All cross our city, state, and nation there are commencement ceremonies taking place as high school seniors and college graduates are celebrating the wonderful accomplishment of completing their course assignments. It’s an exciting time of year for you who are graduating, for your families, and for those of us who love you.
I had the opportunity to attend the commencement ceremony at the University of Missouri-St. Louis last Saturday as Connie and I were celebrating Annie’s graduation. Connie and I arrived early and took our seat in the stands. Being the people watcher that I am, I watched family after family; parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends cheer at the top of their lungs as their graduate walked across the stage to receive their diploma. There were so many smiles, so much joy and happiness, and more cameras than you would find at a paparazzi convention as everyone wanted to capture the special moment. It was such a blessing to watch it all unfold.
After I got back home I was thinking about the commencement ceremony. It doesn’t matter if you graduated many years ago, if you are graduating this month, or if you will graduate at some time in the future–the time set aside to receive your diploma is called a “commencement ceremony.” That’s an interesting word for that moment in life where one finishes their education. The word “commencement” is defined as, “the beginning of something.” Not the end of something, but the beginning of something. That’s great insight into what is really taking place in the lives of graduates. They have just finished one thing, their high school or college education, but there’s so much more to life that is just getting ready to unfold.
All of this got me to thinking, “commencement” is something that is really part of each and every one of our lives, regardless of our age. Life is full of one commencement after another, one new thing after another, one new challenge, one new opportunity, one door closing and another opening, one hurdle overcome and another hurdle on the horizon. We begin again and again and again in life. I had breakfast this week with a friend who is a new dad, he and his wife have experienced a commencement into parenthood. I have another friend who is going through a divorce, he is experiencing a commencement into single-parenting. I have a friend whose wife has died, he has experienced a commencement into the world of widowhood. Some of you are experiencing the graduation of your youngest child and you are experiencing a commencement into the empty nest life. I could go and on with the various scenarios of life where we must commence onto a new path of life.
At the same time there is a uniqueness to graduating from high school or college. There is one question that is asked over and over again of those who are graduating and it is this: “What’s your plan? What are you going to do now?” As a matter of fact, the information sheet Ryan gave to all of our graduates has the question: “What are your future plans?” There’s nothing wrong with having a plan. It’s a good idea to have an idea of where we are going in life. The great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” Yogi was more than a great catcher for the Yankees wasn’t he?! It’s good to have a plan, to have an idea of where we are going in life, but there’s something even more important than having a plan. Let’s turn to James 4:13-17 and I’ll share it with you.
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. (James 4:13-17 NIVO)
James gives all of us such incredible advice on how to plan for the future. James is not telling us not to plan, but he is telling us to hold loosely to our plans and to hold firmly to the pursuit of God’s will for our lives. I was looking at the plans of our graduates this past week. We, as a church, are blessed with some incredible young people. You have plans to sign-up for the Peace Corps, to get a degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, to join a law firm, play soccer in college, continue your education to earn a Ph.D., major in Journalism and become a Sports Writer, to serve as a Nurse and gain a Doctorate in Nursing Practice, serve as a Drug and Alcohol Counselor, and the list goes on and on. That’s so impressive isn’t it church? Before I say another word let me say this, “We are so proud of all of you!” At the same time, we want to caution you: Hold loosely to your plans and strive, yearn for, desire more than anything in life to know God’s will and plan for your life. God’s plan for your life may very well be what you are pursuing, but then again, it may not be what you think the future holds for you. I know from my own experience what I’m talking about.
I went to college and planned on being a coach. I had already lined up my first coaching job as a graduate assistant at Cameron University. The summer before my senior year I went to work at Kanakuk Kamp and God changed my plans. I was engaged to Connie who thought she was going to marry a coach, until I told her, “I think God wants me to share Jesus with kids.” I’m sure Connie was thinking, “What does that even mean?” You can certainly do that while coaching, but I sensed God wanted me to do something different. I went to talk to the only preacher I knew and he said, “You need to go to Seminary.” I had never heard of a Seminary. Didn’t even know they existed, but when I found out it meant four more years of school I kicked myself for ever having gone to talk to the preacher. We loaded up our stuff, along with our new baby, and headed to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas–a place we’d never visited and to a school we’d never even heard of. There was still a yearning in my heart to be a coach, but God had different plans and His plan is always best. Pursue your passion, but make room for God to change your plans. I will promise you, if you follow Him, He will change your heart.
Here’s another thing worth thinking about. You don’t have to know now what you’ll be doing in 10, 20, or 30 years. Many young people think, “I’ve got to make a decision now so that I can know what I’m going to do in the future.” No you don’t. Life is full of change. Leave room for the changes that will come, that you will have no control over. Many people begin thinking they are going to do one thing and end up doing something altogether different. In the latest study that was done, in 2013, 27% of college graduates were working at a job that was related to their degree. That means 73% of people are like me, they earned a degree in something, but the work they are doing has absolutely nothing to do with their degree.
