A Beginner’s Guide To Being Awesome-Message Text-May 24th, 2015

Savannah, the entire message today is addressed directly to you as a graduation address of sorts—if it’s okay with you though, we’ll let everyone else listen in.  So without further ado a few words of advice that we’ll collectively call, “A Beginner’s Guide To Being Awesome.”

Savannah, Don’t live your life shackled by fear. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, freeing yourself of fear would be it. The long term benefits of living without fear will inform everything else that I have to say.

In addition to not being afraid, I would tell you not to worry, not to judge, to live with joy.  Live with love for yourself, for God and for everyone else that God has created. And, no matter what, even when things seem to be at their worst—especially when things seem to be at their worst—remember that God WILL take care of you.

So be pure, be peaceful, be merciful. Do your part to bring justice into the world. When you have a choice between being humble and quiet or being brash and bold, choose to be humble. You shouldn’t always feel like you need to throw your weight around like a bull in a china shop. Believe in God and be prepared to make sacrifices for what you believe in.  Celebrate and be happy even when other people are pointing their fingers at you, especially if it’s because you’ve stayed true to who God has called you to be.  Trust me, staying true to yourself and to God will be worth it in the long run.

You were put here on this earth, Savannah, to make life more lasting, more interesting, more palatable, to be a source of warmth and growth to those around you. You’re someone who can help people see the rich detail, the fine lines and gradients of life. You’re here so that other people—through you, through how you live and how you encourage—can see all of creation in all its richness and all its fullness. 

It’s a big job, but it’s the job you were created for, so don’t ever sell yourself short.  You’re here so that by your example, other people can better understand who God is. Be a living example, someone who points other people to God and one day they’ll praise both God and you for it.

And here’s how you can set that example.

Live a moral life. Don’t live an angry life. Don’t be someone who holds grudges and seeks revenge. Instead, be both forgiving and willing to ask for forgiveness when you need to.  Actively seek reconciliation and don’t let hurts and wounds fester. 

Some day, WAY WAY OFF INTO the future, if you choose to get married,  remember that marriage is for life so choose your mate wisely and be faithful to your spouse, not only in your outward behavior, but also in your heart and in your mind and in your soul.  This is REALLY important!

Tell the truth and keep your word. All the timeNo exceptions. Be generous with those who make requests of you and don’t live by the world’s standards when it comes to saving face or preserving you reputation.  Even when you’ve been cheated or wronged or disrespected in ways big or small, let go of your pride and put whatever happened behind you and move forward with humility.  Always strive for perfection in your love for other people.  Anyone can love those who are close to them, but you should find ways to love even the people who are most difficult to love. God loves everyone and showers the warmth of his blessing on all of us equally and without fail.  You should try to love like that, too.

And don’t always be the one to trumpet your good deeds or generous behavior. When you’re the one always seeking credit for yourself, people will look for ways to tear you down and expose your weaknesses.  Instead, when you find opportunities to help someone else—when you know you’ve done something really kind and generous—keep it to yourself. God will know what you’ve done, and ultimately it’s God’s opinion that matters, not what everyone else thinks.

When you talk to God, and you SHOULD talk to God every once in a while, don’t do it like a Bible thumper. You don’t have to be a Jesus freak.  Just keep it simple.  There’s no special prize for being the loudest or most demonstrative about how close you are to God.  God will hear your prayers just as well  and notice you just as much if you go into your room and close the door and speak openly and honestly to Him in private.  And another thing about prayer; it shouldn’t be a chore or an endurance contest.  There’s no need to drone on and on when you talk to God. Short and simple is okay. (SMILE) You don’t have to sound like a preacher. God knows what you need before you even start praying.  So instead, when you pray, try praying like this:

God in heaven,

We give honor and glory to your name and pray that all that you have started in our lives and in this world will be completed, and soon, so that we can experience right here, right now, all that we know you have waiting for us in heaven. Thank you for all that you do for us, and we pray that you will continue to provide for our needs. Forgive us for all our faults, God. We know we have a lot of them. And help us to be forgiving.

There’s so much in this world that we know is not part of your plan for us, and so often it’s the wrong things that we find so tempting. Keep us away from the things that tempt us so that with your help we can avoid the danger of doing wrong.  AMEN.

