My Choice is Yours speech for the Living Science graduates of 2013
Mr. and Mrs. D:
Thank you for letting me join in with you this year in the Servant Leader program. It has been such a rewarding experience to walk alongside you guys and the young leaders at Living Science as Christ-like ideals were pursued. But, it is not just the Servant Leaders. Each and every one of the students here makes their own unique contribution here at Living Science. This year was a hard road to travel at times. Following Jesus wholeheartedly is never going to be the easiest path. Combining that with academics results in something like the elephant graveyard in The Lion King – “Far too dangerous, only the Bravest Lions go there”.
I want to thank you for choosing to send your children to Living Science. Perhaps more importantly… I commend you for all those moments when you chose to keep your children at Living Science. There are cheaper, less demanding, less strict options out there. We live in on the southern edge of Sandy Springs – NOTHING about Living Science is convenient for me. We, like you, have chosen to give our children more than just academics. I pray God will bless you richly for your sacrifices this year. Your decision to entrust your children to what God is doing at Living Science could last for generations. I believe there are very few schools out there weaving servant leadership into the fabric of who they are.
Teachers, Staff and Volunteers:
I do not know how you do it! While these young people are awesome and lovable – they ARE on an involuntary journey of learning which requires obedience and submission. They do not always handle that with grace. Strong leaders have strong personalities. You bore the weight of that every week in the classes and God was right there with you. I pray that God rewards your willingness to teach because your availability was your worship. I hope you believe it was worth it. In fact, I could stop right here because my availability is my worship as well. I am here, dressed and speaking. Speaking at a graduation ceremony sounded like a fun idea when my ego said yes a few months ago. That’s, ok. God is faithful – He will not waste your time this afternoon. I am confident there will be something in here you can use.
Fellow students, siblings and friends:
Today is for the Graduates. Thank you for being here to support them! One can never have too many cheerleaders in life. I once heard best-selling Author and Leadership guru, John Maxwell, draw a contrast between “Lifters” and “Leaners”. You see, the “Lifters” are the cheerleaders. They are the ones who encourage us. And the “Leaners” are the ones who make our life harder than it has to be. Teasing us, picking on us, stepping on us to get somewhere. Those are the “leaners”. Hopefully you have lifted more than you have leaned.
You are beginning an important transition. I have no way of knowing what this transition will look like for you. One thing is for sure: Whether you are headed into a gap year, off to college, into the workplace, on to the mission field… you are about to do life differently. More “independently”. So I want to read you a story from C.S. Lewis’ book The Silver Chair:
This is a story about a girl named Jill. Jill had been showing off and there was an accident. Someone ended up going over the edge of a cliff and all she heard was blood curdling screams. Jill was crying uncontrollably. Finally, when she could cry no more and she realized that she was very thirsty. In the distance she heard what she thought was the sound of water flowing… perhaps a stream. The wood was so still that it was not difficult to decide where the sound was coming from. It grew clearer every moment and, sooner than she expected, she came to an open glade and saw the stream, bright as glass, running across the turf a stone’s throw away from her. But although the sight of the water made her feel ten times thirstier than before, she didn’t rush forward and drink. She stood as still as if she had been turned into stone, with her mouth wide open. And she had a very good reason; just on this side of the stream lay a lion.
It lay with its head raised and its two fore-paws out in front of it, like the lions in Trafalgar Square. She knew at once that it had seen her, for its eyes looked straight into hers for a moment and then turned away – as if it knew her quite well and didn’t think much of her.
“If I run away, it’ll be after me in a moment,” thought Jill. “And if I go on, I shall run straight into its mouth.” Anyway, she couldn’t have moved if she had tried, and she couldn’t take her eyes off it. How long this lasted, she could not be sure; it seemed like hours. And the thirst became so bad that she almost felt she would not mind being eaten by the lion if only she could be sure of getting a mouthful of water first.
“If you’re thirsty, you may drink.”
For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” she realized that it was the lion speaking.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.
You see, you are about to come face to face with the same harsh reality Jill faced… There is no other stream. I believe following God’s calling in your life feels a lot like this story. Whether you suffer from a case of “Ya’ll watch this”and your pain is self-inflicted OR suffering finds you in some seemingly unfair way… You will thirst for meaning. You will search for purpose. You will search for truth. You will search for God’s will in your life. And, many times – perhaps MOST times – it will not be clear. You may have to drink water next to the lion that could eat you. Because there is no other option… Trusting that above all else – That God is FOR you. That he really can work all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
You will make choices and those choices will have consequences. Some of those consequences your parents won’t be able to fix. You are taking over more control of your life now. Something no doubt you have been craving – perhaps even demanding… Here’s the sobering part: Jill is not the hero in her story. In fact, she is more like the villain. Your parents and teachers are not the villain in your story either. In fact they have most likely been coaches and cheerleaders. The very things you may have been seeking to elude, may have actually been a hedge of protection… protecting you – from you.
I know many of you have been told you are special. Unique. Gifted. That you were created in the image of God. This is all absolutely true. It’s true for you – It’s also true for everybody else in this room. The only question is who you are going to choose to be. Choose wisely.
