Forty years ago today (June 9, 1974) I graduated from Martin Luther High School here in greater Milwaukee. I guess that makes me officially old, but it gave me cause to reflect on the past four decades.
I remember parts of that day like they were yesterday. I recall that Dr. Walter W. Stuenkel, the then President of Concordia College in Milwaukee, was our commencement speaker. I have no idea what he said, but I know he spoke.
I remember saying "good bye" to my best friend in High School, Chuck Wolf. We were going to different colleges and I guess we knew that this would be a transition in our friendship. Charlie died very suddenly less than five years later of an undiagnosed heart ailment. I guess that "good bye" took on added meaning through the years.
I remember receiving as a graduation gift the full set of the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. In the years that followed, I think I read every major work by Lewis, but Narnia was my gateway to his thoughtful approach to the Christian faith.
Looking back, it seems that so much has changed. One could hardly do justice to the changes in our world's political changes, the changes in cultural values, or the changes in technology. Most of all, I've changed.
I am embarrassed to remember how foolish and naÃ¯ve I was in 1974. My thinking was far too simplistic everything was black or white and my life experience was narrow and parochial. I'm not sure I would recognize the person I was. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like that person very much.
I am older and, I hope, wiser today. I would like to believe that I am also better. But I came across a cautionary tale in my personal devotions this morning. It is the story of king Josiah of Judah.
Josiah began ruling Judah when he was 8 years old and he was king for 31 years. He was one of the kings that "did what the LORD considered right." (2 Chronicles 34:2). In fact, few kings did as much "right" as Josiah. But his rule and his life ended because he sinned.
Josiah's sin was not one of the usual suspects neither a woman nor money were involved. Josiah's sin was that he failed to discern God's direction and went to war with Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. (See 2 Chronicles 35: 20-27.) Josiah rode into the valley of Megiddo in the battle of Carchemish in disguise. In that battle a random arrow struck and killed Josiah. From Josiah's death forward things went from bad to worse for Judah until the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. All of this was because Josiah failed to recognize God's leading.
In Josiah's defense, God was speaking to him through the Pharaoh Neco, which was hardly the way I would expect God to give me direction. Pharaoh worshipped other gods and his own interests were best served by keeping Judah out of the fight.
I bring this up because it reminds me that, no matter how much experience I have or how much I accomplish, I can still miss what God is doing in this world and my life. I am just as dependent on God's grace in Jesus Christ today as I was when I received my High School diploma 40 years ago.
I am also reminded that God is good even when I am foolish, naÃ¯ve, or fail to discern His direction for my life. In Christ, I find forgiveness for all my embarrassing actions and attitudes. The Holy Spirit, working through God's word (the Bible) and the Lord's Supper is at work in my life to open my eyes to what God is doing.
These words encourage me as I look back and when I look forward. I hope they encourage you.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
And he will make your paths smooth." (Proverbs 3: 5-6 GWT)
Chuck would affirm your wisdom, I'm sure. You were a good friend.
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