In Defense of the Sabbatical (Nick Batzig)

Pastoral ministry often feels like a 24/7 calling. A pastor can’t leave the care of the people of God at the door of the office when the clock strikes 5 PM. While pastoring in the First World requires considerably less sacrifice than it does in most parts of the Second or Third World, it has its own unique challenges and sacrifices. Late night counseling sessions, sudden emergencies and hospital visitations pull a pastor away from spending time with his wife and children. There are the challenges of overseeing staff members. There is the important labor of identifying, training and leading elders and deacons. There is the opening of the home to visitors and members alike. If he belongs to a denomination, there might be quarterly meetings and committee work. In a smaller church, it is not uncommon for the solo minister to have the primary responsibility of giving oversight and guidance to the administrative needs. Then there are the undesirable burdens of discontent and divisive individuals in the church. Add to these the challenges posed by opposition in the community and one can begin to grasp the wearisome nature of ministry. 

The pastor’s family also makes exceptional sacrifices. A solo pastor’s children don’t see him very much on the weekend when most other fathers spend quality time with their families. The children of senior or solo pastors will almost never know the benefit of having their father sit next to them in the service in order to teach them how to worship. A pastor’s wife helps carry the weight of the burdens that weigh down the heart of her husband. Even when a pastor wisely protects his wife from knowing details about congregants that she does not need to know, he cannot protect her from knowing that he is burdened by a number of aspects in the life of the congregation. No matter how many protections a minister may put in place to guard himself and his family, the demands of ministry always take an extraordinary toll on pastors and on their families. It is no surprise that we see so many pastors falling into sin on account of not taking time to feed their souls spiritually. One can easily begin to see why it would do local churches a world of good to grant their pastor(s) suitable vacation time, days off, study leave and Sabbaticals. 

“Increased vacation, adequate study-leave, and regular sabbaticals (along with the more creative ideas that you may have) could aid churches in their quest for ministers who are both godly and gifted. It may aid those whose abilities need room to grow or provide someone with the time to write…It will help seasoned pastors ward off that extreme weariness that causes so many to fail, and will help new pastors get a good start in their ministries.”

I am writing this a week away from a short Sabbatical that our elders graciously built into my call package when we organized in May of 2015. To that end, I wanted to explain one or two aspects of Sabbaticals that churches might want to consider. Historically, ministerial Sabbaticals have been viewed differently than extended vacation time. A man may get 3-6 months off in order to work on a project that he has not had time to work on with his regular schedule. This may include vacationing in a spot where he can work on a book, dissertation or some other pastorally related project.

While churches that give their pastors Sabbaticals generally give them 3-6 months leave from their pastoral duties, pastors face certain dangers when they are away from the congregation for that length of time. For instance, many pastors have grown discontent when they are away from pastoral work for several months. It is easy to convince oneself that you need a new pastorate, while you are away from the burdens of ministry and sitting on the porch of a farmhouse or in a chair on the beach. In turn, some ministers end up using their Sabbatical to look for a new call without telling the elders of the church. Another danger is that members in the congregation who are discontent with the pastor can seek to take advantage of the pastor’s absence in order to stir up sinful dissent among other members of the flock. While the ruling elders of the church ought to be competent to protect against such dissension, discontentment can be powerful and spread swiftly when the pastor is not in clear sight. 

One way pastors can guard against the potential dangers that might accompany a Sabbatical is for them to ask the elders to divide the Sabbatical up into smaller breaks over a few years. That was the approach that I took with the elders at New Covenant. Rather than take a whole 3 months at once, I asked for 3 months broken up over a 3 year period  (3-4 weeks a year above and beyond my vacation time). This has worked out quite nicely. It has given me an extended break and an opportunity to work on writing while spending more time with my family at the beach or mountains. It has also given me a zeal to get back to the pastoral call to which the Lord has called me. 

However, in whatever shape or form it may take, I would encourage all local churches and sessions to show love to their pastor(s) by granting the adequate time for them to rest their bodies, refresh their souls, recalibrate with their families and refocus their labors. I am certain that the members of the congregation that does so will ultimately also be the beneficiaries of the blessing of the pastoral Sabbatical. 