The cold hard truth is that You are really just going to be “average”. It is my job today to be the one to tell you that. I posted that I was speaking at graduation on my Facebook page and asked my friends what theme they would pick if they were speaking today. I got some pretty scary answers. “You can only be a freshman once but you can be a senior as many times as you would like”… “Marry into wealth” (from a guy)…. “How to win the lottery”… “Survival tactics”. Men and women, be CAREFUL who you listen to. My word – it’s a jungle out there. There IS a lowest common denominator out there —–don’t — be —- it!
- “Average” is not necessarily a “BAD” thing. Average 5 Navy Seals – you get an elite soldier. Average 5 inmates and you get someone with a criminal record and lots of stories. In basketball, there is a starting 5. They are better than the average players. Their average is higher. It doesn’t mean the other players should be discarded OR that they can’t play basketball at all. It just means that the team wins more often with those 5 players on the court. Once you get beyond pee-wee ball, the goal is not to be fair and let everyone play. We don’t live at “the fair”.
- The goal is to be the best you, you can possibly be.
- In sports, the goal is to win. In business, the goal is to make money. In life, I believe, the goal is to become fully who God created you to be. To love Him and “image” His son Jesus Christ. Don’t that word “image” throw you – it just means reflect or act like. Imaging Jesus Christ, is going to take some backbone though! Keep in mind that when given a choice, the world preferred Barrabbas over Jesus. Following Christ may also take getting back into a corner with no other option like Jill in the story. I know that is how I first gave in. Realizing that there is “no other stream” – no other path that would satisfy. I am STILL learning that lesson. Those are the days ahead for you too. First you make your choices – then your choices make you. Choose wisely.
I believe the answer is not a strategy or a system or a plan. I believe the answer is a handful of “who’s”. You can take a lesson or two from Horton here. Listen for them! Build a circle of close friends charging in the same direction – with the same passion. Not, defaulting or drifting to where you fit in. Parents are always concerned about who their kids hang around with and for good reason! Jack Canfield said “You are the average of the five people you hang around most”. Personally, I take Jack Canfield with a grain of salt but what he said has a ring of truth to it. Psalm 1 warns us about it right out of the gate: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked nor stands in the way of sinners nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. You will be defined by the company you keep and the books you read. Choose wisely.
At my company we talk about “Running with the Thoroughbreds” Let me tell you, that is a funny clever little saying until you start eating thoroughbred dust. Mrs. D says “there is no growth in a comfort zone and no comfort in a growth zone”. Running with the Thoroughbreds will show you what you are made of. As daunting as it is, it will pull you further that you will get on your own.
There is a difference between business success and character though. Some have referred to those you listen to most as your “Mental Committee”. When Followers of Christ seek out mentors they sometimes refer to them as their “Spiritual Board of Directors”. Regardless of what you call it, you will be an average of those that influence you.
You will be an average of those who influence you… So you may have to fire some people. Your life is on the line here. Choose Wisely. If someone in your life is always negative, you don’t have to disown them. But for Heaven’s sake – get them off your Mental Committee. Seriously, I mean it. There is a reason they tell you on airplanes to put the oxygen mask over your face first – and then worry about helping others. If you don’t, you will probably pass out before you can be of any assistance. People will die – starting with you. There is a reason that lifeguards approach drowning victims carefully. If they don’t, both of them could end up dead. You are going to have to use your head! Surround yourself with your very own “dream team” – you are going to need it!
If I were to put a business spin on this, you are about to inherit a subsidiary company called “You, Inc.” Part of a larger company called “God, Inc.” Your company was founded by God some 17 or 18 years ago and has been run by your parents so far. As the new interim CEO, you will report to the parent company and a local Board of Directors. Like most CEO’s, people are counting on you to lead You, Inc. well. If you don’t, someone WILL step in. Why??? Because you were not created for consumption – you were created for contribution. You see, You, Inc. is about a whole lot more than just you. You, Inc. exists for the God and His Great Commission.
Go back and re-read the parable of the talents. In Matthew 25: 14-18 Jesus describes God, Inc. “like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. [one might say He put them in charge of subsidiary companies called Servant 1, Inc., Servant 2, Inc. and Servant 3, Inc. ] To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money. After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’ The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner. The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent. The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’
Another translation goes like this: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
It really is pretty simple.
Listen to what Romans 12:1-2 says:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
The Message (MSG)
Here’s the deal:
1. Jesus earned his spot as the Chairman of the Board at You, Inc.
You see He didn’t wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for a sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatsoever to him. Romans 5:8
2. Make sure your mission is the Gospel.
Mark Batterson made a point in his New York Times best-seller The Circle Maker “God is not some genie in a bottle, and your wish is not His command. His command better be your wish. If it’s not, you will end up walking in circles.”
3. Make sure you remember who and whose you are:
You are free from condemnation.
Rom. 8:1 There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
4. Make sure you chose your Closest Companions Wisely
5. Be careful who you follow – Video, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, Music, etc.
I want to close with Psalm 26
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells. Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.
That way you will be able to say “To the extent I was able, I Chose Wisely.”