Delivered by Executive Director Grady Powell as the Class of 2012 Graduation Address | May 17, 2012
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:5-8, NIV)
ALL AUTHORITY AND SPLENDOR
THE DEVIL’S OFFER AND CHRIST’S CALLING
As the Academy community gathers to celebrate our Fellows and how God has been faithful to our community this year, I don’t think it is too late to ask another hard question. It’s actually a time-honored tradition at the Academy to wait until about 5 minutes before the end of class to ask the really hard question, a question that has been burning in your mind, and though you realize it will take an hour to even begin to discuss it, you have to get it out there.
The hard question I want to ask is about calling, a concept central to our mission at the Academy. What difference does it make to try and live your entire life an answer to God’s call? For some, the Academy experience may seem like a luxury, basically a nine-month delay before getting on with the reality of life. Is that the case? Is the idea of calling some secondary, and ultimately unnecessary, Christian ideal? Or does coming to know God as our Caller and the purpose of our lives as an answer to His call change the way we live and make decisions?
I would argue that a strong understanding of calling provides Christians with a profoundly different perspective on the purpose of our lives. Without such an understanding, we, like most other people, tend to drift. Whatever culture or community we find ourselves in determines our values. Instead of living from a sense of conviction, we aim for survival on one hand and quantifiable success on the other. The pattern of life often feels like putting your head down, seizing whatever opportunity comes your way, and just getting through it all until, in the end, it all works out. Of course, we claim, we know it will.
The life and call of Jesus, however, challenges this entire paradigm. Just as Jesus was called to a time and a place with a purpose, so are we. And this means that the decisions we make matter. What we expect to work out, might not work out at all. Without a call, we will drift into a place in which, as our Fellow Austin put it, a career has more influence on our faith, than our faith has on our careers. Whether it’s a career, a community, or a relationship, we often feel like the meaning of our lives is dictated by our circumstances. Looking at the example of Jesus we see that it is not a set of circumstances that shapes how he chooses to act, but a deep sense of calling. The way he makes decisions helps us understand three things about our own calling: how to discern the temptations we face, how to respond faithfully, and how to live in the freedom and power we have in Christ.
Without discerning a call and acknowledging a divine Caller, we follow the same pattern of decision making the world does. This pattern aligns mostly with opportunities, adversity, and outcomes. Opportunities are most always understood as an “open door”, something we can’t turn down, and a sign from God of the way to move forward. These opportunities tend to be lucrative or satisfying in other ways as well, so the decision is usually conveniently aligned with our pre-set life goals. Whenever we face adversity, however, we claim the other side of the coin, that the “door was shut” and that God wouldn’t want me or others to suffer, so this clearly cannot be the right path. In a similar way we look at outcomes from our decisions. The more successful the outcomes, the more likely we are to believe we are on the right path. The more failure we face, the more likely we are to believe that it’s time to move on. Our great temptation is to simply live as opportunity, adversity, and outcomes dictate.
Our goal in this process is often to achieve good things. In Christ’s temptation, the Devil offered him two good things that God created – authority and splendor. We are certainly called to wisely exercise the authority God gives us. We are also called to enjoy the splendor of His creation. We share in the love of relationships and the beauty of nature, and we find hope when people’s lives are changed, cities rebuilt, cures discovered, and poverty reduced. Our Fellows already have exceptional opportunities to exercise authority and to create and enjoy splendid things. The temptation is to accept such authority and splendor on someone else’s terms, someone other than our divine Caller.
It is easy to forget that all authority and splendor are actually, as Luke reminds us, the Devil’s to give. Certainly the Devil’s power is penultimate to our Lord’s but he does have power. In his first epistle, John reminds us that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” The Devil isn’t lying when he says he will give all authority and splendor to Jesus. If the Devil has the power to offer us what looks good – authority and splendor – how can we discern what is faithful beyond what looks good? I believe our Fellows, and many other young believers, have such a range of good opportunities that they often feel paralyzed. And the question remains, if authority and splendor become our guideposts, how do we make decisions that might cost us our authority? Or decisions that likely lead to less than splendid outcomes? Living without a call means that we are apt to fall into the temptation to accept authority and splendor on someone else’s terms.
Jesus’ response to the Devil’s temptation should challenge how we respond. First, the Scriptures put aside any notion that worldly opportunity, adversity, or outcome should primarily dictate our calling. Such circumstances are instead the context in which God proves Himself present, loving, and purposeful in the details of our lives.
