Commencement Address: Dallas Baptist University

President Cook, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Faculty, Servant Leaders, Parents, Friends and most importantly the class of 2013, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today on this wonderful occasion—this rite of passage for you.

Let me begin my expressing my sincere appreciation to President Gary Cook. Thank you so much for this opportunity to celebrate this very special day with my daughter Kalie. Dr. Cook, you have been a wonderful friend to me over the past decade and thank you for your lifetime achievement here upon this hill. Dallas Baptist University shines brightly into our world today in large measure due to your undying devotion to this school, and the amazing team of professors and servant leaders you have assembled in the place.

Dallas Baptist University has held a special place in my heart from the first time I stepped on these grounds when this university granted my father an honorary doctorate some nearly forty years ago, and as of today there will be three DBU graduates in my immediate family and one to go.

As we begin let me take us back to the year 1973—some forty years ago. Most of you who sit before me were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye forty years ago so unless you paid attention in the history class much of what I am about to share with you will be news to you. In 1973, I was entering my teenage years at the ripe old age of thirteen years old, but I can still vividly remember that year. In 1973 the long struggle in the jungles of Vietnam ended as American soldiers returned from war not to ticker tape parades but with the bitter taste of defeat in their mouths and wondering why 49,000 of their comrades had to die in this senseless conflict against Communism. I can still remember as a child watching the evening news as the names of fallen soldiers filled the screen. A whole generation of American’s lives were marred and shattered and our nation was divided along a generational divide in those dark days. To make matters worse in Washington the Senate began hearings about the activities of President Nixon and his men in the Watergate Hotel during the election. These hearings and the uncovering of the Watergate tapes led the next year to the unprecedented resignation under duress President Nixon.  From that day forward Americans have not looked at the president in the same way. As the Supreme Court deliberated and rule in favor of abortion in the Roe vs. Wade case that has shaped our nation ever since and led to the deaths of countless numbers of babies.

Meanwhile in the Middle East Egypt and Syria teamed up to attack Israel in what has come to be called the Yom Kippur War and the tensions in that region reached a critical stage. In the movie theatres across the land Linda Blair filled the big screen as a demon-possessed teenager in the haunting film entitled “The Exorcist” the story of a priest who eventually kills himself after a struggle with the devil himself.

During these dark and difficult days when we as a nation struggle to find our way Andrae Crouch and his sister Sandra sat down at the keyboard to pick out a tune for the lyrics that God had laid on their hearts. Andrae was the pastor of an African-American church in California and knew instinctively that the people of our land needed a word of hope. Often times music has the ability to bring hope to people as the words and melody imprint themselves upon the human heart.

There at the keyboard they began to sing—and I will spare you my rendition—“ Jesus is the answer for the world today—above him there’s no other—Jesus is the way. Jesus is the answer for the world today—above him there’s no other—JESUS IS THE WAY.” In a world turned upside down by chaos and confusion Andrae Crouch called a young generation back to reality by reminding them all by the sounds of his music that JESUS IS THE ANSWER.

You see Andrae Crouch was right then and he is right today. Isn’t strange how history seems to repeat itself over and over again. Today, after ten long years of struggling, bleeding and dying, in Afghanistan a generation of young American warriors is making their way home to a nation that hardly remembers that we are at war. The Middle East continues to be aflame with violence and hatred. Our political world has ground to a halt with spiraling deficits and strong division down the aisle as Democrats and Republicans treat each other as enemies rather than as partners in this struggle we call American democracy.

As a parent I wish we had given you a better world, but I am so thankful as a father and as a pastor I can say to you and to my daughter this morning—there is an answer and his name is Jesus. If there is one thing we want you to take home with you today after your years of sitting the classrooms on this beloved hill—it is the truth that JESUS is the answer.

As a teenager I memorized these words of Jesus that have been a beacon of light for me through all the twists and turns of my journey. Looking deep into the eyes and hearts of a generation of highly religious yet confused young men, Jesus said, “The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10 KJV). Jesus understood that life at its essence is a life and death struggle. He knew that “happily ever after” was found only in Fairy Tales.  He knew we struggle with real enemies within and without.

For most of my life, I believed when Jesus spoke of the thief in this statement He was referring to the devil himself, and there is no doubt that our arch enemy prowls about seeking who he may destroy, but at a closer look I have come to the conclusion that the real threat Jesus was referring to in this statement was “empty, life-sapping, religion.” You see Jesus came to show us that religion full of rituals and rules would slowly but surely destroy us from the inside out. Jesus knew that going through the motions and playing games with God and those around us would numb and deaden our hearts and souls. Jesus knew that putting on the “mask” on Sunday morning and going to church to keep up appearances while you lived an estranged life from your creator and the lover of your soul would eventually only lead to spiritual death and separation from the God who loves you.

You see life on this planet does not revolve around religious rules and rituals. Life on this planet truly begins when you have a day to day personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ alone. At the end of the day life does not come down to how much you know. It comes down to do you have a personal relationship with Jesus. Simply put it is not about religion—it is about a relationship—a real, personal, loving, intimate relationship with God.

In simple terms Jesus declared to all who would hear him “I have come that they might have LIFE.” Who is the they? It is anyone and everyone who hears His voice and is willing to come and follow Him. Jesus gives life. Jesus does not want you to settle for the American dream that seems to be fading, or some arbitrary definition of success. Jesus wants you to be “fully alive”

As the father of four girls I am become an expert at “chick flicks” and I must admit on occasions I learn something from them. A number of years ago Will Smith starred as Andrew Hitchens in the movie Hitch. He was a love doctor. He helped men in their efforts to win the hearts of the young women who had captured their souls. I loved this line from the movie. Hitch instructed his pupil. “ Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.”

I cannot over sell this point. Life with Jesus can and should be a breath taking experience. Jesus called his standard of life—abundant—that literally mean “beyond measure”—“exceeding your imagination.” I fear we settle too easily for a cheap empty imitation of life. We play it safe. We are like toddlers who play with the boxes and the ribbons on Christmas morning when the wonderful colorful gift of Christmas rests at our feet.

What does it mean to be fully alive? I believe it means to live your life with your eyes wide open and your heart aflame. For years I was a bit embarrassed by my middle name Lawrence—that is until I discover the amazing life of T.E. Lawrence, known to many as Lawrence of Arabia. T.E. Lawrence was an Oxford trained scholar who traveled to the Arabia as an archeologist who as an army officer got caught in the military struggles of the Arabia. He lived a life of danger and adventure, but he was also a prolific author and writer in his book he made one of the greatest observations about life lived as it is meant to be. When he wrote:

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.  http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/t_e_lawrence.html#4psiuKPoMKrJUlZg.99

What does it look like to follow Jesus and to have a personal relationship with Him? What does living more abundantly look like? I believe it means living a life of abandonment. It means living by faith and not by sight. It means taking risks and being fully alive. It means not playing it safe, but living the adventure even being a bit dangerous. It means living a life of no regrets.

Please never forget JESUS is the answer—trust Him—follow Him—serve Him and you will be fully alive and you will leave your mark on our world. Don’t take from this place an empty dying religion—take home with you a vibrant living personal relationship with God that will transform you day by day into the person God created you to be! Remember JESUS IS THE ANSWER no matter what you face!

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