Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Let Reality Be Better Than Any Dream -- VHS Baccalaureate 2013

For the third consecutive year, I was blessed and honored to be selected to deliver the Baccalaureate address to the Vilonia High School graduating class. Last year, and this year too, I worried about coming up with something original to say. The last thing I want to do is rehash what I said the year before. But God is faithful and once again provided me with a fresh message for this year's graduating seniors. The text of the address follows.

Let Reality Be Better Than Any Dream

I remember…

I remember when I was your age. I remember graduation approaching. I remember I couldn’t wait to get out of school and out into the world. I remember feeling like I was caged, like the moment I’d throw that cap into the air I’d be freed, like a bird from its cage.

I remember I had a plan. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was going to college, major in Business, become a stock broker, and be a millionaire before I was 30.

When I got out of that cage, nothing was going to hold me back. I was going to set the world on fire. I was going to do everything I’d ever wanted to do. I was going to have everything I’d ever wanted, and I was going to be everything I’d ever dreamed…


I had them. You have them.

I know because I’ve listened to many of you expound upon them. Some are simple, others complex. Some are big and others small. Some of you don’t have a clue how you’ll accomplish those dreams, and some have a plan so detailed you know where you’ll be practically every day for the next 10 years.

You dream of the perfect family, the perfect career, the perfect life.

Here’s the part where I guess I’m supposed to fill your head with rainbows and lollipops, tell you the world is your oyster, just waiting to hand over its pearl, that the accomplishment of your dreams lies at your fingertips, that they will all come true and the life you have planned is your destiny. But I can’t tell you that. Instead, I’m going to tell you about reality. I’m going to tell you how to make certain reality turns out better than your dreams.

I chased…

I chased those dreams. I set out to make them all come true. But the dreams I dreamed as an 18-year-old did not come true. I didn’t get a degree in Business. I didn’t become a stock broker. I didn’t become a millionaire.

Still, I kept chasing those dreams, altering the plan when things didn’t work out, but pursuing pretty much the same goals. Some times were better than others. Some things worked out well and others not so well. At times I was successful, and at times I failed. But the reality I now enjoy is nothing even close to that of which I dreamed at your age. It’s better! So much better!

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dream. Those of you who know me, I’ve told you to pursue your dreams. Some of you will live out the life you have planned exactly – the college you want to attend, the career you want, your high school sweetheart your life-long spouse, the kids, the house, the cars, and on and on and on and on. Everything will work out just as you’ve planned. And you might find happiness in that…MIGHT.

I know people who appear to have everything anyone could want, but they’re not happy. Just the other day a young lady told me she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do. She’d always wanted to be rich, but now she wasn’t so sure anymore. She said her mom and dad both have really good jobs, but they hate them. They stay because they make good money, but they HATE their jobs.

You see, even if your dreams become reality, the reality is not always as great as you anticipate.

Some of you, like in my case, your dreams you dream may never come true. Your college plans, your career plans, your marriage plans will all fall through. A young man called me a couple of months ago, a young man whose college and career plans didn’t work out. He is nowhere near where he wanted to be. Smart and talented, he started college but his train derailed and now he’s trying to get back on track. I talked to a young lady a few days ago and asked how her boyfriend was. She just shook her head and said, “I don’t know.” When they were here, they seemed the perfect couple. They were engaged and everyone believed they would spend the rest of their lives together. But he broke up with her. Dreams don’t always come true.

Right now you’re wondering, “Why in the world did we choose him to speak today?” I mean, so far, this has been a not-so-inspiring message, even a depressing message.

But, like Brother Ken says, that’s just the introduction.

You see, the message I’m bringing you today isn’t one of hopelessness and broken dreams. I’m not here to tell you there’s no point in dreaming or there’s no chance of success.

I told you all this, and I’m here to tell you even more, more about a path to overcome whatever bad befalls you on this earth. If you take this message to heart, it won’t matter if your dreams come true. It won’t matter if that girl or boy you love breaks up with you, if you don’t end up with the career you always wanted. IT.WON’T.MATTER!

I’m here to tell you that I’m more content than I ever thought I could be. I’m here to tell you that I love and I’m more loved than I ever thought possible. I’m here to tell you that my reality is so much better than the dreams I dreamed when I was where you are!

That’s right! Reality, right now for me, is better than my dreams! And it can be for you…if you let it. If you listen to what I’m going to tell you, if you take it to heart, and if you put it into practice, your reality will be better than your dreams!