How Then Should We Preach? (Ryan McGraw)

However well constructed and attractive, a car is useless without fuel. On the flip side, a motor may have fuel without being a vehicle. Likewise, preaching is a vehicle that requires fuel. God designed preaching to bring us to himself through faith in Christ. If preaching does not have the right content, then it becomes more of a motor than a vehicle, since it can no longer take us where we need to go. If preaching has the right content, yet the Holy Spirit is absent from it, then it functions like a vehicle without fuel. It is only when Spirit shapes the content and blesses the act of preaching that preaching become a vehicle to bring us to God, through Christ, by the Spirit. In 1 Cor. 2:1-5, the Apostle Paul teaches these things when he writes:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Paul teaches us in this text that preachers must preach Christ in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This truth both informs the content of preaching and shapes the manner in which ministers ought to preach. We learn several vital lessons here about what preaching is not, about what it is, and about the proper manner of preaching.

Preaching must not be based on worldly speech or worldly wisdom. Paul contrasted excellence of speech and wisdom with preaching Christ and him crucified. The gospel message results in a paradox. While its message is foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor. 1:18), it is the wisdom and the power of God to those who believe (v. 24). People cannot know God through worldly wisdom (v. 21) because when they profess to be wise apart from the true knowledge of the true God then they become fools (Rom. 1:22). This is why God chose the “foolishness” of preaching to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21). Paul’s point is not that Christ is foolish. Neither is he implying that preachers should not take care to preach well or that sermons should be plain and boring. We eat food because we need food to nourish our bodies, but we also thank the Lord when food tastes good. So we should not be satisfied with boring dispassionate sermons that, technically, keep our souls alive while leaving a bad taste in our mouths. If the food we serve is good food, then we should enjoy it and help others enjoy it too. Instead, Paul is saying that preaching avoids worldly content and worldly methods because its content is the wisdom of God in Christ and its methods aims to preach the wisdom of God clearly. Though the world regards this as foolishness it is divine wisdom for salvation. Poison cooked well is poison still, but a good chef knows how to bring out the best flavors in the best foods. Likewise, God’s wisdom in Christ informs the content and the manner of preaching.

Preaching must have Christ as its primary object. As the last two posts illustrated, 2 Corinthians 5:19-21 and Romans 10:14-17 teach that Christ pleads with sinners through preaching and preaching aims to produce and foster faith in Christ. This is why in 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul wrote that he intended to preach nothing other than Christ and him crucified. The aim of preaching is to preach the gospel and Christ is the substance of the gospel. God made Christ wisdom from God, and righteousness, sanctification, and redemption so that he who boasts should boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:30-31). “Christ crucified” is shorthand for Christ’s work on our behalf. The Book of Acts frequently summarized the gospel in terms of Christ’s resurrection as well (e.g., Acts 17:31). Christ’s humiliation culminated in his death. His resurrection encapsulates his glorious exaltation. Preaching must proclaim “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), but it can do so only through the lens of Christ crucified and risen. Preaching Christ is both part of the definition of preaching and it determines the manner of preaching. Preaching is from Christ, through Christ, and to Christ because preaching is the primary means through which the Father brings us to himself through his Word and Spirit.

Preaching must be in demonstration of the Spirit and of power (1 Cor. 2:5). The Spirit’s power in preaching is connected to the content of preaching. Preaching must proclaim God’s Word rather than man’s word. Preachers must proclaim the wisdom of God which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor entered into the heart of man (1 Cor. 2:6-9). These are not the hidden things of the future, but the revealed things of the present (v. 10, 13). The Spirit reveals God through Christ through divine revelation. Yet preaching in the Spirit’s power involves not only proclaiming the Spirit’s revelation of God in Christ. Ministers need the Spirit to work to change hearers through conversion, growth, and perseverance. They need the Spirit to enflame their own hearts with love to the Christ whom they preach as well. Through receiving the Spirit of God, believers receive spiritual things, with spiritual discernment, for the spiritual knowledge of Christ (1 Cor. 2:12-16). Preaching in demonstration of the Spirit and of power is tied inextricably to preaching Christ and him crucified. The Spirit blesses preaching Christ in order to make the hearts of believers echo what he has revealed about Christ.

