This past Saturday I was honored to be asked by the senior class to give the commencement speech. So last Thursday I wrote a speech “How not to waste your college years.” There were 13 statements on that topic. Then Friday at some point I changed my mind, I stumbled upon a devotional I had written last summer and I realized no one will remember anything if I have 13 points, but if there is just one point, one important point, then maybe, just maybe they’ll remember it. So below is the text of the Commencement Address.
Note: For those of you interested in the process I type out a whole speech and then I post a photo and title as a cover page, Then I turn the whole thing into a PDF and add highlights, underlines, finger drawings etc. I really wish I could speak from a piece of scratch paper like some guys or even a basic outline like Nathan, but this is where I’m at for now. The photo below was taken by a relative of the Prestons, I’ve never seen a picture of me teaching before, it’s weird.
It really is an honor to be standing here before you this afternoon. As I thought back to the commencement speech at my own graduation I came to the sad realization that not only can I not remember a single word spoken, but I am not able to remember who gave the speech, honestly, I don’t even remember if the speech happened at all.
So 16 years from now… if any of you remember that this speech even occurred I shall consider today a gigantic success. When I was in college at Texas A&M, I had a roommate named Shaun Suite, He was a great roommate except for one thing. He ate all the other roommates food and cokes and contributed nothing. After many conversations asking him to stop we finally came up with a plan.
Another roommate named Aaron and I opened a brand new bottle of orange sunkist. We poured some of the Sunkist out and refilled with a yellow flushable substance. Yes, you understood that.
When Shaun came home I showed him the bottle of Sunkist, I told him this is my bottle of Sunkist. Do not drink this Sunkist. He said ok I won’t and I warned him once more, “Shaun, seriously, do not drink my Sunkist.”
The snext day while I was at class Aaron was home and in walks Shaun after a long morning of mowing yards. He walks to the fridge, takes out my bottle of Sunkist and takes a big long swig of it straight from the bottle. He knew immediately what happened. Aaron laughed hysterically, Shaun did not.
So you can probably tell what my first bit of advice is. Pay attention to what I’m trying to tell you today.
Seriously though, Be teachable.
Later that day Shaun was laughing with us and believe it or not, he actually continued to eat our food and drink our cokes.
Well, this afternoon we are celebrating what God has done to bring you to this point in your life. We are celebrating your completion of High School and for some of you that just might feel like a miracle. I’ve got to admit, It’s a strange feeling again this year having known some of you since you were in sixth grade. So much has changed.
Back in the sixth grade Sam Preston needed to shave every week and Chris Earnshaw did not need to shave at all… So I guess really, some things haven’t changed a bit.
Yet here we are today, celebrating this amazing milestone in each of your lives. What we are celebrating began on your first day of Kindergarten in 2001. You couldn’t drive, you couldn’t read, you thought play-dough was the greatest substance on earth. Since that first day you have had 2,314 ordinary days of school. 18,512 hours in the classroom.
And Today, You Graduate.You actually made it! Congratulations!
Graduation stirs our emotions, you students feel it, you parents feel it, many of you teachers feel it, I feel it. We just hate to see you go.
Class of 2013, you are leaving childhood behind, many of you will leave your homes at the end of the summer and travel away to wherever our sovereign God is leading you. You’ll never enter this building as an HCA student again. Life will begin to move quickly now and before you know it you are going to wonder where it all went.
Over the years I hope you’ve learned from me two important things
1. Texas is the greatest nation on earth.
2. There is nothing more important to your Spiritual life than being in the Word of God.
It is a means of grace that will nourish your soul like nothing else.
So before you go I want to show you something in the Scriptures that has helped me keep eternal perspective recently and I hope it will help you to keep an eternal perspective as well.
Near the end of the New Testament is the book of James. I love how this book challenges Christians to live what they have received by faith. In Chapter 4 verses 13 and 14 James says gives this wisdom.
He says, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
The main point of this verse is to not arrogantly proclaim what you will accomplish by your own strength, but rather we should acknowledge that our plans are conditional upon God’s will. If God wills something it will happen. If He does not will it, it won’t.
This is a great contrast from our thoughts that if we will something it should happen. However, what God reveals in this text of Scripture goes beyond that main point. Here God is teaching us something of the nature of our lives.
He says we, as men and women, are a mist. I’ll read that last bit from James chapter 4 verse 14 again, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” What a beautiful image of how short life is. If you’ve ever watered your yard in the summer you’ve seen the lifespan of mist. Maybe you had a fancy nozzle that made the mist or perhaps you just mashed your thumb over the end of the hose making a spray.
Either way the mist is that smallest of water that almost floats in the air it’s so tiny. That mist exist only a few seconds as it floats to the ground or because of the heat is evaporated entirely.
