This blog is the substance of the graduation address given at Oxford Reformed Christian School last evening.
Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr. made headlines with his graduation speech a few weeks back. Contrary to the “go-get-all-that-is-yours” message which often characterizes these talks, McCullough challenged the entitlement complex.
You’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. … You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored….Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet….And now you’ve conquered high school….But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
Talk show debate has reduced McCullough’s antidote to an alternate reduction. “Make the most out of life by forgetting about yourself and serving others.” With due respect, whatever merits McCullough’s talk may have had, this alternative doesn’t really cut it either. And neither does the religious version of graduation reductionism sometimes heard in Christian education settings. “Pray and trust God and He will make all things go well for you.” Graduates deserve something more than unnuanced slogans.
Fifteen minutes isn’t a lot of time but the Exodus 31 account of Bezalel and Oholiab having their names called across the Old Testament graduation stage to their life’s vocation provide a springboard to make several observations I trust will be of some help in the journey ahead.
- Don’t leave thinking you need to have everything figured out today; the use of education may not be immediately obvious. Bezalel and Oholiab apprenticed their trade under the craftsmen of Egypt, but I am certain they never imagined that their major work in life would be to build a tabernacle in the middle of the wilderness. Be ready to be called to things that you have never imagined, open to serving the Lord in ways you have never dreamed of.
- Recognize the high calling of every occupation. The text explicitly highlights how the technical gifts of craftsmanship come from God as much as the spiritual gifts. Let’s not replace a secular corporate ladder with an alternate one of Christian social status. Stone-cutting can also be a spiritual gift. Know your gifts and seek to use them as God has equipped and will call you.
- Carry out your gifts in the context of God’s commands. The building of the tabernacle does not provide an excuse to break the Sabbath or the other commandments, as made clear in the passage. The end does not justify the means.
- Live out of the forgiveness that is available by God’s grace. If you read this chapter in the broader Exodus narrative, you will see that while God is giving these instructions to Moses on top of Mount Sinai, the people of Israel are busy at the bottom of the mountain building and worshipping a golden calf. We are not told if Bezalel put his craftsmanship to work in helping build the golden calf or not, but we do know that whatever his role, God, in his sovereignty, would call and equip him, lead him to repentance, and fill him with His grace. By the time we get to Exodus 36, Bezalel is taking a leadership role in the building of the tabernacle and in Exodus 36:2 we read of his heart “being stirred up” to do the work required.
- Remember that much of our lives are lived in the desert. The biblical story starts in the garden and ends in a city, but Bezalel and Oholiab did their craftsmanship in generally unpleasant desert conditions. God has not promised his people that life’s journey will be easy or the conditions will be always pleasant, although in his grace he does provide us with the occasional oasis and resting place. But the essence of our callings is hard work, as the craftsmanship of Bezalel and the fine tapestry work of Oholiab undoubtedly was.
- Our callings have as their ultimate purpose and measure the glory of God. I think it is significant that Bezalel put his skills as a silversmith to work on the tabernacle. The metaphor is repeatedly used to picture the process of sanctification in the life of believers. A silversmith looks into the heat of the fire and it is when he sees something of the reflection of his own face in the silver that he knows that the process of purification is nearing completion.
Yes, the Lord has given you gifts and it is only a false humility that would not acknowledge and thank Him for what he has given. Yes, you are selflessly to esteem others higher than yourself, to serve others, but don’t do so thinking that there is merit or salvation to be gained simply from carrying out that duty. And by all means, live a life of prayer and in close communion with God, but do not mistakenly conclude that spiritual life is a sort of formula that automatically leads to success.
And as you face the inevitable challenges of life, seek Him and remind yourself that the way of serving God is the way of repentance and faith, not just once but every day again. Believe in Him, trust Him, and as the pain of the dross being refined out of your brokenness gets you down, look up at the hand of the silversmith. He is looking to see His own image in you. But as you see His face, also look at His hand. As He holds you, see the engraving there: “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hand” (Is. 49:16).
May God richly bless you and use you mightily to the glory of His name.