A Message For Our Graduates (2014)

This is a message shared with our 2014 graduates at our church this past Sunday, May 18. The full video of the sermon can be found here. Links to various videos and scriptures are made throughout the transcript.

Since my senior year of high school, I’ve spoken at baccalaureate services. My first baccalaureate was my own, and then I was the keynote speaker at a Christian high school baccalaureate my freshman year of college. However, I’ve come to terms with accepting that I may never be asked to speak at a high school graduation – at least not at a public school. I am a pastor, after all. I use words like propitiation, sanctification, and abomination. I use offensive phrases like “the wrath of God” and “the cross of Christ.” So a public high school graduation speech may not ever be in my future.

I’ve always wanted to speak at one. In fact, I’ve had dreams of doing a high school graduation. My youngest sibling, Anna, is 13 years younger than I am. I had fanciful expectations of becoming someone of recognition by the time she graduated, and I would speak at her high school graduation. However, her graduation came and went and I received no such invitation. I would receive the call to become a pastor, and in both graduation seasons that I’ve been a pastor, I’ve looked forward to being able to address our graduates, congratulate their successes, and send them on to the next chapter of their lives with the words of Christ.

This is a message to the graduating class of 2014. Here at First Southern Baptist Church of Junction City, our graduates represent three high schools: Mikayla Fernandez, Denara Gaub, Austin Karr, and Jaron McCall are graduating from Junction City High School, Kory Gyuran is graduating from Council Grove High School, and Faith Janicki, whom we recognized last week, is graduating from Manhattan High School. Y’all will walk your respective stages and receive your respective diplomas and then go off to your respective callings. But if you have committed yourselves to a life in Christ, you are bound together in the common bond of His love. It is in the name of Christ that I wish to exhort you with these words.

We just finished up 1 Timothy chapter 1 last week, and my main scripture today is going to be all of chapter 4. We’ll come to this chapter again later, but the instructions here are particularly relevant to you graduates, and I want you to remember them. Everyone please turn in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 4 and follow along. If you are here today as a guest and you do not have a Bible, there’s one with a teal cover under the seat in front of you. 1 Timothy 4 can be found on page 643. If you see a guest in your row looking for a Bible and can’t find one, but you know there’s one under the seat in front of you, please take it out and pass it down. Again, that page number is 643.

1 Timothy 4:1-2 begins:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teaching of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.”

This idea of having a “seared conscience” means that they have been desensitized and rendered ineffective by their rebellion against the gospel. This is exactly the kind of culture you are stepping into, out of the home and guidance of your parents and into a world full of demonic teaching. Their seared consciences mean that they’re incapable of understanding or teaching the truth.

An example of a seared conscience would be someone who makes a statement like, “There is no such thing as truth.” Is that a true statement? Then you’ve just asserted truth. Or how about, “There is no right or wrong.” Is that statement right, or is it wrong? Either way, it’s false. Another statement might be, “No one can be sure about anything.” Are you sure about that? See, their conscience is so seared that they don’t realize their beliefs contradict themselves. And even after you show them their fault, they’ll still go right on believing the lie.

But when you confront these individuals with the truth, don’t forget that 2 Timothy 2:24 tells us that the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness. Contrast this command with the behavior of Westboro Baptist Church who will be picketing Junction City High School’s graduation this evening.

There's an image from yesterday when Westboro protested at Fort Hays State University. We were talking about a seared conscience and ideas that contradict themselves? WBC is no better. The image shows an individual holding up a sign that says, “Repent or Perish.” Then someone right next to them is holding up a sign that says, “Too Late to Pray.” So which is it? They can’t even get their own message straight! Why? Because of a seared conscience. They’re removed parts of the Bible that talk about patience, love, and gentleness, and filled themselves with strife, hate, and maliciousness.

But you, Christian – do not respond in such ways. Correct opponents with gentleness. The love of Christ will be displayed through patience, as Paul writes about in 1 Timothy 1:16. Now, I don’t want to overlook that 1 Timothy 4 begins by saying that in later times, many will depart the faith. Don’t be one of them. Whatever it takes, hold on to your faith. And that’s something we’ll talk about more here with this next verse.

Verse 3:

“They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”

So here’s what you need to understand about our culture now. They’ll tell you marriage is not important. A couple years ago, a Memphis, TN, Fox affiliate opened a news piece about marriage with these words: "There was a time when men and women married in their 20s, had a couple of kids, and bought a new house. For a lot of reasons those days are disappearing, and many of us are okay with that."

