33 years ago in 1985 I too graduated from high school. And you know what? I don’t remember one single thing my commencement speaker said…you probably won’t remember today’s remarks either. I don’t remember walking across the stage and getting my diploma or just about anything else from that day. But I do remember a moment. It was a moment when I was standing in a long line of students as we were about to march onto the football field. The sun was going down on my left and it was still warm out. I looked up randomly at my fellow students when all the sudden it hit me: I don’t have to get up and go to school another day in my life if I don’t want to! It was a moment of sheer joy and accomplishment as the reality of that truth sunk in for what was my first real milestone in life.
Well today, May 19, 2018 is a true milestone in your life. I wish for you today that at some point you’ll experience your own “moment.” One that you too can look back on 33 years from now with fondness, relief, and a true sense of achievement like I do now. Congratulations on making it to this day.
I would like to talk to you briefly this morning about the world that is waiting for you just outside those doors. Of course you’ve already been living in the world for 17 or 18 years but, once you graduate from high school, it’s different. For better or for worse, you will now be responsible for your own actions unlike any other time in your life. And I think you need to truly understand what’s at stake.
You see, the world will demand your attention. The world will accept your minimum. But what the world actually needs is your excellence.
I don’t need to spend any time at all explaining how the world demands your attention. All you have to do understand this today is to simply own your own cell phone. Likewise, I don’t need to spend time explaining how the world will accept your minimum because, hey, if the minimum wasn’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum, right?
But I do need to spend some time explaining what I mean when I say the world needs your excellence. I believe the world needs your excellence in these three areas of life: 1) faith, 2) hope, and 3) love.
The world needs your excellence of Faith.
An excellent faith is one that is founded upon and rooted in the excellency of Jesus Christ. An excellent faith is not necessarily one that has all the answers to all life’s important questions but one in which you at least know the Person who has all those answers – and by “know” I mean you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
The world wants all roads to lead to God. The world wants mercy without justice. The world wants to be able to do whatever it wants, believing a “good god” will accept their good works as good enough to overcome all their junk. The world wants faith to be something not discussed in public and certainly not promoted by anyone except perhaps so-called, weak-minded people who can easily be marginalized by a well-placed media clip.
But I’m telling you the world needs you to be excellent in your faith. The world needs you to proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father but through Him. The world needs you to teach them about grace and that we do indeed have a good God but that without the shedding of Jesus’ blood, there is no forgiveness of sin since all our good works combined will never be good enough. The world needs you to give God the glory if and when the spotlight ever falls on you.
Why does the world need you to be excellent in your faith? Because, if you belong to Christ, it is your Great Commission. Much greater than even today’s commissioning. Our world is changing so fast and is so confusing and can be so devastating at times that, as you are going through your life, your rock-solid, excellent faith can point the world to the source of your faith, Jesus Christ.
The world needs your excellence in Hope.
This world indeed can be a depressing place at times. Flip on the TV, listen to your friends and neighbors, or, 33 years from now, just wake up and look in the mirror. The world needs all the hope it can get and the primary delivery vehicle of that hope is (or should be) the people of God.
Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people all the time this side of eternity. But will you choose to be a fountain and not a drain in this world? Will you have hope even when events seem hopeless? When you can’t even see far enough to take the next step, will you take the next step in faith anyway because of the excellent hope you have that, somehow, some way, things will work out for good under the Providence of Almighty God – especially when you have no idea how? The world needs your excellence in this kind of hope.
The world needs your excellence in Love.
The great love chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, begins with Paul stating, “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” The chapter ends with the familiar verse, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I won’t ask who all here was up at the crack of dawn for today’s Royal wedding but the numbers do not lie. The world loves a great love story.
Seniors, I hope you have your own royal wedding of sorts one day. I hope you find that special person whom you can love with excellence. But in order to love with excellence, you have to understand that excellent love is the next step beyond easy love. Easy love is, well, easy. It’s natural, it feels good, and it feels right. It’s often the kind of love romanticized about in books and on TV. However, excellent love is the love that puts another person’s best interest ahead of your own. Now that is an easy sentence to say but, I can assure you, a much harder sentence to live out over time.
