Commencement 2010: Photogalleries - Speech
Traditional Commencement Address – May 15, 2010
Trinity Christian College
I am happy and honored to be speaking to you on this momentous day when 177 of you will graduate and launch into the next phase of your life. You have worked hard and accomplished much. Your years here at Trinity have been great basic training, and now you get to practice what your professors have preached – to put into action in a new venue what you wrote in your assignments and exams. Congratulations and God speed!
Some of you are graduating with a degree in business, some in history and some in biology. But, no matter what your degree is, you are ALL being sent out as missionaries. The word “mission” means a sending out or being sent out to perform a task or duty. It can refer to any important duty for which a person is sent, or it can mean a specific task to which one devotes his or her life. The term is often associated with dignitaries being sent to foreign countries, sent to cross borders. The idea in the root meaning of mission is important to consider, particularly for people at a check point, at a border crossing time in their life. Are you ready, because today, you are being commissioned for a new leg of your journey?
You have a special task to do, a mission, and it starts with pushing beyond your present comfort zone. When I graduated from this college, I thought my career would be teaching junior high science. I never imagined that I would be a college faculty member, asked to deliver your graduation speech. Teaching junior high and college, as well as literally hundreds of other careers, are equally worthy missions. But if I had not been willing to risk, to grasp, oftentimes, scary new God-given opportunities, been willing to cross a few borders, I would have missed a lot of joy and fulfillment.
A friend recently reminded me that God's call is never small. She is right. We must be careful not to measure the size of the mission by the world's standards, because sometimes what seems insignificant in the eyes of this world is a very big call from God. One border you may have to cross is to get away from how the world measures things. In some cases teaching in a small Christian school few people have heard of in a small town in the middle of nowhere is the amazing call of God on your life. Or maybe it's managing a business franchise when you thought you had prepared for a different type of ministry.
As you live a border-crossing life, you will be given moments of clarity that will help you know which borders you should cross. The challenge is that you never know when or where you will get the message or be given that clarity. Let me tell you about how one of these moments, encounters, changed me and set the foundation for the thoughts I am sharing with you today.
This past November, my colleague Mark Volkers, an instructor of communication and digital media, and a team of his students shared the work they are doing on a documentary film project about slums. The documentary, still in progress, aims to shine light on the fact that by the year 2030, the number of people living in slums may increase to nearly half of the world’s population.
Throughout the evening, I heard heart-wrenching stories and staggering facts as I watched many disturbing images. One image in particular made a powerful impression on me. If you would ask other viewers of the documentary, they might not even remember the image I have in mind. The photo was of a Filipino man. It was so large; I was able to see the pores on the man’s face and the veins in his eyes. Although the close-up startled me, it was the caption beneath the picture that got my attention--Joetique Lamigo, Missionary.
Upon reading the man’s name and title, I thought to myself, “I am so glad I am not a missionary. I could never be a missionary.” And, in that brief moment, the Lord stopped me short and brought me up close. It was as if He had set me up: as quickly as I said those words to myself, His words entered my head: “You, Barb, are a missionary, too.”
I may or may not be called to cross geographic borders, but I am sent out to perform a wide variety of tasks and duties – to teach, to parent, to serve on committee at my children’s school and at church. My work in each of these areas must point to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, His love, and His redemptive plan for His children and for the world in which we live. I had been carrying around a pretty narrow, probably traditional, definition of missionary: someone who does mission work. But in that brief encounter with Joetique Lamigo, I was challenged to think differently about the word missionary and what it means to be sent. The photo of Joetique Lamigo helped me move past my uncomfortableness with missionaries and instead identify with them and be like them.
You are being sent out on a mission from and for God. You must take what you’ve learned and live and proclaim the “gospel.” You must point to the “good news” of our salvation and the world-wide comprehensive renewal made possible by Christ’s resurrection. As Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, states in his book, Uncommon Decency (38), “Our calling is not to bring the Kingdom of God in its fullness; it is to witness to the power and presence of that kingdom in ways that are made available to us.” You will do this in the work you are called to do, the people you will be called to be, and the relationships you will develop.
As followers of Christ, you are “ordained” to do this – to share in Christ’s world-wide redeeming work in this your exciting and challenging 21st century world. Cornelius Plantinga, President of Calvin Seminary, writes in a book for college freshmen, Engaging God’s World (143), “Christ has come to equip a people--informed, devout, determined people—to lead the way in righting what’s wrong, in transforming what’s corrupted, in doing things that make for peace, expecting that these things will travel across the border from this world to the new heaven and earth.” You, personally and right here today, are called to be these world-changing, border-crossing people.
Don’t think for a minute that God has only a few favorites who will reach this fullness. God desires to accomplish much more than we realize in and through each one of us; but to accomplish this, you will need to search for, and eagerly grasp sometimes scary border crossings. You have been prepared – these people have done their best for you. And now you must be willing to accept dangers and the unknown to follow and fulfill the Lord’s purposes.
As you identify your strengths, the things you’re good at, you are on your way to finding your mission – the special task to which you will devote your life, the special duties and opportunities for which you are being commissioned today. In this growing awareness, you will see new occasions to use and develop your capacity for greater service. Give priority to the things God calls you to do; do not become confused with good things that seem like they need your attention or need to be done. What is important is our willingness to obey God in every area, not just selective areas we choose. Getting comfy, settling in, limits you far more than you should limit your own potential. The world is much bigger than what you’ve experienced up until now. But, you are ready, well equipped, and hopefully eager. You are much bigger and so much more than you can imagine right now.
Different people are good at different things, and different people have larger or smaller comfort zones. Some have more opportunities for growth, but I am convinced that each of us has more growth opportunities than we recognize or are willing to embrace. Playing small doesn’t help you or the kingdom.
As you are given more talent and opportunities (and they do multiply), you will also be given more responsibility – accept this. And as you use more talents you become more capable, more responsible, and more fulfilled. This will make for a very exciting and rewarding life. The well-known parable of the talents describes the reward for growing your God-given talents as simply being given additional responsibilities and the ability to handle them well. When we work for the Lord with all we’ve got, with a willingness to cross borders, He turns the blessing back on us. Greater responsibility equals more growth and joy.
Let me read to you these verses from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Galatians 5:22-23, “But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”
Also from Peterson’s contemporary paraphrase, inGalatians 6:4-5, we find a mission statement worth living by. This has been part of my mission statement for years, Paul implores us to “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”
You may not know the specifics of your mission, so for now, open your mind, cast a broader vision, live, and find out. Stay close to the Lord through prayer and Bible reading. Stay connected to the body of believers by being an active member of a church and by reading spiritual classics. Stay in the habit of volunteering and serving others. Be ready for your Joetique Lamigo moments. In the process you’ll be pleasantly, and sometimes completely, surprised at all that you can do and become. But you will never know unless you go.
So go, equipped with your basic training from Trinity Christian College. Go boldly! Be willing to embrace every opportunity for life-long learning and personal growth that God provides. At the same time go humbly and expectantly, knowing that your BA or BS degree is only a good start for mastering much more of the world-wide alphabet. Whatever you do, remember that you are missionaries—the God-energized SENT ONES, the ones whom God loves and nurtures. When you cross this platform today, to receive two letters in our 26-letter alphabet – your diploma – remember that stamped on it and on each of you, in bold letters, are these words: I AM A PERSON ON A HUGELY IMPORTANT, SATISFYING, JOYFUL, AND GOD-PLEASING LIFELONG MISSION. GO!
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