So what do you get someone who is graduating from High School? Hmmm, something they need, something they want, but would probably never ask for. A microwave for the dorm? An iTunes gift card? A Minnesota Vikings mouse pad?
This week my friend Gabe graduated from High School. His dad gave him a great gift. Gabe was surprised by several of us who met him and his dad at a restaurant. There were eleven around the table, including one of Gabe’s close friends, his small group leaders, his grandfather, a family friend, his school principal, and his pastor. Gabe’s dad explained how each man had come to mean a great deal to Gabe and why they were important in his life through the years. Then after the meal, each of us shared a word with Gabe.
We poured out encouragement on him, affirming and thanking him. From significant men in his life Gabe heard the words, “I love you.”
Looking him in eye, his principal told him how proud he was of him – for excelling in sports and school, but above all for being a gentleman and putting Christ first in his life.
His small group leaders told funny stories about him, and thanked him for who he had become. They encouraged him to remain faithful, make good friends, avoid getting caught up with the girls too quickly, and to know they were behind him all the way.
His grandfather beamed with pride at his grandson seated next to him, about to head off to the Naval Academy. Gabe hung on every word as the blessing was placed upon him.
Around the table we went. Eyes misted over. His father choked up. Hearts were opened and words spilled out that needed to be said.
It was a gift. Something Gabe needed and wanted, but would never ask for.
Because he is heading off to Annapolis on a military path I found myself passing on to Gabe the same words with which Paul encouraged his young protégé Timothy. They seemed the right words for Gabe – a strong blend of encouragement and challenge. From 2 Timothy 2:1
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Who doesn’t want a kid they love to be strong – in Jesus’ grace?
And then this, in vv. 3-4:
“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.”
Scripture says there will be tough times in life, but no matter, be a good soldier – not at the Naval Academy — but a soldier of Jesus. If you are a follower of Jesus, do you think of yourself as a “good soldier?” Are you that loyal?
I wanted to affirm Gabe and encourage him about all the great things he’s done to this point. But I also wanted to remind him he will have to be very clear about who his true commanding officer is.
Gabe’s four-year midshipman journey will begin shortly with his Plebe summer. In that intentionally hectic, rigorous 7-week blitz he will learn how to tuck in his shirt just so, shine his shoes, and salute superiors. He will run his hiney off and get in the best shape of his life. He will be ordered to work – sometimes on tasks that seem meaningless. He will learn how to shoot, handle a boat, and be taught all manner of Navy protocol. Through it all he will be forced to draw deep within himself in order to clear the bar of rigorous training and live up to the high standards of honor and conduct.
It’s a lot of hard work and discipline. But it all leads someplace. Because the military knows that one thing must happen for sure in every recruit: they have to learn how to take orders. And follow through on them. No matter what. When the wind is howling and the waves are beating against the bow, the officer standing watch on the bridge of a ship in a storm will call upon the intangible learnings during Plebe summer to fulfill his duties.
The Bible says that’s what it’s like to live as a Christian today. It won’t be easy. It requires discipline. You will need to endure some difficult things which will make you stronger when you need it most. And it begins with obedience – taking orders from Jesus. And following through. No matter what.
What if Christ’s followers were known as models of discipline? What if we saw our discipleship as a rigorous plebe summer, striving to be standout soldiers of Christ? What if we encouraged each other to structure our lives so we were truly free from entanglements of the world that keep us from lazy-minded mediocrity?
Paul had in mind the unbeatable Roman troops when he said we should be good soldiers of Jesus. Josephus, a Jewish historian from that time period, described a soldier in that time as one who “throws all his energy into his drill, as though he were in action. Hence that perfect ease with which they sustain the shock of battle: no confusion breaks their customary formation, no panic paralyzes, no fatigue exhausts them.”
Does that describe you?
At the end of the day, being a disciple of Jesus means our allegiance to him rises above all other loyalties. It means we take orders from him. Jesus said his true followers hear his voice. And then they do what he says.
So, a very important question is this: what is Jesus saying to you?
And what are you going to do about it?
I believe Jesus is hoping this summer will be a plebe summer for me. What about you? Will it be a time when you show spiritual discipline and preparation for important assignments He has ahead for you?
After dessert, Gabe’s dad gave a short, simple speech to him – and to us all. He said, “Son, you’ve heard so much good counsel tonight. Words about choosing good friends, working hard, and the like. But the most important thing, no matter what happens, is that you keep Jesus first in your life. If you’ve got that, you’ve got everything you need.”
What a gift.