Commencement Speech for Suzi's Graduation

June, 2016

I am much honored to be asked to share some thoughts as we celebrate Suzi’s graduation today.

Suzi has been an instrumental part of Youth Group. Ever since we moved here almost 3 years ago, we’ve been friends. Suzi joined our student leadership two years ago, and her dedication, focus, and hard work have been an example not only for other youth group students but also for me. She would bring focus back to our student leaders meetings when the rest of us would be running off on rabbit trails. She would leave little room for complacency among her friends. Suzi is a passionate person.
I can honestly say, I don’t know what I’ll do without you. If any of you are familiar with the AMCA International Youth Group, you know that things tend to change often. In the midst of the comings and goings, all the hellos and goodbyes, Suzi has been a constant factor, not just in Youth Group, but in my family’s life. Suzi I want to say Thank You for touching me and my family.

One of the qualities that is most important in a person is that of a moldable and teachable spirit. To realize that there is knowledge and understanding far beyond what we have achieved, and to learn both from your own experiences and from others. A love of learning will get you far in life. The willingness to learn is strengthened when kept in place by firmly grounded convictions. Not blind opinions or prejudices, but calculated, well-thought-out convictions. And the more embedded in the Word of God these convictions lie, the stronger you can hold to them. Biblical convictions will last longer, and carry you farther. Convictions anchor us in the chaotic sea of relativity. They keep us from learning and adopting wild and ridiculous notions. If a teachable spirit is like a river rushing you forward, your convictions are like the banks of that river, giving it boundaries and direction, and distinguishing river from marsh. We learn and accept truth within the boundaries of biblical truths and convictions. Suzi, over the last two years, I watched you walk this tension of being teachable, yet holding fast to the authority we find in Scripture. We’ve had many discussions and conversations over the years. We’ve sat by campfires, rivers, waterfalls, and pools, in this room, and in forests. And now as you graduate and fly into a new adventure I appeal to your teachable spirit one last time; allow me to leave you with two last thoughts that the Spirit has laid on my heart for you.

In ancient times, a King named Asa ruled the land. He was a young king who had inherited the throne from his Father. The land he ruled was plentiful and he had a kingly duty to protect it from those who would seek to come and conquer the land and enslave his people. So he built strongholds in the land, and he raised up an army of strong and brave men. Half with large shields and spears, and the other half of bowmen. His mighty army was 600,000 strong. A deadly force to be reckoned with.
But there arose out of Ethiopia an even greater army. An army of one million soldiers with resolve to take the land out from under the young King, to enslave the people and plunder the land. No fortified city could stay the surging sea of this massive force. It would be like a sand castle on the tide line as the ocean comes in. One moment it’s there in all its glory. The next, it’s washed away, leaving no trace that it had ever existed.  And the ancient chronicles tell us that Asa, King of the southern Kingdom of Judah cried out to the Lord and said: O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude.[1]

And the Lord honored his cry. And the men of Judah crushed the Ethiopian horde. And they chased them down and filled the treasury of the temple with the gold and silver they plundered.
And the young King grew into his role. He took courage and destroyed idols of all kinds, even dethroning his own mother from being queen when she began worshiping a false goddess. Here was a man sold out for the LORD. Someone who was making a difference. And for a long time there was peace. But after a time, after Asa had ruled for 36 years, the king of the Northern Kingdom of Isarel crossed the border with an army and began building a stronghold to control a large part of Judah. He held many hostage, no one could get out, no one could get in.

Asa by now was a seasoned King. He had experienced much of life. He had ruled a nation for decades. Gone was the inexperienced baby face. Now his face aged by war, impossible decisions, and the burdens of safety, economics, international relations, and internal politics. Think of how the president of the United States has aged in the last eight years, and add another 30 years on top of that.
So the king made a brilliant decision drawn from his experience and wisdom. He made a treaty with another king, the king of Syria, and sent him a vast sum of money to attack Israel. That way Israel would have to move its army out of Asa’s land, and he could move his forces in. Asa not only won the battle without spilling a drop of his people’s blood, but he removed all of the stones and wood that had been used to build the stronghold, and used it to build two other cities in his kingdom! What a move! What a king!

Why then did Asa hear the footsteps down the corridor? Why did the court start whispering? Why was the prophet coming to see him?

“Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” [2]

And like that, after 36 years of glorious reign, the king began a downward spiral. Asa died a bitter old man.

I tell this story to share two things: The first is a warning. Just because you are walking with the Lord and God is using you for great things does not guarantee that this will always be true. If you do not place your trust and reliance on the Lord, you will be trusting and relying on something else. In Asa’s case, he used money dedicated to the Lord (probably acquired during his earlier famous conquest) and relied on one of his enemies, the king of Syria, instead of the Lord. The Lord would have given Asa another glorious victory over both Israel’s king AND Syria’s. But somehow Asa stopped trusting primarily in the Lord. Strategy, methods, wisdom, council, these are all valuable things. But if you rely on any of these in your time of need rather than on the Lord, you will be sorely disappointed. It is easier to trust the Lord when you know little and are in trouble. But what about when you have everything under control? The church today is in grave danger of this with all of their balanced budgets, strategic plans, qualified staff, and leadership development. How easy it would be to depend on these rather than on our King! Let Asa’s story serve as a warning to you, Suzi. You’re heading off to college with everything going for you. You’ve got a wonderful family and proud parents, a great scholarship, you’re bi-lingual, you study well, you are personable and people like you, you’re a thinker and a learner. Don’t rely on these things to get you through. I beg you, put your trust in the LORD. Declare to yourself and to him over and over how much you need him—I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee! He will do so much with you Suzi if you can bring yourself to lose your independence.

The final thought I leave you with is one of comfort. It’s found in the prophet’s rebuke of the king from our story. 1 Chronicles 16:9 says, For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.
The prophet’s point was this—why did you go looking for help elsewhere? The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless, or, completely his. Whose heart is fully devoted to Him.  This isn’t even a promise directed at a specific or general audience, it’s a description of a truth that is found throughout the Scriptures:
Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength they shall run and not grow weary; Ask and you shall receive; cast all your cares upon Him because he cares for you; be anxious about nothing, but in everything with prayer and petition present your requests to God. The hope of this truth is that if you seek him with your whole heart, a committed heart, He will find you. An He will support and strengthen you. I believe with all my heart that God is sovereign. And I believe with all my heart that your actions have consequences. Because of this I urge you with all my heart to add to your river bank of convictions these truths, for they will guard your steps.

Suzi, it is my dream that you would go farther in life and in faith than I have ever gone or could ever go. You can be certain that my thoughts are prayers will be with you wherever you go. May God make his face to shine on you, and may you ever rest in dependence on your King.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Ch 14:11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Ch 16:7–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.


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