Sermon: New Beginnings - Graduate Recognition

We've all had beginnings, and sometimes we've taken those beginnings, and we've messed up along the way. There is a God of beginnings today who says, "I welcome you home as my child."

This sermon is adapted by Craig Webb from one published in the Spring 2003 issue of Let's Worship Magazine.


Scriptures: Genesis 1, Psalm 8, II Corinthians 12

Introduction

You came into an unusual world. We laugh at some of the memories, and maybe we scratch our heads in wonder at the kind of world we brought you into.

Eugene Peterson says it's really not a puzzle: "Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out, rather we come to God who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives, the fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God. God is the center from which all life develops. If we use our ego as the center from which to plot the geometry of our lives, we will live eccentrically." (Eugene H. Peterson, "Run with the Horses," Christianity Today, 30:2)

I. God is behind every beginning

  • We brought you into a world that was somewhat confused - and still is - but we brought you into a world where God is still sovereign and God is still in control.
  • We brought you into a world that might have lost its moral compass, but we brought you into a world where God still says that if you'll turn to Me and if you'll call out My name, I will come to you and I will bring comfort to you.
  • We've got a God who invites every one of us - no matter what happens in life - to run to Him. He's the God behind every beginning.

II. In the beginning was God

The Apostle's Creed, which we don't cite as Baptists because we're not creedalists, nonetheless has wonderful theology. It begins, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth." That's a good place for us to begin.

Let's read about that beginning briefly this morning in Genesis 1:

From absolutely nothing and from out of nothing, God began and created everything there is. You'll see that theory questioned. You already have seen it questioned perhaps in various settings.

It's good for us to remember that no matter how confusing the world is in which we were born and no matter how confusing it is as we leave it to another generation, God is still in control. He began everything, and nothing has caught Him off guard - not even events of this year.

Your final year of High School has been quite a roller coaster year. Life has tragedies, crises, unexpected curves, but no matter how difficult it gets, God is in control. Nothing that has happened caught God off guard.

III. The God of good beginnings

You're going to have some choices to make, and you're going to face some challenges. They'll begin as you walk across the graduation stage and live your final summer of youth. You'll continue those challenges into the college years. You'll pick a major (or two or three or four) before you're done. You may meet someone in college whom you'll spend the rest of your life with as a spouse. You might prepare for a career that will be changed a number of times in your future.

There is a God of good beginnings out there. He's a God who wants desperately to have a relationship with each one of you.

To the parents of our graduating high school seniors, on behalf of this congregation, we say thanks to each of you. You have modeled in your home to varying degrees the love of a parent. There have been times when that love has been tested. There have been times when you probably thought, "Surely my child was switched at birth!" It's OK because your children thought the same thing from time to time.

You've paused to pray; you've paused to read God's Word; you've taken your children to church. You've dropped them off on our steps many times as they would leave for retreats and camps and mission trips and Bible study activities; and in doing so, you weren't just dropping them off. You were making an investment in their life. As their larger church family, we want to say thank you for what you've done.

You have given birth, and you have raised an incredible group of young people. They are world changers in a real sense of the word. They're going to continue to make a difference in our world by their ministries and by pursuing the callings God has in each of their lives. We're thankful for that.

The God of good beginnings did that. He created everything there is out of nothing, and without Him nothing was made that was made (John 1:3).

If the beginning of your relationship with Christ is somewhat a distant memory and you haven't experienced spiritual growth since then, we invite you to see this God of beginnings as the God who re-embraces and says welcome home, welcome back.

Students, as you go off to college and as you return for breaks throughout the calendar year and visit home, and as you graduate from college - yet another milestone in your life - four or five years, six years down the road from now, know that our church stands with open arms to welcome you back as well, to say welcome home. I hope you never forget that.

(Read Psalm 8.)

Maybe that's a perfect commentary for everyone in this room today, not only the seniors who are graduating but every person in this room today: you just have no life apart from God. He's the God of beginnings because He's the God of grace and the God of mercy and the God who created. He is a God who wanted to express and show love.

But as you read through the early chapters of Genesis, you will find that He was not a God who ruled with an iron fist. He didn't say, "I'm going to program you where you have no other choice." That's why in the garden He pointed out trees for eating the fruit and trees to leave along. He gave a choice.

