“Some Thoughts For Our Graduates” May 23, 2010
SI: Chapter 11 is the conclusion of Moses’ introductory remarks.
I know it’s hard to believe with all the time we’ve spend in Deuteronomy
so far, but chapters 1-11 are just the introduction.
Starting in the next chapter is a change. Moses starts talking about specific
laws, specific instructions the Israelites are to follow in the Promised Land.
But up to this point it’s all been big picture stuff—God’s grace, God’s salvation.
Love God, fear God, obey God.
Remember what he’s done for you in the past. Respond to his grace.
So in this chapter Moses pulls together many of the great themes.
INTRO: Those John Calvin books have been sitting on my desk for the past two
weeks, and every time I noticed them, I though about our high school graduates.
And I thought about writing a special sermon for their graduation.
So I looked at a few passages of Scripture that I thought might be appropriate.
I thought about Proverbs 3:1-6, which is a great passage.
But it occurred to me that this chapter in Deuteronomy
is a kind of graduation address itself.
Moses is speaking to the children of Israel.
They’ve finished their schooling in the desert, the 40 years of wandering.
Imagine that—40 years of school.
And now they’re about to cross over the Jordan and take possession
of the land that the Lord promised them through Abraham.
So Deuteronomy is all about this new chapter in their lives
that they are about to experience.
Like a graduation speech—Moses spends a lot of time looking back.
He talks a lot about the past—their parents, big events in their past.
past experiences with the Lord, past blessings and past failures.
He says remember the Exodus, remember the Ten Commandments,
remember the Golden Calf and the rebellion in the desert.
This theme of remembering is huge in Deuteronomy
and it’s huge in the Christian life—
Remember the Lord. Forget not all his benefits.
Graduation speakers look back.
They might talk about the history of the school, or some famous graduates.
They might talk about the history of the graduating class itself—
how they accomplished this or that, or some funny or sad memories.
And that’s exactly what Moses does.
And graduation speakers always look forward as well.
They talk about the future, the opportunities. They might even mention
some particular graduates and their plans—so and so is going into the army,
so and so has received a scholarship, so and so is getting married.
That’s the big emphasis of Moses in this passage. He looks forward.
He talks about this new chapter of their lives.
They are standing on the edge of the Promised Land.
They are about to cross over the Jordan River and move into a life
that is very different in many ways from where they have been to this point.
Moses tells them what to expect. What challenges they will face.
But the biggest thing he pushes home is that the Lord has ordained
this new chapter in their lives so that they can experience his blessing.
Great blessings await them in the Promised Land.
It’s not that they haven’t been blessed before. They have. Tremendously.
They’ve been the recipients of God’s grace in so many wonderful ways.
Even in the desert years they got manna from heaven and water from the rock.
And the Lord was with them visibly day and night in the pillar of cloud and fire.
But more awaits them. More blessings. Greater experiences with God.
If, Moses says, if and only if they cooperate with the Holy Spirit
in this new chapter of life.
All graduation addresses end with some kind of challenge—
“Reach for the stars!” “Follow your dreams!” “To yourself be true!”
Something cheesy like that.
Moses also ends with a challenge. But there’s nothing cheesy about it.
It’s sobering and just as powerful today as it was over 3,000 years ago
when he first spoke those words.
He says: You have a choice—blessing or curse.
Obey the Lord, get in step with him in this new chapter of your life,
and you will enjoy blessing. Ignore the Lord and suffer a curse.
So choose blessing. Choose to get God’s blessing.
I’m focusing on our high school graduates—but I hope you see that this
applies to every transition in your life, every new chapter—
the good ones, the bad ones, and the uncertain ones.
Births, deaths, marriages, moves, job changes, aging parents, empty nests—
all of those new chapters are ordained by the Lord and come with a challenge—
Which will you chose? Blessing or curse?
Open your eyes to what the Lord is doing through this new chapter,
get in step with the Holy Spirit, and choose blessing.
So what’s he doing? Three things—I’ll give them to you as we go.
MP#1 You must see the new chapters of your life as opportunities for faith.
The new chapters of your life can be exciting or scary,
depending on your age and what kind of changes we’re talking about.
But the Lord is behind them, and in every new chapter
is this opportunity to trust him in a deeper way.
Moses explains this to the Israelites. He says:
Back in Egypt you planted your crops and you never worried about getting rain.