One of the major issues we often debate about is the effort to legalize same-sex marriage, which has nothing to do with love or equality or any of the bumper-sticker rhetoric we most often hear. In fact, it’s an attempt at breaking down the very structure of the family, the way God made it to be, and there’s all the evidence in the world to prove that’s exactly what’s going on. We went through many of those evidences a year ago. The redefinition of marriage has been successful, since same-sex marriage isn’t even marriage, but the term has made it into our cultural lexicon and is spoken with normalcy. But no matter how normal any sin gets, do not waver from the true Word of God. No matter how dangerous it becomes to believe in Christ, you must not be willing to sacrifice the truth. Even if it might cost you everything you have.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the Benham Brothers who were about to have their own show on HGTV, but the network cancelled it when they found out the Benham Brothers opposed same-sex marriage. The show was going to be about these brothers helping the less fortunate acquire a desirable home. But HGTV would rather stand on the side of same-sex marriage than help the needy. It went as far as even the Benham Brothers’ bank dropping them as clients because of their beliefs. When asked about the situation, they said, “If our faith costs us a television show, then so be it.”

To give up God’s Word, to compromise the truth, would be a far more dangerous sacrifice. As we are told in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And graduates, it just might actually be this specific issue you get persecuted for. Believe and know the truth.

Verse 4:

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer.”

Do not forget to read God’s Word. And do not forget to pray. Practice both every day.

Verse 6:

“If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine you have followed.”

As we studied through 1 Timothy 1, the theme that came up most often is sound doctrine. What is sound doctrine, but that which flows from the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is the gospel, but the good news that the cross of Christ saved us from the wrath of God. Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Continue in the faith with other believers. Find good Christian groups and a gospel teaching church that is rooted in sound doctrine.

The next two verses have been kind of a theme for us as we study through 1 Timothy:

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather, train yourself for godliness. For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

What happens when we listen to teachers who don’t teach sound doctrine is we get is irreverent, silly myths. It’s speculative teaching. It’s using the Bible as a self-help book. Sure, the Bible says lots of things about romances, finances, and circumstances. But when you start with the self, your focus is on the self, rather than on Jesus. Focus all your attention on Christ and He will supply for your every need. As it says in Luke 12:31, “Seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

So while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way. Look beyond just meeting your physical needs, and focus entirely upon Christ. When we studied through Colossians last year, we spoke of this as making Christ pre-eminent above all things. In other words, you don’t need anything else. Christ is everything. Colossians 3:1-4 reads, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Verses 9 and 10:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance [referring to the value of godliness]. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.”

The goal, graduates, is to attain godliness and its eternal value. We also see in the context of verse 10 that Christ has been offered to all people. But as you know, and as we’ve taught here, not everyone will receive Christ. Again I caution you to beware of those whose consciences are seared. Some of them may present a form of godliness, but deny its power. Avoid such people. (2 Timothy 3:5)

Verse 12 tells us:

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”

Graduates, you are not children anymore, and do not let anyone look down upon you as if you are. In fact, when you get to college and take on more responsibility, you may look back on the years that you had here in this church as youth – as high school students – and wish you had done more. I simply charge you to learn from that, so that you realize and take hold of the responsibility that is upon you now. Step up and be an example to others in Christ, whether they’re older than you or younger than you. Believe it or not, you can be an example to a superior, a teacher, or an employer. It is just as much upon you to be good examples – in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Mark this verse in your Bibles. Hang it on your mirror or post it in your car. 1 Timothy 4:12. Memorize it. Don’t forget it.

In verse 13, Paul says:

“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

Now, Paul is talking to a pastor when he says this, but there’s still an important instruction to take from this graduates. And that instruction is this: Go to church! It is actually mandated in scripture that you attend church. You’ll possibly have many friends, and you may have used this excuse yourself, who will say, “Meh, I don’t have to go to church to show I’m a Christian.” Oh, yes, you do! Our Lord Christ commands it. If you are in Christ and part of the body of Christ, then desire to grow with His body – in fellowship, in love, exhorting and maturing one another in the faith, listening to the public reading of scripture, and being taught by it.

For some of you, enforcing this discipline might be more difficult than others. But you have to do it. You must consider in the eyes of God it is more important that you remember to attend church than it is that you remember to attend class. Because, again, while college might be able to prepare you for some things, the pursuit of godliness has eternal value. Hebrews 10:25 instructs, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you the Day drawing near.”

1 Timothy 4:14:

“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.”

And here when we finish up, the church is going to lay hands on our graduates as you are being sent into the world. Do not forget that moment, and do not forget the words that are being spoken to you.

The last two verses:

“Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Before closing, there are three pieces of advice I want to give you. First: Do not forget whom you were before Christ.

Since Easter Sunday, we’ve considered 1 Timothy 1:15 where the Apostle Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy, and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am the foremost.” The nature of this verse is that Paul remembers whom he was before Christ transformed his life. He went from being Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee and murderer of Christians, to the Apostle Paul, preacher of God’s Word and lover of Christ. The love of Jesus was displayed in God’s perfect patience toward Paul, he wrote, and because of this testimony, many others came to know Christ as he did.