God says that’s you.
You are the mist. Your life is that tiny piece of water that is going to quickly vanish. I’ve been thinking a lot about this image over the past year or so. The realization that my life is short and your life is short and everyone we know is also living a life that is quickly misting away.
As my wife, Laura, and I were sitting in the backyard one afternoon this realization of the vapor like reality of life gave rise to another image that has been rolling around in my head. The image is of me being given one watering can with a sprinkle spout. The can is already partially empty. That portion has already been poured out.
I look up and before me is a giant yard filled with grass and flowers and bushes and trees and cement pathways lined with wooden benches. Some of the plants are bright green and flowering while others are withering and others still are brown and near death.
So there I stand with one watering can and I’m trying to decide where to pour out my water to make a difference in the life of this yard which represents the world you are going out into. When the water is gone, it is gone. and we only get one can of water. You can’t water everything, but you can pour this water out in one place and make a big difference or you can pour a little everywhere and make a little difference in many places.
How will you spend this one life God has gifted you with?
If you pour it on the path it’s an absolute waste, nothing is growing there anyway. If you pour it on yourself it would serve only you and that’s not why God gave you a can of water to begin with. How we wisely pour out our lives in God’s world may look different to different people.
I do know that spending all my time on brainless entertainment is like a concrete path. It’s a waste of my water. The other options though are pretty legit. Let’s consider them.
The bright green portions do need to be watered or they will eventually wilt and die. Yet there is not an immediate threat here. The Gospel is being preached, the spiritual health of the people is doing well.
The wilting portions of the yard are heading towards withering and death, but with water they may be soon be bright and green and healthy and growing and fruitful.
The brown and near death grass and plants are desperate, they need water, they need the Gospel and someone to pour their life out on them, but even my entire watering can may not bring them to a state of bright green, unless the Lord wills it to be so.
I can’t decide if it’s depressing or encouraging, but even after making this first choice of where to pour out my life, I soon realize I’ll need to find others with watering cans. And I’ll need to convince them of the value of pouring out their water in places where it is needed, people to pour along side me, people to pour in other needed areas and people to pour once my can has poured out it’s last drop.
I know it’s just a stupid analogy, but this is what each of us is facing. This water is our life and we ought to consider that it is a gift of God, and that He has given us time and knowledge of the Gospel and God has regenerated our hearts so that we wish to love and make a difference in this world.
At some point we must come to realize that we can’t change everything everywhere. When you choose to pour in one area you also choose not to pour every other area. And that’s ok.
When we as the Church are all pouring out our lives for the sake of God’s Kingdom the influence is wide and far reaching. Praise God that you are a part of His Church and know this. You do have one can of water and if The Lord wills, you can pour it out in a way that matters and that is a rare and amazing way to spend a life. So pray and think and ponder where you will pour out the life you’ve been given.
For some you will pour on self and succeed at things that have no eternal significance. Others of you will pour on cement paths being entertained by the sight of water pouring, but making zero difference with the years you’ve been given. I expect many of us in this room older than you can attest to to much of our own water wasted that way.
Many of us will see the value in keeping the green…green. We’ll pour out where water is plentiful and yet still more needed to preserve that health. That’s respectable.
Others of you will see people who are struggling and wilting and you will pour into their lives, giving time and money and prayer and all that you have hoping to bring them to good health.
Still, others of you will be broken when you see those on the edge of death or even completely dead patches of grass. You will pour out your life on those who are desperate for water and if the Lord wills, He will bring life out of death, greenness from crispy dry brown patches.
I think my point is this.
Do something, don’t squander your college years, your single years, get involved in a church, meet your dorm mates and neighbors, look for ways to serve even as you invest in your future through education. Just don’t stand there as your water evaporates trying to decide where you should pour out your life or simply admiring the can holding the water or watching others pour out their cans while you tell yourself someday that will be you.
Wherever God takes from here, may you spend this vapor of a life being poured out for the glory of God. So focus somewhere, but relax and rest knowing you can’t pour it out everywhere, but you can pour it out somewhere and that is the reason God gave you the water to begin with.
I want to end by quoting a line one of our elders prayed about a year ago that has stuck with me all this time, Mike Preston put it this way, “May we be Redeeming each day to grow closer to God and minister to others.”
Wake up each day and make that prayer, your prayer.
God, how might I grow closer to you today?
and God, how might I minister to others in your name today?
In other words, this life of yours is short, use your time wisely,
use it to know and show the worth and value of your savior Jesus Christ.
I love you class of 2013, and I can’t wait to see how you pour out your lives in this world.
I don’t usually vandalize the photos I choose to head PDFs of sermon/speeches, but I couldn’t resist this one.
and one more photo.