I recently had the great privilege of delivering the commencement address for a special group of five homeschool students in our Rocky Mount Classical Conversations community. Several folks had kindly asked for the manuscript, so I’ve copied it here and put a link to a downloadable document at the bottom of the post. Hopefully these nine charges will be of encouragement to you as well:
2017 RM CC Graduation
May 20, 2017
I count it an honor to have the privilege of delivering this commencement address. These students are special to me as I know they are to you. I have had the privilege of tutoring each of them, some of them for several years. I’ve had the opportunity of watching them grow and mature.
The timing of this address is interesting, because we have a juxtaposition of circumstances. On the one hand, this is truly a moment of great joy. This is a moment for celebration. It is a huge moment for these students and their families.
Frankly, it’s a moment of great joy for our whole CC community. These five students represent the inaugural graduating class of CC students here in Rocky Mount. We pray that they are the first of many years of graduating classes to come. It is a moment for thanksgiving, for looking back over all that has been accomplished by these students, and for joy.
At the same time, these students are graduating at a time of great social change in the history of our nation. Our celebration this afternoon comes during a time of great alarm for those of us who hold to the Christian worldview. There is a moral revolution taking place around us, a movement that is being labelled as progress, but is actually regressing us back to the pagan worldview of the past. We who are Bible-believing Christians – and in truth, there is no other kind – we are increasingly seen as oddballs, narrow-minded, those who refuse to step-in-line.
The future that these students are stepping into is going to look very different than their parents knew at their age.
So it is against that backdrop that I want to speak directly to our graduates this afternoon. My allotted is time is brief, and wisely so, but let me pack in as quickly as I can 9 charges to you five graduates. I hope that you will take time to consider these and that they will prove helpful to you in this new season of your lives.
1. I charge each of you know just how thankful to God we are for you and your accomplishments. When I consider what has been asked of you, especially in the Challenge program, I marvel. The books that you’ve been given to read, the papers you’ve been asked to write, and the presentations you’ve been asked to give – these are increasingly unusual for students your age. As you have tackled these things, and learned the skill of balancing the duties placed upon you, and participated in the important and thoughtful class discussions, you have risen to the challenge. You have grown in knowledge, grown in understanding, and, we are sure, you have grown in wisdom.
Along the way, you have risen above the abilities and skill-level of many of your peers in our culture. You have set yourselves up to be leaders. We are here this afternoon because we are incredibly proud of you, and because we are grateful to God for all that you have accomplished. We look forward to seeing what He has in store for your futures.
2. I charge each of you to honor your father and mother. It is right to give honor where it is due. In this case, we must not fail to notice that so many of the opportunities you’ve had are a direct result of the decisions and support and leadership of your parents.
Think about the years of time and energy and money and heart and soul that your parents have invested in your education. Think about their constant counsel, their encouragement, their correction, their prayers for you, all leading up to this day in your life. Frankly, I am jealous of you, because I wish to anything I could have had the opportunity to read the books and write the papers and especially participate in the meaningful discussions that you all have had when I was in school. If you don’t realize it now, I hope very soon you will look back and praise God for your parents and the choices they made that have helped shape you into the very men and women you are.
3. I charge each of you to be discerning about the voices you allow to most consistently speak into your life. You have been given a wonderful foundation.
But foundations can be chipped away. The reality is, we continue to be shaped by the voices in our lives until the day we die. So let me urge you to make sure as you head into your futures that you keep a constant watch on who you are allowing to speak into your life most consistently.
This means thinking carefully and praying heartily about what your adult life will look like. What kind of church will you attend? What kind of books will you choose to read? What entertainment media will you most often partake of, and how much of it? You are going to be constantly bombarded by ideas – some good, some terrible. How will you keep from being sucked into the moral and theological confusion of our age?
Studying Plato is great. Reading Aristotle is fantastic. There are so few of your peers even equipped to do that. But Athens must never be more important to you than Jerusalem. Those ancient philosophers, just like our modern university elites and Hollywood script-writers, were fumbling about in the dark. They often made brilliant discoveries and said helpful things, but at the end of the day, your aging great-grandmother who never graduated high school but loves her Bible has more light and more wisdom to offer this world than the finest unbelieving Harvard graduate.
So make sure you know where truth can be found, and make sure you are getting a heaping does of it consistently.
4. Related to that, I charge each of you to marry wisely. That might sound like strange counsel at a graduation ceremony, but no one else will have a greater influence on the kind of man or woman you will become than your future spouse. No one else will have more power to help you flourish or to wreck your life than your future spouse. No one else will have greater capacity to encourage your love for what is true, good, and beautiful, or to pull you away from those into the muck of trivial worldliness than your future spouse.
You sit here this afternoon with so much potential. Far too often, what determines whether that potential is used for good or utterly wasted boils down to the influence of the one you choose to spend the rest of your life with. Marry wisely.
