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    by Mike McHugh

Brevity and Eternity - CLASS Commencement Address (Originally delivered on June 18,2006)
Date Posted: August 24, 2006

Graduates, parents, families, and friends, I am honored to deliver the 2006 Commencement Address to the Christian Liberty Academy home school Class of 2006,2010. Last week during our on-campus commencement address, our speaker, State Senator Peter Roskam, commented that no one comes to a graduation service to hear the commencement speaker. I must say that I agree with that comment; but all the same I am blessed to have this opportunity to speak to you. And let me begin by saying Congratulations. Congratulations to parents, graduates, and to all that had a part in helping to make this day possible! Praise the Lord for what He has allowed you to accomplish.

In keeping with the accepted guidelines for such speeches, I will make only three main points as I speak for the next 1200 seconds. I would like to talk to you about something that is short, something small, and something insignificant. These three issues may not sound important, but they are all vitally relevant to the present as well as to eternity. I am speaking of our lives, our money, and our suffering.

1. Shortness of Life – Psalm 90

For most of you graduating today, statistics say that you will have a little over sixty years of life ahead of you on average. That’s nearly 22,000 days ahead for most of you. 22,000 sunrises, and 21,999 sunsets. For those of you attending college, that means that you have to look forward to another 2048 hours of classes, and 5000 hours of homework. Of course of those 22,000 days, almost 7,000 of them will be spent sleeping.

Moses lived a much longer life than the average human being – 120 years. If you remember the story of Moses, you will recall that he spent forty years in Egypt, then an additional forty years raising animals in the desert, and, finally, his most difficult forty years of life leading the children of Israel. That hardly sounds like a brief or insignificant life span, and yet Moses realized how quickly our lives pass.

He wrote in Psalm 90, "9 For all our days have passed away in Your wrath; We finish our years like a sigh. 10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away. 11Who knows the power of Your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath. 12So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom."

It is especially that last expression from Psalm 90 that I want you graduates to remember. Anybody who thinks about life eventually realizes how short life is. But if that is all we know, we haven’t learned much. The true purpose for considering the brevity of life is so we will seek to use our time more wisely.

Perhaps some of you have heard of the great scholar of the Old Testament, Robert Dick Wilson (1856-1930). He was a man who spent his entire life studying every letter and word of the Old Testament. Wilson learned every single ancient language, 45 of them, in order that he might be able to read everything possible related to the Old Testament. Listen from his own words how he numbered his days, so that he would gain a heart of wisdom – "When I got to Heidelberg (this was after his seminary studies), I made a decision. I decided – and I did it with prayer – to consecrate my life to the study of the OT. I was 25 then; and I judged from the life of my ancestors that I should live to be seventy; so that I should have 45 years to work. I divided the period into 3 parts. The first 15 years I would devote to the study of the languages necessary. For the second 15 I was going to devote myself to the study of the text of the OT; and I reserved the last 15 years for the work of writing the results of my previous studies and investigation, so as to give them to the world. And the Lord has enabled me to carry out that plan almost to the year."

You graduates are just a few years younger than Robert Wilson was when he prayerfully decided on this plan of action, but I challenge you to live your brief lives with that same direction and purpose. Oh, you may not be led to divide your life in the same way, nor should you necessarily even try to, but I hope that you will prayerfully ask the LORD;" show me how I can spend my precious few years here on earth in service of your kingdom. Teach me, O LORD, to number my days, so that I may gain a heart of wisdom!"

2. Something Small – Wealth

Demographers and attorneys tell us that something dramatic is now happening to the baby-boomer generation, which is now past fifty years of age. They are now in the process of inheriting more than $10.4 trillion as their parents pass from the scene. It is the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. Probably some of you are wishing that you were more a part of this greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.

From the standpoint of material wealth, we sometimes have difficulty in realizing how rich we are as Americans. Perhaps more of us should go through a little mental exercise, suggested by Robert Heilbroner, to help us to count our blessings. Imagine doing the following, and you will see how daily life is for as many as a billion people in the world.

  1. Take out all the furniture in your home except for one table and a couple of chairs. Use blanket and pads for beds.
  2. Take away all of your clothing except for your oldest dress or suit, shirt or blouse. Leave only one pair of shoes.
  3. Empty the pantry and the refrigerator except for a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt, a few potatoes, some onions, and a dish of dried beans.
  4. Dismantle the bathroom, shut off the running water, and remove all the electrical wiring in your house.
  5. Take away the house itself and move the family into the toolshed.
  6. Move the nearest hospital or clinic ten miles away and put a midwife in charge instead of a doctor.
  7. Throw away your bankbooks, stock certificates, pension plans, and insurance policies. Leave the family a cash hoard of ten dollars.
  8. Give the head of the family a few acres to cultivate on which he can raise a few hundred dollars of cash crops, of which one third will go to the landlord and one tenth to the money lenders.

