduate until you’re dead, and even then, not necessarily. Now, that is not a threat, and I am not returning to the ‘holding your diplomas for ransom’ theme. As one who has graduated eight times since my own high school graduation, I can tell you that any graduation is merely a single milestone in a lifetime of learning.
Those milestones are worth celebrating. They give us occasion to reflect on how God has grown us, on the love and sacrifice others have bestowed on us, and on how much farther we really have to go. Learning and growing is a lifelong pursuit, and that is how God designed it. So “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you…” Let His word be at home in you. Be hungry for what He has to offer you.
You are rich in Christ, and you have a whole lifetime – however much time He gives you – a lifetime ahead of you to learn of Him, to love Him, to love the people He has made, and to use everything He has given you for the benefit of others.
Thank you for your patience with me as I have sought to be a blessing to you even while delaying your joyous moment. I will delay you no further. One final detail – there is the matter of those three minutes that you owe me. All I ask is that with three small minutes each day, spend time in His word. Let His word richly dwell within you. Those three small minutes will lead to many more joyous moments with Him in Scripture, in prayer, and in all of life. He has brought you this far in His love and grace. Spend time with Him. He will love you. He will guide you. There is nothing – nothing more valuable in this thing we call life. Class of 2017, I thank you for your kindness to me in these past few moments, I congratulate you on your achievement, and I urge you to walk from this moment in a manner worthy of your calling.