Thursday, June 02, 2005

Don't Waste Your Life!

“Don’t Waste Your Life!” - Pastor Matt Mitchell
West Branch Area High School Baccalaureate
June 2, 2005
Mark 8:36

It is a distinct honor and great privilege to be invited to address you this evening, the West Branch High School Class of 2005, your parents, other family and friends, West Branch faculty and administration.

I want to thank my colleagues in the West Branch Area Ministerium for affording me the opportunity to give the Baccalaureate sermon to this year’s graduating class.

I have been told that it has been almost thirty years since a pastor of the Lanse Evangelical Free Church has been given this honor–since Pastor Jack Kelly (some of your parents will remember him) back in the 1970's. And that makes my task tonight a very special one, indeed.

In celebration of this honor, I asked our church family to buy a gift for each graduate. As you process out this evening, there will be volunteers at the doors to hand each of you a gift copy of a book by my favorite author Dr. John Piper. The book, like my message tonight, is titled, “Don’t Waste Your Life!” And not only is it our gift to you, class of 2005, it is our prayer for you.

But don’t be confused. I didn’t write the book. I merely stole the title!

Don’t Waste Your Life!

Can I ask you to do something with me that’s a little bit different?

Don’t worry; it’s nothing very difficult–like spell “Baccalaureate” without looking!

What is a Baccalaureate, by the way? I had to look that one up this week.

Webster’s gives it two definitions. The first is “the degree of bachelor conferred by universities and colleges,” and unless Mr. Matchock has a big surprise up his sleeve, I don’t think that definition applies tonight. You aren’t giving out any college degrees tonight, are you? Because I could use an extra one, if you’ve got them. No? I didn’t think so.

The second definition of “Baccalaureate” in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is: “(a) a sermon given to a graduating class, and (b) the service at which this sermon is delivered.” So there you have it! A “Baccalaureate” (and I checked the pronunciation!) is a sermon and a worship service for graduates. That still doesn’t mean that I know how to spell it!

But that’s not what I’m going to ask you to do. What I’m going to ask you to do is to take your pulse with me.

Take your pulse.

Put two fingers up at the pulse point on your neck or wrist.

That little bump you feel is blood stopping and starting as it moves through your arteries. Kid’s resting pulses range from 90 to 120 beats per minute. As an adult, your pulse rate slows to an average of 72 beats per minute.

What you feel right your life beating away.

Do you feel your heart beating?

How long is it going to keep doing that?

You don’t know.

Your heart may stop beating before you get home tonight.

My heart may stop beating before I’m done with this message. [By the way, if it does, somebody please step up here and read the rest of this manuscript! It’s going to be dynamite stuff if I die while delivering it!]

You don’t know how many more times your heart will beat.

In an average lifetime, the human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times. And that sounds like a lot...until you realize that it beats at least 100,000 times every day. And that adds up really fast. 35 million times a year. [HT: Nova]

But you and I don’t know if our heartbeats will be average or longer or shorter.

And even if we get a lot of heartbeats, they will still go by very quickly.

Every heart here will eventually stop beating. The death-rate for human beings is very close to 100%.

And it will go by so fast!

I know you don’t believe me. Most of you feel young and indestructible. But, as a pastor, I talk with a lot of older people all the time. And almost every one of them says that they don’t feel as old as they are (at least inside, where their minds are). And they can’t believe how fast their life has gone.

That’s true for me. I’m only 32. I know that sounds old to you. But not to many of you.

The fact is, that when I was graduating from High School, you were all rug-rats, 3 or 4 years old, hanging onto somebody’s knee. And it’s gone by, for me, so fast!

I always thought I would be much wiser than I am when I was 32.

And I want to give you some wisdom tonight.

Don’t Waste It!

Don’t waste those precious heartbeats.

Don’t Waste Your Life.