My second challenge this morning is not for you to try to be poor like so many in the world; but rather to count your blessings, and, most importantly, to realize that what you give up for the sake of Christ and His kingdom is truly small in comparison to what you will receive. The Gospel of Mark, Chapter ten, is on point here:

Mark 10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?" 27 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." 28 Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You." 29 So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last first."

R. G. LeTourneau was the famous 20th century inventor who built and designed the largest earth moving equipment the world had known. Later in life as he experienced the financial blessings of God as a result of his great inventions, he lived on 10% of his income and gave away 90%. But the question he said, "is not how much of my money I give to God, but rather how much of God’s money I keep for myself."

Graduates, resist the temptation to exchange your God-centered priorities in order to focus upon how much you are giving up for the sake of the Lord. It is foolish, of course, to say that we should never seek to build wealth or to make plans for our financial futures. We must indeed be wise, frugal, and careful stewards of what God has given to us. But let us never fall into the trap of trusting in mammon, especially when it keeps us from serving the Lord in significant ways. The Lord is the most honest and faithful employer you will work for. You will always be reimbursed and paid in His perfect timing, and your ultimate reward will be, well, out of this world!

3. Something Insignificant - Suffering

A man went to the doctor after weeks of symptoms. The doctor examined him carefully, then called the patient's wife into his office "Your husband is suffering from a rare form of anemia. Without treatment, he'll be dead in a few weeks. The good news is, it can be treated with proper nutrition."

"You will need to get up early every morning and fix your husband a hot breakfast,pancakes, bacon and eggs, the works. He'll need a home-cooked lunch every day, and then an old-fashioned meat-and-potato dinner every evening. It would be especially helpful if you could bake frequently. Cakes, pies, homemade bread, these are the things that will allow your husband to live.

"One more thing," the doctor added." His immune system is weak, so it's important that your home be kept spotless at all times. Do you have any questions?" The wife had none.

"Do you want to break the news, or shall I?" asked the doctor.

"I will," the wife replied.

She walked into the exam room. The husband, sensing the seriousness of his illness, asked her, "It's bad, isn't it?"

She nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. "What's going to happen to me?" he asked. With a sob, the wife blurted out, "The doctor says you're gonna die!"

Now I do not tell this story to in any way make light of the role of mothers and wives, but only as an illustration of how often we do our best to avoid our responsibilities and minimize our suffering. Specifically I am speaking about the pain and suffering that comes from serving Jesus Christ.

But listen to the words of the Apostle Paul and his perspective on suffering.

Colossians 1:24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

2 Corinthians 4:16-17 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,

Philippians 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,

Romans 8:16-18 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Suffering is a real part of your life ahead. Pain is not something that can be easily ignored, nor should it be. But the perspective that we must have and seek to develop is how insignificant our suffering is now in comparison to what will one day be revealed in us.

We need only turn back the pages of American history to discover that our free and independent nation was birthed in the very furnace of affliction.

Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence. Their conviction resulted in untold sufferings for themselves and their families. Of the 56 men, five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolutionary Army. Another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the war. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships sunk by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in poverty. At the battle of Yorktown, the British General Cornwallis had taken over Thomas Nelson's home for his headquarters. Nelson quietly ordered General George Washington to open fire on the Nelson home. The home was destroyed and Nelson died bankrupt. John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and mill were destroyed. For over a year, he lived in forest and caves, returning home only to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion.

But do you think that any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence would have done anything different had they known what would have happened to them? No way! All of them that signed knew that they were likely signing their own death warrant. They not only signed their names, but in the process risked their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.

The same thing is true for any person who has committed his life to Jesus Christ. And so let us not try to live our lives avoiding the pain and suffering that comes from our commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It is even one of the blessings that God gives to us. But let us instead consider how small it is in comparison to the gain that is to come. Jim Elliot the famous missionary, said, "He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose."

Class of 2006,2010, remember then these words which you have heard. Consider the brevity of your lives. Consider that what you give for the sake of Christ and His kingdom is nothing in comparison to what you will receive. Consider also that what you suffer for Christ is not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be received when you hear the Master say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant."

Copyright 2006 Paul Calvin Lindstrom

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Biography Information:
This column is written by the staff at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois. As a pioneer in the homeschool movement, Christian Liberty ministries has been operating a full service, K-12 home school program for over thirty years and a Christian textbook ministry (Christian Liberty Press), since 1985. The mission of Christian Liberty is to provide parents with quality, affordable educational products and services that will enable them to teach their children in the home and to train their children to serve Christ in every area of life. A more extensive explanation of the CLASS home school program can be obtained at www.homeschools.org.
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