So dream, and dream big. It doesn’t matter how big you dream, there’s a reality waiting for you, too, that’s bigger and better than anything you can imagine. What it took so long for me to learn, and what I hope you learn a lot sooner, is the key to that reality lies within reach of every single one of you. It’s lying there, within reach, waiting to be picked up.

Just waiting.

Some of you already have the key, you found it and you picked it up and now you’re living that reality better than any dream. Some of you have seen that key, had opportunities to pick it up, but for some reason or another, you passed it by. Then some of you may have never had a chance at the key, maybe never even heard that such a reality exists…a reality better than your dreams.

Today, I want to make certain that everyone of you leave here knowing that such a reality exists, that it is available to anyone willing to pick up that key, and that once you find it, once it’s yours, once you’ve reached that point where reality is better than your dreams, you have to share it.

Those are the things I want you to leave knowing today.

The key of which I speak, the key to a reality better than the best of dreams, that key hung on a cross some 2000 years ago. The One True God, Our Father in Heaven, sent His only begotten Son to earth, sent Him to live as a man, to die as a man, and to rise so that we need not fear death ever again!

So many in our society today don’t accept this gift, won’t pick up that key. They refuse to believe in the One true path to a reality better than their dreams. And they are miserable.

Watch the news, read the papers, listen to conversations at school, at work, at a restaurant, or even at Wal Mart. Sometimes, it seems like all we see, read, or hear is of evil, suffering, pain, and misery. Sometimes, it’s hard to notice the good in the world for all the bad that stands out. The truth is there is evil out there. There are plenty of people suffering. Plenty of people in pain, and plenty of people who are simply miserable with the life they lead.

Does anyone believe that these people, when they were young, when they were your age, dreamed of being miserable? Of course not! Nobody dreams of being miserable. They had the same dreams you do, dreams of fame and fortune, great accomplishments, great jobs, great families…happiness. But instead they found misery. And my message to you here tonight is they don’t have to be miserable! They don’t have to stay miserable. That their reality can be better than their dreams, as can yours!

We live in a world where many, if not most, want to deny you of the key that will unlock the door to a life of peace and joy. Today, in movies and in music, on television, in newspapers, and magazines, in colleges and even high schools across the country, and even among many elected and appointed public servants, there is an all-out offensive mounted to convince you that the message you’ll hear tonight is a lie. They want you to believe there is no God and no Jesus Christ and no eternal life. They want you to believe this life is all there is, that your dreams are all you have and all you need.

They would have you think that to believe in Jesus Christ, to follow His example, to do His will, makes you a hate-filled, judgmental bigot. They want you to believe that the only perfect man to ever walk the earth, the only man who lived a life without sin, the man who told us the greatest commandment is to love God and the second greatest is to love our neighbor, they want you to believe the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was some sort of hate-filled historic figure who sought to condemn us and deprive us of what will make us happy.

But they’re miserable. And those who believe them are miserable. Just look around and you will see these are the people you read about, you see, and you hear describing their miserable state of existence…because they refuse to believe they could be satisfied with the One true source of peace and joy.

You see…the people who point their fingers and scream the loudest that we are the liars, we who proclaim Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, they are the ones who would convince you of a lie.
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. " ~ John 3:17

The world, our society today, would have you believe the opposite, that Jesus Christ did come to condemn. But no, He came to save. He came to save you, to save me, to save anyone and everyone who will call upon His name, who will take up His cross, who trusts Him as Savior and Lord.

Not to condemn. To save.

For so many years, I believed the lies. I thought living life for Jesus Christ meant a life deprived of happiness and joy. I chased MY dreams, but regardless how much money I made, regardless how respected I was among men, regardless how well things went, I could not be happy. I could not be satisfied. I had no joy and I had no peace.

I was so wrong, and it took me so long to realize it. I searched for peace and happiness in so many other places for a long time, to no avail. But I finally found that peace and joy don’t come from money, from possessions, or even from friends or family. I finally learned that even if I had all those things, I still needed more to be content.

Blaise Pascal may have put it best when he said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man, which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” That’s what it took me so long to learn, and one thing I hope you leave here knowing tonight. The filling of that vacuum with a relationship with Jesus Christ is the path to true peace, to true joy, and to a reality that’s better than any dream.

