Last night I gave a talk for a big room full of students who will graduate in 2 weeks and their families. It’s still shocking to me to find myself in these spaces, standing in front of people, talking, yet there we were.
Events like this (singular significant moments, like weddings, funerals, etc) can be particularly heavy, where the usual Sunday morning butterflies become birds and I find myself nervous. I’d tell you that’s a good thing, those disruptive birds mean you’re alive and that it matters. I’d say the problem would be if you didn’t feel anything, if you were indifferent to the gift you’ve been given. And now it makes perfect sense that you want to punch me in the mouth when I say those things, whether they’re right or not.
The birds aren’t nearly as big as they were years ago, when all of this began, but seconds before I was scheduled to go up onto the stage, they were certainly active.
The students plan this Baccalaureate service. I have no idea what this word means or how/why this has become a tradition. I’ve never been to one and had no idea what to expect. And I guess they have to plan it without teachers direction because church and state are separate and must remain that way. So, they plan it and I got to attend their meeting. They chose hymns, Scripture passages and readers, and ordered them. Mostly, I kept in quiet deference to their leadership, but I did suggest that one Joshua (1:1-9) passage might fit perfectly right before the message. That passage ended:
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
How many times can you command someone to “be strong and courageous?” I suppose until it takes, right? “Don’t be afraid…for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Sometimes moments are so noisy, it’s hard to hear God’s voice. In those spaces, it’s awfully helpful if He repeats it.
What is remarkable is the extent of the care God gives freely to us. We often think of God’s presence in one moment, comforting us, giving us peace, deliverance here and now. But this was proof that His hands had been working all along, even into this seemingly insignificant detail that meant the world to me. If His hands were holding me weeks earlier in the meeting, they were there months earlier as I was writing it, and they’d be there on the stage, behind a truly enormous pulpit.
And they were, the entire service was really beautiful, and I got to tell everyone in that room how much that same God loved them and would be with them wherever they go. I’m not right about everything, but I’m absolutely 100% spot on about that.