It didn’t matter if it never rained, because the mightiest river in Africa
flowed right past your gardens—the Nile River.
And all you had to do was irrigate it by foot.
All you had to do was pump or haul water and you were guaranteed a harvest.
Back when you were slaves in Egypt, you never had to think about rain.
But the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, is different.
It’s a land flowing with milk and honey. It’s very fruitful.
There are vineyards and olive groves—wine and oil in abundance.
But there is no Nile River. It’s a land that’s dependent on rain.
There is a cycle of dry periods and rainy periods.
The success of your crops will depend on the rain coming at the right time.
What’s this going to mean for you spiritually?
It means that you’re going to have to trust God at a whole new level.
God hasn’t changed. And your life really hasn’t changed.
Even down in Egypt, it was the Lord who made the crops grow.
You were just as dependent on his mercy there—you just didn’t see it as clearly.
So your faith didn’t have as much of a chance to grow.
But in Canaan you will see how much you depend on him.
You’ll wake up every day and look at your fields under the hot sun.
You’ll count off another day of the dry season.
You’ll search the sky for rainclouds—
and you will have the opportunity to trust your God in a whole new way.
You’ll be able to see with eyes of faith that it is the Lord
who sends the autumn and spring rains.
It is the Lord who gives grass for your cattle. It is the Lord who makes the
grain swell and the grape ripen and who gives you your daily bread.
And so with this new chapter of your life, you will have an opportunity
to trust the Lord in ways you’ve never trusted him before.
Your old props are going to be taken away. Not that they were bad.
Nothing wrong with the Nile River there to give you water every day
without you even thinking about it. But it’s not going to be there any more—
and that’s a good thing, because it will be an opportunity to trust him more.
When I read that this I couldn’t help thinking of our high school graduates.
Your parents have been like the Nile River in your life.
You didn’t have to worry about rain. They provided for you body and soul.
Could say the same thing for your church.
It’s been here for you throughout your years, providing spiritual nourishment.
It’s always been the Lord who has really done the providing.
He’s provided for you through your parents, through your church.
But you’re beginning a new chapter in your lives—
and some of these props are going to be taken away.
And the Lord’s going to lead you places
where you have the opportunity to trust him more.
If you go off to college, that’s exciting. The day I went away to college,
the day I got married, and the day we had our first child were the most exciting
days of my life. I still remember my feelings on those days very vividly.
Because I knew they were the beginnings of new chapters in my life.
Here’s my challenge to you. Make it your prayer and your conscious thought
that you will trust the Lord more. Make it your goal to grow in faith.
Some of you here are facing new chapters in your life that aren’t exciting—
they’re scary. They may even be heart-breaking.
People and things you counted on have been pulled away.
You’re facing a future that you did not plan, a future you do not want.
I remember a devout Christian woman in our Florida church. She and her husband
had retired to the beach to enjoy their golden years. He died the first week.
She said: This wasn’t the plan. But, she said later, God is good.
Be encouraged. The Lord send you both the autumn and spring rains—
to soften the soil of your heart and to swell the grain at harvest time.
What does he want from you? He wants you to trust him more.
MP#2 You must see the new chapters of your life as occasions for testing.
The Lord is not the only one at work in the new chapters of your life—
the Devil is too. He’s the enemy of your soul. He wants to cast you down
and make you ineffective and unproductive as a Christian.
He’s crafty. He’s evil. And he knows that you will be susceptible to temptation
in the new chapters of your life. Sinful tendencies in your flesh that you might
barely know are there, can come out with terrible power in times of big change.
God doesn’t tempt us to sin. But he turns the temptations we face into tests
of faith. The Devil tempts and the Lord tests. The difference is that the Devil
wants you to fail, the Lord wants you to succeed so we come out stronger.
Moses says: When you get to the Promised Land,
you’re going to be tempted to worship the false gods of the Canaanites.
That’s going to be part of this new chapter of your life—
you’re going to be tempted and tested.
Who were the gods of the Canaanites. Primarily two—Baal and Asherah.
Baal was the god of storm and rain. Isn’t that interesting.
The Lord said, Trust me, and don’t worry about rain. I’ll send it.
But the Canaanites made an idol out of rain.
It was rain that gave them security about their future.
The worshipped created things rather than the Creator.
Asherah was Baal’s consort. She was a fertility goddess.