This God of great beginnings wanted so much for us to get off on the right track that even when we messed up He was a God of new beginnings. He came back into the garden, and He called out to the man whom He had made, "Where are you? . . . Who told you that you were naked?" And the Lord God provided coverings for Adam and Eve. The Lord God gave them a new beginning.

IV. The God of endings

Our God is a God of beginnings, and He's also a God of endings. Let me read another passage of Scripture to you this morning. Take your Bibles and look in the New Testament at 2 Corinthians 13.

Genesis 1, Psalm 8, and 2 Corinthians 13. In various ways these Scripture passages remind us that He is not only the God of beginnings, but He's the God of endings, as well.

Note what Paul said to the Corinthian church, these believers in Christ that he had struggled with. First Corinthians demonstrates the struggle that was going on in the church and how hard it was to be in Corinth and to be a Christian. Second Corinthians shows Paul's heart as he literally pours himself out to these believers that he has grown to love and cherish as his family in faith.

But now Paul signs off his letter to them in verses 11 and following:

Paul knew that not only was God the God behind every beginning, but God was also the God who is present when chapters throughout life close and bring to an end some significant days. You'll have the opportunity as you stand up here in a few moments, seniors, to look into the face of people in this congregation who have been your Sunday School teachers and your choir leaders and others who have greeted you in the hallway and hugged you and been there for your family during different times.

Some of you are about to depart to go to college. You'll find careers and loved ones and new families and new friends, and you'll be gone. We'll miss you deeply. But the God who understands all endings understands that even at an ending like we're going to have today, there's an opportunity for a new beginning as well.

I encourage you to be faithful.

Listen every day for a fresh word from God. He'll speak to you if you'll just pause and listen. Find your place of ministry students whether it's a campus ministry organization like BCM or one of the other campus groups. Find a place where you can minister and grow and develop and continue to touch lives.

Remember that you're loved.

You're so valuable to God. And you're so valuable to those in this congregation. We salute you today because we love you so much. You've always got a place to call home, and we hope you'll do that throughout the years.

V. A time of beginning again

In just a moment we're going to give an invitation. The invitation today is applicable to everyone here, not just our seniors. It's applicable to every one of you in this place.

We've all had beginnings, and sometimes we've taken those beginnings, and we've messed up along the way. There is a God of beginnings today who says, "I welcome you home as my child." Repentance and cleansing from sin can be yours. You can have a brand new start today.

  • If you need to trust Christ as your Savior, He'll wash away the sin.
  • If you already have, accepted Christ as Savior but it's been so long since you felt that relationship was what it should be, He will welcome you back. The word of God says that He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteous (1 John 1:9).
  • If you've been looking for a church home, I don't know of a better place that makes a promise than this Church to care for your children from the cradle through graduation and even then some. I don't know of a place that will love senior adults more than this church or single adults or young married adults. We're one big family. Today if you're looking for a place to call home, we invite you to make this church that place as well.

The God of beginnings and the God of endings is the same God who welcomes you this morning as you respond. Let's bow our heads for just a moment and ask God to take His Word and apply it to our lives and to touch our hearts as He sees fit.

Invitation prayer

Father, You are indeed the God who is in control, and we pause today in this time of worship to acknowledge that very fact. You are the God who spoke the world into being. You spoke, and dry land appeared. You spoke, and it became teeming with life. You gathered mud from the riverbank, and from that you formed man, and you blew into his nostrils the breath of life. You walked in the garden daily speaking and talking and nurturing him.

God and Father, when we were at our worst, You provided the way of our salvation. You are the God of beginnings and the God of new beginnings. You're the God who, when endings are necessary, meets us all along the way with grace and mercy.

Lord God, we pray for these seniors today. We pray because we love them. We've grown to appreciate them as we've watched them go through our ministries here, and Father, with great excitement we watch them as they go into their futures, and as we stand beside their parents who will no doubt feel somewhat of an emptiness from time to time as the nest at home becomes a little sparse. We pray for them, God, that You'll give them strength, that You'll minister to the inner part of their heart where maybe today they don't even know there's going to be a hurt.

Lord God, if there's anyone here today who doesn't know Jesus, I pray that somehow through this service - hearing the message in song and seeing baptisms and even responding now to the sermon - that Father, Your grace will be sufficient for them today. I pray that they will recognize these things. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Dr. Frank R. Lewis has been senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn since October 1, 1997. Prior to moving to Nashville, he pastored a new church start in Henderson (Las Vegas), Nevada, for ten years. Frank is a graduate of Samford University and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.