Many of you have asked for a written version of Sunday’s sermon. Here it is. What I didn’t tell you beforehand—although many of you have figured this out—is that Sunday’s message was a loose paraphrase of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, slightly stylized to sound a bit like a commencement address.
So I hope those of you who listened on Sunday came away with the impression that Jesus (and the Bible) still have something to say to kids these days—as well as to the rest of us.
I hope you enjoy having the manuscript, but you might also consider watching the sermon again with your Bibles open to Matthew 5-7 so you can see how Sunday’s message syncs up with the original. You can watch the sermon HERE.
“A Beginner’s Guide To Being Awesome”
It’s graduation season. Seniors at Newnan High School graduate this Friday. The Heritage School holds graduation ceremonies in two weeks. So today’s message is for graduates and other dreamers. Here are a few words of advice that we’ll collectively call, “A Beginner’s Guide To Being Awesome.”
To the graduating class of 2018, to the young and the young at heart:
Don’t live your lives shackled by fear. If I could offer only one tip for the future, freeing yourselves from fear would be it. The long-term benefits of living without fear will inform everything else I say today.
In addition to not being afraid, I would tell you not to worry, not to judge, to live with joy. Live with love for yourself, for God and for everyone else that God has created. And, no matter what, even when things seem to be at their worst—especially when things seem to be at their worst—remember that God WILL take care of you.
Believe in God and be prepared to make sacrifices for what you believe in. Celebrate and be happy even when other people are pointing their fingers at you, especially if it’s because you’ve stayed true to who God has called you to be. Trust me, staying true to yourself and to God will be worth it in the long run.
You’re here so that by your example other people can better understand who God is. That sounds like a big job, I know, but it’s the job you were created for, so don’t ever sell yourself short. Be a living example, someone who points other people to God, and one day they’ll praise both God and you for it.
And here’s how you can set that example.
Some day, young people, if you choose to get married, remember that marriage is for life. Choose your mate wisely and be faithful to your spouse, not only in your outward behavior, but also in your heart and your mind—In your soul. This is REALLY important!
Tell the truth and keep your word. All the time. No exceptions. If you do this, people will trust you without the need for you to make all kinds of special promises. When you say, yes, follow through. When you say no, mean it.
Be generous with those who make requests of you and don’t live by the world’s standards when it comes to saving face or even preserving your reputation. Even when you’ve been wronged or disrespected in ways big and small, let go of your pride, put whatever happened behind you and move forward with humility.
Always strive for perfection in your love for other people. Anyone can love those who are close to them, but you should find ways to love even the people who are most difficult to love. God loves everyone and showers the warmth of God’s blessing on all of us equally and without fail. You should try to love like that, too.
Instead, when you find opportunities to be generous, keep them to yourself. God will know what you’ve done, and ultimately it’s God’s opinion that matters, not what everyone else thinks.
When you talk to God—when you pray—and you SHOULD pray regularly, you don’t have to be a Jesus freak in your prayers. Just keep it simple. There’s no special prize for being the most demonstrative about how close you are to God. God will hear your prayers just as well—and notice you just as much—if you go into your room and close the door. Speak openly and honestly to God in private.
Prayer shouldn’t be a chore or an endurance contest. Short and simple is okay. You don’t have to sound like a preacher. God knows what you need before you even start praying. So instead, when you pray, just do these four things:
Honor God. Rely on God’s providence. Understand the need to both forgive and be forgiven. And guard yourself against temptation.
When you pray, you don’t need to say or do any more than that.
A life that honors God, that acknowledges God’s providence, that understands the need to both forgive and be forgiven, and that guards itself against temptation is a life well lived.
Use your prayer life to be formed into that kind of person.
Speaking of forgiveness, when you forgive other people, it’s fair to expect forgiveness in return. But when you’re not a forgiving person yourself, can you really expect others to forgive you? I’ll just say this, it’s better to be forgiving.
So make some form of self-denial a regular practice. And when you give up something, don’t go around trying to get people to notice, yelling, “Woe is me, I gave up soft drinks. I think I’ll die without my Diet Coke!” Instead, bear your burden of self-sacrifice quietly. Your inward satisfaction and self-renewal will surprise you.
Now, our young people, our graduates at Central, are very talented. I have no doubt that they’ll be successful at whatever they choose to do. So there’s a chance that many of them will make a BUNCH of money in their lives.
If that’s you, good for you. But don’t hoard it all for yourselves. The world has devised all kinds of ways to help you celebrate your money, spend your money, grow your money, to convince you that you always need more money.
From birth, we have been bombarded with messages about the importance of money and the virtues of wealth, so I want y’all to hear this clearly. NONE OF IT WILL LAST. NOT ONE CENT. YOUR MONEY WON’T LAST.
Instead, use the wealth that God has entrusted to you for God’s purposes. Then it WILL last. It will last in those whose lives are improved by your generosity. It will last in a church whose kingdom footprint is expanded by your charity. It will last in a world moved closer to God’s vision for it because you were willing to share from your excess.