This passage leads to several important conclusions about preaching. We need the Holy Spirit in order to make preaching effective. We should pray for the Spirit’s blessing on the preaching and the hearing of the gospel. Preachers must cull from their sermons everything that does not pertain to the Spirit’s power in preaching. Rhetoric in preaching is a means of making preaching an effective vehicle of communicating the gospel clearly in order to bring us to God. It is not an end in itself. We must filter all sermons through the goal of preaching Christ and him crucified. Preachers must preach the whole counsel of God in relation to Christ. Preaching must be done in demonstration of the Spirit and of power and preaching Christ and him crucified is the means through which the Spirit exercises his power.

What You’re For, What You’re Against! (Nick Kennicott)

“Be known for what you’re for rather than what you’re against.” This statement–in various forms–has become something of a Christian cliche over the past decade. Nearly every time I hear it, I wonder if those who so often state it understand the irony of the potential false dilemma that they have inadvertantly created for themselves. Insisting that we should want to be known for what we’re for rather than for what we’re against includes being known for being against being known for what we’re against. You may actually be making a statement akin to that which almost every unbeliever makes when they, in opposition to the Bible’s condemnation of sin, misuse the only verse in the Bible that they know, “Judge not…”–which, ironically, is a quite judgmental response.

To be fair, I strongly sympathize with the well intentioned sentiment behind the adage, “Be known for what you’re for.” I want to be known as a pastor who is for the gospel, for the church, for the Kingdom of God, for life, for marriage, and for a whole list of other God-ordained, and spiritually beautiful things. I’m also for gourmet food, all natural ingredients, and fancy restaurants. But for the good of humanity, I’m against kale chips and turkey bacon. Likewise, for the good of souls and for the good of the church, I’m against false gospels, false worship, false doctrine, and false teachers. Being for biblical things means that we must necessarily be against non-biblical ideas and practice.

Some people have made a career out of controversy. Watch blogs, conspiracy theory websites, and gossip media are all the rage. While the feel-good news stories get circulated around social media with comments such as, “THIS is real news,” or “It’s about time we see something positive,” anyone looking at blog statistics can tell you the most read articles aren’t filled with heartwarming testimonies or affirmations of true doctrine. Humans like drama, and even if we say we don’t, our Netflix history proves otherwise. It’s why the Bible warns us to, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths” (1 Timothy 4:7). Those who devote the better part of the life determining what everyone else is doing wrong and saying improperly are a danger to their own soul–and, I would add, aren’t much help to others. More often than not, the controversies we allow into our hearts don’t serve the great end of conforming us to the image of Christ.

However, in 2017 we celebrate 500 years of protest–something for which I and deeply thankful. The Protestant Reformation was perhaps the most important era of church history since the founding of the church, and it was an era of incredible opposition. Just as the Apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9), it was good and right that men like Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli took on the Roman Catholic Church with its false gospel and practice in order to recover the truth. Yet, the writings of the Reformers weren’t entirely polemical. Today, the five Solas of the Reformation are positive affirmations of truth thrown against the background of falsehood. There were certainly times when Luther needed an editor (for instance, the time he wrote against some of his opponents with words like, “For he is an excellent man, as skillful, clever, and versed in Holy Scripture as a cow in a walnut tree or a sow on a harp”1) Nevertheless, the best the Church has offered throughout history has rightly balanced being for what we’re for with being against what we’re against–rather than to the exclusion of one or the other.

Those who believe that Christians too frequently voice opposition often make reference to the tone or manner in which certain matters are addressed. We cannot forget the biblical imperative to, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted…” (Ephesians 4:32) and to remember that our speech (and writing) should be, “Good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). We must speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). I confess that I have hammered out emails, blog articles, and social media posts that–while even today I can say were true in content–were a far cry from living up to what Paul exhorts in Ephesians 4. This is the case not just in how I wrote what I wrote, but more grievously, in the intentions of my heart.

The Bible is filled with warnings and prohibitions, and sometimes the best way to understand what is true is to understand and reject what is false. The Church has solidified much of orthodoxy by standing against false teachers and their doctrine. While the Western world moves further down the road of insisting that tolerance (read: “as long as you agree with me”) be our battle cry, the growing temptation for Christians is going to be to win friends and influence people by only stating what we’re for. However, faithful, God-glorifying Christianity isn’t frilly and soft, and our spokesmen aren’t supposed to be motivational speakers pumping us full of positive sunshine. I love preaching peacetime sermons full of true, positive affirmations from God’s Word. But sometimes the reality of war is present in the text, and if we don’t get in the trench and fire back, we’re going to die.

