2007 Graduation Address--Craig Owings

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Graduation Address

June 10, 2007

Craig Owings

Dear Friends, Families, Pastors, and Teachers of the Graduating Class; but especially, Dear Graduating Class of 2007,

I like books. The good ones are fine company. They are interesting. They provide intellectual stimulation, laughter, and sometimes tears. And while I’m reading one, I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to turn out.

In all those ways, dear graduates, you are, to me, like good books. You are fine company, and it saddens me to realize that I will no longer be able to regularly enjoy your company. It has been a privilege to get to know you, and I will miss you. Also like good books, you certainly have been interesting, you have provided intellectual stimulation, a good deal of laughter, and yes, some tears also. But most of all, I can’t help but wonder how you are going to turn out.

Today, when you receive your diplomas, you enter a new phase of your lives. Part I of your personal life-book is finished; Part II is about to begin. You have completed high school, and now you must go on from here. That’s an exciting thought, and maybe in some ways just a little bit scary.

With all that in mind, there are two parts to what I wish to say to you today. They are, in fact, the two parts of Amanda’s confirmation verse. That verse is Psalm 37:5: “Commit thy way unto the LORD, trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.”

The first part is Commit your way unto the Lord.

Today you will write the first words on the first page in Part II of your life-book. As you do so, I pray that the words you write will be a reaffirmation of the commitment made on your behalf when you were baptized, which you renewed when you were confirmed. In simple terms, that commitment is that you will be God’s people, and He will be your God, and that you will give Him your best, in all areas of your lives, so that everything in your lives—all that you do, and all that you are—will glorify Him.

You cannot do this by yourself and in your own strength. It is not possible. But as Kasey’s confirmation verse tells us, you can do it with God’s help. Kasey’s verse was Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” To continue with the book analogy, committing your way unto the Lord means that instead of writing the book of the rest of your lives yourselves—and about yourselves—you instead commit yourselves to letting God write His book through your lives.

That is what Elisabeth’s confirmation verse means. Her verse was Matthew 5:16, in which Jesus tells us to let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father in heaven. It might scare you to realize that this means that you are to stand out among men. According to these words of Jesus, you should draw the attention of the people around you in the same way that a shining light does. That’s hard for shy people, isn’t it? But it’s not so hard when you remember that you are not to draw the attention to yourself, but rather to God. You are to be “hidden in Christ,” as my best friend Don Bishop likes to say. Jesus says that men should see your good works, but that the result of that observation is that God is glorified. You see, life in general, and even your life in particular, is not about you. It’s about your Lord.

In the final analysis, committing your way unto the Lord is the only thing worth living for. Everything else is too small. Nothing else—whether money, or fame, or power, or the spouse of your dreams—can fulfill your life, or give you peace, or contentment, or lasting confidence in what you are doing. There are many things in life that are worth dying for—such as your family, your country, your friends, perhaps even a stranger who needs your help; but none of those things are worth living for. The only thing big enough for you to commit your life to is the Lord.

Your commitment to the Lord is to be complete. No part of your life is to be excluded from this commitment. One of the definitions for the word commitment in the Oxford English Dictionary is “An absolute moral choice of a course of action.” Jesus told us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. It is not a matter of making God and His demands on your life just one more item among many others that you consider important. Your commitment to the Lord is to be the governing principle of all the other areas of your life. When you write “The End” on the final page of your life-book, if that book records that you were so successful in the business world that you showed up every year on the Forbes list of the richest Americans, and that you were so famous that you couldn’t go anywhere without people taking your picture and asking for your autograph, and that you became so powerful that Presidents and monarchs and Prime Ministers sought your advice and support; but it also records that you forgot your commitment to the Lord, then you will have accomplished nothing of lasting importance, and your life will not have been a successful one.

The second part of what I wish to say to you today is “trust also in Him; and He shall bring it to pass.”

This second part follows quite naturally from the first. In the Hebrew of the original, the clause translated as “commit your way unto the Lord” is literally “roll it upon Jehovah.” The picture is that of rolling our heavy burden upon God, Who will then carry it for us. You can see now why “trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass” follows from that. If we are trying to direct our lives and carry our burdens ourselves, we cannot have confidence in the outcome. But if God is directing our lives and carrying our burdens for us, we cannot doubt the outcome. Our success is assured. We need not fear.