Hebrews 11 directly challenges an easy notion of faithful living. You are likely familiar with the “hall of heroes”, the range of Bible characters from Abraham to Rahab, honored for their faith and faithful deeds. Toward the end of the chapter there are two more lists of faithful people. The second list, more typically focused on, is made up of the courageous souls that the world was not worthy of. These souls faced jeers and flogging, were chained in prison, sawed in two, killed by the sword, stoned, mistreated, and wandered in deserts, mountains, and caves. God promises to make these faithful followers perfect and their testimony should rightly put the fear of God into our lives. What if we are called to such a season? Or such a life? Will we deny it because the adversity is too strong and the outcomes too impractical? A call changes our entire perspective.
The first list, on the other hand, which often seems overlooked, is of those faithful followers, who found success. They faithfully conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained the promise, shut the mouth of lions, quenched the flame, and escaped the sword. Their weaknesses were turned into strengths and they became powerful in battle, routing enemies, and even receiving their loved ones back from the dead. These are the faithful ones who received authority and splendor in this world, but they received it from God according to His call. What if we are called to such a season? Or such a life? On whose terms will we accept such success?
The point here is that I don’t think we get to choose which list to join, but we do get to choose who to follow and how to live. And this was Jesus’ point in his response to the Devil, “It is written,” Jesus said, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.” Consequently, we can live with a very different set of expectations.
Our response – our primary call – is to worship and serve the Caller, the Lord our God. When we worship and serve Him with all of who we are; with our minds, our hearts, our desires, our grandest accomplishments and the most demanding tasks of love and hospitality, then all of who we are becomes united with something eternal. Our work and our lives become part of the ultimate splendor that will forever be established on earth when Christ returns and God’s Kingdom is restored. With this hope before us we aren’t tempted to accept authority and splendor on any other terms.
The world is the Devil’s and he thinks he can give it to anyone he wants, but there is a person he cannot give it to, the person who won’t accept it on his terms. Who else won’t accept the Devil’s offer?
Our Freedom and Power
The mission of the Academy is to cultivate generations of emerging leaders who won’t accept the offer. They are prepared to discern the terms of the deal and they, together, are equipped to act. Their action is not first governed by worldly opportunity, adversity, and outcome, but first by a call. The Academy’s vision is to stand together as a community of “impossible people”, as Os puts it. In a world of fragmentation we can stand for relationship. In a world of preference, we can stand for truth. In a world of hype we can hold a steady hand. We can live by Christian convictions.
At the Academy the Fellows have experienced a season in which our imaginations and desires are shaped by daily rhythms of worship and service – as the Lord has called us. In that rhythm, our callings emerge and are formed by a deeper knowledge of who God is, who we are created to be, and the nature of the world and society we are called to serve. We pray that such preparation gives our Fellows great freedom and power as they make decisions throughout the rest of their lives.
As we all face the difficult decisions God calls us to make, our great hope is ultimately in Jesus. It is encouraging to remember that Jesus faced the greatest trial and temptation to abandon his calling at two critical moments. The first moment was at the beginning of his ministry when, at thirty, he was to embark on three years of preaching, teaching, and healing. The Devil offered Jesus authority and splendor, but had Jesus accepted it, it all would have been for naught. Remember that as God lays a calling on your heart, you may very well face great temptation to abandon it right at the beginning. Remember that even such a tempting offer did not sway Jesus from his calling.
The second moment – the most profound moment of temptation ever faced – came three years later, when Jesus’ work was just about to reach its fulfillment. The entire purpose of His life and ministry was on the line on a dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane. There the overwhelming weight of anticipating the greatest pain, suffering, and separation, came to bear on his mind and body in a moment of decision.
The entire purpose of our life and ministry also hung in the balance of that moment, because on our own we have failed to resist the temptation. We have failed to worship the Lord our God and serve Him only. How many times have we made decisions in service of ourselves and in order to worship and glorify our own purposes? Our failure to resist such temptation began in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve could not resist the temptation to seize the authority and splendor of God; once again offered by the Devil, once again on his terms. How many times have we chosen the same?
But there, in a different garden, the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ prayed, and though likely in a raspy whisper, His prayer rang out – Father, as You will. In that moment of decision we all gained true freedom. His prayer still rings today as a call for you and I to lay down all of our dreams of authority and splendor, and to lay down all of our fear of adversity before the Lord. As we do we boldly trust that He will call us according to His will and that when we follow His call, by His grace, He promises to make us part of His everlasting authority and splendor. Jesus perfectly fulfilled His calling and has made a way for us to know and fulfill ours. We can choose differently. Remember that as you follow God’s call, the greatest moment of trial and temptation may come only hours before it reaches its fulfillment, and take courage!
The Academy is helping prepare our Fellows to choose differently, to be impossible people, to seek God with courage and to live according to His way. We do this as a community. We have laid the foundations this year and we are committed to helping one another continue in our calling for the years ahead. My charge to the Fellows, and to all of us, is to hold out such a hope and together to demonstrate in our lives that our Caller is the true God whose love and call changes everything.