Paul reminded the Ephesians who they were before Christ. In Ephesians 2:1-10, he wrote, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Former NFL athlete turned preacher, Derwin L. Gray, once said, “My heart is tender towards the lost because I remember what it was like to be lost.” So again, never forget who you were before you came to Christ. It not only enhances your worship of Christ, it energizes the church to reach others for Christ.

The second piece of advice I mean for you to receive: Do not forget whom you are now in Christ.

Coming back to that passage in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We later read in Ephesians 4:17-24, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord that you must no longer walk as the pagans do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Graduates, never forget that you were made in the image of God. You are about to step into an arena where your teachers look at you as an accident. I’m sure you’ve already had experience with this, but it’s about to get worse. They will tell you there is no God in whose image you can be made. Instead, you are the result of purposeless processes in which lifeless material in some primordial pool became alive with no explanation, and then through spontaneous generation became microorganisms which eventually became fish which turned into dinosaurs, and you’re an idiot if you don’t believe this. “From goo to you by way of the zoo,” as said by Christian author, Frank Peretti.

Extra-marital affairs, children born out of wedlock, fatherless homes, massive debt, filling ourselves with things that don't matter -- all of this is sin born out of rejecting our creator and our created purpose.

It’s of little wonder why we desecrate our bodies, giving up natural relationships for unnatural ones, insisting that homosexuality is perfectly fine and you’re an intolerant bigot if you don’t agree. It’s because we’ve devalued our purpose in Christ, in whose image we were made, bowing at a different altar, and rejecting the intention for which we have been specifically designed.

It’s of little wonder why we think it’s perfectly fine to kill a child in the womb at a rate of over 3,200 children per day. A third of your generation, graduates, and mine has been wiped out by this holocaust. A third. However large your graduating class is, there should be a third more of them. For example, Junction City High School’s graduating class is about 300. It should be about 400. It’s not, all because we’ve been told that we’re accidents, and you’re just one of the lucky ones to be here.

The band Switchfoot recorded a song called Needle and Haystack Life. And in the chorus they sing, “In this needle and haystack life, I found miracles there in your eyes, it’s no accident we’re here tonight. We are once in a lifetime.”

David wrote in Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” You are one of those works, graduates. You were made in the image of God. The questions you will hear some of your peers asking – things like “Why are we here?” and “Where did we come from?” – you already know the answer. Teach them the answer as well. You know you’re made in God’s image. So are they. So treat them as fellow image-bearers, and lead them to the life-saving knowledge of Christ.

And the third piece of advice I share with you: Do not forget whom you will be in Christ.

In case it needs to be said, you haven’t arrived yet. Remember the things you’ve been taught, and continue to walk in them. God our Father says in Proverbs 4:2, “I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching.” Read your Bibles every day. Whatever institution you are heading to next, there is no greater teaching than what you will receive in the Good Book. You do not know it all. Don’t act like you do.

There’s a big, churchy word we use to describe this ongoing process of growing in Christ, and that word is “sanctification.” As long as our souls remain in this flesh, walking this earth, we must continue to strive toward maturity in Christ. Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom He foreknew,” and that’s you – remember He knew you even before you were formed in your mother’s womb. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Couple this with Romans 12:2 where we are told, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

And what is God’s will for you? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is a good start: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Later in verse 23, Paul writes, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Do not forget that the Day of the Lord is coming. Continue to look forward to that day, and don’t be so wrapped up in the concerns of this world that you are not ready to let them go for eternity with Christ.

Before that day arrives, though, you’re going to make mistakes. We’re still sinners in need of God’s mercy and grace. Don’t forget 1 John 1:9 which says that if we are faithful to ask forgiveness for our sins, God is faithful and just to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

It was once said to me that sanctification is a community project. We were meant to worship, grow, and hold each other accountable as the body of Christ. I remind you again that wherever you’re going next, find a gospel teaching church, and grow with them. It’s not enough to simply be a part of a group of other college-age students. A functioning body of Christ, the way we see it described in scripture, is multi-generational. Be cross-generational and get to know people older and younger than you are. Be ready to receive their counsel. And again, I charge you, be examples yourselves.

Christian musician Michael W. Smith wrote a song called I Will Carry You. The lyric goes, “We were never meant to walk this road alone. I can always trust you when you say, ‘I will carry you, be your strength and pull you through. Reach for me, take my hand, we will pray and we will stand. In a world crying out for peace, let your heart be strong, for when I am weak, you will carry me.”

Never forget, graduates, no matter what the world tries to tell you, no matter how foolish they might think this belief to be, that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, and whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life. Rejoice in the good news of the gospel of Christ. Be filled with thanksgiving.

In Closing...

When Jesus sent his disciples into the world to preach the gospel, he gave them what is called the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” he said. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And the last words He spoke to them were these: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Our Lord Jesus will be with you. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Child of God, you cost too much for Him to forget you.”

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