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 41: Church and Ministry III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 41 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 219.

A Cloud of Reformers (Editors)

Our friends, over at Place for Truth, have recently added Simonetta Carr’s blog, A Cloud of Witnesses, to their site. Simonetta is writing about the Reformers and those in church history who have influenced them. Her first post is dedicated to the life and legacy of Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562)–the great Italian Reformer. We encourage you to make Simonetta’s site a part of your regular reading.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Simonetta, here’s a brief bio:

Simonetta Carr was born in Italy and has lived and worked in different cultures. She has written numerous books and contributed to newspapers and magazines around the world. Additionally, she has translated the works of several authors from English into Italian and vice versa. Presently, she lives in San Diego with her husband Thomas and the youngest of her eight children. She is a member and Sunday School teacher at Christ United Reformed Church.
Posted May 16, 2017 @ 11:38 AM by Editors

Affliction Evangelism (Aaron Denlinger)

“This light momentary affliction,” Paul writes, “is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Paul’s use of the singular noun “affliction” in 2 Cor. 4:7 is intriguing. Paul doesn’t say afflictions (plural), which would suggest periodic suffering in the life of the Christian. Nor, to all appearances, is he referring to some specific episode of suffering in his own life and ministry, though Paul’s life and ministry certainly contained episodes of more concentrated difficulty. He seems, rather, to be making a point generic to all Christians (hence the “for us”). “This light momentary affliction,” then, seems to be a reference to the entirety of the Christian’s life on this side of eternity. The Christian’s life in toto can be characterized as one singular “affliction.” The whole thing is hard. The hardship of the Christian life doesn’t preclude joy. Nor does it preclude any number of concrete pleasures in this life (family, friendships, craft beer, pillow fights, etc.). But the life of the faithful Christian will, as a whole, be difficult.

That’s a hard pill for us as Americans to swallow. Our culture puts tremendous pressure on us not just to be happy — to pursue happiness in the here and now at any cost — but also to look happy. Hence selfies. Selfies exist, I’m convinced, not to preserve or trigger their subjects’ memories of places visited, things seen, and experiences experienced, but to be posted to some form of social media in order to project a certain image of their subjects; namely, the image of fun, adventurous, and (above all) happy people. Paul’s designation of life as an “affliction” invites us to abandon the very pretense our culture bids us maintain. Acknowledging life as difficult is both scary, because it pushes against the grain of cultural expectations, and liberating, because it invites us to stop pretending that everything’s peachy all the time.

But why must life be so hard for Christians? Difficulty in life is typically attended by confusion on the part of those undergoing it. The question “why?” seems to follow inevitably in the train of suffering. There seems to be a logic to Paul’s sequence: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Cor. 4:8). There is, of course, the obvious response that life is hard for Christians because it’s hard for everyone in consequence of the Fall. But Paul, in 2 Cor. 4:7-12, outlines a particular logic for the suffering that Christians’ encounter, a logic that, if grasped, might help Christians endure in the midst of difficulty. The suffering Paul seems especially to have in mind in these verses is persecution as a result of efforts to share the Gospel. But the logic for suffering he outlines, I think, has applicability to other forms of hardship.

Christians suffer, first of all, because God delights to triumph in weakness. “We have this treasure in jars of clay,” Paul writes, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” The treasure that Christians’ possess and seek to share with the world is the Gospel and its fruits. But their efforts to share that treasure with the world generally reap trouble. Life as a clay jar ain’t pretty (see 2 Cor. 4:8-9). It’s not surprising, of course, that efforts to share the Gospel with others result in unpleasantness. The Gospel is an affront to those who would deny any absolute moral standard because they wish to live their lives without accountability or consequence. It’s even more of an affront to those who would acknowledge an absolute moral standard, but insist upon their own ability to meet that standard. The Gospel, in other words, is offensive.

