Dr. and Mrs. Ellis, trustees, parents, graduates, students, distinguished guests, it is a privilege to be here. Congratulations to the graduates and their families. Let me introduce my wife, Marcia, who is the mother of our 12 children. Trust me, we know a little bit about graduations! Each of our dozen went to a different college—we wanted to spread the wealth around!
I am grateful for the opportunity to share a few thoughts that God has put on my heart. I hope that the Spirit of God will connect with each of you in a way that impacts your life.
Not with any desire to rain on your parade today—since this is a banner day for all of you—I still cannot but say the obvious: these are difficult days in our nation. Virtually everyone you talk with has the uneasy sense that all is not well in America, and we are moving into a season that is full of uncertainty.
Surveys show a growing majority of Americans feel we are on the wrong track. The evidence is abounding, and can be seen in our high divorce rate, abortion, drug and alcohol abuse, immorality, crime, mass killings, suicide, governmental gridlock, and a general sense of despair. Economically, we are heading to the Drop Dead Date in our future when all the tax receipts going into Washington only pay for the interest on the national debt. As trends continue, that date could be as early as 10 years from now. Closer to each of us, our TV programs and motion pictures reflect the growing coarseness of our culture.
Obviously, something is wrong. While we’ve had our share of problems as a nation, the overall trend was that in 200 short years we grew from a puny nation to the richest, most powerful, and freest nation in the history of the world. How did that happen? It happened because of the nature of truth. Someone said that truth is knowing where your neighbor’s mailbox is when you back out of the driveway. Truth consists in the operating instructions of life. Truth exists, not just in scientific and technological things, but in moral, relational, and organizational aspects of life, including marriage, family, church, and government.
Kicking God to the curb
The most quoted book, by far, by the framers of America was the Bible. The framers humbly sought God’s truth in setting up our nation. We believed people are created in the image of God and have incredible abilities. Yet, we also understood man’s essential sin nature and that, apart from God and His work in our lives, we are hopelessly self-centered. You can only give liberty to people who are self-governing: Me governing myself in light of God’s commandments, and you governing yourself in the same way. Then you don’t need much government. John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people; it is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
We also believed in the power of prayer. Recall the stirring words of the least religious of our framers, Ben Franklin, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 when they were hopelessly deadlocked saying, “In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. . . And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?”
Similarly, in the dark days of the Civil War, President Lincoln called for a day of prayer and fasting because, he said, we had, as a nation, forgotten God. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually prayed on the radio as our men stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
No more! As a nation, it seems we are too smart, too cool, too advanced, too self-centered, too arrogant to humbly look to God for help anymore. Religious faith has been relegated to the category of personal opinion. Court decisions have significantly broadened the First Amendment’s definition of “establishment” of religion by government, which greatly restricts our Constitutional right to the “free exercise” of our religion. And our culture looks down its nose at those Bible-thumpers who keep telling people how sinful they are. So we are left with a faith that is limited to our own minds and hearts and (we hope) with our family, and our church, at least on Sundays.
There is a connection between our kicking God to the curb and the problems we face as a people. Scripture says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” And “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” So what do we do?
We have three possibilities:
- Politics: get the right people in office and solve all these problems. Pass a law that we can’t be selfish anymore? Trust me, I understand the limits of government and can say without fear of contradiction that will not work.
- Give up and wait for 2nd Coming of Christ: Hunker down and gather in our holy huddles in fear. But He says occupy until He comes. Why are we playing defense? He said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given unto me, go, therefore and make disciples.” Ten of the 11 disciples He said this to died cruel deaths. Yet we are here as His followers because, at the end of the day, Jesus wins big.
- Wake up the church: We have the only answer for the problems of individuals, families, cities, and our nation. But we have lost the saltiness. We have been more influenced by world than we have influenced it. The church looks like the world: divorce, pornography addictions, abortion. Like the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3, we are lukewarm, thinking we are in need of nothing. God responded to them and is responding to us with loving rebuke and discipline, yet he extends the offer of hope to come in and eat with us. What a gracious Lord!
We need another revival of the church and resultant spiritual Great Awakening of our nation. Consider this forgotten bit of American history. We’ve been here before. In the late 1700s and early 1800s:
- There was talk of national bankruptcy and the threat of fiscal default.
- We faced Muslim terrorism and extortion in the Mediterranean.
- There was widespread immorality and drunkenness.
- No Christians could be found at Harvard, and only two at Yale. The radical ideas that sparked the bloody French Revolution, pitting the rich versus the poor, were being embraced by many students.
- Meanwhile, American churches were largely lifeless and in decline.
Then God’s people began to cry out to God in prayer and repent of their sins. The results were phenomenal. Here are a sampling of them:
- In many places where the Gospel was preached, God’s power fell from heaven; often believers lay prostrate before God in repentance.
- Churches grew and thousands of people were coming to Christ.
- Social action was sparked.
- Revival swept across college campuses. In only six months, fully one-third of Yale’s students trusted Christ, with half of these converts going into fulltime vocational ministry.