The second thing I want you to leave here with tonight is to know that such a reality is available to everyone—to you, to me, to your friends, your family, to anyone and everyone who is willing to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who came to live, suffer, and die, so that we all might have eternal life!
"for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”" ~ Romans 10:13

5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people… ~ 1 Timothy 2:5-6

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9

There may be some of you here tonight who believe Jesus Christ doesn’t want you. You may believe you’re not good enough, you’ve done too many bad things. But the Bible says He gave Himself “as a ransom for ALL people.” It didn’t say for ALL “good” people. It doesn’t say for all “righteous” people. The Bible doesn’t define a level of good that’s “good enough” for God, a threshold below which all others are turned away.

No. It says He doesn’t want ANYONE to perish. Not you. Not me. Not the good. Not the bad. Neither the righteous, nor the heinous. Jesus Christ wants us ALL to turn to Him, to come to Him, to follow Him!

When the Pharisees asked Jesus why He dined with sinners and tax collectors, He let them know there was nobody so bad that He didn’t want them. Jesus Christ made it clear that He wants us all, the best and the worst of us, to turn and follow Him.
" 31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”" ~ Luke 5:31-32

The apostle Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament, was the worst of the worst. He persecuted Christians. In Acts, Chapter 8, we’re told that He tried to destroy the church, dragging believers out of their homes and into prison. In Acts, Chapter 9, the Bible tells us He was “breathing murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.” But on the road to Damascus, with Paul en route searching for more believers to destroy, Jesus Christ reached down and said I can use even you, the worst of all sinners. Not the healthy, but the sick. Not the saints, but the sinners. You can’t be bad enough that Jesus doesn’t want you! He wants us all!

If you can wrap your mind around that, if you can give in and give Him control, if you can accept Him as your Lord and Savior, I can’t promise you a life filled with rainbows and lollipops, or a life without pain and worry, but I can promise that you can have a joy and a peace that those who don’t know Jesus Christ can never know!

After His conversion, Paul became the greatest evagelist the world has ever known, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the known world. In doing so, the persecutor became the persecuted. The predator became the prey. He was beaten, imprisoned, tortured and tormented in ways we can hardly imagine. But still, he had joy and he had peace, the peace and joy that can only come from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
" 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." ~ Philippians 4:11-12

That peace and joy was made available to Paul, the chief among sinners, persecutor of the church, a proud and self-declared enemy of Jesus Christ, who arguably did more to spread the Gospel than any other. Jesus used Paul. He can use you too. And He wants to use you. He wants to use us all. He wants us all to have that peace and joy, the reality that’s better than our dreams.

But it can’t stop there. Once you have that peace and joy, once you’ve reached that reality that’s better than a dream, it becomes your responsibility to help others do the same. That joy and that peace, that reality, they have to be shared.

Jesus Christ wants everyone to come to know Him, and it is our responsibility to share what we’ve received!
" 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”" ~ Matthew 28:19-20

Once you have this gift, this peace, this joy, this reality, you have to share it. There’s a video on Youtube of an atheist comedian discussing this very topic. In it, He tells a story of a man who gave him a Bible. This atheist was clearly emotional in the video, grateful for the kindness and compassion the man showed him while sharing his faith. In the video, he posed the question, “How much do you have to hate someone to not share your faith?”

An atheist, who even on that video stated he still doesn’t believed in God, acknowledging that once we receive this gift of salvation, once we’re welcomed into the family of God, once we’ve received the promise of eternal life, we should be compelled to prosyletize. Nothing should be able to hold us back, nothing should prevent us from reaching out to others to help them find what we have found, so they can share in what we have received. So their reality can be better than their dreams.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. " ~ Romans 12:10

You won’t all be called to preach, but we’re all called to share.

When you find this peace, when you have this joy, God will use you, give you opportunities to share. Your opportunity may be as simple as inviting a friend, a classmate, or a coworker to church. Or you may find yourself called to present the Gospel to a suffering friend. You may be called to preach, or even to the mission field, but God will use you to help others find what you found, to have what you have, because He wants us all to enjoy that reality better than any dream.

So, ladies and gentlemen, dream and dream big. Pursue those dreams, but know there is more to life than material things that moth and rust destroy, that thieves break in and steal. Know that in knowing Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, as Lord of your life, you will find peace and joy when your dreams come true or when they don’t.

Know before you leave here tonight, that Jesus Christ is the key to a reality better than any dream.

Thank you and God bless you all!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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