The Canaanites worshipped her so that their cattle and sheep would
multiply and their grain would grow. That’s why there were sexual rituals
in Asherah worship. It was the worship of fertility itself.
Once again: The Lord had said over and over to the Israelites.
Trust me. Worship me. Live holy lives before me.
And I will give you sons and daughters and your flocks and herds will increase.
Bowing down to figurines called Baal and Asherah seems so far-fetched.
But what is idolatry?
It’s simply worshipping created things rather than the Creator.
It’s trusting in created things to give you what God alone can give.
It’s looking for your security, comfort, approval, control, a sense of worth
in things and people besides the Lord.
That temptation is always with us.
But it can be particularly intense in the new chapters of your life.
A number of years ago there was a family that came to Christ Covenant—
a very godly family. Very serious about their faith. They’re no longer with us.
But I ran into the dad a few years back and asked about their daughter—
who I knew had graduated from high school and gone to college.
A look of sadness came over his face and he shook his head.
He told me how she had taken a philosophy class at UAH and turned her back on
the faith. And he told me how they had pleaded with her and argued with her and
prayed with her—but she pridefully looked down on the Bible and Christianity.
What happened? She was enticed by the false gods of the Canaanites.
In her case it was the idol of intellectualism. Human reason is superior to God.
Scripture can be judged and criticized by us, rather than the other way around.
I don’t know what made that idol appealing to her.
Maybe she wanted to look good in the eyes of a professor she admired.
Maybe she was embarrassed to be thought of as a Bible-thumper.
Maybe getting rid of the Bible and the Christian ethic felt liberating to her—
gave her justification for an immoral life—I don’t know.
But I do know that her story is not unusual.
One of the great sorrows of the church in America in our time is that many of sons
and daughters grow up and instead of following Christ in the great new chapter of
their lives, they follow the idols of materialism or hedonism or secularism.
Listen, graduates, don’t let that be true of you.
Your faith will be tested—pass the test. The holy life is worth living.
Following Christ is the path to happiness.
The Christian faith does have intellectually and emotionally satisfying answers.
Don’t damage your souls following false gods.
And this is the challenge for all of you, who, like I mentioned a moment ago—
are facing your own transitions and changes. You’re going to be tempted
by the enemy of your souls. But the Lord wants to refine you.
Be on guard. Resist idolatry. In your distress, don’t turn to created things to give
you the things that
the Lord along can give.
MP#3 You must see the new chapters of your life as openings for success.
For a Christian, new chapters of life—good or bad, exciting or scary,
are, by God’s grace, openings, doorways, for success.
Look at the way Moses describes success to the Israelites—It’s very dramatic.
He says: The Canaanites won’t be able to stand before you.
The Lord will drive them out. You will dispossess them.
Nobody will be able to stop you.
Your territory will be from the desert to Lebanon,
and from the Euphrates River to the Western Sea
Then he says, When you enter this new chapter of your life:
“Every place where you set your foot will be yours.”
That’s quite a statement. Here they are looking across the Jordan at the land
flowing with milk and honey. They’ve been 40 years in the desert.
And the Lord says: Set your foot on that good land, and you own it.
You see a beautiful farm? Set your foot on it, and you own it.
You see a fruitful vineyard or olive grove? Set your foot on it, you own it.
The doors for success in this new chapter of your life are wide open.
But what does that mean?
It’s passages like this that the health and wealth, name-it claim-it, preachers
point to and say: See, if you want that new car or new job, you just have
to step forward in faith and claim it and God will give it to you.
That’s not what this means. This promise of success is not a promise
that you’re going to get everything you want materially speaking.
It’s not even a promise that the new chapters of your life are going to turn out
as you planned. Your plans might not work out. Your plans might fail.
No, the success that’s spoken of here is much bigger than us and our plans.
It’s about the Kingdom of God. It’s about the salvation of the world through Christ.
You see, the possession of the land of Canaan was part of God’s
redemptive plan. It was the fulfillment of his promise to Abraham.
He told Abraham 500 years earlier that he would bring his descendants to this land,
and that he would make them into a nation—and from that nation a son would
come, and through him, would all the nations of the earth be blessed.
The conquest of Canaan was part of God’s salvation plan.
So when an Israelite man or woman crossed the Jordan River in faith.