- The total amount of money donated to benevolent societies in 1834 rivaled the budget of the federal government.
- The largest missions movement in history began.
That was the Second Great Awakening. The Third move of God was in 1857-58 and began in New York City with a noon prayer meeting with just six people praying. The stock market crashed soon thereafter and thousands began to pray every noon. Ten thousand came to Christ weekly for months. We desperately need another Great Awakening in America. It is our only hope to pull back from the cliff that we are hurtling toward.
Where and how do we start? Two words: pray and obey. As far as prayer goes, God always hears the humble, desperate, unified prayers of His people.
How about obedience? Two categories: general obedience for every follower of Christ and then some specific things for each of us uniquely.
Culture has influenced us far more than we recognize. Each generation has its own strengths and weaknesses. You graduates, for the most part, are part of a generation that is eager to serve your fellow man in sacrificial ways, and that is good. But there are some downsides of your generation.
One of those is your tendency toward narcissism, thinking life flows around me and my feelings instead of God. My feelings determine truth rather than the Bible. Related to this is the need to be authentically me. It feels fakey for me to get in a routine of reading the Bible and praying if I don’t feel like it.
Let me shoot straight with you: Jesus is looking for disciples, disciplined ones who obey Him even when they don’t feel like it. You will never feel like loving your enemy, or forgiving repeatedly, or keeping your life pure from sexual sin. But we need to do these things. We have increasing numbers of Christian couples living together without marriage because it feels right. Sorry, that is not the standard. Biblical faith is being sure of what is hoped for and the conviction of things not seen, not heard, not felt. It will fly in the face of narcissism. It won’t feel right until you obey.
We get joyful doing what we should do, not what we want to do. I saw this truth daily as a juvenile court judge. I hope we can turn this around. I’ve always been bothered by Jesus’ haunting statement at the end of the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18 where He says, “will the son of man find faith when He returns to earth?” I pray He does in you and in me.
Speak the truth
A second downside is your generation’s reluctance to speak truth to people when it is uncomfortable. There seems to be this unwritten rule that I don’t judge you and you don’t judge me. Yes, we need to speak the truth in love, but we do need to speak the truth. My 10th born is a resident doctor. He has had to tell people difficult news so they can seek help. It is painful, but necessary. Our formerly Chinese Buddhist neighbors are glad we shared the gospel with them. Their lives are forever changed and they are reading the Bible daily and leading other Chinese people to Him.
Let me ask you this: why did Jesus, Peter and Paul get in such trouble? Why couldn’t they just learn to hang out with people who disagreed with them rather than being so confrontative? Were they wrong? No! There is a time to be willing to be weird and out of step with culture. Jesus said in John 15, “If they hated me, they will hate you. I have chosen you out of this world.” Are you willing even to be hated if need be because of your love for Jesus?
I will never forget the statement of the man from another country who had been imprisoned for his faith. He said, “Don’t give up in your freedom what we refuse to give up in our persecution: to proclaim the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!”
Place Christ first
A third and final downside—not just of your generation, but of American Christians in general—is our wholehearted pursuit of career and comfort at the expense of family and children. This is related to seeing all of life centered around me. The thought is that marriage is about making me happy. As a couple, we will then decide if we will have children and how many, all to please us.
No! Jesus should be the Lord of all these areas of life. Marriage is a picture of Christ and His Bride that we show to the world. That’s why divorce is so horrific. Family is critical to passing on His truth to the next generation. Children are creations of God, not biology. They have the potential of impacting this world and living forever.
Did you know the average woman in 1800 had seven kids? Now it is less than two—not enough to replace our population. Our median age has never been higher. It’s even worse in Europe and Japan. The pressure for euthanasia of the elderly will grow. I haven’t always seen this. But I’m so glad God in His mercy showed Marcia and me.
Sure it’s a ton of work to raise a child. And it costs. But He has met our needs miraculously. He changed our hearts and minds. And how grateful I am. He provided the money and vans and houses, and now our 12th born, our baby (who led his 4th grade teacher to the Lord) is a college senior. Do you want to impact the world? Then make Jesus the Lord of your family, including your family size, disciple your children, and you will impact the world.
What is your MIT?
Now for specific obedience. I encourage you to ask God what’s the Most Important Thing (MIT) you can do to bring revival to America. You will likely be surprised—like the demoniac who wanted to go with Jesus. Jesus said no, go tell your family what great things God has done for you. He went to the 10 cities and started his own revival.
I asked God, and He said to love Him and be with Him. Marcia did it, and He says to be a pipe of love to her husband. Then we need His power to pull it off. That radical obedience will bring revival.
Ask God and obey in the power of the Spirit. We followers of Christ have been given this treasure of truth that alone has the potential to bring incredible blessing to the hurting world around us. Will you share that treasure with your life and your words? Will you join with others to pray for revival and spiritual awakening and obey Him courageously and sacrificially until it happens? God bless you.