A Challenge and Blessing

The following is the message I shared with the 2021 Lennox High School Graduating Class for their Baccalaureate service.

While my first inclination is to just dump a long list of instructions for your success and blessing in life, I know that your minds aren’t here right now. For some of you, you’ve checked out of school with Senior-itis several weeks ago. Today was your last official day of High School. You are done. Can I get an Amen? I understand that.

So this evening I promise to keep the message brief, and simply tell you 3 things. They’re simple, but these three things could change your life. 3 Things: Choose to Live; Find the North Star; and Learn the Way of Things.

First Challenge: Choose to Live

Let me set this first point in a story from God’s Word.  When God had delivered His people Israel out 400 years of bondage in Egypt, He led them to the Promised Land, and land flowing with milk and honey. But when the people saw the inhabitants of the land, the people of Israel would not go up into the land, they doubted God, refused to follow, and were forced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Finally, after a generation had passed in the wilderness, and a new people were ready to take the land, Moses put before them a choice:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for He is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30).

This was the choice that God gave to His people: Choose life!  Like Moses, I want to take the opportunity to put the same choice before you today: Choose life!

There is a great adventure that awaits you outside those doors, if you will choose to live. Think about it, everything in the world has been calling you to life. You are the generation of Harry Potter/Marvel Studies/Athletic Superstars: sagas of self-discovery, setting out on a journey to learn your strengths and vulnerabilities, rising to face the challenge of the day, being overwhelmed by tremendous odds, but learning that endurance, sacrifice, and love triumph in the end.  Like Morpheus in “The Matrix” extending to Neo a red or green pill, signifying the chance to open your eyes to reality and begin to actually live, I call you today to see the world as it really is and choose life. 

This life is calling. Last year, in the height of the COVID Pandemic, my oldest son said to me, “Dad, I’ve got to get out of here.” So we planned a quick get away (we hiked Devil’s Tower, drove Bear Tooth Pass, explored Yellowstone National Park). Being out there reminded me of when I was his age, I had gone on Mission trips to Mexico, Costa Rica, and inner city San Jose, California, living in a homeless shelter and teaching the Bible in the barrios; I went to D.C. for a youth leadership conference (and spent an evening sharing the gospel in downtown D.C.).

Friends, I implore you, engage in the land of living. Go on the adventure. Choose to live.

Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It is sad, but so many don’t answer the call to genuine living, and remain in the slow spiral of death. They never really engage, they won’t open their lives, they fall into the dull routine of live, eat, work, play, die. Don’t become just another number, a cog in the machine.

When you leave here, some to college, some to military, some to trade school, some straight to work, step away from the screen, engage in life, begin the adventure, choose the life. Parents, it’s hard, terrifying, but let them go. Trust not just how you’ve raised them, but trust that the God who has brought them here will bring them through. Seniors, go with God and live!

Remember, as the great Scotsman, William Wallace said, “Every man dies, not every man lives.”

Find the North Star

The second challenge is this: Find the North Star.

In the olden days, before even I was born, before GPS, sailors could navigate themselves around the world with a reliable map and the north star. The star was a fixed point in the sky that told them where they were on their journey. If you are going to go and live, you need the North Star, a fixed point of truth that will guide you and lead you where you’re going.

In John 8:32, Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

But in Orwell’s 1984, he wrote prophetically, “The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.” Truth is not a valued commodity in our culture, and it shows. The press spins everything toward a particular slant, lies are presented as truth from an alternative point of view; and gaslighting (convincing you that the thing you just saw didn’t really happen) has become commonplace. Truth has become relative, subjective, and therefore meaningless. We’ve idolized the individual so that “your truth” defines your reality, and leaving us to live in a multiverse of madness. 

This deconstructionist philosophy, not knowing who or what you can believe, not having a truth to stand on, is terrifying and disastrous. Without truth you lose your identity, your integrity; without truth you cannot live. When you remove objective truth from the cornerstone of society, from your life, it’s not long before the whole building falls.

Friends, if you choose the life, to embark on the great adventure that awaits you, you need to know the truth, and to have that truth guide you, shape you, so that you can stand on a firm foundation. 

When the founding fathers sought to declare their independence from the tyrannical governance of King George, they framed their new life together in truth: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Upon these truths our nation was established; they remain the nation’s guiding principles.

As you begin to live, seek out that which is objectively true, a truth that is outside yourself, a shared truth which is fixed, real, permanent, trustworthy; something upon which you can build your life. Let this truth guide you and shape you. Truth stands like a high tower, a shelter you can turn to when the storm of life come crashing in. When you hold onto the truth, you can say with certainty, regardless of what I am facing today, despite the challenges and obstacles I have to overcome, I will set my sights on the truth, I will push towards it, and the truth will set me free. 

Choose the life, and know the truth.

Learn the Way from Others

Finally, learn the way from others. Proverbs 17:24 “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”

You may have a diploma, but your education isn’t done. All high school has really done is give you the tools to begin learning the important lessons in life. Now begins the education that comes outside the classroom. Genuine wisdom is someone who knows what they don’t know, but is determined to find it out. Never stop learning. Seek wisdom and understanding, it is more precious than gold or silver. 

