Commencement Address @ Crown College

Commencement2011a On Saturday I had the privilege of delivering the faculty address to the graduating class of 2011 at Crown College.  Below is the unedited manuscript of the address:

"Friends and family of Crown College, faculty, staff, Trustees, and the graduating class of 2011: Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

But I have one question for you: Why are you leaving me?  I just got here!  God has given you incredible talent and passion and vision.  You inspire me to be creative in worship and to pray deeply and to search for ways to love people better… and now you are just going to leave me here?  With Dr. Moats?   I mean, have you seen us sitting next to each other?  I asked Professor Grainger to switch spots with me and he said, “Sorry, you’re on your own Castor.”  But seriously, why do you want to go?  You paid all this money to be here.  You invested all this time and effort in this experience.  Why leave?  What do you see out there that is worth going towards?  Aren’t you nervous?  Aren’t you scared?  Are you excited to go?  Are you compelled to step out there?  What do you see that causes you joy or maybe a sense of relief that this day is here?  Why do you celebrate today?

Do you see Jesus out there?

A.W. Tozer wrote that “Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God (Pursuit of God, 83)…  Believing, then, is directing the heart’s attention to Jesus (84)… Faith is not in itself a meritorious act; the merit is in the One toward Whom it is directed (84-85).”  In other words, Hebrews 12:2: “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

I want to encourage you today and for the rest of your lives to see Jesus.  Today, decide to take your walk with your focus on Jesus because if you do, not only will you walk through life with unsinkable strength, but your feet will bring Good News to places where others will not, or think they cannot, go.  If you walk with your focus on Jesus, you will capably stroll through any adversity and step through any chaos and you will, with every footstep, carry with you a dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ.   I pray today, as your name is called, and as you are invited to walk across this platform, that you will continue to walk through this life with your eyes on Jesus. 

Your experience at Crown has been meant to encourage you to reach this day.  Crown has intended for you to integrate your knowledge of faith and learning with your practice of faith and learning.  You are supposed to put your foot where your mouth has been.  If you speak words of faith, then walk fully in faith.  If you say you are a Christian, than walk with Jesus, like Jesus, where Jesus walks, even in places beyond what you could ask or imagine, even in places where the rest of the world would not dream possible.

In Matthew 14, darkness and chaos were swirling around the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus had told his disciples after feeding thousands of people, “Look, you’ve spent enough time here, it’s time to go somewhere else.”  When the disciples left they were caught in the middle of a storm during the middle of the night in the middle of a wee boat. Their boat was being tossed about.  They were fighting heavy waves and trying to stay afloat.  Even with some experienced fisherman on board, they were scared.  Exhausted at three in the morning, not knowing how they were going to keep going… much like many of you during this last Exam week… tired and weary and anxious and cranky and not knowing how you were going to survive another Dr. Ratledge exam… these followers of Jesus looked up and saw with their very own eyes that someone was strolling through the turbulence of the wind and ambling on top of the waves of the water. 

There in the middle of the Sea, in the middle of the storm, in the midst of the breakers and rains and trouble, was Jesus.  Psalm 93 says, “Mightier than the breakers of the sea, the Lord on High is mighty!”  It’s interesting that the disciples were more scared of Him than they were of staying in the confines of the boat.  They didn’t really expect to see Him there.  It was beyond their comprehension that Jesus would be out there already.  And they were nervously frightened. 

So Jesus called out to them, “It’s alright.  I am here.  Do not be afraid.”

If all that wasn’t crazy enough, what happened next is.  One of the disciples, Peter, was inspired.  And he got passionate.  And he yelled out, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you on the water.  Look, I know I’ve invested so much money and time in this boat and with my buddies, but if that’s you out there that’s where I want to be.” Peter realized that he would be better off out there in the middle of the chaos than to remain in the seeming comfort of the boat.  So when Jesus said, “alright, Peter, come.  No problem at all,” Peter stepped over the edge and got down out of the boat.  When Jesus invites a person forward, it’s time for that person to come forward.  So that’s what Peter did.  When he was called, Peter took a step and started to walk on the water (the water!!) and he walked towards Jesus.

Now I have a problem with that.  You can’t just do that.  You can’t just put your foot down on water and start going.  Peter should have stayed back with his friends and had late night chats in Miller or something.  It’s crazy to step out there.

But after a couple steps, the Bible tells us something very interesting.  Matthew, who was in the boat watching this with his eyes, says that all of the sudden Peter was out there and SAW the wind and he grew afraid and started to sink.  He saw the wind… He had been looking at Jesus… but then he looked at the storm around him… He focused on the turmoil and the trouble he was in… He eyed the situation (water + wind + storm + feet on waves = woops)… and he took his eyes off of Jesus and he began to sink.  The pressure, the urgency, the distraction of everything around him caused him to be overwhelmed and to panic.  He lost his focus.  He took his eyes off of Jesus and put his eyes on other things.  He became scared.  In desperation and fear he screamed out, “Lord, save me!  I can’t make it!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  And Jesus said to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  In other words, Jesus said, “Peter, I am out here.  I am walking with you.  And as long as you are with me, you can walk anywhere.”

Graduates of Crown College, I believe that the years ahead for each of you will be much like a water walk…  You are stepping out of a wee boat where there has been relative safety and predictability.  You knew that Jon Enns was going to break sticks every time he played drums.  You knew that you could talk Professor Grainger into doing a cartwheel and that you could talk Professor Allen into making a Justin Beiber video out of it.  You knew that Dr. Hustad and Dr. Gianolous at some point were going to renew their arm-wrestling rivalry, and you knew that is was totally real.  You knew that the environment would provide you with inspiration and challenge, and you knew that your roommates or friends would be there for you.  You knew that Bill Kuhn would break out with some amazing guitar rift and some dramatic challenge from Scripture, and you knew that you were being encouraged to integrate your faith and learning with your heart and practice. 

But now either you are being forced to go from here because five or six years is too long for any one of you to stay, or there is some crazy strong inner compulsion that has been urging you to finish your program and to leave the seeming-safety and comfortable predictability of this college and exchange it for the unpredictability of water-walking.  There is some crazy strong inner yearning that makes you desire what’s out there on the surface of the sea more than to keep your trust in a self-controlled environment.  You have decided (by passing your classes!) that staying in that boat after today wouldn’t give you the passion, the life, the rewarding risk, the great exhilaration of experiencing a true water walk.

So today you step out to walk on a whole new surface.  But, as you know, that surface at times will be bumpy and uneven, rising and falling, and difficult to stay balanced upon.  As you know, pressures of life and relationships and other stresses will swirl all around you and try to toss you about.  In those times a lot of people are tempted to take their eyes off of what is right and true… they forget the passion that urged them to jump into this in the first place.  Look, the winds of life will blow no matter what.  The question is: will your focus remain firmly on Jesus? 

I believe that this graduating class can be one that walks through anything anywhere with joy, humility and strength; wonderment, miraculous ability and life-giving hope.  And when the people around you see you looking at Jesus, I believe they will be encouraged to take that step to join you on the water walk.  This world desperately needs people who are willing to step out there.

And, Graduates, in the weeks, months and years ahead, if you ever find that you are starting to sink, if you ever become overwhelmed by what’s around you, if you ever lose sight of what is good and true, just cry out to Jesus.  He is with you.  He will catch you. 

So, dear partners in ministry, fellow water walkers, may you turn your eyes upon Jesus, and look full in His wonderful face.  May the things of earth, that blow and storm around you, grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.  Amen.  And congratulations on your walk.

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