5. I charge each of you to be wary of worldliness. I hope you will hear this as a solemn warning spoken from a heart of love. Oh the things God might do through you to serve people and to change the world! But the quickest way to lose that possibility is to substitute hours of mind-numbing television instead of reading great books. Or to get so caught up in trivialities of our culture – the latest fads and the latest bands and the latest movies – that these begin to have a greater influence on you than the light of Scripture.
Graduates, have a laser-sharp focus on being the best you can be, and be willing to let many things go – even good things – if they will keep you from your goal of growing in greater maturity, greater joy, and greater usefulness to Christ. Beware vanity fair, and instead know the callings that God has given you in each season of your life, and give your all to them. Write them down.
Right now, some of my callings are to know and love Jesus, to be a godly husband, to be a godly father, to be a faithful son to my parents and brother to my sister, to pastor a local church, to preach the gospel, to encourage and support CC directors, to care for the rising group of Challenge 1 students, and to be a faithful friend. I am foolish to let anything distract me from the joy and fulfillment that comes in those callings. In each season of your life, including this next season, know your callings, and don’t let worldliness steal your heart and mind away from them.
6. Related to that, I charge each and every one of you to strive for excellence. My fellow pastor has often said that one of his favorite verses in the whole Bible is Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”
At the end of the day, even if our culture despises your faith, our culture may value you and find you indispensable if you are a person who is skilled at what you do.
Strive for excellence in all things, working heartily, as unto the Lord, and you may be surprised the places God takes you in this world. You may be surprised the influence you get to have, the witness you are privileged to bear, the people in high places you are able to stand before. Hate mediocrity – our God does nothing halfway. Rather, do all things well, to the best of your God-given ability, and watch as He blesses.
7. I charge each of you to be ready to suffer. Are you? Jesus said that all would follow Him must be ready to take up their cross. Suffering comes to all of us at some point, and it is in the fire of trial that we find out who we really are.
But this is uniquely important for you graduates because of the times in which we live. Just this week, the Gallup organization announced that American attitudes on a whole range of social issues are more liberal today than at any time in American history. You and I now live in a society that can’t tell up from down, left from right, truth from error, or good from evil. In reality, it is cruel and unloving to support and encourage moral insanity. Yet that is where we are in our culture.
We who hope to be a voice of truth and clarity are now the ones called cruel and unloving. If you love people enough to gently speak the truth, and to firm
ly stand for truth, you will be called a bigot and a hate-mongerer. You may lose your job, or get passed over for promotion. You may lose friends and be slandered.
Do you have a backbone of steel, and do you have such a God-entranced vision of this world that you are ready to suffer when your time comes for the name of Christ?
8. I charge each of you to keep the big picture. During your time in CC, and throughout your homeschooling, your parents and directors have striven to show you the glory of God in every subject. We wanted you to see that if you learn about any subject, but don’t come away worshiping, you’ve missed the point. All things are from Him and through Him and for Him. If you lose that big picture, you will have a much smaller view of the world, and whatever you learn about anything will ultimately be a slanted knowledge, a half-knowledge.
Also, know that this life is just the preview before the movie. Don’t lose the eternal for the things that are passing. Don’t go against your conscience, or compromise truth, or violate Scripture, for anything this world offers. It is eternity that matters most. Store up your treasures in heaven, not on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. Use your abilities, your understanding, your skills, and your heart and mind to serve God and others, to love them. Don’t live for your own earthly pleasure. That is a wasted life and ultimately unsatisfying life.
“One life to live, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Finally, 9. I charge each of you to find your highest joy and contentment in the gospel. Graduates, if you look to your career or your future spouse or your future children to find fulfillment and lasting joy, you will be let down. If you look to sensual pleasures to bring you lasting happiness, you will find yourself in despair. At the end of the day, you must find your joy at the only well that doesn’t run dry: the well of Christ’s love for sinners like you and me.
Every single day, marvel afresh that Jesus loves you! Every single day, run to the lover of your soul, Jesus, and share your every anxiety, your every need, your every concern. Rest in His promises that He is with you, and that He is a Good Shepherd for you, and that you are in His hands. He is working all for your good and nothing can separate you from His sovereign love. Live in the reality that your sins past, present, and future are forgiven, and that heaven is in your future no matter what today might bring.
Trusting Christ, growing in intimacy with Him, growing in your knowledge of who He is and how He loves you – this is the only unshakable foundation – the true rock on which you can stand. From there, filled with Christ’s love for you, you will be equipped and ready to be man or woman who finds delight in excelling at serving others with the skills and abilities God has given you.
Class of 2017,
Know that we rejoice with you.
Honor your father and mother.
Be discerning about the voices you allow to speak most consistently in to your life.
Be wary of worldliness.
Strive for excellence.
Be ready to suffer.
Keep the big picture in view.
And find your highest joy and contentment in the gospel.
And may God bless each of you and do amazing things in and through you in the decades ahead.