In the Bible story I just read to you, the Lord Jesus gave his followers a pop-quiz. [Mark 8:27-38]

I’m sure that you always loved those pop-quizzes!

The Lord Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say I am?”

Well, that was an easy one. There’s lots of right answers.

Some say, “John the Baptist back from the dead.”

Others say, “Elijah come again.”

Some say, “A great prophet.”

Jesus says, “Okay. Question #2. Who do you say I am?”

Class of 2005, that is one of the most important questions you will ever be asked.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

The answer to that question divides all of humanity into two groups.

You have to come to an answer to that question. Who do you say that Jesus is?

Jesus’ disciple Peter gets an A+ on this pop quiz. He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Way to go, Peter!

And Jesus says, “That’s right. And let me tell you what kind of a Christ, a Messiah, I am going to be: I must suffer many things. And be rejected. And be killed on a Cross–a cruel instrument of Roman torture. Dying for the sins of all who believe in me. And after three days, I will rise again!”

And class of 2005, that’s what’s called the gospel–or the good news. And you must decide if that is something you believe or not. Do you believe the gospel of a crucified Savior? Dying for the sins of His followers? And rising again?

Peter didn’t do so well on this question. He pulled Jesus aside when he heard that and tried to rebuke Him and change His mind. Not a good idea. Rebuking Jesus is never a good idea.

Instead, Jesus rebuked Peter. And told him that he was acting like Satan, trying to get in His way. His mind was on the wrong things.

The way forward for Jesus meant the Cross. And nothing was going to stop Jesus from fulfilling His destiny on the Cross as the Savior of the World. Not even His own followers.

And the way of Cross is the way that His followers must go, as well. Next, “He called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.’”

You lose your life if you try to selfishly keep it.

But you save your life if you give your life to Jesus Christ and to His gospel.

Class of 2005, Don’t Waste Your Life.

The next thing that Jesus says is the one that I want you to remember the most tonight. Jesus asks a rhetorical question. That’s a question that makes a point. It answers itself. He asks this question, and I want you to ask it of yourself tonight:

“What good is it for a [person] to gain the whole world, yet forfeit [their] soul?”

It is no good. It is no good to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your eternal soul.

Don’t waste your life!

It is possible to gain the world but lose your soul.

What could you gain?

You could gain money. You could be the next Bill Gates or George Soros. But no matter how much money you gain, you cannot keep that heart pumping forever. In 150 years, all the money that you have collected will be someone else’s. Guaranteed.

You could gain popularity. You could become the next 50cent or Coldplay or Usher or Carrie Underwood. The next American Idol. But before too long, there will be another flavor of the month. And your popularity will fade away. What then?

You could gain sexual pleasure. Our culture has become incredibly sexually charged and hedonistic. If you try hard enough, you can probably have just about any sexual experience that you can imagine. And don’t get me wrong, sex is a wonderful gift given by God to be enjoyed in the context of the marriage covenant, but the kind of sexual pleasure that this world chases after is not ultimately fulfilling. In the end, is like a drug addiction–promising more and more but delivering less and less until it’s like gravel in your mouth.

You could gain your freedom. I’m sure that freedom from parents, school, teachers, and so on, is what many of you can’t wait to taste. Free to choose whatever you want to do. Free...but then your heart stops beating, and then what?

You could gain power. You could make people do what you want. You could become the next senator or president, or CEO of a large company. You could “have it all.” You could have the world by the tail.

But lose your soul.

Jesus says, “What good would that be?”

“What good is it for a [person] to gain the whole world, yet forfeit [their] soul?”

It would be about as good as a screen-door on a submarine.

Or, you could gain a happy spouse, a couple of kids, a nice job, a pretty house, a new truck, nothing big, just the “American Dream.”

And still lose your soul.

What are you going to live for?

What is that heart beating for?

So many people are going to tell you as you graduate that you can do anything you set your heart on.

I’m asking you, “What are you going to set your heart on that matters? That matters for eternity?”