And when they set their feet on a Canaanite farm and claimed it for the Lord,
and farmed it, and raised their children on it—when they did that—
they were advancing the Kingdom of God.
They were getting things ready for Jesus Christ to come. And that is real success.
Real success is when you make the decisions of your life to glorify
Jesus Christ and spread his name.
In every new chapter of your life, the Lord will open doors for you to do that.
He’ll give you ways to participate in the advancement of his Kingdom
and the spread of the Gospel.
And when you recognize those open doors, and walk through them in faith,
then you can be certain of success—because his Kingdom cannot fail.
Every place you set your foot will be yours.
Graduates, in the next chapter of your life you will probably make some
of your most lasting friendships, you will probably choose your life’s work,
and you will probably find your husband or wife.
If you follow the Lord in those things, if you consciously seek his will,
and listen to him and want to please him and lead others to him—
then all of those things can be doorways for you to participate in his Kingdom.
And if you do that, it won’t matter how much money you make,
or how prestigious your position—you will enjoy true success.
That might mean going places you wouldn’t otherwise go.
I have a friend who is an engineer with the Flour Daniel Corporation.
Their overseas jobs are difficult and undesirable. But he and his wife thought that
by taking one of these assignments, they could spread the Gospel somehow.
So his company sent them to Jakarta, Indonesia for two years.
While there they got involved in an English-speaking church that was struggling.
With his connections, able to recruit a solid PCA minister, leave church stronger.
And it may be that the doors the Lord opens for you are doors you don’t want
him to open. It may be a painful loss that opens up a new chapter of your life. But even in that, are opportunities to share Christ in ways that you couldn’t before.
Even in the scary and painful changes are ways to advance his kingdom
by saying to other hurting people—Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me.
CONC: The Lord has ordained the new chapters of your life.
And he has done so for your blessing—so that your faith can be tested and
strengthened, and so that you can participate in Christ’s work on earth.
In 1904, a young man named William Borden graduated from high school
in Chicago. For graduation present his parents gave him a trip around the world.
The Bordens were very wealthy family, William was the heir of the family fortune.
The Bordens were a Christian family. William had been raised in the church.
And as he traveled through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia,
he began to feel a burden in his soul for the people he saw—
especially for the great numbers of people in Asia.
He began to think about how many millions of them had never heard of Christ.
He wrote home and told his parents that the wanted to be a missionary.
A family friend found out and said that William was throwing his life away.
The next year he started his freshman year at Yale.
And at the convocation service the President of the University told the
incoming class that each one of them should have a purpose in life.
William was bothered by the speech because he saw that in the secular environment
of Yale, there was very little interest in having Jesus Christ as the purpose in life.
So he asked one of his friends to meet with him before breakfast,
so that they could pray for the student body. The two of them began to meet.
And from that little prayer meeting—just two students, there was a revival at Yale.
By the end of his freshman year, 150 students had joined their morning prayer.
And by the time he was a senior, 1000 students were meeting in small groups.
He poured his time and money into a rescue mission in New Haven,
and he organized a huge missionary conference held on the Yale campus.
William’s wealth and family connections were always tugging at him.
He was invited to join the Skull and Bones—the most famous Yale fraternity.
That would have been a good move for many young men in his position—
giving him prestige and connections—but he turned down the invitation.
Supposedly the only student in Yale history to do so.
And when he graduated, he was offered several prestigious and high-paying jobs,
but he turned them down as well because his heart was by that time set on going
to China, to a Muslim people group called the Kansu.
Went to Princeton to study theology.
Then to Egypt, to study Arabic, Islam, before beginning his life’s work in China.
But in Egypt he contracted meningitis and died at the age of 25.
His Bible had a number of mottos written in the cover:
One of them, written his freshman year of college said:
“Say ‘no’ to self and ‘yes’ to Jesus every time.”
What a life. He died young, and that’s sad. But what a life.
Here was a young man who saw in this new chapter of his life, his high school
graduation opportunities to grow in faith, occasions for testing,
and openings for success—and he took them.
William Borden is not the hero of the story—God is the hero.
Because it is God who ordains the changes of your life
for your good and his glory. Trust him.
And Jesus Christ is the hero—because through him you have a new heart,
and you have his Holy Spirit, to guide you as you along the way.
Love your Savior. Keep in step with the Spirit,
and move ahead into the blessed new chapter of life he has for you.