Dear graduating seniors, in the lists you gave me, you noted some fears you have about the future. Among others, you listed the following things:

  • Fear of not knowing what will happen after college
  • Fear of not finding employment in your chosen field
  • Fear of dying, and of friends’ dying
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of not being able to adequately defend the teachings of the Bible
  • Fear of not really knowing what God wants you to do with your life
  • Fear of not achieving success
  • Fear of not having a good spouse
  • Fear of financial problems
  • Fear of car problems
  • Fear of losing contact with your high school friends

Dear graduating seniors, I entreat you: do not take counsel of your fears. Fear is one of the most effective tools of Satan to keep God’s people from accomplishing what the Lord would have them do. Fear keeps us from accomplishing things, because it keeps us from attempting them. But having committed yourselves to the Lord and to letting Him direct your ways, you can live boldly and confidently, because the life, the works, and the promise of Christ all assure you of victory; and no power on earth or—perhaps more to the point—no power in hell can overcome that promise of Jesus to you. It is as Rachel’s confirmation verse promises us, “He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.”

Let me give you an illustration of how that works. I came across a similar illustration in a book by Max Lucado, and I adapted it for today’s message. Imagine an Olympic athlete, competing in the gymnastics events. He has already performed the vault, the horizontal bar, the parallel bars, the pommel horse, and the rings. With only the floor exercise left, he is in the lead. He knows that unless he messes up in the floor exercise, the Olympic individual gold medal is his. With all that in his head, how will he approach that final event? It would certainly be understandable if he became afraid of making a mistake and fearful of receiving point deductions. His fear might cause him to “play it safe” and hold back a little bit and try not to lose rather than going all out for the win. But now suppose that shortly before his turn to go out on the floor, his coach came rushing up to him, and told him that he has calculated all the scores, and that his lead is such that the second-place contestant cannot catch him. His victory, and the gold medal, are guaranteed. How will he perform then? I think he would confidently, boldly, and fearlessly go out and try to give the performance of his life, secure in the knowledge that he cannot fail; his victory is assured.

That is how you should live your lives: not for yourselves, but as Christians assured that you are on the right side, and confident that even if external circumstances may seem to be against you, and even though you can’t see what tomorrow may bring, nonetheless in Christ your victory is already assured, because God has promised those who commit their way unto the Lord that He will direct their lives and He will carry their burdens. The Bible tells us, “In all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” Your life-book will have a happy and glorious ending, because God promises “trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.”

You see, it is not just that you are called to be committed to the Lord. More significantly, He is committed to you. The same God Who made the oceans and mountains and stars loves you personally. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for you. There is no greater commitment than that. In the verse that Brian chose for his confirmation, the Lord of the universe promises about you, “I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”

Let me say one more thing about God’s commitment to you. I’m going to tell you a personal story that will not at first seem to have anything to do with what I’ve been talking about. But stay with me, and I’ll make the application.

When my son Adam was serving in Afghanistan, and again later when my son Michael was serving in Iraq, my daughter Megan told me something about which I had mixed feelings. On both occasions, she told me that she might get a tattoo. In general, I don’t like the idea. However, what Megan was telling me was that if one of her brothers were killed in the war, she would get a tattoo with the name of her brother, in memory of him.

A tattoo is a permanent thing. It is, in that regard, a commitment. What Megan told me about how she would get a tattoo with the name of her brother on it if Adam or Michael died in the war came back to me with great impact later on when I was reading the prophet Isaiah, and came to verse 16 of the 49th chapter. That verse never especially stood out to me in previous readings, but it certainly did that time. Dear graduating seniors, God is so committed to you that He has your name tattooed on His hand! Listen to Isaiah 49, verses 14-16, in the words of Beck’s translation. God is speaking here, and He says, “But Zion says, ‘The Lord has deserted me! My Lord has forgotten me!’ Can a woman forget the child she’s nursing and not have compassion on the son who came from her womb? Even if mothers should forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

Dear graduating class of 2007, God is committed to you. That commitment was made from eternity. It was sealed when Jesus died for your salvation. Your names are tattooed on His hand, and He will never forget you or forsake you. Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.

The Lord bless you now and always, as you write your life-books to His glory. Amen.