(My commencement message to the 2016 graduating class of William Carey University. Delivered Saturday afternoon, August 6, 2016.)
Dr. Larry Kennedy was President of this institution for the last decade of his life. In the 1960s, Larry and I were seminary classmates, and then we pastored several churches in Mississippi near one another. He told me this story.
“My son Steve was 7 years old when he went to his first big-church wedding. He sat in the sanctuary beside his mother and watched as the door in front opened and his dad walked out and took his place. Behind him came six or seven good-looking young men dressed in tuxedos. Spread across the front of the church, they were a handsome lot. The bridesmaids entered and took their places. Finally, everyone stood as the bride entered on the arm of her father and moved slowly down the aisle. At this point, Steve tugged on his mother’s arm.
“Mother, does she already know which one of those men she’s going to marry? Or is she going to decide when she gets down there?”
Dr. Kennedy said, “You know, McKeever. We can save ourselves a lot of confusion later on in life by making some choices early.”
Everyone in this room has been making choices all your life. You have chosen friends and career and possibly chosen your life mate. You get up in the morning and start making choices. I hope you have chosen to accept the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ to believe on Him and live forever. No choice carries greater consequences. You stand here today because a few years ago, you chose to continue your education, to do bigger things with your life, and to enroll in William Carey University.
As you know, you’re not through choosing. We will all be making choices great and small every day of the rest of our lives.
I want to encourage you to choose well, to build something that will last, to invest in eternity.
Sometime around the year 1690, British architect Sir Christopher Wren designed a town hall for the city of Windsor. When it was completed, the city officials arrived to inspect it. They took the tour, loved what they saw, and then announced that one thing more was needed before they would pay the architect’s bill: more columns were needed to hold up the roof. Sir Christopher pointed out that the columns he had installed seemed to be adequate, that no more were needed. But they insisted. More columns. So, Sir Christopher met with the builders and added four more columns identical to the others with one exception: Each one lacked a couple of inches reaching the ceiling. They weren’t holding up anything.
The officials were pleased and approved the building and paid the bill. (Btw, it still stands today as the Guild Hall in Windsor. The four useless columns stand there also, unneeded through all these centuries.)
The columns in that town hall serve as a metaphor for us.
The columns are of two types: load-bearing and cosmetic. The first–the load-bearing, essential columns–are required to hold the building up. Remove one of them and the building collapses. The second–the cosmetic, non-essential columns–are just there for looks, and may be removed without endangering anything.
You and I are decision-makers. We are always choosing this and rejecting that. Many of our choices are of the load-bearing kind. We choose to get a good education and go on to college. We choose to go to church and study the Bible and live for Christ. We choose to register to vote and to stay informed and to speak out. We choose to shun tobacco and alcohol and drugs and to eat vegetables and fruits and get our exercise.
We also make choices that are cosmetic. We choose this car because we like the way it looks. We like this suit but do not like those shoes. This tie goes well with that shirt. We all do this.
I am in the process of selling my house. Before putting the house on the market, a friend advised me on how to make it more attractive. We set out lovely plants in the yard, painted the garage and added shelves. Nothing we did was structural, or load-bearing. The house is basically the same as before. But it looks better. Realtors say that “curb appeal” is a big deal when you go to sell your house. (We received two offers this week, so apparently we did all right.)
Tuesday, an inspector will be coming out. My guess he will look beyond the flower bed and the painted garage and be more interested in the structural soundness.
If he is wise, he will. But what if he ignored the structural soundness of the house and was distracted by the cosmetic things. What if the roof leaked and a crack ran through a wall but he was more intrigued by the petunias along the sidewalk or the blinds over the kitchen window!
I knew a man once who bought a car that wouldn’t run because he liked the looks of it.
A woman I know spends all her time and far too much money on her appearance.
You and I are always making decisions on whether to go for the appearance or the structural soundness. Cosmetic or load-bearing.
Scripture describes these two choices in a number of ways…
–As precious and worthless. God said to Jeremiah: “If you will learn to extract the precious from the worthless, you shall be my spokesman” (Jeremiah 15:19).
–As gold, silver, and precious stones, or wood, hay, and stubble. (I Corinthians 3:12).
–As seen versus the unseen. (2 Corinthians 4:18). The things that are seen are temporal; it’s the unseen things that are eternal.
So, what is most important of all? We have an answer.
In Luke 10, the Lord Jesus stopped over in Bethany for a visit with His friends, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. (We’re not told why Lazarus is absent.) As the Lord sits to rest, Mary plops down at His feet to listen to Him. After a bit, Martha comes in. She is upset. “Lord! Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to get up and help me.”
Our Lord, with the tender compassion and stern authority of a parent said, “Martha, Martha. You are full of cares and worried about many things. But only one thing is needful. And Mary has chosen that one good thing which shall not be taken away from her.”
Oddly, we are never told what that “one good thing” was which Mary had chosen and Martha had not. The story ends there.
But we know.
Mary had chosen an hour of worship. To sit at the Lord’s feet and to listen.
That is the most precious of all activities. The greatest choice is to worship.
Nothing we will ever do, no amount of working or serving or sacrifice, no giving or helping, no singing or teaching or preaching, can ever take the place of an hour of worship. At the feet of Jesus. Loving Him, listening to Him, learning from Him. Quieting our spirits, stilling our anxieties, opening our hearts.
Worship: the greatest load-bearing structure of them all.