Don’t stress over the future. Know that change is going to come. Some of those changes you’ll see coming, but the vast majority you’ll be totally unaware of until it actually happens. Trust God. Rely on God. Know that He is Sovereign over every moment of your life and that He is leading and guiding you through the changes as they come. If you do this you’ll know you are in good company. Let me give you some examples from God’s Word. Matthew was an IRS agent for the Roman government before he became a disciple of Jesus. Peter was in the family business of fishing before God changed his plans. The prophet Amos was catching heat from King Amaziah of Judah because of the sermons he was preaching, which Amaziah didn’t want to hear. Amaziah was telling Amos to just leave and go earn his living as a prophet somewhere else. Amos said,
14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. (Amos 7:14 NIVO)
Amos let Amaziah know that he wasn’t following in the family business, he had no aspirations to ever become a prophet, he was just following God’s leading. Amos had been a shepherd and a fig picker before God interrupted his plans. I could go on and on listing the changes God brought about in His people’s lives, but what’s important for you and me is this: Rest assured, God will bring about changes in our plans.
When God brings about those changes you can be assured that many of those around you will not understand. For those of you who are entering college in the Fall and you already know what you will study and what profession you will begin once you complete your education, if God changes your heart and your plans there’s a good chance your family will have questions.
I’ll never forget a story Dr. Darnell told me one time. He was pastoring a church in the panhandle of Texas when he got a call from a doctor who was a member of his church. The doctor had a farm and his sons had grown up working on the farm. One of his sons absolutely loved working on the farm. He graduated from high school, went to college to follow in his dad’s footsteps, but when he was in med school he called his dad and said, “I’m going to quit.” The father was beside himself. His son said, “Dad, there’s nothing I enjoy more than working on the farm. I want to be a farmer.” His dad called Dr. Darnell and said, “Will you go and talk to my son?” David drove out to the family farm and the boy was out in the field working. David told him he had gotten a call and asked, “What’s going on?” The young guy told David the story. David, after hearing him tell his story, said, “You’re going to be a great farmer!” David called his friend and said, “Your passion is medicine, but God has put a passion in your son’s heart for farming. Don’t pressure him to go back to med school.”
In our Scripture for today, James was criticizing those followers of Jesus who were so materialistically minded that all they thought about was executing their plan and making money. James writes,
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” (James 4:13 NIVO)
Do you see what James was pointing out about these folks in the church? They hadn’t left room for God. They had planned and plotted and were consumed with fulfilling their ambitious plan to be successful, to make lots of money. Once again, there’s nothing wrong with having a plan and there’s nothing wrong with making money. The problem arises when we plan our lives with no thought of God whatsoever. As we look at our lives and our future, we not only need to invite God to the table, we need to seat Him at the head of the table and give Him the final vote about every decision.
For those of you who are young, maybe your just starting your new career or maybe you are still preparing for it, there are many who love you, who want what is best for you, but you need to understand that what we think is best for you may not be what God has in store for you. I can remember when I told my grandfather that I wasn’t going to coach, but instead I was going to Seminary. He said, “That would be the worst decision you could ever make. Never work in a profession where you are dependent on others for your pay.” You would have to know my grandfather. He loved me with all of his heart. I had the blessing of growing up about one mile from his house. He played a huge role in my life when I was young. He thought he was steering me away from a bad decision. I’m so glad I wasn’t so tied to my grandfather’s approval that I followed what he wanted for me instead of what God had planned.
Oftentimes we try and help our kids make career decisions that will ensure their security and financial prosperity instead of encouraging them to seek God’s path for their lives as their first priority. Let me give you a test. Hopefully by taking the test you’ll see what I’m talking about. If your son or daughter was getting ready to graduate from high school and they came to you and said, “Mom, Dad, I’m really torn. I’ve narrowed my choices down to two, but I just can’t decide. I’m thinking about either becoming a first grade teacher or a doctor.” How would you respond? I know how I would respond. “Honey, are you crazy?! Have you already forgotten the news reports of those poor teachers marching on the State Capital? You’ll starve if you go into the teaching profession, but you’ll be set for life if you pursue a career in medicine!” Now, those things are true, but what if God has designed your child to find the most satisfaction in life by pouring his or her life into the lives of first graders? Maybe we should encourage our kids to pray about what God desires for them instead of looking at the potential compensation package as we give them career counseling.
I’m sure that all of us believe what I am saying is true, but actually living what we believe is true is an altogether different matter isn’t it? We believe that God is Sovereign, that He is in charge of our lives, He orders our steps, but we speak with such confidence about our future, as if it’s a done deal, signed, sealed, and delivered. We believe that whatever God calls us to He will provide for our needs, but we make our choices based not upon God’s promise of provision, but upon what’s going to be financially prudent. It’s just not in us to turn first to God for counsel about the most important decisions to be made in life. For many people, they wonder, “What would that even look like? How do I know what God desires for me? I have to take responsibility for my life? I have decisions to make and I need to make the best, most informed decisions possible.” My response to your line of thinking is this: To make the best, most informed decision you must turn to God in humility and absolute surrender. Not only must we turn first to God, but we must stay with our ear to His Word and our hearts set on walking in obedience to the path He has laid out before us. How do we do that? That’s a great question and James has some advice for us. Take a look at James 4:14-16 with me.
