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Month: May 2024

Graduation Message to the Class of 2024, Helena Christian School

I had the honor to address the Graduating Class of 2024 on May 17. Several parents have asked if they could get a copy of my speech, so I am posting it here. Congratulations to all graduates! Cling to the cross in your future endeavors!

Photo by Aaron Bartosik

By nature, I am a storyteller. It is through story that meaning is best remembered and preserved. So tonight, permit me to speak to you through a metaphor.

Life is often described as a continual cycle of hills and valleys. At some point—perhaps like tonight—you find yourself atop a high mountain, overlooking breath-taking scenery stretching to the horizon. At other times, perhaps a few weeks or months ago, you stood in a valley, gazing up at the looming mountains around you, feeling too small and with too little energy to overcome them. 

According to this metaphor, if you reach a mountaintop, a valley surely will follow.

However, I don’t think this metaphor is quite accurate. First, it seems to cast us into a frustrating, endless cycle of mountains and valleys.  Second, the mountaintop experiences tend to be few and far between, and all too brief.  As grand as mountaintops are, imagine reaching a summit only to see before you another wide chasm separating you from the next one.

Tonight, I want to leave with a different picture. Instead of a series of mountains and valleys, I want you to picture an amusement park. An amusement park called “Life.”

At just a few years of age, you enter the park through no choice of your own. Immediately, you are overwhelmed by the bright colors, swirling lights, and cacophony of laughter, screams, and chatter. Eventually, your parents hand you off to others outside the family to be your guides. These are elementary-school teachers. With great skill and patience, they lead you through the kiddie rides. They build your trust and encourage you—even gently push you—to try new experiences while they lay the foundation for more challenging rides.

Eventually, these guides pass you off to another group—the middle school teachers. In a new section of the park, they lead you through being a tweener—a crazy, topsy-turvy world of the funhouse with contraptions which spin you around like a dryer and mirrors, in which you everything about you looks wacky and distorted. They teach you how to use your mind, and a strange new tool called logic. They help you take the simple data you learned in elementary school and start to process it. They help you learn to make the best choices you can with the information you have—and they hold you accountable for those choices, whether good or bad. 

Finally, these guides put you in a line to another ride, only this time they don’t hand you off to others. They just leave you there. This line is to a thrilling ride called “high school.”

This ride looks huge and terrifying. And you’re pretty sure much of the screaming you’ve heard since entering the park has come from THIS ride.

Four years ago, your turn finally came. You had no choice but to move forward, climb in, and strap yourself into the seat. With a tremendous lurch, your car slowly starts crawling forward. 

Forward and up. 

Way up.

You do not realize how steep and high it is until you start climbing that first hill. 

Anticipation, horror, and excitement build as the ground gets further and further away. Your stomach knots up. You clutch the safety bar until your knuckles get white. 

Suddenly, the car gradually levels out as you reach the top. You inhale for a scream as the car points almost straight down. With sudden exhilaration, you plummet. You can’t hear yourself scream.

This ride called “high school” is a rush. 

A fast, dizzying, thrilling rush.

For the next four years, there is no chance to react or even catch your breath as you race through a series of hills, corkscrews, and loops. Your life is filled with complex math formulas, research papers, debates, sports, dramas, spirit weeks, and the beloved final exam. Sometimes there are moments of uncertainty that stretch you beyond what you thought were your limits. Other times there are the great thrills of placing at the state tournament, scoring a plum part in a play, or standing before the school to give a speech.

These four years have been a blur.

However, now the car has slowed down and returned the station. The ride is over. The years of thrills, excitement, frustration, laughter—even the occasional meltdown—have finally come to a stop. The safety bar is released. You climb out of the car, wide-eyed and weak-kneed; with eyes wide open, you can do is look at the person beside you and gasp, “What a ride!”

And here you are, trying to catch your breath, staring out at a crowd of people who are here to celebrate your great achievement.

Take this moment. Catch your breath. Remember this moment. Be still. 

Because this is not an ending, but a beginning. 

In the months to come, you are about to climb aboard an even scarier ride in the amusement park called “Life.” For each of you, it will be one like you’ve never experienced. It will have even “twister-y” twists and turns you never thought possible. At some point, you might feel like you’re facing the wrong way, and you might be thrown from this ride, winding up in an entirely new direction. 

It is likely this ride will introduce you to new co-riders, not your fellow classmates here on this stage with you. It could even take you hundreds or thousands of miles from here. 

Just like the last couple of months, as you’ve suffered from acute and pathological senioritis, you will at times wonder whether or not you can make it through the next ride. 

But I am here to tell you: you will. 

Everything you went through up to this point—every athletic event, dramatic performance, science experiment, and research paper—has prepared you for the next ride you will climb aboard.  This next stage won’t be easy. It will have new challenges. And they will be different for each of you.

This ride is likely to include the joys of marriage, family, a satisfying career, and a life of service to others. I can attest that all of those things are great gifts. And I sincerely wish those gifts for you.

However, sooner or later it may also include a severe work challenge, an unwanted diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one. If God blesses you with long life, you may experience all of those difficulties and more. And I can attest that most of us do not naturally welcome such sorrows into our lives.

So I want to leave with you some important truths to take with you, and to cling to in your most uncertain moments.

First, remember that there is One who created this park. One who knows every facet of the park and sees things you cannot see. To this Creator, there are no surprises. He knows you and created you in his image. This Creator, whether you see him or not, has joined you on this ride. He writes himself into your journey and guides you with love and patience. He will laugh with you and guide you in the scariest moments. Your job is to trust him. Not only with salvation, but in every facet of your life.

Second, remember there is an enemy prowling around in this park doing everything he can to keep you from progressing to the next ride. He will try to lure you over to his rigged game, promising you great prizes at far too high a cost. He will show you an easier way through the park with far less effort. On face value it will seem like a good deal, but if you follow this enemy, you will quickly find yourself frustrated, lost, and in danger. Even though God created this park, it became corrupted by the enemy, making us to believe we humans can run it ourselves, without him. Because the park has been corrupted by the enemy, remember that life doesn’t play fair. It will throw you curve balls. It will broadside you. It will jerk you around like a rag doll. We live in a fallen world. This is why you must cling to the Creator. He’s bigger than life, more importantly, he’s far bigger than the enemy trying to pull you away from your journey.

Finally, remember this amusement park isn’t just about riding the rides. It is about helping others find their way. Whether your next steps take you on to college or into the workplace, never stay exclusively inward-focused. There are others on the ride with you. Others who are lost, confused, without hope. Love them. Serve them. Don’t become so focused on your journey that you pass them by. Jesus calls you to “make disciples.” That requires relationship. Be ready for whomever God brings your way. Your own experiences can help to guide them. Be the servant to others that God has prepared you to be. Ministry just doesn’t happen at church or on the mission field. It happens every time you walk out your front door – and also behind that door, in your own home.

I pray your years at Helena Christian School have helped prepare you for your journey through this park. Now you are ready to navigate it on your own. In Christ, you’ve got this. I leave you finally with this: always—always—cling to him when you need him most, and represent him to others when THEY do. 

Eventually, you will climb off this exhilarating, frightening, and exhausting ride. And if you stick with him through it all, at that time the Creator and Redeemer will greet you, hold you, look into your eyes, and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Helena Christian School Class of 2024, I congratulate you. I love you and I am so proud of you.

And don’t forget to stop by and let us know how you’re doing.

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