And it’s not just those you help who will be changed when you share. You’ll be changed, too, from the inside out. You’ll learn to see the world in a different way. And when you start to see the world differently, it will make a HUGE difference to your entire being.
You’ll see the world like God sees it, and IT WILL CHANGE WHO YOU ARE. Giving and being generous changes who you are.
But, if you never get a glimpse of what the world looks like through God’s eyes, you’ll eventually find yourself in some pretty dark places. The world can be a pretty dark place.
SO HERE’S A SECRET. You CAN’T devote your life to making money AND devote your life to God. You’ll either decide that you love chasing after wealth and the power that comes with it, or you’ll decide you love God and quit chasing after all those other things. But make no mistake, you’ll eventually have to choose.
You won’t make it through life without choosing between devotion to God and devotion to money. One of them will rule your heart, but both cannot.
Stop worrying about those things. Life is about more than our diets. Our bodies are about more than our figures and the clothes we wear. Worrying about those things adds nothing to our lives.
Consider, for example, the natural beauty of God’s created world. It’s all around you. From spring’s flowers to the intricate symmetry of winter’s snowflakes—the artificial beauty celebrated on our TVs and Instagram feeds can’t hold a candle to the beauty of God’s natural world.
If God can put so much beauty into things that are here today and gone tomorrow, how much more beauty has God put in you? If God is invested in flowers and snowflakes, God is invested in you, too.
So don’t worry about all the material things that so often consume us. Most people will spend their whole lives chasing after glitz and glamour. But you’re not most people, and God knows what you need.
So instead of chasing after the latest trends, spend your time looking for your place in God’s kingdom. Figure out what it means to live your life according to God’s will. Once you figure that out, everything else will fall into place. I promise.
So don’t worry about the future. Live in God’s present and your future will take care of itself. We’ve all got enough on our plates just for today.
And while you’re taking stock of yourself, save what is best and most sacred in you for the best and most sacred people in your life. The world can be a cruel place. If you share too much of yourself with too many people, this world will tear you apart. Remember, there are times when it’s best to hold your cards close to your vest.
After all, who would deny their children the things they need to succeed? Even though we’re not perfect, we know how to help those we love when they’re in need. But God IS perfect. Think about the kinds of gifts a perfect God can give you—and know that God will never withhold them from you.
Knowing this, in all things, you should extend the same respect, forgiveness, sympathy, love and generosity to other people that you would want them to extend to you. In the long run, that’s what everything that God teaches us boils down to—treating others as you would want to be treated.
There are, however, a few brave souls who have found the right path. They’re the kind of people who are sitting around you in this room right now. Find them and follow them. And you will find that life can be more abundant and meaningful than you’ve ever imagined.
As you search for the right path, be careful. Some people will intentionally try to lead you astray. They’ll entice you with big promises and tell you they’re leading in the right direction. But underneath it all, on the inside, they can be the most self-serving, dangerous kind of people you’ll ever run across.
When you look a little closer, you’ll be able to recognize them by the trail of destruction they’ve left behind them. But don’t worry. You can avoid them. People like that leave all kinds of brokenness in their wakes, and you’ll be able to figure out who’s who if you just dig a little.
Good people, though, leave good things behind them. You’ll discover that people and communities—even institutions—are happier, more prosperous, more hopeful—they are invested with more meaning because of the good people who surround them.
Good people can’t help but produce positive results. The reverse is true of the people you should avoid. So when making friends, look closely and choose wisely. It won’t be hard to recognize the difference.
In the end, it’s not just about speaking God’s name or even seeking to do big and great things for God. It’s about where your heart is. It’s about what you do when no one is looking. It’s about dying to yourself so that God can really live in you.
God wants all of you. Every inch of you. Every dark corner. Every selfish desire. Every thought. Every moment. Everything. All of it…turned over to God.
Anything less is unworthy of God’s gift to you—of God’s gifts in you. God will not accept anything less than 100% of who God created you to be. That’s the only way God recognizes us.
But let me end with a warning. If you don’t put this advice into practice, if you choose to live your life a different way, the world will come at you. And you won’t be ready. No one is strong enough to make it on their own.
If you go out there by yourself, the world will win. And it won’t be pretty. The fall will be big, the crash will be great, and it’s never easy to pick up the pieces. It happens all the time. So be careful.
I’ll end how I began. Don’t live your lives shackled by fear. Don’t worry, don’t judge, live with joy, live with love for yourself, for God and for your fellow man. And, no matter what, remember, God WILL take care of you.
Once a month our congregation gathers for REST: a midweek prayer and communion service on Wednesday evenings. We met for REST in February on Ash Wednesday, the same day that 17 students and teachers were killed in Parkland, FL. Last night, we met again for REST on the day that students all over the country demonstrated for an end to violence in their schools. The following remarks are from our service yesterday evening.
Holy Week is sneaking up on us. Palm Sunday is THIS Sunday! So if you want to get the most out of Holy Week, now is the time to start preparing.