Don’t Waste Your Life.

Jesus says here that whoever wants to save his life will lose it. That means whoever chases after the world will get the world but lose their life.

But whoever loses his life for me, Jesus says, and for the gospel, the good news of His death and resurrection, will save it.

At the risk of not being asked again to speak here for the next thirty years, I am here to tell you tonight that the only thing worth living for (ultimately) is Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

If you are a follower of Christ, He is asking you tonight to give your life, to dedicate your life day by day and hour by hour to Him and to His grand cause.

He is the only thing, the only Person (ultimately) worth living for.

That doesn’t mean that everyone here must become a pastor or a missionary. No. We are not all called to vocational Christian service. But we are all called, if we name Christ as Lord, to serve Him and His cause in everything that we do.

Whatever job we get. Whatever career we pursue. Whatever schooling we engage in. Whatever relationships we connect with. Whatever purchases we make. Whatever we choose to do in life should be dedicated to the glory of Christ and His glorious gospel.

The only thing worth living for (ultimately) is Jesus Christ and His Good News.

Don’t Waste Your Life.

You have heard the phrase, “Carpe Diem.” It is Latin for “Seize the Day.”

I’m telling you, “Class of 2005, Carpe Christus.” Seize Christ!

You may not yet be a Christian.

Jesus’ invites you tonight to become one.

It’s not very complicated.

You need to have those two questions answered.

(1) Who do you say that Jesus is? Is He really the Christ, the Son of the Living God?

(2) And do you believe His gospel? That He is a Christ Who was crucified for your sins on the Cross, and has come back to life to give you life?

And you need to put your trust in Him and begin to follow Him by faith. You need to tell Him that you will take up your own cross and follow Him by faith alone. Not because of anything you do, but because of what He has done and offers to you as a gift.

Jesus is Himself, the greatest graduation gift, anyone could ever dream of.

If you don’t have Him yet as your Lord and Savior, Jesus invites you tonight to put your trust in Him.

And that is very serious. He says that the stakes are enormous. Jesus says, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in a exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.”

Those are not my words. They are Jesus’ words.

And you have to make up your mind about them.

What are you going to do with your life?

The Bible says that our lives are like a vapor. Here one second and gone the next.

Like when you go outside in the winter and see your breath. [Breath.] And then it’s gone.

What are you going to set your heart upon?

Don’t Waste Your Life.

I have four children. The oldest will be five in July. She’s a girl. The other three are boys. Three and a half. Almost two. Almost one. You do the math. Four in four years. We are very busy. They are a big joy for Heather and me.

We have begun to teach our kids a catechism at night. A series of questions and answers to memorize about the Christian faith so that they are well grounded in what the Bible teaches. We expect them to memorize, in the next year, about 77 questions and their answers. At least the older two will.

The first question in our catechism is: “Who are you?

And my daughter says, “I am Robin Joy Mitchell.”

And my oldest son, Andrew, says, “I am Drewby Charles Mitchell.” We call Andrew, “Drew” or “Drewby” for fun.

And my second son, Peter, [he’s almost two] says, “ME!!!” He’s so cute.

And my third son, fourth child, Isaac, just sits there and drinks his bottle.

The second question in our catechism, and we ask it every night, is this, “Why did God give you life?”

“Why did God give you life?”

And I wish that my little ones were here tonight to give the answer. They have got it down. They repeat it every night:

“God gave me life so that I can live for Him.”

And that’s right.

Class of 2005, why did God give you life?

You don’t know how many heart beats you have left.

What are you going to do with them while you have them?

While You Have a Pulse, Don’t Waste Your Life.

The only thing worth living for (ultimately) is Jesus Christ and His Good News.

Here’s a suggestion. Every morning, when you get up, take your pulse. And if you can feel your heart beating, dedicate it that day to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Gospel.

You will not be dissatisfied.

In fact, Jesus says, you will save your life.

He is worth it.