June 8, 2008
Good afternoon everyone.
When I was asked by one of the Seniors to give this commencement address, My first thought was, “My carefree days of not owning a suit have come to an end.” My second thought was, “Oh boy, do I really want to do this?” I mean this isn’t the type of address that you can pound out in one night and this is a little larger crowd than I’m used to. But my next thought was, “No, this is an honor; and I’d be happy to be to lend what I could to this service and specifically to the Seniors with whom I have spent so much time, and become so fond of.” After all, they must have a little confidence in me if they are asking me to do this. Just as these self-affirming thoughts were pushing me toward a “yes,” one of the Seniors—you know who you are—said, come on, Mr. Roehl, we can just have Mr. Owings write the speech for you. As if that wasn’t enough, immediately after that comment another student added, yeah, and Mr. Ochsner is already taken; he’s doing the Banquet speech…. I bought this suit anyway.
Dear proud and relieved parents, beaming grandparents, smiling siblings, extended family, friends, and especially, this afternoon…dear graduates…congratulations. We gather here today to honor our Seniors in the light of God’s Word and we do this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The theme for this address is “Investment Planning,” and the text for our consideration is the same passage that Seniors chose for their class verse.
Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.
Seniors, to some degree, and I’m, sure you know this, but let me remind you anyway, that who you are, what you have become, is not simply a product of your own efforts. There are many that have invested in you, most of whom are seated behind you here today. In fact, we can look at this gathering today as a kind of shareholders meeting, because all of the folks gathered here have invested in you time, energy, money, prayer, and the gospel message. Well, how have their investments done? What kind of return on their investment can we see today? Shareholders, I am happy to report that you’ve invested well. The hopes that you have held for each of our graduates have come to fruition. This class has and I believe will continue to honor you with conduct and with accomplishments reflective of their love for Christ. So on behalf of the faculty here at Immanuel, I would like to thank all of the shareholders here this afternoon for all that you have invested in the lives of our graduates.
Today though, graduates, the investors behind you…well…they are cashing out. They have invested much and I’ve just reported to them on their investment. They have become wealthy thru your growth in Christ. Today though, they are stepping back, to a large extent. Not by choice, but by necessity. From now on graduates, you are, more and more, responsible for you. With that fact in mind, I’d like to talk to you this morning about your own investment planning. I would encourage you to first plan with history, and second plan to change plans.
First, how can you plan with history?
Every commencement address is in danger of becoming a cliché festival. I kind of like cliché’s, but in an effort to spare you the likes of “the future is what you make it, the future is bright, or your future is limitless,” I am going to tell you right now that your future…is behind you.
History has always been our greatest teacher. I would make this statement no matter who I was addressing—no matter who was sitting in these pews this afternoon—Christian or atheist. No matter your creed, history is a study of our past in order to avoid the mistakes and repeat the success of those who have gone before us. Attempting to learn from those who have gone before us means that history, is also then, a search for our own identify.
John Quincy Adams, one of my favorite presidents, once argued a case before the Supreme Court in which reminded nine justices and reminded us all that the wisdom of our forefathers has been handed down to us and needs to be used. He said simply and profoundly, “Who we are is who we were.”
For a history nerd like I am, and like I know some of you are, an historical statement doesn’t get much more profound than that. Dear graduates, you have a colorful history. The folks you have met in your favorite history texts—and I know it’s hard to have a favorite history text, when you love them all—but, those giants in history as well as the investors sitting behind you, have colored your personal history. Who you are is who you were. Ask for advice; seek wisdom from the truly wise—from the investors behind you perhaps. Those investors, along with most of our nation’s founding fathers that you have met in your studies were and remain the truly wise because better even than most of the college professors you may someday meet, they recognize the course of history for what it truly is. They know that history is our greatest teacher because history is, of course, His Story.
God’s providence in the midst of man’s best efforts to mess things up can be seen over and over and over again. In our coursework, I’ve urged you, graduates to try to see the big picture of history—the cause-and-effect relationship of man’s actions, and how those actions inevitably fit into God’s master plan. Our founding fathers saw it; the investors behind you see it; my prayer for you is that you never cease in the knowledge and appreciation that God guides the course of your events—no matter how seemingly insignificant or monumental they appear.
It is an awe-inspiring truth that God’s direction of history, this master plan, has been hand crafted for little-old-you. If it matters to you, it matters to God. The providential hand that guided the events of the American Revolution is the same providential hand that will guide you or may have already guided you to a decision on which school to attend. The providential hand that guided the events of WWII is the same providential hand that will guide you to that special someone with whom you can share your heart. Best of all, the providential hand that orchestrated mankind’s salvation through the sacrifice of His only Son, is the same hand that as we read in our text, determines your steps.
As profound as John Quincy Adams’ statement was, a truer, more profound and immensely more comforting statement for us is this: “Who we are is what Christ did.” By inspiration, the Apostle Paul asks us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Then comes a statement of fact, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” Not only did God invest in you, He just went ahead with a full corporate takeover and purchased you. And like any good corporate takeover, there needs to be shake-up at the top. You’re out. God is now the majority shareholder—your ultimate CEO. He offered up His Son, made you His own, and filled you with His Spirit and that is the beautiful history that places you in His care every day of your life.
