Earlier this week, I wrote and mailed the following letter to our 2005 high school graduates: Alex Aeschbury, Luke Ahrens, Leon Axt, Justin (JJ) Cole, Emily Daniels, Elise Faith, Heather Giffen, Jonathan Hoffman, and Katherine White. I sent a copy to their parents as well. Although each letter was personally addressed, I included handwritten notes as well. This particular epistle is addressed to all nine. I hope and pray something in this letter speaks to you personally.
June 6, 2005
Dear Alex, Elise, Luke, Heather, Leon, Kathy, JJ, Emily, and Jon,
Grace and peace to you in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord! In a few days you will walk across the stage and receive your high school diploma. That moment will mark an educational milestone and an important passage in your life. Congratulations on all your achievements. I know the future will be brighter because your lights will shine in it. Soon you will be heading out into the world. But, before you exit stage right with your diploma, indulge me for a few more minutes of your lives. Here are four more thought on moral values, the Bible, Church, and good guidelines for living. I figure no one else will be touching on these four topics. So, here I go....
#1: Let your moral conscience be your guide. Before you speak or act, think and pray. Ask yourself what God and Jesus would do in given situations. I believe in you. I believe you know what is right and wrong. I believe this with my whole heart. TV Commercials for a "Drug Free America" make it look dramatic and simple. Choosing the right path is often dramatic - and yet it is not. It may mean not getting in a certain car or going to a certain party. It may also mean looking into the eyes of another human being and deciding if you will trust them or not. Each day, and some days each hour and minute, you will be faced with decisions, with roads or paths to take. In the words of Moses, I encourage you to choose the way which leads to "Life" as opposed to the way which leads to "Death." Follow the path which leads you in ethical, moral, and faithful ways. Years ago, when John Wesley used four foundational principles to measure the path of faith: Reason, Experience, the Bible, and Tradition. If you measure your decisions by these guides, you will do well in choosing.
#2: Take time, on your own, to read and study the Bible. The Bible is a magnificent collection of 66 books all of which were inspired by God. In it there is poetry, parables, proverbs, history, and faith enough for the ages. There are wars and rumors of wars. Many people will try tell you that they understand this Book. My experience has taught me that the more a preacher or teacher rants and raves about their knowledge and the truth they possess, the more phony and unsure they are about those very topics. Some of these folks will fire at you with their "Gospel Guns." They will tell you what "The Bible Says" about homosexuality, women, family, church, and society. My suggestion is: decide for yourself remembering that the Bible is a collection of many sayings written over a period of thousands of years. It says many things. Discern and decide, after study and reflection what it is you believe in your heart of hearts.
#3: Please stay close to Jesus Christ and his Church. By now, you must have some mixed feelings about church. Everyone does. When I graduated from high school, I thought I graduated from church, too. But, I hadn't. Instead, I had graduated into a "lover's quarrel" with the church. Your relationship with the church is a bit more complicated than your relationship with your high school.
How can I help you with this? You were baptized into faith in Jesus Christ. Your baptism is a blessing and a gift. You never graduate from baptism. You can never walk about away nor can you have baptism taken away from you. That water and Holy Spirit moment and all that it embodies is all yours. It marked your entrance into the worldwide faith community known as Christian. But, remember as well, this faith we call Christian, has to be one we grow into over a lifetime. It cannot be the faith you were taught or the faith of your parents or it will not real for you. It is a beautiful faith. And the church, though imperfect in many ways (how long do you have for me to talk about this one?) Is the most beautiful collection of people, ideas, values, intentions, and faith I have ever known.
Every day when I rise I give thanks to God for ALL the people in the church - even people I do not agree with or like. I ask God to give me a heart of love for them. My life is vastly better because of all the people who I have known as followers of Jesus Christ. Think about yours. When you name the people who have most deeply touched your life, how many on that list are people of faith - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists? The integrity and values they have come to know and seek to live by are rooted in their faith walk. It is not a mistake. It is real for them, just as it is and can be real for you. Remember, too - that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a blessing. As God's Word Made Flesh living among us, Jesus brought to us and continues to bring a model and guide for life that are perfect, true, and beautiful. So, no matter how you feel about church, don't lose sight of Jesus.
#4: Final thoughts about life and faith (dated 65 AD). In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul writes some amazing words for living. I have rewritten them in words that hopefully make sense. This is for you:
Offer your every day, ordinary life to God. Embrace what God does for you as the best thing you can do for God. Don't become so comfortable in this culture that you fit in without even thinking about what you are doing. Instead, fix your focus on God. God will change you from the inside out. Ask each day, what would God have me do in this situation I am in? The respond to it, and do the right thing. Remember, God always brings out the best in people!
Be thankful every day in every way to God for all the blessings of your life. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Live in the pure grace of God. Be generous. Be compassionate. Let your love be genuine. Don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil, hold on for dear life to good. Be a good friend who loves deeply. Practice playing second fiddle. Don't burn out. Keep yourself fueled and aflame. Be cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times, but pray to God all the harder! Help needy people. Be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies and remember, no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they are happy. Cry with them when they are down. Get along with everybody. Don't get stuck on yourself. Make friends with nobodies. Don't be the great somebody.
Don't hit back when hurt. Discover beauty within everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even. That's not for you to do. Remember what God says, "I'll do the judging. I'll take care of it." Remember also what our scriptures tell us: when you see your enemy hungry, buy him lunch. When you see him thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you. Get the best of evil by doing good.
There are lots of other "Good Words" in the "Good Book." Go find them! In closing, no matter where you go, what you do, or what happens next in your life, I LOVE YOU UNCONDITIONALLY! I can't wait to see how your world opens up after you exit stage right and enter the life journey ahead. Keep the faith and keep in touch.
All my love to you in Christ,