But God grows his kingdom through the means of Christian witness, however much attended by animosity from the world. There is, in fact, a correspondence between the manner in which God accomplishes salvation through the person and work of His Son and the manner in which he advances his kingdom through the application of Christ’s work to elect sinners. God triumphed over sin, death, and hell through apparent weakness — an apparently deluded man hanging on a cross, Rome’s most despicable instrument of capital punishment. God brings sinners through faith into a share in Christ’s kingdom through equally apparent weakness — persecuted, perplexed, and suffering Christians, feebly testifying to the treasure that they possess and trying to share it with others. Jars of clay. Significantly for our theme, the weakness of the means (i.e., us) that God has chosen to advance his kingdom ensures that all glory and praise for the same will be returned to him in the final analysis. The “surpassing power” that brings fruition to the efforts of silly people proclaiming a silly message clearly “belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

But there is a further logic to suffering outlined in these verses, which is this: Suffering turns our lives into sermons. Suffering may or may not show us what we’re made of (as the saying goes), but it will definitely show us and others where our hope, where our identity, and where our confidence lay. The suffering Christian, in other words, becomes a form of Gospel proclamation to the world. Feed a Christian to the lions, or give a Christian some incurable disease, and what do you discover? Someone who ultimately has more invested in the life to come than this present life. Someone who can face pain and even death with ultimate hope rather than despair. Strip a Christian of his job and livelihood and what do you discover? Someone whose identity is rooted less in a profession or job title than it is in the reality of God’s love and Christ’s work for him. Someone whose confidence rests in God’s sovereign provision more than it does in a bank account. Soak the Christian in trouble and then wring that Christian out, and what will pour from that Christian is the Gospel in visible, lived, concrete form. What will pour from that Christian, in other words, is confidence that nothing this world throws at him/her can jeopardize his/her treasure, namely, the Gospel and all that it comprises, which is chiefly the prospect of eternity in God’s presence (2 Cor. 4:17).

Paul makes it clear in the opening chapters of 2 Cor. 4 that one aspect of our calling as witnesses to Christ is to make “open statement of the truth” (i.e., open our mouths, and actually articulate the gospel to others.) In 2 Cor. 4:8-12 he makes it equally clear that “open statement of the truth” can be made with our lives in addition to our lips. “We who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” Translation: We who are heirs of eternal life with God (“we who live”) will regularly get the snot kicked out of us in life (“are always being given over to death”). But suffering has a purpose (“for Jesus’ sake”). It puts our hope in Christ on full display to others. It turns our lives per se into a form of witness (“so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh”).

Suffering is no fun, no matter how we gloss it. But seeing the opportunity that suffering affords to proclaim the Gospel with our lives may go some way towards helping us to “count it all joy when we encounter trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).

 

Patriot-olotry: The Intersection of Theology and Politics (Donny Friederichsen)