Whatever you decide to do in life, become an apprentice, come along side of someone with experience, find an expert and hang on their every word. Never be afraid to ask questions, and always be ready to learn from your mistakes. 

Hebres 12:1 teaches, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Look around you. There is a great cloud of witnesses watching over you right now; and they are full of experience; the wisdom of the ages, they’ve gone through everything you’re about to face (the tech is different, but the stuff is the same), and they’ve come through it. This is the blessing of family, of community, where we have connected with the generations that have gone before, that we may learn from them and grow.

Choose the life, know the truth, and learn the way from others.

Those are my three challenges for you. But tonight is supposed to be a word of blessing over you, not just a challenge. So let me give you one last thought as a bonus.

Know the Gospel

You can take what I’ve given and apply it in any way, but the reality is that these challenges point us to a greater message. In John 14, Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one may come to the Father except through me.”

My greatest challenge to you, and your richest blessing, is that you would know Jesus Christ, for:

He is the way.

Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.  Jesus said “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

If you want to know the way of life, if you want to know how to live, look first to Jesus. He is the way of love; He set aside His eternal glory and came bear the burden of our sin. He is the way of righteousness; He has done what we were meant to do, but couldn’t because we had lost our way. He is the way to peace with God and with one another, who, through His death and resurrection has reconciled those who believe to the Father.

He is the truth

John 1 says that Jesus came full of grace and truth. He is the Word of God made flesh, the full expression of God’s revelation. If you have seen Jesus, if you know Him, you know the truth of God (His grace, goodness, love, justice). He is the great, objective, substantial, external truth upon whom we can build our lives.

He is the life

The reality is, we, left to our own devises, are dead in our trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2, says, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

My challenge and blessing over you tonight is this: Choose life, Find the North Star, and Follow the Way, and you can do this by knowing, trusting, in Jesus Christ. He has come to give you life, and to give you life in the fullest. If you want to live, if you want the truth, if you want to know the way, then look to Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.

Lazarus, Come Forth!

In preparation for a youth group lesson tonight on the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11, I turned to A.W. Pink’s wonderful commentary. I thought I’d share some of his commentary on this passage for your edification today.

He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:43–44)

Lazarus was addressed personally for, as it has been well remarked, had Christ simply cried “come forth” Hades would have been emptied and every tenant of the grave would have been raised from the dead.

At the sound of that Voice the king of terror at once yielded up his lawful captive, and the insatiable grace gave up its prey. Captivity was led captive and Christ took forth as the Conqueror of sin, death, and Satan. There it was demonstrated that He who was in the form of a Servant, nevertheless, held in His own hand “the keys of death and hades.” Here was public proof that the Lord Jesus had absolute power over the material world and over the realm of spirits. At His bidding a soul that had left its earthly tenement was called back from the unseen to dwell once more in the body. What a demonstration was this that He who could work such astounding miracles must be none other than one “who is over all, God blessed forever” (Rom 9:5). Thank God for an all-mighty Savior. How can any sheep of His ever perish when held in such a hand.

Whether we view the raising of Lazarus as a figure of the regeneration of a sinner, or the glorification of the believer, the ‘grave clothes’ here and the removal of them, are equally significant. When a sinner is born again, God’s work of grace in his soul is not perfected, rather has it just commenced. The old nature still remains and the marks of the grave are still upon him. There is much to impede the movements of the “new man,” much from which he needs to be “loosed,” and which his spiritual resurrection did not of itself effect.

That the Lord invited the bystanders to “loose him” points a beautiful lesson. In gracious condescension the Lord of glory links human instruments with Himself in the work which He is now doing in the world… The Lord alone can speak the word which quickens dead sinners; but He permits us to carry that word to them. What an inestimable privilege – an honor not given to the angels! O that we might esteem it more highly. There is no higher privilege this side of Heaven than for us to be used of the Lord in rolling away gravestones and removing grave clothes.

Pink, Arthur W. Exposition of the Gospel of John. (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1981) Pages 205-210.

How have we come to be so blasé about this whole story. Jesus stood at the open tomb of a man who had been dead 4 days, and with the command of His voice He summons the dead to life. He signals the truth that He is the resurrection and the life, and that He would conquer death and hell, in fact, death had no claim upon Him. Not only that, but after giving life to a man who was dead, Jesus then sets him free from the trappings of death, that he might live and that to the fullest.

If the message of the Christian faith seems tried and uninspiring, then I think you have not really heard it. This is the stuff of life, of power, and of glory. If you read this and are not moved to wonder, then you fail to see that you are just where Lazarus was – dead in sin, incapable of doing anything to better your position.

Jesus still calls the dead to life. His Word still moves mightily. He calls us to proclaim salvation in His name, and to loose the bonds of those who have been raised. We share the Gospel, and in doing so we call the dead to life in Christ, and help the living be set free in Christ from the cords of death. What a wonderful word. What a wonderful calling.