You see, excellent love is patient. Especially when you have every reason in the world to have no patience left whatsoever.
Excellent love is polite and kind. Especially when another person has made you feel so angry you just want to throw something at them.
Excellent love isn’t jealous or self-seeking. Especially when you think it’s about time that it should be all about you.
Excellent love is humble and often expresses itself in acts of service. Especially when you are exhausted and pridefully expect to be served yourself.
Excellent love is a love full of forgiveness and trust. One that keeps no record of wrongs, especially when it seems you have every right to use those wrongs as a weapon of mass destruction in your relationship.
Excellent love always protects the one you love. It’s the kind of love another person can always count on – no matter what. And excellent love does all these things all the way to the end of your days because excellent love never fails.
Seniors, again, I hope you find that someone you can love with excellence because the world needs to see that kind of excellent love tangibly lived out in the messiness of life. Jesus Himself said that people will know you belong to Him when they see you loving like this.
But not only do I hope you find someone to love with excellence, I hope you find something to love with excellence. By something, I mean your purpose; your calling in life. Ephesians 2:10 states to the Christian that “We have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works that He prepared in advance for us to do.” All seniors get asked this question: What are you going to do now? Some of you may already know what that is and that’s awesome. But I think a perfectly-acceptable answer coming from any 18-year old is, “I have no idea.”
Now is your time to truly discover your purpose in this life. And when your passion intersects with the purpose God has called you to, nothing will be able to stop you from moving forward. So, if you haven’t already, I hope you find that purpose you can also love with excellence.
In closing, I’d like to challenge you with seven practical points for excellent living.
- Work hard. Get up and get after it every day. You might not be able to outsmart anyone but you can absolutely outwork a bunch of people, especially in this day and age. Hard work wins respect and, as Tim Tebow once said, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
- Pay attention to detail. Excellence is in the details and, yes, details can be exhausting but the world is full of sloppiness and people just trying to get by. Have eyes to see the details that others miss then tend to those details.
- Be versatile. In this day and age, you actually can’t be one-dimensional and expect to hold a job for any length of time. Load as many arrows in your quiver as you can and be willing and ready to flex on the job and in life. The world we live in today will require you to have several skill sets and job duties and each one will demand excellence, not just competence.
- Take care of your body. You will probably be fine through your twenties but, trust me, something happens as you get older and you will need to become intentional with diet, hydration, exercise and rest. This is the only body you have this side of eternity and, in order to be excellent, you must take care of it because no one else will.
- Don’t ever stop learning. Even though it is true that you never have to do another class if you don’t want, excellence demands continuous improvement and the willingness to keep trying new things. Just like you must keep pushing your body, you must keep pushing your mind because it will definitely rust without use.
- Be wise about money and be a good steward of it. Learn now how to run your family’s household budget. Use the 50% rule of thumb with your paycheck to understand that, after taxes, tithes, and benefits, only about half of your gross pay will actually land in your bank account to pay the rest of your bills. Be extremely careful with debt and don’t derail your excellence by making bad financial decisions.
- Finally, run the race of life with perseverance. Excellence also demands that you do all the things above all the way to the end. Frederick Russell Burnham, a contemporary of Teddy Roosevelt, once said, “Some fellows start strong for the adventure, but shy of the drudgery in obscurity. Their enthusiasm dies as the sun goes down.” The sun is just now rising on your life adventure and I hope you’re enthusiastic about what’s ahead – don’t lose that fire!
Finally, while you may not remember any of your commencement speaker’s comments, I want you to at least try and remember one number: 2051.
Jesus spent 33 years living the most excellent life. In 33 years, it will be 2051 and I will probably be gone or in an old folks’ home…but these next 33 years will be yours to live and to love with excellence. Take them one day at a time. Keep an excellent Faith with you each day. And keep an excellent hope within you for an even better tomorrow. Congratulations and well done!