In many evangelical circles, it is still assumed that conservative theology means conservative politics. And to be fair, the same could be said of the “Evangelical left” and liberal politics. But when politics and theology are seen as synonymous, it is typically not theology that is primary. The reason for this is simple. A robust biblical theology does not support the hyper-individualism and consumerism needed to maintain public interest in today’s modern politics. Nevertheless, modern politics needs to be cloaked in religious language in order to carry the necessary gravitas. The end result is that theology becomes the handmaiden of political agendas. In turn, patriotism becomes one and the same with Christianity for so many. Among the multitude of factors that have given rise to this fact in the United States is the combination of American exceptionalism and Dispensationalist theology.American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is qualitatively and fundamentally different and better than other nations. The reasons behind this widely held belief are varied. The amalgamation of a Puritan history, Protestant work-ethic, manifest destiny, and a general pragmatism have all helped shape the belief that God has, in fact, blessed the United States in a way that He has not blessed other nations.The belief in American exceptionalism was wedded to the growing theological movement known as Dispensationalism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dispensationalism, a novel theological movement that was popularized by J.N. Darby and C.I. Schofield, convinced Christians that they could most certainly find American exceptionalism in the Scriptures. Through the vehicle of Dispensationalism, America became the pinnacle of Christendom, the “City on a Hill,” but not in the manner it was originally used by John Winthrop when he quoted Matthew 5:14 in 1630. Winthrop argued that the eyes of the world would be upon their colony and if they dealt falsely with God, then God would make them a byword. Winthrop saw no special virtue or exceptionalism in his colony, rather he used it as a call to actually live out their Christian faith in spite of their inherent sinfulness. Instead, American evangelicals began to see the United States as THE beacon of God’s divine light and the highpoint of humanity. For example, the fiction series, Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins presents a Dispensational view of the end times, which makes clear that the US and the modern nation-state of Israel are the principal players in God’s great redemptive plan of history. Any attitude that suggests that the US has a divine right to global supremacy, is pervasive. During the 2012 presidential election cycle, Republican nominee Mitt Romney often referred to the United States as “the greatest hope in the world.” This view of American politics and patriotism cloaked in theology is what I call Patriot-olatry. It is a worshiping of one’s country and a particular political agenda as if it were the biblically ordained way to worship the one true God.Faithful Christians cannot allow their thinking on how to live their faith in the current culture to be primarily shaped and formed by talking heads, whether they are “fair and balanced” or they “lean forward.” The news media is the megaphone of modern politics. As such, Christians must be cautious when watching. The old adage, “follow the money” is appropriate. The owners and stakeholders in the various news media companies have a corporate obligation to improve the financial bottom line. These conglomerations must turn a profit. This often runs at odds with the pursuit of publishing journalistic truth. The reporting on most cable news stations typically serves only to confirm prejudices and to inflame passions among those already on board. This generates greater viewership which increases ad revenue which enriches the media company. Patriotism for them means dollars.Patriotolatry is dangerous because it flies under the radar for so many American Christians. After all, it can feel dangerously  like faithfulness. But when the church begins to wed itself to one particular nation-state, then it begins to prioritize and emphasize its nationality or patriotism as greater than God’s holiness and his global plan for the spread of the gospel.I am deeply thankful that I have the privilege of living in the United States. I believe that the principles upon which it was founded are rooted in a biblical understanding of human dignity and justice. As such, opportunity has been afforded those who live here that would not have happened in other countries. But as Christians we cannot look at the global scope of the Gospel and think for a moment that the United States is biblically more important than any other nation, tribe, or people. If the apostle Paul could write, “there is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) then we certainly cannot now say that America has any special claim on God’s Kingdom. Imagine what an Iranian Christian would think if he were to enter most evangelical churches in America. He would be forced to denounce his Iranian-ness while they affirm their American-ness. The Gospel must be bigger than our patriotism. 

Expect the Unexpected (Nick Batzig)

Last night, I had the great privilege of delivering the baccalaureate speech to the 2017 graduating class at Veritas Academy in Savannah, GA. While meditating, in recent days, on the multitude of truths that God has given us in the book of Ecclesiastes–especially as it pertains to the unexpected hardships and seeming injustices that we will all experience in life–I’ve come to realize that Ecclesiastes would, in itself, make a perfect baccalaureate speech. Of particular importance is the following maxim of Qoheleth:

“I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time” (Eccl. 9:11).

“The time will come when events overtake us. Before we know it we get trapped in a bad situation at work, or afflicted with a disease or caught up perhaps in a financial tsunami. And, at the very end of our times, of course the time will come for us to die and then go to judgment–that’s a time that God knows and we do not. And, if time does not overtake us “chance” certainly will– chance not simply in the sense of ‘fate,’ but chance in the sense of something that happens, and ‘occurrence.’ He is not talking about something good that happens to you, but something bad. And so it is in a fallen world. Many unhappy events, Natural disaster, environmental catastrophes, military conflicts in various parts of the world, economic downturns–its all very unpredictable– the misfortunes of life are inevitable and inescapable. And here in his mercy God tells us to expect the unexpected. 

So when hardship comes–even when it comes very suddenly–we should not be surprised; we should realize that this is the kind of thing that happens in the world. Nor when life is good should we think that our own natural abilities will somehow spare us from having hard times. No matter how gifted we are, or how well prepared or how many advantages we have in life, the truth is that we too may suffer an evil day. Now the questions is, “How should we respond when that days comes?” 

Of course, the answer to the question is only found in the Gospel. Christ gave up all riches, privilege and honor in order to take all of our foolishness on Himself. He promises to sustain us through the midst of the unexpected trials, disappointments and hardships of life. Then, He promises to bring us to glory where there are no more sorrows, sadness, sickness or suffering (Rev. 21:4). If we have Christ, we have an anchor for our souls during the midst of the unexpected hardships. Nevertheless, in the here and now, we must “expect the unexpected” variables of life. 

You can find the audio of the baccalaureate speech here

Referenced Resource

C.S. Lewis “The Weight of Glory” (a sermon preached at St. Mary’s in Oxford, June 8, 1942)