14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:14-16 NIVO)
For us to seek after the Lord above all else, at every turn, every step of the way through life we must live with an awareness of our ignorance, our frailty, and our dependence. James says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” James highlights the person who was busy laying out the next year of his life, when he wrote, “…You do not even know what will happen tomorrow?” What will happen tomorrow? Do you know? We may think we know, but the truth is, none of us knows for sure. Things change. There were many young petroleum engineers, geologists, and chemical engineers who thought they had a great future in front of them when they enrolled in college in 2012. Just two years later, in 2014, everything changed. Oil prices were cut in half in 2014 as oil went from $100-$125 a barrel down to $62 a barrel. Hiring screeched to a halt. College students ran to their advisor’s office to change their major. Who could have seen that coming? “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow?” Industries change, people change, life is full of twists and turns, and it is so important to stay wide awake concerning our ignorance about the days ahead.
James also points out how important it is to recognize our frailty. He writes, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” The Greek word translated, “mist,” means “vapour, steam, fog, or mist.” I go to two early morning Bible studies a week. There have been times I’ve been driving on Broadway Extension at 6 am to Bible study and the fog was thick. By the time the Bible study was over and I headed back north on Broadway Extension the fog was gone. James wants to remind us how quickly life goes by. Those whom God used to write Scripture were keenly aware of the brevity of life. Job wrote, “My days are swifter than a runner” (Job 9:25). Here they come…and there they go, and such is life. In Psalm 39, David wrote,
5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah (Psalm 39:5 NIVO)
In Psalm 102 we are told that what follows is the “prayer of an afflicted man.” There are many lessons to be learned in the crucible of affliction and suffering and this man learned one of the most important. He wrote,
11 My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (Psalm 102:11 NIVO)
Oh the brevity of life! We are told Moses wrote Psalm 90. I’ve shared the Psalm at many funerals through the years because of the wisdom of Moses. Turn with me to Psalm 90:10 and let’s read together.
10 The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10 NIVO)
We’re told life expectancy in the United States in 2018 is 78.8 years. The rabbis tell us Moses lived about 3400 years ago. Pretty impressive isn’t it? Writing in the neighborhood of 3,400 years ago Moses nailed the life expectancy of our own day. Pretty impressive, but please don’t take 80 and subtract your age to figure out how many years of life you’ve got left. We have no contract on tomorrow. Just this past week, while I was working on this sermon, Rachel dropped Parker off at our house so she could attend the funeral of an 8 year old classmate of Macy and Kellen. And those funerals take place every day. I don’t share this with you to be morbid or to try and scare anyone. Quite the contrary, I’m sharing this with you so you will not be deceived into believing that you can chart your course and then follow it according to plan. I’m sharing this with you so that you and I will recognize that God and God alone is Sovereign over each and every one of our lives. God’s Word tells us,
16 …All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16 NIVO)
We are frail and finite, our days are numbered, but we don’t know their number. Rather than being paralyzed by what could happen we can live in the freedom of knowing that God knows the number of our days. We can live for Him in the time He has given us, we can trust Him with the gift of every moment we get to experience in life.
Last of all, we must live with a continual awareness of our dependence upon the Lord. James says instead of speaking matter of factly about what we are going to do and when we are going to do it, we should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (vs. 15). James is not the only biblical author who thought this way. In Acts 18, Paul was getting ready to leave Ephesus when the people asked him to stay longer. Paul couldn’t stay, he was on his way to Caesarea, but in Acts 18:21 we read,
21 But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. (Acts 18:21 NIVO)
We don’t need to go around and tag, “If the Lord wills” onto the end of every discussion about our plans, but we do need to constantly be aware that our plans are always subject to change…as God wills. This is not just true for you who are graduating, it is true for each and every one of us.
I have friends who were nearing their retirement years and made plans to travel and do what they had always wanted to do. Before retirement came, the wife got seriously ill, the illness lasted for over a decade. They never got to travel and do what they had always wanted to do. Thankfully they were well aware that God alone is Sovereign, that what we plan and hope for are dependent on God’s will and not how badly we had hoped for it to come to pass.
Life is full of decisions. You who are graduating are busy making decisions. All of you who are here this morning are busy making decisions, but the biggest decision in life is the decision you will make to either surrender your life, every aspect of your life, to Jesus as Lord and Savior or to make the decision to walk away from Him and do life on your own. I want to encourage you this morning to make the decision this morning to surrender your life to Jesus. That one decision will influence every other decision you will ever make in life. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 20, 2018