With care like that, with a CEO like that, you don’t need to worry about the big decisions. The best thing you can do is simply be lead. And this leads me to the second tip for investment planning—plan to change plans.
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. You Seniors chose your verse—our text—wisely. This passage serves as an invaluable reminder that although planning is essential, our footsteps will end in just exactly the spot God desires. Those who’ve wrapped their hearts around this fact are those who will make the soundest investment strategies.
You must plan to change plans because life is not just about investing in yourself. Here at Immanuel, we train servants and leaders in the same person, because a life of service to Christ, no matter your vocation, leads others to Christ. In that venture, our CEO may have plans for you that you never imagined. Romans 8:28 tells us that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose…” When God calls you according to His purpose, he is calling you to invest in others, and that’s why it’s a little scary. It’s scary, or at least uncomfortable, because it’s our human nature to look out for number #1, not look out for opportunities to serve.
Pastor Eichstadt made the observation recently in one of our chapels that everyone serves something, and boy is that true. Joshua 24:15 contains probably the most familiar declaration of service to God. At a time when outside forces were shredding the loyalty of the Children of Israel, Joshua drew the proverbial line in the sand with the words we are all familiar with. He said “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” In order for Joshua’s declaration to truly be our declaration however, we can’t view our religion as a quaint accessory to a comfortable life.
Far too many graduates across the US have their sights set on the money that they believe will provide the perfect life. Do you know why this type of life doesn’t lead to happiness? It’s simple really, true happiness must be accompanied by contentment, and true contentment can only come with the understanding that your life’s events are God’s will. Those events, whether easy or tough, happy or sad, will, as we just read “work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Take a close look at the last part of that verse. “…to those who are called according to his purpose.” Planning to change plans is just another way of saying, that as hard as it will be for us to stifle our selfish ambition, we pray that the Lord will guide us to decisions in life that further his Kingdom, not just our own selfish instinct. Service of self is the ultimate in emptiness, and the more you strive for material wealth, the greater the emptiness becomes. But make no mistake, striving for the big bucks, for power, that comes naturally. Seeking success as the world judges is as natural a drive as is breathing. The toughest choices are the ones, and really pay attention to this, graduates, the toughest choices, are between money and service.
It is a certainty that the Lord will present opportunities for service. These opportunities take many different forms, but if you look, if you pray, you will know the path to take—the path of service to others not the path of service to self. Maybe you have the opportunity to take on a few extra hours at work, but those extra hours would replace the hours you spend volunteering or simply spending priceless time with your family. Maybe you will have the opportunity to buy that truck you’ve always wanted if you really stretch your budget. I’m no financial guru, but if you can just barely afford a luxury item, your financial support of God’s work through the church will be shortchanged, and that is simply a bad decision. You may have just what it takes to be a fabulous success in any number of well-paying fields, but decide that the Lord could use you best as a pastor or a teacher. Maybe the much lower-paying job is much closer to your church and would enable you to not only to attend more regularly, but also help with youth group or serve on the property board for example.
Service opportunities will abound, but be prepared for how easy they are to walk away from. The excuses will come naturally. Remember though that the happiness and contentment that the world can’t fathom is found along, and at the end of, the path God chooses for you, not necessarily the path you alone choose for you. A true life of service means planning to change plans after making the tough decisions.
But these decisions become much, much easier when you are fully invested in Christ. When you have taken daily opportunity to devote yourself to God through study of his word, it becomes much easier to take his hand and let Him lead you to a life of service in His kingdom. Remember too that we have a pretty good role model here—Jesus came in a servant’s form and led a servant’s life obedient even to death. Jesus’ acceptance of his Father’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane was the picture of obedience; Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet, the picture of service and humility.
Graduates, there will be things in this life that you want so badly, that it begins to eat you up inside; it becomes just about all you can think about. You pray and pray and pray, and God says no and no and no. Don’t dwell on the loud slam of that door; listen for the quiet creaking of the other door that is opening. Don’t sulk, don’t become bitter. You’ve heard that He never shuts one without opening another, and it’s true, so plan to change plans. God tells us in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
That’s good stuff. That’s the big picture.
Every year at Immanuel this graduation Sunday proves to be something of a paradox. For many students, it’s a day of emotional and often tearful goodbyes. Those students that have proven to be honest, trustworthy, and faithful to both friends and to God, are those that other students have the toughest time saying goodbye to. Here is the paradox. For teachers, those same types of students—the types of students like we find in the front row here today—are often the easiest to say goodbye to. You see, over these many years, we’ve watched you grow and grow well. You are young men and women that are ready for that next big step. We can say goodbye with confidence in you and your futures, and that, makes it easy.
Dear graduates invest yourself fully in the Lord as he has invested so fully in you. Seeking to make His plans your plans, will bring you greater fulfillment and contentment than you can imagine.
May the Lord, the One who determines your steps, and authors your personal history
May this same Lord
bless you and keep you;
May the Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
May the LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace…all the days of your life. Amen