You don’t need to say any more than that. A life that honors God, that acknowledges God’s providence, that understands the need to both forgive and be forgiven, and that guards itself against temptation is a life well lived.

Speaking of forgiveness, when you forgive other people, it’s fair to expect forgiveness in return.  But when you’re not a forgiving person yourself, can you really expect that you’ll be forgiven?  I’ll just say this, it’s better to be forgiving.

In our world of constant over-consumption, it’s good to regularly, voluntarily adopt a habit of self-denial.  Intentionally limiting our lifestyles every once in a while can help to clarify priorities, strengthen resolve, and clear the mind and spirit. Make some form of self-denial a regular practice. And when you do spend time in self-denial, don’t go around like some vain attention seeker yelling, “Woe is me, I gave up soft drinks. I need a Mountain Dew now!” Instead, bear your burden of self-denial quietly. Your inward satisfaction and self-renewal will surprise you.

Savannah, you’re very talented. I have no doubt that you’ll be successful at whatever you choose to do. So there’s a chance that you will make a BUNCH of money in your life.  Good for you. But don’t hoard it all to yourself. The world has devised all kinds of ways to celebrate your money, to spend your money, to grow your money, to flaunt your money, to convince you that you always need more money.

From birth, you have been bombarded with messages about the importance and virtues of wealth and money, so I want you to hear this clearly. NONE OF IT WILL LAST. I REPEAT, NONE OF IT WILL LAST. Instead, use what God has blessed you with for God’s purposes.  Then it WILL last. It will last in those whose lives are improved and transformed by your generosity. It will last in a world moved closer to God’s vision for it because you were willing to share from your excess. 

And it’s not just those you help who will be changed when you share.  You’ll be changed too, from the inside out. You’ll learn to see the world in a different way.  You’ll see hope where before you only saw wasted opportunity. And when you see the world with new eyes of hope, it will make a HUGE difference to your entire being.  You’ll see the world like God sees it, and IT WILL CHANGE WHO YOU ARE. Giving and being generous changes who you are.

If you can’t find hope in the world, if you never get a glimpse of what the world looks like through God’s eyes, you’ll eventually find yourself in some pretty dark places. AND HERE’S A SECRET. You can’t devote your life to making money and hoarding wealth and accumulating material possessions AND devote your life to God.  You’ll either decide that you love greed and wealth and power and the material world (or at least chasing after those things), or you’ll decide you love God and quit chasing after all those other things. But make no mistake, you’ll eventually have to choose. You won’t make it through life without choosing between devotion to God and devotion to money and the material things of this world. One of them will rule your heart, but both cannot.

People today are anxious about everything.  We worry about big things and little things, important things and inconsequential things. Anxiety will destroy your quality of life if you let it.  A lot of us can be overly concerned with our outward appearance.  With all the messages of beauty and perfection aimed at us, it’s easy to start to think that we don’t measure up.  Stop focusing on the world’s impossible standards of beauty and focus instead on what really matters.

So every once in a while, Savannah, turn off the TV, put down the magazine, step away from the smartphone, and look outside.  The natural beauty of God’s created world is all around you. From spring flowers to the symmetry of a snow flake, the artificial beauty celebrated on TV can’t hold a candle to the beauty of God’s natural world.

If God can put so much beauty into things that are here today and gone tomorrow, how much more beauty has God put in you?  Never forget that you are beautiful inside and out, for no other reason than that you were created in the image of God. So have a little faith. If God is invested in flowers and the snowflakes, God is invested in you, too.

So don’t worry about all the material things that consume our thoughts and lives.  Most of the regular folks out there will spend the majority of their lives running after all of the glitz and glamour of the world. But you’re not regular folks, and God knows what you need. So instead of chasing after the latest trends and must have things, spend your time looking for your place in God’s kingdom.  Figure out what it means to live your life according to God’s will.  God has a special place and a special purpose for you.  Once you figure that out, everything else will fall into place.  I promise.  So don’t worry about the future.  Live in God’s present and your future will take care of itself.  You’ve got enough on your plate just for today.

Be careful in the opinions you hold of other people.  And don’t be too critical, or you’ll find that other people will be overly critical of you. Remember, you’ll be held to the same standard that you hold other people to, so be careful. It’s easy to see even small faults in other people and at the same time be completely blind to even very large flaws in ourselves. If you want to avoid hypocrisy, look to yourself and your own faults before trying to fix the flaws of others.

And while you’re taking stock of yourself, save what is best and most sacred in you for the best and most sacred people in your life.  The world can be a cruel place.  If you share too much of yourself with too many people, this world will tear you apart.  Remember, there are times when it’s best to hold your cards close to your vest.

Having said that, you shouldn’t be overly cynical. God is in control and will give you what you ask for, will help you find what you’re looking for, and will open doors for you as you seek to follow God’s path for your life.  And this isn’t true just for a lucky few.  It’s true for everyone.

Who would deny their children the things they need to succeed.  Even though we’re not perfect, we know how to help those we love when they’re in need. But God IS perfect.  Think about the kinds of gifts he can give you and know that he will never withhold them from you.

Knowing this, and in response to this, you ought to live with this saying as the guiding principle in all that you do:  Extend the same respect, forgiveness, sympathy, love and generosity to other people that you would want them to extend to you.” In the long run, that’s what everything that God teaches us boils down to.

But, as simple as that saying might sound, few people are able to live their lives that way.  Most people lead unfulfilling lives. Sad, but true.  So if you’re simply following the crowd today, you’re probably headed in the wrong direction. But there are a few brave souls out there who have found the right path, who are blazing the right trail—some of them are sitting in this room surrounding you right now. Find them and follow them.  And you will find that life can be more fulfilling and meaningful and abundant and joyful than you’ve ever imagined.

As you search for the right path, be careful.  Some people out there will intentionally try to lead you astray.  They’ll entice you with big promises and tell you they’re leading in the right direction. But underneath it all, on the inside, they can be the most vicious, insidious kind of people you’ll ever run across. They’ll use you and suck the life out of you and take what’s best in you and then leave you in the dust. When you look a little closer, you’ll be able to recognize them by the trail of destruction they’ve left in their wake.  But don’t worry. You can—and should—avoid them. People like that leave all kinds of brokenness behind them, and you’ll be able to figure out who’s who if you just dig a little.

Good people leave good things behind them.  You’ll discover that people and communities and institutions are happier, more prosperous, more hopeful…they are invested with more meaning because of the good people in their lives. Good people can’t help but produce positive results.  The reverse is true of people you should avoid.  So when making friends, look closely and choose wisely. It won’t be hard to recognize the difference.

Let me close by saying this.  Not everyone who thinks of themselves as godly is really following the will of God. Following God’s will for your life is always simple, but it’s never easy. What you say is not nearly as important as what you do. Remember, actions speak louder than words. So earnestly seek God’s will for your life and live in accordance with it. 

In the end, it’s not just about speaking in God’s name or seeking to do big and great things for God. It’s about where your heart is. It’s about what you do when no one is looking.  It’s about dying to yourself so that God can really live in you. That’s the only way you’ll ever be able to truly live for others.  God wants all of you.  Every inch of you.  Every dark corner. Every selfish desire.  Every thought. Every moment.  Everything. All of it…turned over to God. Anything less is unworthy of God’s gift to you, God’s gifts in you. God will not accept anything less than 100% of who you are, of who He created you to be.

So, now I’ve told you everything you need to know. Your job now is to take it and put it into practice. If you do these things, you will be solid as a rock. Unmovable.  Unflappable. Unshakeable.  Ready to conquer the world. Stronger than anything the world can throw at you.  You’ll be ready for the wonderful things ahead. Never forget, you have great things waiting for you out there.

But let me end with a warning.  If you don’t put this advice into practice, if you choose to live your life a different way, get ready. Because the world will come at you. And it will come at you hard. And you won’t be ready. No one can withstand the trials of this world on their own. If you go out there by yourself, the world will win. And it won’t be pretty. The fall will be big, the crash will be great, and it won’t be easy to pick up the pieces. It happens all the time. So be careful.

But I’ll end how I began.  Don’t live your life shackled by fear. Don’t worry, don’t judge, live with joy, live with love for yourself, for God and for your fellow man. And, no matter what, remember, God WILL take care of you.